Limits to self-criticism in the Muslim world

Limits to self-criticism in the Muslim world

Murat Yetkin, our editor-in-chief, mentioned in his Sept. 24 column “a self-criticism of the Islamic world by a top Turkish official in Mecca.” Indeed, it was important that Turkey’s top Muslim cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), said that “[Muslims] failed to do our works with justice, mercy and love. We called violence as jihad, oppression as victory.” He also condemned “movements like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] as ‘terrorism.’” 

No doubt, Professor Görmez deserves praise for all the self-criticism. All the same, one other evil habit in the Islamic world that he probably deliberately avoided condemning was the typical reluctance of the “ulema class” to condemn un-Islamic acts committed by the ruling Islamist class. 

It could be a bad coincidence that the top Turkish cleric’s condemnation of al-Qaeda and ISIL as terrorists came only after the Turkish government joined an allied campaign against both, not before. Really, why did Professor Görmez not condemn ISIL over the entire previous year, when its videos of utmost brutality were known to every soul in the world? 

“We [Muslims] have called oppression as victory.” Very true. And what does Professor Görmez think about the culture minister’s “passionate” call to open a sixth century Orthodox church, Hagia Sophia, to Muslim prayers? Victory? Or the childish feeling of conquest? Justice, mercy and love? 

A professor of theology, Professor Görmez should know better than this columnist that the Islamic holy scripture commands “modesty” in more than 60 verses. Does he think that spending several hundreds of millions of dollars in a presidential palace and private jets should comply with the Islamic commandments on modesty? If he does not agree, would he say that publicly? Why has he not been self-critical of the Islamist man who spent that money?

Professor Görmez recently said he would return his fancy Mercedes car, adding that he hoped his decision to return the car would “be a precedent to everyone.” But after this President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would give him “a better, armored Mercedes car.” What happened to his Mercedes? Did he return it? Has he agreed to accept the Mercedes that the president promised to give him? 

“We [Muslims] called victory as jihad.” Very true. But what does Professor Görmez think arming jihadists should amount to? Did he think that the Sunni jihadists’ war on Syria’s Shia regime was legitimate? Was it violence? Or just innocent jihad?  At least, Professor Görmez should have shared his views on the Muslim Brothers’ systematic attacks on Egypt’s Coptic community. Was that violence or jihad? Why was he totally silent when Egyptian Islamists attacked more than 50 churches overnight in 2013?

It is no doubt praiseworthy that Turkey’s top cleric resorted to something that is extremely rare in Muslim lands: Self-criticism. But it is not good enough when self-criticism comes in carefully-worded speeches designed to self-criticize but not to annoy the ruling class of Islamists – in other words, his employers. Could the ulema be frightened of speaking the Islamic truth in the face of the ruling class?

Too many questions. To be realistic, there is no prospect of a single answer. 

Professor Görmez’s nice words in Mecca were indeed self-criticism in the Islamic world. But they were merely “selective” self-criticism in the Islamic world. Religious leaders of Islam should more bravely encourage free thinking and advocate justice instead of paying servitude to the men of power – at least for the sake of advocating Islamic commandments on justice.

This columnist is not optimistic, though. Titles and the fortunes associated with titles are almost always more important than holy verses in this part of the world.