Durham, NC -- Professors routinely travel to other locales to deliver speeches, but Ebrahim Moosa's recent trip to Morocco was far from the ordinary.
This week, Moosa delivered a lecture, "Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Islamic Thought," that was hosted by His Majesty King Muhammad VI of Morocco and was held in the renovated Qarawiyin Mosque in the historic city of Fez. Attending the lecture, which came during the holy month of Ramadan, were the king, a royal entourage, scores of diplomats, Moroccan government representatives, ministers and senior representatives of the armed forces, among others.
"It was a real honor to be invited to speak to such a distinguished audience," said Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic Studies and associate director of research at the Duke Islamic Studies Center.
"The event reached a whole new level of significance when it was held in the Qarawiyin mosque, the oldest mosque-university where advanced Islamic education continues to this day," he added. "I was humbled by the fact that I was surrounded by such an extraordinary historical aura, where great scholars of Islam in the past occupied the professorial chair."
The event held other historical significance. Moosa was the first South African scholar of Islam to be invited to deliver one of the eight lectures spread over the month of Ramadan and one of only a few U.S.-based scholars to receive this honor. The lecture, delivered in Arabic, was nationally broadcast in Morocco and beamed to other parts of the Arabic-speaking world and Western Europe.
"At a time of turmoil, for an American to be invited to deliver this lecture during Ramadan at the foremost and oldest Islamic university is very overwhelming," said Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar, secretary general for the African International Mission for World Peace who attended the lecture. "There were important Muslim scholars from all over the world. It proved to be a useful forum in which America can start rebuilding its image in the Arab-Muslim world.
"America should be proud that we have prominent Muslim scholars such as Professor Moosa who are recognized around the world. He was a wonderful ambassador, not only for Duke University but also for the United States."
During his presentation, Moosa addressed a wide range of issues related to how inherited Muslim traditions and practices are applied in times when social experiences and human imagination are very different to the times in which such practices originated. Past Muslim scholars discovered legitimate and relevant ways to express Islamic values and such practices differed from one epoch to another while also being consistent in some fundamental practices such as rituals, he noted.
Moosa called for a greater interaction and engagement of the humanities and social sciences with traditional Muslim disciplines such as the science of the interpretation of the Qur'an, theology and law. Such meaningful engagements can result in productive and innovative outcomes for a dynamic interpretation of Islamic thought that can respond to the needs of the hour and the challenges of the time, he said.
Moosa also pointed out that while there was a great deal of hostility toward Islam, a good deal of this criticism was the direct result of Muslims themselves violating the values and teachings of Islam. Islamic teachings are often criticized for its treatment of women, Moosa noted, but Muslims themselves do not live up to the standards dictated by the faith in terms of the treatment of women. Why is it a fact that in many parts of the Muslim world women are still being subjected to degrading family law practices? , he asked. "Why do people continue to turn a blind eye to honor killings?"
Values such as compassion, purity, tolerance, courage and, humility, he argued, should become the main features of Muslim society. In addition, he urged that Muslim societies, especially Muslim civil societies, establish a global moral consensus around at least two fundamental values: first, pluralism and tolerance, and second, the need to adopt non-violent means to settle internal differences. Violence had become endemic in Muslim societies, among others. He especially condemned suicide bombings and denounced those groups who wanted to turn the whole world into a theater of war and any person as a legitimate target of revengeful violence.
While nations and communities have a right to defend themselves against occupation and the violation of their rights, Moosa cautioned against those who justify the use of any means to achieve such goals. Only just means can be used to reach just ends, he said. Violence destroys Muslim talents, abilities and infrastructure that takes decades to build and such acts only furthers the cycle of helplessness and despair that lead to more violence. A moral consensus on a set of values, if adopted and implemented widely, can only serve to advance Muslim societies to levels of greater prosperity, cultural flowering and roles of leadership in world affairs, Moosa said.
He urged moral leaders to speak out in favor of Islam's universal values. The Prophet of Islam had warned that if Muslims failed to speak out and through their silence stifled Islam's moral message, then their faith would be rendered a strange phenomenon in the world. In the words of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam would become an exiled stranger if there were moral complacency and such a condition is unacceptable to people of faith, he stated in his address.
Bruce Lawrence, the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion at Duke and director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, said the U.S. "has few better allies in the Arab/Muslim world than the Kingdom of Morocco. The king is not only a devout Muslim but once a year he convenes a group of all his top advisors, and major religious leaders, to reflect on their collective hope for a better Muslim future, beginning with Morocco.
"Dr. Moosa delivered a 40-minute speech in flawless Arabic, a feat covered by national television in Morocco and reported soon after as the headline story of the major daily, Le Matin. Its message: Ethical strategies from Muslim sources to counter religiously inspired violence and promote pluralism. There could hardly be a more timely message or a more talented messenger, and Duke produced both."
The lecture series is named after the late King Hasan, the father of the current king of Morocco who initiated the tradition of honoring Muslim scholars of religion from around the world. The lectures also follow a long Islamic tradition where scholars lecture to political leaders and the public at large on relevant and topical issues of the day in the form of academic teaching and moral counseling.