“A delightfully original take on…the prospects for liberal democracy in the broader Islamic Middle East.”—Matthew Kaminski, Wall Street Journal
As the Arab Spring threatens to give way to authoritarianism in Egypt and reports from Afghanistan detail widespread violence against U.S. troops and women, news from the Muslim world raises the question: Is Islam incompatible with freedom? In Islam without Extremes, Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol answers this question by revealing the little-understood roots of political Islam, which originally included both rationalist, flexible strains and more dogmatic, rigid ones. Though the rigid traditionalists won out, Akyol points to a flourishing of liberalism in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and the unique “Islamo-liberal synthesis” in present-day Turkey. As he powerfully asserts, only by accepting a secular state can Islamic societies thrive. Islam without Extremes offers a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and liberty.
Turkish journalist Akyol clarifies the complexities and contradictions of Islam in this indispensable book. He demonstrates how the harsh tribal cultures of the Arabian desert in the 7th century shaped Islam for centuries since their traditions evolved into unquestioned rules that were often at odds with the Qur'an. The Qur'an stresses family, rights for women, protection of the weak, the use of reason, and the freedom to choose teachings similar to Jewish and Christian writings of the time. After Muhammad's death, opposing forces (adhering to tradition or the employment of reason as guides for life) clashed bitterly for centuries, their tribal harshness creating a political Islam. Yet Akyol argues that the Qur'an doesn't even include a definition of government. The resulting Islamic political systems are the products of men attempting to recreate the caliphate of 7th century Arabia, a goal that Akyol argues is impractical. This even-handed scholarly work, which also helps explain the rise of the Taliban and other extremists, makes Islam accessible to Western readers.
A timely volume!
I am not yet finishing reading the book, but from the introduction to its chapters, I found it very ineteresting as it is the first book ever writtten in a popular manner by a Muslim scholar living in a Muslim country to make a strong case for the reconcilability of Islam and liberty. I am not exaggerating that this is a modern "treatise" of no less quality and calibre than Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration.