Speaking to the Washington Times’ Luke Montgomery , Columnist Mustafa Akyol said:
In Islamic history, we have a tradition of pluralism. At times, pluralism was attacked and those were bad times for Islamic civilization, so I think we need to have more pluralism. In order to have that, you need neutral states without an official doctrine. I’m not advocating a strong separation between religion and politics, but I’m an advocate of the secular state in the sense that it is neutral towards different religious communities. In other words, the problem is not political Islam but authoritarian Islam.
The author of Islam Without Extremes, and a friend of Pacifica Institute elaborated futher:
This authoritarianism can be expressed politically, in the sense that it can establish a regime based on Islam and impose it onto others. Or authoritarianism can come out at the community level through peer pressure, by forcing people to be more pious or by not allowing conversion from Islam to another religion.
Mr. Akyol said that he thinks that “Islam or any other religion will inevitably influence politics somehow, but this should not be through authoritarian mechanisms.” Referring to his book Islam Without Extremes, Mr. Akyol said, “My book is an attempt to challenge all of these authoritarian expressions of Islam and argue for a liberal expression.”
Mr. Akyol also recognized some of the challenges being faced by the Turkish nation. Speaking about the threat of Islamic nationalism, he said:
[I]n Turkey, we have a problem with Islamic nationalism, but the new Turkey that is emerging is not defined solely by that. If that were the only thing we had, we’d be in trouble. Turkey’s Islamic conservatives are partly influenced by this ideology, but there is also a more Yunus Emre [famous Turkish mystic] oriented, more Sufi oriented Islamic faith that is generally more tolerant and more open to different cultures.
Akyol talked about the importance of the three branches of thought in Islamic history: jurisprudence, (essentially sharia law), rationalist Kalam branch, (reasoning about God, society and nature) and Sufism (the personal experience of God through mysticism). Mr. Akyol said that all three are important ad the ideal state would employ all three of them in conjunction and in balance. He said that mistakes are made when states focus on just one of these branches, speaking of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia Mr Akyol commented:
The tragedy is that jurisprudence dominated mainstream Islamic thinking, especially in the Wahhabi tradition, and even renounced both theology and Sufism. What was left behind was just a dry set of laws that are blindly obeyed but their meaning has been lost.
Addressing the lack of diversity on some Muslim societies, Mr. Akyol said,
There is this attitude that I call Christophobia. Now, my argument is that this is an abomination to Islamic tradition. For classic Islam had a stronger emphasis on Christian rights — and those of Jews, for that matter. In my book I also remind people that the Ottoman Empire [eventually] made Jews and Christians equal citizens, going beyond classical notions of protected but unequal subjects.
In short he said that there is a tough road ahead for Islam and liberalism. Given that previously outlawed religious parties will be allowed to take part in elections in the post Arab Spring Middle East and will have to be responsible for governing, Mr. Akyol said that he expects “a decrease in militancy.” And speaking of the challanges ahead for the Arab Spring he said
The next big debate is not Islam and democracy but Islam and freedom. [...] For, a democratically legislated law can still be illiberal [...] If Islamic parties come to power in Egypt and Tunisia and try to use democracy to impose their religious values, such as enforcing piety or having religious police, then those democracies will not be very inspiring. They will be democracies of some sort but they will be illiberal democracies.