By Rev. Bassam M. Madany
From my earliest days, I noticed a certain fascination with Western secularism that was exhibited by Arab authors who dealt with modern history. For example, they showed a high regard and admiration for the French Revolution of 1789, notwithstanding the unbelievable bloodshed and turmoil that resulted from it.
During the past century, that attraction has manifested itself specifically in the rapid spread of Marxist ideology throughout the Middle East. In the 1960s, a Muslim professor at the American University of Beirut, Dr. Sadeq Jalal al-Adhm, published, “A Critique of Religious Thought.”(Naqd al-Fikr Al-Deeni.) This book was critical, not only of the Qur’an, but of all theistic religions. His approach and methodology were thoroughly Marxist. He got into trouble with the Lebanese authorities, but was exonerated from the charge of inciting divisions among the Lebanese religious communities. Al-Adhm stuck tenaciously to his secular ideology. The last sentence in a revised and expanded version of his “Critique” was this: “It is beyond doubt that Dialectical Materialism is the best known attempt to formulate a complete and universal worldview that can be reconciled with the spirit of this age and its sciences. I believe that this is exactly what Jean-Paul Sartre meant when he said: ‘Marxism is the philosophy for our times.’”
We now have unassailable proof that Marxism has been an utter failure, both ideologically and practically. We need only to read Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” to see that Sartre, Albert Camus, and all their Middle Eastern disciples, were wrong in their prophecies.
Having said that, I don’t want to imply that Western Secularism has ceased to attract Arab and Muslim intellectuals. For example, early in 2006, I came across a relatively new Arabic-language website, http://www.kwtanweer.com/ , serving as a forum for dialog among Arab intellectuals who are concerned about tajdeed (renewal), tahdeeth (modernization), and Islah (reformation.) As I glance daily at their contributions, I can’t help but notice how most of them manifest the impact of Western secular worldviews on their thoughts. This is clearly seen by their repeated references to such philosophers as Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
In May 2006, a Syrian Muslim contributed an unusual article to the Tanweer (Enlightenment) site, in which he related his painful spiritual journey that ended with his leaving Islam. Its title was, “From Religion to No Religion: The Confession of a Muslim who has renounced Islam.”
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