Abu Bakr Rieger

Islam, Finanztechnik, Recht & Philosophie

Abu Bakr Rieger

Islam, Finanztechnik, Recht & Philosophie

Goethe and money

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a great honour to be able to contribute to this conference in Istanbul. It is now almost 10 years since we founded the „European Muslim Union“ – following the suggestion of our Honorary President Prof. Dr. Yalçıntaş.

This happened at a significant time – when Islam in Europe had already begun to be discussed in a controversial manner in the context of international terrorism. At the same time Conservatives in Europe started covering up their own identity crisis with an opposition to Islam. Added to this there was a strong pressure in Europe on believers, and also on the Muslims, to renounce certain beliefs and traditions, some of which were centuries old. The vague concept of „Islamism“ also gave many opponents of Islam the welcome opportunity to exclude – or even to defame – those of the believers they found inconvenient.

In this situation, Muslim intellectuals, scholars and scientists, of course, play an important role. It is naturally up to us, together, to define and strengthen the position of Islam in this century.

In this context, we at the EMU welcome the important role of Turkey as a supporter of Muslims in Europe. We as European Muslims were of course in accord for example with the Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Erdoğan when he clearly rejected the idea of „Islamic“ terrorism, and thus actively opposed the attempt to criminalize Islam. Of course there is no such thing as „Islamic“ terrorism, just as there is no such thing as „Islamic“ theft, or „Islamic“ bank robbery.

In Europe in particular, it is very important to safeguard our interests as Muslims in these circumstances.

In the capital city of the European Union, Strasbourg, the EMU is maintaining an office since some years now, albeit with modest means. The goal is to follow all developments in relation to dealings with Muslims in Europe at the level of the European Union. The German Catholic and Protestant churches alone maintain facilities in Brussels with a budget of millions of euro to secure their interests. We Muslims are still in our infancy in this respect, but nevertheless, we at the EMU have begun our lobby work in Strasbourg and Brussels.

Of course, we are aware that precisely since the progress of Turkey’s accession negotiations in the EU, Islam-critical movements in Europe have increasingly argued that a country with a Muslim population does not fit into Europe. The French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in an interview with the German news magazine Spiegel, for example, has negated that Islam is part of Europe at all. As so often happens, we have here an intellectual speaking who has quite probably hardly visited a European city like Sarajevo or Granada with open eyes, let alone discussed the history of Europe with educated Muslims.

We must of course contradict in unison such intellectuals on this matter and refer them to the great history of the Muslims in the Balkans or in Andalusia. Our organization held an important conference titled „Islam in Southern Europe“ in September 2013 on Cyprus and compiled many important articles on this subject.

Moreover, we should not tire in reminding people that great philosophers, intellectuals and poets have for centuries also concerned themselves with Islam. In this context, in January 2013, the EMU once again presented the outstanding European personality J.W. Goethe in Weimar, the capital of German Classicism. At our invitation, the famous scholar Dr. Manfred Osten illuminated from his point of view the role of the leading poet of his age.

We do not intend to romanticize or glorify this man. The work of Goethe is for us European Muslims very important because he had already begun to describe in his time (i.e. late 18th/ early 19th century), which was the era of rising nationalism and technological revolution, with great clarity the challenges of modernity. His evaluations and insights are therefore highly relevant up until today.

Goethe foresaw that the technological revolution would change not only his own homeland, but the whole planet in a fundamental way. Goethe quickly realised that the numerous small principalities which had prevailed until then in Germany would hardly be able to survive the century in their old form. And as you know, Bismarck then actually formed the greater Germany with its industrial character in the 19th Century.

In „Faust“, probably the most famous German book of all, Goethe described with genius the inner driving force of technological revolutions. In „Faust“, it is Mephistopheles who makes the brilliantly simple suggestion to the prince to print money. According to the „diabolical“ plan, the prince could not only pay for all the new technologies with the new money, but could also expand endlessly with the magic of the created money. The old motto, „money rules the world“ was extended to „who can print money rules the world.“

When the prince in Faust rejects this „crazy“ proposal because – as he thinks – no one would believe that mere paper has value, Mephistopheles convinces him with the logic that the mineral wealth supposedly hidden under the ground would be able to back up the in itself worthless paper money. Money thus becomes something in which one has faith. Goethe recognises, probably as the first European, the incredible fascination and power contained in the idea of artificially created money – which is still alive today.

Of course, Goethe, who was also a finance minister in Weimar noted with some suspicion the innovation and development of the new „note based banks”, the banks which “revolutionized“ the financial system with their new invention. Paper money was being created before Goethe’s own eyes , and with it also the long-term possibility of money that was not backed by commodities. In 1794, Goethe stated explicitly in a document regarding coin assessment that money could only be real money if it had an inherent value.

