By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Editor, WordForPeace.com
“Muslim political theology developed over centuries under conditions of empire but elements of it continue to resonate to this very day”, writes Prof. Ebrahim Moosa, noted scholar of Islamic thought, law, and theology. He has elucidated in his paper as to what political theology is. It is in the words of Jan Assmann, “the ever-changing relationships between political community and religious order, in short, between power [authority] and salvation”, he writes in his remarkable essay on Muslim political theology (1).
The pro-government political theologians in Muslim countries have propounded a complete political theology—an exclusivist and totalitarian theology which undermines the democratic, moderate and progressive thoughts flourishing in the liberal Muslim minds. Regrettably, many religionists in those countries are falling prey to this unceasing ideology endangering their lives and stigmatising the religion in general. Unless this retrogressive theology of political hue is contested, there will be no way forward to progressive thinking in Islam in the 21st century. It actually poses a direct ideological threat to the rich spiritual traditions—unity of existence, pluralism and multiculturalism—that Muslims have inherited in various countries.
Most deplorably for the gullible Muslims the world over, political theologians in their countries have often legitimised the acts of sadism and persecution perpetrated by the Islamist regime or extremist outfits.
Let’s begin with the topmost Islamist theologian of today, Shaikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi—the chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. He has his theological underpinnings behind his call to kill Syria’s armed forces, civilians, religious clerics and even the common citizens which he calls ‘ignorants’ and “illiterates”. He blatantly states that it is permitted [in religion] to target “anyone who supports the Syrian regime” (2).
Notably, al-Qaradawi, who is also the contemporary ideologue of the Egyptian extremist outfit, Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), is the chief Islamist jurist who secures fatwas and religious decrees in favour of the Qatar government’s policies and practices. He is the first contemporary Islamist jurist to have justified suicide bombing as a war tactic in ‘certain circumstances’. He gave this fatwa in his worldwide exposure via Al-Jazeera television through his weekly program “Sharia and Life” (al-Shari’awal-Hayat). Al-Qaradawi’s fatwas justifying the violent jihad and suicide bombing provided theological legitimacy to those fighting the Kuffar (infidels) and Murtaddin (apostates). His fatwas also promoted and legitimized martyrdom operations referring to them as “a higher form of jihad for the sake of Allah”, as Al Arabiya reported (3).
Interestingly, Al-Qardawi also stated that “he was not alone in believing suicide bombings as legitimate form of self-defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks”. “Hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion”, he said.
Certainly, Al-Qardawi is not alone in promulgating the takfirist political theology. There are many equivalents of Al-Qardawi in today’s Muslim world. In Turkey, Sheikh Hayrettin Karaman is the Islamic legal expert who can be better known as ‘Erdoğan’s chief fatwa-supporter’. He has approved of the torture, abuse and the mass purge of the innocent civilians in Turkey. Karaman has issued several religious edicts (fatwas) endorsing the wrongdoings of the Turkish President and absolving his responsibilities. He wrote several articles in the Erdoğanist newspaper, Yeni Şafak declaring the purge and persecution of the Turkish civilians as “lesser crimes”.
The Turkish President Recep Tyyip Erdogan has successfully secured the edicts (fatwas) of the pro-government Islamist jurists and legal experts (muftis) in order to satisfy his religious electorate. Several Turkish ulema and muftis have endorsed his regime’s brutalities in the recent the mass purge of the Turkish civilians. But Sheikh Hayrettin Karaman has emerged as the chief Islamist theologian in Turkey and pro-Erdogan fatwa-issuer. In his recent theological writings and columns, he has endorsed the grave human rights violations under Erdogan’s autocratic regime. Karaman has passed as bizarre fatwa as this: “Those who do not cast votes in favour of the ruling party—Justice and Development Party (AKP)—are opponents of Islam.” In his regular column published in what is known as the Erdoganist mouthpiece Yeni Şafak, a Turkish newspaper, Karaman states that all people in the “no camp” [no voters]—supporters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), white Turks and Kemalists—are “opponents of Islam”. He writes: “Most of them are notably from the CHP and HDP, white Turks, Kemalists — opponents of Islam, fans of the West who are estranged from their own values, those who don’t want Turkey to be strong, those who don’t want the Islamic world to be united, those who don’t want Turkey and the East to leave the orbit designed by the West. That is the main reason behind ‘no’”.
