Will the current conflict in Egypt resolve the prolonged conflict between Ghazali and Averreos?
The current rift in the Egyptian community cannot be seen solely as the result of the differences between the rival camps of Mursi’s supporters and opponents. This division is especially blatant when each camp decides to have its own protest point: Mursi’s opponents declare their demands in front of the presidential palace in the east Cairo district of Heliopolis, whereas Mursi’s supporters rush to the east-Cairo mosque of Rabaa al-Adawiya.
The split goes centuries back, and looks like it can never be resolved except through bloodshed. The conflict always existed, but the confrontation was long suspended; which only worked to deepen the rift.
The chasm is rooted in the difference between two schools of thought; one adopted by the Islamic scholar Abu-Hamed Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111) and the other adopted by the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe, Ibn Rushd, known to the world as Averroes (1126 – 1198).
Ghazali fought philosophy and philosophical thought with all his might. His magnum opus is Tahaafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of Philosophers), which he wrote in Arabic and which was later translated to several languages. According to the contemporary Islamic intellectual Mahmoud Ismail, Incoherence of Philosophers reflects “lack of knowledge and blatant opportunism”. Ismail believes the book was originally written to support the then ruling regime in face of the people, seeking to counter the liberal reasoning adopted by those who opposed the ruler. So it was politics rather than knowledge that led to the writing of the book. It made it its business to dub all political opponents as apostate infidels, Ismail said, and was a direct attack against reason. Ghazali’s school of thought was founded and thrived on dogmatic opportunistic concepts that consistently fought reason and defended the rulers.
The contemporary Iraqi researcher Abdul-Amir al-Aatham described Ghazali as a protean, who “wears a different costume for each situation”. Throughout the long Islamic history, several renowned Islamic scholars, fiqqis, among them the 14th century Fiqqi Inb-Taymiyyah al-Hanbali (1263 – 1328) who founded one of the four major schools of Islamic thought, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement Hassan al-Banna (1906 – 1949) and the modern Islamic philosopher Rasheed Reda embraced Ghazali’s thought. They viciously rejected the liberal, enlightened thought advocated by other Muslim figures and branded them as infidels, which is tantamount to issuing license to have him killed.
Reason versus non-reason
Today’s radical Islamist thought propagated by the likes of the sheikhs Youssef al-Badri, Muhammad Hassaan, Safwat Higazy and Assem Abddel-Maged is but an extension of Ghazali’s extremist thought. The Islamist pro-Mursi crowd who made it clear at several points in time that they are against creativity and modernism are evidently followers of the ‘Naql thought’ adopted by Ghazali—Naql is Arabic for ‘copying’. This school of thought adopts the teachings of the Holy Quran without thinking and refuses to come to terms with modern-day variables.
Ghazali’s school which extends until today is in direct conflict with Averroes’s school of rational philosophical thought, over which the renaissance and modernism of today’s Europe were founded. This school of thought is based upon reason and free, critical thinking. Regrettably, Averroes’s enlightened thought only passed over the Islamic world ever so subtly as a light cloud that poured but a few drops. Yet these drops influenced the likes of Rifaa al-Tahtawi (1801–1873), the Egyptian writer, teacher, translator, Egyptologist and renaissance intellectual, who was among the first to write about Western cultures and attempt to harmonise Islamic and Christian civilisations. He founded the School of Languages in 1835 and was influential in the development of science, law, literature and Egyptology in 19th-century Egypt. Among those who followed in the footsteps of Averreos were also Sheikh Muhammad Abdu (1849 – 1905) who reconciled Islamic teachings to modern times, and Sheikh Ali Abdel-Raziq (1888-1966) who was an Egyptian Islamic scholar, religious judge, and cabinet minister. His controversial writings argued against a role for religion in politics or the political prescriptive value of religious texts. Even though Abdel-Raziq’s thought was heavily censured by Egypt’s more conservative scholars, it influenced the figures of Egypt’s enlightenment movement in the 20th century, significant among whom was the blind, poor village boy Taha Hussein (1889 – 1973) who grew up to be a prominent intellectual, writer, and Egypt’s Education Minister.
The enlightened thought of Averroes extended to today’s enlightenment figures such as Farag Fouda who was killed in 1993 by an Islamist, and the writers and philosophers Khalil Abdel-Kerim and Sayed al-Qimany.
The anti-Mursi youth who have chosen to rebel and join the near 18 million-strong national movement of Tamarud (Rebel) embrace Averroes’s free thought. Even though this battle is still openly raging here in Egypt, it was settled in most Arab countries in the favour of Ghazali who is today considered an Islamic ‘reference’, whereas Averroes is accused of heresy and apostasy.
It is true that on the social level this has always been and will remain an unending debate between both schools of thought within Islamic communities. However, on the political level since the pre-1952 monarchy and through to the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak times, the different ruling regimes exploited this division and always tried to publicly align themselves with one of the two schools of thought in order to gain popular support.
The war cries are now raging for the fateful battle that was for too long placed on hold. The faceoff will finally take place between Averroes and Ghazali. The first round starts on 30 June, after which either darkness or light will prevail.
26 June 2013