Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti

Politics and Revelation

Persomal Memories (From Forword)

For me, Hanna Mikhail was and remains Abu Omar. Wa’il Zuaiter introduced me to him in Rome in, I think, 1969, probably on his way back from attending an important student demonstration in Milan. I did not know that he was an Orientalist, whose professional field was Islam and specifically medieval Islam, until a couple of years ago when his wife, Jehan Helou, sent me the text of his thesis to read with a view to possible publication. I understand that Abu Omar did not want to publish it without developing it and making some amendments which were, however, not to see the light owing to the tragic sudden end to his life.

I met him because I had begun to be involved in Palestine and I considered him simply a representative of the Palestinian resistance. I had followed the same path as many intellectuals of my generation had done: a left-wing militant and Third Worlder in the name of Algeria and Vietnam. I first approached the Palestinian Question after the Six Days’ War, on the one hand because of the blatantly unbalanced reaction of public opinion in favour of the aggressor, considered the victim, and on the other by my own desire, after obtaining tenure in 1968, to give my University teaching a content which went beyond traditional programmes and which bore witness, as far as possible, to a true commitment towards the realities we were studying.
Our meeting was a felicitous one in the sense that a form of syntony grew up between us. Knowing today that we followed the same profession, I am tempted to attribute this to a common cultural matrix, a shared store of knowledge concerning the Arab World and Islam which reduced the gap between someone like him, who belonged to that world even though he had not been born into the Muslim faith, and someone like me, who necessarily looked at the world from the outside even if very sympathetically.

But my memories, which are not very specific (for we all agreed that Ho Chi Minh was right when he said that history has to be made and not hold), give pride of place to the political aspects, including a meeting at my house with the well-known French Orientalist Maxime Rodinson, whom Abu Omar had expressed the wish to see.
The only apolitical detail I remember about that day is that he appreciated a Sicilian orange and fennel salad almost as if it were an exotic dish. We did things together and held and attended meetings.
My role was that of escort and interpreter, though in fact his human and political charisma was such that I grew far more involved than I had originally expected. If I had to attribute the merit of my introduction to the history of Palestine and the world of Palestinian resistance to anyone, after Wa’il Zuaiter my thought would turn to Abu Omar. Looking back on what we did, I seem to remember that we visited local branches of the Communist Party, attended trade-union meetings and held meetings with my students (for one of which they prepared a ’sit-in’). Films were shown and abundant documentation presented, the personal theories of the organizers were expressed and everything discussed with the people directly involved, namely the Palestinians represented by Abu Omar. This was probably in 1970 or 1971. At the time, the student movement followed two trends. These were distinguished by two slogans ’Red Palestine’ and ’Free Palestine’, but there was no reason then for the existence of divisions and contrasts inside the Palestinian resistance, and, because of that, for years, though his group of students held to their ideas of what the future Palestine ought to be, they worked together on the best of their ability.
Though I can not give exact dates for our meetings, I know that I never saw him again after Wa’il Zuaiter’s assassination in 1972.
Neither Abu Omar nor I was in the habit of attributing importance to the bureaucratic or hierarchical role held by anyone working within the Organization. I only knew later that he had become a member of ’Tribunale Russell II’, which came to be based in Italy, when Lelio Basso, the president, mentioned it after I became one of his regular collaborators.

I learnt indirectly, mainly from Jehan, about the events in his life. And personally I am left with the enrichment of having met him and collaborated with him, and the many-faceted regret that I did not do more, that I did not get to know him more in depth, that I cannot hear his voice explaining what is happening now, in order to be able to overcome doubts, hesitation and –why not- disappointments.
About twenty years ago, D.P. Little, in an article1 on the studies and research on Mawardi, expressed the hope that Hanna Mikhail’s doctorate thesis2 would be published. He maintained that his thesis deserved ’wider circulation’3 not only because it contained new elements, such as the definition of Mawardi as a ’free thinker’4 and, consequently, an exponent of neither Ash’arism nor the mu’tazila, but also because it was a work which, unlike ’almost all the studies of Mawardi – limited to one of his books, al-Ahkam al-sultaniyya, or to a part of it’5 – considered the author’s entire production and presented a kind of analysis ’from the inside’ based on a comparison of Mawardi’s ideas as illustrate in his various texts.

This hope and his evaluation are still fundamentally valid since even H. Laoust’s imposing work, which came out almost at the same time as Mikhail discussed his thesis6 (and which I will frequently be quoting), does not fill the lacunae mentioned by Little. I therefore consider it important that Politics and Revelation: Mawardi and after should finally see the light: a posthumous homage to Mikhail and a precious contribution to present-day Islamic studies.

This in itself is enough to explain the reasons for the publication of Mikhail’s work, for in fact there is little to add to his reconstruction of ’Mawardi’s thought’(...)

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“Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti is Professor Emeritus at the University of Roma ‘La Sapienza’. Her field of research has always been the religious history of the Muslim Eastern World. She focused her work particularly on the minorities, shiism on one hand, women on the other. Her bibliography is very rich (mostly in Italian, but also in French and Engish , placed few works translated also in Arabic).

For about twenty years (end of the 60th till the 80th) Biancamaria was very much concerned also with contemporary history. And, obvioulsy , she found central the Palestinian question, not only on an academiv level. Fistly she collaborated with Wael Zwayter, and through him she became acquainted with Abu Omar. She was many times his assistant during Abu Omar’s tournées in Italy. In that period she was one of the promoters of a few groups of research on Palestine , for example at the ’Fondazione Basso’, and for a while she was the Lelio Basso’s consultant for the Middle East. Now , she is promoting initiatives (both academic and political) aiming to give right information about Palestine.”

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