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The Discovery of Islam

Roger Du Pasquier

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When man forgets God, God will also 'forget' man.


accepting the Koran  agnosticism  happiness  civilisation, «humanist» ~  conditions, material ~  contestation  crisis  direction  world wars  modern man  modern man = adult?  position of man  Islam = ancient and modern  the young, reality of ~  benefits, promised ~  Asian religions  nihilism   West, de-Christianized  modern thought, la  initial phase of Islam  final phase of history  practice, religieuse ~ demanding?  sexuality  shahādah (profession of faith)   submission to God  remembrance of God 

Chapter 1 [*]. Faced with the challenges of our time nothing on earth seems to escape the crisis that is shaking the modern world. [This was published 1984]. It is no longer enough to speak of a crisis of civilisation, because the phenomenon has taken on cosmic dimensions. Its sinister aspects appear with increasing evidence and anguish spreads.

However, Islam was given to men precisely to help them get through this final phase of universal history without getting lost. As the last revelation of the prophetic cycle, it offers the means to resist the current chaos, to restore order and clarity within oneself, as well as harmony in human relationships, and to realize the higher destiny to which the Creator has invited us.

Islam is addressed to man, of whom he has a deep and precise knowledge, situating his position exactly in creation and before God.

Modern thought, on the contrary, has no defined and generally accepted anthropology. [1] It possesses an immense quantity of diverse notions about man but, in its confusion and its divergences, it demonstrates its inability to give a coherent definition of the human condition. In no other civilization have we ignored in such a total and systematic way, why we were born, why we live and why we must die.

Such is the paradox of this civilization which, at the start, wanted to be “humanist”, that is to say which made man the principle and the end of all things: the very notion of man has disintegrated. Evolutionism had made him a perfect monkey, then the philosophy of the absurd came to take away the little coherence he had left. The human being is now like a puppet shaken and disarticulated by a mechanism that he has set in motion, but whose disorderly agitation and accelerated movement he can no longer control.

Proclaimed absurd, life on earth has effectively lost its meaning. It offers man a multitude of possibilities and material advantages which previous generations would not have dared to dream of but, as we do not know what a man really is and therefore what his deepest aspirations are, all these marvels do not prevent him from sinking into despair.

Yet modern civilization had proclaimed loudly and in all tones that it would bring happiness to mankind. The French Revolution had adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the American Constitution claimed to guarantee to every citizen the “pursuit of happiness”. The 19th century gave credence in all Western countries and even beyond to the great idea of Progress by virtue of which the golden age would not be behind, but ahead of us.

Facts have long given apparent confirmation to this belief. The material conditions of the lower layers of Western society have improved considerably, the exercise of individual freedoms has been guaranteed to all, science has given modern man the feeling of being incomparably more educated than the most learned among the previous generations, and technical development has placed instruments of previously unsuspected power in his hands.

On another level and by virtue of psychological theories claiming to have finally discovered where the real center of gravity of the human person is located, that is to say at the level of sexuality, individuals were promised that they could ”achieve”[2] themselves by escaping all constraints and following all their inclinations. This was, for many, a sufficient pretext to suppress the morality inherited from the past and now considered as a collection of outdated prejudices.

This is how modern man believes he has become “adult”, implying that the generations of past centuries were infantile. There is no shortage of philosophers or even theologians to confirm him in this idea.

But the facts themselves ended up singularly contradicting these theories.

Already, the First World War and the disasters it entailed had seriously belied the optimism of the heralds of the new golden age. However, this did not prevent them, on the return of peace, from prophesysing with renewed vigor the advent of an era of peace, justice and happiness, as if the appalling tragedy with its millions of victims had only been an incident along the way.

The Second World War, far more terrible still, should have instructed men in the illusions and dangers of progressive and more or less atheistic ideologies promising happiness by exclusively profane, quantitative and materialistic means. But instead of discerning its deceptive nature and turning away from it to return to more spiritual and traditional values, they have on the contrary accelerated the movement of secularization.

If the promises of happiness do not come true, the ideologues of the system do not in any way conclude that they were fallacious or unfounded, but they attack the last survivals of the old order and traditional ideas, which they denounce as so many obstacles to the march of progress and which it would therefore be urgent to do to disappear.

