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.


Is there a liberal, secular, tolerant Muslim country?

February 1, 2008

There is disagreement over whether Islam is really compatible with Western values of freedom, tolerance, and secular government. One piece of evidence for this would be if, out of about 50 Muslim majority countries, there were any sizable countries which demonstrated values comparable to those found commonly in the West. Let’s look at several which are frequently put forward as shining examples of secularism, freedom and tolerance: Turkey, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Turkey

Christianity Today reports three Christians who were brutally tortured and murdered in April, 2007, by Muslims who had asked to meet with the victims in order to “learn more about the Bible.” According to reports published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, there have been attacks on priests including one murder in 2006. Genocide Watch cites beatings, death threats, police brutality, and other anti-Christian behaviors. From time to time, missionaries are arrested or deported, even though missionary activity is ostensibly legal. Niyazi Guney, Ministry of Justice director general of laws, has commented that “Missionaries are more dangerous than terror organizations.” Since religious minorities compose less than 1 percent of the Turkish population, and there are many instances of Muslim intolerance even with so few minorities, one wonders what things would be like with more.

Bangladesh

The Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities” lists many instances of intolerance and persecution toward religious minorities in Bangladesh. For example, Christians are savagely beaten. 10,000 Hindus live in fear of eviction. Rapes of minority Hindu women occurring on a daily basis could arguably be considered genocidal; little girls, pregnant women, and the elderly are not spared. According to Amnesty International, human rights defenders are under attack in Bangladesh. At least 500,000 minorities have been displaced within Bangladesh, in addition to hundreds of thousands who have fled the country, since October 2001. The indigenous Jummas of the Chittagong Hills Tract region of Bangladesh have, over the past 40 years, faced forcible conversion to Islam, religious persecution, arrests, tortures, abductions, and massacres. In 1947, 38 percent of the region that is now Bangladesh were non-Muslim; now it’s down to 8 percent.

Malaysia

Malaysian authorities recently confiscated Christian children’s books. Malaysia is now refusing to issue new visas for prists. They have given foreign priests already there a six month renewal, and told them they must leave after their visas expire. Ethnic Malays in Malaysia are required by law to be Muslim, and those who leave Islam may be jailed. In 2006, Malaysia banned the distribution of the infamous Mohammed cartoons.

Indonesia

In June, 2007, three Sunday school teachers were released after two years in jail. They had allowed some Muslim children to attend a program with the full consent of their parents. According to a report by Bishop Martinus Situmorang, 108 Christian churches have been closed in Indonesia due to Islamic pressure from 2004 through 2007. Asia News reports “Indonesian authorities have prevented the parish priest of Christ’s Peace Church in South Duri (West Jakarta) from celebrating mass.” According to Indonesia Matters, the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, a peaceful sect which believes there was a prophet named “Mirza Ghulam Ahmad” after Mohammed, has agreed to say they believe that Mohammed was the final prophet after all, in order to avoid being banned. Why would a peaceful sect be banned in a secular country? Also from Indonesia Matters, “Indonesia remains on the ‘Watch List’ in the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom report for 2006.”

Conclusions

The fact is, the four Muslim majority countries that are regularly touted as the most secular, tolerant, and free continue to have major problems with religious persecution. In addition, these four countries are among the least orthodox, but they are on a trajectory of becoming more orthodox, which probably means things will get worse. The rest of the Muslim world, in general, has even less religious freedom. (The possible exceptions are Senegal and Mali, two unorthodox West African nations with populations of around 12 million each, who have thus far mostly escaped the Islamist trend.) This is something for us to think about, as the Islamists have designs for making every Western country Islamic, as well. It that what we want?