Islam and Bosnia
A brief introduction to the theme of Islam in Europe at the FIN in Sarajevo (2nd of September, 2005)
By Abu Bakr Rieger
In any event, Goethe and Tolstoy prepare the path for a deeper encounter between Europe and Islam in an age where dialogue is uncomfortable. They recognised that – as Ibn al-‘Arabi formulated it – “Allah governs the universe from inside the universe.” Neither did either of them hold any prejudices against Islam. Goethe, the creator of the ‘East-Western Diwan’, who wrote that he “does not refute the suspicion that he himself is a Muslim,” also reveals himself as one familiar with Islamic thinking methods. He reminds us, the Muslims, that within our Revelation we do not think dialectically. Goethe states:
“The Mohammedans thereupon begin their teaching of philosophy with the doctrine that nothing exists about which you cannot say the opposite. They exercise the minds of their youth by having them find and articulate the contrary opinion of every proposition, which inescapably leads to great skill in thought and speech.
“Then, once the opposite has been claimed about every proposition, the doubt arises as to which is actually true. But they do not remain in the doubt. Rather, it drives the intellect to examine more closely and to ascertain; and, if performed correctly, from there derives that certainty which is the goal in which man finds complete reassurance. You can see that this teaching is lacking nothing, and that for all our systems we are no further on than them, and that one in fact cannot get any further than that.”
Goethe is by no means naive. In the East-Western Diwan he writes: “The actual, only and most profound theme of world and human history, the theme under which all others are subsumed, remains the conflict between non-belief and belief.” Today especially, where the Muslims like to define themselves dialectically as “against the enemy” or “against America” or “against the West”, these words remain current. Islam is not “against” anybody – Islam is for Allah. And together, especially as European Muslims, we should perhaps adopt a certain sensitivity when Islam is presented to us from outside as something dialectically opposed: Islam as narrow-minded fundamentalism, or Islam as unimportant esotericism. The example of our beloved Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who was known to avoid the extremes, teaches us to choose the middle way.
Of course, for European Muslims as for other Muslims, the Fard ‘ibada – the obligatory practices of Islam – escape political categorisation . The Shadada, the Prayer, Fasting the Zakat, the Pilgrimage – I cannot perform them in a ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘European’ fashion, I can only perform them correctly. Praying only once a week does not make me ‘European’, and regularly attending Jumu’a does not make me a fundamentalist. On the basis of this insight we can confidently define the content of a positive vision for Islam in Europe.
One special characteristic which perhaps distinguishes Islam in Europe and the European Muslims, is that we have a very thorough knowledge of the thinkers and thinking methods, systems and ideologies that have originated in the West.
A good example of this relationship is modern terrorism. When confronted with terrorism and modernism today, we naturally also recognise those elements that originate from the poisoned sources of Western thinking. Take, for instance, the darkly inscrutable conviction of nihilistic ideologies that “a world is better without its enemies”, and the exterminatory logic that arises thereof. Absolute territorial domination fantasies, the techniques of control and the organisation of power all constitute chapters in their own right. There is no doubt that the infiltration of this thinking into so-called modern, Islamic movements has led to a change in the fundamental nature of Islam. For many centuries, such totalitarian outlooks were completely foreign to the Muslims.
We Muslims – and I am certain that the teachings of Islam in Bosnia will play their part in this – we of course recognise the disastrous nature of such hybrid forms. The rejection of terrorism and of suicide attacks is a natural imperative for educated Muslims. Islam in Bosnia has a special authority in these issues, since here, despite the war and its tens of thousands of victims – and despite Srebrenica – we have thankfully been spared a ‘European’ terrorism.
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