In an interview with colleague Khaled Madkhali’s program “A Direct Question” on Al-Arabiya, the Saudi writer and researcher Abdullah Al-Rasheed raised several points in his talk about the way to deal with Islamic history, and about the personality of Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan after the controversy that took place around him recently.
An important point raised by Al-Rasheed, which is that Islamic history has become read in a charged way, and as soon as an important figure in history is brought up, controversies and doctrinal and sectarian divisions emerge. He says that history was kidnapped from those fanatics who want to present a specific version of history that serves their interests, vision, and control over hearts and minds in our present. This is an important point because our history has been cut, pasted, combined, and deleted. to form a distorted image of it. Positive or negative publicity image, but unrelated to history.
This is what Sunni and Shiite extremists and terrorist organizations on both sides do. For them, guardianship over the past means guardianship over the present. Their version of history becomes the only one, and any departure from it is a departure from religion itself. An intellectual crisis against Arab-Islamic culture and history, which is no less than the history of other civilizations and nations, has overcome this police method of reading history.
Al-Rasheed calls for a way out of this vicious circle, and bypassing the faith-based reading of Islamic history, as if it was a war between Muslims and “infidels” or a Sunni-Shia sectarian war – and this is a fundamentalist reading – but reading it in a scientific way reads human nature and tendencies in which good and evil, virtues and vices are mixed.
The other point he raised is that this reading of history turned into a trap for the audience of intellectuals, specialists, and a segment of readers to whom this fundamentalist version of history leaked, so they underestimated the importance of their history and turned away from it and its great personalities with all their complexities. This may explain the decline in modern studies or biographies of important figures in Islamic civilization that read it in a deep way, and use the tools of scientific research without slipping into a simplistic reading of faith.
Recently I re-read the book of the thinker Taha Hussein “The Two Sheikhs” about the personalities of Abu Bakr and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, and although Taha Hussein died nearly 50 years ago, not many books have been published that speak in depth about these two great personalities in history as much as what he wrote. It is true that intimidation and threats by extremists frightened researchers from delving into these details, establishing a sacred image of the past. It helped governments that flattered the fundamentalists, and promoted their rhetoric and ideas in schools and colleges until they left a superficial, caricatured history in the minds of male and female students about their history that makes tense, irritable personalities who do not accept any criticism or observation, as it detracts from their religion and belief. Charging them with a fabricated, amalgamated history makes it easy to sow ideas of hatred towards other religions, sects and cultures. This is the plan of the fundamentalists, and it succeeded at the time, and that is why their desperation to control education is understood.
In the interview, the writer touched on Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, who is undoubtedly a great and great figure in history. Instead of attracting intellectual and cultural discussions through the series, which is being attended by MBC, this proposition turned into a sectarian and ideological whirlwind. This brings us back to the same idea, which is to imprison history in one mold, and not to deviate from it and read it from more than one angle, even if it contradicts, and this is the nature of things. In my opinion, there have been assassination attempts on many personalities in Islamic and Arab history, including the figure of Muawiya, who should not come out of his era and surroundings, but he is an exceptional, pivotal figure in Islamic history and the founder of a vast empire, and it is possible to derive from his biography the elements of tolerance and coexistence that he established in his time; To be valid for our present, which has been poisoned by hate speech.
History is an open book, and it can be read from multiple angles and different styles. In American history, which is recent history, you find dozens of conflicting books and biographies about one person. For example, there are historians who consider George Washington a great figure who was the decisive force behind the emergence of the United States, and there are those who consider him a slave owner who waged wars of extermination against the indigenous population.
In my estimation, dealing with history is important in itself, as well as understanding the present and benefiting from it so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is wrong to sanctify his personalities or morally assassinate them, but to study them without raising the dust of battles that have not stopped for 1400 years.