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Interview

Born in 1955 in the north-eastern Turkish province of Rize, the son of a village religious teacher, Ismail Kara is professor of Turkish intellectual history at the Marmara University Theology Faculty in Istanbul. An editor at Dergah Yayinlari, one of Turkey's most respected publishing houses, Kara is the author of 14 books, including Islamist Thought in Turkey, On Philosophical Language and, more recently, The Issue of Islam in Republican Turkey. Professor Kara spoke with The Majalla in his office at Marmara University, located on the Asia side of Istanbul.
In this interview with The Majalla, Ismail Kara, professor of Turkish intellectual history, speaks about Islam’s relationship with modernity and the state. Professor Kara discusses, among other things, political Islamism and its origins, and the increasing visibility of Islam in Turkey. -- Nicholas Birch
Photo: Ismail Kara

I chanced upon a report about a Muslim woman named Najma Bhangi, a high school teacher in Bijapur. The maulvis of her town had forbidden Muslim women from watching movies by visiting theatre, but this intrepid woman refused to be cowed down and went off to see a film. The enraged maulvis and other men of the town raised a ruckus against her defiance. This story was widely reported on in the media.

Question to Maulvis:

Although I was just recovering from my delivery, I got down to writing an article to express my anger at the way this hapless woman was being treated and sent it to Lankesh Patrika. In the article I asked the maulvis if Muslim women were banned from watching movies, what source of entertainment they considered permissible for them. Did they deserve any entertainment at all or not? Did Islam allow for it or not? If watching films was, as they claimed, bad for Muslim women, was it not equally bad for Muslim men? Why forbid only Muslim women from watching movies and exempt Muslim men? If movies promoted immorality, surely this applied as much to men as it did to women? -- a well-known Kannada writer and a leading social activist from Karnakata Banu Mushtaq tells Yoginder Sikand, in an exclusive interview for New Age Islam.

The Gospel of John is different from the other three gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all have something in common: they are merely eyewitnesses. But John acts here as a writer drafting a drama like those we know from the ancient Greeks. He developed his storyline with the rigour of classical tragedy. He commences with the words: In the beginning was the word. Jesus plays the role here of a modern person who is open and familiar with the ways of the world. He acts without ideological reservations and is rebellious. His words were: I have not come to rule, but to redeem. -- Abed Azrié

 

Based in Pudukkottai, a small town in Tamil Nadu, Daud Sharifa Khanum heads the Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat, a network of some 25,000 Tamil Muslim women that is engaged in struggling for Muslim women’s rights and empowerment. She has been widely acknowledged for her pioneering work, for which has received national-level numerous awards. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, she speaks about work and about the manifold problems of Indian Muslim women.

The novel The Proof of the Honey by Syrian author Salwa al-Neimi is celebrated by some as a milestone of modern Arabic literature and condemned by others as scandalous prose. In an interview with Rim Najmi, the author explains that despite the lightness of its literary style, her novel poses fundamental intellectual and political questions. "In itself, writing about supposed taboo themes like sex or religion hardly suffices to qualify as literature, but, at most, merely makes for a topic of conversation," says Salwa al-Neimi

The ulema have a say as far as matters of religion are concerned, but otherwise they are not very influential. As far as north India is concerned, Muslim organizations have done little by way of social work after the Partition, so they have no influence on or utility for most Muslims. What these organisations or tanzeems do is that they capitalize on their liaison with ulema and bargain with political parties. These tanzeems and jamaats you refer to have never been able to deliver anything to Muslims. They survive simply because the Congress or some other ruling party occasionally talks to them for political posturing. During the period of BJP rule, many of these sought to curry favour with it. No one really listens to these jamaats and tanzeems seriously. For many of these, their politics is simply business. -- Salman Khurshid

The Koran says that all men are created by God. When we are talking about sexual orientation, we’re talking about something that is given, like being left-handed, like skin color. We have no choice in it. I think that as long as [homosexual people] do not engage in actions that are considered sinful by the religion, as long as they do not deceive, commit adultery, indulge in pedophilia, commit incest, what’s wrong [with their sexual orientation]? But then people ask, so then they can marry? When we’re talking about Koranic verses, the degree of liberalness is astounding. [The Koran says] marry thy spouse. [The word spouse, which is] zau z in the Koran, can mean a man or a woman. This is extraordinary. The Koran is very liberal. -- Ade Mardiyati

