Rilke visited Ronda in the winter of 1912-1913 and wrote remarkable poems and letters during his stay in the town, some of them related to his profound spiritual and intellectual experiences during his discovery of Islam.
The seminar “RILKE AND ISLAM” was conducted by Hajj Ahmad Gross, German Muslim, writer, researcher and lecturer on the topic of European artists and intellectuals and their relation with Islam. "The thinker-poet Rainer Maria Rilke, ventured into territories that no poet dared to penetrate before him", said Hajj Ahmad Gross, "His German language is music and beauty, but more important than that, he affirmed the yearning of the seeker, the search for meaning, and that by assuming the price of becoming a stranger."
Rilke asks the question, "What do we live for?" and he replies, "To praise and exalt". This is an answer that sounds very familiar to the Muslims. The Muslims would say, "The purpose of man’s existence is to thank, to praise and to worship the Divine." At such an early stage as the beginning of the twentieth century, Rilke had already made his famous statement: “The world has now fallen in the hands of men”. A statement that reminds us of the remark made by Dostoyevsky: “If God does not exist, then everything becomes permitted”. Rilke advises to the young poet –in the renown letters- to engage in the search of “useful knowledge”, again a goal that reminds of the prophetic teaching of Islam.
Ahmad Gross, German Muslim, writer, researcher and lecturer
The seminar continued with a lunch at one of the remarkable and breathtaking points of the city, the "Tajo", or rock cliff on which Ronda was built several thousand years ago. The afternoon and final session of the seminar was held by Shaykh Muhammad Kassbi, Imam of the Great Mosque of Granada, on the life, work and teachings of several Islamic scholars, jurists and poets of Islamic Ronda, with special emphasis on one of the great scholars born in that city: Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi.
Ahmed Bermejo, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies
of the Great Mosque of Granada,
Abdulhasib Castineira, Executive Director of the EMU,
Shaykh Muhammad Kassbi, Imam of the Great Mosque of Granada
During the questions & answers part and the discussions that followed the talks, several themes emerged that stood out among many others:
- Islam is not the “Religion of the Arabs’ because it is not a culture. Islam is rather a filter that purifies each culture and each and every nation of humanity, and for that reason Islam is compatible with western and European civilisation.
- The claim of some "Western" nations to political, economic and military supremacy is in itself a cultural barrier that blocks access to the prophetic wisdom of Islam for the peoples of the "West".
- The role of Western Muslims and European Muslims is essential. They are better able to open the doors to understanding of Islam as a message and lifestyle of universal validity, in the language and on the intellectual level that Westerners can recognize and appreciate.
- A considerable number of European musicians, thinkers, philosophers and sincere seekers of truth who aspired to know the Creator were fascinated with Islam since many centuries and many of them denounced the Christian dogmas.
The seminar was attended by 65 people, including the Vice Mayor of the city of Ronda, professors from the University of Ronda, a number of artists, researchers and the general public as well as a good number of Muslims from Granada, Sevilla, Murcia and Malaga.
Ahmad Gross with the Vice Mayor of Ronda Dna. Isabel Maria Barriga
A walk through the city with participants at the seminar
The Ronda Seminar is part of a series of cultural events held by the EMU, an initiative aimed at highlighting and sharing the many cases of encounters of Europeans with Islam throughout the centuries.