On Imam Ghazali and Bosnia

AHM: The West sees itself as a fundamentally Christian civilisation, despite many years of creeping but in many ways superficial secularisation. In 1993, Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, announced that ‘Membership of the European Community is conditional on the possession of a shared Christian heritage’ – a remark which was not well received in Turkey, for instance, but reflects a general assumption in Europe.

 And Christianity is historically a religion which, thanks to its idea of the unique salvific status of Christ, has often found it difficult to tolerate large non-Christian minorities. In the middle ages, you could be a Christian in Cairo, but you could not be a Muslim in London. Christians and Jews lived under Muslim rule in Spain for eight hundred years; but when Granada fell in 1492, the Inquisition soon demolished the mosques, and burned and exiled the Muslim and Jewish population. Since the Enlightenment, which was in fact the considered though usually discreet rejection of Christianity by many educated people, this situation has been changed, but even the present century has seen ‘civilised Europe’ supervise the massacre of six million Jews, something which never happened in the Muslim world.

What is ironic is that this traditional contest – between the exclusivist Christian world and the multi-ethnic world of Islam – has been strangely inverted, so that the usual international discourse today presents the Christian West as pluralist and the Islamic East as totalitarian. This is largely untrue – for instance, there are many Christian members of the Egyptian and Iranian parliaments, but no Muslim members of the British, French, German or Italian  parliaments. Many Muslim countries support the schools of their Christian minorities, whereas the Muslim schools in Britain are consistently denied state funding, which is freely given to Christian and Jewish schools. So while the media headlines may suggest that the Christian West is somehow more tolerant and provides more equality of opportunity for its minorities, the reality, both in the past and the present, is quite otherwise.

Of course, there are conspicuous exceptions: one thinks of the poor minority rights situation in some Muslim countries, for instance. But the fact is that an Eastern Christian can become Secretary-General of the United Nations, a position to which no Western Muslim could realistically aspire, given the discreet but heavy cultural preferences which exists in our societies.

EK: What about the much-touted growth of a contemporary dialogue of civilisations, an ‘East-West encounter’?

AHM: I do not believe that there is an East-West encounter. There are in fact two contests presently taking shape in the modern world. Firstly, there is the competition for resources between the industrialised North and the poor South. Despite all the rhetoric of ‘aid’, the reality is that the net transfer of capital from the South to the North now

exceeds seven billion dollars every month. Secondly, there is a contest between traditional religion and materialism. I believe that in our time the major religions should postpone debates on their doctrinal differences and recognise that they all face the same enemy: the spirit of negation and greed which is the driving force of modernity. The cooperation between the Muslims and the Vatican delegation to the UN Population Conference in Cairo in 1994, which resulted in the modification of many anti-religious and anti-family provisions, proves that such a cooperation can be of mutual benefit. We all have our backs against the same wall, and I constantly urge Muslims to develop links with serious believers in the earlier revelations to see how we can unite against the destructive individualism of the modern world, which is increasingly the polemical and activist agenda of the UN and similar world agencies.

EK: We hear much about Western converts to Islam. How powerful is the movement in reality?

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