Turkey: Are Erdoğan’s Days Numbered?

by Harold Rhode:

It appears that the Islamic Gülenists and the secular Atatürkists — not friends in the past — have forged an alliance and are now ascendant.

Major political events have rocked the political scene in Turkey the past two weeks. Turkey’s once seemingly-invincible prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, seems in a tailspin. A few days ago, he lashed out at U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone and threatened to expel him from Turkey. Erdoğan claimed the Ambassador told other Western diplomats that the “empire [Erdoğan and his associates] is about to fall.[1]

Clearly, Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s policy of “Zero Problems With Our Neighbors” — meaning the alliance with Turkey’s Sunni-ruled Arab neighbors — has failed. Turkey now has problems with almost all its neighbors. It appears that the Gülenists and the Atatürkists — not friends in the past — are now ascendant. It is unlikely that they, or whoever might take over in Turkey, would want to continue this failed approach.

 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L), and Fethullah Gülen. (Image source: World Economic Forum [Erdoğan] — Diyar se/WikiMedia Commons [Gülen])

Long-brewing political struggles within the ruling AK party have also surfaced. They boil down to two radically different views of Islam. In the first, Erdoğan’s faction identifies and allies itself with the [Arab] Muslim Brotherhood. This faction was strongly supportive of the ousted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi, and also of Syria’s fundamentalists. In the second view, supporters of the Fethullah Gülen look down upon “Arab Islam.” To them, “real” Islam is “the Islam of the Turks – meaning the people who live in Turkey, Central Asia, and Western China.”[2] [3]

To the outsider, these differences might seem to be distinctions without differences: supporters of both views understandably want Islam to be a major part of the political order. But for Turks, these differences are seismic: the question is, do they belong to the Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim political camp, or do they belong to the wider Turkish world?

Since Erdoğan and his fellow Islamic fundamentalists took power in 2002, Gülen and his forces have been in the background, building prep-schools and propagating their version of Islam — in Turkey, in the Turkic world, and also in America. It is not surprising that when Gülen faced legal difficulties in Turkey[4] in 1999, he fled to the U.S., ostensibly for medical treatment, apparently still ongoing.[5]

On May 31, 2010, Erdoğan’s government backed and encouraged a flotilla of Turkish ships supposedly to bring needed supplies to the Gaza Strip, ruled by their fellow Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalists, Hamas. Gülen may have seen this as an opportunity indirectly publicly to chastise Erdoğan. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal[6], Gülen argued that as Israel legitimately controlled the waters off Gaza, the flotilla should have asked for Israel’s permission to land there. Gülen did not criticize Erdoğan directly; people rarely criticize others directly in Turkey. But culturally, his choice of words indicated to Turks that he was blamed Erdoğan for creating the crisis.

Gülen has not been known to be supportive of the Jews, nor for that matter of the U.S. or the West.[7] But now in his battle is evidently to ensure that Turkish Islam defeats the so-called Arab-Muslim Brotherhood type of Islam supported by Erdoğan, the Jews and the West might well seem useful allies. As many Middle Easterners say, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” A friendship, or alliance, might be temporary, but may continue as long as required.[8]

Read more at Gatestone Institute

 

Can Muslims Reopen the Gates of Ijtihad?

imagesCAW9P52Fby Harold Rhode

The way things look now, only if the forces which want to bring back seventh century Islamic society were to suffer a massive defeat, could there be much hope. Only then, after the anti-ijtihad forces were defeated and no longer had access to unlimited financial resources with which to spread their anti-critical thinking, can things change.

The exercise of critical thinking and independent judgment – or Ijtihad –was an important way to address questions in the early centuries of Islam. After approximately 400 years, however, the leaders of the Sunni Muslim world closed the “Gates of Ijtihad;” Muslims were no longer allowed use itjihad to solve problems. If a seemingly new problem arose, they were supposed to find an analogy from earlier scholars and apply that ruling to the problem that arose. From the 10th century onwards, Sunni Muslim leaders began to see questioning as politically dangerous to their ability to rule. Regrettably, Sunni Muslim leaders reject the use of itjihad to this day.

