Mohammed Merah, killed at age 23, is infamous as the author of the slaughter of Jewish children at the school of Toulouse (France), on March 19, and a few days earlier the killing of French paratroopers in Montauban. Besieged by police for hours in the house where he was imprisoned, he died in shoot-out on March 22.
Abdennour Bidar is a French Muslim philosopher, I have had the joy of knowing. On 23 March, he published an article in the newspaper "Le Monde", entitled: "Merah, a monstre issu de la Maladie de l'Islam (Merah, a monster created by Islam's illness)." Given its importance, I would like to present it here.
"When the killer of Toulouse and Montauban was identified as' Salafi jihadist '... the declarations made by Islamic dignitaries in France were careful to avoid any' amalgam 'between the radicalism of this individual and the peaceful nature of France's Muslim community to "clearly" distinguish between Islam and Islamism, Islam and violence. "
However, a serious question remains: "On the whole, can the religion of Islam be declared alien to this type of radical action? ... Or perhaps, is this gesture the extreme expression of an illness within Islam itself?".
Bidar recalls that in Islam there is a "degeneration" that takes multiple forms: "ritualism, formalism, dogmatism, sexism, antisemitism, intolerance, religious illiteracy or 'subculture' are ills which afflict it".
These diseases are prevalent, but there are also "Muslims morally, socially, spiritually enlightened by their faith." One can not say therefore that "Islam is essentially intolerant." You can however say that Islam contains - beside certain moral demands - elements of intolerance that at times reappear in different circumstances. He adds: "All of these ills I have enumerated alter the health of the Islamic culture in France and elsewhere."
Faced with this situation, Muslims must respond with courage. The author says that Islam must recognize "that this kind of gesture, despite being outside its spirituality and culture, however, is the most serious, most outstanding symptom of the deep crisis that it is experiencing." And he asks: "Who will have that courage? Who will take this risk?"
One may wonder why the author speaks of courage. The reason is that for "several centuries" Islam has been stuck in its certainties. It does not dare to question itself. It is content to affirm and reaffirm its "truth". The more it states this with force, the more it reveals its internal weakness. Before a world which contests it, it responds with violence, because it dare not face the outside world, except to declare it evil and corrupt. It "is incapable of self-criticism," says Bidar.
This is Islam's illness: "considering with paranoia that any calling into question of its dogmas is a sacrilege. The Koran, the Prophet, Ramadan, halal, etc. ..: even among educated people, cultured, ready for dialogue in many areas, the slightest attempt to call into question these totems of Islam, meets with a final refusal. "
In their majority, Muslims deny anyone to be able to call into question their traditions, their rituals, their customs and habits. They have walled themselves in to their own world, which they worship, declare absolute and sacred. "Most Muslim consciences refuse and even to refuse anyone else the right to discuss what tradition established as untouchably sacred thousands of years ago: rituals, principles, customs, which, however no longer meet all the spiritual needs of the present time. "
They have remained deeply attached to these traditions, set in the 7 th century, in a Bedouin context and "do not realize that ever more frequently even they themselves and their demands have changed in nature." The values that they claim as authentically Muslim, because faithful to the practice of the "Ancients" (the Salaf, hence the word Salafi), no longer meet the current criteria of all Muslims, established criteria "in the name of completely profane values: the right to difference, tolerance, freedom of conscience. "
And our author adds: "Is it no wonder that in this general climate of frozen and schizophrenic civilization, some ill spirit would transform and radicalize this collective closure into murderous fanaticism?".
In fact, for the Salafists, the model remains fixed to the past, to the era of the "Prophet", the seventh century, the model of Bedouin society. The model goes backward and not forward. The true Muslim, according to these Salafists, to find the true essence of Islam, must go back to the past and not look ahead to the future, this "forward" represented by Western culture, is branded as corrupt and depraved.
