Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Study of philosophy makes my faith stronger


Sabria S. Jawhar


PROBABLY the first conflict I faced as a graduate student at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom was how to deal with the philosophy course, which is required for my Ph.D.


Conflict? What conflict? Westerners would be puzzled over my dilemma, but it is a real issue for Saudis in particular and Muslims in general. Philosophy is not taught in Saudi schools and I do not know why. However, it seems to me that the rule that philosophers believe that there is the possibility of truth from any one source and we should follow the argument wherever it leads might be the reason.


Further, studying philosophy means the study of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, which opens a whole new can of worms for Muslims.I brought my concerns to my professor and mentor, Tim Kelsall, who asked me one question: Do I want to be recognized as a Saudi expert in my chosen field or as an international authority? The answer was obvious and the issue ended there.


To limit my field of study meant limiting my horizons. It meant limiting the goals and career opportunities I have set for myself. What university or future employer would take me seriously if I rejected taking internationally recognized studies because I was too timid to reach beyond my comfort zone.


I learned quickly enough that I had my understanding of philosophy to simplistic Freud and Marxist theories and not much wrongly boiled down else. I discovered (and this may be obvious to Western students but not to me) that philosophy concerns itself with the nature of knowledge and reality, human nature, man’s place in the world among other living creatures, and of course, the love of wisdom.

As I studied further, I discovered that there were many early Muslim philosophers who embraced this love of wisdom. Actually, I came to know that there is a whole field of Islamic philosophy.


This was brought home to me while attending this week an intensive journalism summer school program at Lund University in Helsingborg, Sweden. I am among the 100 or so students from Belarus, Slovenia, India, Pakistan, the Ukraine and other countries. Most students are from Eastern Europe, and I appear to be the only female Muslim among the group. What my fellow students take for granted, this course for me opens new doors.


The program identifies itself as focusing on journalism, but it really covers a wide range of topics, most notably social epistemology, feminism, political theory, intelligent design versus evolution, and even Swedish modernity and municipal planning. It’s a hodge-podge of subjects, but I guess you have to be there for it to make sense.


Social epistemology is an intriguing subject taught by Steve Fuller, professor of sociology at Warwick University in the United Kingdom, in which he fuses philosophy and sociology in science studies. Fuller is well known for his argument that religion and science go hand in hand. Religion, he says, whether it’s Christianity, Judaism or Islam, pushes people to study science. Simply, religion is the root of science.


His lectures on early 20th century journalists and academics promoting various schools of thought on science and philosophy are excellent.Joni Seager, a professor of feminist environmentalism and geography at Hunter College in New York City, and Jeremy Shearmur, who teaches political theory at the Australian National University, are other prominent academics serving as guest lecturers at Lund University.


We can sit around and talk about Freud’s theory of origins of sexual behavior among adults or Marx’s examinations of the social classes, but at the end of the day it doesn’t shake my faith or the beliefs I grew up with.


What Fuller, Seager, Shearmur and the other professors are doing is teaching me that wisdom and the pursuit of knowledge are limitless. And it’s not necessary, or even desirable, to give up one’s core beliefs to understand and appreciate different philosophical arguments.


Last week I wrote about my brief experiences in the United States and my impressions of how compassion and aid to people in distress are institutionalized through policy and laws, and how we in Saudi Arabia seem to lack these basic concepts when it comes to emergency medical care.


Predictably, I received mails from some Saudis who suggested that if I love the West so much then I should stay there. Or maybe I should be a good Saudi girl and come home to avoid further Western corruption.


But what does that say about us? Should we remain in a protective shell and wrap our arms around our wrong beliefs about the world as if they were precious stones? Or do we pursue knowledge and engage in intellectual exercises to examine the differences between evolution and intelligent design, or even man’s place in nature and the environment.


Some day as a teacher I will be questioned by curious students about these very issues. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of some of my teachers, who told me to just shut up and listen. I want to provide answers, or at least an opinion. It won’t make me any less a Saudi or a Muslim. It will just make me a good teacher.

5 comments:

SUFI said...

