One hundred years ago, Khayr ad-Din at-Tunisi, Mohamed Abduh, Gamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Abdul Rahman al Kawakibi called for progress, social reform and enlightenment in the Islamic Arab world. At that time, catching up with the dominant Western civilisation, still seemed feasible.
Nowadays the gap between the two cultures seems impossible to overcome. During the past six centuries, the credit for research, discoveries and inventions, in philosophical and scientific questions is entirely the West’s. Acknowledging this is very painful for those whose ties of culture are with the Arab World. It is frightening to see that the Arab World did not render any service – neither to itself nor to mankind – throughout all this time.
The West is controlling the world on a military, cultural and economical level by using its leading superiority consisting in knowledge, science and reasonable thinking. Throughout the whole world, Western Culture has assumed the leading role. The cultures of the Third World and the Arab Culture became just one follower circling in its orbit.
This is a position demanding to be overcome. But in order to be an even match with the Western World, the Arabs need to understand from where Western Culture generates its strength instead of just mimicking the West by using its products. They should think about applying a different kind of Western values, which lead to economical and social development, namely values that grant dignity for all citizens. So far, they find all kinds of social and religious excuses when they are confronted with those values: equality, human rights, dignity and justice for all.
Western Culture was not alone in bringing forth these values. Human minds from all cultures always contributed their knowledge, among them Arab thinkers who translated and digested, improved and developed the knowledge of preceding cultures and thus contributed their product to the current culture. A climate of freedom of thought and tolerance towards somebody else’s thoughts is the foundation for such a productive development of culture. Adopting these main principles would not imply adapting to the West: most civilized cultures elevated these same thoughts to a principle. They are global human values. For the Arab World, this would mean a reorientation towards itself, consisting in reviving thinkers, such as Abul Ala’ al-Maarri, Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Tufail and many others who have largely contributed to humanity.
It is high time that members of the Arab Culture contribute to humanity again: Instead of being consumers only, the Arab peoples need to be makers of culture again. They need to be renewers instead of only being followers. The only way to achieve this goal is to establish internal order; i.e. to cultivate things in common, to be aware of their unity. Beginning with childhood the sense of belonging to the Arab Culture, to the Arab Nation, needs to be re-installed in an atmosphere of freedom of thoughts and tolerance. To really be able to contribute to the world’s culture again, the mental attitude towards creativity, work and productivity in the Arab World must become more serious. People need to be encouraged in their creativity in searching for new dimensions and horizons to find solutions to the problems they have. These might be solutions that nobody ever thought of before, and that might go against tradition.
But the struggle between advocates of the cultural heritage and supporters of the new will bring about stimulating discussions and encourage finding realistic answers. Thus, a new reality could evolve that might henceforth be characteristic of the Arab World. It is for this reason that we welcome an open and free dialogue. We believe the dialogue between all political views can be successful if freedom of thought is guaranteed.
The IBN RUSHD FUND has been founded to achieve the afore mentioned goals. It is an independant fund not influenced by any government or religion. The Fund is a liberal fund holding up aspirations for progress in the Arab World, for liberty and equality, human rights and social justice. It will support independent thinkers, artists and scientists by annually awarding prizes.
The fund bears the name IBN RUSHD. Ibn Rushd, in the West known as Averroes, was an important Arabic thinker, scientist, physician, judge and philosopher. He lived from 1126 A.D. until 1198 A.D. in Andalusia and Morocco. In commemoration of Ibn Rushd and his ideas – especially freedom of thought – the IBN RUSHD FUND for Free Thought was officially founded on December 10, 1998, exactly 800 years after his death.
The Ibn-Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought made his foundation public on December 10, 1998 on the occasion of a press conference held at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World’s Cultures) in Berlin, Germany. December 10, 1998 was deliberately chosen since it combines the 800th anniversary of the death of the great Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd (a.k.a. Averroes) and the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The fund’s name was selected in recognition of the philosopher’s intellectual achievements, his independent interpretation of Islamic ideas, his tolerance of convictions and cultures differing from his own.
Carrying Ibn Rushd’s ideas on into the 21st century, the Ibn-Rushd-Fund encourages and supports freedom of thought, creativity and innovation in the Arab World. These features are characteristic and indispensable to a veritable democracy guaranteeing freedom, equality, and social justice. The “Fund” supports the free dialogue among controversial political trends in a democratic atmosphere. The founding members ascertain that democracy may not be imposed from above, but has to start with the individual, and from there expand to a wide basis, and that it has to be excercised gradually and carefully. (For further information on the Fund’s basic positions, see Principles and Goals and Convictions and Beliefs.)
The Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought is a charitable society, registered in Germany and subject to the German laws on societies. The founding members are in the majority citizens of different Arab Countries, who live in Germany. The range of the Fund’s activities will concentrate on the whole Arab World. The Ibn Rushd Fund awards to those who have contributed in their field of specialization to advance freedom and democracy in the Arab World.
Biographical Information on Ibn Rushd
1126(520 After the Hegira, according to the Islamic Calendar) born in Cordova, Spain.
He studied law and medicine.
1169 (565 AH) he was appointed a judge in Sevilla; he also translated Aristotle’s book de Anima (Of the Soul) during this year.
1171 Ibn Rushd was transferred to Cordova, where he held the position of a judge (Qaadi) for ten years. During that time, he wrote commentaries and interpretations on the works of Aristotle, among others on Metaphysics, and on Plato’s Politeia.
1182 (578 AH) he was called to Marrakesh to work as a physician for the Caliph there, but he was soon transferred back to Cordova with the title of Great Qaadi (Chief Judge).
Ibn Rushd fell out of favor with the Caliph due to the opposition that theologians had raised against his writings. He was accused of heresy, interrogated and banned to Lucena, close to Cordova. At the same time, the Caliph ordered the books of the philosopher to be burnt, with the exception of his works on Medicine, Arithmetics and Elementary Astronomy (around 1195). Somewhat later the Caliph revoked the banishment and called Ibn Rushd back to Marrakesh. The works of Ibn Rushd also aroused admiration in Europe, even among those theologians who saw a danger for religious faith in his writings. In the XIIIth century, Ibn Rushd was condemned by bishops from Paris, Oxford and Canterbury for reasons similar to those that had caused his condemnation by the orthodox Muslims in Spain.
On December 10, 1198 (Safar 9, 595 AH) Ibn Rushd died in Marrakesh.