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Protestant Islam

Protestant Islam

Post-9/11 period was a time when the Americans and the Europeans were asking and trying to come up with answers to the question: Is Islam receptive to reform?

For those who are interested, a good resource on the subject is Mohammed Arkoun’s “Islam to reform or to Subvert“.  Olivier Roy is another scholar who has written extensively on the subject. Unfortunately, the experiences of the Turkish Republic on the matter have historically been brushed over simply because Kemalism -Turkey’s long-standing reigning ideology, was dismissed by the West.

Reform in Islam as an issue has once again surfaced, thanks to President Erdogan’s recent take on the subject. For a while now, we have had a parade of elderly men appearing on TV, making ridiculous statements such as: “men and women should not be in the same elevator -they may have sex”; “do not drink coffee -it may get sex on your mind”; or “it may not be such a bad idea to bury girls”. In the midst of all this tarradiddle it was, of course, the president’s place to say the last word, who incidentally has the only right to a last word, or nowadays, to any word at all really.

President Erdogan while speaking on International Women’s Day, said “These people are so clueless that they don’t even realize that Islam has to be updated. You cannot simply take the decrees that were written 14 centuries ago and expect them to work in today’s conditions. Religious pundits will roast me for saying so. That’s fine -as long as God doesn’t roast me.” Once his speech hit the airwaves, and people began to ask whether Erdogan was talking about reforming Islam, he changed his tune a couple of days later. “We are not looking to reform the religion,” he corrected himself. “But we cannot turn a blind eye to those appearing here and there, making ridiculous statements about women -which ends up besmirching Islam.”

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The initial reaction to Erdogan’s comments came from CHP. Party’s Vice President Engin Altay said “Talking about reform in Islam is like opening a can of worms. It is not up to “man “to question Islam’s verses.” Under normal circumstances this statement from a social democratic party should have stunned us all. But we are used to it. CHP has been insisting for the last 10 years that they can appeal to religious voters by manipulating AKP and Erdogan’s words. So for us, this was just another day under the sun.

Like it or not, it was the Turkish state that had undertaken the “updating Islam”debacle in the initial years of the Republic during the Kemalist period. The state had come up with new religious paradigms and had transmitted them to the masses via government bodies. These reforms were later deemed “religious persecution” by Islamists.

I do not wish to delve too much into it, but the real argument here is to decide whether religion should be under government’s control or not. The Islamists like to say “The secularism in Turkey cuts too hard. The state is not impartial to religion, it is rather involved and meddling. And this is causing many cases of religious persecution” But any area regarding faith that is unattended by the government is quickly filled up by other factors.

What we should do is look at the bank accounts of these religious fanatics talking left and right about women and other social issues and find out who is funding them. Which congregations and cults are receiving Saudi funds? Who are getting donations to perpetrate Wahabist propaganda?

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We must remember that, part of what we call “Western Civilization” is domestication of faith and curbing of the Church.

Originally published in Turkish in

About The Author

Nevsin Mengu

Born in Ankara in 1982. Studied Political Science at University of Bilkent. Did her masters on Sociology at University of Galatasaray. Worked at several news outlets like Haberturk and Hurriyet. Mostly covered Middle East as a correspondent. From 2009 to 2010, worked for TRT TURK in Tehran. From 2011 until 2017, anchored CNNTURK 18 o’clock news. Now writing opinion pieces for Birgün newspaper and doing weekly interviews for Deutsche Welle.

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