I shall call him E. He is a devout Muslim with a refined mind and we have been discussing religion via e-mail over the past few years. He often disagrees with me and ended his most recent letter with the line “not with the best of regards,” to which I replied and ended mine “with best regards.”
E. was angry with my column “How best to fight Islamophobia (II)” published last Wednesday, mentioning the misfortunes that Turkish piano virtuoso Fazıl Say had to face.
“The pianist, possibly one of the 10 most widely known Turks in the world,” I wrote in that column, “used Twitter to question whether Islamic heaven is a brothel or a pub, citing Koranic verses that describe rivers of drinks and beautiful women for those admitted to paradise. Say was joking, but the ruling elite were not laughing. Tweeting against Say’s Tweets, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party, Şamil Tayyar, asked Say: ‘Were you born in a brothel?’”
Coincidentally, after my article appeared prosecutors summoned Say — who served as European Union
culture ambassador in 2008 — to question him about his Tweets. Say is accused of inciting public enmity and insulting religious values.
And E. wrote that: “Of course, I can pray for Mr [G]uidance but as a Taliban-like fanatic as you would no doubt like to describe me (which, dear readers, is not what I think of him — BB). There is another artist, Bedri Baykam, who also takes pleasure in his criticism of Islam (and) Muslim values. Perhaps they both should be exported to the so-called civilized world as a stopover to the punishment awaiting them in the next world.” And this time E. ended his letter with a kind “best regards” for which I am grateful.
In a parallel letter, E. wrote to me: “It also appears that the liberal Islam of (columnist) Mustafa Akyol and his attempts to counter your narrow minded interpretation of events ha[ve] not impressed you and the illiberal replies to his posts show that you are not alone.” Which brings me to Akyol, with whom I often disagree, but E. is wrong, there have been several times when Akyol’s column has impressed me. Such as his piece “The freedom to sin,” published last weekend. I expect Akyol’s thinking should impress E. like it did me.
“As time went by... the scope of ‘commanding the right’ and ‘forbidding the evil’ (in Islam) expanded more and more. This was the interpretation of medieval Islamic scholars, who thought in a political culture where individual freedom was less valued than communal harmony,” Akyol wrote. And he went on to say: “But times are changing, and new interpretations are coming. One example is a 2008 statement by Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu, a theologian and former head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. ‘We only communicate the known rules of Islam,’ he said. ‘It is free to observe or not to observe them, no one has the right to interfere.’”
And Akyol wisely concluded: “In my view Bardakoğlu was totally right. And his approach to religiosity is what Muslims need in the 21st century — especially if they want to nurture genuine piety rather than hypocrisy.”
Trusting his honesty after several exchanges in the last years, I hope that E. will carefully note Akyol’s words as I know mine sound too hostile to him. I am not sure where in Akyol’s Islam could we fit E.’s wish that Say “should have his fingers lose their virtuoso dexterity as it allows him to have a platform to vilify Islam.”
For a good start begin with Akyol’s “nurturing genuine piety rather than hypocrisy” proposal. Devout Muslims should perhaps rethink why even little jokes on religion should be persecuted for “vilifying Islam.” They might also rethink why less-kind jokes do not mean vilifying other faiths, especially atheism. I do not recall if a single person has ever been prosecuted or persecuted in this country for vilifying the lack of faith.
Best regards, E.