May 19, 2023
Lecture by Sidi Karim Viudes, rahimullah, given by Hajj Khalid Nieto at the 12th Islamic Festival of Mertola.
When we talk about “believers” and “non-believers”, what do we think should be believed or not believed in? When we speak of “secular culture” as opposed to “religious faith”, what “culture” and what “faith” do we qualify? When we talk about culture, civilization, religion, common or public opinion, politics, war, peace, homeland, justice, liberalism, globalization, terrorism… What are we talking about? What are we discussing? Why would we fight, bomb and kill? Because of religion? What religion are we talking about and on what basis, if we don’t even know what religion is?
If we really want to pursue the path of peace in this age we live in, one of the precautions that we must take is to make the influential masses fully aware of the degree of confusion that occurs in the public debate around the big questions addressed in the mass media, people who have never made the slightest thought about the meaning of the words for which they dispute.
One of the biggest discourtesies in the world debate is the contrast between the human importance of religious activity and the ignorance with which religious fact is despised.
But isn’t this the activity of all fanatics when considering any religion outside of their own? Could it be that these so-called secularists are actually believers of a religion hidden behind the mask of politics…?
In these times of concealment of reality, the contribution that the Muslim tradition can dust off is the impeccable thesis on the meaning of the term “religion”, which was expounded in Damascus of the 10th century of the Common Era by Alfarabi of Afghanistan.
Alfarabius – which is the Latinized name with which he entered the nascent European university – in his booklet “Kitab al Millat wa nusus ujra” Treatise on Religion and other terms- says:
“The religious society -Millat- and the vital commitment -Din- are two almost synonymous terms, and so are the religious code -Shariat- and the norm sanctioned by tradition -Sunna-. In most cases, the religious code and traditional regulations indicate and apply only to one of the two parts of religion: the prescribed actions. But also sometimes the accepted opinions can be called religious code – Shariat-. And in this case code, belief and cult are synonymous terms. The “religion” then consists of two parts: definition of opinions and determination of actions.”
Alfarabi speaks to us here of worship and belief in the same sense as J.P. Sartre spoke of “theory and commitment” regarding communist ideology. Later he analyzes the content of the belief:
“The opinions that must be shared in the religious society – Millat – are three: one deals with the beginning, another with the end and the third with what mediates between the two…”
From this masterful exposition of principles, purposes and projects, Alfarabius unravels the correct meaning of the Qur’anic terms Millat and Din. Which are the ones that are indifferently translated as religion.
In understandable terms borrowed from today’s language, we can summarize the Alpharabian perception of the meaning of the term “religion” as follows:
The belief in which we live contains three elements:
A principle that we will call vision of the world. An end that is to achieve happiness, and a means that is the appropriate project to achieve this end.
The ways of seeing the world can be as numerous as countless are the nuances of the human idiosyncrasy.
But before the case of the universal belief in the certainty of death. All beliefs are polarized around two certainties that contradict each other without the possibility of synthesis. Unless the alleged synthesis is nothing more than the self-deception typical of hypocrites. Faced with the resounding truth of death, there are only two opposing opinions: one is that of those who only believe in this life, another that of those who believe in another life beyond the world. For the former, the desire will be to have the best of this world, for the latter: to obtain the best of this world and also the best of the other.
Following Alfarabi’s method we can establish this hypothesis:
Seeking subsistence and getting rid of anxiety for existence are the two basic impulses of human activity. But both efforts are logically conditioned by the particular way in which each individual or human group sees the world.
This vision is what determines the idea of longed for happiness, which is what encourages us to imagine the means to get rid of the anxiety of subsisting, either as an attempt at personal liberation or as a social project.
The social project is subordinated to the peculiar vision of the world and the predominant happiness in each place and climate according to the phase of the civilization process in which its people find themselves and according to the decision-making power of its leaders, the will of its elites and the knowledge of its wise men.
The belief in which we live is the last element that accounts for the social or individual character of humans. The belief in which we live is what creates the social bond that manifests itself in the form of social organization, language, ethics, aesthetics, uses and customs, and rites.
The ancient Latin peoples called this web of binding relationships “religion”. The modern Europeans, perhaps because of their preference for the cult over the belief in “culture”, but in this hypothesis both religion and culture must be understood as the social welfare project transmitted from generation to generation in the form of a firm belief.
