26 February 2008

An Islamic "Reformation?"

"All religions evolve." This idea was the crux of Karen Armstrong's thesis in her seminal book "A History of God: The 4,000-year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

Well, it looks like Islam, which has perhaps the broadest opposition among adherents to the idea of any kind of evolution whatsoever, is undergoing its own little bit of adaptation.

Theologians at Ankara University are finally putting some of Islam's founding texts under the microscope, submitting them to rigorous textual criticism. Their focus is on the Hadith, however, and not the Koran itself, which I don't think they can realistically touch without getting lynched. I'd be surprised if they didn't get death threats by the bushel just for messing with the Hadith, which is supposed to be a collection of Muhammad's sayings and is used as an authority in interpreting the Koran.

It's about time, too, because things seem to be getting crazier than usual, what with women being punished in Saudi Arabia for suspected witchcraft or for allowing themselves to be gang-raped, not to mention the divine ordinances concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions. Finally, some Muslims are taking responsibility for their religion and the actions it is used to justify, like murder, rape, and the general subjugation of women in Islamic societies.

A few choice parts from the BBC article.
...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.

Indeed, not just reinterpreted, some parts need to be thrown out all together, and that's part of what they're doing, thankfully:
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.

Now if only we could get some of those hard-core Bible-thumpers to realize the same thing about the New Testament....but one thing at a time, I suppose

Perhaps the most encouraging part about this "reformation" is the fact that not only are they including women in this endeavour, but they're also sending them out to communicate the new revisions to the masses:
As part of its aggressive programme of renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams called "vaizes".

They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey's vast interior.

One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Koran - one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith.

She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women.

"There are honour killings," she explains.

"We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love.

"There's also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam... we have to explain that to them."

Of course, I'd rather that they do away with the whole thing altogether, and be done with it, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth: this is good news! It's progressive, and women are finally being allowed to join the discussion, instead of being beaten, mutilated, and raped into submission for having the temerity to assert their own humanity as thinking individuals.

While we still have a long way to go, it's encouraging that at least one significant portion of the Islamic world is taking bold steps to bring their people out of the 14th century. Keep in mind though , it really couldn't have happened anywhere else but Turkey, with it's unique brand of secularism, and it likely will face determined resistance both within Turkey's own borders but especially in other nations abroad, and a good chunk of that resistance is likely to be violent. Because of this, I think the secular world at large should be encouraging and supportive of this endeavour in the hopes that it will spawn a new rationalism within Islam itself. Of course, let's just hope that this new reformation of Islam doesn't produce any new antisemitism, like Martin Luther's did almost 500 years before, but at least they're taking a progressive step forward, and I'll take that any day.

[Via Charlayne at AANR]

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