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Turkish scholars aim to modernize Islam's Hadith

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"The issue of women being of lesser mind and faith was something that was accepted in those days without any argument, but it is not today, which is one of the reasons that we are trying to eliminate it," he says. "We are saying that this is not in line with how the prophet lived and the Koran itself, so it cannot be accepted."

As the project's authors envision it, the new collection will draw on the ancient Hadith to answer decidedly up-to-date questions, such as how to behave behind the wheel (Turkey has one of the world's highest accident rates) and what is the Islamic response to climate change.

The Hadith, which are not part of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, began as oral traditions that were only written down long after the prophet's death. Much of Islamic, or sharia, law is derived from the Hadith.

The meaning of many Hadiths has been lost and the cultural or geographical context of a text is forgotten, said Mehmet Gormez, deputy head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet.

Asked whether his project could lead to changes in the way women are perceived in the Islamic world, Mr. Gormez said nothing in Muslim texts could be used to justify such practices as "honor killings" of women or the stoning of adulterers. "Islam is misunderstood. For example, you cannot show me from the 600-year history of the Ottoman Empire a case of a person being stoned for adultery or a thief whose hand was amputated."

Launched two years ago by the Diyanet, the Hadith project is scheduled to be completed by December and translated into Arabic, English, and Russian. Some 80 theologians from across Turkey are involved.

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