Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi: Islam and the Enlightenment

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  • Book Title:
 Abd Al Ghani Al Nabulusi
  • Book Author:
Samer Akkach
  • Total Pages
173
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ABD AL-GHANI AL-NABULUSI – Book Sample

CONTENTS – ABD AL-GHANI AL-NABULUSI

  • Preface xi Acknowledgements xiii Glossary xiv Abbreviations xvi Illustrations xix
  • INTRODUCTION 1
  • Unresolved Dilemma 4
  • Approach 6
  • PART I HIS LIFE: A VIEW FROM WITHIN
  • Saintly Predictions 9
  • In the Shadow of Controversy 11
  • The Ottomans 12
  • Ottoman Damascus 13
  • The OttomanWay 18
  • A Family with One Saint 20
  • ‘Abd al-Ghani’s Great Grandfather 21
  • ‘Abd al-Ghani’s Father 23
  • ‘Abd al-Ghani 24
  • Calculated Performance 26
  • Spiritual Call 27
  • Contrasting Receptions 28
  • On the Sufi Path 30
  • Spiritual Growth and Self-making 33
  • Alone with Books 34
  • Noticeable Absence 36
  • Productive Absence 36
  • Journeys 39
  • PART II HIS THOUGHT: A VIEW FROM WITHOUT
  • Heavenly Inspirations, Rational Insights 45
  • Critical Attitude 46
  • TheTreasures of Heritage 48
  • Faith and Reason 51
  • The Science of Stars 54 The Pit of Misfortune 55 The Concealed Pearls 57
  • Enlightenment and the Primacy of Reason 59
  • Science versus Religion 63
  • Islam and the Continuity of Tradition 67
  • Copernicus and al-Suyuti 68 The State of Science 69 Religion versus Science 75
  • God in a Mechanical Universe 79 Rationalising Causality 82 Effects by Divine Permission 84
  • Light and the Night of Possibilities 86
  • Unity of Being 88
  • Conversing with theWise 91
  • The Human Reality 94 Cartesian Dreams 96 Structures of Light 97 Self and Body Fusion 99
  • God and Self-Effacement 100
  • Religion and Otherness 104 Islamic Extremism 105 TheTruth and the Law 108
  • Transcendent Unity of Religions 111
  • Islam as Natural Faith 116
  • Language and Ethnicity 118
  • The Emergence of the Public 119
  • Engaging the Public 121
  • Unprecedented Exposure 123
  • Rational Disclosure 125
  • PART III HIS LEGACY: A VIEW FROM A DISTANCE
  • Departing Damascus 129
  • An Advocate of Truth 133
  • Biographical Sources 137
  • Selected Bibliography 141
  • List of Arabic and Ottoman Manuscripts Cited 141
  • Primary Arabic Sources Cited 142
  • Secondary Sources and Further Reading 143
  • Index 147

INTRODUCTION

In the history of the Arab peoples, the transition into modernity is commonly known to have been prompted by the intense interactions with Europe that occurred in the nineteenth century. During this period, a host of influential Arab thinkers were exposed to European ideas while the Europeans had an expanding colonial presence in the Arab world that began with the French invasion of Egypt in 1798.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, most of the Arabic- speaking world was under the waning control of theTurks, who were well aware of the ailing state of their empire.

Despite their aversion toward the rising power of Europe, both Arab andTurkish intellectu- als were fascinated by the intellectual developments and scientific achievements of the Europeans. In their attempts to remedy the state of decline they found themselves in, they espoused the ideas that emerged in Europe in the eighteenth century, the period commonly known as the Enlightenment, and embarked upon a wide-scale pro- gram of reform.

The main aim of the program was to catch up with the advances of the Europeans that resulted in the new, progressive, and liberal modes of living and thinking that were then perceived as “modern.” Influenced by the intellectual orientations of the European Enlightenment, so named to celebrate the shining light of human reason and triumph of science over religion, nineteenth- century Arab intellectuals saw the preceding period, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as one of unenlightenment and held it responsible for their state of backwardness.

 In the manner of the Enlightenment thinkers, they upheld their program of reform as one of awakening, and like the enlightened Europeans, the awakened Arabs sharply distinguished their vanguard, rational efforts from the ignorance and oblivion of the preceding generations, emphasizing the intellectual discontinuity with their ideas.

Their views prevailed among the Arabs, who have since had a dismissive attitude toward the closing chapter of their pre-modernity.

This study of ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi’s life and works shifts the focus back onto this disowned chapter in the intellectual history of the Arabs in the Middle East. It uses ‘Abd al-Ghani as a lens to view the intellectual developments in the pre-awakening period that were concurrent with the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment in Europe.

It focuses on the relationship between science and religion and the early expressions of rationalism among Arab and Turkish scholars.

