Mustafa Akyol, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (2011)

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Tengku Ahmad Hazri


Freedom is frequently a topic of controversy in discussions of Islam and the West. Mustafa Akyol’s recent book goes further than making the claim that freedom is indigenous to Islam, and it reads closer to an ideological manifesto in offering a spirited defence of liberalism and free market capitalism from an Islamic perspective:  “[L]iberty is ... what everyone needs to find God.”  But freedom in Islam is morally assured, legally secured and theologically grounded and sanctified—and thus forms a crucial part of the entire worldview of Islam. It can be conceived as a higher purpose (maqsid) of the Shariah, and not merely a principle or a transient reality. An ideological reading of freedom, as we find in Akyol’s book, actually truncates that worldview, as it dislodges freedom from its Islamic theological-moral-spiritual sanctuary in favour of classical liberalism.

Akyol’s principal claim is that freedom is coeval with the Qur’an itself and realised by the Prophet during his lifetime. Islam created the individual out of the tribe, extolled man as God’s viceroy on earth and enjoined righteous deeds as part of religious faith. Such proto-liberal tendencies within Islam, Akyol argues, brought about radical transformation to the Arabian society of the time—endowing women with hitherto unknown rights, protecting the weak and the powerless, freeing the individual from the shackles of tribal ethics, and more. 

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