Talking About Religion

Author: Hasan Yücel Başdemir*

“Differences among my community (ummah) is a blessing for the people.”

Prophet Muhammad

Religion is one of the most fragile and tense areas in human relations. It is in the same situation at the discussions over the television programs and social media. Discussions are generally about the secondary matters of religion. These secondary matters are often dealt as if they are subjects of creed and worship. When insignificant issues are treated as if they are very important or crucial, religion becomes a field of debate and conflict among religious people.

I am talking about the disagreements and tensions that arise among the members of the same religion (Islam). Focused topics are given: Religious and social legitimacy of the congregations, attitudes towards hadiths and sunnah, the religious value of hadiths, mahdi-messiah, contemporary and traditional approaches to the Qur’an, being mythicized of people and innocence, position of religious affairs, beginning and the end of Ramadan, the truth of iftar and sahur clocks, the place and shape of veiling, the relation of religion and politics, salafism, fatalism, the life style and business life of religious people.

The list may be short, but these are general discussion topics. Different approaches which can be expressed easily in these issues show that the basic freedoms are a good point in Turkey. On the other hand, differences in religious field in a society are a demonstration of intellectual and cultural richness. Because the existence of sects shows us that there is no “one and only” interpretation of religion and will not ever be. Even more important, the differences contribute to the development of religious thought in terms of testing each other’s thoughts.

Despite this fact, a particular discussion method and tradition being open to different ideas increases the quality of these discussions. Although there have been discussions on religion for so many years, the manner we see today has not been seen before. The discussions are hard, wordings are sharp and attitudes are discriminatory. In this case, the environment of free thought that we expect to produce a positive result brings no desirable effect on the religious thought or experience. People do not listen to each other, they always go their own way.

The above-mentioned topics are not credos related to the field of faith. It does not harm your faith if you are mistaken in these matters. Because they are not fundamental components of Islam based on the primary sources, particularly Quran and Hadith. So these matters show us that “if you hit the mark you get two rewards, else you get one reward.” These are Prophet Muhammad’s famous words to be cited from Bukhari’s book.

We should also not forget the famous saying of Imam Azam: “Interpreting the message sent by Allah does not drive you out of the religion unless denying it.” Sects, temperaments and congregations are exactly product of these interpretation differences and sects do not exclude each other in Islam. The Prophet tells us that conflict/disagreement in religion is a blessing.

Nevertheless, some people see the religion as a field of conflict, reckoning and fighting and they are slamming to ‘defiers’ by taking all the intellectual and religious resources behind them. However, mainly consisting of disciplines of Islamic fiqh and kalam that we call theology aims to create a compromise and closeness of faith by talking frankly among people who believe in the history. At the time, Islamic theology tolerates the different approaches of sects and allows multiple-truth in the religious field of the above mentioned. Islamic sects do not exclude one another. Another aim of Islamic theology is a field of illumination used to demonstrate the supremacy and elegance of Islam over other beliefs by using rational ways. These two functions seem to have disappeared today.

Even though they do not serve these purposes today, these are the main aims of traditional Islamic sciences. If we cannot achieve these aims, it is not the failure of fıqh or kalam -or even more generally Islamic sciences- but of people who cannot use these tools well.

Religion is not a complicated and incomprehensible pile of truth. Its message is mere and simple. There are different lifestyles and ways of thinking that create this message. This is the result of the richness in religious life. The differences of circumstances and anticipations find out different appearances of the essence of the message. But that essence (the principle of faith and worship) prevents the syncretism of faith, that is, its impairment by external influences. Islamic culture has accomplished this well than other belief systems. It needs not to sacrifice this richness to bigotry, temperament and congregation. Deepening these disagreements over mythical personalities greatly harms the development of religious thought. No one other than Allah is innocent and infallible in the faith of Islam, including the prophets.

In recent years, the parties of these conflicts are divided into classes such as theologians, congregants, traditionalists, salafists, radicals, modernists. This should be welcomed. Many things can be said about these matters but none of these discriminatory words serve the quality of religious life and thought. They just harm or destroy. Prophet Muhammad said: “Differences of opinion among the members of my community is a blessing for the people.”

Keep differences, but do not discriminate.

Translation: Burcu Kırbaş

Correction: Hakan Şahin

(*) Prof. Hasan Yücel Başdemir is a faculty member at the department of Islamic Sciences in Yıldırım Beyazıt University. His Master’s thesis is about Understanding of John Stuart Mill on Liberty, and his PhD is on the Moral Foundations of Liberalism. He has published collections of essays on The Problem of Knowledge in Contemporary Epistemology, Religious Freedom and Secularism in Turkey (all in Turkish). He is the Board Member of Quarterly Journal of Liberal Thought and the editor of Liberte Publications.