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Indonesia Calling: Invoking Ibn Rushd for a more Progressive Islam

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  • Tarek Fatah
    friends, Zuhairi Misrawi is a Director of the Institute of Progressive Islamic Studies (LSIP) in Jakarta, Indonesia. In this article remembering the great
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2005
      friends,

      Zuhairi Misrawi is a Director of the Institute of Progressive Islamic
      Studies (LSIP) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

      In this article remembering the great Muslim Philosopher Ibn Rushd as a
      source of progressive islam, Misrawi writes that in his capacity as the man
      who had authority in religious matters, Ibn Rushd did not automatically use
      that authority as the iron hand to summarize a law decisively. Instead he
      emphasized the urgency of ijtihad in the domain of fiqh (Islamic
      jurisprudence).

      Misrawi writes:
      "Averroes wished that philosophy could be a bridge to accept truth from the
      others of different religions. He wrote in Fashl al-Maqal, “If we find truth
      from others with different religion, we must accept and respect him. On the
      contrary whenever we find mistake, so we have to remind and forgive him.” He
      observed that religious diversity is not a barrier to build a dialog.
      Therefore, he read and commented upon Aristotelian philosophy which
      originated from outside Muslim tradition. According to Youhanna Qalta, a
      priest in al-Sujud church, Egypt, Averroes opened the heart of Christians to
      welcome other religions."

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah
      -----------
      5/1/2004

      Averroes In Memoriam
      The Urgency of Being a Progressive Muslim

      By Zuhairi Misrawi
      The Liberal Islam Network, Indonesia
      http://islamlib.com/en/page.php?page=article&id=520

      Last December several cultural and philosophical institutions commemorated
      the death of an imminent Muslim philosopher, Averroes (Ibnu Rushd). The
      Goethe institute headquarter in Berlin-Germany also granted the Averroes
      award to Muhammad Arkoun who was observed to carry on Averroes’ thought in
      enlightening the Muslim world mainly through the historical reconstruction
      of religions (Alhayat, 11/12).

      At the end of 1999, the Institute of Egyptian Philosophy led by Hassan
      Hanafi held a philosophical symposium titled, “Nine centuries commemorating
      Ibnu Rushd (Averroes); the pioneer of Arabic rationalism.” This symposium
      was visited by several thinkers from across the Arab world - Tunisia, Syria,
      Lebanon and Morocco. The writer who coincidentally became an active
      participant in that symposium caught the message that Averroes had come up
      from his grave!

      As far as the writer knows, there has never been another scientific forum
      discussing Averroes like this symposium. It indicates that gradually a
      collective awareness has emerged which appreciates progressive thought
      within the classical tradition. Averroes is designated as a symbol of the
      revival of Arabic philosophy and rationalism. He is considered as a
      philosopher who has developed a reasonable relation between religion and
      philosophy and Athif ‘Iraqi had described him as the last Arab philosopher!

      The next question is this: what is the significance of commemorating
      Averroes for Muslims, especially Indonesian Muslims? To the writer, it has a
      deep significance for Averroes’ thoughts are essentially not strange to the
      pesantren (Islamic boarding school) circle. Most of the pesantren teach one
      of the most important books written by Averroes, Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa
      Nihayat al-Muqtashid. For Islamic philosophical observers, Averroes is an
      inspiration toward the open “gate of philosophy” which has been locked
      tightly within Islamic tradition.

      We should note a profound sorrow in the religious landscape. In 2003 several
      important events were a disgrace to religion, namely religious conflict,
      terrorism in the name of religion, religious politicization in which people
      are labeled as infidels in the name of religion and so on. Religion has been
      used by various groups to disseminate hatred and suspicion, and it is even
      used to sow discord within communities. Here, religion is used for momentary
      interest. It’s flexibility and benefits have been lost.

      These facts require that the Muslim community take an important role in
      materializing more peaceful religious views. Progressive views illustrating
      Islamic ethical moral are needed. Islamic teachings should inspire the
      actualization of views supporting justice, equality, diversity and
      civilization.

