Hamza Yusuf – Sacred Truths in a Profane World

Hamza Yusuf
AI: Summary © The speakers discuss the negative impact of Prophet's message on young people and the use of images in art. They also talk about the culture of pride and sacrifice, which is often associated with the idea of a mother or father. The conversation discusses the challenges faced by conservative people in preserving their past and the importance of architecture in shaping behavior. They also touch upon the history of Islamic culture, including the importance of finding the right balance between cultural contingency and social norms.
AI: Transcript ©
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The role of the Prophet, it's very often to bring bad news. They come down from the mountain with the message that the management is not pleased with how things are going down here.

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And I think one of the things about our current crises that even our scientists have become, in essence, a kind of prophetic voice, about how apocalyptic things are appearing on the horizon. So I know that your astronomer Royale, Reese actually question whether or not we'd survive the 21st century. So on that negative note, there is a temptation when you see in the extent to which things that we value are being undermined, to simply to point this out, and relay a negative message. But to do that, is in a way to betray your duty towards young people. Because many young people have Inklings, of course, that things aren't going right. But they want to be given a sign, a sign that

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there's a way of life and a way of relating to others, that will enable them to avoid this disaster, and achieve the kind of fulfillment that is in their nature to achieve. Richard Weaver, who wrote ideas have consequences, he says that we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to historical optimism. And then he says, such as the task and our most serious obstacle is that people traveling this downward path, develop an in sensibility, which increases with their degradation. And I think one of the things that that, for me is really striking about a lot of modern culture is how incredibly degraded it is, and how insensible so many people are to the level of degradation. You

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were talking earlier about, you know, just what sort of things should we be concerned to preserve? And what should be our attitude to innovation and progress? Many people will say, take the gay marriage issue, for instance, many of its defenders will say, look, this is the progress is the adaptation of an old institution, an old way of doing things to changes in society, which it would be foolish to oppose, rather than oppose and create conflict, we should accommodate and adapt. And and that I think, is not necessarily the right argument about this issue. But it is something which

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is tempting that that wave of arguing is very tempting. And there is a big question for religious people, as the as to the extent to which they can adapt. You know, if you haven't got any faith, you might think it's easy to adapt. But if you have a faith, one of the things that faith Givens gives to you is certainties, and you can't adapt a certainty. So he says it fits a new circumstance that because then it ceases to be a certainty. And I think these are issues which are

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I've wrestled with this all my life and not other people have wrestled with it. And just what are you prepared to give up in order to live on peaceful terms with neighbors who disagree with you? Right? Well, we have this this concept in in the Islamic tradition that what are called the wabbit and mutata euro, the idea that there are six cities that cannot be changed can't be altered. One of the things that I see in the United States is happening that's troubling to me, is a lot of young Muslims are, are abandoning those, those those things that really, once you begin to abandon them, your religion unravels, like like pulling the thread on, on on a woven garment. Going back to the

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question of images,

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you know, which I did mention, we are suffering from a surfeit of images, there's no doubt about it, in our society. And the Prophet was absolutely right about this, the the image of the human face and the human form captures your attention wherever it is, and on a billboard or whatever. And if it's a sexually attractive one, it captures your intention in another way.

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But this use of the human image to distract us from from the serious business of living is one of the things that we're having to deal with. Right. And

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I want one thing to be said in praise of the Western artistic tradition, as it enters great moments of the Medieval and Renaissance painters is that it didn't

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to just use the image as a distracting thing, it was a way of focusing your attention on divine things, the icon, and that that sort of saves the image as it were lifted out of this world, into the into the place where it belongs.

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And I think we were now it's again is something that is so difficult to talk about because our whole culture is based on the proliferation of images, meaningless images, designed to titillate. appetize. One of the things that fascinates me about

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people in the 19th century when when photography first was introduced, I have not found I've yet to find any person from the 19th century smiling in a photograph. It really and went when I was in Rome, and went to where they had all the statues of while none of them were smiling, not one of them. And I thought a lot about that, because even the Native Americans, those incredible pictures by Curtis, of these great Native American peoples like Geronimo, and some of the great chiefs of the Lakota, they're all all of them have this incredible presence. Yeah. And, and, and what, to me, what it was saying was,

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a moment is being frozen of my being. Yeah. And I want it to be a moment of seriousness, that, that I'm a serious person. And this idea of Mark Van Doren wrote a beautiful essay, it was actually a commencement speech for a college. And he entitled, The joy of being serious.

