From Ribbon-cutting to Tête-à-tête


Mansoor L. Limba on February 7, 2017

MAKATI CITY (7 February) – February 4, 2017. I woke up at exactly 4:10 am. At exactly 5:28 am, I was already inside the campus of Cotabato City State Polytechnic College (CCSPC). All sporting a maroon T-shirt, many people of various age levels were also coming in.

As can be gleaned from the number of vehicles starting to gather at the playground of the leading public institution of higher learning in the city, a historic event was about to unfold that early morning.

Formerly known as Cotabato High School, Cotabato City High School, and then Cotabato City National High School, CCSPC kicked off its first ever Grand Alumni Homecoming – after 93 years of its existence – with a long motorcade around the city.

After the motorcade, the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed alumni building was held in which the college president, Dr. Dammang Bantala, expressed astonishment at the huge number of vehicles that participated in the motorcade. “If each of us will contribute one thousand pesos, we could immediately put up the alumni building,” he said in his short speech.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony

Soon after unveiling the project of Batch ’85, Dr. Bantala proceeded to the main library for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Batch ’89 project for our alma mater – four units of built-in steel benches for the library visitors.


In our Batch ‘89 general meeting on January 4 last year, in which the agendum was the batch project for the school, we had identified the current CCSPC bid for university status as the guide, and it was thus pointed out that these two areas are crucial to this bid, viz. (1) the pool of faculty members with postgraduate degrees, and (2) library facilities; hence, we finally opted for the benches (and books to be donated). After a year of facilitations by the batchmates, generous sponsorship of a benefactor batchmate, and free labor offered by an engineer batchmate, the project was finally materialized.

ribboncutting3     ribboncutting4

As the college president went to the next inauguration after a brief exchange of pleasantries and picture-taking with our batch, we were invited to the library for a ten-minute visit, and then we rushed as a group to the social hall of City Mall, the homecoming program’s venue.


As my notebook’s battery began to be depleted in the early afternoon, I had to look for an outlet to charge because I was then catching the deadline for paper abstract submission for a conference abroad.

I was then charging my notebook at the entrance to the hall while seated beside Badrudin Ali, our Batch ’89 2nd vice president, who was then filling up his CCSPC High School Alumni Association Membership Form, when somebody casually greeted us – “As-salamu ‘alaykum!” – and then joined us in the table.

It was no other than Tatay Bantala, as Badrudin would address the college president.


Our not-so-private tête-à-tête commenced with Sir Bantala’s re-expression of surprise at the large number of vehicles in the motorcade and, of course, the first-ever-held homecoming since the school’s establishment in 1924. He then navigated us through his bid for college presidency way back in 2012 and then his recent retention as president.


The conversation soon drifted toward the nitty-gritty of CCSPC’s present bid for university status, and the procedural and attitudinal issues surrounding the second semester enrollment last month.


In the end, we all shared the common view that while the proposed alumni building will surely be an important infrastructure of the school, what is more important is to attain the ideals of ‘scholarship,’ ‘development’ and ‘loyalty’ which are enshrined in the CCSPC logo.


[Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, was the Valedictorian of CCSPC High School Day Class 1989 as well as the President of Senior Class Organization Student Council. He has also been the President of CCSPC Day and Night Class 1989 Alumni Association since its creation in December 2014. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Education, High School Reunion | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Islamic, Un-Islamic, or Islamist?


Mansoor L. Limba on January 19, 2017

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /19 January) – At the sideline of a peace-building symposium-workshop at the height of the national electoral campaign period last year, the casual conversation between two long-time friends, a Muslim NGO worker and a Mindanao-based non-Muslim journalist, turned into a heated argument over an ‘accurate’ descriptive word for such groups as the Abu Sayyaf Group and others.

The NGO worker protested against the journalist’s use of the term ‘Islamic extremism’ to describe such groups or their activities. “They cannot be ‘Islamic’ because what they are doing are clearly against the teachings of Islam!” he would complain.

“But they are using Islamic symbols, metaphors and justifications!” the journalist would reason out.

As I was attentively listening to both arguments, I can’t help but call to mind postmodernism’s recurring themes, particularly Jacques Derrida’s ‘grammatology’ or semiotic analysis given in his various writings.

Derrida’s Grammatology

According to Derrida, who was a preeminent postmodernist figure, textual is the way in which the social world is constructed. For him the world is constituted like a text such that interpreting the world reflects what he calls “the textual interplay at work,” or the concepts and structures of language.

In order to expose these textual interplays, Derrida advances two ways, viz. deconstruction and double reading (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1976). Anchored in the idea that seemingly stable and natural concepts and relations within language are in fact artificial constructs, arranged hierarchically such that in the case of opposites in language one term is always privileged over the other, deconstruction is a means of showing how all theories and discourses rely on artificial stabilities produced by the use of seemingly objective and natural oppositions in language; for example, light/darkness, knowledge/ignorance, white/black, friend/enemy.

In a bid to demonstrate how these stabilizations operate, Derrida subjects the text to double reading, the first being a repetition of the dominant reading to show how it achieves its outward coherence and the second being the demonstration of the internal tensions within a text that result from the use of ostensibly natural stabilizations. His aim is not to come to a ‘correct’ or even ‘one’ reading of a text, but to show how there is always more than one reading of any text.

Applying both deconstruction and double reading, one would venture to ask, “If used to modify something praiseworthy, which term is privileged over the other – ‘Islamic’ or ‘un-Islamic’? How about if it is used to describe something blameworthy?” “In between ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ at both ends of a spectrum, is there any possibility of a third modifier? In other words, is there a possible gray in between white and black?”


The argument goes, “They are ‘Islamic’ groups in the sense that their members are Muslims, or at least, they claim to be such; they use Islamic symbols and metaphors such as the black flag with religious inscription in Arabic, and the utterance of ‘Allahu akbar’ (‘Allah is the greatest’) in their propaganda materials; they justify their acts as part of ‘jihad’.”

Backed up by this kind of reasoning, the label ‘Islamic’ inevitably gives the impression that the term being described is ideally representative of, or in line with, Islam and that there is a unanimous view of Muslims or the majority of them in this regard. But the truth of the matter is that it is not so. In fact, many Muslims, if not most of them, take offense with the media hype ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘Islamic extremism’.

As an expected drawback, such a label provides such groups an axe to grind about the allegation that “there is indeed a foreign (Western) conspiracy to demonize Islam and the Muslims,” thereby aptly dragging the ‘victimized’ typical Muslims into the warm embrace of those groups.

‘Maute Group’

The appellation ‘Maute Group’ also works the same way. What is the origin of the appellation? Do the leadership and members of the group explicitly identify themselves as such?

