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Philosophers of  the Arabs

 Abdul-Rahman Badawi
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Abdul-Rahman Badawi (1917-2002), one of the most eminent philosophical figures and scholars in Egypt in the twentieth century, a prolific writer and translator, with about 120 monographs and translations in philosophy, viewed as the first existentialist philosopher and a follower of Martin Heidegger.


His Life

Abdel-Rahman Badawi was born to a rural rich family at the village of Sharabas, Damietta Governorate. After completing his secondary education, he joined the Faculty of Arts of the Egyptian University. Badawi has led a stormy life. He has been a subject of controversy, agreement and disagreement among his own as well as later generations. However, there is general agreement that he was a pioneer and a full-fledged master of his own field. In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Dr. Badawi has been awarded Mubarak's Prize for letters.


On October 15, 1938, Badawi was appointed lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts of the Egyptian University. As an assistant to professor Lalande he lectured BA students on research methodology and metaphysics. Starting January 1939, he taught history of Greek philosophy, interpreting in French philosophy texts to students of the department of philosophy.

In November 1941, Badawi obtained his MA with a dissertation in French under the supervision of professor Lalande then professor Alexandre Koure, titled "The Death Problem in Existentialism". The dissertation was printed in French in 1964 at the printing house of the French Institute for Oriental Archeology in Cairo as a publication of Ain Shams University, Faculty of Arts.  Badawi taught logic, part of the history of Greek philosophy and scientific research methodology besides Greek philosophy texts. In 1950, he left Fouad University (now Cairo University) for Ibrahim University (now Ain Shams University).

On May 29, 1944, Badawi obtained his Ph.D in philosophy at Fouad I University with a thesis titled "Existentialist Time". The thesis was published in book form in 1945. In the same year, he was appointed lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Fouad University, where he was promoted to assistant professor in July, 1949. On September 14, 1950, he moved to the Faculty of Arts, Ibrahim Pasha University where he founded and headed the Department of Philosophy. In 1955, he was appointed chair professor and remained as head of the department until he left the university on the September 1, 1971. From 1947 to 1949, he was seconded as professor of Islamic philosophy to the "Higher College of Arts" of the French University in Beirut, Lebanon, a branch of Lyon University in France.

He worked as a cultural counselor and head of the Egyptian educational mission in Bern, Switzerland from March 1956 to November 1958. From February to October 1967, he was a visiting professor at the Department of Philosophy and the Institute of Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Arts, Sorbonne, University, and Paris.

Over the following six years (1967 - 73), he worked as a professor of logic and modern philosophy at the Libyan University in Beni-Ghazi. During the academic year 1973-74, he worked at the Faculty of Theology and Islamic Sciences at Tehran University. He also taught sophism and Islamic philosophy for post-graduate students besides giving public lectures on Islamic sophism to the professors and students of the faculty once every Sunday. The outcome of these lectures was his book "History of Islamic Sophism from the beginning till the Second Century of the Hegira", (Kuwait, 1975). In 1974, he moved to Kuwait University as a professor of contemporary philosophy, logic, ethics and sophism at the Faculty of Arts.

Political life

In addition to his academic involvement, Badawi was an active participant in national politics. He was a member of Misr al-Fatah Party (1938 - 1940), then a member in the Higher Committee of the Neo-National Party (1944 - 1952). In January 1953, he was chosen as a member of the Constitution Committee commissioned to draft a new constitution for Egypt. The committee comprised of selected politicians, intellectuals and jurists (50 members). He particularly contributed to the provisions on freedoms and duties. He and others insisted on a liberal democratic position, though their final document was rejected by the new regime. The committee completed its work in August 1954. However, the draft constitution was abandoned and later replaced by the 1956 constitution.  Badawi later claimed that Nasser had "aborted Egypt's liberal experiment, which could well have developed into full democracy". He left the country in 1966, only returning at the end of his life.


His Philosophy

In May 1938, Badawi obtained his BA in Philosophy with distinction. He studied under renowned French professors at the time such as Alexandre Koure (1892-1964), Andre Lalande (1867-1963), and orientalist Paul Kraus (1900-44) Influenced by Kraus's, considerable erudition, thorough philological methodology and his library rich with the works of orientalists, Badawi's attention was drawn to the theme of Greek heritage impact on the Islamic world.

Badawi, the encyclopedic philosopher adopted existentialism and contributed to its formation since he wrote his book "Existentialist Time" in 1943. The book was written as a thesis to obtain his PhD in philosophy from the Faculty of Arts, Egyptian University (Now Cairo University) in 1944. After successfully defending his Dissertation he was described by Dr. Taha Hussein as the first Egyptian philosopher in Egypt and the Arab world in modern times.

