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Bilal sambur in an interview with Bamdadkhabar: Islam and liberalism


۱۳۹۱/۳/۱۸ - ۶:۲۴

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Bamdadkhabar-AbdolReza Ahmadi: the following interview is about Islam and Libralism, with Bilal Sambur, who is a divinity professor at Suleyman Demirel University,  in Isparta, Turkey.

What’s your general idea about freedom of religion and what’s your point of view in this issue, I mean what kind of interpretation from Islam is yours?

Religion has an important place in human life. Human individual has found a meaningful framework, which determines his/her relation with society, universe and God through religion. Every individual is unique. As a result of individual uniquenes, everyone  chooses different religions, morality and value systems.Individual uniqueness  makes  religious life  plural. Liberty and diversity are the main aspects of  religious life.R to be reeligious freedom is the  primary individual freedom, which protects individual religiosity from outside  intervention. Religious freedom   makes individual as the architect of religious life, who could choose, practice,  criticise, reject or challenge any religious view,  authority or text.Religious freedom  has three types. The first one is positive religious freedom, which could be expressed as freedom to religion. Positive religious freedom includes  freedom to choose, practice and interpret religion. The second type is negative religious freedom, which means freedom from religious. Negative religious freedom  includes the right to have an irreligious or antireligious life and the right to exit from religion. The third type is  public expression of  religious  freedom, which means every individual has liberty to manifest one’s religiosity or irreligiosity in social and cultural life.

Religious freedom excludes  the use of coercion from religious life. There are two main conditions for the implementation of religious freedom in a consistent and principled way. In order to implement religious freedom, state must be neutral. State  must be purified from religion or ideology. It is not the task of state to follow religion or ideology, it is up to individuals to follow any religion or ideology they want. The second condition is the right to exit, which includes one’s right to change  religion. Religious freedom gives Muslims or non-Muslims equally have the same libeties. If  Muslims  recognises religious freedom fully and  choose to live a part of  a pluralistic  society, they would have all rights and liberties like all  segments of society. All individuals, including Muslims, have  religious freedom, but they do not have the right  to impose their religion or ideology over society through the use of the state’s power. 

As you know the Shie Islam is so different from Suni. In your opinion how can we adapt Shie Islam with freedom of religion and liberalism?

There are  two main branches of Islam, namely Sunni and Shia.Although Sunni and Shia share common principles regarding  Islam, there are important differences regarding social and political matters. In Shia, there are special religious institutions and classes. In Sunni tradition, there is no particular religious  institution or class. In other words, Shia is centralized arond institutions and authorities while Sunni is decentralized.

The existence of particular religious institutions and classes in Shie unites religious, social and political power around them. Shia  religious authorities use  their religious power in order to control  society and state. Controlling state and society through religious authority is Shia version of authotarianism and totalitarianism.As long as Shii authorities  control society and state, this means the abolition of religious freedom and limited state. Liberalism is about  limiting the power of state in favour of individual  liberties. The power of Shia authorities must be limited  in order protect individual liberties. As long as Shia authorities control society and state, Shia totalitarianism  would held hostage  individual liberties.

In Suni point of view are Islam and liberalism are versatile or are in paradox?

The relation between Islam and liberalism is not a matter of compatibility or incompatibility. When we talk about  relationship between   Islam and liberalism, we should not forget that Islam and liberalism are not equal to each other. Islam is a religion while liberalism is a political ideology. Islam  aims to shape individual and social life whereas liberalism  aims to limit the power of state in favour of human liberties. The aim of religion is to guide, not to rule human life. As long as Islam guides human individual  morally, spiritually and religiously, it has no conflict with liberalism. But  if some people claim they  control and rule individual and social  life in the name of Islam,  this would be a religious totalitarianism, nothing else.

In Islam there is talk about Omat (nation) and mo’men (believer) as the definition of society and individuals, but liberalism speaks about citizen and individuals. In your opinion these two whole different ideas how can be comparable?

Collectivism is dominant in Muslim thought. Individual has no central significance and place in traditional religious thought. Instead of individuality, collective identity, such as ummah, has been emphasized.Being individual has no much value in reliious tradition.But being  a believer as a part of  religious  community is highly  praised, encouraged and valued.The idea of individual  and individual freedom are foreign concepts to religion. They are not religious  ideas. They are no-religious ideas, which have been developed recently. What is needed today is to explore the idea of  individual and individual liberty today.

In religious tradition,  religion is considered as the bases of citizenship. In other words, religious tradition  unites religion and citizenship together. But today it has been understood that religion and citizenship are not the same things, they are two different things. In order to be citizen we do not need to be religious, irreligious or anti religious. Everyone   has the right to be citizen, but everyone does not have to be religious. Separation of citizenship and religion  is a requirement in order to  protect human freedom and the pluralistic structure of society.

There are some economic institution in Shie interpretation that called “Mozare” “Mosaqat” “Mozare” “Reba” are these institution exist in Suni interpretation? If yes how can be versatile with economic liberal principles?

Free market economy is the natural economic system, which  gives economic freedom  to people  so that they could satisfy their economic needs without harming others. Economic freedom is the foundation of the free market economy.Free market economy requires a  strong justice system,  non-intervention by the state and competition. People could form different relations and institutions within free market economy. But all relations must be  voluntary and noone is allowed to use force against one other. People have fredom to enter  to the market and exit from the market.As long as people do not impose  their  particular economic understanding, which could be based on religion or ideology, they could use their economic freedom within free market economy.

In your opinion Turkey is going ahead to Islamic views or liberalism specially what’s your idea about AKP?

Islam is a strong social force in Turkey. In recent decades, Islam has became the main political force.AKP  came to power through getting the support of Muslim masses. Although AKP has Islamic background, it do not consider themselves as Islamists. AKP has been describen as conservative democrats.AKP declared conservative democratic programme, rather than a religious programme. AKP   made a lot of reforms in favor of democracy and liberalisation  in the first term of its ruling.AKP has ruled Turkey around for ten years. Now there is a challenge in front of AKP.AKP  could  choose to be  an ally of traditional ruling elites of state and share power with them  or  democratize and liberalize Turkey in favour of society.  The future of the country   depends on how AKP İs going to respond this challenge.

 What’s your definition about religions intellectuality and what’s the differences between this type and non-religious intellectuals?

Today, there is no trend, which we could call as religious intellectualism, Although there is no  religious intellectualism, there are some individuals, who could be called as religious intellectuals. I want to make two general observations about people, who could be called as religious intellectuals. These people  are mostly engaged in recreating past religious heritage  for today. These people  are not presen tor future oriented, they are past oriented people.The mindset of religious people could be formulated as follows:  Today is the problem, past is the solution.Religious heritage is not man-made, it is sacred and valuable. The second point is that religious individuals  are not capable of expressing new and  creative ideas. They have no idea of human individual, liberty, dignity, limited state, and plurality. They support human diversity and liberty within the limits of religious thought. They always talk about boundaries.They have no courage to go to beyond boundaries.Formalism, ritualism, legalism, religionism and moralism are boundaries of  religious intellectuals.Limiting themselves is an important characteristic of religious intellectuals. Past orientation and   living in restricted limits lead religious intellectuals  to be  the foreigner of  of human life. So far, religious intellectuals have failed to unite  human life and spirituality together.   

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