In 1979 in Iran, a religion directly seized power. I always say of myself that I defended and safeguarded my piety against the Islamic Republic, which was not an easy thing to do. I don't get involved – I, as a declared opponent of this republic – in campaigning against Islam or against Christianity. That's not my kind of thing. What has happened now, coupled with the terrorism that is financed and supported by Iran, is a political issue. We have to fight the political version. While Hizbollah is causing such havoc in Lebanon, Jordan is right next door, where a liberal government that maintains good relations with Israel is in power. So it can't be a problem with Islam, but with the structure of the society. Yet some Europeans make this mistake, and condemn Islam – a fatal error! – SAID

The intellectuals were and still are the target of religious zealots, who have a fundamental problem with critical, free thought. They operate on the streets and recruit supporters primarily from the ranks of the uneducated people whom they can manipulate with their doctrine. Writers and artists have long been a thorn in their eye – just think of Nagib Mahfuz, one of the greatest intellectuals of the Arab world.

When several excerpts from his work "The Children of Our Alley" appeared in the newspaper "al-Ahram" in 1959, it was the ultraconservative groups that prevented the preprint of the book. Mahfuz was repeatedly confronted with the accusation of blasphemy and violation of Islam. As a consequence, this book was only published in Arabic in Egypt a few years ago. In 1994, Mahfuz was attacked with a knife in broad daylight by a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. He survived but he was badly injured. You see how long this conflict has already been smouldering in Egypt. I'm just another link in this chain of hostilities. -- Gamal al-Ghitany

 

I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. Every day in the news there is an Arab, a black, an immigrant, an illegal immigrant, a poor soul … as far back as I can remember. I've never been short of material! And now, we're being forced to listen to a debate about national identity. I could write buckets of songs about it. But I'm ashamed!..

They are installing a white race, creating an anonymous white identity – and it's working. And people say "yes, it's an interesting debate." I can't deny what I feel inside: my disgust with this white race they are suggesting. It's when you hear people like the interior minister Brice Hortefeux talk about Arabs and say "When there's one, that's ok – it's when there are several that it becomes problematic." ----- Magyd Cherfi

 

Malalai Joya was also called ‘Afghanistan’s most famous woman’, by BBC. However, she hardly grabs headlines in pro-Taliban mainstream Pakistani media even if she is a household name in Afghanistan. Joya shot to fame back in 2003 at the Loya Jirga convened to ratify Afghanistan’s new constitution. Unlike US-sponsored clean-shaven fundamentalists, Joya was not nominated by Karzai but elected by the people of Farah province to represent them at Loya Jirga. She stunned the Loya Jirga and journalists present on the occasion (including Pakistan’s Ahmed Rashid), when she unleashed a three-minute hard-hitting speech exposing the crimes of warlords controlling Loya Jirga. Grey-bearded Sibghatullah Mojadadi, chairing the Loya Jirga, called her an ‘infidel’ and a ‘communist’. Other beards present on the occasion also shouted at her. But before she was silenced by an angry mob of war lords around, she had electrified Afghanistan with her courageous speech. Ahmed Rashid, in his latest book ‘Descent into Chaos’, narrates every detail about Loya Jirga but carefully avoids Joya’s mention. During the course of these three fateful minutes, the course of Joya’s life was also changed. In her native province of Farah, locals wanted her to represent them in elections. -- Farooq Sulehria

 

Let me cite an instance to clarify this point. In March 2008, the All India Milli Council, of which I am the General Secretary, organised a mammoth convention in Delhi, which was attended by over one hundred thousand people. We discussed various issues related to Muslim educational and economic empowerment, about what both Muslims as well as the state should do about this. We also demanded that the government should set up a judicial commission to investigate cases of terrorism or alleged terrorism involving Muslims in the last fifteen years headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court so that the truth about charges against Muslims being involved in terrorism could be verified. The media did not highlight this or any other demand of ours. Only some non-Muslim papers mentioned the rally, and that too in some remote corner of an inside page, summing it up in just two lines. Urdu media gave full information but national and Hindi media gave very little information. -- Manzoor Alam

