CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS OF ISLAM
In the modern era, the two topics of Islam that are criticized and targeted the most are Sharia and Jihad. The terror attacks of some radical so-called Muslim organizations, the extreme injunctions and practices of some Muslim countries, and of course the Western media that has committed itself to spoil the image of Islam distort the essence of these two Islamic concepts.
Karl Marx, the father of the Communist ideology which had shaken up the 21st century, would hold deep grudge and antagonism towards religions. According to him, religions were made up so as to numb poor people because they advise passivity against the injustice inflicting the World. Marx believed that religions discourage poor people to speak out for their rights by promising them Paradise; that is to say, religions induce people to give up their Worldly life by promising them a nice life in the hereafter. So those who are suffering from injustice refrain from defying the authority as they consider the Worldly affairs unimportant compared to the hereafter. Moreover, Marx correlated everything in life with economic interests, and he asserted that people actually do not have religious motivations and religions are made up only for economic exploitation. This is why his Communist ideology bans religion altogether.
It is impossible to champion the ideology of Karl Marx. The fact that most founders and prophets of religions were poor and oppressed people in and of itself proves that religions are not created for economic exploitation by rich people. Also, the core reason why people believe in religion is spirituality, not economics. Karl Marx had stifled and killed his own spirituality, and his fancying of everybody as similar to himself deluded him. Let’s leave the criticism of Marxism for some other time and have an insight into why he blamed religions for advocating passivity. Since Marx did not know any religion besides Christianity, he attributed the passivism of Christianity to all religions. However, Islam doesn’t advise giving up Worldly occupations for the sake of the hereafter; in contrast, it encourages people to endeavor for this World by promising that their efforts to rectify the World will be rewarded in the hereafter. Islam upholds all efforts to amend this World and names them “jihad”, which means “struggle” in Arabic. The prophet of Islam answered Karl Marx, who accused religions of preaching indifference and subservience to the injustice and wrongdoings of people in power, by saying that “The greatest jihad is a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler. ” The concept of Jihad in Islam destroys the slanders of Karl Marx against religion.
Although some so-called scholars translate Jihad as “the holy war”, indeed the meaning of this word has nothing to do with war. Jihad means all actions taken for spreading Islam and spreading the values that Islam advocates such as justice, mercy, purity, peace, and order. A person of any ideology would strive to spread and make dominant his beliefs and contentions, this is not exclusive to Muslims. Every dignified person has values and objectives in life for the sake of which they live and struggle, the lives of those who don’t have these are no different from the lives of animals. It is not seen as a problem when a Marxist tries to spread Marxist values, it is not seen as a problem when a liberal tries to spread liberal values, it is not seen as a problem when a nationalist tries to spread nationalistic values, but it is dubbed “extremism” when a Muslim tries to spread Islamic values.
It is true that Jihad (struggle) also encompasses military struggle. However, we cannot engage in military struggle for spreading Islam, we can engage in it for removing the obstacles to spreading and practicing of Islam. Many verses of the Quran prohibit compulsion in the religion: “There shall be no compulsion in the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. (Qur’an 2:256)” In another verse it says: “And whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] himself; and whoever strays - say, "I am only of the warners. (Qur’an 27:92)" Again in another verse: “So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a dictator. (Qur’an 88:21-22)” The jihad of combat is not meant to force people into Islam, it is meant for the removal of impediments to their conversion to Islam and practicing it. It was impossible to propagate and convey the message of God in non-Muslim countries during the Middle Ages where there was neither democracy nor freedom of expression, and those who chose Islam would sustain severe persecution. That’s why military Jihad was the only option that Muslims had against these non-Muslim countries. “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory. (Qur’an 22:39)” Since these harsh circumstances have improved by and large in the Modern era, actions that contain war and violence are no longer meaningful except in extreme cases. Moreover, conquering new agricultural territories was economically profitable in the Middle Ages when the economy was dependent on agriculture; but after the Industrial Revolution, wars have become unwanted incidents that waste resources and impair economies. Given the sophisticated combat technology of the 21st century, any major war today would undoubtedly bear catastrophic consequences. All of us must work for creating a world in which people of different beliefs can live together peacefully and safely instead of attempting to resolve our conflicts with violence.
