Tag Archives: Aristotle

Aristotle and Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam

Thomas Friedman has frequently written about the failure of moderate Muslim leaders to speak out against the Muslim extremists among them. In a recent Times op ed piece, for example, he writes:

“What is really scary is that this violent, Jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most ‘legitimacy’ in the Muslim world today. Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public. Secular Arab leaders wink at these groups, telling them: ‘We’ll arrest if you do it to us, but if you leave us alone and do it elsewhere, no problem.'”

Well one of those few political and religious leaders in the Muslim world, a former president of the world’s third largest democracy and the country with the largest Muslim population, who did dare to speak out was Abdurrahman Wahid.

Wahid, who died on December 30 of last year, was the first elected president of Indonesia after the resignation of Suharto in 1998, as well as being a long time president of the Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the largest independent Islamic organizations in the world (some 30 million members) whose mission is to make up for the failings of government by funding schools and hospitals, as well as by organizing communities into more coherent groups to combat poverty.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia, now a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in today’s WSJ about his friend, Wahid. Wolfowitz stresses Wahid’s deep humanism, his knowledge of and even acceptance of much in our Western heritage, in particular the Aristotle of the Nichomachean Ethics, and his firm rejection of the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood and to which as a young man, not unlike Bin Laden, Wahid had been attracted.

Wolfowitz writes, “When I visited Wahid recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: ‘If I hadn’t read the Nichomachean Ethics as a young man, I might have joined the Muslim brotherhood.’

“No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that ‘the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason’ (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.”