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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Why There Will Never Be an Islamic Reformation, Enlightenment, etc

Islam already had a reformation- the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement of the 18th century. It's also worth pointing out that the Reformation in Christianity was not peaceful. The Protestant sects that sprang up were often just as violent and dogmatic as the Catholic Church. One of the first official acts of the Church of England was to seize the land and wealth of Catholic monks and Martin Luther wrote many anti-Semitic pamphlets and books.

Islam already had an Enlightenment too. It wasn't until around 1600 that Europe finally began to pull ahead of the Islamic world in terms of wealth, technology, and military power. The Muslims had gunpowder, advanced mathematics, astronomy, etc. long before the Europeans but did not develop them.

The problem, I think, is that Islam from the beginning was more than a religion. The Quran is legal, economic, and political blueprint in addition to a holy book. It is impossible for Muslims to adopt alternative economic, political, or legal ideas without violating the clear commands of the Quran. For example, the Quran and the hadith (sayings of Mohamed) clearly state that people who leave Islam should be killed. Any Muslim who disagrees with command is guilty of criticizing the Quran which is also forbidden and punishable by death. This general hostility to new ideas prevented Muslim thinkers from advancing knowledge. Muslim scientists were prevented from considering ideas that contradicted Islam.

With the Bible, on the other hand, Christian theologians have been ignoring and reinterpreting it since it was written. For example, the Bible in the old Jewish part commands not to eat pork or shellfish, but these rules are repealed after the part about Jesus. In fact, Jesus basically said that it doesn't matter what you eat (Mathew 15, verses 16 -20). This is the reason most Christians ignore other commands from the old part that say witches and homosexuals should be killed. A religion which allows criticism and debate makes it easy to criticize and debate all kinds of ideas.

The bottom line is Christians and others have a flexibility in belief which is not allowed in Islam and is not a tradition in it. A religion that teaches that the ideal society was that of 7th century Arabia is always going to lag behind. Asking if Islam can modernize is like asking if the Amish can start driving cars. It's not possible without radically changing it.


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