Akyol, the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, said he argues for an interpretation of Islam that values freedom.
“This includes freedom of religion for other faiths, and freedom from authoritarian governments,” he said. “I show that such a liberal approach always existed in the Islamic tradition, although the image of Islam has lately been shaped by the oppressive and even violent strains.”
Born and educated in Turkey, Akyol said he believes that the Turkish experience of Islam can be instructive for Muslims who attempt to balance liberty with reverence for their faith.
“The main issue there is how to reconcile the Muslims’ deep respect for their religion and the West’s deep commitment to freedom of speech,” he said. “I argue that we Muslims can express loyalty to our faith peacefully in a free society where some people may unfortunately mock our faith. The Quran does not say, ‘Go and attack people if they make fun of Islam.’”
The differences between Shariah and Western law seem irreconcilable on the issue of blasphemy, but Akyol said he thinks Muslims can reconsider their insistence that violence be used for punishment of it.
“There are blasphemy laws in some Western states, as well, such as the UK,” he said, “but they are not implemented. This reminds us that blasphemy has been an issue in the Christian tradition as well. But modern-day Christians have agreed that using violence to punish blasphemy or heresy — as the Inquisition did pretty rigorously for centuries — is a wrong idea.”
The recent portrayal of Islam’s founding prophet, Muhammad, in the Internet-only film Innocence of Muslims set off a wave of violence in many areas of the world.
“I am certainly not going to argue that all Muslims in the world are tolerant, peaceful, liberal people,” he said. “Some of them clearly are not. But I will try to show that their illiberalism or militancy comes often not from religion, but political problems and cultural attitudes.”
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