Revolutionary Revision of the Hadith in Turkey?

February 28, 2008

[Update: Reports of Turkey's revision plans may have been exaggerated.]

According to the BBC, Turkey’s “Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith….” The Hadith are oral traditions about Mohammed and his cohorts, certain collections of which are generally regarded as sacred by Muslims. Here are a few noteworthy items:

  • The Turks apparently want the Hadith to support their efforts at creating a modern, secular democracy.
  • They are claiming that in their reform, they are actually returning to an original Islam (a claim which may be subject to debate).
  • They are rejecting the doctrine of abrogation (later, violent verses of the Quran replacing the earlier, peaceful verses).
  • They want to end Islamic justification for honor killings and female genital mutilation.
  • It is theoretically possible their efforts could result in a radically reformed version of Sharia, or even an official doctrine of non-Sharia. We’ll see.
  • This is the only instance I’m aware of in which Muslims with this degree of official authority have admitted problems within Islam to this extent. This in itself is a welcome step in the right direction.

And here are some issues that are not discussed in this article:

  • Time will tell how the rest of the Muslim world will respond to this reform. Let’s not expect a sudden utopia.
  • Their reform may turn out to be a worthwhile one, we don’t know yet. However, even if it does, it is quite possible that it will be used by Islamists as taqiyya. The Islamists can say, “See! Sharia’s not so bad,” to sell the West on Sharia, and then do “bait and switch” on us. We need to stay vigilant with those pesky Islamists (or, more accurately, we need to become vigilant in the first place.)
  • From this article, it is difficult to see how their approach can neutralize the many problems in the Quran, such as the calls for Jihad, Jizya tax (extra tax on non-Muslims), and massive Jew hatred.

It is good to see a sign of progress, even if it’s too soon to break out the champagne.


Which Is the Best Solution to Islamo-Fascism: Reform or Apostasy?

January 29, 2008

As I see it, there are three main options for peace- and freedom-minded Muslims to respond to Islamo-Fascism: to ignore or deny it and hope it goes away; to reform Islam into a personal religion with no political component; or to leave Islam. Since ignoring the problem is so obviously doomed to failure, I’ll focus on reform vs. apostasy. Ultimately, this choice is up to Muslims; non-Muslims have choices of their own for responding to Islamo-Fascism. However, non-Muslims can have an opinion on the subject, especially since Islamo-Fascism infringes upon non-Muslim rights. The ideal would be to eliminate Islamo-Fascism in whatever way is most effective both in the short-term and long-term, while minimizing violence.

On the plus side for reform: if a version of Islam were developed with a compelling, comprehensive rejection of all fascist ideologies, it’s possible it could be easier to get large numbers of Muslims to join such a reform rather than to leave Islam altogether. It may be more comfortable for them to preserve the familiarity of the mosques, prayer rugs, five pillars, etc. However, on the minus side, it is difficult to believe the fascist tendencies of Islam could be altogether removed in such a way that they couldn’t come right back at any time. So, it’s possible that reform would result in Islamic Jihad and Islamic Supremacy going dormant, rather than disappearing forever. This could give the non-Muslim world a false sense of security, and it might even speed up conversions to Islam, which would then come back to haunt us at such time in the future that Islamo-Fascism reawakens.

At first glance, the idea of an apostasy movement may be tougher for large numbers of Muslims to get on board with. However, since any meaningful reform of Islam is tantamount to apostasy, according to orthodox Islam, perhaps a complete apostasy wouldn’t really be that much harder. Apostasy also seems like a more permanent solution, in that changing religious identity to a different religion creates something of a “firewall” between the ex-Muslim and Islamo-Fascism. It also seems like it would be more durable from one generation to the next. Some liberal Muslim parents have been appalled that their children became radicalized Muslims; that scenario would be less likely with ex-Muslim parents. However, if the apostasy movement does not gain some serious momentum, those advantages will not be enough to avert an unpleasant future.

Why not both?

I find that many people who write about Islamo-Fascism choose one solution or the other to support (and some are quite hard-line about it). However, I don’t see reform and apostasy as mutually exclusive. At this point, I think it’s useful for reformers, apostates, and non-Muslims to all work toward solutions, even different solutions, with the common goal of freeing the world from Islamo-Fascism. A reform movement and apostasy movement might even complement each other: if people are leaving Islam in significant numbers, this loss of “market share” could make orthodox Muslims more open to reform. If Muslims are becoming less orthodox, it could make it easier for them to leave the religion altogether. Both solutions are about introducing freedom of conscience to the Muslim world. And, both solutions benefit from well-reasoned criticism of Islamo-Fascist doctrines, which is where non-Muslims could be doing more to help.

