Enlightenment in
Islamic Thought
by Prof. Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd



Enlightenment is a metaphor built on the vocabulary ›light‹, which is nûr in Arabic, a vocabulary mentioned in the Qur’an with its derivation more than 45 times. It is ascribed as an adjective to the Bible as well as to the Qur’an; all the scriptures are guidance and light from God to man. Chapter 24 of the Qur’an carries the name ›Light‹ where God is presented as the »light of heavens and earth«. The poetic structure of this image of God was subject to theosophical and mystical interpretation, which will form the introductory topic of this lecture before it moves to analyze the present situation in modern Muslim discourse about Enlightenment, or its Arabic equivalent ›Tanwîr‹.

God is the light of the heavens and the earth;
The likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp.
The lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star,
kindled from a Blessed Tree,
an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West
whose oil well-nigh would shine, even if no fire touched it;
Light upon light; God guides to His light whom He will.
And God strikes similitude for men,
and God has knowledge of everything.‹

The poetic structure of the verse is composed of two images. The first sentence presents the first image, which is a ›metaphor‹, in which God is presented as the ›light of the heavens and the earth‹. This light is not the ordinary light we know and enjoy in our daily life, it is rather an extraordinary kind of light which can only be perceived through a ›similitude‹ in the second sentence. This similitude is expressed in an extraordinary linguistic way in order to convey the extraordinary nature of God’s light. The light of God is compared in the similitude directly to a ›niche‹, that niche contains a ›lamp‹, which is contained in a ›glass‹, and the glass is very shining in itself. The glass shining is expressed, again, in another ›similitude‹ formula, in which it is compared with a glittering star. It is understood that God’s light is compared indirectly to the light which comes out of such a lamp contained in a like-star glittering glass and placed in a niche. This is the first part of the allegory.

The second part of the allegory consists of another image connected either to the ›glittering star‹ or the ›lamp‹; it is about the source of kindling from which either is lightening. But again we have to be aware that whole image in the first part of the allegory is intended to illustrate the nature of God’s light, which means that the ›lamp‹ as the source of light should be the center of the image. The Qur‘an, continuing its indirect extraordinary mode of expression, relates the lightening of the lamp directly to a tree of olive not to the oil of the tree. The tree is specified as Blessed Tree, which exists nowhere in the universe known to us; it is neither eastern nor western. Such a Tree would produce an extraordinary kind of oil, which shines by itself, that is even without fire admitted to, or touching, it.

In conclusion, the light of God is constructed through the two images. The first is that of the lamp, contained in a very shining, like a glittering star glass, and placed in a niche, candled by a very special sort of ›oil‹ that is shining by itself. The second image is that of the ›tree‹, from which comes the ›oil‹; it is a blessed olive tree belongs neither to the East nor to the West.

The interpretation of this verse of the Qur‘an depends basically on whether it is understood literally or allegorically. Allegorical interpretation would lead to rational enlightenment while literal interpretation lead to theosophical enlightenment. Although the poetic nature of the linguistic structure of the verse is obvious the literal understanding, which led to establish the doctrine of the whole universe as light emanating from God’s light, prevailed. This might be explained by the fact that the Arabs did not know in their poetic imagery tradition this kind of extra-complicated image, in addition to the indirect mode of expression. The opening statement of the verse, God is the light of the heavens and the earth, made it easily possible to interpret most of the essential vocabularies of the whole verse as expressions of certain aspects of existence. Vocabularies such as lamp, niche, the glittering star, the Blessed Tree, the oil and the fire have been taken to demonstrate the different and gradual degrees of the divine manifestation of God’s light.

The last sentence concluding the two images by stating that God‘s light is ›light upon light‹, and promising that the true believer is guided by His light, has paved the way to establish an Islamic epistemology. Therefore, the whole universe reflects God’s light in one hand, and the knowledge of God is an illumination revealed to the human heart by the light of God on the other hand. It was thus theologically and philosophically explained that God’s light had two correlated ontological and epistemological aspects. If existence was defined as God’s light, nonexistence should be defined as the absence of light, or as darkness. The same categorization was applied to epistemology, knowledge as light and non-knowledge as darkness.


