Secularism and Enlightenment in Islamic Countries

By Kurtz, Paul | Free Inquiry, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Secularism and Enlightenment in Islamic Countries


Kurtz, Paul, Free Inquiry


The Cairo Conference: A Hopeful Sign

An historic conference was held in Cairo, Egypt, from December 5 to 8, 1994. It brought together Muslim and secularist scholars to debate for the first time the ideals of the Enlightenment and secularism. The conference was organized by Professor Mourad Wahba of Cairo University, and the editors of FREE INQUIRY magazine worked closely with him. It took several years of hard work. We were aware that the term secularisrn is anathema to many in the Islamic world.

The conference was sponsored by the Afro-Asian Philosophy Association (founded by Professor Wahba); the Egyptian government; the League of Arab States; and the Federation of International Societies of Philosophy (the leading international philosophical organization); among other groups. Participants arrived from Islamic countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Turkey, India, Iran, and Indonesia, and from the Western countries of Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, and the United States.

Three editors of FREE INQUIRY - myself, Vern L. Bullough, and Timothy J. Madigan - attended, as did Rob Tielman and Matt Cherry of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. When we informed our relatives and friends of our intention to visit Egypt, we were invariably warned not to do so because of the danger of attack foreigners faced. Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman has even brought Egyptian terrorism to the United States. Some six hundred people have been killed by fundamentalists in Egypt in the past three years. Moreover, at the time of conference, Egypt's Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, had been stabbed in the streets of Cairo and was still hospitalized.

The Cairo conference was to be held near the Olympic stadium, where President Anwar Sadat had been assassinated by extremists in 1981. Nevertheless, we found fears for our personal safety to be unwarranted: our hosts were congenial, the venue was safe, and the atmosphere cordial. The immediate purpose of the conference, entitled "Averroes and Enlightenment," was to celebrate the approaching 800th anniversary of the death of Averroes (Arab name Ibn Rushd). This was the first of many commemorations to be held throughout the world.

Averroes is considered to be one of Islam's greatest philosophers. He was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1126 and died in 1198. He lived through a period of great cultural and philosophical ferment in Spain, then a pluralistic society in which three religious traditions - Islamic, Christian, and Judaic - peacefully coexisted. The Islamic world from the eighth to twelfth centuries experienced considerable intellectual creativity and it preserved many of the classical philosophical writings, which had been lost to Christianized Europe.

Averrots devoted himself to translating Aristotle into Arabic and commenting on his long-forgotten writings. His interpretations of Aristotle as a naturalistic, indeed humanistic, philosopher were in sharp contrast to the theological outlook that dominated large sectors of the world at that time. Averroes argued for the autonomy of philosophical reason and science. He accepted Aristotle's view of the active intellect, which denied the existence of personal immortality; and instead of focusing on salvation, he argued that reason can contribute to the good life and must have priority over faith.

Averroes's books were ordered to be burned by his caliph in response to fundamentalist criticisms of them (though Averroes regained official favor just before his death). His influence waned in the Islamic world in subsequent centuries for he was thought to be dangerous to the faith. However, his work had a strong influence on Jewish scholars who translated his writings into Hebrew and especially on Latin scholars in Europe between 1200 and 1600, where his writings were translated into Latin and widely read, for example, by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris.

At first banned because they seemed to contradict the Catholic faith, Averroes's books had a profound impact in the West. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Secularism and Enlightenment in Islamic Countries
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.