Philosophy and the UAE: A One-Way Road to the Future

Philosophy and the UAE: A One-Way Road to the Future
July 22, 2022 By Dr Ali Bin Tamim

Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida leads the reader through an illuminating discussion with the French philosopher as he responded to questions put to him at a roundtable held at Villanova University in 1994. His participation back then was met with the following criticism: How could Derrida support an educational institution - even if it is the graduate program in Philosophy - while he is the pioneer of deconstruction? In response, Derrida takes up with clarity and eloquence the explanation of the meaning of philosophy and how valuable it is in igniting thought and understanding the institution to reconstruct it based on the ethical considerations characterizing his philosophical work. 

Derrida believed that everyone has a right to philosophy and that it must be part and parcel of all types and forms of education systems.

Major news in this regard is the launch of the Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Ethics degree program at Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities (MBZUH).

The importance of philosophy is self-evident, so there is no need to state the obvious. Our discussion here is about the importance of teaching philosophy in the UAE. I would like to address this topic by raising the following two points: First, teaching philosophy complements the UAE’s distinguished efforts in supporting philosophical and ethical education and promoting shared human values; and second, the UAE’s initiatives, as they have always been, are a well-thought-out addition to and continuation of human knowledge. 

We believe that the university’s Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Ethics program, the first of its kind in the region’s scientific and academic education, will support academic and research life in the UAE, within a few years, with elite researchers. These efforts will also make the UAE an active research hub that would revive regional academic and scientific interest in philosophy and build on the works of Arab philosophers and intellectuals.

The UAE is no stranger to philosophy, for it was one of the main subjects taught at schools and universities, a fact well-remembered by my generation and previous ones.

When I say the UAE is no stranger to philosophy, I am referring to Mufakiru Al Emarat (Emirati Thinkers), an initiative by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research for promoting the role of Emirati researchers and thinkers and highlighting their intellectual achievements. In this regard, there is no doubt that the contributions of MBZUH’s philosophy department will soon be part of this initiative.

It goes without saying that thought eradicates extremism. All extremist groups know the threat philosophy poses to them, and that is because philosophy is about pursuing wisdom, liberating thought, asking questions, and seeking moral and aesthetic knowledge. All the above is essential for intellectual development, but extremists of all kinds do not want this to happen. Instead, they strive to keep all people and nations in the pits of violence and ignorance.

Extremist organizations claim that philosophy is against religion, which is a blatant lie they promote to antagonize critical thinking. According to many philosophers, philosophy is the way to know God, and in the words of Averroes, it is “the study of existing beings and reflection on them as indications of the Artisan, i.e. inasmuch as they are products of art, for beings only indicate the Artisan through our knowledge of the art in them, and the more perfect this knowledge is, the more perfect the knowledge of the Artisan becomes.” From this comes the return of teaching philosophy in the UAE. The aim is to promote the country’s policy of expanding educational programs related to spreading the values of the true Islamic faith, strengthening the bonds of human brotherhood, and realizing the nation’s strategic vision of having independent, charismatic Emirati citizens. 

The return of philosophy to schools and universities in the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, emphasizes the strategies that seek to develop the individual’s conscious mind and equip it with critical questions, intellectual vigilance, and analytical and cognitive abilities. This is a long-overdue return, for philosophy is, and has always been, an integral part of Arab and Islamic civilization.

The UAE strives toward the future, and nothing could address questions about the future like philosophy, for it is how minds are inspired and visions are developed for the benefit of mankind.

That is why it is important to teach philosophy that Aristotle defined as the study of being in general. Therefore, it is the mother of all sciences and includes all other sciences. Philosophy is the beginning of the future, where the UAE is headed exactly.