1. Rational Enlightenment

So, as Muslims have their own Enlightenment mentioned in the Qur‘an, they also have Enlightenment in their intellectual history. Islam, as any religion, has more than one dimension; two dimensions at least should be considered here. One is the historical dimension, which presents its particular teaching concerning belief, ethics and devotions in the seventh century context. The other dimension is the universal one, which presents its more common and human values that transcend time and place. Those two dimensions of Islam have been subjects of interpretation and counter-interpretation. Some Muslim thinkers would emphasize the first dimension, the historical dimension, and consider it the essential dimension of Islam. This emphasis is to be found mainly in the field of jurisprudence, because jurists deal with reality, with the practical action of the individual within the society. Because they are more aware of the teaching concerning man‘s action, they could, by ways of deduction, formalize the essential outmost objectives of Islam.

They expressed the result of their deductive method summarizing these outmost objectives of Islam in five as follows:

1. Protection of life.
2. Protection of progeny.
3. Protection of property.
4. Protection of sanity.
5. Protection of religion.

It is not difficult to explain that these five objectives are mainly taken from the penal code of Islam. The first one is deduced from the penal code for illegal killing because retaliation, according to the Qur‘an is, in fact, to maintain ›life‹ itself. The second objective is mainly taken from the punishment against committing adultery whether it is the 80 lashes mentioned in the Qur‘an, and explained later to be applied only for the unmarried, or the stoning to death penalty for the married which has no Qur’anic basis. As for the third objective it is nothing but the theft penalty to cut the hands of a thief. What is meant by the fourth objective has to do with the prohibition of consuming alcohol product for which no penalty is introduced in the Qur‘an but was introduced later after the death of the Prophet. Protecting religion is a principle, which seems to be deduced from the later developed death penalty for an apostate. It was lately invented by the jurists; no worldly punishment is mentioned in the Qur‘an for those who turn their back to Islam after accepting it. What is mentioned is a punishment in the life after: Those who reject faith after they accepted it, and then go in adding to their defiance of faith, never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have gone astray. It was again later that the death penalty was introduced for mainly political reasons as protecting the political authority was identified with protecting Islam.

Another reading of the Muslim holy texts, however, would suggest different, more universal, and inclusive outmost objectives of Islam. For example one would say, firstly, that the doctrine of one transcendent God versus polytheism and the worshipping of idols, man‘s handmade creations, was intended to free man of paganism and to open the gate for rational thinking. It is a major and a very important objective of Islam. The second objective would be the creation of a community of believers to replace the tribal community based on tribal kinship. Third, the establishment of human rational conduct instead of acting according to the tribal code of conduct which is labeled in the Qur‘an as »jâhiliyya«, literally to be ignorant, because of being so submissive to the tribal code of conduct instead of acting according to human rational understanding. So Islam introduced rationality of behavior to replace »jâhiliyya«. It could be also said, fourthly, that within the community of believers, social justice as historically determined in the form of ›almsgiving‹ was introduced. The fifth objective of Islam is opening the gate for human rational thinking, to reflection instead of blindly following tradition and copying the past.

Different political islamist groups, called fundamentalists in Western media, take the jurist view as representing the only true and valid understanding of Islam. This leads automatically to emphasize the necessity of the implementation of the legal Islamic code, sharî`a, which, in fact, means the application of the penal code of Islam. The other mode of understanding represents the more general human basic principles of Islam is politically and intellectually marginalized. The question concerning which dimension of Islam is to be considered and emphasized, the dimension of the human general values or that emphasizes the specific historical stipulation of the seventh century, remains problematic. It is not to anyone to determine because in the course of history political authorities determined for Muslims to follow the jurist‘s way. It is Islam as only the stipulations of ›the forbidden‹ and ›the permitted«.

The other way of thinking and understanding of Islam has been pushed to the margin. Modern Muslim intellectuals who try to carry on that trend in modern context are minorities. But this is definitely the understanding of Islam to be considered the basic Islamic theology to start with, if we have to open Muslim societies to modernity. Such a rational theology was produced by a group of theologians called »Mutazilites« in Arabic, meaning those who excluded themselves from the dominant discourses in the ninth century.

