Thoughts about Islam in an unhappy Eid
Today, it is the second day of the Eid, or “Ramazan Bayramı” as it is called in Turkish. After 30 days of fasting, Muslims all over the world are now celebrating this three-day-long religious feast. People visit families, kids wear new clothes and get pocket money, and most people don’t work — except some unlucky ones, including the hard-working journalists who brought you this very edition of the Hürriyet Daily News that you are reading.
Eid is a time for joy and happiness. This time, however, many Muslims - probably not just me - around the world see little reason for either joy or happiness. For we are really living in horrible times of Islam. In just the last week of the holy Ramadan, terrorist attacks killed hundreds in Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, and even the holy city of Medina. Worse, the ruthless killers claim to have been acting in the name of Islam. As members of the death cult that calls itself “ISIS,” they were destroying God’s creation by uttering His holy name.
We, the reasonable Muslims, have to face this monstrosity. We have to see how it could have come out of our religion. The oft-repeated mantra, “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam,” may be right as a normative statement, but it is not right as a factual statement. This, apparently, is a fanatic strain that has emerged in our civilization in a time of crisis. From the first-century Khawarij, who set out to kill all other Muslims, to ISIS today, there is a line that combines religiosity with savagery and we have to face up to what it is.
We also have to face the backdrop of this savagery in our “mainstream” traditions. What ISIS does, really, is to kill “apostates,” and that is an injunction that you can find in the classical jurisprudence books of both Sunni and Shiite Islam. For sure, ISIS defines “apostasy” stunningly fanatically — if you oppose ISIS you are an apostate. But the mere idea of apostasy (or blasphemy) as a capital crime is “mainstream” — albeit not Quranic.
So I think ISIS is a wakeup call for all Muslims, especially Islamists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia? You want Islam to “conquer” and “dominate”? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam,” you easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam” that the other guys believe in.
The wakeup call is for rethinking the meaning of religion in a modern, open, pluralistic world. Islam certainly has the values and precedents within itself to accept such a world and even to contribute to it with its values. But first of all Muslims have to get their act right.
This is much easier said and done. One key problem is that most Muslims don’t even see the problem as it is. Instead, they focus on imagined conspiracies behind it. Many religious conservatives in Turkey, especially Erdoğanists, really believe that ISIS is nothing but a Western conspiracy to defame Islam and make Muslims kill each other. As a result they have no real idea what ISIS is or what it believes in.
Finally, to those who may see all this drama as exclusive to Islam, an “exceptional” religion, let me humbly remind us of the nasty episodes in Christian history, such as the Crusades or the Inquisition. Of course, Christianity has by and large moved beyond that darkness, while some elements of Islam are still mired in it. So the problem is not that Islam is exceptionally bad, but that we are living in an exceptionally bad epoch of it.