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Love the idea? Yeah, it sounds it, right people used to his pose for photographs, not so as to be just a momentary cheerful thing, but to present their whole life if they could. And that meant sort of as you were standing to attention as a guard of yourself.

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And all night and century photographs, for that reason, have this incredible solemnity,

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we've lost that. And of course, the selfie is the kind of the ultimate limit of this, you know, you're just nothing really matters except this idiot smiling face in front of it. Right?

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If you go to that was the word of the year, a couple years ago, and I thought it was interesting. In Arabic, one of the things that I always do with with words, as I translate them into Arabic to see how they sound, then and the word in Arabic nuptse is probably one of the most negative terms in the Islamic tradition. You know, so you would call a selfie enough? See? And it's basically it's, it's an egoistic, narcissistic type of thing. There's, there's a tradition where the Prophet Muhammad, somebody knocked on his door a lot. He said, I'm, and he said, Who's there? And the man said, Anna, which is me? And many Arabs will actually when when they're talking, and they want to say they did

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something, they'll say, Anna Billahi min Anna, you know, they say I and then they say, and I seek refuge in Allah from AI, as a kind of way of saying I don't, I don't want to boast. Right? And and and so when the Prophet heard that, he said, Anna, Anna, and in the commentary of the Hadeeth, the narrator says, As if he disliked it, right, in other words, say who you are, don't say I, as if we're supposed to know who you are. And I think the the idea and Weaver again talks about this, this egoistic I mean, he saw it as an infantile self that was emerging the spoiled child, he calls it the spoiled child and in his book, which to me is fascinating that he wrote it in 1946. And was already

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seeing this long before the culture of narcissism, for instance, came out back in the 70s. But increasingly, you talked about sacrifice. And and I,

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I wonder if sacrifice is even possible in, in its etymological sense of sacrus fissara, of making sacred, this idea of sacrifice being so fundamental to our religious traditions? Well, yes, that's,

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you know, obviously, the Christian religion is founded on an act of sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and that

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has deep anthropological resonances.

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It connects Christianity to all kinds of ancient mystery cults in a way which of which Islam is not connected. I mean, Islam is a kind of break from all that. So.

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But it's normal for Christians to think that that act of sacrifice in which the Son of God was himself

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The victim, but also forgave those who were, who were perpetrating this crime, that that act of sacrifice is a model for us insensitive. If he could bear that, for our sake, then you can surely bear the things that you have to bear for others sake, you know, and so sacrifice the things that you want sacrifice your pleasures and your, your own well being for others and know that you're doing. You're you're following in his path, that I think that's a, you know, obviously a beautiful idea, the same idea. Is there in Islam too. Absolutely. And I and it's most honored in the mother. Yeah. Because in the Islamic tradition, Paradise is at the feet of the mother. And and it's, it's

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predicated on the idea of her sacrifice, right, the amount of time she gives, and one of the things that we're seeing increasingly in Western society is a lot of people don't want to have children. Yes, because of the the sacrifice involved in it. That so that's true, but there are very few children who don't want to have mothers.

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It's not a mutual thing. Right. Levy Strauss argued that binaries, were at the essence of civilization. Yeah. And and one of the things that I think you talk about in the fool's frauds and fire firebrands is, is this inversion that's happened like people like Derry da, who want to eliminate in essence, the idea of binaries that binaries by their nature are oppressive. Because if you have the binary of male, female, of day and night of dark, light and dark, that there's one one of the binaries is privileged over the other. And and and so the thing to do is to get rid of these and then it becomes and androgyny becomes a kind of

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which is the norm, where men are meant to get rid of their toxic masculinity. Yeah, and and the women are to get rid of their femininity, and we kind of merge into an androgynous being which will remove this, this binary that by its nature is oppressive and hierarchical. And then of course, you get the idea that, that, first of all, that * is not always about this other thing called gender. And gender is something you can choose, it has been remade, as, as an artificial thing, that's the problem.