They have developed some specific major epistemological principles to ensure rational understanding and rational interpretation of the world, man, God and His revelation. Most important to our subject is the principle is that knowledge starts from this world: We can only speak about the other »non-seen« world on indications furnished by the evident reality of this »seen« world. God and his attributes can only be known by reflection and acquired knowledge, not by direct or necessarily revealed knowledge. The well-known philosophical allegory of Ibn Tufayl (581/1185) »Hayy Ibn Yaqzân« is a very good illustration of this essential principle.


2. Allegory of Human Reason

It is a tale of two islands. One is uninhabited by man, and on it a child appears, either spontaneously generated or floated thither in box. The child is Hayy Ibn Yaqzân«, meaning ›the Alive, son of the Awake‹. He is sucked by a gazelle, and on the death of his foster-mother is left, Cruse-like, to his own resources. His innate intelligence, feeble at first, develops by degrees, until it enables him to dominate his brute companions. He reaches manhood, and by ceaseless observation and reflection gradually acquires knowledge of the physical universe. Thence he advances into the realm of metaphysics and for himself the existence of an all-powerful Creator becomes obvious. Practicing ascetic discipline of mind and body he seeks for union with this One Eternal Spirit. At last he comes to the state of ecstasy, and escaping the final metaphysical barrier, his intellect merges with the Active Intellect and he apprehends those things which eye ha not seen, nor ear heard. Thus at the end of seven times seven years, without prophet or revelation, he achieves the utmost fullness of knowledge and ineffable felicity in metaphysical union with his Lord.

At this stage, while he is yet unaware of the existence of any other country or of the human race, he is amazed one day to discover, walking on his island, a creature shaped like himself. This proves to be a holy man named Asal who just arrived from neighboring island of civilization where the good king Salaman reigns, and where life is regulated by a conventional religion of rewards and punishments. Asal has reached a higher level of self-discipline than his compatriots, and believing that asceticism and solitude will help him to realize his highest spiritual ambition, he has renounced the world and is come to end his days on this little island which he thinks is uninhabited. He teaches Hayy language and is astonished to discover that the pure Truth to which Hayy has attained is the same as that symbolized by the religion which he himself professes. On learning the condition of the people on the other island, Hayy is moved with compassion and determines to go to them and offer them the benefits of his knowledge. Accordingly the two worthies set out together, Asal acting as the introducer of his distinguished friend. But the mission is a dismal failure. Hayy‘s exposition of the Truth is far above the heads of the vast majority of the audience, which regard it with hostility as a dangerous innovation. Enchained in the fetters of the senses, their intelligence can respond only to concrete imagery and their moral nature is in most cases amenable to nothing higher than a crude system of rewards and punishments. Hayy soon sees enough to convince him that Muhammad‘s way with them as expressed in the Qur‘an was the only effective method. He apologizes to them for his intrusion, exhorts them to be faithful to the religion of their fathers and returns with his friend Asal to the uninhabited island.

The name of the hero of this allegory is suggestive, Hayy, the alive, Ibn, son Yaqzân, the awaked. Here the awakened is the intellect, and man accordingly is only alive when his intellect is activated. The most positive aspect of the capability of man‘s intellect to know God is that it is pure reflective knowledge; it does not depend on revelation though does not essentially contradict it. Another positive aspect in my opinion is that Hayy has no human social characteristics whatsoever. It seems that he is able to attain such a high level of knowledge because of his exclusion and loneliness living in no time or place. So, the notion of intellect, according to the story, which perfectly reflects the Mutazilite‘s notion, is universal. But it should be mentioned that this second positive aspect concerning the notion of intellect has in the story of Hayy some mystical elements, which do not exist in the writings of the Mutazilites.

