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Rewriting Islam

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanFebruary 29, 2008 10:05 AM


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Lots of articles on the radical reinterpretation of the Hadith in Turkey. The Hadith serve as the basis for Islamic law, and orthopraxy more generally. I am on the record as saying that texts don't in the end determine anything, so obviously I'm skeptical. But, I will simply point to a historical analogy; in the 19th century Egypt and Japan attempted to modernize and catch-up with Western nations. Egypt did not truly succeed, Japan did. Where there's a will there always isn't a way; Japan had the necessary preconditions in terms of human capital for the task at hand (e.g., high literacy, a preexistent samizdat of "Dutch" learning, etc.), Egypt did not. A revision of the Hadith is a positive sign, and it is a necessary precondition toward modernity in a Western manner (for example, in regards to sexual equality in family law, or a full-throated acceptance of the institutional instruments modern of capitalism), but I doubt it is sufficient. A genuine reinterpretation of Islam will more likely happen in a place like the United States, where there are endogenous social forces at work at the grassroots. Textual reintrepretation of sacred literature or law is more often concomitant with, or the effect of, change, not the agent of it. Feminist or socialist interpretations of the Bible post-date the emergence of these movements, they did not inspire them.1 - "Islamic banking" actually goes a long way toward this already by making up excuses and "work-arounds" which violate the spirit but follow the letter of the law. Rather, I think it is in family law where a top-down imposition might be more necessary.

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