Harun Yahya’s Islamic creationist book pops up in Scotland

Atlas of CreationRemember 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:

“I find it quite staggering,” said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department’s staff room. “Every academic I know says they’ve got one of those. And it’s peddling an absolute, downright lie…”

According to Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in the US who has written several books on Islam and science, Oktar is “the leader of a small religious sect and an art school drop-out.”

Copies of Atlas Of Creation began appearing in American universities last year. Edis has two in his office. He said they caught academics’ eyes because of their high production value, but also because the book argued for creationism from a Muslim perspective, as opposed to the more widely heard Protestant Christian tradition.

Adnan Oktar, alias Harun YayhaThe Evangelical Church in Germany, the main Protestant church association there, issued a warning last week against teaching creationism in schools. It didn’t mention Atlas of Creation but it’s been reported to have been distributed there.

German soccer team shies away from cross on jersey

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:

The Eintracht “cross” jerseyAfter a close examination, we have decided that the winning jersey with the cross unfortunately cannot be used because the symbol on the front has a religious background. Inter Milan, an Italian club with a long tradition, has appeared in the current Champions League competition in a similar jersey and been strongly criticised for it. So after careful consideration, Eintracht Frankfurt has gone back and chosen the second jersey, which came in a close second in the vote.

The Eintracht “eagle” jerseyThe runner-up that came out on top has what Eintracht calls “hints of eagle claws on the front and a stylised eagle on the shoulder”. The city’s coat-of-arms has a red eagle that also figures on the Eintracht team logo.

Turkey explains revision of hadith project

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:

Q. What is the aim of the project?

A. The religion of Islam is based on two main sources (the Koran and the hadith). As time passes people have difficulty understanding (their religion). This is true of all religions. As the Koran is a major source of knowledge, many commentaries have been written through history. The hadith are very dispersed but also a major source. Each hadith has a reason, each hadith has a relation with culture and geography. When this is lost, it becomes hard to understand what the Prophet meant by the words used. Therefore, many efforts have been made (to explain the meaning). But in the modern world, people misinterpret this knowledge. I liken this source of knowledge (the hadith) to a pharmacy. When a person gets sick, he goes to the pharmacy and thinks that every medicine can be used in the same way. But some pills can end up making you feel worse, not better … A person may not know what kind of chemicals a medicine contains but
happily takes it. At present, we have been using the hadith lacking methodology. And this brings many problems with it… By taking advantage of methods used in the modern world to understand religious texts, we aim to make (them) better understood, better practised and to purify them of mistakes.


Turkey: You can hear a lot by just listening

The call to prayer in Sarajevo, Bosnia, 7 Feb. 1997/Danilo KrstanovicForgive 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.”*

In its Reporting Religion programme this weekend, the BBC takes another crack at its hadith story — the plan to review the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad and reclassify the sexist and superstitious ones as unauthentic. This time it gives Mehmet Görmez more time to explain what’s up at Diyanet, the government’s religious affairs department where he is deputy head. The interview is the second of three on the audio clip. Among other things, he says that all these buzzwords — revolution, reformation and reform — are too linked to Christian history to apply. I think only “reformation” should be avoided in a religious context, because of its Christian overtones, but we have to be clear about what a revolution or a reform would be if we use them. The clip also has comments from Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London. “The West would love to see happen to Islam what happened to Christianity,” he says, adding why he thinks this could never occur.

Taner EdisA secularist physicist in Missouri might seem like the last person qualified to discuss Islam in Turkey, but Taner Edis talks a lot of sense. He has a natural advantage; he was born and brought up in Istanbul, with a Turkish father and American mother. Possibly thanks to his physics background, he sees Islam as a complex phenomenon that has to be understood on its own terms. On The Secular Outpost blog, he has a comment on the hadith story and an interview (about one-third into this podcast) that is not linked to the hadith story but quite relevant to this discussion. “Don’t look into the Christian experience and try to fit Muslims into that box,” he says. Islam fits neither “the Protestant version of secularisation” nor “medieval Catholicism.” It has no formal separation of church and state, but the Ottoman Empire had much more of a de facto separation between them than is assumed today, he says.

Listening to Turks explain Turkey’s Islamic reform plan

Internet logo of Diyanet, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Department

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.

IslamOnline did a good job on this, too, in an interview that gave Mehmet Görmez, deputy head of Diyanet (the government’s religious affairs department shown in the logo above) more space than he got in other reports to explain what’s being done.

MinaretMinaretAkyol and Görmez both make an important point. Many Western journalists approach Islam from a starting point vaguely based on Christianity (hence the misguided quest for an “Islamic Reformation”). They don’t have to be Christians or believers or even know much about Christianity to do this; it’s as much a part of our cultural baggage as our native languages. Conversely, Muslims approach Christianity from a square one closely linked to Islam, their primary religious reference. Nobody starts out tabula rasa in this exercise. The gap can be bridged, but to do this we have to report what is actually happening, rather than just what we think is going on. Listening to these two Turks is a good place to start.