This traditional transmission contains the belief in which the peoples live. This faith in one’s own values is diffused in a subtle way and to a greater or lesser degree both in the mentality of the masses and in the rationality of their elites.
The continuity of the belief that justifies the social project is maintained by the memory of myths, by the sound of songs, by the fulfilment of rites or by the reading and re-reading -re-legio- of the books that each settlement believes contain the reasons for their way of being and their way of being in the world.
These memories contain either revelations or memory fragments that come to us from dreams. But in the case of canonical books – revealed, legal, historical, classic, or simply consecrated by ancestral use- we are talking about chosen, re-read and re-elected books that reconnect without being subjected to criticism or choice on the part. The word religion was given these three senses: for Cicero it meant to re-link, for Saint Augustine to re-read, for Saint Thomas to re-choose. Religion does not bear a re-vision.
The review of “the books” announces the germination of a new intellectual vision of the world that heralds a revolutionary change.
The decisive changes in the course of history only occur after a total turnaround of the belief in which we live. Gentile followers of Jesus son of Mary, upon both be peace, adopted the Alexandrian Judeo term “metanoia” “change of self” (nafs) to describe the experience of their conversion from paganism to Mosaic monotheism. Without this metanoia, all the changes that can occur in the mental field that ideas occupy will only bring about revolutions that, after a change of political elites, go back to the same desperate situation that motivated the revolutionary attempt.
It becomes more and more dangerous to ask about the foundational ideal of happiness that justifies the present degradation until it causes a worldly corruption of the things.
But it is even more difficult to answer with certainty, if this beautiful and perfect state of well-being that we all long for is possible to be embodied in this world, in the other, in both, or in neither.
The appropriate answer depends on the correct question… Visions are answers to a perspective of the world and existence.
Longings are questions about the uncertain fate of our personality in the sphere of non-existence. Visions and desires form the warp and woof of human projects.
The aesthetics of enhancements, drawings and colours depend on this secular network of illusions and ethical desires, which give their unique style to the variegated social fabric in which the characters and behaviours of human beings live intricately.
The Qur’an says: “…it is true that Allah does not change what a people have until they have changed what is within themselves…” (C XIII-12)
The “non-religious” definition of the term “religion” is extremely important. But what seems difficult is easy if we apply the appropriate method. It is necessary to define “religion” from outside the religious debate, avoiding above all dialectical criticism. An effort will have to be made to witness the facts by looking objectively at the inveterate religious attitude of human beings.
In the belief-producing social environment in which the modern deist-consumerist man lives, there is no awareness of this problem. A change in the perception of the world is necessary to open minds to understand the need for a change in the political and social sphere that overwhelms us. And it is necessary that this new perception becomes history. For which this consciousness that we want to save must represent a value for the present so that its content is integrated into the current field of existence.
The usefulness of these conferences, in my opinion, can only be found in the defence of religious values that belong to the ancestral heritage of all humans, against opinions as biased about religion as those that can be read in the stupid pamphlets “THE END OF HISTORY” or “THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS”. Making a common front in defence of the dignity and nobility of the prophetic tradition of humanity, which today is relegated to the attic of history, means working on the path of peace that concerns us all.
And I want to say goodbye with the words of a great Hispanic Muslim from the 11th century, Ibn Hazm El Andalusí:
“All my life I have strived to find a goal in life that everyone without question recognized as excellent and worth striving for. I have only found one: getting rid of anxiety… dispelling anxiety is the goal on which all nations agree. When I came to this great piece of wisdom…I began to search for the path that would really allow me to dispel anxiety…I found it in only one thing: in the action of turning to Allah Almighty and Wise with good deeds done with an eye on the eternity…”
“Therefore we must understand that there is only one goal that is worth making an effort to achieve. And this is: end anxiety; and only one path leads to it and that is service to Allah Most High and Merciful. Everything else is mistaken and absurd.”
“…don’t use your energy except in a nobler cause than your ego. Such a cause can only be found in Allah Himself, the Almighty: proclaim the truth, defend the rights of women, reject all humiliation that your Creator has not imposed on you, help the oppressed… Anyone who uses his vital energy in search of the vanities of this world is like the one who exchanges gems for gravel.”
“There is no nobility in men without faith. The intelligent man knows that the only proper price to sell his soul is a position in paradise.”