Dr. Mustafa Gökçek from Niagara University delivered a lecture on Islamic Reform and Secularization as part of the Turkish Ottoman Lecture Series at the University of Texas at Austin on February 16, 2015. Gökçek is an Associate Professor of History in Niagara University, specializing in various countries in various time periods such as the Ottoman Empire, Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
An increasing number of Muslim intellectuals today call and strive for reform in Islamic thought. The fallacies of political Islam and inadequacies of classical legal interpretations in ameliorating Muslim societies’ conditions have led many to seek alternate approaches to the role of Islam in everyday life. A similar quest was conducted about a century ago in a similarly cataclysmic environment, namely in the late Ottoman Empire. Especially after the 1908 Young Turk coup, Ottoman intellectuals looked to reform the centuries-old Ottoman political structure. Those deliberating reform quickly turned to the tools of Islamic legal language in order to expand the secular space and narrow the role of Islamic institutions in political and social leadership. The lecture debates the late Ottoman Muslim debates on Islamic reform and identify several concepts that inform reformist thought today.
Gökçek’s discussions were a part of an ongoing discussion that dated back to one hundred years ago. In fact the topics of Islamic reform, secularism, and the role of a woman in Islamic society were all discussed in Istanbul going back a hundred years in the past. The Associate Professor also noted that a key part of Islam is “enjoining what is good and what is evil”. Surely, that topic can be well debated today.