VIEWS OF Islam, Humanity and Future Thought

M. Gök :

When we come to topic of our interview. The topic of origin; What does Islam promise to humanity? As it’s a very general topic we know that a lot of scholars, professors, they write and discuss thıs issue But we would like to ask you some questions about the future of Muslim thoughts, trouble, disease, and the most important thing the treatment and the suggestions of Muslim people. In this meaning, what we really need is the point. So if you are ready, would you like to start for the interview questions?

Z. Serdar:

Sure, sure.

M. Gök:

Where should be start talking about the Muslim intellectual world?

Z. Serdar:

I think we have to begin by acknowledging certain failures of Muslim intellectual thought. First I will argue that the purpose of Islam for humanity is to bring the humanity together. So I would interpret Tawheed, not simply just as unity of God, or unity of the Ummah but also unity of humanity. And unity is something that requires you to work towards. In general, my feeling is that the Islamic intellectuals have concentrated more on exceptionalism of Islam rather than universal aspects of Islam. So they haven’t attempted to bring humanity together in thought ground. A great deal of our thought is either about what happened in history than Islamic intellectual thought, or what’s happening in terms of rituals, and so on forth, or our emphasis on modernity, and the criticism of modernity or acceptance of modernity. And also, there has been a very wide embrace of post modernism in Muslim intellectual thought. So, I would argue that the main goal of Muslim intellectual thought is to bring humanity together. To unite humanity in a universal outlook… Now, in general terms, people are very scared of universal ideas. They think it is essentialism right that we should allow or accept ideas from other cultures and let them be, which is fine. But I think there are certain aspects of humanity that are notion. The whole discourse of rights over a century or thought has been reactionary rather than proactive, in a sense we need more proactive thought. And if you look at some of the basic concepts of Islam. They are not specific but they’re very universal. The concept of Tawheed is about bringing humanity to universal unity as well bringing humanity together with all their differences. We often describe the Islam as unity within diversity. This is also true of humanity. We need to accept the diversity. The light of humanity, as much as we can, get them to transcend their differences and come together, where it is possible to come together. We take the concept of Khalifah. We are the khalifah of God. What it does actually mean? We are the trusty of God, and trusteeship is not limited to Muslims. If we are going to look after the natüre, it isn’t meant that Muslim should look after nature. But everybody should look after the nature. So, the notion of Khilafah has also to be broadened out right to include other cultures and other other civilization. The concept of Ilm; for example knowledge. One of the key problems in Muslim society is the abandonment of pursuit of knowledge. We are amongst the mostly illiterate people in the world. We haven’t given enough attention to education and generating new knowledge. So, overall, I want to answer to your main question about the purpose of Islamic contemporary times. I would say the purpose of Islam in contemporary times is the service of humanity. In fact I would argue that this is the universal goal of Islam is service of humanity. And servicing of humanity comes in a number of ways. As trying to bring humanity together, ıt should being promoted knowledge that is human based on compassion and thought, rather than knowledge for the sake of profit. And I would also argue that the purpose of Islam is the survival of the humanity as a whole, and at this stage in time. This particular state of history. We are in danger. We have some very serious dangers coming from climate change, for example, from extension of planetary boundaries from new technologies like bioengineering, artificial intelligence. All this requires over attention and focus because that it will have profound impact on the future of humanity as a whole.

M. Gök:

How do you locate the state of the Muslim intellectual thought?

Z. Serdar:

It is in a die state (moribund), I mean my simple answer is that Muslims are in die state. One of the first things we need to do is to learn to adjust to intellectual thought its change. Overthought is still too deeply entrenched in traditionalism, too confined by modernity. We haven’t liberated ourselves from our modernity, we haven’t freed ourselves from traditionalism, Now I want to distinguish between tradition and traditionalism. Tradition is a living entity tradition survived by reinventing themselves, but what we have in contemporary Muslim societies is not tradition, but traditionalism, That is historic ideas which are suffocating ambition, frozen in history, which haven’t actually been rethought reinvigorated for a very very long time. So even the notion of what is the purpose of Islam, the conventional answer is the purpose of Islam is to worship God. Yes, but we need to take it beyond that. God doesn’t need our worship, but he does want us to look after humanity. In a sense, it’s not that I’m saying the worship is not important, of course it is key, is very important. When you look at the notion of ibadah, for example. It’s a very broad concept. It’s not simply ritualistic worship. Ibadah also includes things like ilm. I mean, knowledge itself is worship. Ibadah also introduced the notion of ijtihad. What we have at the moment is this, Tawheed is buried in history. We have not reinvigorated Islamic thought so, the state of Islamic thought at the moment is very dire. We need to rethink basic Islamic concepts and contemporize them what do these concepts mean in contemporary times.

M. Gök:

So do you think that traditionalism is threatening Muslim intellectuals?

Z. Serdar: 

Yes, I think it is. It is said certainly affecting Muslim intellectuals. In a sense, I think we have a very simplistic idea of Islam. We think that if we simply do prayer and basic stuff, we’re be in our right. But I mean there’s a very famous hadith of the Prophet: “Trust in Allah but tie your camel.” We have not paid any attention to tieing camel and that’s the intellectual aspect that’s the change aspects, and that is transformation aspect. So part of our Muslim intellectual thought, and in fact, the goals of the Muslim intellectuals should be to transform Muslim societies, not isolate themselves in ivory towers, but be part of the society, and play a role in transforming it, making it prosperous, making it more educated, making it more aware of contemporary requirements, paying more attention to client to issues like climate change, which are very very important issues of how change itself is changing.

M. Gök:

In this point, how can we balance between the traditionalism, and the bringing new things to Muslim society and Muslim intellectuality, what are the points to balance between the traditionalism, and the modernism?

