Today's date:
Spring 2003


Turkey’s Secularism Is Not the Answer for Islamic States

Mohamad Mahathir is the prime minister of Malaysia.

Since Kemal Ataturk, the Turks have believed they could become a modern state like the Europeans if they became secular and separated religion and state. This strategy is not convincing to Muslims, who, after all, are believers. If you say that modernization means secularization, then that will be rejected in the Islamic world.

In Malaysia we don’t say that Islam is the problem, but the answer. The problem today in most Islamic countries is that Islam has been taken over and distorted by scholars who believe the only learning is about religion, not about science, mathematics and technology and development. From the time that began to happen, Islam fell into decline.

Let’s remember that one reason Islam was so widely accepted among the Arabs in the first place was because it was a modernizing force in its time of ascent there. It created a new civilization.

We tell our people we can do the same in Malaysia. Islam is the answer if we translate it properly—and that means we need education and knowledge. That is what we teach in our schools. After all, the first injunction of the Koran is to seek knowledge—to read as in early Islam when Muslim scholars not only read the Christian scriptures and the Torah, but later translated the works of the Greeks and Romans and Persians into Arabic.

I believe this is the right way for modernization in the Muslim world.