Will Islam have a place in the Europe of the future? Beyond being the private religious belief of some immigrants? That will depend upon us Muslims! And our ability to present, interpret and communicate the message.
Naturally, that depends upon God. He will ensure that the message will live. But its strength, and the influence it will have, will largely depend upon us. Because God will not change a society (us) before society changes itself.
God makes demands on us. About believing and doing what is right. He has sent prophets to spread the good word (about everlasting life in Paradise) and to warn (against the Fire). Will Europe be able to absorb this? We must look at some of Europe?s characteristics.
Europe is moving towards increased secularisation. Less and less people believe in God. They do not include Him in their lives.
More and more people look to false gods. They make gods of their own impulses and desires.
Material growth is becoming a powerful god that many people wish to seek.
However, do not think that this will weaken Europe! At any rate not immediately. Europe contains great resources of material and social growth. But spiritual direction is needed. Can Islam contribute to this?
The situation might remind us of Noah?s. He lived, it is believed, in an affluent society. People cultivated material wealth and were occupied with increasing it. Parallel with this came the spread of secularisation.
What was Noah?s message to the secularised people of his time? ?Believe in God? was his message, neither more nor less. It was a simple message. But Noah could not get anyone to believe!
Our message must also be simple. But adapted to a complex society. And that creates great demands. Are we ready to tackle them?
We must follow some Islamic principles given by God in the Koran:
- Make things simple, not difficult for people!
- Leave aside that which, if they asked, would complicate the picture for them.
- Read the Koran, says God, and choose the best things from it.
?But, my friend,? some will say, ?Does not the whole Koran come from God? Has He given us some things that are good, and other things that are less good? Shall we choose, from God?s gifts, between good and bad??
All that comes from God is good! But it has to be adapted to its time. Choose what is best for our time, is what God says.
We must use our common sense! We must think, reason and interpret the message, see it in the best light in relation to our time. That is the challenge we face.
Someone has said ? I do not know if it is true ? that the word or expression which is repeated most often in the Koran is: Think! Reason! Use common sense! Yes, God says in the Koran that ?the most wretched of God?s creatures is (…) that which does not use reason!? We have a duty to think, and to think ourselves.
We must know those we talk to! In our case it concerns people in Europe. We must have knowledge of the existing society.
European Muslims should be well equipped for this. Muslim immigrants must acquire knowledge, and contribute Islamic experience. Everything must be adapted to the actual situation, and be steered by reason and instinct.
What must be communicated?
What is it we must communicate? Some general remarks about that. We must communicate what is true! We must speak about truisms in the world! Just like Noah ? about that which is linked to God! That refers to existential truisms rather than identity and culture.
Let people dress as they wish (with God?s guidance for Muslims).
Let them eat what they wish (with the Koran?s limitations for us).
Does it matter how people greet one another, and what about the length of people?s hair and beards?
Some people turn Islam into a formalistic belief! They move away from the core of Islam. They turn Islam into something superficial and defunct.
God speaks against this. Superficial forms are not so important. It is not significant, says God, ?whether you face the east or the west,? but whether you
- believe in God and the final day, the angels, the Book, the prophets
- give to those in need
- free those who are shackled
- pray and give zakat
- are stout and resolute in your endeavours
This is what God demands of us! We must have faith, be resolute and act justly! And this will be the message to the Europe of the future.
We must believe
- in God. And what is the correct representation of God? God is not three, in a trinity. God does not resemble man. God is best referred to as follows, in this description by Imam Ali: ?God is He Who arose from nothing, and from nothing created everything in existence! No place is without Him, for He is omnipresent. In all that happens is He, Whom events cannot limit. So great is He, that space cannot contain Him. No norm can apply to Him. No adulation accords Him justice. He can neither be construed by imagination, nor comprehended by reason.?
- in the final day. Without it no justice would be possible. The phenomenon of life would be meaningless. But God did not create the world by chance, He gave it meaning.
- in the angels, the Book and the prophets. And in Muhammad, as the last prophet.
This will be the message for Europe, and it may accept it! Perhaps we shall not stand like Noah, trying in vain to engender faith.
We must be the best example, says the Koran. And then we must consider our acts. Without acts our faith would be empty! God repeats it anew when in the Koran He speaks to us, saying: ?Those who have faith, and do what is right.? These two things always go hand in hand.
Formalism is also a hindrance! God says: ?Woe is he who prays, but who takes his moral duties lightly!? Acts of goodness are an essential part!
So this will be our message, now and in the future: Have faith, and do what is right!
We must speak to people in the best possible manner. And know that they too may be right! Of course they may. God is the only judge. He knows what is right and wrong.
Remember that in Europe, in individual attitudes, there lie important moral and intellectual qualities that many Muslims could learn from!
We must not behave in a sectarian manner! The Koran warns against that. We must not be like some small, encapsulated group that believes that it alone knows best! God is the One who knows!
These are the message and attitudes. And perhaps we ought to remind ourselves of this:
We must distinguish between constant and variable, also in the Islamic faith. Some things are eternal absolutes, while others may be relative.
We must distinguish between Islam?s religion and our understanding of it. Religion is eternal, from God, whereas our understanding is human and earthly.
Our understanding grows and evolves in accordance with our general development. Thus, religious understanding is governed by time.
The Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet, and Islam is the last faith, but interpreters of the law are not the ultimate ones, because in time we gain new understanding.
Can we establish a dialogue with Europe? We certainly ought to! We ourselves are Europeans, many of us, and part of the European tradition. We should be able to influence it, and make Islam a vital force.
That is the challenge we face, and let us hope that ?the others? will accept our proffered hand.