Z. Serdar:

I don’t think that we can balance things between traditionalism and contemporary requirements. Because I think traditionalism is suffocates original thinking. But what we do need to do is to look at our traditions and the transform them into living traditions. What do I mean? For example, if you look at the Sharia, the most emphasis is on law and crime and punishment and things like that. But there’s a very strong aspect of the Sharia, which has to do with the environment. As we’ve been facing environment crisis for last 30- 40 years, hardly any contemporary scholars have focused attention on the environmental aspects of the Sharia. So for example how we build our cities, or cities were built with carrying capacity in mind to look a city like Fes ( city in Morocco). The city takes water from a river and there was a wall around it. So people who build the city knew that the city and the river could only cope with so much population. The fresh water is taken from upriver, and polluted water and the rest goes down river. It’s a very holistic concept and that comes from Sharia how we have the notion of a hima (enviromental protection) and haram. Now when we talk about haram, we only mean the mosque in Makkah. But Haram is a very general concept. It means you look after wildlife, your forests and outside the city they were haram zones, which were not allowed where you are not allowed to cut trees or hunt or kill the wildlifes inside the city. They were Haram zones that provided century for wild life inside the city. Now these are all Sharia concepts, but who has paid attention to them in the last 30- 40 years? Answer: No one. So that’s the tradition we need to turn into a living thing. Much of our other Sharia stuff is all traditionalism, even there we haven’t actually paid much attention to very important things like how do we invoke important issues.

M. Gök:

We are in today we are in 21st century, and there are some Muslim intellectual crisis, especially in 21st century. There are some accepted that European Western superiority, especially intellectual work. So, we would like to ask that what are the biggest of our intellectual crisis, what are the biggest Muslim intellectual crisis from the history, and especially in 21st century?

Z. Serdar:

We can look at the historical aspects. I think that is that is covered quite a lot, I mean, Muslim intellectuals, scholarship, contemporary and historic has dealt with the problems of history quite thoroughly is the problems of contemporary times, which are overlooked. First of all, I think we need to overcome inferiority complex. This notion that the West is advanced in knowledge makes us passive. We need to do more than catching the Western advancing knowledge. We need to create original knowledge of ourselves, knowledge that meets the needs and requirements of our society. But knowledge that also humanizes science and technology. Knowledge that actually serves humanity as a whole. So the crisis of Muslim intellectual thought is, essentially, a crisis of not meeting contemporary needs and requirements. And the contemporary needs and requirements change constantly. We need to realize two or three things. One is that change is the only constant now. Things change very very rapidly. Things happen with a great deal of speed. They happen in a global scale, they can affect the global scope. They can affect individuals in scale and they happen simultaneously. So, speed, scope, scale and simultaneousity are the four driving forces of change that we need to understand. Unless we understand these changes, we are not going to produce new knowledge that is relevant to what’s happening to changing societies. And also these four drivers then lead to complexity. If you have a rapidly changing situation in an interconnected world – where communication is instant, we are all communicating- you will have complexity, you will have societies and issues and problems which are complex, which are interconnected. Complexity creates interconnected problems they will have some contradictions people with different positions. If you have lots of contradictions and complexity, you’re going to have chaos. So the three C’s are also very very important. Complexity contradiction and chaos. This is, what I call, the post normal times. We are in a special position in history. We’re the old paradigms of Western civilization modernity of efficiency, post modernism, free market capitalism, value neutral science. All the old paradigms are dying, and the new ones have not taken place so we are in between the “no longer” and the “not yet”. We are in between this period. The real challenge for Muslim intellectual thought is how do we navigate from the position where old paradigms of Western civilization are dying, and the new ones have not been born yet. Here we have the opportunity to create new paradigms. When you look at all the work on Islamic economics, ıt was not designed to create a new way of doing economics. It was essentially an appendage to a Western capitalist system. What has happened in the end is that we ended up rediscovering capitalism using the Sharia. That’s all we’ve done. So we need to really think very very boldly how do we create new paradigms of knowledge, new patterns, new ways knowing, and new ways of doing and being. This is a phenomenal challenge and Muslim intellectuals have never experienced in history. This is a unique challenge that we face. So, the responsibility on Muslim intellectuals shoulder is very very heavy at this moment in time.

M. Gök:

So, today is that discussing still is not clear but they said that there is traveling knowledge from the West – East. Of course they’re not meaning that the Middle East and Muslim country. They are meaning China, Japan. So they say that knowledge is always traveling. Knowledge was produced in the Middle East for a time in the history. During Abbasids’ and Umayyads’khalifah it moved to West, and now it’s producing to West. But in today’s what they discussed that they said knowledge is traveling from West to East, China, Japan.

Z. Serdar:

I think the real thing is not knowledge that is moving from the West to East. It’s power of some extent. Knowledge is also power. So what is happening is that in this changing world, that I was talking about the post normal world, both power and knowledge is now shifting from West to East. In the normal system that we took for granted for the last 50- 60 years, power always belonged to the West. But now, power is shifting fromWest to East. In this shift China is now acquiring more and more power and producing knowledge than the United States. India is acquiring more and more power, even Turkey is acquiring more and more power. But the knowledge production remains more or less the same. The knowledge that is produced in China is not all that different from knowledge that is produced in America or Europe. So knowledge production remains the same at this moment in time. China probably has an edge in technological development over United States. But you look at the technology that China is developing artificial intelligence that is being used to survey its population with facial recognition instead of monitoring of people. That China has done with the Uygr Muslim population of two or theree million is basically imprisoned through this new technology and they’ve been deprived of their culture, their religion. So it’s almost cultural genocide that is being performed using the technology. The artificial intelligence that China produces is as racist as the artificial intelligence that is producing in the West. Bioengineering China will do will lead as much to eugenics as bioengineering in the West as tended to do in the past. So, the problems then remain the same, but the power is shifting. So to change the power in knowledge production we need a different approach and notion of what knowledge is again. That’s a very hard task, not an easy task for Muslim intellectuals to grasp. So, how do we now do knowledge, but how do we produce knowledge is in a different way.

