Institut für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten



Taha Abdurrahman’s Idea on Reforming Ethical and Islamic Thought

Ṭāhā ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān (born 1944) is a Moroccan philosopher and Islamic thinker. His research centers on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of morality and contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. Through his manifold research interests in Western philosophy and Islamic theology, ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān’s projects aim to criticize Western form of ideological and institutional power by the means of an Islamic problem-solving approach. One of his main concerns is to point out the failures and mistakes of modern Western civilization which are especially shaped through scientific materialism and the marginalization of religion and ethics. Through modernization processes subjective and intersubjective elements were marginalized out of the academic and public discourse. Hereby the spiritual level was replaced by scientific materialism. For ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān the separation of religion and ethics from science caused most severe problems in society and the loss of the moral values. This epistemic and moral crisis of Arab societies is in ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān´s thought linked to a crisis of political stability in the Arab world. This political crisis is grounded in external, internal and personal obstacles that are all related to pervasive systems of hegemony. The external obstacles (al-muḥāṣara al-ḫāriǧīa) are caused through the domination of the West that foisted itself upon the Middle East. For ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān western institutions and practices focus on the imposition and transfer of external value systems by means of institutional pressures and educational reform rather than building on existing and local traditions and networks. In addition, Western organizations have spread for years a negative image of the Middle East and the religion of Islam. The West portrays itself as the best and most civilized part of the world that only leads to the path of happiness; while the societies and the political systems in the Middle East are backward, uncivilized and commonly equalized with terrorism. The internal obstacles (al-muḥāṣara al-dāḫilīa) are caused by the internal governmental systems. The governments in the Middle East are shaped by an authoritarian form of sovereignty. These authoritarian regimes create discord and division by monopolizing means of persuasion (i.e. media, parliament) or by manipulating the system through rigged elections or ostensibly free press. For ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān one of most important source of authoritarian rule is repression. The personal obstacles (al-muḥāṣara al-ḏātīa) are based on the Western-secular domination of individualism in the Middle East. For ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān this kind of hegemony permeats the whole fabric of society effecting its values, attitudes, beliefs and morality. Hegemony in that sense is a organizing principle that is diffused by the process of socialization into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalized by the population and becomes part of what is generally called 'common sense' so that the philosophy, culture and morality of the ruling elite comes to appear as the natural order of things. Within this pervasive system of hegemony raising political consciousness is a near impossibility, because in a sense people are unaware of the injustice under which they live. For ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān resistance to power relations and the reformation of the Arab societies and its political process lies in the return to Islam. He speaks of a returning call to Islamic ethics (daʻwā al-ʻawda ilā akhlāq al-islām). The call to Islam is on one hand an enlightening process (at-tanwīr) and on the other hand the way to freedom (at-taḥrīr). It is an enlightening process as it calls people from darkness to light, i.e. from ignorance to knowledge. At the same time it frees people from slavery and brings them back to freedom. A return to the essence of Islam also means for ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān the reformation and the renewal of Islamic-scientific scholarship. He states that there are no problems in the sharīʿa law and also no issues in uṣūl al-fiqh; however there are severe problems in the process of fatwa making that lead to injustice, discrimination and harm. Therefore he stresses the need for the equal consideration of ethical and legal principles in the application of the Islamic law. The accomplishment of the obstacles and the return to the fundamental principles of Islams are essentially based on actions. Political, religious and cultural change can only be achieved by the means of organized social and political movements. ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān traces this argument back on a report of Muḥammad: “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then (let him change it) with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart and that is the weakest of faith.“