Edip’s Semi-personal Report (Oxford 2010)

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Edip’s Semi-personal Report
on Conferences and Events in
United Kingdom, Poland and Netherlands, in 2010

Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform Conference, Oxford 2010

Note 1: I am looking forward receiving your articles for the anthology, Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform, Oxford 2010. Please send it in Word document.  You may also add your short comments, observations, experience regarding the conference. If you had already done so, please do so again, since finding them in my extremely busy email box will be time consuming. We would also like to a have short bio of you, about 100 words.

Note 2: Arnold will inshallah post the video recordings of panels soon.  Pictures from the Conference and my European tour are posted at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/edipyuksel

On June 12, an email from my older son Yahya to his mom highlighted a first for our family: “Hey I’m in Morelia right now, a really big city with a lot of culture. I’m taking pictures and just got you guys some cool things. Is this the first time we have all been split into separate parts of the world? Matine is in China, baba in England, you in the USA and me in MEXICO arrrrreeeebbbbaaaa!”

I was at Oxford University for the second conference of Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform, June 11-13. The Oxford conference was very successful by bringing many leading critical thinkers from around the world together. The outcome for islamic reform movement will be substantial; such as, increased networking and cooperation, clarification of some theological and political issues, academic and media projects, and hopefully a conference in Mecca or Jerusalem in year 2014.

After the conference, I would be visiting London, Germany, Poland, Holland, for a series of lectures, meetings and activities. I was excited for all, yet anxious at Oxford.

I would like to start with Professor Abdullah an-Naim’s letter. An important figure in modern Islamic Reform movement, brother Abdullah could not participate in our second conference. He was the co-organizer of the first conference in Atlanta two years ago. Inshallah he will submit a paper for the anthology and join us in our next conference. He sent the following message.

Dear participants

I regret that I am unable to join you due to date conflict with another commitment (University of Norte Dame) in the USA. I am grateful for the opportunity to convey my best wishes for a successful conference and the work that follows from it. The theme of our Atlanta conference was “celebration of heresy”, to emphasize the fundamental value of permanent and profound differences among human beings. But I am sure that we all also appreciate, however, human beings tend to overlook the value of the opposing view when in the company of like-thinking people.

So, please let us all live up to the theme of our first conference, and take its message further – the more different another point of view, the more we need to remind ourselves of its value, because we are likely to forget

With warm regards

Abdullah Ahmed An-Na’im

For the record, I would like to quote some excerpts from the announcement of the conference:

This year the conference of Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform – the Way Forward will be held at Oxford University in June 11-13, God willing. The participants are individuals who agree on the imperative of a drastic reformation in the Muslim world. Though each of us are independent thinkers, we are all in agreement regarding the urgency of  reforming our theology, attitude, action and our organizational strategies to further align ourselves to the Quran interpreted in light of reason.

We have successfully organized a conference in Atlanta, USA in  2008 where thinkers and scholars from both the East and West came together in an effort towards instigating a reform to promote monotheism, peace, justice, progress, critical thinking, and freedom in the Muslim world.

OBJECTIVES: The conferences have multiple objectives. Among these are:

  • Facilitate opportunity for reformist Muslim leaders to meet each other personally and exchange ideas.
  • Diagnose the theological, cultural and political problems leading the degeneration and decline of Muslim civilization.
  • Critically analyze political, cultural, economic, psychological conditions of Muslim individuals and societies and their interaction with other groups.
  • Discuss the geopolitical strategies implemented by the World’s leading powers and their overt and covert operations in the so-called Muslim lands.
  • Suggest solutions and develop short and long term projects to bring about a progressive reform in both personal and social realm.
  • Pick a country or two for implementation of specific projects to address the issues.

FUNDING

We expect every participant pay for their own expenses. In fact, we are glad that we are not supported by any government or king, by any religious organization or cult. We are independent activists with sense of duty who are rising to the occasion of our own volition.

Though our brothers and sisters at Oxford will try their best to open their homes to provide boarding for some guests; we will inshallah strike a deal with a hotel nearby conference site to get discount for the participants. To cover the direct conference costs (hiring of facilities, all meals and refreshments, publicity and incidentals); we believe that £50 GBP per person is a fair and realistic price for this important three-day conference. A few brothers and sisters already promised contribution to subsidize the conference. If sufficient funds are raised then a fee for registration may not be charged at all.

Since we would like to keep everything transparent, we will not accept any contribution that is not announced publicly. The registration site will have a section for contribution.

Aslbek Musin contributed 6,000 dollars. Fereydoun Taslimi contributed more than a thousand dollars, Caner Taslaman, El-Mehdi Haddou, and Brainbow Press, each contributed 500 dollars. Helen and Hussein Sandouga each contributed one hundred dollars. Most of the money was used for travel costs and renting the conference rooms.

I stayed at Barcelo Hotel, where I met Helen and Hussein Sandouga and their daughters. Later, Layth, Fereydoun, and a few others joined us. Helen and Hussein came all the way from Canada to meet their monotheist brothers and sisters. It was refreshing to meet these committed muslims for peace and justice.

With the exception of an incident during opening of the conference Friday afternoon, and another incident where the same person tried to change the poster of the conference, the conference was fine. Many diverse ideas were discussed in a civilized manner. The diversity and the quality of ideas and discussions was an anomaly, especially for a conference on the intersection of philosophy, religion, law and politics. Participants felt perfectly comfortable to express themselves, without fear of censorship or fatwa for chopping their head. They all had discovered the boundary of freedom of expression which was described by US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a picturesque maxim: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

Tolerance and acceptance of other’s freedom to choose his or her own theological position, as Fereydoun put it, “a person’s fundamental right to go to Hell,” was the conventional norm. For instance, the suggestion of using the pronoun She for Allah by Amina Wadud did not seem to shock the audience. Many of those who considered it pure nonsense did not even react to it. They followed the divine instruction: “They are the ones who examine all words, then follow the best. These are the ones whom GOD has guided; these are the ones who possess intelligence.” (39:18).

