The latest Muslim Martin Luther, taking up the tattered crown from the cynical, deceptive Tariq Ramadan, is Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has called for a reformation within Islam. Such a reformation is certainly urgently needed, and even in calling for it, Sisi has gone much farther than the Muslim Brotherhood scion Ramadan ever did.
Sisi, however, is a general, not a member of the Egyptian ulama; his words are unlikely to spark a mass movement for general reformation of the elements of Islam that give impetus to violence and supremacism. And the existence of those elements, and people who believe in them, is likely to menace Sisi for simply making this call — as others have been menaced for calling for reform in Islam in the past. Just last year, the Moroccan activist Ahmed Assid condemned violence in Islam’s name, and was promptly declared an apostate and an enemy of Allah by Muslim clerics, and threatened with death. The Iraqi Shi’ite scholar Sayyed Ahmad Al-Qabbanji called for reason in Islamic discourse and jurisprudence, and was immediately arrested.
Sisi has the power of the state behind him, for now, so such a fate is not likely to befall him, at least in the near future.
“Islamic ‘Martin ‘Luther’ issues his proclamation,” by James Zumwalt for UPI, January 28:
HERNDON, Va., Jan. 28 (UPI) — During late January, two high-profile personalities took actions — one outside the United States and one within — that couldn’t be any farther apart in terms of their global impact.
Due to irresponsible media coverage, the first story — with major global impact — went unreported while the second — involving an out-of-control, spoiled 19-year old kid — kept grabbing daily headlines.
Starring in the latter was Canadian entertainer Justin Bieber whose drinking, drugging and reckless driving binge in Florida was ended by police, fortunately before he killed anyone. The other action starred Egyptian leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who made the bombshell announcement it is time for Muslims to reform Islam, bringing it into sync with modern times….
While the United States’ Islamic nightmare seems unending, time will have to tell whether Sisi’s declaration will have its intended Martin Luther-esque effect on the religion.
Sisi delivered a speech, saying, “Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people, pointing to the need for a new vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam — rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”
The “800 year” reference was to the year 1258 — allegedly when highly qualified Islamic scholars of the day (“mujtahids”) declared, through “ijtihad” (independent reasoning), they had officially resolved all disputes about religious doctrine. Therefore, the “gates of ijtihad” were closed to future debate as no scholar could ever again qualify as a mujtahid — obviously a somewhat short-sighted position to assume.
For Sisi to suggest reopening ijtihad “to improve the image of this religion in front of the world” is the equivalent of Martin Luther defiantly nailing his proclamation (known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) to a church door in 1517, seeking to reform self-promoting Roman Catholic religious practices.
Exercising his “independent reasoning” within these 95 theses, Luther challenged existing church doctrine such as that suggesting the road to heaven was paved with monetary donations. He found the church’s “marketing jingle” — “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” — repugnant, teaching instead that heaven’s road was paved with good deeds performed for others.
Sisi has thrown a gauntlet at the feet of Islamic extremists embarked upon a journey of violence, chastising them for their “destruction around the world, due to the crimes falsely committed in the name of Islam.”
The Muslim world will pay more attention to the general’s message than has the West. It will be intriguing, however, to see whether an undercurrent for reform exists under the surface due to dissatisfaction with the high-profile violence extremists strive to maintain….
Only time will tell whether Sisi’s proclamation turns over a new leaf for Islam or simply initiates yet another violent phase in its history. The former guarantees him a respected place in history; the latter, a violent death.