80 Turkish theologians reconsider the Hadith

The Hadith is a non-Koranic commentary on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, considered the second most sacred text in Islam, and key to understanding the Koran. The problem with the Hadith is that there is forensic evidence from the University of Ankara that some of the reported sayings have been fabricated, even hundreds of years after Mohammed’s death. Amberin Azman writes gives some background The Telegraph:

Felix Koerner, a Jesuit cleric and an expert on Islam, who is advising the project, said that some of Mohammed’s reputed sayings, can be shown to have been fabricated centuries after the prophet’s death.

“Unfortunately, you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim – or pseudo-Muslim – practice of female genital mutilation,” he said.

Other sayings, such as those which forbid women from travelling for lengthy periods without their husbands were only set by the prophet because of security problems in his time which no longer exist.

Hidayet Sevkatli Tuksal, an Islamic theologian who wrote a book examining male chauvinist interpretations of Islam, agrees that some of the hadiths were bogus and deliberately crafted “to ensure male domination over women.”

Many scholars and clerics accept that the Hadith has been augmented by successive policy makers, passing off their political aims as those of Mohammed. One of the upshots is that although thousands of Turkish imams are preaching against honour killings there hasn’t been a significant drop in honour killings in Turkey, which amount to dozens each year – so far the justification has remained enshrined in the sacred Hadith.

In a significant, even pivotal, development which some are comparing to the Christian Reformation, 80 scholars and theologians from the ‘Ankara School’ are embarking on a project, coordinated in Turkey, to re-read and revise the Hadith. The methodology isn’t clear from the coverage – I’d imagine it will draw on historical records, cross referencing with other sayings of Muhammed and refer to arbitration by senior clerics for areas where there is no consensus. Or something.

But besides a short story on The Today Programme I’ve not heard much talk about this profoundly important development. Silence from the critics of Islamism I’m used to reading – particularly the ones who say that Islam is by definition a monolithic, timeless and non-negotiable code. As Martin Kettle notes, “this story is the one that got away”.

As an atheist, I object to the fact that it is acceptable to interpret this religious text so literally that, in order to eject outrageous misogynist directives from its preaching, its adherents are obliged to fall back on the authority of 80 theologians to be able to say that this or that saying is obsolete, or inappropriate for them. As such, this project is a politically-motivated piece of research – and it has been criticised accordingly as part of the US-led aim to combat militant, fundamentalist strains of Islam. But I like the politics. The determination to retrieve women from socio-political shackles is the driving force, and that is an unambiguously welcome thing – that can’t be said strongly enough. My objection is that the enterprise locates the moral assessment of how should or should not live their lives firmly as the preserve of the authorities rather than a matter of personal conscience and active interpretation it actually is. Here, the theological elites expect, or are expected to, mediate between God and the people.

But I admire the intellectual and, probably, personal courage of the people involved in this controversial project – although there is little coverage now, there is likely to be lots once the revised edition – edition! – of the Hadith is published.

Update: commenters on David T’s piece on Harry’s Place have found some more on this, including Synthesis of Islamic Thought, Modernity and Secularism the German site Dialogue With Islam and Islamic Reformers Look Back to the Future on Radio Free Europe, which considers the impact of the ‘Ankara School’:

To Mehmet Pacaci, however, “rethinking” is clearly more traditional than literalism. Pacaci is among the leading theologians of the Ankara School. He also has studied in Germany and read the classics of Christianity and Judaism. He calls Koerner a friend and, together with others, they often meet over tea and debate the meaning of their faiths and ways of interpreting them.

To Pacaci, literalism is a modern movement that began in Egypt in the 19th century. He calls it a superficial way of understanding Islam, one that rejects the centuries-old tradition of understanding not only from the Koran but also from the literature that followed Muhammad, as well as the consensus of the Islamic community.

Earthquakes rock*

Usually I feel very guilty if I’m up past 12 on a school night. But yesterday around 1am as I collapsed exhausted after a prolonged struggle with the cushions and over-trussed bedclothes in a Bexley hotel I was rewarded.

I thought it might be a loose floorboard being jumped on by the guest in the next-door room. Or possibly a freight-train, but there was no railway nearby. A small cushion fell off the tower I’d made. My bed was being slowly and repeatedly rocked from below but there was nobody under it – of that I was certain. Then it stopped and I felt curious for about 30 seconds before dropping off.

The next morning somebody from the group I was with told me there had been a quake in Lincolnshire. I told them I’d felt a strange rocking sensation at 1am but they looked unconvinced – until we looked on the Web and then they were well jealous.