      Actually Averroes as a philosopher, doctor, and ulema has shown us how to be
      progressive Muslims. To him, a good Muslim is a Muslim who can represent the
      era he lives in. Therefore, his views are always refreshing for our
      religious insight as reflected below. Firstly, in terms of the pluralism of
      ijtihad (individual religious interpretation). Averroes was a religious
      judge (qadhi) in Seville (1169) and the head of religious judges in Cordova
      (1182). In his capacity as the man who had authority in religious matters,
      he did not automatically use that authority as the iron hand to summarize a
      law decisively. Instead he emphasized the urgency of ijtihad in the domain
      of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

      Andalusia which is generally influenced by the Maliki school of thought did
      not automatically drive him to side with the Imam Malik School. His view, as
      mentioned in Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtashid, was that every
      fiqh matter should be observed trough the perspective of four Islamic school
      of thoughts: Syafi’ie, Hambali, Hanafi and Maliki. To Abid al-Jabiry (1998),
      Averroes actually wished to give a precious lesson that the most important
      thing in fiqh is to analyze the ethical moral dimension behind the law as
      well as the urgency of understanding ijtihad’s process. This means that each
      law should consider the public benefit. Will it be a benefit or a hazard?
      Here is the importance of a plural ijtihad which accomplishes people’s
      interest in general.

      Second is the freedom of thought and the tradition of the critics. Averroes
      lived in the Dark Age and the repression of freedom of thought. At that
      time, philosophy was buried alive especially after the fatwa (instruction)
      of infidel (kafir) and confused (mutahafit) by Imam al-Ghazali in Tahafut
      al-falasifah. Averroes criticized several books which prohibited philosophy
      by writing a book, Tahafut al-Tahafut. He issued a fatwa, “the importance of
      thinking and philosophizing”, as written satirically in Fashl al-Maqal fi ma
      bayn al-Hikmah wa al-Syari’ah min al-Ittishal. To him, the position of
      philosophy and thought is equal to sharia. Both are brothers and roads to
      the truth. He added that the theological problem should not be approached
      textually only, but it should be approached by philosophy, through
      interpretation (takwil) based on demonstrative analogy (al-qiyas
      al-burhany). Based on that, Averroes refused to consider philosophers as
      infidels, since philosophy and thought are an authentic part of Islam.
      Muhammad Arkoun considers Averroes to be the pioneer of enlightened
      rationalism and faith (ra’id al-fikr al-‘aqlany wa al-iman al-mustanir),
      since iman (faith) does not repress freedom of thought according to
      Averroes.

      Thirdly is the interfaith dialog. Averroes wished that philosophy could be a
      bridge to accept truth from the others of different religions. He wrote in
      Fashl al-Maqal, “If we find truth from others with different religion, we
      must accept and respect him. On the contrary whenever we find mistake, so we
      have to remind and forgive him.” He observed that religious diversity is not
      a barrier to build a dialog. Therefore, he read and commented upon
      Aristotelian philosophy which originated from outside Muslim tradition.
      According to Youhanna Qalta, a priest in al-Sujud church, Egypt, Averroes
      opened the heart of Christians to welcome other religions.

      Fourthly, there is the issue of control over ruler’s policy. The important
      idea originated by Averroes is control over ruler’s policy. He observed that
      authoritarianism tended to kill collective interest. Therefore, he always
      opposed the caliph. Furthermore he often greeted the caliph by saying “Hi
      brother”. He paid a high price when subsequently he endured inquisition
      (mihnah fikriyyah) and was exiled by the Caliph to Lucena, an Atlantic
      island, in 1195. The most important of all his teachings was the need to
      control rulers.

      It is amazing that Averroes thoughts were formulated so long ago. He was a
      rare and unique thinker. He still absorbed multiple meanings of Islam within
      the almost uniform tradition while writing under a system of absolute
      monarchy.

      Averroes could revive the religious spirit in our recent religiosity. The
      awareness of ijtihad, freedom of thinking, interfaith dialog and control
      over public policy are growing constantly. Indeed, Averroes reminds us of
      the importance of being progressive Muslims, that is of being Muslims who
      are aware of their role in the social domain, not only in the private one.
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