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Resisting the Ugly; the Epistemology of Iḥsān (Beauty/Goodness) in the Qurʾān
Abstract by Amira Abou-Taleb On Session V-30  (Disciplinary Epistemologies)

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

We live in a world that focuses on the ugly. Hate crimes, political polarity, and the looming doom of the climate crisis are but a few headlines that make up our insatiable news feeds. When it comes to the Muslim world, the ugliness is exacerbated with Islamophobia on one end and Islamic fundamentalism on the other. Their rhetoric often uses religion to justify atrocities on either end. The ugliness impacts the lives of millions of people inside and outside the Muslim world. While it is important to address such issues in an effort to find solutions, this paper proposes a supplemental approach. In this paper I present a new theological framework that posits iḥsān as a Qurʾānic epistemology. How the concept of iḥsān represents an overarching epistemology in the Qurʾān is the key point of inquiry in this study. What role does iḥsān hold in the Qurʾānic moral fabric? How does the Qurʾān construct a worldview that centers iḥsān? In what ways is iḥsān used to mitigate ugliness? These are some of the questions this paper explores. The triliteral Arabic root ḥ.s.n. combines the meanings of beauty and goodness, it occurs 194 in the Qurʾān. Through a comprehensive and holistic intra-Qurʾānic investigation, I trace the different occurrences of the root to analyze the conceptual meaning of iḥsān in the Qurʾān. I adopt the tools of literary analysis and the principles of Arabic morphology to construct an iḥsān paradigm in the Qurʾān. In this paradigm the Qurʾān centers iḥsān as a marker of Creator and of creation, one that lies at the core of a harmonious universe. The Qurʾān then mandates believers to reciprocate iḥsān as part of an ongoing God-human dialectic. In this paper, I demonstrate how the Qurʾān adopts iḥsān as an overarching epistemological lens in which ethics and aesthetics are combined to counter ugliness in its various forms. The ramifications of these findings impact issues related to the fields of religious ethics, positive psychology, conflict resolution, inter-faith dialogue, and environmental protection to name a few.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
Islamic World
Sub Area