Mustafa Akyol

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Local residents watch Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's speech during a rally on the European side of Istanbul on May 13. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday night, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared on the terrace of the headquarters of his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in Ankara to give his customary “balcony speech”. Just like in every Turkish election in the past two decades, his supporters were exuberant, while dissidents were anxious.

Sure, the presidential election was not over yet. There will be a second round on May 28. But it is likely that Erdogan, more than four points ahead of his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, will win. His ruling coalition already secured a parliamentary majority.

In other words, after 20 years in power, Erdogan might get five more years to rule, if not more — surpassing, by far, any other Turkish leader since the late 19th-century Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.…  Seguir leyendo »

The protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Shaheen Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi on Dec. 30, 2019. Credit Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

By now, the world knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) have eroded the liberal principles of the Indian Constitution and are turning the country into an increasingly illiberal democracy. It is common knowledge that Mr. Modi thrives on the grievances and bigotries that pit privileged majorities against minorities living in fear.

Less familiar, but much more hopeful, is the response of the main target of this majoritarian assault: India’s Muslim minority — roughly 172 million peopl e who account for just about 14.2 percent of India’s total population of approximately 1.32 billion people, roughly 79.8 percent of whom are Hindu.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on Friday. Credit Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The recent decision by the Turkish government to reconvert the majestic Hagia Sophia, which was once the world’s greatest cathedral, from a museum back to a mosque has been bad news for Christians around the world. They include Pope Francis, who said he was “pained” by the move, and the spiritual leader of Eastern Christianity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who said he was “saddened and shaken.” When contrasted with the joy of Turkey’s conservative Muslims, all this may seem like a new episode in an old story: Islam vs. Christianity.

But some Muslims, including myself, are not fully comfortable with this historic step, and for a good reason: forced conversion of shrines, which has occurred too many times in human history in all directions, can be questioned even from a purely Islamic point of view.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, addressing members of a militia loyal to the Islamic republic about demonstrations against the government last month. Credit Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For decades, social scientists studying Islam discussed whether this second biggest religion of the world would go through the major transformation that the biggest one, Christianity, went through: secularization. Would Islam also lose its hegemony over public life, to become a mere one among various voices, not the dominant one, in Muslim societies?

Many Westerners gave a negative answer, thinking Islam is just too rigid and absolutist to secularize. Many Muslims also gave a negative answer, but proudly so: Our true faith would not go down the erroneous path of the godless West.

The rise of Islamism, a highly politicized interpretation of Islam, since the 1970s only seemed to confirm the same view: that “Islam is resistant to secularization”, as Shadi Hamid, a prominent thinker on religion and politics, observed in his 2016 book, Islamic Exceptionalism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Activists In Italy demonstrating last week against the introduction of Shariah law in Brunei, which also provides for stoning for homosexuals. Credit Stefano Montesi — Corbis/Getty Images

At a time when Islam’s place in the modern world is a matter of global contention, Brunei, a small monarchy in Southeast Asia, has offered its two cents. By April 3, the nation, which is predominantly Muslim, had begun adhering to a new penal code with harsh corporal punishments. Accordingly, gay men or adulterers may be stoned to death, and lesbians may be flogged. Thieves will lose first their right hand, and then their left foot.

Understandably, these bits of news brought outcries from the United Nations, human rights organizations and celebrities like George Clooney. In return, the Brunei government dismissed all criticisms, reminding the world that the country is “sovereign” and “like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws.”…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester at a rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in support of ethnic Uighur Muslims in China. Uighurs in China are being forced into “re-education” camps for indoctrination. Credit European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock

One of the darkest episodes of the 20th century was the gulag — the Soviet system of forced labor camps where dissidents were imprisoned in terrible conditions, often to perish. The camps were established by Lenin, expanded by Stalin and finally exposed to the world by the great Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, with his 1973 masterpiece, “The Gulag Archipelago”.

“Thin strands of human lives stretch from island to island of Archipelago”, he wrote, and “it is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold, and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides”.

Today, Russia’s gulags are long gone, as is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that operated them.…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster in Pakistan depicting Asia Bibi, a Christian whose blasphemy conviction was recently overturned, setting off protests. Credit Shahzaib Akber/EPA-EFE, via Rex

The agony of Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of five, shows there is something rotten in her country, Pakistan — and in the broader world of Islam.

