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Reforming Islam - Turkey gives it a try
Posted by: McQ on Thursday, February 28, 2008

This article is a couple of days old, but is an extremely interesting look at Turkey's attempt to change, or at least revise, the Hadith, "the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran." The Hadith is a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed and the source of many disputes concerning jihad and the religion in general.
Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam - and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.


As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam.

It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.
One can imagine, among traditional and extremist sects of the religion, how that is going to be accepted. And given the excitement level they can generate over cartoons, does anyone doubt the possible inflammatory nature of this sort of an undertaking?

I certainly understand the point (and, we all know the history of religious reformation):
The argument is that Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various - often conservative - cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control.

Leaders of the Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad himself.
But you have to wonder, in today's atmosphere and especially in the world of Islam, how such a project will be met.
According to Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey from Chatham House in London, Turkey is doing nothing less than recreating Islam - changing it from a religion whose rules must be obeyed, to one designed to serve the needs of people in a modern secular democracy.

He says that to achieve it, the state is fashioning a new Islam.

"This is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation," he says.

"Not exactly the same, but if you think, it's changing the theological foundations of [the] religion. "

Fadi Hakura believes that until now secularist Turkey has been intent on creating a new politics for Islam.

Now, he says, "they are trying to fashion a new Islam."

Significantly, the "Ankara School" of theologians working on the new Hadith have been using Western critical techniques and philosophy.

They have also taken an even bolder step - rejecting a long-established rule of Muslim scholars that later (and often more conservative) texts override earlier ones.

"You have to see them as a whole," says Fadi Hakura.

"You can't say, for example, that the verses of violence override the verses of peace. This is used a lot in the Middle East, this kind of ideology.

"I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is."
As I said, this is going to be fascinating to monitor. Many of us, myself included, have said that in order for Islam to adapt itself to the current century, it will require a reformation. Is this the effort that will achieve that? Or, in a community presently dominated by the traditionalists and the extremists, will this be viewed as heresy and do more harm than good?
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Previous Comments to this Post 

In comparison: On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed (according to legend) his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg.
. . . in a community presently dominated by the traditionalists and the extremists, will this be viewed as heresy and do more harm than good?
More harm than good? How would you view the results of Martin Luthers’ actions.

The Catholic Church declared Martin Luther’s writings as heresy and excommunicated him. Do you really expect any different reaction from the Muslim religious authorities of today?

Luther’s writings have been celebrated as sparking the Protestant Reformation. They were also the catalyst for almost 200 years of religious wars. If this Ankara Revision is in any way accepted by a significant portion of the Muslim community, can you expect any different result?
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
This isn’t the 16th century, I doubt 200 years of religious wars will ensue. Islam needs a reformation (and I think is actually going through the early stages of its reformation now, as there are many non-traditional Muslim communities, especially in Europe and the US). Islam also can look back to Averroes and Avicenna as examples of how Islam might be connected with rational thought and reason. That effort to rationalize Islam lost out, though, ironically, those Muslim scholars introduced the Christian world and Aquinas to Aristotle, and Aquinas won that battle in the West. I think the reality is that most Muslims are not extremist and are, in fact, very open to change. It just has to come from within their community and not seem imposed by the outside.
Written By: Scott Erb
I wish them all the luck in the world. And I suspect they’ll need every bit of it.
Written By: Achillea
URL: http://
Well the prime difference between Martin Luther and the Ankara Project is that Martin Luther was WRONG and a SPLITTER (but mayhap my Catholicism colours my thinking)! Other than that, I see a lot of parallels. And Dr. Erb is one of those people who believes in "Progress" I see... "We’re too sophisticated to do that sort of thing again." Yeah right...this is as likely to spark two hundred years of violence and war as anything else...people WILL do "that" again, whatever "that" happens to be, because people haven’t fundamentally changed in thousands of years. The only thing that changes is the causes for which they will do "that" for or at least the phrases and terms used to justify "that", whatever that is.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The success of this will depend on how good Turkey’s police and military are.

those Muslim scholars introduced the Christian world and Aquinas to Aristotle
Those scholars and those texts being in their possession had more to do with pre-Islamic Arab culture than post.
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
This isn’t the 16th century
It is good to see you can recognize the obvious. What is not obvious is the historical context of the 16th Century. The Catholic Church was the only game in town and controlled the environment of Europe with an iron fist. (As an aside to Joe - I make no judgements as to the rightness/wrongness of Luther’s writings, just a historical observation of the era.) Kings of the day bowed to the Church because failing to do so could bring excommunication and loss of their crown. Areas of the continent that were seen to be at risk to the church faced reactions such as the Inquisition in Spain. Even more stringent reactions could occur - More Crusades were called to bring heretics back into the fold than ever imagined going to Palestine to retrieve the "Holy Land".

