Thursday, May 31, 2007

Islam jostles politically

The Hindu (

Opinion: Where Islam jostles for political space

N. Ravi

Turkey which has Europeanised itself without abandoning Islam is struggling to accommodate a newly resurgent political Islam within its secular state system.

AS TURKEY's moderate Islam jostles for political space within a rigidly secular state structure, several commonly held notions of liberal democracy and secularism have come under challenge. For one thing, the secular state backed by the armed forces and the urban elite represents the orthodoxy and Islamists have harnessed the democratic forces and the market economy to gain political legitimacy. For another, lifestyle issues have come to mark the divide, with secular fundamentalists not willing to grant such symbolic affirmations of the faith as wearing headscarves. Ominously, the armed forces have stood as the fiercest defenders of the secular tradition while moderate Islamist parties working their way up through the political process have found an unlikely ally in the West.

"The Turkish experience has amply demonstrated through the years that secular democracy can prosper in a predominantly Moslem society while also preserving traditional values," asserted Turkey's elder statesman and former Prime Minister and President Suleyman Demeril at the inaugural session of International Press Institute's annual world congress held recently in Istanbul. Even as Turkey is knocking at the doors of the European Union, he noted that its admission "will demonstrate to the world at large that democracy, the rule of law, transparency and good governance are not exclusive to Western culture. They are indeed the product of mankind's collective wisdom." This broad vision, most Turks would argue, is not under challenge, but political Islam is pushing the frontiers, with the reigning constitutional ideology of secular nationalism struggling to come to terms with it.

In the top down modernisation of the country started by the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, religion was not to be allowed to imperil state building. His philosophy was that whatever was for the good of the country was good for Islam and religion was to be under the firm control and in the service of the state — a distinctive system in a region where the dominance of Islam over the state is taken for granted. Alongside came such measures as reforming family names, the introduction of the Roman alphabet, prayer calls in mosques in Turkish rather than in Arabic, Western modes of dress and education and the celebration of national holidays rather than religious ones. It is a drive that has stood Turkey in good stead. At the end of World War I, noted a Syrian scholar of the region and author of the book The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Islam and the New World Disorder, Bassam Tibi, at a session on Turkey at the IPI conference, Syria and Turkey were at the same level of development. The Kemalist revolution elevated Turkey to European standards while by comparison Syria still remained in the Stone Age.

The present Turkish constitution, following the Kemalist philosophy, lays down some unchangeable characteristics of the nation, among them "as required by the principle of secularism, there shall be no interference whatsoever of the sacred religious feelings in State affairs and politics."

The subordination of Islam to the goal of building a modern state was not accepted by all, and tensions remained, surfacing periodically only to be contained by the armed forces. The most recent round of tensions has been brought on by the Iraq war which has led to ferment in the Islamic world and raised anti-American feelings, noted Editor in Chief of the leading Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and author Ertugrul Ozkok, adding his generation of Turks had assumed that the problem with Islam was over. While the Iraq war may have been the spark, the changing nature of Turkish society inevitably brought the challenges to the fore. While the urban elite and the armed forces have been staunchly secular, the devout from the rural areas with modern education, moved into the middle class areas of the cities and gained political power through a sustained grassroots campaign. It is this change that brought to office the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials AK) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a one time Islamist but now professing commitment to secularism.

When the ruling party tried to get the Turkish national assembly elect one of its own, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul who is a former Islamist like Mr. Erdogan, as president of the nation, secularists as well as the armed forces were alarmed. The armed forces issued an unusual statement declaring the military as "the absolute defender of secularism" and warning "It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary." The prospect of a military coup — there have been four coups since 1950 — seemed to be looming large, sending shockwaves across Europe. Both the European Union and the United States rallied behind the government of Mr. Erdogan and condemned the military warning. The government itself reacted sharply to the military's ultimatum, asserting that the armed forces had no right to interfere in the democratic process and observing, "It is unthinkable in a democratic state based on the rule of law for the general staff, which is subordinate to the prime ministry, to speak out against the government." In the event, Mr. Gul could not be elected because an opposition boycott of the vote meant the national assembly did not have the required quorum for conducting the election. Yet Mr. Erdogan, sure of the popularity of his government, has called for national elections and had the national assembly pass a constitutional amendment providing for the direct election of the president.

That popularity stems in large part from the performance of the Turkish economy which has almost doubled during his five years in office. The party viewed as moderately Islamist has proved to be the most effective modernising force, encouraging enterprise and initiative unlike its statist predecessors that had the support of the military and the secular elite but did little. The new, upwardly mobile migrants from the rural heartland to the cities that constitute his main support base have proved to be a dynamic force.

Both Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gul have repeatedly and publicly declared their commitment to secularism and their party has proved to be moderate in office. Yet, the secularists view their growing support with alarm. Elaborating on this fear, Mr. Ozkok noted that in Europe if the Christian Democrats won power, the life of the ordinary people was hardly touched. In Turkey where institutions and civil society were not strong, a political change bringing fundamentalist forces to office could have a direct and immediate impact on the way people live, dress and work as it happened in Iran.

Indeed, lifestyle issues seem to dominate the secular-Islamist debate in Turkey. Both the Prime Minister's wife and the wife of the President of the National Assembly wear headscarves, a practice frowned upon by the military and the secular elite. Mr. Gul's wife too does, and to the secularists his election to the presidency would have symbolised the complete capture of the state by Islamists. Among the practices objected to by the military were organising Koran classes on the Turkish national day and the call to declare Prophet Mohammed's birthday a holiday. Other areas of concern for the secularists are the moves by new local officials representing the AK party to separate men and women in hospitals, beaches and swimming pools.

In contrast to the liberal secularism of the West that allows personal freedom of religious observances, Turkish secularism may seem rigid and intolerant. "We have no problem with women wearing mini-skirts but why are they so bothered with our headscarves," asked a woman at Mr. Erdogan's rally (reported in The New York Times). If headscarves seem to represent a relatively minor issue, a woman participant at the IPI conference was quick to point out that Turkish women were worried not about a piece of cloth but that the mentality of even the moderate Islamists was frightening. Asked for his reaction to honour killings (of women victims of rape or abduction), Mr. Erdogan, in a reply typical of those who do not want to offend the fundamentalists even while appearing to be moderates themselves, would not condemn it outright but would only say that he was opposed to all types of murder and was against adultery as well.

As political Islam renegotiates the frontier with the secular establishment, which way will the balance tilt? A worrisome factor is the role of the military which some Turks see as the guard rail along the road, keeping the politicians from straying off the track. A major weakness of the Turkish state is that in the last 80 years it has not developed an effective constitutional and legal system and civil society organisations that could check government excesses. Most Turks remain ambivalent about the role of the military which remains very popular, being regarded as the most trustworthy institution by over 70 per cent according to public opinion surveys. The surveys also show that over 70 per cent want to retain secularism as the guiding philosophy of the nation. Yet, the democratic elections are expected to bring back Mr. Erdogan's moderate Islamists, riding on their performance in office, to power.

In Professor Tibi's view, a compromise can surely be found and Turkey may well emerge as a model for the Islamic world. Already, the country has been Europeanised without abandoning Islam and on the other side, political Islam had entered the government without destabilising the secular state system. One interesting suggestion that he made was that Islamic countries could develop a culture of Islam while separating religion and the state. The political system could accept Islam and the Shariat as a system of ethics that ordains good and forbids evil but not as a legal code to be enforced by the state.

Copyright: 1995 - 2006 The Hindu

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.