A Muslim Case for Liberty

Mustafa Akyol’s new book, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, is coming out in July. Perhaps useful reading for the Arab Spring youth who have to figure out how to negotiate liberal governance in conservative societies?

A provocative manifesto for an interpretation of Islam that synthesizes liberal ideas and respect for the Islamic tradition.

From furious reactions to the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to the suppression of women, news from the Muslim world begs the question: is Islam incompatible with freedom? With an eye sympathetic to Western liberalism and Islamic theology, Mustafa Akyol traces the ideological and historical roots of political Islam. The years following Muhammad’s passing in 632 AD saw an intellectual “war of ideas” rage between rationalist, flexible schools of Islam and the more dogmatic, rigid ones. The traditionalist school won out, fostering perceptions of Islam as antithetical to modernity. However, through his careful reexamination of the currents of Muslim thought, Akyol discovers a flourishing of liberalism in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and the unique “Islamo-liberal synthesis” of present-day Turkey. Only by accepting a secular state, he powerfully asserts, can Islamic societies thrive. Persuasive and inspiring, Islam without Extremes offers a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and religious, political, economic, and social freedoms.

45 Responses to “A Muslim Case for Liberty”

  1. And this book comes from someone who has been utilizing municipality funds to push for the teaching of creationism over the theory of evolution at the Turkish schools as if it was battle of survival – as previously mentioned many times in this blog. Then all of a sudden, he realized that such a stance affected his marketability in the Western countries, particularly the US, and now he shies away from referring to such arguments. After all, who wants his/her name associated with the incidents and debates related to the Kansas School Board meetings? I realize that in his book he now endorses secularism? That is new. Some call this transformation as a part of his intellectual evolution but I would like to call it market adaptation.

    “Islamo-liberalism”, which is a bunch of historical references primarily aimed to reconcile capitalism, democracy and whatever is Western with Islam, is the new trend. It simply sells, mostly in the US academic circles, however.

    Hey, if it will sell the idea of an individually defined and practiced freedom among the Islamic population, I would raise no challenges to the book’s historical or scientific value. He just needs to drop his highly polarizing arbitrary categorizations (fascist Kemalists vs. liberal conservatives) but I have a feeling that it will be the next step.

  2. Some liberal statements to remember:

    Sharia protects the individual:

    Hani su “benim isim devleti korumaktir” diyen Kemalist yargiclar var ya… Sorunlari şeriatsizlik. Cunku şeriat bireyi korur.

    I believe in qisas

    Acikcasi ben kisasa inanirim: olduren oldurulmelidir. AB surecine eyvallah da, her AB normu evrensel dogru degildir.

  3. I have not read his book but I think this book is terrible. How do I know? Because, it is written by Mustafa Akyol. He is I review hundreds of books in this way. You can judge a book by it is author.

  4. nicea, your problem is that your jokes are too on the nose, so they no bite. Maybe one of the writers who frequent this blog can give you pointers.

    With a few more years of practice, you might become a troll worth dispatching with a rejoinder.

    Best of luck!

  5. Excuse me: …so they have no bite.

  6. i am not joking!

  7. I wouldn’t minimize M. Akyol’s evolution [intellectual, political or some such]. His categories are really something, but I appreciate his temperament.

  8. We can also ask someone to write a book about all the good things the nazi’s did: a flourishing economy, build the best network of roads in Europe, became the largest producers of all kind of things in the world, many crazy projects a la Erdogan, booming housing industry. etc etc.
    >Moral: tens of millions died and suffered under the Ottoman conquest. And what did they left behind as legacy: nothing.
    Jews, Christians, etc were second class citizens. How can you defend that.
    For this reason is Mustafa Akyol on Jihad Watch.

  9. Cingoz,
    .
    Hey, if it will sell the idea of an individually defined and practiced freedom among the Islamic population, I would raise no challenges to the book’s historical or scientific value.
    .
    Why is this ends justify the means thinking OK in this case?
    .
    Emre,
    .
    He’s saying that stuff in Turkish. The book is in English. We have seen this before for many people Jenny endorsed/advertised here.

  10. Jenny please talk to us first before advertising a book here. You can not know how dangerous some Turkish authors are. we can understand that by looking at the cover of a book.
    Jenny, you are too nice.