IM NOT GOIN TO SAY IM IMPRESSED BUT TRULY ITS A CHANGE THAT SOMEONE HAS TAKEN A STEP TOWARDS BRINGING AWARENESS AMONG PPL IN THIS COUNTRY. I RETURNED TO ARABIA AFTER 10 YEAR, N ALL I OBSERVE IS THINGS HAVE GONE FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE. ITS SAD THAT IN A SACRED PLACE LIKE THIS THERE IS A GREAT AMOUNT OF RACISM N SEXUAL ABUSE I READ IN THE DAILY PAPER PRACTICED ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. THEN THIS GENTLEMAN HAS AN ARTICLE IN TODAYS PAPER ABT HOW ARABIA IS BETTER IN TERMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS THEN MANY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHICH I WOULD DISAGREE TO. ONE SHOULD ASK THE LABOURERS WHO WORK IN THE HEAT, I READ AGAIN AN ARTICLE IN TODAYS PPR ABT A STRIKE BY SOME GROUP OF PPL WHO HAVE NOT BEEN PAID N NOT BEEN GIVEN VACATION ETC. HONESTLY I DONT KNW WHERE THE WHOLE PRINCIPLED ISLAMIC WORLD IS HEADED. WHITE PPL ADMIRE WHAT V HAVE IN OUR HOLY BOOK N PRACTICE IT SILENTLY WHERE V HAV LOST OR ROOTS N CULTURE. THERE IS SO MUCH HAPPENING IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD BUT IS KEPT UNDER THE SHADOW. EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTS N SOCIETY, ITS UR CHANCE TO SPEAK FOR UR COUNTRY AS U WILL B CAPTIVATED ON THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT. I DONT WANT TO DIRECT U TO A PATH WITH STRICT RACIAL COLLECTION BY STANDING FOR THE NAME OF UR PPL'S WELL BEING. BUT ATLEAST DIRECT UR PPL TO GET PROPER EDUCATION SO THEY CAN HAVE SOME WISDOM TO JUDGE WHAT IS RIGHT N WATS NOT. ITS SAD BUT TRUE. KEEP IN MIND, I READ IN UR ARTICLE ABT PPL NOT APPRECIATING U, ITS A HARSH PATH AHEAD. CHOOSE TO LEAVE IT NOW OR LEARN TO WALK ON A NARROW ROAD BUT THEN DONT BITCH ABT LIFE BEING TOUGH ON U! DONT ALLOW OTHERS GET A SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT BY TRYING TO BREAK U DOWN ON UR ROAD TO SUCCESS. KINDLY DONT PUBLISH WHAT OPINION PPL RECITE OR HOLD ON UR WORK.

Ramzi said...

You made my day ... week ... month .. year . again I am proud to be your fan friend brother father uncle ...so whatever ...you deserve the best support & attention ... u r the lady of education & philosophy ... your article today was my fresh breeze with high doze of oxygen in our Jeddah away from PVPV SHAMEFUL STORIES OF STONE AGES GROWING IN THE LOCAL MEDIA. your article is superb ...for days when muslim elite can be scientist ,poet , writer as well humanbeing with strong faith & wisdom dedication ..one man or woman .. well talented and diversified ... not afraid from learning and exchanging ideas & getting involved in healthy professional intellectual debate about any thing ... let our minds be free to think not to obey blindly under the fear of the sword .... ok I agree not all of us are talented to enjoy same level of freedom ... every thing is relative ... the only absolute fact is Allah as well the greatest mind is the creator ....because some of us the full freedom corrupts them & leads them to the wild zoo to compete with animals away from humanity ... I pray for your success in your PHD since I can claim what-so-ever by supporting your mission in open minded education system . I don't interfere with your faith which is your private direct relation with Allah the most merciful

Ahmed Alharthy said...

I read your subject today about philosophy, it was fantastic, I feel you are a good teache and a good humanbeen,please when you come back ,be strong and tell your students the truth , just the truth,we need you to give our women their rightd, thanks again,God with you where ever you go.

ratherdashing said...

But what does that say about us? Should we remain in a protective shell and wrap our arms around our wrong beliefs about the world as if they were precious stones?

What it says is that Muslims fear scrutiny of their belief system. They're simply not used to having their ideas or methods questioned. In the West, everything is subject to intellectual examination. This is why the internet is so vitally important. It is a marketplace of ideas and an area where everything gets aired out.

Your example of the rescue squad in California treating the woman is a small practical application of this concept. It shows that at some point (possibly in the distant past) the public was dissatisfied with the treatment of patients. They demanded answers and accountability and service for their taxes paid or money spent. They challenged authority and asked questions. The ambulance company responded with training to its employees and procedures to improve their efficiency and care.
This kind of change does not happen on its own. It only comes about with freedom. The freedom to express dissatisfaction with a problem. The freedom to dissent. The freedom to speak one's mind to people in position of authority. That's a main difference between your Saudi email writers and Western thinkers.

Isa J. Dookie said...

Assalaamu 'alaikum.

I'm not sure if you actually read your comments but here goes.

I'm a student, originally Christian/Agnostic who is now studying Arabic and some Islam in Saudi right now. So you could probably say that I'm sorta the opposite of you (as far as circumstances are concerned, not necessarily outlook).

What I wanted to say though is that it sounds almost as if you're viewing your religion as a cultural thing that was handed down to you, and that you need to hold on to. Rather than something that you chose because you believe that it's right. This may not be the case, but it is how it sounds to me.

In light of that, assuming that you're muslim by choice, and muslim because you really believe that it's the truth. I just wanted to slip you a word of advice (if it's ok for me to do so):

Ensure that you're well grounded in knowledge of Islam if you're going to introduce those philosophies back home.

I agree will you that it's not wise to live in a cocoon without holding your beliefs up to a light and examining them. But if you're sure that Islam is the truth from God, be sure that if you introduce philosophical ideas into naive/inexperienced young minds back in Saudi, that you have the ability to explain the Islamic perspective to your students clearly to avoid confusion in your students.

I hope you understand what I'm trying to communicate. I feel as though you may take this as criticism (which isn't bad, but since I don't see critical comments posted I feel as though you don't take it well), or that you may be hypersensitive to men speaking with you on the issue of religion. However, please understand that this is just your muslim brother addressing an issue of concern (to him at least) with the welfare of the muslim ummah in mind.

baarakallaahu feeki wa jazaakillaahu khairaa

wassalaamu 'alaikum wa rahmatullaah