The official poster of the Conference was designed by the graphic designer of BrainbowPress, which displayed the word ALLAH surrounded by 114 pages/petals representing attributes of God mentioned in the Quran, the total number of chapters in the Quran, or the number of all element in the universe. During the conference, a pathological character hanged another poster in the room, which displayed Muhammad’s name next to God, fulfilling the prophetic statement in 39:45 and many other.

I would like to share with you some of my observations on panelists and a few participants. Since we will publish their presentation in the next volume of the anthology, Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform, Oxford 2010, I will just provide some basic observations about their person and work.

Adis Duderija, a vertically gifted Bosnian scholar who traveled all the way from Australia, gave a scholarly lecture on the methodology of interpreting the Quran. His talk extended to the break time and I was informed that the coffee and tea were getting cold and would be wasted. I wanted to cut the talk and let him finish it in a few minutes before the next panel. Ignoring the complaint of the co-organizer who was dictatorial, I decided to have a democratic vote and asked the audience about their preference. The majority preferred to stay until Adis finished his lecture, which I thought was taxing the attention of the audience. I was wrong. I had underestimated the endurance and interest of the audience.

Amina Wadud had cancelled her travel, yet she appeared on Skype and discussed the issues related to the never-ending tension between genders. I was angry and disappointed in Amina for her cancellation of the trip, which wasted our limited financial resources. On the other hand, I was glad that she appeared on the big screen and shared her controversial and provocative ideas with the audience. Though I consider her acceptance of hadith as the second source of the system of islam (peace) to be a flagrant contradiction with her feminist position which goes beyond what I stand for, I admire her courage to speak up her mind without fear.

Arnold Yasin Mol, the founder of Deen Research Center, was the most frequent panelist and moderator. I had assigned him to two panels, yet he was filling every vacuum. This hyperactive young Dutchman with a thrilling and numbing past is like a walking and talking Encyclopedia of Islam. Once I communicated to him my concern about his ability to digest properly all the books he has been devouring. He has unlimited curiosity and extraordinary memory to satisfy it. With all the blessings comes greater responsibility. Excluding Arnold’s occasional use of street language, which is reminiscent of his past, Arnold is fluent and has rich lexicon in English and Dutch, and he shows interest in learning Arabic. I will continue work with Arnold whom I believe will contribute greatly to the islamic reform movement.

Asghar Ali Engineer, a scientist from India, was another participant whose presence was enlightening. He was exceptionally calm and talked with wisdom. Unfortunately, he was hosted in London, rather than Oxford. He was hosted by Iftikhar Ahmad who generously allocated one of his houses in London to host minimum five panelists. Upon learning that Asghar was traveling for hours to join us at Oxford, I wanted to move him to a nearby hotel. But, since he had left his bag in London it did not work. Brother Asghar occasionally took short naps while listening to the panelists. I felt guilty for allowing him to commute back and forth to London, but it was too late to correct the mistake. So, I had all the empathy for his need to take short naps. I considered his naps as a borometer, that is, measuring the boredom level of a speaker. We will inshallah keep in touch with him and his organization.

Aslbek Musin, together with Serik Kushenov, joined us from Kazakhstan. Serik is an accomplished economist and a great friend. I had unforgettable memories with him during my visit to Kazakhstan. Aslbek is a Young Turk who has great ambitions to change the world he lives in. He contacted me several years ago and was very excited to discover the Manifesto for Islamic Reform. Then, he gathered a small conference in Almaty. I shared my experience and adventure there in a report with a yard-long title: My Normal and Paranormal Adventures in Kazakhstan: Bukhari’s Ghost Dancing with a Hungry Holy Sunni Goat, Misogynistic Dogs Barking at Pigs, Russian Pyrokinesis Burning Holes in Brains and Pockets, Two Extra Letters Correcting Quranic Bismillah, Kazaks Eating Almaty’s Apple and Horse Meat…Aslbek was restless and joined us for a different mission. He was not much interested in passively listening or actively talking. In fact, while he was on the panel, before his turn came, he quietly left his seat and disappeared! Like Arnold, Aslbek too is multitalented and has big dreams. I know that he is an articulate speaker and he is knowledgeable, yet he was there for action. He was interviewing some people for a documentary film on the mathematical structure of the Quran. While, the panelists were talking he was gently pulling some audience to the nearby room for video interviews. I think you will hear more about Aslbek and his projects in the future. Inshallah, by the age of maturity, Aslbek will have substantial contribution to the global peace, justice and progress, starting from his country.

Aziz Shaikh and Imran Goondiwala came from South Africa. They have a growing muslim community (not Sunni nor Shiite, but muslim) in South Africa. Several months ago they invited me to their conference. As much as I wanted to join them, my schedule did not allow. I recommended them to invite Prof. Aisha Musa, which they did. I found both Aziz and Imran to be genuine monotheists and to be independent thinkers. Both are passionate activists who are committed to promote the message of peace and reason in South Africa and beyond. You may learn more about their activities at: www.alburhaanquran.net

Caner Taslaman, whom I know for about thirty years, was already there. He was at Oxford University as a visiting scholar. Caner, a leading figure in modern islamic reform movement, is one of the rare breeds of intellectuals; he is blessed with the mind of a scientist and spirit of a dedicated activist. He has received two PhDs, in theology and politics. He has authored a comprehensive book masterfully promoting the message of the Quran, exposing the problems with Hadith, Sunna and various Sects. He has also authored a comprehensive book on the scientific aspect of the Quran, and philosophical books such as The Big Bang, Philosophy and God, or The Quantum Physics, Philosophy and God. He has numerous websites, such as, quranmiracles.org and quranic.org. The Turkish Facebook pages of his organization, Kuran Araştırmaları Platformu has thousands of fans. Caner is not fluent in English and thus he was not much appreciated by the audience. He is a gifted debater and he demonstrated his rhetorical skills during a recent debate on the philosophical implication of CERN experiments. The debate was broadcasted by a Turkish TV Channel, NTV. (See: http://vimeo.com/11024365 ) The atheist scientist Cihan Saçlıoğlu could not endure Caner’s first scientific punch and had to leave the studio within the first twelve minutes. It was a clear knock-out.

