I’m in Istanbul this week for a few stories. The first one, about how Turkey’s political crisis has put a trend towards a more liberal stand on religious freedom on hold, has just run on the Reuters wire (click here for full text).
Perhaps the most influential Islamic leader that most non-Muslims have never heard of is a Turkish preacher named Fethullah Gülen. Now living in the United States, he stands at the head of a broad movement that runs schools in Turkey and abroad as well as businesses and a publishing empire. His group also actively conducts dialogue with other religions. His supporters praise him as an important modern and moderate Muslim thinker, but some people in Turkey suspect he is trying to infiltrate the secular state there.
Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam, has preached a message of religious freedom as a way to expand liberties for believers in the officially secular country. It has assured the European Union it would respect freedoms for religious minorities. There has been some progress for minorities, but it is halting. The government’s focus seems to be more on assuring religious rights for pious Sunni Muslims, as in ending of the university headscarf ban. Religious minorities still face an uphill struggle to practice as they see fit.
Remember Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, the lavishly illustrated Islamic creationist book that first turned up in Turkey, then France and other European countries and prompted a disapproving resolution by the Council of Europe? It’s now being mailed to universities in Scotland, the Sunday Herald there reports:
German soccer blogs are not a place I usually go to for a story about religion, but an interesting one has popped up on the forum of the Eintracht Frankfurt team. The team let its fans vote over the Internet late last year to pick a 2008/2009 season jersey among 16 proposed models. Despite the fans’ enthusiasm for this innovation, Eintracht has ignored the result and chosen to use the runner-up design. As the team explained on its website:
Following up our blogs on the Turkish project to revise the hadith, we have interviewed Professor Mehmet Gormez, vice-president of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet. We also have the transcript of the interview as follows, translated from Turkish:
Forgive me for returning to the listening theme about the Turkish hadith reform story, but there are now two audio clips out there that help in understanding it. This also gives me the opportunity for a headline that plays on that crucial reporting rule of thumb from one of my favourite aphorists, Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just looking.”*
Still confused about Turkey’s plan to review the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad and reclassify the sexist and superstitious ones as unauthentic? Unsure whether this is a revolution, a reform or a revision of Islam? I gave my take on it here yesterday, but I’ve since found two explanations that shed a lot more light on what’s going on. The better of the two is a column in today’s Turkish Daily News by Mustafa Akyol, a young Istanbul journalist with a knack for explaining Turkish Islam clearly. I won’t summarise it — just go read it, it’s not long.
Ali Bardakoglu, Turkey’s top religious official, says his country’s effort to purge the hadith of sexism and superstition is not an attempt to reform Islam but to change the Turkish way of practising it. This reform project hit the headlines this week when the BBC ran a story on what it called “a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion“. It said the revision of the hadith, the collection of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad that are second only to the Koran as an authority for Muslims, was something akin to a Protestant Reformation in Islam.
It started as a women’s protest for the right to wear Muslim headscarves at university, in this case at Marmara University in Istanbul. Then the men showed up with their banners and megaphones, lined up in front of the cameras and began speaking in place of the women. That left the ladies standing demurely on the sidelines or in the crowd, all decked out with their bright silk scarves with nothing to do but clap at what the men said.