I first met Nasr Abu Zayd at Reset Istanbul Seminars in 2009. His lifeline reads like one long relationship with truth. One might honestly characterize Nasr Abu Zayd as a truth seeker. He was a scholar who had risked everything to restore the tradition of truth seeking in Islam. His work is an indispensable tool for Muslims themselves so they can wage their struggle for enlightenment and reform of their faith tradition.
Philosophy and Religion
Mohamed Arkoun (b. 1 February 1928, Algeria; d. 14 September 2010, France; buried in Morocco) passed away just three months before the so-called Arab revolts started in Tunisia on 17 December 2010. Like many other Arab-Muslim scholars of world fame who outlive him, he would have loved to see the masses chanting the slogans of change of these revolts in their early days: “liberty, equality, dignity.” His generation of Arab intellectuals (since the 1960s) did not experience massive social movements and events calling for such a change; rather, they lived war defeats (pre-and-post-1967), the rise of secular authoritarianism (like that of Iraq, Syria and Nasser) and religious conservativism and political Islam (like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Taliban, Sudan, and Algeria). However, Arkoun lived the environment of the European events of May 1968, especially its influential French version. He must have dreamt of something similar taking place in Arab lands! As a historian of ideas, he must have known that similar moments are unique, and need their own factors or “points of accumulation” – to use the terms of the historian Jalal al-Azmeh- to take place. If he lived to see the current disappointments of the Arab revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen he could have easily brought to the surface similar episodes from the history of the three monotheistic/Abrahamic religions to show that “orthodoxies” rise and fall, and that “hegemonies” give only lip-service to the malaise of the “wretched of the earth.” As a historian of ideas, he also developed his own project that was constantly in progress, an unfinished project one may say. Examining his treatises and their content allow us to categorize him also as a theologian-philosopher who struggled with big questions that the cultures and societies he lived in and belonged to raise(d), questions like reason, revelation, religion, theology, philosophy, politics, ethics, pluralism, identity, history, and language.
"Are we perhaps condemned to remain prisoners of the logic of war that cannot perceive relations with others if not in terms that bring to mind hostility, such as peril, counter-position, conflict, threat etc.? In Western countries voices are raised almost everywhere against this way of seeing future relations between the West and other countries. People are starting to question the real meaning of this unfortunate dichotomy, as well as the reality it proposes to conceal. What does the East/West duality really mean through the history of European expansion, from Rome to the empires of modern colonialism? What does its current North/South replacement mean?" Part of this interview with Mohammed Abed Al Jabri was published in Fall 2006 by our Italian magazine Reset. On the occasion of the commemoration of the philosopher's fifth anniversary (d.2010), we are pleased to publish the full interview for the first time.
The previous two pieces (Islamic Philosophy I and II) presented some reflections on the past and present conditions and themes of Islamic thought, philosophy in focus. The present piece, based on two forthcoming papers, introduces a voice that aims at regrounding (i.e. reconstructing) not only Islamic philosophy but philosophy in general, and the way philosophers pose philosophical questions. It sketches out some major aspects of the project of Taha Abderrahmane (b. 1944, Morocco), a leading logician and ethicist in the Arab-Islamic world.
By Nina zu FürstenbergWith his critical thinking, this Arab intellectual has allowed us to understand that both the Muslim culture and the Koran are not remotely extraneous to concepts such as human rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers, pluralism and tolerance. Nasr has, on the contrary, shown how Islam’s Holy Book contains elements that encourage a secular idea of society.
By Giancarlo BosettiDue to the importance of his reformist religious perspective, many journalists have described him as “Islam’s Luther,” perhaps explained by the fact that in the Shiite tradition, unlike the Sunnis, there is the presence of the clergy and its earthly power. Soroush is a theoretician of freedom and individual rights, and he is a critic of the theological tradition that has justified power through transcendence, thereby sanctifying centuries of tyranny.
By Nina zu Fürstenberg and Giancarlo BosettiBassam Tibi, born in Damascus in 1944, emigrated to Germany as a young man and spent most of his life there teaching at Göttingen University. He has also taught at Harvard, Cornell, Princeton and Berkeley, as well as in Asia, Africa, Indonesia, Sudan and Egypt. In his studies he has analysed Islamic extremism and Muslim culture, comparing them to the values of tolerance, democracy and human rights.
By Giancarlo BosettiThe Syrian philosopher Sadik Al-Azm, born in Damascus in 1934 where he now lives, has developed a severe critique of Arab societies, affecting an entire generation marked by Israel’s defeat of Syria, Jordan and Egypt in 1967.
By Nicola MissagliaThe Egyptian philosopher insists that an intellectual “renaissance” in the contemporary Arab world, similar to the one that influenced the western world in the 15th and 16th centuries, would necessarily have to involve the Muslim’s re-appropriation of their own historicity, opposing the “hypostatization” of the past and the Islamic legacy.
By Nicola MissagliaNavid Kermani, an Iranian and German citizen, was born in 1967 in Germany to a family of Iranian origin. He is one of the most interesting personalities among the young Muslim intellectuals who were born and grew up in the West
From Reset-DoC's Archive - 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. (This interview was published by Reset-DoC in June 2010)
According to the Qur’an God created human beings in nations, tribes, with different colors and different languages in order to know each other – human beings know themselves by communicating and understanding the Other. Historically Islam is the spiritual and ethical call for social justice. The Qur’an is about the poor and the needy. And it is about the Other. ResetDoc remembers the great Egyptian philosopher Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd with this interview, recorded in 2009.