What would one’s recourse to physical violence signify while he is verbally debating with his opponent? It would signify that he has no argument left to put forward and he resorts to violence as a result of losing the verbal debate. Imposing any ideology forcefully on people is actually a confession that the ideology at hand is not logical enough to be accepted by rational evaluation. Someone who is coerced into accepting an ideology wouldn’t do it wholeheartedly anyway; he would only deceive those who force him. Forcefully imposing Islam on people indeed is equivalent to slandering Islam with being too irrational to be proposed rationally. The terror organizations that follow this mentality do harm to Islam more than any other thing.
Sharia is nothing but the rules, commands, and prohibitions of Islam. It is the system most suitable to human nature. The roles that Sharia assigns to women are the roles that suit female nature the best, and the roles that Sharia assigns to men are the roles that suit male nature the best. Sharia is the system that sustains and dispenses justice the best; that’s why the incidence of crimes and financial inequality are lower in places where Sharia is in effect. Thanks to this just system, there have never been social classes in Muslim countries throughout history like those of the West. Sharia is the system under which humans can meet their physical and spiritual needs in the best and easiest fashion, without violating the rights of others and without becoming the slaves of their desires.
In secular states, laws of humans are in practice instead of those of God. Humans enact laws based on their physical desires, and they don’t care about how those laws harm society as long as those laws appeal to their aspirations. Laws enacted based on human desires may bring short-term benefits but they will be harmful in the long run. This is because legislators do not think beyond their period of governance, and the only thing they seek to maximize is their current interests. For example, although almost every election pledge is harmful to the economy in the long run, political candidates never abstain from pledging more and more to win over more voters. The rules set by humans create benefits on behalf of the legislating minority at the expense of the majority who have to abide by them.
We cannot definitely say whether a society follows Sharia or not. The rules and lifestyle of every society are in line with Sharia to some degree, but no society’s rules and lifestyle has been in line with Sharia completely. For instance, we can say that the USA follows Sharia 40%, Russia follows it 50%, Turkey follows it 70% and Iran follows it 80%. Though the punishments may differ, almost every society prohibits things such as theft, murder, and rape that are also prohibited by Sharia. For example, if we take progressing in science and inventing devices beneficial for mankind as a prescription of Sharia (this really is a prescription of Islam), then we can say that the USA is more Sharia-compliant than Muslim countries in this field. Boiling down the Sharia-compliance to a mere yes/no question and regarding any society that doesn’t abide by Sharia 100% (no society in history had abided by Sharia 100% anyway) as infidel is a misconception of radical Islamists who harm Islam more than any non-Muslim. What we Muslims should do is to propagate the Islamic values in our societies by using the legitimate means regardless of whether our society is Muslim-majority or not.