More staggeringly, the political theologians and fatwa-issuers in Turkey like Karaman have propounded an untenable theological justification for the rampant corruption and persecution in the country. They aver that Turkey still falls under the category of ‘Dar al-Harb’ (non-Islamic land) and, therefore, the government’s Islamist forces who are doing ‘jihad’ in the country in order to convert it into the ‘Dar al-Islam’ (abode of Islam) are well-intentioned and ‘infallible’. For them, winning the elections is winning an Islamic expedition or ‘ghazwa’. Thus, the winners are entitled to maal-e-ghanimah (war booty). They can bend Islamic rules, as per the needs, and also break the country’s official law. Karaman also decreed in his fatwa that religious individuals and groups can be sacrificed for the sake of the state. He cited the example of Muhsin Yazycyoy-lu, a Turkish civilian who was killed in a dubious helicopter accident. This is precisely how the political theologians of Islam produce fatwas favouring Erdogan’s regime in Turkey and legitimizing his government’s corruption and unlawful practices of his Islamist politicians.
Lamenting this sorry state of affairs, noted Turkish academician, Ehsan Yilmaz, a frequent contributor to Today’s Zaman, an independent media outlet, which the government has now shut down, writes:
“The elected Islamist politicians can get bribes in the form of 10 to 20 percent commission on public tenders worth billions of dollars from building contractors. Erdogan had to actually defend this corrupt practice after his ministers were caught red-handed by prosecutors with concrete evidence. He reportedly said that since it was not stolen from the treasury but given by the businessmen, it was not corruption. Nevertheless, until the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigations, so few people knew this. After the December 17 investigation, Erdogan’s chief fatwa-giver Hayrettin Karaman started writing openly about these issues. I think, he was trying to convince Erdogan’s religious voters that: “Yes, Erdogan did corrupt things, but it was for the dawah, jihad and the Islamist cause, not for himself.”
It is interesting to note that Sheikh Karaman wrote two entire columns in the pro-government Turkish newspaper—Yeni Safak—against the writings of Yhsan Yilmaz, accusing him of committing ‘irtidad’ (apostasy)—the gravest sin in Islam. “After this fatwa and Erdogan’s proclamation at a public gathering that I was a traitor, I have been receiving death threats. Since there is no independent judiciary, I cannot even complain about these through appropriate legal channels”, wrote Yilmaz (4).
One of the fanatic fatwas of Sheikh Karaman that looms large in the Turkish Muslim society is against the participation in interfaith dialogue. He decried it as ‘un-Islamic’ in a bid to curb the peace activism and dialogue efforts of the faith-based moderate Turkish community inspired by the Sufi-oriented scholar, M. Fethullah Gülen. This fatwa has emboldened Gulen’s arch rival, Tyyep Erdogan to categorically state in a speech during his visit to Pakistan on Nov.17, 2016 that, “interfaith-dialogue between Islam and Christianity is impossible” and that the “dialogue with Vatican is ruled out”. Tellingly, Gulen has inspired the global movement of Hizmet (service) with a worldwide network of volunteers actively engaged in interfaith dialogue and peace activism with a broader spectrum of cultures and faith traditions. But with the fatwa of the leading political pro-government theologian in Turkey, Erdogan has launched a strike against the Hizmet’s core belief in interfaith dialogue, religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims. No wonder then, Sheikh Karaman, in his fatwas against the Hizment, also known as the Gulen movement, has ruled that the movement is working against the state interests and creating ‘fitnah’ (tribulation), thereby, it can legitimately be destroyed by the state.
The Turkish President and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have come under strong criticisms in the last several years for reintroducing torture, abuse and ill-treatment in detention centres and prisons. But very few analysts and observers have contested the political theology providing the stimulus behind this spade of torture and mass persecution.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is well-versed in Islamic Studies and comparative religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org