Study on Islam and its Contemporary Significance


Studie über den Islam und seine gegenwärtige Bedeutung

Study on Islam and its contemporary significance

Nayef Ballouz

Edited by Alexander Flores

With the work Studie über den Islam und seine gegenwärtige Bedeutung (Study of Islam and its Contemporary Significance), one of the most important and as yet unpublished works by the Syrian philosopher Nayef Ballouz (d. 1998) was published in October 2021 – translated by Alexander Flores – as volume 3 of the series Philosophie in der nahöstlichen Moderne (Philosophy in the Modern Middle East). Ballouz, who lived in the GDR in the mid-1960s, had already laid the foundation for this study in his dissertation, which he completed in 1968 and submitted to Berlin University under the supervision of the historian of philosophy Hermann Ley, entitled Der Frühe Islam und seine geisteskulturelle Vorgeschichte. In his study, written in Arabic in 1986, Ballouz undertakes a philosophical analysis of the genesis of Islam not only as a religious but also as a historical and cultural phenomenon of late antiquity and expands his dialectical investigation of the transformation of religious consciousness to the development of Islam from its inception to the present.

Sarhan Dhouib in his article Zwei syrische Philosophen an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin: Nayef Ballouz und Tayeb Tisini (Two Syrian Philosophers at the Humboldt University of Berlin: Nayef Ballouz and Tayeb Tisini; published in the journal weiter denken):

“In his study of Islam and its contemporary significance, Ballouz’s investigation of religious consciousness gains historical and theoretical significance. Ballouz clearly breaks away from his doctoral topic here and turns to the Arab present, for which his reflections on the structure of religious consciousness are, in my opinion, decisive (Ballouz 2021, ch. 2). In addition to analysing historical manifestations of religious consciousness, Ballouz deals with a normative conception of religion, emphasising that it fulfils several functions. For on the one hand, religion forms a social and human necessity, whereby it presents an inverted mirror image of the world. On the other hand, religion takes on an ideological function in which submission and protest as well as negativity and positivity form the two sides of the same coin (Ballouz 2021, ch. 2).

Ballouz’s understanding of religious consciousness combines normative analysis, in which the complexity of the structure of this consciousness is theoretically examined, with the various and concrete manifestations of religious consciousness throughout history. Such a dynamic approach offers a key to Ballouz’s conception of religion, or the development of Islam, up to the present.”

The study, which is now available in German and published for the first time, can on the one hand contribute to counteracting widespread prejudices about Islam and to promoting the objectification of current debates about Islam in the global North. On the other hand, this philosophical analysis makes it clear that in the Islamic world of the modern age, debates about this religion were and still are by no means only to be heard from the camp of the Islamic/Islamist discourse.