Full Sails Ahead by Nadia Yassine
Fordham University, New York – Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Georgetown University, Washington DC – Thursday, April 20, 2006
My presentation will be an answer to three direct questions: Why did I write this book? How is it written? How is it constructed?
1. Why this book?
I belong to a movement that places at the center of its entire approach of the world spirituality and man’s relationship with God. The writing of this book is therefore essentially an act of faith. As spirituality in Islam is not cut off from man’s worldly affairs, it therefore instructs me to be present with man and to communicate a message that comes to resume and perfect those of great monotheistic religions. Islam, before being a historical reality, is above all a message of meaning to all mankind.
I wrote this book also with a spirit of Ijtihad “that is, a context-sensitive approach” that relies on a corpus of etymological terms and concepts that I have reconsidered. For instance, the term futuhat in Arabic was wrongly translated as “holy war” just like the idea that Islam spread through wars and violence is an illusive idea that is to be denounced vehemently. The overwhelming majority of the nations that embraced Islam did so out of deep conviction and thanks to the great nobleness and humaneness of the first Muslims, namely the tradesmen. The wars were waged to liberate the nations from the yoke of the autocratic and cruel regimes. The term futuhat, translated literally, means “openings.” In this regard, I invite the respected audience to read The Spread of Islam in the World: a history of peaceful preaching by Sir Thomas Arnold.
The first Muslims joined the battle against the tyrants in order to open the way to the nations towards spiritual transcendence, but also towards social justice. It was a world that offered no other alternatives beside opposing force to violence. As tyrannical regimes have changed, so the world has.
The imbalance caused nowadays by terror allows for the Muslims (who want to be faithful to their mission as bearers of a sublime Message) only one solution but with dual dimensions: political struggle based on non-violence, and sustained and sincere communication since the globalized modern world opens to us many avenues in this regard.
As the book was originally written in a western language (French), I had to put myself in the shoes of this western conscience and ask myself the following question: if I were a western mind in the twenty-first century and somebody sought to talk to me about the spiritual message that is circulated by the Qur’an, what would be my acts of resistance? What would be my fears? What would be the things I would reject and abhor?
I attempted to travel in the world of those acts of resistance and potential questions that are commonly raised with “my full sails ahead.” I then tried to clear the essence of the Qur’anic Message through linking it directly to the other revealed religions, underlining thus a sort of continuity but also a certain break.
I ended my book with an open conclusion that imposes nothing, that supposes nothing. Yet it invites and encourages the reader to travel towards a deepened knowledge of the Qur’anic message.
2. How is this book written?
I think that in order to captivate the attention of the reader in a world driven into indifference by a continuous flow of communication, one has to adopt certain methods that are at once efficient and competitive. Such methods are, of course, numerous and varied. Yet I may epitomize them in two basic methods:
• Drawing attention
In order to draw attention, I resorted to a style that is extremely full of imagery with used and abused metaphors. The title Full Sails Ahead plays at first sight on ambiguity. I used a “catchword” like voile [which in French means at once “sail” in the feminine form, and “veil” in the masculine form] while fully aware of the existence of a particular psychological fixation about the term voile in the sense of “veil.” The book’s subject obviously treats of an intellectual voyage in the innermost recesses of a thinking that is not appreciated and the voiles are in fact the sails of a fictional boat that would lead us to it.
Moreover, I used expressions and methods that are often provocative, drawing inspiration from the advertising campaigns and using shocking and aggressive images in order to awaken languid consciences and capture the reader’s entire attention.
Irony and humor are instruments that I have deemed necessary so that the reader may not feel weary of such a heavy subject treated by the book.
In order to persuade I made sure that my approach is based on a serious academic research and a great deal of documentation.
I also relied on purely western references regarding the part wherein I dissected the obstacles that prevent the western conscience from perceiving or accepting the spiritual message circulated by the Qur’an. I would like to point out that concerning the chapter on the Bible, I resorted to the gracious service of the Archbishop of Rabat, who had no academic objection against my research although my conclusions annoyed him somehow…
I made sure that I remained extremely objective and critical regarding the internal crises of the Muslim world so as to invite the western mind to make a definite distinction between Islam and the history of Muslims. It is this very self-criticism that has brought about, among others, my trial that is underway in Morocco.
3. How is this book constructed?
As I chose to write in a European language, I put myself in the shoes of a European reader who represents to a great extent the frame of mind that the westerners share more or less in view of the common cultural background.
I therefore broached the obstacles that would prevent this conscience from comprehending in the best possible manner a Message that I have the duty as Muslim to present to the world.
I traveled against the current in an attempt to surmount the subjective obstacles linked to the inmost mental construction of this conscience. My goal was to analyze such objective factors as those related to the fact that this conscience is conditioned socio-politically and historically in its relations with a Muslim world that has always been perceived as an enemy.
I also had to go through the cape of globalization (which is not to be rejected, but rather controlled) in order to describe the serious diversion that it produces on any in-depth thinking. I dwelt namely on the corrosive role of excessive information that produces misinformation.
The first part deals then with these subjective obstacles related to the materialistic philosophy that conditions the modern world and that produces an instinctive rejection of any involvement of the dimension of faith with the dimension of politics and social development, in contrast with the physical world that is allegedly controlled by the senses.
The second part deals with the objective causes connected with the relations of domination and to the historical dialectics linking for a long time the western world and the Muslim world. Such historical aversion to Islam is due to a direct link with the confusion made between the absolute nature of the Message and the contingencies of Islam’s namely political history.
Two chapters in it that I consider of great importance deal with the historical break that inhibited a dynamic process launched by original Islam. In it I denounce the confiscation of power made by the autocratic princes who manipulated the original texts to enslave the Muslim people. The Qur’anic Message nonetheless provided us with all the ingredients that could have qualified us to establish a democratic system, drawing perhaps inspiration from that of Greece even as they enabled us to be the mediators between the rising Greek sciences and the world … In this part, I mention in particular the Constitution of Medina which was drafted in the lifetime of the Prophet to manage the nascent Muslim society and which is a real school of democracy…
The third phase of the voyage lifts the veil on certain clichés that stick to Islam. In it I underline first of all the continuous nature of the three monotheistic Messages and the illusive approaches that seek to present Islam as a break between the other religions.
I also remind of the organic link between Revelation and the exact sciences, and denounce then the idea that being Muslim means automatically being illiterate, irrational, and candidate for obscurantism…
The final destination of the book reminds us of one of the book’s basic ideas: the universal nature of the Qur’anic Message. Thank you.