Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty



Mustafa Akyol

W. W. Norton & Company

New York · London

Copyright © 2011 by Mustafa Akyol


All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition


Epigraphs for part I and chapter 5 reprinted with permission of Cambridge University Press from
The Cambridge History of Islam
, vol. 2B. Copyright © 1970 by Cambridge University Press. Epigraph for chapter 1 reprinted with permission of the Acton Institute, from
Toward a Free and Virtuous Society
by Robert A. Sirico. Copyright © 1997 by the Acton Institute. Epigraph for chapter 2 reprinted with permission of Oxford University Press, from
What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
by Bernard Lewis. Copyright © 1992 by Bernard Lewis. Epigraphs for chapters 3 and 8 reprinted with permission of the University of Chicago Press, from
Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies
by Leonard Binder. Copyright © 1988 by the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. Epigraph for chapter 7 reprinted with permission of Benjamin R. Barber, from a paper presented at the Istanbul Seminars, organized by
Reset Dialogues on Civilization
. Copyright © 2008 by Benjamin R. Barber. Epigraph for part III reprinted with permission of Michael Novak, from
The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable
by Michael Novak. Copyright © 1994 by Michael Novak. Epigraph for chapter 9 reprinted with permission of Vincent Cornell, from his paper entitled “Islam: Theological Hostility and the Problem of Difference.” Copyright © 1993 by Vincent Cornell.


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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Akyol, Mustafa, 1972–

Islam without extremes : a Muslim case for liberty / Mustafa Akyol. — 1st ed.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-393-07086-6 (hardcover)

1. Islam and state. 2. Secularism—Islamic countries. 3. Liberty—Relgious aspects—Islam. 4. Liberalism—Islamic countries. I. Title.

BP173.6.A4297 2011




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To my beloved parents, Tülin and Taha Akyol,
to whom I owe more than I could ever say

Being created free by God, man is naturally obliged to benefit from this divine gift.
[Thus] state authority should be realized in the way which will least limit the freedom of the individual. . . .
The right of the sultan in our country is to govern on the basis of the will of the people and the principles of freedom.
His title is “one charged with kingship” [after all], not “owner of kingship.”
—Ottoman Muslim intellectual Namık Kemal,in his journal
(Liberty), July 20, 1868


Part I: The Beginnings


1: A Light unto Tribes
2: The Enlightenment of the Orient
3: The Medieval War of Ideas (I)
4: The Medieval War of Ideas (II)
5: The Desert Beneath the Iceberg
Part II: The Modern Era


6: The Ottoman Revival
7: Romans, Herodians, and Zealots
8: The Turkish March to Islamic Liberalism
Part III: Signposts on the Liberal Road


9: Freedom from the State
10: Freedom to Sin
11: Freedom from Islam



. Islamic dynasty that held the seat of the caliphate from 750 to 1258; its capital was Baghdad.

Abode of Islam
dar al-Islam
. Lands ruled by Muslims according to the Shariah (Islamic law).

Abode of Treaty
dar al-ahd
dar al-sulh
. Lands ruled by non-Muslims who negotiated treaties with a Muslim state.

Abode of Trial
dar al-ibtila
. A term used by medieval Muslim scholars to define the world as a testing ground for humans to use their free will.

Abode of War
dar al-harb
. Lands ruled by non-Muslims that are considered enemy territory.

. The Arabic word for God, used by Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians.

. The tenth-century founder of a school of theology open to reason and free will; an alternative to Asharism.

. A rigid Berber Muslim dynasty that conquered much of northern Africa and southern Spain in the twelfth century. 

. The westernmost point of Asia, also known as Asia Minor. It also has been used to refer to less privileged parts of Turkey vis-à-vis major cities such as Istanbul.

Anatolian Tigers
. Successful Anatolia-based companies that have emerged since the 1980s; similar to such other terms as the Celtic Tiger, Asian Tigers.

. School of theology, created by al-Ashari, that is skeptical of reason and free will.

. “Token of God,” the highest rank among Shiite clerics.

Banu Qurayza
. An ancient Jewish tribe that lived in northern Arabia until its conflict with the Prophet Muhammad.

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