Enlightenment, therefore, is not a pure intellectual reflection product; it is a product of ›practicing ascetic discipline of mind and body‘ in order to attain ›union with‹ the »One Eternal Spirit«. After reaching the state of ecstasy, and escaping the final metaphysical barrier, the intellect merges with the Active Intellect and apprehends those things which ›eye has not seen, nor ear heard.‹ This synthesis of both rationalism and mysticism was introduced to Islamic thought by the well-known and very celebrated Muslim thinker of the twelfth century Abû Hâmid Al-Ghazâlî (d. 505/1111.) As a theologian, a philosopher and a jurist, Al-Ghazali actually used in his writings the method of intellectual rational argumentation in order to refute rationality and to reject philosophy. So, he used philosophy as a weapon rejecting its content. He presented an orthodox doctrine charged with some elements of mysticism.


3. Mystical and Theosophical Enlightenment

Al-Ghâzalî (d. 505/1111) devoted a treatise to explain in detail the whole conception of the Divine Light with reference to the above-mentioned Qur‘anic verse. Entitled ›The Niche of Lights,‹ the book explains the different grades of manifestation emanating from the original source of light, God, on both the ontological and the epistemological levels. Starting with some semantic justifications concerning the ›real‹ and ›true‹ meaning of the word ›light‹, Al- Ghazâlî affirms that language expresses ›literally‹ the metaphysical world while it expresses ›metaphorically‹ our witnessed world. This notion is very essential to Al- Ghazâlî’s treatise because it enables him to turn the poetic image including all the similitudes in the Qur‘anic verse upside-down. The whole poetic image is not meant to explain what cannot be explained otherwise, but it does mean to uncover the hidden reality of things which would not be perceived otherwise.

Since God’s light is the only one reality which is manifested in the universe from top to bottom it was easy for Al-Ghazâlî, in the conclusion of his treatise, to label the whole universe as ›nonexistence‹ if compared to the only Real Existence of God.

This conclusion paved the way to the thirteenth-century great Andalusian Muslim mystic Muhiyî al-Dîn Ibn `Arabî (d. 638/1240) to develop an Islamic pantheistic system of thought according to which  the existence of the world is an imaginative one. He differentiates between three grades of existence, i.e., the absolute unconditional existence of the Divine Essence, non-absolute unconditional existence of Godhead, which contains God’s names, and attributes, and, lastly, the grade of conditional existence of the universe or the world of multiplicity. The second and the third grades of existence are different grades of manifestation from the Divine Essence, nevertheless, they do not reflect any kind of multiplicity nor do they have any sequent order. They are all connected with each other in an inward-outward relation, i.e., the inward aspect of the Divine Essence is outwardly manifested in Godhead. Godhead is in its turn the inward reality the outward of which is this world of multiplicity.

This pantheistic system of Ibn `Arabî  includes an essential concept concerning what he calls ›the Reality of Muhammad‹. Again there are two aspects of the Prophet Muhammad, the inward hidden reality and the historical Muhammad of the seventh century. The Reality of Muhammad has its epistemological as well as its ontological aspect. The ontological aspect is parallel to that of Godhead, while its epistemological aspect is the one manifested in all the prophets from Adam till it reaches its final and complete manifestation in the historical Muhammad of Mecca. Becoming so equivalent to God the character of the historical Muhammad enjoyed being the light from which the whole creation is emanated. Muhammad, in Islamic folk believe, is the light of God’s throne as he is the first created, though the last administrated prophet. This notion finds its expression now in folk songs, proverbs, proper names and legends.


4. Classical Conflict between Rationalism
and Theosophism

As we have already seen it was Ibn Tufayl who presented in his allegory a synthesis of rationalism and mysticism. But the well-known philosopher Ibn Rushed (d. 595/ 1198) known as Averroës in Western philosophy, is the representative of the Aristotelian rationalism. The conflict between pure philosophy and theology is clearly expressed in the writings of al-Ghazâlîi, who severely attacks philosophy and philosophers. Averroës contrarily attacks dialectical theology and theologians with special reference to Ghazâlîi. While Al-Ghazâlî borrowed philosophical methodology to deconstruct the basic of philosophy Averroës did not use the dialectical method of the theologians to establish a dogma, but he used it to interpret the divine Text. Like the Mu`tazilites, knowledge of the metaphysical world starts, according to Averroës, from the evidences and indications furnished by the physical world. From that acquired knowledge the divine text is approached and interpreted. Al-Ghazâlî’s point of departure is the revealed mystical knowledge of the metaphysical world. Accordingly, he starts with the text to reach knowledge of the physical world.

