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Turkey

Is It Possible To Be Muslim and Democratic?

Can practitioners of Islam also believe in the ideals of a secular state and democracy? A Turkish academic poses the question and finds some interesting answers.

Sunset in Istanbul
Sunset in Istanbul
Emre Kongar

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — Islam and democracy are topics at the forefront of discussion not only in Turkey but around the world. In Turkey, democracy has managed to survive so far but is now being pushed toward dictatorship with an Islamic touch. In the world, global terrorism that is rooted in the Middle East is using the Muslim identity to commit massacres.

Groups that use identity politics whether it is based on religion, sect, race or nation, claim they are alienated or harassed. These groups inspire polarization and violence but I don't want to get into party politics here. I first want to discuss the issue on the individual level.

To elaborate on these topic, it is important to underline that the secularist ideal of separation of church/mosque and state is a prerequisite for democracy. So let's ask the question, "Is it possible for an individual to be Muslim, secular and democratic?"

I initially started this discussion on Twitter. I found that those who have a strict interpretation of religious rules, and see society and religion as inflexible, responded that it wasn't possible. "No, a true Muslim cannot be secular and democratic because Islam requires the world and society to be ruled according to religious edicts." Among the people who thought like this, some were Muslims but others were atheist or agnostic. Many respondents answered in the affirmative: "I am Muslim, secular and democratic, all at the same time."

When I mentioned the fact that there are millions who identify as Muslim and democratic, some people retorted, "That can happen in Christianity because it went through reform. It is not possible for Muslims." So, I told them that they didn't have the right to define or label people.

Devout Muslims and those who believe that they represent Islam say that an individual cannot be both Muslim and democratic. But society at large and many individuals refute this claim. In various countries around the world, and especially in Turkey, there are millions who identify as both these things.

Islamists and politicians who exploit identity politics try to radicalize such people. And the parties that use identity politics hypocritically defend their radical politics by highlighting the fact that they are functioning within the democratic system. Since they know that the Republic of Turkey, which replaced the religious rule of the Ottoman Empire, is an example of Islamic reform in the Muslim world, they view the republic as a threat to their rule and fear losing their power.

Let's not forget that an individual can be both Muslim and democratic at the same time. But it's not possible to maintain democracy along with politics that exploits religious identity and employs hate speech.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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