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Religion and Society

The Seven Sins of the West

Extracts from the interview to Oasis with the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Cerić, published on August 30th 2009 on the Italian daily Il Sole 24Ore and now available in its unabridged version on the ninth issue of Oasis Journal.

Interview care of Maria Laura Conte and Michele Brignone

 

 

What does the Bosnian model of Islam consist of?

 

 

 

I would say it has three basic characteristics: first, the fact of finding itself in a multicultural society where it coexists with other religions in a coherent way. The second characteristic is an original approach to the interpretation of the Koran and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad based on the experience of Bosnian ulema. The third is that Muslims live in Bosnia in an open society and their attitude is determined by this openness, which is ratified by the institutionalised interpretation of Islamic doctrine. The guidance of the life of believers does not depend on individual judgment but on the whole Islamic community and on Islamic Institutions representing it.

 

 

What do you think European Islam and Europe itself can learn from the Bosnian model?

 

 

 

First we have to ask what Europe wants. Europe is facing a new phenomenon: the phenomenon of Islam within its borders. Many people refer to the Christian roots of the European identity, but I think we should consider a fact: Europe has always been open to the influences of different cultures and Christianity is just one of the aspects of this development. Islam is a challenge for Europe as Christianity was in the past. As for the Muslims, their challenge consists in the fact that they arrived in Europe as immigrants seeking economic opportunities rather than preaching or having in mind the spread of Islam, but, as time went by, they became more aware of their Islamic identity. Europe has to cope with this phenomenon and does not know what to do: first because Muslims are not organised into any institution able to speak on their behalf, but above all because Europe, or better to say the tradition of Enlightenment, compels people to live as if God does not exist.

 

 

In your Declaration of European Muslims you stated that ‘Europe is a good place for Muslims themselves to discover the power and beauty of the universality of Islam’. What do you exactly mean by this statement?

 

 

When you live in a national state in the Middle East, you have one single perspective of Islam. But when you come to the West and see Pakistanis, Turks, Arabs, and so on attending the same mosque you become more and more aware of the fact that it is Islam, and not nationality, that unites Muslims.

 

 

 

Do you mean that Muslims have the opportunity to rediscover the principles of Islam as well?

 

 

You are right… and create a new model of a European kind.

 

 

You have mentioned the tradition of the Enlightenment: in the opinion of many contemporary intellectuals, even Muslim intellectuals, Islam needs to be reformed in accordance with Enlightenment principles in order to be integrated into European society. What is your opinion about this?

 

 

Islam is already the greatest reformation of religious thought in the history of humankind. Of course, Muslims are now going through difficult times, especially as regards their place in history. If one lives in the West, one may legitimately wonder when Muslims will be ‘enlightened’. But history shows that Muslims contributed to European humanism and the Renaissance in a decisive way. Just think of the works of the Muslim philosophers in the twelfth century, of Ibn Rushd and his rationalism...

 

 

 

But how can the historical contribution you are talking about have repercussions for the present situation?

 

 

 

In spite of all their present difficulties, I think that Muslims are today knocking at the door of the West with certain moral principles that the West has forgotten in the same way as in the past, in the twelfth century, they knocked at the door of Europe recalling the rationalism that Europe had abandoned. The West must go through a spiritual revolution. The economic collapse now underway is not a matter of financial crisis: it is a moral crisis. I think that the West is guilty of seven great sins: wealth without work, education without morality, business without ethics, pleasure without conscience, politics without principles, science without responsibility, and society without family, and we can add one more: faith without sacrifice. Now, what is the solution? Just change the ‘withouts’ into ‘withs’. I don’t think we can isolate any civilisation or any faith and then ‘enlighten’ it.

 

 

But more specifically: do you think that Muslims could accept the notion of faith as a private affair?

 

 

 

I have been living under this conviction for decades. My first answer is that even he who does not believe in God has to believe in something. So why should some beliefs have the right to express themselves publicly and others not? But more specifically, can you take your mosque, your church, home? Can you cancel the churches and mosques from public squares? This is one of the paradoxes of secularisation: it compels believers in God to live with a dual personality, one at home and another to exhibit when they are outside. Of course this is a challenge for me: my speeches and my preaching have to be acceptable both in the mosque and in the public square. Let me be clear: politics are too important to be left to the politicians alone; theology is too precious to be left to the theologians alone; the issue of peace and war is too dangerous to be left to the generals alone.

 

 

Do you mean that we should think over the Enlightenment paradigm that has governed European public life for the last two centuries?

 

 

The question is: did the Enlightenment help religions? Of course it did: religions benefitted more than anybody else from the critiques of the Enlightenment. They permitted religions to purify themselves from those elements that have little to do with revelation. But we should stop considering the Enlightenment as a bible. We need to ‘enlighten the Enlightenment’, that is to say we need to provide it with the morality it is now lacking. In this respect we are living the most interesting time in the history of humankind, because we have experienced both religious and unreligious thought and now we have to decide whether we want to restore the covenant with God or whether we prefer to rely on the worn-out ideas of the philosophers of the XVIII and XIX centuries, which cannot provide the answers to the questions of the present age.

 

 

 

* The unabridged versio of the interview is published on the ninth issur of Oasis Journal.

 

 

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