Conference Essen – Germany , November 2018
( Turkish students association)
- Kemal Ergün IGMG President
M Şener Cebeci Turkish konsul Essen
M Ünal Ünalan Chairman of the youth organisation
M Selçuk Çiçek Chairman of the student department
First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this important meeting for their invitation and to convey to each of you my greetings and best wishes.
It is a great pleasure and a great honor for me to participate with the Turkish youth in this important event.
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my thanks as a Tunisian for the fraternal help that Turkey and President Rejeb taieb ordogan have brought to the Tunisian revolution.
I also want as an Arab to express my thanks to Turkey for opening its territory and heart to three million Syrians fleeing dictatorship and war.
I would like as a Muslim to express my thanks to Turkey for the image it gives of a successful Muslim country that commands respect.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to give my opinion on the sensitive and complex issues of Islamism, islamophobia, identity and to reflect upon the biggest challenges we face as Muslims living in a difficult, changing and sometimes hostile world.
The last time I was invited by such an audience was in Paris two decades ago. I was asked to lecture about Islam and human rights. I began my speech by saying that I would address the issue from my perspective as a secularist.
I was surprised, even shocked, to see the chair of the session interrupting me, taking away the microphone from my hands and promptly explaining the audience with embarrassment: Dr. Marzouki does not mean that he is atheist but that he is for the separation between religion and state.
I understood at that moment that for the Islamists -at least for a lot- secularism meant atheism.
I am not an atheist, not only because I believe in God, but also because the foundations that shape my social identity and that inspire my behaviors in everyday life are deeply Muslim.
For example, when I am overwhelmed by a catastrophe, I will repeat to myself: وعسى أن تكرهوا شيئا وهو حير لكم May this thing that you hate be in reality a blessing. Alternatively, when I get angry I will repeat instinctively to myself to calm down ; لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet.
The rule that has always led my life is also deeply Muslim: اعمل لدنياك كأنك نعيش أبدا واعمل لأخراك كأنك نموت غدا live your life in the world as if you were going to live forever, but think of the afterlife and live as if you were going to die tomorrow.
Today at more than seventy years, I continue to experience the same pleasure as when I was a child to see the month of Ramadan arrive and the same melancholy to see it end.
However, for many Islamists, it is very difficult to understand how a true Muslim can be secularist.
To answer that question you have to answer a more fundamental one: what does it mean to be a secularist?
As you know, there are many definitions of secularism. I do not want here to engage in lengthy academic debates. Let me simply give you my take on the matter, based on a lifelong experience of political struggles in Tunisia. For me, you cannot understand secularism properly without taking in account its main concern: dictatorship.
Think about the use of religion in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Think also about the use of atheism in dictatorship like the one that ruled the Soviet Union. In the first case -Islam -whether Sunni or Shia -has served to gain and monopolize power, because to revolt against power would be to revolt against Islam.
In the case of the Soviet Union, we saw an atheistic state destroying churches and mosques, persecuting believers in the name of a policy supposed to be the only one that could lead the people towards economic and social development.
So, being a secularist means simply that you equally oppose a state that persecutes religions and believers and a state that uses religion to impose absolute power ignoring the freely expressed will of the people.
Therefore, secularism is not a religion fighting another religion but a political attitude that denies the state the right to interfere with religious matters and the right of religion to interfere with the affairs of the state.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Secularism, like Islamism is a broad spectrum.
As you have moderate Islamists and extremist Islamists, you have moderate and extremist secularists.
For the latter, behind the desire to see a clear separation between politics and religion, between the state and the religious parties, lies a deep hatred of religion totally absent among moderate secularists.
Nowadays this secularist extremism is one of the main sources of Islamophobia in the world.
Allow me to make some comments about this Islamophobia since it is certainly, a problem that your generation will have to face sometimes in your daily life.
Today, wherever you go in the world, you may be confronted with some form of Islamophobia, which is no longer confined to the western world. It is rampant in Asia where Muslim minorities like in India, China, Myanmar, the Philippines, are fighting for their rights.