A background study of the group shows that since 2013 it has been identifying itself as ‘Dawlah Islamiyah’ (‘Islamic State’) [in Lanao] while its precursor was Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao-Black Flag Movement (KIM-BFM).

Then, who originates the ‘Maute Group’ appellation? If Google search were the basis, the media that oftentimes erroneously describes ‘Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao’ as ‘Khalifah’ (Caliph) (instead of ‘Khilafah’ (Caliphate)) is also the one that cogently coins the appellation, obviously for convenience’s sake.

What’s the justification? “Well, the founders of the group are two Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omar, and a good number of its members are the founders’ relatives,” one might put forth.

Granted that tens, say fifty, members of the group bear the family name ‘Maute’, is this hasty generalization justifiable? Is it reasonable to implicitly implicate in the popular court of public opinion the hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the clan to the group and its notoriety?

Is this not playing the very game of the players one refuses to play with?

No wonder, for individuals for whom drowning in the deep blue sea of stereotyping and guilt by association is imminent, befriending the ‘devil’ of violent extremism is by far ‘a lesser evil’.


The binary opposite of this ‘Islamic’ appellation is the simplistic dismissal and dissociation of such groups with Islam:

“The ISIS is un-Islamic. The activities of such-and-such groups are against the teachings and principles of Islam. Those who commit such acts are not Muslims, even if they call themselves ‘Muslims’. Terrorism is ‘haram’. No Muslim is a terrorist!”

The fact is that with all their doctrinal sophistication and communication astuteness, these groups use Islamic symbols and theological bases in such a way that awfully appeal to the innate idealism and heroism of young Muslims.

As you condemn terrorism, they would instantly present you with a plethora of Qur’anic passages, citations from the Prophetic tradition (hadith), and/or selective historical accounts in order to doctrinally justify their violent acts. Worse still, they might even declare that it is you who actually went outside the pale of Islam and is condemned to death for being a ‘murtad’ (apostate)!

No doubt, a regional Muslim authority’s issuance of a religious edict (fatwa) against terrorism in 2015 can be considered a laudable bold step ( Yet, the fact that the said fatwa is written in Arabic ( and that no official English and Filipino translations of it have been so far posted in the same website two years since its issuance is something regrettable, as it dismally fails to reach a wider audience – the overwhelming majority of local Muslims, the youth in particular, who are not Arabic literate.

In this age of information overload and unprecedented speed wherein religious sermons delivered on top of the wooden ‘mimbar’ (pulpit) of the mosque are replaced (or supplemented) by Facebook posts and Tweets in the cyberspace, the ‘khatib’ (preacher) needs more than a loud speaker.

The Middle Ground

After doing Derridian ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ of the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ to describe certain groups, is ‘a third reading’ possible? Can we come up with a middle ground? Can we find a neutral platform?

As I was passively listening to the arguments of the journalist (who uses the appellation ‘Islamic’ to those groups) and the NGO worker (who, in contrast, prefers the label ‘un-Islamic’ to describe the same), I was imagining myself telling them both, “In my personal opinion, both of you have valid points in your arguments. Apart from ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’, ‘Islamist’ is a due candidate to describe those groups – more accurately. The modifier ‘Islamist’ suggests that those groups adopt Islam – implicitly or explicitly – as their overarching ideology (‘ism’) but whether this adoption is religiously correct or not on the basis of the textual sources of Islam is a different story.”

In other words, the universe is not a monopoly of binary equations. The world is not always a case of “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Zero-sum is not always the game in town.

In the Derridian jargon, there is always a multiple reading of a text.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Current Events, International Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forthcoming Publication: LIGHT MOMENTS IN VIENNA


The book features selected anecdotes of my personal experience while undergoing KAICIID fellowship training in interreligious and intercultural dialogue in Vienna, Austria.

Categories: International Relations | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Navigating Human Rights in IR Methodological Landscape (part 2 of 2)



MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Navigating human rights in IR methodological landscape (2)

Mansoor L. Limba on December 11, 2016

(Last of two parts)

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /11 December) – Why are the theory of universal human rights and the everyday practice of human wrongs heaven and earth apart? Are human rights abuses a product of the mere failure of governments to observe universal human rights principles both in letter and spirit? Or, perhaps, is it due to the fact that the very search for moral universals is itself a foundationally fallacious business?

To answer these questions through an exploration of the methodological basis of the claims to universal human rights is the principal burden of this section, nay this column as a whole.

Historically, the idea of rights has embodied, inter alia, two fundamental claims. First, that there is a claim to some substance by an identifiable subject who has entitlements (object of right); and secondly, that the identifiable subject who has entitlements cites some particular ground in support of his or her claim (foundation of the right). In the context of human rights literature, the object of right is the ‘human’ rights as claimed by the human being while the foundation of the right is the human being’s ‘humanness’. Methodologically, the first element (object of right) is pertaining to the ontology of the subject while the second one (foundation of the right) is related to the epistemology of the same.

In this light, four human rights theories according to this ontology-epistemology categorization will be examined below, viz. (1) liberal natural rights theory, (2) traditional communitarianism, (3) communitarian pragmatism, and (4) cosmopolitan pragmatism.

Liberal natural rights theory

According to the liberal natural rights theory, the idea of human rights is that all human beings have rights by virtue of their common humanity. Individuals have certain kinds of rights as members of particular communities, but human rights belong to humanity and do not depend for their existence on the legal and moral practices of different communities. Thus, even if individuals were denied rights by the laws of a particular state, they still can make a claim to rights by virtue of their membership to common humanity. (J. Donnelly, Human Rights Working Papers Number 12, p. 2)

One attempt to provide a defense of common morality historically has been made by the natural law tradition. At its core, natural law maintains that there is a unity among all peoples of the world irrespective of cultural difference. Later society-of-states theorists recognized the intrusion of the ‘law of nations’ into the idea of a cosmic moral law, but nevertheless hold on to the idea that natural law provides an underlying moral foundation. While classical thinking on natural law placed duties at the center of its moral deliberations, the challenge for contemporary advocates is to show how natural law can support a theory of universal human rights. (“Human Rights,” Encyclopedia Britannica 2002 Standard Electronic Edition)

Claims to know what is right are founded on “those basic precepts of common morality [which] are accessible to human reason; they can be known by anyone capable of thought and action.” (Joseph Boyle, Traditions of International Ethics, p. 129) Thus, the faculty of reason which is assumed to be transcultural enables individuals to deduce the correct moral code by which to live their lives. As Tim Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler point out, this is an appealing idea but the fundamental weakness of ‘practical reason’ is that it cannot easily explain why moral practices vary within and between cultures. (Dunne and Wheeler, Human Rights in Global Politics, p. 5) The kernel of this natural rights position is that all individuals have certain basic rights because they share the same essential human nature.

