Dallas College – Opening Address By Ra’is Abu Bakr Rieger
It is a great honour for me to say a few words today about the meaning and importance of this College. While reflecting on the essence of Islamic upbringing and education, I found a highly insightful indication from Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the German poet-prince of the 18th century. Goethe recognised the simple yet timeless core of every genuine Islamic teaching: the acceptance of the destiny and the doctrine of Unity.
An enraptured Goethe described this all-encompassing teaching in his conversations with his friend, the poet Eckermann:
“…What is remarkable are the teachings with which the Mohammedans begin their education. As the foundation of their religion, they establish in their youth the conviction that man cannot encounter anything but what an all-guiding Divinity has long ago decreed; this equips and reassures them for their entire lives, and leaves them needing little else.”
Goethe immediately recognised this simple yet foundational insight within his own cultural sphere, and attempted to convey it in the famous analogy of the soldier:
”… there is basically some of this belief in each and every one of us, without us having been taught it. “The bullet that does not have my name on it will not hit me,” says the soldier in the battle. And how should he keep up his courage and spirits under extreme danger without such confidence? …[It is] a doctrine of a Providence which remains aware of the smallest detail, and without whose will and permission nothing can occur.”
Goethe then admires the dynamism and depth of Islamic thinking:
”The Mohammedans thereupon begin their teaching of philosophy with the doctrine that nothing exists about which you cannot say the opposite. They exercise the minds of their youth by having them find and articulate the contrary opinion of every proposition, which inescapably leads to great skill in thought and speech. Then, once the opposite has been claimed about every proposition, the doubt arises as to which is actually true. But they do not remain in the doubt. Rather, it drives the intellect to examine more closely and to ascertain; and, if performed correctly, from there derives that certainty which is the goal in which man finds complete reassurance. You can see that this teaching is lacking nothing, and that for all our systems we are no further on, and that absolutely nobody can get anywhere with them.”
Goethe concludes with the insight that only in the encounter with Islam can a person achieve true recognition of the spiritual level he himself has achieved. He says:
”This philosophical system of the Mohammedans is a wonderful yardstick which one can apply to oneself and others in order to determine one’s actual spiritual level.”
(11 April 1827 J.P. Eckermann: Conversations with Goethe during the last years of his life)
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Today – almost two hundred years after Goethe – we in Germany are discussing a new word, ‘Bildungsnotstand’, which means the ‘crisis of education’. At the beginning of this year, which has been declared ‘Schiller Year’, the German director Andrea Breth fiercely criticised German theatres and their treatment of the classics.
“We can no longer say that we are the Nation of Poets and Thinkers,” declared Breth, director of Vienna’s Burgtheater, in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. “With the cuts taking place in the theatres today, it will no longer be possible to stage many of the great literary works,” she said. “Either the theatres themselves will disappear, or the ensembles needed to perform such works will no longer exist.” Today’s theatre, she claims, is a “Supermarket of sweets without any aim.” Breth also doubts the modern public’s ability to grasp Schiller at all. “With the increasing trivialisation of society, one asks oneself whether Schiller can still be done at all, whether anyone still understands him. If you no longer know why you exist – when people deny that we have anything to bequeath – then things become difficult.”
One might add that in that state – that is, without knowledge of the classics – an in-depth discussion of the nature of terrorism, in the light of such works as Schiller’s famous classic William Tell, becomes impossible. What is being expressed today is the growing European scepticism which doubts that modern man’s spiritual standing is evolving in line with the apparent technical progress. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger even announced the end of the Age of Education in Europe – in other words the end of any possibility of education – since in the economically defined form of man, only an isolated stock of human capital remains. Knowledge is reduced to the endlessly growing stock of information.
According to Heidegger, not only education but also science has become ‘groundless’, and therefore lacks deeper meaning. This thesis can be easily appraised today by asking a medic about the nature of health, an economist about the nature of wealth, or a jurist about the nature of justice. A substantial answer is unlikely. For all our scientific progress, scientific knowledge is losing meaning.
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This College, whose opening we witness today, bears the name ‘Dallas College’, a name which can be considered a symbol of a fateful confluence. The College is the centre-point of various axes that meet; it is both a beginning and an end. On one side of the line are the European sciences and philosophy, and on the other side the Islamic Revelation and Law. They have been brought together in one spiritual event by the founder of this College whose family name it also bears: Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi. Both lines of knowledge meet in this College in South Africa, and in doing so form a completely new spiritual and intellectual location.
The College deals primarily with the following fields:
Law – that is, Fiqh
This means it involves ‘being-in-the-world’ in the broadest sense, meaning the understanding of the event of the creation itself in which we are taking part. Our young men and women will be studying in the midst of this dynamic South African community, and in doing so will take to heart the Hadith of the Prophet recorded in the Sahih Collection of Tirmidhi: “Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said, ‘A man is on the same Deen as his companion – so each of you should look to whom he takes as companions.’”
