||Ladies and Gentlemen, Allow me to start with the following quotation in French: "Le problème des problèmes, c'est le destin de l'Islam"...
This sentence has not been written after September 11, but is a quotation by the late Vincent Monteil, in the Conclusion to his book "Le Monde musulman", edited in 1963. It has been written by General Charles de Gaulle. This remarkable sentence has to be understood in the light of what Vincent Monteil said just before: "We cannot forget that there is a Muslim world only as long as there is a common living faith, uniting its dispersed members. Who knows if it will be reduced to a personal ethics, or if it will remain a global code, concerning all human activity"1.
I would like to comment on several elements of Vincent Monteil's final remark.
First on the fact that there is no "Islam" without a common foundation uniting the members of the community, the existential level of faith, in its mystical and ethical dimensions. Secondly, that an evolution could occur, so that "Islam" becomes a purely personal ethical or mystical religion, prophecy becoming a source of spirituality, and religion a private relationship between God and man. We should notice that Vincent Monteil qualified this evolution as a "reduction" of "Islam". Apparently, and this is the third point to be mentioned in his final remark: "Islam" can remain a global code of life, concerning all aspects of human behaviour. In this we distinguish two statements: first, that Islam could "remain" a global code; which means that it has always been a global code of life; and secondly, that "Islam" has been understood in the past as an all-embracing religion, a Law concerning all matters whether ritual, cultural, social or political; an interpretation of "Islam" common to modern ideologists such as Abû l-Aâ€˜lâ Maudûdî (d. 1979), who sacralised politics to the extreme.
1. The existential dimension of faith.
Any reflexion on "Islam" has always to start with the question: what is meant by the Arabic terms "Islam" and "Muslims"? In the Holy Qurâ€™ân, sûrat Yûnus (Q. 10, 84) we find that belief (Imân), trust (tawakkul) and Islâm are almost equivalent: you do really believe (amantum) in Allâh, then in Him put your trust (tawakkalû), if you submit (in kuntum muslimîna). The term "Islam" refers in the first place to "the existential sense of the personal reliance of oneself on God", so that the best translation could be "submission, to give oneself over to God" as the term is defined by Georges Maqdisi and Louis Gardet in the Encyclopaedia of Islam: "To give oneself over entirely to God", "to rely on God", "to have a confident reliance on God". This definition implies the 1 MONTEIL, Vincent, Le monde musulman, Paris, 1963, p. 287: "Enfin, il ne faut pas perdre de vue qu'il n'y a de monde musulman qu'autant qu'une foi vivante commune unit ses membres dispersés. Qui pourrait dire si elle se réduira à une éthique personnelle, ou si elle restera un code global, recouvrant toutes les activités humaines".
2 existential dimension of faith already mentioned, a mystical relation to an Ultimate Reality. As such, Islam is completely in line with what is a common ground of all authentic religious traditions: a religious system cannot survive if it has not an existential dimension of faith, a personal commitment based on an act of faith related to an ultimate reality, or a dimension of transcendence, which is the foundation for the particular ritual and doctrinal expressions of a particular religion. As such, "Islam" is rather a personal matter, and there cannot be any obstacle for interreligious dialogue or multiculturality, as they are related to this mystical dimension. In this view, the experience of a fundamental relatedness is seen as the universal element of religion, while the symbolic expressions of rituals and traditions are seen in their "historical and cultural relativity".
2. Religion as a global code of life.
Islam and Judaism however, never defined themselves only from a pure mystical point of view. Submission has always been seen as obedience to universal and fundamental divine commandments. (Q. 16, 90), and as such they are "conditions for salvation" or simply "conditions for humanity". Refusing self-sufficiency on the mystical level of faith has an inevitable consequence on the ethical level of faith. And it is precisely as a necessary consequence of the ethical challenge of the Qurâ€™ân that the Muslim community of Medina started to build up a coherent and global way of life, in accordance with the Revealed divine Law, breaking radically with the pre-Islamic Mekkan way of life. The very existence of the Islamic civilisation of the Abbâsid period cannot be understood if there has not been an initial understanding of Religion as obedience to God's Law as the Road to salvation for all, implying that this Islamic Community is "the best of Peoples, evolved for mankind. Enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong" (Q. 3, 110). It is impossible to think of the great Islamic empires without considering the overwhelming importance of the legal system based on the â€™Usûl, the Qurâ€™ân and the Sunna, the enormous amount of juridical literature, the jurisprudence of the Fatâwâ literature. Muslims are indeed "Ahl as-Sunna wa l-Jamââ€˜a", "the People constituting a community with a well defined Way of Life".
