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Posts Tagged ‘“Why the Arab World is not free?”

“Why the Arab World is not free?” : Reactions

Note: I decided to post a reply to the comments on my book review “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan

The Iranian Shirin Ebadi is another Nobel laureate suffering at the hands of the radical Moslem Shiaa. Shirin Abadi, Islam’s most famous civil rights activists and a Nobel Prize winner, said in her acceptance speech: “Allow me to say a little about my country, region, culture and faith. I am an Iranian. A descendant of Cyrus “The Great”.  The Charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights. I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: “Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion”. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the West as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.”

The dark ages within any civilization is characterized with dogmatic extremism that denies civil liberties, including freedom of religion and justice or the right to a fair trial. “Golden age” periods should be about the freedom of expression and availability of justice for the downtrodden. A society is judged not by the standards of the richest among them but by the way the under privileged and the poorest live. A minor renaissance within the regions under the influence of Islam can be traced but the conditions that help ‘seeds of reason’ to take roots that are essential for free-thinking were just not allowed to be nurtured.

Unfortunately, in the current Arab world, the true values are rarely ever discussed freely. During the ‘Golden Age’ periods there was particularly strong tradition of rationalism known as the Mu3tazalah. They stressed that man is inherently free and were skeptic on the pre-destination concept that everything was foreordained. The Mu3tazilat carefully cultivated an ‘enlightened moderation’ and allowed for the growth of knowledge and actively promulgated the Sciences as a part of the religion doctrine.

Muslim countries supply 70 per cent of the world’s energy requirements and 40 per cent of its raw material exports. With all of their oil wealth, two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in Muslim countries. This state of misery is unparalleled; Islam’s inability to translate its economic prowess into general good has baffled the intelligentsia of the world. In the last 20 years over one million people died in conflicts involving intra-Muslim wars.

Why are democracy and the rule of law nonexistent in most Moslim States? Why are most of the worst acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam? Whenever wicked fundamentalists have taken over reins of affairs they have gone for the jugular. Extremists have a single point agenda whereby ‘worldly decadence’ needs to be abolished for blessings and rewards in the after world. No devotion can gratify the extremists; every strain of deviancy over times has its own brand of virtuous approach; these anarchists at one point have inflicted devastation on embryonic societies of Islam.

Renaissance cannot be tainted with color of ideology, it cannot be “Islamic or Christian”,  it is a collective effort of minds to seek freedom from dogma and seek answers to complex questions of purpose of existence on this planet. Free thinking, logic and rationalism have to be the corner stones of any serious attempt to induce renaissance in the Islamic world. Pluralism of ideas and the prosperity of any land are intertwined. Freedom of minds and skill to ‘think the unthinkable’ is how humanity has progressed; when minds are incarcerated nothing endures.

Renaissance within all three monolithic religions was built around norms of free mind; Renaissance was about literature, architecture, arts and chiseling of marble to exquisite forms. The statue of David could only be created by the love of the free labor of Michelangelo: an enslaved mind could never be an artist or a creator. Physically enslaved men with free minds led revolutions and changed the world: they were ready to accept death instead of compromise with totalitarian or dogmatic despotism.

The first and foremost challenge that Islam has to face is freedom of intellectual inquiry, ability to ask the unthinkable and still be able to live in peace within a society. Prof. Ahmad Zewail’s use of the fast laser technique can be likened to Galileo use of his telescope that he directed towards everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his “femtosecond” laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope towards the frontiers of science. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because he was the first to conduct experiments that clearly show the decisive moments in the life of a molecule – the breaking and formation of chemical bonds. He has been able to see the reality behind Arrhenius’ theory.

Prof. Ahmad Zewail acceptance speech like Ebadi’s referred to his richness of twin civilizations that of Islam and Egypt; he said: “Let me begin with a reflection on a personal story, that of a voyage through time. The medal I received from his Majesty this evening was designed by Erik Lindbergh in 1902 to represent Nature in the form of the Goddess Isis or the Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood.  She emerges from the clouds, holding a cornucopia in her arms and the veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science. Indeed, it is the genius of science which pushed forward the race against time, from the beginning of astronomical calendars six millennium ago in the land of Isis to the femtosecond regime honored tonight for the ultimate achievement in the micro-cosmos.

