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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:48 pm 
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This BBC News link was posted on Making Light. This is the first I have heard of this—should it not be a much bigger story?

Quote:
Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts
By Robert Piggott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam - and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But 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.

'Reformation'

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion.

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion. . . .

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:22 am 
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This is unusual, perhaps, in the recent practice of Islam; but it was not necessarily so in Islam's golden age.

I read a book by Irshad Manji (a feminist lesbian Muslim seeking reform within Islam) not long ago which discussed this very issue.

One of her key points was that the golden age of Islam ended when the practice of Ijtihad was replace by Taqlid.

As the opening of the Wiki article says:

Quote:
Ijtihad (Arabic اجتهاد) is a technical term of Islamic law that describes the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources, the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The opposite of ijtihad is taqlid, Arabic for "imitation".


The rejection of Ijtihad and the growth of Taqlid coincided with the end of the Islamic golden age, according to Manji's book (and the Wiki article on Ijtihad appears to be in agreement with this--it is worth a read).

The main part of the article on this historical change is as follows (quoted to preserved its current state, as wiki may change unexpectedly):

Quote:
In early Islam ijtihad was a commonly used legal practice, and was well integrated with falsafa. It slowly fell out of practice for several reasons, most notably the efforts of Asharite theologians from the 12th century, who saw it as leading to errors of over-confidence in judgement since the time of al-Ghazali. He was the most notable of the Asharites and his work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, was the most celebrated statement of this view.

It is debated whether Al-Ghazali was observing or creating the so-called "closure of the door of ijtihad". Some say this had occurred by the beginning of the 10th century CE, a couple of centuries after the finalizing of the major collections of hadith. In the words of Joseph Schacht: "hence a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one could be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in religious law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all." This theory has been put in question recently by Wael Hallaq, who writes that there was also always a minority that claimed that the closing of the door is wrong, and a properly qualified scholar must have the right to perform ijtihad, at all times, not only up until the four schools of law were defined.[1]

What is clear is that long after the 10th century the principles of ijtihad continued to be discussed in the Islamic legal literature, and other Asharites continued to argue with their Mutazilite rivals about its applicability to sciences.

Al-Amidi (1233) mentions twelve common controversies about ijtihad in his book about usul al-fiqh (the theory of Islamic law), amongst others, the question if the Prophet himself depended on ijtihad and if it should be allowed for a mujtahid to follow taqleed.

In Islamic political theory, ijtihad is often counted as one of the essential qualifications of the caliph, e.g. by Al-Baghdadi (1037) or Al-Mawardi (1058). Al-Ghazali dispenses with this qualification in his legal theory and delegates the exercise of ijtihad to the ulema.

Ironically, the loss of its application in law seems to have also led to its loss in philosophy and the sciences, which most historians think caused Muslim societies to stagnate before the 1492 fall of al-Andalus, after which Muslim works were translated and led in part to The Renaissance revival of Classical works, using improved methods, although the Muslims themselves were no longer using these methods in their daily life at all.


The ending portion of the quote, concerning the impact on the Renaissance, is quite interesting in my view.

It would appear that the Turks are attempting to revive this approach to Islamic reasoning, and I applaud them for it.

BrianIs :) AtYou

PS

http://www.irshadmanji.com/

Article from SF Gate on Irshad Manji

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:36 am 
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This is difficult for me to understand. The Vatican altering Catholic doctrine is one thing, but the US altering it would be another. How is this significant outside of Turkey?

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:42 am 
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Holbytla wrote:
This is difficult for me to understand. The Vatican altering Catholic doctrine is one thing, but the US altering it would be another. How is this significant outside of Turkey?


There is no concept of separation of church and state in Islam.

