Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Does Islam need a reformation, or is it already in one?

Diana Muir has an extremely interesting op-ed in today's Washington Post; one in which I'd like to urge readers to take a look at. She's got some decent points to make with the argument:

Salman Rushdie, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof and Mansour al-Nogaidan are among the well-intentioned people who have called for an Islamic Reformation. They should be careful what they wish for.

The Protestant Reformation did precede the things these men admire about modernity in the West, including women's emancipation, political liberty, scientific breakthroughs, the wealth and opportunity created by the Industrial Revolution, and permission to think freely regarding God. But all this came later, and the Reformation was only part of what brought them about.

The Reformation was a time of intense focus on God and what He requires of people. As a movement, it was enthusiastic, narrow and far from tolerant. It and the Counter-Reformation brought two centuries of repression, war and massacre to the West. It's unlikely that anyone who lived through it would consider wishing a Reformation on Muslims.

And yet, even as some hope for such a turn of events -- presuming, it seems, a certain conclusion -- a Reformation is sweeping through the Muslim world. Westerners are generally aware that the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam are struggling for dominance in Iraq. But more broadly, the words and doctrine promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis or Wahhabists are eerily similar to those of our 16th-century forebears.

Like the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Islamic reformers reject the interpretations of generations of scholars in favor of seeking the word of God directly in scripture. Normative Islam follows one or another school of interpretation of scripture, known as a Madhab. Careful study leads students to understand that God's word is often nuanced. Nuance is not the stuff of reform. Salafi reformers argue that Muslims should ignore generations of sages, read the Koran and Hadith for themselves, and act on the truth they find. A popular Salafi quote from the early Islamic jurist Abu Hanifa reads: When a passage (Hadith) is found to be authentic (saheeh) then that is my path (Madhab).

As Luther put it: Sola scriptura (Scripture alone).

Wise words from Martin Luther, and while decried as a heretic, I fail to recall a point where the Church actively sought his death. Salman Rushdie still lives under a fatwa, as I type this. there is the significant difference between the two. The years of "personal" interpretation by Muslim clerics has basically forbidden such a reformation. The varied interpretations represent the reformation as it's currently proceeding. Remember, there are more willing to help us in Iraq and Afghanistan than before. Western influence has brought to those people a concept inherently foreign to them, and their religion: Freedom.

The question isn't should there be a reformation. As Captain Ed astutely notes, we're partially to blame for this, and they don't need a reformation of a reformation:

Muslims stopped having a central authority analog to Rome with the fall of the Caliphate, formally in 1920. As a result, Muslims increasingly relied on personal interpretations of the Qur'an and the Hadiths. Imams had no central authority or oversight and could teach their own personal brand of Islam. It's no accident that the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of jihadi groups, sprang into being at this point and produced thinkers like Sayyid Qutb, who argues for the Muslim version of sola scriptura. As Muir notes, Qutb could be seen as a Calvinist in temperament, but one that argues for the reinstatement of the Caliphate, based on his own interpretation of the holy books of Islam.

Churchill can get some of the blame for this. He argued for an end to the tottering Ottoman Empire in the early days of the First World War, and his Dardanelles campaign was designed to bring it to a speedy collapse. The elimination of the Caliphate in the final settlement of the war had far-reaching consequences that the short-sighted Western powers could hardly calculate.

We're in the middle of the Islamic Reformation. What we need is an Islamic Enlightenment, where Islam gets relegated to the personal and not the political. Few Muslims outside of the West appear interested in arguing for that, unfortunately.

As my wife would say, "Indeed."

Publius II


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean the Martin Luther who said of Jews, "We are at fault in not slaying them."? (Whose works were later used by the Nazis to justify their genocidal anti-Semitism?) The Martin Luther who was convicted in 1521 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the Edict of Worms of being an outlaw and heretic and of whom everyone was banned from giving food and shelter? The same edict that permitted anyone legally to kill Luther without consequence, whose life was spared only by his being taken into hiding?

Perhaps you should have read up on your history of Martin Luther before piously using him and the murderous Christian church of the Middle Ages as an example of the moderation of the Christianity.

August 19, 2007 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Syd And Vaughn said...

Mr. anonymous,

I was agreeing with Captain Ed Morrissey who made the comparison, and the author of the piece, Diana Muir.

If you have a problem with the comparison, you might want to try reading BOTH of their pieces.

I never claimed to know much about religious history (my forte lies in American history). They made the comparisons. The point of the piece is that Islam is already well underway in a reformation. I agree with Captain Ed that what they need now is enlightenment.

Next time, check the links before you spout off. This way you know where to level your ire.

Publius II

August 21, 2007 at 12:23 AM  

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