Cosmopolitan ethics


The write is a freelance contributor with interest in cultures and religion.
The write is a freelance contributor with interest in cultures and religion.

BECAUSE of the rapid development of communication technology the distance between societies has been shrinking constantly in the contemporary world and today, the world is called a global village. This process of connectivity is viewed as instrumental to bringing people of different backgrounds and cultures closer and to provide an opportunity to learn from each other.

However, it is also observed that this process, at times, causes conflicts within and among societies because of differences in cultural and ethical values.

Looking at the ethical challenges of a connected world, social scientists have been seeking such ethical principles that should be inclusive and help people of diverse backgrounds live in harmony and peace. Over time, different ethical perspectives, with different terms, have been proposed to deal with ethical issues of the contemporary world, and cosmopolitan ethics is one the most discussed ethical perspectives.

The concept of cosmopolitism can be traced in different societies in history; however, after the Second World War, the term ‘cosmopolitan ethics’ received increasing attention from scholars. Broadly speaking, cosmopolitan ethics is based on the principle that all human beings belong to a single community. Cosmopolitan ethics envisage a society where inclusive morality, shared economic interest and social relationship is used to encompass cultural differences. A cosmopolitan society regards the difference of identities and values as strengths. It encourages dialogue within and between cultures and societies to make this world a better place to live in.

Muslims need to promote a humanistic view of Islam.

There are different views about whether religions like Islam provide such principles that can be helpful to build a cosmopolitan society. However, looking at Islamic teachings through the humanistic perspective, one can find plenty of examples that are very much related to cosmopolitan ethics.

For example, the Quran repeatedly stresses on human unity by saying that all humans are created from one soul (4:1). While the Holy Quran emphasises on the unity of humanity, it also recognises the diversity among humankind. The Quran indicates that Allah has purposefully created different communities, or else, He could have made all humankind one community. For example, in one of the verses Allah says “O mankind We have created you male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know one another. …” (49:13). Similarly, in another verse, the Quran says “…To each among you have We prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people. …” (5:48). The Quran also teaches one to tolerate differences and not to impose one’s faith on others (2:256, 109:6)

Likewise, many examples can be found in the teachings and life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that stress on the unity of human beings and teach respect for humanity. The Holy Prophet has repeatedly reminded human­kind to be respectful and helpful to each other.

In short, there are plenty of messages in the Quran and in the teachings of the Holy Prophet that stress on the unity of humanity and reflect the diversity of human society. Such messages can be valuable principles to build a cosmopolitan society on.

It is evident from Muslim history that whenever Muslim societies adopted pluralistic and inclusive approaches, those societies started contributing towards various fields of life such as culture, economics, philosophy, science and literature. In this regard Abbasid Baghdad and Fatimid Cairo can be seen as examples.

Today, many Muslim societies are facing challenges of radicalism and terrorism. There may be multiple causes of such challenges, however, the narrow and exclusive approach of interpretation of faith can be one of the reasons. The narrow interpretation of faith discourages diverse views and society moves towards inter­nal and external polarisation and conflict. This approach cannot enable the faithful to integrate themselves into the diverse and globalised world; as a result they become reactive and violent.

Today, in an interconnected world no society can survive in isolation. When societies are interconnected then diversity is inevitable. In this situation, there is need to promote an ethical system that helps a society integrate itself into broader humanity. Hence, Muslim societies need to promote a humanistic view of Islamic teaching in order to strengthen connectivity within and with other societies.

In sum, our world is increasingly becoming interconnected and people of different cultural backgrounds are coming closer and closer. In this situation, societies need an ethical system that can help people with diverse backgrounds live together harmoniously and peacefully. Cosmopolitan ethics is viewed as one of the inclusive perspectives that encourages providing space for differences in societies. Looking at Islamic teachings through the humanistic perspective, one can come across valuable messages with a humanistic and inclusive outlook that can be instrumental in developing a cosmopolitan society.

The write is a freelance contributor with interest in cultures and religion.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2016