  11. Bulent, there’s nothing wrong with that; he’s just being — wait for it — “liberal” with the truth hahaha!

    I crack myself up.

    nice-a-troll, you have a long way to go before anyone is going to take your bait. Why don’t you get some practice elsewhere and come back?

  12. BM,

    Perhaps it is because I am quite pessimistic about the probability that Islam, as it is currently being interpreted and practiced, could be reformed in such a way that it would allow for the adoption of fundamental democratic norms and values let alone the addition of new ones (e.g. some from social democracy?). Perhaps such a reformation process needs some people within, like MA, who can connect Islamic principles and practices with democratic values at the expense of historical validity and methodological rigor. After all, the issue at hand is religion, which, I think, is deliberately formulated to defy logic. I do not think such violations would disturb the scientific community as long as it is confined in matters related to religion but it may serve to the consolidation of democracy in predominantly Muslim countries. I think MA may be useful in such an undertaking. However, this is a big MAY BE.

  13. Cingoz,
    .
    Perhaps such a reformation process needs some people within, like MA, who can connect Islamic principles and practices with democratic values at the expense of historical validity and methodological rigor.
    .
    Perhaps, but even if I concede the premise how do we know the effect will be surgical and limited to the people who’re being manipulated? The ‘official history’ here was probably created with good intentions and as a manipulative tool to steer the hapless masses to a ‘good’ place. Look what we ended up with: a reviled ‘intellectual’ class (ie ‘Kemalist’ intelligentsia) and a broader circle around them who cannot reason or be truthful to save their lives. A bunch have shifted themselves out of that particular project but their attitudes (ie lying, un-reason, conceit etc.) remain.
    .
    Look at what Jenny has said above:
    .
    Perhaps useful reading for the Arab Spring youth who have to figure out how to negotiate liberal governance in conservative societies?
    .
    Let’s leave Jenny out of it and assume some other person has said it. Let us furthermore assume we’re not talking about Akyol’s book but some other book that we know to be inaccurate and flawed in its basic logic. (IE what you fear is actually the case.) Perhaps what that person says can be stretched to mean that the clearly flawed tract/book might be good enough for the Arabs for the present aims that we deem good for them. Do we (for some value of ‘we’) want to think in such terms? Where does that kind of thinking place ‘us’ wrt. ‘others’? Once we legitimize that attitude how will we remain incorrupt? How do we know the values we hold dear are worth holding on to at all if we really need to employ manipulation to impart them on others?
    .
    Of course I say this w/o targeting you in particular and I do realize that what you are not comitted to the thought you are entertaining. So I do note this:
    .
    However, this is a big MAY BE.
    .
    Yes, it is big.

  14. What are you guys saying? A Muslim case for liberty cannot be made? Or, MA is not qualified to make it? Or, it’s not future liberty but historical truth that matters? (As if the political struggle and evolution will stop, and [religious?!] people will be truth-seekers en masse?)

  15. And what is truth? If anyone said it mattered, that is.

  16. Nihat,
    .
    A Muslim case for liberty cannot be made?
    .
    I don’t know this, so no.
    .
    Or, MA is not qualified to make it?
    .
    The author is irrelevant for the kind of thing I am thinking of. It could have been anyone (though if I were in that business, and Cingoz had said what he said about my book, I wouldn’t be too happy).
    .
    Or, it’s not future liberty but historical truth that matters?
    .
    I am not convinced these are mutually exclusive.

  17. “The author is irrelevant for the kind of thing I am thinking of.”
    I am glad only God decides who is going to heaven and who is not:)

  18. BM,
    You are right. We can never know the final outcome of such a “manipulation”. However, I am not advocating for the manipulation of Islamic principles and practices. I am more concerned about their interpretation. But as far as I understand, you are endorsing the principle that the rules and best practices of scientific inquiry should also be applied to studies related to religion and/or religiosity. Or more simply put, we should assess MA’s study or any study for that matter based on its historical validity, comprehensiveness, methodological rigor and etc.(some set of scientific standards) I could not agree more with you although the issue of who determines the extent to which a study is sufficiently scientific remains highly controversial. There is quite a lot of useful and useless published junk out there particularly in social sciences. There is also the fact that not all academic disciplines comfortably meet the highly rigorous requirements of natural sciences. Whether or not we like it, analytical, critical and even speculative methods are commonly applied in both social science and humanities.

