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Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Argumentative Arab Enlightener.

Fann alQalam - the Art of the Pen - by Soraya Syed

I was surprised to discover that Al-Ghazzali not only played a part in Thomas Aquinas’ theology and Dante’s inferno but his Autobiography contributed to Cartesian philosophy. But perhaps the most intriguing discovery of all was that of Professor Hamidullah who suggested that Charles Darwin, a keen student of Arabic, is said to have read Ibn Mishkawayh’s writings. This historian, administrator and philosopher who lived in the 11th century had proposed a theory where by everything evolved in to something higher which ended in an apex whereby the Saints and the Prophets were the perfect manifestations of this evolutionary process. To think that Ibn Mishkawayh had a small part to play in the birth of modern materialism: the creative process can have unexpected results!

An Argumentative Arab Enlightener - Al-Azm is a phenomenon in the Arab world. There are few intellectuals who criticise their region of origin as sharply as he does. The Six-Day War, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the discussion on Edward Said's book Orientalism, the Iraq War and Islamist fundamentalism: he has barely missed a chance to dive headfirst into a debate over the past 40 years.

Ziauddin Sardar on Travel in the Muslim World - Tell us about your first book recommendation, The Travels of Ibn Battutah.

Ibn Battutah, whose name can be translated as Son of a Duck, is my hero and is regarded as “the traveller of Islam”. He left his native city of Tangier in 1325 at the age of 21 with the intention of performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. But he continued beyond Mecca. Travelling by horse, mule, ox wagon, junk, dhow and on foot, he covered over 75,000 miles and visited over 40 countries. Wherever he went, he found it easy to get employment as a jurist, or a courtier or an ambassador. His journeys involve swashbuckling adventures and chases with concubines in toe. He is a riveting read. The interesting thing with Ibn Battutah is that travel for him was not just going from one place to another; it was living in a place. Wherever he went, he made his home. He had a house, he married and he got a job. This allowed him to learn about the place by living as a part of it. Then he would move on. It wasn’t until he returned to Morocco in his ripe old age, that he wrote down all his adventure. It’s got a wonderful title in full, The Precious Gift for Lookers into the Marvels of Cities and Wonders of travels


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