NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY
12th Mediterranean Dialogue Seminar
The Middle East at A Crossroads:New Challenges For East West Dialogue
Istanbul, Turkey 2 4 May 2006
ISLAM AND THE WORLD IN TRANSITION
Professor Ali Bardakoglu
President of Religious Affairs,
I would like to thank organizers of this meeting for giving me an opportunity to share my views on timely issues which concern not only Islam and Muslims but the whole world. We are living in an age of rapid social, political and cultural change. In my view religion is an important part of this ongoing change. Globalization and communication on the one hand and movement of people, ideas and capital on the other hand are transforming our world.
I would like to take this opportunity to address significant issues on Islam and how it relates to politics, human rights, democracy, secularism, and violence in general and state-religion relations, co-existence of Islam and democracy in Turkey in particular. In this context, talking about Turkey is meaningful because it has been a home for peace, toleration and diverse cultures for many centuries.
Religion has always been one of the sources of collective identity and an inspiration for the establishment of a moral community. What unites great religions is their moral message to the Mankind. Under the influence of modernity, rationality and secularity, religiosity and our perception of religion take different forms. It is true that in some regions and countries religion lost its influence. However, contrary to the expectations of many theories, religion became more vital in some countries. Peter Berger as a well known sociologist of religion observes that we are living in an increasingly religious world. This means that many people take their religion seriously. Religious faith inspires people. Religions answer existential questions for many people today. This is a sociological fact that we should not ignore when address issues involving religion, society and politics.
Let me address relations between religion and politics from Islamic point of view. In my view religions in general and Islam in particular are above politics and also free from politics. It is not a part of political machinery, nor an instrument to be used by political groups or by politicians. However, the reality on the ground is somewhat different. We observe some instances where religion is used to legitimize the political order. When we look at the Muslim world today, we see numerous problems regarding democratization and state-religion relations. We see that in some countries Islam is used to justify current political orders. It is time to take a critical look at the problem of the misuse of Islam for political justification. Islam promotes human rights, political participation, civil initiatives, and justice and equality; it does not oppress ideas in the name of God not it allows the use of religion for political purposes.
Now I would like to address one of the most serious questions we face today on a global scale that is violence in the name of religion. We, as Muslims, strongly condemn global terrorism and violence in all forms. Some ill informed people may use religious concepts and rhetoric to justify acts of violence. This is completely unacceptable. On the other hand blaming religions and establishing links between religions and terrorism is also wrong. Such an association hurts the feelings of true believers. Therefore we urge world leaders and politicians not to associate violence with religion because all religions essentially teach peace and condemn terrorism. In fact, more significant matter that provokes terror and violence is the national and international practices of the policy makers. We should also take into account how the local people perceive these practices of insiders and outsiders.
Terror is a concept that is unjustly associated with Islam and Muslims. There is a misconception and misrepresentation on this issue. The Qur'an not only disapproves of terror, but also openly condemns it. Violence and terror do not stem from religion. The Islamic world, as well as the West, should question themselves about what the motives of the existing violence are. It is obvious that religious affiliation, race, ethnic and regional identity can be easily channeled into violence in societies where the distribution of economic income creates vast inequalities and where people lose their faith in their future.
An authoritarian regime, lack of democracy and freedom, injustice, poverty, sense of alienation and deprivation, lack of political participation and civil society, sense of being dominated and exploited lead to radicalism, monolithic understanding of religion and in some cases to violence in the name of God. If there is no mechanism for expressing injustices and grievances, then people may become vulnerable to unwanted influences and resort to non-democratic methods. In order to prevent radicalization of people it is essential to establish democracy, freedom of thought and expression, justice for all and eliminate poverty, exploration and discrimination. Otherwise exploitation of religions may continue in the future.
I would like to touch upon Turkey to show that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey occupies a unique place among the modern nation states with a Muslim majority population. Turkey should be studied very carefully and its experience with Islam, democracy and secularization should be taken into consideration if one wants to understand the regional dynamics and to find sustainable and logical solutions to perennial problems facing some Muslim societies today. A careful study of Turkey with its deeply rooted legacy will help us to answer the following questions: Can Islam and democracy coexist? How far can religion and secularism be reconciled? To what extent can religious liberty, particularly freedom of religious expression, be extended in a secular state with a majority Muslim population? Turkey convincingly shows that Islam and democracy can co-exist, various faith communities can live side by side in peace. A secular state can be well established and provide religious liberty for its citizens regardless of their religion, ethnicity and denominational convictions. Turkeys achievements in reconciling religion and secularism, Islam and democracy, pluralism and toleration derive from its history and accumulation of rationality in modern Turkey.
Modern Turkey has the privilege of having diverse religious and spiritual traditions. Turkey is proud of this richness. The political and cultural identity of modern Turkey emerged under the influence of such diverse and multi-dimensional forces that existed in and around Turkey throughout the centuries. Therefore modern Turkish identity and perception of religion in Turkey carry the imprint of diverse influences. Thus, neither the perception of Islam nor the values of identity are fixed, static and extreme.
I would like to conclude by making a call: We believe that there is an urgent need to establish toleration on a global scale. However, to achieve this objective, politicians, statesmen, civilian organizations and religious leaders should do much more than issuing statements. We, as leaders of faith communities are doing our best to promote values of toleration. Politicians and statesmen should also contribute to these efforts by paying the utmost attention to the sensitivities of people by taking social, political and economic steps for the solution of problems and crises that threaten our future
Thank you for your attention.