    Let me further clarify myself (I will try). I think I would be more tolerant to the noncompliance of “scientific standards” of inquiry (MA’s methodology) on topics/areas of research (including democracy, freedom vs. Islam) that challenge – not blatantly violate – the boundaries of such “scientific standards” for the sake of exploring the possibility of an idea/explanation (compatibility of Islam and democracy) which may promote the development of a set of values and principles (democracy) that would indisputably improve people’s standard of living. Such tolerance may also allow for the development of new and perhaps more rigorous studies. I am not arguing that I would tolerate fabrication of facts, demagoguery, speculation, manipulation, or nonsense.

  19. Why are you lot sparing so much thought for a mental midget? Are there no books left to read?

  20. It’s a tract, a political appeal, man. Why should anyone subject it to scientific standards? So long as he doesn’t falsify, fabricate, or commit other abuse, let his appeal be judged by his own readers.

  21. Emre, I don’t think he’s a mental midget but anyway, no we’re spending time on the thoughts of each other and not on the book or its author. Shouldn’t you be bickering with CA about epistemology? I’d hate to keep you from that valuable endeavour.
    .
    Cingoz,
    .
    But as far as I understand, you are endorsing the principle that the rules and best practices of scientific inquiry should also be applied to studies related to religion and/or religiosity.
    .
    Not even that, things like sanity, honesty, intellectual integrity is what I have in mind. These apply to any study. I don’t expect pundits to even know the best practices of scientific inquiry, but ours tend to just make stuff up or lie on their way ‘up’ and then stick with what has served them well.
    .
    I understand the rest. I do have things to say but they are mainly whiny stuff about not knowing what’s going on and not having the tools to remedy that deficiency. So I’ll spare you.

  22. Can you hear Jenny? People can hate a book without opening it cover:)

  23. Shocking!

  24. Nicea, this is JW’s blog and she has the right to promote any book etc.
    Similarly, this is US and we have the right to our opinions.
    Akyol is too blinded by his anti-Kemalist/secularist/Ataturk and “smooth” Islamist ways to think straight. But he becomes such a cute and adorable little boy when he claims that AKP and followers are just like the conservatives in US.
    So his book should come with a warning and big shovel because once you flip the cover you’ll be knee deep in manure!
    We’ll see if this comment ends up in spam as well.

  25. Nicea, this is JW’s blog and she has the right to promote any book etc.

    Similarly, this is US and we have the right to our opinions.

    Akyol is too blinded by his anti-Kemalist/secularist/Ataturk and “smooth” Islamist ways to think straight. But he becomes such a cute and adorable little boy when he claims that AKP and followers are just like the conservatives in US.

    So his book should come with a warning and big shovel because once you flip the cover you’ll be knee deep in manure!

    We’ll see if this comment ends up in spam as well.

  26. Who hates MA’s book? I have not even read it. Our exchange with BM has nothing to do with MA’s book. In fact, I was even emphasizing its potential exploratory value.

  27. Here (click) is a 17-minute interview where he is being “cute and adorable” without making any references to AKP. Conclusion: he is beyond AKP (I guess). By the way, this interview’s title suggests that it was about the book at hand, Islam without Extremes, but I am not sure if that’s actually what they talk about.

  28. Conclusion: he is beyond AKP (I guess).

    That must be why his latest column is titled “Why the AKP always rocks”. (It’s a totally awesome party, dudes!)

  29. Emre, he is above and beyond AKP. That doesn’t mean AKP cannot be the ever-rocking awesome party trying to catch up with him.

  30. Nihat, thanks for the link. I’ll watch it all later but in the first few minutes I noticed how easy it is for Akyol to get comfy in a western studio and claim that “people (westerners) think Islam is alien and even think term Allah is a different deity.” I believe it was 1-2 years ago in Malaysia where the Islamists opposed Christians using the word “Allah” and when the top court in the nation ruled that the Christians could utter the word Allah there were riots and attacks on churches. Let’s send him to Malaysia to talk to those Islamists.
    In my opinion, Akyol will have no credibility until he emphasizes the need for serious reformation rather than constantly pitching it as a great but misunderstood religion. His problem is people now do read and understand all that is inclusive in Islam.

  31. ST, it must get especially comfy when your interviewer is impressed by his own ignorance. You are also right about his path to credibility.

  32. Let’s send him to Malaysia to talk to those Islamists.

    I am pretty sure I saw an article of his on Malaysia, which was accompanied by a picture of smiling veiled girls (as if to say “See, it’s not so bad”). Unfortunately I can not find it.

