In early 1980s, Roger Garaudy, one of the most distinguished minds of the century, announced that he had chosen Islam as his religion.
He died last month. Garaudy was not only politically active, but also had a deeply philosophical nature and legal knowledge. As a prominent theorist of Marxist ideology, his conversion to Islam was perceived as a great event by many. It should be noted that people cannot add honor or dignity to Islam. Rather, people earn honor or dignity by becoming Muslim. To be a Muslim was to the benefit of Garaudy, and he chose the correct path as he was able to think deeply.
I had an opportunity to know him when he came to Turkey; we were together at two symposiums in İstanbul and Diyarbakır. My initial impression was of a humble person. He had deep intellectual insight; he did not show any sign of arrogance when he advocated his ideas with resolve.
Personally, I have always held certain reservations about Garaudy’s ideas. His basic thesis was one of transcendental unity suggesting all religions are in essence the same. His ideas about the historicity of Sharia, provision of Islamic jurisprudence and Islam are equally important. They are certainly open to discussion. Many unfair criticisms have been hurled against him. I must note that Garaudy was a not a mujtahid, properly equipped to utter independent rulings on Islamic jurisprudence. Yet his analysis and assessment of the problems faced by both the world and the Muslim world was deep-running. As Garaudy put it, he became Muslim for the same reason he had become a Christian and then a Marxist. Finally, he found what he was searching for.
Of course, Garaudy had both controversial and uncontroversial views. Those who opposed him did so with nationalistic motives, not by the means available to them in the authentic traditions of Islam.
Nationalism is a hard-to-cure disease. “Are we supposed to learn our religion from a French man?” exclaimed one person, who had been a Maoist for many years before converting to Islam; this individual couldn’t accept the idea that, French or not, Garaudy could provide us with inspiring ideas. I personally feel indebted to anyone who can teach me something. I do not have an inferiority complex in this regard. If any person has anything I can learn, I try to learn it without being distracted by his or her ethnic or national identity. Imam al-Ghazali says there are two things that prevent one from learning new things: shyness and pride. Both lead to ignorance and hardheartedness. Many Muslim leaders and authors have tended to build insurmountable walls between themselves and everyone else as they have failed to keep their carnal selves in check and overcome their arrogance. Yet the most basic injunction of religion is to combat our carnal selves, which are controlled by Satan. Modesty is a Muslim’s decoration.
Just as we can learn something about Islam from an Easterner, we can do the same from a Westerner. There is no rule or implication that Islam can be taught only by people from the Middle East or from a historically Muslim nation. To argue otherwise is to kindle a “Muslim nation prejudice.” “To God belong the East and the West” (Baqara: 2/115). Let us not forget that prejudice may rebound on our own nation or on our national borders, creating the paranoid thought that “no one knows Islam better than us.” Indeed, we have seen many people in this country who would say: “Are we supposed to learn Islam from Arabs or non-Arabs? Who are Sayyid Qutb, Abul A’la Maududi or Ali Shariati to teach us Islam?” French Muslims like Garaudy or René Guénon who seriously criticize the modern world should not go unnoticed.
Everyone, except prophets, is prone to err; so Garaudy’s views are open to criticism. Yet we should not approach this with a “Muslim nation or Middle Eastern arrogance.” A well-justified criticism may be rendered void by an unfair motive.
According to his last wishes, Garaudy’s corpse was incinerated. In my opinion, his last wishes did not have to be complied with as they did not comply with Islam’s principles. Indeed, Islam tells us to maintain the integrity of a corpse, wash it, shroud it and bury it in soil, except in the case of war, accident or other unavoidable circumstances. Still, this practice does not make Garaudy non-Muslim. May God have mercy on him.