It is interesting to note that in 2012 the city of Frankfurt organised an exhibition on the theme of „Goethe and Money.“ In a brilliant lecture, the head of the German Bundesbank, Mr. Weidmann demonstrated the up-to-dateness of Goethe’s monetary theory and described this doctrine as the very tradition of German monetary policy and the Bundesbank itself.

In his speech, Bundesbank Chairman Weidmann describes how today the technique of money creation manifests as „political and economic power“:

„Central banks create money by granting commercial banks credit against collateral loans or by buying asset values such as bonds from them. The financial strength of a central bank is in principle unlimited since a central bank does not have to first raise the money it grants or with which it pays, but rather is able to create it virtually out of nothing.”

The principle of „artificial money“, which Goethe described so early on in Faust thus continues to be effective unabated until today.

Of course, the universal genius and world citizen Goethe dealt not only with the new religion of faith based on money. It is not surprising that Goethe as a holistic thinker finally met Islam. In his East-West Diwan, Goethe not only demonstrated a great sympathy for Islam, but also did not reject „the suspicion that he himself was a Mussulman“ – a famous statement he made on the subject.

There is no doubt – and this can be demonstrated with evidence – that the great thinker rejected Christianity, especially the doctrine of Trinity. Moreover, he continues to surprise people even up until today with his statements on Islam. Just one more example may be mentioned here. The question as to „Whether the Qur’an is from eternity“ he answers as follows: „This I do not question! That it is the Book of books I believe out of my duty as a Muslim „(West-Eastern Divan, WA 16, 203). Goethe testified as always to the unity of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him.

It does not need to be explicitly mentioned that this statements caused a great scandal – because at that time the hostility towards Islam in Europe’s higher circles was very pronounced. The proximity of Goethe to Islam still provokes German intellectuals today. In his current biography of Goethe, the well-known philosopher Safranski tries to relativize Goethe’s proximity to Islam, and this is – in my opinion – because it is still difficult for the German intellect to imagine that their national poet might have been something akin to the first „liberal“ Muslim.

We may leave the question as to how near Goethe was to Islam remain open. More important are the questions he raises for us in our lives of today regarding the relationship of life-technology-faith. Why then is Goethe for us Muslims in Europe such a fascinating character up until today?

On the one hand Goethe is, as his Faust shows, an analyst who reveals financial technique as the primary phenomenon and driving force of future world domination, and on the other a philosopher who discovers the intellectual fascination of the unitarian teaching in Islam.

For these two reasons, an unbiased involvement with Goethe’s work is worthwhile – because there still exists this connection between technology and Islam which must continue to fascinate us as European intellectuals today. On the one hand, we see financial techniques, security techniques and the final revelation of technique, the Internet, which increasingly dominates the whole planet and our lives. On the other hand, we see the divine revelation itself, our law that accompanies this development and – so we believe – also keeps it within bounds.

In particular, Islamic business law appeals to many Muslims and even non-Muslims today as part of the solution to the current crises. You will agree, I assume, that alone the ayat, „Allah has forbidden usury and permitted trade“ (2:75) can today employ a whole generation of intellectuals.

It is no coincidence that we discover an important, intellectual trend in dealing with Islam nowadays in Europe. Islam is now increasingly integrated into the European sciences but is also described more and more frequently with a non -Islamic terminology as a „religion“ and a „theology“.

The term “religion” is actually a term of Christian character which came into being late in Europe. It is connected with the person of Friedrich Schleiermacher who in 1799 – at the same time of Goethe – published his famous speech „On Religion“. Schleiermacher separated the „feeling that there is a God“ from knowledge and action. The term religion or even theology indicated that belief within a technological world no longer had any claim to practical relevance. Therefore it is hardly imaginable for the Europe of today that a religion together with morality could also contain practical instructions or could formulate contributions to the solution of current problems.

So it is no coincidence that the doctrine of Aqeeda, theology and the religious theory of disputation in general have begun to dominate “Islamic thought” nowadays. In contrast, there is no European university offering the study of Islamic commercial law which is so relevant today.

It is thus the task of Muslim intellectuals to show that Islam and the divine revelation offer highly contemporary perspectives for understanding the modern world. Islam does not reject technology, nor do Muslims dream of the past; rather we are looking for a serene relationship to technology and we see – as Goethe had already seen in the 19th Century – the breaking point where modern technology challenges and threatens the creation.

Today there can be no intellectual position that does not deal with the financial crisis and does not develop its own stance regarding this crisis. Here, in reflecting about technology and understanding Islam, lies an important contribution of European Muslims. If we aim at this work, then Muslims shall hardly be suspected of absenting themselves in a religious parallel-world.

I would like to invite you all to continue with us this conversation about the role of Islam in Europe and to participate in the various activities of the EMU. Please inform yourself on our website about the EMU and our work of the past years.

(International Symposium on Intellectuals who illuminated the Muslim World, Istanbul 13-15 December 2013)