By Mustafa Akyol
Hayrettin Karaman, professor emeritus of Islamic law and columnist for daily Yeni Şafak, is an important figure in Turkey. He is known to be deeply respected by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his ideas are known to be widely appreciated by the members of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP).
That is why a recent series of articles by Karaman sparked some controversy, as he openly said these three important concepts are fundamentally incompatible with Islam: secularism, democracy and pluralism.
Fellow Hürriyet Daily News columnist Semih İdiz already explained how worrying these views are in his piece dated May 27 (“Secularism and pluralism are incompatible with Islam”). So, let me just note that as worrying as these views are, they are not the only ones coming out of Islamic convictions.
Here are my two cents. Regarding the first concept, secularism, Karaman seems to have made a typical mistake. He argued that secularism (which I would rather call “secularity”) presumes a space for which “God’s religion” has not given a verdict. However, he adds, Islam intervenes in and legislates “every aspect of life.”
As common as this argument is, it is also wrong. First, it conflates the idea of universal sovereignty of God with the idea of an all-legislating religion. However, the Quran itself informs us that God has left many questions un-answered (5: 101), presumably to be answered by human reason.
The Quran, for example, never tells us what kind of a state Muslims should have – a monarchy, republic, federation, city-state, empire, or perhaps no state at all. Neither does it give us traffic laws. All such matters are to be discussed and constructed by human reason, and experience, which are, at least according to some theologians, God-given faculties.
Karaman’s distaste for democracy is even more ungrounded. He wrote that democracy presumes that “man is independent from God,” which is news to me. One can at least check American democracy, to see that it is in fact based on the belief that, “All men are created equal, [and] they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” What democracy really presumes is not that men are independent from God, but that they are independent from theocrats who claim to rule in the name of God.
Then there is pluralism. Karaman disregarded it; too, saying that for Muslims there is only a single truth – God’s truth. Well, on a philosophical level, he has a point, because all religions claim a single truth. However, the real question is political pluralism. It is, other words, whether I have the right to impose my truth on you, or whether you have the right to impose your truth on me.
It is notable that Karaman was challenged on this issue by another prominent Islamic voice in Turkey: Ali Bulaç, Islamic scholar and columnist for daily Zaman. In his recent piece, Bulaç argued that “the idea that Muslims should dominate the people of other faiths come not from the authentic sources of Islam, but from [modern authoritarianism] and partly historical Islam.” He also warned that those who use Islam’s truth to politically dominate others are only “devising a political theology for the sake of capturing the resources of power.”
I certainly agree with Bulaç on this issue. I also think that the contemporary Turkish Islamic thought includes both a worrying trend toward authoritarianism and also assuring views that support democracy, pluralism and liberty. We will see which ones will prevail.