May 27, 2004

Four Enclosed Walls -- I.

Zack Ajmal of the excellent Procrastination blog has a post well worth reading -- and be sure to follow the links. I won't say any more, but it provides a rather important contrast to a lot of the kinds of writing by Muslims I've spent my time with of late. Thanks, Zack, for posting it, and much else of value as well.

A while back, Zack wrote a post on the confusion surrounding the term "Islamist," in which he noted that the late Alija Izetbegovic, the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina during its first, war-torn years of independence, is often labelled an Islamist along with Sayyid Qutb. In fact, if you click here, on the table of contents page of Qutb's work Milestones, and look in the lower right hand corner of the page, you'll find Izetbegovic listed along with Qutb, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and others of their ilk. I admit, it's a disturbing juxtaposition, and, I think, an entirely erroneous one.

I've quoted from Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison, 1983-1988, before, but allow me to do so again:

The principal characteristic of the Reformation (and Luther's teachings): man achieved independence in religious issues. Luther deprived the Church of its authority and transferred it to the individual. This contributed significantly to the development of political and spiritual freedom. But, what might seem rather incompatible with this is that Luther, in his works, stated that man's nature is evil and vicious and he can only be saved by God's mercy. A similar seeming contradiction can be found in the Qur'an. Both man's responsibility and God's mercy are true.


Around the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D., Islamic theology split to assume two 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.


Democracy, by its definition, contains as well the possibility of misuse of democracy. Who attempts to "cure" democracy from this danger kills with this cure democracy itself. Freedom should be accepted as such, with all of its risks. There is no choice here.

Izetbegovic writes approvingly of the innovative power of American small businesses, of Herman Hesse ("I noticed that he was absorbed in the same thoughts as myself, except that he was better at expressing them"), of the philosophy of Aristotle ("How deep Aristotle's metaphysics"), of the compatibility of Hellenistic culture and philosophy with Islam, of the universality of Western concepts of human rights -- and yes, of his Islamic faith. Contrast that with Qutb, who wrote, in the eighth chapter of Milestones,

However, a Muslim can study all the opinions and thoughts of jahili writers, not from the point of view of constructing his own beliefs and concepts, but for the purpose of knowing the deviations adopted by Jahiliyyah, so that he may know how to correct these man-made deviations in the light of the true Islamic belief and rebut them according to the sound principles of the Islamic teachings.

Philosophy, the interpretation of history, psychology (except for those observations and experimental results which are not part of anyone's opinion) ethics, theology and comparative religion, sociology (excluding statistics and observations)-all these sciences have a direction which in the past or the present has been influenced by jahili beliefs and traditions. That is why all these sciences come into conflict, explicitly or implicitly, with the fundamentals of any religion, and especially with Islam.

For Qutb, Islam precludes Aristotle; for Izetbegovic, it confirms him.

The unfortunate byproduct of spending too much time with Qutb is that one begins to forget what a crackpot he is -- one begins, however unconsciously, to accept his premises and descriptions of Islam, one ends enclosed within the walls of his thought, in that very tiny space he has constructed for Islam. Reading Izetbegovic, who believes that Islam too is an heir of the same intellectual heritage that produced Socrates and Luther, Kafka and Averroes, is a useful corrective.

Posted by Ideofact at May 27, 2004 11:02 PM

dunno if its relevant, but my own sect actually considers Aristotle a minor prophet :) I wonder whether Izetbegovic had any Ismaili influences..

Posted by: Aziz at May 28, 2004 10:43 AM


That's interesting. Izetbegovic writes somewhere of the continuity of prophets in Islam, and asks whether Socrates, Lao Tzu and Confucius might be considered among them.

I think though that Izetbegovic was fairly Sunni in his beliefes.

Posted by: Bill at May 28, 2004 02:04 PM