Virtue and Piety in Early Islam: The Sermons and Sayings of Imam Ali

HPI Character and Action Seminar led by Tahera Qutbuddin (bio)


The sermons of Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661), first Shia imam and fourth Sunni caliph, and son in law and cousin of the prophet Muhammad, constitute some of the foundational materials for the study of virtue ethics in Islam. In this mini-seminar, we will read and discuss texts and studies to get a glimpse of the nascent Islamic view on virtue and piety. We will also read and discuss material on the early Islamic sermon of pious counsel, including sermons by Muhammad and other early preachers.

Some of the questions we will address are: what is Ali’s philosophy of virtue? What are some of the key virtues he espouses? What is the role of piety in his concept of virtue? What is the role of social and civic engagement in his concept of virtue? How much overlap or difference do we find between Ali’s map of virtue and some of the major approaches in the Western heritage, for example, by Aristotle and Aquinas? What are the key takeaways from an examination of the early Islamic sermon of pious counsel? What shows the Qurʾanic and historical grounding of all these materials? And how do they fit in to a wider, universal theory of virtue?

Each of the two classes will begin with a lecture, followed by discussion of the materials you have read in preparation for class. Please bring a copy of the readings to class.



  • Dates: February 7 and February 14, 2018, each 5.30-7.30pm
  • Location: TBA
  • Eligible: All University of Chicago students are eligible to participate
  • To participate: There is no application. To sign up for the seminar please RSVP by contacting Zack Loveless:
  • Readings: All readings for the seminar and the reading schedule will be provided upon RSVPing for the course.