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The Audacity (and Ambiguity) of a New Islamic Political Thought

The Saqîfa of Banû Sâ‘ida, that is to say the shed where the contested choice of the first successor of Muhammad, the Caliph Abû Bakr, took place: the Moroccan ‘Âbid al-Jâbirî (o al-Jabri as he is more commonly known) felt the need to begin from that fateful year of 632 to explore Arab, classical and ¬contemporary political reason.


The need to justify the choice of Abû Bakr (632-634) and his ‘well guided’ successors, ‘Umar (634-644) and ‘Uthmân (644-656), in the face of Shi’ite claims that saw ‘Alî as the chosen candidate of the Prophet of Islam, led what became Sunni political thought to reflect upon the foundations of legitimacy. The conclusion that Al-Jabri draws is, however, very negative. The experts of Kalâm (dialectical theology) and jurists, indeed, limited themselves to consecrating the existent. Hence the belief that the reference of many contemporary Islamist movements to an Islamic theory of the caliphate, perhaps condensed in the work of the jurist al-Mâwardî who lived in Baghdad between the tenth and the eleventh centuries, is not only utopian but also incorrect at a religious level because, according to the author, one cannot, rigorously speaking, refer to an Islamic theory of power. The subject, indeed, is left to the interpretative efforts of Muslims.


Where should these efforts be directed? After going over the formative stages of the ideology of the sultanate, Jabri opposed the attempt at an Arab renaissance of the end of the nineteenth century – the Nahda. Its failure led to a ‘return of the repressed’ which he describes in terms that are openly psychoanalytical. In the more general and ambitious attempt to identify the characteristic elements of Arab logic, Jabri lays stress upon three determinants of Arab political thought (tribalism/sectarianism, plunder/revenue, dogmatism) the overcoming of which was something he hoped for. The approach of this author is not immune to ambiguity (what does ‘replacing dogma with opinion’ mean?) and his ¬project of appreciating an Andalusian-Maghreb rationalist current, which culminated in the figure of Averroes, to be opposed to eastern mystical neo-Platonism, earned him the severe criticism of the ¬Syrian Georges Tarabishi. However, his theoretical contribution remains very important, not least because of its constantly sought-for rooting in the Arab-Islamic tradition, not without openings to Western ¬philosophy (the very title A Critique of Arab Reason is eloquent here) and modern Western sciences.


Al-Jabri died a few months before the Arab revolts. But in a certain sense he had already outlined their programme, their risks and their challenges. Born in Figuig (Marocco) in 1935 to a family of the independence party Istiqlâl, al-Jabri began in 1958 the study of philosophy at Damascus. In 1970 he was awarded in Morocco a state doctorate in philosophy with a thesis on Ibn Khaldûn. From 1967 to 2002 he was Professor of Philosophy and Arab-Islamic Thought at the Mohammed V University of Rabat. He died in the capital of Morocco in May 2010. Amongst his publications we may cite


‘A Critique of Arab Reason’ in four volumes: ‘The Formation of Arab Reason’ (1984), ‘The Structure of


Arab Reason. An Analytical-Critical Study of the Organisation of Knowledge in Arab Culture’ (1986),


‘Arab Political Reason’ (1990), from which this extract is taken, and ‘Arab Practical Reason’ (2000).