By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
26 September 2018
The new Saudi Arabia, with all its
economic, political, social and religious weight, is making an unprecedented
cultural and developmental leap. This is demonstrated by the fact that anyone
visiting the kingdom’s cities and regions can see the projects being carried
Saudi Arabia has witnessed an abundant
educational renaissance as is evident in the number of universities which are
among the best in the region. Many of these universities offer the best
curriculums in natural sciences, yet in the disciplines of philosophy and
humanities we have faced a problem since the beginning of modern education till
Islamic doctrine and some philosophical
texts are taught in Sharia faculties and so are linguistic concepts and modern
literary criticism but when it comes to humanities and their modern products or
philosophy with all its important history, we only find fear and apprehension
from these disciplines.
The establishment of educational curricula
and the building of academic institutions and the whole structure of education
developed under special circumstances as the state was young, and it was
gradually establishing itself. But after a century, we can aspire for
exceptional development at all levels including in the institutional and social
relation with different portals of knowledge including philosophy.
Our Islamic history has had exceptional
philosophical legacy since the early centuries as there were major debates of
thinkers and benefiting from Greek philosophy. Curiosity to learn from
adjoining civilizations was the features of the times. There are immortal names
in our Islamic history such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Arabi, Al-Razi,
Ghazali, Avicenna, Averroes, Brethren of Purity and hundreds others.
Decadence hit the Muslim world, as if the
universe called on the world to stop thinking and the world responded, as was
lamented by Ibn Khaldun. A prejudiced movement took control over the mental and
philosophical discourse, and history was drawn into a long babble outside the
context of science and logic, and years passed in intellectual stagnation as a
long passage of debate continued between Tarabishi and Jabri.
Senior scholars tried to humanize Islamic
culture, such as Ibn Miskawayh, al-Tawhidi and another important philosopher
Abu al-Hassan al-Amiri (10th century AD). Mona Abu Zeid has many writings on
this subject such as her book “Philosophy in the Thought of the Amiri” but
Mohamed Arkoun’s book “Battles for the sake of humanizing Islamic context”,
which is a continuation of his thesis on “the generation of Ibn Miskawayh and
Tawhidi” delved more into this topic.
Arkoun entitled the fifth chapter in his
book “the central Logos and the religious truth through the book ‘An Exposition
on the Merits of Islam’ by Abi Hassan al Amiri.”
Arkoun’s aim of examining Amiri’s work is
to highlight two points: to show the fault in banning teaching philosophy and
the fault in preventing teaching religions in France. He also criticized Jules
Ferry, the founder of the Modern Secular School, as he calls for the teaching
of comparative religions considering it is an essential part of the students'
curriculum so they learn about the history that crushed them. Arkoun does not
believe that this method would bring to the surface any religious fanaticism.
It is for these reasons that fanatic Muslims and traditional secularists are
furious with Arkoun. Thinker Hashem Saleh said his teacher Arkoun is like Renan
in Christianity. Of course, fanaticism denies the ability for knowledge and
Amiri refuses to challenge modern sciences
when he wrote: “Science has been challenged by prejudiced people who claimed
that it is against religious sciences, and that those who wish to study this
field would lose the world and the afterlife. They said it’s only huge words
decorated with fancy words to deceive the young ignorant. However this is not
the case.” Amiri added that science’s origins and branches are supported by
This has been said eleven centuries ago,
yet we still resist modern sciences whose concepts develop daily in the world.
After his death, a book about the life of
Arkoun was published entitled “Human formation” in which he bitterly said:
“Personally, I feel like a human being in a barren desert of thought with my writings
and research. I feel lonely.”
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the
Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper
Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies,
cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.