She was arrested for blasphemy in 2009 after Muslim co-workers on a destitute farm denounced her for merely drinking from the same cup and, during the subsequent quarrel, for “insulting Prophet Muhammad” — a charge Ms. Bibi always denied. Yet she was convicted in 2010 and spent the next eight years in solitary confinement, on death row.

Luckily, Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month saved her from execution, clearing her of the charges and also setting her free.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Monday, Muslim pilgrims, carrying umbrellas to block the sun, gathered on Mount Arafat in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and took part in the main rituals of the annual hajj in order to become pilgrims on the eve of Eid al-Adha. Credit Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

This week, the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, a four-day feast that usually includes communal prayer, presents for children and visits to family members and cemeteries. But the key ritual will be what gives the holiday its name: “Adha” means “sacrifice” in Arabic. Most families who can afford to do so will slaughter an animal — perhaps a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The animal will be blindfolded, gently put down and then slaughtered while the name of God is praised. The meat is consumed by the family and also distributed to neighbors and to the needy.

For some non-Muslims, it may seem puzzling that Muslims engage in such a bloody ritual.…  Seguir leyendo »

A poster of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey that reads, “Thank you Istanbul,” at Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday.Credit Sedat Suna/Epa-Efe, via, Rex -- Shutterstock

More than 55 million Turks went to the polls on Sunday to elect the country’s new president and to form its new parliament. As has happened repeatedly since 2002, the winner was President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With more than 52 percent of the vote, Mr. Erdogan secured a mandate to rule Turkey until 2023 — the centennial of the founding of the Turkish Republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

To many, especially in the West, yet another victory for Mr. Erdogan seems hard to understand. The economy has been gloomy. The Turkish lira is in free fall against other currencies.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Reykjavík Mosque, in Iceland. During Ramadan, the sun will set at midnight there, only to come back in about two hours. Credit Egill Bjarnason/Associated Press

This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on Tuesday. That means a big portion of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, my coreligionists, will be fasting for 30 days, which is really no easy task. Every day, from dawn till dusk, they will neither eat any food nor drink a drop of water. They will be hungry and thirsty but will wait patiently between the pre-dawn sahur meal and the iftar dinner at night — just for the sake of God. It is a great experience of self-discipline, devotion and piety. It is also a good opportunity, Islamic scholars often say, for reflecting about and developing empathy with those who starve because they are destitute.…  Seguir leyendo »

Men praying at a mosque in Muscat, Oman, last month. Credit Giuseppe Cacace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Over the past 15 years, my country, Turkey, has gone through a colossal political revolution. The traditional secular elite that identifies with the nation’s modernist founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has been replaced by religious conservatives who, until recently, were largely powerless and marginalized. The religious conservatives have by now come to dominate virtually all institutions of the state, as well as the media and even much of the business sector. In short, they have become the new ruling elite.

This political revolution has had an inadvertent outcome. It has tested the ostensible virtues of these religious conservatives — and they have failed.…  Seguir leyendo »

In June, Americans in about two dozen cities joined a “March Against Sharia.” For these protesters, the Arabic term is a code word for the oppression of women and men in the name of God — horrors like stoning and beheading. Since such brutalities do indeed happen in the name of Shariah, they may have had a point. But there were also points that they missed.

In Arabic, “Shariah” literally means “the way.” More specifically, it refers to the body of Islamic rules that Muslims see as God’s will — based either on the Quran or on the Prophet Muhammad’s reported words and deeds.…  Seguir leyendo »

Relatives mourn during the funeral of victims killed in an attack on Coptic Christians in Minya Province, central Egypt on Friday. They were on a bus en route to a monastery when gunmen opened fire on them, killing at least 20 and injuring dozens. Credit Mohamed Hossam/European Pressphoto Agency

When Pope Francis visited Egypt last month, he called on the leaders of the Muslim world “to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity.” This was timely: Just a few weeks before, on Palm Sunday, Egypt’s Coptic Christian community had been viciously hit by suicide bombers enlisted by the so-called Islamic State. That bloody episode was just one of many instances of violence and harassment that Middle Eastern Christians have faced recently. The latest came on Friday, when gunmen attacked a convoy of Copts in Upper Egypt, leaving at least 26 people dead.

