Thursday, February 28, 2008

Turkey in ‘radical revision’ of Islamic texts

Cranmer has been asked to comment on this religio-political development in Turkey, so, ever mindful of the politico-spiritual edification of his readers and communicants, he shall do so.

It appears that Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians (who precisely?) at Ankara University to carry out a ‘fundamental revision’ of the Hadith - a collection of the sayings and doings of Mohammad which heavily influence interpretation of the Qur’an. It is the second most sacred text in Islam after the Qur’an, and the scholars (any women?) are preparing to publish a document that represents a ‘revolutionary reinterpretation’ which purports to ‘modernise’ the religio-political construct.

This is not, however, Islam’s ‘Reformation’ as some are asserting, not only because there is no Luther in Wittenberg or Cranmer at Oxford, but also because the Protestant Reformation was about a return to the Bible – the primary text of revelation - and a purging of the Church of the corrupt, man-made practices which deviated from the simplicity of the gospel. The Turkish agenda is about a redaction of an Islamic text of secondary importance to render it conformable to Western sensitivities. This will be repudiated by many Muslims as being a perverse manipulation and a bowdlerising of ‘the truth’. It will not remotely influence majority Sunni opinion, and most Muslims will simply ignore it. In fact, it will simply become another Islamic cult, rather like the Ahmadiyyans are perceived to be.

And such a re-interpretation of Islamic texts is, in any case, nothing new. One only has to study the development of the Hadith and Shari’a writings over the centuries to realise that Islam has been variously applied and diversely interpreted in many cultural contexts throughout the ages. There is no uniformity, as much as those who long for a caliphate renaissance may wish to see one.

What is welcome, however, is an application of higher critical scholarship to any Islamic texts which have been considered sacrosanct in recent decades, on pain of fatwa. Cranmer has already called for such an undertaking, not least because the insights that this discipline has given into the development and meaning of the Bible have been profound.

It can only be edifying to theological scholarship and historical truth if the hadiths can be shown to have been invented centuries after the death of Mohammed, and that they had a particular political and societal context. Discerning their Sitz im Leben will certainly help to elucidate original meaning and purpose.

The problem, of course, is that not all will agree. While some will continue to apply the letter of the law to prevent women from travelling, others will insist that such passages are redundant because 1400 years ago ‘it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that’.

But even higher criticism of the Bible has not produced unity on the issue of women speaking in church, let alone preaching and teaching, and there is not even unity on the injunction for them to cover their heads. Notwithstanding this, it is welcome news that Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams ‘to tell of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Qur’an - one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith’.

And why not? The men have manifestly failed.

But Cranmer thinks that this ‘New Islam’ is but a fad. It is a political manoeuvre with precisely-targeted propaganda in order to ease Turkey’s transition to EU membership (Cranmer wonders how many in Turkey will even know if this development). All aspirations to bring enlightenment and claims of ‘recreating Islam’ in order ‘to serve the needs of people in a modern secular democracy’ will not work because allegiance and faithfulness to sacred traditions cannot be eradicated overnight, over centuries, or even over millennia.

After all, has not His Holiness recently reintroduced indulgences and liberated the Tridentine Rite?

As Qoheleth says: ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.

But Cranmer’s final question, which these neo-enlightened Turkish theologians ought to address, is why they will not apply this revelatory higher critical method to the Qur’an itself?


Anonymous mickey said...

His grace is right to be concerned about the agenda behind this initiative. Turkish membership of the EU is likely to be just one part of Plan B for a restructuring of the Middle East. A Turkish expansion into Iraq must be on the cards (aided and abetted by the US). And, quite possibly, an incentived resettlement plan for the Gaza & West Bank Palestinians (into Turkey and the EU) is there too. The Ottoman Empire v2? As your grace says, there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

28 February 2008 at 08:51  
Blogger mongoose said...

An admirable exposition, Your Grace, but I think that, yes, this is the Islamic Reformation. Though necessarily one of a different kind because the vices are different. The Protestant Reformation threw off the perceived corruptions of popery and, as you say, turned back towards scripture. (Forgive this simple layman's simplistic interpretation. I will leave Your Grace's wisdom to fill the void.) This Islamic Reformation is throwing off the fundamentalist die-hards who are holding their people in the past through, IMO, a corrupt and partial reading of scripture.

However it isn't the end or even the beginning of the end. We've had (some of) the flames and bloodshed and we are now in the stage when good people are looking for ways through to the other side. It will take a long time and I doubt that my lifetime will be long enough but a sensible, non-violent, modern, Islam will emerge blinking into the daylight. Inshallah.

My second thought is that surely Turkey for all her faults has tried very hard to face a future of change. It's almost three-quarters of a century since Turkey established a secular state, and one in which women's rights were protected. A single party state was perhaps a mistake but, hey, nobody's perfect. It was a courageous thing to do and they deserve credit. Perhaps all those years ago, Ataturk did begin the beginning.

28 February 2008 at 11:15  
Anonymous WannabeAnglican said...

Your Grace, I am surprised that you, a Cambridge man, associates yourself with Oxford. I would think you would be loath even to let the O-word grace your lips.

28 February 2008 at 14:03  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Wannabeanglican,

Whilst your observations of His Grace's undergraduate experience are as you state, you will understand that much of his postgraduate life (and, indeed, death) was spent at Oxford.

It is where he left his heart,

and his right hand...

28 February 2008 at 14:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will this have any effect on Islam? See History Today's December article by Clive Foss showing how early Islam split into mutually murderous sects each claiming to be the only valid interpretation of the faith.

28 February 2008 at 15:04  
Anonymous Tom said...

'After all, has not His Holiness recently reintroduced indulgences and liberated the Tridentine Rite?'

His Holiness may have liberated the Tridentine Rite, but he has certainly not reintroduced indulgences - for the very good reason that the Popes have never ceased granting them. In 1967 Paul VI introduced reforms to the terms under which they were granted, which reforms remain in force. But the underlying doctrine of indulgences, as stated at Trent, being dogmatic, has not changed; and since Vatican II a whole dicastery or department of the Vatican, the Apostolic Penitentiary, has continued to supervise their issuance.

All that has happened is that, thanks to the prevailing tendency to perceive Pope Benedict as 'traditionalist', a lot of non-Catholic journalists have suddenly chosen to 'notice' that indulgences are still issued. But the same observation could and should have been made under Paul VI or John Paul II. The change is solely in external perception, not in the practice and teaching of the Church.

28 February 2008 at 15:14  
Anonymous Serf said...

Your Grace,

Concerning the issue of whether the Man on the Istanbul Omnibus has news of these theological discussions, I can shed a little light.

Whilst I may have missed it, I have not seen any news concerning this in the Turkish Media.

I think this is an AK Party game to try and wrong foot their secular opponents. If they can prove that Islam is compatable with the modren world, it will be to their benefit. It may well come back to haunt them.

28 February 2008 at 15:36  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
thank you i am much better informed , and most encouraged by your questions i too hope that they revise the quoran with new shcolastic vigor, then perhaps they could present the world with a great work , other than rockets and bombs.

28 February 2008 at 15:48  
Anonymous nedsherry said...

As Qoheleth says: ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.

There's this to say for Islam: it doesn't prostrate itself before its enemies.

28 February 2008 at 17:37  
Anonymous najistani said...

Your Grace,
It is a pity that no-one has told the Turkish people about the joyous revelation of NuIslam...

"MALATYA, Turkey: Three Protestants murdered at a Christian publishing house here were tortured for three hours before their assailants slit their throats, a press report said Friday...

As they say "You can't polish a turd", nor can you pick it up by the clean end.

28 February 2008 at 23:18  

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