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 out.
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 this day.
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.
In the disciplines of philosophy and humanities we have faced a problem since the beginning of modern education till this day.Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
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 learning.
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 evidence.
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.”
This article is also available in Arabic.
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.