M. Gök:

As you tell that the power is shifting. But at the Muslim world, İs going to be a prison in the prison? So, what are the duties of Muslim intellectual in this situation? As we know that intellectual, our mind of society, so they can lead people. For the centuries in Islamic world all the time, Muslims always has some challenging, different types against different enemies, and intellectual somehow they dealt with it. So how can Muslim deal with the power is changing? Knowledge is produced some different countries but it’s not produced in Muslim countries.

Z. Serdar:

I think one of the first task of Muslims is to become organic intellectual, is to be part of the society. Intellectuals tend to live in universities and most of them were educated in the West so they have expertise in Western disciplines. Even our universities are structured according to Western disciplines. On the whole, take for example, Turkey. At this moment Turkey has a major problems with the refugees that are coming from Syria, coming from Iraq. Yet, there is not a single department in Turkish universities that devotes itself to studying the problems of refugees in a holistic way. How do we accommodate refugees? How do we build new shelters for them? How do you provide them with health? How do we integrate them in our societies? How do we educate their children? How do we ensure that their children grow up? Thinking that Turkey is their homeland how do we make them integrated part and parcel of country society so they grow up being proud of the country that has provided them with the new home. Now, why don’t we have that? Because traditionally universities don’t have refugee departments. At best they will have some shorter science department that they will be studying migration. Yet we have technology at this moment that we can develop and utilize to provide instant shelter for refugees. We have means to actually provide them with health and education that they need, using new technologies. But, we don’t do. That same problem in Pakistan, with Bangladesh with the Rohingya refugees. This is a universal problem. But Western universities have a Department of Anthropology, which is essentially a Western discipline design, originally designed to the management control non-western societies. But we don’t have it this way. We don’t have a department that is studies Western civilization, and how Western civilization functions, which is a bigger need. Our need is not to anthropologize ourselves. The West has done that already. They have othered. We are the darker side of the West, which is the function of anthropology has been right. Yet our main things to understand how Western society functions, what are the strengths and what are his weaknesses, what are his successes, what are his failures, what can we learn from it. What can we learn from it, yet there are no department that study Western. There is no such thing as Western Studies Department in any university in Turkey or any in the Muslim world, while they are departments in western universities of Islamic studies of Turkish studies. Our intellectual structure is wrong. We need to change our intellectual structures and get our intellectuals to be part of society, not just be in ivory towers. Intellectuals who are part and parcel of society, who look at society’s needs and requirements and speak for and with members of society. They don’t impose themselves from the top, but they grow from the society as a whole. Also I think our internet intellectuals have to have both traditional knowledge and modern knowledge. Because the world is complex, and the complex problems cannot be solved in isolation or from a single perspective. They need multiple perspectives. We need transdisciplinary interdisciplinary approaches. So our intellectuals have to understand traditional knowledge as well because lots of ordinary people in Muslim societies or traditions have a traaditional outlook. But also we need to understand modern knowledge so that they can applies, what is relevant in modern knowledge to the needs of traditional societies. They need to be much more organic and holistic in their approach. Unfortunately, most of our intellectuals are single disciplinary intellectuals… An economist would simply talk about economics. And if you say “Hang on, but this is also a issue of sociolog or art”, they will say we have nothing, we have nothing to do, either.

M. Gök:

So from that extent, what kind of relations and attracts your attention from the value conceptual framework, and today’s work?

Z. Serdar:

I would argue that we need to look at things critically. For example I would argue that not everything in modernity is bad, but not everything in modernity is good. Therefore we need to be critical and and take those aspects and concepts of modernity that actually work for us, and reject those which do not in that sense. So it’s a critical approach that is needed more than anything else is critical thinking in all respects. I want to define what I mean by my criticism myself. In conventional notion of criticism, it’s basically the function is to destroy a deconstruct and destroy what you’re currently criticizing, in some cases even humiliate what you’re criticizing. My notion is the criticism that you create, what you’re criticizing you take it up and you put it in a higher plate. Criticism has to be about enhancing what you’re criticizing the subject and object of your criticism, should not feel humiliated or hurt. But in fact you what you’re actually doing is you’re transcending them, you’re taking them to another level right from where they are. Critisizm is very important but it’s all based on deconstruction. You keep criticizing things deconstruction, what you’re left with, at the end but nothing. This is where the meaningless notion of postmodernism comes from that ultimately everything is meaningless. Once you criticize it, there’s nothing like an onion layers. You keep criticizing and you’re not left with anything at the end. I am arguing from the opposite position that criticism should actually enhance, it should synthesize, not simply reduce, it’s not just about reduction, but it’s also about synthesis, and it brings things together. What we need to do is to be critical, both towards tradition of our own tradition and towards modernity, and then bring and synthesize something new that is better than tradition, and better than modernity.

M. Gök:
Thank you. So, our next question is that, as we know that there are two fundamental points for the Muslim, and the first the Quran, the second Sunnah. That is what Muslims generally follow on try to practice their religion, which is very important. So, our question is what do you think the Quran and Sunnah tell us in the modern times, since there are a lot of different interpretation of Islam, and every country tried to actually make different conversational interpretation. Saudi says we have a different Islam, Turkey says have different, Morocco, Pakistan, there are different interpretation, but our question generally what to focus on what does Quran, Sunnah tell us in modern times? What is the changing and unchanging structure of these two fundamental points by the time?

