FOOD FOR THOUGHT: powerful excerpts

On Establishing A Universal Common Ground...

"...I will close with note about a possible universal that might help establish common grounds for a cooperative and participatory collaborative venture for the international and the unique.  When one looks at the tradition of discourse in the international context, and when one looks at the tradition of discourse in many of the unique contexts, particularly those that are religious, one will find that what unifies them is a preoccupation with discovering the aesthetic of the sublime—with discovering beauty in the human condition. I have not yet found in the Islamic context—nor in my readings in Judaism or Christianity—a single authority who says: “we particularly cherish the ugly.”  And I have not found ugliness cherished by anyone writing on behalf of the international or unique.  I would suggest that the aesthetic of the sublime—the idea of beauty and the conditions that promote what is beautiful—as a unifying goal of humanity.  The sublime is a state of human goodness in which people feel safe, healthy, fulfilled, dignified, and free from suffering.  I think that intuitively we sense that suffering, including suffering because of a patriarchal context, is never a beautiful thing. And from the perspective of the Islamic, it would be truly difficult to argue that God finds beauty in the suffering of a human being.  Furthermore, I would argue that in direct proportion to the spread of suffering is the regression of the sublime and beautiful in human life.  The greater the amount of social and economic hardship and misery, the lesser the ability of human beings to reach for the aesthetic of the sublime, including the ability to overcome the physical limitations of life, and reach for the transcendent.  If a human being does not feel a sense of significance in life, dignity, and safety, the conditions for the creation of beauty, including the transcendent is seriously compromised.  I would argue that belief in religion, the generation of folklore, art, thought, fidelity, and love are parts of the aesthetic of the sublime, but that such metaphysical accomplishments without the fulfillment of physical needs, such as safety and health, are very difficult.  I think that if we get beyond the failures of process, and the lack of integrity in discourse, we are forced to confront the humanness of human beings, with all its physical, metaphysical, and transcendent aspirations.  Whatever quashes the human being and forces him or her to live in a state of mere subsistence, without the ability to think, learn, dream, and hope cannot be considered beautiful.  According to this paradigm, it is reasonable to assert that whatever increases the suffering of human beings, and robs them of their physical well-being and transcendental abilities should be subject to heightened levels of scrutiny, and an added burden of explanation and justification.  If there is evidence that the members of a society are denied the ability to engage in the aesthetic of the sublime, whoever claims that such a condition is justified, either under the paradigm of internationalism or uniqueness, must be subjected to closer scrutiny, and should shoulder a heavier burden of justification.  The aesthetic of the sublime, I think, might be a good starting point for a discoursive process that can be integrative, legitimate, and ultimately end up in an institution that is collaborative, and that is truly human, with all the sublime qualities that are inherent in the word human." Excerpted from "The Unique and International and the Imperative of Discourse."


On Ethics, Diversity and Representing God's Truth...

Humans represent God's ethical existence on earth; they do not represent His truths. This is exactly why the law of creation itself defies puritan fantasies. Very much like birth and death, the Qur'an emphasizes that diversity and disagreement is a part of God's law. Puritans imagine the construction of homogeneity through law, but it is the text of the Qur'an itself that takes issue with this aspiration. Below are samples of the Qur'anic discourse on human diversity:


And unto thee have We revealed the scripture with the truth, confirming whatever scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. From each We have appointed a divine-law and a traced-out-way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. By that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie one with another in good work. Unto Allah ye will return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.


Had Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to guidance--So be not thou among the foolish ones.


Had Allah willed, they would not have been idolatrous. We have not sent thee as a keeper over them, nor are thou responsible for them.


And if thy Lord had willed He would have made mankind one nation, yet they ceased not to differ.


And if thy Lord willed all, who are in the earth would have believed together wouldst thou [Muhammad] compel men until they are believers?


There is no compulsion in religion.


These passages indicate that it is inevitable that people will continue to disagree and differ up to the Final Day. This disagreement and diversity is not only expected but is desirable. The Prophet is reported to have said, "The disagreement of my companions is a mercy." Furthermore, a person is not only rewarded for being right but also for being wrong. The Prophet said, "He who strives after the truth and is (ultimately) erroneous is rewarded once, and he who is right is rewarded twice." Diversity in thought and opinion is accepted, but the truth of God is one.


This brings me to my final point. The Qur'an says, "Let there be of you a nation who invite to goodness, enjoin the right conduct and speak against indecency." The Qur'an does not say, "Let there be of your government ..." The duty, which is a core value in Islamic morality, mandates that there not be a moral monologue from the state to the people, but a moral dialogue between people.


In my view, an Islamic state is duty-bound to seek after the moral values of shari'a, but people have a right to interrogate the state on its success or failure in the pursuit of the objectives of shari'a. Institutionally, there must be mechanisms that protect the integrity of the moral conversation taking place within society, but if the state assumes the role of the despotic moral teacher - the one that speaks while all humbly and faithfully listen - the state has usurped the role of the Divine. There is a moral duty to obey the law of the state, but only if the person, who will ultimately be held accountable before God, believes the law is moral.


Before 'Ali, the Prophet's cousin, became the fourth Caliph, at one point he was commanded by 'Uthman (the third Caliph) not to visit or speak with Abu Dhar al-Ghafari, one of the Prophet's Companions. 'Uthman had exiled Abu Dhar for being too critical of the state's fiscal policies, and forbade anyone from congregating with him. 'Ali, however, refused to obey the order. When 'Uthman brought him in for questioning, 'Ali responded: "Is it that if you command us to do something that we see the obedience of God and His prophet in its opposite, we should blindly obey? No, by God, we will not."


At the risk of punishment, 'Ali took a conscientious stand to uphold a moral principle, and it seems to me, 'Ali was exactly on point. Truly submitting to God must mean that when all is said and done, a person must be able to answer the call of his conscience and stand on the Final Day before God, able to defend his actions. Hopefully, if one is not being presumptuous or whimsical, if he is not rewarded twice at least he will be rewarded once.


Ultimately, Muslims do have a moral duty to obey God's law, but not the state's version of God's law.


Excerpted from: OPINION: "What is an Islamic State?" ABC Religion and Ethics.