Liberal natural human rights thinking has underpinned the development of the international legal regime in human rights. For evidence of the widespread acceptance of the discourse on ‘natural rights’, we need look no further than the United Nations charter which seeks “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. Similarly, the Preamble to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” (Antonio Cassese, Human Rights in a Changing World, p. 189)

Be that as it may, the fundamental problem with defending the human rights regime in terms of natural rights thinking is the failure of its advocates to provide a convincing theory of human nature which would ground notions of human dignity. (See Donnelly, “The Universal Declaration Model of Human Rights: A Liberal Defense.”)

In an attempt to defend the liberal theory, Ken Booth identifies ‘three tyrannies’ that oppress the theory and practice of human rights: ‘presentism’, ‘culturalism’ and ‘positivism’. ‘Presentism’, according to him, views the social world as natural and immutable, whereas social anthropology propounds that humanity is constantly evolving and that appeals to human nature as the ‘clinching argument’ are always overturned by changing social relations. ‘Culturalism’ accordingly is the belief that cultures can be black-boxed ala billiard ball.  ‘Positivism’ is the tendency to claim objectivity in the social world. (Booth, Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 31-70)

Contrary to the cultural relativists and postmodernists who espouse toleration of diversity, Booth addresses the question, “How much diversity should be tolerated?” In retort to the question of what are the foundations for human rights, he asserts that it is wrong to torture, starve, humiliate, and hurt others. For him, human rights are not a matter of opinion, cultural prejudice or one society’s narrative vis-à-vis another; instead, they are a reply to these ‘universal social facts’. (Ibid.)

Like Booth, Donnelly identifies an important relationship between the ideas of human rights and human dignity. He shows how the idea of human rights emerged as a specific historical response to the challenges of modernity. Instead of resolving the meta-ethical foundations of human rights, Donnelly highlights the import of the ‘remarkable international normative consensus on the list of rights’ found in the human rights covenants and treaties. As a whole, the main problem confronting the contemporary human rights regime is the contradiction between the human rights commitments of states and their actual practices. (Donnelly, Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 71-102)

Traditional communitarianism

Traditional communitarianism holds the following core assumptions: (1) the liberal view of the individual as a bearer of rights discards or belittles the formative role of the community in constituting individuality; (2) the problem with the liberal position on human rights is that it assumes that rights-bearing individuals exist prior to societies whereas in reality it is societies that confer rights on individuals. (Chris Brown, The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, p. 472) As such, different kinds of societies will produce different kinds of individuals, sometimes conferring rights, sometimes finding other ways of giving meaning to people’s lives. Anyhow, the rights of the individuals do not necessarily override the rights of the community.

Corollary to these assumptions is the tenet that there are many different ways in which human beings may lead dignified and fulfilling lives. The idea that dignity only comes with the possession of rights is peculiarly Western, with no claim to universal status. (Ibid.)

In other words, for the traditional communitarians, the existence of the standard is itself the problem. According to them, rights are a consequence of the civilized practices of liberal polities and not the cause of these. Any attempt by international society to close the compliance gap, therefore, is a ‘near-to-impossible task’. The communitarian perspective holds that human beings have rights by virtue of their community and not some abstract notion of ‘common humanity’. This is the argument that has traditionally been mobilized by cultural relativists. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique,” in Human Rights in Global Politics)

The central claim is that morality is culturally bound, and values can only be grounded in tradition. The idea, then, of individuals possessing inalienable rights which they claim against the state is unthinkable in many societies where the individual is embedded in a complex network of communal duties and familial responsibilities. According to Molly Cochram, cultural relativism can be viewed as a form of moral discourse which ‘founds and enables the ethical discourse in which social judgments are possible’. (Cochran, “Cosmopolitanism and Communitarianism in a Post-Cold War World,” in Boundaries in Question, p. 48)

According to Tim Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler, cultural relativists are often accused of being unable to judge between competing values. While ‘some kind of lowest common denominator’ might be present in diverse cultures, such a moral standard lacks a ‘critical cutting edge’ because it is reducible to these cultural practices. Nevertheless, certain human wrongs like genocide and mass murder will be caught by this moral minimalism. Although this ‘general moral standard’ provides a means to judge and criticize egregious regimes like Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Amin’s Uganda, it is unable to deal with more routine human rights abuses. (Dunne and Wheeler, “Introduction: Human Rights and the Fifty Years’ Crisis,” p. 8)

Communitarian pragmatism

Communitarian pragmatism involves recognizing that human rights are based on a particular culture and defending them in these terms rather than by reference to some universal cross-cultural code. The particular culture is what Richard Rorty called ‘human rights culture’. (Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” in On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures) This theory rejects the idea that it is possible to demonstrate that human rights exist; instead, it involves proselytizing on behalf of the sort of culture in which it exists. The fundamental point is that human life is safer, pleasanter and more dignified when rights are acknowledged than when they are not. (Brown, “Human Rights,” p. 481)

By transcending the debate between relativists and universalists, communitarian pragmatism argues that the problem with both positions is their dependence upon epistemological foundationalism: the problem with universal critiques of relativism is that they assume that there is some non-relativist position upon which to stand. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique”)

For a pragmatist like Rorty, the idea that reason or science can access ‘justified true belief’ (epistemology) is nothing but a myth. Accordingly, our beliefs are no more than contingent preferences which help us to cope with the complexities of late modern life. Rights, for Rorty, are nothing more than a story that liberal societies have decided to ‘tell’ and as a consequence, it is only liberal societies which provide an epistemological context for human rights justifications. (Ibid.)

The pragmatists’ denunciation of all narratives which posit universal truths seems to imply a deadly blow for the defenders of human rights. However, Rorty argues that it is ‘we the twentieth century liberals’ who have the responsibility to nurture and strengthen the ‘human rights culture’ which is a fact of the post-Holocaust world. Momentously, for Rorty, this culture ‘seems to owe nothing to increased moral knowledge, and everything to hearing sad and sentimental stories’. (Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” p. 133) What human solidarity depends upon is the manipulation of the sentiments such that ‘we liberals’ come to realize that our differences with others are less important than our shared capacity to experience pain and suffering. (Brown, “Universal Human Rights: A Critique”)

Yet, Brown criticizes Rorty’s view for nothing to say to those societies which have not undergone a process of ‘education of the sentiments’. Thus, there is no knock-down argument against the Bosnian Serbs who choose to construct Bosnian Muslims as sub-human. He does not want to call these people inhuman or morally wrong as this implies the existence of a universal human nature; instead he wants to argue that they have been deprived of the condition in which to develop feelings of human solidarity. Rorty’s position ‘does not solve all the problems of relativism’ and sentimentality is an ‘inadequate’ response to human wrongs but reluctantly admits that ‘it is difficult to see what other moral vocabulary is available to us once we reach the limits of an ethical community’. (Ibid.)

