The committee supervising the King Faisal International Prize for Islamic Studies this year did well to grant its award to Dr. Ridwan Al-Sayyid, whose work has made a significant difference in this field. He is one of today’s few intellectuals who provide systematic, developed analysis of Islamic culture. By presenting this award to him, the committee sent a positive message that this is the Islamic ideology we want.
In his speech when he received the award, Al-Sayyid focused on three challenges Muslims face globally: Rescuing the nation state, religious reform and rectifying relations with the world. Over four decades, his valuable ideological works have distinguished themselves. His ideas discuss the modernization of Islam, which is lagging because of burdens that prevent it from progressing, leaving it unsuitable for the current time and place.
Al-Sayyid has had a rich and diverse academic career, from Tarshish in Lebanon to Al-Azhar in Egypt, then to Germany’s University of Bamberg followed by the University of Chicago. He is familiar with different schools of Islam in several Arab cities. In his speech, Al-Sayyid talked about his categorization of political Islam’s ideology, which is an essential matter that must be addressed considering the dangerous historical circumstances.
The political crisis among Muslims lies in the historic interpretations of Islam that parties are selective about. Before Al-Sayyid classified this, several groups had created cells whose political Islamic ideology established the “legitimacy” of Daesh and described how Muslims should live their lives. These groups are responsible for the world’s current disasters.
He has had a rich and diverse academic career, from Tarshish in Lebanon to Al-Azhar in Egypt, then to Germany’s University of Bamberg followed by the University of Chicago.
The significance of intellectuals such as Al-Sayyid is their intellectual and scientific capability. This is in addition to their respect, which makes them the most competent to submit a new cultural project that could resolve the crisis of a billion Muslims, who suffer from oppression by their jurists. Those jurists have either been brainwashed or failed to keep up with developments that have changed the world.
Al-Sayyid was aware of this challenge when he graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo and traveled to Germany to resume his Islamic studies. He said a German orientalist ironically asked him: “Why do you come to us from Al-Azhar to attain a degree in Islamic studies, while we don’t feel the need to go to Al-Azhar to study classical Islam?”
Islamic studies are not exclusive to Muslims; some of the most distinguished works on Islam are found in Western universities. Al-Sayyid, who studied in many universities and research centers, believes participating in establishing and developing the “science of Islam” is a necessary and honorable task performed by respectable institutions such as the King Faisal Foundation. Granting him this award signifies the recognition he deserves.
We look up to him, to figures like him, and to modernizing groups because they push the elite to reform the underdeveloped and undermine an ideology that neither suits a great nation’s present nor its history. Developing scientific centers is the first step to developing society.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.