Z. Serdar:

First of all if we accept that Quran is an eternal text, then any text that is the God is eternal will have many many interpretations. So we shouldn’t fear different interpretations of the Quran. But I will also argue that contemporary context also changes the interpretation of the Quran, because when you read when you’re approaching the Quran as a contemporary person you’re reading it with your own contemporary eyes. You’re approaching it in terms of the problems in this condition in your society and you trying to get whatever lessons you can out of that. That is a contemporary relevance of the Quran, as well. My approach to the Quran is conceptual. I think what is eternal in the Quran, there are lots of contextual things which have very specific meaning in specific contexts, but what I would argue that really shaped the worldview of Islam, or the conceptual structures: Tawheed, Khilafah, other Ilm, the Quranic terms. These and lots of other Quranic terms have multiple meanings and to understand them from a contemporary perspective we struggle with the meanings of these concepts. As we don’t exist in a vacuum, we think in concepts. We shape the world according to the way we think, we think in terms of concepts. So we need to constantly rethink what the concept is. For example, Tawheed, at this moment in time, is essentially unity of humanity and survival of humanity. If you believe in Tawheed then you have to struggle for the survival of the world because certain aspects of climate change are leading to the extinction of human beings. They have already led to the extension of vast quantities of insects. We are now facing the sixth mass extinction. I can even see that in my own garden. So almost sort of 5-6-10 years ago, there were lots of bees, lady birds and other insects. This year I have one couple of Bumblebee in my garden. Not a single lady bird, but I can see that the insects are dying. A mass extinction is going on. So the function and the meaning of Tawheed now for me means survival of the flora and fauna, So that’s how I bought that each concept has to be interpreted. And I will say that the same thing applies on in the Sunnah. So when it comes to the Sunnah we pay much more attention to how the Prophet looked. If he had a beard, so we must have a beard. He wore a cubbah so we must wear a cubbah. But in fact, what is important in the Sunnah is conceptual framework that it provides. If you look at two or three major events in the Sunnah. The first event, say, the conquest of Makkah. When the prophet comes to the Meccans who drove him out of the city, who tortured his followers, who waged war against him again and again he asked to them “What should I do with you?” And they replied “You are a good brother and you will do good.” When he says “Today you are forgiven.” So forgiveness is the concept that the prophet is teaching us. That is an overarching concept that anything that as he did in his own context because don’t forget he lived in the seventh century, there was a certain amount of technology that was available the certain amount of economic activity was going on in Makkah. They are not universal. That is universal in the Sunnah is the notion of forgiveness. Take Hudaybiyya where he is negotiating with the Quraysh. They agree on the terms and then describing starts writing. In the Name of Allah, and the Quraysh. No, it can’t be the name of Allah, because we don’t believe in Allah otherwise we will fighting with you. And then he said okay then, this is a contract between the Prophet Muhammad the Prophet of God, and they say well we don’t accept you as a prophet, otherwise we will fighting with you. And then the people standing next to him, probably Hz. Omar and Hz. Ali, start drawing their sword because that’s major, this is a fundamental principle for them. But the prophet says no and he takes the pen and he himself crosses it out. What is he teaching us that there are points where you have to transcend your fundamentals to come together or for a better understanding or a compromise. That you can’t always stick to your own position no matter what you think about it, no matter how good you think it is and how fundamental it is to you, that there is has to be times for a broader piece for you to transcend. That’s the next look at the Hijrah. We got from Ibni Ishak who wrote first biography of the prophet
that Prophet planned the Hijrah. He went to Aqaba, he was treated badly then and he negotiated with the people from Yathrib. And then he migrated and Quraysh was very surprised. But if you just step back and think of the Hijrah, there were about a Muslim community is very small. There are about three 400 Muslims in Makkah. In fact the planning required for Hijrah was incredible because Muslims did not just get up one day and all went to Medina. They started moving to Medina before the Prophet himself moved there. And they plan the route with great detail. Because don’t forget, it’s about 300 miles from Makkah to Medina, very harsh terrain. So, food and permissions have to be provided for the journey, which were placed there in advance. Then they also set up a false tracks like in a different direction. The planning and the futures thought in Hijrah is incredible. So what are the lessons? What is the conceptual lessonds from the Hijrah is that planning and futures thought is essential. Then the other part of the Hijrah, that when the migrants come, Ensaars and Muhajirs meet together is that the value. That is being taught migration is a good thing and the host community needs to welcome the migrants and not treat them badly. It is only because the host community the Ensaars treated the Muhajirs as the equal brothers that Medina became a strong community. If you look at the Constitution of Medina what are the lessons being taught about constant? The Constitution first constitution in history. Everybody is included in the Constitution of Medina by name the Jews, the Christians the Serbians, their tribes, sub-tribes and what have you. So it’s not a constitution of an Islamic state, which is good, simply by Muslims. It’s a constitution of inclusive pluralistic community. Everybody is treated as equal. These are the lessons we need to take from the Sunnah. So both in terms of the Quran and in terms of Sunnah what we need to do, what the Muslim intellectuals need to do is studying our fundamental sources, is to look at them conceptually from a futures perspective. We always tend to look at things from historical perspective. Why? Because history is easy to study. The future doesn’t exist. It is a blank. It’s a blank thing. We don’t think about the future. We are talking about departments in university, for example, all universities have Department of History. But there are no university that have Department of the future. But all the graduates that come out of any particular university will be working in the future not in history, which will be different from the present. But we don’t teach that. So we need to go back to the Quran and Sunnah, but what we need to draw from them is lessons, not for history, but the lessons for the future. Because that’s where we’re going, that’s where we are moving and even contemporary times are changing rapidly. This is one of the basic lessons of my theory of post-normal times. Iin contemporary times, change is not just accelerating but the nature of change itself is changing. So what’s happening now is changing rapidly. If you’re planning for something you have to acknowledge the change that is taking place and the change that will happen in the future, which is quite a formidable task. Because we’ve never had that kind of challenge in history. This is a very unique challenge to our times. So I think we need to rethink how we approach the Quran and the Sunnah. I attended a Quran conference in Ankara. I can’t remember six or seven years ago. It was scholars came from all over the world, all over the Muslim world and it was all essentially traditionalism. It happened interesting thing when I was flying to Ankara, In my Turkish airline flight, someone sitting there and I was reading the Abdulhalim’s translation of the Quran and the Chinese guy was sitting next to me, just happened. So he asked me “What are you reading?” so I said I reading the Quran. We talked about Quran. I was telling him that the Prophet was in the cave and the angel Gabriel came there and said “read” what is the Quran. He couldn’t believe who was a professor at the University, believed things like that, coming from China, which made me think. It made me think that we don’t know even the basic kind of this description of what is the Quran. We haven’t actually happen to have a contemporary explanation for that or explanation for that is still buried in history. We do need to rethink a great deal of what is the Quran. What, how, why do we approach it in a partical way or that we approach it and why we have always approached it in a single way. Why do we always look for Islam in the Quran for historical references and not look at it from a futures perspective.

