IS TURKEY'S GOVERNMENT STARTING A MUSLIM REFORMATION?
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Its unusually named ministry of religion, the "Presidency of Religious Affairs and the Religious Charitable Foundation," has undertaken a three-year "Hadith Project" systematically to review 162,000 Hadith reports and winnow them down to some 10,000, with the goal of separating original Islam from the accretions of fourteen centuries.
The Hadith reports contain information about the sayings and actions of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. They augment the Koran and have had a major role in shaping the Shari‘a (Islamic law), thereby deeply influencing Muslim life. Despite their importance, Muslim reformers have devoted little scrutiny to them, due to their vast size, unwieldy nature, and the challenge of discerning "sound" from "weak" Hadiths.
One of the project's 85 theology professors, Ismail Hakki Unal, of Ankara University, explains its goal:
The project website explained that its work is "an important step for carrying the universal message of the Prophet of Islam to the Twenty-first Century."
Mehmet Görmez, a senior lecturer in Hadith at Ankara University and the Vice-president of Religious Affairs, heads the "Hadith Project."
Mehmet Görmez states that the purpose of the project is a scholarly one, to understand the Hadith better: "We will make a new compilation of the Hadith and re-interpret them if necessary." More broadly, Görmez explains:
This means, for example, reinterpreting Hadiths that "present women as inferior beings," such as those that encourage female genital mutilation, honor killings, and the prohibition of women traveling without their husbands. One participant, Hidayet Sevkatli Tuksal, goes so far as to declare some Hadiths as bogus because they intend "to ensure male domination over women." However, despite the intense current debate in Turkey over the headscarf, the project avoids that particular issue. Another sensitive topic concerns the right of Muslims to convert out of their faith; the project permits such conversions.
Some Turks have great hopes for the Hadith Project, which aims to produce a multi-volume book in Turkish, Arabic, and Russian by year's end. Taha Akyol, a political commentator, sees a revolution taking place.
Another commentator, Mustafa Akyol, believes that the revised Hadiths "will be a step to change mindsets."
Fadi Hakura, of Chatham House, goes further, calling the project "somewhat akin to the Christian Reformation." He applauds the project being sponsored by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AKP involvement means that "this reform movement is not being implemented by a secular group, but by the ruling [party, which] is very religious and conservative. So this is an authentic internal process of change."
Other observers are more skeptical. Hashim Hashimi, a former MP, for example, states:
Even the head of the ministry, Ali Bardakoglu, acknowledges that "we are not reforming Islam; we are reforming ourselves."
What to make of this initiative? Serious efforts to modernize Islam, which this appears to be, are most welcome. At the same time, one has to wonder about agendas, when government intercedes in the subtle and even subversive domain of religious reform. Specifically, the AKP's Islamist nature arouses mistrust that the Hadith Project will limit itself to the relatively easy social issues and avoid the tougher political ones in order to fashion an ideologically more defensible Islam, even while maintaining some of its more problematic aspects. Does the project's avoidance of the headscarf topic also imply its not taking up female legal rights, women marrying non-Muslim men, ribba (interest on money), jihad, the rights of non-Muslims, and the creation of an Islamic order?
By limiting its subject matter, the project might forward Islamism more than modernize Islam. True reform awaits true reformers – not Islamist functionaries, but independent, modern individuals intent on aligning Islam with the best of modern mores.
© Daniel Pipes 2008
Originally Published in the Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2008
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, May 21, 2008
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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