During my three day stay at Oxford, Caner and his friend invited me twice to Bodrum, a restaurant run by a Turkish immigrant, Resul. There I enjoyed delicious Turkish dishes and desserts. At one point we talked about my plan to organize Haj in 2014. One shared some of his memories there. Turkish visitors, according to him, were leaders in adding more innovations to the rituals already polluted by polytheism. For instance, after worshiping the walls of the Kaba, they would get out backwards. Some Turkish women would hold on the expensive black cover of the Kaba and would secretly cut a piece from it as a holy souvenir. Turkish pilgrims would fill sacks with the rocks they collected at Arafat. If Saudis do not wake up and ban such a practice, soon Arafat will be free of any pebbles to stone people to death or their Satan. The fabricated ritual of stoning the Satan, with such creative visitors is upgraded once a while. Satan, according to my friend, would receive shoes and sandals besides rocks.

Farouk A. Peru is a Malaysian native who is working on his doctorate degree in London. He is one of the most amiable and trustworthy person I have ever worked with. I worked with him as co-editor of the Critical Thinkers anthology. He is very humble and dedicated comrade. Though he is an independent thinker, he is at the same time a great team player. He is a shining scholar.

Fereydoun Taslimi, an Iranian businessman and philanthropist living in the United States, was one of the most provocative speakers. I know him since 1988. When I first met him in Tucson, he was holding The Skeptic magazine in his hand, which earned my respect. To the question, “What is your purpose in participating this conference,” he managed to say, “To attack Muslims,” which made him the candidate for the title of “extremist” by a participant. Personally, I do strongly criticize the Muslim world for the troubles we have been afflicted, and I also criticize the Western world for taking advantage of the backwardness of the Muslim countries and using them as excuse to erect puppet regimes, to invade, commit atrocities, plunder and rape their natural resources. I do not think that we should ignore one or the other. Both problems need to be acknowledged and addressed. Realism and justice requires such a holistic approach. Fereydoun’s contribution to the reform movement is important, since he raises some good points that keep us alert against group-think. Besides, Fereydoun is not just a talker, he is also a doer; his foundation has donated numerous computers to the education of students in developing countries and he has sponsored teams of students from Iran to participate in international competitions in robotics, etc.

Gershom Qiprisci, a Qaraite leader who has offices in both Israel and Netherlands, has been in touch with me since 2007. I was happy to find Gershom to be unlike of a stereotypical presumptuous clergyman. He had a sense of humor and he had desire to highlight the common points between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In his speech he talked about the need for topical study of three Abrahamaic religions and suggested a short list of methodology to follow: Aql (Reason), Tawhid (Unity), and Adl (Justice). After the conference, we met in Amsterdam and there he gave me a two-page description of a project, which he called, Ahl Abraham: “The goal of the project is to establish a research institute, i.e. compact academic and educational centre for the comparative studies of the Scriptures of Abrahamic monotheism.” After reading the details of the envisioned institute, I am convinced about its important role in establishing peace among children of Adam. Now, how can we raise funds for this institute? Do you have any idea besides suggesting washing cars on the street or selling cookies in the neighborhood? Ezra, Gershom’s friend from Czech Republic, sent me the following brief information about their group:

Peace Edip

This is short description about us which wrote hakham Gershom. I hope that this will be useful for you. :)

Russian and Ottoman Qaraim Abroad: Our Religion -Sinai Covenant as revealed by YHWH ELLH on Sinai and continued by the prophets without any men-made additions.Our descent – House of Amram/Imran (Moses/Musa and Aharon/Harun and his only legitimate priesthood of the Sons of Sadoq) and House of Joseph/Yusuf from Biblical Samaria, from where we came finally to the Eastern Europe, prozelyting on our way people from Turkic (Khazar and Kypchak), Persian (Tat), Arab, Greek and Slavic tribes, mingling with them and marrying their women. Our ideology  – Dead See scrolls from the caves of Qumran.

Our methodology – Rational Mu’tazilite approach to the Scriptures, aiming to find a balance between Revelation and Reason. Our cultural, material and linguistic heritage – culture and heritage of Russian&.Ottoman Empires, where we lived last hundreds of years.

Blessings
Ezra
חכם עזרא בן שמחה
Russian and Ottoman Qaraim Abroad
Eşitkin İsrayel, Adonay Teñrimiz, Adonay birdir

Halima Hussain Karwa, a student doing MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies (SOAS), Halima was a model activist. She worked like a bee without losing the conspicuous smile on her face. I was hoping to have time and get to know her in person, but the schedule of the conference did not allow me to have such and opportunity. I know that she will contribute greatly to the future of Muslim youth in the UK, and beyond.

Hasan Mahmoud of Canada was there too. For the first time we met at Almaty, Kazakhstan. He is perhaps the only person on earth that has memorized the numbers of dozens of hadiths, which insult the intelligence of their audience. Hasan is an expert in using the very sources of Sunni and Shiite sects to convict them in the light of reason and the Quran. He takes his job of delivering the message of Quran very seriously. Like many of us, he is too supporting his volunteer activities through his own budget. With very limited resources, Hasan has managed to produce several DVD’s exposing the injustices and cruelties of the so-called Sharia law. I hope that his expertise get more recognition and put in good use.

Kelly Wentworth, who is a computer programmer and co-director of Atlanta-based American Islamic Fellowship, donated her skills to design the website for registration to the conference. Together with Melissa Robinson and other like-minded activists, they promote the message of peace and human rights. Both shined with their knowledge of the subject and their clarity of mind on the panel titled Gender, Sex, and Human Rights in Current Islamic Discourse. After the conference, they directed the registration site to IMAN-net.org.

