Öztürk is a prominent expert on Islamic history and theology. He adopts an authentic way of interpreting the Koran. Many Muslims in Turkey that tolerate and even support ISIS and other murderous jihadist organizations wish to violently silence Öztürk for thinking differently.
Mustafa Öztürk, a professor of Islamic Theology at Istanbul’s Marmara University and a columnist, has become a target of the pro-government media and Islamic movements in Turkey following his comments concerning the Koran. Exposed to a lynching campaign and death threats on Twitter, the professor had to resign from his post at university and retire.
The short speech was filmed in a video recording that is understood to have been shot without the professor’s knowledge in his university office. In it, Professor Öztürk referred to Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah al-Makhzumi, the chief of the Banu Makhzum clan of the Quraysh tribe, and Al-As ibn Wa’il. Both of these historical figures had some problems with Islam’s prophet, Mohammed. Öztürk said:
The Koran [only] talked about Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah al-Makhzumi and Al-As ibn Wa’il for 23 years and squeezed its entire frame into [the Arabian regions of] Hejaz, Taif and Medina. The diameter of [the Koran’s] last word to humanity is 3 or 5 polytheists there. And there are such curses for those polytheists in the Quran. They’re referred to both as “bigheaded” and “bastards”… Could this be the language of Allah? Could a humanitarian language have been used? It could. [But] he [Mohammed] was hurt. He was furious.
After his speech became viral on social media, a hate campaign was launched against the professor, using the hashtag “#MustafaÖztürkİhraçEdilsin” (Expel Mustafa Öztürk from university).
Öztürk has since been called names such as “treacherous devil,” “denialist orientalist,” and “pervert.” The theology professor was accused of “poisoning our youth,” “denying the verses of the Quran,” “attacking the Quran with the logic of an atheist,” “insulting [our religion] so severely that even a kafir [unbeliever] would not do that,” and “disavowing the Koran openly.” Others commented:
“If [caliph] Omar was in charge now, he would cut off his [Öztürk’s] neck” and “Our ancestors would swing him on the gallows.”
Pro-government newspapers such as Yeni Şafak, Takvim, Star, and Son Haber have demanded Öztürk’s expulsion from the university. Some Twitter users said Öztürk “must be killed.”
Öztürk has also been targeted by many Islamic movements in the country. Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü, a TV commentator representing the Islamic İsmailağa community, joined the verbal lynching of the theologian and teacher, and wrote:
How much longer will you allow Mustafa Öztürk, who denies that the Koran is [God’s] revelation, to poison our children in theology? You’re sinning! Allah will judge you!
In the face of continued pressures and threats, Öztürk declared his resignation and retirement on his social media account on December 2.
He added: “As of today, I bid farewell to academia, academics and the world of theology. Enough is enough. That’s all from me.”
Professor Öztürk describes his analysis of the Koran as “historicist” and notes that the Koran should be analyzed and understood within its historical context. In a 2016 public lecture the professor said that human experiences, values and lifestyles have tremendously changed through time and space since the seventh century and that Muslims should not adopt literalist or universalist approaches towards the Koran. They should instead analyze Koranic teachings in a critical and humanistic manner by taking into account the historical periods, geographical places, local cultures and contexts in which the Koran was written. Öztürk added that claiming the Koran has universal and literal applicability leads to major contradictions and human sufferings.
In a 2018 conference, Öztürk also discussed notions such as “ahl al-kitab” (the people of the book, also known as Christians and Jews), “dhimmis” (Christians and Jews living as second-class subjects under Islamic dominion) and “kalimatullah” (the word of Allah). He said:
This is our practice concerning ahl al-kitap. We go and fight. And they will either be Muslim or be subject to the dhimmi law and will be held to ransom, which is jizya tax. The Islamic interstate law throughout the middle ages is not based on the principle of peace. It is based on the fundamental of war. Look at our books about interstate Islamic law. You’ll see that the fundamental of war is valid in that law…
There is also a concept called ilahi kalimatullah. It means carrying the flag of Islam to every square meter of the world. How will you carry it? Through conquest. That famous imam attacks me [for saying that]. He says that I call our ancestors “invaders.” This is what I am trying to understand. You say “the prophet [Muhammed] came as God’s grace to the universe,” but you also say “I will take this faith to every square meter of the world through jihad.” Someone should explain it to me. I’m asking you: How can I explain launching a direct war against Scandinavia to take Islam there within today’s world context? Establish empathy. Would that be perceived like the US invasion of Afghanistan or not?
Because of his critical analysis of Islamic scriptures, Öztürk has been subject to threats for years. Pro-government Muslim commentator İhsan Şenocak, for instance, interpreted Öztürk’s criticisms as “an attack on the Koran” and compared it to the French Charlie Hebdo magazine’s publishing of Muhammad’s caricatures. He said:
I’m calling on our Presidency of Religious Affairs [Diyanet]. You respond when the Koran is insulted in France. Well, this person attends the tafsir [interpretation of the Koran] class, tells the children of this nation about the Koran and says that some of the stories in the Koran are not true. What is the ruling for someone who believes so? What is the decree for those saying that some verses in the Quran are fairy tales? I am asking.
In 2019 Öztürk’s lawyer filed a criminal complaint against Mufti Ahmet Mehmetalioğlu for giving a “death fatwa” which called for Öztürk’s murder. The lawsuit also included a complaint against two individuals who declared they wished to fulfill the fatwa.
Referring to Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a Jewish leader and poet in Medina who was killed on the order of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in the seventh century, the mufti wrote on his Facebook page on December 20, 2018:
If our Prophet was here now, he would most probably have him [Öztürk] killed. Just like he got Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf killed.
As the website “The Religion of Peace” notes:
While the rest of the world generally believes that if God wanted people dead over their religious beliefs then he would do the job himself, apostasy is taken so seriously by Muslims that it spawned the first of many serious internal wars.
Immediately after Muhammad’s death, several tribes wanted to leave Islam and return to their preferred religion. In a conflict known as the Riddah (apostasy) Wars, they were slaughtered in such places recalled as ‘Garden of Death’ and ‘Gulley of Blood’ during the first caliph Abu Bakr’s aggressive and violent campaign to force submission (and keep the tribute payments flowing back to Mecca, of course). Within months, a great many people were dead, including Muslims who had memorized the Quran by heart.
A sound philosophy never requires violence or threats to retain believers.
The greatest reason why Muslim communities have remained intellectually and culturally backward is because they ban or discourage critical thinking and murder free thinkers. Öztürk is a prominent expert on Islamic history and theology. He adopts an authentic way of interpreting the Koran. Many Muslims in Turkey that tolerate and even support ISIS and other murderous jihadist organizations wish to violently silence Öztürk for thinking differently.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara.