Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies’ (QFIS’s) new research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) can trace its origins to a discussion in 2010 between the organization’s now Executive Director, Professor Tariq Ramadan, and its Deputy Director, Dr Jasser Auda.“Around that time, Dr Ramadan started visiting the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Science after his book, Radical Reform, was published,” Dr Auda says. “During one of these visits we discussed how some of the ideas in that text linked with themes in my own Philosophy of Islamic Law book. He believed in the importance of transforming these ideas into a research center that would realize the philosophy of reform from his perspective and the philosophy of Islamic law from my perspective.”
The suggestion that Islamic ethical reform and Islamic law are fundamentally linked was the basis for the foundation of CILE.
Professor Ramadan explains that the three main objectives of the center will unite different elements of study, bringing together scholars who look at Islamic texts themselves, with those who apply these texts to real-world situations.
“The first objective to change the methodology for any of the fields that we want to tackle is the need to bring together the scholars of the text as well as the scholars of the context,” he says. “The second is to come not only with theories, but to be very practical. The third one is to start from the Islamic viewpoint and come to shared universal ethics and ethical values.”
One of CILE’s roles will be to re-examine Islamic ethics and values as laid out in various texts and place them in the context of the modern world. The center will therefore also offer seminars, public lectures, an annual international conference, publications and ethical training to different organizations.The project was proposed to Qatar Foundation (QF) and approved, and then the foundations of an internationally recognized center were laid. Discussions were undertaken on different levels as to how the center would be organized. Its headquarters would be at QF, with satellite offices in Oxford and Paris. Dr Auda says: “It just took a few weeks to decide how the center would work between the three cities, with Dr Ramadan as the director.
“From day one we involved a number of our colleagues and former students in establishing a steering committee with representatives from different countries and organizations, to brainstorm ideas, and move the center forward. Our aim is quite high and is quite sensitive. It’s a topic that has potentially far-reaching consequences, and therefore we had to get the input, as well as the buy-in, of a number of renowned scholars and colleagues worldwide.”
Planning for CILE’s launch started in the summer of 2011. Initially. this involved developing the infrastructure of the center, which is based at QFIS.
Dr Auda says: “We have hired integral personnel, and, being a center within QF, we have also undertaken a number of training sessions. It was important to become familiar with QF norms and regulations. The QF organization has an incredible ability to offer services. For example, we would not have been able to organize CILE’s launch in January of this year with any team of public relations people that we could hire. Thanks to QF Shared Services and Qatar MICE Development Institute (QMDI), in particular, we were able to host a large conference of international standards within two months from the start of the preparations.”
The launch was just the start however, as Lolwah Al Khater, Research Co-ordinator at CILE, explains. “It will require both time and effort for the center to achieve its goals and objectives,” she says. Dr Auda adds: “The center hosted a number of seminars in Doha and a lecture series in Oxford considering Islamic ethics and the mission of the center last year.
“We are trying to reach out to three levels of audiences. Firstly, scholars and the message of what we consider sound methodology in their reasoning. Secondly, to researchers and practitioners in order to encourage them to embody Islamic ethics in the core of their research, and, thirdly, to the wider audience. Over the past eight months we have conducted a number of television interviews with the international media and written a number of articles that have been published internationally, as well as within the Arabic press, on the issues of Islamic ethics and the approach of the center.
“The main challenge has been in the receiving of the message of the center as it’s not always easy to have a vision for the renewal of Islamic thought. We have received encouragement, but we have also met with some negative reactions from the two extremes: one which is very conservative and does not want to see any renewal in the area of Islamic ethics, and the other that does not believe in the role of religion in the world of ethics of human rights.
“With the side of conservatism, we have tried to explain that we come from within Islamic scholarship, not from outside, and that our aim is to preserve the fundamentals rather than compromise them. To the converse side of not believing that religion has a role in ethics, we have tried to make a case that religious conviction can bring and give a stronger case of ethics and the notion of rights.”
CILE has started its research, undertaking a methodology surveying all texts written on ethics from an Islamic viewpoint, which will form a bibliography of the 11 fields of research identified by the steering committee.
Dr Auda concludes: “CILE is based in Doha, but we have an international mission. The issue of Islamic ethics will benefit Qatari society, but it’s much wider than Qatar and the Arab world. I would actually say that it’s even wider than the Muslim world, because Islamic ethics for me is human ethics.”