Need for critical calm discourse on Islamic ethics

Muslims require thinking, and rethinking again about the obsession with models rather than principles. They must be able to exercise their God-given rational faculty in order to face the challenges of modernity, says Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa.

Ahmad Farouk Musa –


Principles can be immutable, absolute, and eternal, but their implementations in time or in history – historical models – are relative, changing and in constant mutation. Thus, the principles of justice, equality, rights and human brotherhood that guided the Prophet of Islam indeed remain the references beyond history, but the model of the city of Medina founded by Muhammad in the seventh century is a historical realisation linked to the realities and requirements of his time.

Muslims must, in the course of history, try to remain faithful to those principles and strive to implement them as best they can according to the requirements of their time but they cannot merely imitate, reproduce, or duplicate a historical model that was adapted for a particular time but no longer corresponds to the requirements of their own.”

– Tariq Ramadan in Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation, p.19

While the world continues to evolve, we are witnessing one of the most important developments in the Muslim world. The rise of AKP in Turkey, the en-Nahdah or Renaissance Party in Tunisia, the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt and al-Adl wal-Ihsan in Morocco are basically the re-emergence of Islamism with a new face and a new spirit.

It would not be a gross exaggeration to portray it as a re-emergence of the rationalist school of thought – or known previously as the mu’tazilites – in the Islamic world. As the rationalists believed that one of God’s crucial attributes is justice, hence man must have free will. Man must utilise his God-given faculty of reason to decipher between right and wrong and to establish justice.

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And since God is absolutely just, He would not reward or punish his creatures without reason. Humans would receive reward in heaven or punishment in hell as a result of their free choice. Anyone who believes in a just God had to accept that man is the creator of his deeds.

The rationalism of the Mu’tazilites led them to conclude that God, and thus, His universe, operated according to rational laws, a premise that called on scientific inquiry. From this, emerged the scientific boom of the Medieval Islamic world; the zenith was the establishment of Bait al-Hikmah or House of Wisdom.

Another important theological basis for the Mu’tazilites was that the Qur’an was created, which lead to the interpretative conclusion that the Qur’an can be “interpreted” and NOT merely “implemented” or “applied”.

The literal translation of the Qur’an is mainly the basis for the current predominantly literalist or Salafist trend in the Muslim world. Because of this literalist trend, many Muslims are trapped in the Medinan State concept or as what was mentioned by the esteemed Prof Tariq Ramadan in his book Radical Reform, obsession with models rather than principles.

Basically Muslims require thinking, and rethinking again about this important agenda. Man must be able to exercise their God-given rational faculty in order to face the challenges of modernity. And this forms the basis of reform that we aspire to.

“I desire nothing but reform (al-Islah) as far as I am able. There is no guidance for me except from Allah” [Surah Hūd 11: 88].

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Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa is Chairman and Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF). This is the text of his Speech during a high tea event “Rethinking Islamic Reform” featuring Tariq Ramadan at the Renaissance Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on 14 July 2012.

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22 Jul 2012 10.35am

Distinguish between faith and its followers? Are you kidding? Do you really exist in Malaysia? When was faith and followers not distinguishable? Was there ever a separation between the two? So murdering in the name of Allah is not evil but is considered racist and Islamophobic by those who think it otherwise? True, every religion has its extremisms, but when you have a regime in Malaysia that touts its Islamism and its racism in its bid to protect by whatever means the rights of Malays who, by definition are Muslims, that’s piety in the name of Allah and the right thing to do, even if the regime extends this to shedding the blood of non-Muslims?

22 Jul 2012 11.23pm
Reply to  Monty

Monty, actually you yourself have answered your nagging question. Extremists do exist in all religions even though the latter enjoin the adherents to be peaceful, respectful of others and moderate in what they do in life. There are those who would even kill in the name of their religion and God. In this regard, the religion of the extremists cannot be made culpable just as the racist impulses of the Malay-Muslim led government of Malaysia cannot represent the Islam that calls for justice, equality and moderation. By the same token, would you fault, for instance, Christianity for the colossal devastation and human suffering that were wreaked in Iraq by the Bush administration that is Christian in composition, or at least the Christian majority in the US government?

17 Jul 2012 8.15pm

Islam has ethics? Really? Is murder one of them? And racism another? What about large-scale corruption? And gross deception? What about incest, rape, molestation? And drug-taking? How about extraordinary laziness and a welfare/subsidy mentality? What about secretive bouts of alcohol consumption? Prostitution? Adultery? Domestic violence? Should I continue with the list …?

17 Jul 2012 10.09pm
Reply to  Monty

One should be able to distinguish between the faith and its followers. Besides, these evil deeds, which may include racist thinking and Islamophobia, are not the monopoly of certain adherents of one particular religion.