osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Turkish Reformation? Something of an Overstatement I Think.

I will actually leave it to fatlefty as having greater expertise than I, but acrobatty sent me a link to this post over at Making Light about Turkey's purported intent to issue its own authoritative version of the Hadith.

While Turkey's actions (if accurately reported)are potentially significant, they are nowhere near as radical or revolutionary as the Making Light post suggests. Why not? Long and below the cut.

What the author of the Making Light article appears utterly unaware of is that the question of the authenticity of each Hadith is an inherent part of Islamic scholarship. Indeed, in its rush to overstate what Turkey is purportedly doing, they portray a rather profound historic and cultural ignorance that prompts some extremely unjustified overstatements about Turkey and the nature of the religion. So while the story is indeed quite interesting and with potentially very significant implications, it has been unduly sensationalized to the point of obscuring and distorting what should be an important discussion.

Lets start with some intro. A Hadith is a story from the life of Mohammad (usually just referred to as The Prophet) that illustrates a principle or jurisprudential idea. Originally oral, Islamic scholars began collecting Hadiths in approximately the Ninth century.

Critically, and what Making Light (on the apparent authority of the BBC) completely ignores Islamic Scholars have always questioned the lineage and authority of a-Hadith. To read Making Light, you'd think there was The Great Big Book 'O Hadiths that every Islamic Scholar recognized as authentic for centuries until the Turkish government came along. This is utter nonsense. Worse, it shows a complete and profund ignorance of the Islamic jurisprudential process.

There are a set of collections of a-hadith viewed by the Sunni schools as authoritative. But all Hadith in these collections have been studied and evaluated over the centuries in terms of their isnad. The isnad is the purported chain of transmission. Disputes over the authenticity of specific Hadith, and what applicable lesson to draw from the applicable Haddith, is major grist for the mills of dispute between the four major schools of Sunni Islam, the Shia, and other groups in Islam such as Sufis. Hadith fall along a range from those regarded by nearly all serious scholars as authentic stories of the Prophet transmitted faithfully through an acknowledged line to those regarded by nearly all major scholars as being obvious forgeries and folk religion grafted on by the ignorant or for political purposes. And then there is the enormous range in between.

Now I confess, I'm having a difficult time not throwing in a lot of Hebrew and Aramaic in describing this, because there are significant similarities to a number of traditional Jewish halachic concepts. We have in the compilation of our various oral traditions a range of materials from those acknowledged by all traditional sources as given to Moses orally at Mt. Sinai to those acknowledged as being the outcome of jurisprudential rulings to principles apparently derived from Biblical law via the recognized tools of halachic interpretation. These, in turn, are frequently illustrated by recorded "ma'aseh" stories. Stories describing the behavior of notable sages that would appear to confirm or contradict a particular discussion. The Gemorah, a later compilation, can go on for pages speculating about chains of transmission and apparent contradictions between the stated position of a party and a recorded ma'aseh apparently demonstrating the opposite view.

So the notion of a complex chain of recorded oral traditions subject to debate is not foreign to me, and the idea of re-examining these from time to time hardly constitutes, in the words of the article "recreating Islam." Or, at least, I would withhold judgment until the actual collection comes out and Islamic scholars from Sunni and Shia schools have a chance to opine on whether the tools of scholarship used are within the bounds of tradition and/or contribute to the debate.

Of course, all of this takes place against a backdrop of Turkey as a country with a strong secular tradition since the days of Ataturk, vigorously defended and enforced by the military. That the project was begun before the current Justice Party (which is moderately religious) came to power, and therefore will be regarded by other Islamic schools with suspicion. But it does not advance our understanding of complex religious issues in other countries to uncritically rebroadcast and reenforce sensationalist BBC coverage that is in itself politically motivated.
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