Khalid Sayyed was one of the best speakers. Both the content of his speech and the delivery of it were notable. I was excited to learn that Khalid had independently arrived at almost the same conclusions we have had. He was dignified yet humble, and I hope that we will work together to promote the message of rational monotheism. He introduced his new book, which had a contradictory title, Quran Challenges Islam. The content of the book is serious and unfortunately the title betrays it. I recommend him to change the title into Quran Challenges Sunni and Shiite Religions or Quran Challenges Muslims. These titles would still grab the attention of his audience while conveying a coherent message.

Layth Saleh al-Shaiban was more athletic than I expected him to be. Somehow, the pictures of Saudi Princess have prejudiced my mind. I know Layth for about 15 years. Though currently he is like a penguin in the dessert, I consider him a living proof of verse: 9:99-100. Through his books and website, free-minds.org, he has been promoting the message of islam without Sunni and Shiite distortion. Sometimes, I get disappointed when I meet people face to face. But, my experience with Layth was refreshing. I was impressed by his intellectual acumen, bravery, conviction, humble yet dignified presence.  We do have some disagreements in our understanding, but we have so much in common, especially our uncompromising resolve to follow the Quran alone under the light of reason, as the source of eternal salvation. I was looking forward to discuss some issues with him; unfortunately, the hectic schedule of the conference did not allow it. Inshallah, we will meet each other more frequently from now on.

Merrryl Wyn Davies of London-based Muslim Institute is a Media Expert. Merryl was one of the best speakers in the conference. Her speech was informative, engaging and compelling. She demonstrated deep knowledge of global movie industry and the use of movies in promoting the imperialistic propaganda of the West. By listing the names of cast and describing specific scenes of many movies, she was connecting with the Janes and Joes on the street better than any of us could. She is on my orange list for future projects.

Milan Sulc, a software programmer from Switzerland, Milan sees the world in black and white, in prime and composite numbers. He is a gifted mathematician and he has great appreciation of the mathematical structure of the Quran. I must say that usually I cannot follow how he connects the dots between numbers and I have been his critic. Yet, I have great respect for his person and his uncompromising stand for monotheism. He was one of the few persons who stood with me against the idol-carvers when we were both affiliated with United Submitters International. I know Milan for more than 15 years and I have quoted one of his great discoveries in one of my Turkish books, and inshallah I will share it with English-Speaking world in my upcoming book, NINETEEN: God’s Signature in Nature and Scripture.

Misbah Deen is a retired science professor at Keele University and has passion to promote science among Muslims. Through his book, Science Under Islam, he tries to inform and inspire Muslims about their golden age, in which they employed scientific method and produced a great civilization in Spain. If we are going to organize other events in the UK, we will most likely consider Misbah as one of our contacts there.

Raheel Raza came from Toronto and she led the congregational prayer. Though she normally does not cover her hair, somehow she was wearing a head scarf. I was impressed by her speech before the prayer. She was articulate and wise. She reminded me Ruby Amatulla of MPJP, another well-versed activist woman whom I had the privileged to work together. I hesitated to join the prayer there. Not because a woman was leading, since in our Tucson group we had invited and encouraged women to lead the congregational prayers starting in 1999. In fact, in modern times, our group perhaps is the first group that revived the Quranic tradition, which was interrupted and reversed by the innovation of hadith. For the record, I would like to mention the names of women who have lead our congregational prayer since 1999: Sanobar Tafazoli, Maryam Jenna, Faridah Salek, and Martha Schulte. Unlike men, some women in our group shied away to lead the congregational prayers, but they all participate in our joint Quranic studies as equals. Yes, I hesitated to join the prayer there. Because, I heard the Azan, the call for prayer, violating the Quranic maxim expressed in 72:18, “The temples are for God, so do not call on anyone with God,” and other verses such as 39:45.

Raymond Catton and his wife Sophia is known by me since 1988 at the international conference of International Community of Submitters. In 1989, I visited them at Vancouver together with Rashad Khalifa. Rashad and I drove an Olds Mobile car from Tucson to Vancouver through California, Oregon and Washington states. I had just visited the US, and at age 32, I was hundred percent virgin and single. I had not yet had driving license, but I had passed the written exam to get the permit. I had to have a licensed driver next to me. Rashad was the one and he was as crazy as I were. I occasionally set the cruse control on 85 miles per hour and sat on the driver seat my legs folded like pretzel. While driving on high ways, we enjoyed listening to the Quran recitation, talking and eating sun flower seeds. I know, these trivial details have nothing to do with the conference at Oxford, but hey, life is full of silly details and distractions, and I bet the most serious person can relate to this fact. Back to Raymond and Sophia… They are my role models and I am grateful to God for having them as my friends. Ray was scheduled to moderate a panel, but he was in other room being interviewed for a documentary. Thanks, we had Arnold full of energy and he was glad to replace him.

Roy W. Brown, the UN representative from International humanist and Ethical Union was one of the most dedicated participants of the conference. He participated in almost all panels and took diligent notes. Upon my request, he also shared his observations with us: “I learned a lot during the conference and picked up a lot of good ideas. Even though I am not a Muslim, I would like to help in any way I can to help get your organization get off the ground.” In fact, I found Roy’s ideas and actions to be much closer to islam than the great majority of those who claim the title. Roy came up with a lengthy list of ideas and suggestions, and our movement will inshallah benefit substantially from his experience and connections. It was a joy to have Roy there!

Sophia Catton participated in the panel on women’s issues, together with Melissa Robinson, Kelly Wentworth, and Raheel Raza… Sophia was inspirational and uncompromising regarding her respect to the teaching of the Quran. I knew Melissa and Kelly from Atlanta and I was glad that they could make it to the conference. All participants talked brilliantly. At that panel, there was a little confusion on my role. I ended up there playing the role of both a moderator and a panelist. At one point I got emotional and started crying, and it was a very rare display of deep emotions in public. I could not believe it. It was embarrassing. Here, four women are discussing the issues related to gender discrimination and offering solutions in cool manner using a rational language. None of the women was crying except the only man, me. My emotional reaction to the panel was perhaps partially due to remembering my mother, who was deprived of her God-given human rights and buried alive in a black sack that covered all her body, including her face.