Neither apostasy nor reform has much of a track record of working against Islamo-Fascism. However, we are in a new era which may change the rules in favor of peace and freedom, if we take advantage of the opportunity. With the help of the Internet and modern standards of individual rights and freedoms, maybe one or both will be successful this time.

Because both reformers and outspoken apostates are in considerable danger, it seems that either solution is greatly helped by the ability to speak freely and anonymously over the internet, which we have at least for now. This is an opportunity that has never before been available to a reform or apostasy movement of Islam. However, some people are trying very hard to end this opportunity. Whatever we do, let’s not allow this window of opportunity to close.


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part VII: Conclusions

January 25, 2008

This is the final installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

There may be additional challenges I haven’t listed here. Despite the extreme challenges, there are some individuals and groups out there trying to reform Islam. Every person who tries to advance a meaningful reform of Islam is risking his life to do so, and I consider each one a hero, whether I fully agree with his approach or not. I can only hope that, if I had been born Muslim, I would act as honorably as these people do. I will again give special mention to the monumental endeavor made by Muslims Against Sharia. They are going the farthest of any Muslim reform group I’m aware of to abolish the fascist doctrines. Even so, it is not at all guaranteed that they will succeed, but at least they are making an honest effort. Unexpected things can happen, and sometimes unexpected good things do, especially when the alternative is grim. I wish them well.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part VI: Muslim Culture

January 25, 2008

This is the sixth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Muslim Culture. Besides the religious doctrines, Islam also has a culture which has been influenced by those doctrines, but is really a separate item, with several components. For example, Islam is an honor/shame-based culture, meaning that having a good image is of primary importance. This makes it difficult to admit to problems. In addition, honesty is not an absolute virtue in Islam; there are various exceptions to the rule. The combination of an honor/shame orientation and excuses for dishonesty creates a strong tendency to blame others for problems, which we often see in practice today. Blaming others for problems created by self is a sure way NOT to solve the problems.

Also, it is psychologically difficult for Muslims to accept a “demotion” from being superior (according to Islamic law and tradition) to being no better than the low-class dhimmis or the unclean kafirs. And, many Muslims strongly identify with Islam, making it more difficult for individuals to change their beliefs.

In addition to the purely psychological factors, there’s also real danger: Sharia’s draconian punishment for apostasy has also created a culture that is dangerous to reformers, as orthodox Muslims can label any attempt at reform as being an act of apostasy, carrying the penalty of death.

How to overcome this challenge:

This is a tough set of issues, but it must be addressed. As long as Muslims cling to the idea that Islam is the world’s most perfect religion, and that all the world’s problems result from Jewish conspiracies, Western imperialism, and whatnot, nothing will change.

First, honor and shame can be redefined. “Real honor comes from admitting ones own faults.” “People who blame others for their own faults should be ashamed of themselves.” This message would be more effective coming from Muslims, and there are a few who do put out messages along these lines. We need to support them. Let’s not expect immediate results, but a sustained effort could eventually make a difference. When Muslims blame others for problems that are obviously their own responsibility, the rest of the world should not buy into it.

In addition, the Muslims’ extreme aversion to shame can be utilized by criticizing the problems within Islam and expressing outrage at barbaric Islamic practices every chance we get. If they really get the message that others see Islam’s fascist doctrines as shameful, and honor is heaped upon those who are sincerely trying to reform those doctrines, we could start to see some real change.

This isn’t about using a “gimmick”, it’s just telling the truth. The truth really could set us free, if only we were willing to tell it. This is the opposite from what the PC crowd says would be effective, but for the past thousand years the Islamic world has gotten by with little or no challenge, and what has that yielded? Stagnation and misery. If we really care about Muslims, we’ll give them what they most need: a good dose of honesty. It’s painful, but it’s about the only thing that has a chance of helping them. The serious reformers, by and large, know this already, and they’re the ones we should be allying ourselves with.

Shame can also be utilized to make it easier for Muslims to accept the “demotion” from superiority to equality with others. We need to condemn supremacist doctrines, including Islamic supremacy, as shameful.

Shame is one thing that does actually have a track record for bringing about change in the Muslim world. There have been various examples of <a href=”http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/019017.php”<atrocities averted due to criticism from the West. Since we know shame works, and there’s so little that does, it would be foolish not to use it.

Note to PC crowd: Criticizing fascist doctrines of Islam (Jihad and Sharia) is not hate. If we hated Muslims, we’d allow these doctrines to grow unchallenged until the only possible effective response is a military one. I don’t believe we’re there yet, but the PC mentality is allowing us to drift closer to it. The first victims of Islamo-Fascism are Muslims; if we care about them, we’ll do what it takes to spare them from it.

