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Society, religion and violence - Part Nine

By Saro Qadir
The Kurdish Globe


Thursday, 12 June 2008, 05:28 EDT


A humanistic perspective toward religion

The Ottoman Empire wasn't centralized; therefore, there had always been space for the rebellion of rulers of isolated states.

Being an Ottoman meant being a Muslim and the rule of the Turkish Sultan. The famous speech by Amin Zaki Bag is a proof of that, as he said: "Until enlightenment thinking came from Europe, I didn't know that I was a Kurd."

There was no national thinking from the base. There existed languages and nations in the old ages, but the idea of revitalization and being an identity emerged during the capitalization era. And it meant a political geography with its border that was to be protected in order to grow capital and improve technology. This created affiliation and a new state of mind and created a new feeling in terms of an individual's conscience to show himself as a German, Englishman, or Frenchman. Competition and the large wars designed to invade the world and divide undeveloped continents in their modern way began there. The result of that was a shift in the language and religion of the majority of them. Examples are North America, Latin America, and Africa, located outside the world of Islam.

Religion has emerged in a specific stage of time and has played its role, and still it has its role but is not adequate to govern modern states. This is true for all religions. We have to recognize that this stage can only be run by institutional states, like how there was a time when religious states were fashionable. For instance, state institutions protect the society, family, and individual by law. Did those concepts and rights exist in the previous stages? No, they didn't.

On the other hand, technological improvements have enabled societies to see and influence each other. Therefore, our culture is gradually shaking and developing new branches. The rigid parts of our culture are being dissolved and cannot last against logic and life's developments.

Reforms in welcoming religion

The religious state was criticized and pressured by intellectuals in the Christian world during the Renaissance Period. They put religious and social systems in their criticism works. Eventually this system was abolished. The material (secular) world has replaced religious rule. The material alternative was to keep religion away from running states and organizing the lifestyle of individuals. They withdrew religion into the churches where it could work freely on the relationship between humans and God and busy itself with advice. This division between religion and state was not to dissolve religion. The famous intellectuals were religious people themselves, and wanted to separate their beliefs from religious states. They proved that religious people can reject religious states and have material beliefs. Thomas Hobbs and Jean Jack Roseau are two examples of the influential intellectuals of that time.

The material world is calm, stable, and far from religion's cultural and social diseases. It is a society that can take brave steps toward development and knowledge. After this step, the concept of human rights developed and was put in the new human thought. Eventually, in 1948, it resulted in an international human rights declaration. Now it is a significant component of recognized international law, and the international community interferes in the issues of countries, societies, cultures, and religions to protect those rights. Human rights are interwoven with democracy, technological developments, and the development of societies. It is not an ideology, but rather the principle of human development.

Until 1920, the Islamic world was living in the religious state. After that, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The Shiite division of the Islamic world, which was the Qajar rule, lessened under the pressure of Russia and Britain and finally collapsed.

I will refer to the question: "How did extremist Islamic groups come into being?" I talked about those Islamic intellectuals who were asking for renewal and reintroduction of the Islamic thought. They had relationships with European intellectual centers. They were asking for religious reforms as well so that Islamic societies would become stronger, and they had several slogans in their speeches including getting rid of the problems faced by the Islamic East as a result of colonialism and reaching a point where Islamic society could compete with Western societies. Among those intellectuals were Jalaladdin Afghani, Sheikh Mohammed Abdah, and Atatulla Naein. They had many followers and were the first generation of reformists in the Muslim East. Those intellectuals were in trouble with colonialism and local rules.

Jalaladdin Afghani was a Shiite of Iranian origin but in his thoughts he was raising himself above both divisions of the religion and instead returning to the common points between them that constitute the essence of Islamic religion. He was trying to pave the way for his beliefs so that eventually the tensions between Shiite and Sunni would disappear and reform would begin at the same time. In this way, he was trying to play the roles of Luther and Calvin, the two men who invented Protestantism and led reforms in Christianity. In Europe, religious reform paved the way for social reform. The modern stage started with the withdrawal of religion from state affairs. Luther was not only busy with intellectual work, but finally accepted an armed path that ended Vatican rule. They invaded their temples and rigid and sacred rules and put them aside.

In his last years of life, Sheikh Mohammed Abdah departed from Afghani, which was a result of differences in their beliefs regarding reform. Abdah championed continuous enlightenment and the positive sides of Western thought, while Afghani leaned toward insurgency. Those were the first generation of Islamic intellectuals who thought of religion as an ideology.

The period between the first and third decades of the 20th century marked a period of Islamic thought silence. It was at the same period that the October Revolution succeeded and Communist thought became the encouraging factor of linearization movements in Eastern nations. Lenin made the support for oppressed nations a new principle for Communist ideology.

During this period, the Wahabi state in Saudi Arabia was founded on the basis of the Ottoman Empire. Wahabism had a firm reaction to the traditions and the ruling way invented by the non-Arab Ottoman Sultans. At the same time it was strictly against Jewish religion and Shiites. They were thinking of Shiites as a continuation of Zoroastrianism and regarded them as unbelievers.

The Wahabis' war against the Shiite-populated areas of Iraq has a long history, and has returned in the present post-Saddam Iraq. 

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