And what do I see? What can I see better than others, undoubtedly exactly because I am looking at you from far off, with the advantage of more objective looking at you thanks to the distance? I see you, you my dear Muslim world, in a miserable state of suffering which causes me infinite sadness, but which renders my judgment as a philosopher even more severe, more harsh! Why? You ask me why ? Because I see you creating a monster which claims to call itself the Islamic State and which some prefer to give the name of a demon: Daesh. And the worst is that I see you losing – losing your time and your honour – in your refusal to recognize that this monster is born of you, of your own errancy, of your own contradictions, of your own discrepancy between the past and the present, and of your own interminable incapacity in finding your own place in human global civilization.
What in fact are you saying in the face of this monster? You are shouting : “It’s not me!”, “It’s not Islam!”. You are denying that the crimes of this monster are committed in your name (#NotInMyName). You rebel against the idea that the monster has usurped your identity, and of course you are right in doing so. It is essential that you thus proclaim, loud and clear, in the face of the world that Islam denounces this barbarity, and that Islam as religion and civilization must not be mixed up with “Islamism”. But all these proclamations of innocence and difference are not enough! Far from it ! Because you are taking refuge in reactionary self-defense without taking, above all, the responsibility of self-criticism. You are satisfied merely to be outraged, although this moment could have been an historical opportunity to question yourself! The most crucial time for the deepest, hardest, self examination! But instead of that, instead of taking your own responsibility, you only accuse: “You, Westerners, and you, all the enemies of Islam, stop associating us with this monster ! Terrorism is not Islam, not the real Islam, not the good Islam that speaks not of War, but of Peace!”
I hear the cry of revolt which is rising in you, oh my dear Muslim World ! And I do understand it, and I share it. Yes, of course you are right, like each one of the other great sacred inspirations of the world, throughout its history, Islam has created Beauty, Justice, great meanings, spiritual and ethical virtues, and has brilliantly enlightened million human beings along the mysterious path of existence… Here in the West, and in each of my books, I am involved in a battle, so that this profound wisdom of Islam – and the profound wisdom of all religions – be never lost, neither forgotten nor scorned ! But from my distant position, I also see something which you do not see… And which inspires to me a question – “the” great question: why has this monster stolen your face? Why has this appalling monster chosen your face and not that of another? It is because in reality, that behind this monster, there is hidden an immense problem, which evidently you are not able to face, to confront yourself. Yet you will end up to be able to find the courage to do so…
This problem is that of the roots of evil. Where do the crimes of this so-called “Islamic State” come from? I shall tell you , my friend. You will not be pleased with what I have to say, but it is my work as a philosopher. The roots of this evil which has stolen your face are within you yourself, the monster has come from your own innards – and whence will appear many other monsters, even worse than this one, as long as you will hesitate to admit that it is caused by as your own illness and diseases, and as long as you will delay to attack this internal roots of evil!
Even for the Western intellectuals – my colleagues – it is difficult to see ! For the most of them, they have so far forgotten what is the power of religion – its great power for better or worse, its great power on life and death – that they often tell to me : “No, the problem of the Muslim World is not Islam, it is not religion, but politics, history, economics, etc.” They have no recollection at all, of the fact that religion may be the heart of a human civilization, its complex (creative and terrific) heart ! And they are also too “secularized” to understand the new obviousness in this beginning of 21st century, that the future of humanity will occur not only by the resolution of the financial crisis, but essentially by the resolution of the spiritual crisis without precedent which involves our humanity in its entirety. Will we, from all over the planet, know to unite in order to confront this fundamental challenge ? The spiritual nature of man has an horror of emptiness, and if we, all humans together of all civilizations, are unable to find anything new with which to be replenish this void, it will be tomorrow replenish by religions more and more maladjusted to present times – and these obsolete forms of spirituality will, like Islam today, begun to produce monsters.
I see in you, oh my dear Muslim World, immense forces ready to rise and to contribute to this worldwide effort to find a spiritual life for this open new century ! Despite the gravity of your illness, there is within you an extraordinary multitude of women and men who are ready to reform Islam, to reinvent its genius beyond its historical and outmoded forms, and thus to participate in the total renewal of the rapport which humanity has maintained until now with his gods ! In my works I address all these, both Muslims and non Muslims, who collectively dream of a spiritual revolution! To give them, with the words of a philosopher, confidence in that which they see as a glimmer of hope!
