SUNDAY, JULY 13, 2014
The Islamic Reformation II
In my last post I examined the development of the current state of affairs in the Muslim world with the intent of asking what might bring about a change for the better, and how they might be willing to lay down their animosity and violence toward the non-Muslim world. Many who have looked at this problem concluded that Islam needs a “Reformation.” But those who say this, are thinking of the Protestant Reformation that not only changed the Christian church, it changed Western civilization, and opened the door to many of the blessings of freedom, equality, rule of law, and prosperity that we enjoy today. No less an authority than Max Weber, who coined the phrase “Protestant work-ethic” has described the positive impact that Reformation teaching had upon Northern Europe and the United States. As Ibrahim stated in his article, “How Christianity and Islam can follow similar patterns of reform but with antithetical results rests in the fact that their scriptures are often antithetical to one another.” (Front Page Magazine, “Islam’s Protestant Reformation”) The reason that the Protestant Reformation brought about so many of the blessings of modern culture is that is was based on the principles of scripture: the rule of law, all men equal before God, the importance of personal integrity, the sanctity of marriage, and the sanctity of human life. Not to mention the need for checks and balances on governmental power (because of human sin) and the call to the use of wealth and power for compassionate, charitable purposes. We could also add universal education and the end of feudalism to this list of contributions. Many have assumed that the modern West is the result of the Enlightenment, when, in fact, it was the product of the Reformation. This is not to say the Enlightenment didn’t have a role, it did. For instance we got our emphasis on the “consent of the governed” from Rousseau as well as the clause about the necessity of revolution in the affairs of a state. But our emphasis on God given rights (natural rights) and the need for checks and balances in the division of our branches of government, along with our understanding that freedom can only be granted to self-governing men, thus the founders emphasized the freedom of religion. All one need to do to establish that the United States did not originate from the Enlightenment is to compare the American Revolution and its documents with the French Revolution and its documents (and results). Islam had nothing like this. In going back to its roots, it had to reject what Ibrahim describes as the “medieval synthesis” (developed in an attempt to make Islam compatible with practical society). He writes, “While the medieval synthesis worked over the centuries, it never overcame a fundamental weakness: It was not comprehensively rooted in or derived from the foundational texts of Islam. Based on compromises and half-measures, it always remained vulnerable to challenge by the purists.” (Ibrahim is quoting Daniel Pipes here) Islam’s original documents take it back to Sharia Law and Jihad. So what might bring about a transformation of the Islamic world? First, it will not come from outside of Islam. While attempts in significant academic circles to present historical, philosophical, and theological criticism of Islam by Western scholars would be helpful. Its assistance would be to give reason and voice to intellectuals within the Islamic world. It seems to me that Islam needs to face, not a reformation but an enlightenment. I have often wondered where is the Islamic Voltaire, Hobbes, Spinoza, or Diderot? In the current environment within the Muslim world, they are in hiding. They dare not speak for fear of certain death. There are some voices, we have already mentioned them, Salmon Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Yet even in the West, they must live in seclusion. The world will need many more of these brave souls, and we must support and encourage them as we can. It is guaranteed that this process will be bloody. It will require exposing the texts and teachings of Islam to the kind of brutal criticism that was directed at the Bible in the late nineteenth century. It will seek to separate fact from fiction, and include something like the search for the historical Jesus only directed at the Prophet. As we might imagine, entire societies would be up in arms at such questioning of their fundamental teachings. Just look at what happened when a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet were published. It will take a monumental shift within Islam for such a process to even be contemplated. But in some ways, the current crisis with its terrible brutality and now the desecration of churches, mosques, and holy sites has the potential of turning many in the general population away from this terrible extremism, and cause some to even question the tenets of their faith. A natural question that arises from my two posts is where is the Sunni-Shia divide in this description of the Islamic revival. Both of these factions have contributed to the revival, and in many ways, the revival has deepened the animosity between them. One of the notable elements of the recent Iraq war was the amount of Sunni and Shia violence against each other, not to mention the increased persecution of the ancient Christian communities in the region. It is part of what is disconcerting about this so called revival of Islam, it has deepened ancient animosities and produced unprecedented violence. We must say that our concern is for the Muslim people along with all the peoples living in the Middle East. Our hope must be that the Muslim world itself will rise up and oppose the brutality and evil that is being perpetrated in the name of Islam. We must remember that one of the factors that contributed to the Enlightenment was the deep revulsion among European intellectuals at the terrible bloodshed in the post-Reformation wars that devastated Europe. Our hope must be that the awful violence that we see today will invoke a similar reaction in the Muslim world.