The confrontation between science and religion in Europe was one of the most important developments of this period, resulting in the divergence of the scientific and religious worldviews, in the spread of secularism, and the rise of anti-religious sentiment.

This is used as a background against which the intellectual scenes in the Middle East are constructed and within which ‘Abd al-Ghani’s contributions are located and discussed.

The intent is not to trace the circulation of ideas and threads of influences across both the Islamic and Christian worlds, but rather to detect moments of resonance and to identify points of crossing and difference in the European and Islamic experiences.

This enables the presentation and discussion of ‘Abd al-Ghani’s thought in a comparative perspective and allows the appreciation of his contributions in a broader intellectual context.

Before the awakening, the study argues, Muslim scholars (Arabs and Turks) were, to some extent, familiar with the changes that were taking place in Europe.

They showed interest in the scientific develop- ments, translated several works on astronomy and geography, and attempted to widen the rational scope of the Islamic faith. Their exchanges with Europe, however, were dictated by the orientation of their intellectual program that rendered them more guarded and selective than their modernist successors.

Viewing the Enlightenment broadly as representing a particular way of reasoning about God, man, and the world, contemporary Muslim scholars can be said to have their own distinct way of reasoning. In their search for enlightenment, the Europeans celebrated the light of human reason and the merit of scientific rationalism. By contrast, contemporary Muslim scholars sought enlightenment through tradition.

It is in this sense that they are presented here as having their own enlightenment and not in the sense of sharing the European approach.

While thinking in both the Christian and Islamic contexts became more rational and methodical during this period, Muslim thinkers never shared the enlightened Christians’ irreverence toward religion and their contempt for tradition.

Thus Islamic rationalism and secularism, upon which Islamic modernity was to be based, maintained their own peculiarities that rendered them dis- tinct from the European examples.

The notion of “Islamic enlightenment” is problematic and its merits have already been debated by several scholars (Schulze, 1996; Gran, 1998; Hagen and Seidensticker, 1998; Radtke, 2000). By invoking it here, the intent is not to buy into the debate in support of the notion.

The field is still much under-researched for any cogent argument, for or against such notion, to be constructed. Rather, the intent is to high- light the distinction between two modes of engagement with the ideas and precepts of the European Enlightenment, in the awakening and pre-awakening periods, thereby offering an alternative perspective on the roots of modernity in the Arab-Ottoman world.

From the second half of the seventeenth century onward, scholars, scientists, and bureaucrats, Arabs and Turks, were becoming increasingly aware of losing the edge against the advanced Europeans.

They nevertheless maintained faith in their ways of reasoning and the merit of their religion-focused intellectual program. Suspicious of the ideas that were coming from the European infidels, they did not attempt to adopt their new methods of thinking, and were able to sustain their traditional curricula and teaching method well into the nineteenth century.

By contrast, the awakened intellectuals of the nineteenth century, having consciously severed their intellectual ties with the preceding generations, were left without an integral intellectual program of their own but only with a mixed bag of often incoherent thoughts and principles that could not withstand the forceful infiltration and wholesale

 adoption of the European ideas. Awakened though they might have been, the Muslim liberal thinkers of the nineteenth century were con- fused about how to deal with their tradition. The awakening experi- ence, as inspired by the European Enlightenment, had presented them with the complex problem of tradition and modernity.

UNRESOLVED DILEMMA

The remarkable success achieved in the field of science in Europe in the seventeenth century prompted an unprecedented emphasis on the autonomy of human reason and a rejection of the habitual reliance on religious sources and the authority of tradition.

Many European thinkers of the eighteenth century were explicit about their contempt for tradition.They were keen to articulate a distinctly “modern” worldview that followed the dictates of science and rea- son, which they distinguished from the “traditional” worldview that followed the dictates of faith and religion.

They saw the “modern” as something contemporary and new, full of exciting novelties that stood in contrast to the dull and unenlightened traditions of the past. There was a shared desire among many enlightened thinkers for a decisive break with tradition and a conscious rejection of the inheri- tance of the past.

This marked a moment of disjunction between two ways of living and thinking, whereat “tradition” ceased to be the only way of being, transformed into a worldview, and stood in opposition to the “modern.” The Europeans also constructed the idea of the “modern” as a universal worldview, the validity of which did not depend on the internal logic of any tradition but on the universality of science and rational thinking.

They presented it as a medium of liberation from the constraints of tradition. Thus conceived, the con- cept of “modernity” earned the enmity of traditionalists, yet its ideals proved to have a universal appeal. Not only had the awakened Arabs and Turks rushed to embrace them but so had the rest of the world.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the awakened intellectuals to modernise the Arab world, such a decisive break with tradition did not

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