from which the Oct 24 Kansas City Star column is drawn
Mr Akyol's Kansas City lecture:
Oct 26 Friday 6pm
UMKC Student Union, Theater, 1st Floor
5100 Cherry, Kansas City, MO 64110
Sponsored by UMKC Diversity Access and Equity, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, Raindrop Turkish House, and Fountain Magazine, cosponsored by KC Festival of Faiths.
See also the 17-minute TEDx video
Akyol blog with a link to information about his book
Q1. Christianity today in its capitalistic expression is very different from the early church. Three examples, property was held in common, early Christians were pacifist, and women had significant leadership. Has the Islam of Muhammad and the Qur’an also been inflected by subsequent cultural interpretations? What might be some examples?
You are right to point out to the trajectory
of Christianity, which has taken various forms in its two-thousand long
history. Islam, too, has many cultural layers on its original message.
There is no stoning or ban on fine arts in the Qur'an, for example, and
Prophet Muhammad was much more supportive of women than the patriarchal
culture we see in many Muslim societies. Hence one of my efforts is to
distinguish the divine core of Islam and the cultural baggage around it.
Most Americans easily forget what Muslims, especially in the Middle East,
regard as assaults on their integrity. The United States and the West overthrew
the democratically elected civilian leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh,
in 1953 and instead installed the ruthless Shah, overthrown in the Revolution
in 1979 and the US embassy occupied with US hostages detained for 444 days.
We supported the Taliban against the Soviets in the 1980s, and now we fight
against them. We supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussein against Iran; some offer
evidence that we gave him chemical weapons. Then we attacked Iraq twice
and created an unstable state in which Iraq is now largely influenced by
Iran. For decades, largely because of oil, we have been supporters of
the corrupt and despotic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which an extreme interpretation
of Islam flourishes. Until last year, we supported the undemocratic rule
of Hosni Mubarak. Despite international and US condemnation of Israeli
settlements, which continue to expand into Palestinian territories, the
largely Muslim population there remain under occupation.
You are very right to point out to some
tragic mistakes of the United States in the Middle East, which have been
a major factor behind anti-Americanism. None of that, of course, can justify
the killing of innocent American citizens, as it happened in 9/11. But
we should indeed see why many Muslims in the Middle East are not great
fans of the US. There is often some fanatic ideology behind that anti-Americanism
(such as communism or radical Islamism) as well, but some real troubles
the US created in this part of the world also count. To see that, just
contrast the Middle East with the Balkans: the Muslims in the Balkans
(such as Bosnians and Albanians) often like the US, for American power
helped them against Serbian aggression. So, what the US does in the world
Q3. In a democratic and pluralistic society, how, and to what extent, should religious sentiment and religious institutions influence public policy on issues such as same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, contraception and abortion, and the distribution of wealth? What should be the place of the various versions of Sharia in American life?
In a democtatic and pluralist society,
religious views should neither be pushed out from the public square, nor
they should dominate it. If one believes that abortion is murder out of
religious faith, for example, then that person should have the right to
campaign against abortion democratically, by trying to persuade other members
Q4. The mosque in Joplin, MO., was burned to the ground Aug. 6. Religious minorities are frequently misunderstood and sometimes harmed. What drives religious prejudice and what are the key things that can be done to minimize it? (This question is especially vexing to those who are concerned about a highly prejudicial and inflammatory speech made by Kamal Saleem, who describes himself as a former Muslim terrorist who has converted to Christianity, last Nov. 17 at the Independence Mayors Prayer Breakfast. A fact sheet outlining his distortions and other efforts with the mayor and the Human Relations Commission were simply dismissed, as well as the uproar that ensued.)
These days, anti-Islamic propaganda sells
well in the West. Hence there are some people who jump into this market,
by saying how horrible Islam is. The truth is that there are some Muslims
who indeed do terrible things (such as female genital mutilation, forced
marriages, or political violence), but there are many other Muslims who
deplore these things. And what I do is to offer a theological analysis
of these problems, look at their origins, and show why and how we Muslims
need some reform in our tradition.
Q5. Christians in some Muslim countries seem under threat. How did the historic protection Muslims gave Christians become reversed?
Yes, unfortunately. In fact, until the
20th century, Islamic lands have been more hospitable to religious pluralism
than Europe. That is why many Jews fled from Europe to the Islamic Ottoman
Empire. In the 20th century, however, things dramatically changed due to
a few factors. First, modern nationalism targeted Christian minorities
out of ethnic, not religious reasons. (Ottoman Armenians, who lived peacefully
with Muslims for a millennium, were exiled and partly destroyed only by
secular Turkish nationalists) Secondly, Wahhabism, the most intolerant
strain in Islam, became gradually influential in the Arab World and even
beyond. Third, political hatred against the West sometimes turned into
the persecution of local Christians, in a way similar to Pearl Harbor leading
to the persecution of Japanese Americans.
Q6. One of our strong NATO allies is Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country which has, until recent incidents, managed to be very friendly with Israel. What, in brief, has distinguished Islam in Turkey that has made Turkey democratic while other Middle East nations have only now begun to show a desire for self-rule?
Turkey is still open to have good relations
with Israel; it is just the Gaza Flotilla incident and Israel's refusal
to apologize for it that blocks the way. If Turkey has a secret, though,
it is that its modernization and democratization began much earlier, in
early 19th century. Ottomans accepted a liberal constitution in 1876 and
opened a democratic parliament, one of third of which were non-Muslims.
(This is still unthinkable in Saudi Arabia.) In my book, I show all such
exceptional aspects of Turkish Islam, and also argue that we do not owe
its moderatism to Turkey's aggressive secularism, as it is often claimed.
Q7. To what extent is Islam necessarily a political program, a legal system, an arrangement about families, a code of moral practice, a routine of worship, and a personal interior religious or mystical experience?
This is the million dollar question! And
Muslims have different answers to it. To be honest, Islam certainly has
a more political nature than Christianity; it is evident in the history
Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic community. However, people like me argue
that some aspects of Prophet Muhammad are not "religious" but "historical."
The fact that he headed a state, for example, does not mean that Islam
must have a state; it was just the circumstances that the Prophet happened
to be in. Or his dress code was not divinely mandated; he just followed
the Arab fashion of the day. The Wahhabis, however, would disagree and
think that Muslims have to follow that fashion for ever.
Q8. If there are other points you would like to make as a preview to your remarks here in Kansas City, what would they be?
I would try to show that Muslims, Christians and Jews are actually not that different from each other, in terms of the questions they face regarding their faith and the world. My aim is to draw not a rosy but a realistic picture of Islam, and help the audience to see some nuances that they might not have noticed before. I hope they will find it interesting!