As questioning could very likely upset the established order and bring down the autocracies and despotic regimes which rule most of the Muslim world, even Muslims who live in freer Muslim countries such as Turkey often hesitate to exercise ijtihad. How did the Muslim world succumb to this situation, and is there a way out?

Ijtihad in historical context

Ijtihad was important in early Islam: when questions arose – even while Muhammad was alive – for which there were no answers, Muhammad would call the Muslims together in their mosque. They would discuss the issues at hand, reason them through, and come to a consensus — so came into being the Islamic concept of ijma’ (consensus among the scholars).[1]

After Muhammad died, however, the Muslim community rapidly expanded; the community of scholars became too large, and ijma’ no longer practical. What developed was a body of traditions – called hadiths – sayings and deeds attributed to their prophet Muhammad. When new questions arose, people would seek out individuals who had known Muhammad and ask them whether they had seen or heard Muhammad address the matter at hand.

Within 200 years, the number of hadiths was thought to be in the hundreds of thousands, but people had no way of knowing which were true and which were fabricated. The great Muslim scholar, al-Bukhari (810 -870 CE), who analyzed them, concluded that only a few thousand were reliable.[2]

Later, when still more questions arose, diverse schools of thought developed. The Quran, the hadiths, and those schools of thought were collected into Islamic law. This body of Islamic religious guidance is known as the Shari’a, or “The Path.”

During the first four centuries of Islam, Muslim scholars seem to have exercised independent judgment freely, and debated rigorously new issues that arose. The Muslim world at that time seems to have been inclusive and flexible; it accepted differing views, differing conclusions and differing sorts of influences that arose as part of the cultures of its large empire.[3]

Muslim scholars studied Arabic translations of ancient Greek texts which they thought might help them understand the nature of mankind as well as other aspects of life. These texts, though clearly non-Islamic, nevertheless provided scholars with useful insights. There were also intellectual interchanges with Jewish scholars, particularly in the fields of science, medicine, language, and geography. There seems to have been, however, little discussion with Christians.[4]

With time, however, the situation became unwieldy. Certain groups (called ghulat) were accused of extremism – going too far — and attempts were made to rein them in.[5] Questions arose as to the limits of divergent views, and whether “extremist elements” could still be considered Muslim. The many schools of Islamic thought were reduced to four; these became the basis of the Sunni Shari’a.

As Islamic rule started to become more autocratic, Islamic rulers began to see discord as potentially able to undermine their rule.

All four schools accepted the Quran as the divine word of God, and the hadiths as the source for legal decisions. But it soon became apparent that the larger the number of hadiths a school of thought accepted, the more restrictive and rigid this school became. The Hanafi school of law, for example – the most liberal school of thought, founded by Abu Hanifa (699-767 CE) — accepted over a few thousand hadiths. In contrast, the most restrictive of the four schools – founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (778-863 CE) — accepted tens of thousands. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the 18th century Wahhabism — probably one of the most restrictive forms of Islam — developed out of the Hanbali School of law.

The Islamic authorities possibly still worried that despite four schools of thought, dissent would become unmanageable. Towards the end of the eleventh century, therefore, they officially closed the “Gates of Ijtihad.” There may have been too many different answers to the same questions, leading to confusion. Possibly this, in turn, may have made it difficult for the authorities to maintain order as well as to justify their autocratic rule.

Muslim scholars also appear to have decided that as all questions had been addressed, there was no longer any need to exercise independent judgment. The result was that exercising independent judgment became no longer permissible.

During the twelfth century, nevertheless, there were still attempts to use rational and deductive reasoning. In Muslim Spain, for instance, Averroes (aka Ibn Rushd, 1126-1198 CE), one of the founders of secular reasoning in Europe, refused to accept the closing of the Gates of Ijtihad. He continued to use Arabic translations of classical Greek sources, and preferred strictly rational methods to decide matters in contention. As in the Muslim world the Gates of Ijtihad had been closed, however, his rulings proved unacceptable.