I began life and education in the same Land of Isis, Egypt, made the scientific unveiling in America, and tonight, I receive this honor in Sweden, with a Nobel Medal which takes me right back to the beginning. This internationalization by the Genius of Science is precisely what Mr. Nobel wished for more than a century ago.”

Professor Ahmed H. Zewail, the only Arab to ever win a Nobel Prize for science and, since the death of the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, the only one among the 1.2 billion Muslims with that honor.   The Egyptian author Mahfouz in his Nobel acceptance speech said: “The end will begin when seekers of knowledge become satisfied with their own achievements.” Unfortunately the embryonic renaissance in the late 700′s to 1300 of Islam was not extinguished by the satisfaction of its scientist’s queries; rather it was killed on the altar of dogma.

Abdus Salam once wrote: “The Holy Koran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.” Sad and tragic is the reality that this scion of Pakistan was not allowed to be buried in his homeland; an orphaned son of a nation thanked the luminaries on behalf of a nation who had disowned him.

In his acceptance speech Abdus Salam said: “… I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Academy of Sciences for the great honor and the courtesies extended to us, including the courtesy to me of being addressed in my language Urdu. Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this. The creation of Physics is the shared heritage of all mankind. East and West, North and South have equally participated in it. In the Holy Book of Islam, Allah says: ‘Thou see not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, see thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled and aweary.”

On the global stage, it is these “heretical” scientists who are disowned by the Moslem orthodox clergy who have earned the greatest respect for Islam. Historically, we have distorted our real heroes into heretics, and the witch-hunt still continues. Dr. Abdus Salam is not the only one treated as heretic; we have the modern rationalist, Naguib Mahfouz – Nobel laureate in literature. Citation of his work, ‘Awlad Haratina,’ in the Swedish Academy’s declaration of award of the Nobel Prize to Mahfouz in 1988 greatly angered the Islamicists. His novel appeared in English under the title, “The Children of Gebelawi.”

Shortly after the eruption of the Salman Rushdie affair, the leading fundamentalist, Omar Abd al-Rahman currently imprisoned in the US for his role in the attack on the World Trade Center—declared that if they had killed Mahfouz in 1959 for writing ‘The Children of Our Alley,’ Rushdie would never have dared write his novel. This was taken as a fresh fatwa to kill Mahfouz.

In 1994, a failed attempt on his life leaft Mahfouz paralyzed in his right arm. The crime of association of present day heroes of Islam with their past intellectual ancestors has marginalized them. It was the same Mahfouz who presented the case of his twin civilizations so adequately in the forum of ‘Swedish academy of sciences’ and quoted the great Muslim rationalist poet Abul-’Alaa’ Ma’ari who asserted everywhere “the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority.”

The world cannot remain hostage to medieval concepts; this modern fight has to be seen in its intellectual, historical and geographical context.  The Islamic world today is trying to re-ignite its lost “renaissance” but is led by demented people with medieval minds; they are supposed to cure our ills but are out in the open to slaughter and maim thousands. Respect of life is the first sign of an educated mind.

The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for over five hundred years; a golden age that can count among its credits the precursors to modern universities, algebra, and the names of the stars and even the notion of science as an empirical inquiry. Science flourished in the Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam a strong rational tradition of inquiry. This tradition stressed human free will.  Under the Mut3azalah (enlightened moderation) knowledge grew. Moslim conventional Puritanism, led by Ghazali, reawakened in the twelfth century.  The Moslem puritans championed revelation over reason, predestination over free will. The Imam Ghazali described mathematics and medicine as (Fard-E-Kefaya) placing these knowledge secondary to religious knowledge.

