Lessons from East Asia – Should the Arab World Turn East?

This week, Tabah Foundation welcomed Dr. Shaojin Chai, a senior researcher at the Ministry of Culture in the UAE and former lecturer in Zayed University and American University of Sharjah, to give two lectures on examining the native cultural models of East Asia and the challenges faced by East Asian nations in retaining their cultural identities and indigenous values throughout modernization.

During the 20th century China experienced both the Communist and Cultural Revolutions, which sought to replace any aspect of the “old culture”, including the framework of Confucianism, with modern ideologies. After these spiritual aspects of the old world were eradicated, the competing forces of communism, nationalism, capitalism, and individualism would take precedent. Many Chinese revolutionaries believed that this was the only way to achieve modernity and that the old concepts of spirituality would be long forgotten as a result.

However, Dr. Shaojin argued that there has been a revival in traditional Confucian values in East Asia despite the attempts to remove native religious and spiritual thought. In Japan, the third largest economy in the world, the economy flourished as it incorporated traditional values in the business world. Despite Western influences, South Korea became a mixed economy as it saw the need to maintain the welfare of its people. The desire to retain traditional values can be found in Korean dramas which espouse care for the family unit and relatives.

Even China, despite having much of its religious traditions suppressed, has started to see its own revival. In rural China, self-governance and local rule has been permitted in stark contrast to governing principles in the official state ideology. Recent studies have emerged on the effect of traditional values within villages, showing that villages which preserved religious values contained less corruption. In cities, developments have emerged to find that the population is turning more towards religion and spirituality. According to Dr. Shaojin, “though the western models of secularization attempted to replace the spiritual void with material wellbeing, the people of China still longed for spiritual wellbeing”.

Concluding the lecture, Dr. Shaojin proposed that examining East Asian models of development, in which cultural revival and preservation has been recogised, could be an alternative for the Arab world as it struggles to resist cultural erosion amidst the pressures of western models of development.

“Any culture that wants to progress must first understand its own culture.”
While models are not perfect in every context, the Arab world can use the example of the East to be mindful of self-development. Identity must be retained with progress, whether that is found in language or religion.


This lecture was presented as part of the Futures Initiative at Tabah Foundation.

Musa Furber attended: Where Religion, Policy, and Bioethics Meet

On April 10–11, 2011, Musa Furber (Research Associate), attended “Where Religion, Policy, and Bioethics Meet,” a conference on Islamic bioethics held at the University of Michigan. This conference was the first if its kind to be held in North America. Although Islamic bioethics has been a topic of interest to Muslim scholars since the 1970s, it has only recently become a topic of interest in Western and English literature. Islamic bioethics in the West is dominated by medical practitioners and social scientists who are not themselves versed in Islamic law and oftentimes antagonistic towards Islamic scholarship. This conference broke new ground by including a number of Muslim jurists amongst its speakers. The conference was attended by over 150 attendees, mostly from the medical community.

Among the conference’s topics were: the relationship of culture and society to bioethical values; the status of bioethics amongst Muslim physicians and in the Muslim world; bioethics within the healthcare system; and Islamic bioethics according to Islamic scholarship. Furber had the honor of being invited to present how traditional jurisconsults respond to bioethical dilemmas and the role of juridical councils. Furber had received many questions about bioethical issues when he was at Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, so the invitation provided an opportunity for him to work with classical and contemporary jurisprudence – theoretical and applied. But more importantly: it was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the Shari‘ah’s positive concern for the sanctity of life and human dignity.

Furber covered in his presentation the relationships between jurisprudence and medicine, the methodology jurists use when researching bioethical issues, the prerequisites for the individual carrying out Islamic legal research, the large number of contemporary bioethical issues that jurists have already addressed, the need for collaborative research for interdisciplinary issues such as bioethics, and the status of opinions issued by individual jurists and juridical councils. His presentation also touched on the need to seek legal rulings from qualified jurisprudence, and the shortcomings of generalizing the highly-contextualized fatawa found in newspapers and online. At the end of his presentation, he recommended that future discourse on Islamic bioethics in North America needs to include qualified jurisconsults.

Later during the conference, several Muslim physicians mentioned their surprise at learning about the range of bioethical issues that had already been covered by jurisconsults. Many attendees indicated their interest that jurisconsults and qualified Muslim scholars take an active role in future discussions. Several non-Muslim professors stressed the need for greater participation from representatives of normative Islamic scholarship as that is the Muslim voice that interests them.

In sha Allah, this is just the beginning of Tabah Foundation’s participation in Islamic bioethics, both abroad and locally. Many regional physicians have expressed their interest in learning about Islamic bioethics, for their own practice and to better serve the needs of their patients.

Engaging topics of applied ethics is one of Tabah’s research initiatives towards the renewal of contemporary Islamic discourse to fit the needs of humanity



Living Islam with Purpose

This paper offers an operational framework for establishing an authentic expression of indigenous Muslim culture. This framework consists of five operational principles, which are discussed at length and illustrated with examples: trusting reason, respecting dissent, stressing societal obligations, setting priorities, and embracing maxims.

These five principles are central to the Islamic tradition and embody the practical wisdom and consummate sensibility of the Prophetic teaching. The paper emphasizes the need for Muslim communities as a whole to become directly involved in their self-definition and the construction of their future as individuals and communities. This task cannot be left to others or to chance; the five operational principles provide an invaluable resource for determining the way forward. While the paper focuses on the American Muslim community, the framework is relevant to Muslims everywhere, especially those in the West.