Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cordoba Initiatives – Old and New.

A conversation between Averroes and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

"Reason is a light which is certainly needed to illuminate the darkness, but it can also be useful in full daylight."
Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri
(December 27, 1936 – May 3, 2010)

A bit like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano reflecting the divergent tectonic pressures of the mid-Atlantic ridge xenophobic intolerant magma has suddenly erupted onto the internet and newsprint concerning the plan by the Cordoba Initiative to construct an Islamic cultural centre and mosque about two blocks from the site of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Ignoring the fact that innocent Muslims both died and were also working as rescuers during the disaster many right wing commentators are rushing into print decrying the building proposal as further proof of the ‘demon’ advance of Islam in America and as a repudiation of the memories of all of those who died.

The Cordoba Initiative is a foundation established by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam of the Masjid al-Farah mosque of the Khalwati Jarrahi Sufi Order, about six blocks from the World Trade Centre Site. Imam Rauf has expressed the desire to develop ‘ "an American-Islamic identity," an Islam that is orthodox in its religion, in its theology, in its practice, but culturally American and Western.’ Towards this end he founded the ASMA – The American Society for the Advancement of Muslims – now controlled by his wife and more recently the Cordoba Initiative. The money backing the project appears to be coming mainly from Malaysia.

I have tried getting into the writings and teachings of Imam Rauf to get a better understanding of where he is coming from. In a way, although of high intellect and an accomplished Islamic scholar and Imam, he comes across more as an intelligent salesman and entrepreneur as well as a very savvy media performer. I do not want that observation to seem belittling in any way as I genuinely believe he is striving for tolerance, inter-faith discourse and mutual benefit. In a way, however, he is the ‘active intellect’ embodiment of a modern resurrection of Averroes defense of Aristotelian philosophy expounded by the Moroccan philosopher Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri, who died recently on the 3 May.

Cordoba 1900

And this brings me to the naming of Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative. The name intrigues me somewhat and most commentators have assumed it was named because of the apparent inter-faith integration that existed in the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus, and Cordoba in particular, in the 12th Century.

I beg to differ. I think that perhaps it is named the Cordoba Initiative after one of the most famous sons of Cordoba Abū 'l-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Rushd (1126 – December 10, 1198) known as Averroes, an Andalusian Muslim polymath; a master of Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence (the Maliki school was the domininant Islamic legal school in Spain), logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics and celestial mechanics, attributes that Imam Rauf also partially achieves in his multiple interests.

The danger of placing your hopes in buildings as a way of establishing a meaningful pathway to understanding God’s design is best illustrated by the disappointed words of Charles V on his visit to appraise the Christian ‘restoration’ of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in 1526 – undertaken against the wishes of the people of Cordoba but with Charles’ permission – which had destroyed much of the harmony of the mosque’s interior vaulted architecture:

‘You have built what you or others might have built anywhere,
but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world.’

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