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Harun Yahya's Legal Troubles

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Harun Yahya's Legal Troubles
Author(s): 
Taner Edis
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2008
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The most commonly available form of Islamic creationism appears under the "Harun Yahya" brand. For the last ten years, books, articles, websites, and videos by Harun Yahya have been promoting an intellectually negligible but very postmodern and media-savvy form of creationism to a wide audience. The Harun Yahya operation is based in Turkey, but it has an international reach. Indeed, Yahya's influence goes beyond other Muslim countries and Muslim immigrant populations. Even my students, in a Midwestern university, will often stumble upon Harun Yahya web sites when researching creationism, and sometimes they do not realize that it is an Islamic rather than Christian form of creationism they have encountered.

Harun Yahya is a pseudonym, and Adnan Oktar, a Turkish sect leader and art school dropout, is said to be the person who writes all the Yahya material. Given the immense quantity of output under the Yahya label, this claim is implausible. I think of Harun Yahya as a brand, and Oktar as the public face of the brand. The details and funding sources of the organization that supports Oktar are not clear. The Science Research Foundation, BAV (Bilim Aras, tirma Vakfi in Turkish), is a group that supports creationism and boasts Oktar as its honorary president, but not much about BAV is known aside from its public activities in support of creationism and a moderate religious nationalism.

The Yahya form of creationism has been enjoying a degree of success that Protestant creationists based in the United States can only envy. But Oktar has also been embroiled in legal battles in Turkey, from long before he reinvented himself as a creationist guru. In May 2008, Adnan Oktar's legal troubles reached a new peak with the announcement that Oktar and some associates have been sentenced to three years in prison. He and a number of other defendants associated with BAV have been convicted of extortion and of forming an organization for the purpose of committing criminal acts.

The Oktar and BAV saga is far from over. There is an appeals process to look forward to, and Oktar and supporters are already calling foul and alleging that the Turkish courts have acted under political pressure. Given that Oktar has some wealthy and powerful friends — and likely some powerful enemies as well — there may be all sorts of goings-on unknown to the public. The mainstream Turkish press did not report many details on Oktar's conviction beyond the basic legal facts.

On May 10, 2008, Oktar appeared in a news conference to present his view of events. While expressing respect for the judicial outcome, he and his spokespeople described the conviction as a legal scandal and a violation of due process. In particular, Oktar and his associates attributed their legal troubles to a conspiracy, speaking at length of a Masonic plot against BAV and Oktar. Apparently the conspiracy is international, with European Freemasons behind the 2007 Council of Europe report against the teaching of creationism (see RNCSE 2007 Sep–Dec; 27 [5–6]: 20–5), which cited Harun Yahya as an example. As part of the worldwide conspiracy, Oktar's group said, Turkish Masons also oppose BAV and its work in favor of creationism and other religious, conservative, and nationalist causes. Oktar also said that he will soon have another book out, which will expose Masonic activities.

In the press conference, Oktar and his supporters emphasized the theme that the persecution they are facing right now was similar to that undergone by prophets, such as related in the story of Joseph in the Qur'an. Strong defenders of the faith should expect persecution by worldly powers, and possible jail time will be faced by true believers as a badge of honor. Oktar already interprets past episodes in this fashion, such as the time before he became a creationist figurehead when he was forced to spend time in a mental institution. This, too, was a conspiracy that only strengthened Oktar's resolve.

It is still unclear what the recent convictions mean for Oktar and the Yahya brand of creationism. Even if Oktar's appeals fail and he does time in jail, his movement may be able to turn this into a tale of martyrdom in the hands of secular powers. The prodigious output in the name of Yahya might slow down, which might give defenders of evolution in Muslim lands a respite.

But even if the Yahya brand were to vanish as a result of all these legal troubles, this would only be a minor setback for Islamic creationism. The Harun Yahya phenomenon has made it clear that the Muslim world resists evolutionary science, and that more evolution-friendly interpretations of Islam remain weak. The Yahya operation has established that there is a considerable market for an Islamic-colored version of creationism. If Harun Yahya were to fall silent, this could just be an incentive for other brands to compete for that market.

About the Author(s): 

Taner Edis
Department of Physics
Truman State University
Kirksville MO 63501

Taner Edis is Associate Professor of Physics at Truman State University and RNCSE's associate editor for physics. His latest book is An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus, 2007), which discusses creationism in Islam.