Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty

islam-without-extremes“A delightfully original take on…the prospects for liberal democracy in the broader Islamic Middle East.”—Matthew Kaminski, Wall Street Journal


As the Arab Spring threatens to give way to authoritarianism in Egypt and reports from Afghanistan detail widespread violence against U.S. troops and women, news from the Muslim world raises the question: Is Islam incompatible with freedom?

In Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol answers this question by revealing the little-understood roots of political Islam, which originally included both rationalist, flexible strains and more dogmatic, rigid ones.

Though the rigid traditionalists won out, Akyol points to a flourishing of liberalism in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and the unique “Islamo-liberal synthesis” in present-day Turkey. As he powerfully asserts, only by accepting a secular state can Islamic societies thrive. Islam without Extremes offers a desperately needed intellectual basis for the reconcilability of Islam and liberty.

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It is challenging to write a book based on religion and history with a convincing case relevant to modern time. I think the Turkish Journalist Mustafa Akyol has successfully met this challenge and present an exceedingly compelling and convincing case for Liberal Islam.

I loved the way he described Abu Hanifa the pioneer of the juristic side of the rationalist school, the Mutazilite philosophy and the war of ideas between the Traditionalists and Rationalists throughout the history of Islam.

Akyol highlighted the link between economic prosperity and freedom of religious ideas, illustrating how the School of Tradition cut off the young Islamic community from the economic mainstream.

By isolating Muslims from doing trade with nonbelievers, it severly affects every aspect of life from economy to art, language, science and many resources.

He also addresses a particularly tricky issue; “the rise of hadith” and the theory of abrogation in what is described as the “Post Quar’anic ideology”. In fact, if anyone wants a medical diagnosis of what went wrong in Islam, then look within some aspects of this ideology, for example, the distaste of some toward “innovation”.

Throughout the book, Akyol incorporates lessons from Turkey (Both Ottomans & kemalist). Akyol described the Ottoman Empire as a pluralist state (a description that I struggle to agree with). Yes, the state was tolerant to non-Muslims, but reforms and modernization only took place in the later period of the Ottoman rule.

During the early period, the empire was strong and powerful but many of its subject particularly non-Turks were oppressed and lost their national identity without gaining equal rights. Sadly, the process of modernization came a bit late; the seeds of hatred and separatism were already planted in the heart and mind of many Ottomans subjects.

Akyol rightly rejects authoritarian regimes, even in its mild form. The attempt to push religion out of Muslim minds was proven counterproductive, and it failed drastically both in Turkey and Iran. However, Akyol clearly illustrate how the various rulers throughout Islamic history (as early as Umayyads & Abbasids) manipulated religion for their political needs. This basic historical fact should justify a degree of secularism provide it “allows freedom of religion not freedom from religion”.

The book also illustrates how kemalism nationalism has helped to destroy the religious identity in Turkey. However, a complete lack of national identity can also be counter-productive. Arab states lost their national identity under Ottomans rule, and they paid a hefty price following the collapse of the empire.

The Arabs painfully had to watch colonial powers carving their lands to create new nations (even artificial ones), which had an immense knock on effect that still valid in modern days. It opened the door for nationalist, socialist dictatorship and religious extremism to fell the gap. Nationalism, as well as, secularism (in small doses) are not incompatible with Islam and can be accepted in a free liberal Islamic democratic society.

The last two chapters “freedom to sin” and “freedom from Islam” are simply delightful. Akyol clearly highlighted the clear distinction in Sharia between the rights of God and the right of people. Also, how the earthly punishment for apostasy is not Qur’anic but post Qur’anic.

His statement ” Replacing the fear of God with the fear of state or community could only be an obstacle to heart felt piety” reflect the style and the message of the whole book.

I guess the question is, how to convinces the masses to embrace liberal Islam? How to protect the rationalist school of thoughts from the overzealous of some? How to prevent past mistakes and secure a better future for Muslims?

Muslims need to reflect on their past and present and come with answers to these questions. The Arab-spring provides a golden opportunity for Muslims to move on from the shadow of extremism and embark on the road of rationalism as the way for a better future.

