Traditional Islamic Ethics: The Concept of Virtue and its Implications for Contemporary Human Rights

by Irfaan Jaffer

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"Traditional Islamic Ethics: The Concept of Virtue and its Implications for Human Rights" concentrates on the subject of Islam and modernity and Islam and human rights, a topic that has become popular and relevant with the rise of globalization and the interest in Islamic extremism and human rights. This book distinguishes itself by operating within the framework of the traditional school of thought or ‘Islamic Traditionalism’. In doing so, it draws on Islam’s 1400-year-old spiritual and intellectual tradition and its understanding of ethics and virtue, along with truth, justice, freedom, and equality. This book argues that Islam’s pre-modern approach is indispensable in creating an organic and integral human rights model for Muslims.

The first section argues that the current understanding and implementation of international human rights needs to be more flexible and inclusive if it truly aims to be universal in scope; this is because ‘The Universal Declaration’ and its offshoots are still underpinned by secular-liberal principles, and therefore, are at odds with other cultural traditions. To this end, this section critically explores popular human rights histories and contemporary ethical theories that attempt to justify human rights. The second section of this book provides a general overview on the subject of ‘Islam and Human Rights’. After explaining some of the main problems, this section examines various solutions offered by Muslim academics and scholars, focusing on four different types of Muslim responses to modernity and human rights: liberal, progressive, traditional, and fundamentalist. It concludes that there are ‘spaces of convergence’ between modern-liberal ethics and traditional Islamic virtue ethics while maintaining that there are also fundamental differences and that these differences should be welcomed by human rights theorists and advocates.

The book’s intended audience is primarily post-graduate students and professional academics in the fields of Human Rights, Ethical Philosophy, and Islamic Studies (modern Islamic thought, Sufism, Islamic theology, Islamic Philosophy, and Traditionalism). It will also appeal to anyone interested in the subject of Islam and modernity in general and Islam and human rights in particular.

Foreword - Liyakat Takim, McMaster University

Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1. Approaching human rights and Islam
1.2. Speaking about Islam: the perennial school and Islamic traditionalism
1.3. A note on sources and terminology
1.4. Book outline
1.5. A note on translation, transliteration and structure

Chapter 2 Human Rights: The Incomplete Development of a Secular-Liberal Ethic
2.1. Popular human rights histories
2.2. The construction and assumptions of human rights histories

Chapter 3 Human Rights and Their Underlying Ethical Theories
3.1. A critical exploration of utilitarianism
3.2. A critical exploration of natural rights
3.3. A critical exploration of ethical sentimentalism
3.4. Human rights and the problem of universality

Chapter 4 Religion, Islam, and Human Rights
4.1. Islam and the challenge of human rights
4.2. Understanding contemporary Islamic thought
4.3. The perennial school of thought and Islamic traditionalism

Chapter 5 Traditional Islamic Ethics and the Concept of Virtue
5.1. A Quranic perspective on morality and virtue
5.2. Traditional Islamic virtue theory

Chapter 6 Virtue Theory and its Implications for Human Rights
6.1. Human rights and the station of servanthood
6.2. Islamic law, pluralism, corporeal punishment, and gender

Chapter 7 Conclusion


Dr. Irfaan Jaffer received his Bachelor of Arts from York University in 2008, his Master of Arts from the University of Toronto in 2010, and his Doctorate from York University in 2018. During this time, he focused his studies on Contemporary Islamic Thought, Modern Ethics and Premodern Philosophy. Since 2018, Dr. Jaffer has been giving guest lectures and classes at various Islamic organizations and interfaith institutions. Currently, he is conducting research for his next course: The Concept of Psychology in the Islamic Tradition.

Modernism, Imperialism, Perennialism, Sophia Perennis, Reform, Morality, Goodness, Being, Transformation, Religion, Traditional Wisdom, Truth, Justice, Equality, Freedom, S.H. Nasr, Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon, Martin Lings, and Joseph Lumbard

Bibliographic Information

Book Title
Traditional Islamic Ethics: The Concept of Virtue and its Implications for Contemporary Human Rights
Number of pages
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Publication date
September 2021