Turkish author Mustafa Akyol discusses ‘Islam without Extremes’ at UMKC lecture

Kate Baxendale

Turkish author and political commentator Mustafa Akyol discusses political policy in Islamic countries at the Student Union Theater.
                                                                                                                 Photo by Sai Srikar Kadiyam

Turkish author and political commentator Mustafa Akyol spoke to a crowd of nearly 200 last Friday at the Student Union Theater about political freedom in Islamic countries.

His latest book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” was published in July 2011. It contrasts the calls for strict implementation of Islamic law with the virtues of democracy and individual liberty that are celebrated in the West.

Violence and political upheaval in the Muslim world have created a sense of unease, especially as the large increase in the number of Islamic adherents over the past two decades represents a growing percentage of the world’s population.

Akyol compared his native Turkey to the government in Saudi Arabia to explain the differences in political policy in the two Islamic countries.

Despite recent controversies, Akyol supported his argument that his homeland of Turkey is a model for a “liberal” Islamic society. He explained his use of the word “liberal” as the most literal sense, meaning “free.”

In Saudi Arabia, the police enforce Islamic law. Women are forced to wear head scarves while in public, and police strictly enforce Salat, or obligatory prayer, throughout the day.

Turkey has what Akyol defined as “secular police,” in which law enforcement requires women to remove head scarves while in public institutions. He described freedom as the disassociation of Islam from government policy, much like separation of church and state in the U.S.

Akyol discussed the revolutionary pro-democracy Arab Spring movement in the context of two different types of democracy: totalitarian democracy and liberal democracy.

In his opinion, the leaders appointed in the Arab Spring movement are dictators who practice totalitarian democracy. Akyol hopes to see a more liberal democracy, or “freedom,” practiced in Islamic countries.

Muslims in some Middle Eastern countries are prohibited by law from converting to Christianity, and it is treated as a serious crime.

However, the Quran does not ban religious apostasy—the rejection of faith.

Akyol used another example to explain how he believes the words of the Quran are often taken out of context. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive cars because the Quran states: “Do not send women alone to the desert.”

When the Quran was written, there were bandits in the desert who aimed to harm female travelers. Akyol said that this is not relevant to life today.

Akyol said the people of Turkey have the power of choice: the choice whether or not to fast during Ramadan, to go to mosque for prayer, to wear “Westernized” clothing or to live extravagant social lives separate from the restrictions of the Islamic faith.

In other countries, there are dire consequences for acts that are considered benign in Western culture. Akyol explained this is a nationalist or tribalist response and that it is not part of the Muslim faith.

Akyol also touched on the controversial U.S.-produced film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed, which is prohibited by the Quran.

Some initially suggested that U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed because of the film in a Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Akyol said that the Quran does not say to kill those who mock Islam, but instead, it says to refuse to engage in discourse with those who mock the religion. He contends that following this command is as simple as refusing to buy or read an anti-Muslim newspaper or ignoring anti-Muslim comments.

“The answer is freedom, not tyranny,” Akyol said.