Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Islamic Reformation?

Things are about to get very interesting in the Islamic world.

According to a BBC report, Turkey has begun a major project to revise the Hadith, the written compilation of oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of Mohammed. It's second only to the Koran as the most important and authoritative religious document in Islam. Interpretation of the Koran relies on it, and most Sharia (Islamic religious law) is based on its precepts.

That's where the problem lies.

. . . 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.

. . .

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.

"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."

. . .

Even some sayings accepted as being genuinely spoken by Muhammad have been altered and reinterpreted.

Prof Mehmet Gormez, a senior official in the Department of Religious Affairs and an expert on the Hadith, gives a telling example.

"There are some messages that ban women from travelling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine.

"But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons."

This is potentially vital if Islam is to modernize: but, of course, the fundamentalists of that faith would argue that there is no need to modernize. Under strict Islamic law there is no distinction at all between church and state, as there is in most Western democracies. The state is always subject to the religion. To have a "secular Muslim state" (such as Turkey claims to be) is a contradiction in terms to a fundamentalist Muslim.

Expect uproar when this work is published. The last time a religious upheaval of this nature and scope took place in the Christian world it sparked the Thirty Years War. Let's hope this development doesn't do the same to the Islamic world.



Gene said...

Oh Hell, why not hope it sparks an intra-Islamic conflict? It'll give the nut-jobs on the "fundamentalist" side someone else at whom to direct their venom.

Peter (not our Gracious Host) said...

My thought exactly: a little wog-on-wog violence ought to keep things quiet for a decade or so...

Firehand said...

Be real interesting to see what happens. It might get the actual 'moderates'(those who don't want to live in the 7th century) to actually stand up against the islamists. Some do now; get enough of them, and could make a real difference.

But it is liable to get messy.