********

Muslim attempts to re-open the Gates of Ijtihad

Most of the governments of the Muslim world are despotic regimes run by autocrats who do not allow their citizens to question them. Questioning might lead to insurrection; governments might be overthrown. These leaders, therefore, make sure to appoint “official” religious leaders who will endorse the government line. Ijtihad might lead people to question regimes; a situation that cannot be tolerated. It is not surprising that calls for re-opening the Gates of Ijtihad fall on deaf ears, as the Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, and others all do their utmost to stamp out individual thought.

Because questioning religion — and much else — is not allowed, some young Muslims who grow up in Islamic lands find much of what was forced down their throats meaningless, then reject Islam. When some of them come to the West, often their first reaction is to stay as far away from Islam and Muslims as possible. Some, after they remain in the West for a while, stumble upon books about Islam in libraries; they start reading and realize that there is a lot of beauty and knowledge in Islam – just not when forced down their throats. They read, but find almost no one with whom they can share their newfound curiosity.

If and when they do find a kindred spirit, there is often a sort of dance – a tiptoeing around the real questions – mostly out of fear and suspicion. With time, when they realize that other people might have similar interests and feel safe enough to open up, they introduce each other to other men who think like them, but as if these are secret societies: there is a fear that if others, who may not agree, find out what they are discussing, both they and their families back home could suffer. They know well that organized Islam, even in the West, is controlled overwhelmingly by forces that strongly oppose ijtihad.

The internet has offered many the anonymity to pursue an interest in Islam. A surgeon from Malaysia now living in California who says he is happy with his life there, writes on the internet extensively about his fascination with Islam and ijtihad. (See his blog at http://www.bakrimusa.com) His daring has attracted others who write on his blog about Islam. He also boldly states that he could never have engaged in these types of discussions about Islam in his native Malaysia. Could the internet be a way out of this Muslim predicament?

There is also a remarkable group called the Ahl al-Quran[8] which originated in Egypt. The group’s adherents maintain that the only true source of Islamic law is the Quran, the only divine text of Islam. The hadiths and the legal exegesis which constitute Shari’a law, they argue, are just interpretations of the Quran. The interpretations were made by man, and occurred because of problems Muslims had after the Quran was revealed. The scholars addressed problems Muslims faced centuries ago. Muslims in the 21st century, they state, face different problems and should use the Quran – and only the Quran, just as the earliest Islamic scholars did – to find solutions to modern problems. They see no reason why Muslim scholars today cannot think creatively as the scholars of early Islam used to do.

As it is more comfortable to find Quranic material that can be used to address modern situations, and not then feel encumbered by the enormous weight of the hadiths and other legal and interpretive material from ancient religious scholars, an Egyptian organization, Ahl al-Quran, maintains that science and technology are Allah’s gifts to man, to be used to address contemporary problems.

After Egypt’s religious establishment ordered the Ahl al-Quran banned, arrested, or expelled, the group was forced to flee; it is now based in the United States. Why was it forced out? Its adherents, well versed in the Quran, rejected the imposed decision-making of Egypt’s al-Azhar religious establishment,[9] and stated that Islam strongly opposes dictatorship in both its political and religious forms. Instead, this group has been using the Quran to demonstrate that the original Muslim community was inclusive and that it encouraged discussion,[10] both of which today are absent in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world.