Islam has universal knowledge, but it needs the right location in order to revive that unity of knowledge and action of the Ancient Greeks. Only then can the World-State-nihilism be overcome which the German constitutional legalist Carl Schmitt so appropriately defined as “the separation of order and location”. Today, Africa is the place which casts most dramatically a global suspicion on the supposedly successful model of ‘Democracy and Capitalism’. Quite aside from all the debt-traps, from the IMF and WTO, here one can study what happens when the capitalism which economically englobes ‘democracy’ so penetrates all of its political institutions, that the political form which is meant to be its own no longer finds any democratic mechanism by which to correct it. This situation is currently the fate of the whole world.
In Europe this situation is being analysed by thinkers who are exiled from both the public and the institutions of learning. Cape Town, therefore, has become an asylum for this knowledge. It should not be forgotten that many European thinkers are no longer taught at European universities. Many current contributions are banned from the public eye. In this sense democracy applies the medieval technique of exile which Tocqueville described in 1840 in his book ‘Democracy in America’:
“The ruler no longer says: Think as I do or die; he says: “You have the freedom not to think as I do. Your life, fortune and everything will be granted to you. But from that day on you will be an alien among us.”
Surely the most radical analysis of the human being’s current situation is to be found in the scandalously received books of Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Christophe Rufin. If one reads these two works together with ‘Technique of the Coup de Banque’ by Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, a complete picture of the here-and-now opens up. All three thinkers attempt to penetrate the nature and the facade of modernity.
Giorgio Agamben shocked the West with his basic thesis. According to him there is an “innermost solidarity” between democracy and totalitarianism. Naziism and fascism remain “threateningly topical”, and democracy is “in the throes of collapse”. Agamben considers the Camp, a location without order, as an integral part of the new reality of the World State.
Since Guantanamo, we Muslims know that this reality certainly carries fascistic traits. Anyone who doubts this would do well to recall the following historical discussion between Prosecutor Jackson and the great Nazi Göring shortly after the World War Two in Nuremberg:
Prosecutor Jackson: “‘Schutzhaft’ means that you also took people into custody who had not yet committed any crime, but who you believed had the potential to commit a crime?”
Göring: “Precisely. We arrested people who had not yet committed a crime, but of whom we could expect crime had they remained free. The original purpose for which the Camps were established was to accommodate existing enemies of the State whom we viewed as such, and rightly so.”
(Nuremberg Trials, 18.3.1946)
The Camp remains a symbol of injustice to this day. Inspired by Schmitt, Agamben uncovers the ‘State of Emergency’, that relapse into a state outside of applicable law, as the hidden foundation of the present day. He traces the tradition right back into the American history of the 19th century. But, says Agamben, “The state of emergency did not reach its greatest extent until today.” He explains that in the ‘War’ against terror, the crisis which is the foundation of the state of emergency has become the norm.
The ongoing crisis, and the necessity for total security, facilitates that old authoritarian impulse fundamental to State thinking since Hobbes’ Leviathan: order and obedience. The State provides security and receives the obedience of its subjects. Giorgio Agamben draws parallels all the way down to the present day. “In all Western democracies,” he says in his key statement, “the declaration of the state of emergency is replaced by an unequalled expansion of the security paradigm as a normal technique of rule” – and that with almost daily refinements of its Special Powers. The terrorist of Arab descent has, according to Agamben, been the first to enable the ‘Israelisation’ of world politics.
Jean-Christophe Rufin, doctor, political scientist and member of the organisation ‘Médecins sans frontiers’, does away with another myth. In Rufin’s view, democracy is stronger than dictatorship: “Liberal democracy,” he writes, “does however love the morbid idea that it is doomed to destruction.”
Rufin’s words about this weakness of democracy may appear contrived, but they are meant with all seriousness. By them he characterises democracy’s almost unlimited capacity to assimilate resistances and put up with or even encourage radical opposition. It acquires its political strength through the existence of an enemy. In Europe, this absolute integrative power of the democracies has now led to the States becoming increasingly involved in the education and ‘cultivation’ of the Muslims. This state of affairs is of course provoked all the more by the recognition that only the Revelation escapes total integration.
In his brilliant book ‘La Dictature libéral’, Jean-Christophe Rufin describes the new “invisible political hand” that ensures the separation of society and system.
“In contrast, the liberal culture succeeds in making a strict separation between system and society. This system, with its economic and political mechanisms, must interfere as little as possible in the social events and human activities, while these activities, on the other hand, however free they may be, must not endanger the apparatus that enables them to take place.”
The system, Rufin goes on to explain, is characterised by a cold, double indifference to the human being:
“In a certain sense the democratic culture is founded on a dual indifference. The first indifference is that of the liberal system for the human beings that belong to it. The system, especially in its economic aspect, is becoming more and more inter-national and supra-national, and is therefore ever more difficult to control. The human beings, in contrast, can only express their political choice on a national or local level – that is, without reaching the actual sources of the system’s power. This split between the national realm – which, like it or not, remains the zone in which democratic control is exercised – and the supra-national realm in which the really important decisions are made, is one of the causes of the autonomy of the liberal culture. It has several advantages. For example, it allows the economic system to escape democratic control. It also allows political protest to be kept within limits, by restricting it to the national sphere.”
