From Issue: 958 [Read full issue]
While affirming the greatness and dignity of man in general, Islam is very realistic. Islam never strives to nurse properties which are not rooted in human nature. It does not attempt to make us angels, as this is impossible. It tends to make us what we are: human. Although it knows a kind of asceticism, Islam has never tried to destroy life, health, intellect, sociability, or desires for happiness and pleasure. A certain degree of asceticism is here only to counterbalance our instincts or to provide a balance between body and soul, between animalistic and ethical urges. Through ablution, prayer, fasting, jamaah, activity, observation, struggle, and mediation, Islam carries on nature's work of shaping man. There is no room for opposition to nature. The continuity is maintained even when objectives do not coincide.
It is just this attitude of a religion which has caused misunderstandings that have lasted until this very day.
Some attacked Islam for its ostensible sensuality, backing their claims with quotes from the Quran and examples from Muhammad's life. We must clearly and openly say: yes, Islam pleads for a natural life and against asceticism, for richness and against poverty, for man's power over nature not only on this planet but if possible also in the universe. Yet, to understand Islam properly, we should look at these ideas of nature, richness, politics, science, power, knowledge, and joy in a somewhat different way than the people of Western civilization do.
Islam requires that man takeover all responsibility; it does not impose the ideal of poverty, asceticism, and sufferance. It does not forbid man to taste "the salt of the earth and of the large salty sea." It postulates for man a complete and full life. This life is charted by two coordinates: one is the natural desire for happiness and power; the other is moral perfection, "the permanent creation of oneself." These desires contradict and exclude each other in logic only; in real life, they have come together in innumerable ways in our own life and before our eyes. Such a possibility has only been given to man, and man - this controversial being - can be defined by it.
The Gospels condemn instincts and speak only about the soul. The Quran brings them back, for they are true and real, although not so noble. The Quran mentions them with understanding, not with blame. The angels' bow to man implied the superiority of the human over the angelic. Men are not gentle and graceful beings solely oriented toward good. They are physical, coarse, contradictory, stretched between desires and temptations. In an unnatural wish to make them sinless and infallible, we suddenly realize that we have obtained bloodless, sentimental, and false personalities incapable of both good and evil. Separating them from mother earth, we separate them from life, and where there is no life, there is no virtue either.
"Islam Between East and West" - Elija Ali Izetbegovic, pp. 224, 225