Ihsan and Good Governance: Justice Is Not Enough


[This replaces the eighth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Good Governance in Islam: Classical and Contemporary Approaches held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The main presentaion has been replaced by a reprint of the author’s Huffington Post article “Justice Is Not Enough” at the request of and with the permission of the author. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the organizers.]

“Ihsan and Good Governance”

Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Professor of Islamic Studies and International Relations, University of Delaware

Justice Is Not Enough!

Posted on Huffington Post: 04/22/2013 6:01 pm

The bombing of the Boston marathon and the subsequent man-hunt for the young Dzhokar Tsarnaev, has once again focused everyone’s attention on the so-called threat of Islamic radicalism and on Muslims living in the West. It has also given anti-Muslim extremists all the ammunition they need to put Islamophobia and anti-Muslim campaigns on steroids. While I fear the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., I am also encouraged by many thoughtful voices, including President Obama, in the broadcast, print and social media, which are warning Americans from a rush to judgment and inviting them to look at the matter without prejudice against American Muslims.

There are signs of two emerging memes in the media that are promising from a Muslim perspective. The first is the suggestion by some commentators that perhaps the Boston tragedy should be viewed more as a Columbine like event rather than an al Qaeda type attack. The second meme is the broad recognition that American Muslims are just as opposed to these horrendous attacks as any American and they have no sympathy for extremists of any stripe. The second view, I think, will limit the impact of those Islamophobes, like Congressman Peter King of New York, who wish to use this tragedy to garner support for their crusade against American Muslims.

But nevertheless, I want to address a bigger problem within the global Muslim community that continues to make young people like the Tsarnaev brothers open to manipulation by radical voices and ready to embrace violence. This is the globalization of Muslim victimology. The perception that every problem in the Muslim world from the civil war in Syria, the sectarian violence in Pakistan and Iraq, to unemployment in Egypt and the crashing of my nephews old laptop, is as a result of a deep-rooted Western conspiracy to destroy Islam.

The main themes of Muslim political discourses, besides the Arab spring, are still the plight of Palestinians, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Russian atrocities in Chechnya and so on and so forth. We Muslims are selective in our obsessions of injustices; we ignore the plight of Shias in Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkey, Christians in Egypt, or women everywhere. But this idea that Muslims are the victims of injustice is a strong emotional trigger that seems to be built into the Islamic identity and with increased religiosity comes a feeling of Muslim solidarity and heightened awareness of geopolitical injustices. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there are no injustices, there are many. I am trying to impress that in order to arrest the radicalization of Muslim youth, we need to find a way to enable heightened religiosity without a concomitant spike in anger, frustration and desire for revenge.

Muslims should seek change not revenge.

There is a simple solution, let the Palestinians have their state, let the Kashmiris have their referendum, and the US must get out of Afghanistan and stop using drones to kill women and children in Pakistan. But we all know that that is unlikely to happen tomorrow. But what many Muslims don’t realize is that given the global distribution of power, Muslim resort to terrorism in the name of these causes will most likely delay rather than expedite their resolution.

Muslims cannot continue to allow the radicalization of their youth. We cannot allow our kids to become killers and be hunted down like mad dogs.

How do we teach young Muslims to struggle for justice, but without resorting to terror tactics? How do we teach them that a just cause is not a justification for unjust means? Anger is forbidden. To act in anger, even in the pursuit of justice is Un-Islamic. How do we teach our child that how one responds to injustice is the true measure of one’s values and a true reflection of who we are? How do we teach them that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us — la darar wa la dirar — do no harm and do not reciprocate harm.

Yes, Muhammad taught Muslims neither to initiate harm nor to reciprocate harm. This tradition is very widely known, at least to Muslims who know their religion. It is #32 in the famous collection of traditions by Imam al-Nawawi. Do not do injustice. Do not respond to injustice with injustice. The sources are there, why do we not have the will to teach our children what really are our beliefs? Because the Islamization of Muslim politics, has politicized Islam, and we teach only those sources of our faith that serve our geopolitics. What will happen to the dream of the Palestinian state, the hope of referendum in Kashmir, if Muslims don’t get angry? When will we teach our children that practicing one’s values is more important than advancing one’s politics? Muslims who believe that their religion is beautiful and commands beautiful deeds (Ihsan) must stand up and teach these values.

Every Friday a vast majority of sermons, all over the world, end with this Quranic verse:

Indeed Allah has ordered justice with beautiful deeds (16:90) Bi al-adl Wa aI-hsan. Justice with beautiful action; that is God’s command to Muslims and most of those who pray, hear it nearly every Friday.

This is what we need to teach our children, that we are Muslims, we struggle for justice but with beautiful means. That is the divine command, which if we violate, we surrender our claim to being Muslims. Justice cannot be worthy of pursuit if it is besmirched with the blood of innocents.

Indeed God is beautiful and he loves those who do beautiful deeds. There is nothing more beautiful than abstaining from reciprocating injustice, there is nothing more beautiful than finding compassion and forbearance in our hearts in moments of crisis. Being a Muslim means to submit to the will of God and not to our passions. And He, to whom we submit, commands that we pursue just causes with beautiful means.

Ihsan, doing beautiful deeds, is according to most Muslim scholars the highest manifestation of Islam. It is time we taught our kids to take the highroad.

This article was triggered by the look of sheer agony that flashed on my 14-year-old son, Rumi’s face, when I told him that the alleged Boston bombers were Muslim.