Cosmopolitan pragmatism

Unlike traditional communitarianism and communitarian pragmatism, cosmopolitan pragmatism is more supportive of universal ideas but on a non-foundationalist basis. For instance, the moral philosopher Bhikhu Parekh argues for a conception of universal values which steers a course between the opposites of moral relativism and foundationalist claims of an essential and knowable human nature. For Parekh, the fundamental problem with relativism is ‘that we have no means of judging a society’s moral beliefs and practices’. At the opposite pole to relativism stands ‘moral monism’, a position which maintains that ‘we cannot only judge other societies but also lay down what way of life is the highest or truly human’. Both are equally unsatisfactory because it assumes an essential human nature which can be revealed after the superstructure of cultural embeddedness has been stripped away. (Parekh, “Non-ethnocentric Universalism,” in Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 128-159)

According to him, between these two extremes lies ‘minimum universalism’ which recognizes the fact of moral diversity but believes ‘that moral life can be lived in several different ways, but insists that they can be judged on the basis of a universally valid body of values.’

Although this theoretical position has more to commend it than the other two, Parekh opines that it does not overcome the following objections. First, it relies on an account of human nature which brings it perilously close to monism; secondly, it is questionable whether there is a normative consensus on prohibiting even the most cruel and inhumane practice; and thirdly, universal principles are either too abstract or too weak to provide the possibility of judgment across cultures.

Instead of the three approaches, Parekh advocates a theory of non-ethnocentric universal values which can be constructed by means of a dialogue between equals:

“The point of cross-cultural dialogue is to arrive at a body of values to which all the participants can be expected to agree. Our concern is not to discover values, for they have no objective basis, but to agree on them… Values are a matter of collective decision, and like any other decision it is based on reasons. Since moral values cannot be rationally demonstrated, our concern should be to build a consensus around those that can be shown to be rationally most defensible.” (Ibid.)

In sum, for him universal values can have no ‘objective basis’. Universal values are possible but have to be decided through argumentation. Thus, cosmopolitan pragmatism believes it is possible to recognize the reality of cultural embeddedness while leaving open the possibility for a transcultural consensus which is more than just ‘the lowest common denominator of different cultural traditions’.

Is the claim to universality masking the particular interests and values of its exponents, and is it increasingly contested as a consequence of the rise of new power centers in world politics?

In similar view, in exploring this question in terms of the relationship between human rights and power in the debate between the West and Asia, Andrew Hurrell argues that the ‘Asian values’ challenge to the West reflects the growth of the economic and political power of states like China, Malaysia and Singapore, which interpret human rights concerns on the part of the West as a maneuver in the competition for relative gains. (Hurrell, “Power, Principles and Prudence: Protecting Human Rights in a Deeply Divided World,” in Human Rights in Global Politics, pp. 277-302)

Even if the discourse of Asia values is ‘manipulated and abused by governments’ as part of traditional power politics, Hurrell reasons out that the debate reveals ‘real and genuine conflicts over the nature of human rights’. As a consequence, he suggests that instead of worrying about the ‘foundations’ of our human rights claims, we should ‘build on and develop the human rights culture and community that has evolved in practice—the element of consensus visible in the actual practice of states. (Ibid.)

Summary and conclusion

Within the ontology-epistemology matrix, human rights theories can be generally classified into four classes, viz. (1) liberal natural rights theory, (2) traditional communitarianism, (3) communitarian pragmatism, and (4) cosmopolitan pragmatism. Liberal natural rights theory hymns the common ‘song’ that every human being has a set of universal rights by virtue of his or her membership in humanity. This theory represents the universalism-foundationalism ‘box’ in the ontology-epistemology matrix.

Representing the subjectivism-foundationalism subset, traditional communitarianism maintains that though human rights are universally acknowledged, there is no monolithic set of human rights values for all people. Thus, these values are community-based and thus, violation of which must be viewed from the framework of the particular society. This theory is commonly known as ‘cultural relativism’.

By arguing that the problem with both the liberal natural rights theory and traditional communitarianism is their dependence on ‘universal foundation’ and that human rights values are different from society to society, communitarian pragmatism is appropriately placed in the subjectivism-anti-foundationalism ‘box’.

Cosmopolitan pragmatism agrees with communitarian pragmatism in the denial of a common platform to which human rights can be based, but upholds that a sort of universal human rights values can be obtained through agreement among the people of the world.

From the foregoing sections, it is shown that side by side with the progress in the human rights norm cascade is the intensification of violation of the same rights. A methodological examination of the contending theories on the nature of these rights suggests that the debate on the causes of the wide gap between the idea of human rights and the practice of human wrongs goes back to the very question of human rights’ ‘universality’ being based on the ‘humanness’ of human being.

For the years to come, therefore, human wrongs cannot be expected to be sidetracked from the international scene unless these philosophical issues found their absolute settlement. Yet, a probable source of optimism is the fact that although none of the theories taken into account has finally resolved the human rights philosophical problematique, most people are not philosophers who reckon philosophy as master and not servant. As such, the future of human rights lies on the strength, or otherwise, of the popular backing for its universality in the years ahead.  These writings about a massacre, domestication, demolition, and the downtrodden are indeed an illustrious showcase of a continuously growing multidisciplinary trend in the academe.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: International Relations | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Navigating Human Rights in IR Methodological Landscape (part 1 of 2)



MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Navigating human rights in IR methodological landscape (part 1 of 2)

Mansoor L. Limba on December 10, 2016

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /10 December) – Encyclopedia Britannica simply defines human rights as “rights that belong to an individual as a consequence of being human.” For John Vincent, this right consists of the following five elements: “a right-holder (the subject of a right) has a claim to some substance (the object of a right), which he or she might assert, or demand, or enjoy, or enforce (exercising a right) against some individual or group (the bearer of the correlative duty), citing in support of his or her claim some particular ground (the justification of a right).” (Human Rights and International Relations, p. 8)

They are a set of principled ideas about the treatment to which all individuals are entitled by virtue of being human. Due to the fact that one either is or is not a human being, human rights are held equally by all. Equally, since one cannot cease to be human being, regardless of his or her ‘inhuman’ conduct or condition he or she is currently in, these rights are said to be inalienable. (J. Donnelly, “The Universal Declaration Model of Human Rights: A Liberal Defense,” p. 2)

Human rights in IR

In due course, these ideas have earned general recognition as international norms defining what was necessary for humans to flourish, both in terms of being protected from abuses, and provided with the elements necessary for a life in dignity. Since a problem often becomes the subject of international action only after a dramatic event crystallizes awareness, Jack Donnelly argues that the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials (1945-46) at which leading Nazis were prosecuted under the new charge of ‘crimes against humanity’ crystallizes the world awareness on human rights as an international issue worth contemplating for—an issue which was reckoned before as a domestic affair within the cocoon of ‘sovereignty’. (Donnelly, International Human Rights, pp. 4-5)

While the Covenant of the League of Nations made no mention of human rights, the Charter of the United Nations’ Preamble stipulates a resolve “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights” and its first article incorporates “encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all” as among the organization’s principal raison d’êtres. The day after opening for signature the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly (GA). Following the adoption of the seminal and most authoritative statement of international human rights norms, human rights continued to be discussed at the UN though this momentum was initially brought to a halt by the Cold War.

