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Arab Thought in Need of Revival

Arab Thought in Need of Revival

The Moroccan Philosopher Mohammed Abed al-Jabri wins

Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought 2008

“An under-developed country can only pursue the path of real development, if education is made prevalent on a wide scale: ‘If we allow a hundred roses to bloom, we shall reap more of its fruits than we ever hoped for’“

M. Abed al-Jabri

(<st1:place w:st=”on”><st1:state w:st=”on”>Berlin</st1:state></st1:place>) This year the Ibn Rushd Fund awards it’s prize to the great Moroccan Philosopher Mohammed Abed al-Jabri, one of the most brilliant thinkers of the modern Arab world. The prize was announced to be awarded to an “Arab author who produced a study analysing the failure of Arab enlightenment.”

Mohammed Abed al-Jabri is a lecturer in Philosophy and Islamic Thought at the <st1:placetype w:st=”on”>University</st1:placetype>of <st1:placename w:st=”on”>Mohammed V</st1:placename> in <st1:place w:st=”on”><st1:city w:st=”on”>Rabat</st1:city></st1:place>. Earlier in his career he was a dedicated teacher, school inspector and headmaster in Moroccan schools. He has also published educational books and was editor at several newspapers. As for his work in the political domain, al-Jabri’s involvement in the opposition movement led to his arrest several times.

The Ibn Rushd Fund, named after the philosopher Ibn Rushd/Averroes (1126-1198), supports freedom of speech and democracy in the Arab world by annually awarding the Ibn Rushd Prize. The focus of the theme varies every year: So far, the prizes covered the fields of journalism, women’s rights, criticism, politics, philosophy, literature, reform of Islam, human rights and film. This will be the tenth time the Ibn Rushd Prize is awarded.

Within 50 years al-Jabri enriched the Arabic library with several distinguished theses, scholarly works and studies on new interpretations of the Arab cultural heritage as the first necessary steps towards cultural development. Al-Jabri believes that the past must be re-examined and assimilated into the present within a deeper understanding of world culture.

The complex questions that al-Jabri was occupied with all the time were: Why did the development of knowledge in the Arab Islamic culture come to a halt after the Medieval Golden Age? Can a modern renaissance be initiated without enlightening the mind? Al-Jabri’s approach to these questions was a critical, rational and epistemological methodology. Al-Jabri refuses an interpretation of history which is based on what he calls ”antiquated understanding of cultural heritage”. According to al-Jabri we should try to build our future out of a conscious understanding of the present circumstances and peculiarities of our history and its characteristics.

Al-Jabri’s work on the enlightenment of the mind began in 1980, when al-Jabri wrote several books on this subject. His ideas spread all over the Arab world and were publicly criticized and discussed.

In his publication series Naqd al-fikr al-arabi (Critique of Arab Thought) al-Jabri analyses Arab thought by studying the cultural and linguistic structures from the beginning of literature until today and examining the development of political and ethical patterns of thought over time. Al-Jabri coined the expression ”the resigned mind “ (al-aql al-mustaqil), by which he refers to the conventional ways of thinking in the Arab world that hinder independent thought and shy away from discussing important cultural issues. Al-Jabri concludes that Arab thought is in need of a revival. In that context some of al-Jabri’s most important works were published in the 1980s, beginning with Nahnu wa-t-turath (Our Cultural Heritage and Us) 1980, which can be regarded as an introduction to his book series Naqd al-aql al-arabi(Critique of Arab Reason), which appeared in four parts (books): Takwin al-aql al-arabi 1984 (The Genesis of Arab Thought), Bunyat al-aql al-arabi 1986 (The Structure of the Arab Mind), al-Aql as-syiyasi al-arabi 1990 (The Arab Political Mind), al-Aql al-akhlaqi al-arabi2001 (The Arab Moral Mind).

In their famous dialogues collected in the book Hiwar al-mashriq wa-l-maghrib (Dialogue of East and West) al-Jabri and the Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi discuss important current political and social issues. These dialogues, later known as “dialogue of the eighties” aroused controversial reactions in the Arab world and had far-reaching influence in political circles.

In the 1990’s al-Jabri more extensively dealt with the problems of modern Arab thought. In a series of short expositions he substantiated his critique of Arab reasoning: “Democracy and Human Rights“ 1994, “The Question of Culture in the Arab World“ 1994, “Religion, State and Applying Islamic Law (Shari’a)“ 1996, „The Intellectuals of Arab Civilization“ 1996, “Problems of Modern Arab Thought“ 1997. One of al-Jabri’s main aims in writing his book “The Intellectuals of Arab Civilization” was to limit the alienation of Arab intellectuals from their own history. He also wanted to stress upon the exploitation of religion for political ends and the importance of having an independent understanding of history. As an example he mentions the conflicts Ibn Hanbal faced in the Eastern part of the Arab world (Mashreq) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in the Western part of it (<st1:place w:st=”on”>Maghreb</st1:place>) to prove this theory.

In this context it should be pointed out that al-Jabri has intensively dealt with Ibn Rushd (Averroes) by supervising the publishing and providing the introduction and commentaries for critical editions of numerous original manuscripts (excluding Ibn Rushd’s commentary works on Aristotle). Ad-Daruri fi s-siyasa (The Essentials in Politics), in which Ibn Rushd summarizes and comments on Aristotle’s’ Politica, has survived only in its Hebrew translation. Together with a scholar colleague, al-Jabri translated it back into Arabic and took care to bring it over into the idiom and linguistic style contemporary to Ibn Rushd.

Al-Jabri’s most recent publications is his introduction to the Koran (Madkhal ila al-qur’an al-karim: at-ta’rif bi-l-qur’an 2006) and the first two parts of an interpretation of the Koran, in which he arranges the verses in chronological order of revelation: Fahm al-qur’an al-hakim2007 at-Tafsir al-wadih hasab tartib an-nuzul 2008.

Unfortunately, for health reasons al-Jabri will not be able to travel to Berlin to receive the award personally. The award will be sent to him instead. Yet, the fund will publish an essay by al-Jabri as a virtual speech around 10th December 2008 in Arabic language along with its translation into German as well as a laudatory speech by Dr. Michael Gaebel. This will be communicated in due time.

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