T.O. Shanavas, a medical doctor from the USA, used an excellent power point presentation to inform us on the theory of evolution and its origin among Muslim scientists preceding Darwin. Though his presentation was long, he was a good speaker and kept the interest of the audience until the end. The revised edition of Shanavas book on evolution inshallah will soon be in book stores: Islamic Theory of Evolution: The Missing Link Between Darwin and Natural Selection. It is very imperative for us to inform ourselves about this topic, since a Sunni cult leader from Turkey who thinks himself as the Promised Mahdi is using the pseudo-scientific Christian arguments to discredit the theory of evolution in the minds of Muslims, and unfortunately, has attained great success in misleading them.

Tariq Raja was there too, but not many noticed. He is deliberately low profile, yet he is a committed activist for peace and justice. I had the chance to get to know this businessman philanthropist from Netherlands during my three day visit there. He was a generous host and a patient listener. I will share some of our talk below in the section about my visit to Netherlands.

Usama Hasan a gifted and multi-talented man: a scientist, an activist, a theologian, and more, all in one, was perhaps the only Sunni or semi-Sunni panelist. We had invited some other Sunni and Shiite scholars, but none responded to our invitation. Thus, I command Usama for his courage. Well, I mean intellectual courage, since unlike Sunnis, we do not beat up our critics. I have to qualify the courage again: emotional courage. Usama is the son of a respected Sunni scholar, Shaykh Suhaib Hasan. Being the son of another Sunni scholar, I can relate to him. His participation to our conference will most likely receive opposition if not condemnation from his Sunni relatives and constituency. Usama later posted his observations on the conference in his blog titled Unity, where he erroneously attributed it to a local organization. I had a few exchanges with Usama during the conference across the room. It would be more useful if we had a moderated debate. He has a peaceful and objective tone. Yet, in response to my invitation to “trash all hadith,” Usama tried to score a few points on behalf of hadith liturgy: “There are many weak, fabricated & problematic ahadith but the Hadith-rejecters throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I told them that,” which I responded him with the following: “As for the ‘baby’ I discarded with bath water, it was a ‘dinosaur baby,’ and it was still-born.” Living in the UK with the name Usama might be an albatross on the neck. I command him for his involvement in charity work and theological engagement. I am looking forward meeting him at another conference.

Some facts about the Conference

I will not summarize the lectures and discussions during the conference, since most will be published in the second volume of the anthology, Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform. I think the conference had achieved two goals and fell short in the third. It provided opportunity to share ideas on the theological, political, cultural issues involving Muslims and the world. It also provided opportunity for activist to meet each other in person and establish networking. However, it did not end with a clear direction and concrete group projects. Inshallah, in our next conference, hopefully within less than a year in Istanbul, we will focus on the third objective. The reform movement should not wobble and diversity of ideas should not blur its clear objective: to dedicate system to God alone, the system of peace that produces just, free and progressive communities.

Most likely our next conference will be in Istanbul, and inshallah it will be a major one. I would like also to invite you to consider joining us at Hajj (Debate) Conference at Mecca or Jerusalem in year 2014. Inshallah, later I will share with you the details of that. By then, inshallah the Islamic Reform movement will reach a critical point.

There were about 80 participants, from all around the world. Because of problems in communication with the co-organizer in Oxford, I do not have a complete list of participants. Using the official registration, I gathered the list of the following countries of residence, which does not include the countries of origin. For instance, we had several participants from Iran, but they did not come to the conference from Iran:

Australia

Bengladesh

Bosnia

Canada

Chekoslovakia

Egypt

Germany

India

Jordan

Kazakhstan

Neatherlands

Norway

Pakistan

Saudi Arabia

South Africa

Switzerland

Turkey

United Kingdom

United States

United Nations (I know that is not a country, but it sounds good)

PANELISTS

Adis Duderija (Phd. Islamic Hermeneutics, Bosnia)

Amina Wadud, (Prof. Gender Studies, University Melbourne, Australia)

Arnold Yasin Mol (Author and member of NMP, Netherlands)

Asghar Ali Engineer (PhD. Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, India)

Aslbek Mussin (Founder, Izgi Amal, Almaty, Kazakhstan)

Aziz Shaikh (Al-Burhan, South Africa)

Caner Taslaman (Prof. of Philosophy at Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey)

Edip Yuksel (J.D., Author, Founder of Islamic Reform, USA)

Farouk A. Peru (PhD candidate, activist, UK)

Fereydoun Taslimi (Businessman, Noor Foundation, USA)

Gershom Kibrisli (Karamite leader, Israel, Netherlands)

Hasan Mahmoud (Author, Canada)

Imran Goondiwala (Al-Burhan, South Africa)

Kelly Wentwordth (Programmer, Director – American Islamic Fellowship, USA

Khalid Sayyed (Prof, Author, UK)

Layth Saleh al-Shaiban (Author, Activist, Saudi Arabia)

Melissa Robinson (Director – American Islamic Fellowship, USA)

Merrryl Wyn Davies (Media Expert, Muslim Institute, UK)

Milan Sulc (CEO, Software Company, Switzerland)

Misbah Deen (Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Keele, UK)

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (Prof of. Islamic Studies at Univ of Leiden & Utrecht, the Netherlands)

Raheel Raza (Author, Public Speaker, Forum for Learning, Canada)

Raymond Catton (Co-founder of Quran Society, Canada)

Ridwaan Davids (Activist, South Africa)

Sophia Catton (Co-founder of Quran Society, Canada)

T.O. Shanvas (M.D., USA)

Taj Hargey (Professor of History, Oxford University, UK)

Usama Hasan (PhD, The City Circle, UK )