M.Gök:

You say that Islam is not just a belief system. It is also a form of problem solving. So what is the way it handles speaks and solve issues that makes Islam different from the others. I mean there are lots of religions, there are a lot philosophical thoughts. People was practicing different things for Christian, Hinduizm or Budizm, knowing or unknowing believe and practicing. So how do Islam shape from them?

Z.Serdar:

Islam is not just a belief system. First of all it’s a worldview. İt’ a way of looking at the world and shaping it. Where does the worldview of Islam comes from it comes from? The basic Quranic concept of Tawheed, Khilafah other knowledge. Worldviews are about engaging with the world and shaping it. Modernity is a worldview and modernity has engaged with the world and shaped it according to his own criteria. We live in a modern world. Post modernism emerged as a worldview and again, it tried to shape the world in its invidious on basic assumption. We find ourselves living in partly modern and partly postmodern world. I mean if you remember in post modernism truth is relative. Now we have reached the logical culmination of that assumption that all truth is relative, so there is post truth, right and we have fake news and alternative facts and that’s a product of post modernism as a worldwide. Islam is a worldview, but we don’t engage with the world. We tend to engage with the world in ritualistic sense. When a Muslim community comes together, what’s the first thing they do, they build a mosque. But I will say the first thing they should do is to ask what are the problems of the community we are living in and how can we solve those problems. Only then you focus on ritual. So it’s a problem solving. If you look at the Sharia or you look at how science and technology developed, so you say something like algebra. Algebra, was the answer to the problem of in inheritance. Then, Islam introduced the idea of inheritance. Islam is to distribute wealth, so it’s not gone. This doesn’t aggregate in a single hands and single family. The whole algebra was developed as an answer to the problems of inheritance Sharia is very much a problem solving enterprise. How do you adjust to change? Ijtihad is the central notion of change within Islam. It teaches us that things that we may regard halaal at a particular time may become haram at any other time, depending on the context. So the notion of halaal and haram are not fixed. If you use ijtihat, we can see that they are dynamic notions.
Take a lake, a freshwater lake. The freshwater lake is a very halali institution. People take freshwater from it for drinking purposes, animals come and drink from it. Now, you leave that lake for 100 years, come back and it’s haram because it’s not freshwater lake anymore. Stagnant water, if you drink from it, they recognize the stagnant water. So, over a period of time if you do not engage with something, that something maybe halaal to begin with becomes haram because you left it. So, we need to constantly engage with things and look at Islamic concepts with Dynamics. They’re not static institutions if we say Quran is eternal, then his concepts cannot be fixed in time. They need constantly interpretation in that sense. So essentially, we need to change constantly every wave of ourselves by reexamining Islamic concepts continuously and adjusting to adjusting to change. I’ve devoted all my life to studying change. That’s where my interest in future studies comes from. Because it forces you to look forward rather than backward. Some of our great intellectual thinkers were also very interested in change. Look at Ibn Haldun. His tedious, cyclic secretarial history is essentially a theory of change. Like he says change occurs in four generations. The first generation is produces ideas and wealth. The second generation adds a little bit to it, survives and thrives from the ideas of the first generation and the rest of the first generation. The third generation doesn’t add anything, but uses up all the ideas in the wealth generated by the previous generation. So the fourth generation declines. And then the cycle repeats itself. And it’s also a theory of how you can perceive the future generation. If I will accuse of imuslim intellectual of both future and, it will be that they have overlooked the dynamic, aspects of Islam, where ijtihad plays a very fundamental part. Ijtihad is not just if you are traveling whether you should pray five rakads or three rakads or whatever. Ijtihad is what do you do with bioengineering. Ijtihad is how do we move forward in a world that is going to face serious climate crisis. What is the ıslamic solution to water sources? Even a city like Istanbul will run out of water in 10 and 15 – 20 years. We know many cities that are already running out of water. Chennai in India. Capetown ran out of water two years ago. And in some places sea level rises of causing huge disaster. In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is sinking. So five years time maybe no the capital of Jakarta will not be. The capital of Indonesia, will not be in Jakarta but in Borneo, there create, make a new city because Jakarta is sinking. So for us to look at these problems and say what is the Islamic solution here? Right? We know, for example, in terms of water historically the Muslims paid a great deal attention to water management. In the 15th century the Ottomans knew that the Bosphorus flows in two different direction, the top layer goes in one direction and the bottom layer goes in another direction, so they build the sewage system. Today, we pay no attention. Absolutely no attention. That’s an urgent need of contemporary times. So today’s problem from Islamic point of view is how we pay attention and what we do about it?

M. GÖK:

There’s a report, which is published in 2019, which is called Islamic Index.

Z.Serdar:

Islamicity index.

