Muslim perspectives on interreligious dialogue

Djamel Djazouli, Denis Gril and Omero Marongiu-Perria

A round table leaded by Adrien Candiard, OP (IDEO)

At the French Institute in Egypt

icon-calendar November 30, 2018

It is true that interreligious dialogue has long been the initiative of Christians, however, more and more Muslim voices are now being heard, calling for specifically Qurʾānic and Prophetic foundations of the encounter with non-Muslims to be unearthed. Brother Adrien Candiard, a PhD student in Islamic studies and member of IDEO, led a round table discussion between three French-speaking Muslim scholars: Djamel Djazouli, a Qurʾān specialist and director of the An-Nour Institute in Cergy-Pontoise, Denis Gril, a Sufi specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Aix-Marseille, and Omero Marongiu-Perria, a sociologist of religions and researcher at the Institute for Religious Pluralism and atheism (IPRA).

If the Qurʾānic message is centered on the unicity of God, it is to better highlight the diversity that God wanted for humanity, a human diversity of communities and rites that can truly express the richness of the divine unicity. Beyond the dialogue that we can have among ourselves, and in a more fundamental way, God is in dialogue with the universe.

This infinite divine depth cannot be said in simple and unambiguous words, which is why the verses of the Qurʾān often take the form of paradoxes, holding at the same time apparently contradictory expressions: the Qurʾān is the ultimate truth and, at the same time, only God knows who is well guided; or the only religion is Islam and, at the same time, the Prophet Muḥammad will intercede for all communities on the judgment day.

We are therefore called upon to reconsider our conceptions of what truth is, not as a univocal content that we could assert to others, but as a reality that everyone must receive, and in front of which everyone must take positions and make choices, that will necessarily be different for everyone. Islam therefore calls everyone to move forward without fear on this path that ultimately leads to God, and to make their own choices, in dialogue with one another.

Il martirio dell’ospitalità

Claudio Monge et Gilles RouthierIl martirio dell’ospitalità. La testimonianza di Christian de Chergé e Pierre Claverie, Bologne, EDB, 2018, 160 pages.

È negli anni terribili del «decennio nero», che in Algeria contrappone islamisti e forze armate, che si colloca la straordinaria testimonianza di due uomini. Sono Christian de Chergé, priore del monastero trappista di Tibhirine, rapito e ucciso nel 1996 con altri sei confratelli, in circostanze non ancora completamente chiarite, e monsignor Pierre Claverie, vescovo domenicano di Orano, assassinato lo stesso anno, con il suo autista musulmano Mohamed, per aver condannato apertamente tutte le forme di violenza. Si tratta di due figure particolarmente luminose nel cuore della Chiesa d’Algeria, fortificata nella sua volontà di restare con i musulmani algerini, anche dopo l’indipendenza del Paese, dalla personalità del cardinale Duval e dall’impegno di sacerdoti, consacrati e laici.

Click here to buy the book online…

A Qurʾānic apocalypse

Michel CuypersA Qurʾānic apocalypse: A reading of the thirty-three last Sūrahs of the Qurʾān, Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2018, 384 pages (collection “International Qurʾānic Studies Association, Studies in the Qurʾān”, 1).

The present volume closes a trilogy devoted to the exegesis of the Qurʾān analyzed according to the principles of Semitic rhetoric, a method of textual analysis developed in the field of biblical studies. It studies the shortest sūrahs of the Qur’ān, which are traditionally dated to the beginnings of the preaching of Muḥammad in Mecca. The reference to the initial vision of Muḥammad in Sūrah 81, the point of departure for his career as Prophet, provides the starting point of the study of this group of sūrahs. The analysis shows that the redactors who assembled the textual fragments of the Qurʾān into a book were guided by precise intentions. In the end, it is these intentions that the rhetorical analysis of the text enables us to discover and better understand.

