Western Muslims and the owl of Minerva


Hegel wrote: “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” What did he mean? What is the owl of Minerva? And what might this mean for Muslims in the West?


“Minerva” is the Roman name of the Greek Athena, goddess of wisdom and philosophy, and associated with the owl (as preserved in the saying “bringing owls to Athens” which means bringing something to a place that already has more than enough thereof).

The meaning of Hegel’s saying is that philosophy/wisdom takes flight only at the end of the day, after the day’s main events have taken place. For Hegel, this was not tragic. His particular point is that it is only at the end of human history (which he associated with his own time, the early 19th century) that human beings can come to understand history’s developmental logic. In fact, our coming to understand history is part of this developmental logic; and once we fully understand we are reconciled to history and thus would not have wanted history to have gone differently in any important respect.

As for Muslims, who face daily questions, demands, and duties of being a Muslim in the West, of having friends and family, colleagues and neighbours, must find their way home before twilight.  Of necessity, they go before scholars, making Western Islām real in the world before it has achieved a scholarly recognition.


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