Manfred Kleine-Hartlage was interviewed last February by the German weekly Junge Freiheit. The translation below was made by Mr. Kleine-Hartlage himself.
“How does Islam work?” This question is asked of Manfred Kleine-Hartlage. For the first time a social scientist dissects the deep structure of Islamic culture.
Interviewer: Moritz Schwarz
Mr. Kleine-Hartlage, how does Islam work?
Kleine-Hartlage: It is a comprehensive system regulating all areas of life. There is no separation between religion here, politics there, law there — therefore none between Islam and Islamism, either. Islamism is not an abuse of Islam, because Islam is different from our worldview.
Kleine-Hartlage: It is striking that in the Islamic world up to now there have never been serious crises of faith, as we know them here in Europe, and that there are virtually no atheists. The reason for this is that the role of religion in the social fabric of Islamic societies is quite different from that of Christianity in ours. Islam does not only relate humans to the hereafter, like all religions do, and determine what is good and evil, but it also defines what is legal or illegal in a juridical sense, legitimate and illegitimate in a political sense, true and untrue in an empirical sense. Islam is, so to speak, the DNA of its societies: not only a religion but a social system.
So you can not get rid of Islam without risking the collapse of society?
Kleine-Hartlage: So it is, the Islamic norms and values system regulates the living together in Muslim societies far beyond the religious realm in the narrow sense of the word: without Islam they could not work at all. And that’s what makes Islam so stable and so successful.
However, you are not an Islamic scientist, but a social scientist.
Kleine-Hartlage: That’s true, but sociological analysis is generally characterized by a particular approach that differs from those of the respective disciplines. You needn’t be an economist for economic sociology, or a lawyer for the sociology of law. And in the same sense, you needn’t be an Islamic scientist to analyze the sociology of Islam.
You say that we do not understand Islam. Why?
Kleine-Hartlage: Because we think in terms that do not meet it. We use a certain terminology fit for describing our own culture, but not fit for that of Islam. Studying Islam makes the unconscious assumptions of one’s thinking conscious, because these assumptions are not just shared in Islam. To some extent, Islam works like a mirror that makes us better understand ourselves. This made it so exciting for me to study Islam with the tools of the social scientist.
What result did you get?
Kleine-Hartlage: Religions shapes the system of culturally valid and (by socialization) internalized pre-assumptions about issues such as truth, justice, morality, ethics, society, or violence; i.e. all the assumptions that precede actual political thinking. In Islam, one of these cultural matters of course is its all-encompassing claim to validity. Certainly these Islamic norms and values are not internalized by everyone to the same extent or in the same depth, but they characterize the mutual expectations of people and must therefore be taken into consideration even by those Muslims who are individually rather irreligious — while a “less devout” Muslim is usually still a stronger believer than most nominal Christians.
What are the consequences?
Kleine-Hartlage: The consequence is that the widespread assumption in this country under which we perceive Islam — that all religions are equal or “want the same thing” — is misleading. Let me give you an example: Islam does not generally outlaw violence, not even in a strictly moral sense. It is a legal system that he controls violence: Whether violence is acceptable or even required depends, not only in the legal, but also in the moral sense on the who, whom, why, and how. Christian culture with outright condemnation of violence tends to the elimination of private violence and is therefore dependent on the state and its monopoly on violence. Islam isn’t. On the contrary, violence has prestige value.
Kleine-Hartlage: Because the Prophet’s example, made a permanent feature in the Quran, teaches that the ability to use force a sign of divine election. Thus, the meaning of violence is similar to that of material wealth in Calvinism. Violence in Islam has a structuring function: it makes a difference between above and below, i.e. master and slave, men and women, believers and unbelievers. Islam doesn’t define peace as a universal principle.
But? After all, “Islam” means “peace”.
Kleine-Hartlage: No, “Islam” means, in friendly translation, “devotion” and less friendly, “submission”. The word is derived from the same word-root as “Salam” (peace), but it is not a synonym. The Islamic concept of society is based on the division of humanity into “believers” and “infidels” — and Islam leaves no doubt that the “infidels” sooner or later have to disappear in history. “Good” in the ethical sense, is what is good for the spread of Islam; “evil” is any opposition to it. Islam rejects the notion of a universal ethics by which all people have equal rights, no matter what religion they belong to, or peace as a matter of principle. Such views contradict not only the teachings of Islam, but its basic structure.
However, most Muslims are peaceful and not violent.
Kleine-Hartlage: That’s correct, but is not the point. Firstly, Islam established a system of cultural matters of course, that by itself makes sure that in any case of conflict there are always plenty of “extremists” and violent offenders. It does not matter how large are the masses, but only that their number is sufficient to produce an ever-present threat. And secondly, it creates a tacit social acceptance of violence, provided it is directed against the “infidels”, even among those Muslims who are not individually violent. It is this social endorsement that makes violence an available option at any given moment — and for all “infidels” a constant threat, at least suggesting resilience.
