Turan Dursun was “a former mufti and imam and an open critic of Islam who fought for a freer and more humane world despite pressures from the state, the public, and even his own father, whose dream was to see him become a devoted cleric.” He lived in Turkey. He was, as was tragically predictable, assassinated by defenders of the faith.
”Choosing between freedom and Islamism,” by Uzay Bulut, Israel Hayom, August 26, 2014:
“The book you are holding in your hand is a book of a new era marked for a more beautiful world. It is obvious that a more beautiful world cannot be achieved without a freer world. And to achieve a freer world, taboos must be broken. All kinds of chains that bind freedoms must be broken.”
This excerpt is from the preface of the first edition of the book “This is Religion,” by Turan Dursun.
Dursun’s father was of Turkish descent, and his mother, of Kurdish descent. Born in Turkey in 1934, he was a former mufti and imam and an open critic of Islam who fought for a freer and more humane world despite pressures from the state, the public, and even his own father, whose dream was to see him become a devoted cleric.
Dursun was a prestigious mufti in the cities where he worked. His progressiveness and hard work were often covered by the national media, and he sometimes wrote columns for national newspapers, as well. He was frequently invited to official state ceremonies and was respected by the public. He regularly visited villages to observe their problems, and tried to offer solutions.
Because Dursun received his education in madrassas (Muslim theological schools) and knew Arabic well, he had a comprehensive knowledge of Islam’s original source documents — the Quran, hadith, biographies and histories. And he had something of crucial importance that most Muslim scholars lack: a critical mind.
The Islamic religious texts did not satisfy the depths of his mind. He had an incredible passion for learning. Aside from his native languages, Turkish and Kurdish, he learned Arabic, Circassian, and some French. He had a strong interest in Greek philosophy, as well, and read Aristotle’s works when he was just 12.
”Knowledge is accumulated in your mind to a point, and then a spark is emitted. But if [your religion or ideology] is so deeply rooted in your culture and conscious, it is hard to certainly face up to and distance yourself from it. I always had a nature that revolted against the concept of God and my disengagement from Islam took place in an evolutionary phase. I had always argued with God. Then I repented. I thought, for example, that if the Quran is the word of God, then why does it permit slavery? Why does it tell some people that it is OK if they are slaves? I thought that if [the Quran’s author] was really Allah, he should have abolished slavery and that he should not have declared some people slaves and others free. But then I immediately abjured. I had always been in a state of rebellion since my childhood,” Dursun said in an interview.
But his main estrangement from Islam happened when he compared the Quran with other religious books.
”Then I realized how Muhammad transferred some of the writings of the Torah and Bible to the Quran. I was so frustrated and angry. I could not live my childhood and youth properly because of him. So many people can’t live properly because of him. So many people are sufferers of his disasters. So many people know what’s right as wrong and what’s wrong as right because they think the darkness that he chose exists. Human emotions and human creations haven’t progressed in many ways because of him. I have found no disease, neither cancer nor AIDS, and no disaster more horrid than the effects of that religion. And at that moment, I decided to start a fight,” Dursun said.
Dursun also gave up his job as a mufti, which he carried out for 14 years, to dedicate himself better to his cause.
”I gave up my job to be able to fight. I was on top of my career. I was not an ordinary mufti. People knew and respected me. But I had to leave that job. Because I thought that if I was to fight, I could not do that with my current job because that would not be honest. I have always been consistent. I never want a difference between what I think and what I do.”
Dursun said that he first lost his faith in Muhammad, then he deeply thought about it, reading extensively in anthropology, and in a few years time he lost his faith in God, as well.
With these changes, Dursun’s father and brothers were gradually estranged from him.
Then he started writing. His first problem was that no media outlet or publishing house wanted to publish his articles.
In the preface to “This is Religion — Part 1,” he explained that period: “I tried so hard to publish these articles. I rang many bells. My attempts continued for months, if not years. They all turned me down. [These articles] daunted even people known as ‘progressives’ or ’intellectuals.’ Even when my most moderate articles were presented to them, some of them said, ‘They can stone us to death if we publish them.’ Some of them were even scared of being bombed, let alone being stoned. Some of them responded with the same rhetoric of tactician politicians: ‘We respect the religion. We do not support offending religious feelings.’
