The modern approach to the concept of ethics has gone beyond the classical view that has been preoccupied with descriptions of the faculties and characteristics of the psyche (qiwā al-nafs wa malakātuhā). The modern approach includes two main areas: The first is a theoretical field that expresses the general principles and universal meanings (such as universal ethics, virtues, telos etc.) from which sub-duties are to be derived. The second field is practical in nature and it involves the types of virtuous faculties that one should cultivate and practice, e.g., sincerity, honesty and chastity. Thus, ethics can be considered as a theoretical science and a practical art that examines the overall general theoretical concepts (such as good and evil, right and duty, standards, motivations, goals and ideals) and examines the means of achieving those ideals and goals. In moral philosophy, there is also a discussion on the possible differences between ethics and morals, with some philosophers distinguishing between ethics, morals and practical wisdom (Sagesse Pratique).
Regardless of such terminological deliberations, one can identify three levels of inquiry. The first is preoccupied with the grand questions on the lifestyle that one should develop or emulate prompting definitions of the higher and ultimate goals of life. The second level is concerned with moral obligation and its source. It addresses questions like, “what is the source of moral obligation?” “Is moral obligation just for its own sake or for achieving something else?” The third level concerns individual ethics, its aesthetics and possible applications. In other words, the first two levels deal with general issues, whereas the third level deals with the new and complex dilemmas whose proper analysis requires insight and wisdom to decide the best course of action and its possible consequences (Mutaz al-Khatib, Āyāt al-akhlāq, Journal of Islamic Ethics, No. 1, 2017, 84-85).
In consulting pre-modern Islamic scholarship, one comes across a great number of writings with relevance to ethics dispersed in-between different disciplines. However, Muḥammad ‘Abd Allah Drāz argued that the Islamic library has only addressed two kinds of ethical teachings. The first type relates to practical advice, which aims at reforming the morals of young people by encouraging them to embrace the supreme value of virtue. The other type anatomizes the nature of the psyche and its faculties and defines what virtue is and its various typologies. This is usually in alignment with the Platonic or Aristotelian model or synthesizing both models in one book. However, there are other genres on ethics, most notably the narrative ethics in ḥadīth, a genre that has not yet been the subject of rigorous and critical studies. Once we cross over the apparent textual character of this narrative ethics, we argue, one can unearth a theoretical structure embedded within. We believe this is a relatively untrodden path of academic research. Thus we hereby encourage researchers to fill in the lacuna through this Call-for-Papers.
Drāz has approached the Qur’ān as a reference for Islamic ethical theorization and realized that this Quranic reference used to be marginal. He tried to make the Qur’anic reference central to ethics again by introducing the so-called “Qur’anic ethics”. His analysis of the status of the Qur’ān can be found in his book The Moral World of the Qur’ān. The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), devoted one of its international seminars to the theme of “Ethics of the Qurʾān” and its proceedings were published as a thematic issue in the Journal of Islamic Ethics (published by Brill). The seminar was convened by Dr. Mutaz al-Khatib, who was also the guest editor of the thematic issue, which can be downloaded for free from the following link.
On the other hand, approaching Ḥadīth and Sunnah as a reference for ethical theorization remains under-researched, without having in-depth studies that duly reflect the intensity of the ethical content contained in the various Ḥadīths, or in prophetic practice. Meanwhile, one can distinguish between two levels of analysis. At the first level, the Prophetic Sunnah is approached as a revealed reference or an exemplary application of the revelation. At the second level, the Sunnah is approached as an historical reference of the ethics that prevailed in the formative period of Islamic history.
Against this background, we believe in CILE that it is high time to organize another international seminar on “Ḥadīth and Ethics”, to complement what was started in the previous seminar on “Qurʾān and Ethics”.
The mainstream position in Islamic history held that declaring things and actions as good (taḥsīn) or bad (taqbīḥ) should be premised on revelation, not on human intellect as claimed by the Mu‘tazila. If this is the case, then this should have been reflected in theorizing both jurisprudence and ethics, since the Qur’ān and Sunnah should be the source of both legislation and ethics. Historical reality, however, shows that this was the case in the field of Islamic legal theory and jurisprudence but was not the case within the field of ethics, where the role of Ḥadīth or Sunnah, like the Qurʾān, was marginal in the works of moral philosophy.
Different to the case of theoretical ethics, the practical and behavioral elements of the Prophetic Ḥadīth did receive extensive attention by scholars of Ḥadīth who produced a vast genre, which included a variety of books dealing with the ethical aspects of Sunnah. This included distinct books dedicated to etiquettes or ādāb which sometimes addressed professional ethics, such as the ethics of the narrator of Ḥadīth with the one who listens to it, and the ethics of the senior and junior jurists. Additionally, some books focused on outlining good character, religious etiquettes, the etiquette of dealing with parents and so forth. This genre also included a great number of books dedicated to the virtues and vices; the books enlisting incentives to do the good (targhīb) and deterrents from doing the evil (tarhīb); the books concerned with the “branches of faith (shuʿab al-īmān)”; the books on virtues which vary according to persons, ages and times; and the Ṣūfī literature on asceticism, remembrance of God, supplication, spiritual diseases of the heart, etc.
Among the most prominent authors in this genre are Ibn al-Mubārak (d. 181 AH), Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241 AH), al-Bukhārī (258 AH), al-Tirmidhī (279 AH), Ibn Abī al-Dunyā (d. 281 AH), al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī (d. 295 AH), al-Kharā’iṭī (d. 327AH), al-Ṭabarānī (d.360 AH), Abū al-Shaykh ibn Ḥayyān (d.369 AH), al Ḥalīmī (d. 403 AH), al-Bayhaqī (d. 458 AH) and others. The six canonical collections of Ḥadīth also had specific chapters dedicated to the aḥādīth on manners and ethics, whose total number reached about 500 in the Sunan compiled by Abū Dāwūd, and exceeded 600 in the Ṣaḥīḥ of Ibn Ḥibbān. Moreover, the ethics of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the subject of distinct books or occupied parts in the books on the biography of the Prophet, meant to provide the exemplary model of ethics to be followed.
The writings on ethics mentioned above – being as diverse as they are – have exclusively been concerned with practical and behavioral ethics. They are devoid of any theoretical framework because philosophical theorization does not fit within the traditionalist mindset, which perceives knowledge through the lens of transmitted knowledge, rather than intellectual reasoning. That is why they ended producing what can be called “narrative ethics”, to which two other types can be added, namely, ethics-oriented literature (al-adab al-khuluqī) where the ethical content assumes a literary form, and ethics-oriented thought (al-fikr al-khuluqī) where the ethical content takes the form of a logical and theoretical structure. However, narrative ethics, being diverse and variable, still needs to be studied and analyzed in many ways.
Against this background, we propose the following six broad themes and interested researchers are always free to add other theoretical dimensions they deem innovative or worthy of research within these overall themes:
Submitted abstracts and research papers will undergo internal review by a committee whose members will examine whether each submission took the following into consideration:
The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) calls upon academic researchers and scholars interested in the topics above or related topics to send the following:
Applicants of accepted abstracts will be informed and invited to send their full papers (between 7,000 and 10,000 words) according to the schedule shown below.
All submitted abstracts and full paper will be reviewed by an academic committee whose members will collectively decide which submissions will be accepted on the basis on the abovementioned “selection criteria” and the relevance to the purposes and objectives of the seminar as outlined in this background paper. A limited number of those participants whose papers are approved will be invited to participate in a seminar to be held in Doha.
CILE will offer the authors of accepted papers the following benefits:
For those who will be invited to present their papers during the closed seminar, the following additional benefits apply:
Plan of the Peer-reviewed Publication with Brill:
After the seminar, the full proceedings of the seminar will undergo a double-blind review process. The papers which will successfully go through this process will be published as a special issue of the Journal of Islamic Ethics or an edited volume in the book series “Studies in Islamic Ethics”, both published by Brill.
It is to be noted that submissions (abstracts, bios and full papers) can be written in either Arabic or English. The discussions during the seminar will be conducted in both languages.
Submissions should be sent to this email.
For any inquiries about this call-for-papers or about the accompanying Background Paper, please contact Dr Muetaz Al-Khatib.
For inquiries about the Journal of Islamic Ethics or the book series “Studies in Islamic Ethics, please send your inquiry.
About the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE):
CILE aims to contribute to the reform and renew the Islamic thought by developing a contemporary vision guided by the fundamental principles of the Holy Qur’an, Sunnah and the higher objectives of Islamic Shariah. For more information, please contact: CILE Office.