Freedom in Contemporary Arab Thought

Published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, the book Freedom in Contemporary Arab Thought,is a research collection from the 5th annual conference for social sciences and humanities held by the ACRPS in Doha on March 12-14, 2015. The freedom in the contemporary Arab thought is the research material, which has become a hot topic since the beginning of the Arab Renaissance (Nahda), and a complex multidimensional concept with multiple interconnected issues. Addressing this topic underlies questions about the progress, development and modernity in contemporary Arab societies. The book approaches the issue of freedom quest in the Arab world; mainly the freedom of religion, expression, pluralism, recognition and intellectual productivity.

The book consists of 25 chapters in 8 sections. The first section suggests that the Shari’a is a tool used by the renaissance intellectuals as an outlet for the people and a restriction for the ruling powers. It studies the prevailing thought system in the Arab renaissance and how the intellectuals approached the issue of freedom in relation to equality at the time. It also addresses how Arabs perceive freedom and were spoon-fed the concept that freedom is no more than the affiliation of the individual to a group, in order to justify limiting freedoms in the name of privacy. The section lastly provides a philosophical reading into the concept in relation with the contemporary Arab thought and conditions

The book addresses the establishment of a liberal freedom concept in the Arab-Islamic thought in comparison with the Western thought. It discusses the institutional and constitutional recognition of the identity of cultural groups as manifestations of the struggle for freedom. It lastly dives into the qualitative transformation at the level of the individual-group relationship, which opened the door for the pursuit of individual freedoms; especially of a religious nature, and the positions of the Arab and Western regimes in this regard.

The following section discusses liberalism in the approaches of the modern Arab thought. It criticizes the assumption that “freedom” is a modern Western concept, and that the Islamic-Arab thought inhibits any positive interaction with modernity. It presents the Rawlsian theory of social justice as a remedy for the freedom quest in the Arab thought and practice. The section goes on to investigate the extent to which the concept of freedom had taken root in Arab liberalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book sheds light on Apostasy killing and the notion of religious freedom in Islam, and the need for rethinking Islamic jurisprudence. It approaches the issue of freedom of belief in the Arab world and its relation with both the Shari’a and the skepticism of both the Arab-Islamic communities and the intellectual-popular perspectives regarding the concept.

The next three sections follow the critical absence of the concept of freedom in Arab ideological thought in the masses, media, political and public discourse, especially in the Arab revolutions; while discussing two key barriers to “freedom”: the West and “fanaticism”. The following section dives into some contemporary approaches to freedom, based theoretically on both the Islamic heritage and literature, and the contemporary intellectual rights and thought. The seventh section deals with thought creativity and productivity and the heavy censorship on multi-media and communications in the Arab world.

The last section investigates the realms of political and constitutional legitimacy, national liberation and women’s rights; based primarily on Algerian and Moroccan cases. It delves into the national conception of freedom post-colonialism, constitutionalism and its role in overcoming traditional doctrinal visions that stems from constitutional, religious and historical convictions. Lastly, it touches upon women’s rights in the contemporary Moroccan Arab-Islamic thought prior to the integration of Moroccan women and the socio-political reforms in the late 90s.

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