Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Riding The Wave of Time and Nomos

By Abu Bakr Rieger, Germany 2009:

12th International Fiqh Conference, The Centre for the Book, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa is a tremendously beautiful country. But it is also a land of powerful contradictions. It may sound a little strange, but I would like to begin my talk on the re-definition of politics, by describing a visit to the beach in nearby Muizenberg. It was there, a few days ago, that I actually came upon the two key themes of my talk.

With your permission, I would like to relate to you what happened there.

A close friend of mine had taken me with him, to watch his little son surf. Initially with amusement, but then with growing admiration, I watched the boy try to climb, at the right moment, onto his little board. He tried a few times. Then he tried again. Then he tried dozens more times. But what to me was so remarkable was not the enormous patience of all this trying, nor the enormous will-power it obviously demanded of him. It was something quite different.

I realised that it was not will-power alone which drove the little boy on and on; it was also his conviction and certainty that he would eventually catch the right moment, even if only once. And indeed, in the end he did manage it. For a few seconds he surfed, and with calm contentment he enjoyed the interaction between his little personality, the wave, and the whole of the world between the land and the sea.

He achieved this moment of success not only by his will, but by a tuned intuition, and his capacity to recognise the right moment. It is this intuition, oriented towards unity and success, which transcends the simple will, and which is in fact our true nature. As we will see, capacities such as these are essential to the powerful re-definition of politics.

A little later that morning, I witnessed the other theme of this talk. In the midst of the colourful beachside world of tourists, surfers and leisure-seekers, an old, strange man dressed in a winter jacket suddenly walked right up to me. But it was not me he was approaching. It was the rubbish basket next to me.

The man opened the bin, and fished out a coffee cup which had been thrown in carelessly before. He swallowed down its entire contents greedily. All the while, with complete impassivity, we seemed to look right through each other.

What shocked me was not the man’s dismal poverty. It was the fact that he appeared completely separate, moving in another world with its own set of rules. Between his world and mine ran an unbridgeable divide. These parallel worlds, which are so typical of our times, are what we witness daily on the news. Little boats full of refugees on the Mediterranean, dashed on the rocks of our prosperity. The Chinese government, perpetrating acts of barbarity on the Uyghurs, described in tones of grey indifference.

This brings us to the second theme of my talk. The new politics which we are to define are directed towards a single world, undivided justice, and one truth.

I have begun with these two themes in order also to illustrate a fundamental difficulty in re-defining politics.

If it is to be truly new, then the re-definition of politics must find more than just a new language. Our politics must also be based upon a new, different, whole way of thinking. In order to understand what constitutes the political, we require an appropriate philosophy – and yet we must not forget that the result of every genuine philosophy is the confirmation of Unity, which in itself spells the end of philosophy as such.

Because it is easier, allow me to state briefly what the re­definition of politics does NOT involve.

At the core of this new political thinking will be neither a “new” opinion, nor a “new” plan. And of course, we will not be hearing the new ideas of a new political class, who pretend to know how we are to get quickest from A to B. It is not about Revolution, it is about understanding political event and destiny more deeply.

Let us go further! We shall not be bemoaning the apparent powerlessness of the Muslims, nor bewailing the lost greatness of former empires. The new politics will not measure its influence on world affairs in terms of human ideas of power and impotence. And we are not yet speaking about the outward manifestations of political or Muslim power, the granting of which is by Allah alone, subhanahu wa ta’ala.

We shall even let go of the idea that there is an individual subject, or individual proponents, of politics. Instead, at this moment, here and now, our political thesis is quite simply as follows:

We, ourselves, are the Nomos!

If, after looking at Europe in its old form, we dare to look ahead, then only one group is equipped to emerge even stronger than before out of the ruins of Old Europe. That group is the Muslims. Their potential for establishing their Nomos, or rather of being a Nomos, is limited neither by the development of the World State, nor by the financial crisis. We Muslims may even benefit from these things, since, as Ernst J√ľnger rightly pointed out, the cost of establishing the World State is to allow considerable local freedom in many places around the globe.

So we have claimed that we, the Muslims, ARE the new Nomos.

Is that really true? Let us test the thesis!

  • Can we establish Salat and Zakat today? Yes, we can.
  • Can we produce the Dinar, Dirham and Fulus today? Yes, we can.
  • Can we conduct halal trade between ourselves today? Yes, we can.
  • Can we take over land today and found Awqaf? Yes, we can.
  • Can we follow our Amirs today? Yes, we can.
  • Can we establish networks of Muslims all over the world? Yes, we can.
  • Can we travel to Makkah and Madinah today? Yes, we can.

It is this timeless ability to be a Nomos which promises all of us a good future together. By this Nomos, townships and favelas, destitute zones and camps can become places with a history, location, and order.

At the beginning of this talk I recalled the impoverished old man in Muizenberg. Let us not deceive ourselves. He will be as incapable of establishing the Nomos as a Turkish immigrant in Cologne. But the new Nomos, brought forward energetically by new, Muslim leaders on every continent, is dedicated to him. We all share with him that innate human poverty which we recognise when, dressed in cloths, we circulate the Kaaba.

Shortly before he died, old and destitute, Nietzsche said that nihilism is equivalent to having no objectives. We, the Muslims, have many, many objectives: from the setting-up of Internet-TV, to the establishment of soup kitchens, to the operation of high-tech coin-minting machines! We have the objectives. Now we have to seek the wave. Being political definitely means being able to travel! There is no place in the world which has ever been able to contain the Deen in its entirety.

In order to understand what Islam is today, and to see what we as Muslims will be able to do, we must travel on a global scale. Politically speaking, what is required is the identification of possibilities, and the formation of alliances. In Europe this may involve calling the elites to Islam; in Asia it could mean establishing the Dinar, Dirham and Fulous; and in African it might mean organising soup kitchens for the poor.

Every journey has its own secret. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that anyone who wants to know what Europe really is should visit Capri. He said: “Only if you visit Capri will you discover a certain aspect of your soul.” Of course, we as Muslims should visit our own cities so that we recognise our own, very Muslim essence. What can you know about Islam and the Muslims if you have never visited Istanbul, Samarkand, Cairo or Granada?

Our strength comes from visiting extraordinary places and people. Of course – and here I come towards the end of my talk – this applies to our visiting Cape Town. Here, in the Mosque, in the College, in the Madrasa, tremendous chemical laws are at play, laws which Goethe described so wonderfully as “Elective Affinities”. May Allah always protect the secret of this city. Amin.

I hope you will understand that, rather than succumbing to the intoxication of the political, I would prefer to finish my talk by putting forward a paradox. The heart of the re-definition of politics which I have attempted to set out to you today, is not political at all. At its heart, beyond friend and enemy, is the experience of Unity.


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