Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint

Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint

Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint

Islamic Ecumenism in the 20th Century: The Azhar and Shiism between Rapprochement and Restraint

Synopsis

The present volume describes the various phases of the inner-Islamic ecumenical dialogue in the 20th century between Sunnis and Shiites, the short-lived periods of success it achieved, but also the fierce mutual polemics it inevitably engendered. The examination focuses on the role of the Cairene Azhar University as the most important representative of Sunni Islam and its relations with Shiite scholars. Particular importance is attached to the interdependency of theological arguments and the political motivations of the interlocutors, and especially to the significance of Islamic ecumenism for Egyptian foreign policy in the 1950s. Although the main part of the study is confined to the time before 1979, in an epilogue the course of events is followed until most recent developments.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1986, a fierce controversy erupted among German historians. Under the headline “The past that does not want to pass on”, which was both appropriate and momentous, Ernst Nolte trig- gered a major controversy that had two essential aspects. On the one hand, there was the question raised in his article whether the National Socialists' annihilation of European Jews was a singular crime, or whether the 'Gulag Archipelago' was not, in fact, to be regarded as more primal than Auschwitz. On the other, the quarrel struck a sensitive nerve regarding the place the most controversial aspect of German history, the Third Reich, occupies or rather should occupy in German historical literature.

The debate, sometimes articulated with extreme acrimony and polemic, was neither the first nor last of its kind, not even in the context of German history. One need only think back to the 1960s and the quarrel about the strategic aims of the German Reich in the First World War, or the discussion after the fall of the Berlin Wall concerning the assessment of the State Security files of the former gdr to find further examples of the correlation of historical debates and national identity—and of the impossibility of reaching a definitive answer to questions of this kind. All these controversies illustrate how capable history, or rather its putatively “correct” interpretation, is of waking emotions that sometimes tend to manifest themselves in terms of personal attacks. This also, perhaps, holds even more true for academics, who claim to regard their professional endeavours sine ira et studio.

E. Nolte: “Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
June 6, 1986; reprinted in: “Historikerstreit”. Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Ein-
zigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung, Munich 1987, 39–47, on 45; Nolte's
main opponent in this controversy was Hans-Ulrich Wehler who wrote a furious
reply: Entsorgung der deutschen Vergangenheit? Ein polemischer Essay zum “Historikerstreit”, Munich
1988.

F. Fischer: Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland
1914/18, Düsseldorf 1961; English translation: Germany's Aims in the First World War,
New York 1967.

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