On this let me add a point that we tend not to think about. Just as non-Muslim fellow Indians like Teesta and Manisha and many others are struggling for justice to Muslims, we Muslims, too, must raise our voice for, and work for and with, non-Muslims who face similar problems—Dalits, workers, Adivasis, and so on. Our leadership must not remain obsessed with specifically ‘Muslim’ issues, very narrowly defined. We need to wholeheartedly participate in movements on general issues, issues that affect everyone, as well as in the movements of other marginalized people. Only then can we be in a position to give, rather than just take. Only then can we win the respect and regard of others. We can’t keep demanding things and not helping others, or even ourselves. We have to recognize the urgent need to be much more inclusive and open. -- Profesor Akhtarul Wasey

Sufism is authentic Islam, and Islam is a religion of victory. Our Prophet was victorious. Islam offers hope, hope for victory in the end despite all odds. If we lose hope, we lose faith. As the saying goes, loss of hope leads to infidelity. The Prophet explained this maxim beautifully when he said that if one has a sapling in one’s hand and the Day of Judgment is just about to arrive, one must still plant it. That is the spirit of hope in the face of trials that Islam talks about. As a Muslim, I believe that trials come from God. Wahhabism is one such trial, but, in the end, I know we shall triumph over it. -- Sadia Dehlvi

 

Islam teaches me to learn with other people and other groups. For me, Islam represents unity, and not just among Muslims. We have to be respectful, tolerant, and peaceful with others. Lakum dinukum waliyadin means “To you be your way, and to me mine” (Qur’an 109:06). This verse promotes tolerance toward other religions and other groups.  All human beings are family, and this is my understanding of the essence of Islamic teaching. -- Nurish Amanah

Photo: Nurish and Raquel

In general, a language can flourish as long as it remains a functional language, a living language. The scene in present-day India has completely changed, and with the free market economy and globalization, whether one likes it or not, any language and its literature will have to compete for survival in the open market. A language and its literature can no more survive only on state patronage. If it tries to do so, it will perish. Urdu’s case is illustrative. The leadership of Urdu, an admixture of half-baked and superficially ‘knowledgeable’ university teachers and regressive Muslim politicians, is still churning out the same old tired clichés of anti-government policies, and Urdu literature has been going down the same path as Sanskrit. Urdu as lingua franca will survive, Urdu as a written language in dini madaris will survive, but it has already ceased to grow as a literary language. Muslim politics and its proponents have successfully convinced the Urdu-speaking Muslim population that Urdu is a ‘Muslim language’ and that the government and the broad Hindu majority are anti-Urdu. So, they assert, it is their duty to save Urdu as part of their religious duty and most Muslims are convinced by this argument. -- Ather Farouqui

 

I can’t help contrast the pathetic state of affairs among Muslims with the conditions of a community from my own state of Karnataka that I am familiar with—the Lingayats. Once a rather poor and marginalized community, today the Lingayats are among the most advanced communities in Karnataka. This revolution was, in part, brought about because their enlightened and progressive religious leaders worked together with their political leaders to empower their people economically and educationally. Because the Lingayat religious gurus understood the importance of modern education they were able to convert their mutts or monasteries into centres for educational excellence. Lamentably, Muslims cannot cite more than a few ulema across the country who are doing such work. -- K. Rahman Khan

Political awareness, educating Muslims about the importance of secularism and democracy, is really crucial. In this regard, I think the existing Muslim or Urdu media and ‘leaders’ have failed to play the role they should have. Instead of providing sensible advice and properly educating Muslims, the Muslim media and ‘leaders’ have just one job—to protest and complain—against the state, against Hindutva outfits and against other communities. This is a very negative approach. What we need is a positive approach and positive efforts, not negative reactions that cannot change things and that, in fact, make them worse. -- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Not only in UK, but Urdu poetry thrives across Europe though it could be more popular. Point is that those who want to write haven't got the time to study and put their thoughts on paper. But those who write are being appreciated. A lot of research, reading and writing is required, as poetry isn't easily composed. It's the art of conveying a message or describing a thought in a few lines. Poetry is an abstract statement of humankind, a creation. Every poet is a father, mother and god by this definition. Poetry is what one experiences. When I write a nazm, ghazal, geet or doha, I make sure the listener understands it. My favourite form of poetry is geet. -- Sohan Rahi

