The Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned theologians at Ankara University to reinterpret the collection of sayings – believed to have come from the Prophet Muhammad – to bring them more in line with modern society.
Some Muslim theologians believe certain sayings in the Hadith – the key source for Sharia law – were never uttered by Muhammad, but rather introduced hundreds of years later, and feel that others need to be viewed in the context of their time. They are also concerned that some can be used to justify more fundamentalist elements of Islam, such as the oppression of women.
Felix Koerner, an advisor to the project, explained these concerns to the BBC: "Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim - or pseudo-Muslim - practice of female genital mutilation. You can find messages which say 'that is what the Prophet ordered us to do'. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition."
Meanwhile, Professor Mehmet Gormez of the Department of Religious Affairs gives an example of a hadith that must be viewed according to contemporary circumstances: "There are some messages that ban women from travelling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine. But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons."
This move by the Turkish government is unprecedented, and some commentators are comparing it to the Protestant Reformation – a view that Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey from the Chatham House think tank, presented to the BBC:
"This is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation. Not exactly the same, but if you think, it's changing the theological foundations of [the] religion. ... They are trying to fashion a new Islam. ... I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is."