Click here to buy the book online…

Inflation in the Mamluk Era

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil

PhD student at Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar November 13, 2018

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil is preparing his doctoral thesis at Dār al-ʿUlūm on inflation during the Mamluk era. He chose to focus on a ten-year period, from 800/1397 to 810/1408, in order to study in as much detail as possible the factors at play, the role of the various figures, and the precise evolution of the prices of essential products. The year 806/1403-1404 marks the beginning of a period of strong price hikes, up to 500% for some products. A low Nile flood, epidemics, and some unfortunate political decisions help to explain the phenomenon. Relief will only come after the implementation of a policy of imposed price reduction by the Sultan al-Muʾayyid Abū al-Naṣr (d. 824/1421) after his coming to power in 815/1412.

Iǧtihād and taqlīd in Sunnī and Šīʿī Islam

Call for papers for MIDEO 36 (2021)

In the context of the Islamic reformism that emerged as early as the 18th century, some Muslim voices were raised against the practice of taqlīd (‘legal conformity’), and which has been accused of being responsible for the decline of the Islamic world. Following the thought of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) and the example of Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1792), the Yemeni Salafists al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1768) and al-Šawkānī (d. 1834), the Mughal revivalist Šāh Walī Allāh (d. 1762?), and even the Egyptian thinkers Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905) and Rašīd Riḍā (d. 1935), all called for the renewal of the practice of ‘reasoned reflection’ (iǧtihād) in Islam, and for overcoming the practice of taqlīd in legal schools, which were considered as ossifying.

There was a sharp criticism of taqlīd and a strong emphasis on iǧtihād, both of which were seen, in the paradigm of reformism, as mutually exclusive.1

This debate and way of conceiving taqlīd and iǧtihād were largely taken up by Western scholars. Yet, Norman Calder and Sherman Jackson showed that this perspective is reductive, as it does not sufficiently reflect the emergence and development of each concept, nor does it address their articulation, both in the field of uṣūl al-fiqh and uṣūl al-dīn. Moreover, it ignores their political contexts.2 Thus, the negative connotation given to taqlīd in Islamic studies can partly be seen as a projection by the Moderns (Ahmed Fekry).3

Nevertheless, although the doors of iǧtihād were never ‘closed’ (Hallaq),4 the majority of scholars from the 5th/11th centuries onwards, like al-Ǧuwaynī (d. 478/1085), supported the idea that Islam, as a religious system, is complete.5 Consequently, a concept of history, which is marked by the climax of legal and theological development (both qualitatively and quantitatively), has come to the fore so that any evolution is then seen as an alteration or even a failure of Islam. However, iǧtihād was never abolished and remained an integral part of religious reflection. Rather, it was the predominance of taqlīd that the reformers challenged.

We can then ask ourselves how and through the intellectual activity of which social actors does each paradigm base its legitimacy and predominance?

At the theological level, and in a context characterized by the influence of Sufism, the supporters of taqlīd have shown that scholars can actually be illuminated by the Prophetic light, so that their teachings on the knowledge and will of God can be certain. From this point of view, the hagiographic discourse on the four founders of the schools of fiqh can be considered as a marker of this proximity to the Prophetic light. As for the supporters of iǧtihād, they stressed that the duty of each believer is to search the sources, and not accept any input without having first extracted the evidence themselves (Ibn Qayyim, d. 751/1350).6 However, this approach, defended in particular by the ahl al-ḥadīṯ, begs a fundamental question regarding the authority of the Prophet’s teachings and that of the Companions: isn’t following the Companions a form of taqlīd? Couldn’t what is alleged against the four legal schools founders be applied to the Prophet’s imitators?

Beyond these theological debates, the use of taqlīd or iǧtihād has also been part of political disputes. In the history of fiqh and maḏāhib, iǧtihād was used as a political instrument to reject the teaching of particular schools, while taqlīd made it possible to justify conservative positions. It could also have been a vector of stability and governability.7 On the other hand, if taqlīd of different schools seems to disfavor the unity of umma as a human expression of divine oneness, the plurality of opinions which comes with taqlīd has also guaranteed a form of pluralism in Islam that resists against the temptation towards uniformity or homogenization, a movement which has been promoted in postmodern thinking.8 All this has elicited heated debates. In the classical era, within the very heart of ašʿarism, al-Ġazālī (d. 505/1111) accepted the notion that even if the schools have contradictory rulings, they can nevertheless all be correct. At the same time, Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209?) and Šihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) rejected this possibility. The Ḥanbalī theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) also opposed al-Ġazālī in his criticism of taqlīd on this point.