During the Cold War human rights widely became an arena of superpower struggle. Besides, both superpowers manifested a blatant disrespect for human rights. Derailing of work on further elaborations of international human rights standards is also an instance of arbitrary impacts of the Cold War. A case in point is the almost two decades time gap between the adoption of the UDHR and the completion of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—covenants that were envisioned as a single treaty in 1948. Though achieving only limited or partial success, in 1970s human rights norms saw a leap forward from standard setting to monitoring their compliance. As norms continued to be developed, multilateral, bilateral, and transnational human rights activities steadily increased through the 1980s. Then, with the removal of the Iron Curtain, the 1990 decade was a witness to “a most gradual, but generally positive, change as shown by a region-by-region review.” (Ibid., p. 13) These developments in the context of national, international and transnational normative deepening and the maturing of human rights as an international issue have been considered an indication of “a qualitative transformation of the international politics of human rights.” (Ibid., p. 17)

In sum, most international human rights treaties agreed upon after 1945 regulate the domestic behavior of governments towards their own citizens. With the significant expansion of such regimes within the last fifty years state actors face growing formal and informal limits to the policy choices they have. Human rights norms have experienced a norms cascade in the last two decades and are part of the transformation of the international system as indicated by the following facts:

“In 1975, only 33 countries had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, equaling 23 per cent of the UN membership at that time (144). By July 2001, 147 states had ratified the treaty (equaling 76 per cent of the total UN membership of 189) and 97 the Optional Protocol accepting supervisory powers of Human Rights Committee. In addition, 157 states have ratified the Convention against Racial Discrimination, 145 the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 168 the Women’s Rights convention, 125 the Convention against Torture, and 191 the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” (Handbook of International Relations, p. 524)

Nevertheless, it is proper to stress that the import of the origins, acceptance and evolution of norms depends on their ability to affect actual behavior beyond mere rhetorical commitment. This compliance on human rights norms can be viewed as a spectrum including (1) the ratification of a human rights treaty, (2) the fulfillment of reporting and other requests by supervisory bodies, (3) the implementation of norms in domestic law, (4) and rule-consistent behavior on the domestic level. (A. Kent, China, the United Nations and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance, p. 236)

Alongside internationalization of human rights norms, there has emerged a growing moral consciousness among world public opinion of human rights issues and concerns. Along this line, state behavior is now more closely monitored with respect to the gulf between the declaratory commitments of governments to protect and promote human rights and their compliance with these standards.

In the succeeding sections the different theories on human rights from the methodological (ontological-epistemological) perspective are presented. These theories give different answers to the following question:

Why the theory of universal human rights and the everyday practice of human wrongs are heaven and earth apart? Are human rights abuses a product of the mere failure of governments to observe universal human rights principles both in letter and spirit? Or, perhaps, is it due to the fact that the very search for moral universals is itself a foundationally fallacious business?

Methodology in IR

As an institutionalized academic discipline, International Relations deals with two fundamental kinds of issues. One kind of issues is the substantive one that refers to the questions of facts. What are the contributory factors that led to the Iran-Iraq war? Who are responsible for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001? Is the computer technology an agent or product of globalization? What are the political and economic motives behind the US/UK aggression in Iraq? These are examples of substantive questions. The other type of issues is the methodological one. It pertains to conceptual and philosophical questions that are involved in the way the research in the discipline is carried out. Examples of methodological issues include the following: is the national interest of the state constitutive or regulatory, exogenous or endogenous? Is anarchy really what the states make of it? How plausible is the claim of Robert Gilpin that one can adopt realism as a methodological theory while adopting another normative view as he does? (Gilpin, Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order, p. 15)

Though students of the discipline are usually engrossed with the first kind of issues, it cannot be denied that the second affects the way how we view the former. In other words, substantive questions, including the ones stated above, also exemplify conceptual issues: What is ‘war’? What are the things that can be considered ‘contributory factors’? What constitute a ‘terrorist attack’? What is ‘terrorism’? What is ‘globalization’? What is the difference between ‘agent’ and ‘product’ of globalization? What are ‘political and economic motives’? What comprises ‘aggression’?

As far as methodological issues are concerned, two aspects usually come to the fore, viz. ontology and epistemology. Ontology is that branch of the philosophy of social science, which concerns with the nature of the social world. It is interested with the following question: Is there an objective reality ‘out there’ or is it a subjective creation of people? The extreme objectivist stance is essentially ‘naturalist’: the social world of international relations is basically a thing, an object, out there. (‘Naturalist’ in the sense that the natural and the social worlds are assumed to be the same and as such, the same types of instruments can be utilized to study them.) On the other end of the spectrum is the extreme subjectivist standpoint that is purely idealist: the social world of international relations is basically an idea or concept that people share about how they should organize themselves and relate to each other politically; it is constituted by language, ideas and concepts. (R. Jackson and G. Sorensen, Introduction to International Relations, p. 243) Thus, on the ontological axis we have subjectivism and objectivism.

As another branch of the philosophy of social science, epistemology pertains to the relation of our knowledge to that world. In other words, it is the study of how we can claim to know something: “how to know that we know what we know.” (O. Wæver, The Future of International Relations: Masters in the Making?, p. 16)

At one end of the continuum is the view of scientifically explaining the world. It is a matter of building a valid social science on a foundation of verifiable empirical propositions. In this light, IR theories are explanatory and foundational, i.e. the social world is external to the theory and the theory is based on a common and universally accepted platform. Besides, all truth claims can be judged true or false. The concern of the theory is to uncover regularities in human behavior and thereby explain the social world in much the same way a natural scientific theory does explain the physical world.

At the other end of the continuum is the idea of understanding the world. It concerns comprehension and interpretation of the substantive topic under consideration. Accordingly, historical, legal or moral problems of world politics cannot be translated into the terms of science without misunderstanding them. (Jackson and Sorensen, ibid.)

