CAIOR — Eighty scholars from 23 Turkish universities are working on a major project to classify and translate the Hadith (the collection of sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him).
"Make no mistake, we are not after modifying or revising the Hadith," Mehmet Gormez, deputy director of the religious affairs authority Diyanet and supervisor of the project, told IslamOnline.net in a phone interview.
"What we are actually doing is re-classifying, re-categorizing the Hadith and translating it into Turkish, no more no less."
A hadith literally means "saying," but in the Islamic technical sense, a hadith refers to the sayings of the Prophet, the Prophet's acts, the Prophet's tacit approval of an action or practice, or the Prophet's attributes, whether physical or moral.
Gormez said the three-year project has to do with a new understanding of the Sunnah and Hadith and accordingly making them more understandable to today's Turks.
He added that Turkish scholars working on the project, which will be completed by yearend, are taking early Muslim scholars, who had already revised the Hadith, as their basic reference.
"We have compiled all hadiths and read them to reclassify them anew," he explained.
"We have also taken into account the unauthentic ones or those attributed falsely to the Prophet because to understand the true Hadith, you really need to (understand) the unauthentic sayings."
Muslim scholars believe Hadith is integral to the understanding of Qur'an, since they are inseparably linked to each other.
They say it is impossible to understand the Qur'an without reference to Hadith because the Qur'an is the message and the Hadith is the explanation of the message by the Messenger himself.
Gormez, a British trained theologian, said the re-classified Hadith will come in multiple volumes.
"It might be five or even six volumes; we are still not decided."
He shrugged off media suggestions that Turkey was re-writing the Hadith and creating a new Islam.
"They made too much fuss and took the project out of its real context.
"We are neither fashioning a new Islam nor dare to alter the fixtures maxims of Islam," Gormez said emphatically.
"The Western media have read what are doing from a Christian perspective and understood it in line with their Christian and Western cultures."
When it comes to Islam, Gormez said, the Western media is used to focusing on women's status and jihad.
Several British newspapers on Wednesday, February 27, ran stories on the Turkish project .
The Guardian headlines the story as "Turkey strives for 21st century form of Islam."
A day earlier the BBC reported the project under the headline "Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts."
Gormez also refuted claims they would and edit out some hadiths, especially about women.
"No Muslim in the right mind would dare delete any hadith or tamper with the Prophet's heritage."
Every time someone interprets the holy texts of a religion, one runs the risk of tampering with that religion. When one determines which traditionally-accepted texts are not authentic, one changes the belief system based upon those texts.
By deciding which hadith are "unauthentic" and which sayings have been "attributed falsely" to Mohammed, Islamic scholars are changing Islam.
I in no way intend to question the integrity of their work, but this whole thing is kind of a left-handed screwdriver.
Hat tip to my email tipster.