”Every time I was turned down, I thought: If they can’t risk offending feelings, how can struggle against darkness be possible? Can new steps in the field of civilization be taken without offending feelings? How can changes that aim to reach a more beautiful, civilized, and humane world take place without offending feelings? What novelty or reform has been introduced without offending feelings? Have human beings not offended religious feelings as they have changed themselves and the nature? I always thought about these questions. But still found no entrance to our ‘liberal’ (!) printed press.
”So before our country and the world, I would like to document this (situation) and blame the ’intellectuals’ who function as stern wardens that are not very different from the sovereigns of the oppressive regimes that they accuse and as taps that prevent water required for liberation from flowing,” Dursun said.
Finally, Dursun was able to find a magazine to publish his articles and then a publishing house to print his books.
Among the many subjects he wrote about were violence in Islam, Shariah law, the status of women in Islam, the private life of Muhammad, contradictions in the Quran, “Satanic verses” and the vengefulness of Islamists. He also focused on what he called “the unscientific and irrational matters in the Quran.” He wrote countless books and articles in the 1980s.
His son Abit Dursun said that every single article his father wrote fell like a bombshell. “My father heartily dealt with taboos that no one in Turkey had ever dared discuss,” he said.
Thus, Turan Dursun often received death threats and was exposed to verbal attacks.
”Even a fatwa requiring my father’s execution was proclaimed. Then the magazine for which he wrote made a call to all Islamic scholars to join a debate program on TV with my father. But none of them volunteered because they knew that my father was one of the most outstanding scholars of Islam, not only in Turkey but throughout the world. And my father was fearless,” said Abit Dursun.
Turan Dursun’s knowledge was great and so was his bravery. But he did not write to harm, coerce, destroy or kill anyone. He had a cause, which he believed was to enlighten and liberate people to create a better world, where freedom and humanity would prevail. And his only weapon was the eloquence of his pen.
But his opponents did not share the same human values. As if to prove Dursun right about the violence of Islamic teachings, they did not confine themselves to verbal or psychological attacks.
At age 56, Dursun was brutally assassinated by two gunmen in front of his house in Istanbul on September 4, 1990.
After Dursun’s murder, a book titled “The Holy Terror of Hezbollah” was found on his bed. Family members said that the book did not belong to Dursun and was left on his bed as a message by the people who entered their house.
After Dursun was murdered, plainclothes policemen took away many of his works, which he had been in the process of preparing, including the 2,000 pages of his Encyclopedia of the Quran, many of his manuscripts, articles, letters and the fifth edition of his latest book.
”The police arrived in our house 45 minutes later. The plainclothes policemen who had arrived much earlier ransacked the whole house. As they left after seizing my father’s works, the uniformed policemen came. … We sought help from the prosecutor’s office later, but were not able to get those works back,” his son said.
Dursun was opposed by the police and the state, and was completely vulnerable. But he was also abandoned by many of Turkey’s intellectuals. Not everyone had his courageous heart and his free mind, after all.
Abit Dursun delivered a speech in his father’s funeral: “Turan Dursun always said ‘I am not scared of darkness. I am scared of being scared. Because one who is scared either dreads or becomes aggressive. Those who killed my father viciously fired bullets at his back, without even daring to look him in the eye,” he said.
After Dursun’s assassination, his books sold tens of thousands of copies in Turkey. His supporters have called him a “warrior of enlightenment” — one of the most well-deserved titles in history.
Dursun was killed years ago, but the silence and indifference of the West — the free world — in the face of Islamism remains deafening.
The term “Islamphobia” has been invented to muzzle the critics of Islam so that Islamists’ feelings will not be offended. Even genuine supporters of this term must be well aware of the fact that the slightest, mildest criticism of Islam can cause violent reactions from “peaceful” Islamists.
That is why Alan Dershowitz was so right when he said, “The threat or fear of violence should not become an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech.”
Why do we fear a violent reaction from Muslims if we make any substantial critique of Islam? Is Islam not a religion of peace, as many claim it to be?
”Islamophobia” apologists should also answer these questions: What thoughts are included and guaranteed within the scope of freedom of expression? Which thoughts are free and which are banned? To what extent can one criticize Islam and about what subjects must one be silent? Can we get a list of do’s and don’t’s, and if so, how would it contribute to human progress?
The suppression of criticism of Islam and Islamism aims to restrict the capacity of the human mind. But we are no longer living in the seventh century. In the 21st century, one may not demand silence from free thinkers.