Foundation of NJ, USA
Newsletter for July 2004
" Science and technology belong within the domain of civilization, religion and art to culture. The first is the expression of human needs (how do I live), the second of human aspirations (why do I live). "
On Death and Failure ...........
by Alija Izetbegovic
During those years I began to work on my book Islam izmedu Istoka i Zapada (Islam between East and
West). Indeed, I could say that I had written it much earlier, just before my imprisonment in 1946. The manuscript remained concealed for more than 20 years. When I was arrested in 1946, my sister Azra (who died in 1997) hid it under the beams in the attic of our house. When I later found it, it was a bundle of half-decayed paper. I added some new data, re-wrote the text and sent it to a friend in Canada; finally an American publisher issued it in 1984, when I was already serving my second prison sentence of 14 years with hard labor.
My aim with that book was to consider the place of Islam in the present-day world of ideas and facts. It appeared to me that it lay somewhere between Eastern and Western thinking, just as the geographical position of the Muslim world occupies the space on the globe between East and West. I tried to show that some general ideas and some values are common to all humanity. To summaries briefly, these are the contents of the book: there are only three world-views, and more there cannot be - the religious, the materialist and the Islamic. Everything is created in pairs (Qur'an). Man is a dual being: body and soul.
The body is merely the `carrier' of the soul. That carrier has evolved, which means it has a history, but the soul has not; it was inspired by the touch of God. The first aspect of mankind is the subject of science, the
second of religion, art and ethics. This is why there are two accounts and two truths about mankind.
In the Western world, they are symbolized by Darwin and Michelangelo. Darwin has nothing to say
about Michelangelo's man, and vice versa. Their truths are different, but not mutually exclusive.
Over time they manifest themselves as the opposition of civilization and culture. Science and technology belong within the domain of civilization, religion and art to culture. The first is the expression of human needs (how do I live), the second of human aspirations (why do I live).
This is the Contradiction between utopia and drama. Utopia does not recognize the individual, drama, morality. Study and meditation are two different spiritual activities, with opposing foci: the first is outwardly oriented -towards nature, the second inwardly - towards the spirit and the Self. Every scientific method leads towards a negation of God and man, whilst all art announces religion. If there is no God, there is no Mankind either. And without Mankind humanism, human dignity and human rights are empty phrases. Civilisation knows nothing of the notion of duty, and every culture is an affirmation of the victim. Civilisation's aim is an `earthly empire' with utopian equality, and religion's is the `kingdom of heaven'. This is Campanella's `Civitas Solis' as against the `Civitas Dei' of St. Augustine. There is no moral order without God. Morality is merely `another physical condition' of religion. While civilization is evolution; history, religion and art have no true development. Every religion was pure in its origins (ur-monotheism).
It becomes corrupted in the course of its history, as is the case with art and morality; hence the opposition between Jesus and the Church. Every true law is dual, and medicine is never purely science. Cavemen's
drawings or the aboriginal masks from Polynesia are in essence works of art no less stirring than modern creations. The whole of human life is marked by this primary dualism, and its `signs' may be found in every phenomenon linked with the name of man. Here too is the difference in spirit between the Old and the New Testament, between Moses and Jesus. One was a leader of the people, the other a preacher of morality. And there, too, lie their two different justices and aims: the Promised Land and the Kingdom of Heaven. These opposites are reconciled in mankind and in Islam. Islam is a synthesis, the `third way' between these two poles that denote all that is human.
I must admit that I was afraid of experts and their reading of the book `line by line'. I felt confident that a reader who followed the vision outlined in rough, or even hinted at, in the book would find something more in it than the pedantic, analytical mind. I was aware that my attempt at stating my vision remained understated, merely conjectural, and in places incoherent. I gave a number of familiar concepts a metaphorical rather than conventional meaning: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and so on are mere metaphors, with a general rather than a specific meaning. For example, Islam is a major metaphor for the `third way', for every form of life, with a formula that fulfils the human person. In fact, the book was no more than testimony to a vision of the world.
I enjoyed identifying new parallels, theses and antitheses, coincidence and symmetries, but this was not the subject that interested me most deeply. There was one issue that always preoccupied me more than any other: the issue of famous losers. I regarded it then, and regard it to this day, as the deepest religious problem. It can be posited in a number of ways: whence the tragic and pathos in the Darwinian-Euchdian world? What are the great losers like, and why do we admire them so if this life is the only one we have? Were Antigone, Socrates and Jesus really losers? And if so, why are they so great in our eyes? What is the origin of our ` admiration for the fallen heroes that has accompanied us ever since the prehistorically Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh? Do not even films such as cheap Westerns exploit our innate sympathy for the victim (that is, for' losers) and resistance to the calculated, to self-interest? Sympathy for the victim is not something we can find in the intellect, but only in the soul, by which I mean, essentially, that is not `of this world'. And I say sympathy, not understanding, for this is not, and cannot be, under standing. No amount of reasoning, cogitation and sagacity can explain or justify a single case of a life sacrificed for justice and truth. Something that is very close and comprehensible to every human soul eludes explanation by all our science and philosophy. Between the act approved and the approbation there is no mediation of reflection, no apportionment of reasons pro et con. It may even be said that there is no time lapse. It is the instant reaction of the soul to good and justice, to something that is identical to the soul itself. In the world that atheists regard as the one and only, the tragic and tragedy are impossible. In such a world there are only incidents and misfortunes.
In this mind-set, tragedy manifests itself to us as a religious parable. In tragedy, villains fall on their feet and great and sincere souls suffer. And because there is no `intellectual' operation to proclaim these eternal losers as mad and demented, the entire story, and in particular its tragic end, appears to us as merely the first act of a greater drama - one that only God could think up. For suffering and death - which are the end of everything to the intellect - are here merely an interval between two acts in a continuing drama. Our admiration and sympathy for the fallen hero are completely meaningless from the intellectual point of view, but for that very reason - whether we are aware of it or not - it is deeply religious. For only in such experiences do death and failure or loss have an entirely different meaning.
I dedicated many pages of Islam between East and West to this question, seeking to resolve it in a variety of ways, but I was never wholly satisfied with the answer. It continues to preoccupy me to this day.
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