Social upheaval is only one aspect of this movement. They are accompanied by a subversion of a moral and psychic order which claims to eliminate “prejudices” and the “authoritarian” spirit, which would prevent man from achieving his full liberation and therefore happiness.

The reality, especially that which can be seen in the youth acquired by “anti-authoritarian” ideas, is revealing: according to converging testimonies, the number of neurotics, deranged and intoxicated persons is constantly growing, as are the cases of blind submission to ideological systems and leaders leading in fact to the opposite of freedom.

This civilization which had wanted to be “humanist” thus lead to a system which, at the same time, despises man and deceives him in order to finally destroy him. This civilization [3] despises him because it reduces him but to the material and quantitative functions as a simple producer and consumer;

and it deceives him because it makes him believe that, thanks to progress, the development of science, and a better social organization together with the liberation from late “prejudices” and constraints inherited from the past, he would achieve happiness and overcome suffering, which is nevertheless inherent to the human condition; finally it destroys him by corrupting him, by disintegrating him and depriving him of his meaning of life and hope.

Moreover, the feeling that the present order of things - if one can speak of order in such confusion - is a huge deception seems to be spreading ever more widely and modern ideologies are increasingly undermined by the spirit of negation, contestation and nihilism. Indeed, these ideologies, including Marxism, always end up losing their credibility, because they are powerless to answer our most important questions about the meaning of life and the reasons for our presence on earth. What inevitably ends up making them vain and ineffective is ignoring that man, in the end, is defined by the Absolute and that deep down, consciously or unconsciously, he does not seek nothing more than that.

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The human condition cannot find its justification and its full fulfillment on the terrestrial horizontal plane,[4] because it involves an essential and central aspiration to transcendence. Man, unlike other creatures, feels the fundamental need to transcend himself and to seek this Absolute which, alone here below, he is capable of conceiving. This is why all the relative things that are offered to him in such great abundance always leave him unsatisfied or end up taking on a taste of bitterness.

Very significant is the fact that “contestation” [5] has developed above all in industrialized countries with a high standard of living where all the material advantages are within everyone’s reach. But precisely, modern civilization is unacceptable to man because, offering him everything except the essential, it seems meaningless to him. Never has he had so many and prodigious opportunities to amuse himself, and never has he been so bored.

The extraordinary achievements of science and technology, be it color television, “space conquests” or progress in medicine, offer no real remedy to this problem. Man, in this multiplicity of gadgets, distracts himself, disperses himself or dissipates himself, but he does not find the true peace of the soul coming from the certainty of accomplishing here below the higher destiny for which he was created.

In the insane conditions of modern life, people with a little thinking are always better aware that they are running towards the abyss. In a perfectly understandable reaction, many are seeking their salvation outside the discredited civilization-promoting Western world. They then turn to various forms of oriental mysticism, occultism or yoga. But, too often, their quest ignores Islam which, however, holds at their disposal all the means to give their lives a meaning that meets their deepest aspirations.

Islam is not Western, yet it would not be right to consider it exclusively Eastern. It is foreign to the specifically modern world, and yet of all the sacred traditions it is the best adapted to the conditions of the declining cosmic cycle. It is simple and obvious, but at the same time it conceals treasures of mystical and metaphysical wisdom on which long generations of contemplatives and saints have nourished themselves.

Through its horizontal and vertical dimensions, Islam is capable of concretely reconciling man with the cosmos that surrounds him, as well as with the Creator of all things. In the full sense of the term, it is universal.

The West, Christian or de-Christianized, has never really known Islam. Ever since they saw it appear on the world stage, Christians have continually slandered and reviled it for reasons to fight it. Gross deformations have been given of him, the traces of which have remained in the European mentality to this day. There are still many Westerners for whom Islam is reduced to these three notions: fanaticism, fatalism, polygamy. There is certainly a more cultivated public whose ideas on Islam are less aberrant, but few are those who still know that this word means nothing other than “submission to God”.

Symptomatic of this ignorance is the fact that, in the minds of most Europeans, Allah designates the divinity of Muslims and not the God of Christians and Jews; they are quite surprised to hear, when we take the trouble to tell them, that Allah means “God” and that even Arab Christians have no other name to implore Him.

