Islamic Scholars Seek 'Muslim Reformation'

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ISTANBUL, Turkey - You have probably heard of the Christian Protestant Reformation. Now get ready for what some are calling a Muslim reformation.

A group of Islamic scholars in Turkey is attempting to re-interpret some of Islam's most sacred texts. The goal: to give the faith a modern makeover.

Islam Needs a Fresh Interpretation

Mehmet Kirbasoglu is passionate about his faith in Allah, the Muslim God. But he believes that his religion needs a fresh interpretation for the 21st Century.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Senior Reporter George Thomas followed by Pat Robertson's comments on how these Muslim scholars could change Islam dramatically.

"We need a new way of looking at our holy scriptures in the light of today's social and religious environment," Kirbasoglu said.

And so for the past few years, Kirbasoglu, and 80 other Muslim Turkish scholars, have been examining the Hadith -- a collection of some 170,000 sayings attributed to the prophet Mohammed.

The Hadith is the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran. It is also the basis of all Islamic Sharia law.

The Hadith includes some of the more controversial tenents, such as stoning adulterers, honor killings, female genital mutilation and amputation. The scholars will publish six volumes later this year that will throw out or re-interpret thousands of such practices.

Hadith Text Problematic

"These and many other laws in the Hadith are very problematic for us today. In the seventh century, life in the Middle East during the time of the prophet was very different," Kirbasoglu said. "Some of these sayings and teachings need to be looked at in that historical context."

Nahide Bozkurt, a leading Islamic historian, has written extensively on the life of the prophet Mohammed.

She concludes that many of the Hadiths were falsified, while others were made up to exert control over society.

"The majority of the Hadith is fabricated. As an historian, it is critical that the Hadith be researched extensively. There has to be proof that the prophet actually said them," Bozkurt said.

She also rejects a literalist reading of the Koran and Hadiths.

"For example, there are versus in the Koran that are about war. Such versus should not be taken literally today and applied to life in order to justify war," she said.

Potential For Human Error

The team is also rejecting most of the accounts that were written about or ascribed to the prophet hundreds of years after his death.

"The potential for human error is there so we have to check all the writings for verification. The wrong ones should be separated from the real ones," Bozkurt said.

Turkey's government is sponsoring the project.

"Liberal Muslim thinkers have tried similar projects in the past. But this is different. This is officially sanctioned by the Turkish government and those involved in the project are Islamic scholars," Kirbasoglu said.

Some analysts say what Turkey is attempting to do here in modernizing Islam is somewhat similar to the Christian Reformation. Though, these scholars are quick to resist calling it an Islamic Reformation.

"Muslims don't like the word reformation, so instead we can call this a re-thinking or re-interpreting of the versus," Bozhurt said.

For Kirbasoglu it represents at least a beginning of something that could potentially impact how millions view their faith. And fundamentalist Islamic groups are not likely to approve.

"Yes, there are those who have criticized us for embarking on such a project, but that's expected with anything this courageous," Kirbasoglu said. "But at least it's a start."

*Original broadcast April 7, 2009.

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