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Turkish Muslim Scholars Move to Reform Islam

Move likened to the Protestant Reformation. A bad comparison, in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Folks, according to the
BBC, and and various other media,

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam - and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia…

According to Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House, "this is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation. Not exactly the same, but... it's changing the theological foundations of [the] religion."

Read the entire piece here.

Commentary. Although I welcome any serious effort by Islamic authorities to shed from their religion all those practices that stifle freedom of conscience and of worship, and embrace and respect fundamental human rights and political freedoms, I am leery of comparing any such effort to the Protestant Reformation.

The operating assumption here is that before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, all was oppression and darkness and afterwards, all was sweetness and light. This assumption, mostly invented by stuffed shirts and Oxford and Cambridge dons in the 19th and 20th century is false, yet it is taken as "gospel truth" by popular culture, mainly in Protestant and post-Protestant countries.

In reality, the Reformation saw the rebirth of Christian biblical fundamentalism. The Catholic Church in Luther's time hadn't been into biblical literalism for over 1,000 years. The Renaissance's (and very Catholic) call to return
ad fontes or to the sources of classical knowledge was a very different one from the Protestant call for Sola Scriptura.

One of the first things the Protestant Reformers did was to ditch the carefully-built hermeneutical apparatus built by the Catholic Church. Free from the Catholic hermeneutics, the Reformers set out to reinterpret the Bible according to a hermeneutic that they thought arose naturally from the text. Except that there was no such thing. The big Protestant quest for an all-encompassing hermeneutic collapsed into not one, but thousands of hermeneutics, yielding an equal amount of Christian sects with competing claims for truth.

The Protestant emphasis on Scripture Alone gave birth to both the extremes of Fundamentalism – only the Bible and the Bible alone, perfect and inerrant in all its historical and scientific details, should be the rule of faith – or to relativism and indifferentism on the other. Faced with the multiplicity of claims and, finding truth nowhere, it is easy and understandable that many have become materialists/relativists/secularists. The Reformation widened the boulevard and paved the way toward the crises of modernity and post modernity, and the subsequent estrangement of faith and culture.

The Protestant Reformation also arrested the natural course the Catholic Church was following in her role as the mother of modern Western science. The Reformation led to the Church's retrenchment in areas touching upon science and culture. Under attack by the Reformers for, supposedly, not taking the Bible seriously enough, leading Church officials took a quasi-Fundamentalist view on matters related to biblical interpretation and dogmatic theology. Under this hermeneutical scheme, primacy was given to a literal reading of the Scriptures, often to the detriment of its other senses. It is in this context that the controversy involving the celebrated astronomer Galileo Galilei took place. It is safe to conclude, then, that without Luther's protest Galileo's controversy would not have taken place. It took a couple of centuries for the Church to recover her balance and the need to recapture the inquiring spirit of the Church Fathers and their approach to Holy Scripture and away from literal-grammatical interpretations.

Surely, let us support our Muslim scholar friends in their quest to update their religion in accordance to natural law—even if they don't call it that name. But let the example of the Protestant Reformation be held before not as the epitome of what they need to do to humanize their religion, but as a negative example of what can happen to them if they are not ready to overcome the black-and-white simplicity of radical Islam who, I am sure, very soon will fight off any attempt at being reduced to irrelevancy.

Labels: Interfaith Issues, Islam, News Commentary

posted by Teófilo de Jesús # 12:51 PM 

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