Some Muslim fundamentalists are obsessed with the terms Sharia and caliphate. These people believe that when Sharia and caliphate get reinstated, all problems of Muslims will miraculously disappear, and Islam will suddenly dominate the entire globe. However, Muslims had many problems even during the reign of our Prophet. The core reason for this sick mindset is perpetually idealizing the former Muslim societies and creating an imaginary perception of history. Arabs depict the Abbasids like wingless angles, Turks gloss over the drawbacks of the Ottoman rule, radical Salafists see the first generations of Muslims as flawless. Whereas it is known that even the companions of the Prophet had fought each other for a long time after the passing away of the Prophet. Islam was never practiced with 100% perfection, including the period during the Prophet’s reign and the reign of his companions. There were numerous hypocrites among Muslims even under the reign of the Messenger of God, and the Messenger did not harm these hypocrites although he knew precisely who they were. Some Muslims who compare our contemporary societies with the imaginary ideal societies they create in their minds cultivate hatred towards the contemporary societies and harbor radical opinions. Those who find their unrealistic ideal societies inside the exaggerated historical accounts of the previous societies turn Islam into a religion that is stuck in the past and doesn’t belong in the 21st century. Radical Islamists who go after their imaginary dream of an ideal Islamic society enforce even the minutest Sunnah of the Prophet forcefully in the areas they control, and they charge severe punishments to those who don’t practice the slightest Sunnah. However, making Sunnahs mandatory even though they were not made mandatory by the Prophet himself is tantamount to going extreme in religion and rendering religion more difficult than how God wanted it to be. This attitude will bore people and indispose them to Islam in the long term. It is important here to quote this Quranic verse that condemns going extreme in religion: “And thus we have made you a moderate community (Qur’an 2:143)”
We should consider the practiced reality rather than what is written theoretically in the constitution while evaluating a society. If the clause of secularism were to be removed today from our constitution and replaced by Islam, what is going to change in reality? Is our society going to become very religious in one day? Will we all increase the daily quantity of our prayers? No, I would still be the same person I used to be before then, and you would still be the same person you used to be before then. The only thing that would’ve changed is an imaginary constitutional clause. We should transform our societies through evolution, not through revolution; and this transformation should be lead by the people in a long time period, not by the government in one day.
Not everything is done according to religious rules and clergy in Sharia-ruled countries unlike how some people exaggerate. An engineer who constructs a building doesn’t construct it with his religious knowledge, rather constructs it with his engineering knowledge. A doctor who treats a patient doesn’t treat him with his religious knowledge, rather treats him with his medical knowledge. Islamic laws constitute a minor portion of all the laws that a state should have, the majority of constitutional laws are determined by people without reference to religious law (For instance, Islam doesn’t dictate any traffic law on us, traffic laws are determined by experts who have specialized in this field.) Every Islamic society is secular to some degree so to say. In a famous narration, the couple of farmers solicited advice from the Prophet regarding the plantation of dates. When the Prophet's advice turned out to be false, he said to the farmers: "You know your worldly affairs better than me. " The Prophet didn't know what God had not revealed to him, and he would assign these affairs to their professionals. It is unacceptable for religious scholars to meddle in affairs about which they are not knowledgeable and regarding which there is no divine revelation. If every profession was not to be assigned to its professionals, then there would be chaos in a society with the wrong steps taken. This is why a totally clergy-controlled system is unacceptable. Throughout the Sunni Islamic history, there has never been a strong class of clergy, and Muslim clergy was always in the back seat compared to the Christian world. Islam doesn’t dictate the way in which rules that are outside the scope of religion should be determined either. Modern systems such as democracy can be used to determine and enact these rules.
Well, what is going to happen to non-Muslims in Sharia-ruled countries? This topic is a major object of propaganda by the haters of Islam. Since the haters of Islam reflect Islamic history on behalf of their own ideologies and exploit this made-up history as a way of propaganda, many people ended up hating the history of Islam. All Muslim empires in history without a single exception (Abbasids, Seljuqs, al-Andalus, Mamluks, Mughals, Ottomans…) had a significant amount of non-Muslim population. Though the European nations complain about their 3% Muslim population now, the Ottoman Empire had 40% non-Muslim population. In the Christian Western history, religions besides Christianity were not tolerated at all. The genocide on the Turks in the Balkans which resulted in the death and ejection of three million Muslim Turks after the Ottoman Empire had lost the Balkans, Russia’s genocide on Muslim Tatars and Circassians, Spanish Inquisition that indiscriminately massacred all the Muslims and Jews in Spain (The Ottoman Empire had saved these Jews while they were under the clutches of the Christians and placed these Jews in Istanbul, and had given them autonomy in their internal affairs), the Crusaders’ slaying of all the Muslims, Jews, women, children and elderly without discrimination in the areas they seized, the genocides of Europeans on native Americans, and the atrocities committed during the World War 2 are some examples of the intolerant history of the West. The capability of governing people of various beliefs, backgrounds, and nationalities peacefully is an attribute of Muslim history, not that of the Western. Although the Muslim immigrants in the West today get assimilated in a couple of generations; the different nations of the Ottoman Empire hadn’t got assimilated for six centuries and they were able to protect their identity up until the end. Now, let’s leave disclosing the manipulations on history for some other time and come back to our topic.
