Islam as an alternative

As his life drew to a close, the Prophet of Islam sent ambassadors to the rulers of the surrounding countries, such as the Negus of Abyssinia, Khosrow II of Persia (590-628) and the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius (610-641). Thus, Muhammad in a simple and unambiguous way offered them to accept Islam for the benefit of themselves and their peoples.

With this episode of diplomatic history, the relationship between Islam and the West begins – a relationship that has never been interrupted, but has never been calm and, despite fruitful contacts in the economic and spiritual spheres, has always borne the imprint of confrontation – for 1400 years.

In the background of the historical Christian-Islamic conflict, they try to see East and West, Asia and Europe, but not as complementary, but as opposite and even hostile worlds, which oppose each other with mutual fear and misunderstanding. The collective memory of both sides is clear.

The course of history and, above all, the speed and reach of the early Islamic expansion explain a lot: immediately after the death of Muhammad in 632, Syria and Palestine (634/35), Persia (637), Egypt (643 — 649), Armenia (652), Cyprus became Islamic. (653), the Maghreb (from 670) and even Spain (from 711). Already in 688, the first siege of Constantinople took place. At the same time, the standard-bearer Ayyub, a companion of the Prophet, was present.

It is clear that, despite these successes, the West willingly adheres to the view that Islam is an aggressive religion that was spread by “fire and sword.” At the same time, it is true that the surrounding Christian and Iranian lands could not oppose the fearless zealous faith of the early Muslims. It is also clear that a small number of warriors of Islam would not have been able to conquer such huge areas if the population had not switched to their side en masse.

Among the various reasons for this was one very important one, which does not flatter the Western self-consciousness: the heterodox Christians of the East and the West – among them the Arians and the Donatists – took Islamic teachings, because they also did not believe in the divinity of Jesus and in the Trinity. However, in the 21st century, Islam spread in Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Chad without fire and sword, and today it is being established peacefully throughout Black Africa.

the world is changing, the dynamics of Muslims then also covered science and culture. They achieved outstanding success in all fields of natural sciences and humanities — in mathematics, optics, botany, surgery, ophthalmology, hygiene, lexicography, historiography, sociology, and in the development of Aristotelian philosophy, forgotten in the West. In these and other areas, Islamic civilization overshadowed the West in the period of the 9th – 14th centuries. Let’s mention at least Ar-Razi (Razes), Al-Biruni, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Batuta and Al-Khwarizmi. After the Muslims were stopped in France in 732, the Western world launched a counteroffensive (the Crusades during the XXI-XXIII centuries and the Spanish-Portuguese Reconquista). At the same time, Byzantine Christians had to learn what “fire and sword” means in Christian terms when the Latins conquered Constantinople in 1204.

Then the West had to experience fear again, after the Ottomans captured Constantinople (1453) and their troops reached Vienna through the Balkans (1529 and 1683).

These epic clashes seemed to have ended since the 18th century. From that time to the present day, the two worlds have dramatically diverged from each other. After the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the West experienced a truly explosive scientific and technological development, which gave it in the face of the rest of the world a terrible economic and military power and superiority, which was perceived as proof of the general leadership of Christian civilization.

In parallel with this, the Islamic world fell into such ignorance, lethargy and decadence that colonization by imperialist Western powers became inevitable in the 19th century. In 1924, it was entirely possible to believe that Atatürk, by eliminating the caliphate, dealt a fatal blow to Islam.

From the middle of this century, it was generally considered a matter of time to transform Western culture into world culture as a “must model” (Theodore von Laue) in the transformation of all others. The man of the future from Seoul to St. Pauli had to wear jeans, eat hamburgers, drink Coke, smoke Marlboro, speak English, watch CNN, live in the Bauhaus, belong to a democratic state and probably pro forma to a Christian denominations

To this day, people puzzle over the reasons for the decline of the Islamic world. In my opinion, there are three main reasons for this:

1) In the 13th century, Islam was attacked simultaneously by the Christian world and the Mongols and was hit in the head, because both centers of Muslim culture of that time were captured almost simultaneously – Cordoba in 1236 and Baghdad in 1258. The Islamic world still has not recovered from this disaster.

2) In the 14th century, in Islamic jurisprudence, and then in culture in general, the idea was established that everything worthy of knowledge is already known and better understood by previous generations, those who were closer to the sources [of authority]. This led to

based on the imitation of book scholarship and general non-Islamic stagnation of spiritual life.