Turkey “not reforming Islam, but itself” with hadith review

Ali Bardakoglu, 23 Nov. 2006/Umit BektasAli 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.

Reacting to those reports, Bardakoglu, who is chairman of the Department of Religious Affairs, told the daily Sabah: “A team of 80 are scanning all existent hadith. For example, words humiliating women are attributed to the prophets. We are combing through such interpretations. We will publish six volumes. However, what we are doing is not reform on Islam… we are not reforming Islam; we are reforming ourselves, our own way of religiosity.” ‘

His deputy Mehmet Görmez told another daily, Zaman, that the BBC’s interpretation of the reform as a “radical modernisation” was wrong, saying: “We are going to take the appropriate legal measures for redress.”

Turkey’s covered women fed up with politics over their headscarves

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.

It was just another case of what women here often complain about — that the headscarf has been hijacked by politics for decades, leaving ordinary women to suffer the consequences. Some have sacrificed an education for their faith, preferring not to go to university if it means uncovering, and they feel like little more than a political football in this very masculine power struggle.

Check out our video from Marmara University, especially the protester who says “We want freedom to wear headscarves!” Hmmm … do you think he’ll ever wear one?

Turkish tempers flare as headscarf reform nears

Neslihan Akbulut of women’s rights group AKDER, 31 Jan. 2008/Fatih SaribasAnyone looking at Turkish newspapers or television these days would be forgiven for thinking Turkey was in a deep political crisis over government plans to lift a decades-old ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf in universities. The two sides — the secular Turks who long held sway here and the newly empowered pious Turks — are debating the issue in the winner-take-all way Turks like to talk politics. The liberal daily Radikal found the tension rising so much that it ran a front page headline this week reading “Republic of Fear” with a reprint of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” on the cover.

Readers abroad might ask what all the fuss is about. After all, Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country with a vibrant democracy. But the headscarf goes to the very heart of Turkey’s complex identity. For a feature on the headscarf issue, I spoke to devout and secular women and heard two diametrically opposed views. The devout women, some of whom had been expelled from universities because of the headscarf, said covering their Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, 29 Jan. 2008/Umit Bektashair was all about personal and religious freedoms. “I wear the headscarf, my cousin doesn’t and we go out to family dinners. It is no big deal,” one said. Many secular women feel their rights will be curtailed if the ban is lifted since — they fear — they will eventually be forced to wear the Islamic headscarf.

Male opinion can be just as split. Secular men say that easing the ban on wearing the headscarf in universities would weaken the current separation of state and religion. The pious Muslims — including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan — say wearing the headscarf is a personal freedom and a right, just like secular women have the right not to wear it.

Turkey’s Veiled Democracy

The Rome trip’s over and it’s back to other interesting religion topics — like Islam in Turkey.

Mustafa AkyolThe evolution of Islam and politics in Turkey is one of the most interesting recent developments in the Muslim world. One of the most interesting writers following this is Mustafa Akyol, an Istanbul journalist who is deputy editor of the English-language Turkish Daily News and regularly posts his TDN columns on his blog The White Path. Some of his articles require familiarity with today’s Turkish political scene, but his latest is an informative stand-back guide to how “Turkey now nurtures an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with modern values such as democracy, liberalism and capitalism.

Akyol’s blog flags the article as “Turkey’s Veiled Democracy [A Must-Read Article].” It’s published in the November/December issue of The American Interest (here it is in PDF). In it, Akyol surveys the emergence of modernising trends in Islam during the Ottoman Empire, the creation of the secularist Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the rise of modern “neo-orthodox” Muslims who formed the governing AKP party.

EU pressures Turkey to boost rights for non-Muslims

Turkey has signalled it may soon amend a free speech law that has been a stumbling block in its drive to join the European Union. Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said this on Tuesday soon after the European Commission issued its annual progress report on Ankara’s membership bid. The interesting angle here for this blog is that the EU criticism singled out not only the much-criticised law on “insulting Turkishness” but also current restrictions on freedom of religion.

Demonstrator wrapped in the Turkish flag at a Brussels protest against the Kurdish PKK, Nov. 3, 2007Releasing the report, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn noted democracy had prevailed over military meddling in Turkish politics this year. “The new momentum should now be used to relaunch the reforms to improve fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression and religious freedom, so that they prevail in all corners of the country and in all walks of life,” he said (my emphasis).

The report gave Turkey a mixed review concerning religion. “As concerns freedom of religion, freedom of worship continues to be generally guaranteed,” it wrote. But it added: “Overall, the environment as regards freedom of religion has not been conducive to the full respect of this right in practice. A legal framework has yet to be established in line with the European Convention on Human Rights so that all religious communities can function without undue constraints. No real progress can be reported on the major difficulties encountered by the Alevis and non-Muslim religious communities.”