 

There is certainly extensive religious education on offer in the mosques, but what is offered is not usually youth-oriented. It is usually dogmatic and preaches a kind of Islam with which many young people don't feel much of a connection. Various empirical studies on the subject have shown that this is why many young people distance themselves from Islam and lose interest in religious issues. They don't want a religion that imposes restrictions on them. What they want is a religion that is there for them, one that understands their concerns. -- Mouhanad Khorchide

 

We have the model of the Prophet Muhammad to explain the correct meaning of the term qawwam. His first wife Khadjiah looked after him when he was in distress. He worked for her, in the business that she ran. He took the advice of another of his wives, Umm Salamah, on many issues, contrary to some Muslim scholars, who argue, without any convincing proof, that a Muslim man may take the advice of his wife but must do precisely the opposite of what she recommends. The Quran also approvingly mentions the case of the Queen of Sheeba, who was the ruler of Yemen. -- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd is a well-known Egyptian Islamic scholar. In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Cairo University. In 1995, he was promoted to the rank of full professor, but controversies about his academic work led to a court decision of apostasy and the denial of the appointment. A hisbah trial started against him Islamist groups and he was declared a heretic (Murtadd) by an Egyptian court. Consequently, he was declared to be divorced from his wife, Cairo University French Literature professor Dr. Ibthal Younis. This decision, in effect, forced him out of his homeland and seek refuge in the Netherlands, where he now works. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he speaks about his work and reflects on his efforts to promote a humanistic reading of the Islamic tradition. -- Yoginder Sikand

Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen al-Jifri was born into a family of noble lineage extending in an unbroken chain to Imam Hussein, the Grandson of the Prophet (PBUH). Habib Ali is from the majestic city of Tarim in Southern Yemen. Nestled in the ancient valley of Hadramout, Tarim has been a center of learning and spirituality for centuries. Habib Ali received a classical Islamic education from illustrious scholars of Hadramout, embodying a methodology which crystallizes the middle way of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence, a respect for the difference between jurists and a spiritual education drawn from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. – Yemen Times

Photo: Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen al-Jifri

 

Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri is the Pakistani Islamic scholar who recently made headlines with the publication of his 600-page fatwa prohibiting suicide bombing. Ul-Qadri is one of Pakistan's most prominent clerics, and he believes that his fatwa represents a complete theological rebuttal of every argument used by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. In his fatwa, Dr. ul-Qadri asserts that terrorists do not go to heaven but instead are bound for hell, and he utilizes Quranic references, hadith, and scholarly interpretations to reinforce his opinion. Dr. ul-Qadri told Asharq Al-Awsat that he hopes his fatwa will have an affect on the ground and prevent Muslim youth from becoming brainwashed by terrorist ideology. -- Mohammed Al Shafey

Photo: Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri

As for the repeated denunciation at our convention of the terrorism of groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e Tayyeba and so on, is concerned, it is our Islamic duty to speak out against them. We Shias believe that what they call ‘Islam’ is not Islam at all. Nor are their actions that of true Muslims. They are giving Islam a bad name. They are enemies of Islam. They are also viscerally opposed to Shias — they have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Shias in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. -- Maulana Mirza Mohammad Athar, President, All India Shia Personal Law Board

