Monday, April 30, 2007

Islamic Reformation?

An interesting post on Austrolab about a new movement in interpreting Islam: http://austrolabe.com/2007/04/30/ameer-ali-celebrates-the-collapse-of-religious-authority/
This linked with the secularist protest in Turkey the other day raises some interesting ideas. The Austrolab post points to an article by Ameer Ali in The Australian which discusses a possible rise in Islamic rationalism divorced from traditional orthodoxy.

What really jumps out of the page is the idea that Muslims may no longer need nor desire the leadership of Imams to interpret the Koran. The idea is that every Muslim is his or her own Imam, that the holy books of Islam should be read unfiltered by religious authority.

Now in Christendom we have gone down this road before, it is called Protestism. The radical notion set loose by Martin Luther was that each Christian should read the Bible on there own and each individual was responsible for their own salvation. This unleashed a Century of war and the eventual shattering of Christian unity. While Roman Catholicism survived relatively intact Luther’s Protestism broke up into a myriad of different sects. The Chaos that ensued after Luther’s little posting, the insanity of trying to looking in to men’s souls and judging if there innermost thoughts were correct, created a backlash. The Enlightenment was that backlash.

Both these Western European movements seemed to have passed the Muslims by. At the time most followers of the Prophet, if they thought of it all, were grateful for not being involved in Europe’s insanity. Suleiman the Magnificent did try to cause a little more angst by offering Luther sanctuary. Luther, safe in the arms of his German protectors, scoffed at the idea.

It was only later that the fruits of the Reformation and the Enlightenment became apparent. Both the Industrial revolution and the Scientific revolution have their roots in the Enlightenment. With the both the physical tools and intellectual tools provided by the Enlightenment Western Europe proceeded to take over the world.

Flashing forward to the present day, we are very deep into the changes wrought by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The constant questioning and testing and rigorous logic envisioned by the Scientific Revolution and the Scientific method has invaded every nook and cranny of higher learning. In the Christian world this has laid waste to hundreds of years of orthodoxy about the sources of the Bible. No serious scholar would now contend that Moses or King Solomon actually had a hand in writing any part of the Good Book. It was only a matter of time before the Quran, the Hadith and other Islamic documents were put under the same scrutiny. This process is only beginning, right now it’s mostly an amateur affair, people doing the work because they love the thought process and because they love Islam. Sooner or later the professionals will step in, the pier-reviewed denizens of the publish-or-perish University world. Good god, what a donnybrook that will be, sour-faced Imams facing off against the multiple degreed overly wordy professors.

It is not surprising that Muslims in the West are bringing these new tools of understanding to Islam. These Muslims, especially the converts, have been living in the belly of the beast. They are the children of the Enlightenment. They carry in their head the lessons of Locke and Hume and Montesquieu and Jefferson and Madison. They are not about to kowtow to any received wisdom. They are going to ask embarrassing questions and come up with radical ideas. They are going back to the roots of Islam. Will this cause history to repeat itself? Will Islam fragment and if so, what would an Islamic equivalent to Jehovah’s Witnesses look like? Or will this “Reformation” look like Sufism, a movement in Islam that is shared by both Sunnis and Shi'ite s? The protests in Turkey proved that many Muslims want to preserve their secular society and that there are limits to were an Islamic government can go without resistance.

Western Governance and ideology has brought many concepts to the Ummah some like Authoritarian Antisemitic Socialism have not been helpful. Too many Arab people suffer under the rot and kleptomania of these “Moderate” regimens. But other ideas, of liberty, rule of law, open governance, civil rights and the right of privacy are very appealing. These ideas are not in any way Unislamic. Will the Prophets successors listen to the words being whispered in their ears by Tomas Jefferson and others? Only time will tell.
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