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The Heart Of Islam: Enduring Values For Humanity UPDATED

Nasr, a professor at George Washington University and a living legend in Islamic studies, was commissioned by Harper San Francisco to write this book after the attacks of September 11. Presented as "an explanation of the authentic teachings of Islam anew in light of the challenges of the present-day situation," this is an adequate and accurate reference tool, particularly for comparisons of the text of the holy books of the three major, monotheistic Western religions. Further, Nasr's ability to perceive profound spiritual meaning from Islamic theory, though exploited only a few times in this book, has no rival. The writing is best when he's discussing his own life. He also succeeds when taking on current critics of Islam, especially his persuasive counter-arguments to the "What Went Wrong?" school of thought. However, Nasr's fans, and those seeking to improve their understanding of Islam, will be disappointed. In aiming to discuss each value that is significant in Islam, Nasr has created an unfocused, sometimes dull book. He discusses the importance of values like justice and community and distinguishes between true Islam and local, tribal culture, but the absence of a guiding thesis alienates the reader. Though his purpose is to counter negativity about Islam in the post-9/11 era, Nasr instead rambles on about esoteric, irrelevant points. This is an unengaging read that fails to illuminate the titular "heart" of Islam. (Sept.)

The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity

Nasr challenges members of the world's civilizations to stop demonizing others while identifying themselves with pure goodness and to turn instead to a deeper understanding of those shared values that can solve the acute problems facing humanity today. "Muslims must ask themselves what went wrong within their own societies," he writes, "but the West must also pose the same question about itself . . . whether we are Muslims, Jews, Christians, or even secularists, whether we live in the Islamic world or in the West, we are in need of meaning in our lives, of ethical norms to guide our actions, of a vision that would allow us to live at peace with each other and with the rest of God's creation." Such help, he believes, lies at the heart of every religion and can lead the followers of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as well as other religious and spiritual traditions to a new future of mutual respect and common global purpose.

All this has brought about an "essential renewal", a "great inner upheaval" in the Church, to use the words of Jacques Maritain, the Peasant of the Garonne. "It consists—according to this Christian philosopher—in a change of attitude and a shifting of values which takes place in the depth of the soul... and which concerns first of all a way of. seeing these non-Christians, before God, and a way of loving them more, in more real and deep conformity with the spirit of the Gospel... loving them, that is, because they are potential members of Christ, of that Truth incarnate which they do not know and which is actually denied by the errors they profess" (9). It does not seem exact, on the contrary, to affirm, as some people do, that with the Council a "Manichean" conception of the world was replaced by the vision of a humanity in state of growth (10). The Church has always believed and preached, in conformity with the evangelical parable, that the seed of weeds is everywhere mingled with good grain, and that the two cities in which, according to St. Augustine in "De Civitate Dei", mankind can be summed up, "fecerunt itaque civitates duas amores duos" (11), "are not delimited by visible frontiers, nor do they coincide with the visible order of the world": "perplexae quippe sunt istae duae civitates invicemque permixtae" (12). It is undeniable, however, that in the opinion of many people, until a short time ago, there was little recognition of the existence of spiritual values in non-Christians, which attitude was shared by them with equal firmness and spontaneity: for centuries, and up to today, the Moslem world has believed, for example, that there is no possibility of salvation outside Umma, the Moslem community (13).

