Istanbul: The scholars at the ‘The Muslim Ummah’ conference held in Istanbul noted that the challenge of sectarianism in Muslim societies is shaped by geopolitical interests rather than Islamic theology or Sharia.
“States can never achieve democracy, political order or human rights under a specter of sectarianism,” Prof Nader Hashemi of University of Denver said speaking during the 1st session of the conference.
The conference is being hosted and organized by Centre for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University (IZU).
“Sectarianism is a dark age in Muslim history,” he observed. “Never have we seen such bloodshed, hatred,” he said referring to the rivalry of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Middle East. “Iran has used bad tactics for sectarianism,” he said referring to its Syrian policy. “And then there is Saudi sectarian narrative which was openly embraced by Donald J Trump and over above, Israel has also adopted same sectarian language in the region.”
The scholar explained as how religion is being used as a tool of mobilization to create the binary of Sunni and Shia. “In all this, the authoritarian context is critical,” he said. “And we need to start to think about as how we can de-sectarianize the Middle East.”
It is neither theology nor religious piety but political power which has driven sectarianism, he said. “It is a modern political phenomenon normalized by authoritarian regimes,” he said citing Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE and Bahrain as examples. “But it is important to note that it is political authoritarianism which is responsible for the mess in Middle East and not sectarianism.”
To support his argument, Dr Hashemi cited the civil war of Lebanon in 1962-1970. “Saudi Arabia and Iran were on the same side against Egypt and its allies.”
Prof Francois Burgat from National Centre for Scientific Research (NCSR), France in his presentation on challenges of secularism to Muslim societies noted as how people in France were criminalizing the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of secularism.
“Fake Muslim elites are being created which are not even representing more than 3 percent (of Muslims) in France,” he reported. “A redline has been created: who is a good or a bad Muslim?”
Young political scientist at IZU, Dr. Ömer Taşgetiren discussed whether secularism could travel to non-Western countries and how Islamic political actors negotiated it in Turkey.
In his presentation, Dr. Taşgetiren described how secularism was an essential element of Turkey’s “authoritarian modernization”. The principle of secularism was added to Turkey’s constitution in 1937, he said. “It is a non-amendable article.”
He cited as how a Turkish constitutional court opened a case against ruling AK Party in 2008 and deprived it from financial support from the Treasury “for violating the principle of laicism”.
“Secularism in Turkey is described as a philosophy of life,” he said referring to the founding father of modern-day republic of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. “Secularism was set as a pre-condition of democracy. Secularists (in Turkey) believed that religion-based states never guarantee basic rights and liberties.”
Prof Louay Safi from College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University Qatar, said that Muslims in earlier periods “never forced non-Muslims to follow Sharia”. “We have to develop critical thinking,” he said while discussing Shariah and The Nation State: Governance, Law and Society.
“We cannot follow everything what our fathers have promoted… we all have moral agency that is what it means to be a Khilafa,” he said while asking, “Are we going to be truthful or corrupt?”
He lamented that Muslim scholars have “stopped producing relevant knowledge and that is why people started looking towards West”. “Sharia calls for accountability of the rule… Everybody is responsible.”