Islam and democracy can be compatible, according to a Turkish author and political commentator who spoke Tuesday at the annual Institute of Interfaith Dialog friendship dinner.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and Police Chief Chuck Jordan were honored along with businessman Sanjay Meshri at the dinner, which was held at the Doubletree Hotel Downtown.
The institute is a Turkish Muslim organization founded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to promote tolerance and understanding between religions.
In receiving the institute’s Leadership Award, Bartlett noted that the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, who introduced him, helped get the city through the Good Friday shootings that left three black people dead in north Tulsa.
“We came together as one Tulsa, one community,” Bartlett said.
Jordan, the Public Service Award recipient, said he learned a lot about being a minority when he was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago.
“Our job is to make sure every citizen is protected,” he said.
Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice Executive Director Nancy Day presented the philanthropy award to Meshri, president of the OCCJ board, calling him “a man whose moral compass always points in the right direction.”
In an earlier interview, keynote speaker Mustafa Akyol, author of the U.S.-published book “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” said the recent violence in the Middle East over a film insulting Muhammad is not “Quranic” and not Islamic.
“Maybe it’s their ego or their nationalism or their tribalism – not necessarily their religion – which compels them,” he said of those involved in the violence.
“Muslims should stay away from rhetoric that offends them, but that’s it. They should not use violence.”
Akyol argues in his book “for reform in some aspects of Islamic law to make it compatible with freedom,” he said.
“It can be compatible. It depends on what interpretation of Islam we use and how we understand Islamic law and values,” he said.
Islam in Turkey and Islam in Saudi Arabia are different, he said.
“First, the state structures are very different. Turkey is a modern republic; Saudi Arabia is a medieval monarchy.
“Even the religion traditions are different,” he said.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East for six centuries, until World War I, and Akyol said that “Wahhabism, the most literal, rigid interpretation of Islam, was born in a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The Wahhabis thought the Ottomans had become too modernized and too tolerant of diversity.
“In the 20th century, that became a very powerful idea, supported by Saudi money,” he said.
“That very literalist interpretation of Islam spread, and it includes institutions like religious police imposing religiosity on people.”
He said Turkey, which is 98 percent Muslim, does not have religious police.
“You can’t make people religious by forcing them with government. You can only make them hypocritical,” he said.
“Turkey is not a haven of religious freedom, but we do have freedom. You can be a Muslim; you can be a non-Muslim; you can be an atheist.
“The government doesn’t impose a particular religious faith on you. That’s what makes religiosity in Turkey genuine. People go to mosques because they want to go to mosques.”
Akyol said that “Turks have remained religious, despite having lived in a secular state for almost a century, which shows you don’t need a religious state to be a religious society.
“It’s like the United States,” he said. “The fact that the government is secular is a reason that the people are religious.”