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Salah Uddin Salam
Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions (2nd Edition), Edited by Peggy Morgan & Clive A. Lawton, (Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 354 pp
Morgan and Lawton have produced an informative and user-friendly parallel study of the ethical values of six world religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The need for such a study – this being the second edition – has never been stronger in areas for debate between communities, and this book draws together authors respected in the six aforementioned traditions to compare the ethical foundations. Each section introduces a different religion and sets the wider context within which specific, topical and even controversial issues are addressed. This book review will be of Section F: Islam, written by Professor Azim Nanji who assumed the role of Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in 1998. In 2008, he took up an appointment in the Abbasi Programme in Islamic Studies at Stanford University and previously was Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida. Professor Nanji has authored, co-authored and edited several books including: The Nizari Ismaili Tradition (1976), The Muslim Almanac (1996), Mapping Islamic Studies (1997), The Historical Atlas of Islam (with M. Ruthven) (2004) and The Dictionary of Islam (with Razia Nanji), (Penguin 2008). In addition, he is also on the Board of Directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism, a partnership between Prince Karim, Aga Khan IV (the 49th and current Imam of the Shia Nizari Ismaili Muslims) and the Government of Canada. The nine ethical areas discussed by all sections, including Section F: Islam, cover an expansive range including: religious identity and authority; personal and private; marriage and the family; influences on and use of time, money and other personal resources; the quality and value of life; questions of right and wrong; equality and difference; conflict and violence and global issues. All sections then end with a helpful glossary of key terms, a bibliography and some useful addresses should the reader want to engage further with the adherents of that faith. Nanji’s aim, in writing this section, to provide the basic tenets of Islam – its beliefs, experiences and convictions – seems to be disappointing in not being achieved in various significant ethical areas discussed by this book and in conjunction with the overall intention as stated in the introduction of the book. Nanji attempts a phenomenological approach to providing a very superficial introductory overview of what Islam has to say on the ethical issues considered throughout the book. In doing so, he fails to mention most of the core fundamental principles of Islam as known to and practiced by most if not all of the Muslims around the world. These core principles or tenets of beliefs common to almost every if not all Muslims – and even recognised by Non-Muslims as specifically distinctive of Muslims and their culture – such as the view on the purpose of life being a test and the after life are instrumental in guiding Muslims in all decisions more than just the ethical issues considered. In this effort, it contributes little to the overall aim of the book, stated as ‘the conviction that crossing the frontiers of faith, languages and races enable people to deepen their understanding of issues that are important to us all.’(p. xi). The book can be recommended to secondary school teachers as well as their GCSE and Advanced level students for an introductory comparative grasp of the issues. But not to caring professionals or those seeking to understand the Islamic view around practical day-to-day challenges – stated as part of the intended audience – since many of the basic common practices which are seen to be carried out by Muslims are not explained and so may lead to misunderstanding of sensitive issues. Issues such as the ‘awrah’ (a term used within Islam defined as the intimate parts of the body, for both men and women), fasting and the conditions around them are not mentioned. This then falls short of being a basis for training sessions by the caring professions. As mentioned in the book introduction, and acknowledged as the limitation, that writers were asked to point out where any terminology or emphasis is not used within a particular faith since questions on the agenda are in a Western context. Nanji, as well as the other writers, was supposed to at all times reflect the viewpoints of believers and belongers of those who are insiders to the traditions (p. xiii). Indeed, with this intended approach Nanji surprisingly fails to mention, even at a very basic level, integral common principles such as Aqeedah (which refers to those matters which are believed in, with certainty and conviction, in one’s heart and soul); Imaan
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4. Nafs (which refers to the self or ego) and Akhirah (after life). showing a misrepresented and Western viewpoint as opposed to reflecting the viewpoints of believers and belongers of those who are insiders to the Islamic tradition – in his attempt to synthesise the widely dispersed sources which include modern albeit Western interpretations of the original scriptures. Nanji does end with a helpful glossary of key terms.Tower Hamlets Community Leadership Programme 2011. and F. This.7.a. University of London. one can sense an undertone of a reformist attitude if not a pro-secular agenda in the type of claims presented. fasting and the month of Ramadaan? There is no clarification or mentions of the manifestations of shirk (defined as associating with God) which are so basic.b. Salah Uddin Salam Community Leadership Programme. 326 last sentence. Page 2 of 2 . formulaic structured.’ (F. This is in contrast to his earlier writing where he states that ‘Ultimate authority in Islam belongs to God. Thus.2012 Salah Uddin Salam (belief). Although Nanji provides a very accessible. in an individual.c. Also.b. Hence. Nanji. he does however omit if not skim over a lot of the fundamental principles of Islam which – for all if not definitely for majority of the Muslims – serve as both the viewpoint as well as the moral guidance through all situations. This being said. where are the mentions of Muslim prayers. 320). p. 317) where is the term ‘mundoob’ (which refers to those actions which are recommended) in relation to the list classifying. In F. 302) the citation of the authentic and well recognised hadiths urging the pursuit of knowledge: ‘Seek knowledge. widely known and universally recognised by Muslims throughout time to the present day. despite the intention.8. Education (p. 299) there is no clarification of the Islamic standpoint on the difference between men and women on marrying people of other religions. where he hints on what seems like some personal claims. it falls short of meeting the needs of the entire intended audience in being informative (even in a pragmatic sense) and instead may even lead to slight misunderstandings. male or female’ (Friedlander 1998: 31). is misconceived since the original hadiths use the Classical Arabic term ‘ilm’. As a result.8. In F. 327). with F. ‘Just War’? (p. even into China’ and ‘The pursuit of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim. Fitrah (which refers to the natural disposition or constitution). Punishments (p. actions into five categories? In F. investing them with power and authority to lead and guide his followers based on what was revealed to them. School of Oriental and African Studies.6. This limitation to certain extent is acknowledged by its approach in a Western context and its method of synthesising a widely dispersed range of sources.d. basic overview of Islam and some of its generalised standpoints on the ethical issues considered in this book. which refers to ‘True Knowledge’ and that this is what is referred to as being obligatory.d. and p. The Meaning of Marriage (p. The Purpose of Law (p.3. Nanji needs to clarify the use of the terms ‘extreme’ and ‘primitive measures’ in reference to punishments and whether they are Divinely ordained or culture specific otherwise it seems like a very reductionist account of the important issues using loaded language. In F. a bibliography and some useful addresses should the reader want to engage further with the adherents of Islam.6. However. the reader may form a picture of Islam as an abstract framework of loosely connected ideas rather than an actual beneficially and universally applicable system of principles which are interconnected and operating in reality.a.1. Authority. Nanji does write a simple but well-balanced section entitled: F. sometimes without being substantiated correctly.1. in legal and ethical terms. 288). as a higher sense of reality and morality/moral consciousness and thus functioning as guiding principles in resolving all ethical issues. without justification or clarification that Islam is in need of a reformation suggesting some sort of secularisation. There are also contradictions – in recognition of the source of legislation – between F. does not represent the views of Muslims when he omitted the use of pbuh (peace be upon him) or SAW (Salalahu Alayhi Wasalam) straight after mentioning the name of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and its significance.a. He also didn’t mention the important interrelationship between these factors in their manifestation. for example. including the ethical issues considered. which is common and very important to all Muslims.a. is made apparent in the misconception and/or misrepresentation of citations of the original sources along with some contradictions between sub-sections within the writing.’ ‘God selected prophets and messengers throughout history. To the more knowledgeable reader.