The relationship between taqlīd and iǧtihād is therefore complex. The purpose of this issue of MIDEO is to study the two approaches in greater depth, in the light of the Islamic heritage. The history of Islamic thought shows that distinctions have been made between the fundamental principles (uṣūl) and the branches of fiqh (furūʿ), that relationships with related concepts have been developed (iḫtilāfittibāʿiǧmāʿtarǧīḥ), that taqlīd has been evaluated in different terms (ḥarāmmaḏmūmmubāḥ), and that distinctions have been made in terms of degrees of iǧtihād. This issue of MIDEO will therefore explore these various, yet related concepts. We will highlight theological discourses arguing for their legitimacy, refutation, as well as those that explore their articulation (which can sometimes be paradoxical, as is the case for al-Ġazālī’s criticism of the philosophers).9 Beyond the rivalry between these two approaches, it will be necessary to see if there exists a continuum between them, and that although their perspectives are competing and partisan, they are in fact not incompatible.10

1 Peters, Rudolph, “Idjtihâd and Taqlîd in 18th and 19th Century Islam”, Die Welt des Islams 20, 1980, p. 131‒146.

2 Calder, Norman, “Taḳlid”, The encyclopedia of Islam, new edition, p. 137‒138.

3 Fekry, Ahmed, “Rethinking the TaqlīdIjtihād Dichotomy: A Conceptual-Historical Approach”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 136, No. 2, 2016, p. 285‒303.

4 Hallaq, Wael B., “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1984, p. 3‒41.

5 Nagel, Tilman, Die Festung des Glaubens. Triumph und Scheitern des islamischen Rationalismus im 11. Jahrhundert, Munich, C. H. Beck, 1988. See: Gilliot, Claude, « Quand la théologie s’allie à l’histoire : triomphe et échec du rationalisme musulman à travers l’œuvre d’al- Ǧuwaynī », Arabica, T. 39, Fasc. 2, 1992, p. 241‒260.

6 Abdul Rahman Mustafa, On Taqlīd. Ibn al-Qayyim’s Critique of Authority, Oxford University Press, 2013.

7 Rapoport, Yossef, “Legal Diversity in the Age of Taqlīd: The Four Chief Qāḍīs under the Mamluks”, Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003, p. 210‒228.

8 Shahab, Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, Princeton University Press, 2016.

9 Al-Ġazālī, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (tahāfut al-falāsifa), A parallel English-Arabic text, translated, introduced, and annotated by Michael E. Marmura, Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University Press, 2000, p. 2‒3. See: Griffel, Frank, “Taqlīd of the Philosophers: al-Ġazālī’s Initial Accusation in his Tahāfut”, in: Sebastian Günther (ed.), Ideas, Images, and Methods of Portrayal. Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2005, p. 273‒296.

10 Jackson, Sherman, Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1996.

From the liberal education market to an Egypt on the move: a return to a path of research

Frédéric Abécassis

Director of Studies at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo

icon-calendar October 16, 2018

Frédéric Abécassis is the new Director of Studies at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo. This seminar was an opportunity for him to present the different stages of his research project. Since his first visit to Egypt, Frédéric Abécassis has worked on a diverse set of research topics: private religious schools in Egypt, car traffic in Egypt and Morocco, and Muslim and Jewish migration in the Maghreb. Yet, all deal with the question of community building as a defense against the effects of the market economy in a liberal society.

Communities are built and disappear by a) economic solidarity (e.g. the richest paid the tuition of the poorest in religious schools), b) relationships of belonging and authority (e.g. the police were at the service of car owners rather than pedestrians), or c) conflicting historical narratives (e.g. Moroccan Jews gradually saw themselves as foreigners in Morocco).