At 5.2 it felt almost as strong as the Kobe earthquake (7.2) simulation in the Earth Galleries at the Natural History Museum, and much the same sensation – a powerful side-to-side shift.

This is one of the things I love about this country – it’s an unbelievably a gentle place to live geographically speaking, but you still get your dramas.

*Unless you’re David Bates or Eleanor Ramsay.

Kosovar independence. Reactions from the SWP and Israel.

Kosovo is a country, but many other countries are postponing recognising it. The issue of independence has not been brought to a vote in the UN General Assembly because Russia has threatened to use its veto power in the Security Council to prevent that. 

I was interested to learn how the SWP would respond to Kosovar independence. My first proper exposure to the SWP was during the 2007 biased, incoherent and aggressive campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. SWP members attacked the rights of Israeli Jews – whom, despite the circumstances of persecution in Europe, they called colonisers, settlers, imperialists – to their self-determination in Israel while upholding precisely that right for Palestinians. I found this contorted and was even more appalled when, a few days before UCU ruled the boycott campaign unlawful, SWP members suddenly dropped the Palestinian cause and went totally silent as they have been since. This seemed to confirm two major criticisms of the SWP – that it is an authoritarian party whose activists are obliged to respond to dog whistle, and also that it doesn’t care about Palestinians, only about smashing up US imperialism and its perceived bridgehead, Israel. For me, summer 2007 was an aversive initiation to the SWP and I’ve had difficulty trusting its members on any matter since.

So what does the SWP think of Kosovar independence? Alex Callinicos condemns it in Socialist Worker. He linguistically flirts with blaming NATO for Milosovich’s rout of ethnic Albanians during the war, similar to the blame the SWP lays at the US’s door for supporting Israel. He then broaches the issue of demographics and national claim:

“The majority of the population are now Albanians, but Kosovo retains an important place in Serbian nationalist ideology.”

This also can be mapped with SWP views on Israel and Palestine – “The majority of the population is now Jewish, but Israel retains an important place in Palestinian nationalist ideology”. Strange, particularist way of making international policy, no? The majority group want national liberation but we should factor in the nationalist claim of the minority group.

Somebody at the Alliance for Workers Liberty takes issue, quite incredulously, with Callinicos’ double standards:

“Yes, of course it does. And? The sentiments of a different people, and the rampant chauvinism of many of them – do what to the rights to self-determination of the Kosovar Albanians? Override them?

Override the wishes of the people who live there, whose ancestors have lived there for centuries, for separation from the state that has oppressed them for a century, that attempted to massacre or drive them out less than a decade ago?

Serbia had been baulked in attempting genocide, but Kosovars and readers of Socialist Worker must respect its continuing international legal rights in Kosova? Make sense of that if you can!

Callinicos adds: though Kosova is “legally” part of Serbia, it has an “Albanian-dominated government”. Only 93 percent of the population, and they still think they have the right to form a government!

It’s hard to know what Callinicos is advocating. He sticks up for the Serb’s right to keep Kosovo, and righly evinces concern for the right of the Serbian minority there. But maybe his real concern is Russia’s reaction:

Meanwhile, Western support for Kosovan independence is likely to worsen relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s government has said it will veto Kosovan independence at the UN security council, and Western officials are worried about Russian retaliation elsewhere. For example, the US client regime in Georgia fears that the Russian government may use the Kosovo precedent to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Russian-backed separatist enclaves in Georgia.

What has any of this to do with a 93% Albanian majority who narrowly escaped a genocide and now claim their independence?  What a cold-hearted chess-player the man is. How shifting his real-politik values. I wonder what he tells himself. Probably simply “I am Callinicos” – the seal of his own approval.

Israel has a complicated reaction to the independence of Kosovo. It has good relations with Muslim Kosovars after sending enormous amounts of aid and setting up a hospital on the border with Macedonia during the war of 1998-9. Back then Israelis agonised about genocide in different and simultaneous ways, recalling the Nazi genocide and the history of Jewish refugees, recalling the flight of Palestinians in 1948, and imagining  also the future of Israeli Jews in the absence of peace with its neighbours. At the same time there was also worry among the Right about the implications for an independent Kosovo as an Islamic state. In 2008 Israel’s reaction is equally complicated. Aware of its own fractious Arab Israeli minority, who at the end of 2006 published a separatist position paper, it has not yet recognised Kosovo and is concerned to act within a UN framework. In the absence of this it has an eye on other states – Slovakia, Romania, and Greece, some of which like Spain and Cyprus have their own separatist tendencies.

