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Islam At the Cross Roads: 'Submitting One's Intellect'

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Much is going on in the world right now that it is almost impossible to make sense and meaning of reality. Are we to trust our own judgements of events, or the ones pushed through the numerous media platforms - both new and old? Who is the authoritative voice in matters relating to personal well-being, faith, identity, tradition on the one side, and globalisation, technology and geo-political economics on the other? God knows where we, as mankind, are heading and to exactly what end.

In this first blog of mine, I'd like to relate to you anecdotes from a person who I regard quite highly - Murad Wilfried Hofmann, A German Christian Diplomat who offered to publish his personal memoirs in "Journey to Islam - Diary of a German Diplomat, 1951-2000" (published by The Islamic Foundation, 2001). In it, he skirts many philosophical, moral and religious concepts whilst stationed in various cities around the world during his Bonn Foreign Office and Ambassadorial roles, as well as serving as the Information Director of NATO (1983-87).
Mr Hofmann is a close friend of Leopold Weiss, an Austrian of Jewish descent who later accepted Islam and became better known as Muhammad Asad, who wrote a commentary on the Quran, "The Message of the Quran" (1980), as well as the much-acclaimed autobiography "The Road to Macca" (1954) about his conversion to Islam.

With "Islam at the Crossroads" (1934), Mr Hofmann writes, "Asad helped to restore dignity and cultural self-assurance to an apologetic Islamic world that had lost all confidence under the onslaught of Western technological supremacy. Writing more than fifty years ago in Delhi, Asad predicted the following with astonishing far-sightedness: "It may be....that the growing social and economic unrest, and possibly a new series of world wars of hitherto unknown dimensions and scientific terrors will lead the materialistic self-deceit of Western civilisation in such a gruesome way ad absurdum, that its people will begin once more, in humility and earnest, to search after spiritual truths: and then a successful preaching of Islam in the West might become possible."

Of their long-awaited meeting in Lisbon's Tivoli Hotel, 1985, accompanied by Mr Asad's American wife, Pola Hamida, Mr Murad Hofmann writes, "I ask as many questions as I possibly can without being rude in order to find out more about the background of the astonishing scientific and literary achievements he has made for Islam over much of this century. I also remind him of his hope, expressed in the 1930's, that Islam would fill the vacuum left when Western and Communist atheism would both leave the stage in a state of spiritual bankruptcy. His prediction was partially correct, for both systems are in decline. However, contrary to his expectations, Islam was not recognised as the alternative, because not one Muslim country has developed in such a way that it could be seen, in the West, as an attractive and convincing counter model. On the contrary."

Though my intention here is to introduce you to myself and my thoughts, it is perhaps more appropriate, as in this instance, that I introduce you to my inner world through the thoughts, visions and interpretations of those I admire, chime with, and who have trodden similar paths of understanding before me and therefore submit reflections that mirror mine. While the individual paths of destiny may vary, the journeying is non-the-less uniform.

In Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), on the 5th of February 1983, Mr Hoffman noted in his diary an entry entitled "Submitting One's Intellect'. I reproduce it here in full: "During the annual Spring meeting of German-speaking Muslims in Aachen's Bilal Mosque, someone challenges the compatibility of my position as NATO Information Director with my Islamic convictions. I, however, see no difficulty in reconciling these two roles. Indeed, if Islam is to grow in the West at all, the West must, above all, be secure from Soviet expansionism and intimidation. This greatest of external dangers - even for the Islamic world - is contained and neutralised by the Atlantic Alliance.

I admit, of course, that the Soviet Union, as the leading power of world Communism, poses a lesser ideological problem for Islam than Western agnosticism, materialism and technology. Western "scientific" atheism comes silently on little cat feet (to borrow Robert Frost's words), whereas Soviet "scientific" atheism is brutally imposed by the Red Army tank divisions, as in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, any spiritual rejuvenation in the West, including the readiness to opt for Islam, presupposes physical security against Soviet intervention. Therefore, the political interests of NATO and the Islamic nations currently coincide. I am also expected to explain my personal "road to Mecca". Well, here is what I said:
"When I read the Quran for the first time, I was immediately impressed, even struck, by a statement in verse 164 of the 6th surah (chapter): 'Nobody shall be made to bear another's burden.' I mistook this as a moral (and most un-Christian) rule rather than seeing it correctly as a theological reality: that man and woman face their Creator directly, without any possibility of intercession. 'Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless by His leave?' is the precision given in the Verse of the Throne (2:255). 'Not to bear another's burden' has second, equally fundamental implication: the denial of the concept of Hereditary Sin. If one does not proceed from the assumption that we are desperately in need of 'salvation, one will not search for a 'saviour' and is unlikely to find one. Hence, this single Quranic statement throws a great deal of light on the mechanism that can lead to the derailment of Christianity.

"Having understood this, I also realised that Islam was not retrograde, but rather had moved mankind forward, beyond the stage it had reached after Jesus. Using Hegelian and Marxist terminology, Islam put Christendom back on its feet after having stood on its head.
"Agnostics, while claiming that we cannot know anything with certainty beyond the reach of our sensual perception, generally proceed to assert that there is 'probably' no reality beyond. This is not an intelligent but an unjustified, biased position. It would be far more honest to maintain that, on the basis of human intellectual inquiry, we cannot establish probabilities regarding the unseen.

"Having assumed this latter position for a while, I suddenly realised intuitively that the limits of what we can know are the limits of reality. This was a decision to believe. I had been so impressed with our severely limited ability to perceive anything reliably that I preferred a position of humble dignity to a position of stupid pride - the position assumed by supposedly daring and self-sufficient agnostics who all too often live in icy, narrow self-isolation.

"Thus I consciously submitted myself, including my intellect, to the larger reality of which I felt myself to be a tiny part. I submitted to what is greatest among what is greater than man: God. Allahu akbar kabiran - God is greater than the greatest (we can imagine).
"In saying this, I do not want to lead anyone to the slippery slope of defining God anthropomorphically. It is one thing to enumerate the 'Ninety-nine most beautiful names' (attributes) of God, and it is another to be under the illusion that these allegorical attributes, coined in human language, sum up and describe His nature and being. In as much as we are slaves of our self-made vocabulary, even with the help of revelation we can only catch a glimpse of God's incomprehensible reality."
To have said more would have been less.

Mr Hofmann wrote these notes in the early Eighties about the Soviet expansionism. We have, over the past ten years or so, been witnessing the near-same activity through American Imperialism namely in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan. I wonder what the real difference in values between the two is when all the intellectualism is cut through clinically and the pre-texts to war are set aside, just for a moment...?

And so this forms my first submission to Huffington Post as I endeavour to post more enlightening passages from Mr Hofmann and his ilk, in addition to my own interpretations of reality, as best as I can perceive it given my limited human abilities.