3. Can "Islam" remain a global code of life? Years ago, in 1966, al-Katifi described in an article on juridical modernism in the Orient2, how the Ottoman empire introduced different codes - most of them inspired by the French Law System - already in the middle of the nineteenth century; how Islamic and Western inspired solutions can be found in Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi Law systems.
Starting in the seventeenth century, the dynamism of the Western powers has been such that, in fact, the all-embracing Islamic system did not survive as such in most of the Islamic world. If the example of Turkey, where the system was simply abolished 2 AL-KATIFI, A.H., Quelques aspects du modernisme juridique en Orient Arabe, in BERQUE, J. et CHARNAY, J.P., Normes et valeurs dans l'islam contemporain, Paris, 1966, pp. 301-312; cf. GERBER, Haim, Islamic Law and Culture 1600-1840, Leiden, 1999. 3 altogether by Ataturk in a kind of sudden and brutal revolution, has been an exception, only very few Islamic countries were able to preserve a juridical system free from western influence. Reformists saw it as a duty to "modernise Islam", nationalist and socialist movements adapted the organisation of Islamic countries in accordance with their Western inspired ideology.
4. "Political Islam".
This evolution didn't remain unchallenged. If the urban centres such as Alexandria, Cairo, Ankara, Tehran, Karachi or Delhi and other cities were profoundly influenced by a Western way of life, it was not the case in smaller towns, villages and regions less accessible to Western modernity. Traditional Islamic education has never completely been abolished; the impression could prevail that the old coherent pattern of life still existed; prestigious institutions in Cairo, Fez, Qum, Lahore or Hyderabad never replaced as-Sharîâ€˜a in the very heart of the curriculum by moral or dogmatic theology. A strong movement of resistance to the alien influence started to build up in two central regions of the Islamic world: Egypt and the Indian subcontinent.
Born in 1903 in Aurangabad, Sayyid Abû l-Aâ€˜lâ Maudûdî moved finally to Lahore in Pakistan after the partition, and developed a strong Islamic ideology - what is called "political Islam" - "on the basis that mankind should order the affairs of its ethical and social life in accordance with the Sharîâ€˜a that God has communicated through His Prophets [...]. It denies in the clearest terms the right of man to exercise any discretion in such matters as have been decided by Allah and His Prophet"3. For Maudûdî, "the Islamic Community, the Ummah, had a civilization of her own", while, according to what he wrote in 1934, among "the Islamic nations of today..., some have surrendered completely to intellectual as well as political subjugation, while others suffer, more or less, from intellectual slavery [...]. (Some) have come to believe as correct what the West claims to be correct [...]. Their criteria of truth, veracity, manners, civilization, morality, and humanity are subject to the standards of the West [...]. ...Both in theory as well in practice, western life-style is diametrically opposed to the Islamic civilization." At the same time the Egyptian teacher Hasan al-Bannââ€™ started the Movement of the Muslim Brothers, while one of the most outstanding members of the movement, Sayyid Qutb, described the Western domination over the world as an international system of usury, calling for Jihâd, to make the Islamic system of life dominant in the world4. According to Maudûdî, the West could not be an example for the world, as the driving force is simply not ethical, but economics, trade and material interest, religion being removed to the margin of society, as a personal matter5. For him, in the 3 MAUDUDI, S. Abul Aâ€˜la, Legislation and 'Ijtihâd' in islam, in Islamic Law and Constitution, Lahore, 1955, p. 72. 4 Cf. SHEPARD, William E., Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism. A Translation and Critical Analysis of Social Justice in islam, Leiden, 1996; SAYYID QUTB, Maâ€˜âlim fî t-tarîq, Beyrouth, 2000. 5 ID., Intellectual subjugation. Why?, in West vs Islam, Delhi, 1991, pp. 2-6. 4 dominant Western model, God can still exist, but only as a kind of constitutional monarch, far away from the reality of every day life in society.
From an ideology in the thirties and the forties, "political Islam" evolved towards militancy in the fifties and sixties, and from militancy to revolution in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century. But at the end of that century, it failed to overpower most of the regimes of the Islamic world. Exacerbated by this failure, it turned more violent, and ended up in terrorism, but still able to attack what it sees as the symbol of the Western dynamism itself, the driving force behind his civilization: trade and economics, the Trade Centre.
We know what happened next. The failure of the movement to reinstall a global Islamic legal system turned into a disaster. "The failure of political islam"6 is even more obvious now that in the heart of the Islamic world, in Iraq and Afghanistan, everything is being prepared for new constitutions. Certainly they are far from a reintroduction of Sharîâ€˜a-Law. As Abdelwahhab Meddeb describes in his book "The malady of Islam"7, or Bernard Lewis in "the Crisis of Islam"8, the Islamic world is in disarray.
