05/2022 Seminar: The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond

09 - 11 مايو,2022
The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond

Call for Research Papers

CILE International Seminar

The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond

Report on International Seminar: “The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond”

Between May 9th and May 11, 2022, the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics  (CILE) hosted an international seminar titled “The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond” convened by Dr. Abdessamad Belhaj (UCLouvain, Belgium). The seminar was held through CILE’s funded research program for professors outside CILE, offering researchers the opportunity to present their working papers. This seminar was hosted through hybrid mechanisms, enabling participants to attend offsite, virtually, and physically, onsite in Doha.

Beginning with the opening remarks given by Dr. Belhaj and Dr. Mohammed Ghaly (CILE’s Acting Director), the seminar started with Dr. Belhaj’s explanation of why he chose CILE to host this seminar, maintaining CILE’s leading role in promoting the study of Islamic ethics, both as the only center specialized in the field and through its Journal of Islamic Ethics. He also spoke on why he chose the topic of morality and the state, and raised several questions, including:

  • Do states have the right to mandate that citizens take measures against COVID?
  • Do states have the right to take moral action against citizens?
  • Do states have the right to dictate their citizens’ dress (modesty/immodesty, and banning hijab)?
  • Do Islamic states have the right to punish citizens for apostasy?
  • Do Islamic states have the right to punish people who eat during Ramadan?

Dr. Belhaj also praised the diversity of the seminar’s participants, who not only came from different academic fields and encouraged interdisciplinarity, but were also of diverse cultural and geographic backgrounds, bringing many ethical approaches and solutions to the forefront of discussions.

Dr. Ghaly then spoke about how CILE can continue supporting other Islamic ethics researchers. It encourages continuous academic partnership and exchange with researchers outside CILE, and many of CILE’s activities are held in association with other institutions, research centers, and universities.

Researchers have the opportunity to publish their work through:

First Day Presentations (May 9, 2022)

The seminar began with the first paper by Dr. Louay Safi (CIS, Hamad Bin Khalifa University) titled “Political Values between the Past and Present: A Textual and Historical Reading.” Dr. Safi started with a discussion of ethics in the public sphere and the political realm, arguing that social values can be perfected, especially in modern Western societies where ethical foundations are hidden since monotheistic values have been disregarded for secular ones. He pushed for an egalitarian society based on four principles, moral agency, equal dignity, pluralism, and the rule of law, intrinsic to monotheistic Abrahamic traditions. Dr. Safi then maintained that moral authenticity, especially of political and social figures, is intrinsic to spreading moral values in a society, since these figures are seen as moral authorities. Further, ideas such as John Locke’s three rights, property, liberty, and life, affirm monotheistic values not only found in Christianity, but also found in the Prophet Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon. Other shared values between monotheistic societies include the “ethics of duty” (German Romanticism), political accountability, and the ethical evaluation of political authorities. These concepts are essential to a society’s maslaha (common good) which governs public policy. Dr. Safi concluded by explaining that there are power tensions that have remained throughout history - idealism and realism - and many of the issues we face today are because of shifts between these two. To reconcile this, he recommended that Muslim thinkers and societies collaborate with other thinkers to re-establish and advance monotheistic values.

Dr. Mohammed Amezzian (Qatar University) presented the second paper, “The Moral and the Political, between Internalization and Privacy: A Study in Political Islamic Communities.” Offered in Arabic, this presentation centered on the separation between morality and politics. He began by describing the historical, political, and religious realities of this relationship, specifically in European Christian societies of the medieval period, and linked this to violating social laws (immorality) on the basis of maintaining a state’s sovereignty and security. One of the key issues, in his view, is that liberal Arab thinkers have imported this concept into Arab (majority Muslim) societies. In doing so, they have disregarded morals in favor of preserving certain political and social rights and legitimizing tyrannical rule. Dr. Amezzian then emphasized the importance of constructing a political society with participative morality, strengthening political identity and creating a sense of belonging through the concept of the Ummah. To do this, societies must abide by a moral contract that upholds religious devotion, political loyalty, and societal compassion, while also maintaining a mutual commitment of societal obedience to advance values of justice.