Of course, we can expect a violent response to truthful messages, because Muslims have found violence very effective for getting their way. Think of a two year old. If they throw a tantrum and get what they want, what will happen next time? A responsible parent has to ride out the tantrum, lovingly yet firmly. Otherwise the two year old will soon be running the household, which is what we are already on a slippery slope toward. Many people believe Western culture will inevitably prevail because it is more sophisticated, forgetting the power of a two year old. We’ll have the fewest tantrums–er, the least violence–in the long run if we don’t reward it.

Making a distinction between Islamic doctrines and Muslim individuals is also useful. Muslims in general identify so strongly with Islam that they may not hear this message for a long time, but eventually it may sink in. Muslims will not be able to conceive of changing Islam until they develop their own identity, separate from Islam.

As for the danger factor, as with so many of these challenges, there’s no easy solution. However, at the very least, we who live in the relative safety of the West should be handing microphones to the brave Muslims and ex-Muslims who are willing to risk their necks to call for an Islamic reformation, rather than lavishing our attention on those who merely defend the status quo. If we even understood the danger factor better, perhaps we’d be more willing to lift a finger to amplify the effect of those few who are undeterred by death threats.

Part VII of this series will offer conclusions.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part IV: Sharia

January 23, 2008

This is the fourth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Sharia. Islamic Law, or Sharia, is recorded in various legal manuals. Sharia is based on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma (consensus of previous Islamic legal scholars, considered to be infallible). The problems with Sharia are obvious from the examples here.

How to overcome this challenge:

Sharia depends on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma. Parts of Sharia, such as the Jizya tax and Jihad fighting, are explicitly called for in the Quran. Just as the Quran is more challenging to reform than the Hadith and Sira, aspects of Sharia based on the Quran are more difficult to deal with than the others.

However, the concept of the infallibility of ijma appears to have scant support from the Quran. Cited in Reliance of the Traveller (pgs. 24-25), there’s a verse which tells believers to obey “those in authority” among them (4:59), and another which threatens believers who do not follow “the believer’s way” (4:115). Then there are some supportive Hadith, which say things like “when the believers are in agreement, they cannot be wrong” and so forth.

Unless there is more support for ijma than what’s listed in this legal manual, it would not have to be difficult to reinterpret this in a credible fashion (at least, in comparison to the difficulties faced with the other challenges). There is a long tradition of ijma, it is highly influential to this day, but its foundation appears to be pretty weak. “Those in authority” could be secular leaders, “the believer’s way” could be reinterpreted any number of ways, and “when the believers are in agreement” could be reinterpreted more literally as a consensus of every single believer, rather than a consensus of a few scholars in the distant past. With “ijma” redefined, all the rulings of the four schools of Sharia could be reevaluated. (Ultimately, it seems the best thing would be to abolish Sharia altogether, but this could be one step in that direction.)

It would also not be difficult to make the case that none of the Hadith are sufficiently reliable to be used as a basis for law. Joseph Schacht, a great Islamicist, found evidence that “[d]etails from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines.” [Quote from The Origins of the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq, page 23.] Schacht also found that for the most part, Sharia was not derived from the Quran.

Another piece of “good news” is that the death penalty for apostasy is never explicitly given in the Quran, but is hinted at there, with more substantiation from the Hadith, and “locked in” by ijma. This does not mean this death penalty would be easy to get rid of in practice, because the tradition is deeply in-grained. Still, any good news, however small, is worth noting. Reforming this one aspect of Islam, if achievable on a large scale, could make a huge difference. Some Muslims make a good case that the death penalty for apostates is “un-Islamic” in theory, although so far as I know, significant numbers of clerics have not gotten on that bandwagon. While cheering on the reformers, it is important for us non-Muslims in the west to be realistic about the current state of things, as well.

Part V of this series will examine historical evidence of Arab conquest.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part III: The Sira

January 20, 2008

This is the third installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: The Sira. “Sira” means “life” or “journey”, and the Sira are biographies of Mohammed. Like the Hadith, these are also based on oral traditions, but the Sira are different in that they are written as a continuous narrative, with events placed in sequence. The first and most important biography, Sirat Rasul Allah, was written by Ibn Ishaq just over a century after Mohammed’s death, well before the first Hadith collection. This makes it arguably the most reliable Muslim version of events, as written traditions are more durable than oral ones. No original manuscript of Ibn Ishaq’s Surat exists today, but Ibn Hisham’s edited version remains. Ibn Hisham said in his introduction, “I have omitted things which are disgraceful to discuss and matters which would distress certain people.” It’s amazing to read the whitewashed version, and wonder what could have been left out (a condensed translation is available here). Another biographer, al-Tabari, quoted extensively from Ishaq’s original manuscript in his 40-volume History, and he included some material that Ibn Hisham omitted.

