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Turkey modernising Islam, taking it to the 21st century
Rise in Islamic terrorism and Muslim fundamentalism have presented Islam in poor light to the global population. After enduring decades of militant secularism, Turkey is all set to imbibe Islam in a new light relevant to the 21st century.
IN 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate to transform the Ottoman Turk Empire from being the ‘sick man’ of Europe to a secular nation. After 85 years of enjoying a legal system based on European legal codes, Kemalist ideology might soon be replaced with Sharia with a distinct 21st century flavour. The reformed Islam in Turkey is all set to become the new countenance of Islam that has been mired of late with fundamentalism and extremism.

Despite the prevalence of ‘militant secularism’ in Turkey that despised all things Islamic, with stringent restriction on wearing symbols of Islam, outlawing ‘fez’ worn by Muslim men and banning entry of Muslim women in headscarves to premises of higher educational institution, Islam covertly and overtly survived on the Turk soil. The secular interests largely backed by the urban elite and the presence of a secular military who consider themselves the custodian of Kemalist ideology had clashed with popular Islamic ideology. After enduring decades of humiliation, highly educated devout Muslims of Turkey decided to take on the secularists of the country politically. From the 1980s, a new generation of Muslim leaders began gaining prominence by promising better economic condition and removal of bureaucratic inefficiency. These new leaders proud of Turkey’s Islamic tradition succeeded in asserting their influence among Turkey’s Muslims, majority of whom had faced decades of apathy from the country’s secular elites.  The result was the resounding victory of the Islamic AK party in the parliamentary elections and paving way for Turkey’s return to Sharia.

The institutionalisation of new Islam in Turkey is a bold measure of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that is all set to reinterpret the Koran and the Sharia law. The directorate of Religious Affairs has appointed a group of Islamic scholars at Ankara University to rewrite parts of the Hadith, which is a collection of thousands of aphorisms and comments said to be derived from the prophet Muhammad that form the basis of Islamic jurisprudence or Sharia laws. The greatest challenge before the scholars lies in rewriting the misogynist Hadith that is largely responsible for injustices meted out to Muslim women. Efforts are on to undertake bold steps in removing the most controversial lines and declaring them unauthentic or adding footnotes to them, saying they should be understood from different historical perspective that have become outdated in the current age. A new five-volume exegesis of the Koran is being written redefining its passages, making them relevant for Muslims of the current century. In their efforts to include historical Christian reform movements to modern Islam, a Roman Catholic Jesuit, Felix Koerner has been invited to become part of this grand project.

What in essence is believed to emerge is a reformed Islam relevant to the 21st century social, political and economic context. The 21st century Islam will be an amalgamation of modern European critical thoughts and traditional Muslim Ottoman beliefs. New Islam will be less orthodox and more liberal. In Turkey, the reformed Islam is paying dividends in the form of abolition of death penalty, campaign against honour killings, education of women and training and appointment of hundreds of women as Imams. Now what remains to be seen is whether this liberal democratic Islam finds acceptance in other Muslim countries of the world as well.

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