M. GÖK:

New Zealand is coming first. And these countries are evaluated according to the economy, international relations more right governance. So there are lots of things that are evaluated. What’s country’s Muslim or not. All the criteria is how do say that Islamic countries are Muslim country. I wonder that is it possible as a Christian country to be a Muslim country?

Z.Serdar:

The Islamic city index has both a good and a bad side. The good side is that if you just take certain criteria, same things like prosperity, education. looking at the environment, looking at social welfare, we take some of these basic things, which are also part of Islamic outlook, Islamic worldview. And you look at various index rated indexes, you can see that these criterias are being applied and out in certain countries. There’s a very famous book Imam in Paris. I think he is a Egypian scholar, Ottoman scholar who comes to Paris for the first time. He was the first one to say there’s more Islam in Paris than there is in Muslim societies or in Egypt. Everyting is about what you want to see and what is being measured.
If you have a index measuring forgiveness from Islamic point of view, the country that will come out on top will be South Africa, because they had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there. The things it is measuring things like welfare, social welfare, human rights, economic prosperity, various aspects, these are all constructions of modernity. So, essentially what the Islamic city index tells you is that the most kind of human and modern states. This is New Zealand or Ireland. But if Islamic city index had the notion of racism in it then Ireland will be at the bottom or somewhere bottom because Ireland is a very racist society. And America. We know America, racism is so deeply entrenched in America, or if Islamic city also had a measure of fascism. Then this is a very important point that almost every European country, including and United States and Australia will be right to the bottom. We know that 1/3 of electorates in France vote for the National Front, which is a fascist party. We know that hungry is far right party. We know that the fascism is in the ascendant in Italy, in Germany, like in Spain. So if we were to include fascism in the whole thing, most Muslim countries, we’ll be on top, because while we have dictators, we don’t have fascists. Fascism has never been part of Muslim societies. Even though we had very nasty dictators, but they weren’t dictators in classical sense. They know they didn’t have an ideology of describing the other as inhuman and eliminating the other. So, all these rankings, they have a certain bias and Islamic city also has that bias. If you look at the creativity index or the human worker, the UNDP index, Human Development Index or university rankings, all these rankings have a certain bias and the bias is essentially towards the west, largely because the rankings themselves are deeply embedded in the notions of modernity.

M. GÖK:

So from that extent, how do you evaluate the problems experienced in the countries, which majority of the countries are Muslim? I mean, such as justice, economic life, basically human rights?

Z.Serdar:

I think, basically, the main problem in our society begins with politics and gover

M. GÖK:

Whats the biggest problem?

Z.Serdar:

Accountability is the biggest problem. Accountability of this power, how do they get in power rather than accountability. I mean this is very historic for us. When you look at the Abbasıs, so called golden period. The Abbasis pretty kind of otoritarian a lot. And Umayyas before of course the Ottoman themselves. We haven’t had the idea of accountable governance and participated to government. The concept of ijma is very central to Islamic talk. Okay, so how did the Prophet perform ijma? Well he called everybody in the in the mosque. They discuss things and reach the conclusion. But he could do that because there were only a couple of 1000 Muslims in the community. Now we are 2,5 billion people. So we got to find a different mechanism of getting of having consensus. Now consensus is not conformity. That’s the other thing. Most people who criticize the ijma think that everybody having this agreeing on the same thing, they means they are not thinking. The ijma is the notion of dissent and different opinions in it, but you collectively reached a conclusion. So the society is coherent. So there is a coherence in society, you respect the differences, but there is a collective decision, as well. How do we reach that collective decision? That’s a major issue for contemporary times. I think problem of most Muslim countries actually begins with politics. We do not know how to do politics, and we only think that politics is about power but also we don’t understand power. We think power comes from political muscle and the military and things like that. But power has number of different thing. Power comes from technology. Power comes from economics, but power also comes from representation. How you are represented? Can you represent yourself? The power of Orientalism was that Orientalism represented Muslims with a particular perception, and did not allow Muslims to represent themselves. So representation is a source of power. Culture is a source of power. Why do we all study at the at every university in the world will study Shakespeare and Jane Austen? How many universities in the world studies Yunus Emre outside Turkey? Answer zero. Why, because culture power is very very important. For example, Khalib and Ikbal are very important poets for me. And I regard them as universal poets, but they’re only studied in Pakistan. They’re not studied in the West, nobody is in the West rates are valid. Culture power is very important. But there’s a shift in culture power now as well. We’re talking about economic and technological power moving from United States to China and India and Turkey and Brazil. But there’s also a shift in culture power. So one example is film and television. And so, 20 years ago. Bollywood had a major influence on Muslim societies. Everywhere there were Bollywood films. Today Turkish television drama has more influence in Muslim Societies than Bollywood. Ertugrul Resurrection (Diriliş Ertuğrul) It’s been watched by over 2 billion people. So in Pakistan, for example, there are Ertugrul’s scupture. There are streets and restaurants named as Ertugrul. In Malaysia, they’re watching like nobody’s business. And even in Muslim communities in United States, in England and in Europe being watched. So that’s culture power within the 20 years. Turkish drama has shifted cultural power in Muslim Societies away from Bollywood drama. How and why has this happened for very simple reason, because the Islamic themes are played upfront. It appeals to the identify with Islamic teams. If you’re watching a show about Yunus Emre or a show about Sultana Abdulhamid most Muslims throughout the world will immediately recognize things that Islamic content. So they are attracted to it. I think that we have to recognize that culture power is also now shifting. A lot of the culture power is actually coming in Muslim hands as well. We are generating our own content. So instead of relying on others to produce our content we are generating over our own content. So just as Turkish dramas are very very popular, the Pakistani television dramas are also very popular in India. More people watch Pakistani dramas than they watch Bollywood films.

M. GÖK:

I would like to ask how you’re talking about cultural imperialism, except only from TV, it’s not only about the books, the normal fiction.

