Turkish hadith project presents Prophet Mohammad’s sayings for the 21st Century
Scholars around the Muslim world were alarmed five years ago by news reports that Turkey planned a new, possibly heretical compilation of the Prophet Mohammad’s sayings that might scrap those it thought were out of date.
Turkish religious leaders and theologians received anxious calls asking about Western media reports they would edit a “radical” new set of hadiths, scriptures that are second only to the Koran in Islam. “Will you write a new Koran next?” one irate Arab scholar asked a baffled Turkish academic.
The new work, finally ready after six years in the making, is nothing like the 95 Theses in which Martin Luther condemned practices in the Roman Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation.
Instead, its 100 authors have selected a few hundred of the about 17,000 reported quotes from Mohammad to examine Islamic views on God, faith and life in terms that the average modern Turk can understand.
“We don’t live in the 20th century anymore,” said Mehmet Ozafsar, director of the project and vice-president of Ankara’s Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, a state agency. “We needed a new work with Islamic beliefs in the perspective of today’s culture.”
The hadiths record Mohammad’s words and acts during his life. Preachers and jurists use them to understand the Koran and support Muslim teachings and fatwas (religious edicts) on all aspects of life, from prayer to education for women.
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.