Islam’s real enemy: the Muslim-meter
One cannot help but admire the often ignored quote by prominent Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which one of his intellectual followers recently reminded me of during a private conversation: “Just like there are endless ways human beings breathe, there are endless ways human beings practice their belief; and all of them must be respected.” I recalled, with sorrow, that line when I recently read a brief review of a book written by a former top Muslim cleric (and one of the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP).
Tayyar Altikulaç, former head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), former MP and former member of the AKP’s politburo, has published his memoirs “While Overcoming Hardships” in which he details his religious and political careers since 1971. Mr. Altikulaç recalls that the late Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, believed “Muslims who did not support his party were not good Muslims, or perhaps not Muslims at all.” Mr. Altikulaç also recalls that Diyanet was upset about Süleymancilar, a Muslim community, because of the way they practiced Islam. “Likewise, they thought our Muslimness was incomplete and faulty,” he wrote.
In one of my previous articles I invented the term “Muslim-meter” in reference to pious Muslims’ powerful belief that only “they” have the monopoly to judge if another Muslim is Muslim or Muslim enough. A declaration beginning with “What kind of a Muslim are you?” is part of the devout Muslim culture, often ending with condemnation of a display behavior some Muslims think would be against the holy scriptures while others may think it would not. It’s bizarre that every observant individual bestows himself with a God-given authority to judge/gauge. Every individual is equipped with a self-gifted Muslim-meter!
It’s even more bizarre that even Turkey’s pious – for instance Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his always pious comrades – are too pious for secular Turks and too secular for, say, Arab, Iranian, Pakistani or Afghan Muslims. Secular Turks may think Mr. Erdoğan is too pious because he is obsessed with the headscarf, but then the Arab or Afghan Muslim might think he is not Muslim enough because he shakes hands with women and says states should be secular.
Islamists have often wrongly portrayed Turkey’s ideological fault lines as a struggle between Muslims and others, indirectly declaring millions of secular Muslim Turks as non-Muslims. (In fact, they often humiliatingly call secular Muslims as “ID Muslims.”) This thinking was perhaps most vividly expressed when then Parliament Speaker Bulent Arınç spoke in 2007 of “electing, for the first time, a Muslim president.” Using his own Muslim-meter, Mr. Arınç had quickly found out that all of the 10 former presidents were non-Muslims.
Ironically, this self-gifted authority to judge someone’s Muslimness works both ways. I had to smile during a recent conversation with an Egyptian friend who quickly dismissed Mr. Erdoğan et al as being “freshwater Muslims.” “They don’t even sport a ‘zebibah’ on their foreheads,” my friend said with a tone similar to Mr. Arınç’s when the latter had declared 10 presidents as non-Muslim. (The zebibah, Arabic for raisin, is a dark circle or in some cases a protruding bump between the hairline and the eyebrows. It emerges on the spot where worshippers press their foreheads into the ground during their daily prayers. It is a symbol of observance.)
Apparently, this is an endless desire to accuse “the other” of being “the other” simply because “the other” practices the same religion in “other” ways.
In that regard, it is imperative that Muslims should lend an ear to Professor Mehmet Görmez, head of the institution Mr. Altikulaç once chaired. Speaking to a Saudi publication in late September, Professor Görmez said: “Moving on from his own world of belief, if a Muslim accuses another of deviance or for being an infidel, or judges his faith, this would amount to ideological terror.” Worse, such behavior would amount to the unforgivable sin of associating mortals with God, according to the Quran.
There won’t be peace in the Muslim world before an overwhelming majority of Muslims throw away their Muslim-meters. I know they won’t listen to infidels like this columnist. It’s puzzling, though, why they tend to ignore the respected ulema like Mr. Gülen or Professor Görmez.