Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Islamic Reformation from Turkey?

Turkey is attempting a (relatively) serious revision of Islam. It is being billed as a major reformation (but then these claims have been made before). May be its a start:

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.

Hadith do play a major role in the Sharia. They are considered the most important source of guidance after the Quran in the Islamic law. However, they were formally collected over 150-200 years after the death of Muhammad, and the authenticity of many Hadith was challenged at the time and a vast number still generate controversy. In addition, the hierarchy of Hadith, being second only to the Quran, was also challenged in favor of using reason in the first few centuries of Islam. The challenge primarily came early Muslim philosophers (also collectively known as Faylasufs - some also belonged to the theological school of Mutazilla) who were highly impressed with Greek logic and philosophical thought. However, they lost the inter-Islam battle of shaping Islamic law in the 10th and 11th century, and reason was relegated to a position below that of the Quran and the Hadith. It is in this context, that this Turkish effort needs to be looked at:

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.

An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, 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.

However, they are also planning on looking at the interpretation of established Hadith, and this is an important step:

But this is where the revolutionary nature of the work becomes apparent. Even some sayings accepted as being genuinely spoken by Muhammad have been altered and reinterpreted.

Well its a start and it has the potential of opening up dialogue about Sharia in the Islamic world. I still think it is interesting that from 8-11th century, these matters could be discussed more openly in the Islamic world. May be if we can remind people that Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi and Ibn-Sina were already arguing about these positions (and a lot more) in the 800s and 900s, then may be that will dampen some controversy.

In the mean time, read the full BBC story here.


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