But despite the opposition between the two thinkers and the two streams of thought a reciprocal borrowing took place. It seems that Averroës could not escape the influence of his opponent especially in maintaining that true sound knowledge, i.e. the philosophical purely rational knowledge, should be hidden from the public to be revealed only to minor elite. Real knowledge should not be open to the public simply because it will harmfully affect their belief. Here, it is easy to find the echo of Hayy‘s experience with the people of the other island who strictly follow religious teachings and adhere to their literal meaning. As for Ghazâlî he also emphasizes that mystical knowledge is not meant for the public simply because it is revealed to the chosen elite.

So, despite their different philosophical orientations, both Averroës and Ghazâlî agree about the necessity to keep ordinary people distanced from true real knowledge. Al-Ghazâlî‘s intellectual discourse offers in its deep structure two levels of ideology, one for the masses and the other for the chosen elite. Likewise, Averroës‘s careful distinction between the masses and the elite provides two types of knowledge: One for the intellectual elite and another type for the common people. Averroës also adopts Al-Ghazâlî‘s notion of God as light to be taught to the public because it is very easy to be understood without contradicting the true knowledge. There is no need to indicate the implications mentioned above of the whole theory of God‘s light as explained by Ghazâlî, the least to be mentioned is that the whole universe from top to bottom is identified with ›darkness‹ or/and nothingness.


5. The Fate of Classical enlightenment

This contradiction found in Averroës enlightenment is very similar to that we find in the rational theology of modern Islamic thought. Averroës insistence on closing philosophical knowledge in the face of the public closed the gate for enlightenment and kept it as a privilege for the elite. His notion of the foster brotherhood relation between religion and philosophy did not extend to fill the gap between the elite and the public. The closed impassable bridge that separates the public from theologians and theologians from philosophers finds the support of its solid existence in the holy text which contains, according to Averroës, three modes of semantic levels of expression, each of which addresses certain groups.

These elements of enlightenment reached our age in the 19th century. Ghazâlî‘s writings has dominated Islamic discourse till the 19th century. With the beginning of the 19th century the European challenge opened the world of debate in the Muslim world. The first challenge imposed by the European invasion of the Arabic and Muslim world created a reaction leaning mainly towards accepting modernity in order to fight against the European political aggression. The intellectual reaction was essentially similar to the political one. With the development in the relationship between Europe and the Muslim world, the traditionalist trend gradually gained more ground. The intellectual response was to defend Islam and Islamic culture against some Orientalists who simply ascribed backwardness to Islam itself rather than to social, economical, political and cultural circumstances. Islam was thus identified as not only a nationality but as the »authentic« characteristics of the collective »self« as opposed to the »other« European. Nevertheless, Islam had to be explained and interpreted as a religion which encourages progress, maintains rationality and scientific knowledge and accept modern institutions.

Muhammad `Abduh (d.1905) is considered the father of modern Islamic thought, because he initiated the debate about Enlightenment and rationality. What was the question Muhammad `Abduh had to answer? Europe of the 18th century Enlightenment and Europe of 19th century imperialism introduced or rather imposed a complicated challenge on the Muslim world in general and on the Arabic world in specific. So, this double face of Europe created a confusing image of Europe: The strongly aggressive armed enemy and the scientifically advanced mind. To fight against the enemy, a borrowing strategy of the advanced military technology of the West was adopted. Science and technology could be borrowed from the West because there was no danger of borrowing and importing them. As for rationality and enlightenment, classical Islamic theology and philosophy, especially that of the the Mutazilites and Averroës, were used to justify the strategy of borrowing modern European Enlightenment. Borrowing something from the West and borrowing something else from the past was the strategy. Muhammad `Abduh is called the father of modern Islamic thought because his response to the challenge accommodated the two extreme trends of modern Islamic thought: the so called enlightening trend and the traditionalist one.