Islam doesn’t dictate the beliefs and lifestyles of non-Muslims as long as they do not spoil the public morality of society; it allows people of all faiths to live and be judged based on their own faiths. For example under the Ottoman rule, non-Muslims were allowed to drink alcohol while Muslims weren’t. The main objective of punishments in Sharia is to prevent illicit behaviors from becoming public and explicit, rather than banning them completely. For example in Islam, fornication is subject to punishment only on the condition that there are four witnesses who openly witness the intercourse. And this testimony is not accepted unless the witnesses see the sexual organs openly; even the existence of a blanket that covers the sexual organs is sufficient to annul the testimony. The number of witnesses has to total four; and if it doesn’t reach four, those who claim to have witnessed the fornication would be punished for slander. Therefore, many people would abstain from giving testimony even if they witnessed the act. It is almost impossible to have four witnesses under such conditions unless the fornication is done in the middle of a street. Islam is a realistic religion; it confines itself to preventing fornication from becoming public, knowing that it is impossible to eliminate fornication completely. Many punishments in Islam are like this one, they prohibit sins from being widespread rather than targeting their occasional execution. Ignorant people think that even a man who steals an apple from his neighbor’s tree will have his hand amputated since the punishment of theft is cutting off of the hand in Sharia. In fact, there are numerous contingencies for the execution of this punishment; for example, the value of the stolen asset must exceed a certain amount. The punishment would not be executed if one of these conditions were not met.
Naturally, in liberal societies liberal norms prevail, in Communist societies Marxist norms prevail, and in Islamic societies Islamic norms prevail. The norms of Islam must be obeyed in affairs that may spoil the overall morality of society. Non-Muslims who live in Islamic societies would internalize Islamic norms unintentionally anyway. For instance, in most Muslim countries there is a tap inside closets, and this is because Islam recommends using water for cleansing after using the toilet instead of merely wiping with toilet paper. Although this is a practice that has its roots in Islam, even atheists living in Muslim countries use closet taps and they suffer from its absence when they visit non-Muslim countries. Just like this, concepts like chastity and virtue are internalized by non-Muslims who happen to have grown up in Muslim societies molded by Islamic values. Those who have grown up in Muslim societies are irritated by the lack of morality and shame regardless of if they are religious or not. Women who are raised in Muslim societies molded by Islamic values would feel embarrassed when they go outdoors half-naked even if they happened to be atheists. This is why the proposition that “Sharia forces all women to cover their bodies” is wrong; the true proposition is: “Sharia creates a society in which covering the body is perceived to be necessary.”
Muslims have intrinsic advantages over non-Muslims in countries where Sharia is in force. People who adopt the core ideology of any state are always more advantageous over those minorities who do not follow the core ideology of the state, this is not exclusive to Muslim states. Today, it is impossible for Muslims to reach high positions like presidency in Western states; although there is no legal rule banning this, this is practically impossible because those who adopt the Western mindset are appreciated and promoted in Western societies. Muslims who endeavor to rise up in Western societies would inevitably enter and mingle in the environments where there are lots of haram (Islamically impermissible) acts, and they would have to compromise many of the Islamic values they cherish. They would be stigmatized as bigoted, backward, homophobic, sexist, and politically incorrect whenever they attempted to defend their faith. Muslims are criticized for subordinating other cultures when they build their state on Islamic principles; then don’t westerners subordinate the Islamic culture when they legally condone and support numerous un-Islamic practices?