You may even encounter Islamophobia in some countries of sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America. The sad thing is that even in Arab and Muslim countries, some of the Westernized elite fighting against Islamist parties are no longer ashamed to hold an Islamophobic speech.
My generation, that is, the young Arabs of the sixties and seventies, had not suffered from Islamophobia, since it did not yet exist, but from anti-Arab racism.
The causes were the same ones as those that feed Islamophobia today. In the 1960s and 1970s successive crises in the Middle East, Palestinian attacks in Europe, and waves of migration in the West created the basis of this racism.
Just like anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia sees only the symptoms of the disease, but has no interest in its root causes.
Of course, we all condemn terrorist attacks against civilians in any country. Of course, we must not accept or justify terrorism. However, we must not accept either the double standard in tackling the problem. All human lives matter. I always remind my western friends that Islamist terrorism is a by- product or a side effect of Western policies supporting dictatorships in the Arab and Muslim world.
I also remind them that 90% of the terrorist attacks victims are Arabs and Muslims and that therefore the threat is terrorism not Islam.
In the past twenty years we observed in some political and social spheres, a shift from a hatred of terrorists to a hatred and fear of Muslims leading finally to a declared hatred of Islam itself.
Asma Uddine is a Muslim American. She is a religious liberty lawyer and scholar who wrote a book whose title is: When Islam is not a religion. What a strange title?
Let me quote what she wrote in an article published by the “New York Times” last September.
“The idea that Islam which has over 1.6 billion adherents worldwide is not a religion was even deployed in a 2010 legal challenge of county approval of building plans for a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The plaintiffs argued that Islam is not a religion but rather a geopolitical system bent on instituting jihadist and sharia law…the fear is not limited to mosque cases. There have been legislative efforts in 43 states to ban the practice of Islamic law or sharia law, 24 bills were introduced in 2017 alone according to the Haas institute at the University of California, Berkley.”
Islamophobia goes even further than not recognizing Islam as a religion. It wants to remove the right of Muslims to bear a Muslim name if they want to integrate into a Western society.
You may have heard of a far-right French journalist called Eric Zemmour who argued that to be a real Frenchman you have to have French names.
For him, one cannot be a real French if one is called Mohamed or Aisha. Parents with French nationality giving such names to their children even born in France express their refusal of integration into The French society.
Islamophobia therefore bears a charge against Muslims even with German, French or American nationality. A 2016 survey by the Pew research center US found that 11% of Americans think that most- or almost -all American Muslims are anti-American.
François Burgat is one of the most renknown French specialists in Islamism. He pointed out very astutely that what the French far right does not forgive to the second and third generations in Maghreb immigration is keeping Muslim first names and preserving the Muslim faith besides their French nationality. For the western far right in France or elsewhere you cannot be a French or a German unless you forget everything about your origins or hide them, and look for the most rapid integration in a new and artificial identity.
This poses the difficult problem of identity and its relationship to citizenship. How to be both Muslim and German, Muslim and Chinese? Contrary to what one might think, the question also concerns countries of the Arab or Islamic world.
How to be Muslim and Tunisian in a country where some people want to cut any relationship with religion and others want to make it the center of political and social life?
I believe that the worst way to define yourself is to do it as opposed to other human groups. I am Muslim because I am not Jewish, Christian or Hindu. Of course, I consider myself superior – or sometimes inferior – to these other human groups. It is this kind of identity, when pushed to its extreme by ignorance and fear that has always generated racism, nationalism, religious fanaticism and terrible wars.
Now consider your identity as belonging to a human group that owes you its protection and all your human rights and for which you are in return responsible. This human group is of variable size. You belong to a family, to a region; to a people; to a nation, to a religion and to all humanity.
You hold your personality and all the conditions of your very existence from these superimposed sets. In return, you have responsibilities towards all of them. This relationship of dependence- responsibility defines your identity. You are not Muslim because you are against Jews or Christians but because you feel more responsible towards the Muslim community than towards the Jewish community.