There are many passages in the Sira which are problematic. Here are just a few:

Genocide: “The apostle of Allah imprisoned the Qurayza [a Jewish tribe] in Medina while trenches were dug in the market-place. Then he sent for the men and had their heads struck off so that they fell in the trenches. They were brought out in groups…. In number, they amounted to six or seven hundred, although some state it to have been eight or nine hundred. All were executed.” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 18)

Child marriage: “Since the death of Khadija, he had acquired seven wives, foremost among whom was the daughter of Abu Bakr, Aisha. She had been married to the apostle at the age of ten….” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 15) Note: Some Hadith say she was 9 when her marriage with Mohammed was consummated.

Slavery: “Now the apostle distributed the property of the Banu Qurayza, as well as their women and children, to the Muslims, reserving one-fifth for himself. Every horseman received three shares, one for himself and two for his steed, and every foot soldier one share. There were thirty-six horses present on the day of the Qurayza. The apostle dispatched an emissary to Najd with the prisoners, to barter them as slaves in exchange for horses and camels.” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 18)

How to overcome this challenge:

The same types of problems exist in the Sira as in the Hadith (see Part II), and the same types of solutions could be attempted. Scholars Caetani, Lammens and others have cast extreme doubt on the reliability of Mohammed’s entire biography.

Part IV of this series will examine Sharia.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part II: The Hadith

January 19, 2008

This is the second installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: The Hadith. The Hadith (technically, the plural is “Ahadith”) are oral traditions about the sayings and actions of Mohammed. There are thousands of Hadith, organized into collections. Six of these collections (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai, Ibn Majah, and Abu Dawood) are considered “authentic” in Sunni tradition, and are generally considered synonymous with the “Sunnah”, which means “the way of the Prophet”. About 85% of Muslims are “Sunni”, which word comes from “Sunnah”. The Shia have their Hadith, as well.

The Quran contains no biographical information about Mohammed, although it says the Messenger (Mohammed) is a good example for believers (33:21). Muslims can only find out what Mohammed’s example was through the Hadith and Sira (see Part III). In addition, the Quran gives little or no context for its verses. Again, this context has traditionally been supplied by the Hadith and Sira.

Technically, a Hadith cannot be considered to be authentic if it contradicts the Quran (although many Hadith in the authenticated collections actually do so, such as the ones attributing miracles to Mohammed). However, there are many Hadith that have been used to develop the doctrines of Sharia and Jihad. For example, the Quran has no explicit command to kill apostates, although several verses hint at it. The Hadith, on the other hand, are very explicit on the subject, and have been relied on as source material for that ruling. Here are two examples (there are also others):

Narrated Abu Burda: “….Mu’adh asked, “Who is this (man)?” Abu Muisa said, “He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.” Then Abu Muisa requested Mu’adh to sit down but Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed….” (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 58)

Narrated ‘Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'” (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57)

There are many other examples of undesirable behavior sanctioned by the Hadith, including:

Wife beating:
“Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab: The Prophet…said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.” (Abu Dawood, Book 11, Number 2142)

Torture: “Anas reported: Eight men…killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This (news) reached Allah’s Messenger…and he sent them on their track and they were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Muslim, Book 016, Number 4131)

Killing Critics: “It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah…said: Who will kill Ka’b b. Ashraf? He has maligned Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like). So, Muhammad b. Maslama came to Ka’b and talked to him, referred to the old friendship between them….So when [Ka'b] came down and he was holding his cloak under his arm, they said to him: We sense from you a very fine smell. He said: Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia. He said: Allow me to smell (the scent on your head). He said: Yes, you may smell. So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: Allow me to do so (once again). He then held his head fast and said to his companions: Do your job. And they killed him.” (Muslim, Book 019, Number 4436)

What can overcome this challenge?

The Hadith would be easier to throw out than the Quran, and some reformers advocate following the Quran only. However, to disavow the Hadith would mean that the Quran has no context, and little or nothing is known about Mohammed. It would seem that to throw out the Hadith and Sira would be to essentially throw out Mohammed, which I’m not personally averse to, although Muslims may be. The other alternative would be to create a new fairy tale about Mohammed, either by picking and choosing from the Hadith or pulling it out of thin air. It seems it would be hard to convincingly present this as more authentic than the current version, however.

For those who do want to throw out the Hadith, analysis of their origins gives supportive evidence. Various scholars have called the authenticity of numerous Hadith into question. Goldziher, for example, has demonstrated that a great number of Hadith were complete fabrications. And, so far as I know, none of the Hadith are conclusively confirmed by non-Muslim sources.

Part III of this series will examine the Sira.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


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