3) Finally, the most important third reason lies not in the Islamic world, but in the Western world: it cannot be denied that its colossal material rise since the 19th century was inextricably linked to the gradual decline of the Christian faith. The engine of such scientifically and economically successful scientism and positivism of this “century without God” was, although not always atheistic, but almost always directed exclusively at the otherworldly agnostic attitude, the apostles of which in its trivialized form became Feuerbach, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud. Since then, scientific rationalism, for which only what is perceived by the senses and quantifiable, has become the dominant official ideology of the West. Belief in God was only tolerated as a mere probabilistic hypothesis a la Swinburne. Everything related to the last questions [of existence] turned out to be tabooed as “the magic of displacing death” (V. Freud).

In the 20th century, the masses were also covered by this movement. As a result of the suggestion of subjectivism and relativism, they came to a flat factual atheism with its new idols of power, money, beauty, popularity, sex. They resigned themselves to the fact that the natural sciences, in contrast to the religion they supplanted, are incompetent in matters of the meaning [of life], at the same time, however, believing that over time they will disappear as a “product of decay” together with the irrational Christian faith.

This loss of the transcendental dimension, this vulgar materialism in the East and the West has given rise to the greedy hedonism of a man without restraining boundaries, who considers his sense world the measure of all things and expects a consumer paradise on earth from continuous “progress”. Industrial society, whose highest economic imperatives are: growth, profitability, full employment, profit maximization, specialization, contributed to this.

Alfred Müller-Armack described this coherent process in his book Religion and Economics (1959) in even more succinct terms: “Since man buys his freedom to deny God at the price of compulsion—to populate his world with idols and demons—the history of faith is … incomplete without despair God as the highest value turns out to be replaced by idols, which lead to a progressive loss of true existence. The history of the perversion of faith, the history of pseudo-religions is the history of destructive forces that cause catastrophe.”

Neither Islamic nor any other religious culture could politically oppose the similarly motivated, concentrated dynamics of the other side. Therefore – as for the third cause of Islamic “backwardness” – it will be a mistake to ask that in the New Age Muslims “went wrong” – things went “wrong” in the West!

However, in the 1960s and 1970s, contrary to expectations, both sides reached an epochal turning point in development. Islam, struck by the crisis, did not go down to the grave. On the contrary, he turned out to be so viable that many again began to believe that he should be feared. Western industrial society fell into crisis.

It happened unexpectedly: today we perceive both development trends as a necessity. Sociologists such as Daniel Bell have observed that the economic success of capitalist development undermines the very values (and practices) of Max Weber’s Protestant ethic on which it is based. This self-destructive mechanism can be recognized by the fact that such virtues as diligence, frugality, discipline, patience, brotherly help and courage in the society of general welfare are transformed into something negative or replaced by new values and patterns of behavior that are equally “post-industrial” ”, which, given their general distribution, cannot be the basis of an industrial society.

Thus, individualism has turned into narcissism, fraternity into pararational collective behavior at rock concerts, self-determination into moral anarchy, liberalism into libertinage, tolerance into value indifference, competitiveness into a consumer race, equality into an equalizer (instead of equal chances, equal result), sensitivity – into whininess, foresight – into calculating risks, apprehension – into fear, eros – into sexual ethics, diligence – into hard work, flexibility – into hostility to tradition. In short, as Marcel Bozy observed in 1984, such perversions are inevitable if the key factors of rationality, freedom, and love do not balance each other. It is easy to understand: rationality without freedom leads to the Gulag Archipelago, and rationality without love leads to Auschwitz; freedom without love leads to the exploitation of man by man, freedom without rationality leads to self-destruction.

The modern “scene” in all industrial states knows such symptoms of dysfunction, which are symbolized by “green” nonconformists who are looking for an alternative to the system to which they owe their well-being and their freedom. Nevertheless, these young people with the help of their specific problems and searches (“hang-ups”) demonstrate something fundamental: structural fear, the need for

a refuge, a protest against the latent pressure of hypertrophied technology, a rebellion against the “terror of consumption” and the deification of rationality, whether in economics or in atomic strategy.

Thus, they demonstrate that it is impossible to take away from a person his transcendental attachment, so as not to cause “freedom of the damned”, meaningless due to the lack of restrictions.

Let’s just look at her, this victim of industrial society, outwardly free of values! She has everything: autonomy, life support from the cradle to the grave, sex without taboos, drugs almost by choice, a lot of free time and all possible human rights. But she feels existential emptiness, misses the warmth of the community and a guru who radiates authority. And behind this hides increasingly urgent questions about meaning.

