By publishing this paper we would like to remember Massimo Rosati, who died on January the 30th, 2013, at the too-young age of 44. A dear friend of Reset-Dialogues, over the years he supported our work and we were discussing a permanent form of cooperation with him involving a series of projects scheduled for the coming months that would have been directed by him. “The Archaic and Us. Ritual, Myth, the Sacred and Modernity" is the paper presented by Massimo Rosati on December 4th, 2013, for the international seminar "Europe, Democracy and Critical Theory. A German-Italian Workshop on Jürgen Habermas’ Theory", organized by Regina Kreide, Walter Privitera and Ilenya Camozzi at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften in Bad Homburg. Rosati’s Paper sparked a lively discussion with Prof. Habermas and an intense debate with all the participants in the seminar.
Philosophy and Religion
Massimo Rosati died suddenly after suffering a stroke. He was not yet 45 years old. “Reset” has lost a friend and a tireless co-worker, with his ideas, his blog and the projects we shared. His death was completely unexpected, and the suddenness of this break in friendly and productive contacts, in working relations, is unbelievable and painful. Until just a short moment ago there were the normal and trivial efforts made to find a suitable date for a conference on “Religion and the web”, or to plan a series of seminars and a book on religion as a “war and peace” factor.
The story of the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha, or Sacrifice Holy Day, goes beyond the symbolic ritual of slaughtering a qurbani to that of exerting the self to a better understanding of God in different times and spaces. The Eid is supposed to bring the questions of liberty and belief into the mind of the believer again and again, for belief is not supposed to be stable, but dynamic. The universe is in movement and so is supposed to be the idea of belief and understanding of God, otherwise the perception of revelation becomes historic and not active – which is not the wisest perception to hold if the believer thinks that the Creator is Great, Merciful, and Just, as some attributes portray Him in Islam.*
What was his offense? He had not directly rebelled against or attacked the government. But he did something much more far-reaching: he claimed the right of the free interpretation of scriptures (not arbitrary, but free and responsible interpretation).
The question raised by the paper is: can democracy be religious and, if so, how? Can religious faith be reconciled with modern democratic political institutions? The paper takes its departure from the biblical admonition to believers to be "the salt of the earth" – a phrase that militates against both world dominion and world denial. In its long history, Islam (like Christianity) has been sorely tempted by the lure of worldly power and domination. Nor is this temptation entirely a matter of the past (witness the rise of the Christian Right and of "political Islam" in our time). Focusing on contemporary Iran, the paper makes a constitutional proposal which would strengthen the democratic character of the Iranian Republic without canceling religious faith. If adopted, the proposal would re-invigorate the "salt" of Muslim faith thus enabling believers to live up to the Qur'anic summons for freedoms, justice and service in the world.*
“It seems today that the acceptance of secularism within the Muslim world is extremely far away. It is as if, on the basis of deeply-held convictions, Muslim society were demanding a form of not exactly theocracy, but certainly a ‘moralisation’ of public life.” So says Abdou Filali-Ansary, director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations at the University of Aga Khan, London. The director and founder of the Moroccan literary review ‘Prologues,’ Filali-Ansary is also the author of a number of works on the reformist tradition within the Islamic world, including L’Islam est-il hostile à la laïcité? (2002) and Réformer l’Islam? - Une introduction aux débats contemporains (2003). He recently spoke at ResetDoc's Istanbul Seminars 2011 (19-23 May).
Abu Zayd instead wished to return to the Koran all the potentiality of its contents, not only normative but also ethical, social, theological, narrative, artistic contents, etc. Once the revelation had started, the Koran became part of history; it was secularized. This is a process that involves the entire cosmos. It is rather those who read the text only as a system of eternal rules, set beyond time and space, as a sense deprived of meaning, who have “mummified” the Koran, losing the qualities of the authentic Word of God answering humankind’s most intimate needs.
Nasr is the very up to date descendant of the long line of courageous, bold, outspoken and critical Arab intellectuals, dating back to Qassim Amin from the end of the 19th century, who adopted and vehemently defended the most enlightened, progressive and advanced positions of their times on the major issues vexing Arab and Muslim societies to this very moment, such as progress, renewal, development, education, women’s emancipation, secularism, democracy, human rights, heritage, Islam, modernity, science, rationality and so on.
During the Nineties, in Algeria, together with a number of friends I found courage and support in a book entitled “Naqd al Khitab al Dini” (Critique of the Religious Discourse), written by Nasr Abu Zayd, an Egyptian intellectual who was a professor at Cairo university. I was lucky enough to meet him in Rome in December 2005 and gave him a copy of a novel I had written, “Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio” [A clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio] , in the Arabic version. He called me the next day to pay his compliments. He had read it in just one night!
Within the framework of the in-depth analysis that Reset devotes to the subject of liberal Islam, we wish to present an interview with the Egyptian thinker Abu Zayd, who is one of the most respected and influential Muslim reformists. Abu Zayd explains that, contrary to widespread belief, within the Muslim world there are many reformists and organisations that spread the principles of liberalism, equality, democracy and human rights. Unfortunately, however, the West appears not to acknowledge this and instead of contributing to strengthen these tendencies, it tends to emphasise Islam’s negative aspects and, in particular, its links with terrorism. The problem – continued Abu Zayd – does not lie in Islam or in the Koran, but rather in the stubbornness that characterises extremists in interpreting the Holy Book in a rigid and literal manner, without allowing for any kind of critical debate. Applying hermeneutics to the Koran would instead facilitates its understanding and a more current interpretation, opening the way to a modernisation of the text without corrupting its sacredness.
Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid upheld the belief that the Koran is a book passed down through oral communication and one destined to poetic recitation. He was a believer and, as a Muslim, accusations of apostasy offended him profoundly. Should the conquering of democracy ever be achieved in the entire Muslim world, the history that will be written will have to linger at length on this small man with his frail health.