We, at the Virtue Ethics Foundation, believe that politics is inherently about character building. From an Islamic point of view, the ultimate quest of prophethood include building character, and implementing a form of character education, in order to create a society based on a moral ethos of living a good life.The evidence of this can be found in the famous quote of the Prophet Muhammad:
“I was not sent except to perfect the noble characteristics.”
Historically, politics sought a similar position, particularly in the ancient Greek political philosophies such as of Plato and Aristotle. In its Greek roots, the term politics is derived from the word polis, meaning city. In the Islamic political philosophy of Al-Farabi, which is believed to be drawn largely from Plato’s and Aristotle’s political philosophies, we note, the term medina for city constitutes the ‘city of the virtuous’. The primary objectives of this political philosophy, is the virtuous and pious leadership; who’s imaginative deliberations seeks to inform and foster ethical opinions, as well as virtuous activities amongst the 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 with utmost sincerity, we at Virtue Ethics Foundation gravely believe that character education is fundamentally about cultivating the characteristics which enables one to recognise human dignity, and human rights, with virtues such as: respect, tolerance, compassion, kindness, forbearance, humility, truthfulness and fairness. We believe, the exercise of this, is the grounds to the ultimate end; meaning the common good of the community which in essence can be conceived as social justice.
In the West, through the periods of reformation, renaissance, enlightenment and the liberalisation, politics however began to change its role in endeavouring to liberate societies from oppressions 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 now, in the 21st century, as liberal democracies in the West is about facilitating and protecting individual rights and their free choices, as well as facilitating the distribution of wealth, income, opportunities and civil rights. Liberal democracies do not aim to make people ‘good’ or ‘virtuous’ but rather 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 a free society which demands individual responsibility. We believe that in this modern conception of politics, and as inhabitants of a free society, there is a greater need for character building.
For Muslims, this reinforces the Islamic principles 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 a free society’s environment that one’s character 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 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 shaping ethical opinions about political issues facing Muslim communities.
– Adopt an inclusivist moral approach while dealing with political challenges that concern the wider community.
– Strive 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 coexistence in society.
– Discourage reactionary standpoints, and instead adopt a standpoint based on wisdom and clear insight (baseera).