PARTIAL LIST OF PARTICIPANTS

Abdun Nur

Ahmet Kintas

Ashari Ali

Asim Shafiq

Asli Unal

Darren Brown and his family

Fawad Choudhary, PhD

Fiona Brathwaite

Hakan Unal

Halima Hussain Karwa

Harris Choudhary

Harris Ramzan Choudhary

Helen Vicky Sandouga

Hussein Sandouga

Iftikhar Ahmad

Katarzyna Gajewska

Kyrre Amanaborg

Latasha Embree

Mahmud Rogers

Mahmut Arikan

Maqbool M. Farhat (Chairman of Basm Tolo-e-Islam, London)

Nadia Choudhary

Nadira Choudhary

Nour Alsanosi

Noura Mansouri

Novin Doostdar

Ogunfolajin Maruff

Oguzhan Aygoren

Roy Brown

Samir Benjelloun

Sarah Stitou

Serik Kushenov

Shaireen Regina Amanaborg

Shobbir Hussain

Tariq Choudhary

Tariq Raja

Ummad Choudhary

Volkan Gungor

COULD NOT MAKE IT TO THE CONFERENCE, BUT WILL SUBMIT PAPER

Abdullahi al-Naim (Prof of Law, Emory, USA)

Abdur Rab (PhD. Author, Economist, USA)

Aisha Musa (Prof of Islamic Studies, Florida International University)

Ali Behzadnia (M.D. Former member of first cabinet of Islamic Republic of Iran, USA)

Asma Ishak (J.D., Toronto Law School)

Chris and Linda Moore (Retired Entrepreneurs, UK and Turkey)

El-Mehdi Haddou (Vetenerian, Canada)

Gatut Adisoma (PhD, Activist, Indonesia)

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (PhD, Muslim Congress, UK)

Hasan Bin Izhaar (PhD, Pakistan)

Hussain Najafi (Businessman, USA)

Kassim Ahmad (Author, Political leader, Malaysia)

Martha Schulte (Prof. Arabic University of Texas, USA)

Matthew Capiello (PR MPJP, USA)

Muhammad Shahrur (Prof, Syria)

Mustafa Akyol (Author, Turkey)

Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed (Prof. Sussex University)

Ruby Amatulla (President MPJP, Author, USA)

London

The following day after the conference, I took a taxi and moved to London to meet some muslim brothers and sisters there. On my way to London, I dropped my bags at a hotel nearby Heathrow airport. I met Farouk in downtown London that looks an upgraded street from a Middle East country. I was surprised to see so many Muslim owned businesses and shops. I was speechless when I saw women in black sacks, covering all their bodies, including their faces. I have tolerance to all sorts of religious symbols and attire, yet my tolerance and acceptance stops at burqa or face veil. Depriving women from their identity cannot be accepted by the society, as none should be allowed to degrade themselves as slaves. I took some pictures from that street, and you will find them at: http://picasaweb.google.com/edipyuksel

We reserved a Malaysian restaurant for a small meeting where we had engaging conversations with Mo Zourdani, Peter Baldwin, Immanuel Ibrahim, Kristiane Backer, Syed Mohsin Abbas and a few others. Each had interesting and inspiring stories. I would like to get their stories about their spiritual and intellectual transformation and include it in an upcoming book containing such stories. This invitation is valid for all of you who have questioned your inherited religion and discovered monotheism. Kristiane Becker was an MTV host and after her embracing Islam she found herself out. She is now a single woman working as a free lance media consultant and journalist. Syed Mohsin Abbas is active in the community and through his company ArtsVersa, he organizes the annual Ramadan Festival. I hope that we will find a way to unite our ideas, talents, services and goods in creating a more peaceful and just world.

Zielona Gora, Poland

Zielona Gora? I never heard the name of that city, which means Green Mountains, before I accepted the invitation there by a group of converts from Christianity. Ezra Ben Simcha, a monotheist from Czech Republic who follows Torah, informed me about such a group and he wanted me to meet them. They had intellectual problems with the polytheistic teachings and contradictory practices of their church. I met five families there. They were Catholic first, and then they switched to Protestantism or Evangelism, which they called Charismatic Church. Then, through Ezra they explored Judaism. Knowing that they would be unable to follow the strict rules of the Old Testament, Ezra informed them about the Final Testament, and its mathematical code. Upon learning about the Quran they decided to accept islam (peacemaking) as their system. Then Ezra asked me to send them the copies of the Quran: a Reformist Translation, which I did.

I landed in Berlin airport around Noon of June 17. I was impressed by the efficiency of the German bureaucracy; claiming my luggage and passing through passport and custom inspection took less than fifteen minutes.

Before my trip, I was asked by a few monotheist friends living in Germany to spend a night with them. Initially, I entertained the idea but later I decided to spend two nights with the Polish monotheists as we had discussed early. Remiquisz (Remik) Bieganski and his wife Ewa drove all the way from Zielona Gora to the Berlin-Tegel airport, traveling about 180 kilometers. They were delayed, so I spend a few hours in that small airport designed in a perfect circle. I got tired of circumnutating with my luggage. Everything seemed smaller compared to the United States. Tiny cute cars pulled my attention. Even the doors to the public bathrooms were small. So, I had to leave my bags in the cart by the main door and hope that none would steal them while I was in the rest room.

Remik and Ewa first took me to the apartment of Jacek and Agnieszka live. The neighborhood was clean and nice. Around a huge green open space there were several apartment buildings, each with 5 to 10 floors. Jacek (35) had the body of a football player and had the demeanor of a stand-up comedian. He was extremely funny and happy. They had two bright and cute kids, Asia (8) and Dawid (4). Jacek is working in a furniture manufacturing company as technical supervisor, while his wife Agnieszka is professor at the State University in Zielona Gora.