According to his own description, his version of existentialism differs from Heidegger's and other existentialists in that it gives priority for action rather than thought, and it founds the meanings of existence on both reason and emotion and will together, and on the living experience which depends on the inner feelings which is more capable of comprehension of living existence.

With Sartre's and Heidegger's works on the subject still then new and topical, it was perhaps inevitable that Badawi should become known throughout the Arab world as the torch-bearer of existentialism - though, in fairness, he was never content to be merely a disciple, and showed originality in trying to root his ideas in his own culture, notably in his book Humanism And Existentialism In Arab Thought (1947).

Fluent in many European languages, Badawi published more than 120 books. His belief was that the west and Islam were complementary, and compatible, links in a common chain. His promotion of this thesis -which runs counter to the creeds of modern Islamists - was found in his seminal books Greek Heritage in Islamic Civilization (1940) and Aristotle among the Arabs, as well as countless translations of Greek thought. He also wrote about Europe's cultural debt to the Arabs.

Significantly, he translated into Arabic Goethe's Western-Eastern Divan collection, written by the German as a token of his admiration of Arab-Islamic culture. Among Badawi's other works are his introduction to Dissidents In Islam (1946) and the controversial A History Of Atheism In Islam.

However, in his later works, he defend Al-Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad and devoted a space to reply to orientalists who attacked Islam. He authored 'Défense du Coran Contre ses critiques' (a defense of Qur'an against its critics), 1988, and  'Défense de la vie du Prophète Muhammad contre ses Détracteurs' (a defense of the live of the Prophet Muhammad against his detractors), 1990.

In a book of his own, he has remained for more than sixty years a dedicated scholar in the realm of thought and philosophy as a creative writer, thinker, translator and a heritage researcher. Sometimes actively engaged in intellectual battles or other times secluded in his own cell at home or living in voluntary exile away from home, yet at all times, his preoccupation has always been to promote modernization and rationalism and enlighten minds.

Badawi as a Poet

In addition to his philosophical works, Badawi produced a collection of creative writings which reflected a unique and vigorous poetic talent, a highly sentimental nature and deep literary and aesthetic culture. Among these writings are: "Worries of Youth", "Death and Genius", " Song of a Stranger" and "Nymphs and Light".

The latter was produced in the form of messages fraught with emotions, intellectual meditations and personal confessions exchanged with his beloved; Salwa, (a Nymph from Lebanon).
Badawi confesses that he had an unfulfilled love story that drove him to wander around the world, looking for consolation in art and beauty. Many of critics believe that "Salwa" was just an artistic "device" of Badawi's creation through which he expressed his ideas and intellectual arguments. This may be supported by the fact that all the messages exchanged on both sides, were written in the same style and intellectual logical technique peculiar to Badawi himself.

His Works

Throughout his career, Badawi has been a prolific writer on philosophy and literature since he wrote his first book "Nietzsche" (Cairo, September 1939). He wrote more than 120 books, including five volumes in French, besides hundreds of articles and research papers delivered in international scientific conferences in Arabic, French, English, German and Spanish.

A Short List of his Philosophical Works

1- Nitsch, Cairo, 1939.
2- Greek Heritage in the Islamic Civilization, Cairo, 1940.
3- Plato, Cairo, 1943.
4- Aristotle, Cairo, 1943.
5- The Spring of the Greek Thought, Cairo 1943.
6- The Autumn of the Greek Thought, Cairo 1943.
7- Existentialist Time, Cairo 1945.
8- Humanism and Existentialism in Arabic Thought, Cairo, 1947.
9- The Spirit of the Arabic Cilivization, translation and study, Beirut, 1949.
10- Aristotle's Logic, part I, 1948, part II, 1949, and part III, (1952), Cairo.
11- Art of Poetry by Aristotle, translation and study, Cairo, 1953.
12- Greek Origins of Political Theories in Islam, Cairo, 1955.
13- Synoposis of Oratory by Ibn Roshd's verification and study, Cairo 1960.
14- Studies in Existentialism, Cairo, 1961.
15- Scientific Research Methodology, Cairo, 1963.
16- Ibb-Khadom's Works, Cairo, 1963.
17- Arabs' Role in Forming the European Thought, Beirut, 1965.
18- A New Introduction to Philosophy, Kuwait, 1975.
19- Ethics in Kant's Opinion, Kuwait, 1977.
20- Al Ghazali's Works, Cairo, 1981.