At the turn of the twenty-first century, especially after the 9/11 tragedies, studies and policy debate on Islam and Muslim societies has come to focus substantially on Islam’s ability to attract young Muslims towards anti-Western infrastructure and the its concept of human rights. As a result, many Muslim apologists have sought to dispel Islamic militancy, as well as the general socio-economic and political stagnation experienced in some Muslim societies, to Islamic theological or legal dictates arguing that political Islam can coexist in the free world. This was advocated by Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated in June 2015, when she stated: “I am not afraid to say that political should be part of the picture. Religion plays a role in politics — not always for good, not always for bad. Religion can be part of the process. What makes the difference is whether the process is democratic or not… The fear of the other can only lead us to new conflicts.” The truth of the tale is that as Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkey, sustained Islam is “a theology of an immoral Arab” [emphasis my own]. And while “it might have suited tribes of nomads in the desert,” it was vitiated by its sharia-based antiquated structure, thereby being counterproductive for a modern and developing state.
It was political stagnation and incongruity that Atatürk fought against and changed after the Turkish War of Independence (1919–1923). “For nearly five hundred years,” Atatürk maintained, “these [Islamic] rules and theories of an Arab Shaikh and the interpretations of generations of lazy and good-for-nothing [sheiks or imams] have decided the civil and criminal law of Turkey.” Referring to the Ottoman Empire, he added it that held that was “a crazy structure based upon broken religious foundations.”
Apologists believe in the coexistence of the Islamic religion and Western society is possible, or that Islamic states can accept and develop a healthy democracy, safeguarding and promoting rights based on equity. This thesis is manifesting itself in an ever more insistent manner by virtue of today’s interreligious dialogue between the Vatican and the various representatives of the political-Islamic body. Their point of reference is, in part, the aforementioned Turkish model, which is represented by a form of republican, democratic and secular state, with a majority Muslim population. The irony of the story is that Atatürk, who was convinced that the progress of Turkey depended on the separation between civil and religious law. That is why he abolished the caliphate — already united to the office of the sultan from 1577 — of Abdülmecid II in 1924, with the complete ouster of “political Islam” and with the refusal of any dialogue with their religious authorities.
This helps us understand that Islam was historically born as a political-religious community in which there were neither institutions, nor clergy, nor governmental offices, since the Prophet Mohammed was the only depositary and interpreter of a divine and transcendent law that governed all human activities. The Islamic community then evolved, simultaneously constituting a political-juridical structure and an institutionalized set of religious mandates, which resulted in a theocratic nation. As the head of a monocratic state, the Prophet issued regulations that made the political body inseparable from the imposed religion. Those who wished to be members of the Islamic community were forced to accept the doctrine of Muhammad with a profession of faith to stay alive; in short, they necessarily had to become and remain Muslims. Any separation from the only recognized religion would be taken as a betrayal of the political community that was built on that religion.
Atatürk’s foresight cannot be altogether dismissed, given that at present, so many Muslims living in Islamic countries live below the poverty line, despite nations such as Saudi Arabia possessing enormous natural resources. Barring few exceptions, the 57-Islamic member-states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — the self-proclaimed voice for all Muslims in the world — remain economically underdeveloped; their education system is also equally dismal. Research shows that the literacy rate of the average OIC adult between the years 1999 and 2008 was 70.2%, which is almost 10 percent lower than the world average of 79.6%; a 2018 report from Tunisa showed that half of the global poverty is to be found in the Muslim world. Unlike the People’s Republic of China, whose solid infrastructure enabled it to build “one of the best education systems in the world, [raising] hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through sheer hard work, not just with the good luck of having ample natural resources,” Islamic nations have done the opposite.
Western officials remain reticent in publicly admitting that Islam under sharia law discourages any proper development of human rights, such as freedom of speech and of religion, or that it fails to recognize the equality between man and woman. Even in so-called pro-Western countries like Jordan, despite recent efforts to give women better protections, Amnesty Intonational said in a new report published last week that Jordan still allows the arbitrary detention of women, including when male family members — usually fathers or brothers — complain to the authorities that they have been absent without permission. Let us also not forget that Islam also justifies illegitimate use of force and condones domestic violence, as well as pre-pubescent marriages and slavery.