The Dasein of Heidegger. The Pre-Islamic Thought (exitentialism) and Islam.

The Arabic Language as a body of culture, thought and literature covers different periods of history, and these have occurred in many parts of the world: Asia, Europe, Africa, etc. There is, however, first, an important period called Pre-Islamic. The Pre-Islamic Arabic Literature or Culture, named by its reference to Islam, not in itself, is different from the Arabic Islamic Literature; it is, however, the only one which could be compared to the present literature of our times, the German Existentialism (Nietzsche, “Volonte de Puissance”) and French Existentialism (Camus, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, etc.). This is because this literature or thought, free from the idea of sacred or transcendental, and probably also any kind of very organised structure, is from man to man (= The Dasein of Heidegger). Despite, however, the importance of this Arabic Literature, it seems to be ignored, overlooked or at least there is a great lack of objectivity towards it. This is by its opponents as well as by its most successful advocates, Taha Hosein. The critics have always compared the Pre-Islamic Literature to Islamic Literature as though it has not a proper soul or problem. No matter how this literature has been seen or interpreted, it remains existentialist and subject to a new and fresh research and understanding.

With Islam, the Arabic-Islamic Literature was born. This latter literature, with all its nuances, is usually divided following the historical, religious and political movements that followed the birth of Islam. This literature, called Arabic, is not, however, always produced by Arab people in contrast to Judaism which seems to be exclusive to the one ethnic group. Except in the Pre-Islamic Era one has to deal with a very complex situation. The Arabic Language is used not only by Arabic or Muslim people, it is also used by Christian people. Similarly, there are Muslim people who do not use the Arabic Language; therefore the Arabic-Islamic Culture is, indeed, a “melting-pot”.

The complexity and differentiations mentioned did not, however, create a different “Arabic Language”. The Arabic Grammar, for example, did not change between today’s Arabic and the Pre-Islamic Arabic. There is no historical distance. At first glance, that could appear as a weakness or lack of creativity (evolution); the situation is not, however, that easy.

The Arabic Language is, undoubtedly, one of the most complicated languages, and as already stated there is no old and new Arabic. The English and French situation, for example, does not apply here. The spoken word has not changed and even the vocabulary which seems to be a vehicle of knowledge has not changed so much. This does not mean, however, that there is no new meaning. The discovery of Sausser is right. The meaning is less in the words themselves than in their relationship or rapport. The situation has to be compared to the Mathematical Language. The number one, for example, gets its numerical power not only by itself, but by its reference to other numbers, i.e. its place in the structure. Therefore the number one (1) can signify twelve (12) or one hundred twenty (120) depending on its relation to other numbers. The rhetoric is an important element in the Arabic Language. Etymologically, rhetoric means what Wittgenstein said about the language: “The word is the image of reality”. Unfortunately, this important discipline of the Arabic Language has not been properly understood, so much importance has been given to the imagination, and the real problem has been forgotten – reality and discourse. Nothing, however, would render The Arabic Language, nor indeed any other language, scientific in the sense of Carnap and his followers.

The Islamic Religion is constituted by the “Koran”, “Hadith” and “Soona”. The latter does not seem to be philosophically important, but in fact, the Islamic Scholars refer to it for understanding of the “Koran”. This is how, for example, some scholars, with regard to the polygamous problem, limit the number of wives, not as it says in the Koran to four, but to nine: this guideline evolved from their interpretation of the life of the Prophet. Besides, a kind of philosophy of language is applied. The conjunction “and” is understood as a preposition “plus”. By this kind of “language-game” one could see how powerful is the cultural context in any kind of language. Islam, in itself, accepts and rejects both Judaism and Christianity. This paradox, incorrectly minimised for psychological reasons, could be called Dialectic. Islam, as other religions, has its history and culture, but its uniqueness is, perhaps, to make the sacred incarnated in the profane and vice-versa. Islam, as Marxism and Christianity, wants to be universal; it seeks the “unity of history.”

As Marxism wants a classless society, Christianity seeks unity of society in Christ (a Christian Society); likewise, Islam wants and seeks the homogeneity of society and history. Trying to understand the history of Islam without this does not make the historic violence very intelligible. As with other religions, Islam has its theology and philosophy, but it needs what is now called the philosophy and psychology of religion. A great split occurred in the Islamic history which was motivated rather by psychological motives than by reason (Kant).

As Islam is concerned with the daily life, there is what is called the Islamic Law – criminal law, family law, public law, etc. There appears to be very little mobility in the Islamic Theology and Law. Historically and culturally, Islam has to be considered in the context of the countries in which it developed, although in itself it acts as a “common denominator”. There has been Islam as a religious and historical movement since the death of Mohammed, and as an historical movement, Islam has given birth to many states and cultures.

Contained in the Islamic Culture is Philosophy and Science. The Arabic and Islamic people were in contact with the Greek Culture and Philosophy well before the Latin. The original and early Islamic Philosophy was hermeneutical, a Philosophy of language. This early philosophy, “Ilmo-Kalam”, is to be compared to the Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis and the English Philosophy, Reflexion on language. This early philosophy, however, seemed to lack some creativity. The original or the true meaning was searched for as gold and beyond which one cannot go further. The Hegelian Dialectic is not applied. This partial theology and partial philosophy is competitive with our present philosophy. There were, in the Islamic Culture, many philosophers, of whom two seem to me to be still important – Avicenna (Persian) and Averroes (Spanish). As an anthropologist, Beno Kaldune (N. Africa) was undoubtedly a unique figure of his time and as such is worthy of consideration.

As in the Christian Philosophy and Theology of the Middle Ages, the problems of body and soul were, among others, the main problems. It remains mysterious, however, that in the Islamic-Arabic Philosophy there is no Philosophy of Being (= Etre). Some would think that this is due to a linguistic failure. Paul Ricoeur thinks this is due to a lack of translation. Aristotle was not entirely translated – especially his Ontology.

It is interesting to notice that St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Christian Philosopher and Theologian of the Middle Ages, was the first to rebel against the Muslim Philosopher Averros, who was the only one to lead the Aristotelian premises about the soul to their conclusions; “Man-Machine”. Besides philosophy, there were science, astronomy, mathematics (algebra), etc. Though strange as it may seem, the Modern Philosophy is still, in many ways, struggling with the same problems – body, soul, and their relationships, etc. The Psychiatry of today is still confronted with this problem: mental illness – is it organic or not? In the cases where it is organic, the treatment should be pharmaceutical; otherwise, the treatment should be psychological. The solution of M. Merleau-Ponty, now widely discussed, shows the importance and seriousness of both Islamic and Christian Philosophy. The Modern Philosophy is not, however, bewitched by speculation. That is where, perhaps, many small Islamic Philosophers could find their place and be revived. Where philosophy and literature sometimes meet those philosophers is worthy of consideration.

To understand the history, as Hegel said, one should look for the Idea – the important moment of history. Napoleon and the French Revolution were, for example, in Hegel’s eyes, the Ideas. Likewise, the Hegelian approach is utterly true in the Islamic History. With regard to the Pre-Islamic Literature or Philosophy, no-one can dismiss, objectively, either in its originality or its interest in man – but a lost man with no God and no hope. Islam was the available answer to that historical situation.