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The inspiring intellectual journey; excerpts from Garaudy’s life

I love reading well-written memoirs. If you ask, “What does ‘well-written’ mean, how do you define it?” I don’t have a definite definition with clear boundaries like ‘two plus two equals four,’ but I can say this: a memoir should take me to the time the author lived. It should immerse me in the events narrated. It should evoke a feeling as if I have experienced those events together. It should vividly depict the social, cultural, economic, political, and theological structure of that period in my mind.

For example, if the memoir’s author is a businessman like Ishak Alaton or Sabri Ülker, it will narrate the era’s commercial culture. If it’s an academician and religious figure like Tayyar Altıkulaç or Suat Yıldırım, it will describe the structure of society, theology faculties, the Presidency of Religious Affairs, and the mindset of individuals in key roles.

The memoir should be captivating. It should make me wish I had dedicated more time from my daily schedule to reading. Or, if my schedule allows after reading, it should hold me until my mind falls asleep on the book due to fatigue, forgetting the concept of time.

“There’s no need for description on the eve.” I believe I’ve given an idea about what I adore in well-written memoirs.

One of the recommendations from our teacher was to read memoirs. He used to tell us, “Read memoirs.” Then he would list his reasons: “It gives you life experience and saves time. It broadens your horizon. It matures you. It instills the habit of looking at events from a different perspective.”

I remember him giving these examples once: Mahatma Gandhi’s “My Experiments with Truth,” Aliya Izzet Begović’s “Witness to History,” Seyyid Kutub’s “Words and Sayings,” “Why Was I Executed?” He mentioned other names too, but I don’t remember all of them.

This advice must have occupied an important place in my mind, and I must have seen its benefits, as in my simultaneous readings, I always try to include a memoir. It usually works well for me, especially in the evenings when I am mentally tired. It takes me away from the fatigue of daily life, transports me as much as possible to the past.

I’ve had a memoir book in my hands for about a month now. Its title: “Memories; My Lonely Journey in Our Century.” The author is Roger Garaudy.

“Who is Garaudy?” I consider it a waste of time for this newspaper and the readers of this column to scribble a few lines that could answer that question. Therefore, I will skip that and directly share my thoughts on the book.

Let me write my two observations first. One; it’s hard to read. If you don’t have a special interest in either the author or the events that took place during the years he lived, it’s really a difficult book to finish. It’s not written in a captivating style like a novel. The reason, in my opinion, is the author’s intellectual identity. No matter how much he tried to use a popular language, he couldn’t manage it. As I said, his intellectual level kept pulling him upwards. His pen always met with the academic style he was accustomed to. From this perspective, my advice to those who want to read it is to take it slowly. Don’t get bored after the first 50 pages. If you want to witness history, act with the patience of a person digging a well with a needle.

Second; a self-critique directed towards myself and expressing this self-critique publicly; I am too late. The first edition of this book was published in 1989. As someone who has read many other books by Garaudy, I asked myself how I missed this one and couldn’t find an answer.

He started with childhood memories. The author, born in 1913, referred to the years 1918-1945 as “Apprenticeship Years.” The section where he narrates the years 1945-1970 is titled “Communist Responsible and Responsible Communist.” In the third section, titled “Changing Life,” he talks about the remaining years.

When it comes to Islam, he dedicated a separate section to it, approximately 125 pages of the 450-page book. There are fantastic analyses in this section. Let me share a short excerpt with you: “I have even considered saying, ‘There is no God’ as blasphemy. Existence belongs to everything perceived or thought. But God is not part of this family of beings. He is the action that makes them exist. For a person who is the manifestation of God, to exist means to live that action that created him. He is the Unseen but the one who reveals Himself. This is not possible with the exercise of a single thought but, on the contrary, with the effort of an entire life. There is no witness to God’s living existence other than the action shaped by faith in that existence. Making the unseen visible, along with its beauty and calls.”

Garaudy beautifully explains what it means for a Westerner to convert to Islam with his extensive knowledge and personal experiences. I’ll just convey one sentence: “It is necessary to challenge this West, which is sure that it is the teacher, master, and sole creator of values in the world: ‘We no longer want the wild methods and practices of your economy without God,’ and then he makes such striking challenging statements one after another that it is impossible not to take off your hat.

Let me finish here. Garaudy is sentenced to death by the French authorities for some actions he took while in exile in Algeria. When the execution time comes, Muslim soldiers who declare their sect as Ibadi refuse to shoot Garaudy and his other friends sentenced to death. Garaudy is shocked and says, “There, I experienced in a tremendous way what it means to have a Law above all laws. It is metaphysical, transcendent, transcendence lived in person.” This incident was the first step in his encounter with Islam.

I can write more, but it’s best if you read it yourself. I believe you will benefit greatly.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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