The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies hosted Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and Professor of History Amal Ghazal in its weekly seminar on 13 January 2012, to lecture on “Anti-Liberal Thought in the Age of the Nahda”.
In the seminar, Dr Ghazal discussed a current of Arab thought running counter to the liberal ideas that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which critiqued the focus on pioneers of modernity in the Nahda era of Arab Renaissance thought, neglecting opposing ideas. She began by spotlighting the thought of Sufi scholar Yusuf al-Nabhani and his polemic against Muhammad Abdo, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Rashid Rida – the pioneers of the turn-of-the century movement of religious reform. She then took up discussion of the controversy flourishing at the same time, between al-Nabhani and Wahhabism. Essentially a struggle between Sufism and Salafism, Ghazal highlighted features of al-Nabhani’s thought that he shared with his Wahhabi opponents while noting that the Wahabi polemic against him was not only due to his Sufism, but also to his “Ottomanism,” replete – from the Wahabi perspective – with intellectual contamination, European influence and the abandonment of Islam. Fundamentally, she pointed out, Wahhabism criticized al-Nabhani for his affiliation with the Levant, a region that upheld in practice the principle of equal citizenship between Muslims and others and enjoyed parliaments and elections. Consequently, there emerged regional intellectual tensions between the Arabian Peninsula’s Najd and the Mediterranean basin with its Ottoman identity.
Then, proceeding from her reading of Albert Hourani's book Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, which was translated into Arabic under the title al-fikr al-‘arabi fi ‘asr al-nahda, Ghazal highlighted the emergence and crystallization of an anti-renaissance, anti-modernist stream of thought that combined the forces of Sufism and Salafism. While this work mapped Arab Renaissance thought historically for Western universities, Ghazal demonstrated that the “map” included many problematic pitfalls to be avoided and remedied. Her current research project seeks to take this “corrective” path and interrogate the centrality of liberalism to writing the history of Arab thought, the relationship of liberalism with Islam, and anti-liberal trends – which arguably extend into modern times – as well as other research questions that need to be subjected to analysis.
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