The wave of persecution is so severe that some fear it may bring about the end of Christianity in the region where it was born two millenniums ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

At the senate in The Hague in November during talks to ban full-body burqas in some public places in the Netherlands. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I recently watched a curious debate that took place in 2015 at the Free Press Society of Denmark. On one side was Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician and anti-Islam campaigner whose ascendance to power was, I’m happy to say, checked by the elections in the Netherlands this month. On the other side was Flemming Rose, the journalist who angered many Muslims in 2005 by publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The crux of the debate was what to do with Muslims and Islam in Europe. Mr. Wilders argued that the Quran must be banned and mosques must be shut down.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why It’s Not Wrong to Wish Muslims Merry Christmas

Billions of Christians around the world are excited to celebrate Christmas this weekend. Those in the world’s second-largest religious community, Muslims, don’t share quite the same excitement. In a few Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Somalia, Christmas celebrations are banned. In Turkey, my country, they are not illegal, but some Islamist groups still organize annual protests against Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, which they consider Western impositions.

Meanwhile, many other Muslims around the world are rightly respectful to their Christian neighbors and even share in their holy day. They include the owners of a Turkish restaurant in London that decided to offer a free Christmas meal to the homeless and the elderly, and a Muslim businessman in Baghdad who erected a Christmas tree in solidarity with Christians persecuted by the self-declared Islamic State.…  Seguir leyendo »

Outside the mausoleum of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, on the 78th anniversary of his death this month. Credit Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States came as an unpleasant shock to much of the world. But in Turkey, my country, it was applauded — not by everyone, for sure, but by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his enthusiastic supporters.

As it became clear that the Republican candidate had achieved an upset, pro-government Turkish columnists, some of whom are also members of Parliament, began cheering it as a blow to the American establishment. Mr. Trump won, they emphasized, despite the opposition of the American news media, Wall Street, the C.I.A. and Hollywood. Hillary Clinton’s defeat, they declared, was the defeat of “the globalist fascists.”…  Seguir leyendo »

An Islamic State mural in Shirqat, Iraq, last month. Reuters

The cover of the most recent issue of Dabiq, the slick magazine that the Islamic State distributes online, shows an image of a jihadist fighter with the group’s notorious black flag behind him. He appears to be on the roof of a church, knocking over a cross. Below him, a headline reads, “Break the Cross.”

It might seem at first that the Islamic State was just celebrating its brutal campaign to uproot the Christians of Iraq and Syria. But “break the cross” is not an arbitrary phrase. It refers to a prophecy that will supposedly be realized in the final era before the apocalypse.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan burned an effigy in Istanbul last month of Fethullah Gulen, a United States-based imam and the leader of the movement said to be behind the attempted coup. Ammar Awad/Reuters

More than a month has passed since the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Most people here are glad we averted a major attack on our democracy, which could have initiated not only a brutal military regime but maybe even a civil war. Many people outside Turkey, on the other hand, seem more worried about the failed coup’s aftermath than the bloody putsch itself, which left more than 250 people dead.

What really seems to worry people, especially in the West, is the purge that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government began after the mutiny. The numbers are staggering: 80,000 civil servants have been suspended from their jobs, more than 2,000 of them judges or prosecutors.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Tuesday night, just as millions of Muslims here were breaking their Ramadan fasts, three terrorists attacked the city’s busy airport. They fired randomly at passengers with automatic weapons before blowing themselves up. They killed 41 innocent people, most of them Muslims, supposedly in the name of Islam.

The assault on the airport is the latest in a series of horrible traumas in Turkey. In the past year, the country has endured almost a dozen major terrorist attacks. Some were the work of the Islamic State, which kills in the name of God; others were the work of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K.,…  Seguir leyendo »

The Right Way to Observe Ramadan

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins today and with it the long hours of fasting by hundreds of millions of Muslims. The daylong fast during the lunar month in which we Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a way for Muslims to show their devotion to God, and, some say, to understand the suffering of those who have no choice but to go without food.

The Ramadan fast is not easy. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims are not supposed to eat, drink or smoke, and abstain from sex.…  Seguir leyendo »