by Halima Krausen
Muslim Lecture Part I 2015
I travelled in Europe and various Asian and African countries in order to learn from scholars, explore books, and sample everyday and spiritual life both in diaspora communities and in countries with a Muslim majority. I have no problem adapting to new routines, kinds of food and clothes, or social conventions as long as there is some kind of "just balance" with regard to the division of obligations and responsibilities and enough space to move. It is quite easy for me to feel comfortable, even "at home", in diverse Muslim groups and even to make a constructive contribution and to keep in touch later, whether people are Sunnis or Shi'ahs from different schools of thought or local traditions or belong to various Sufi orders (the disadvantage is perhaps that, when I move on, I sometimes feel "homesick" for what I left behind). I came to perceive and appreciate those differences like different languages that challenge my creativity and open new insights - and this applies even beyond the boundaries of formal religions.
I do have difficulties with groups that are too monolithic - and with that I mean groups with a "fixed ideology" that immediately condemn unusual questions and ideas, isolate themselves against "Others", or even try to impose their views on the rest of the world. This may have biographical reasons: shocked by the experience of the generation of my parents and grandparents, I developed a kind of allergy against anything that smells like "Gleichschaltung", mental uniform that leaves no space for communication and development, splitting up the world into oversimplified categories of "Us equals good" and "Them equals bad" and creating an illusion of absolutely fixed commands and prohibitions as well as simple goals to be committed to that may make some people feel "secure" but leaves no space for conscience.
I don't think, though, that this makes me a relativist individualist. My philosophy is rather that of "diversity in balance". This is also how I read the corresponding Qur'anic passages: they point out the diversity of interacting species, the differences of human "languages and colours", and even contrasts like day and night or life and death as "signs" of the One Creator. In today's world we become increasingly aware how easily the balance of nature can be upset by interfering with the fabric of interaction, f. ex. by releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or destroying the world's rain forests; the results may become apparent in natural disasters or the effects on human health. Here, I think of something like an intellectual and spiritual ecology. Totalitarian and extreme attitudes (and there I not only mean fascism or racism or the like but also egotism and consumerism and even intransigent individualism) would constitute an imbalance that may not only bring about stagnation in human thought but also upset social balance and cause or aggravate conflicts.
While I am advocating "balanced diversity", I am reminded of the tradition that is often used in the context of giving weight to community: "The community is like a body. When one member is ill, the whole body suffers." This may be applied to the particular group that I belong to right now, or to the worldwide Muslim ummah, or to humankind in general - and I am well aware that this understanding of mine is connected with my experience of migration and fluctuation and probably looks completely different in a stable local community where any changes may have gone unnoticed for several generation. Anyway, when the body is suffering, the normal reaction is to look for healing or at least to avoid more pain even if it implies limping or using crutches.
As for pain in a currently relevant context, Muslims in Europe increasingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On one hand there are the shameful atrocities committed by certain extremist groups in the name of Islam both in Europe and in Iraq and Syria and the demand to condemn them and to distance oneself from them. How can this be done without exposing oneself to accusations by some other Muslims for "lack of solidarity" and "splitting up the community"? It would be much easier if, on the other hand, there was not the feeling of being the target of a general suspicion against Muslims that recently erupted in PEGIDA rallies, certain discussions on "increased security".
If no speedy relief is in sight, pain may cause anger - at the apparent cause of the pain, at the missing relief, at the lack of sympathy. A frequent reaction, blaming someone for the pain, may give some temporary satisfaction, but it works like a placebo rather than being a meaningful step towards healing. Thus, I find it understandable when Muslims blame colonialism, "the West", or even the devil for the current suffering in the Muslim world, but besides not doing justice to the complexity of world history it does not provide a remedy. Another frequent reaction is the desire to cut off the affected member by "excommunicating" individuals or groups. Thus, I find it understandable when mainstream Muslims passionately state that "militant extremists are not Muslims". But apart from the facts that there is no mechanism for excommunication in Islam, and that militant extremists dissociate themselves from other Muslims in exactly the same way, surgery may get rid of a disease and even save a patient's life but cannot not recreate a healthy body. Ideally, health would be restored by restoring the balance within. This seems already to be indicated in the Arabic word salam for peace that is derived from a root that implies being whole, being complete.
With regard to restoring and preserving balance in the future community and beyond, I would therefore say that it needs a concept of critical solidarity that can help to preserve a healthy dynamics of many perspectives from which something new can grow. Dissent may very well be an expression of solidarity there. There is the story of the Prophet who first modified the pre-Islamic proverb, "Support your brother, right or wrong," by saying, "when he is right". Later on, he quoted the original proverb again and said, when he was asked about it, "Support your brother when he is wrong means to advise him how to do better." We need an ethics of disagreement that enables people to express and accept constructive criticism in an atmosphere of mutual trust and self-confidence. It needs readiness for dialogue especially with those whose ideas are different and difficult. On the whole, whether it is within a relatively small local community or within the worldwide Muslim community or within humankind, we therefore need to educate ourselves for handling our globally diverse reality in a mindful and constructive way.