Letter for Marwa

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

marwa sherbini wedding
Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini and her husband.

The following touching letter was published in the August 2009 edition of the Muslim Link in honour of the late Marwa El Sherbiny:

On July 1st, 2009 my friend, Marwa El Sherbiny, was killed in a German courtroom. She was there to bear witness against a man who had harassed her in a Dresden park where she was playing with her infant son. This man had called her a terrorist because she wore the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Marwa had chosen to defend her rights and her dignity by taking legal action. She won the libel case and was in court again to testify at the appeal. Before she had the chance to do so, the same man pulled out a knife and stabbed her to death. She was 32.

When I first heard the news, all I felt was shock and anger. Anger that such a dear person was gone at such a young age; anger that her young son no longer had a mother to hold him tight. Anger that this is what ignorant, senseless hatred has brought us to. I’m angry that careless politicians, spouting fearful rhetoric, created a climate where a mother could be murdered in front of her son, in a court of law, and our society responds with a deafening silence. I imagine I will continue to feel angry for a long time to come, but constantly piercing through that anger, and often overshadowing it, is the memory of a beautiful, kind face and a tender heart.

I met Marwa in 2000 on the first of many trips to her home city of Alexandria, Egypt. One of my strongest memories from that first visit to Egypt was seeing Marwa after she had just decided to start wearing the hijab. As a “westerner” and an outsider I was shocked by her transformation, but not for the reasons one might expect. I was stunned because she was absolutely beautiful. It was not that she wasn’t beautiful before, because she was, only it had become a different sort of beauty. She shined. She looked like an angel. And Marwa was an angel in every way: incredibly strong and extraordinarily gentle. One of the first times I was struck by the beauty of Islam was when I saw it reflected in her face. I will miss one of the most generous souls that I was fortunate enough to be touched by.

Marwa had the strength to stand up for the truth, to stand against discrimination and hatred. She is an example to all Muslim women, like myself, who have silently faced the kind of insults that are sadly becoming a more common reality. Her action was an action to protect us all. I hope and pray that we can follow her example so that her struggle, her loss, will not be in vain.

I will pray for her, I will pray for her little boy, I will pray for her husband, and brother, and mother, and father, and friends – and I will pray for a better world for all of us.

Julia Williams,


Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

ibn rushd Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in  Europe, was born in 1128 A.D. in Cordoba, Andalusia (now Spain). He came from a prestigious family  of lawyers and judges.  Ibn Rushd received his education in Cordoba and lived a quiet life, devoting most of his time to pursuing knowledge. He studied his familial profession, specializing in law and medicine, making good use of the magnificent library of Cordoba with its half million books.   After graduating, he practiced in al-Andalus as well as Marrakesh in North Africa. The Berber sultan offered him a judgeship in Seville, and with the patronage of the ruler, he soon moved to Cordoba as a judge–the position his father had once held. Here he passed a pleasant life for fifteen years and authored many books including a commentaries on Plato’s Republic. In 1195CE sultan’s son al-Mansur became the new ruler who banished Ibn Rushd from Cordoba and burned all his books on philosophy because of his  criticism of the Berber rulers in his commentaries. However, as a result of intervention of  leading scholars he was forgiven. He lived  another two years and died in 1198 CE in Marrakesh, capital of the Berber kingdom. Three months later his body was brought back to his beloved Cordoba to fulfill his wish.

By education, Ibn Rushd was a physician and lawyer, but he proved to be the greatest philosopher and thinker of Europe in the middle ages. He also made remarkable contributions in the fields of medicine, music, astronomy, physics, jurisprudence and psychology.

He authored more than 100 books and treatises in his life time, in which twenty were in  medicine and the rest on philosophy and other subjects. His well known treatise  Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, Compendium of Medical Knowledge, was written while he was working in Marrakesh.  In it Ibn Rushd throws light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases. The treatise was divided into seven books arranging in it the works of the best physicians from the classical Greek and the Islamic world and contains several original observations of his own. Its Latin translation was known as Colliget and it became the standard text in the European universities  for several centuries.