Z.Serdar:

I mean, a lot that it’s changing now so…

M. GÖK:

I’d like to ask how can we stop or prevent problems cultural imperialism? I mean, today we see the western cultural imperialism is very appeared all over the Muslim society. So how can we stop?

Z.Serdar:

I think we need to appreciate. One thing that I was emphasizing earlier on that in contemporary times things happen very quickly. Speed scope, scale and simultaneity. So culture power can shift very rapidly. And I think the example again of Turkish dramas is a good indication of how quickly that has shifted. Don’t forget that the Bollywood dominated Muslim societies from 1950s onwards to about 2010 then decline began very very quickly, especially with the emergence of YouTube access and Netflix. So, things can change very rapidly and we always have to be both aware and ready for the change. But the question now is how do we generate more culture content. If we think for example that music is haram. That means, God has no created ears for nothing and there is no function in the Quran because Quran of course, is very rhythmic, is it sound? Dances have lots of benefits for our body. I saw we need to open up. God has given us eyes to see and appreciate as aesthetics. God has given us ears to appreciate sound and music. Dance is very important for the human body. So, we need to rethink what art and aesthetics and culture means for us and produce the content in a in a sense. But there is a rising. I think, to some extent, art in Turkey art in Pakistan, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco. There is a music. The influence of Moroccan music, for example, on French music in the last 10 and 15 years is incredible. Maghrebi music now is almost an integral part of French musical culture. So, the cultural shifts are happening. Economic power shifts are happening, but not much of physical is economic power and political power is coming towards the Muslim world. And part of that is our lack of accountability and appropriate governance and and over this unity.

M. GÖK:
So, I want to ask about this. We know that Turkey is seen especially because of the Ottoman. It seems a leading country and the prominent country for the Muslim world because Ottoman was representing Muslim world, leading Muslim world for a long time. So from this way to have a healthy and developing comments what are your negative and positive comments from for this?

Z.Serdar: 

The Ottoman Empire Empire?

M. GÖK:

I mean for Turkey?

Z.Serdar:

First of all, let me just comment on the idea the Ottoman revival. I think the danger with the Ottoman revival in Turkey is turning into nostalgia. Remember, I was talking about we need to look at everything in a critical way. So we need to look at Ottoman history also in a very critical way so we can enhance it and raise it up. Rather than just see it as nostalgia and if you simply project this nostalgia here, then some people will see it as propaganda. So, you do need to represent the Ottoman revival in a critical sense and make it into a living tradition rather than nostalgia. So, the good aspects there, they are the Ottoman art, workmanship, Ottoman culture and Ottoman paintings. That needs to be revived, and turn into a living culture is not something that should only be in museums. But it’s something in that sense, but we also need to acknowledge that not everything in the Ottoman Empire was good. Actually be critical and be honest and point out what was harmful in the Ottoman. And basically promote what is good. Also we need to see Ottoman culture and civilization as a human culture and civilization. Right, and, all human societies have people from the left and the right, people who are good and the people who are bad, we have accountability and authoritarianism etc. And so what we need to do is to enhance what is good and point out what is bad and say within that society. And we need to transcend that and go beyond. My main concern is Ottoman revival and Turkish that there’s sometimes it is seen by people as propaganda, because it is projected as nostalgia rather than in a critical way. Second thing is I think Turkey is in a position to be a leader of the of the Muslim world. There are certain indications for example, if you look at scientific papers. If youlook at the ranking, you will find that Turkey is among the first Muslim countries in the ranking because it produces more patents, more science and more technical papers in refereed journals etc. This is an indication. And when you look at certain exports in agriculture and some manufactured goods again, Turkey comes out one of the top Muslim countries. There’s been political stability for last 20 years, which most Muslim countries have not experienced. So, there are certainly advantages. But I think the leadership has to be earned. It is not something that will come automatically to Turkey. To earn that leadership with has to demonstrate certain things that accountability and governance, which is under question now. Saudi Arabia are now like loggerheads for leadership. We say that Saudi Arabia has a dictatorship and absolute monarchy, and there’s no accountability, then Turkey to come out on top must demonstrate good governance and accountability. It’s not good enough just to say we are accountable, you have to actually demonstrate to people that you are accountable throughout the Muslim world. And then it has to use his culture power more effectively. So just saying okay we’ve done Ertugrul Resurection, actually 2 billions people have watched. That’s not good enough. You need to show leadership by bringing the Muslim countries together. We’ve got the organization Islamic conference, which is probably not by criticizing his organization, Islamic conference. Because it is basically as bad as the Muslim world, because it reflects all the shortcomings of Muslim societies in that sense. So Turkey has to then take a leadership role in the role in bringing people together, just communities and countries together. There used to be a very old program, RCD regional cooperation for development in Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. And I remember I was journalist in those days in Europe and when that came up. A lot of people were excited that some unity between these countries and be like Europe, then we could see European Union is being formed. And the interesting thing about European Union is that they have different languages, different history. They all been fighting together yet, they can come together as a European Union. Muslims in most of the Arab world, especially same language, joint history. Yet, they can come together and we thought RCD was a very good example. So we need things like that more cooperative connections. No country has all the resources to solve all these problems. And every country needs inputs from other countries to solve some of their problems. If you come together if you have more kind of RCD type of cooperations, free trade and free people movement. All these countries will benefit and they will enhance themselves.

M. GÖK:

Yes, in the Middle East they say that there is an opposite thing. Okay, Turkey is a secular country, but there’s a strong position of Islam people want. Iran is ruling by Shia, and the Saudi Arabia. So when we look at the Middle East, still, they are fighting, because of the religion. Of course, at the back behind there are lots of reasons economic, geo- political. But in Europe, after they finished sectarian force, they stopped the fight. This time because of the economic and the colonialism. Then they saw that the best thing to have eternal fantasy and the cooperation. So when we compare the Middle East, and especially Muslim world with European Union, do you think it’s pretty possible between Muslim countries to have a cooperation?

