For over a decade now, the official Islamic affairs arm of the Turkish government, the Diyanet, has been examining “hadiths”—sayings of the Prophet Muhammad—in order to filter out the spurious and violent ones. (A recent proposal to do the same in Saudi Arabia has never gotten off the ground.) Thanks to massive funding by the ruling AK party, Turkish imams have been combing through these sayings, and back in 2013 published the first multi-volume set of these updated hadiths. Among other modernizations, amputation of a thief’s hand was said to be only fit for 7th century AD Arabia, not the modern world.
But according to Dr. Abu Hamid Ghazzali, director of Diyanet, another program—which funding came directly from the office of Turkish President Recep Erdoğan—has also been running simultaneously alongside the hadith one. Its existence was kept secret because of the much more sensitive nature of the project: to examine problematic verses of the Qur’an, and if need be to find a way to excise them from the Muslim holy book.
This picture of Dr. Ghazzali, Dr. Kadizade and Dr. Sabbah was surreptitiously taken during a break in the committee’s long deliberations.
Dr. Ghazzali, who holds a doctorate from al-Azhar in Cairo but is also a renowned Bektaşi Sufi, pointed out in an exclusive interview that the Sufis, or Islamic mystics, have long held that the Qur’an can be interpreted allegorically, not simply literally. This perspective was brought to bear after long debate on the issue among Turkish scholars and vociferous opposition from the conservative imam Dr. Mehmet Kadizade. Besides Sufism, Ghazzali pointed out that Isma’ili Shi`i scholar Hassan-i Sabah was brought in to advise and render opinions. And the reform committee even consulted the works of prominent Western scholar of Islam Christoph Luxenberg—a daring proposition, as Luxenberg’s works maintain that the Qur’an was originally written in Syriac, not Arabic, and that it is confusing and garbled due to bad translations into Arabic in the early days of Islam.
The major “exegetical paradigm” which this reform committee assumed was to question the centuries-old Islamic concept of naskh. This “abrogation” doctrine held that any of Muhammad’s revelations received later in his life trumped those from earlier; so since the ancient scholars had determined that, for example, Sura al-Tawbah was one of the last sent by Allah to Muhammad, its directive to attack non-Muslims (v. 5, in particular) overruled other, earlier-received passages promoting peace.
The Turkish reform committee approached the Qur’an differently, assuming that all sections are of equal divine authority. Thus, Sura al-Baqarah:62, which states that Jews and Christians (and a more obscure sect, the Sabians) will be righteous before Allah and have no need to convert, is of equal weight with less tolerant verses.
It is clear why the committee had to meet in secret for years, as this sea change in the interpretation of the Qur’an will rock not just the casbah but the entire Islamic world. Dr. Kadizade has already resigned his position and is rumored to have fled to an ISIS enclave in southern Libya, whence he has vowed to lead the world’s true Muslims against this Satanic heresy. Dr. Ghazzali has sent a preliminary copy of the first volume—entitled The Prophet Motive: Islam for the Modern World—to Pope Francis I, in order to garner the pontiff’s approval and foster ecumenical dialog between the world’s two largest religions. Ghazzali also said that he hopes for full reconciliation between Christianity and Islam to take place no later than 2076 AD/1500 AH, using this “reformed” Qur’an and a rumored new holy book by the world’s largest Christian denomination, to be called the Orange Catholic Bible.