Islam has certainly been the subject of extensive study by Western Orientalists who, over the past two centuries, have published an abundant and scholarly literature on it. However, however valuable their works may have been, especially from the historical and philological point of view, they have contributed little to a better understanding, in Christian circles or those of Christian origin, of the Muslim religion, because they do not have not aroused much interest beyond specialized academic circles. Moreover, it must be admitted that Oriental studies in the West have not always been inspired by the purest spirit of scientific impartiality and it cannot be denied that certain Islamologists and Arab scholars have obviously acted with the intention of denigrate Islam and Muslims. This tendency was particularly marked - for reasons of obvious clarity - in the golden age of the colonial empires, but it would be an exaggeration to claim that it has completely disappeared.

These are some of the reasons why Islam has until now remained so misunderstood in the West where, curiously enough, Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have aroused sympathy and much more marked interest, while he himself is so close to Judaism and Christianity, being from the same Abrahamic stock. However, for some years, it seems that external circumstances, in particular the growing importance of the Arab-Islamic countries in the great political and economic affairs of the world, are in charge of arousing in the West a growing interest in Islam, the discovery of which is, for some, like that of unsuspected horizons.

Meaning “submission to God”, Islam expresses a universal notion that is found in a certain way in other sacred traditions. Because any true religion is necessarily conformity to the will of the divine Absolute. Moreover, Islam can also be designated as the permanent religion, because, basing itself on the doctrine of Unity, which is eternal, it did not bring anything fundamentally new, but came to restore the primordial [6] religion paramount and reaffirm the timeless truth.

Restoration and reaffirmation, Islam is also a synthesis of universal revelation. It is the recapitulation of all the previous messages addressed to humanity from Heaven. This is what gave it this astonishing power to integrate into the same community of believers and populations of extremely diverse ethnic origin while respecting their personality.

Being timeless in essence, Islam is both ancient and modern. He is ancient because it transmits a truth already known to mankind from the earliest ages, but it is modern by the means it offers to thoseof later ages to live this truth.

This “modernity” manifests itself first in the simplicity of the enunciation of its doctrinal principles, the first and most fundamental of which is expressed in the Shahāda (profession of faith): La ilāha ilia’Llāh, Muhammadun rasūluLlāh (“ There is no divinity but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God”). This attestation of the divine Unity proclaimed to humanity by the mission of the Prophet Muhammad contains an evidence accessible to modern man who, to be a Muslim, does not need to subscribe to “mysteries” impenetrable to his reason.

Undoubtedly, the Shahāda is in reality of a metaphysical scope that human reason cannot exhaust, but it brings him a certainty, the most fundamental of all, that of the divine Absolute made accessible to man by the prophetic message. However, Islam has been rightly designated as the religion of certainty.

In the contemporary intellectual confusion maintained by the agnosticism of the philosophical schools in vogue, this possibility offered by Islam to rediscover an unassailable certainty is of immense significance, because it already makes it possible to give meaning to the human condition. It is providential for the man who makes it his own and who, thereby, escapes the absurd incoherence of present-day civilization and, no longer being in solidarity with it, manages to avoid being drawn into its race to the abyss.

Thus the Shahada is Islam’s first response to the Promethean agnosticism of today’s world. It constitutes a fundamental argument going beyond the discursive process of human thought and affirming the absolute Reality on which all created things depend and are therefore only relative expressions. Opening with a negation - Lā ilāha, “no divinity” - it then affirms the Truth - illa’Llāh, “if not God” - before which it places man in a way which, at the same time, invites reflection and challenges analysis.

For some, the Shahāda is overwhelmingly obvious. To others, it seems enigmatic and disconcerting. But, whether one adheres to it as in a flash or following a process of intellectual maturation, it is much more than a statement inviting a mental process; it engages the totality of the human being.

Proclaiming the absolute and therefore exclusive reality of God, the Shahada implies the ineluctable necessity to conform to Him, to submit to His will, which is the exact meaning of the word Islam. It is then that his second proposition, both a logical and provident consequence of the first, takes on its full import: Muhammadun rasūlu’Llāh, “Muhammad is the messenger of God”; there is no better way to achieve this conformity and submission than to follow the path traced by the Envoy.

