Islam and the Enlightenment: Between Ebb and Flow

Linked with Abdelwahab Meddeb – Tunis & France.

Published on Logos, by Abdelwahab Meddeb, not dated.

Islam can be doubly associated with the spirit of the Enlightenment. Long before, as early as the middle of the eighth century, it produced the premises of the Enlightenment; afterwards, starting in the nineteenth century, it experienced its effects.

Between 750 and 1050, authors made use of a surprising freedom of thinking in their approach to religions and to the phenomenon of belief. In their analyses, they bowed to the primacy of reason, honoring one of the basic principles of the Enlightenment. This phenomenon took place during a period of effervescence, of intense intellectual exchange, that Islam experienced a little more than a century after its advent, when its followers were seeking to develop a tradition capable of confronting much more sophisticated systems of thought. This was also a time when newcomers to Islam continued to remember theological systems and questions raised by the beliefs that had seen them come into being or evolve (like Judaism, various Christian sects, Manicheism, or Zoroastrianism) …

… Faced with the ebbing away of the Enlightenment, I would like to insist on the role that Europe can play in its reactivation. I mentioned earlier that Western gap between the principles of the Enlightenment and the actions that ruined its universal dissemination. But the European individual, in these last few decades of peace, of work on self, of ethical vigilance, seems at last capable of producing deeds that are in keeping with his principles. I know that this good example is difficult to maintain in practice, especially when it is not easy to detach it from positions that distinguish between dominant and dominated, strong and weak, rich and poor.


But it would still be tempting to put to the test such an exemplariness to the limits of the possible and the reasonable by committing ourselves to the principle of justice. Enacting it, the opportunity to reestablish the luster of the Enlightenment would be offered to us, and to give it back a universal credit that would help to revive its home in Islam, by supporting those who, in its heart, wish to live to their final consequences the divisions that have always agitated it, in this war of hierarchical structures, of authorities and interpretations, an incessant civil war one of the stakes of which is still winning the knowledge of the Enlightenment in a context of separation and rupture. (full long text).

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