Friday, August 19, 2011

Islam Without Extremes

Looking over the new book selections at Willard Library, I picked up Islam Without Extremes, a Muslim case for liberty. That sounded like a different Islam than I knew from reading the daily news, so I thumbed through it: 290 pages, plus notes and index; written by Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for two Turkish newspapers. Alyol’s articles have also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, since his studies at Bogazici University in Istanbul, where he lives.

Akyol obviously is a man of questions, as well as a devout Muslim. For example: is it possible that current authoritarian Islamic regimes derive not from Islam but from deep-seated socio-political structures in the Middle East? Going back to the genesis of Islam, Akyol digs in the roots of the 7th century Prophet Mohammad, whom he sees ushering in a “medieval war of ideas” and something of a religious renewal.

He offers a different version of Mohammad than I had previously read, a more tolerant and reasonable man than I had previously known. Akyol then traces the development of Islamic political thinking through several schools of thought, with strong emphasis upon reason, free will, and pluralism. He reveals a “more rigid, dogmatic, and exclusive interpretation (traditionalism) ascending to the top in later centuries, after a more liberal, inclusive, and religious beginning.

My lack of familiarity with his subject made it hard for me at times to keep reading. On occasion, I felt he assumed too much for Islam, too easily blamed none Islamic forces, and throughout I had the feeling that something was lacking, but was unable to quite put my finger on it. I think I felt his whole approach was too much of human origin; too dependent upon human reasoning, but also more dependent upon prior Christian influences than he recognized.

Mustafa Akyol likely began his journey when as an eight-year-old lad he accompanied his mother to the suburbs of Ankara, where he visited his imprisoned father, a Turkish journalist, imprisoned for speaking out as a Muslim against the State. Akyol is knowledgeable about Islamic culture; he is admittedly a more reasonable Muslim, not of the authoritarian theocracratic views, and he quotes freely from Western sources, with some 40 pages of notes in the back.

Here and there I found hope for better cooperation between Muslims and Christians, as well as potential common ground for a political state in which each could exist. His description of the Ottoman Empire revealed Ottoman leadership drawing considerably from Western socio-political-economic influences. Speaking of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, I found this paragraph especially interesting:
The collapse of the empire would have other tragic consequences that only time would reveal. Yet Archibald Wavell, a British officer, had the foresight to see them as early as 1918. Watching the victorious European powers happily carving up the Ottoman Empire in Paris after ’the war to end war,’ he dismissed the optimism. What the Europeans achieved instead, he said, was ’peace to end peace’” (cf Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, Holt, 1989).

This “peace to end peace” (Versailles Treaty) is a theme I find common among journalists and historians).

The author offers some insight into Muslins intent on Islamizing the United Kingdom, which he discounts. On the other hand, he offers hope for many of the issues that concern Westerners, and especially Christians, about current Islam. He suggests that neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet offered a definition of government. He believes “accepting the secular state could also help Muslims focus on what is really important,” suggesting that what they really need from the state is not religion “but freedom of religion.”

Throughout, the author argues that Islamic authoritarianism as we know it today is more of a cultural issue than religious, that Islam was not so in the beginnings, but is a more recent aberration.

From Warner’s World, for what it is worth …
If we are going to live and serve in a world that includes Muslims, and other equally difficult people groups, we need to learn how to dialogue with them and be sure that we extend to them the Spirit of our Risen Lord. This is not a conflict that will be resolved by military might …

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