|L'ASSOCIATION DES MUSULMANS PROGRESSITES DU CANADA|
ASSOCIATION OF PROGRESSIVE MUSLIMS OF CANADA
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS
Ambassador for the Republic of Turkey
Delivered at Queen's Park on
indeed a great pleasure and honour for me to be here tonight and to be
awarded by the Association of Progressive Muslims of Ontario. I have
been following the activities of your Association closely and
appreciating your efforts in building bridges of understanding between
Muslims and other faith groups and would like to acknowledge the
President Mr. Mobeen Khaja, in particular, for working tirelessly to
promote peace and cross cultural dialogue.
this opportunity, I would also like to extend to all of you my best
wishes for Eid-ul-Fitr which we
celebrated last week.
some complaints, thanks to the democratic, multicultural and tolerant
structure of the Canadian society, Muslims in Canada are generally able
to maintain their cultural practices and exercise their religious
freedoms. Democracy, tolerance and respect, however, are not new to
Muslims. As opposed to the widespread belief, the basic ideas of
‘democracy’ were very much in use in early Islamic states in the
form of ‘city democracy’.
Prophet (Peace be upon Him) never acted on himself. He had his wise men
representing different sections of city society. The period of Four
Caliphs was the seal of democratic governance in the Islamic tradition.
The Abbasid period revived many of the institutions of democratic
governance. The district courts, suburban mayors, mechanisms of
“checks and balances” were in practice. There were no elections as
we know today, but there were councils and advisory bodies. The
experience of Andalucía, on the other hand, was much broader and deeper
in its experience of what we may call ‘democracy’, as it was more
multicultural and multi-religious.
all those Islamic traditions the utmost emphasized and respected notion
was “justice”; not only for the Muslims, but also for the followers
of other faiths. As one of the meanings of the word, Islam, is
“Peace”, major Islamic states in history, such as the Ottoman
Empire, always prioritized ‘the peaceful existence’ of different
religious communities within their rulings. Before the notions of
democracy, human rights or multiculturalism, as we understand today, was
even developed; Turks embraced the eternal Islamic values of humanity,
peace, progress, justice and empathy. For that reason, after six
centuries long Ottoman rule, over 50 countries ranging from the Balkans
to the Middle East, from West Asia to North Africa with their own
religion, culture and language. During the 600 years of the reign,
thanks to the harmonious and tolerant structures, communities from
different faiths were able to thrive within the wider society.
the centuries long wars under the pretext of religious objectives as
well as territorial and military interests such as the Crusades led to
the estrangement of the Eastern and the Western countries. The deep
rooted historical conflict reached its peak with the colonization of
Muslim societies by the Christian West. The estrangement continuing to
this day as well as the problem of democracy in Muslim societies can be
explained by three major issues: the negative legacy of colonialism,
structural problems in the international political economic order and
the more recent trend of “othering” Islamic communities.
with the socio-economic downfall of the Islamic states alongside the
negative implications of colonialism, democracy, a legitimate heritage
of Mediterranean tradition, was transformed in Muslim eyes as the
apparatus of the Colonial occupier: It became earthly, infidel,
colonial, and hence illegitimate. And more than anything else, the
notion of democracy has lost its centuries-old organic tie with Muslim
peoples. The Colonial past has relieved the Muslim peoples from the
ability to write their own histories and fates. The only option
presented to them was the ready-to-consume democracy and development
recipes of the West which led to the deep-rooted alienation for these
concepts in the Islamic world. So, we have to bring this alienation to
an end. We have to engage in a pedagogic campaign to teach the true
credentials of Islamic tradition.
the structural problems in the world order creating inequality and
injustice underlie the major problems of the Islamic world. The
level of economic and social development in most of the Islamic
countries is clearly below their potential.
countries, home to vast natural resources, are not getting the share
they deserve from global welfare. According to the World Bank
indicators, Islamic countries which make up 22% of the world population,
have unfortunately only received around 7% of the global economic output
in 2009. The average per capita income in the Islamic countries is
below the average of developing countries. So, we have to make sure
that political economic conditions of the Islamic world within which
democracy and human development can flourish are supported by the larger
the more recent trend of ‘othering’ communities perpetuates the
estrangement between the contemporary Eastern and the Western societies.