When Western officials ask Egyptian political and religious officials about the Ahl al-Quran, the Egyptians laugh and smear the group, labeling its members as crazy extremists with no following. Sadly, because of our ignorance of Islamic culture, or political pressures, we usually accept what the Egyptian government officials tell us without subjecting their remarks to “our own ijtihad,” thereby closing our eyes to a force which could help save the Muslim world from itself, and possibly even help prevent a clash between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Conclusion

Is there a chance that the Muslims could reopen the Gates of Ijtihad? For the foreseeable future, the answer seems to be a resounding no. The mislabeled “Arab Spring” has turned into an “Arab Winter” in which the forces who apparently want to recreate an imagined, glorious past society modeled after what they believe their prophet established. Add to that the huge amounts of money Wahhabi “allies” of the U.S. are spending throughout the Muslim world, to propagate their militant version of Islam, and things do not look promising.

Those who understand that without itjihad, they have no future, are being forced underground, and, if they are lucky, then emigrate. These emigrants who think critically rarely move into Islamic communities where critical thinking is discouraged.

The way things look now, only if the forces which want to bring back seventh century Islamic society were to suffer a massive defeat, could there be much hope. Only then, after the anti-ijtihad forces were defeated and no longer had access to unlimited financial resources with which to spread their anti-critical thinking, can things change.

Until then, the Gates of Ijtihad will almost assuredly remain tightly shut, and the forces which now control Islam will see to it that they remain so.

Regrettably, if this analysis is correct, the future does not look able to be transformed for the Muslim world or its adherents in the near future. Until Muslim countries and communities in the West allow their people to express themselves freely — without fear of reprisal — it is unlikely that the Muslim world will be able to reopen the Gates of Ijtihad and again become a center of science and creativity as it used to be in the early centuries of Islam.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

Harold Rhode received in Ph.D. in Ottoman History and later served as the Turkish Desk Officer at the US Department of Defense. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

See also:

Dr. Tawfik Hamid: Islam Needs Modern Interpretation (radicalislam.org)

The Problems with Islamic Culture

 By Jerry Gordon at The Dr. Rich Show:

Harold Rhode, an accomplished expert on Islam had a recent piece  in The American Thinker, “Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World”.  The Power Line  blog in a post, “The Problem of Islamic Culture” identifies Rhode’s background and how he arrived at his views:

[He is] a Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute who has written a provocative article about the cultural shortcomings of the Muslim World. Rhode knows whereof he speaks. He is an expert on Islam and the Middle East, and has a PhD from Columbia in Islamic studies and Middle Eastern history. Rhode is fluent in Farsi, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. He formerly worked for the Pentagon in the Office of Net Assessment, an internal Defense Department think-tank. And, most importantly for purposes of his article, Rhode has spent considerable time sitting in coffee or tea houses in the Islamic world, spending time with Muslims, and asking them questions in their own surroundings and in their own languages.
Rhode presents a litany of deficiencies among Palestinian Muslims which might be extended to the global Ummah or Islamic community of believers:
•    Not  encouraged to  question Islamic authority;
•    No incentives  that encourage creativity;
•    No ability to admit failure and learn from it;
•    Emphasis on rote learning;
•    Peace doesn’t  exist for  unbelievers;
•    Devaluation of women;
•     Limited intellectual curiosity beyond Qur’anic doctrine; and,
•    Dependency on petro-dollar income rather than broader development.
Rhode distinguishes this mindset  from Jewish culture, given the alleged genetic family relationship with Palestinian Muslims:
The Jewish culture encourages questioning and thinking from an early age, whereas the Palestinian Muslim culture does not. What is encouraged instead is the unexamined acceptance of whatever is set before one, whether on government-run television or in government-written textbooks. Religion has nothing to do with this situation; Islam therefore is not the problem: Islamic culture is. Only when Muslims address their culture head-on can there be any real hope for their world to overcome its self-imposed limitations and start fully contributing to the wonders of the 21st century.
Another way of putting Rhode’s observations in context is that Islamic countries are wedded to an ossified totalitarian creed denying civil and human rights and a future – the basis of the Judeo Christian value system and Western dynamism.
Under Islam all thought outside Qur’anic doctrine is deviant, women are evil and unbelievers have no standing let alone justice. Apostates are to be punished and even killed. Any criticism is considered Blasphemy. That is unfortunately at the core of Qur’anic doctrine. As for development; Inshallah –if Allah wills it, he provides. There is little to no individual free will.
Accounting for all of the oil revenues of Muslim Middle East states their total GDP per capita is equivalent to what?  Finland. How many Nobel laureates in science, medicine and even literature has the Muslim world produced, compared to the rest of the world,  even  tiny Israel?
We asked Clare Lopez, a national security,  Islamic expert and Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy for her review of Rhode’s thesis. Lopez is a co-author of  Shariah: The Threat To America: An Exercise In Competitive Analysis (Report of Team B II) . She sent us this reply:
Harold is absolutely right in everything he says. However,  he writes from a totally Western perspective.  Islam doesn’t want the same things we want….individual Muslims may, but not Islam, the institution.  Besides which, whatever it is they’re doing, it’s working!
Not only has Islam survived 14 centuries and defeated many non-Western civilizations  it has come up against. It may well be on its way to bringing down Western civilization, too….on top of the Buddhists, Byzantines, Hindus, Persians, and Middle East North African Christendom.
We err when we think that Islam will be better off with equal rights, individual liberty, minority protections, and all that we treasure…no!  It will not be better off. Islam, the institution, would be destroyed by these things. Non-Muslims and individual Muslims might love them, but the global institution of Islam would be annihilated with acceptance of these principles and they know it. That is why they fight them with everything they’ve got.
They created a system that works to conquer, dominate, and proliferate. It is all-encompassing, complex, and very, very sophisticated. Why would they even consider diluting that in the slightest, much less giving it up?
We have to understand that all first.  Then we must study hard and come up with effective ways to get inside their defenses, the way they’ve gotten inside ours. But thinking that these valued concepts of Western civilization are some kind of temptation to Islam, the institution as administered by  Islamic authorities, is folly….it’s not. It is red meat to them, gets them into a murderous frenzy.