  33. Maybe you can find it here:
    http://thewhitepath.com/?s=malaysia

  34. Maybe you can find it here (click).
    .
    In The Trouble With Islamo-Tribalism, he deals directly with Malaysia’s Allah controversy.

  35. 1)”Let’s send him to Malaysia to talk to those Islamists.”
    2)”I am pretty sure I saw an article of his on Malaysia, which was accompanied by a picture of smiling veiled girls (as if to say “See, it’s not so bad”).”

    If a Westerner talked about “Turkey” in such a manner we would get offended and scream “this is ORIENTALISM.”
    What about Turks talking about Malaysia and Malaysians or Arabs and Arabia? Is it still Orientalism?
    Are Westerners superior to us, Turks, and we, Turks, are superior to Malaysians?

  36. No, we would not; speak for yourself. I get incensed when I see small girls who can’t possibly make sound religious decisions wear a veil. I get incensed when pious idiots attack one another for using the same name to refer to the same god (it’s one of the fundamental tenets of Islam that the Abrahamic religions share the same god). This is not orientalism, it is barbarism.

  37. I haven’t even read Said’s book (AFAIR, if I have read it it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression). I don’t remember ever using ‘orientalist’ as a slur, either. I have seen people attempt to use armies of straw men before, though. I don’t think anyone needs to read a book to recognize that process.

  38. Nicea, you are reading too much into this and going in the wrong direction with the “orientalist” comment.

    My point about Akyol is that when not busy in Turkey generating crap about Ataturk and his reforms he is sitting in a comfy studio in the west generating nonsense about “the poor misunderstood Islamists.”
    In this case partly with his example of “our Allah is same as your God” comment. All happening while being interviewed by (Nihat indicated as well) a guy who could be just as impressed with a shiny object on the table.

    Hence my response that Akyol should go pitch this in Malaysia where Islamists want to forbid Christians from even using the word Allah. Substitute Country X if you will.

    Or when in Country X, he can share his horror stories about being forced to wear a “hat” under secularist dictatorship of Turkey. Yes that’s the perfect summary of reforms under Ataturk and Turkish republic?!.
    Nicea, don’t even touch this last comment, it’s my analysis of a mentally idle and trapped person.

  39. “Malaysia where Islamists want to forbid Christians from even using the word Allah.” What about the US where “Christianists” want to forbid divorced women to get married? What is the difference between Islamists and “Christianists”? How would you explain this to a Malaysian? Is it their skin color? It is interesting, we insult the whole country, Malaysia, because of their Islamists But when it comes to US we forget its Christianists and we even say “this is US and we have the right to our opinions.”
    P.S. Actually, I am wrong by calling the Turks who insult Malaysia as Orientalists. They are worse because they are from the Orient and they imitate Orientalists.

  40. nicea, it is rare to see “Christianists” prohibit the distribution of Korans (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/11/04/world/main5522082.shtml), torch mosques (http://www.economist.com/node/15271154) or otherwise punish Muslims for using the same name to refer to their god.

    Islam purportedly supersedes Christianity and Judaism while following the same god, so what sense does it make for Muslims to get angry at Christians? IF anything, Christians should be mad that the Muslims came along and tacked some nonsense onto their religion (which, in turn, tacked some things onto Judaism…)

  41. I also wonder if you guys “get incensed” when you see the video of evangelical children speaking in tongues (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqNLMuijRyU) Can they “possibly make sound religious decisions” to speak in tongues. Is it “barbarism” too? or not because “this is US and we have the right to our opinions.” What is the difference between making kids wearing veil and making children speaking in tongues? If Malaysia is bad, US is bad too?

  42. Nicea,I am going to end this here for your sake. Because I think you are getting even deeper and more tangled in your lost world trying to find some desperate racist angle in my comment. You certainly missed my point.

  43. Yes, sure; that is child abuse in my book. That video bears more than a passing resemblance to a Nazi rally with its leadership veneration, salute, and visceral character.

    The only way you can get away with such things is by hiding behind religion.

  44. why? “isn’t this US and don’t we have the right to our opinions”?
    please do not end, I am okay with it.

  45. Yes, as adults. The children are merely following their parents; they are not taking part voluntarily. They can not consent to something they know little about and could not understand if they tried. They are simply not ready for it.

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