Book Author Biography
Mustafa Akyol, an advocate of “Muslim liberalism,” is a columnist for two Turkish newspapers, Hürriyet Daily News and Star. His articles have also appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune. He studied political science and history at the Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, where he still lives. You can visit his website at

Buy Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty on >>>

ABOUT AUTHOR: Johnny Punish is a global citizen, visionary, musician, artist, entertainer, businessman, investor, life coach, and syndicated columnist. He is also the founder and President of the Middle East Union Congress; a non-profit global think tank dedicated to building a new Middle East for the 21st century.

Educated at University of Nevada Las Vegas and California State University Fullerton, his articles appear in Veterans Today, Money News Now and his Johnny Punish Blog. His art music is promoted by Peapolz Media Records and played on net radio at and more.

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Posted by on Dec 1 2013, With 0 Reads, Filed under Book Reviews, Editor, Living. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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12 Comments for “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”

  1. Thank you Mr. Punish:
    is a priceless resource for those interested in researching Islam directly through its book by searching almost any word or phrase which renders some results.
    Then by right-clicking on “MORE CONTEXT” at top of verse you get the verses before & after.

  2. The political Authority of Islam will be accepted willingly or grudgingly. This is because this young religion is superior in matters of Law and Justice.

    • Ahab, the passion on which you love your faith is admirable indeed. However, there are 7 billion of us on the planet and, practically speaking, there will NEVER be an agreement of superiority of faith by one or the other.

      In lieu, to govern all of us, we need a new system that protects everyone’s right to practice and worship their faith. However, such faith needs to be personal and NOT a state dictate. By protecting my right to be free, you protect your right as well. Consider it!

  3. A few observations. If we were not occupying their land and killing their people in Afghanistan, they would not be killing our soldiers. Afghanistan did not attack America and we have no right to be there. When one speaks of religious extremism I think of Israel, John Hagee, good church going “Christians ” who talk about brotherly love but approve of our government torchering innocent people. I have no use for religious fanatics no matter what brand they are. It has been said many different ways in many different cultures including in the bible for Christians, It is best to clean up your own big mess before pointing out another persons small mess.

    • In the USA, the government protects the rights of it’s peoples to practice their faith. However, for extremists who choose to promote violence in the name of faith to justify their ambitions ought to be a crime against humanity and punishable by incarceration. In short, one can practice faith as a personal choice but one cannot kill in the name of. We need to pledge our allegiance to our earth and every human on it…no more B.S.

      • Agreed, all religions should be personal. Organized religion is a control tool of those exploiting the people. While I believe everyone should be able to practice their own beliefs, I also believe that right stops at the point that their religion harms someone else or they try to force it on someone else.

        • Well said John, well said!

        • Excellent point. The exploitation takes many forms including child sexual abuse,(disgusting);using religion to fatten one’s bank account ……examples such as Paul Crouch, Jimmy Baker, Pat Robertson, (more disgust).
          Unfortunately there are still many people in this world who believe their god is better than someone else’s god….and they will kill you to prove it.
          This is why I have to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens statement that,”religion poisons everything.”

  4. ” Men never do evil so gleefully and completely as they do in the name of their god.” Pascal.
    Johnny, your article does help in my understanding as to why Islamic fundamentalist countries have reverted to near stone age life.
    I certainly wouldn’t want to see a McDonalds or Wal-Mart in Iran or Afghanistan but certainly relaxing or eliminating the extremist views of the few that have obtained the strangle hold over so many and has created an atmosphere of fear and political correctness in other nations would go far to advance the Muslim nations to better prosperity for all. Human rights for women especially, need to be addressed.
    The time has come for the religious extremism that seems to infect not just Islam but Christianity and Judaism to come to an end. This kind of extremism only polarizes societies and creates suspicion and bigotry not to mention how it threatens the entire planet.
    Observing the religious extremism of zio-xtian dispensationalists, fundamentalists, Mormons and zionsm itself serves to remind one that we are not yet, out of danger.

  5. We need a FREE peoples UNITED STATES OF THE MIDDLE EAST that protects the rights of all peoples to practice their personal faiths as they choose run by the people, for the people and of the people. This new people’s NATIONAL IDENTITY will make the commitment to the earth and all it’s people; not just some of us and will unify all of us connecting us to one another in a way that has NEVER been seen before. It is time to evolve forward! The children demand it!

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