Turkish theologians have nearly finished a project that could revolutionize Islam.
For the past three years, they’ve been re-interpreting the hadith. These are traditionally regarded as the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, but they also involve a lot of legal and moral instructions that construct the basis of Sharia law.
Turkey is a secular country with a Muslim population, so its interpretation of the holy work could serve as a bridge between the Islamic world and the west. A modernised hadith may also improve Ankara’s chances of being accepted into the European Union.
Turkish commentator Mustafa Akyol told Radio Netherlands about the effort to re-assess the hadith, especially the ones that are more controversial to modern sensibilities.
He says that many of those interpretations are looked upon as fake hadith, but despite that they are believed by many people. This explains attitudes they may have, such as looking down on women, or their support for a more totalitarian society, Mr Akyol says.
“Since the 19th century, many muslim reformists have said we have to question the hadith, some of them are not really authentic and they have the wrong messages.”Two years ago the Diyanet, Turkey’s state body for religious affairs, began the revision project that is now nearing completion. The previous hadith revision dates back to 1923.
urkey decribes itself as a secular country, although the majority of the population are muslim. For many, the hadith constitute their moral code of living. Mr Akyol thinks that a revised hadith tradition
“might allow Turkish muslims to accept modern concepts, such as equality between men and women, more easily. So it will be a step to change mindsets. The majority of muslims, including the conservative ones, actually want to keep their muslim identity, but want to also change.”
Mr Akyol adds that some ultra-conservative circles would not be happy about any change in the Islamic tradition, but such views are marginal.
Turkey analyst Fadi Hakura in London agrees it is likely that the revised hadith will be generally accepted, because
“…this reform movement is not being implemented by a secular group, but by the ruling justice and Development Party and by the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is very religious and conservative. So this is an authentic internal process of change.”
In the long run, a modernised hadith may filter through to other Islamic countries, Mr Akyol thinks, although it will take time.
“Turkey is a country in its own cultural sphere, and Turkey has customs and traditions different from those in the Arabic world. Turkey is an important country in the islamic world, and the developments that are taking place in Turkey, especially in the judiciary realm, look interesting to many Arabs, especially intellectuals.”
Western public opinion was one of the reasons behind the Diyanet project. Mr Hakura says that Turkey is very aware of Western attitudes towards Islam.
“Following 9-11, there has been a lot of examination of Islam in the West. And Turkey has come to realise the need to upgrade and modernise the religion, in their eyes to go back to the original faith that was based on reason and logic. And that is essentially the reform programme that the Turkish islamic authorities are undertaking in the country, to bring back the religion to its original faith.”
The current hadith reform is hoped to allay European fears that Turks will not be able to integrate effectively in European society, Mr Hakura says. Western public opinion may become more favourable towards Turkish EU membership if a modernised hadith is introduced.
The re-interpretation of the hadith is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
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