New York - As most of us are acutely aware these days, only a few truly exceptional minds in every era of history are able to overcome herd mentality, narrow-mindedness and the prejudices of the majority who mindlessly follow what those in power decide is convenient for the masses to think and believe. This small minority, reasoning independently, chooses instead noble ideas, loftier thoughts and their own worldviews. These superior souls, knowingly or unknowingly, are following the Quran's guidance:
New York – As most of us are acutely aware these days, only a few truly exceptional minds in every era of history are able to overcome herd mentality, narrow-mindedness and the prejudices of the majority who mindlessly follow what those in power decide is convenient for the masses to think and believe. This small minority, reasoning independently, chooses instead noble ideas, loftier thoughts and their own worldviews. These superior souls, knowingly or unknowingly, are following the Quran’s guidance:
“If you follow the greater majority on earth they will lead you astray. They follow nothing but the conjectures of others and mislead those who follow them. Your Lord knows best who stray from the path of Truth; He knows best who are the rightly guided.” (6:116-17)
I was delighted to discover that Goethe was one such extraordinary man. Living in an era where most intellectuals (much like today) strived to demonize, dismiss or ridicule Islam, Goethe decided to sincerely investigate it and came to the opposite conclusion. He fell deeply in love with the religion and developed a lifetime personal relationship with the Quran and with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
In an excellent article, which I strongly recommend, titled “Goethe, the Muslim,” Dr. Katharina Mommsen, a Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, explains that Goethe was only 23 years old when he wrote “a wonderful hymn in praise of the Prophet Muhammad.” And, when he was 70, Goethe wrote he was seriously considering “devoutly celebrating that holy night in which the Koran…was revealed to the Prophet.”
Dr. Mommsen finds Goethe’s relationship to Islam and its Prophet “one of the most astonishing phenomena…within the historical epoch in which he lived.” In the precepts of Islam, Goethe found ideas and guidance that agreed with his own thinking. I greatly relate to Goethe’s feelings because in Islam, I recognize so many of my innate and enduring beliefs.
Among the points that strongly attracted Goethe to Islam was the notion of achieving mastery and genuine virtuosity. Goethe wrote a letter to the philosopher Herder, quoting the 20th Sura of the Quran, stating he “would like to pray like Moses in the Quran: O Lord, make room in my narrow breast. Make also my task easy. Loosen the ties of my tongue.” Here, Dr. Mommen explains that Goethe is asking for the release of his creative powers in the right way.
I was deeply moved by Goethe’s prayer, because this is my constant and most frequent supplication, asking God to help me use my talents, creativity and my time on earth in the right way and for the upliftment and spiritual elevation of myself and others.
This particular type of guidance, the call towards personal excellence and genuine virtuosity, I have found solely in Islam, especially in the transcendent ideas of my beloved teacher Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. Dr. Sultan’s book, The Quran and the Life of Excellence, is a practical guide that helps us achieve exactly what Goethe prayed for: our full potential in every area of life in a virtuous way.
Goethe was disappointed by the subpar translations of the Quran available in the 18th century. He not only loved the Quran for its wisdom, but was also deeply sensitive to its linguistic beauty. In his “West-Eastern Divan,” Goethe writes “The style of the Quran is severe, elevated, formidable, in parts truly sublime.” Dr. Mommen explains that, if one is familiar with Goethe’s use of language, the words “truly sublime” belong to the highest attributes he could assign to a literary work.
Goethe spent a great deal of time studying Arabic. He also studied the Quran in depth and wrote down many of its verses. Among the aspects of Islam that were relevant to Goethe’s own ideas was the concept, “so typically Goethean,” that “God reveals Himself in all of nature.” Dr. Mommen further explains that “without a doubt, he was thinking of this conviction when he noted down the following verses from the Quran: ‘The rising and setting of the sun are the Lord’s and wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance.’ ‘He has given us abundant signs in the creation of the heavens and earth, in the change of night and day…in all these are signs abundant of his oneness and goodness for those peoples that are observant of them.'” Goethe considered the doctrine of unity one of the main achievements of Prophet Muhammad.
In his “Song of Mahomet,” Goethe portrays the prophet as a spiritual leader of mankind in the metaphor of a stream. He uses the stream as a symbol to illustrate how spiritual power, “from the smallest beginnings, grows into a gigantic force, through unfolding and expanding, and comes to its glorious fulfillment by flowing into the ocean.” The ocean, in Goethe’s poem, is a symbol of divinity.
In “Song of Mahomet,” Goethe is referring to himself as much as to Prophet Muhammad. He felt that his task as a poet was to work for all human beings, elevating them to a higher form of life. In this way, Dr. Mommen concludes, “all his poetic work took on for him an ultimately religious aspect. And Goethe did in fact become the spiritual guide and prophet for many people.”
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