The Thirteenth General Conference : Renewal in Islamic Thought
ISLAM AND ENLIGHTENMENT
ISLAM AND ENLIGHTENMENT
Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zakzouk
Minister of Al-Awqaf (Endowments)
In our Arab Muslim world, the term "enlightenment" is frequently
used without being accurately defined, the matter that led to the fact that
the content and denotation of this term are awkwardly understood,
highly misused, and seen by some people as synonymous to all sorts of
liberation from values and beliefs, contradictory to Islam, and calling to
abandoning the teachings and values of Islam.
No doubt that our Arab Muslim communities are in urgent need to
a comprehensive enlightening movement based on true realization of the
necessity of taking them out of the state of intellectual stagnation and
material backwardness that overwhelms them.
Therefore, this paper comes as an attempt to shed some light on the
concept of "enlightenment" from both European and Islamic
perspectives, clearing up the current misunderstanding of this terms,
and pointing out its correct meaning.
The Concept of Enlightenment in the European Thought:
Europe was burdened with the darkness of thought and the
oppression of the Church authority in the Middle Ages, when the conflict
was so strong between science and religion, and thought and theology
(divinity), which ended up with the victory of thought, perishing of the
Church authority, and the independence of science from religion.
Then came the enlightened thinkers in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, especially John Locke, David Hume, Newton,
Voltaiye, Leibnitz, and Kant. Enlightenment was an intellectual
movement that maintained that mind represents the reality of human
existence. Kant was the first to use this term, and defined it as "the
departure of man from the stage of unawareness unawareness
means inability of man to use his mind without others help.
So, the concept of enlightenment in the European thought meant
concentrating on the human mind alone, and ridding oneself of whatever
may cripple his freedom, including religion. However, it did not mean to
reject the religion per se.
The Concept of Enlightenment in Islam:
Enlightenment, as seen by the Europeans, was not strange to the
Islamic thought. The word, in Arabic, is derived from "Nur" (light),
which is the opposite of darkness and ignorance, the latter being a form
of darkness. But, in Islam, it is not confined to using the mind alone.
Islam coupled religion with mind, and showed that the enlightenment of
religion means absence of complexity and vagueness in belief and
legislation, and enlightenment of mind means infallibility of conscience,
realization of facts, and distinguishing between different matters.
Islam has been so keen on using the mind, reflecting on Allah's
dominion and signs, rejecting dependency, which means neglecting the
mind. Islam has also fought charlatanry and legerdemain, concentrated
on the individual responsibility, and made preserving the mind one of
the essential objectives of Shari'ah. All of this led to the independence of
will, opinion, and thought-in Muhammad Abduh's words.
Hence, Islam presented to man a sublime civilization that was one
of the longest civilizations in man's history.
The Enlightenment in Islamic Thought:
A. The correlation between mind and religion
Islam looked at mind and religion as correlating not contradicting
with one another. The mind is the base, and the religion is the building,
according to Hujjatul-Islam Al-Ghazali; neither can replace the other.
Hence there has never been conflict in the Islamic thought between
religion and mind, or choice between them. Rather, the mind, according
to Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, is the staunchest ally to the Islamic
Enlightenment as seen by Averose
The history of Islamic thought abounded with those who raised the
banner of enlightenment as seen by Islam. Maybe the best example to
introduce in this respect is the Philosopher Averose who was
unanimously agreed upon as the leader of enlightenment, and upon his
great influence on the enlightening thought in the Middle Ages. But the
European thinkers have taken only one aspect of Averose's thought, as
they concentrated on the aspect of mind and neglected the aspect of
religion. So, they misunderstood him and burdened his thought with that
which it can never bear. Therefore, it is imperative to point out that the
Philosopher Averose is the same Jurist Averose who acceded to the
Judiciary in Savilla and Cordoba, and says in one of his books, "We,
Muslims, certainly know that mental thinking does not lead to
contradicting the religion; that is, the truth does not contradict the truth,
but it confirms and attests to it."
Averose has never seen any contradiction between the
philosophical reality and religion reality, defended this view as best as he
could, and attributed any form of conflict between them to "the people of
bad prejudice and false beliefs".
Hence, we realize that the enlightenment of Ave rose has two wings,
a religious wing and a philosophical wing. As the bird cannot fly with
one wing, Averose's enlightenment cannot be partially understood, since
the mental enlightenment is as much needed as the religious
enlightenment itself. They are closely linked to one another, and the
success of any of them is dependent on the success of the other.
It is evident that our Arab Muslim communities nowadays are in
urgent need to enlightenment, so that they can rid themselves of novelties
and charlatanry, set off on the roads of the light and freedom, catch up
with their age, and keep, meanwhile, their identity, which has become
exposed, in this age of globalization, to perils, which Allah alone knows