December 20, 2017 Print

Based in Kuala Lampur, Istanbul Network for Liberty strives for a Muslim renaissance based on the principles of a free society. It recently hosted its fifth annual international conference, organizing around the theme of “Democratic Transitions in the Muslim World.” More than 125 participants attended the conference, representing Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and more.

“I hope that the more than 125 attendees who were present during our conference took away this conviction that the democratic movement in most of the Muslim world today is getting mature despite challenges and the intellectual discourse on the concept of state and religion in Islam has evolved considerably,” said Ali Salman, CEO of Istanbul Network for Liberty. “I hope that they believe that there are multiple and plural interpretations of Islam and it is possible to live in harmony with others. The conference attendees also took away the message that the intellectual climate in many Muslim societies is rich and dynamic, which is strengthening the civil society despite the evidence of a growing authoritarianism.”

Speakers from a variety of countries presented more than 20 academic papers exploring issues on Islam and democracy, with one of the most impactful being delivered by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf – secretary general of the Supreme Council of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization – who emphasized the need to contextualize Islamic teachings and the need for toleration of the opinions from different school of thoughts and beliefs, with his message being well received by the audience.

“The Muslim world is defined by the countries with Muslim-majority populations, which is albeit a narrow definition,” continued Salman. “Given its limitation, what is evident is that the process of democratization in the Muslim-majority countries is in rapid transition. In countries like Turkey and Egypt, where large and popular political parties have used Islam as part of their public campaigns, democratization, or at least its liberal facet, seems to hit snags. We do have, on the other hand, promising examples like Tunis, where such parties have embraced a more ‘secular’ approach, by separating the religious activism from political strategy. There is no other religion in the world that occupies the attention of both public and intellectual discourse, especially on the question of statecraft. In such a context, it is critical that we encourage free and critical thinking from within the Muslim circles by supporting scholars who can present arguments while drawing inspiration from religiously authentic sources.”

Istanbul Network for Liberty received an Atlas Network grant in support of the conference.