The fact that States and systems are like machines has long been recognised. Ernst Jünger fittingly defined the new global type of human being as the ‘Worker’, who appears across the world in the clothing of technology. Carl Schmitt indicated that the system neutralises every political impulse or thought – in fact it depoliticises it. How far is modern life thus removed from the Goethean recognition that nature itself is not a system! And how far our systems are from the ancient platonic idea of a society in the image of the Big Man!
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One of the weaknesses of the recent Western analyses from Heidegger to Rufin is that despite the obvious urgency of the situation, they fail to define any guidelines for action. Asked about the possibility of action, a concerned Heidegger proclaimed in an interview with Der Spiegel: “Only a god can save us!”
It is here that the masterwork of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir, ‘Technique of the Coup de Banque’, comes into its own. The book adds to the numerous modern analyses by clearly and boldly naming the ‘invisible hand’ in European history: the Banking Elite. The book completes the story of the much-vaunted Enlightenment by a portrait of the power-games of the financial elite. As in Aristotle but in the modern context, the ‘princip contra naturum’, usury, is openly described in its effects and consequences. After reading this book, the thinking man becomes open to the Qur’anic categorical imperative on the Muslims: Trade is permitted – usury forbidden. The guideline has been found, the lost unity of knowledge and action once again made possible. The European question of how to limit unbridled capitalism is revealed in Islamic Law, since only there is the endless increasing of capital forbidden.
In this place – and here we have Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi to thank – the transmission of knowledge will once again become possible. With the help of the Qur’an and the Sunna, the zone of action of this College and its areas of study in this moment in history can be illuminated:
– In the field of language we move within the contrast between language as Revelation and language as excessive information on the internet.
– In the field of geopolitics we move within the contrast between World Statism and the possibility of order and location.
– In the field of law we move within the contrast between genocidal oligarchies and a just nomos for the Earth.
It is in the field of technology in particular that we confront modern nihilism, which Heidegger described as “a confrontational challenge to the creation”. Of course, this College will also teach all the modern methods of information technology, but in a way which Heidegger defined as “composed”. Only with inner and outer laws can man escape the modern law of technology, a law which Heidegger expressed as follows: “Man believes he has technology in his hands, while in reality it is the other way around.” In other words – in our words as Muslims – man is either a slave of Allah or a slave of the technical project.
This attitude of “Yes” and “No” towards technology is portrayed by Heidegger in his bookGelassenheit, a book which moves unusually clearly towards the Sufic outlook on life. In it he says:
“We can say yes to the inevitable use of technical objects, and we can say no at the same time, in that we refuse to allow them exclusively to make demands on us, and thus bend, confuse and finally make barren our innermost nature.”
Heidegger was asked thereupon, if we are to simultaneously say “Yes” and “No” to the technical objects in this manner, will not our relationship to the technical world become ambiguous and unsure? Heidegger answered as follows – and here his viewpoint peaks in a Sufic confirmation of our relationship to the “Dunya” :
“Quite the opposite. Our relationship to the technical world becomes simple and calm in a most wonderful way. We allow the technical objects into our daily life, yet we leave them out of it at the same time. That means we leave them to be as things; not as something absolute, rather as entities reliant on something Higher. I would like to describe this attitude of a simultaneous Yes and No to the technical world by means of an old word: ‘Composure, in regard to things’.”
The overcoming of the dominance of technology is undoubtedly an inner and an outer project. Every Muslim has the knowledge to undertake it. It requires that we remember Allah and establish a just economic order. It is also doubtless the project of all of the authentic Tariqas and their traditional, living knowledge which peaks in the creative insight that man already knows everything, but that he must remember it.
Even the German founder of the kindergarten, Friedrich Fröbel, was aware of this foundational principle of every education. He taught that “Education means having to bring something out of man, not put something in.”
It is one of the basic principles of our world-view to see people, and especially young people, as our true capital. Above all else, Islam and its great communities bring about People. In this, every Muslim is a knower. Foucault was of course absolutely right when he saw the end of every society and every politique in the establishment of christian, pastoral power. In the secular State this depoliticising function continued with the idea of representation, in the end resulting in the consumer, devoid of meaning and offering up his affairs. Our political thinking is the old platonic concept of the Political embodied in the image of the weaver. The process of weaving does not separate, it joins, reconciles opposites, founds societies, brings about unity, thus revealing in the pattern of the cloth the invisible Hand of Allah ta’ala. So it is that the graduates of this College will not represent – they will weave.
The College, therefore, prepares the last stages of education. “Education,” Mark Twain once said, “is what’s left over when the last dollar is gone.”
I wish the teachers and the students and the community in Cape Town every conceivable success. As Allah says in Ayat 282 of Surat al-Baqara: “Have taqwa of Allah and Allah will give you knowledge. Allah has knowledge of all things.”