Trying to divide the global community by creating an ‘other’ and
highlighting its weaknesses and backwardness can only aim domination and
exploitation of that ‘other’. Some political circles together with
some media organs in the West have fervently been othering the Muslim
world. Based on the horrible atrocities committed in the name of
religion and fundamentalist conducts of some political actors, they
promote the idea that Islam is inherently problematic and so the Muslim
world cannot achieve modernity. Instead of trying to understand the real
causes of the problems and support the intellectual, economic and
political potentialities, they choose to undermine the Muslim world by
rendering the Islamic culture worthless.
terrorism has no religion, no nationality or ethnicity, unfortunately,
today Islam is easily associated with terror to the point of rising
Islamophobia in the world. Islam, in particular, and its followers have
become targets. The expressions used in the media such as "Islamic
terrorism", “Islamic radicals”, "Islamic bombs" and
"violent Islam" have resulted in a negative perception of our
religion. The Western media is often propagating negative stereotypes of
Muslims and fueling anti-Muslim prejudice. The "scapegoating"
of Muslims by the media and politicians in the 21st century is
comparable to the rise of anti-semitism in the early 20th century.
latest shooting that took place in Norway is a striking point in this
case. Right after the attack, many in the West rushed in to speculate
that it was perpetrated by “Islamic terrorists”. When it was
revealed that a Norwegian committed the massacre, the western media
ceased referring to the attacks as a case of terrorism. The descriptions
quickly shifted into “a militant with xenophobic worldview”,
“deranged person”, “right wing extremist”, “Islamophobic
militant” and so on. How deplorable that the word “terrorism”
seems to be exclusively reserved for Islam.
are more subtle attempts to marginalize Islam. By highlighting certain
isolated events or interpreting the Islamic teachings in a deliberate
way, some circles promote further division and hate in their societies.
For instance, a few weeks ago, I was watching a Canadian TV show which
broadcasts nationally, in which a so-called “religious expert” was
the guest. To my surprise, this “expert” claimed that the Holy Quran
in general, and Sura 119 in particular talks pejoratively about Jesus
Christ and therefore insults all Christians. You don’t need to be a
student of theology to know that the Holy Quran would never degenerate
one of God’s messengers as all of them are recognized equal, which is,
by the way, one of the most important pillars of the faith. On the other
hand, as opposed to what this “expert” claims, there are not 119 but
only 114 Suras in our Holy Book. What a cheap way to create antagonism
between the followers of different faiths!
the many examples of really humane and tolerant teachings and episodes
in Islam and its history are often overlooked. The attribution of
Islamic religious motives for every bloodshed ignores the fact that
Muslims can do evil, not because Islam directs it, but because, like in
other terror attacks, terrorists themselves individually choose to do
so. Knowledgeable people around the world have the responsibility to
resist politicization of religion and reject violence in any form.
task, however, is two fold - one for Muslim societies and the other for
the West. Instead of blaming the West for all the failures, I believe,
it would be fair and just for the Muslim societies to reflect on their
own mistakes and shortcomings. Arguing that present ills arise from the
historical role of the outsiders is not baseless. But, bluntly put,
Muslim polities must accept the primary responsibility to advance their
societies politically, socially and economically and use the
intellectual capacity of their own people.
We certainly can start by
the role of women and the civil society in Muslim nations. To give just
a couple of examples, for the most part of the Muslim world, the status
of women remained virtually unchanged in the last century. In fact, 20
of the 25 lowest-ranking countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2010
Gender Gap Index, which ranks women’s participation in society, are
Muslim-majority countries. We cannot become modern societies until this
the worldwide trend toward democratization, authoritarianism in the
Muslim world has long been persisting. Several dictatorships continue to
rule to this day at the expense of their own people. Majority of the
Islamic states failed to conduct a smooth transition to an electoral
democracy which is known to be the most effective way to enable the
participation of civil society. Therefore, we should no longer allow
that the image of Islam be tarnished because of issues such as gender
inequality and authoritarianism.
lends itself to a rational and humanistic understanding of the world.
