Islamic Peace Ethics

Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Contemporary Islamic Thought

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Heydar Shadi
Studies on Peace Ethics
  • Bristol, CT: 
    ISD Distributors
    , January
     263 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Islamic Peace Ethics: Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Contemporary Islamic Thought, edited by Heydar Shadi, finds itself in a turbulent political climate. As contributor Abdessamad Belhaj says,“[t]his is a depressing time for peace in the Muslim world,” citing that political violence affects most of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member countries (229). Given such a context, this book provides a much-needed series of essays that present the diversity and importance of contemporary Islamic peace ethics, while highlighting Muslim voices that argue for peace, or limited use of legitimate violence.

The volume is based on a workshop in 2015 through the Institut für Theologie und Frieden in Hamburg, Germany, and is broken down into three sections which showcase the focus of the essays: (1) Methodology and Theory; (2) Jus ad bellum; and (3) Jus in bello. However, Shadi remarks in the introduction that the main emphasis of the entire collection is on the methodological concerns at work within Islamic peace ethics—both generally, and within the specific criteria of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. The first section is comprised of meta-analyses concerned with the methodology of studying Islamic peace ethics, while the latter two sections are concerned with the methodologies that individual Muslims are enacting when justifying particular ethical norms. All the contributors in these sections do an exceptional job of interrogating the different ways that Muslims use the sources of authority within Muslim ethics (e.g., Qur’an, hadithfiqh, etc.), thus arriving at a variety of positions. 

With such a focus on methodology, it is no wonder that the opening section, dedicated to the general methodology and theory of studying Islamic peace ethics, is so strong. Shadi opens with an essay that cogently summarizes some of the most important contemporary methodological concerns, and three of his critical remarks are well-placed within the larger structure of the book. First, Shadi is concerned about “over-juridification” of Islamic peace studies resulting in only the studying of fiqh, and ignoring other sources of norms found in Islamic history and traditions. His second concern is that an “over-theologization” of Muslim societies can occur by which all actions are attributed to religious motivations and justifications, eliding the separate cultural or non-religious values that equally motivate and effect social norms. Closely connected to this, Shadi’s last concern is that this over-theologization of violence can overshadow the historically-connected political, social, and economic conditions that continue to impact Muslim societies—especially given the history of colonialization that many Muslims endured.

Shadi’s essay harmonizes well with another in the volume by Sybille Reinke de Buitrago, “Discussing Islamic Peace Ethics: Conceptual Considerations of the Normative,” in which the contributor redirects scholars to remain self-reflective in order to ensure that Western biases are not reproduced—knowingly or unknowingly—furthering “power and dominance over Muslim populations and state, while safeguarding and strengthening Western identity and the Western self” (56). Both methodological critiques do a wonderful job of providing a theoretical foundation for scholars to move away from the essentialization and Orientalism that has, and continues, to take root in Islamic Studies. Interestingly, another essay in the same section, “Is it Essentialism to Claim that Some Religions Foster Violence—and Some Do Not?” by Dirk Ansorge, argues against these concerns falling into the very trap that they warn against. Seemingly out-of-place, Ansorge’s essay curiously provides a thorough definition of essentialism, then proceeds to reify religions as agents in-and-of-themselves, removing the diverse field of human agents involved in the interpretations that create the traditions we witness in history.

The second and third sections of the book focus on jus ad bellum and jus in bello, respectively, but their real strength lies in the wide diversity of perspectives that they present, especially in areas outside of the Middle East and North Africa—namely Pakistan, Indonesia, and Russia. Additionally, the essays in these sections provide perspectives within the Sunni, Shi‘ah, and Sufi traditions. My own personal research interests immediately drew me to the Shi‘ah perspective of Ayatollah Fadlallah, presented by Bianka Speidl, which provided a thoughtful engagement with his important book al-Islam wa-mantiq al-quwwa (Islam and the Logic of Power, 1976). Additionally, the essay by Najia Mukhtar, “Citizenship as Inclusion and Exclusion: Arguments against Religious Violence from Contemporary Pakistan,” as well as the essay by Abdessamad Belhaj, “Jawdat Sa‘id and the Muslim Philosophy of Peace,” were particularly strong additions to the volume.

Mukhtar’s essay investigates the use of “citizenship,” through the thought of two modern Pakistani scholars—Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri—to combat violence justified in response to religious difference. Mukhtar aims to show that the notion of citizenship acts as a tool to exclude religious “others,” in this case “terrorists” and “militants,” in order to protect the religious freedoms of a heterogenous population (117). This essay is extremely rich in information, and compares the two scholars both in their positions and in the methods they use to reach them, including their use of the moral sources of authority within Islamic ethics. Belhaj’s essay is a critical look into the nonviolent interpretation and advocacy of modern Syrian scholar Jawdat Sa‘id. In line with the methodological goals of the book, Belhaj focuses on explaining the ways in which Sa‘id arrives at his pacifism, which is through the “Qur’anic narrative of prophetic disobedience,” his distinction between jihad and khuruj, and his rationalist epistemology. These chapters were exceptional contributions, both in content and towards the methodological goal of the book.

Islamic Peace Ethics is a great addition into the current scholarship of Islamic ethics and the just-war tradition, especially for scholars interested in methodology and theory. Additionally, this volume provides a wide diversity of views from all over the globe—combating essentialism and Orientalism, as well as inviting readers of many different specialties to find something within their realm of study.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Thomas Greene is a doctoral candidate in Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy at Florida State University.

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Heydar Shadi is Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Sanskt-Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy.


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