The Islamic case for a secular state

Mustafa Akyol
Mustafa Akyol


Date posted: October 1, 2011

Mustafa AKYOL, Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promoted the secular state last week during his trip to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, many were surprised. Especially ultra-secularist Turks, who are used to calling Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, “Islamist,” could not believe their eyes.

I was much less surprised, though. Because I knew that what I call “the AKP’s transition from Islamism to post-Islamism” was real. I even tried to explain its reasoning in a series of pieces titled “The Islamic case for a secular state,” which appeared in this very column some four years ago.

Here is a long excerpt from one of those pieces:

“In June 1998, a very significant meeting took place at a hotel near Abant, which is a beautiful lake in the east of Istanbul. The participants included some of the most respected theologians and Islamic intellectuals in Turkey. For three days, the group of nearly 50 scholars discussed the concept of a secular state and its compatibility with Islam. At the end, they all agreed to sign a common declaration that drew some important conclusions.

“The first of these was the rejection of theocracy. The participants emphasized the importance of individual reasoning in Islam and declared, ‘No one can claim a divine authority in the interpretation of religion.’ This was a clear rejection of the theocratic political doctrines — such as the one established in the neighboring Iran — which granted a divinely ordained right to a specific group of people for guiding society.

“The second important conclusion of the Abant participants was the harmony of the principles of divine sovereignty and popular sovereignty. (Some contemporary Islamists reject democracy by assuming a contradiction between the two.) ‘Of course God is sovereign over the whole universe,’ the participants said. ‘But this is a metaphysical concept that does not contradict with the idea of popular sovereignty, which allows societies to rule their own affairs.’

“The third argument in the declaration was the acceptance of a secular state that would ‘stand at the same distance from all beliefs and philosophies.’ The state, the participants noted, ‘is an institution that does not have any metaphysical or political sacredness,’ and Islam has no problem with such political entities as far as they value rights and freedoms.

“In sum, the ‘Abant Platform,’ as it became known, declared the compatibility of Islam with a secular state based on liberal democracy. This was a milestone not only because the participants included top Islamic thinkers, but also because the organizers were members of Turkey’s strongest Islamic community, the Fethullah Gülen movement.”

In the following years, some of the participants of this Abant Platform became ministers in AKP Cabinets, and the ideas they articulated guided the AKP on matters of religion and politics. (In that sense, both the Gülen Movement, and the Said Nursi tradition that it sprang from, deserve credit for helping create the AKP.)

So, you might ask, what was the big war over secularism that haunted Turkey in the past decade?

Well, it was a war between those wanted a secular state and those who wanted to preserve the secularist one, which was not based on neutrality but on hostility toward religion. In the same series of pieces on Islam and the secular state, I noted:

“Today the big question in Turkey is whether our republic will be a secular or a secularist one. Our homegrown secularists have never gone as far and radical as Mao, but some of them share a similar hostility toward religion. And they have every right to do so as far as they accept to be unprivileged players in civil society. But they don’t have the right to dominate the state and use the money of the religious taxpayers in order to offend and suppress their beliefs.”

Today, Turkey is more secular but less secularist. And that is why it is making more sense to Arabs and other Muslims.

* For all writings of Mustafa Akyol, including his recent book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” visit his blog at www.thewhitepath.com. On Twitter, follow him at @AkyolinEnglish.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News / http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=the-islamic-case-for-a-secular-state-2011-09-20


Related News

28th Abant Meeting “Diverse Perspectives on Turkey” to be held in February 2013

Turkey’s foremost civil intellectual forum, Abant Platform‘s workshop on “Diverse Perspectives on Turkey,” will be held in February 8-10, 2013 in Abant, Bolu. The Abant Platform is founded as an intellectual forum by the Journalists and Writers Foundation to promote democratic engagement for expanding social consensus and the coexistence of society’s rich cultural resources within […]

A Forum On Africa in Turkey (I)

Istanbul was peaceful when we arrived to attend the 29th Abant international forum titled: “Africa: Between Experience and Inspiration”. The event which brought together about 160 participants held between June 28-30, 2013 at a serene and scenic mountain resort of Abantu Buyuk Hotel in Bolu,Turkey.

Criticism and risks

For understandable reasons, governments don’t like to be criticized. But all governments tend to make mistakes. Even if governments and administrations do not like to be criticized, criticizing their mistakes is both a right and a responsibility. It is a moral duty. The criteria for this criticism include fairness, constructiveness and the avoidance of libel and defamation. Damaging the prestige of people, groups, organizations or firms is not criticism.

Fethullah Gülen’s message to the International symposium “Ijtihad and Qiyas: The richness of Islam”

Ijtihad and Qiyas present a significant field of expansion for the potential treasury that transcends time and space as it is found in the Book and the Sunna. We will never run out of solutions and answers as long as these rich sources are available with their doors wide open for those who are able to benefit from them.

Abant Platform meeting launches with identity debates in Turkey

SEVGİ AKARÇEŞME, ABANT/BOLU/TURKEY The Abant Platform started its 28th meeting on Friday at Lake Abant with the participation of over a hundred intellectuals, academics, journalists and pundits from different ideological backgrounds to discuss the current issues in Turkey. The first theme of the meeting was on Turkey’s issues of identity. Participants agreed that the misinterpretation […]

The Muslim Cleric Who Fell in Love With Democracy

Gülen say, “The principles and form of government that form the basis of democracy are compatible with Islamic values. Consultation, justice, freedom of religion, protection of the rights of individuals and minorities, the people’s say in the election of those who would govern them…[are] principles espoused by both Islam and democracy.”

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Who is the winner?

With Husband Already In Jail, Woman Along With Two Children Detained In Post-Coup Witch Hunt

3rd Annual International Women’s Conference

Niagara Foundation Ohio Award Ceremony gathers a large attendance

Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe: Gülen Movement

Turkish Cultural Center to hold ‘Henna Night’ fundraiser for water well construction in Africa

How will prep school controversy influence elections [in Turkey]?

Copyright 2022 Hizmet News