Contrast that with today - and in some areas of the world there is not much of a contrast. Areas that mirror the control of the Catholic Church of 16th Century Europe is the Muslim Theocracies of the Middle East. And they do in fact mirror such control, whether you would like to admit to it or not. Police patrol the streets of Saudi Arabia and Iran for the express purpose of enforcing religous tenets translated into law. Failure to follow the tenets appropriately gets you the lash or worse and woe be unto the heretic or the apostate - death. Sounds much like the inquisition to me. And considering the similarities between the Crusades and what is viewed as Jihad in today’s world - boy we have certainly come a long way. Further, consider this - In this day of enlightenment, Salman Rushdie, living in the West, is still in hiding.
I think the reality is that most Muslims are not extremist and are, in fact, very open to change.
And I said nothing to contradict that statement. But I am also an observor of the real world and anyone who thinks an Ankara Revision could pass and a real reformation occur within the Muslim world without some semblance of the conflicts of past centuries is spending far too much time mimicing an ostrich.
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
"This isn’t the 16th century,"

Right. Now they have automatic weapons and explosives instead of swords and matchlocks, but the willingness to use them is still the same.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, except that I too believe I’ll be long dead before it’s done playing out. SSheill made most of the points I would have in response to Scott, so I’ll leave them stand, but I want to add one more.

The 9/11 attack came in the context of Muslim civil war. The jihadis were trying to overcome the dictatorships that rule the Muslim world. To do that, they had to remove those dictatorships’ bases of support, to undermine them. That, I believe, is why we were a target: we stood in the way of the Sunni jihadis bringing down the Saudi monarchy and replacing it with a Wahabbist caliphate. Similar moves are underway, largely with the backing of Iran, to replace these governments with a Salafi caliphate. In other words, we were hit because we were supporting nominally Islamic tyrannies against the attempts of the jihadis to take control. It should also be clear that the events building up to this did not start with the US involvement during the Cold War, or even with the establishment of Israel; this is the continuation of a series of events that started with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1917.

This civil war of jihadis vs. dictatorships did not end; it is ongoing. The key fronts now are Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (as opposed to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and India, as they were prior to 9/11), as well as the continuing conflicts as each faction attacks Israel to raise its own standing in the Muslim world, so as to eclipse the other faction.

What Turkey is doing plays very well into what the US is doing in Iraq: the powerful ideas of representative government and a reformed and more tolerant Islam (which many Muslims appear to be seeking, in the wake of the numerous jihadi attacks against Muslims) together hold out something that the Muslim and Arab worlds have really not ever had: the concept of hope for the future, instead of nihilistic fatalism.

Yes, this is going to intensify the religious wars in the area, and extend the series of wars currently ongoing, well past our lifetimes. While we are not in the 16th century, many people in the Muslim world are not yet in the 16th century, and they are going to have to go through a pretty violent period of scourging. It is unclear to me what role the US will play, other than perhaps as a protector of democracies once founded, or a founder of democracies where we feel threatened (Iraq, maybe someday Iran).

Written By: Jeff Medcalf
Not that they have any ulterior motives or anything (cough EU cough)

Actually though I seem to remember The Poet Omar, back when he was still posting, had said something along the line of ealier writing should have taken precedence since those were the writings from when he was attempting to establish a religion. The later writings should be given less weight, since they were more, well specific to the time and place than to islam as a whole. I believe it was the Sufi interpretation as well.
Written By: Joe Canadian
URL: http://
The Hadiths are very suspect, and often contradict the Koran. If they can be questioned, that can help recover the positive message of Muhammad’s teachings.
Written By: Scott Erb

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