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The Fear of Secularization of the Language of Religion

In my article from last week titled “Is This How Religion Should Be Presented?” I provided some examples and ended with a question. The question was: “Do all these examples not imply the secularization of religious language?” My answer was yes. I also mentioned that I share the same concern. However, I suggested that using contemporary language in discussing the relationship between religion and the state would make the issue more understandable. Now, I continue.

First and foremost, the Quran is both a speech and a book that contains many commands and prohibitions related to secular life. The language, style, and material it uses are tailored to the historical context and the understanding of its audience. That’s why many things are not explicitly defined or described in the Quran. It mentions riba (usury), but there is no explanation of what it is. You won’t find its definition within the pages of the Quran. It talks about ‘zihar’ or ‘thihar’ (a form of divorce), but you won’t find a single line explaining what zihar is. I can provide hundreds of more examples.

Why? Because the people of that time understood and practiced riba and zihar. Therefore, when those of us living 14 centuries after its revelation read these verses, we start by seeking answers to questions like “What is riba? What is zihar? What did these mean in the society of revelation?” We try to define riba and zihar, among other things.

So, why aren’t we doing the same in the field of Islamic and state relations based on the examples I provided in my previous article? We refer to the speeches made by the Prophet Muhammad or Respectable Abu Baqr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali in the mosque, which was considered the parliament of the time, as “sermons.” Why don’t we say that “covenant” between the ‘caliph’ and ‘the people” is the popular vote of accepting the head of state as the head of state? Why don’t we emphasize that using terms like caliph or Amir al-Mu’minin in today’s language means head of state, president, or prime minister?

If we are concerned about secularization when we do these things, then let’s not translate them into a direct realpolitik language like I did in my previous article, but let’s explain them comparatively within the framework I mentioned above. Let’s say that yesterday’s caliph is today’s head of state, the mosque is the parliament, the minbar is the podium, and the sermon is a political speech. Yes, why aren’t we doing this, or why aren’t they doing it?

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When I say they’re not doing it, the subject of this action is those who are actively involved in political life. I don’t think they have such good intentions. They live in a political environment where these concepts dominate day and night, yet they still refer to caliphs, Amir al-Mu’minin, biat (covenant), sermons, minbar, and mosque. Think about what an ordinary Muslim associates with when they hear the word biat (covenant) or caliph today. They don’t want to lose that association. That’s why they insistently, but insistently, prefer to conduct politics using these concepts and strive to gather votes, gain supporters, and consolidate their existing supporters. Please don’t say that with these words I’m getting involved in Turkish politics again. No, unfortunately, the same mindset prevails in the political world of all 57 Islamic countries, whether in power or in opposition.

So, who loses in this process? Without a doubt, religion loses first and foremost. Religion, which should have a very lofty place in both individual and societal life, is instrumentalized through such approaches, and this instrumentalization is done for worldly interests and personal gains.

The second losers are individuals and society. Because the religion that has become, so to speak, a plaything in the hands of such religious individuals – I don’t say pious individuals – cannot perform its necessary function, and the void it leaves cannot be filled.

I think that’s enough. I believe I’ve conveyed my message. Besides, the issue is not just about politics and political concepts. It’s the same when explaining matters related to faith. We must translate the language and style into a form that today’s people can understand. We are obliged to choose examples from things that are part of the everyday life of contemporary people, not from 14 centuries ago. Otherwise…

Actually, the phrase “The Secularization of the Language of Religion” that I chose as the title of the article requires a separate article for explanation. What does it really mean?

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

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