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Reformist Approach

The proponents of reformist discourse attempt to resolve dichotomies between rational thought and belief, philosophy and religion, citizenship and Islam, modern science and revelation. This is done by selecting and syncretizing components of secular and religious worldviews. They take, for example, the opposition of secularism and religion as a constructed paradigm anchored in a modernistic interpretation of history and social change that dates to the Enlightenment. They do recognize rational thought as universal but localize its beginnings in the Arab Middle Ages rather than solely in the West. In order to revive the Arab- Islamic turath in an era predominantly influenced by Western culture it is necessary, in the view of reformist thinkers, to critically review both

the West. Only in a hybrid structure, based on mu asara (contempora- lity) and asala, will it be possible to end the Arab world’s stagnation.18

The aim of the Moroccan philosopher Muhammad ‘Abid al-Jabiri, for example, is to investigate the interaction and dynamics between current Arab thinkers and Western modernity, whose core questions he views as universal. He wishes to free the ‘‘essence’’ of this interaction from the numerous conceptual and ideological accretions that have grown over it in recent decades, and in this way to move to the center the key question of the relationship between Arabs and modernity.19 The concept of authenticity, according to him, embodies on the one hand reference to the past as a constant foundation of Arab thought, and on the other hand the contemporary search for the conditions of a return to a true understanding of cultural heritage—which he sees as a ‘‘re-presentation of the past’’—with the goal of ending the Arab world’s stagnation.20 The turath concept is defined by al-Jabiri as ‘‘the sum of all elements both from our past and also from the past of other cultures which accompany us in the present.’’21 He distinguishes between historical-ideological content that reflects Arab-Islamic civilization’s social and political reality in its various epochs,22 and the universal truth of turath’s content that takes shape in the Islamic worldview or in normative ideas and philosophical concepts based on it.23 In essence, this distinction resembles the separation anchored in Islamic thought between the constant and the changeable—that is, between Islam’s sacral and profane elements. However, al- Jabiri extends its applicability to differentiate cultural heritage from historically bound and universally valid elements. His primary goal is to ‘‘emancipate’’ the universal value of the turath from retrogressive, idealized past moments.

After having highlighted Arab culture as a thaqafa turathiya (turath- oriented culture), al-Jabiri turns to the historical particularity of modernity and its effects on contemporary Arab thought. In doing this he denies the claim of modernity for universal validity (al-‘Azma), but distances himself at the same time from the one-sided Islamist rejection of it and its reduction to a materialist approach (al-Misiri). For example, al-Jabiri differentiates in his conceptualization of human rights' relevance. He sees the rights regime as having general political relevance, despite its particular origin; on the other hand, as a philosophical discourse it can only be understood in the context of the European historical experience.

For al-Jabiri the efforts for rationalism and democracy in the West involve three aspects: critical thought, the necessity for a more just formation of the political sphere, and the protection of minorities on the basis of civil and human rights.24 These three components, in his view,

ongoing confrontation over secularization and the view of modernity as ‘‘a decision for or against Islam,’’ however, this had lost its relevance in Arab thought. In contrast, al-Jabiri emphasizes that neither rationalism nor democracy necessarily excludes Islam; the particular importance of each could be based on the authentic foundations of Islam’s heritage.25 But the precondition for this is the deconstruction of the dominant, retrogressive understanding of turath in order to modernize the body of thought contained in it (tahdith at-turath). Reform-minded intellectuals, therefore, can embrace rights and stress cultural heritage in giving local substance and meaning to those rights.

 
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