He is the cause of the outbreak of new religiosity as a “psycho-boom of various sects and their extremely subjectivist vague views” (Rosemary Stein), which forces the official church to think about its mystical potential. This is a movement towards esotericism and the “Jesus-trip” can take strange paths. Sooner or later, as a search for an alternative and a full-fledged religion, it still encounters the phenomenon of the revival of Islam, and it understands itself as a third way between the utopia of Western and Eastern materialism.

The reverse development in the Islamic world began with the independence movements of the 20th century. In the person of Algeria (1962), the last colonized Muslim state (except Palestine) returned its sovereignty. These young states and their heroes — Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, Ahmed Ben Bella, Houari Boumedine — initially followed the Western model: liberalism, nationalism, socialism, communism. Externally, Islam had not yet played a special role, because the early Arab nationalists were as far from religion as the early Zionists. Both the Algerian FLN and the Tunisian “New Dostur” were at the level of their leadership secular organizations. This continued post-independence adaptation to the West essentially corresponded to Kemalist doctrine and the ideal of a Europeanized, modern Muslim like Muhammad Arco in France or Bassam Tibi in Germany.

But all these experiments failed due to their inability to cope with population growth, foreign policy weakness, capital flight, nepotism, corruption, debt and migration of intellectuals, although there were numerous attempts to solve the problem together: the Arab League (1944), the Organization of the Islamic Conference/OIC (1969 ), Gulf Council (1981), Maghreb Union/UMA (1989).

Against this background, in the early 1970s, the phenomenon of re-Islamization emerged, which has been constantly analyzed ever since, with its aspects of Islamism (“Islamiyya”), fundamentalism, and integrism, to which a separate chapter is devoted in this book.

At first, many believed (or hoped) that it was only about a social protest movement. This point of view, which sees the revival of Islam as a function of technological backwardness, only proves the inability of analysts to grasp the religious factor. Apparently, this understanding was not enough for people who take their own religion seriously, even when they were friendly towards the Islamic world from the standpoint of Third World romance.

Meanwhile, Bassam Tibi explained that the concept of “re-Islamization” contains a false premise, because Islam as a system of belief and relations has never disappeared even in Turkey (except for some “intellectuals” who have a Western education), but with “bad cinema modernization” (Arnold Hottinger) has always kept its meaning.

Today, it must be recognized that the phenomenon of the new manifestation of Islam must be understood as the return of the sacred to public life. Gilles Kepel referred to this in the title of his book as The Revenge of God.

The decline of Western modernism is logically connected with this. The Islamic world views the Western break with the transcendent as a curtailment of human possibilities and responds to it with the opposite project, proclaiming the end of Eurocentrism. After the demise of communism, the world is bipolar again from an ideological and historical point of view.

It does not contradict the fact that the revival of Islam gives the oppressed Muslims of the Third World a chance to return to their roots and find themselves again, thereby regaining their former dignity: by exiting the competition with the West in the field of consumption (which is still impossible to win). On the contrary: the chain of humiliations of the Arab world, which seems endless, first of all in Palestine, prepared the political basis for religious and moral resistance.

Of course, there are also “Islamist” forces in the Islamic world that use religion primarily to pursue political goals and justify [their actions]. “Islamic” terrorists are among them. After the revolution in Iran (1979) and the Gulf War (1990-1991), many came to this course of action, “which has damaged Islam in a way that hardly anything else has done in this century” (Wolfgang Gunther Lehrch).

In fact, the West and the East are once again, as many times in their history, facing a pile of shards. During the Gulf War, Muslims in Europe and the United States experienced the same fear as Europeans in the Maghreb and the Middle East. It seemed that both sides of the village

existed before the era of the new Crusades. Christian-Islamic dialogue was no longer discussed; on the contrary, Islam has been demonized to the point where there is nowhere to go.

From this generally tragic 1,400-year history of relations between Islam and the West, a lesson can be drawn that both worlds – especially in the age of weapons of mass destruction – must be tolerant towards each other if they want to maintain peace on the planet. This will happen all the more easily, the better the West understands Islam, and Islam the West.

From the book “Islam as an Alternative” by Wilfried Hofmann, in which a former German diplomat who converted to Islam conducts an in-depth analysis of the fifteen-year history of the interaction between Islam and Western civilization, translated from the German by Amin Ramin