Given his family history, it was perhaps obvious that ibn Rushd would devote some his time to jurisprudence (fiqh). His grandfather was a major figure in the Maliki school of fiqh, and so was he. By his own account it took twenty years to complete his book Bidayat al Mujtahid wa al Muqtasid; Beginning of the Independent Jurist and End of the Mere Adherent of Precedent, an excellent work on fiqh. As the title shows, he favored ijtihad or independent thinking in the areas of fiqh without specific guidance from Qur`an and ahadith.      

In astronomy ibn Rushd wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere, Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak. He also wrote a commentary on Almagest, the great book of mathematics and astronomy written in Alexandria Egypt in 200 CE.  He rejected the Ptolemaic model of the universe and argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe.  He wrote an excellent commentary on Aristotelian physics and was the first to to define and measure force. He defined force as the rate at which work is done–this is also the modern definition.  He wrote a valuable commentary on Aristotle’s treatise, De Anima, which deals with the nature of living things.

Ibn Rushd started his philosophical work while he was in Marrakesh, and he produced his first book; Kitab  al-Jawami fil Falsafa; The Compendium of Philosophy. Here he touched on subjects like physics, earth, meteorology, logic and metaphysics, some of these topics would occupy him for the rest of his life, His most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut, Incoherence of Incoherence, was written in response to Ghazali’s book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Here he counterattacked al-Ghazali  objections one by one in a conciliatory manner. He advocated the harmony between religion and philosophy and argued that they need each other to seek the same truth.   Ibn Rush was criticized by some Muslim scholars for this book, which nevertheless had a profound influence on European thought and gave them a jump-start in reason and rationalism which ushered in the west’s “Age of Enlightenment.”

He wrote three commentaries on the works of Aristotle, the shortest, Jami, may be considered a summary of the subject. The intermediate was Talkhis and the longest was the Tafsir. These three commentaries would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils; the short one was meant for beginners, the intermediate for students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest was for advanced studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qu’ranic concepts. These commentaries are considered as one of the greatest intellectual reservoir ever developed in philosophy.

After confronting conservative theologians, Ibn Rushd became a bit bold and tried to take on tougher  opponents–the rulers and kings. Close to end of his life he choose to write a commentary on Plato’s Republic, one of the  great masterpieces of Greek thought. He could have explained all those wonderful ideas of this excellent work; further, he described the Andalusian rulers as decadent tyrants. Ibn Rushd’s criticism of rulers and his political philosophy in the commentary got his book burned. He had advocated revolutionary ideas like public education, even distribution of wealth, and women’s rights; it was a plea for social justice.

When the Latin translations of his  work reached Europe in  the 13th century, they were like arrows hitting a bull’s eye. The European intelligentsia were hungry to look at the world in a new way, which Ibn Rushd provided in a big way with his commentaries and his philosophy. A new phenomena of Averrosim derived from his Latin name Averroes started to take hold among the learned people of Europe, especially the professors of newly opened universities. The Catholic church was horrified and saw the storm cloud gathering. The Pope formed a commission to look into this new phenomenon, and by 1231 CE Aristotelian philosophy, all the Ibn Rushd commentaries and his books on philosophy were banned through all of Christendom.  But it was too late, the genie was out of the bottle. The sparks of this new flame drifted northward and eastward.

One of the staunchest Averroists, Pietro d’Abano, a professor of medicine and philosophy in an Italian university, defied the decrees of the church and brought Aristotle and Ibn Rushd into the University of Padua’s curriculum in 1306 CE. He argued that experiments, observations and logic were new machines for finding truth.  This use of machines invented by Greek and Muslim philosophers was too much for the Catholic church to take- the Inquisition was formed by the Church to combat Averrosim,  and it condemned d’Abano on numerous counts. He died in 1315 CE before the Church could get him but that did not stop the Inquisition, they eventually ordered his dead body burned at the stake.

Ibn Rushd’s philosophical work, which fascinated, inspired and influenced the West, were of little interest to the Muslim world, where he is remembered as a great physician. The Islamic rejection of Ibn Rushd as a thinker and philosopher is no doubt partly because of his criticism of religious orthodoxy.