Turkey strives for 21st century form of Islam

After 900 years of cultural stagnation Islam may yet see its Age of Enlightenment.

From: guardian.co.uk

Feb. 27, 2008.

Turkey is engaged in a bold and profound attempt to rewrite the basis for Islamic sharia law while also officially reinterpreting the Qur'an for the modern age.

The exercise in reforming Islamic jurisprudence, sponsored by the modernising and mildly Islamic government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, is being seen as an iconoclastic campaign to establish a 21st century form of Islam, fusing Muslim beliefs and tradition with European and western philosophical methods and principles.

The result, say experts following the ambitious experiment, could be to diminish Muslim discrimination against women, banish some of the brutal penalties associated with Islamic law, such as stoning and amputation, and redefine Islam as a modern, dynamic force in the large country that pivots between east and west, leaning into the Middle East while aspiring to join the European Union.

A team of reformist Islamic scholars at Ankara University, acting under the auspices of the Diyanet or Directorate of Religious Affairs, the government body which oversees the country's 8,000 mosques and appoints imams, is said to be close to concluding a "reinterpretation" of parts of the Hadith, the collection of thousands of aphorisms and comments said to derive from the prophet Muhammad and which form the basis of Islamic jurisprudence or sharia law. "One of the team doing the revision said they are nearly finished," said Mustafa Akyol, an Istanbul commentator who reflects the thinking of the liberal camp in Erdogan's governing AK party. "They have problems with the misogynistic hadith, the ones against women. They may delete some from the collection, declaring them not authentic. That would be a very bold step. Or they may just add footnotes, saying they should be understood from a different historical context."

Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, described the project as an attempt to make Turkish Sunni Islam "fully compatible with contemporary social and moral values.

"They see this not as a revolution, but as a return to the original Islam, away from the excessive conservatism that has stymied all reforms for the last few centuries. It's somewhat akin to the Christian reformation, although not the same."

Under the guidance of Ali Bardokoglu, the liberal Islamic scholar who heads the religious directorate and was appointed by Erdogan, the Ankara theologians are writing a new five-volume "exegesis" of the Qur'an, taking the sacred text apart forensically, rooting it in its time and place, and redefining its message to and relevance for Muslims today. They are also ditching some of the Hadith, sayings ascribed to and comments on the prophet collected a couple of hundred years after his death.

A Roman Catholic Jesuit expert on Turkey and Islam, Felix Koerner, is working with the Ankara professors, reportedly schooling them in the history of western religious and philosophical change and how to apply the lessons of historical Christian reform movements to modern Islam. "This is really a synthesis of modern European critical thought and Muslim Ottoman Qur’anic tradition," said Koerner. "There is also a political agenda. With this government there is more confidence in these modern theologians."

Erdogan insists his AK party, in a country that is constitutionally secularist, is a Turkish Muslim equivalent of a European Christian democratic party - traditionalist, conservative, based on religious values, but democratic, tolerant, and liberal. With Spain and the Zapatero government, he is pushing an "Alliance of Civilisations" aimed at a rapprochement between the Muslim and western worlds. After years of fighting the militantly secularist Turkish establishment, he has just succeeded in lifting the ban on Islamic headscarves for girls in higher education. His many opponents decry it as part of Turkey's slide away from secularism down the slippery slope of Islamism.

Sources say the Islamic reform project is so ambitious and so fundamental it will take years to complete, but that it is already paying dividends - abolition of the death penalty, a campaign against honour killings, and the training and appointment of several hundred women as imams.

Muslim Medics Pose a Danger of Infection in UK Hospitals

There seems to be no end to the demands made by Muslim immigrants with respect to their religious beliefs. While often some accommodation can be made, in this instance their demand is simply unacceptable.

From the Daily Mail, UK - Feb. 26, 2008

Muslim medics refuse to roll up their sleeves in hygiene crackdown - because it's against their religion

Health officials are having crisis talks with Muslim medical staff who have objected to hospital hygiene rules because of religious beliefs.