Questions Facing the Muslim World

by Bill Warner, Politicalislam.com

by Harold Rhode at Gatestone Institute:

Palestinian political leaders, however, seem to have decided that the rewards from the international community, at least for them, will be greater if they are seen as victims receiving perpetual handouts, rather than as leaders receiving rewards linked to accomplishments. The economic system seems to have evolved into bribes in exchange for promises that are never kept, followed later by the request for still more bribes.

Many parts of the world, such as Korea, China, and India – basically medieval kingdoms fifty or sixty years ago — are now among the pacesetters of the modern world, both producing, and improving on, existing inventions. The Muslim world, however, often better off than these countries just half a century ago, has remained as it was, or has even, in many instances, deteriorated.

This inertia in the Islamic world seems to stem not from any genetic limitations, or even religious ones, but purely from Islamic culture.

Although one can gain some insight into Islamic culture from books and other written material, if one is to really understand the Muslim world, there is no substitute for sitting in coffee or tea houses, spending time with Muslims, and asking them questions in their own surroundings and in their own languages. A result of these approaches would seem to indicate, with respect, some of the factors citizens of the Arab and Muslim world might wish to consider to use their extraordinary talents even more fully:

The Ability to Question: Western culture is predicated on questioning: inquiring of authorities how they came to the conclusions they reached — a concept from the ancient Greek word “historayn,” to learn by asking. Although in the Shiite world questioning occurs among religious authorities and the educated elite, in the Sunni world, for centuries, asking questions of those more learned or in positions of authority has been unacceptable. Until Muslims once again allow themselves to ask questions and engage in critical examination, they are disabling themselves from accomplishing as much as they otherwise might.

The Role of the Individual vs. the Role of the Group: In much of the Muslim world, people are often seen not as individuals but as members of particular families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, or religions. In the Muslim and Arab world, a problem between two people can become a problem between two families, with the individual becoming a “soldier” in the ensuing feud. What an individual might think personally – who is right and who is wrong – becomes irrelevant, fostering a mindset that obstructs the impersonal and dispassionate analytic thinking that defines the modern world.

Encouraging Creativity: A good way to define Western intellectual creativity in the Muslim world is to use the Arabic word ijtihad, roughly meaning using one’s intellectual and reasoning capabilities to determine answers. Today’s Islamic culture seems not to encourage this ability: among the Sunni Muslims, who comprise about 85% of the approximately 1.4 billion Muslims, the “Gates of Ijtihad” were closed about a thousand years ago, apparently for the political reasons: religious authorities declared that all questions had been addressed during the past four centuries, so there was therefore no more need for questioning. Since then, Muslims have been asked to accept institutionally what they learn from their authority figures – as in the word Islam, itself, meaning “submission.” Islamic culture therefore does not only to encourage creativity as much as it might; it appears actively to discourage it: people are educated to memorize, not criticize.

Creativity requires, above all, questioning the accepted ways of doing things. What many Muslims do, therefore – and do very well – is produce things invented by others. The Turks, for example, who have had longer and closer contacts with the West than most other areas of the Muslim world have had, are superb at replicating what others have created. Although the F-16, for example, was created in the US, the only perfect one ever manufactured by the mid-1990′s was assembled in an F-16 plant in Turkey. Individual Turks would have been perfectly capable of inventing an F-16, but often feel constrained to think creatively in their own country. This might be a reason that gifted individuals in the Muslim world who feel the need to expand their abilities often abandon their native countries for the West, and do brilliantly there.

The Ability to Admit Failure and Learn from It: Although no one particularly likes to fail, people in the West expect those who have failed to examine why they have failed, and to learn from their mistakes. Some high-tech firms even try to hire people who have failed at startups in the hope of gaining insights so their companies will not pursue avenues that did not succeed. It is hard to imagine a similar approach in any Muslim country, where it is virtually impossible for anyone publicly to admit failure. The concept of personal honor – (in Arabic, ‘Ayib) what others say about you – is prevalent everywhere: admitting failure means shaming yourself, a situation to be avoided at all costs. In Western culture, this concept of shame is largely alien; we are more of a “guilt” culture, in that what we think about ourselves counts more than how others view us, and largely motivates our advancement.

In Asian cultures, for example, which also care deeply about “face,” a more neutral way of recognizing problems has evolved. The Japanese and the Chinese, for instance, do not say they have failed; they say that the road that had been chosen did not prove to work, so the direction should be changed. This indirect way of admitting failure has helped them advance. Such a blameless approach, however, is virtually non-existent in the Muslim world, and a major reason so much of it remains in squalor.

The results of this contrast – the Asian and Western and Asian cultures on one hand, and the Muslim culture on the other — might be described as two kids of cakes: just looking at the cake tells you nothing about how it tastes. The Western world is like a cake covered with an uninviting khaki-colored frosting. Although it might look awful, the cake inside tastes great: its ingredients are first class and well-baked. By contrast, the Muslim world is like a cake covered with beautiful frosting, but made out of ingredients that might disappoint the people at the table.

The Learning Process: Muslim culture emphasizes memorization. Universities in Muslim lands grant degrees based on the students memorizing vast amounts of material, but not necessarily knowing how to apply them. In engineering, for instance, the Arab world graduates more than 250,000 engineers each year, but when the Arabs want to build an airport, they invariably import foreigners to do it, In the Arab world, engineering degrees often have become symbols of “personal honor” rather than knowledge to be used.

Taking Responsibility for One’s Actions: In the same vein, there is no equivalent in the Muslim world to the Western concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions. The word mas’uliya in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian is usually translated in Western dictionaries as “responsibility,” but it really has a meaning which corresponds more to the Western concept of “being held responsible for, or being blamed for something not going well.” The meaning of this word in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish has little to do with the Western concept of responsibility — defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the ability to act independently and make decisions,” and largely devoid of personal honor.

Read more