[The following are summaries of comments on Prof. Kahn’s as yet unpublished IIIT presentation]

Discussant: Dr. Jasser Auda

I don’t agree there need be a dichotomy between Islamic state and state. The issue of identity is very important, even if good governance is more important. I would add to knowledge the rest of the maqâsid, life, wealth, religion/spirituality—not just knowledge. To claim a systems approach you have to look at the openness of the system as well as the issue of purpose of the system, and the perception of the system as well. The boundaries of the system need to be defined. Egypt’s revolution was not an Islamic revolution, and it is thus inappropriate to claim an Islamic state as its objective. That doesn’t mean the vision has been abandoned. I totally agree with the critique of Mawardi; he is given more credit that he deserves.

Discussant: Mahmoud Ayoub

Muqtedar always speaks to the conscience of his listeners. Siyâsat-ash-Shari`a means Sharia politics, which means ruling by Sharia in order to establish virtue and justice. Goldhizar, with whom I do not always agree, said jâhiliyya is not the lack of `ilm (knowledge), but the lack of hilm (forbearance). Farabi’s theories are more complex than we have been given him credit for. I think Mawardi was not theorizing the caliphate, but the exercise of power, which I why he mentions the sultanate rather than the caliphate. He argues the ruler should be obeyed even if his rule is only adequate as long as he can protect the borders. We talk about Ghazali’s psychological breakdown but forget that his sponsor had been assassinated by the Ismailis and he feared for his own life. According to the Hadith of Jibril, ihsan is to worship God as if you see him because if you do not see him, he sees you. In my view there are two groups in my state that should not exercise power: the military and the clerics.

Khan: I do not see a dichotomy, bit a disjuncture or a break. Saroush said that Muslims in America practice the Islam of identity while in Iran we practice the Islam of life. People who are sovereign are concerned about governance; those who are not are concerned about identity.

General Discussion

I deeply disagree with the second part of what you said, and I am deeply puzzled by the contrast between the two parts. It is a mistake to speak of state before colonization. Your “Islamist” approach is even clearer when you speak of Ibn Taymiyyah as it is based on partial reading of texts. He praises the Mamluks as the saviors of Islam against the Christians and the Mongols.

Khan: What ibn Taymiyyah is may be less important than how he is seen.

Al-Juwayni represents the juristic position better than Mawardi. He is a critic of Mawardi.

I see the relation between structure and process as dynamic. Do you really believe there is a fundamental duality?

Khan: My most important point is that there is a difference between process and structure.   They have a love-hate relationship with the American system because they have done a pretty good job of putting a structure in place, but more is needed to protect the process. I don’t want to give the standard answer, “religion.” The South African Truth and Reconciliation commission was an example of a process that, although limited in space and time, is an example of what I mean. How do we privilege outcomes that promote virtue? The introduction of critical thought is where I see the role of the muhsanîn. It is not important that everyone see as I do, as long as I raise the issue of conscience in the public square. Education is necessary because it is not the virtuous state that brings about the virtuous public but a virtuous public that brings about the virtuous state.

My reading of the four scholars is different from yours. For example I do not see Mawardi as an apologist of the status quo so much as a reformer intent on subordinating the sultan to the rule of law. Ibn Khaldun does not see the state in structural or legal terms but as a socio-political entity. You said the state has to create a system where virtue is attainable.

Khan: I am still struggling with these ideas. I don’t find guidance in tradition.  Ihsan is not spoken of in issues of governance and policy. I am convinced the state cannot legislate outcome. It should get out of the way. It is not virtue if done under duress. The virtue of the state is to enable virtue.

Ali said a just kâfir [rejector of Islam] is a better ruler in the sight of God than a believer who is dhâlim [unjust]. Introducing ihsan into the makeup of the state introduces more confusion than clarity.

Muwardi never said the caliph must be Quraish. He said that some say this.

Khan: But everyone cites him.

Identity causes divisions and barriers.

Khan: We want to be Muslims, but we also want to be just, so we are returning to these traditions that allow us to be just in this society.

My country Brunei has declared itself an Islamic state and as a consequence has been declared a terrorist country, so we have changed it to a state of dhikr. But we still are a Malay monarchy. We ban wine and we have freedom of religion, and the government implements Islamic family law for Muslims and others under Brunei law.

How are we going to come to an agreement on process? I’m uncomfortable with the discounting of democracy. A Qatari official said it was more important to have accountability and transparency and to fight corruption. But how can we make sure these things are happening without free and fair elections, protection of minorities and rule of law?

Khan: To think we shall find an alternative to democracy is to enter an imaginary state. Muslims are emigrating to democracies. People are talking about liberal democracy without using the words of liberal democracy.

You do not manage people, you lead people and manage things. What do you mean by identity? It doesn’t mean the same thing in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.

Ahmad: Law precedes state, but only in broad terms that are self-evident, not in detailed statutes, but that does not mean virtue precedes the state. If everyone is virtuous what purpose, other than to defend the borders, does the state have?  Farabi wanted the state to bring happiness, while Jefferson only wants to protect the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps a Muslim declaration of maqâsid ash-Sharî`a should state that the self-evident rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of virtue.

In what way is good governance empirical?

I believe the gift of post-enlightenment America is a system of checks and balances and popular representation.

Khan: It took India three years to write its constitution. They did not spend much time on identity markers in their constitution. They did not allow identity to subvert epistemology. That is my only issue with group governance. Is liberal an identity?

I am uneasy about reading Maududi or Khomeini as theorists when they were activists.

Khan: Political theorists have to assess ideas. There are few pure theorists among modern Muslims. And Khomeini actually advanced a political theory.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph,D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






One response to “Ihsan and Good Governance: Justice Is Not Enough”

  1. merciless Avatar

    Thanks in favor of sharing such a pleasant idea, post is good, thats why i have read it fully

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email