Mustafa Akyol’s “ISLAM without Extremes” is a must read for every muslim and non-muslim. A relevant and important book for our times that takes you through the historical and political terrain on which many interpretations have been made. I hope this book will be followed by more strong voices from the liberal camp that will emerge and bring forth the needed harmony in thought and beliefs.
The book comes out as a powerful cry from a devote muslim who sees his religion being interpreted wrongly from inside and accused blindly from the outside. Taking the reader through the history of Islam and the political settings from the pre Quranic era to the present he opens up the issues one by one explaining how misinterpretations has travelled through time.
He believes strongly that many of the elements of islamic law being practiced in many islamic countries and during the Talibanic regime in Afghanistan are not in real part of Quran, but been interpreted as part of various historic events and for political motivation over centuries. Starting the times after Prophet Mohammed’s death several political regimes that came to power across the world have done a lot to politicize religion for their own benefit and continue to do so.
By politicized interpretation he means that how a transformation happened from showing the path of righteousness to forcibly making people walk in the path of righteousness. The core theme that given a choice for people with the help to walk on the path on righteousness, people can make the choice deemed fit for them. No man has a right to force a belief on another man or punish someones choice to any belief ir disbelief. This includes his accusation of the ultra secular and totalitarian regimes that did not and does not allow an individual’s freedom to practice ones own religion. He is not just calling out the extremism but also the extreme secularism that curtails the freedom of choice in practicing any faith.
Being a Turkish Journalist there is more reference to the Turkish backdrop, but the book is relevant for people in every country. It gives a clear overview of both the Rationalist and the Traditionalist Camps within ISLAM and takes us through the rise and fall of the camps at various occasions in history. He puts his thought on the importance of Quran as the guiding path for a pious muslim and the clear mention that every Muslim should use his own reason and logic to decipher and understand what is right.
The book takes us through the many interpretations of some of the Hadith (Sayings or actions by the prophet) that have been upheld by many regimes to use bans and brutal force to bring people in line with the belief which
in reality plays against the core fundamentals of individual freedom of choice and liberty. Also the fact that the relevance of something said or done in the 8th century is in the back drop of the environment that existed in those times and like any religion adaptability is a key.
He looks closely at some of the punishments instilled using sharia laws that look quite barbaric to the outside world like the Fatwas given for Blasphemy and Apostasy. With a commendable honesty he explains how the Quran upholds the freedom of the individual to live in a multifarious world in harmony with other faiths and belief systems. In the last three chapters ‘Freedom from state’, ‘Freedom to Sin’ and ‘Freedom from Islam’ he battles with reason and utmost sincere faith the politically motivated interpretations made against the basic individual right to freedom of choice and Liberty.