Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Islam Without Extremes
Islam Without Extremes: a Muslim Case for Liberty, by Mustafa Akyol
Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish writer who has seen a lot of political turbulence in his lifetime. Surveying the history and current climate in many majority-Muslim countries, Akyol asks whether authoritarian government is an intrinsic part of Islam, or whether there are possibilities for faithful Muslims to support free societies as well. This question is answered with a resounding 'yes' as he leads the reader through centuries of Islamic debate about how to build a righteous society and what that would look like.
Most of the book is a history of Islam with a focus on the competing philosophical ideas within it. Akyol asserts that ideas about liberty and personal choice have been present in Islam from the beginning, and that the Qu'ran supports them. He traces the history of liberal thought--and why it has not always prevailed--within Islam right up to the present day. In his final chapters, he addresses contemporary situations and freedoms, and uses the case of Turkey as an example of a country that is working towards a successful free society--one in which Islam is respected and supported, but neither suppressed (as in the past in Turkey) or imposed by government.
In Akyol's view, freedom of religion, of speech, and of the market are an integral part of a true Islamic philosophy. He supports this with plenty of quotations from the Qu'ran and from Islamic thinkers from every time period. I think it about sums the argument up when Akyol quotes one professor of Islamic law:
"...Heyrettin Karaman...has defended the views that Christians and Jews can be 'saved' in the afterliffe; that apostasy from Islam should not be punishable; that Islam rejects 'an all-powerful state'...; and that the 'un-Islamic beliefs and practices' of non-Muslims should be free even in an Islamic state. He has also...argued that the right Islamic political vision is 'not a world in which everybody is a Muslim, but a world in which Muslims protect all peoples and freedoms.'"
I found this to be a fascinating book. I don't know much about the history of Islamic thought, so it was mostly all new to me. Mustafa Akyol takes a lot of very complicated stuff and makes it clear and interesting. He has a blog, so I think I'll be subscribing to it. (In fact, he apparently had a book signing in San Francisco this morning. I couldn't have gone anyway, but it's a bit irking to find out right afterwards!)
In other news, I have been reading, but I haven't been finishing. I've been halfway through several books for days! I decided to take a break from my TBR pile and read through the many library books that have accumulated on my shelf. I've been taking a break from Boccaccio too--an endless list of stories about creative ways to commit adultery gets pretty old. Still bashing my way through Herodotus, though! Lots about the Scythians.