In the twentieth century enormous political, economic and social changes modified our contemporary world. Not only the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its multitude of nations and cultures, collapsed, together with the German, the Russian, and the Chinese, preparing the way for the end of the British rule in India and the British Empire. The Ottoman system of the Millet, the coexistence of legally autonomous communities, disappeared, when the sultan was removed and the caliphate was abolished. The "empire", with its internal diversity, has been replaced by the notion of "Nation" and "citizenship". An identity, based on a global organisation of life in community, different from the dominant national identity, is excluded by the principle: "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité", "La legge è uguale per tutti".
On the political level, globalisation had started already in the earliest years of that century. Social relations have changed profoundly, so that the way of life of people has undergone radical changes. Humanity has in fact been unified economically and in its lifestyle long before we spoke about globalisation, â€˜Awlama, "mondialisation".
Bernard Lewis9 is right in stating that for the first time in history, a particular way of organising society based on a certain number of basic rights and a system of values, a 6 ROY, Olivier, L'échec de l'Islam politique, Paris, 1992; ID., The failure of political islam, London, 1999 ID., L'Islam mondialisé, Paris, 2002: "Aux yeux de lâ€™opinion occidentale, lâ€™islam renvoie souvent une image de solidité, dâ€™identité et de dynamisme. (â€¦) Câ€™est pourtant cette perspective quâ€™Olivier Roy met radicalement en question. Qu'il s'agisse de formes violentes ou modérées de réislamisation, toujours l'Occident, avec la globalisation, avec l'individualisme, est au coeur du processus" (page de couverture).
7 MEDDEB, Abdelwahab, The malady of Islam, New York, 2003.
8 LEWIS, Berhard, The crisis of Islam, New York, 2003.
9 LEWIS, Bernard, What went wrong? Western impact and Middle East response, Oxford-New York, 2002.
5 particular model of civilisation, became dominant in the world, despite terrible and tragic resistances.
The consequences of September 11 are such that we can state that Multiculturalism, understood as coexistence of worldwide global social and legal systems has come to an end. Multiculturalism can only survive in particular areas of life.
The answer to Vincent Monteil's question concerning the future of "Islam" is given: "Islam" can survive only if it is reduced to the personal spiritual and moral dimension. The community is united in the symbolic expressions of the rituals, but not any more in public life. The global system of Qurâ€™ân and Sunna, Usûl al-Fiqh, with the whole construction of laws and jurisprudence, doesn't exist any more. Western principles of democracy, non-discrimination, equality of men and women, human rights and personal freedom, replace the constitutional references to the divine. In France, public opinion tends even to agree that religious symbols shouldn't be apparent in public institutions10. It is the paradox of modernity, that, when freedom becomes an absolute for the individual, society becomes intolerant towards what the French call "communautarisme", according to the principle of the French revolution that Jews have all the rights as citizens, but no rights as a nation11, as a community. â€œÉgalitéâ€ has a tendency to become â€œhomogénéitéâ€.
We shouldn't forget what happened in the twentieth century. Even if the integration of individual Jews in the Western nations was already far-reaching12, the very existence of the Jewish community, with her strong sense of identity and identity related differences, has been denied; not only once, but on several occasions, when this principle derailed towards extreme nationalism.
Nation-building went hand in hand with another, philosophical, principle of modernity13. The Belgian philosopher Antoon Vergote writes in his book Modernité et christianisme, that modernity implies that â€œthe autonomous reason is able to know by itself the universality of the practical principles of moral behaviour. Human rights were proclaimed in public, and crimes against humanity were denounced; doing so, public conscience is pointing towards what is universal in humanity of manâ€¦[...]. This means that humanistic ethics exist in the universe of rationalityâ€. Referring to Georges Dumézil he says: "In the ancient civilizations, ethics have been immanent in religion [...]. Traditionally, these societies were religious cultures [...]. The divine is the source 10 Nacira Guénif in Libération (9 dec. 2003): "Le rétrécissement de l'espace d'affirmation et d'expression, la mise à l'index des références identitaires sont tels que certains ont dû se bricoler une identité paradoxale de musulmans laïcs".
11 PLATTI, Emilio, Islam, van nature een vijand? Averbode, 2003, p. 142.
12 BERG, Roger & URBAH-BORNSTEIN, Marianne, Les Juifs devant le droit Français, Paris, 1984.
13 Cf. ARKOUN, Muhammad, Religion and Society: the Example of Islam, in COHN-SHERBOK, Dan (ed.), Islam in a World of Diverse Faiths, Hampshire-London, 1991, pp. 134-177; BROWN, Daniel W., Rethinking tradition in modern islamic Thought, Cambridge, 1996.