Your book is titled “Das Dschihadsystem”, The Jihad System. Why do you subsume Islam under this term? After all, the holy war is only one aspect of the Koran?
Kleine-Hartlage: Jihad is not just war. It includes anything Muslims do to bring the world under the law of Allah. All Islamic norms, not just the military, have as their common vanishing point to consolidate the Islamic societies and to displace non-Islamic societies. This is the immanent logic, the central idea that gives the Islamic norms and values its internal coherence. Therefore, I conceive Islam as a Jihad System.
The Holy War, however, is merely the “lesser jihad” while the “greater jihad” means the personal perfection of man as a good Muslim.
Kleine-Hartlage: The use of these adjectives (lesser and greater) seems to suggest one is important, the other unimportant. In fact, the emphasis in the Koran is exactly reversed. I counted and analyzed statistically the corresponding suras: the Koran refers in the latest, the Medinan suras — which are in any doubt, the decisive — relatively little to the “greater” jihad, the struggle for one’s own faith, compared with the struggle against the “infidels”, the so-called “lesser” jihad which is crucial in these suras.
Could it be that the aspect of the lesser Jihad became dominant as a result of historical developments that gave him an inadequate importance?
Kleine-Hartlage: This can be seen that way, but this historical development has been promoted by the founder of the religion himself, and it is reflected in the Koran. And that didn’t happen just by accident, but represents a development that results naturally from the theological premises of Islam. It is known that the Prophet from the start demanded fighting the “infidels” and practiced it himself: He led 27 military expeditions, wiped out a Jewish tribe, displaced several others, and murdered critics. Blaise Pascal once said. “Jesus let himself be killed, Muhammad himself killed”. And of course the Muslims not only follow the Koran, but equally the example of the Prophet. Never say to a Muslim this man wasn’t the epitome of human perfection.
Islamism, as you initially hinted, is primarily a manifestation of Islam and does not spring originally the sphere of extremism?
Kleine-Hartlage: Islamism is only the political side of Islam, that is, in fact, no degeneration, but a part of this religion. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has said quite rightly that there is no radical and no moderate Islam, but only Islam. Sharia is not law as we define it, consisting of “acts” by men, but a law given by Allah himself. So something that cannot be altered, not even by a majority vote; you can just obey or not. The idea of an Islam without Sharia law is absurd, that would be — not like soup without salt, but like soup without water. Therefore, Islamists are quite correct when claiming to be in harmony with the Prophet and the Koran. And consequently these Islamists are not socially isolated, but very respected for their strong faith and respected members of the Islamic community.
Is Islam as a religion?
Kleine-Hartlage: Yeah sure, just not a religion how we imagine a religion ought to be, namely something focusing on a kingdom “not of this world.” It is a religion that wants to be socially realized and also depends on being a social reality.
Couldn’t there be an Islamic Enlightenment and thus a more moderate Euro-Islam?
Kleine-Hartlage: Firstly, I repeat: That would undermine the basis of Islamic societies. Therefore, there is enormous social pressure which prevents this. Secondly, Islam itself is already in some ways a kind of “enlightenment” as Islam has questioned anything in Christianity that is paradoxical and dialectical, sometimes incomprehensible, and to bring it to a simple formula: for example no Trinity, but only one God and absolute transcendence. No original sin that implies that man must fail to be truly good in the Christian sense. Instead, clear rules on how to behave in order to please God. In a sense, Islam is a very rationalist religion that may not even need “enlightenment”.
Wouldn’t you at least concede that a kind of Reformation could moderate Islam?
Kleine-Hartlage: First, was our Reformation something moderate? Secondly, there have been reformations in Islam, just like in Christianity, that claimed to lead religion “back to the roots”. But while this “back” in Christianity meant the inner life, the faith, to emphasize the grace of God, reformation in Islam, as a “back to the roots”, means just the opposite, emphasizing the validity of the political model of the original community of the Prophet, whose political profile I’ve already described.
Now there is obviously in many Islamic countries the spark of democratic revolution. Does not this contradict your analysis blatantly?
Kleine-Hartlage: No, I would like to remind you that these events are only a few weeks old, and that there are already first indications of an Islamist turn of these revolutions, as we see in the murder of the Polish priest Marek Rybinski in Tunisia. In Turkey, incidentally, for eighty years there has been an attempt to westernize, and yet we have witnessed for years a rapid re-Islamization. Nobody can say today what will follow from the current insurgency in the Arab world. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan once said: Democracy is a tram that brings us to the destination — and then we get out.