MIDDLE EAST

On philosophy and its crucial role for society

In the 12th century, the intellectual conflict among scholars and philosophers had peaked. With a surfeit of translations in the field of science, philosophy and logic, the realm of human knowledge underwent crucial transformations, as debate, polemic and the language used to address facts changed and the means for making interpretation expanded. It was necessary for philosophers to defend themselves against a plethora of accusations. Averroes played an important role in this battle. He not only took on al-Ghazali but also addressed all the jurisprudential schools that viewed philosophy as heresy and as a diversion from religion.

Averroes on religion

Averroes and others focused on refuting the conflict between sharia and philosophical wisdom so he wrote a book against the accusations of religious scholars, entitled The Book of the Decisive Treatise Determining the Connection between the Law and Wisdom.

The book included a compromise based on the saying: “Truth does not contradict truth.” Both religion and philosophy have functions that do not overlap or object to each other. Discussing Averroes’ methodology in the book, al-Jabri wrote: “In his new methodological interpretation of the relationship between religion and philosophy, Averroes started from a fundamental principle previously accentuated, namely, the radical separation between the world of the unseen and the world of the seen as this is based on the fact that each one of them has at its nature which is substantially different from the other. From here, the separation became a basic methodological issue echoed in Averroes’ assertion that it would be wrong to measure the abstract with the evident when approaching the relationship between religion and philosophy. Consequently, he underlined the flaw that lies in trying to combine religion with philosophy, or the inverse, because according to Averroes this integration can only be achieved by sacrificing either the origins of religion and its principles, or the origins of philosophy and its principles. Averroes believes that religion has its own specific principles and foundations and so does philosophy, which inevitably results in a difference between the religious fundamentals and the philosophical ones. Therefore, Averroes believed it was wrong to integrate segments of the foundations of one into the foundations of the other, or interpreting segments from this foundation using the tools of the others.” (Jabri, We And Our Heritage, p 238).

The teaching of philosophy does not destroy faith and does not defy religion. In fact, if it weren’t for logic and the study of philosophy, many of the fields of Sharia, such as the principles of ‘fiqh’, the purposes of Sharia and the forms of interpretations wouldn’t have grown. Husserl said that the philosopher carries in his expression of a specific meaning a silent experience.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

The methodological response gradually developed, but it peaked with al-Ghazali's sentimental and captivating book Deliverance from Error, which was well received among scholars and became an argument on the story of an imam who embarks on philosophy and comes out shattered. In the book, it is clear that the journey is full of hardship, and the Imam doesn’t hide his grief that the light of truth dimmed by the journey in philosophy. The truth is al-Ghazali advanced the link between philosophy and misguidance, but he was not alone in this. He was within a jurisprudential course that conquered philosophy. As such, Ibn Khaldun would attack philosophy in Muqaddimah in the 14th century.

Greek heritage

The traditional antagonists of the philosophers argued that Avicenna, Avempace, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Averroes were imitating Greek philosophy, but they were not. They actually assisted in crafting a curricula and the sculpting of their own concepts that resulted in the interest of a 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze in Avicenna. We can read about that in an important study by Hussein Zawahiri entitled, Deleuze and Avicenna.

Employing the historical position towards philosophy to be a determining factor in our present, using the entire legacy of that conflict and investing in the victory of ‘fiqh’ over philosophy to inhibit the teaching of any philosophical curriculum in high schools or universities will weaken the intellect of generations, destroy their critical capabilities and paralyze their individualities.

Teaching philosophy doesn’t result in forming philosophers, but it strengthens the capacities of criticism and gives students tools and instruments to face their existence and the world.

Philosophy matters

“Why philosophize?” This is a question chosen by Jean-François Lyotard as the title of a captivating book, which is based on four lectures he gave to preparatory class students at the Sorbonne in October and November of 1964, where he noted that: “Philosophy is born at the same time that something is dying. This something is the power of unifying. What this power unified was oppositions that, under this power, were in a living relationship and interaction.”

In terms of education, philosophy is a workshop for deliberating facts, with an environment of accountability and examination of standard convictions, a training lesson for the formulation and refinement of the question, and a field to throw bright ideas and specific rare approaches.

The teaching of philosophy does not destroy faith and does not defy religion. In fact, if it weren’t for logic and the study of philosophy, many of the fields of Sharia, such as the principles of ‘fiqh’, the purposes of Sharia and the forms of interpretations wouldn’t have grown. Husserl said that the philosopher carries in his expression of a specific meaning a silent experience.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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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.

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Last Update: Sunday, 13 May 2018 KSA 14:22 - GMT 11:22
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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