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Erdoğan's call to Islamic scholars

HDN | 10/10/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The truck bombing in Mogadishu last week that killed at least 60 people and was later claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militant group, has touched an angry nerve in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This was apparent in his remarks in South Africa where he was visiting when the bombing took place.

The truck bombing in Mogadishu last week that killed at least 60 people and was later claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militant group, has touched an angry nerve in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This was apparent in his remarks in South Africa where he was visiting when the bombing took place.

Many young people who died in the blast were students in the process of applying for scholarships to come to Turkey. Erdoğan visited Somalia recently and saw the vicious cycle of terrorism and famine in that country at first hand. Both facts clearly fuelled Erdoğan’s anger.

I had the opportunity to ask him last week, during a private meeting he held with columnists who accompanied on his South Africa visit, if Muslim leaders and Islamic scholars were doing enough to condemn such atrocities committed in the name of Islam by those claiming to be Muslim.

Erdoğan said he had suggested to the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Ankara that the organization bring together internationally respected Islamic scholars to discuss the matter. Pointing out that there is a great advantage to these scholars making periodic statements that indicate that terrorism is not Islamic, Erdoğan went on to add the following:

“Some quarters will be disturbed by these statements. But those who can not put their spirits forward bravely can not speak up for religion. Do Islamic scholars condone such acts, or not? They must come out and say this openly. Is there terrorism in Islam or not? If not then you have to declare this openly everywhere in the world.”

Erdoğan has said many times that terrorism has no religion. That is why his remarks may not come as a surprise to some. But his call to the Directorate for Religious Affairs to get involved in this matter clearly suggests that as far as he is concerned, the time has come to go beyond empty rhetoric on this topic.

Erdoğan’s call to Islamic scholars also reflects a belief that not enough is being done to set the record straight on terrorism committed in the name of Islam. It is, however, becoming increasingly important to inculcate healthy knowledge to the masses in the Islamic world in order to clear the bad name Islam has gotten, because of acts of terrorism that kill Muslims and non-Muslims indiscriminately.

It’s clear that it is not the job of the U.S. or Europe to set the record straight here. It is the responsibility of Islamic leaders, scholars and opinion-framers to show that such inhuman acts are not compatible with Islam.

Erdoğan’s remarks also come shortly after he came out in support of a secular constitution for Egypt during a recent visit to Cairo. Clearly, as Erdoğan said, there are those who will be deeply disturbed by such remarks. As it turned out, it did not take long for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to castigate him for his support of secularism.

But if the Arab Spring is to amount to anything positive in the end, topics such as democracy, secularism, and human rights (especially the right to life), have to be thoroughly debated in the region. It is therefore very important for Prime Minister Erdoğan to continue to catalyze this debate, regardless of whether some in Turkey and the Islamic world in general like it or not.

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