I was very pleased to participate in a lively and timely international conference (and congress), entitled “Arab Renaissance: Renewing the Civilizational Message,” organized in Amman, Jordan, on 25-26 April 2018, in the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Arab Renaissance Foundation for Democracy and Development (ARDD), directed by a young lady, the lawyer Samar Muhareb, and whose board of trustees is presided over by Zaid Eyadat, a professor of Political Science at the University of Jordan. The conference took part in collaboration with the University of Jordan, Arab Thought Forum, and the American University of Beirut.
Prominent Arab philosophers and thinkers took part in the conference, which was attended by a large audience during the two days of the proceedings; these scholars include Hassan Hanafi (Egypt), despite his old age and move in wheelchair, Abu Yaareb al-Marzuki (Tunisia), Muhammad Shahrur (Syria), Ali Oumlil (Morocco), Abdeljabbar al-Rifai (Iraq), Abdellah Seyyid Ould Bah (Mauritania), Ridwan el-Sayyid (Lebanon), besides many others; female scholars and activists, like Fahima Sharafeddine, Suad Joseph, Magda Essanoussi, underlined especially gender issues and their challenges in the Arab world, and beyond. Youth voices were very present during the discussion sessions and contributed to energetic debates.
Hanafi centralized the role of human change and perpetual interpretations of religion and the tradition, and asked the youth to rebel whenever their rights and aspirations are not met by the ruling class or are threatened by external hegemons; he demanded an urgent revival of the humanist spirit in the tradition; al-Marzuki underlined the role of history and economics in human growth, and challenged the idea of renaissance and awakening, saying that without strong and independent economies and serious ethics of work, social growth may remain a wishful thinking; at the same time he enumerated the various benefits of the early Arab Renaissance of the 19th and early 20th century, among which the revival of the Arabic language and literatures; ultimately, he said that the current catastrophes in the Arab world reflect the crises of not only the Arabs but those of the modern world as well; the Arab world has a civilizational mission, and should not be eclipsed by the ongoing ruins and wars; this region has a place in world history and it can always revive it, differently, creatively, he said. Al-Rifai called for reinvigorating the humanist aspect of religion, and argued that religion is not only law; law is a very small aspect of which, and it is historical; Shahrur went so far as to say that the Muslim legal scholars have misunderstood the Islamic message, and made of law its core; he also said that early Muslim theologians and legal theorists centralized the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, in mimicry of Christianity and the centrality of Jesus Christ, at the expense of the Quran, whose central place has to be reclaimed for renewal. As for
Ould Bah and Oumlil, they both read the current political crisis as a return to pre-modern notions of sectarian politics by which the established institutions of the modern states are put to the ground in a number of Arab countries and capitals. El-Sayyid, after having critically examined the Quranic studies literature in Western academia, went back to the Arab world to say that the current young generations of Arabs at the university for example lack interest in local issues and in the ideas of reform and renaissance because they belong to a more digital and global generation; their concerns are different, and it is challenging to expect them to have the same concerns as those of the pioneers of reforms.
In sum, these big figures that represent the 1967 generation of Arab philosophers and intellectuals all emphasized the need of real ethical work to not only save what could be saved but importantly to renew the old hopes of the Arab Renaissance of the 19th century, by underlining human rights, humanist values, pluralism, rule of law, and economic growth. The congress ended by launching the birth of Arab Renaissance Center for Thought, as part of ARDD foundation.
One could not but be optimist despite the dark present in the region and around the world! Arab scholars have given this message of hope as a moral duty for the locals first, and for the world outside as well.