Z.Serdar:

There is of course nothing wrong with secularism. If secularism simply means that people come together and elected government that serves all people whatever their religion. But if secularism is an ideology then we have a problem. Because then secularism is essentially saying that religion has no place in public sphere, which basically is bad. It is against religion. Because why are you excluding a whole sect of your community that believes in something from public sphere. They have as much right as non believers to be part to be part of the public sphere. And next, religion is often the one place where moral and ethical questions are raised. So if you don’t allow religion to come in public sphere, then many of the important moral and ethical issues are left out of society, which is exactly what has happened in Western societies where questions and politics is totally deprived of ethics. At this moment in time, we have a prime minister who is known to be a perpetual liar, who made his profession based on lying. But nobody in the society gives a damn about it. They will reelect him again and again, because there’s no notion of morality and ethics. That’s what secularism all about in that sense. So secularism as an ideology is a problem, but secularism as a practical arrangement for governance is not a problem for us, which is in fact what Turkey has. Turkey has both at the moment secularism as an arrangement for governance. So you have political parties, policies for improvement of religion in society etc.
But also, it is a fantasy to say that Europe, you know, survive and thrive because of secularism. No, Europe survive and thrive because of imperialism and colonialism. This day they are reaping the benefits of of colonialism. If you go down to look at the center of center of London, you will see all the products of colonialism displayed in front of your eyes. The restructuring of the world after the Second World War and how it was designed to benefit for only the West at the expense of the rest was essentially an imperialist exercise. So Europe has benefited from all that. That’s what it’s not roled religion Western policies is funny, not just secularism. In most cases secs- religious component is very high if you look at United States. United States a very religious polity. Up to a few years ago The Catholics were not even allowed to be president there. Even in Britain, you couldn’t be a prime minister if you’re a Catholic only up to now, a couple of decades ago, etc. England has a longer history but in America. I think Kennedy was the first Catholic prior president. Conflicts between Catholics and Protestants played a crucial pole in shaping form of governence. If he doesn’t say God bless America at the end of the end of his speech, they will be rights. Is a very religious entity? And so, to say the region plays no part in public sphere in America is absurdUnder Trump, the United States was effectively a Chiristian Evangelical satate. The important thing is tahat we give all segmentsof society –different types of religious affiliations, strict secular ideologuesand all other beliefs- an equal space in the puclic spheare. All have an equal right to participate in the political process ant governence of country.

M. GÖK:

There are clash between both of the class blaming each of them claiming that they are the superior. They are better than others.

Z.Serdar:

That’s the problem. If you say we are over interpretation superior to yours, that’s the problem. But if you say that our interpretation is interpretation amongst others like yours, that’s okay. That’s how we need to go forward. And this goes back to the formative phase of phase of Islam. So the fact that Shias and Sunnis have not accepted each other for 1400 years is a source of shame. It is a great shame that two great interpretations of Islam can’t come together and and recognize and respect each other. To my view, it’s a great shame. Each has been fighting for dominance, which is again quite absurd. So we need to transcend our differences. The Shia and Sunni differences have to be transcended because, they are contradictions in many respects. And the contradictions cannot resolve and that we should not spend time trying to resolve them, but we should transcend them. And we do need to come together on by recognizing and respecting our differences. I mean we can say about Sufism same thing.
A lot of modernist Muslims find Sufism bothersome and very troubled. But you can’t say that Sufism is it is a lesser interpretation of Islam than Sunni Islam or Shia. That’s a different interpretation and we should embraxce its diversity.

M. GÖK:

Thank you very much Mr. Serdar. It’s over our question. We’re very glad and we will be happy if you can tell us about your Futurism Studies and especially what are the lack of futurism and what are your future project for Muslims for Turkey? How is your futurism studies? It’d be very good if we can given information about your studies and the future studies especially for Turkey and the Muslims.

Z.Serdar:

First of all you shouldn’t say futurism. Because futurism was a movement in art uniquely which was associated with fascism so, futurism is out. We talked about future studies because all of futures is plural studies because not one discipline but multidiscipline. I think that studying the future is shortly requisite for all Muslim societies. This is a knowledge that some members should acquire further and further, otherwise the cominity suffer. Personally requisite knowledge ensures the requisite knowledge. And if you do not have members with that knowledge in particular society the whole community suffers. If you don’t have a doctor. The whole community will suffer. If you don’t have engineers you can’t build bridges and the whole community suffers. Future studies is a further via for us. We need to some members of the communities, some members of the nation must study the future. So most of my time now, most of the rest of my life is going to be devoting to actually raising future consciousness and features literacy in societies. That’s essentially my goal. I’m helping the upcoming workshop for young Muslim scholarsfor the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), IIIT is one of the rare organizations that is aware of the fact that future awareness, future literacy, which is very very important for Muslim societies. Western societies basically have been very historical. Muslim societies really value history, but often we overvalue history in the sense that we keep looking backwards rather than looking forwards. So it’s a question of balance. We do need to understand history, but we do need to keep our eyes on the on the future as well. So most of my times is devoted to promoting future studies because I think it’s essential that some people in every Muslim community, in every society, in every nation must devote some time to exploring the future. And it goes for Turkey as well. I think Turkey should really have a minister for future. At this juncture in time Turkey is in a very unique position as I argued. There are aspects of Turkey that suggests it is leading in science and technology and culture production and so forth. And it’s in a very good position, but it also needs to open up to the future.

M. GÖK:

Thank you very much for your time and the important topics you have shared with us.

Z.Serdar:

Pleasure, pleasure. I hope to see you in Istanbul. I’m pleased to have been talking to you and meet you. Thank you very much.

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