To follow this path is first to accept the revealed Book, the Koran, and to put its injunctions into practice; it is also to conform to the teachings and the example of the one who was the instrument of Revelation, Muhammad (the blessings and peace of Allah upon him). To be a Muslim - muslim, that is to say “subject to the divine will” - is, in principle, nothing more than that.

Recognition of the absolute reality of God and the free will to submit to it are enough to restore all its meaning to human life devalued by modern disbelief and confusion. But they do not require exorbitant prices in return. If the statement of the Shahāda, the fundamental profession of faith, is remarkably simple and self-evident, the other elements of Islamic faith and doctrine also do not require arduous intellectual efforts to be understood and accepted.

As for the practice of religion, it may certainly seem demanding to certain individuals refractory[8] to all discipline but, in fact, it is sufficiently easy and flexible to suit all circumstances of life, even in our time, and the duties that it imposes are beyond the strength of any human being endowed with a little goodwill.[10] On the contrary, their accomplishment is amply demonstrated to be effective in maintaining a healthy balance of soul and body.

It is obvious, however, that this religious practice, however easy it may be, will always seem too restrictive to many of our contemporaries, because the rejection of all discipline, encouraged by psychoanalytical, “anti-authoritarian” theories and other “philosophical” ideas in vogue, is precisely a characteristic of the modern mentality.[7] As for the prostration accomplished during the ritual prayer to express the will of the person praying to submit entirely to the divine Lordship, it is as contrary as possible to the general movement of secularization and “liberation” which, according to a famous slogan, recognizes in man “neither god nor master”.

{ فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُ }

The practice of Islam is also remembrance (dhikr) of God who, in the Koran (2-152), says: { Remember Me, and I will remember you. } This, of course, is in direct contrast to the ordinary life of today which, wandering into a senseless multiplicity of distractions, cares and anxieties, is systematic and general forgetting (ghafla) of the Creator. This remembrance, which pervades Muslim life, keeps man in communication with the center of all things, while oblivion makes him a peripheral being subject to their external quantitative aspect and to the cosmic acceleration so clearly perceptible in this last quarter of the 20th century.

The typically modern and secularized man is the exact opposite of the Muslim, the Muslim who relies on the divine will. Unable to bow down and worship, overwhelmed by the flood of possibilities of a quantitative civilization that offers him everything but the essentials, neglecting the one thing that gives life its full meaning, he lives in a state of dissatisfaction. to which he is unable to give effective remedies despite the incredible quantity and variety of resources at his disposal. This impotence has the effect of accentuating his state of rebellion against the existing conditions and especially against the last vestiges of the normal order proceeding from religious traditions, therefore from God. It was then that he became the "rebellious man" so characteristic of our century.

If, to this "rebellious man", Camus still assigns spiritual and moral values, these are henceforth devoid of any guarantee coming from a transcendence or from a religious faith; they are therefore quick to crumble and vanish. This can be seen with the “protester” who, arising in the next phase, tends to ruin everything that still resembles a social and moral order.

Undoubtedly, the "contestation" can be justified insofar as it is the refusal of a quantitative civilization reducing man to the functions of producer and consumer, and therefore incapable of giving any satisfaction whatsoever to his deepest and most profound aspirations. power stations. But, in the vast majority of cases, the protest movement. precisely wants to exploit legitimate reactions, in particular those of the Youth, for purposes of subversion and destruction. And he ends up giving rise to a human being whose only motive for his actions is the instincts of his carnal and vegetative nature.

The man who has fallen into such nihilism is as far removed from Islam as possible. As he forgot God, God also forgot him. The human condition, for him, no longer has any real meaning. He is no longer a man except in an accidental and fragmentary way.

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In a way, whoever has reached this extreme point in the modern process has placed himself below the animals themselves, which are bound to the norm of their species and cannot cross its limits. This is why they always retain a certain innocence, whereas man himself has the possibility of rising above all created beings at the same time as that of losing himself and thus falling at the last degree of lowering.

At the exact opposite of the state of revolt and contestation, the Muslim man is aware of having been created by God, who breathed his spirit into him and charged him to be his witness and his representative on earth. Thus, of all creatures, he is the most central, the one that most fully manifests the divine attributes. All creation is virtually subject to him, but only by virtue of the power he himself holds from God, to whom he owes complete submission.