The identity of a person or a people has had and will always have the same two basic characteristics.
The first is complexity. An identity is like a geological section of a field, i.e. it consists of superimposed layers.
As I said before, you have the name of a family because you are part of this core group that owes you protection and to whom you owe respect.
Now add layers of belonging to larger and larger groups of people; the region or tribe, the people, the nation, this or that religion, and you have the fundamental elements that make up your identity.
The second characteristic of this identity is dynamic evolution. The identity of a person or a people is always a process that sometimes evolves very slowly, sometimes very rapidly.
It is clear that when a young Syrian settled in Germany for years, he will gradually move away from his fellow Syrians who stayed in Syria and that he will get closer to the Germans living with him in the same neighborhood.
If this is the case, why do Islamophobes reject the idea that Germany identity may include a Muslim component, or refuse the idea that one may be a French citizen while being called Mohamed or Aisha?
Let’s be aware of a naive conception of racism and Islamophobia.
Racism always implies a strategy of classification where a human group or a person, whether black or white, named Mohamed, Chang or Levy is held as inferior and granted fewer rights than the dominant group. Racists are the individuals who believe, propagate and live according to this belief.
The classification and its consequences can be crude and visible as in the apartheid regime in South Africa. It may be barely visible. This situation is most interesting because it reveals the insidious nature of racism.
A few years ago, a sociological survey focused on the subtle hierarchies in a community composed entirely of British whites, Anglicans belonging to the same middle class. One cannot speak about racism but the survey showed that Newcomers to the neighborhood were subject to discrete discrimination. The older you were in the community, the higher your social status was.
Obviously, newcomers were seen with suspicion as they could represent a danger for the stability of the group, for the privileges of the oldest etc.
It seems to me that this is the hard core of racism: fear and mistrust of newcomers who have to fight for a very long time before being accepted. Moreover, they themselves will be able to have the same attitudes once they are well settled with respect to the next generation of newcomers.
Racism is in fact made of a diffuse fear that these newcomers endanger your social status and therefore has nothing to do with religion, nationality or the skin’s color. This is why we must fight against racism but should not hate or despise the racists. Rather we should have pity and reassure them if possible. Never forget that the racist actually badly needs what he rejects most. This other who threatens his social status is also the one who reassures him because there is fortunately somebody who is even lower than he is in the social hierarchy.
Now Muslims, mainly in the west will probably have to face this kind of racism called islamophobia for the years and decades to come before they are accepted as the last layer of the western identity.
The main reason has nothing to do with Islam or Muslims but with the social dynamic that sees the economic and ecological crises hit hard the formerly settled populations and the arrival of flows of immigrants from the Muslim world.
How to tackle the situation? How to resist the ugly and dangerous tide of islamophobia that will probably get bigger?
Look at the trees that are most resistant to storms, you will see that they are bending but not breaking. Why do they resist the most violent winds? The main reason is that they have strong and deep roots.
So are humans except that their roots are the beliefs that make up what we call faith.
Did you ask yourselves: What is the deepest nature of the Muslim faith and what does being Muslim mean?
I asked myself this question at every terrorist attack on Muslim soil or abroad. If you ask yourself this question, do not look for the answer in the sermons of the imams or the writings of the scholars. Go find it at the origin: the prophet himself who knows best what a Muslim is.
I have always been amazed by the “hadith” where the prophet described himself and described his mission.
He said: إنما بعثت لأتمم مكارم الأخلاق, which means approximatively “I was sent to complete the highest moral values”
Consider very carefully what Hadith says and especially what he does not say. The prophet did not say: I was sent – by God, of course – to ask you to worship Allah. He did not say I was sent to teach you how to pray, fast or perform the rites of Hajj. He did not say I was sent to teach you on what bases to build an Islamic state. He did not say I was sent to teach you Jihad so that you forcibly subjugate other peoples to Islam.
No, he said that he was sent by God to complete, that is, to preach, follow, and show the way to the highest moral values. I would like to emphasize the term used by the prophet to designate the moral values he considers the raison d’être of his mission in the world.
The adjective Makarem is difficult to translate into English or French, the two languages I know. It derives from the root Karam, from which come the words hospitality, generosity or dignity.
Let me tell you that these are the most respected values among the Arabs of today and the time of the prophet. Note also that these are values antithetical with racism.
When your attitudes and behaviors are based on مكارم الأخلاق…. this means that you will welcome others, that you will give them all you can to help them, that you will respect their dignity and especially that you will behave yourself with dignity in all circumstances.
It is by following this path that you can be a true Muslim and not only by respecting the rites of Islam.
Why do I insist on this point? Because to face the years and decades to come you are going to need a lot of moral values such as, openness, generosity optimism , courage and determination as shown by the prophet all his life.
The world has never been easy for any generation, but the challenges your generation faces are unprecedented. In addition, you are no longer entitled to naivety that has helped our generation a little to be always optimistic. In the 1960s, all peoples shared a common religion: Progressivism. We believed that democracy, socialism, human rights, technology would give a bright future to all humankind.
No one could have imagined the dramatic migrations as we see every day or the shame’s walls built in Palestine, Bengal, on the Mexican border, not to mention camps for children separated from their parents who were smuggled to the US.
Who could have predicted the disintegration of the Arab world with so many wars and civil wars in Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Syria?
Nobody could foresee that socialism would collapse, or that we would go from corrupt dictatorships to corrupt democracies, or that racism would take on a new face called Islamophobia replacing the anti- Semitism of yesteryear.
In the same way we were completely blind to the upheavals that technology would bring to our lives and the danger that global warming posed to the future of humanity.
These are all challenges your generation faces. I do not think that you can face them without a solid moral frame. You can find this framework in the implicit order given by the prophet: Stick to the highest moral values.
Why is this order so important? Because moral behavior when it is adopted without hypocrisy is the best guarantee of the success of our actions whether in the short or the long term. If it is to be adopted not because it is good… but because it is the best way to serve our interests and those of the community that protects us and to whom we are accountable.
Let me go back to the image of the tree. Your deep roots would be this vision of Islam as the pursuit of the highest moral values.
The stem that cannot yield to any storm would be the practice of the highest moral values. The tree also has leaves that allow it to capture the energy of the world and transmit it.
This relationship to the world is what gives the tree its strength, beauty and utility.
Islam is very clear about the relationship you must have with the world. It is not allowed when one reads the Qur’an to say this verse is the most beautiful or the most convincing. But there is no possible discussion of key verses that will be repeated and explained many times. For me one of these fundamental verses is the one where God says: مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا
قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا ۚ
As you know, it is always difficult and risky to translate the Qur’an. I will not try, but I will give you the meaning of the verse.
This verse is at once incredibly simple and far-reaching. The verse says that to kill a human being unfairly is to kill all humanity, to protect the life of a single human being; it is to protect the life of all humanity..
This verse has a treasure of meaning. It states that every human being is, as one says in diplomacy, the unique and legitimate representative of the human species.
it argues that all humanity can be contained in one of its members.
Beyond this evidence forgotten or unknown by all racists, the verse founds another truth.
This truth warns you against unfairly killing a single human being and reminds you that helping only one human being is equivalent to helping all humanity. Why? Because Humanity is the widest and the largest family. You owe it what you owe to the family whose name you bear, or the one you call my people, my nation, or my fellow-believers.
The verse gives you at the same time the last and probably the most important layer of your identity since we have seen that this identity is given by the group that protects us and that we serve to the best of our abilities…
It can be summed up as follows: The only identify with, and is accountable to his country, the racist only to his imaginary race.
Islamists consider themselves accountable only to members of the Muslim community.
However, Muslims go higher and further. For them humanity is the family, which contains all the other families that protect them and which they must take care of.
I wish you to be this kind of Muslims and to follow the difficult and exciting path of the prophet, because by so doing you will be part of the solution, not anther a problem .
Thank you for your attention and good luck to all of you.