Comparison – Wok2Go and Oriental Chef in Barkingside

Wok2Go is a new Chinese take-away in Barkingside whose catch-phrase is “Go fresh, go healthy, go Wok2Go”. Oriental Chef is an established Chinese takeaway with branches across North East London. Matt and I eat from Oriental Chef about once a fortnight or every three weeks. They give me every impression that they understand veganism, the food is usually crisp, colourful and light, you can see what’s going on in the kitchen and the women at the counter are friendly. That said, last night Matt and I decided to pay homage to free market competition by trying out Wok2Go.

We really didn’t like Wok2Go. Both vegetable dishes were drowned in an unexpectedly and inordinately sweet, almost syrupy sauce. The proportion of vegetable to sauce was low. Matt had rashly and inexplicably ordered vegetarian hot and sour soup. I didn’t like how this smelt – I suspected meat stock, actually, and although I’d have eaten it to avoid waste it tasted so unbearably vinegarish to the extent that – this is unusual – I couldn’t bring myself to. The fried tofu was in much smaller pieces than we’re used to and, with their high surface area, exceedingly greasy. So all in all, this might have been fresh but it was certainly not healthy. The vegetable chow mein was quite tasty – but it had pieces of egg in it.

So based on this one Wok2Go meal, I think Oriental Chef is much better.

I thought Wok2Go’s cardboard cartons for some of the dishes rice made a lot of sense though – this is something Oriental Chef should investigate.

And if so much as one more eatery opens on Barkingside High Street I don’t know what I’ll do, but it will be direct and memorable.

Animal culls, the holocaust analogy and veganism

As well as rendering infected birds unfit for sale, the fear is that the H5N1 strain of bird flu will mutate to a strain which could pass between humans causing a pandemic. This fear is so serious that 600,000 chickens have already been killed in Bangladesh over the past year. Yesterday new outbreak was diagnosed and 150,000 more chickens lives are currently being ended – wasted – outside Dhaka.

So what? Weren’t they going to die anyway?

I don’t want to diminish the importance of cheap nutritious food. Whether we can get affordable protein in sufficient amounts for our growing population (both a human success to celebrate and another extremely sensitive personal and policy question) without intensively farming animals is up in the air, although the vegan society would claim strongly that we can.

Here are the ethical concerns systematically laid out by the University of Nottingham’s bioethics department. I find the contradictions involved in respecting and not instrumentalising animals you ultimately plan to kill and eat very difficult to cope with although, from a progressive point of view, I can immediately see that the regard they are proposing for farmed animals would be a huge improvement on current circumstances.

Intensive farming is both horribly cruel (it was a documentary on the life of an intensively-farmed chicken which turned me vegetarian overnight aged 13 and haunt me still) and prone, as all overcrowded humans and animals are, to outbreaks of disease which threaten human health. There are also environmental concerns.

These animals are sentient – I’m not sure about chickens (they can certainly suffer but being the proletariat of the farmed world, there is less research into their sentience) but cows, sheep and pigs can feel afraid, bored, peaceful, bereft. The fact that these animals are sacrificed in their thousands as if they were a bad batch of manufactured products in order to clear the way for a new batch is something anybody who uses animals for food or clothing should question. More and more we hear about the perfunctory slaughter and incineration of thousands of animals with infections from which they would, in the normal course of things, recover, in order that our current methods of food production can continue.

In the original sense of the word, a mass burnt sacrifice, and without thinking of farmers or meat-eaters as Nazis, I increasingly find myself thinking of these collective deaths as a holocaust. Whether or not this is an appropriate analogy rests on whether there is an alternative to current methods of food production – not just for an affluent resident of Barkingside but also for a person of small means in the Dhaka suburbs. It also depends on whether you think that animal deaths should ever have the same weight as human deaths or whether, strongly anthropocentric, you believe that this is an affront to human dignity. I think that animal deaths should in some circumstances have the same weight as human ones.

The right to feed oneself is elemental to our fundamental right to life. Is it so far-fetched to say that we should only eat animals when we don’t have the capacity to live well without them?

David cameron on Auschwitz trips as gimmicks

I can’t get worked up about Cameron calling Brown’s decision to spend £4.6 million on funding trips by a small proportion of school children to Auschwitz a gimmick. David Cameron calls a lot of reasonable New Labour initiatives gimmicks. Since he has spoken up against attacks on Israel’s existence, in praise of a number of quintessentially conservative attributes (for what these are worth!) which he approves of in the visible Jewish community, and in opposition to antisemitism, and since he never makes malicious or ignorant comments about Jewish power or Jewish conspiracy, there is no reason to view his opinions as symptomatic of some larger project to diminish the holocaust. Perhaps they were insensitive but take them in context and they are certainly not sinister.

