By Diana Muir in the Washington [bleep]:
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 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.
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. […]
As Luther put it: Sola scriptura (Scripture alone).
This is heady stuff. The conviction of having the Word direct from God can empower individuals to rebuke, to command and even to kill in His name. Protestant determination to follow the word of God straight from the Bible was accompanied by a desire to purify Christianity by emulating the beliefs and practices of the early church. Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Sayyid Qutb, a leading Muslim Brotherhood thinker; and Ibn Wahab, the founder of modern Salafi, or Wahhabist, Islam, call upon Muslims to return to the uncorrupted beliefs and practices of early Islam and to become as pure as Salafis, or the first three generations of Muslims. To become, as it were, Puritans.
Muir makes some interesting points here. First, the hope for an Islamic “reformation,” even if it followed the form of the Christian Reformation, would hardly prove a walk in the park. Second, a Muslim reformation of sorts is very much underway already thanks to the Salafis and individuals like Qutb and Al Banna — though this is hardly the shortcut to enlightenment that naive Westerners would understand “reformation” to mean.
Western pundits have debated whether Arabs who voted for Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian and Egyptian parliamentary elections were voting for the Islamist religious program or voting against corruption. Surely it was a two-for-one deal. To vote for the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas is to vote against corruption and for returning to the purity of the days of the prophet Muhammad. This was a compelling idea when preached by Calvin. It is compelling still.
There are, of course, differences between the Protestant and Islamic reformations. In Islam today it is usually radical reformers who have reached first for the sword. In the European Reformation, things became tense when a determined minority demanded reform, but in general it was those church and state officials who held power who first resorted to violence.
Like others before her — and, one confidently predicts, many yet to come — Muir starts off well but then glances off the central point. Still, for the [bleep], she comes pretty close.
While the Christian Reformation and the Islamic one both subscribe to sola scriptura (though it is important to note that all schools of Islamic orthodoxy accept the literal, unalterable, and supreme authority of the Quran), the one critical difference — which Muir, and, it seems, everybody else — fails to mention is just what are the differences in content between the Christian and Islamic scriptures. No one wants to talk about the violent injunctions in the Quran or the bloody precedents set by Muhammad — as compared to the commands of Christ to love, forgive, and turn the other cheek and his example of preferring an ignominious death to resisting his tormentors. I think somebody wrote something on this recently?
In the near term, though, the Islamic Reformation will divide Muslim society as the Reformation divided Europe. A fervent minority in many countries is already pressing for narrow interpretations on issues such as veiling, whether to listen to music and replacing secular laws with religious codes. As we have seen in Europe and more recently in Afghanistan, Muslim Puritans are likely to take over communities where they are far from being the majority. Meanwhile, the majority has yet to construct an effective ideological defense of moderation.
This last remark begs the question: Why has there been such a lack of “an effective ideological defense of moderation”? During the Christian Reformation, there was a very robust conservative defense mounted by the Roman Catholic Church — which persists to this day. So where are the “moderates” in Islam today? Why have they not appeared? Precisely because Islam is not “moderate.” “Moderate” (as in mainstream), orthodox Islam is a violent, political program with world conquest as its aim. Until the actual content of Islam is brought forth into the light of day, commentators such as Muir will continue to scratch their heads in bafflement as to why the Muslim “moderates” can’t get their act together.