Unlike Christianity in north-west Europe which went through ‘The Reformation’, Islam has remained unreformed for fourteen centuries – that is until now.
The Reformation was a theological revolution triggered by people such as Martin Luther and John Calvin who did a re-reading of Scripture, which led to massive change:
- at the individual level people were given personal responsibility in their faith
- at the political level the relationship of “church and state” changed and the church no longer was the government
- at the church level the “clergy-laity” divide changed.
The net result was the loosening of the traditional ties of “church as government”.
The house of Islam has never had a Reformation.
Islam is now undergoing a reforming process. The small “r” is because it isn’t – yet – a full-blown theological revolution, as experienced in Europe.
It is the “fixed” nature of Islamic theology, which is – by definition – static and resistant to any discussion of their holy texts, which deviate from the understanding held down the Islamic centuries. Hermeneutical interpretation, as understood by Christians, is forbidden.
Having said all that, “reformation” with a small “r” is indeed underway politically and socially by the popular consent of Muslim people. The Pew Research Centre tracked Muslim attitudes toward Islamism among 14,244 respondents in 14 Islamic countries. They found that the more Muslims know about Islamism, the more they reject it (1).
Some Muslims are challenging the status quo such as Kuwaiti Women MPs who refused to wear the hijab and demanded the annulling of amendments to regulations introduced by Islamists, aimed at enforcing shari’a in parliament (2). Muhammad Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University in Cairo said: ‘The niqab (face veil) is a tradition’ that has ‘no connection with religion’ (3). Others Muslims are voting with their feet, such as those who abandon religion to become “ex-Muslims”. http://ex-muslim.org.uk/category/resources/
The people responsible for speeding up the reforming process are hard-liners such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama Bin-Laden and now ISIS leader Abu Bakr el-Baghdadi. Other groups include Al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa and Boko Haram in Nigeria. All attempt to implement shari’a law and set up a modern day Islamic Caliphate. The experiment has always led to the stifling of democracy, the abuse of human rights, the ruin of economies and bloodshed.
Fair-minded Muslims look on and say: “If this is the purest expression of Islam – I don’t want it”; which helps explain why some Muslims are voting with their feet as record numbers are changing allegiance to Jesus Christ.
“Reformed Islam” used to refer to repressive forms of Islamic religion, but it has been replaced by words such as “Islamist” or “jihadi”.
We can now talk about “reformed Islam” as the progress being made towards a “spiritual Islam” as some young Egyptian professionals call it; or a “Euro-Islam” as analyst Philip Jenkins called it in his book God’s Continent; or an “Islam for the 21st Century” as others say.
Medieval Islam is incompatible with the modern world. It must reform to survive; which is the painful process we are witnessing today. For example, the ‘Arab Spring’; swift prosecution for the murderer of soldier Lee Rigby; the overturning of the death-sentence on Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan; the exposure of the Trojan Horse affair in schools; ISIS vilified for barbaric behaviour; young British jihadis vilified.
Bullying, politicised forms of Islam are not tolerated. We are getting savvy, distinguishing between “rights” of ordinary Muslims and “wrongs” of violent Muslims.
‘Islam in the modern world is weak and brittle, not strong; that accounts for its frequent shrillness. Fundamentalist Islam will be dangerous for some time to come. Islam’s melancholic withdrawing roar may well be long and bloody – but withdraw it will. The fanatics and bombers do not represent a resurgence of unreformed Islam buts its death rattle.’ – Theodore Dalrymple (4)
I heard someone say that violent mediaeval Islam is like a block of ice in a heated swimming pool – it has a limited time left in the 21st century. The whole world order is organised around human rights and social progress. Ancient forms of Islam are incompatible with the modern world.
1. Pew Centre, Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East, July, 2014
2. Richard Spencer, “Kuwaiti women MPs refuse to wear hijab in parliament”, Daily Telegraph, 12 October 2009.
3. “Sheikh al-Azhar forces a student to remove her Niqab”, Mideastwire, 5 October 2009, quoting Al-Masry al-Yawm, “Egypt`s Top Cleric Plans Face Veil Ban in Schools”, Asharq Alawsat, 6 October 2009.