PETALING JAYA: Turkish scholar Mustafa Akyol has responded to critics who questioned his credentials in contradicting a mufti’s views on the use of the phrase “Rest in peace”.
Akyol said his religious arguments were based on views within the Islamic tradition.
“I am not a mufti, and don’t claim to be,” he said. “But I have been researching contemporary issues in Islam, and writing about them with both traditional and academic sources, for almost 30 years,” he told FMT.
Some of his detractors had disparagingly referred to him as an academic and author, implying that he was in no position to challenge the mufti’s view.
Akyol is a senior fellow with a US-based libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute for Global Liberty and Prosperity.
He had disagreed with the federal territories mufti Luqman Abdullah, who said last week that Muslims were prohibited from saying “Rest in peace”. Luqman held that Muslims were not allowed to pray for forgiveness for non-Muslims as prescribed in several hadiths.
However, Akyol disagreed. To back his argument, he cited two Quranic verses that promised salvation to Jews and Christians, in addition to Muslims.
Akyol said he respected muftis for their knowledge and goodwill, but no mufti had the last word on Islam in any issue. This was why there are fatwas (religious edicts) with differing verdicts on a plenitude of topics, he said.
As an example, he quoted the differing views of scholars about the word “Islam” as used in the Quranic verse “If anyone seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted by him”.
He said “Islam” in this verse could mean merely submission to God, as some of the earliest exegetes put forward. A later exegete understood “Islam” to mean “an active approach on the part of the individual” towards God. It was not meant as a group reference, Akyol said.
Only later did scholars begin to define the word as “the specific, historical path of Muhammad”. Akyol said many people in Malaysia seemed to know only this rather late view represented by Ibn Kathir, but not its alternatives.
Liberal take on Islam?
He said the liberal view on Islam that he advocated was that there must not be any coercion in religious practice or belief, a conviction based on the Quranic exhortation that “there is no compulsion in religion”.
He said there were other verses that also touched on there being no compulsion, but a study of Islam’s traditional jurisprudence revealed that those verses had been “abrogated” by verses about war, or were limited by certain hadiths, including ones that commend killing apostates.
He said such abrogation was very much debatable, and hadiths with a single narrator were questionable as human error was always possible in transmission.
“There is nothing which makes the coercive view of Islam more ‘religious’, or any of my ‘liberal’ views more secular. Both are religious views,” he said.
Can non-Muslim monotheists be saved?
Akyol said the idea that Jews and Christians could be saved in the afterlife without converting to Islam was a view that had been defended by prominent Islamic scholars throughout the past century.
They include Musa Jarullah Bigiev, Rashid Rida, Süleyman Ateş, Sayyid Hosen Nasr and Fazlur Rahman.
Even the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s equivalent to Jakim or the Islamic development department, mentions it as an “alternative interpretation” in its Encyclopedia of Islam.
He said even within the mainstream interpretation, the all-prominent Imam al-Ghazali had argued that non-Muslims could be excused by God if they only heard about Prophet Muhammad in a negative way.
And today, there were some conservative scholars who think that this may be applied to non-Muslims who hear about Islam via Islamophobic circles, or through militant interpretations.
“So, that view, too, could allow you to think less strictly than thinking all those who don’t convert to Islam are condemned to hell,” he said.