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On İsmet Özel’s assertion that ‘Muslims should be terrorists!’

The war between Israel and Hamas resulted in the reopening of many old issues. One of these came to my attention as a viewer comment on my YouTube channel. It was a statement made by İsmet Özel, a well-known Turkish poet and ‘Islamist’ writer, 8 years ago, in one of his speeches: “A Muslim should be a terrorist.”

İsmet Özel said this in a panel held four hours after the tragic incident known as the ‘Ankara Train Station Massacre’ on October 10, 2015. I remember it like it was today. That day, I was traveling by road from Manisa to my hometown of Kütahya.

While in Balıkesir, I stopped for a break and went to a local restaurant for dining. That’s where I learned about the incident from TV. Then, I followed the news on the radio throughout the journey. Turkey was in shock. I believe that all 80 million people in the country were talking about this terrorist attack.

Interestingly, while Turkey, with all its people, was discussing this massacre and while the hearts of every conscientious person were with the 109 dead and over 500 injured, Islamist writer İsmet Özel was saying in his speech, “Muslims should be terrorists!”.

I don’t remember this speech due to the hustle and bustle of those days and my travels back from Germany. Before writing this article, I noticed that it hadn’t really occupied the Turkish media. But in the following years, I heard about this speech. I heard it but didn’t give it much importance.


Even though I read İsmet Özel’s books in my youth, I somehow never got along with him. His interpretations never settled well in my mind. I remember his book “Eating Stones is Forbidden”. I had started reading it during a holiday in Dereli hot springs. But I couldn’t finish it and left the book at a mosque.

Another reason why I never got along with İsmet Özel is because of Ali Bulaç. Ali Bulaç, as is known, identifies himself as an ‘Islamist’. He even goes further, saying, “Every Muslim is an Islamist.” His words are exactly: “A Muslim’s duty of invitation, cause, and prayer is of personal obligation. In this sense, every Muslim is potentially, naturally, and necessarily an Islamist.”

Leaving the analysis of this issue aside, I have always thought this: “If Ali Bulaç is an Islamist, then İsmet Özel is not; if İsmet Özel is an Islamist, then Ali Bulaç is not.”

You might say, “Can’t the concept of ‘Islamist’ have different meanings for both of them?” You are right, but in the final analysis, they have to converge on some common grounds. I have never seen them unite on the aspects of Islam that pertain to politics. İsmet Özel’s statement, “Muslims should be terrorists,” is the biggest proof of this.

You couldn’t get Ali Bulaç to say such a thing even if you killed him.

Now, about that sentence. I found and listened to that speech on YouTube. It reminded me of the description of a camel. All parts are crooked, where would you even start to straighten it? If you decide to start fixing it, where would you begin? Just like in the joke about Temel entering the wrong way on a highway, according to İsmet Özel, everyone is going the wrong way! But in reality, he is the one who’s wrong…

In that speech, referring to his book “Prayer Makes a Person,” he explains why we pray and fast. At one point, he says: “We pray and fast so that non-Muslims will fear Muslims.”

You might be surprised. I don’t understand how it’s possible to attribute such a meaning to prayer.

Seemingly noticing that his audience didn’t understand the topic or that it didn’t shock them enough, he continues, saying, “In other words, a Muslim is a terrorist.”

There you go.

Wanting to raise the tension further, he increases his tone: “The primary duty of a Muslim is to be a terrorist.” It doesn’t stop there. He goes a step further: “Infidels should fear Muslims.”

Then comes the moment for him to strike the chord, and he does so with this sentence: “If they are not afraid, then the Muslim is not a Muslim.”

What followed?

The applause he expected from the audience erupted right after this sentence. He, smiling like a victorious commander, adjusts his glasses and seems to end his speech.

What can I say? On one side, Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi, who says, “A true Muslim cannot be a terrorist, and a terrorist cannot be a true Muslim,” is declared a terrorist by his own government that claims to be Islamic. On the other side, İsmet Özel, held in high esteem by that government as an ideologue, says, “Muslims should be terrorists.”

What days we have fallen upon, O Lord!

If you notice, I just conveyed what happened; I didn’t make any comments, I couldn’t. Right then, I thought of artificial intelligence. ‘Let me write to it and see what it says,’ I thought. I asked, ‘What do you think about İsmet Özel’s opinion?’

The response from the AI was: “The statement ‘Muslims should be terrorists’ is highly controversial and reflects an intolerant approach. Such a statement is dangerous as it generalizes and associates an entire religious group with terrorism. Islam is a religion followed by millions who advocate for peace, tolerance, and human rights. Defining terrorism as a religious duty by an individual or a group of people misrepresents Islam and Muslims.

These radical statements can threaten societal tolerance and coexistence. They can harm efforts made in the Islamic world and globally to combat terrorism. Strengthening interfaith understanding and tolerance, and reducing discrimination and divisions are important steps.

Respecting everyone’s beliefs and thoughts, promoting tolerance, and fostering an understanding dialogue are critical for peaceful coexistence in societies. Education, social awareness, and dialogues promoting tolerance play an important role in combating such extreme views.”

Now it’s my turn: You couldn’t even be as rational as an AI. Shame on you

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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