The average Muslim reacts by saying that these Salafis are the exception, they do not represent true Islam, an Islam that is retrograde, etc. ... At the same time, the Salafis, present themselves as the only "authentic" ones because they are faithful to the "Tradition of the Prophet" (sunnat al-Nabi), and that the Prophet is presented in the Koran as the model par excellence (Koran 33: 21 ). In turn, the average Muslim says that true Islam is peaceful Islam, in accordance with the Koran that says "there is no compulsion in religion" ((Koran 2, 256).
The average Muslim says that "a similar fanaticism is [only] specific to an individual and is the tree that hides the forest of a peaceful Islam.'"
But Bidar raises the question: "What is the real state of the forest in which trees like this take root? Could a healthy culture and a true spiritual education create such monsters?"
These cases are too numerous to be just a tree in the forest! How come there are so many "fanatics" who are often educated people who, far exceeding the Muslim average? How is it that so many Western converts to Islam, or Muslims who live in the West for so long, feel attracted to this extreme?
And even more so, how is it that so many imams and guides, trained in the best and most authentic Islamic centers worldwide, go on to promote this form of Islam?
"Some Muslims - says the author - sense that this type of issue has been delayed for too long. They are gradually becoming aware [over time] that it will become more difficult to remove responsibility from Islam for its fanatics, and behave as if it is enough to draw the distinction between Islam and radical Islam. "
Faced with frequent manifestations of radical Islam it is only too easy to say that this is not Islam. The "Arab spring" that we see developing before our eyes is too often turned into an "Islamic autumn." And Islamism is likely to bring us back to the civilization of the desert.
And Bidar proclaims: "But for many more Muslims it should now become clear that in this religious culture, the roots of the sick tree are too absorbed and too numerous for it to continue to believe it can be satisfied with simply denouncing its black sheep... 'Islam must accept the principle of its complete re-establishment or - without doubt - its integration into a broader humanism, which leads eventually to overcome its frontiers and horizons. "
It is therefore a case of superseding itself, "its borders and its own horizon," says Prof. Abdennour. The choice is this or death. A case of a "complete re-establishment" in a "broader humanism." And at this point he asks the question: "But will [Islam] agree to die in this way so that a new form of spiritual life can be reborn from its legacy? And where can we find the inspiration for this?".
As a good philosophy professor, Abdennour ("the servant of the Light"), gives this answer: "As a specialist of Islam's deepest thoughts, I see that the philosophical and mystical thought of Averroes (1126-1198) and Ibn Arabi (1165-1241) [have] a wisdom that has been lost - the majority of Muslims do not even know their names. However, it is not a case of resurrecting them, or repeating them. It is now too late for that . It is about finding their equivalent for our time. From this point of view, it is not enough to be ready to admit that ultimately there is "a general illness within Islam" and that we must return to these "wisdoms of the past."
So there is a "general illness of Islam". For several decades, Islam has been facing a crisis of the strongest nature. Most of the intellectuals and enlightened thinkers have said it and repeated it. Many are trying to emerge from this crisis, but the fundamentalist trend is stronger and blocks any effort to renewal or reform, as Bidar says. The point is that the leap forward is a leap into the unknown, with all the risks this entails, while going backwards appears more certain, in accordance with the Sunnah and it is reassuring. For Bidar, Islam "has to re-invent itself a spiritual culture." This last word is one of the key words of our philosopher, in all his works: spirituality. Thus we quote his conclusion:
"The challenge is much more important. Islam should come to this completely new lucidity in which to understand that it must reinvent a spiritual culture from the ashes of the material death of its traditions. But, another important problem, it can not do by itself and for itself: today it would serve no purpose to establish an "Islamic humanism" next to a "Western humanism" or "Buddhist humanism." If the tomorrow of the twenty-first century is spiritual, this will not occur in separate modalities between the different religions and worldviews, but on the basis of a common faith in man. To be found together. "
Rev. Samir Khalil Samir is a professor at the Université Saint Joseph in Lebanon, as well as a visiting scholar at several institutions in Europe and North America. He is the author of 40 books, including Christian Arabic Apologetics during the Abbasid Period (750-1258). He writes for AsiaNews.it, from where this article is adapted.