Sunday, April 23, 2006

Can Islam be reformed?

I found a nifty post on the vexing and topical question of reforming Islam. Lots of non Muslims are talking about the fanciful notion of an Islamic Reformation--is it even possible or is it so much moonshine? Perhaps the question should be rephrased--if there was an Islamic Reformation, what would it look like and what form would it take?

I think this question is best answered by Callimachus over at Done with Mirrors. Here is (in part) his answer:

You Say You Want a Reformation

People in the West talk about the need for an "Islamic Reformation." By which they mean, perhaps, something that will have the same effect as what happened in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, when a monolothic theopolitical power cracked and what emerged, over time, was a Christianity that overall was less oppressive, less domineering, less dogmatic than what had come before.

Something like that -- the picture is oversimplified (and never mind that barrels of blood were spilled in the process). Or maybe they really just want someone to stand up and be Mecca's version of Martin Luther and say, "enough of this foolishness."

It's a hopeful vision. It's optimistic, and I've learned to be optimistic about the world -- like Churchill, because "it does not seem to be much use being anything else." So I like this idea, too. But I'm not so optimistic that I think it will happen.

For one: We want there to be an Islamic Reformation. There's no particular evidence that Muslims, in sufficient number and in the right places (i.e., not living in America or Canada) want there to be an Islamic Reformation. Reformations don't happen because rival civilizations want them. If the Ottoman sultan in 1519 had said to the Pope, "Just this and this and this needs to be changed in Christianity so we can get along better," you can bet Rome would have responded with a papal "Bull!" In fact, if the Sultan had been advocating for exactly the same things Martin Luther spoke up for, you can bet Luther never would have got past the Wittenberg church door.

For another: There already was an Islamic Reformation. It happened while we were sleeping. The result is Wahhabi dominance, and Islamic Brotherhood, and Bin Laden. This is the Islamic Reformation. We're fighting it now.

When religions "reform" -- note the "re-" prefix -- they swim back toward their sources. And in every case, they carry the baggage of the present with them. Every attempt to reform Christianity during the 16th and 17th centuries sought the wellsprings. It turned away from the Catholic Church not because it was wrong to mix political power with religious authority, but because that's not how it was in the Gospels.

So they set out in search of the Christianity of Paul. But they always dragged their own time and place with them -- how could they not? If the command was, "be separated from the world," the shape of your separation would be determined by the shape of the world you lived in. Thus the same motivation, and the same Gospel, in different times and places led one group of people to be Quakers and another to be Pentecostals.

Or Amish. Look at an adult Amishman: he has a beard, but no mustache. Why is that? Because in 18th century Germany it was fashionable for young men to wear mustaches but no beards. So to get back to the Gospel and be not of this world, the Amish enshrined the exact opposite style. And they still wear it.

When Christianity reforms -- when it goes back to its roots -- it tries to foreswear the world. When Islam goes back to its roots, it tries to conquer the world.

And it takes modern conflicts and technologies with it.

Read the rest here.


eyesallaround said...

Well said. The Christian Reformation was due to the newly available printing press, and the avaiability of Bibles. People could read for themselves what was said and not rely on crooked priests. The same problem just doesn't exist in the arab world. It has to be proved false, or mocked to such a degree that people are ashamed to believe in it. But there are built in defense mechanisms against examination and/or mocking... death by sword,,,, so I doubt that will happen. It's like some horrible killer virus that has built in self-preservation.

friendlysaviour said...

Great post, AJ.
There may be a yearning amongst many moslims in the West, to be seen as "normal" and peaceful people, surely that is only natural for most humans in todays distressfull world? But where is their leadership, providing them with the guidance and learned understanding to guide the process of Reformation?
It is almost non-existant, or just sound bites, for the infidel to lap up.
eyes,.. is todays printing press the Internet?
I have not found much islamic reformation there! Quite the opposite.
Islam seems to be able to take anything modern and review it through the lens of barbarism. Afterall, allah created the internet, didn't he?

Brooke said...

I used to think that perhaps we could have a Muslim Reformation, but I no longer do...until, that is, bin Laden and his ilk have been crushed out of hand and the average Muslim can see that jihad doesn't pay!

Let's just hope that our leaders will have the stones to make it happen.

Always On Watch said...

You are so right. Islam has indeed already had its reformation.

Your conclusion is outstanding:
When Christianity reforms -- when it goes back to its roots -- it tries to foreswear the world. When Islam goes back to its roots, it tries to conquer the world.

Exactly so. Those Medinan verses were later "revelations" from allah. Contrast that with the later Christian revelations in the New Testament. Therein lies an abyss of difference.

hutchrun said...

Islam is beyond salvage.

hutchrun said...

The lemmings are doomed:

For arguments sake, let assume that relative to non-Islamic faiths Islam is an extraordinary faith. Survival and outstanding performance of any faith is dependent on the intellectual capacity of it followers. Islam teaches that Mohammed was the last prophet so faithful Muslims believe that chances are non-existent that another prophet for Muslim faith will ever appear on the planet.

eyesallaround said...

bld, yep, the Internet may explain the rise in islamofascism. They're all finding out what their book says! Very interesting.

Mark said...

I do not believe that Islam can be reformed. Islam was written in stone, so to speak, fourteen hundred years ago. The Qur'an is considered to be Allah's recitation, his actual words. Indeed, the very name, Al Qur'an, means 'the recitation'.

There is no reformation to be.

Don't forget this, too: The Arabs are literalists. They are not given to abstract or metaphorical thought. Everything is black and white. Allah said it, therefore it is.

Don't waste one more second hoping and waiting for a reformation. Use your time more productively.