Fall Lecture Series starts with talk by Jasser Auda
On September 4, the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies launched its Fall Lecture Series with a presentation by leading expert Dr. Jasser Auda, Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics based in Doha. His research on the interpretation and application of Islamic legal rulings and ethical questions has been instrumental in shaping new approaches to these issues, and has cemented his reputation as one of today’s most respected scholars of Islam. Dr. Peter Mandaville, Co-Director of the Ali Vural Ak Center, stressed this point while introducing Auda to the audience.
“In his own right, he is also an intellectual pioneer as one of the leading figures globally in the development of the maqasid approach to the study of shari’ah”, Mandaville said. “His work is founded on a tradition that has been present over a number of centuries in the thinking around Islamic jurisprudence, which suggests that the term shari’ah is best understood not as a legal code but rather to refer to the idea of an ethical system – the ethics of Islam – and the idea of focusing not on the actual letter of the law or principle but rather, the aims or the objectives of a particular ethical principle.”
Focusing primarily on Egypt, Auda outlined the debates about Islamic governance in countries where popular uprisings have recently overthrown dictatorships to be replaced, in large part, by Islamist political parties. He highlighted the main issues and different forces driving these debates by contrasting multiple parties, traditional religious institutions, and various intellectual trends of discussion that surround the question of what balance should exist between religion and government.
He first outlined the two most clearly opposed sides of this broad debate, namely secular or liberal groups on one side and conservative literalist Islamist movements on the other. These political opponents disagreed categorically, he explained, on the idea of separating religious rulings from civil matters in the new Egyptian constitution, but an opportunity to compromise was born out of this discussion, particularly when tensions were high in the run-up to Egypt’s presidential election.
“Under the pressure of the presidential elections, shifts started to happen in the stance toward the ‘Islamic state’. What happened is that there was an obvious intention for the presidential election to be a setback in the revolution,” Auda said, alluding to the military’s attempts to manipulate the election’s coverage and results for its own benefit and effectively retain its hold on power in Egypt.
“That could not have been reversed without the unification of all streams in Egyptian society. In order for them to unite, they had to agree on a common ground. That is when liberals started to buy into some Islamic ideas in their thought, and that is when the Islamists started to give up some of the ideas of specific rules to their purposes, objectives, or principles.”
At this point a new concept was introduced, he continued, which Islamist movements had put forth in response to criticism of their political ideologies. To these parties, the idea of “a civil state with an Islamic reference” became a viable middle ground for Egyptians to work towards.
However, even this new concept has to be defined and developed in order to succeed in unifying Egypt, as well as other countries that have also adopted this political vision. Auda then began to analyze what is actually implied by this slogan and how its application might work with specific examples of legislative issues, such as marriage and divorce, finance, and government sponsorship acts of worship like pilgrimage to Mecca.
He concluded his talk with the assertion that working toward this middle ground has been beneficial for Egyptians, and while there is still much work to be done, particularly in revisiting and renewing traditional Islamic legal judgments, the groundwork has been laid for a more inclusive system of governance, a clear indication to him that Egyptians will continue to resist authoritarianism in whichever form it may appear in the future.
To watch Jasser Auda’s lecture, click on the video below.
September 11, 2012