In a unique day of joint study in mid-May, fellows of cohort 5 of the Mandel Scholars in Education Program and cohort 2 of the Mandel Programs for Leadership Development in the Haredi Community met to discuss the role of the intellectual in society. Dr. Ayman Agbaria, director of the Mandel Scholars in Education Program, shared the challenges he encounters as a Muslim-Palestinian intellectual living in the State of Israel.
“The religious intellectual acts according to his religious conviction, which demands not only that he be active in society but
that also he respect its boundaries,” Dr. Agbaria said. “On the other hand, belonging to a community and being intimately familiar with it occasionally require compromise, involvement in politics and the constant search for the golden way. It is from this unique position - as an individual with a sense of belonging and commitment to society, but also with obligations to challenge it so as to change and improve it - that the intellectual leader acts.”
The day of joint study addressed dilemmas the intellectual faces when confronting the centers of authority in his society, when attempting to bring about lasting change, and when navigating the intersection of religion and politics.
“I am joining efforts in the Muslim Arab world to reclaim the humane and multicultural voice within the Islamic tradition. I am not acting out of altruism but out of self-love. I believe in changes from within the tradition, in conducting the review from within,” Dr. Agbaria said. “The intellectual can be an agent of culture, but also can be a ‘pharmacist’ of culture. He can create culture. Instead of importing and exporting, he can also fashion his own culture. In my case, I am trying to create and influence from within Islam.”
The study day began with the study of a text from Islamic thought. The text, which was translated into Hebrew, was excerpted from the book “Hayy ibn Yaqzan,” by the philosopher Ibn Tufail (1116-1185), which is considered one of the great philosophical and literary works of the Islamic world. The author opens with a criticism of the prevailing schools of thought of his day. Then, rather than present a systematic argument, he offers his readers a philosophical parable of a boy, Hayy, who was born magically on an island and learned on his own to comprehend the world.
“This was an extraordinary, exciting and inspiring meeting of the different worlds of fellows of these two MLI programs” said Naomi Perl, director of the Mandel Programs for Leadership Development in the Haredi Community. “The group of Haredi women said they drew inspiration from Dr. Agbaria, whose ideas reinforced their own deep commitment to their tradition and to their leadership practice.”