The signature of Dr. Abou El Fadl's methodology and scholarship is the emphasis on beauty and reasonableness as the measure of authenticity when it comes to Islam, Shari'ah and Islamic law. The saying of the Prophet (hadith) that "God is Beautiful and God loves beauty," guides Muslims to understand that what is divine must be beautiful, and conversely, what is ugly cannot be of the divine. It is a guiding principle to living a life of Godliness--always in pursuit of the most morally beautiful path to God. (See The Search for Beauty in Islam for a full exposition on beauty as a core moral value of Islam).
What happens when beauty meets reasonableness is an authentic approach to the faith that appeals to both the heart and mind. The power of this scholarly approach is largely in the reminder of what we as human beings already know from our Creator. In Arabic, this is known as fitrah, or what is intuitive to the hearts and minds of all humans.
Dr. Abou El Fadl has written or spoken about a broad range of topics over the years (see Full Bibliography). Here we present some of his most compelling work by subject, addressing some of the main questions below, in which the path to and from God (Shari'ah) must be anchored in the moral trajectory of the Islamic message as defined by justice, mercy, compassion, beauty and reasonableness.
The "Top Recommendations" presented in each subject area are by no means comprehensive, but they represent a good starting point for exploring how this unique scholar strikes the balance between tradition and modernity through the lens of beauty and reasonableness in search of the divine.
Who speaks for Islam? What are the sources of authoritativeness vs. authoritarianism? How is authority recognized or gained? What is required of those who speak with authority in Islam? Are they speaking on behalf of God?
What is the search for beauty in Islam? "God is beautiful and God loves beauty" means that to seek the divine, as the path to elevating the soul, one must seek beauty in all areas of one's life.
Are Islam and the West doomed to be in perpetual conflict? How accurate is the Clash of Civilizations thesis? What is wrong with this worldview and how does the thesis fall flat?
Are Islam and democracy compatible? Is democracy the closest form of governance that Islam would recommend? What challenges confront democracy today?
Dogs are often the subject of unjust vilification and misunderstanding in modern Islam. Are Muslims allowed to own dogs and keep them as close companions, even as if family members within the home? What is our duty to these beloved creatures known as Man's Best Friend? What does the Qur'an say about dogs and how did God reward those who cared for them?
Dr. Abou El Fadl's prescient analyses of Egypt and the Middle East pre- and post-Arab Spring are some of the most important insights for understanding the history and current state of affairs in the Middle East.
Is the Qur'an supposed to be read as if we are stuck in the 7th Century? Or is the Qur'an intended to be relevant for every time and age? How do we navigate the moral trajectory of Islam in our day, age and context?
Is Islam compatible with human rights in the West? What does Islam have to say about human rights? What can human rights discourses gain from an appreciation of an Islamic approach to human rights?
With the Trump Administration comes heightened challenges for Muslims especially. What is the role of Islamophobia, racism and white nationalism in the rise of hatred and violence against Muslims and Islam?
What is the meaning and definition of jihad? What is considered allowable or preferable jihad? Is violence prescribed in Islam? Are Muslims allowed to rebel against corrupt or unjust leaders?
What duties and obligations do Muslims living in non-Muslim majority countries hold? What does it mean to live as a faithful Muslim in a non-Muslim majority country? What is the balance between living according to the Shari'ah and living in a non-Muslim land? How do Muslims negotiate the balance?
Who was the Prophet Muhammad? What was his character as a human being? What does he represent and what does he inspire in the hearts of believers? What was his message for humanity? How do we carry on his example in our day and age?
What does the Qur'an tell us about ethics, morality and virtue? What is the moral trajectory of the message and how should that be understood and applied in our time and age?
The issue of women in Islam has become for many observers the evidence of Islam's incompatibility with modernity and human rights, particularly in its manifestations of patriarchy, oppression, ugliness and inhumanity against Muslim women around the world. How does this square with the theology and moral message of Islam? What does God intend for half the population of the world given the imperatives of the faith for both men and women? How do politics, socio-economic and other factors play into the place and treatment of Muslim women? There is much to be said on this critical issue and few as willing as Dr. Abou El Fadl to take a controversial moral stand on how women are often on the wrong end of the receiving line when it comes to just treatment.