September 14th 2022


The opening lecture of IDE Academy 2022-2023 given by Prof. Dr. Cemil Aydın discussed the idea of ​​the Islamic world, the contribution of Muslims to the global intellectual history and the place of Islamic thought in the history of global thought.


Dr. Aydın started his speech with some important anecdotes about the history of Muslims, and stated that the history of Islam is told in the most marginal way and that Europe is shown as the source of all universal values. He referred to some inquiries and studies made by him and Muslim thinkers to correct this historical misconception that Muslims made no contribution to universal thought. He pointed out that contrary to popular opinion, the roots of universal concepts, which especially concern the last 200 years, such as human rights, equality, independence and tolerance come from outside Europe; and Muslims, like other societies and nations, made a great contribution to today’s universal values. He emphasized and drew attention to how global history was enriched, especially in the 19th century, by Islamic thought.


Dr. Aydın highlighted that he is working on revealing the reality that Muslims enriched the global history. However, on the other hand, he denoted that even though many people try to deal with the subject of Islamic thought in different contexts, Islamic thought is still seen as a closed book. “Isn’t Islamic thought already a part of the history of global thought? Then why are we separating it?” asked Dr. Aydın. And reminded us that Islamic thought is divided into four periods; the Classical period, the Renewal period, the Examination period and the Searching period. He, however, stated that this periodization of Islamic thought causes a great division between Islamic thought and the rest of the world, and makes Islamic thought a tradition that responds to different currents of thought in different ways.


Dr. Aydın, within this framework, pointed out the parallels between theories such as the universality of Islam, the discourses of the ideal of Islamic unity and the Khilafat (Caliphate) movement which emerged against the Enlightenment and orientalism in Europe, to non-Eurocentric political theories and to the Pan-Asian and African unity movements that wanted to shape the world order.

Dr. Cemil Aydın stated that the last 200 years were not very encouraging in terms of global history. He, however, said that during this 200-year period, Muslims encountered sets of problems that went beyond the ages. He discussed the Muslims’ answers to the problems that led them to humiliating themselves and discussed the extent of these answers concluding as follows: The great majority of Muslims began to be ruled by Christian Empires by the end of the 19th century. Throughout the history Muslims were actually ruled by other nations, however, in the 19th century, instead of the racism, which was always associated with skin color, a religion-based racism thesis was put forward. By putting forward this thesis, an inauthentic Islamic unity thesis was theorized through the racialization of Islam. However, even though there was a unity and Ummah understanding in Islamic thought before the 19th century, it is not possible to say that the policy of Islamic unity or the idea of ​​the Islamic world historically emerged over the idea of ​​the Ummah before this century, for Islam was being practiced culturally different in different geographies.


Dr. Aydın stated that the idea of Islamic unity emerged as a result of a set of problems to which Muslims were exposed to in the 19th century, and indicated that with the Tanzimat (Turkish: “Reorganization/Reforms”), Muslims began to unite around the idea of ​​civilization, universal sovereignty and the Islamic Ummah. “The idea of ​​the Islamic world, the imagination of Islamic civilization, and the need to speak on behalf of Islam as a universal religion is the final result of this period.” remarked Dr. Aydın. After stating that Muslims have made many contributions to history, many of which contributions however have been forgotten, he highlighted that one of these contributions was Muslims’ vision to shape the new world order. Dr. Aydın also added that thanks to this vision, the Arab-Asian bloc has accelerated the independence process of many countries.


By focusing on the place of Islamism idea which was one of the products of 19th century, in the history of global thought, Dr. Aydın pointed out that Islamism is not a return to the roots of Islam in the sense of “anti-secular”, but it is an answer to global problems such as the modern nation-state during the Cold War period and the Palestinian issue. As Dr. Aydın puts it, Islamism is a search for a “periodical” solution based on both Islam, tradition and modernity. He summarized the thesis of Islamism as follows: European civilization claimed to have a vision to save humanity, but was mistaken; it split us with racism. We can bring peace to humanity by reinterpreting Islam.


In conclusion, Dr. Cemil Aydın expressed that unless the global history is known, the interpretations of Islam in question cannot be understood. The solution he proposed to this issue was to strengthen the dialogue between Islamic thought and the global thought.