Thursday, January 15, 2015

Turkish religious thinker ponders future of Islam

In an article on Dec. 28, Gultekin went beyond the Erdogan-Gulen acrimony and raised a more basic question: Why have Muslims failed so spectacularly for 1,400 years to establish just, prosperous and peaceful societies? In the article, Gultekin challenged those Muslims who fall back on the tired excuse of “but this isn’t real Islam” when confronted with extremist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. “Which one is real Islam?” he asked, and lamented how “as people’s religiosity increased [in recent years], so have their sinfulness.”
“The problem,” Gultekin said, was not Islam but “our inability to understand the religion in the context of the 21st century.” And he warned, “Unless we find a way out, we will destroy ourselves.”
“Islam never practiced what it preached,” he said. The only exception, he argued, occurred for a short period under the second caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), who he said achieved social peace and good governance by ignoring the most draconian elements of the Quran. When Islam mixed with politics and dynastic disputes later on under “Ali, Aisha, Uthman, [t]he Umayyads, the Ottomans, etc., [it] lost its purpose.”

For Gultekin, the parallels with present-day Turkey are unmistakable. “Take Fethullah Gulen,” he said. “He studied the Quran for 40 years, read the hadiths and was cultivated in Islamic manners, yet that did not stop him from committing injustice against other people. Or [take] Tayyip Erdogan. He was raised with Islamic discipline for 40 years — on values such as haram, halal, fear of God — but we can all see where that has taken him. Now people ask, ‘If religion cannot make these men honest and moral, how is it going to [help] us?’”
“So, do you think ascending to power has stained the Islamist movement?” I asked. Gultekin corrected me, saying, “Gaining power has not stained Islamism — it has destroyed Islamism. Islamism has nothing to give to society anymore because Islamists have nothing left to say.”
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