Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very honoured to be allowed to speak to you here in Astana, in Kazakhstan. It is wonderful how we can travel throughout the Eurasian continent again today, to whose landmasses many believe that the 21st century will belong.
There is of course phenomenal natural and human wealth between Astana and Berlin. The economic and material possibilities are many and obvious. But the question is also: what spiritual link could there be between these two fatefully conjoined continents?
As European Muslims we can offer a fascinating insight into this question. Islam is an invisible spiritual bond which already joins Europe and Asia, connecting peoples like the Germans, the Bosnians, the Tartars and the Kazaks. We Muslims can travel across the entire continent, from Sarajevo, to Istanbul, to Almaty, confident of encountering Muslim companionship on every day of the journey.
What we would also see everywhere along the way are old and new signs of high Islamic civilisation. But we would also come to understand that Islam itself is not a culture, that it exists within completely different cultures in both Europe and Asia. Let it be stated therefore that Huntington’s thesis of a “Clash of Civilisations” is intellectually untenable, and quite simply wrong.
The idea of a convergence of Asia and Europe is, by the way, not new. In the 18th century the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe put forward a spiritual vision of Eurasia. According to Goethe, who “did not reject the proposition that he himself was a Muslim,” East and West would grow together unstoppably. “East and West cannot be separated,” said the great thinker in affirmation of the continent’s potential for unity.
But even Goethe was afraid that this merging of continents may come about by violent means. He saw the key to an altogether different approach to power-politics in nothing other than a new kind of money. In his famous work ‘Faust’ Goethe warned explicitly against a newfound power – the power to print paper money. Over and against the natural limitations of mining gold out of the ground, Goethe sensed the worrying possibilities inherent in the endless production of paper money. The new ruling powers would have, instead of canons, a money-printing machine.
Now, two centuries after Goethe’s vision, the East and West are in the throes of massive crises, but ones which also contain new possibilities – in which globalisation and Islam are of course two heavily discussed issues.
The term globalisation has become something of an ambiguity. Few people still understand it to mean the age-old struggle of the West to subjugate all other peoples. The geopolitics of the transatlantic alliance are also the subject of much debate. Interventions in foreign lands used to be in the name of christianity, whereas today human rights are often the stated reason. But there are also completely new forms of invasion. The currency speculators of the West, as you know, shook all Asia in the 1990s.
Now, in the midst of financial crisis, ecological disaster, and the imminent prospect of gigantic debt, many thinking people are asking themselves what the deeper meaning of all this could be.
We find ourselves in a time of great technological achievement, but also a time of a certain spiritual emptiness. Religions are no longer relevant in many societies. Boredom, according to the German philosopher Heidegger, is the basic mood of nihilism, and with that the basic attitude of many young people today.
Many Europeans are looking for a new spirit and a new measure for human behaviour. The doctrine of endless growth which reigns among us has been cast in doubt. Europe is searching almost desperately for a third way of limiting the power of a new, polarised financial world.
So the question is, which spiritual and intellectual impetus, and which knowledge, can produce new answers? More and more people today are basically shaped by two revelations, each of which has global significance and already determines the lives of millions. We are referring to the Internet and the Qur’an. Both phenomena reveal, in completely different ways, possibilities of obtaining knowledge. In the Internet we experience the dizzying diversity of millions of pages of human thought, while in the Qur’an the one Creator speaks to us with complete clarity.
The Qur’an is absolutely for this time, especially in terms of economical issues. According to Surat al-Baqara 275, the Creator has allowed trade and forbidden interest. That is of course explosive. You could say that the European Union – to name just one example – has reversed this Qur’anic order: interest is allowed and trade is killed off in favour of monopolies.
We Muslims believe in the freedom of the market and fair trade. Islam itself embodies a middle-way between capitalism and communism. It limits the possibilities of the multiplication of money, and permits private property, and it obliges the rich to solidarity by ordering the payment of Zakat.
In 2007 we invited Dr. Mahathir to Istanbul under the auspices of the EMU. The theme was the noteworthy relationship between Europe and Asia. Dr. Mahathir pointed out “that Islam is not just a faith, a religion like other religions, but is a way of life, is a Deen.” At that meeting we reflected on the future of Asia and Europe. The new “Eurasian” model for success will not hark back to the past, but it will have to take historical experience seriously.
Materialism alone cannot bring people together in peace. We are sure that a new generation of well-educated Asian and European Muslims will play a decisive role in the shaping of Europe and Asia.