This quality produced remarkable social and political achievements in
the past, contributing to the transmission of classical thought to the
modern era’s collective wisdom. Philosophers and scientists of the
Islamic world contributed enormously to technology, both by preserving
earlier traditions and by adding their own inventions and innovations.
Muslim scholars such as Ibn-i Sina (medicine), El-Farabi (Philosophy and
Logic), Ibn-i Khaldun (historiography and economics), Ibn-i Rushd (Philisophy)
and Ali Qushji (astronomy and mathematics) are all known to lay the
foundations of the Western Enlightenment. However, with the decline of
the socio-economic conditions in the region and the oppression on
independent reasoning (ijtihad), the contributions of Islamic
civilization in science and technology gradually came to an end and the
Golden Age of the early Islamic civilization couldn’t be sustained.
Such past achievements demonstrate that Islam is not the problem.
Rather, issues of governance need to be considered in the debate about
Islam and democracy.
human potential of any country prospers when freedom, tolerance and
mutual respect come together in a democratic environment, and makes
regimes stronger in the long run. That is what the experience of Turkey
tells us. My intention here is not to impose my country as a model but
to share our experience with you very briefly. One should not forget
that historical conditions and political factors do differ for all the
countries. At the outset, Turkey recognized its shortcomings and worked
to overcome them, thanks to the founder of our Republic, Gazi Mustafa
Kemal Atatürk. In this respect, a key factor in the Turkish case, I
believe, has been the principle of secularism which has become the
cornerstone of the political structure in Turkey. Although, today Turkey
has 125000 mosques, the most per capita mosques in the Islamic world,
the state remains equidistant from all, within the religious diversity
Turkey’s progress in terms of women’s rights is quite remarkable
among the Muslim societies. With an understanding of their essential
role to advance the Turkish society, women’s social, political and
economic rights were recognized in 1930’s, which were ahead of the
international standards of the time. As a result today, women contribute
greatly to the Turkish political and socio-economic life by holding
positions within academia, judiciary, diplomacy, healthcare, education
and other branches of bureaucracy. However, as elsewhere, what the
Turkish women have achieved is not enough and we have to work more to
cope with the difficulties they confront such as sexist prejudices.
Keeping in mind the words of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that ‘Heaven lies
under the feet of our Mothers’, we have to support women’s struggle
to achieve what they really deserve.
all, since the self-imposed democratization and introduction of
multiparty system, Turkish people have been voting governments in and
out of office. While faith continued to play an important role in
people’s lives, parliamentary democracy was consolidated and performed
a socializing function on all. Therefore, humbleness aside, Turkey has
managed to achieve the coexistence of Islam together with the values of
democracy, human rights and secularism. The economic progress recorded
especially in the last decade as well as the reforms to improve
democracy have further strengthened Turkey’s position as a Muslim
society. Being able to talk to the East within the West; and to
the West within the East, Turkey assumes a role to improve and promote
inter-religious and intercultural dialogue. As the co-chair of the
Alliance of Civilizations, together with Spain, Turkey aims at bridging
the gap between conflicting perceptions and overcoming the destructive
stereotypes between Western countries and the Muslim world.
West, for its part, must avoid neo-Orientalist generalizations in
dealing with Islam and Muslim societies. Unhelpful and ill-informed
comments by prejudiced individuals and groups still find ways to our
e-mails and media outlets. Informed empathy, on all sides is the best
way to avoid Islamophobia as well as Westophobia.
this context, I believe that not only the governments but also the
individual Muslims and Muslim organizations should take on some special
responsibilities. As “Ambassadors of Islam” in Canada, every
conscious and responsible Muslim should try to find opportunities to
convey the true message of Islam. Ascribing to the authentic Islamic
values such as wisdom, justice, solidarity and respect, Muslims should
aim to be the role-models within their societies. They shouldn’t let
the political events of the day to raise doubts or misgivings about
the Association of Progressive Muslims of Onatrio should continue its
hard work to promote the true credentials of Islam, fight with
intolerance in the societies where we live and help Muslim immigrants to
better and faster integrate in their new environment. With an active
community engagement, you can challenge the misperceptions around the
idea of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and prove that Muslims are
tolerant, progressive and as adoptable as any other community to the
would like to thank each and every one of you again for taking time to
listen to me and honouring me with this award. It means a lot to me.