The abolishment of caliphate in Turkey in 1924 opened a third phase of intellectual reaction to the challenge against Islam. The dispute about ›Ali ›Abd al-Raziq‘s book ›Islam and Politics« in 1925, in which the separation between religion and the state is defended, led not only to destroy the book but nearly to destroy the man himself. Two years later, there was another sever debate about Tâhâ Husayn‘s book (Pre-Islamic Poetry) in which he introduced some critical remarks concerning some stories of the Qur‘an. In the same year the » Muslim Brotherhood Society« was announced by Hasan al-Banna as a reformist movement to bring the whole society back to the track of Islam. The separation between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian peninsula and the creation of the state of Pakistan as an Islamic state, in addition to the establishment of Israel as a state for the Jews in 1945, created a reactionary strong movement. The aim was to restoring the caliphate political system in order to strengthen Muslims to be able to fight against their enemies. The 1967 Arab‘s defeat in the war against Israel, which indicated the absolute failure of all the ideologies of 1952 revolution, initiated the fifth phase of the problematic »Islam and modernity«. The success of the Iranian revolution against the Shah added more confidence to the slogan » Islam is the Solution.« The two Gulf wars, especially the Desert Storm, with the Arab-Israeli conflict unsolved, even within so many »peace« accords, supported the public negative tendency towards not only the political West but against »modernity« as a Western invention.


6. Islamaization of Knowledge

In the early sixties, the founder of the most recent copy of Muslim fundamentalism Sayyid Qutb emphasizes the same separation between science and technology of the West on one hand and theology, philosophy, social and human sciences on the other. Could we, fore example, borrow the psychology of Sigmond Freud or even modern linguistic theories? Of course we should not; we have our own Islamic psychology, Islamic sociology, Islamic historiography, etc. So, history, according to this ideology, is not a scientific field of knowledge that has universal or more common methods of investigation. Islamic historiography should be distinguished from western historiography. That is the starting point in the ideology of islamization of knowledge instead of modernizing Islamic thought. Nevertheless, the same borrowing strategy is used with the islamization of knowledge. Part of the recent discourse of the so-called »islamists« is introduced mainly by some of those intellectual who enjoyed learning and living for some period in the West. They criticize all the values of modernity as the product of anti-religion epistemology.

Back to the metaphor of Enlightenment, recent Islamic discourse is preaching the Enlightenment of the heart, enlightenment of the spirit, of the soul, not the enlightenment for the sake of worldly interest. This worldly oriented enlightenment, they claim, is the main concern of the West. What was the result of western Enlightenment? They give the answer: Enlightenment of the west leads to all kinds of spiritual corruption. According to this discourse especially to its public manifestation, the West is simply Madonna, Michael Jackson, not Michel Angelo any more. It is adultery, homosexuality etc. Instead of the democracy of the West, we have the Islamic »shûra«, consultant, because democracy means the authority of the people ›domo‹, while »shûra« in Islam is based on the authority of God ›nomos‹.

Although `Abduh was able to make some sort of distinction between the enlightening West and the imperialistic West, this distinction does not exist in the modern Islamic thought now. Now the question is: if we take the Western outlook of the world, we are in danger, because God, according to the West, might have created the universe, created it and caused it to move only; now it is moving according to its own laws. For traditionalist Muslims, God‘s will is always active, controlling and interfering in the universe. Whatever happens in this universe is happening according to the interference of God. The traditionalist‘s vision of the world is another metaphor according to which, first, God created man; second, man is a machine; third, because He is the creator He knows what is good to run that machine properly and what is bad and harmful to man. So, the conclusion is that the instruction of God should be followed always in order to keep this machine, man, in order.

Islam, according to recent Islamic discourse, contains another structure of metaphors concerning God, man, the universe and nature. In that case, Muslims do not need the Western metaphor of light. Some might explain this tendency against the West and against its enlightenment as a reactionary postmodernism trend in the Islamic world. But they have first to prove that modernism was introduced and institutionalized in any Muslim state, a claim very hard to prove. The fact is that Islamic discourse is borrowing some Western criticism of modernity to justify its own ideology. So, it takes the West as an example of injustice, corruption and malfunctions. Modern history of the West as a process of moving from Enlightenment to imperialism and recently form a world of two supreme powers to a new world system controlled mainly by the American politics and interest helps that discourse to gain more ground.