Having made man his representative, his lieutenant or his vicar (as the word khalīfa is also sometimes translated) on earth, God entrusted to him a responsibility or a “deposit” (amāna) of which, alone in creation, he has dared to take charge. The Koran expresses itself on this subject in terms which, even translated, remain striking:

{ Yes, We had proposed the deposit of faith in the heavens, the earth and the mountains. They refused to take it on, they were frightened.
Only man took care of it, but he became unjust and ignorant. }
(Qur’an XXXIII, 72)

This deposit is formidable in that it gives man the freedom to choose between good and evil, between truth and error, between submission and revolt, between heaven and hell. It confers all its greatness on the human condition, but it is a greatness which entails a terrible risk, since man reveals himself to be “unjust and ignorant”. Islam gives him precisely the means to avert this risk and to use his freedom to make the choice leading, by submission, to the good, to the truth, to God.

Thus, to contemporary agnosticism incapable of defining man and the profound reasons for his presence on earth, Islam opposes a perfectly coherent anthropology that answers the most fundamental questions that it is possible to ask. It is important in this regard to note that Islam appeals to the intelligence of man, and not to his sentimentality. But it is about an intelligence in which there is the primordial, “adamic”, essential, and not of an ability to hold complicated reasoning. For Islam is not addressed to the “wise and intelligent of this world”, but to man as he was created, with his capacity to conceive the Absolute and to choose freely what conforms to it and leads there.

Religion of Truth, Islam - gives full meaning to the human condition, which can only be explained in terms of the Absolute, and abolishes the nihilistic absurdity of the modern world. It reconciles man with himself and with creation, thus providing the most effective remedy for the evil of our time.

This evil is, in a way, the culmination of the revolt of Iblis, the fallen angel, whom the Koran recounts in admirable passages making it possible to grasp both the incomparable privilege of the condition in which man was placed by God and the drama of his bewilderment and his downfall. According to this account, God, after creating Adam, ordered the angels to bow down before him. All the angels, therefore, prostrated themselves, with the exception of Iblis who justified his refusal by saying:

{ I am better than him. You created me from fire and you created him from clay. }

To God who was chasing him, the Demon asked:

{ Grant me respite until the day of resurrection. }

And the delay was granted. Iblis, therefore, took advantage of this to divert men from the straight path:

{ I will harass them, from the front and behind, from their left and on their right. }

God said: { Get out of here, despised, rejected! I will fill Gehenna with all of you and with all those who follow you. } (VII, 11–18)

Adam himself yielded to the tempter. But he repented, and God accepted his repentance, promising him and his wife to guide them: “Whoever follows his lead will not go astray, nor will he be miserable.” (XX, 122)

This direction is the permanent religion which has taken various expressions over the ages and whose ultimate and definitive form is Islam, as it proceeds from the Revelation addressed to Muhammad (the blessings and peace of Allah upon him). This Islam, like the preceding religions, makes it possible to escape the curse which strikes those who follow Iblis, and to accomplish the true human vocation which is to submit to the Creator, while taking full advantage of the privileges and benefits promised to the descendants of the first man:

{ Most certainly We have given noble
to the sons of Adam. We carried them on land and on sea. We granted them excellent food. We gave them preference over many of the ones we created. }
(XVII, 70)

Islam, therefore, in no way prohibits men from fully enjoying the benefits that God grants them, provided they are grateful:

“O you who believe! Eat of those good things We have bestowed upon you; thank God, if it is Him whom you adore.” (II, 172)

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A religion of balance, it distinguishes between the here below and the Beyond, it being understood that the latter is preferable:

"In the midst of the blessings that God has granted you, seek the final resting place. Do not neglect your part of the life of this world. (XXVIII, 77)

“And certainly the Hereafter is better for you than the present life.” (XCIII, 4)

Islam places man on the path to this Beyond, preferable to anything that can be imagined here below, but it also offers him the means to make the most of the “present life” in the world, organizing harmoniously on an individual and collective level, as will be seen in the following chapters. For the will of God, to which he is subject, is that men should be happy.