6 and the foundation of prescription and prohibition"14. In his book on Islam and modern citizenship, Maudûdî refuses precisely this principle. As God is the Sovereign of the world, no law or legislation can proceed from human institutions. Man-made laws, secular city, nationalism or democracy cannot be the ultimate basis for legitimacy. The clash of civilizations between the West and this ideology of "political Islam" could not be avoided. But the lack of human creativity and autonomy made it impossible for that ideology to overcome Western dynamism. Failure to become dominant could be forseen15.
1° Seen from a traditionnal Islamic point of view, the Western world developed a model of civilization in competitive struggle with his own, based on divine revelation.
As different patterns of civilization could coexist worldwide until recently, it is not the case anymore. Western patterns become dominant all over the world. They impose themselves as "modernity". Two global cultural models cannot be dominant in the same geographic area at the same time16.
2° "Modernity" means that universal human values and fundamental principles of moral behaviour, such as human rights, individual freedom, democracy and nondiscrimination based on "race, colour, sex, language, [...], political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status"17, transcend the particularity of cultures, included religious rites and religious practices. This is the reason why "religion" is added to the list, and cannot be the basis for discrimination. As Huntington stated: particular cultures have to search for the common ground in humanity; particular religious systems can no more be the global frame for organising societies.
3° Multi-culturalism is a much more ambiguous concept than generally thought.
Coexistence of global worldwide social and legal systems has come to an end. The very existence of communities with a strong identity, different from the given "modern" identity linked to citizenship, is in doubt. There is even a tendency to refuse any public appearance of a collective identity different from the given national identity.
Politicians are now the modern missionaries of democracy, human rights, secular citizenship, equality of men and women and individual freedom.
14 VERGOTE, Antoine, Modernité et christianisme, Paris, 1999, p. 77-90.
15 RAHMAN, Fazlur, Islam & Modernity. Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, Chicago- London, 1987, p. 136: "But the greatest weakness of neorevivalism, and the greatest disservice it has done to islam, is an almost total lack of positive intellectual thinking and scholarship within his ranks, its intellectual bankruptcyu, and his substitution of cliché mongering for serious intellectual endeavor".
16 VAN DE PUTTE, André, De natiestaat en de multiculturele samenleving. Een politiekfilosofische beschouwing, in RAYMAEKERS, B. & VAN DE PUTTE, A., Krachten voor de toekomst. Lessen voor de eenentwintigste eeuw, Leuven, 2000, pp. 367-398.
17 GHANDHI, P.R., International Human Rights Documents, Delhi, 1999, p. 22 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Art. 2).
7 4° It seems to me however, that authentic religions, such as Islam, represent, on the existential level described in the first part, a most probably indispensable and essential contribution for mankind, "condition for humanity" through the performative challenges of their Scriptures and prophecies, in freeing people from self-sufficiency to respect for Alterity. When Muslims say that the Qurâ€™ân opens the mind for "al-ma'rûf" - what is universally known as good - or prohibits al-munkar - what is fundamentally intolerable - then it is precisely that what is meant. If they are truthful to this inspiration, authentic religions are indispensable even for modern societies. As such, they need a kind of visibility; a moment in education; a forum to transmit their messages; a space to celebrate publicly their rituals; but they don't have a dominant role in public affairs.
5° Olivier Roy is right in stating that Muslims are now in a process of rethinking "Islam" in that way, towards a more personal ethical and mystical religion, just as Judaism did in the nineteenth century. However this is not without tragic consequences. In his book on Maudûdî18, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr criticises the theory of "Political Islam" and concludes: "From his authority came a new Islam". I don't think this is entirely correct. Islam has always been defined as a global praxis, and this means also "political". He is however right to assert that in modern times, "political Islam" is not a solution, political power becoming the heart of the definition of Islam in this ideology19. Islam should be rethought as a spiritual movement, prophecy as a source of spirituality, and religion as a fundamental personal conversion with a huge indirect influence on all aspects of life, as proposed by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan20. Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr himself does also, with many other "Liberal Muslims". That definition of Islam is based on the existential dimension of faith21, and not any more on an essentialistic understanding of a Law-system. In that case, and only in that case, Muslims will recover from the crisis, they will be in dialogue with other cultures and other religions in the globalised world. They will be free from resentment against others, and take an active part in building the future of humanity.
Emilio Platti K.U.Leuven 18 NASR, Vali Reza, Mawdudi & the making of Islamic Revivalism, Ney York-Oxford, 1996, p. 19 cf. CARNEY, Abd al-Hakeem, The Desacralisation of Power in islam, in Religion, State & Society 31(2003) 2.
20 KHAN, Wahiduddin, Islam rediscovered. Discovering islam from his Original Sources, New Delhi, 2002.
21 SMITH, Wilfred Cantwell, Faith and Belief. The Difference between them, Princeton, 1979.