Nietzsche’s superman, Islam, and Covid-19 ( Part II) – Daily Times

Posted: August 22, 2020 at 2:55 am


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Examining the qualities of Nietzsches Supermen figures we may deduce some broad characteristics: they have a sense of destiny; something is driving them to spread their message and understanding to the world. They are generally protective of the weak and the vulnerable and concerned about the minorities. They are inclined to see the big picture and are not so concerned about minor things that may occupy other people. They are bold and independent in their thinking which often causes opposition and controversy. Their actions have an impact on distant places and into the future of which perhaps even they are not aware. Because they are extraordinary in their lives and aspirations, they are often lonely even though surrounded by followers and admirers.

They find followers rather than companions. They often spend time by themselves, retreating to isolated caves and mountains. They are brilliant in their strategic choices and moves. They are not always successful and since they are creating new ideas and challenging old ones, they often suffer a backlash that may even cost them their lives in the process. Even after they die, they cross time and space and remain alive in the imagination of their followers. As Nietzsches list of his own figures who approached and approximated the Superman is subjective and personal, each one of us is entitled to drawing up our own list. It is an exercise to be recommended as it will tell us as much about ourselves as our society..

Nietzsche followed Goethe in his admiration for the Prophet of Islam. Nietzsche compared the Prophet to Plato, one of the foundational figures of Western civilization. For Nietzsche, Plato thought he could do for all the Greeks what Muhammad did later for his Arabs

When Nietzsches Zarathustra went up the mountain seeking a species of Superman, he did not quite appreciate that they were in plain sight all along. Indeed, the concept of the Superman is not new. We have examples from the past going back several thousand years of figures who could justifiably be called Superman, from Moses, who parted the sea, turned his staff into a snake that ate up the Pharaohs snake, and climbed a mountain to talk to God, to Jesus Christ, who walked on water and gave life to a corpse. There are other figures such as the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II who brought the different religions and communities in his empire closer together through scholarship and in mutual respect. In Hindu mythology we have examples of ancient heroes performing superhuman feats. Most societies have their own towering figures that they view as supermen-or superwomen. So, while among Christians, Jesus is the ultimate Superman, among Hindus it is Lord Ram, among Buddhists Lord Buddha, and so on. Platos philosopher-king was a prototype Superman and Alexander the Great was seen as an early Greek version of the Superman. Earlier in Nietzsches century, Thomas Carlyle had written his celebrated On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History which was similar in scope to Nietzsches Superman idea and included several figures such as the Prophet of Islam, Rousseau and Napoleon that could over-lap with those on Nietzsches own list.

Insan-i Kamil: The Prophet as the Muslim Superman

For Muslims, the figure of the Superman is represented by the Prophet of Islam. The Quran stated that God created man to be Gods vicegerent on earth; a super superman if you will. The high status and expectations of man are inherent in Islams theological vision and philosophic understanding of the nature of man. That philosophic vision is suffused with the notions of compassion and mercy. This potential in man finds its ultimate expression in the Prophet of Islam, the model and example for Muslims to aspire to. Gods greatest attributes are derived from his two most popular names-Rahman and Rahim-Compassionate and Merciful and as he is the Messenger of God the Prophet is described in the Quran as a mercy unto mankind. The Prophet is known in the Islamic tradition as Insan-i Kamil or the Perfect Man, the equivalent of the Superman, and he is also called Khayr ul Bashr, or the best of mankind.

There are indeed interesting parallels between Nietzsches Superman and the Perfect Man in the Islamic tradition as personified by the Prophet. Is there a more direct relationship between the two concepts? Did the way that Muslims conceive of the Prophet of Islam, in turn, influence the construct of Ubermensch or the Superman? If so what are the intellectual links to possible sources that we can trace? The clues are many although some are admittedly weak. Yet it is worth exploring some of the connections which may heighten our understanding of both concepts and their similarities.

Nietzsche may have been consciously or unconsciously influenced by the Islamic notion of the Perfect Man through sources such as Goethe, his number one exemplary role model for the Superman. While Goethe wrote his devotional poem in honor of the Prophet called Mahomets Song at the age of 23, at age 70 he publicly declared he was considering devoutly celebrating that holy night in which the Quran in its entirety was revealed to the prophet from on high. Goethes comments on Islam have led to speculation about the extent of his commitment to the faith, for example, in the following verse: If Islam means, to God devoted/ All live and die in Islams ways. In fact, Goethe himself sometimes wondered if he was actually living the life of a Muslim, writing, when announcing the publication of his poetic work West-Eastern Divan, that the author does not reject the suspicion that he may himself be a Muslim.

No Muslim can be unmoved by Goethes poem, Mahomets Song, dedicated to the Prophet of Islam, whom he calls chief and head of created beings. Goethe had intended to write a longer piece in which Hazrat Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet and himself a Superman figure as a great scholar and warrior, was to have sung the poem in honor of his master, but the project was never completed. Mahomets Song is a powerful expression of the desire to discover unity in the universe while searching for the divine. Goethe uses the metaphor of an irresistible stream that flows down from the mountains to the ocean, taking other streams along with it. Here are some verses from the poem:

And the streamlets from the mountain,

Shout with joy, exclaiming: Brother,

Brother, take thy brethren with thee,

With thee to thine aged father,

To the everlasting ocean,

Who, with arms outstretching far,

Waiteth for us

And the meadow

In his breath finds life.'

Nietzsche followed Goethe in his admiration for the Prophet of Islam. Nietzsche compared the Prophet to Plato, one of the foundational figures of Western civilization. For Nietzsche, Plato thought he could do for all the Greeks what Muhammad did later for his Arabs. Muslims, who have been fascinated by Greek philosophers like Plato, have invariably seen the Prophet of Islam as the philosopher-king that Plato dreamed of and the Muslim community, as in the example of the early settlement in Medina, as the realization of Platos ideal City. Nietzsche also followed Goethe in his admiration for the great Persian poet Hafiz. Nietzsche wrote a poem extolling the heroic virtues of Hafiz including the fact that Hafiz was a water drinker-along with Christianity the drinking of alcohol was one of Nietzsches bugaboos about Europe. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Zarathustra is referred to as a born water drinker. The poem Nietzsche wrote in honor of Hafiz is entitled To Hafiz: Questions of a Water Drinker. It is worth reminding the reader that Islam forbids the drinking of alcohol and Muslims are thus quintessential water drinkers.

In spite of the potential for research, the interest in Islam of Goethe and Nietzsche has been relatively unexplored and even neglected. There are many dissertations waiting for the diligent researcher in this field. Most Germans, who acknowledge Goethe as the Shakespeare of the German language and the classic Renaissance man, do not know about Goethes enthusiasm for Islam, which lasted his entire life. Bekir Albo?a, the secretary general of Germanys largest Islamic organization, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), when interviewed for my project Journey into Europe in Cologne, described Goethe as a brother to me, and a great thinker with a great affinity for Islam. Goethe wrote a wonderful poem about our Prophet, he said, referring to Mahomets Song. Albo?a complained that in Germany the Islamic dimension of Goethes work is ignored, if not intentionally suppressed. As for the subject of Nietzsche and Islam that too remains largely uncharted territory. (For a detailed discussion of attitudes to Muslims in contemporary Europe see my book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity, 2018). Nietzsche, Islam, and Christianity

The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC, and author of Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity

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Nietzsche's superman, Islam, and Covid-19 ( Part II) - Daily Times

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August 22nd, 2020 at 2:55 am

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