More than 2000 academics from 65 different countries attended the conference and there were 525 panels on law and society issues. Until now, we have been trying to convince the Kemalists that pluralism is a fact, even in an area as strict as law, and that uniformity is a myth. Thus, the state’s social engineering attempts to culturally transform society from the top will always create problems. My paper focuses on this pluralistic socio-legal reality, based on concrete evidence, state statistics and case law. It seems that from now on we will need to utilize these factors in dialogue with our “reborn Islamists.” I am not sure if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is really reverting back to Islamism, or if it has been resorting to religiously-based debates as a political maneuver, but some responses that I have received to my question of whether the AKP is reverting to Islamism show that there are many AKP supporters who would like to see Islamist policies implemented.
As I wrote here last week, Islamism is a modern political ideology. It is not equal to Islam, it is only one of the interpretations. I am a practicing Muslim and would like to have freedom to practice my religion in the public arena, as long as I do not harm anyone. Yet I am not an Islamist. I do not think that Islam is an ideology. I do not think that Quran and Sunnah offer a detailed blueprint for a political system. For me, Islam is overwhelmingly about spirituality, self-discipline, worshipping, ethics, morality, justice and public order. Islam only offers general guidelines with regard to public issues. Thus, any political project devised by Muslims is only one of the possible interpretations of these general guidelines. As Muslims have a right not to accept all ijtihads, similarly they do not have to agree with Islamist interpretations. Rejecting these does not make anyone a bad Muslim or an Orientalist.
In the Turkish context, my view of any Islamist project is this: The state needs to be a neutral observer and be equidistant to the religions of all its citizens. This does not mean that it should not help religious people, meet their demands and solve their problems. But note that I said “religious people,” not practicing Muslims. If when it comes to the constitution we say that every citizen is equal regardless of their faith, color, etc., we cannot allow the state to only support Islam, or its single interpretation. If the state spends people’s money on the construction of a mosque, it needs to declare that it is ready to build religious buildings for others, if there is a demand.
Maybe several centuries ago this was not possible and state support was seen as essential, but Islamic jurisprudence on these issues is flexible as it is based on ijtihad, and new ijtihads could be implemented in tune with the spirit of the times. Fethullah Gülen is a phenomenal example of these new ijtihads as he has repeatedly declared that Islam does not need state support to survive, and that civil society in a democratic nation is enough to ensure its survival. This does not make Gülen a worse Muslim, as opposed to what many Islamists have been implying. On the contrary, I find this approach more Islamic. Without the state’s unjust support for Muslims alone, Muslim individuals would need to take the issue into their own hands and would need to intellectually and mentally struggle, to make an effort, to make sacrifices to serve Islam, without passively waiting for the state to take care of it. If life is a test, this is part of the test.
A Jacobinist, state-centric approach cannot be said to be the only Islamic interpretation. If we look at the history of Islamic schools it is crystal clear that they did not expect the state to do their job. Quite the contrary, they stayed away from religion. Unfortunately, in this age there are people who do not want to sacrifice their time and money for the Islamic cause, but rather expect the state to spend taxpayers’ money. Is this just or Islamic? I am not sure. Especially in a pluralistic society like Turkey, where almost half of the population is not practicing Muslim, it is better to leave religious spending to the communities, which is much more in tune with Islam’s spirit.
Last but not least, when we talk about the state there is always a possibility of enforcement, using coercion, or at least making people nervous. If the state becomes the champion of Islam, this will make many non-Muslims nervous, and also non-practicing Muslims and so on. Is it not better to have the state focus on justice, equality, human rights, raising ethical standards and so on, so religions and ideas can flourish and compete freely without foul play?
We have opposed Kemalists who argued that Turkish society is monolithic and homogeneous and told them that society is pluralistic in many respects. If Turkish society is pluralistic, then it is better to have a neutral state.