My comments on Mustafa Akyol book “Islam without Extremes.”

It is challenging to write a book based on religion and history with a convincing case relevant to modern time. I think the Turkish Journalist Mustafa Akyol has successfully met this challenge and present an exceedingly compelling and convincing case for Liberal Islam.

I loved the way he described Abu Hanifa the pioneer of the juristic side of the rationalist school, the Mutazilite philosophy and the war of ideas between the Traditionalists and Rationalists throughout the history of Islam.

Akyol highlighted the link between economic prosperity and freedom of religious ideas, illustrating how the school of Tradition cut off the young Islamic community from the economic mainstream. By isolating Muslims from doing trade with nonbelievers, it severly affects every aspect of life from economy to art, language, science and many resources.

He also addresses a particularly tricky issue; “the rise of hadith” and the theory of abrogation in what is described as the “Post Quar’anic ideology”. In fact, if anyone wants a medical diagnosis of what went wrong in Islam, then look within some aspects of this ideology, for example, the distaste of some toward “innovation”.

Throughout the book, Akyol incorporates lessons from Turkey (Both Ottomans & kemalist). Akyol described the Ottoman Empire as a pluralist state (a description that I struggle to agree with). Yes, the state was tolerant to non-Muslims, but reforms and modernization only took place in the later period of the Ottoman rule. During the early period, the empire was strong and powerful but many of its subject particularly non-Turks were oppressed and lost their national identity without gaining equal rights. Sadly, the process of modernization came a bit late; the seeds of hatred and separatism were already planted in the heart and mind of many Ottomans subjects.

Akyol rightly rejects authoritarian regimes, even in its mild form. The attempt to push religion out of Muslim minds was proven counterproductive, and it failed drastically both in Turkey and Iran. However, Akyol clearly illustrate how the various rulers throughout Islamic history (as early as Umayyads & Abbasids) manipulated religion for their political needs. This basic historical fact should justify a degree of secularism provide it “allows freedom of religion not freedom from religion”.

The book also illustrates how kemalism nationalism has helped to destroy the religious identity in Turkey. However, a complete lack of national identity can also be counter-productive. Arab states lost their national identity under Ottomans rule, and they paid a hefty price following the collapse of the empire. The Arabs painfully had to watch colonial powers carving their lands to create new nations (even artificial ones), which had an immense knock on effect that still valid in modern days. It opened the door for nationalist, socialist dictatorship and religious extremism to fell the gap. Nationalism, as well as, secularism (in small doses) are not incompatible with Islam and can be accepted within a free liberal Islamic democratic society.

The last two chapters “freedom to sin” and “freedom from Islam” are simply delightful. Akyol clearly highlighted the clear distinction in Sharia between the rights of God and the right of people. Also, how the earthly punishment for apostasy is not Qur’anic but post Qur’anic.

His statement “ Replacing the fear of God with the fear of state or community could only be an obstacle to heart felt piety” reflect the style and the message of the whole book.

I guess the question is, how to convinces the masses to embrace liberal Islam? How to protect the rationalist school of thoughts from the overzealous of some? How to prevent past mistakes and secure a better future for Muslims?   Muslims need to reflect on their past and present and come with answers to these questions.  The Arab-spring provides a golden opportunity for Muslims to move on from the shadow of extremism and embark  on the road of rationalism as the way for a better future.

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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9 Responses to My comments on Mustafa Akyol book “Islam without Extremes.”

  1. thanks for you article!

    to comment: I think not many Muslims would follow on a path called liberal Islam since it has negative connotation from my experience, being the idea that it wishes to change what makes Islam what it is. I think if a faith changes itself & compromises to adapt, is a weak faith & might imply that Islam is imperfect hence not divine, hence I think many Muslims in Muslim majority countries would reject it.

    However the challenge is not to give something new in my humble opinion, it is in fact to destroy the modern extremist ideologies that masquerade as the origin of Islamic thought, Wahhabism being one culprit for instance. If one and many have, expose the fact that such ideas came to reform the faith from it’s beauty toward vulgarness and blind loyalty and away from spirituality & voluntary unity & brotherhood.

    I think where I’m going with this is, those who are liberal and muslim, Shouldn’t just provide a new way of looking into the faith, but to demonstrate first and foremost that their vision is not something cooked up by any group of people, but from the inspiration of Mohammad, & the word of God. It really depends on the intention of the individuals, is it to conform, or is it for what is best, is it for God’s love or the people, is it both?

    In my personal opinion the Islamic faith is so so diverse & rich in it’s history, thought, philosophy and spirituality that to show only that would be a giant leap toward the goals & aspirations of those who believe in freedom of faith and of people.


  2. nervana111 says:

    The whole idea behind Akyol book is to demonstrate that liberal rationalists ideas were ingrained within Islam and not introduced from outside. I strongly recommend to read the book and judge for yourself.


    • I really look forward to it! that’s what I like about Akyol, is that he’s not looking down on his faith like other liberal Muslims I have met & seen on TV, but looking into it’s history and the development of Islam, which is awesome.

      He’s giving a talk possibly in October so I think I’ll buy the book then so I can have it signed lol! You should come to it if you have the chance, the event itself is not open for registry until tomorrow!


  3. mindjitsu says:

    Very Interesting. You and abuhatem have convinced me that this is a book I must now read.


  4. Asim Miah says:

    Mustafa Akyol had an article in “The Daily” last month worth reading here:


    • nervana111 says:

      Thanks. Interesting article indeed.
      If you have a twitter account please let me know as I am would like to tweet the article and want to mention you as my source.


      • Asim Miah says:

        I don’t have a Twitter account. By the way, I occasionally post links on comparable issues on the BMSD Facebook page. If you’d like to email me or message me on Facebook about anything, feel free to do so.


  5. I read your article with great interest and I would like to comment on this sentence in the last paragraph.

    === how to convinces the masses to embrace liberal Islam? ===

    First, the word persuade is misplaced since it is directed to those whose beliefs are already crystallized.
    The word is to educate, but do not expect immediate results for the next elections campaign …
    It will take a generation at least if not more! …

    Second, the concept of a liberalism stand on its own. Or liberal or the other thing …
    There can not be a liberal Islam as there is no liberal Judaism!
    There are attempts to call it “reform” or “progressive”, but you can see who has the last word.

    Your article, (as usual) is a – DELIGHT !



  6. Asim Miah says:

    Mustafa Akyol recently wrote another good article on “The Islamic case for a secular state”. It’s in the Hurriyet here:


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