Our summer webinar on Muslim-Christian relations started: Lessons from 11th century Muslim scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazali about dialogue with people with different views from ours

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Mon, 2020-06-22
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We are grateful for the support we have received of the SGP with Shiraka funding of the Dutch Foreign Ministry to organize summer schools for dialogue in Egypt in 2018 and 2019. We had planned a summer school for the coming week as well but covid-19 changed this in a summer webinar.


Everything in Egypt needs to be done with permissions. Some people we had wanted to see participate could not obtain their permissions in time. Since the Center for Arab-West Understanding organized this webinar in partnership with the Anglican Diocese and the Dialogue Center of the Azhar we decided in consultation with Anglican Bishop Mouneer [Munīr] to postpone this. But…since close to 60 people had applied the Dutch Arab-West Foundation continues organizing a webinar with a revised program for these applicants. Dr. Matthew Anderson is working with Bishop Munīr on another program that can be carried out later this year. Meanwhile, I am leading now a summer webinar for the Arab-West Foundation on June 22-23 and 24.


Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (source of the photo: https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/441438/Sydney-to-host-conference-on-Al-Ghazali)


We are starting with a discussion about the lessons of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali [Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī] (c.1058-1111) about dialogue with people with different views from ours. Dutch Arabist Eildert Mulder has given our intern Gurjinder Khambay a fantastic insight in the views of this scholar. al-Ghazālī refers to forms of human behavior that he refers to as “killers of thought” (Al-Muhallikaat) [al-muhllikāt].” Gurjinder Khambay writes “One is especially interesting, the concept of riyaah [rīyā’].” It is sometimes synonymous with hypocrisy, but al-Ghazālī would dispute this reading. Hypocrisy, Mulder says, is a sort of conscious attitude, whereas riyaah is more of an unconscious process. It is internalized self-retraining, confirming to the views of the social group one belongs to. One finds this confirmation to one’s own group, for example, with Salafis who strongly adhere to a fixed thought system, dogmatically searching for the truth in the Sunna of the Prophet Muḥammad and his companions. Riyaah implies that somebody’s main concern is not the search for the  truth in arguments and information in and outside one’s own ideological group but what other people may say or think, how one’s image might be affected by a statement they make. It is the unconscious fear of being ostracized, excluded by the group one belongs to. Riyaah can, therefore, effectively kill a dialogue from the very beginning. Riyaah will always exist in some form. It is an illusion to think that it is possible to avoid it entirely. But you can combat it. In a dialogue, the parties should help each other to overcome riyaah.


Besides riyaah, al-Ghazālī presents another concept with the opposite meaning, Arabic ikhlaas [ikhlāṣ], اخلاص, which is something like complete honesty, to yourself and to the outer world. Of course, you need a lot of courage and self-knowledge to be capable of this kind of fundamental honesty. But you need it to be capable of fruitful thinking or positive dialogue.”


There are also other killers of thought. For this please read the entire article on Arab-West Report. It is important to make students aware that such killers of thought exist and once we are aware of this we will be more careful in how we communicate with other people.


Also other interesting text will be shared with the students. We will highlight some of them in the coming days.



The Hague, June 22, 2020


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief of Arab-West Report