Well, this, is interesting.
The BBC reports that a team of Turkish theologians, working under the auspices of the powerful Department of Religious Affairs, is revising the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam. The Hadith is “the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.” The Turkish government, eager to modernize, sees the dated interpretations of the Hadith as “obscuring the original values of Islam…that now need to be reinterpreted,” to effect a return “to a form of Islam it claims accords with its original values and those of the Prophet.” Revolutionary and controversial, this proposed modernization is being billed as a Muslim “Reformation,” if you will.
Well, we will see.
Some scholars connected with the project note that many of the “hadiths” were invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to address contemporary concerns, and that the teachings of Islam have been “hijacked” by the conservatives, who have, at times, “embellished” the text to make the Prophet speak to their particular agenda.
You don't say.
One spokesman sought to calm the fears of traditional Muslims, maintaining that the story was much overblown. Another was quoted as saying, “I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is."
I have long maintained that if there is indeed any future for "moderate Islam," it would be here. So, is a new Islam taking shape in Turkey?
There are many reasons to think not.
First, it is arguable whether this projected reform really represents authentic Islam (and as one whose roots were in the restorationist wing of Protestantism, I understand the fallacies of this approach.) One is reminded of contemporary Episcopalian efforts to redefine what the New Testament scriptures really meant. Second, traditional Islam is nothing if not resilient. The new thinking may be a hard sell, even in Turkey. Third, Turks are not Kurds. They are not Arabs. They are not Persians. These distinctions still matter greatly. The conclusions emanating from a government-sponsored Ankara think tank won’t have much traction in Riyadh, or Cairo, or Baghdad, or Tehran. Finally, when you worship, in effect, the words in a book--in this case, the supposedly inerrant spoken voice of God, in Arabic, no less--then any reinterpretation becomes dicey, leading only to schism upon schism, as the witness of sola scriptura attests.
Despite this cynicism, I view this as a good thing. As a Christian, Islam will remain, to me, a heretical false religion, whether it be moderate or otherwise. My hope is not that they become less traditional and conservative, but rather that they come to believe in Jesus Christ. In the meantime, many ancient Christian communities suffer under Muslim rule. Whether it be the Patriarchate in Constantinople, or the Kosovo disaster, or northern Cyprus, or the plight of the Egyptian Copts, or the Palestinian Christians or the Armenians, or the various Christian churches of Iraq, the story is much the same--dhimmitude and a recurring cycle of persecution.
Whether a “moderate” Islam would make any real difference here is unclear. But it could not be any worse.
(For a Turkish insight, see Mustafa Akyol, here.)