The day’s final session was “Polemic on the Authority of Hisba as Public Morality Enforcement in the View of Ibn Khaldun and Al-Ghazali” by Anggi Azzuhri (Taskopruzade Research Institute). Before delving into a discussion of hisba, Azzhuri problematized the distinction between Sharia and secular legal codes, as Sharia applies both publicly and privately, while legal codes only apply in the public sphere. One of his key issues was the question of where hisba (communal morality) should be applied, which authority - secular police, religious police, or hisba departments - has the responsibility of enforcing it, and in what cases and contexts. He theorizes this by relying on the works of Ibn Khaldun and al-Ghazali, since they represent the realistic and ideal approaches respectively, and separates the two approaches to hisba into two groups - Institutionalist (literal textual reading upheld by authorities) and Individualist (figurative reading applicable to all individuals). After his discussion of the difference between these two methods and their concepts of hisba, Azzhuri made distinctions between the differing understandings of “public space” and ma‘ruf (virtue) and munkar (vice). He concluded his presentation by maintaining that studying these two approaches is important because they are alternatives to mainstream conceptions of hisba (al-Mawardi and Ibn Taymiyya), and proposed further research of the Ottoman state’s understanding of hisba, which is understudied due to a lack of translated sources.

Second Day Presentations (May 10, 2022)

Dr. Carool Kersten (KU Leuven) began the second day’s sessions with his paper “Statehood, Religion, and Public Morality in Indonesia.” Even though Indonesia is geographically removed from the Muslim world’s “heartland,” it mirrors the continuous fluid nature of Muslim societies. While the Dutch colonial state did not tolerate political Islam, Indonesians consumed Islamic modernists’ texts through print sources. Muslim organizations, notably Nahdat al-‘Ulama’ (Scholars’ Renaissance), and the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council) emerged to play important roles in enforcing Islamic morality in Indonesia’s public sphere. The most important doctrine on religion was conceived in the 1940s, the Panchasila (Five Principles) Doctrine, mandating that citizens subscribe to one of Indonesia’s five major religions - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, or Daoism. Because atheism is not recognized under the Panchasila, Indonesians who publicly declare it are punished by law, meaning that, as Dr. Kersten explained, Indonesia is not an Islamic state, but a state concerned with controlling religion, instead of banning it completely. With increasing social Islamization in the 1980s, Indonesian public life changed, and, as a result, men’s and women’s dress became more Islamic, Islamic education was more widespread, and the state used Islamic principles to convince Indonesians to be law-abiding citizens. It is important to note, however, that much of Indonesia’s legal system is still based on Dutch law. Islamic law only applies to family and personal status matters. Since there is no official religious department to enforce hisba, the police often do so on the basis of public opinion.

The second presentation, “Legal Enforcement of Islamic Morality and the Rule of Change: A Study of Modern Iran,” was by Dr. Zahra Azhar (Iran United States Claims Tribunal) and Dr. Shirin Boroomand (Shahid Beheshti University). The authors focused on the relationship between Sharia and the Iranian legal system, starting with a theoretical discussion of legal concepts, specifically Herbert Hart’s definitions of the “rule of recognition” and the “rule of change.” In Iran, the primary legal actor is the Guardian Council, which ensures that all legislation conforms to Islamic law (Sharia). This, however, causes problems for the state as Sharia-validated laws are often passed later than citizens require them. Dr. Boroomand also made a distinction between positive and critical morality, which impact understandings and applications of religious normativity, with Iran’s legal system upholding elements of critical normativity. Social challenges to this legal system included applications of the concept of the Ummah, which may alienate non-Muslims and disregard the reality of multi-religious and multi-ethnic Iran, as well as laws regarding women, which discriminate against them based on Sharia-backed guardianship laws. They concluded by arguing that states with majority Muslim populations face issues in reconciling Sharia with modern legal systems - as is the case with the Iranian Guardian Council, which presents a firm understanding of Sharia and contributes to the distrust some Iranians have in the Islamic legal system.

The day’s final paper was Dr. Shoko Watanabe’s (University of Tokyo) “Translating Islamic Ethics into Modern Institutions: Debates on the Separation of Islam and State in Colonial Algeria, 1947-1954.” Before delving into the case of colonial Algeria, she began by contextualizing the role of Islamic authority in France through the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman, which plays a mediatory role between the French government and Islam. Next, Dr. Watanabe discussed the issue of authority in Islam and linked this to the roles religious organizations may play, as France encouraged the secularization of religion, both, at home and abroad in colonized states. She then explained the historical context of Islam in colonial Algeria, demonstrating the French state’s rigid surveillance and restriction of Muslims and Islamic activity. This control inspired Algerians to propose the adoption of new laws - introduced by French-educated lawyer Salah Mesbah, along with independent scholars and Algeria's key associations of Qadis (judges), ‘Ulama (scholars), cultural chiefs, and official religious agents - that would increase religious institutions’ representative political power. While these actors held different ideas about the official religious organizations’ roles and structures, in backing these new laws, they supported a new approach to official religion that would minimize colonial management of Islam. The French eventually rejected these draft laws because they would have given Muslims increased political power and would have made Christian France’s control of Islam more difficult. Dr. Watanabe concluded her presentation by recalling the issue management of religious institutions poses from legal and ethical standpoints, as there were “competing ideas” regarding these institutions and their roles, and the application of siyasa shar‘iya (Sharia governance).

