✪ Islam Without Extremes was longlisted for the 2012 Lionel Gelber Prize
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“From furious reactions to the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to the suppression of women, news from the Muslim world begs the question: is Islam incompatible with freedom? With an eye sympathetic to Western liberalism and Islamic theology, Mustafa Akyol traces the ideological and historical roots of political Islam. The years following Muhammad’s passing in 632 AD saw an intellectual “war of ideas” rage between rationalist, flexible schools of Islam and the more dogmatic, rigid ones. The traditionalist school won out, fostering perceptions of Islam as antithetical to modernity.
However, through his careful reexamination of the currents of Muslim thought, Akyol discovers a flourishing of liberalism in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and the unique “Islamo-liberal synthesis” of present-day Turkey. Only by accepting a secular state, he powerfully asserts, can Islamic societies thrive. Persuasive and inspiring, Islam Without Extremes offers a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and religious, political, economic, and social freedoms.” — Publisher (W.W. Norton)
“At a time when Muslims’ own understanding and interpretations of Islamic faith and practice have never mattered more, Mustafa Akyol presents a powerful and cogent case on the sources of liberalism and democracy that exist within the faith. In this highly readable and valuable book Akyol cites major events, movements and ideas in Islam little known to non-Muslims–and even to many Muslims–who just assume that the authoritarian and inflexible interpretations of Islam are the ‘real Islam.’ Akyol passionately argues why this isn’t so and raises great hopes for the future evolution of liberal and democratic thought and practice within Muslim society.” — Graham Fuller, author of A World Without Islam
“In a touching and deftly woven personal narrative, Mustafa Akyol illuminates one of the central challenges of East-West relations today: Islam’s adaptation to modernity. He traces a direct line from the enlightened Islamic scholars of the Middle Ages to their counterparts in the contemporary world, underscoring the differences between progressive Islamism and the more controversial strains of political Islam. Throughout this fine book, he incorporates lessons from Turkey–both Ottoman and Kemalist–for other Muslim societies and even the West.” — Parag Khanna, author of The Second World
Mustafa Akyol traces the often forgotten history of liberalism in Islam and provides an intellectual path for liberalization to flourish today. His case is compelling, coming as it does from someone who is both a faithful Muslim and a committed liberal. This book is a must read for Americans and others of all religious commitments.” — Kris Alan Mauren, Executive Director, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
“Early on a cold January morning in 1981, Mustafa Akyol, then eight-years-old, accompanied his mother to the suburbs of Ankara, Turkey. Together they were visiting Akyol’s father, an outspoken journalist held prisoner in the country’s military barracks. The Turkish military had seized power, and those, like Akyol’s father, who respected Islam were jailed. It was a period of crushing authoritarianism in the name of a secular state.
This experience stayed with Akyol as he finished his studies and became a well-respected journalist and political commentator in Turkey. He continued to wonder: Could the authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries derive not from Islam but from the deep-seated political cultures and social structures endemic to that part of the world? How else to explain the presence of authoritarianism in a secular state, like Turkey, as well as in “Islamic” states such as Iran or Saudi Arabia?
To answer these questions, Akyol, a devout Muslim, turned to both the Qur’an and a diverse array of historical and contemporary scholarship to trace the roots of liberty and tyranny in the world of Islam. In accessible and searching prose, Akyol begins at the very genesis of the religion. According to Akyol’s interpretation, the death of Prophet Muhammed in the seventh century ushered in a “medieval war of ideas”. Some Islamic schools of thought defended reason, freewill, and pluralism. Others promoted a more rigid and dogmatic interpretation of the faith. As the latter camp triumphed, because of the powerful classes of the Orient, a less rational and more static mindset began to shape the region. The more trade declined, Akyol argues, the more the Muslim mind stagnated.
After the 18th century, the ruling elites of the Ottoman Empire, eager to modernize, imported liberal ideas along with institutions from the West, gradually leading to a dawn of “Islamic liberalism.” But Akyol’s historical survey demonstrates that even these valuable efforts to effect change continued as a top-down process in which the majority of the society remained uninvolved. The way to liberal reform was also tragically blocked by the stasis inherent in the socialist and statist models toward which the Muslim world was mistakenly driven in the 20th century.
Yet Akyol finds an important exception in contemporary Turkey. There, a nascent Muslim middle class is reinterpreting religion with a more modern mindset. Slowly, the Turkish people are embracing liberal thought and speaking out for all freedoms. The stage is set for “an experiment unprecedented in the history of Islamdom.”
Islam Without Extremes makes the complex story of liberty in the Muslim world accessible and intriguing, while also putting forth provocative, religious arguments for a secular state, “freedom to sin,” and freedom from Islam. With passion and clarity, Akyol synthesizes liberal ideas and Muslim faith as he powerfully points the way towards an Islam that can make peace with open society. Islam need not “secularize” itself, but rather, can coexist with religious, political, economic, and social freedoms.
Persuasive and inspiring, Islam Without Extremes is a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and liberty.”