June 1, 2013


Turkey presents Prophet's sayings for the 21st Century (Tom Heneghan, May 22, 2013, Reuters)

Digests of selected hadiths are nothing new in Islam. Scholars have produced them for centuries to help Muslims learn about the Prophet's sayings without having to navigate through the long and sometimes confusing classical compilations.

What makes this one different is that it selects and explains the hadiths from the perspective of today's Turkey, whose mix of a secular state, dynamic economy and Muslim society has aroused considerable interest in the Middle East since the Arab Spring revolts two years ago.

A senior religious official in Egypt, where traditional Islamic scholars, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafis differ over key issues in the faith, said the hadith collection could bring a new perspective to the debate.

"Among intellectuals in Egypt, there is a welcome for this new interpretation which they think is very important for the Arab world to be exposed to," said Ibrahim Negm, advisor to Egypt's grand mufti, the highest Islamic legal authority there.

The hadith project first attracted attention in 2008 when the BBC called it "a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion."

Diyanet, Turkey's top Islamic authority, called this and other reports "entirely wrong" and based on Christian misreading of Islamic practice. Media interest dropped off and the project went ahead, leaving scholars abroad wondering what to expect.

What has emerged is a seven-volume encyclopaedia of what its authors considered the most important hadiths. Grouped according to subjects, they are followed by short essays that explain the sayings in their historical context and what they mean today.

The collection is the first by Turkey's "Ankara School" of theologians who in recent decades have reread Islamic scriptures to extract their timeless religious message from the context of 7th-century Arab culture in which they arose.

Unlike many traditional Muslim scholars, these theologians work in modern university faculties and many have studied abroad to learn how Christians analyse the Bible critically.

They subscribe to what they call "conservative modernity," a Sunni Islam true to the faith's core doctrines but without the strictly literal views that ultra-orthodox Muslims have been promoting in other parts of the Islamic world.

Another illustration of the iron law of unintended consequences.
Posted by at June 1, 2013 7:55 AM

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