Indonesia Calling: Invoking Ibn Rushd for a more Progressive Islam
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
"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.
Averroes In Memoriam
The Urgency of Being a Progressive Muslim
By Zuhairi Misrawi
The Liberal Islam Network, Indonesia
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. Its 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
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: Syafiie, 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 ijtihads 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 peoples
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-Syariah 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 (raid al-fikr al-aqlany wa al-iman al-mustanir),
since iman (faith) does not repress freedom of thought according to
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 rulers policy. The important
idea originated by Averroes is control over rulers 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
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
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.