Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Genuine or Political: Turkey's radical revision of Islamic texts

From the BBC online: Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

This article on the BBC website was quite a jolt for me this morning. Turkey occupies an important place in the Muslim world, and in the world in general. Being at the fault line between the East and the West, belonging to Europe (and NATO) with EU aspirations on one hand, and being governed by a democratically elected Islamic party on the other hand. Turkey has close to 75 million people, 99% of them are Muslims, and 30% of the population is under age 15. It is a country that that has a growing strategic influence for many decades to come.
There is a definite revival in Islamic spirit in Turkey, as evident by the recent lifting of the ban on Islamic head cover in state universities, which - believe it or not - required a constitutional amendment to be lifted. But the country is still very secular, and a significant portion of its practicing Muslims see no contradiction between strongly believing in Islam and practicing it on one hand, while fully supporting a secular mode of governance for the state on the other hand.
Turkey also occupies a big place in Islamic history, being the headquarter of the last transnational Islamic state (Ottoman Caliphates).
That is why reading this article on the BBC was quite interesting for me.

There is no doubt in my mind that Muslims for 1500 years have had different approaches to the understanding of the same religious text. That is why we see so many ways of implementation of Islam that varies by geographic location.
At least in some case, one may find that the daily life, moral values, and cultural norms in one Muslim group more similar to those of non-Muslims living in the same geographic location, than to Muslims in a remote country on a different continent, even though both communities are predominantly Muslim.
That is not necessarily bad. Islam is strong yet flexible enough to accommodate to peoples across different culture and over many centuries of history. This is almost a prerequisite for any successful ideology. A space-age scientist in cutting edge high-tech lab in California can be a proud and a practicing Muslims. An illiterate cattle herder in the middle of a small village in central Africa or Afghanistan can be also a proud and a practicing Muslims. They both can get together, share in performing the rituals, and enjoy and learn a great deal form listening to the Quran, and at the end they each can go back where they live and work and carry on with there lives.

My point is that prevalent culture has always colored what we individually think Islam is. Many of us, Muslims, think that we know THE ONLY WAY to practice properly, while we actually only know how we were raised (or taught) to practice. This invasion of prevalent culture into religious thinking and interpretation leads to many problems, with 'cultural baggage' that gets stuck to Islam and makes it difficult to reconcile our differences withing the Muslim community, and more importantly, it confuses the non-Muslim world as to what Islam really is.

Now back to the article. I truly hope that such academic effort is conducted with utmost consideration for the spirit of Islam, and with truth seeking as the ONLY motive behind it. But I also cannot help get worried a bit because we keep hearing the words 'reforming Islam' coming from individuals and groups that are also explicitly islamophobic and inherently hostile to Islam and Muslims. It is frequently the code word for those who believe Islam is genuinely evil, but talking about reforming it seems more politically correct than suggesting to throw it all away.
I cannot imaging the Turkish researchers belong to the latter, so i am hopeful.
I do believe Islamic thinking needs revitalization, and that serious effort is needed to strip Islam (the religion) from the dead weight (cultural baggage) that associates with it more frequently than not. Local culture and societal traditions are valuable. they tell us a lot about who we are. And, as long as they do not contradict with core Islamic beliefs, they are totally acceptable. But they should never sneak on us to become part of our religious beliefs.

And as for judging the effort by Turkish scholars, I will wait until the document mentioned in the article is out there for all of us to see.

Click below to read the BBC article:
Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

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