In this vein, IR theories are constitutive/reflective and anti-foundational, i.e. the theory actually helps construct the world and there is no universally recognized common denominator in which the theory can stand. The very concepts used to analyze the world help to make that world what it is. In addition, truth claims cannot be judged as such since there are never neutral grounds for so doing; each theory instead will define what counts as the facts and so there will be no neutral position available to determine between rival claims. Unlike the foundationalists who believe in the existence of meta-theoretical grounds for selecting between truth claims, the anti-foundationalists think that there are no such positions available, and that believing so is itself simply a reflection of an adherence to a particular view of epistemology. Hence, on the epistemological axis there are two types of classification, viz. foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. Corollary to this, IR theories are classified either as explanatory or constitutive/reflectivist.

Therefore, the social world or any social item (object/subject) such as international relations, world politics, or human rights occupies one of the following ontological-epistemological ‘box’: ontological subjectivism–epistemological foundationalism, ontological subjectivism- epistemological anti-foundationalism, ontological objectivism-epistemological foundationalism, and ontological objectivism-epistemological anti-foundationalism.

(Part 1 of 2)


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Current Events, International Relations | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Massacre, domestication, demolition, downtrodden


MANILA (MindaNews /08 December) – “A Constructivist Examination of the Circumstances Leading to the First Spanish-instigated Chinese Massacre of 1603,” “Pungko Pungko: The Domestication of Chair in the Philippines during the Early Spanish Colonial Period (1565-1787),” “The Demolition of Art: The Destruction of Avenue Theater and Admiral Hotel in Manila,” and “The Qur’anic Concept of Mustad‘afin (Downtrodden) and Modernity’s Logic of Nation-state Sovereignty: A Postmodernist Reading” – what is common to these diverse articles about a massacre, domestication, demolition, and downtrodden? Or, is there any at all?

The authors of these academic articles – a UP-Diliman professor, a Cebuana architect, an Intramuros-based tourism officer, and an educator from Mindanao, respectively – were grouped together in the peer-to-peer article review part of a recently-held 3-day academic writing workshop facilitated by two National University of Singapore retired professors in English writing and communication.

Aimed at helping the participants develop revision strategies to ready a 5,000 to 15,000-word manuscript for submission to a research journal, the workshop kicked off with two introductory lectures on “Conceptualizing and Organizing Research Papers” and “Salient Features of Academic English.”

In the first lecture, it is pointed out that journal editors are more likely to pass to reviewers a manuscript exhibiting six features, viz.: (1) a clear purpose for presenting the research findings in the manuscript’s introduction; (2) a clear sense of the intended audience; (3) a conventional organizational schema that helps readers process information as fast and easily as their reading skills and background knowledge will allow; (4) a clear research question and answer in the manuscript’s introduction; (5) clear arguments throughout the manuscript, based on the research findings, for why the answer advances a new understanding of the research topic driving the research question; and (6) language that helps readers to build a clear, concise, and coherent understanding of (i) the research question, answer, and supporting arguments and (ii) the way they are organized to carry the manuscript’s purpose for presenting them.

The first three features – purpose, intended audience, and organizational schema – were the focus of pre-workshop assignments while the other three features – research question and answer, arguments, and language – were closely examined in the lectures and workshop.

Before the concluding plenary session, the one hour individual session with both facilitators for each participant was most instructive and unique opportunity in learning the nuts and bolts of revising one’s manuscript.

This workshop is the last in the 2016 series of trainings-seminars organized by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines since last August. The earlier trainings were about historical method, doing local history, the history museum as a learning tool, and putting up a local museum.

These writings about a massacre, domestication, demolition, and the downtrodden are indeed an illustrious showcase of a continuously growing multidisciplinary trend in the academe.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Education | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Super Rainbow in Vienna


MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Super Rainbow in Vienna

Mansoor L. Limba on December 2, 2016

VIENNA, AUSTRIA (MindaNews /02 December) – Most probably like you, when I was a child, seeing a rainbow would make me happy.  In the last week of May this year, I was unprecedentedly elated to see a different rainbow – a rainbow of diverse religions, cultures and countries.

It happened in Mergrande Beach Resort, Davao City during the orientation training for South and Southeast Asian Fellowship Program of Vienna-based KAICIID International Dialogue Centre. The two-week intensive training in interreligious and intercultural dialogues was attended by over 20 Fellows of diverse religious affiliations (Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The one-year fellowship is an online and offline learning and training program that empowers institutions by providing capacity-building skills to select teachers. Aimed at facilitating dialogue encounters by giving these teachers the tools, experience, networks, and knowledge to pursue interreligious and intercultural dialogues and further be able to prepare their own students to become facilitators and leaders in interreligious dialogue, the fellows also learn how to train their own students in conflict transformation so as to be active peacemakers in their respective communities.

During the Fellows Program, the participants have the opportunity to develop and implement small-scale local and/or international initiatives, within their respective institutions or beyond. They also participate in and organize dialogue sessions, lectures, field visits, and conferences. After the one-year program, the Fellows become part of the KAICIID Fellows Network, which works on following up on the fellows’ progress, and invest in their long-term sustainability as resource persons in the field of interreligious dialogue and conflict transformation.

Amidst the chilling winter here in Vienna, this week I can see a potential super rainbow in the world – an unparalleled gathering of almost 70 Fellows (2015, 2016 and 2017) at KAICIID Dialogue Centre. These ambassadors who come from almost 30 countries the world over believe that amidst the current deluge of internecine wars, religious bigotry, and violent extremism, there is hope.

In continuously hoping in the realm of both theory and practice, their music is the Mozart of dialogue; their Burgtheater the theater of community reach-out; and their Hofburg the museum of shared experiences and common witnessing.

That hope is peace/salam/shalom/kapayapaan/kalinaw/kalilintad/sagiatra in the entire world.


[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy ,intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Current Events | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Forthcoming Publication: “Muslim and Debt”


As a sequel to “MUSLIM COUPLE AND MONEY: 8 PRACTICAL FINANCIAL TIPS FOR NEWLYWED MUSLIM COUPLE,” the following book will soon be published, insha’ Allah:
Categories: Personal Finance | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More on ‘Dyakatla’

Jakarta (Photo via

Jakarta (Photo via


JAKARTA, INDONESIA (MindaNews /20 November) – While waiting in the NAIA departure area last Tuesday (November 15), I posted this marginalia in my FB wall:

“‘DYAKATLA’. Our oldfolks would say, “So-and-so had been in Dyakatla.” (‘Dyakatla’ is understood to mean a far-flung place.) Or, one of them would threaten, “Once I’m fed up, I will leave you all and go to Dyakatla and you will never see me again!” We would realize later that by ‘Dyakarta’ they actually meant ‘Jakarta’ – a relatively far-flung place then. Heading toward Dyakatla now, if He wills, to share an idea on behavioral economics, personal finance and a transmitted supplication text…”

Around five hours after my post, a young history professor, who is a friend of mine both online and offline, commented thus: “The old name of Jakarta is Batavia.” This short comment gives the impression, to me at least, that the timeline of the names of the city is just divided into two: the old (Batavia) and the recent (Jakarta), and therefore, to link ‘Dyakatla’ (a term of the oldfolks) to Jakarta (which is a ‘recent’ name) is historically inaccurate.

