Sunday, August 06, 2006

[Sexism Deleted] in Turkey

Salaams Everyone. Mustafa Akyol has reported on an interesting development in Turkey. It's about Turkey's highest Islamic body erasing some parts of hadiths that are deemed discriminatory towards women, which they feel may not reflect the spirit of Islam or the character of the Prophet. Highly interesting...read on...

[Sexism Deleted] in Turkey
By Mustafa Akyol
Sunday, July 16, 2006; B02

ISTANBUL
"Women are imperfect in intellect and religion."
"The best of women are those who are like sheep."
"If a woman doesn't satisfy her husband's desires, she should choose herself a place in hell."
"If a husband's body is covered with pus and his wife licks it clean, she still wouldn't have paid her dues."
"Your prayer will be invalid if a donkey, black dog or a woman passes in front of you."

In a bold but little-noticed step toward reforming Islamic tradition, Turkey's religious authorities recently declared that they will remove these statements, and more like them, from the hadiths -- the non-Koranic commentary on the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad.

Hadiths are serious stuff. More than 90 percent of the sharia (Islamic law) is based on them rather than the Koran, and the most infamous measures of the sharia -- the killing of apostates, the seclusion of women, the ban on fine arts, the stoning of adulterers and many other violent punishments for sinful behavior -- come from the hadiths and the commentaries built upon
them. Eliminating these misogynistic statements from the hadiths is a direct challenge to some of the most controversial aspects of Islamic tradition.

Modern Muslim intellectuals have long argued that the hadiths should be revised, but this is the first time in recent history that a central Islamic authority has taken the dramatic step of deciding to edit them. The media and intellectuals of Ankara and Istanbul largely welcomed last month's decision, which the Turkish government supported. And although there were rumblings of discontent from ultraconservative commentators, they didn't amount to a protest. Yet, despite the rhetoric about the need to make alliances with progressive Islam in the midst of the fight against terrorism, Turkey's move toward reform has been widely overlooked in the West, and there has been little acknowledgment of it in other Muslim countries.

The proposed revision came from the Diyanet, Turkey's highest Islamic authority, which controls more than 76,000 mosques in Turkey and other parts of Europe. Its president, Ali Bardakoglu, a liberal theologian appointed three years ago by the ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (known as AKP), declared that a new collection of hadiths, free of such
misogyny, would be prepared by 2008. He also announced that enlightened imams would be sent to the rural, conservative regions of southeastern Turkey to preach against practices such as honor killings.

Many Muslims view hadiths as sacrosanct, although their accuracy has been a major point of contention among scholars. The hadiths were compiled two centuries after the Koran, which was transcribed during the prophet's lifetime and canonized right after his death in Medina in the 7th century.

By the 9th century, people were constructing such strange stories from the prophet that scholars such as Muhammad al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj decided to evaluate and catalogue them. Focusing on the reliability of the chain of transmitters, these scholars created collections of sahih , or trustworthy, hadiths.

But some modern Islamic scholars have felt increasingly uneasy about the inconsistencies and narrow-minded assertions in these collections. There are other hadiths that explain Muhammad's great respect for his wives, for example, and insist on the rights of women. The contradiction implies a need for revision. "I can't imagine a prophet who bullies women," said Hidayet Tuksal, a feminist theologian in Ankara. "The hadiths that portray him so should be abandoned."

Similarly, in proposing to create its new standard collection, the Turkish Diyanet intends to look beyond the chain of transmitters to logic, consistency and common sense. In many ways, this is a revival of an early debate in Islamic jurisprudence between rival camps known as the adherents of the hadiths and the adherents of reason -- a debate that ended with the triumph of the former.

The reawakening of this medieval debate and the consequent revision of the hadith literature could be a revolutionary breakthrough.

It is no accident that Turkey is the place where the traditional sharia is being reconsidered. The process of modernizing Islam, which dates in Turkey from the late Ottoman Empire, has accelerated since the 1980s, when Turkish society began to open. Since then, a flourishing Muslim bourgeoisie has emerged, and members are wittily called "Islamic Calvinists" for their religiously inspired capitalism. This has given rise to a new social atmosphere: In modern Turkey, you see models parading down the catwalk in fancy headscarves and Koranic courses promoted by clowns handing out ice cream. Muslim politicians such as Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul repeatedly stress the need for change in the Islamic world.

These reform-minded Muslims are not secularists who want to do away with religion. On the contrary, they want to reinterpret Islam because they believe that its divinely ordained, humane and generous essence has been eclipsed by mortal man's erroneous traditions and ideologies.

This is crucial because only such godly reformists have a chance to appeal to more traditional members of their faith. Since the 19th century, traditional Muslims have felt forced to choose between their faith and modernity -- a dilemma that has been fueling a reactionary strain of radical Islam. The Islamic world needs an alternative -- a path between godless modernity and anti-modern bigotry. With its revision of the traditional Islamic sources and with its rising Muslimhood that embraces democracy and open society, Turkey may just be opening the way. The West should be taking notice -- and encouraging other Muslim countries to take inspiration from Turkey's moderate course.

Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist [akyol@mustafaakyol.org]

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