Why is Apostasy Punishable by Death in Islam?
The fact that apostasy is punishable by death in Islam attracts a lot of criticism for being contrary to freedom of religion. These criticisms are the products of superficial evaluations without regard to the underlying basics and applications in practice. Firstly, we need to make it clear that these Islamic rules are only applicable in countries where Islamic law is in effect. In other words, we are not entitled to killing someone for leaving Islam in secular lands, and Muslims living in secular lands are free to leave Islam.
We had mentioned before that Muslims in Islamic countries have certain privileges over non-Muslims such as not paying jizyah tax and being able to reach high bureaucratic positions. If apostasy were not punishable by death in Islamic countries, many non-Muslims who seek to take advantage of the financial and social advantages of being Muslim would temporarily convert to Islam for attaining these privileges, and they would revert to their previous belief once they no longer need these privileges. For example, they would convert to Islam before applying to a position reserved for Muslims only, and revert to their previous belief after they leave that position. They would convert to Islam for not paying jizyah tax during times of financial trouble, and they would revert to their previous belief when they become prosperous. Muslims too would manipulate this quite often. Since non-Muslims are exempt from joining battles in Islamic states, many Muslims would temporarily leave Islam before the outbreaks of war, thus rendering themselves exempt from joining these disastrous wars. All these examples illustrate that converting to Islam and leaving it would be a manipulation tool for worldly interests. Moreover, those who leave Islam may tell the secrets of the Muslims to non-Muslims because they remained among the Muslims for a long time and know a lot about the Muslims. Many spies would temporarily convert to Islam for learning the secrets of the Muslims. Islam’s prohibition of apostasy both prevents the religion from becoming a manipulation tool for worldly interests and prevents information leakage from the ranks of the Muslims.
So what about sincere people who want to leave Islam without any cruel intention or expectation of worldly benefit? Isn’t it unfair that these people cannot get to leave their religion just because some vicious people may manipulate this option? Islam gives a nice option for those who want to leave Islam sincerely: the right to become hypocrite (munafiq). The hypocrite is an Islamic term used for people who are Muslim on the outside but non-Muslim on the inside, and these people have existed throughout the entire Islamic history including the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). There were many hypocrites during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Prophet knew all of these people without exception, he was even aware that the hypocrites were plotting to kill him. Despite this, the Prophet never harmed any of these hypocrites. He let them do as they please and didn’t segregate them from the rest of the Muslims. Islamic law gives hypocrites the right to live and treats them as equal to genuine believers in worldly affairs. A Muslim who wants to leave Islam can live as a hypocrite although he cannot explicitly become a non-Muslim. In fact, this situation is quite advantageous for him too, because he will thus keep on utilizing the privileges of being Muslim in the Islamic state. If he were to leave his religion openly, he would have to pay jizyah tax and lose all the privileges that Muslims enjoy. That’s why a rational apostate would prefer being a hypocrite to being an open non-Muslim even if there were no punishment for leaving Islam. If the apostate is not satisfied by this situation and wants to live a freer life, he can consider the option of leaving his country and immigrating to another country in which he can live a completely un-Islamic life. The punishment of the death penalty for apostasy has been very rarely applied in practice; the number of people who were executed for leaving Islam during the entire Ottoman era can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The caliphate is a term that we nowadays frequently hear from some Muslim groups. Many radical Muslim groups adamantly run after the dream of a caliphate as they think of this as the salvation for the Muslim nation, and they engage in ridiculous acts for so. According to them, Muslims barely have a right to live in the absence of a caliphate and the problems of the Muslims will vanish altogether all of a sudden when the caliphate will be reinstated. It became mandatory for us to demolish this fancy idea and eliminate these Muslims’ obsession with the caliphate.
