Associate professor of philosophy at The American University in Cairo
icon-calendar Tuesday March 19ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m
During this seminar session, Catarina Belo presented the views of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) on prophecy and prophethood, in the frame of his philosophy of religion. Indeed, the metaphysical and political writings of al-Fārābī seek a harmony between philosophy and religion, as expressed in his vision of the philosopher-king and the prophet.
Assistant Professor of Arabic Language at the American University of Cairo
icon-calendar Tuesday March 5ᵗʰ, 2019 at 5:00 p.m
There is often a difference between the meaning of words, according to the dictionary, and the intention of the speaker who uses these same words according to his knowledge, culture, religion, or context in which he lives. It is the pragmatic which can, for example, reflect the fact that one can perfectly understand the meaning of each word in a joke, but not understand what is beyond it. The same applies to certain idiomatic expressions. For example, one can perfectly understand what a “watermelon” is, what the verb “to put” means, and what “the stomach” is, yet not understand the expression “he has put a summer watermelon in his stomach” (ḥāṭiṭ fī baṭnihi baṭṭīḫa ṣayfī), which in Egypt means “he is quiet” or “he doesn’t care”.
The first Arab grammarian who explicitly inquired about the difference between the obvious/surface meaning and the speaker’s intended meaning is ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Ǧurǧānī (d. 470/1078). Unlike the grammarians before him, who organize their grammar treatises according to grammatical forms, al-Ǧurǧānī takes as his starting point the speaker’s desired meanings and studies the different ways of rendering them in grammatically correct language.
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 Friday November 30ᵗʰ, 2018 at 6:00 p.m
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.
icon-calendar Tuesday November 13ᵗʰ, 2018 at 5:00 p.m
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.
Director of Studies at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo
icon-calendar Tuesday October 16ᵗʰ, 2018 at 5:00 p.m
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.
icon-calendar Wednesday October 3ʳᵈ, 2018 at 5:00 p.m
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 Plotinus’ Enneads. 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.
President of the Council for Interreligious Relations at the Bishop’s Conference of France
icon-calendar Wednesday September 12ᵗʰ, 2018 at 5 p.m
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.
Member of the IDEO and PhD student in Islamic studies
icon-calendar Tuesday May 22nd, 2018 at 5 p.m
For Heidegger (1889‒1976), if metaphysics failed in its project, it is because it identified the “Being” with God, transforming into a sterile onto-theology. This description undoubtedly applies to Avicenna (d. 428/1037), for whom the proof of God’s existence finds itself in the necessity that there be an end to the chain of causalities. God is the necessary Being who has no cause other than himself.
This proof of the existence of God is repugnant to Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), not only because it is rooted in logical human tools, incapable by definition of reaching the divine being, but also because it is valid only inside the world of logic, without saying anything about the actual existence of God.
Among all of Ibn Taymiyya’s philosophical refutations, his refutation of al-Siǧistānī (d. after 361/971) in Darʾ al-taʿāruḍ bayna al-ʿaql wa-l-naql is particularly interesting. In his Kitāb al-maqālīd al-malakūtiyya, al-Siǧistānī criticizes the Avicennian definition of the existence of God as the ‘necessary being’ (wāǧib al-wuǧūd) because it makes God a composite being, as he would share the fact of “being” with his creatures, yet would have his own kind of being, the “necessary being.” Al-Siǧistānī then explains that the “being” of God has nothing to do with the “being” of creatures. Ibn Taymiyya criticizes this position, which ultimately amounts to saying that God does not exist, because we cannot say of him that he is nor that he isn’t, which is contradictory according to the laws of logic itself.
For Ibn Taymiyya, this contradiction is based on an error shared by all philosophers, namely that they believe that existence, which is only a concept, has real existence. “Existence,” like all universals, does not exist outside our mind. It is meaningless to seek to demonstrate God by a conceptual way that can only reach concepts without real existence; we must find a direct way. However, precisely, man knows that God exists because of an innate natural faculty, the fiṭra. There is no need to mediate concepts to know that God exists. In addition, if someone refuses to recognize that God exists, it is simply because his fiṭra is sick.
The problem with such a solution (a nominalist one for sure) is that it cannot be refuted. Anyone who questions Ibn Taymiyya’s thinking would only prove that his fiṭra is deficient.
On May 7th, the latest session of our joint seminar between Al-Azhar and IDEO took place at the Faculty of Languages and Translations at Al-Azhar University. The chosen topic was “Faith and Reason”, based on a commentary by the famous Egyptian preacher Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917‒1996) in his book The Pillars of Faith, Between Reason and Heart (Rakāʾiz al-īmān, bayn al-ʿaql wa-l-qalb, 1974). The chapter studied was entitled “The gap between spiritual progress and intellectual progress”.
In this chapter, the author first calls for a piety that is not a detriment to the human person and his development. He then describes the world as lost in a sterile materialism and a wandering rationalism, cut off from faith in God. He does this before making the observation that neither Judaism, Christianity, nor Islam today provide convincing answers to man’s spiritual equilibrium. The author concludes with a call to put into practice a true Islam, which orders good and forbids evil.
The three speakers presented various aspects of the text. Jean Druel, O.P studied the literary construction of the text, Mrs. Héba Mahrous showed how the author’s vision fits into a more general Muslim framework, and Mr. Ahmad al-Shamli placed this chapter within the framework of the work as a whole.
The discussion that followed opened the following questions: is the text, with a clear apologetic scope, the best approach for a philosophical and theological questioning? How can one discuss the generalizations that characterize this literary genre of preaching? How does one evaluate the use of the human sciences in this text? The mere fact that the author references non-Muslim authors (i.e. Toynbee, Carrel) is proof of openness in itself. However, in the scheme of the text, the human sciences also serve as an argument to the idea that man has a very limited knowledge of himself and that one must trust that God is better equipped to say who man is and what he needs. Finally, it seems that the author simply associates “reason” with “Islam”, which automatically removes the tension with faith, without further discussion. Yet, a consequence of this equating reason and Islam is that other religions are then necessarily irrational as they are not Islam.
Finally, the author’s conclusion on the need “to order The Good and to prohibit The Evil” (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahy ʿan al-munkar) is extremely ambiguous because al-Ghazālī makes no effort to insist on the difficulty of observing right from wrong in particular situations.
In his work Ansāb al-ašrāf, al-Balāḏurī (d. 279/892?) relates an episode of the construction of the canal “al-Mubārak” by Ḫālid b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Qasrī (d. 126/743), the governor of Iraq at the time. He was praised by the poet al-Farazdaq (d. 110/728?) then mocked by him, as a way to get revenge on Ḫālid who did not reward him for his initial praise. Al-Farazdaq was imprisoned for this insult, then finally released by the grace of the Caliph Hišam b ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 724-743), after which he wrote poetic verses of praise about him.
The text of al-Balāḏurī integrates these famous verses into its historical narrative in prose, to the extent that one may wonder if the narrative prose is not, in reality, the historical contextualisation of these verses, even though researchers tend to consider them as a simple illustrations of historical prose.
However, the reality is probably in between these two extreme points of view, one that would make poetry a simple illustration of historical narrative and the other that would make historical narrative a commentary on the poetry cited. Poetry plays a major role in pre-Islamic culture as it creates and destroys reputations, records events, builds history, relies on the authority of feared and respected characters, has an aesthetic role… In a word, it is one with the text and it is by holding the two together, verse and prose, that one must read and interpret these ancient historical sources.