A few Islamic clergies are trying to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought. Our modern day laureates depict equally a sense of great connectivity to the rich past and that has to become a standard. Most likely the Islamic Renaissance that was about to be born 1000 years ago did not. We shall never know the extent of the harm that some celebrated religious zealots caused to mankind and civilization. We are once again at the crossroads; the only ways forward is to connect with the world and help make ours a true charitable society, the only way prosperity of mind can be ensured is through pluralism of ideas.

“Why the Arab World is not free?” : Reactions

Note: I decided to post a reply to the comments on my book review “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan; the length of the reactions demanded to be slpit in two parts.

One of the comments stated: “I am the son of two civilizations that have formed a happy marriage. The first civilization is 7 thousand years old of Pharaonic Egypt. The second is Islamic of 1,400 years old.

One day the great Pyramids will disappear but Truth and Justice will remain for as long as Mankind has a reflective mind and a living conscience.  A Moslim Caliph returned prisoners of war to the Byzantium Empire in exchange of ancient Greek manuscripts in philosophy, medicine and mathematics. This is a testimony of value for the human spirit in its demand for knowledge; the believer in One God demanded the fruits of a pagan civilization.

It was my fate to be born in the lap of these two civilizations and to feed on their literature and art. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debauchee, and that Man remembers what hurts more than what gives pleasure. Our great poet Abul-Alaa2 al Ma3ari was right when he said: “A grief at the hour of death is worse than a hundred-fold of Joy at the hour of birth.”

When the Moslem’s armies extended their territories from Spain to India, they took possession of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes, and other Greek thinkers. One of the prime reasons attributed to Moslims’intellectual enhancement in the Middle Ages is the considerable influence of Greek philosophy to a rational new religion. Up to the nineth century, Muslim intellectuals valued reason in their interpretation of the Koran and Hadith.  Our present day Moslem heroes are associate with the rational past.

In early Islam, there was a philosophical debate that started with al-Ghazali and resumed by Ibn Rushd; this comprehensive debate led the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481), the conqueror of the Capital Byzantium, to order two of the Empire’ scholars to compile books to summarize the debate between Ghazali and Ibn Rushd.

The philosophy of al-Ghazali was attacking the ideas of the two philosophers Avicenna or Ibn Sina (980-1037) and Farabi who were inspired by Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus.

Avicenna is known as al-Sheikh Rais (Leader among the wise men); in the west, he is also known as the “Prince of Physicians” for his famous medical text Qanun “Canon”. In Latin translations, his works influenced many Christian philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas.

The spread of Hellenistic philosophy in the Muslim world was started by the first Arabic philosopher Kindi (800-865) who wrote many works on Greek science and philosophy.

As a mathematician, Al Kindi realized the importance of Aristotelian logic. Farabi’s ideal rulers would be chosen for their intelligence and education in the sciences, philosophy, and religion.

According to Farabi, the best ruler for the Muslim Empire would be a “philosopher-king”, a concept described in Plato’s “Republic”.  One of the most important contributions of Farabi, beyond his political views and scientific philosophies, was to make the study of logic easier by dividing it into two categories – Takhayyul (idea) and Thubut (proof). He wrote several sociological books, including his famous work – Al-Madina al-Fadila (The Model City). 

In Andalusia (Spain) Ibn Rushd commented on Al Ghazali ,argument by argument, defending the power of rational and investigative thinking; his work became the foundation for Europe Renaissance in understanding Aristotle.

This part of history needs to be written; there are no takers yet.

Orthodoxy in Islam rarely allows the treatise of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037), Kindi (800-865) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) to become the syllabus of mainstream thought process.

A Moslem student might revere Avicenna and Averroes but he is not offered the opportunity to read their works.

If Avicenna and Averroes’s thinking were part of the dialogue within Islam then the sun of the golden era would have never set.

We cannot cite Khayyam as an example of a great poet and completely forget the message he gave. We may disagree with Khayyam but introducing his thinking will help us to determine what pluralism is all about.

The works of our thinkers need to be revisited and their books should form an integral part of our academia. Khayyam is described as an atheist, philosopher, and naturalist.