Throughout the whole Islamic history up until the last century, there had been a single powerful Muslim state in each period and this state would represent all Sunni Muslims around the globe. Whenever a second powerful Muslim state emerged, it usually declared its own caliphate, not recognizing the legitimacy of the conventional one. This is exactly what happened between the Abbasids and Andalusia. Nevertheless, the Umayyads and the Abbasids, followed by the Ottomans, carried and represented this title more or less successfully. What distinguished these three empires was that they were undisputedly the most powerful Muslim states of their ages, they reigned over much of the Muslim lands and they had dominion over the holy lands such as Mecca, Madinah, and Jerusalem. However, none of these conditions exist in the modern era. Now there is not only a few Muslim states; the number of states that have a Muslim-majority population is fifty. There is no state among these fifty that is economically, politically, socially and militarily much more superior to the rest. This is why it is not possible for a single state to have the power of controlling and protecting the rest of these fifty states. Also, the sectarian and cultural differences among the Muslims are too deep to let them live in a single state. We can deduce that the institution of the caliphate is very difficult to operate today once we lay down our contemporary circumstances and evaluate them rationally and realistically.
The caliphate was abolished in Turkey in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal, rather it was obligated to be abolished. Turkey was economically in a very poor state then, it had no power to defend the entire Muslim nation. It used to incorporate only a very small portion of the Muslim nation within its borders. The holy cities of Islam such as Mecca, Madinah, and Jerusalem were not under Turkey’s dominion; moreover, the significant portion of these cities’ inhabitants had waged war against Turkey (the Caliphate) during the World War 1. Nobody would take Turkey’s claim of caliphate seriously under these circumstances. Had Turkey not abolished the caliphate in 1924, it would’ve lived on to this day as a symbolic title with no practical influence. The Caliphate was not destroyed by Mustafa Kemal; it was destroyed by the long-standing backwardness, ignorance, nationalism, sectarianism, and the intrigues of the West; and the entire Muslim nation is to be blamed for this.
Is the institution of the caliphate as important as some radical Muslims exaggerate? Is it magnificent enough to resolve every issue faced by Muslims? The prophet didn't give us a mandate for the establishment of a caliphate. If the caliphate was so perfect, the Umayyad Caliphs wouldn’t have killed the grandsons of the companions of the Prophet; If the caliphate was so perfect, the Abbasid Caliphate wouldn’t have been annihilated by the Mongols; if the caliphate was so perfect, the Ottoman Caliphate wouldn’t have knelt down before the Western powers and would’ve always retained its glory. Admittedly, the caliphate would establish a relatively stronger union among the Muslims, but it would never be able to thoroughly unite the Muslims who are divided into numerous nations and sects that hate each other. Those who cry out for the caliphate should first end their hardline sectarian stance and start being more embracing; what will unite the Muslims is tolerance, not a caliphate. Conflicting with this, the common feature of those who are obsessed with the caliphate is their stiff sectarian posture and their proclaiming people of different opinions as deviants.
The caliphate would bring more disunity than unity in today’s circumstances. If Turkey were the caliphate, Saudi Arabia would come out and say: “We are more entitled to the title of the caliphate because the holy sites of Islam are within our borders.” On the other hand, Indonesia would come out and say: “We are more entitled to the title of the caliphate because we have the largest Muslim population in the World.” In objection to these three, Pakistan would come out and say: “We are more entitled to the title of the caliphate because we are the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons.” Since no Muslim country would accept the superiority of the other and obey it, this dispute would grow to the extent of war. As a result, the caliphate which is supposed to bring unity would bring division and enmity. The union of the Muslims can be established by mutual respect and a sense of equality between them, not by one of them imposing on others whatever it likes under the name of the caliphate.
 Ebû Davud, Melahim 17; bk. Tirmizî, Fiten 13; Nesâî, Bey'at 37; İbn Mâce, Fiten 20; Ahmed b. Hanbel, Müsned, III, 19, 61; IV, 314, 315; V, 251, 256. Beyhakî, es-Sünenu'l-kübrâ, X, 91; Beğavî, Şerhu's-sünne, X, 65-66)
 Muslim, Fedail, 141