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International workshop in Pakistan explores Muslim ethics, pluralism

May 18, 2012

The Arizona State University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, in partnership with the Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue and the Islamic Research Institute of the International Islamic University–Islamabad, has organized an international workshop titled “Being Muslim in the World: Everyday Ethics and Cultures of Adab” that will take place from May 23-24 in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Chad Haines, an assistant research professor with the center and incoming assistant professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, and Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and professor of history, have forged an international collaboration that is bringing together scholars from the United States, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Malaysia for the workshop.

“The idea for this workshop grew out of conversations that took place at the ‘Women, Islam and Peacebuilding’ conference we held at ASU in March 2011,” Saikia says.

“The focus of that conference on the everyday practices of peace within Muslim communities really emphasized the need for more research on the conceptual frames that support peaceful co-existence and pluralism,” Saikia says.

Adab is understood by Muslim thinkers as the bridge between theology and lived practices that underlies the ideals of social cohesion, tolerance, moderation, peace and ultimately one’s humanity, according to Haines. Deeply rooted in Islamic history, it provides a framework for social mores and morality that continues to resonate in Islamic communities today.

“Adab is really the philosophical foundation within Islam for living with others,” says Haines. “It has shaped so much of the everyday life of Muslim communities that it is surprising that it has received such little attention from scholars as a set of lived practices and attitudes.”

The upcoming workshop aims to fill that gap by bringing together a select group of scholars to identify concepts, issues, and directions for further research.

The workshop is divided into three components – learning ethics, conceptualizing ethics, and living ethics – and will explore such questions as:

• How do people learn ethics and Adab? What role do school curricula, media and the family play?

• How is Adab practiced in different societies? Have there been changes in everyday ethics and the practice of Adab over time?

• Why is it important to study this topic today? What comparative lessons can we learn from multiple Muslim communities about the importance of everyday ethics and Adab for peaceful co-existence with other religious and ethnic communities?

The workshop is designed as an intensive dialogue among scholars, but will close with a public session expected to draw over 500 students and scholars from the university and surrounding community in Islamabad.

“The response from people in Pakistan and elsewhere has just been fantastic,” Haines says. “When we started this conversation last year, we had no idea there would be such interest.”

“I think it is because there has been so much attention on violence,” says Saikia. “Most Muslims experience their daily practice as one of moderation and it has just become so clear that more research is needed to demonstrate how these practices have been communicated, transmitted, and lived.”

“It is important not only to understand the dynamics that cause or exacerbate conflict,” says Linell Cady, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, “but also to understand the resources and values that promote and sustain peace.”

Workshops, conferences and international dialogues such as this are essential to building the networks of scholars who can address these issues in comparative and global perspectives, according to Cady.

“This project exemplifies the kinds of new and creative thinking that thecenter seeks to foster,” Cady says.

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