Alija Izetbegovic’s book: Islam Between East and West

Alija Izetbegovic- Ex Bosnian President

The best remark that can be made about this book is one that Mohamed Ghilan came across in a review posted on Amazon in 2011 by Julia Simpson: “This is a heady distillation of intellectual Muslim thought, demonstrating the kind of man Izetbegovic was. I once gave this book to my father (an agnostic) who said, ‘He’s so intelligent it’s scary.’ Islam Between East and West is a modern treatise on cultures and civilization which attempts to show how so many philosophies have failed to give human beings what they need.” I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Author’s note on his book:

Islam Between East and West is not a book of theology. It deals with dogmas, institutionsm and teachings of Islam with the aim of establishing the place of Islam in the general spectrum of ideas. It is a book at Islam not from within but rather from without. In this sense, the topic of the book is not primarily Islam as a teacher but Islam as an outlook on the world.

The book consists of two parts. The first part entitled PRE-MISES deals with religion in general. The second part is dedicated to Islam or more precisely to one of its aspects — biopolarity.

The PREMISES are in fact polemics on atheism and materialism. The respective positions held by religion and atheism in facing the question of man’s origin and related issues of evolution and creation are discussed through the following six chapters of this part:

Chapter 1: Creation and Evolution

Chapter: Culture and Civilization

Chapter 3: The Phenomenon of Art

Chapter 4: Morality

Chapter 5: Culture and History

Chapter 6: Drama And Utopia

The thesis is that by an inherent logic, evolution, civilization, science and utopia are parallel to atheism, whereas creation, culture, arts and morals are parallel to religion.

Evolution by its very nature and regardless of complexity and duration could not “produce” man but only a perfect or perfected animal as a future member of society. Socialism, as a practical and social consequence, does not deal with man but rather with the organization of the life of the social animal. Man is primarily a spiritual and not a biological or social factor and could originate only by the act of divine creation. Thus, if there were no God, there could be no man, and if there were no man, there would be no culture, only the needs of their satisfaction- that is, only civilization. Atheism accepts science and progress; yet in its essence, it implies the negation of man and by the same token a refutation of humanism, freedom and human rights. Behind the contradiction between culture and civilization stands in fact the basic contrast between conscience/mind and being/nature, or on the practical plane, between religion and science.

Every culture is theistic in essence; every civilization is atheistic. Therefore, in the same way as science does not lead to humanism and in principle has nothing in common with culture, religion by itself does not lead to progress. By widening and deepening in this analysis, the first part of the book establishes this all encompassing dualism of the human world, exemplified by the “insurmountable” conflicts between spirit and body, religion and science, and culture and civilization. This view of the world reflects the so called Christian level of humanity consciousness.

Socialism is an expression of the same level of consciousness. The same dillema is in question, only the choice is different and anti-Christian socialism is inverse Christianity. Socialistic values are Christian values with negative signs; in fact, they are inverted equivalents: instead of religion; science; instead of individuality, society; instead of humanism; progress; instead of upbringing, drill; instead of love, violence; instead of freedom, social security; instead of human rights; social rights; instead of civets dei, civitas solis.

Is man able to overcome this contradiction, this either or between heaven and earth, or is he condemned forever to this stretching between the two? Is there a way by which science can serve religion, hygiene, piety, progress and humanism? Could the utopia of civitas solis be inhabited with human beings instead of anonymous and faceless individuals and have the features of “God’s Kingdom” on earth?

The second part of the book is dedicated to this question. The answer is yes, in Islam. Islam is not only a religion or a way of life but primarily the principle of the organization of the universe. Islam existed before man and it is, as the Quran explicitly states, a principle by which man was created. Hence, one finds an inherent harmony between man and Islam or, as the book calls it, the “manlikeness” of Islam. In the same way as man is a unity of spirit and body, Islam is a unity of religion and social order, and just as the body in prayer (salah) can follow the movement of the soul, the social order can serve the ideals of religion and ethics. This unity, foreign both to Christianity and materialism, is basic and the “most Islamic” characteristic of Islam.

The concept in question is examined in the second part of the book by discussing a series of topics in the field of religion, law and cultural and political history. This part of the book begins with a parallel of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them) who represent three primeval answers to mankind’s encounter with history, while the Quran is a unique synthesis of the realism of the Old Testament and the idealism of the New Testament.

In Chapter VIII an analysis of the five basic pillars of Islam is given, with salah(Islamic prayer) holding the central position.

Salah is infact an abbreviation of Islam as a whole, its “code” or “cipher.” It originated from bringing together two principles which in the viewpoint of Christianity are contradictory and unlinkable, namely without that of wudu(ritual ablution) and that of prayer. These two principles are in the very foundation of Islam. Rationalism that rejects mysticism and mysticism that excludes a rationalistic approach violate this “Salah balance principle.” Any one sided radicalism in this regard is a descent to the Christian level of consciousness- a violation of the axis of Islam. In the same way, if Islam represent man’s natural potential it must be found be it in imperfect form or in fragments wherever religious people think and work, that is, wherever religious people “…do not forget their part in this world.” The author finds the symptoms of this phenomenon, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The book ends with the essay “Submission to God” as the soul of Islam.