Remik then took me to his home, which was in Broniszow, about 20 minutes away from the main town. I fell in love with the road between Zielona Gora and Remik’s home; both side of the road was covered with rows of high trees. I do not remember seeing so much greenery anywhere. Compared to Zielona Gora San Diego appears like a desert. I learned that I would be staying at Remik and Ewa’s home. It was a newly built modern two stories house with high ceiling in the middle of a forest. Remik was still working on some unfinished construction. I had come there with T-shirts and shorts. Though it was mid June, the temperature was about 10-15 Celsius degrees, which was a positive change for me. While outside of the house, I noticed the unfinished frame of the window. There was about 20-cm thick insulation on the external wall. The huge piles of wood outside, the magnificent fire place, and that thick insulation were testifying to a very cold winter… Glad that I was there in the best of times. During the meal Remik brought a bowl of small blue berries collected by his neighbor from nearby bushes. They were fresh and delicious.

Remik and Ewa were very generous hosts. Their home was very clean and organized. Their daughters Asia (17) and Misia (14) were very smart and respectful. They participated in our conversation and discussion all day. Remik asked me to introduce them to their peers who try to live according to the Quran.

Since only a few of the new converts knew English, Ezra translated my lecture and then question and answer session. Ezra, together with Jan Cichy and Joseph came all the way from Czech Republic to join us there. They were very interested to learn more about the prophetic mathematical structure of the Quran, which Jacek recorded through his camcorder. I enjoyed every moment together. My joy reached its zenith when Jacek got a guitar and started playing Haga Nagila, my favorite song. I received the video recording of the moment and posted at youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LczBsBtOIbI

To see the short lecture on Code 19, which was translated into Polish by Hakham Ezra check:

http://www.uschovna.cz/vyzvednout1.php/Uschovna4c2a073d883ae58

Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Netherlands

Mahmut Arıkan and Volkan Güngör took me from the airport to a new apartment by a lake. It had new furniture and I would be its first resident. The host, Tariq Raj, a Pakistani Briton businessman, was a generous and thoughtful host; he had filled its fridge with snacks and juice, and the kitchen had all the necessary utensils to cook and brew tea. Tariq invited me and friends to breakfast and dinners to his triplex residence nearby.

In Netherlands, I met many Turkish monotheists, such as Ahlem Özdemir and Derya Baglikol. Ahlem, a divorced women mother of two, invited us to dinner. She had cooked too many dishes and too much food. There was so much left over, she insisted that we take some to my apartment, which Mahmud did it gladly. Ahlem was working at Red Cross and she told me that she asked her boss to allocate the conference room in their building for my lecture. After searching about me via Internet, her boss discovers that I was not an apple, but a jalapeño pepper, and would be too much controversial and liability for their organization. Ahlem impressed me with her knowledge, intellectual independence, and rhetorical skills. She was an independent woman in almost every aspect of her life. She had a teen son who was bright and engaging; I was glad that he respected her mother and cherished her. The same with Derya… She too had strong ideas, and together with Ahlem both were having the most of the talks while I and more than half a dozen Turkish men listened. I was glad to witness such a revolution.

There I met many Turkish monotheists whom I have been in contact via Internet: Mahmut Alioğlu who lives in Bochum, Germany, and works in a virus-protection software company…. Years ago, Mahmut designed a simple yet functional program called Kitap (Book) to browse various Quran translations, including mine. (We have its web based version at: www.quranix.com ). Ahmet Eraslan who uses Suvari penname on Internet lives in Belgium and works as a teacher. I also had great time at Gamal and Iglal’s home where Iglal showed off with her talents as a cook. Iglal was on the cover of a cook book that contained recipes and pictures of ethnic cuisine from about 20 countries.

I do not wish to bore you with a list of names… So, let me share with you a few small activities we did together. After consultation, we decided to distribute a pamphlet containing the summary of Manifesto for Islamic Reform in front of a mosque after the Friday prayer. Tariq’s son volunteered to print the pamphlet and he added a few lines inviting the readers to contact the Muslim reformists in Holland. Tariq and his family together with Mahmut and Volkan helped me to fold the pamphlets.

I wanted to teach my friends who live in Holland how to share the message, especially when government or religious institutions deprive their citizens or followers from hearing the message of monotheism, liberation and peace. As our first station, I asked them to take me to the biggest mosque. They took me to Ahle Sunnat wa Djamaat – Hanafi (People of the Sunna and Crowd – Hanafi). Volkan, Mahmut, and another comrade helped me in distributing the pamphlet in front of the mosque after the Friday prayer. I started engaging the “sunni crowd” and occasionally used confrontational language and even calculated provocation to accomplish that. It did not take too long for imam to come out to protect his herd from getting confused and disoriented. The Pakistani imam, with his Arabic garb and well-nourished beard, acted cool. He was clever and diplomatic in dealing with my vociferous criticism against their teachings. I accused him of misleading those people and teaching them not to use their reasoning faculties, of promoting polytheism, misogynistic ideas and practices, and all sorts of superstitions. Imam initially had a fake smile on his face and tried to ignore my charges. But, when he heard some specific criticism, he resorted to distortion and manipulation of his followers.

I wanted to train my friends how to deliver the message to a protected crowd. Arnold did not join us; he was watching us from across the street. He told me that he took several photos while we were delivering the message in front of the mosque.

For the second mission, we went to Milli Görüş (Religious/National View) mosque, which as complex with a school, café, etc…. During my youth, as an Islamist youth leader, I worked within the same group, a religious political group that many of today’s mover and shakers in Turkish politics belonged. For instance, Turkish current prime minister Tayyip Erdoğan was my friend from high school, and we work together in the same political organization for the same territory for several years. Turkey’s current minister of defense, Ahmet Davudoğlu too was affiliated with the same group and we attended Bosporus University together. After my rejection of hadith and Sunna in 1986, my relationship with them deteriorated gradually until I was forced to immigrate to the USA in 1989. I knew that I was persona non-grata there.