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We always thought that there are certain things which can't be changed, right? Or they're part of your destiny. And what you have to do is, recognize this, accept it, and adapt it to the way of life which you choose. But that has now ceased to be a principle. Well, I think the Quran

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and certainly in the Hadees there's an idea that this filter, which is a principal nature, there's there's a principal nature to the human being, and but that it can be corrupted. And, and, and the neuron actually, in the, in the 13th chapter, there's a verse that says, that this is the the nature that God has made you on the human being filled out Allah Latif upon us, Allah, so So God has and his father, which is the originator of this nature, and then it says, do not change the nature of God. And there's a debate amongst the grammarians, is that negation that you cannot change it, or is it a prohibition, and most of the commentators say it's a prohibition, meaning that the nature can

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change. And we know you were at the Witherspoon conference where we were. And the neuroscientist who gave his lecture on on the effects of * on the brain. He was basically arguing that a brain can be rewired? Well, yeah, that there's a type of plasticity. We know and this is another issue, which I didn't touch on during my talk. But the

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the problem of the

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the emerging human being today, who takes all his information from this little screen in his hand, and relates to other people through that screen, and perhaps often doesn't have really, the ability to talk in an articulate way to confess to his feelings or to relate. It's all text messages, and images. And this is a very addictive thing, for the reasons that the Prophet himself recognized, you know, that, that you're rewiring your brain in this process, and I suspect we will, we are producing a new human, there is a new type that and that some, it is very worrying them because you don't really know how to how to respond to that. Well, you know, it's sort of well meaning

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liberal response would be well, yeah, we're producing a new inhuman type. So there we are, we got to get used to it and and we'll deal with it, you know, it is not for us to want to change it, but they are and technology is enabling an article came out, just I think it was yesterday or today, on Friday in the Washington Post that there 70 million more men, young men than women in India and China because of the abortions of these of the girls. So they would do the, the

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ultrasound and when they saw that they were going to have a girl, they would abort it. And so now they're saying that you've got a widespread *, because these men are going out and, and also women now are being imported into China. And because they're not Chinese, then they tend to get into situations where they're abused by family members. And thanks for all this is worrying and alarming. But we have to say also that we can't remedy all these things. But we've we've provided ourselves with instruments like the ultra sound thing, and like the, the the iPhone, which can be used to radically change the human species and perhaps to harm it.

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Our moral values come from being the things that we are, so they don't equip us to deal with things that we are not. And yet things that we are not might be coming into being how do we deal with them? You know,

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this is a real question that you are okay, you can sit here and you've got a nice collection of students, you can tell them that the things that you think are true, and you know, they're going to respond to be okay about it. But there's all that world out there. Now they're grappling here, right? Okay. But there is the world out there, which is not responding to you and me, right. And it is producing new human types and new forms of networks and relationships, which we can't necessarily deal with on the basis of the moral inheritance that we already have. And I think one of the problems for somebody like you is it becomes a type of Cassandra situation, where I think it was

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Kierkegaard who said that one man can't save the world, but he can certainly help show the world where they're going. Yeah. And and he argued that that most people could not see where the world was going. Because they they lacked a dialectical ability and the imagination to do so. But we have people that do see where the world's going and and have for quite some time, technology is one area that is can sacred trues survive in a world in which technology begins to not be a tool, but becomes very much a force in the world thing in john, exactly that we become servants of the of the technology as opposed to the technology serving us. Well, what do you think one should do about

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that? I mean,

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we know that this is true. Various writers, foresaw all this, especially, of course, Aldous Huxley in brave new worlds, is a good example. And George Orwell in 1984, I have always taken the view, you can only influence a small number of people, and you can only do it in the end by setting an example. Yeah, you know, setting things up, where you are also central to what you're setting up, right, as you do in a family, you know, and you set an example to your children,

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who then reject it completely, of course, but still,

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you've done your bit when that happens, hopefully, and over time, they begin to see the wisdom of some Yes, I mean, I certainly saw it with my own parent. Yes, of course.

