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Jewish Journal

Turkey moves to modernize Islam

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 9, 2008 | 7:34 pm

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.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

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.

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion.

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion.

Turkish officials have been reticent about the revision of the Hadith until now, aware of the controversy it is likely to cause among traditionalist Muslims, but they have spoken to the BBC about the project, and their ambitious aims for it.

The forensic examination of the Hadiths has taken place in Ankara University’s School of Theology.

Fr Felix Koerner, a Christian theologian who has observed the project, says some of the sayings - also known individually as “hadiths” - can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

“Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim - or pseudo-Muslim - practice of female genital mutilation,” he says.

“You can find messages which say ‘that is what the Prophet ordered us to do’. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition.”

More about the Islamic Reformation can be found here.

There have been tensions in the past year as Turkey struggles to find its soul. The country has been more moderate and secular than its neighbors to the east. (This is where Ismail Bardhi earned his doctorate in Islamic studies.) And it isn’t entirely surprising that such a reformation would spring out of a country that straddles Europe and the Middle East.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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