I think that the Lessons From Auschwitz project – based on the idea that “hearing is not the same as seeing” – is an excellent idea. But it’s fine to wonder whether government funding for it is the best way to foster population-level insights about genocide. Visits by 15,000 students to Auschwitz is a small-scale measure for bright, confident students who can understand messages and take them back to their schools. I can’t see any sort of evaluation on the site – whether society’s understanding will improve as a result of these trips seems to be a matter of faith or hope. There are alternatives – £4.6 million would fund a multimedia online museum, available any place, any time, and to anyone, royally.

World’s newest state

It’s Kosovo, which gained (or rather took) independence from Serbia yesterday. Flags usually give me the heeby geebies but I’ll make an exception because it’s a special occasion and after all it will need one for the Eurovision Song Contest, football etc.


The yellow splodge is a map of Kosovo, and the stars symbolise Kosovo’s six ethnic groups: Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Gorani, Roma, and Bosniaks. Significantly, the stars are all the same size (a restrained step back from the original proposals in which the Albanian star was heftier than the others).

Green Party turned goose-turd by Israel boycott crackpots


As somebody who washes with ions on a rinseless cycle, shells out untold amounts of (her boyfriend’s) money on sustainable furniture, decorates with environmentally friendly materials, who is vegan, who never uses plastic bags, holidays train-rides away, walks to get the shopping and everywhere possible – who is, in short, tries hard to be green, and am more Green than I am anything else, anyway – I am deeply turned off about this news from Engage – the Greens have voted to boycott Israel.

…the boycott motion is part of an “internal strategy” and “external strategy” to make the “green redder” and the “red greener”, or, still in Sean’s [proposer of the motion] own words, a strategy to “promote debate and raise awareness among rank and file party members that chime with their level of consciousness but which move them to begin to question some of the fundamental assumptions of bourgeois ideology and which raise demands that cannot be met within the limitations of a capitalist state.”

Red and green is brown. Brown is the colour of turds and Nazi uniforms, which just about sums up that motion.

Debate, again. People call their bad motions ‘debates’ as if the word endows any idea with a halo and a pair of angel wings.

See Engage and its resources section for why this boycott resolution is factually and ethically wrong. It has no aims or endpoints. It treats the conflict with remarkable and condemnable similicity as Israel’s sole problem and responsibility, as if there were no threats of obliteration from Hamas and Hesbollah. It tells lies about Arab Israels – it neglects to mention that, like Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis only ‘own’ 4% of the land, because 92% is unavailable for private purchase. It is vague about who it means when talking about ‘Palestinians’. It refers to an ‘apartheid wall’ as if Israel and the West Bank were a single country rather than two separate territories, one of which is under occupation. It neglects to count UN resolutions of which Palestinians and states adjoining Israel are also in violation. It lies about ethnic cleansing – in fact the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli population is growing well (notwithstanding the brain-drain from the OPTs). I’d like to know more about the water use, but if it is ‘renewable’ as the motion says, then that raises a lot of questions. It calls Israel ‘supposedly democratic’. Israel has a free press, is less of a surveillance society than either the UK or US, has a legal system which is highly regarded globally and, of course, free and fair elections. In the face of considerable and escalating threats from its neighbours, and in the shadow of a global bid to wipe Jews out, Israel’s successes should be celebrated alongside our criticism of the settlements and the social exclusion of Arab Israelis which remains prevalent.

Animals at our mercy

This year is supposed to be my Year of the Animals. But I don’t do animals very well and the Jews are still taking up most of my time. So to at least make an effort, I’m going to try to record  cruelty to animals which makes it into the news. So far I have noted but failed to mention quite a few instances.

The eighty-four horses, donkeys and ponies found starving or dead on a farm in Amersham. Oh, and there’s a bit of racism too – I searched for this and the number two hit was a report from the British National Party. I thought “Oh, the BNP care about animals?” Then I made a guess and sure enough, the owner of the horses, meat trader Jamie Gray, was Roma.

And these are the kinds of chickens that Jay Rayner thinks are a good idea.

What resurrected this was the news that the 80 Afghans killed in a suicide bomb in Kandahar today were there to watch a dog fight. Recreational dog fighting is making an enthusiastic come-back in Afghanistan, having been banned under the Taliban. The attack is the most deadly since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 and the provincial governor is calling the dead ‘martyrs’. Martyrs to what – freedom to make animals tear each other to bits? How twisted and horrible, all round.