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But I'm, you know, one goes through a period of rebellion. But if they've done their work correctly, the parents who come back to farming, the good bits of what they had tried to communicate to, but so many, in the world in which we are today, where there are so many children are coming to being without parents or with only half of a parent, you know, that there's a real problem. And then if all is given to them as addictive distractions, what do works, what's going to come out of that, that now I'm talking in a very negative way, and as I said before, it's wrong to talk purely negatively. Absolutely. I think one of your great critiques of of a certain mindset is the

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destructive aspect of that mindset that there are people that want to tear down and I think you

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It seems to me that you've dedicated your life to conserving what's good of the past that that's very important. But But one thing I want to ask you about this,

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the, the,

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I think one of the big challenges for people that take a conservationist approach to,

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to conserving these things of the past, they're up against a lot of modern people that don't see a lot of good in the past, especially marginalized people who's who see a lot of negative aspects of the past. And one of the things that religion, I think, has always been capable of doing is holding people up, even in the worst type of despondency, that there's this ability to elevate the soul or the self, but

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for conservative people, to recognize a lot of these critiques that are being

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put forward, and that are so seductive to people that are marginalized, that are disenfranchised, and that feel that pain, what what what do we do with it with the marginalized? I mean, the fact is,

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often people get a lot of self glamour, out of representing themselves to themselves as marginalized. You know, if you've, if you've been a person of old fashioned conservative views in a modern University, as I was, you are seriously marginalized, but you don't make a fuss about it and say, Look, I'm a victim helped me, you just recognize that you've got views which expose you to a certain

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belligerence, but

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it's people when people think that they're marginalized in such a way that they themselves can do nothing to remedy the situation, that's when it's dangerous. And but we live in a society which, which has institutions through which all that is mediated people can protest, people can say, look,

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it's all very well for you, but what about me? And in the past, you know, people have always taken note of this and said, Yeah, we'll let you explain to me your problem. Let's see whether we can help. But I think you've written about his architecture and the importance of architecture and sacred space. And for me, one of the important things and aspects about a space to study in is that it be beautiful. One of the most stunning aspects of traditional Islamic civilization was the schools, including the children's schools, are now museums for people to go and literally

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marvel at at their, their beauty. And one of the hallmarks and I think Prince Charles has talked about this in your country, the ugliness of modern architecture, and we're living through this. I think it's, um, check writer. I can't remember his name. No,

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no, no, it talks about the magnification of the world.

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It's a word comes from Alice in Wonderland, actually.

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But it's true that people now build without any consideration for what how the building fits into its environment, what it does to the street, how it looks to the passer bites purely to satisfy a client, you know, the client will once rooms for 150 offices. So you build a hideous block in the middle of

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things, which eliminates the street eliminates the public square and, and is something which nobody wants to look at. Now we can bear to look at, you know, and actually, I was very impressed by the fact that Mohammed Atta,

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who flew the

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TWA Flight into the twin towers in 2001. He, he did a thesis at the University of Hamburg, I think it was Hamburg on

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on architecture, the theme, the theme of which is how to restore Aleppo into to its original condition as a as a proper Islamic town, you know, without the the mutilation inflicted upon it by these tower blocks, etc. So it's as though he was taking revenge on an architectural tradition architectural practice, which had been introduced into the middle east by Luke Corbusier with his plans for Algiers, you know, to wipe the whole thing away and put these motorways in the air on concrete blocks are amazing. And, you know, because of the era of inferiority complex, there was this huge mood to do this everywhere. We're going to have a more

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modern city with wide streets plowing through these beautiful little alleyways where people lived side by side. We only ever had these pros the Lyceum said that towards the latter days, you would see, the destitute desert Arabs who had been taking care of goats and sheep vie with one another to build increasingly high buildings. Really? Yes. That was one of his promises. Yeah, well, there you

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so he was right about that, too. Yes, he was.

