Turkish President Erdogan Needs To Consult The Qur’an On Restorative Justice (A. Rashied Omar)

Current Events

The failed army coup d ‘etat in Turkey that occurred during the past weekend of July 15 and 16  and its fallout has added yet another layer to the compound tribulations the global Muslim community is currently facing.

I would like to provide some brief reflections on the failed Turkish army coup which left close to 300 people killed, hundreds maimed, and thousands more being arrested and purged from the army, judiciary and state bureaucracy, including education institutions. In particular, I would like to join the growing calls on the Turkish government, and especially its president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to turn the current crisis in the country into a kairos moment, i.e. an opportunity for healing and reconciling the Turkish nation from its deep internal strife and rancor.

I recognize that such a course of action is going to be arduous and will require great magnanimity on the part of the aggrieved democratically elected leaders of the Turkish nation, but I believe that this is precisely what difficult moments in history requires from great statesmen. Moreover, such an altruistic course of action is also what the Qur’an, in surah al-Hujurat, chapter 49 verses 9-10, exhorts towards:

If two parties among the believers fall out and fight each other, make peace and reconcile between them. And should one of them commit aggression against the other, then you should all fight against the transgressing party until it complies with the command of God by returning to peace and reconciliation. Then if the aggressing party returns then make peace between them with equity and act justly, for God loves those who act justly and evenhandedly. The Believers are a single brotherhood and sisterhood, so make peace and effect reconciliation between two contending brothers and sisters. And act with God conscious restraint if indeed you desire God’s Mercy and Compassion. (Q49:9-10)

There can be no doubt that the treachery and treason of those Turkish army officers and their collaborators who were responsible for the failed coup need to be brought to justice. The Qur’an in the above verse, however, is exhorting us to restorative justice not retributive justice. In other words, the Qur’an advises us towards a justice that will advance sulh, i.e. reconciliation and forgiveness and not further enmity and antipathy.

In this regard, the widespread reprisals in Turkey against over 50 000 people thus far is alarming. According to BBC reports more than 6000 military personal have been arrested and nearly 9000 police officers have been sacked.  In addition, about 3000 judges have been suspended, 21 000 teachers and educational staff have been sacked, 1577 university deans ordered to resign, 8777 interior ministerial staff and 257 people working in the Prime Minister’s office have been sacked.

This mass scale purging of the state bureaucracy is primarily aimed at followers of the Hizmet Islamic Movement. The Hizmet party leader’s spiritual leader, Mr. Fathullah Gulen has been accused by President Erdogan as being behind the failed army coup. Mr. Gulen, a former ally of President Erdogan until they parted ways in 2013 as a result of corruption claims against Erdogan’s son and some of his close friends, has strongly condemned the coup and denied the accusation that he is in any way connected to the failed army coup.

Even more disconcerting, is the call by some Turkish politicians for the re-institution of the death penalty. Such a move is unwise and malevolent. It is palpable that the reason why the Turkish parliament is currently being asked to reinstitute the death penalty at this time is to allow the state to execute and kill those found guilty of state treason. Such a course of action may have the immediate effect of consolidating the current state leaderships’ power in the short term, but will foster even greater resentment within the deeply divided Turkish society and will inevitably cause further turmoil and mayhem in the future.

Given the increasingly autocratic tendencies that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has displayed during his 13-year leadership of the Turkish government, first as Prime Minister from 2003-2014 and since then as President, many cynics may argue that our counsel and advice of restorative justice will fall on deaf ears. In making our call on President Erdogan and the Turkish government to reconsider their path of retributive justice and to adopt instead the Qur’anic path of restorative justice we are responding to an instructive prophetic tradition (hadith) found in the collection of al-Tirmidhi in which the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have proclaimed:

The best form of jihad is speaking a word of justice (or truth) in the face of an unjust and autocratic ruler.

In conclusion, our hope in the future of Turkey lies in its ordinary citizens. They were largely responsible for preventing the Turkish army coup from being realized. They poured onto the streets of Turkey and courageously defended their democratic gains of the past two decades with their lives. It is they who also now hold the key to the future of Turkey.

Given their willingness to defend their democratically elected government against the coup plotters I am hopeful that they will once again rise to the occasion and stop the current madness that has beset the Turkish President and his close allies.

A. Rashied Omar is Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Cape Town and an M.A. in peace studies from the Kroc Institute. He also completed study programs in Islamic religious education in South Africa, Sudan, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Omar’s research and teaching focus on the roots of religious violence and the potential of religion for constructive social engagement and interreligious peacebuilding. He is co-author with David Chidester et al. of Religion in Public Education: Options for a New South Africa (UCT Press, 1994) and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World (Macmillan Reference USA, 2003).  He is also an imam at Claremont Main Road Mosque, Cape Town, South Africa.

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