If the study of history has therapeutic value, then the historian must assist everyone record the history of the communities to which they belong and of those they have left.

Click here to watch the pictures presented during the lecture…

The legacy of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) in the philosophical thinking in al-Andalus

Aziz Hilal

Doctor of Arabic Philosophy

icon-calendar October 3, 2018

Muḥammad ʿĀbid al-Ǧābirī (d. 2010) supported the idea of an epistemological break between the philosophical thought of the Arab East and Arab West. According to him, thinking in the East devolved, especially with Avicenna (d. 428/1037), into Gnosticism and irrationalism. Whereas thinking in the West saw the culmination of the rationalist tradition in Islam, particularly with Ibn Bāǧǧa (d. 533/1139) and Averroes (d. 595/1198). This simplistic framework overlooks the influence that al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) had in Andalusia. It is clearly visible in the political philosophy of Ibn Bāǧǧa, particularly in his treatise Tadbīr al-mutawaḥḥid, in Averroes’ commentary on Plato’s Republic, or in the work Ḥayy b. Yaqzān by Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 581/1185). Although Ibn Ṭufayl declares himself as an Avicennian, and does not hesitate to criticize (unfairly) al-Fārābī, it can be said that there is a common purpose and structure between Ḥayy b. Yaqzān and the thought of al-Fārābī. Ibn Ṭufayl is so indebted to the political philosophy of the “Second Master” (aka al-Fārābī) that it is hard to understand why he treats him in such a passing way in his introduction to Ḥayy b. Yaqzān.

What complicated al-Fārābī’s reception in Andalusia was that he still believed, like all in the East, that Aristotle wrote the treatise known as Aristotle’s Theology, when in fact it is a more or less faithful translation of part of PlotinusEnneads. Thus, he desperately attempts to reconcile this Neo-Platonic text with what he knows about Aristotle. It will be Averroes who definitively unmasks the confusion. For example, unlike al-Fārābī, Ibn Bāǧǧa and Averroes conceive the agent intellect as something immanent to man. According to the two authors, the agent intellect is no longer this transcendent and completely separate intellect, which fit perfectly with the Fārābian theory of emanation inherited from Neo-Platonism.

The theological principles of interreligious dialogue

Jean-Marc Aveline

Auxiliary Bishop of Marseille

President of the Council for Interreligious Relations at the Bishop’s Conference of France

icon-calendar September 12, 2018

Listen to the lecture (in French):

Interreligious dialogue covers two very different realities: it is both what public authorities would like religions to do for greater social peace, as well as the attitude of believers, in the name of their faith, towards believers of other religions. Reducing dialogue to the first risks anaesthetizing the critical and prophetic role religions have towards these same public authorities and, more fundamentally, exposes religions to the risk of abandoning this role and relying solely on public authorities to organize dialogue between them.

The Christian attitudes towards believers of other religions have been profoundly shaped by their relationship with Judaism. Resisting any latent Marcionist temptation to “purify” Christianity from its Jewish roots, the Catholic Church recognizes that its own identity owes due reference to the otherness of Judaism. This is clearly stated in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra ætate (1965).

In addition, Paul VI, in his encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964), proposed a renewed conception of revelation as a “dialogue of salvation” (colloquium salutis) between God and humanity.   The declaration Nostra ætate therefore encourages Catholics to seek all that is true and holy in other religions, in a sincere and respectful dialogue with other believers.

Bishop Aveline ended his lecture by presenting two major theological issues for those who have accepted to involve themselves in this demanding spiritual and intellectual adventure. The first is to strengthen, with the help Eastern Christian theology, our theology of the Holy Spirit, of which John Paul II said, in his encyclical Redemptoris missio (1990), acted not only in the hearts of individuals but also in societies, cultures, and religions. The second issue is that of understanding the Church’s mission as collaboration in the work of the Holy Spirit, who pursues this “dialogue of salvation,” which is revelation. The Church must therefore understand itself not as an NGO or a company working toward its own growth, but rather as being at the service of the relationship between God and the world.