During the symposium on “Islam and Modernity” held at Ibn Khaldun Hall at Qatar University, two lecturers called for the countries of the Islamic world to invest their resources in favor of the advancement of their countries with the necessity of applying the teachings of Islam in order to play a role for the benefit of humanity, calling for the necessity of transcending the Arab debate between modernists and Islamists as a sterile debate. The symposium came within the activities of the “Seminar Season” organized by the Ministry of Culture from 4 to 19 March. The symposium was attended by a group of intellectuals and researchers, and Dr. Joseph Lombard, the Associate Professor of Qur’anic Studies at the College of Islamic Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, and Dr. Abdul Rahman Helli, a writer and university professor, spoke during the seminar, a Syrian academic professor who works as an associate professor of Quranic studies at Qatar University.
The symposium was presented by Miss. Iman Al-Kaabi, the Director of the Qatari Media Center, who said that this symposium comes to re-ask the major questions that have occupied the minds of intellectuals and thinkers over many decades of diligence and thinking, and to find out the importance of the basic problems that are still moving the Arab-Islamic culture from within, and to renew thinking about the nature of the possible relationship between multiple modernities, i.e. between an Islamic modernity that reproduces the conditions for its realization and its position in this world, and between different modernities, mainly Western, that pose new questions to us every time, and share with us horizons open to intellectual, civilizational and cultural bets that we did not think about much most frequently, and, perhaps, it may not have been possible to think of it in previous civilized periods.
She added by saying that the symposium “Islam and Modernity” is an attempt to deepen our knowledge of the conditions for achieving a contemporary Islamic modernity, faithful to the conditions of its current time, and continuing with the knowledge, civilizational, intellectual and cultural accumulation accomplished by the innovators of the discourse of modernity within the Islamic horizon open to culture, communication and “Ijtihad”. For this reason, we believe that the two guests of this symposium rises to the level of the serious questions that it poses to us, and the difficult problems that it raises in the minds, minds and consciences. Also, the symposium included a set of questions that the two lecturers tried to answer, the most important of which was what is modernity and whether there is an achieved “Islamic modernity”? What is the cultural and civilizational specificity of the “Islamic modernity” that distinguishes it from “Western modernity” produced by Western thinkers according to their intellectual and cultural conditions?, and, whether Islamic thought has accomplished its critical tasks through careful epistemological digging in the “Islamic modernity” and criticizing the causes of its disruption and rebuilding its intellectual foundations?, along with many other questions that formed the themes of the symposium discussion.
During his speech at the symposium, Dr. Abdul Rahman Helli said that there are intellectual and cognitive obstacles that must be overcome to achieve Islamic modernity, and they are various obstacles, the most important of which is that we have no interest at the level of academic education in possessing the necessary knowledge to discuss and criticize modernity, because what is discussed in the Arab world may be imported, while Modernity in its Western context is not present in Arab writers.
Dr. Helli stressed on the need to promote and create institutions for the study of modernity, and the more a person is critical of modernity with knowledge and depth, the more modernist he is and the closer he is to the theorists of modernity, and, therefore, we should bypass the Arab debate between modernists and Islamists because it is a sterile debate.
Dr. Halali gave an example of Imam Al-Ghazali when he criticized philosophy. He is essentially a philosopher who studied it and mastered it and was able to criticize it with knowledge and awareness. Therefore, whoever addresses modernity must have studied what he criticizes, by saying that: “He should break the link that claims that there is a problem between religion and modernity. Thus, there is no modernist in the West who is against religion and there is a systematic separation between them in the West. Accordingly, many of the theorists of modernity used to believe in religion and reason together and look at them together. Dr. Helli emphasized that the problem of the Arabs is that there are many spaces outside religion in which societies can develop and become modern.
Western modernists, who have a racist view of the Arab world, say that there is a problem between religion and modernity, and they only exclude Turkey and Malaysia, due to many considerations related to development and others.
In turn, Dr. Joseph Lombard stressed on the need to adhere to the way in which we can express ourselves without being drawn into polemics with different cultures, and indicated that we must focus on creating our reality in harmony with our culture and our Islamic religion, which commands us to surrender our command to God, taking into account that modernity is actually different in the West from Islam, as it has become related to science.
Lombard said that: The Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, was sent as a mercy to the worlds, and, therefore, it is our responsibility as Muslims to deliver mercy, and make it closely related to contemporary times, stressing the extent of the need for an Islamic model presented to the world. Therefore, he called for investing resources in our Islamic world for the benefit of advancement with the necessity of applying the teachings of Islam in order to play a role for the benefit of humanity, and said that what Islamic thought has accomplished is a lot for the benefit of the world, but, we need to reach it in a proper way. Besides, he pointed out that Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali realized the incoherence of philosophers so that they are governed by a liberal human model, but, the spirit of religion means looking at our responsibility at the same time to build the future, meanwhile, the spirit of modernity makes us look only at the future at a time when we make excuses for failure.
In addition he stressed that postmodernism is a concept that has more than one definition, but, the developments of modernity in Europe have taken different forms according to their different social, political and religious circumstances. Modernity and its developments appeared, starting with the age of enlightenment, as a reaction against the Church. However, the history of people in the Arab world differs completely with the European history, which entails a difference in that modernity. In this context, he stressed on the need for our modernity to stem from our religion and through our thinkers along with the importance of applying religion according to contemporary issues and coming up with Islamic definitions that are not only related to the past, but are compatible with contemporaries. Lombard stressed that Islam is a call and acquaintance, and we must not start from a tragic standpoint to live an endless struggle, by stressing on the importance of meeting on common values, which are human values, such as instinct and others
He said that: Values are pivotal and major, and when we look at them in the West, we see them as a pile of ash, stressing on the importance of achieving knowledge and linking it with ethics in Islamic civilization. Besides, he pointed out that people should go back to the past, deal with God and present an ideal image to people.
About the relationship between the two Islamic and Western civilizations, Dr. Joseph Lombard added that the Western civilization rose when it separated from the Church, while Islamic civilization collapsed when it separated from Islam.