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NEW COMMENTS

  • For Hats Off this is just another opportunity to say something hateful about Muslims! The guy is obsessed with anti-Muslim hatered.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • never mind taxila. or konark. The holy cow of monumentality - taj mahal.
    ( By hats off! )
  • Excellent article. Changed my ignorant mindset. May this idea spread to all the muslims of the world.
    ( By Sahil Raza )
  • Dear sister Teresa, Thanks for this meaningful review. I hope this review will encourage both serious readers and peace....
    ( By SAJID ANWAR )
  • The Crown Prince is only strengthening the monarchy and consolidating the anti-Iran front. He....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Taj Mahal's deterioration is symbolic of a paradigmatic shift in our values.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • This is so dumb really Turks, Arabs and Persians are not...
    ( By What? )
  • Dear Sister Teresa, You have wonderfully given the gist of the book and created curiosity among the readers ....
    ( By Rajat Malhotra )
  • An anti-reform AIMPLB gives Islam a bad name and is like a curse on the Muslim community. We need new leadership.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • ully agree with this press bulletin. Indian Muslims must reject the leadership of such regressive clerics.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Ghaus Sb says: “The way you are speaking in your comment shows you are not a Muslim.” From what I say, he can....
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Ghaus Sb says: Those who say, fitna means “shirk” and opine that the early Muslims fought to end fitna” must have meant “to end that ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Good article. The is only One G-d and Muhammad was the final messenger and prophet of G-d. As I write this, G-d is known ...
    ( By Lenny SB )
  • Please read my article on subject of "there is no compulsion in Religion...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Related article...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sb, Please read my comment again and again. You did not get my comment. I did not say both...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Arbitration is of two kinds - binding and non-binding. When the parties choose binding arbitration, the decision of the arbitrator is binding on the parties ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • All right thinking Muslims must welcome such a course. Academic independence of the Universities must be protected and respected. There ....
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • Referring to your comment: 7/18/2018 5:04:08 AM, to you both views are valid and fitna could mean “shirk or polytheism” also. The Quran clearly commands ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • What do I mean by acceptance? Read the Quran carefully. There isn’t any verse that calls for tolerance of the peaceful rejecter of Islam. There ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • The title question sums up the matter of the article. The answer is the course will discuss in detail how Muslim clerics and fundamentalists misinterpret ...
    ( By arshad )
  • Site Web Israel and Myanmar give more rights to muslims, than muslims give rights to Kafirs,...
    ( By Shan Barani )
  • Good article. The is only One G-d and Muhammad was the final messenger and prophet of G-d. As I write,..
    ( By Lenny SB (Shivarsi) )
  • I fully agree with Faizur Rahman sahib. Such "courts" should be called "Arbitration centers.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • A course on "Uses of religions to gain political power" would be entirely appropriate. By the way, Obama refused to use the label "Islamic....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • بہت بہت شکریہ جناب! اللہ عز و جل آپ کے مبارک کلمات کو مستجاب کرے۔ آمین بجاہ سید المرسلین صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم
    ( By misbahul Huda quadri )
  • fve questions
    ( By hats off! )
  • بہت عمدہ ۔ اللہ تعالی ہم مسلمانوں کو صوفیائے کرام کے نہج پر شریعت و طریقت کو سمجھنے اور اس پر عمل کرنے ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Mushrik and muwahhid, Muslims and non-Muslims all equally need to adopt the path of tolerance. One sided tolerance is not helpful. This point should also ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sb, Muhammad bin Ishaq said that Az-Zuhri informed him from Urwah bin Az-Zubayr and other scholars that (until there is no more fitnah) the Fitnah ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • An excellent read that contextualises many pertinent issues connected to Muslims and Islam! Your angle ....
    ( By Meera )
  • Naseer sb, Can you suggest me how many books have you read on theology? From your comments it appears you have been inspired by orientalist ...
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Naseer sahib, What is theology? Why do you use theology in general term? In your comment you meant that those who follow theology are following ....
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Before I say anything further, could you please explain your questions? What do you mean by acceptance?....
    ( By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصدیقی )
  • Tolerance in Muslim society earlier was because of low level of outward piety. Intolerance grows as the level of outward piety grows. Outward piety is ...
    ( By Naseer Ahmed )
  • The Muslim nation (with the exception of one or two Muslim countries) as a whole has been blind and deaf to the above advice and ...
    ( By Rashid Samnakay )
  • I fully agree with Rashid sahib.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • At this rate Hats Off may soon get some insight into his unquenchable hatred of Muslims.
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • This is the time when the anti-Muslim hate propaganda of the BJP/RSS is at full blast to cover up for the absence of any acchhe ...
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )
  • Excellent book review! As the reviewer says, "secularism cannot be used as a pretext to ignore discrimination on grounds....
    ( By Ghulam Mohiyuddin )