"In Islam, God is above history"

“In Islam, God is above history”

La Croix: What is your goal with this book?

Remi Brague: I wrote it to clarify my ideas. I taught Arabic-language philosophy for twenty years, but thinkers like Avicenna, Averroes and Al Farabi have a complex relationship with Islam.

So I had a philosophical goal: to bring clarity, to introduce distinctions where there is a lot of confusion and prejudice, in one direction or the other. Above all, I wanted to ask myself about our difficulties in understanding Islam as it understands itself, because we all, believers and atheists alike, have Christian glasses.

You explain that “true Islam” can refer both to fundamentalism and to mystical Islam… Why is it so perilous to define it?

RB: Everyone claims to embody true Islam. Muslims mutually criticize each other. The people of Al-Azhar distance themselves – discreetly, moreover – from the people of Daesh, who accuse all the other Muslims of being “sold” to Westerners. Since there is no magisterium, pope or grand sanhedrin, anyone can say what Islam is. Personally, I have no authority to say what is true Islam. On the other hand, I can try to show the continuity of certain ideas. From the 9th to the 19th century, there is, for example, the idea that human reason is not capable of saying what pleases God. Revelation therefore does not bear on the nature of God but on his will.

That’s a big difference with Christianity

RB: Yes, it’s kind of a crossover. Christianity, with Saint Thomas Aquinas, says: “God is difficult to know, we need ways to prove his existence. » On the other hand, to know how to behave, we have natural reason. Islam says exactly the opposite. The existence of God is obvious: all you have to do is open your eyes, see the wonders of creation, and God is there.

On the other hand, to know whether to grow a beard or shave it, whether women should wear a veil or not, reason is not enough. We Christians find it hard to understand why many Muslims consider not eating pork, or trimming a mustache, to be important. For us, this is cultural, even folklore.

And why is it so important for Muslims?

RB: Because they consider that this law comes directly from God. We Christians live under the authority of the conscience, which our civilization until recently thought was the voice of God. Rousseau exclaims: ” Awareness ! divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice. » But theocracy in Islam is simply the fact that the law is supposed to come from God. Of course, there are mediations: Islamic law (fiqh) is human, since it is the way in which we understand and apply divine injunctions.

But for a pious Muslim, if the Koran says twice that women should do something – who knows what – with a piece of cloth, it is God who says it. As for men, a hadith of the Prophet commands them: “Don’t be like the Christians, grow your beard and trim your mustache. » And the Koran says that Muhammad is “the fine example” (XXXIII, 21). If God wills, we must obey.

This has the consequence that their “values ​​depend on divine arbitrariness”, you say.

RB: Yes, there is a classic discussion in philosophy here, from theEuthyphro from Plato: Are certain practices good because God commands them? Or does God command them because they are good? A Christian answers: values ​​are part of God, they are a prism in which the divine light breaks down. This is the thesis supported by the majority of philosophers: God commands things because they are good. In Islam, on the other hand, things are good because God has commanded them. If we consider that good is something other than God, we indulge in the only sin that God never forgives, namely association (shirk).

To explain the lesser development of theology in Islam compared to mathematics or astronomy, you state that, “Since Islam has a plausible content from the outset, it has not known the challenges of the Christian mystery”. What do you mean ?

RB: Theology aims to explain the mystery using categories of philosophical origin. In Islam, you don’t need that: there is only one God, he created everything and sends prophets from time to time, whose message is the same if the peoples to whom they have been entrusted don’t tamper with it. It is plausible: there is no need for a prodigious intellectual effort to say that.

On the other hand, to say that God is one in the communion of the three persons is more difficult. Same thing to explain that there is in the person of Christ the human nature and the divine nature. On the other hand, in the kalam, the treaties of Islamic theology, it is a question of showing that the dogma is plausible, and the other absurd beliefs. It is apologetics, which is only part of Christian theology.

What is the difference in the conception of God between Christianity and Islam?

RB: For a Muslim, God is unknowable. We may know his will, but have no idea what he is. By the way, Christianity partly agrees: “If you understandno is Deus” : “If I can go around it, it’s because it’s not God”, said Saint Augustine. But among Christians, we can try to approach it, because God began by approaching us. Finally, what really distinguishes Christianity and Judaism on the one hand, and Islam on the other, is the notion of covenant. The fact that God is having an affair with mankind. In Islam, he is above history.

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