September 15, 2003


I enjoy turning the pages of Alija Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison, 1983-1988, a book with much sense in it. In the section Thoughts on Islam, he writes,

The dogma of absolute obedience to the ruler led gradually, through a specific cause-consequence sequence, to the decline of the very civilization of Islam.

This decline is a preoccupation of Izetbegovic's, and he's not shy in assigning blame:

So far we have been talking about damages and defeats inflicted on us by others. The time has come to start talking about the damages and defeats that we inflict on ourselves. That will be the beginning of our maturity.

And later...

When I think about the situation of Muslims throughout the world, my first question always reads: Do we have the destiny that we deserve, and are others to blame for our situation and defeats? And if we are to blame -- and I believe so -- what did we miss doing, but should have done, or what did we do, yet should not have? For me, these are two unavoidable questions regarding our unenviable situation.

Elsewhere, Izetbegovic hints at answers to these unavoidable questions.

Around the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D., Islamic theology split to assume two different aspects: (1) as the dogmatic and formally rational theology of kalam and (2) as a speculative theology of sufism. Later on, theology will monopolize the entire area of metaphysics and even of cosmogony, denying the right to free research of the cosmos and nature. This way of thinking condemned Islam to scientific and political stagnation.

And later...

A characteristic symptom of the stagnation of Islamic thought was the habit of writing "comments on comments," while the original works that were subject to the comments had sunk almost completely into oblivion. Medressas were reduced to four theological subjects: hadith, fikh, kalam (theology) and tesfir. The Qur'anic advice to "observe the sky" was completely forgotten, as noticed by the Turkish writer Katib Kelebi (seventeenth century) in his book The Equilibrium of the Truth. Even the comments were often reduced to superficial word games, verbal debates and grammatical pedantry. Some books on Arab syntax, known as Kafiya, were given mystical interpretation by some authors (?!). Mysticism infiltrated everything. Another phenomenon: learning by heart and endless memorizing, repetition instead of the search for knowledge. All these were the symptons or causes of overall stagnation.

The Notes from Prison cover many subjects -- in the index, under the letter "M," we find Macbeth, Maeterlinck, Moses Maimonides, Malcolm X, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Mayan culture, Henry Miller, Czeslaw Milosz and Octave Mirbeau, among others. There are pithy lines, like this one,

Socialism announced the withering away of the state. But what is actually happening? Instead of the state, the economy is withering away. The state, on the contrary, is growing fat and strong.

He, at least, shows few signs of stagnation...

Posted by Ideofact at September 15, 2003 11:54 PM

I must get ahold of this!

Posted by: Troy at March 3, 2004 11:19 PM

It's an interesting read -- not the sort of thing you go through cover to cover, but more the sort of thing that you flip around and read bits here and there.

Posted by: Bill at March 4, 2004 10:48 PM