“Noted Prof. Yes, we must always be students,” I replied.

In additional to the fact that I had no time to give a long reply as I had just arrived in the Soekarno-Hatta Airport then, with this short reply of mine I wanted to convey that we are all supposed to be always open to correction and criticism, as research work – or, studying, you may say – is always ‘a work in progress,’ constituting both learning and unlearning.

Yes, it is true that Jakarta was called ‘Batavia’ during the Dutch colonial rule of Indonesia (1619-1942).

At the same time, it should not escape from our attention the following points:

  1. The city has been named differently in various times.
  2. Prior to the coming of the Dutch, it was called Jayakarta, Djajakarta or Jacatra (1527-1619) (during the short period of Banten Sultanate and even afterward). It is interesting to note that ‘Jacatra’ is perhaps the closest to ‘Dyakatla’ (with just the letter ‘r’/’l’ variance).
  3. The city was known as Djakarta from 1942 to 1972.
  4. Finally, it has adopted its present spelling of ‘Jakarta’ since 1972.

As such, prior to be known as Batavia during the Dutch colonial rule, it was already called by various names – Jayakarta, Djajakartar, Jacatra, Djakarta, and Jakarta – which would be pronounced ‘Dyakatla’ by our oldfolks.

Moreover, even during the time when Jakarta was called ‘Batavia’, it was not unlikely that people still kept on calling it by its previous name or names (Jayakarta, Djajakartar, and/or Jacatra), especially in view of the fact that ‘Batavia’ is a Dutch coinage and therefore a colonial name. (Batavia originally refers to a land inhabited by the Batavian people during the Roman Empire, and which today forms part of the Netherlands.)

Even today, Gil Puyat Avenue in Makati City is still known to all and sundry as Buendia. So is Claro M. Recto in Davao City as Claveria. And similar cases are as many as the frogs during rainy days.

In conclusion, although Jakarta is now relatively near, thanks to the modern-day revolution in transportation and communication, ‘Dyakatla’ remains part of vocabulary of our vernacular to mean ‘any remote or hard-to-reach place’.

It’s the grandiose Garuda’s home.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy,intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Debt Management and Supplication



(A modified transcript of 20-minute presentation of the paper “Debt Management in Behavioral Economics and Personal Finance as Reflected in Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah” at the 3rd International Conference on Thoughts on Human Sciences in Islam, Jakarta, Indonesia, November 16, 2016.)

Respected elders, distinguished scholars, and brothers and sisters in Islam as well as in humanity! Let me greet you all with the greetings of peace: Salamun ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh!

(I’m making this presentation while assuming that all these many seats are filled with both the jinn and human beings – both the sleeping and the awake. In this unholy hour when everybody wants to sleep, I am uniquely fortunate enough to be surrounded by two esteemed Mesbahs (alluding to Dr. Ali Mesbah and Dr. Mohammad Mesbahi as fellow presenters in the same plenary session). As we all know, mesbah in Arabic, Persian and other languages means ‘lamp’. Since I believe I’m illuminated enough by two lamps, I’m optimistic that you will not mistakenly see me as a pillow or blanket.)

At the outset, let me take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the conference organizers, particularly the Director of the Sadra International Institute, and generally to all the members of the steering committee down to the drivers and guides. This is my first to come to Indonesia, although I may look like an Indonesian or even more ‘Indonesian’ compared to some Indonesians. I come from Mindanao, the land of promise and the bastion of centuries-old struggle for self-determination in this part of the world.

Before laying down my paper’s Statement of the Problem, let me first make some introductory remarks about behavioral economics and personal finance as well as about homo economicus vis-à-vis homo islamicus. I shall also clarify the kind of ‘debt’ which is the concern of this paper. After giving you the Statement of the Problem, I shall address the four secondary questions one by one and finally make a conclusion.


What is lacking in both behavioral economics and personal finance is the role of the soul or spirituality which is a central theme in a monotheistic worldview. In classical economics, as in related academic disciplines, the economic actor is assumed to be an unboundedly rational, will-powered and selfish agent in which rationality is defined in terms of material gain and profit, without taking into account a notion of spiritual dimension.

Behavioral economics comes to the fore to argue that psychological, social and emotional factors sometimes stand in the way of economic actor’s tendency for rationality in making an economic decision. Yet, there is still no recognition of any place for soul or morality, as psychology is assumed to be ‘the study of the mind’. (In Islam we call it ‘ilm al-nafs which means ‘study of the soul’.)

Statement of the problem

This paper attempts to examine the case of debt management in behavioral economics and personal finance through the lenses of Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah which is a classical Islamic text on supplications. It is argued that by advancing the concept of homo islamicus and asserting the role of the soul in explaining human behaviors, the monotheistic worldview of Islam can shed more lights on the roots of economic or financial decisions, such as incurring debt, that are to be made by an economic agent.

In particular, this paper endeavors to address the following questions:

  1. What is the definition of debt, in general, and consumerist debt, in particular?
  2. What is ‘debt’ in Islamic textual sources and history?
  3. What is Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah and its Supplication 30 about?
  4. What is the description of ‘debt’ in Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah Supplication 30 and its recommended steps or measures toward freedom from debt?


Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) distinguishes dayn (debt) from qard (loan), considering the former broader in connotation and covers the latter in its conceptual umbrella. Dayn includes any kind of transaction such as ‘settlement of claim’ (sulh), leasing (ijarah), buying and selling, and the like. (See Manifestations of the All-merciful, p. 63)

In this paper, our concern is a broad type of debt we call ‘consumerist debt’.  When as we say ‘consumerist debt’ we mean that kind of debt which is motivated by consumerism understood in its negative sense. It is “the selfish and frivolous collecting of products or economic materialism.” Financial advisers would tell you, “You incur consumerist debt when you buy something you don’t need in order to impress people you don’t like with money that you don’t have!”

Debt in Islamic sources and history

Dayn (debt) is mentioned in Islamic sources (Qur’an, Traditions, Supplications, and Jurisprudence) and history in various ways.

In Chapter 33, verse 23, the Qur’an urges the faithful to fulfill their obligations and pledges including the repayment of debt. In Chapter 9, verse 60, it is mentioned that [obligatory] charities (zakāt) are meant, among others, “for [the freedom] of] the slaves and debtors.”

