Posts in English

My Muslim Case For Liberty

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' commments] Over the years, in this very column, I have tried to advance a political philosophy that can be called “Muslim liberalism.” It is, in a nutshell, a liberal view of politics and economics within an Islamic theological framework. It has been the basic filter through which I looked at religious issues, and even some of the Turkish affairs, which I saw as case studies for the broader questions regarding the future of the Muslim world.
Admittedly, my arguments did not convince all readers. For there are many people, both in Turkey and the West, who believe that “Islam” and “liberalism” can come together only to form an oxymoron. That’s probably why some of the same people suspected that I must be a “cunning Islamist” who wants to dilute Turkey’s wonderful secularism with sweet talk, only to pave the way for an authoritarian Islamist regime. Without extremes Well, people are free to believe in what they want to believe. But I have stood behind my conviction that a Muslim liberalism is possible. About three years ago, I even decided to write a book about it. An American publisher, W.W. Norton, welcomed the idea. After a lot of work on my side, and some good editing on theirs, I finally put out a book: “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty.” The term “extremes” here might imply all the unpleasant facts that are associated with radical Islam – such as intolerance, coercion or violence. But there is also a deeper meaning to the term. For, as I show in my book, the modern Muslim world has been traumatized by two mutually opposing yet complementing “extremes:” Secular authoritarianism versus Islamic authoritarianism. Both of these forces tried to capture the modern state, in order to use it to advance their similarly illiberal ideologies. One camp banned the veil, for example, while the other camp imposed it. One camp justified tyranny in the name of “progress,” whereas the other camp justified it in the name of God. However, there is a third way beyond these two extremes, a liberal way, and it has surprising roots in the Islamic past, as I unearth in my book. I built this case by first going back to the very genesis of the faith. It might be news to the modern reader, but the birth of Islam was actually a great step forward for individualism, which had been denied by the harsh tribalism of pagan Arabs. The Quran’s unyielding monotheism, which defined humans as “God’s vicegerents on Earth,” created the autonomous individual and gave him (or her) personal responsibility and dignity. No wonder proto-liberal schools of thought emerged in the first centuries of Islam. The Murjiites (“Postponers”) defended religious pluralism, arguing that disputes among religious factions should be “postponed” to afterlife, only to be reconciled by God. Another school named Mutazilites not only supported human’s freewill, but also argued that reason is as important as revelation in the pursuit of truth. Thanks to such ideas, the medieval Muslim world flourished, and, in the words of Bernard Lewis, “offered vastly more freedom than any of its predecessors, its contemporaries and most of its successors.” Three freedoms In “Islam Without Extremes,” I not only reveal some of those little-known liberal strains in Islam, but also explain why they were eclipsed by the more dogmatic and intolerant versions of the faith. I also show how there is hope for the future, as signaled by Turkey’s ongoing silent Islamic reformation and the recent Arab Spring. Besides, I advance my own arguments for Muslim liberalism, with cases on “freedom from the state,” “freedom to sin,” and “freedom from Islam.” This Monday, July 18, is the book’s launch date. It will be available in bookstores across the United States, and online stores such as Amazon. Meanwhile, my own website ( offers its free Introduction chapter. Just to let you know. And also to remind that the story of Islam is much more complicated, and fascinating, then what many think.
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