There I was going to show my friends in Netherlands how to deliver the message to a hostile group in a friendly way and in a low voice. Many who knew the ideas of this group about me and my decision to impromptu drop in their den would consider it a risky decision. Indeed, it was risky. Any of them could attack me. The moment I entered the courtyard of its café, a tall young men noticed me and recognized me as Edip Yuksel. A few others looked at us and their reaction was a mixture of confusion, fear and curiosity. I informed them that I was visiting them for a friendly chat and I asked them to bring us tea. We sat on the chairs around a table in the open air courtyard. Only one of them felt comfortable enough to sit with us. I started the conversation with friendly and humorous gambits. Then it soon evolved to theological and political discussion. A few others emerged, first studying us from about five to ten meters afar. They would not sit down; but walk around with anxious pace. It was obvious from their faces, their body language and their indecision that they did not know how to handle me. A few of them would go inside the café and come back again. They considered me an apostate, a betrayer against the legacy of well-respected Yuksel family. I had disappeared by immigrating to the Great Satan two decades ago and would once a while hit and run via live TV appearances that would cause many to question their inherited religion, yet here I was sitting among them, in their bastion.

Then one of them, while standing accused me of living in the USA, en imperialist country. I countered by telling them my contempt to the USA’s foreign policy and yet my appreciation of its Constitution. I reminded them the fact, just because someone lives in a country does not mean the person is supporting everything the government’s policies. The circle grew to more than a dozen participants. Two young men in their thirties, whom the rest appeared to respect, engaged in a heated debate with me on hadith and sunna. It was obvious that they had in depth information regarding the defense of hadith and their attack against the so-called “Quran-alone” position. At one point I picked one of the debaters, and asked everyone to witness my exposition of his condemnation by the Quran. I made sure everyone was all ears. I asked everyone not to interrupt until I am done with that one-to-one Socratic Dialogue. Then, carefully and methodologically I went through my cross examination, step by step asking response from the young Sunni man. Each response led to another question. In less than five minutes, everyone witnessed the young man been impeached by the Quran. Of course, it was not an impeachment of a person; it was an impeachment of one of the history’s greatest frauds that has been promoted by the following diabolic twist: “following messenger means following hadith reports that were collected centuries after his death.”

After about half an hour in debate, one of the debaters started hearing my arguments, and started appreciating some of my points. Within an hour they started debating among themselves. The internal debate reached its zenith when I wanted to discuss the discrepancy among the three versions of the Last Sermon. One of the debaters wanted to hear my take on it, while others, smelling trouble, wanted to avoid it. I wanted to hit this point since it would destroy the reliability of their most reliable hadith. The internal strife and quarrel lasted for a few minutes. I had summarized this problem in my first English Book, Nineteen Questions for Muslim Scholars:

It is the alleged final sermon (Khutba) of the Prophet (Khutbat Al-Wadaa’). This great and historic event is reported in many important books of hadith, including Muslim, Muwatta, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal. The big problem is: these books report three vastly different doctrines from this historic sermon which was witnessed by 100,000 witnesses (most hadiths were supposedly witnessed by 1 or 2 people). In fact, the main topic in that all-important sermon gives three contradicting commandments. Here is what the prophet allegedly said:

1)     “I am leaving for you two things that you must uphold, the Quran and my Sunnah” (According to Muwatta 46/3).

2)     “I am leaving for you the Quran and my relatives (Ahl Al- Bayt)” (According to Muslim 44/4, Nu 2408; Ibn Hanbal 4/366; Darimi 23/1, Nu 3319).

3)     “I am leaving for you the Quran; you shall uphold it” (According to Muslim 15/19, Nu 1218; Ibn Majah 25/84, Nu 3074; Abu Dawud 11/56, Nu 1905).

As you see, the LAST words of the LAST sermon of the LAST prophet which had been witnessed by the greatest number of his friends have been reported in three different versions.

  • What did the prophet leave for us according to your most authentic hadith? Which one of the three reports is correct?
  • What did the prophet leave for us according to the best hadith, i.e., the Quran? (6:19,38,114; 5:48-49; 12:111; 39:23).
  • How can we trust those hadith books which can change the most important words, though witnessed by thousands of people? Which hadith can we trust beside the Quran (45:6)?

I can confidently say that I am never surprised by any argument made on behalf of Sunni or Shiite sects or religions. I know their all arguments. In fact, before my rejection of the sectarian teachings, I was writing books defending them. So, I was not surprised that they asked their favorite question, “How do you pray without hadith?” or “Why you do not say ‘Sallallahu alayhi wassallam’ after Prophet Muhammad’s name, sallallahu alayhi wasallam“?

Most of the people discussing religion and politics tend not to hear the other side’s argument. They might appear to be listening, in fact, what they are doing is monologue. Therefore, once a while I interrupt them and I say this:

“You said this and that. Your position on this issue is this and that. Have I summarized your position correctly?”  Hearing their position from my mouth, expressed succinctly, clearly and correctly, perhaps much better than they could ever articulate, they usually pause and listen without interrupting me. I notice a sense of relief and appreciation in their eyes. Then, I ask my question: now it is turn. Can you please repeat my position? What is my response to your criticism or your position? They usually pause, this time with embarrassment and confusion. They notice that they cannot repeat my position as I have done theirs. So, they become witness against themselves: their ears are deaf to my words. Afterwards, I go back and repeat my answer; this time having their full attention. Of course, I cannot keep repeating this device to teach them how to debate, since they usually turn back to their old habit of pontificating passionately without listening/understanding their opponents. But, it sometimes helps the audience to pay more attention to what I say. This tuning device during debates should be implemented with care, since there is a risk of being perceived as arrogant or patronizing.

A few older people in the audience, noticing that their sectarian version was melting like ice under the light of reason and evidence, became irritated. An old man passionately interrupted our discussion, and accused me of insulting prophet Muhammad. He started praising Muhammad and asking them not to continue the debate. I was glad to see a few younger member of their group stood for me and tried to cool him down: “No he is not insulting Prophet Muhammad.” It is ironic to see the followers of hadith liturgy that contains the worst lies and insults against Prophet Muhammad.

***

This report got longer than I expected. I would like to share with you some important observations regarding the growing and brewing stress between Muslim immigrant minority in Netherlands and the Dutch natives. Hopefully, I will do so within a week.

You may leave comments under the pictures from the Conference and my European tour are posted at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/edipyuksel