A significant fact in this respect is that in Arabic Islam, “submission”, is closely related to silm, or salām, “peace”. In fact, submission to God procures peace, the condition of happiness.

Perhaps it will be objected that the Muslims of today do not precisely give images of happiness and peace. To that, there would be a lot to answer, but we will limit ourselves for the moment to a few brief remarks, before returning to the present situation of the world of Islam.

It must first be recognized that all religions are in crisis in our time, including Islam, although it is probably to a lesser degree than others. None, in any case, can be fairly judged by taking as the main criterion the situation of the peoples supposed to profess it. Muslims are generally aware of living very far from the true ideals of the Revelation made to their Prophet and willingly admit that, if they really followed its prescriptions, their whole existence would be transformed.

Islam was fully put into practice only in its initial phase, at the time of the Prophet and the first four “Rightly Guided” caliphs, and the Muslim community, the umma, has always kept nostalgia of this privileged time. Of course, there have still been beautiful periods of fulfillment and fervor throughout the ages, but no one would dare to claim that we are currently living in one of them. Clearly, the exact opposite is true: the Muslim world, like the world in general, is currently in a state of crisis and decline unparalleled in history.

It cannot be denied, however, that with regard to the crisis experienced by the industrialized West, the world of Islam suffers from a different evil in many respects; its moral and spiritual foundations are not contested in the same way, and the vast majority of people in Muslim countries retain their traditional faith. The crisis affecting these countries is of a much more material nature and some, especially in Asia, are among the poorest on the planet. This situation, partly attributable to the former colonial powers, is certainly the cause of great suffering but, in general, it does not undermine human dignity, even among the most disadvantaged. Because Islam confers on man a nobility that poverty does not erase and even sometimes enhances. It is he, undeniably, who, even in the greatest destitution, preserves the meaning of life and retains the flavor that still makes it worth living.

Thus, whether in the prosperous but demoralized Western world, or in the material poverty of the peoples of the so-called “third world”, Islam constitutes the clearest, most fundamental and most categorical answer to the modern challenge. To those, individuals and societies, who accept it and put it into practice, it offers the most salutary and effective remedies against the evil of our time.

II. Man, center of creation
III. The Eternal Message and Its Final Bearer
IV. A miracle and its historical consequences
V. What to believe and what to do to be a Muslim
VI. The Civilization of Unity
VII. Families and Spiritual Paths

"In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order."
René Guénon, East And West, 1924

صلّى الله على سيّدنا محمّد و على آله و صحبه و سلّم

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions, ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) .



Related texts
link-in René Guénon - Shaykh ʿAbd Al Wahid Yahya
link-in On the Crisis of the Modern World
link-in Antitradition And Countertradition
link-in The Reform of the Modern Mentality - Living Islam - Islamic Tradition

  1. knowledge of what man is, check_  ↩

  2. ‘to be yourself’, or to ‘find your identity’, etc.  ↩

  3. RG citat, the 1st in human hist. not based on a higher principle.  ↩

  4. There are really two planes: the horizontal and the vertical, i.e. the sensual-materialistic and the supra-sensual, towards the highest principles.  ↩

  5. contestation: contradiction; protest; objection; resistance; opposition; argument; counterargumentation  ↩

  6. primordial: existing at or from the beginning of time  ↩

  7. rejection of all discipline, very important point and especially the rejection of spiritual discipline is a recipe for defeat and folly.  ↩

  8. refractory: stubborn or unmanageable; people who think the practices are demanding!?

  9. Découverte de l'Islam, Roger Du Pasquier; publ. 1984

    Alone among the world's religions, Islam is not just surviving but flourishing. Yet many people know little about Islam and regard its continuing attraction as something of a mystery. In this book, Du Pasquier, an award-winning Swiss journalist, provides a thorough introduction to Muslim belief, history and culture. He deals not only with topical issues, such as 'fundamentalism' and the status of Muslim women, but provides an overview of the Qur'an, the Prophet, Islamic history, and the nature of Muslim art and literature. Unbiased yet passionate, the book offers an 'unveiling' which must be heeded if the present mutual incomprehension between East and West is to be overcome.

  10. Also: Everything the Muslim does has to be good and beautiful, called Ihsan:

    hadith: "Allah has prescribed excellence in all things"


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *