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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Literalist Islam fuels Isis, skewed Shariah laws, says Turkish author

Terms like "Islamic state" or "religious police", or even the death penalty for apostasy, are the result of a literal understanding of the Quran while ignoring specific contexts, a Turkish author said.

Muslim writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol said that he never read of a term like Islamic state or religious police in the Quran, adding that many situations taking place in the Muslim world today, such as the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) in the Middle East, do not originate from the holy book.

"There is the word caliphate in the Quran but it is not a political institution.

"It refers to us all as caliphs, in that we are representatives who carry God's spirit.

"I also never heard of the term religion police in the Quran," he said at a forum titled "Can Islamists be Liberals?" in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Akyol, whose book "Islam without Extremes: A Muslim case for Liberty" was launched at the forum, also related an incident 10 years ago, when he got into a cab in Boston and greeted the driver who had a Muslim name with the Islamic greeting "Assalamualaikum".

He said that the driver seemed unhappy with the greeting, and Akyol later got to know he was no longer a Muslim.

He then eventually found out that the cab driver was Iranian and that his father was jailed and then killed in Iran.

"I realised then based on what he said about who was responsible for his father's death, he was angry at a political system which is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"So when you have a state in the name of Islam, acting in the name of Islam, and the state does the wrong things and oppresses people, the anger against the regime turns into anger against the religion.

"And right now, there is a much worse example in the case of Isis which is doing the most horrific and barbaric things and calling themselves an Islamic state," he said.

Saudi ulama and women

Akyol said that another problem for Muslims today was the "literalist" understanding of the Shariah, and used the example of the ban on women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia.

He said he tried discussing the matter with Saudi scholars to find out the reason for the ban and was told that women needed to be protected, and that "Prophet Muhammad said so".

"So I asked, what exactly did Prophet Muhammad say about driving cars?

"And they quoted a Hadith which literally reads: 'Do not send women alone into the desert'."

A subsequent discussion he had with a Turkish professor on the meaning of this hadith revealed that Prophet Muhammad had probably made such a statement because of bandits in the desert between Mecca and Medina. In that context, it would have been dangerous for a few women to be by themselves in the desert.

"So the professor said, if we want to take a lesson from that hadith, it should be that we need safe cities, that's a universal value.

"So this is one issue with literalism and today one of the problems we have with imposing a Shariah system is that the understanding is in very literalist terms, sometimes goes against the original intention," he said.

Apostasy is not treason

Another also gave the example of the law against apostasy, where a Muslim could be given the death penalty for the offence.

Today one of the problems we have with imposing a Shariah system is that the understanding is in very literalist terms, sometimes goes against the original intention. – Mustafa Akyol

But he said a deeper look into the issue would show that all the scholars who lived in the eighth and ninth century – a period of war between Muslims and other powers – believed that apostasy meant "a group of Muslims leaving the Muslim army and joining the enemy".

"This is high treason, as we would call it today, no regime would tolerate its soldiers joining the enemy.

"So when we try to understand the intention of the apostasy ban, it should make sense that in today's time, changing your religion is a matter of conscience, it does not mean high treason to the army.

"We should be okay with it; of course we wouldn't want to see fellow Muslims leaving the religion, we can talk to them, we can try to persuade them. - Msia Insider

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