Wednesday 25 April 2012

Dissonance or Harmony? Critical Muslim Thinking in Saudi Arabia

In his latest book The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World, Princeton Professor Daniel Heller-Roazen tells the story of the ancient tradition which holds that 'Pythagoras discovered the secrets of harmony within a forge when he came across five men hammering with five hammers, producing a wondrous sound. Four of the five hammers stood in a marvelous set of proportions, harmonizing; but there was also a fifth hammer. Pythagoras saw and heard it, but he could not measure it; nor could he understand its discordant sound. Pythagoras therefore discarded it. [...] But, time and again, the transcription has run up against one fundamental limit: something in nature resists being written down, transcribed in a stable set of ideal elements. A fifth hammer, obstinately, continues to sound. [...] linked together as are the tones of a single scale, The Fifth Hammer explores the sounds and echoes of that troubling percussion as they make themselves felt'.

Abdullah Hamidaddin
In Saudi Arabia, the country's notoriously conservative -- not to say reactionary -- religious establishment consider Abdullah Hamidaddin such a 'fifth hammer'. A consultant on social networking, author, and aspiring scholar of Islam of Yemeni origin, he has been pioneering critical Islamic thinking in the Kingdom by convening progressive discussion groups ('salons', majalis) in Jeddah. These gatherings bring together generally young intellectually inquisitive Saudis who are interested in exploring questions of faith, belief, and critical thinking beyond the very narrow confines of official discourse dominated by the constrictive views of Islamic officialdom. Abdullah Hamidaddin has written a book about this phenomenon under the title Harmonious Being  (الكينونة المتناغمة ).

Harmonious Being
(Abdullah Hamidaddin)

Recently Hamiddadin found himself in hot waters again, following accusations of heresy and investigations into his connections with Hamza Kashgari, the Saudi columnist who was extradited by Malaysia when facing charges of blasphemy in his own country over a fictitious conversation between the Prophet Muhammad and himself which was disseminated via twitter (leading to widespread protest and support).

Saudi columnist Hamza Kashgari
Since then he has been a regular face on Arabic TV channels explaining his intentions with these initiatives, but more often to defend himself against allegations of creating dissent and deviations from officially sanctioned Islamic learning.

Prior to entering the current fracas, Abdullah Hamidaddin had already made a name as a scholar and editor of texts from the Zaidi tradition, a Shi'ite sect originating in the 8th century which flourished again briefly when Yemen was a kingdom between 1918 and 1962 under the Hamiddadin dynasty. They were finally ousted in 1970 after a protracted civil war following a 1962 military coup, and found refuge in Saudi Arabia.    Also Abdullah Hamidaddin's descent from the last Yemeni Imam has been the subject of debate, as becomes clear from the interview below.

 The whole interview is available on youtube (in Arabic).

1 comment:

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