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Submission to God

by Alija Izetbegovic

"Our goal: the Islamisation of Muslims. Our methods: to believe and to struggle."


Cover of 'Islam Between East and West', the 1980s bestseller by the inspirational former leader of Bosnia. The book is now out of print The following essay is from Izetbegovic's 'Islam Between East and West':


Nature has determinism, man has destiny. The acceptance of this destiny is the supreme and final idea of Islam. Destiny -- does it exist and what form does it take? Let us look at our own lives and see what has remained of our most precious plans and the dreams of our youth? Do we not come helplessly into the world faced with our own personality, with higher or lower intelligence, with attractive or repulsive looks, with an athletic or dwarfish stature, in a king's place or in a beggar's hut, in a tumultuous or peaceful time, under the reign of a tyrant or a noble prince, and generally in geographical and historical circumstances about which we have not been consulted? How limited is what we call our will, how tremendous and unlimited is our destiny!

Man has been cast down upon this world and made dependent on many facts over which he has no power. His life is influenced by both very remote and very near factors. During the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944, there was, for a moment, a general disturbance in radio communications which could have been fatal for the operations under way. Many years later, the disturbance was explained as a huge explosion in the Andromeda constellation, several million light years away form our planet. One type of catastrophic earthquake on the earth is due to changes on the sun's surface. As our knowledge of the world grows, so does our realization that we will never be complete masters of our fate. Even supposing the greatest possible progress of science, the amount of factors under our control will always be insignificant compared to the amount of those beyond it. Man is not proportional to the world. He and his lifetime me not the measuring units of the pace of things. This is the cause of man's eternal insecurity, which is psychologically reflected in pessimism, revolt, despair, apathy, or in submission to God's will.

Islam arranges the world by means of upbringing, education, and laws. That is its narrower scope; submission to God is the broader one.

Individual justice can never be fully satisfied within the conditions of existence. We can follow all Islamic rules which, in their ultimate result, should provide us with the "happiness in both worlds"; moreover, we can follow all other norms, medical, social and moral but, because of the terrific entanglement of destinies, desires and accidents, we can still suffer in body and soul. What can console a mother who has lost her only son? Is there any solace for a man who has been disabled in an accident?

We ought to become conscious of our human condition. We are immersed in situation. I can work to change my situation, but there are situations which are essentially unchangeable, even when their appearance takes a new look, and when their victorious power is veiled: l must die; I must suffer; I must fight; I am a victim of chance; I get inevitably entangled in guilt. These basic conditions of our existence are referred to as "the border situations."[1] Sure, "man is bound to improve everything that can be improved in this world. After that, children will still go on dying unjustly even in the most perfect of societies. Man, at best, can only give himself the task of reducing arithmetically the sufferings of this world. Still, injustice and pain will continue and, however limited, they will never cease to be blasphemy."[2]

Submission to God or revolt -- these are two different answers to the same dilemma.

In submission to God, there is some of every (human) wisdom except one: shallow optimism. Submission is the story of human destiny, and that is why it is inevitably permeated with pessimism: for "every destiny is tragic and dramatic if we come down to its bottom."[3]

Recognition of destiny is a moving reply to the great human theme of inevitable suffering. It is the recognition of life as it is and a conscious decision to bear and to endure. In this point, Islam differs radically from the superficial idealism and optimism of European philosophy and its naive story about "the best of all possible worlds." Submission to God is a mellow light coming from beyond pessimism.

As a result of one's recognition of his impotence and insecurity, submission to God itself becomes a new potency and a new security. Belief in God and His providence offers a feeling of security which cannot be made up for with anything else. Submission to God does not imply passivity as many people wrongly believe. In fact, "all heroic races have believed in destiny."[4] Obedience to God excludes obedience to man. It is a new relation between man and God and, therefore, between man and man.

It is also a freedom which is attained by following through with one's own destiny. Our involvement and our struggle are human and reasonable and have the token of moderation and serenity only through the belief that the ultimate result is not in our hands. It is up to us to work, the rest is in the hands of God.

Therefore, to properly understand our position in the world means to submit to God, to find peace, not to start making a more positive effort to encompass and to overcome everything, but rather a negative effort to accept the place and the time of our birth, the place and the time that are our destiny and God's will. Submission to God is the only human and dignified way out of the unsolvable senselessness of life, a way out without revolt, despair, nihilism, or suicide. It is a heroic feeling not of a hero, but of an ordinary man who has done his duty and accepted his destiny.

Islam does not get its name from its laws, orders, or prohibitions, nor from the efforts of the body and soul it claims, but from something that encompasses and surmounts all that: from a moment of cognition, from the strength of the soul to face the times, from the readiness to endure everything that an existence can offer, from the truth of submission to God. Submission to God, thy name is Islam!


[1] Karl Jaspers, An Introduction to Philosophy
[2] Albert Camus
[3] Gasset
[4] Emerson

Review of Inescapable Questions: Autobiographical Notes by Alija Izetbegovic

Interview with Dr Mustafa Ceric, a friend of Izetbegovic and spiritual leader of the Bosnian Muslims

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