The one on African religions will be published shortly and, immediately afterwards in the following order, those on Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. We are aware, however, that however concrete such suggestions and indications are, they are bound to be found generical and somewhat abstract in actual practice: it will be necessary, in any case, to revise and adapt them to local situations, under the full responsibility of the Bishops. For this reason, all Bishops in Mission Countries are considered members of the Secretariat. The first among them is, of course, His Eminence the Prefect of Propaganda, which Congregation exercises a real and proper jurisdiction. In this way, the activity of our Office is differentiated both from the pastoral action to be undertaken on the spot, and from the direct action of research and scientific investigation of the specialized Institutes, though it is connected with them. Here we may mention the close collaboration between the "Scientific Missionary Institute" of this University and our Secretariat. Its work is one of mediation, reflection and stimulation. With the help of qualified Consultors and Correspondents, and of the Episcopal Conferences of every nation, we collect and diffuse, in our Bulletins and Supplements, the most reliable results of theological and scientific research, of ethnology and the sciences of religions, and make them available for the dialogue of the Church, introducing the essential themes of the Christian message and the highest values of humanity "into the circulation of human speech", to use a happy expression of Paul VI's. In any case the intention is to offer a service to the whole Church—the name " Secretariat" in itself indicates this—representing in a visible way the dialogue with non-Christians, to which the Holy Spirit calls the people of God today, and carrying out an action that illuminates, supports, stimulates, guides and, as far as possible, coordinates the dialogue "in this delicate field, where it is necessary to avoid all danger of. 'irenicism' and 'syncretism’, and to lay aside all false ideas of equivalence between the various religions".

It can be affirmed, generally speaking, that the enemies of Dialogue are exclusivism and isolationism on the one hand, and the dilution of the true Faith on the other hand, whatever form it may take. Therefore, anyone who denies the existence of real, genuine values in non-Christian religions, and makes the extension of the grace of Christ coincide with the visible boundaries of the Church, considering the ethico-religious heritage of non-Christian humanity as a kingdom of darkness and error (30), is an enemy of dialogue.

Rather, the challenge to all people, believers and unbelievers, clergy and laymen alike, is to recognize the consequences now being visited upon the world as the result of the universal corruption of the religious impulse. In the prevailing alienation of humanity from God over the past century, a relationship on which the fabric of moral life itself depends has broken down. Natural faculties of the rational soul, vital to the development and maintenance of human values, have become universally discounted:

It would be easy to take this as platitudinous, admonishing alldiligent professors to season their lectures with lively anecdotes andamusing illustrations. But Whitehead is saying much more than this, withimplications that are far-reaching. He is saying that the heart of theuniversity is neither the faculty nor the students, neither scholarship andresearch nor education, but the imaginative energies--along with theintellectual excitement and zest for living that accompany them--that mayarise when the two poles are bought into contact with each other. Theimaginative element provoked, incited, elicited through this interactionbrings to life something that is of the greatest importance for both studentand professor--persisting with the former as the beating heart of a creativecareer, and enduring with the latter as the motive for the research andscholarship that will be imaginatively transmitted to yet anothergeneration--as well as spilling over into society in ways that are importantfor the life of the community. (30)

Referring this to Whitehead's example, the sources to whichthe imagination connects would be more than just formal properties, but whathe calls "the higher categories of eternal objects" that themselvesfound the abstractions. (31) And indeed Whitehead's epistemology assignsjust such a connecting role between the eternal and the temporal to theimagination. But where is the deity in this? God is "the ground of allorder and originality," (32) luring and enticing free creativity in thedirection of the divine goodness--"the antecedent ground conditioningevery creative act ... the mirror which discloses to every creature its owngreatness." (33) Thus, if we were to conclude with Whitehead thatimagination is not just a necessary component of the university, but its veryheart, then the infusion of the invisible into the visible, of the possibleinto the actual, of the eternal into the temporal--and we may also say, in atleast a limited sense, of the sacred into the secular--would remainenduringly present, even if in a subtle and perhaps covert manner.

If the university's cross-millennial concern withtranscendence is based primarily upon class interest, or ressentiment, orwish-fulfillment-as its most influential critics have maintained--then itseclipse will ultimately be of little consequence, or perhaps more likely, beall for the better. But if this engagement is more deeply founded upon thequiet, yet irreducible, and perhaps irrepressible, intuition--arguably patentto all humanity--of a dimension that is itself not just transcendent, but forthis very reason critically and ontologically supportive of both humantranscendence and of immanence per se, then there need be no worry of itssuppression being more than temporary and transitional and ultimatelyephemeral. The university would therefore, in this case, possess anindefinitely enduring future. 041b061a72


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