Third Day Presentations (May 11, 2022)

The first presentation, “Islamic Law and the State in the Gulf: The Political Work of Qāḍī ‘Abd Allāh b. Zayd Āl Maḥmūd (1911–1997),” was by Dr. Alexandre Caeiro (CIS, Hamad Bin Khalifa University). He traced changes in Qatar’s legal system during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to demonstrate that the previous system of legal pluralism was consolidated into a centralized system. He relied on the works of Chief Qadi ‘Abd Allah b. Zayd Al Mahmud to argue that Qatar’s legal system differed from other formerly colonized states; its legal system was not based on Napoleonic codes. In fact, Sharia court judges helped maintain social and economic justice, and advanced women’s rights. While these Qadis saw themselves as non-state actors, they played important social and religious roles in the emerging state, with their work acting as the “foundational” precedents for modern Qatari laws. Dr. Caeiro also explained that court proceedings were free and did not require the assistance of lawyers, which benefited society as the proceedings were simple and allowed people to receive judgments quickly, through multiple sources of official and unofficial mediation. Sharia scholars also wrote about politics, critiqued governmental policies, and worked to hold the ruling family accountable when necessary. In doing so, Sharia judges in Qatar moralized political activity and guided authority figures in negotiating the legalities and ethics of their work.

Dr. Takao Kenichiro (Middle East Institute of Japan) presented the next paper, “Public Morality Facing Modernity in Saudi Arabia: the Case of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.” He followed the change of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’s (PVPV) role in Saudi Arabia and began his discussion with a historical background of the rise of the Saudi state and official Wahhabism. The phrase, “the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” is repeated in the Quran, and was established in medieval Islamic medieval jurisprudence, fiqh, as hisba, which, according to al-Mawardi, refers to “promoting virtue when neglected.” The Muhtasib officer takes on the hisba maintaining role and used to patrol markets in the medieval period to ensure fair trade. Yet, in Saudi Arabia, the PVPV has faced many criticisms for its actions, including gender-related ones such as the 2002 girls’ school fire where male firefighters were banned from entering a girls’ school, as the girls were uncovered, and 15 young girls died. This later resulted in reforms under King Abdullah which banned the PVPV’s arrests and ended their “volunteers’ patrol” program. Since 2016, under the Saudi Vision 2030, the PVPV has promoted openness, and was eventually replaced by the Ministry of Interior in 2019. Indeed, as Dr. Kenichiro argued, the Saudi state has transformed crimes that would be previously classified as violating religious law, to, instead, be violating secular law. He concluded his presentation by affirming the impact liberalization has had on the PVPV’s changing role, as the state attempts to return to a pre-1979 Islamically “moderate” Saudi, that not only accommodates its majority youthful population, but also advances a forward-thinking society.

The seminar’s final paper was presented by Rasha Bader (CIS, Hamad Bin Khalifa University), titled “Enforcing public morality through public health policy: an exploration of public health ethics and Islamic ethics through tobacco control as an applied example.” She began by formulating a methodological approach to the issue, as individual and lifestyle behaviors are classified under public morality and behavior acts as a determinant of health. She came to the conclusion that the contemporary Islamic discourse fails to offer a solution that reconciles between the competing demands of tobacco usage and banning tobacco, as it, instead, presents medical and political normativity as religious. In secular discourses, for example, state interference in public health is justified as it relates to society's needs - physical health is an end advanced by individual behavior, while social well-being is advanced by public conduct. To resolve this, Bader suggested that there be a firm Islamic approach to obligation and autonomy as it relates to health, since health is a public good (maslaha). Indeed, as she proposed in her presentation, the COVID issue may have been better dealt with, from an Islamic public health perspective, if there was a more solid precedent of managing smoking in Muslim contexts.

Finally, the seminar’s concluding remarks were offered by Dr. Belhaj and Dr. Ghaly who thanked the participants for their contributions to the issue of moralizing and the state. Dr. Belhaj ended the seminar by summarizing the key points that emerged, including:

  • questions of authenticity and different social contexts
  • how the concept of moralization is understood,
  • how to translate “dignity” and “individual freedoms” in a Muslim context,
  • how to define Sharia
  • Should Sharia play a role in the public space?
  • Should legal and moral institutions be secular?
  • What are the limits and responsibilities of the state, society, and individuals in moralizing and maintaining public good?

Besides the speakers above, seminar participants also included other Hamad Bin Khalifa University faculty, including Dr. Ray Jureidni, Dr. Mutaz al-Khatib, and Dr. Samer Rashwani.