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Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Congress, Bilbao-2005

@Mourad Wahba and Mona Abuusenna
Different Roots of a Tradition: the intrinsic multiplicity of cultural and religious threads within every tradition



Our paper tackles the concept of "multiplicity" of cultural and religious trends within the Arab-Muslim tradition, in relation to another concept, that is, "interculturality." By "multiplicity" we mean the co-existence in a state of juxtaposition between different and sometimes antagonistic cultural and religious trends within the same tradition. In this sense, multiplicity implies conflict rather than dialogue, which is historically and intellectually proven. "Interculturality", however, is seen as the way out of such conflict by surpassing it to dialogue, as a first step, leading further to intercultural dialogue. Such dialogue permits the multiple, and sometimes conflicting trends, to move from the status of juxtaposition which makes them mutually exclusive, to another status which allows each to critically approach the other as well as itself. The objective of such dialogue should be mutual change which is the only way to development from conflict to peace.

Multiplicity, as it is presented here as the juxtaposed co-existence of two major cultural and religious trends, will be placed within the Arab-Islamic culture since the Middle Ages until the present time. These two trends could be identified as a closed system and an open system. The closed system is presented in the 11th century by Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazzali (1058-1059) who accused the Muslim philosophers, such as Al-Farabi and Avicenna, of apostasy for being influenced by Greek philosophy which, according to Al-Ghazzali, is pagan and should be discarded for being anti-Islamic. In his famous book "The Destruction of Philosophers," Al-Ghazzali states indirectly that those philosophers and the like of them should be condemned to death which is the Islamic penalty for apostasy. The same closed trend is also represented by Ibn Taimiyya in the 13th century (1263-11327) who condemned logic as heresy and rejected the philosophers as evildoers. He also criticised Averroes, who had immediately preceeded him, for having given precedence of reason over tradition because Ibn Taimiyya regarded tradition as the only fundamental source of religious faith. In the 18th century, Wahhabism, a religious-cultural trend based on the ideas of Ibn Taimeyya, emerged in the Saudi Arabia and constistuted a dogmatic, closed system. In the 20th century the Moslem Brotherhood movement, based also on Ibn Taimeyyas views, emerged in Egypt. As a result, Egypt and Saudi Arabia became united as breeding grounds for closed systems.

On the other hand, the open system is represented in the 12th century first, by Ibn Bajja (died 1138), an Arab-Muslim philosopher who criticised Al-Ghazzali's statement that "happiness resides in possessing the absolute truth," by commenting that " mysticism guides us to the impossibility of possessing the absolute truth." Another representative of the open system , is Ibn Tufayl (died 1185) who advocated a dichotomy between the public and the philosophers as the public cannot perceived beyond the religious phenomena whereas philosophers can. At the top of those stands Averroes, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) because he advocated rational scrutiny of the religious text in order to discover the hidden meaning. He, thus, formulated his theory of interpretation as " the extension of the metaphorical meaning to the real meaning." This new and unprecedented definition of interpretation gave legitimacy to multiplicity of understanding of the Quran and, consequently surpassed the notion of "ijma'a" or unanimity or concensus among the Muslim nation or "umma" and, hence, eliminated "takfir" or the charge of apostasy. The result was that Averroes was exiled in his native hometown and his books were burnt. The real significance of Averroes' theory of interpretation is that it called for the autonomyof human reason and, thus, gave priority to the individuality of the Muslim believer and his autonomy from the community of believers or the "umma". This means that religious belief becomes a personal matter between the believer and God based on his own interpretation of the Quran. The ultimate result of this would have been the abdication of the authority of the theologians who were dominating the Muslim community as well as the political arena during the dalaus in the 12th century.

However, starting from the 13th century, Europe has embraced the philosophy of Averroes when the school of Latin Averreoists emerged and was instrumental in bringing about the movement of religious reformation in the 16th century leading to the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Using Averroes' theory of interpretation and the corpus of his philosophical works which advocate freedom of inquiry and liberation of reason in religious matters, Latin Averroeism founded a new trend within the established ecclesiastical order, the Roman Catholic church, which led to the movement of religious Reformation that pulled Europe out of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.

The paradox is that the Islamic world, which has contributed to the advancement of Europe through the figure of Averroes, has also contributed to the contradiction that exists today between the Islamic world and the West because up till today the philosophy of Averroes, particularly his theory of interpretation, is banned and rejected by mainstream Muslim theologians and scholars and is accused of atheism by Muslim fundamentalists. This is, in our view, the major obstacle to a genuine intercultural dialogue and inter-religious dialogue between the Islamic world and the West and is, consequently, an obstacle to the transformation from multiculturalism to interculturalism.

In an attempt to solve this historic paradox, between the Islamic world and the West, we have founded the AVERROES & ENLIGHTENMENT INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION in Cairo in 1994, when we held an international conference on the theme "Averroes and Enlightenment."

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