But there are not enough men and women of the Muslim faith who look to the future, and their struggle for a new spiritual way of life has not yet enough force. All of these, whose lucidity and courage I salute with admiration and support, have rightly seen that it is the general state of the profound sickness of the Muslim World which explains the birth of terrorist monsters which have names like Al-Qaida, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Aqmi or so-called “Islamic State”. They have well understood that these are only the more visible symptoms of an immense sick body, of which the chronic illnesses are the following : powerless in establishing lasting democracies which really and definitely recognize the complete right of conscientious freedom towards the religious dogmas ; chronic difficulties in improving the rights of women concerning equality, responsibility and freedom ; the inability to sufficiently separate political power from the controlling religious authority ; the incapacity to institute respect, tolerance and a true recognition of religious pluralism and of religious minorities.
Could all this be the fault of the West ? How much precious time are you still going to waste, oh my dear Muslim World, by the use of this mediocre accusation in which you yourself no longer believe, and behind which you hide by continually lying to yourself?
Since the 18th century in particular, it has become time to confess that you have been incapable to meet the challenge of the West. You either have taken refuge in an infantile and mortifying fashion in the past, with the dark regression of Wahhabism which continues to wreak devastation almost everywhere within your frontiers – a Wahhabism that you spread from your holy places in Saudi Arabia like a cancer which comes from your very heart itself ! Or you have followed the worst elements of the West, in producing like it nationalisms and a modernism which are caricatures of modernity – I am talking about consumer society, inhuman jungle of free market economy, and also about this technological development which has no coherence with its religious archaism and which makes of your extremely wealthy “elite” of the Gulf a consenting victim of the worldwide sickness which is the worship of this false God called Money.
What is admirable in you today, my friend? What has remained in you that is worthy to gain the respect of other people and other religions on Earth? Where are your wise men, and have you any wisdom to offer the world ? Where are your great men and women ? Who are your Mandelas, who are your Gandhis, who are your Aung San Suu Kyi’s? The new Nobel prize Malala Yousafzaï is one of your daughters but it is impossible for her to be accepted and to live in her own country! Where are your great thinkers whose books were obligatory reading throughout the entire world as during the ancient time when the Arab and Persian mathematicians and philosophers made reference from India to Spain? In reality you have become so weak behind the certitude which you display about yourself… You do not know who you are anymore, nor where you are going, and that in itself makes you not only wretched but also aggressive. . . You persist in not listening to those who call to you to change by freeing yourself at last from the domination that you have given religion over all aspects of life.
You have chosen to consider Mohammed as prophet and king. You have chosen to define Islam as a political, social and moral religion, prevailing like a tyrant not only over the state but also all over civilian, moral and social life, as well on the street and in the house and even on the interior of every consciousness. You have chosen to believe and to impose that Islam wants to say submission whereas the Koran itself proclaims that “there are no constraint in religion” (La ikrâha fi Dîn). You have made its call to freedom into an Empire of Constraints! How can a civilization betray to this extent his own sacred text? I say that the hour has come for the Islamic civilization, to replace all the laws, invented by generations of theologians, by instituting this spiritual freedom given by the Koran to each human being – this spiritual freedom that is with no doubt the most sublime and the most difficult of all kinds of freedom!
Large numbers of voices, which you do not want to hear, are raised today in the Oumma, denouncing this taboo of an authoritative and indisputable religion… To the extent that too many believers have so internalized a culture of submission to tradition and to “masters of religion” (imams, muftis, chouyoukhs, etc.) that they don’t understand someone who, like me or other free thinkers, other free believers, speak to them of spiritual freedom, and when we speak to them of their personal choice towards the “pillars” of Islam. All this constitutes to them a “red line” so sacred that they dare not grant their own conscience the right to question ! And there are so many families where this confusion between spirituality and servitude is encrusted from a young age in their minds and where spiritual education is so poor, that all that concerns religion remains something that one does not talk about!