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but this is something my

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good friend, Mauer, ASSA boonie, who is an architect in whomps, has written a beautiful book called The battle for home about this issue, I'm hoping you will invite her here,

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which she

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documents the extent to which this new way of building in concrete shanties on the edge of the city, knocking down all the old, intimate alleyways, how that has actually contributed to the antagonism of the communities towards each other, and fueled the Civil War. And of course, given people no sense of where they belong, because they look around them, they see this, this ugly set of broken teeth on the horizon, you know, that's all it is a town. And she writes very beautifully about the way in which the Christian and, and Muslim communities in that part of Syria built against each other, I mean, next to each other, with the same one on one wall being a church on one side and a

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mosque. On the other hand, this way of actually settling the settling the land was a joint possession and, you know, yeah, then there's a couple of very interesting Donner wrote a book about early Islam, and he's one of the foremost experts on early Islam, and argues that the archaeological evidence indicates that the Muslims were sharing his prayer space with the Christians and, and also Philip Penn's work on when Christians first met Muslims, which is about the Syriac so so all of the non Orthodox churches, how they really saw the Muslims as just a great boon. And I've just got a midrash, from a rabbi who's a friend of mine sent me a midrash. About the the Jewish rabbis saw the

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Muslims as a great blessing when they came into Jerusalem because they were preserving monotheism for the the the Temple Mount, which was being used as a garbage dump at the time, but by the inhabitants. I want to, I want to ask you about

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the great transcendent

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ideas of the of the Greeks, the three, these three transcendent ideas of truth, goodness and beauty, which I think show up in Islam with the idea of a man, Islam and his son, that he man comes out of the truth of God, the reality of God, and then Islam is is is a practice of goodness. And then it Sun is making things beautiful. And also we hear we were using the trivium as a kind of, it's, it's really the, it's it's the foundation of the pedagogy, this idea that, that, that logic, which is is is the pursuit of truth, grammar, the pursuit of goodness, in communication, and then rhetoric and the pursuit of beauty that these the how do we restore these transcendent values that were shared by

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all the great civilizations? I think there is no difficulty and explain to people why truth matters, you know, because if you're not, if you don't pursue truth, in all your reasoning and thinking is based on on nothing, it's only because you are confident that something is true that you can rely on it. And goodness, likewise, it's the thing without which we cannot rely on each other. So that so there's it's easy, it's relatively easy to this to defend those things. It's beauty that's the problem. I made a film once for the BBC called why beauty matters because I take the view that that

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the search for beauty is part of the search for right relations with others not just right right relations with God but right relations with each other. You when when we enter a house and we want to make it our own, we don't make it our own for us only it so that other people can come in and enjoy that the way it looks and we will

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really worried about how things should replace that they're harmonized. And everything that we do is actually like that. And manners are part of the cultivation of beauty. And of course, this is something that doesn't need to be explained in the

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old Islamic way of life, that it was an attempt to make things beautiful to make your presence, not offensive to the other, but part of fitting in. And I think that is also not a natural thing thing for all human beings to want to fit in. And suddenly, of course, in the modern world, people don't want to fit in, they want to stand out, wearing bright, absurd clothes, you know, the, actually California being the place where this is most often to be observed, you know, the desire to stand out and be unique, and moderate Ground Zero, if that's true, but modern building is like that. The modern architect doesn't want to fit models in and disappear into his surroundings. He wants to be

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that big jet, I saw the things that Yeats reminded us was that things reveal themselves in their passing. And there's there's I don't think people realize how much we've lost. of of goodness there's there's certainly conserving what is good of the past should be at the essence of our of our endeavors and our challenges. And, but also recognizing, there's still a lot of things that need changing. I really want to thank you for making this stop at zaytuna College. We one of the things that we're trying to do here is is a restoration of the liberal arts tradition, which was central to the Islamic tradition. We have a

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great poet from from the east from Egypt, who said we're in Abu Dhabi and falsehood, decree, or fish Sharky, la luna, FM and adoree. If the fragrance of God's remembrance pervades the West, the sick man in the East might get well again. So we're hoping that that's what they tuna contributes to the sick man in the East getting well again. So

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thank you very much. Dr. Scruton. And

With Roger Scruton

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