One regular contributor to the column is a man named Ayhan Ozer, who is affiliated with the Turkish-Muslim Cultural Association of Levittown, PA. What he writes, though, is far from the typical extremist diatribe you might expect from someone who is radicalized in one way or another. He usually presents a pretty clear and well thought out opinion.
I believe he did this again in his most recent column, which I'm posting below.
"In recent decades the search for new answers to the old problems of Islam is unfolding on a scale never before seen in Islamic history.I'll leave it up to you to see either the planned or unintended parallels that Ozer draws, I think, between Islam and much of Christianity, as well as the faux Christian evangelicals.
As the world becomes inundated with the news about Islam and Muslims, they examine their faith in the context of political, social, and intellectual challenges of the contemporary life (sic).
The questions such as what are the proper relationships of Islam and the state? (sic) Should religious scholars have a role in political governance? If intellectual freedom is a right, how far can a moderate Muslim go, for instance, the challenging of the Quran, or the Sunnah, or expressing doubts about his faith?
These are burning issues in Islam, and now they are being debated in some circles.
If we look to the Muslim world, there are several common denominations among individual states. Most of them are backward, anti-modern, poor, and lag behind the times.
Some of the learned Islamic scholars attribute this to the fact that Islam dries out vital resources of the state and its people, it stunts the creativity and aspirations of its adherents, and it hinders free thinking.
By imposing its own divine rules on temporal affairs, Islam pushes states back to the 7th century level. No wonder there is not any innovation and progress in the Islamic world for the last 1300 years. (sic) Also, by confining women to veil and depriving them of education, they shoot themselves in the foot.
To answer some of the above questions, Islam and the state should be separate. Divine and temporal are two different things. If we allow them to mix together then the religious scholars automatically should have a role in the governance of the state. We need to look at Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab world for the answer.
Religious scholars can only do harm to the state and the well being of its people. They are, by and large, alien to positive sciences, reason and progressive thinking.
They are heavily sedated with dogmatic teachings, and there is no spark, let alone a fire, in their mind.
Today's problems are dynamically complex: that is, the cause and the effect are far apart in space and time. They are socially complex, involving actors with different interests and persuasion. They are generally complex requiring solutions that are new, unconventional, and unfamiliar. And they are philosophically complex, requiring scientific rationality and spiritual enlightenment simultaneously.
We need an overarching, multidisciplinary and holistic paradigm to address and solve all of these issues. And holism sees living nature as interacting wholes that are more than the sum of their parts.
Therefore, Muslims cannot isolate themselves from the whole, and interaction is essential. They define themselves as tolerant and charitable. Out-reaching, they should show that those claims are not in the abstract.
There are signs, however, that point to a deep yearning among many Muslims for new thinking in Islam which they deem essential for political reforms and cultural vitality. Some progressive minded Islamic thinkers acknowledge that "The most critical problem facing the Muslim world is neither political nor economical, but deep confusion in our thinking and learning process in relation to ourselves, to Islam and to humanity at large. Without a relative, rational and objective Islamic discourse, our relationship to Islam will remain as a sentiment to the past."
Resistance to new thinking in Islam comes from several quarters. Authoritarian governments restrict public debates for their own sake. Tradition-bound religious establishments, allied to the state, reject new interpretations of Islamic scriptures because they are still a majority.
Political opportunists prefer religious slogans to genuine freedoms.
Orthodox Islamists read the Quran in a literal way, and maintain that theirs is the "correct" way of Islam, and all others heretical. Finally, extremists threaten new thinkers of Islam with violence.
All those developments, however slow, suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the road to the light is perilous.
The conservative forces are more vocal and are likely to remain in control for some time to come.
We may not notice, never mind heed, that those pioneers are working to modernize their faith with ideas instead of debasing it with bombs, and they are on the march."