The question is still an open and valid question: Do modern Islamic thought has to start from Averroës and the rationalization of the Mu`tazilites? I started myself, as a scholar, believing this to be the valid path. But now I am not so sure about this possibility. This gap in Averroës‘ philosophy between the elite and the public will never help achieving Enlightenment in the right sense. Since learning and knowledge is not open to all people, and since it is still an elite privilege, Enlightenment will never be institutionalized in social life. Since enlightenment has never been a public movement in any Muslim country, It needs to be publicized. Ignoring the more essential rights of man‘s intellectual liberty in the past as in present time allowed the political authorities to easily impose some of their favorable ideas on the majority of the public by means of inquisition. In the history of Muslims, political authorities used to interfere in the intellectual life imposing some ideas against others and supporting some theological group against others. In the case of rational theology it was used against another theology by political authority at the end of the ninth century. This notion of dividing people into public and elite, people of knowledge and people of ignorance, is still a very dominant principle in the Muslim world though education is open and free. This sharp distinction is employed by islamist political groups only whenever knowledge of religion is concerned, but when it comes to political debate, they emphasize the masses‘ rights to know. So, it is only religious debate that should not be open to the public in order to maintain the religious authority of the leaders of such movements and accordingly to protect their ideological interest. In this context, sets of metaphors have been introduced to substitute another sets. One of the major metaphors is the metaphor of light, which is very essential to the ideology of ›islamization‹ as opposed to ›modernization.‹


7. conclusion

The metaphor of ›light‹ could be used in different ways. It could be used to mean freethinking, rationality and humanity. And it could be understood in another way and used to reveal different meaning. The question in the Islamic world is do we need Enlightenment from outside our culture? The answer for most of the people is, »we have our own Enlightenment, which Islam initiated and introduced to the whole world some fifteen centuries ago. Islam is a religion of Enlightenment. Muslims conquered by their enlighten Islam the whole world; they introduced Enlightenment to the world while Europe was in the Dark Ages.

Western Enlightenment has been labeled in contemporary political Islamic discourse as »darkness«, it is not only very dangerous but devilish; it represents a severe threat to Islam as an identity.

The term ›Secularism‹, on the other hand, is mostly avoided by most of the enlightened intellectuals in the Arabic Muslim world because its Arabic equivalent ›almâniyya‹ has been associated for long a time with ›atheism‹. Quite few intellectuals would insist in using the Arabic word. Most of those enlightened intellectuals who avoid using the word ›secularism‹ prefer instead to talk about ›civic society‹ as if »civic society« is not mainly based on, established and maintained by secularism.

The main conceptions related to Enlightenment, such as freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of academic research are not welcomed without reservations; they should be economized in order to reconcile with Islamic values and norms. According to one of the very influential islamist writers, there should be some protected areas or rather »security zones« beyond intellectual discussions or academic investigation. These security zones are protected by religion against any thought; these are the unthinkable, non-testable and the unquestionable set of belief. So academic research, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech are only guaranteed as long as they do not exceed their limitation or touch any idea close to what is termed as »absolute truth.« What is determined to be the »true« Islamic belief is, in fact, the interpretation given by a certain school of theology, namely the »orthodox«. Other schools of theology in the history of Islamic thought, which introduce rather more rational interpretation of Islam, are ignored. In the course of history, the Orthodox theology became the adopted political ideology of most Muslim states simply because it emphasizes »obedience« as a religious obligatory duty. Political rulers, who combine both political and religious authority all together, are considered representatives of God‘s authority on earth.

As long as all kinds of freedom present serious threat to political dictatorship and stand against intellectual absolutism, the only way to undermine the value of freedom is to bring religion as its opponent. Therefore, the expressions: freedom of thought, secularism and Enlightenment, are considered, in fact, Satanic words. Since they are all the products of Western culture and the European civilization, which basically contradicts the essentials of Islamic civilization and culture, they should be refuted otherwise Muslims will loose their own identity and become not only controlled and manipulated by their historical enemies but absolutely entailed to them. In order to convince ordinary Muslims that there is no way but to adhere to the pure Islamic identity, the Qur‘an is used and explained as the only source of Light and accordingly the sole source of enlightenment.


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