An internationally recognised academic and broadcaster at the University of Edinburgh, Mona Siddiqui specialises in the field of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics and Christian-Muslim relations.
“What drives my research in Islamic law is the question: how did the jurists of the classical period write and understand `God’s law?’ And how does this intellectual discipline continue to influence Muslim thought and ethics today?” Siddiqui discusses.
Siddiqui’s book The Good Muslim (Cambridge University Press, 2012) explores a range of themes from the classical Arabic manuals and offers a detailed textual analysis of topics including pig and purity, the nature of the Muslim marriage contract and how the jurists distinguished between drinking and drunkenness.
“This is an exercise in intellectual reasoning as well as practical ethics. While the jurists went into detailed arguments on all kinds of topics, the discursive nature of Islamic law means that it was never a closed canon, but rather an ongoing discussion between scholars exploring ethics and practice relevant to each age.”
At HCAS, Siddiqui will be working with a similar methodology on her next monograph, Faith and Fidelity in Islamic Thought.
“It is an exciting privilege to have this time to write and reflect with other fellows at the Collegium,” she says.
A rarity as a Muslim female academic in her field of research
Siddiqui is a rarity as a Muslim female academic who has published on Christian Muslim theological encounters.
“Today people collapse everything under interfaith but the community aspect isn’t my real interest,” she explains. “My participation in a series of high profile seminars convened by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, made me realise that while Christians and Muslims seemingly share a common vocabulary, words such as scripture, salvation and prophecy often mean very different things in each faith.
The Qur’an and the Bible share stories and themes but they often have very different theological outcomes. At the same time, aspects of Christian theology have deeply shaped some of Siddiqui’s views.
In Christians, Muslims and Jesus, (Yale UP, 2013) she concludes with a personal, moving and powerful reflection on the cross and what it says to her as a Muslim:
“The cross is powerful and the crucifixion is sorrowful. But as I sit here I feel that while the cross speaks to me, it does not draw me in. Its mystery is moving, but I cannot incline towards what it says about a God in form, a God who undergoes this inexplicable agony for an inexplicable act of mercy. It is not the language of redemption which I cannot understand, it is the necessity of God’s self-revelation for this act of redemption.”
An active public intellectual
Throughout her academic career, Mona Siddiqui has always been involved in international print and broadcast media and has established herself as one of the most respected public intellectuals in the UK.
“Issues of religious faith and ethics are always present in public discourse and I enjoy distilling complex ideas for a public audience. People are keen to know more,” she says.
She is known especially for her appearances on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland’s Thought for the Day as well as BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Her Thought for the Day program on the killing of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in 2015 gained international acclaim, as she reflected on the messy boundaries of freedom of expression in liberal democracies.
“Engaging in public debates doesn’t remove me from my research; rather it sharpens my thinking,” she states.
She is committed to contributing to public life and chairs the BBC’s Religious Advisory Committee in Scotland. During 2016 she also served as chair of the Scotland `Stronger In’ pro Europe campaign. In the same year, she was invited by the British Home Office to lead an independent review of shari`a councils in the UK; the subsequent report was published by the Home Office in February 2018. The review drew on her research on the Islamic marriage contract and the challenges facing those Muslims who live in western societies but do not officially register their religious marriage. It recommended that registration of Muslim marriages be made obligatory.
In recognition of her comparative work, she has been awarded several research grants. Her most recent award was from the Issachar Fund on the theme of Gratitude in Christian and Islamic thought. While gratitude studies mainly focus on it as a virtue and essential to the divine-human matrix, Mona’s comparative project problematized gratitude; yes, it is a virtue but it can also lead to hierarchies where debt can define human relations. The edited volume A Theology of Gratitude: Christian and Muslim Perspectives will be available in November 2023.
She is currently the principal researcher for a series of international workshops and art projects on the theme of Loyalty in Christian and Islamic thought. The Helsinki Collegium will host an event on loyalty at Think Corner in Spring 2023. The event will be a public debate on the multiple dimensions of loyalty as a conflicted virtue.
“This comparative project invites scholars to think about how loyalty plays out in our theological ethics, our political lives and our personal relationships,” Siddiqui says.
Mona Siddiqui will give her Jane and Aatos Erkko Inaugural Lecture on 8 November at 5:15 pm on Religious Pluralism: Essential or Challenge to liberal democracy?
In her lecture, which is free and open to all, Professor Siddiqui will reflect on the tension between the state’s commitment to upholding cultural diversity as a democratic good and the limits of social and legal pluralism.