Last month, Via Meadia reported that a top Saudi cleric had issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to destroy all churches in the Arabian peninsula. We were happy to note the response of Mehmet Görmez, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, who eviscerated the Saudi cleric on political, moral, and Islamic grounds. We similarly welcome the recent comments made to a Turkish newspaper by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu:
“I believe this is a personal opinion rather than being the opinion of a state or an official,” İhsanoğlu said in an interview this week with Today’s Zaman. “It is a historically well-known fact that Islam respects the religions of ahl al-kitab (People of the Book) and their houses of worship.”İhsanoğlu mentioned a treaty that Caliph Omar had signed with Christians in Jerusalem on the protection of churches, creating a model for the Islamic world of how to treat the houses of worship of other religions. According to him, the Ottomans had adopted the principles laid out in this treaty. “This document outlines the legal framework for the issue,” he said, adding that Islam’s respect of all three faiths is also clearly seen in cities with mostly Muslim inhabitants. “We must keep these beautiful examples in mind.”
The dueling clerics remind us of the huge religious differences between the Turkish AK party and Saudi Wahhabism. Islamism is not a single ideology. There are many different forms, and if the Sunni surge is successful in beating back Shiism in Syria and Lebanon and the Gulf, the Sunni Middle East will continue to be divided between different poles. Turkey and the Saudis do not see eye to eye, and this has the potential to become an important geopolitical fact.Further, most non-Muslims categorically reject the idea that the classical Ottoman form of tolerance was fair or acceptable. White southerners used to tell visitors that African Americans were happy with their lot; African Americans didn’t see it that way. Christians and Jews similarly do not share İhsanoğlu’s views that they are treated well in the Islamic world. Balkan Christians and Armenians remember the Ottoman Empire as a dark age of backwardness, corruption, exploitation and tyranny.Still, the concept that tolerance is intrinsic to Islam is an important one, and Via Meadia is glad to see senior religious leaders in the Islamic world holding it up as an ideal.