Meanwhile, there are traditions (ahadith) which indicate that debt sometimes stands in the way of spiritual progress. Some traditions condemn indifference in repaying one’s debt – and equates it with theft. There are also traditions that give warning for the spiritual consequences of habitual incurring of debt.

In supplications (ad‘iyyah) transmitted to us, there is an explicit prayer for the repayment of debt. A very good example is Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah’s Supplication 30 (Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s supplication for help in repaying debt) which is the main concern of this paper. Another example is the famous daily supplication during the month of Ramadan, which includes this line: “O Allah, facilitate the payment of every indebted one!” There are also transmitted supplications one of whose benefits is the repayment of debt for one who recites them. Among these supplications are al-Mashlul, Yastashir, and al-Mujir.

Muslim schools of jurisprudence (fiqh) are unanimous in the ruling that the debtor who cannot pay his or her debts is one of the seven rightful recipients of zakat (alms-tax); therefore, he or she is given of the zakat to settle his or her debts. Also, when a Muslim dies, one of the four duties which need to be performed by his or her heirs is the payment of his or her debts.

Regarding debt in history, let me just cite two examples. As Imam Husayn made an encampment in the plains of Karbala’, he purchased the site for the would-be graves of him and the other martyrs so as not to be indebted to the owner after the tragedy. Earlier to that, when Muslim ibn ‘Aqil was asked to disclose his wishes before getting executed, the last of his three wishes is the selling of his coat of arm so as to pay for the piece of land where he had to be buried.

These two instances show prominent figures’ avoidance of incurring debt as much as possible and their firm resolution to repay once it is incurred.

In sum, debt has been an important topic in Islamic sources (Qur’an, hadith, supplication, and jurisprudence) and history.

Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah and its Supplication 30

Literally means ‘the Book of Sajjad,’ Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah is a collection of supplications composed by Prophet Muhammad’s great grandson, ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (38 AH/658-9 CE – 95 AH/713-4 CE), known as Zayn al-‘Abidin (`the Adornment of the Worshippers’) and ‘Al-Sajjad’ (‘the one who constantly prostrates (sujud) in prayer’). Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah includes fifty-four supplications which make the main body of the text and the additional supplications which make up the fourteen addenda (including the prayers for the days of the week) and the fifteen munajat or `whispered prayers’. It is the oldest extant prayer manual in Islamic sources and one of the most seminal works of Islamic spirituality of the early period of Islam.

Supplication 30 of the 54 main supplications is Imam al-Sajjad’s supplication for help in repaying debt.

Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah’s description of debt

At the outset, Imam ‘Ali al-Sajjad thus supplicates:

“O God, bless Muhammad and his Household and release me from a debt which makes me lose face, confuse my mind, disrupts my thinking, and prolongs my occupation with attending to it! I seek refuge in Thee, my Lord, from worry and thought about debt, from the distraction and sleeplessness of debt; so bless Muhammad and his Household and give me refuge from it! I seek sanctuary in Thee, my Lord, from debt’s abasement in life and its ill effects after death, so bless Muhammad and his Household and give me sanctuary from it through a bountiful plenty or a continually arriving sufficiency!”

This initial part of the supplication is a window to Imam ‘Ali al-Sajjad’s description of debt and its potential maladies and repercussions upon the debtor. Among others, the Imam describes debt as: (1) something that may humiliate a person (debtor), (2) mentally disturb him, (3) emotionally burden him, and (4) a source of disgrace for him in this world and in the Hereafter.

Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah’s steps or measures of freedom from debt

In this brief and specific supplication, certain steps or measures toward freedom from debt can be alluded to, and these are the following:

  1. Sincere supplications for repayment of debt

For any concern or problem of the believer – material or spiritual – he is supposed to extend his arms to the Source of Power and Knowledge, the Essence of Beauty and Grandeur. For relief from the burden of debt, one must sincerely pray and implore to his Lord and perform various acts of devotion.

  1. Having streams of lawful incomes

These parts of the supplication – “Give me sanctuary from it (debt) through a bountiful plenty or a continually arriving sufficiency,” “hold me back through Thy gentleness from squandering,” and “allow me to attain my provisions through lawful means” – may allude to having streams of lawful incomes as a very obvious step toward freedom from debt.

  1. Living below one’s means

This part of the supplication – “prevent me from extravagance and excess; put me on the course of … moderation” – may suggest an instruction to live below one’s means by maintaining moderation and avoiding extravagance and excess in spending.

  1. Avoiding Any Possession Causing Pride and Related Moral Vices

This segment of the supplication – “take away from me any possession which will bring forth pride in me, lead to insolence, or drag me in its heels to rebellion” – leads us to another very practical step to freedom from debt; that is, shunning any possession or item which belongs to the category of ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’ and which usually causes pride and related moral vices to the owner.

  1. Spending for Wholesome Endeavors Including Charity

Elsewhere in the supplication, we read: “Put me on the course of generous spending…; teach me excellent distribution… direct my spending toward the gateways of devotion… O God, make me love the companionship of the poor and help me be their companion with excellent patience!”

These portions of the supplication direct us to a significant step toward freedom from debt and a way to ample sustenance; that is, to spend for wholesome endeavors of devotion including alms-giving and spending for charity. As we all know, Islamic sources affirm the unseen or spiritual connection between the giving of charity and increase in sustenance.


From the above discussion, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Incurring of consumerist debt is just a symptom of the root of the problem, and that is greed which is one of the vices of the Power of Desire (al-quwwat al-shahwiyyah);
  2. Apart from being a symptom of a moral malady, incurring consumerist debt also brings about other things with equally dire spiritual consequences, viz. (a) personal humiliation, (b) mental disturbance, (c) emotional burden, and (d) disgrace in this world and in the Hereafter;
  3. As shown in our examination of Supplication 30 of Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah, the supplications handed down to us are full of pristine ideological doctrines and practical guidelines.
  4. Supplication 30 of Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah is not only a text of prayer for help for the repayment of debt but also contains practical steps or measures toward freedom from debt;
  5. A Muslim – that is, homo islamicus – is supposed to exemplify a kind of morality or lifestyle which is a manifestation of perfect regulation of the four powers or faculties (quwwat) of the soul, and the absence of the various vices of those powers, those of the Power of Desire in particular.
  6. Most important of all, the debt management laid down by Supplication 30 of Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah exudes new conceptual insights into both behavioral economics and personal finance, and central to them are the concepts of homo islamicus and ‘Islamic rationality’ with the two distinct fundamental elements of a broader concept of success and time scale of the economic agent’s behavior.

Thank you! Terimah kasi banyak!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy,intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]

Categories: Personal Finance | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Proudly powered by WordPress Theme: Adventure Journal by Contexture International.