However, this, quite obviously is not imposed by the terrorism of some mad fanatic troops embarked on by the so-called “Islamic State”. No, this problem goes infinitely deeper! But who wants to listen? There is a silence across the Muslim World, and in the western media one listens to specialists on terrorism who daily aggravate the general short-sightedness! Oh my dear friend, do not delude yourself into believing that when one is rid of the Islamic terrorism, that Islam will have solved all its problems! Because all that I have just called to mind – a tyrannical, dogmatic, literalist, male chauvinist, conservative and regressive religion – is too often the ordinary Islam, the every-day Islam, which suffers and causes the suffering of so many consciousnesses, the Islam of an outdated past, the Islam deformed by all those who abused it politically, the Islam who ends again and again by hushing up all the “Arab Springs” and to hush up also the voices of its young who are asking for something different. So when are you going to at long last make this Revolution happen so that in societies and consciousnesses will definitely associate spirituality and freedom?
In your immense territory there are of course islands of spiritual freedom: the families who practice an Islam of tolerance, personal choice, in-depth spirituality; places where Islam still gives the best of itself, a culture of sharing, of honour, of knowledge seeking, and a spirituality in search of this sacred/ultimate place where human being and the supreme reality, that Koran calls Allâh, can meet. There is in the Muslim countries, and everywhere in Muslim communities worldwide, strong and free consciousnesses. But they are condemned to live their freedom without recognition of their true rights, at their own risk and peril faced with community controls or even at times faced by the religious police. Never, even for an instant, do they have the right recognized by the “Official Islam” of the dignitaries, to say : “I choose my own Islam”, “I have my own connection with Islam”. On the contrary, “Official Islam” sternly lay down that “the doctrine of Islam is unique” and that “strict obedience to the pillars of Islam is the only righteous way” (sirâtou-l-moustaqîm).
This refusal of the right of freedom as regards to religion is one of the roots of evil of which you suffer, oh my dear Muslim World! One of the dark stomachs where for some years now, monsters with frightening faces grow that are set free all over the world. Because this “Religion of Iron” imposes upon all your societies an unbearable violence. It has enclosed too many of your girls and boys in a cage of good and evil, of lawfulness (halâl) and of unlawfulness (harâm) which no-one chooses but under which everyone suffers. It imprisons willpower, it conditions minds, it impedes or hinders all choice of personal life. In too many of your regions, you still associate religion and violence – against women, against the “bad believers” / “unbelievers”, against the Christian or other minorities, against thinkers and all free spirits, against rebels, whereby this religion and this violence ends up being confused, by the most unbalanced and the most fragile of your sons, as the monstrosity of the jihad war!
Therefore please, no more pretending that you are surprised by the demons of the so-called “Islamic State” which have taken on your face ! The demons and the monsters only steal faces that are already deformed by too many grimaces! And if you want to know how to stop giving birth to such monsters, I will tell you. It is very simple and at the same time very difficult. You need to start by the complete reform of all the education that you give your children, in each one of your schools, each of your places of learning and power. Reform them by leading them according to the universal principles (even if you are not alone in their transgression or persisting in ignorance): freedom of consciousnesses; democracy; tolerance and right of citizenship in your countries for all the diversity of visions from all over the world and all beliefs; equality of sexes and female emancipation of all masculine guardianship; critical approach of religion in your universities, and the same right in literature and the media. You can’t retract now, you can’t do less that all that ! It is the only way for you to end giving birth to such monsters, and if you don’t do it, you will soon be devastated by their power of destruction.
Dear Muslim World… I am only a philosopher, and as usual there are those who say that a philosopher is a heretic. However, I seek only to let the light shine anew – it is the name which you gave me that inspires me thus, Abdennour, “Bearer or Herald of the Light”. I would not have been so severe in this letter if I did not believe in you. As we say in French, “qui aime bien châtie bien” = he who loves with all his heart, chastises with all his heart. And on the contrary, all those who are not so severe towards you today – who want to victimize you -, are not rendering you a real service ! I believe in you, I believe in your contribution in making our planet of tomorrow a universe more humane and at the same time more spiritual. Salâm, may peace be with you.
The original French version of this letter was published by The Huffington Post on January 9th, 2015. The English version is the author’s own.