Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960), perhaps the most influential Islamic figure of modern Turkey, is the subject of a new book, edited by Ian Markham and Ibrahim Ozdemir, Globalization, Ethics and Islam: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2005). The title puzzled me but Nursi being someone I know little about, I picked up the volume with interest and delved in.
I did not get very far. The introduction (which Ashgate makes available online) is largely about me: "This book is intended to be a corrective to the Pipes worldview." Oh? I offer a quick review of the editors’ argument and a reply to it.
Markham and Ozdemir start by asserting that "If you want to know about Islam, then find a Muslim who is willing to explain the religion to you," then explain that this is seemingly obvious practice is routinely not followed except in the academy. "The best example of this is the work of Daniel Pipes. Pipes’ books on Islam have become bestsellers. His Militant Islam Reaches America is typical" because it is vitriolic, distortive, misrepresentative, and faulty.
The two editors then defend this name-calling by quoting a passage where, they say, I write "in apocalyptical terms about Islamic aspiration to convert America." But rather than show me wrong, they argue that converting the world to one’s point of view is widespread and "a natural human desire," so why get excited? The authors also complain about other specifics (I pay too little attention to the Qur’anic obligation to respect Christians and Jews; and I badly schematize the Islamic responses to modernity).
In what looks like a contradiction to me, Markham and Ozdemir simultaneously present Globalization, Ethics and Islam as a "corrective" to my worldview, then acknowledging that the book "partly agrees" with me in two respects: that Turkey can provide a model for relations with the West and that "there is a problem with militant Islam." How can this be if my work is vitriolic, distortive, misrepresentational, and faulty? Fewer epithets and more specifics would enhance the discussion.
Also inconsistent is their bewailing my belief that the Muslim world needs more secularism, then warning that "If we allow ourselves to be infected by the Pipes worldview, then perhaps we are in for a long, desperate battle between Islam and the West." Secular Muslims states would engage in a jihad against the West? Try to figure that out.
The editors reveal themselves either confused or negligent in several passages. Here is one: they accurately describe me as seeing secularism as the answer to many of Islam’s problems. But they also ascribe to me a quite different and wrong view: "For Pipes the only good Muslim is the secular Muslim." They here make the elementary mistake of conflating the secular state (i.e., one where religion is kept apart) with a secular person (i.e., someone non-religious). The secular state can be filled with pious citizens – as the United States has shown throughout its history.
Markham and Ozdemir seem also to be unaware of my work, which it is on the history and current politics of Muslims, not Islam the religion. "If you want to know about Muslim history and politics, then find a Muslim who is willing to explain them to you" does not make a lot of sense.
Scholarship should speak for itself and not be enlisted as a "corrective" to anyone’s views.
There are more appropriate places for Markham and Ozdemir to argue with me than in the introduction to an edited study on a Turk about whom I’ve never written a word.
Finally, Fethullah Gülen, the leader of an organization with millions of adherents in Turkey, is Nursi’s greatest living disciple. I have excellent relations with his movement. Note, for example, this paragraph on Gülen’s personal website, written by Mustafa Akyol:
Other scholars have also noted the discrepancy between Jihadism and traditional Islam. Daniel Pipes, one of the foremost experts on the issue, says: "Traditional Islam seeks to teach human beings how to live in accord with God’s will; militant Islam aspires to create a new order."
One could find it ironic that Markham and Ozdemir have tried to recruit Nursi versus me.
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