Philosophers of the Arabs
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The first third of the nineteenth century is usually taken as the starting point of the modern Arab/Islamic thought. This date refers to the writings of Alsheikh Rafa'a Altahtawi (رفاعة الطهطاوي) upon visiting Paris among a group of students who were sent by Mohammed Aly, the ruler of Egypt at that time to study and transfer the new modern sciences and systems of life of the 'advanced' European countries.
Since that date the question of the reasons of the advancement of Europe (the West) and the backwardness of the Muslims (the east) has been confronting the Islamic elite, in general, and the Arabic elite, in particular. Three basic positions has aroused as a response to this question.
The first is to follow the Modernist worldview of the 'West', and to give up the 'Islamic' worldview. The second, on the contrary, is to turn toward the Islamic heritage (Turath) and the previously glory times of the wide spread Islamic state which stretched across the old world. The third, is to try to form an eclectic position between the two; on the practical level we adopt the Western systems and knowledge, whereas on the theoretical level we maintain the classical Islamic religious views. These three positions have turned out, according to a prominent scholar, to formulate one philosophical position, but with relative degrees, namely a combinatory view. This view is to try to combine both views without the need to establish a sound theoretical base to our views.
It is well known today, that these views, for different reasons, have failed to present the required successful response to the question of 'Renaissance' (Nahda). As a response, a second phase of modern Arab/Islamic thought has appeared. In this phase deep critique to the previous phase as well as to the orthodox interpretation of the Islamic heritage, in addition to deep critique of Western modernity, has been widely and extensively presented. Hence, this period may be legitimately depicted as the 'Critical period'. It can be stated that this period starts with the last third of the twentieth century and continues till today.
Several philosophical projects have been presented in this period. These projects in different ways and positions have presented a more abstract and philosophical level of the question of the 'Arabic renaissance'. However, none of them exceeded the position of criticism toward constructing a contemporary view independent of the past. None of them, neither, exceeded the need to depend on contemporary Western methods and philosophical thought. Hence, both trends lacks the two basic required conditions for presenting a true authentic new Arabic Philosophy.
Due to the appearance, in the last decade, of voices discussing the conditions of presenting a true independent contemporary Arabic philosophy, in addition to some signs of a possible advancement toward that position, we considered that we are now entering the third phase of the modern Arabic philosophy. This third phase is supposed to present advancement toward a new Arabic philosophy, and a new solution to the problem of the Arabic renaissance and the construction of contemporary modern Arabic states.
According to this classification of the modern history of Arab/Islamic thought we present in this part of the site a three division scheme of such thought. We started by the second phase as the relatively contemporary state of Arabic philosophical thought. The measure on which we based our selection is the possession of a philosophical project in which a clear construct is presented by the specific figure through his different levels of writings. In accordance with this measure not every eminent philosophy professor is qualified as a major thinker or a philosopher of contemporary Arabic thought.
Due to the fact that the first period of the modern Arab/Islamic thought, which extends from the first third of the nineteenth century to the last third of the twentieth, has not produced new philosophical positions, as mentioned above, we have included in our presentation of the list well known major names and thinkers of that period. In general, the basic measure of classification is the degree of effect in the intellectual arena, as well as in the society, of the specific thinker. It is worth noting here that the separation or the differentiation between the Arabic and the Islamic thought has not appeared until the beginnings of the twentieth century under the effect of the nationalists thoughts. This produces some discrepancy in the classification of the listed thinkers. For some of them should be considered as Islamic with respect of thought, but only Arabic with respect to the language of writing. However, such a discrepancy is unavoidable due to inherent features within the Arabic thought itself, which arguably adopts the Islamic 'Worldview' albeit not necessarily the ancient Islamic thought.
As well known it is not possible to make a judgment on a specific phenomenon without taking a stance or a distance from it. As a consequence, it is not possible to present an acceptable measure toward the new third phase of the Arabic thought. Hence, we furnish the scholar with a list of the major contemporary philosophy Arab professors whom their work describe a specific philosophical position. Without judgment of whether any of them represents a philosopher of this phase. For such a judgment will only be possible after some time in the future. In addition, for the sake of presenting the current map of philosophical academic studies we will, by time, present a complete list of contemporary Arab professors in the Arab Universities.
In addition to presenting the modern Arabic philosophers in its three phase division, we construct a list of the Arabic Philosophical Societies with its constitution and activities.
As mentioned before, most of the contemporary philosophical problems that confront modern Arabic thought results from the unsolved question of the relation between western modernity and the traditional Islamic view to the world. Due to such a situation, works of non-Arabic Muslim thinkers, who confront the same question, in addition to works of Orientalists who try to present answers to the same question, are of interest to contemporary Arabic thought. Due to this fact we reserve a space in this section of the site to present a list of thinkers and philosophers of non-Arab Muslims and Orientalists, with part of their works which is available to us.