Medics in hospitals in at least three major English cities have refused to follow the regulations aimed at helping tackle superbugs because of their faith, it has been revealed.

Women medical students at Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool objected to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands and removing arm coverings in theatre, claiming it is regarded as immodest.

Similar concerns were raised at Leicester University and Sheffield University reported a case of a Muslim medic refusing to "scrub" because it left her forearms exposed.

Some students have said that they would prefer to quit the course rather than expose their arms, but hygiene experts said no exceptions should be made on religious grounds.

A Royal Liverpool hospital spokesman said they had experienced issues of Muslim staff not sanitising their forearms with alcohol gel although this had now been addressed.

Dr Steve Ryan, medical director at Alder Hey said that while the "bare below the elbows" dress code is a matter of patient safety, the trust would work with Muslim students to find a solution.

He said: "We specify bare below elbows, no wrist watches, nail varnish or false nails in clinical areas.

"Good hand hygiene is one of the most important and simplest actions we can take to prevent healthcare associated infections.

"A number of female Muslim students had approached the University of Liverpool to ask if we would provide facilities for them to change their outerwear and Hijab for theatre scrubs.

"We were pleased to accommodate this request and these facilities have now been incorporated."

Dr Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP and former hospital consultant, said: "These students are being trained using taxpayers' money and they have a duty of care to their patients not to put their health at risk.

"Perhaps these women should not be choosing medicine as a career if they feel unable to abide by the guidelines everyone else has to follow."

But the Islamic Medical Association insisted that covering all the body in public, except the face and hands, was a basic tenet of Islam.

It said: "No practising Muslim woman - doctor, medical student, nurse or patient - should be forced to bare her arms below the elbow."

The new Department of Health guidance was introduced this month in a bid to restrict the spread of potentially fatal infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficle.

The code of practice helps NHS bodies to plan and implement how they can prevent and control healthcare- associated infection.

It sets out criteria by which managers of the NHS organisations are to ensure that patients are cared for in a clean environment and the risk of infections is kept as low as possible.

America Alone - Mark Steyn

The End of the World as We Know It

As the subtitle indicates, in his first book author Steyn contends that the Western world is going to hell in a hand basket. The future, if there is to be one, lies with a conservative America.

Steyn sees three destructive forces at work.

1. Demographics.

2. The multicultural and social policies of the political left.

3. Muslim aggression.

Assuming their accuracy, Steyn’s demographics are hard to refute. The “replacement” fertility rate – the number of babies per women needed to maintain a stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller is 2.1. The United States is just at the replacement rate with 2.11 births per woman. Ireland at 1.9, Australia at 1.7. Steyn’s (and my) home and native land Canada’s fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3; Russia and Italy at 1.2; Spain at 1.1 – about half replacement rate. Therefore Spain’s population is halving every generation.

He states that a major contribution to this dismal forecast is the dependency of European countries and Canada on government social programs which are slowly bankrupting the population because of the high taxes required to finance them. Meanwhile, the native born population is aging and unable to sustain the financial burden alone. Furthermore, we’ve become so dependent on government “like a junkie on the state narcotic” that we no longer have the moral fibre to effect change.

Tax revenues required to support the growing number of elderly and retired have to come from an equal number of new young workers. The question is - where’s that workforce going to come from? The answer for Canada and most of Europe has been immigration. Islam is the principal supplier of new workers in Europe and the second biggest in Canada. Ironically, according to the UN the global fertility rate is currently around 1.85 eventually resulting in a total population decline. However, the fastest growing population on the planet at the moment is Muslim, giving them a numerical advantage at least for some time. Net result, according to Steyn – soon Europe and Canada will be overwhelmed by an ever-increasing number of young Muslim immigrants having little interest in Western values of freedom, democracy and secularism.

All this combined with the Muslim rampant desire (if you believe the American conservative element) to convert the infidels to Islam or impose the jizyah tax on those that refuse, leaves us with little hope. In fact, Steyn believes that Europe is already lost and Canada is half way to becoming Canuckistan.

