From an Islamic point of view the ultimate aim of prophethood is described as character education and the cultivation of virtuous traits. The famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad (s), “I was not sent except to perfect the noble traits”, emphasises the importance of moral growth in the prophetic mission. Focusing on this will, in turn, build a society formed by good human beings, i.e. good moral agents, who then collectively contribute to the sustainability of that society based on the noble ethos to live a righteous life. We at the Virtue Ethics Foundation earnestly believe that politics is inherently about character building.
Historically, politics had assumed a similar position, particularly in the ancient Greek political philosophies such as those of Plato and Aristotle. In its Greek roots the term ‘politics’ is derived from the word Polis (city). We also note Medinah, the Arabic term for city, in the Islamic political philosophy of Al-Farabi, which constitutes the city of the virtuous. The objective of this political philosophy is the virtuous leadership who’s imaginative deliberations seek to inform, guide and foster ethical and virtuous activities amongst citizens in pursuit of the common spiritual good of the community. Character education plays the most pivotal role in realising such objectives. Reconciling this philosophy, we believe that character education is intrinsically about cultivating attributes which enables one to recognise human dignity. Namely, virtues such as respect, compassion, forbearance, humility, honesty, justice, and gratitude, which will ultimately result in the common good of the community which we believe in essence is social justice.
However, in the West, through the Renaissance, Reformation, the advent of Science and Technology, and the Enlightenment, politics began to change its role in endeavouring to liberate societies from oppression historically regarded as coming from religious authorities. Politics therefore in its secular approach began to recognise the primacy of individual human freedom and liberty over promoting any one particular conception of a good life. Politics in the twenty-first century, as liberal democracies in the West, is about protecting individual rights, as well as facilitating the distribution of wealth, income, opportunities and equalities. Liberal democracies do not primarily aim to make people ‘good’ or ‘virtuous’ but allow them to make choices they freely choose for themselves, while safeguarding their rights and ensuring that individuals do not violate or infringe others’ rights to life, freedom and property.
Under liberal democracies politics is understood and conceived as a framework which allows each individual to practice their own choices. This creates the open society which demands individual responsibility. We believe that in this modern conception of politics, and as inhabitants of the open society, the need for character building increases. For Muslims, this re-enforces the Islamic ideals of politics being inherently about character building. A true believer, from an Islamic perspective, needs to be able to demonstrate that in spite of pluralistic outlooks on life, it is in an open society’s environment that one’s characters possesses the strength to be able to respect others’ choices. In this stage of collective consciousness, we come to understand and respect that human rights and justice have superiority over any particular conception of a good life. To this end, we believe that the conceptions of justice converge whether in liberal democracies or in political arrangements implemented with the sole purpose of character building.
As members of the Virtue Ethics Foundation we sincerely hope to:
- positively contribute in reshaping ethical opinions about political issues facing Muslim communities.
- adopt an inclusivist moral approach while dealing with political challenges that concern the wider community.
- endeavour to reconcile the rifts between Islam and the West in order to gradually eliminate phenomena such as Islamophobia.
- work progressively in seeking a harmonious pluralistic co-existence in society.
- discourage reactionary standpoints and foster standpoints based on wisdom and clear insight (baseera).