By Victor Ochieng
Religious scholar Mustafa Akyol was speaking at a forum entitled,”Can Islamists be Liberals?” when he firmly defended liberalism, saying that even a liberal can be a devout Muslim yet be open enough not to impose his religious values on other people.
In explaining what a liberal really is, he said “a liberal is not somebody who does not have values, he is not somebody who does not practice a religion.”
He went on to clarify that “a liberal can be a pious, practicing Muslim, or a Christian or a Jew, but (is) someone who will respect other peoples’ way of life.”
That picture, however, isn’t what many people think about liberalism. Dismissing the assumption that liberals are reckless individuals with no values, Akyol said: “Therefore, this image of liberals as whiskey-drinking, sex party-making kind of deviants, is not something we should believe in.”
His explanation is coming at a time when Malaysia is struggling to ascertain the true meaning of liberalism, which many conservative groups believe is a threat to the Islam faith.
In a previous account, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib said that liberalism, pluralism, and the growing demands for LGBT rights are direct attacks on the Islam faith and are likely to result in societal chaos.
According to Akyol, liberalism makes it possible for people to live peacefully and in dignity without being an oppressor or the oppressed.
“Muslims love liberalism when they are the oppressed minority,” he said. “Go to, France, there is a ban on the hijab, and you will see Muslims defending individual freedom.”
Akyol didn’t fail to talk about the Quran, which he says doesn’t punish people because of sin, explaining that the hudud, which is the penal code, only punished those who commit crimes that cause harm to others.
The scholar says that the authoritarian approach in Muslim countries doesn’t breed true religiosity, but instead promotes hypocrisy.
“Every time I get on a flight from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, I notice something interesting, almost every lady on the flight is covered up,” says Akyol. “When the flight lands in Istanbul, some of these ladies go to the toilet and come out in mini-skirts.”
It, therefore, means that most Muslims are simply practicing the faith because they’re bound by law while in Saudi Arabia, but as soon as they hit a liberal territory, they choose what appeals to them.
In Turkey, it’s common knowledge that there are those who cross over from Saudi Arabia just to visit Turkish bars to have a good time.
“This is a clear example that when you impose religion by state, by law, by police, you are not making people religious, you are making them hypocritical,” he said.
On Saturday during the forum, Nurul Izzah Anwar, the Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament, launched a Malay version of “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim case for Liberty,” Akyol’s book.