Comparative Approaches to Medieval Islamic Political Philosophy and Modern Political Concepts: A Review of Iraqi and Lebanese
21 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 3 Nov 2010
Date Written: 2010
This paper reviews three late 20th century Iraqi and Lebanese intellectuals who placed the subjects of authoritarianism and democracy within Islamic and Arabic political philosophy. Why and how did each choose to write about political philosophy within the Ba’athist state in Iraq, or during the civil war in Lebanon? These approaches are briefly compared with an Orientalist and Arabist paradigm that is dismissive of the range of political discourse found within Islamic philosophy. The contextual interpretation of medieval and early modern Islamic and Arabic philosophy and political philosophy reveal divergent paradigms and choices proposed by scholars in the Middle East and those of the West. The issue of whether political discourse within Islamic philosophy and its historical social formation enabled or included authoritarian or democratic principles is central to the positions of these writers on philosophy.
The first example is the critical approach to medieval political development and philosophy put forth by the Lebanese Marxist, but Iraqi educated scholar, Husayn Muruwwah, in his al-Naz'at al-madiyah fi al-falsafah al-'Arabiyah al- Islamiyah (The Materialist Tendencies in Arabic and Islamic Philosophy, 1979). Muruwwah is distinctive for his emphasis on materialist influences in the production of medieval philosophy in both Islamic and Arabic centered terms. Next, I compare Muruwwah’s approach with the Ba’athi period philosopher, Naji Al-Takriti, whose al-falsafah al-siyasiyah ‘inda Ibn Abi al-Rabi (The Political Philosophy of Ibn Abi Al-Rabi’, 1980), was a study of the 9th century Abbasid philosopher. Al-Takriti may be read as a work in political philosophy that sought to rationalize the early period of Saddam Husayn’s rule and marked his transition in the year of the book’s appearance to the Presidency of Iraq. Al-Takriti’s book appeared as Saddam Husayn consolidated personal power over the regime in 1979 and phased out statist liberalism. During that last phase of Saddam Husayn’s rule, with the serial and prolonged crises of the Iran-Iraq war, and the Gulf War, a number of Iraqi intellectuals dissented. These included the novelist, Aziz Al-Sayyid Jasim who drew upon the classical political figure of the early caliph Ali to provide an analogy to Saddam Husayn's rule. Hence, the third work reviewed in this paper is Al-Sayyid Jasim’s biography of the 7th century Caliph, Imam Ali, ‘Ali bin ‘Abi Talib: Sultah al-Haq. [‘Ali ibn Abi Talib: the Authority of Righteousness, 1988]. Al-Sayyid Jasim’s text may be read as a work on political philosophy written to counter the trends found in Al-Takriti earlier book and of the political choices made by the Ba’athist regime.
Keywords: Husayn Muruwwah, Islamic Political Philosophy
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