« The historical debate on secularisation between F. Antun and M. Abduh. God’s absolutism and Islam’s irrationality as cornerstones of orientalist islamic-christian dispute during the Nahda »
ABSTRACT: In 1945, Hamilton A.R. Gibb delivered the Haskell Lectures at the University of Chicago, supporting a classical Orientalist attitude concerning, first of all, the Arab incapacity to throw off its intense feeling for the separateness and individuality of concrete events, and secondly, encouraging a degree of methodological generalization, arguing for the existence of a Muslim aversion directed towards the thought-processes of rationalism. This was a point of view which was deeply rooted within classical Orientalist authors, from Silvestre de Sacy, to Ernest Renan and Ignac Goldziher to David B. MacDonald. However, this analysis is not going to reconsider issues already widely covered by academic research, but will instead investigate the debates between Faraḥ Antun, and Muhammad ‘Abduh on Secularization, and the dispute on the specific topics related to the Kalam argument within the inter-religious context of the Nahḍa. In the Odyssey of F. Antun, A Syrian Christian’s quest on Secularism, Donald M. Reid reports Antun’s viewpoint that Islamic Theology was mainly rooted on two assertions: God’s omnipotence and the rejection of every secondary cause capable of limiting the creator’s power. Allah’s qadar discourages scientific and philosophical research because every worldly event is directly and uniquely related to God’s behaviour. Muhammad ‘Abduh’s refutation promoted a new- Mu‘tazilite and Philosophical analysis which was able to show how human reason, secondary causes and logic were, on the contrary, not rejected by Islām, but were deeply ingrained within Islamic and religious thought. The founder of al-Jami‘ah al-‘Uthmaniyah produced an attack not only geared towards an attack against Islam, but also against all Semitic religions, with the intention to highlight the opportunity to create a secular State in which Muslims and Christians could participate on a footing of complete equality. ‘Abduh’s position, although not so far away, was strictly connected to the need to have law based on relevant principles of equality that could be argued for through a reformist Islamic approach, because within Islam, state and religions could not be separated, but could be reformed together. This paper seeks to deepen the analysis concerning the Kalam cornerstones which were re-discovered to support ‘Abduh’s standpoint in this open debate, and also to examine an Orientalist Arab-Christian thought which, through Faraḥ Antun, would further encourage a confrontation within Arab society which is still unresolved today.