Turkish Tafiya

A BBC article informs us that the Turkish government, in an effort to ease the constant tension between medieval Islam and modern-day secularism, has commisioned a team of theologians to revise and update the Hadith, the body of lore and tradition based, allegedly, upon the sayings and deeds of Mohammed.

We read:

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.

The Turkish authorities suggest, and I am sure rightly, that core Islamic dogma has not only failed to evolve in historically appropriate ways, but that it is also thickly encrusted with rulings and interpretations that reflect 1,400 years of all-too-worldly struggles for political and social power.

We note parenthetically that although the 21st century Turks might imagine that what they are doing now is somehow an exception to that inevitable process (to which all powerful and long-lasting social institutions are subject), of course it is simply more of the same. But that aside, what might come of this? Given the decentralized structure of Islam, is it realistic to imagine that these reforms will seep downward to the fundamentalist believers whose worldview they are intended to soften and broaden? Will Muslim clergy, with concern for their own temporal power and influence, see these proposals as sufficiently benign that they will embrace, rather than oppose them? To the extent that this initiative is taken seriously at all, it will be divisive: might it divert inwardly some of the rage that Islamists currently direct toward the West? Don’t get your hopes up.

It must also be borne in mind that this revision and reinterpretation applies only to the Hadith, as the Koran itself is taken by Muslims, beyond any possible dispute, to be the literal word of God. So, sadly for the Turks, any benighted traditions or policies that stem directly and explicitly from the Koran remain entirely beyond hope of remediation.

Anyway, it’s an interesting experiment. I think it is likely to be received with thunderstorms of outrage in much of the Muslim world (after all, what isn’t?) — but it will be interesting to see. Place your bets.

Read the article here.

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