Regardless, the publication of such a reform could lead others to do the same, whether the initial source of that change were the state of Turkey or any other source. The source just happens to be the state of Turkey, which has a recent history of secularism (for an Islamic country) and which may have some political motivations, such as joining the EU.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:45 am 
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Thank you for that information, Brian. I was hoping a knowledgeable person would be able to shed some light on this.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:53 am 
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I understand the church and state being essentially the same entity, so this is like the first stone and other countries could follow. I'm wondering how much weight this carries with the other nations and if in turn there could be repercussions both in country and from abroad. How prominent is Turkey in the Islam community and is this likely to have a major impact?

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 1:45 am 
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Holbytla wrote:
This is difficult for me to understand. The Vatican altering Catholic doctrine is one thing, but the US altering it would be another. How is this significant outside of Turkey?


Well, if you go back a few years (to 325 A.D.), the Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea to settle Christian theological issues. That had some impact.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 3:51 am 
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To put it mildly.

I am just wondering what the reaction of other Islamic states will be.

This is in the context of knowing (having studied) what a long, bloody, agonizing conflict the Protestant Reformation led to.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 5:32 am 
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It's a step along a necessary road.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:29 am 
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So was the Protestant Reformation, but it was still a long, bad time.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:34 am 
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Wow I'm surprised (but quite glad) that there is already a thread about this topic! I just read about it today.

I agree with Brian :). Even though I personally have issues with Irshad Manji and what she has said she makes some decent points when it comes to ijtihad. Ijtihad was indeed a prominent part of Islamic theology during the 'golden age' but sadly fell out of favor. That said it was always well learned and versed scholars that did ijtihad and not your common Muslim (I for one am in no state right now to come anywhere near performing my own ijtihad). Serious ijtihad by learned Western Muslim scholars is what I (and many of my friends) believe is quite necessary in today's day and age. Indeed there have been several Muslim scholars who have engaged in ijtihad recently and I for one am extremely glad that they are doing so. An example would be Tariq Ramadan (I have attached an article by him below).

Now what do I think about this particular case of ijtihad? Well to be honest I am in some ways wary of it. In general I am wary of governmental organizations' conclusions and deductions simply because of the obvious fact that they have a political agenda of their own. That said I am glad for this because I believe that it opens the door for even more ijtihad and pluralism (something I am a strong advocate for).

In general Turkey's government does not have the best reputation among other Muslim Majority countries (many people see the government as not only secular but also somewhat anti-Islam which is something hard to refute with issues such a the ban of the hijab in universities are on the news). That said I don't think many governments will really make a big deal out of this issue either.

Quote:
The way toward Radical Reform
Tariq Ramadan

For decades reform has been on the agenda in the Muslim world. Everywhere things are changing and Muslims are struggling to respond to new challenges. Fierce debates have arisen between those who want reform and those who argue that it will mean either a betrayal of the principles of Islam or a dangerous westernization. Though we face deep and alarming crises of religion, of science, of politics and of economics, as well as a crisis of identity, the differences between us over what we should do seem intractable.

Central to our debate is the concept of ijtihâd, which means the critical reading of the key Muslim textual sources - the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions, known as the Sunna. Through ijtihâd we ought to be able to sustain a historically grounded approach to these sources while at the same time employing human creativity to respond to the particular problems of our age.

Yet so grave is our crisis that there is now a breakdown in Muslim thought in fields as essential as education, science, democratisation and respect for fundamental human rights. Why are we unable to move forward? And how can we extricate ourselves from this downward spiral?

Part of the problem is that Muslim scholars agree neither on the definitions nor on the interpretation of a number of concepts that are central to Islamic terminology. Take sharia. Literalists and traditionalists view sharia as a body of law that forms a closed, timeless universe opposed to any evolution or any reading that takes history into account.

Many reformists, conversely, define sharia as the "the path of fidelity to the principles of Islam". They believe that the fields of creed and religious observance are distinct from those of social affairs: in the former the prescriptions of the Qur’an and hadith are immutable; in the latter, they should work in tandem with human rationality.

The reformist trend is present in virtually all Muslim communities, yet the results of reform in the past century have been unsatisfactory. This reflects a deficiency in the reformist approach itself. For decades we have studied the writings of reforming scholars who re-examined the texts and offered new interpretations, but this approach has proved too reactive. By its nature, work that is oriented exclusively toward the texts struggles to keep pace with emerging situations.

Our scholars lack the necessary deep understanding of the complex issues of the modern world with which their judgements must deal.

Though they speak about economy, natural and social science, they have in fact little to offer in any of these fields. When they pronounce on current matters their rulings often contradict one another, and we are unable to decide which of them is best qualified. To make matters worse, they jealously guard their authority in religious prescription (fatwâ). When, for example, specialists in the so-called "profane" sciences try to assist in formulating contemporary Muslim jurisprudence, their efforts are often resented as dangerous intrusions. Though they may have relevant expertise, unless they are specialists in Islamic law they find their opinions dismissed. This is where the need for radical reform is greatest.

Our task is to shift the centre of gravity back to the fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence. For the texts are not the only normative references in Islamic law. The universe - the "book of the world", to use the expression of the great scholar al Ghazali - represents a source equal to the texts. Instead of being pushed to the margin, scholars and specialists in applied sciences and social sciences must become important contributors to contemporary Islamic ethics.

Their mastery of contemporary knowledge positions them eminently to guide the religious scholars’ deliberations, and to produce a transformative, ethically-driven reform rather than the necessity-driven adaptations of today.

Textual interpretation specialists, though their competence is beyond dispute, do not have exclusive ownership of ijtihâd. They must be joined at the table by women and men versed in other fields who can help find new directions for reform that are both faithful to Islamic principles and fully engaged with the issues of the day.

We desperately need spaces for ijtihâd that reconcile ordinary Muslims with their references by restoring their right to speak, their competences and their authority. The tasks at hand are immense: promoting a critical spirit and educational reform; developing a Islamic ethics of science; proposing alternatives in global economics; transforming the status of women in Muslim communities; creating civic societies and managing violence.

To achieve the radical reform we need and hope for, we must shift the centre of gravity away from the religious scholars and back to the centre of the Islamic universe. All must participate and each individual’s conscience must awaken. Alongside our scholars of the texts, in other words, we need scholars of the contexts.

The role of the West and its intellectuals is important: in their questions, their constructive criticisms, their ability to listen to the multiplicity of Muslim voices (and not only those that please them) they can become partners in our revolution. In this dynamic, all parties will discover shared values. Though we may not all walk together on the same path, we can and must commit together to making this world better, together. We do not want modernization without soul or values; we want ethical reform. We want to transform the world in the name of the justice and human dignity that, sadly, are often forgotten in the current inhumane global (dis)order.


Edited in order to clarify a statement


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 1:44 pm 
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The parallel to the Protestant Reformation is striking- in that Luther and his successors also maintaned that the individual believer had the right and duty to read and interpret scripture for himself: the complete opposite of course of the top-down theology the Church had evolved. This is of course not a perfect parallel, since as I understand it it's not everyday lay Muslims who are concerned, and the 'Authority' is not a present infallible Vatican but the infallible doctrines of long-dead scholars, but the parallel is nonetheless there.

There is however a significant difference between the Christian experience and the Muslim situation, other than in Kemalist Turkey: the notion of Church and State being separate entities. This was *not* invented by Jefferson, or Montesqieu, or Luther, but in fact goes back to the very beginning: while the late-Roman and medieval Church may often have been allied with the State, and officially endorsed or 'established' thereby, it was always separate, pursuing its own agenda, and in most Western countries maintaining its own parallel laws and courts. Various kings and Emperors spent most of their reigns trying to assert control over prelates whose first loyalty was to Rome, not the secular authority.


Historical question: can the shift in Islamic theology be connected to the destruction of the last generally-accepted Caliphate by the Mongols?


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