The constant themes of Khayyam’s poetry are the certainty of death, the pointlessness of asking unanswerable questions, the mysteriousness of the universe, and the necessity of living joyfully the present.

This is clearly reflected in the verses taken from Rubaiyat: “…How much more of the mosque, of prayer and fasting? Better go drunk and begging round the taverns. O Khayyam, drink wine, for soon this clay of yours will make a cup, bowl, one day a jar….”

“Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan, (July 21, 2008)

The book “Why the Arab World is not free?” is highly important and a major manuscript to read leisurely.

Each chapter contains an idea or a concept that can be developed extensively to the benefit of our retrograded societies.

Safouan believes, as I do, that the main power that allowed monarchs and colonial occupiers to enslave entire people was the adoption of a special language for the elites in any society.  The elite language was necessarily different from the language spoken by the common people or vulgar language.

The specials languages, written by the religious hierarchies, the scribes, the scientists and medical professions, left the impression to the common people that they are surely inferior in knowledge and capability, and thus logically, they had to submit to the monarchs and elites and excuse their unequal treatments and wrong doings as not comparable to the standards of responsibilities among the common people.

This paragraph is of my own.

(The invention of writing, maybe originated from Kingdom of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia before the fourth millennia, answered to an intellectual logic for organizing the real life, mostly administrative in nature, and which include laws and accounting principles. The words didn’t represent images but sounds of the spoken language that meant an object of an idea or a relationship.  It seems that the invention of writing was not attributed to a divine origin but as a human responsibility.  The invention of writing was applied independently in various civilizations with different forms, but the common denominator was that a word represented a concept, and thus for the administrative scribes, things didn’t exist unless it was given a name in writing.)

The modern man can be said to stand up on its own around the year 1250 when universities in Europe were instituted independently of States or the Church.  These universities acquired power and graduated scholars that replaced the bishops in the interpretation of the scriptures and technicians in all fields that the States needed their services.  The Renaissance would not have existed without these hotbeds of education in Bologna (Italy), Paris, London and Tübingen (Germany).

There is no critical separation between religion and sciences for the transmission of education and culture to the next generations.

Copernicus was an influential priest in Poland; Kepler who studied theology at the University of Tübingen but was sent by his professors to teach mathematics at the University of Graz; Newton wrote more on theology and the Old Testament than on physics and mathematics.  Only Galileo might have collided with the Church, simply because he realized that sciences has taken a new paradigm, which is away from the Aristotelian system to the mathematical sciences based on algebraic equations and thinking.

The Islamic mathematicians such as Thabet Bin Kura, Al Khwarazmi, and Kashi have laid the foundations of algebra and shifted the center of mathematics from geometry to algebra, simply because the complex rules of heritage in the Moslem laws required complex computations.

There are two venues for translating manuscripts; either we assimilate the text to the culture, or we subordinate our mentality to the thinking of the original author.  If we adopt the first concept we are basically regurgitating our own prejudices and idiosyncrasies. The second method should be bound to express the main philosophical thinking of the language and be faithful to the author’s philosophy and intents.

The second method pre-suppose that the translator is very familiar with the culture of the original language, so that the readers assimilate varieties of ways of thinking and ways of life.

Obviously, in our dying traditional classical Arabic language, as well as societies, not many people are familiar with the classical Arabic for ideas to be communicated and disseminated.  At least, if the second method of translation in the popular verbal language is endeavored we might expect a better return for changing our mentality.

Classical Arabic has no adequate words for the terminology of political philosophy for many reasons.

For example, Republic or “res publica” which means public affairs or public cause is generally translated as common interest “al maslaha al 3amat” which defeats the core meaning and reduces the whole politics of the republic to varieties to interests.

Another concept of sovereignty which means the right of retaining the last decision is translated as “siyada” which connote domination of masters to slaves.

The concept of politic which is the adoption of a system on how to govern among the citizens is translated as “siyasa” the root base of “sasa” which means how to lead or to control.




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