America, on the other hand, a bastion of gun carrying independence and low taxes with a favourable fertility rate will be the saviour of Western culture. Hence the title of the book.

Nice try Mark, but it just ain’t so.

Steyn assumes that current conditions are permanent and no change is possible. In truth, conditions are changing very quickly. All European countries including the UK have introduced integration programs for their admittedly neglected Muslim populations as well as made sweeping changes to their immigration policy while maintaining human rights obligations. Among the changes, doors are being opened to educated and skilled immigrants from former east bloc countries such as Poland.

A recent poll conducted in the Netherlands indicated that 50% of the population is unhappy with the immigrant situation in that country. With that number of disgruntled voters it will not take long for politicians to enact further legislation. Already, the Dutch require potential immigrants to write an examination in their own country and expect them to be able to speak Dutch. Amusingly, would-be immigrants are shown a film featuring scenes of a nude woman and of two gay males kissing with the express message “If this offends you, don’t come.”

Steyn notes gleefully that Pakistan is the number two supplier of immigrants to Canada. Despite his pessimism Pakistanis are integrating well into Canadian society with very few problems. What he does not mention is the number one source of immigrants to CanadaChina. Young Chinese immigrants, staunchly secular, have integrated seamlessly and are already well represented in business, industry and education.

Like a good conservative, Steyn wants to keep most of his earnings and prefers the low tax environment of the U.S. where a serious disease or accident means financial ruin for 47 million Americans and the infrastructure is crumbling as levees fail and bridges collapse.

Good luck.

So Mark, while I think your book's conclusions are faulty, I will defend to the death your right to publish it.

Well, maybe not to the death.

Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin

A Journey into the 3.5 Billion History of the Human Body

My post of Jan.14, 2008 is an excerpt from the final chapter and it was this passage that whetted my appetite to read the entire book.

Science buffs up on their paleontology will recognize author Shubin as one of a team that, investigating a quarry of 375 million old rocks on Canada’s Ellesmere Island, discovered the famous fossil Tiktaalik, an intermediate species between fish and land mammals

Like a fish, Tiktaalik has scales on its back and fins with webbing, but like the early land living mammals, has a flat head and a neck. Inside the webbed fin are bones that correspond to the upper arm, the forearm and parts of the wrist. Further study of the joints revealed an extraordinary function – it was capable of doing push-ups.

Thus, Shubin introduces us to the remarkable origins of the human body.

Combining DNA studies with genetics and paleontology reveals the connections between human anatomy and that of early, very early, life on earth.

The findings are remarkable.

All appendages, fins or limbs, are built by similar kinds of genes. The evolutionary transition from fin to limb did not require new DNA but rather used ancient genes in new ways to make limbs with fingers and toes.

The biological processes that make all the structures that develop within the skin: scales, hair, feathers, teeth, sweat glands, even mammary glands are all versions of the same thing, the interaction of two layers of tissue in the developing skin.

The basic structures of our head can be traced back to worms, organisms that do not even have a head.

Shubin goes on to describe the development of our eyes and ears and the gradual loss of our sense of smell.

“All animals are the same but different. Like a cake recipe passed down from generation to generation – with enhancements to the cake in each – the recipe that builds our bodies has been passed down, and modified, for eons. We may not look much like sea anemones and jellyfish, but the recipe that builds us is a more intricate version of the one that builds them.”

As an added attraction he explains a simple way to extract DNA from plant or animal bodies, peas, steak or chicken, in the kitchen.

Shubin is one of those rare species, an academic who can write for the rest of the world. His humour and obvious enthusiasm for his subject are infectious, making this book a pleasure to read although a little work is required to grasp some of the science.

A Visit from the Vatican

Like most bloggers I have a program that tracks visits to the View and, like most bloggers, I like to see where the hits come from. Usually, I do a fast run-down once a day looking for anything of particular interest. Imagine my surprise to find that my blog had been accessed by someone in the Vatican. Imagine my further surprise (and amusement) to see that they had read this post.

No, I don't really suppose it was the CEO himself.