Many of us see parallels between Islam today and Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. Islamâ€™s all encompassing socio-political-religious system is similar to the Rule of the Holy Roman Empire and the Popes who headed it up. Just as Christian morals, ideals and ideas permeated the society of the Middle Ages to its core as ruled by the Holy Roman Church, so does Islam at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Islamism is the socio-political arm of the religion of Islam just as the Catholic Church was the socio-political arm of the Holy Roman Empire. To fully recognize our enemy is too understand the roots of Islamism in Islam â€“ not the roots as fascism. Many believe that Islamism can only be defeated when the religion of Islam itself is reformed â€“ just as the Catholicism was reformed and helped break the power of the Holy Roman Empire and the Church.
But would such a reformation be a blessing or a curse? And what if the Islamic reformation has already begun â€“ but not the way weâ€™d like?
One school of thought is that the Islamic reformation is really the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and that it began shortly after Ataturk terminated the Caliphate and made Turkey a secular sates. In response, this produced the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic fundamentalist goals that are incorporated in The Project.
Now, Diana Miur in her interesting article in the Washington Post entitled Risks in a Muslim Reformation has her take on an Islamic Reformation.
A Reformation is sweeping through the Muslim world. Westerners are generally aware that the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam are struggling for dominance in Iraq. But more broadly, the words and doctrine promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis or Wahhabists are eerily similar to those of our 16th-century forebears.
Like the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Islamic reformers reject the interpretations of generations of scholars in favor of seeking the word of God directly in scripture. The Protestant Reformation did precede the things these men admire about modernity in the West, including womenâ€™s emancipation, political liberty, scientific breakthroughs, the wealth and opportunity created by the Industrial Revolution, and permission to think freely regarding God. But all this came later, and the Reformation was only part of what brought them about.
The Reformation was a time of intense focus on God and what He requires of people. As a movement, it was enthusiastic, narrow and far from tolerant. It and the Counter-Reformation brought two centuries of repression, war and massacre to the West. Itâ€™s unlikely that anyone who lived through it would consider wishing a Reformation on Muslims.
The conviction of having the Word direct from God can empower individuals to rebuke, to command and even to kill in His name. Protestant determination to follow the word of God straight from the Bible was accompanied by a desire to purify Christianity by emulating the beliefs and practices of the early church. Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Sayyid Qutb, a leading Muslim Brotherhood thinker; and Ibn Wahab, the founder of modern Salafi, or Wahhabist, Islam, call upon Muslims to return to the uncorrupted beliefs and practices of early Islam and to become as pure as Salafis, or the first three generations of Muslims. To become, as it were, Puritans.
It doesnâ€™t take a Ph.D to see that stifling Puritanism is what fundamentalist Islam teaches today.
The call to purity appeals in part because in the Muslim world today corrupt holders of wealth and power resist moderate attempts at reform, much as the corrupt holders of wealth and power in the church and states in Luther’s Europe resisted moderate reform.
Western pundits have debated whether Arabs who voted for Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian and Egyptian parliamentary elections were voting for the Islamist religious program or voting against corruption. Surely it was a two-for-one deal. To vote for the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas is to vote against corruption and for returning to the purity of the days of the prophet Muhammad. This was a compelling idea when preached by Calvin. It is compelling still.
She did see differences between the Reformation and the changes going on in Islam today. In Islam, itâ€™s the radical reformers who reach for the sword. In the Reformation, it was those in power – the Church and state officials- who resorted to violence.
In the near term, though, the Islamic Reformation will divide Muslim society as the Reformation divided Europe. A fervent minority in many countries is already pressing for narrow interpretations on issues such as veiling, whether to listen to music and replacing secular laws with religious codes. As we have seen in Europe and more recently in Afghanistan, Muslim Puritans are likely to take over communities where they are far from being the majority. Meanwhile, the majority has yet to construct an effective ideological defense of moderation.
Itâ€™s a devilâ€™s choice today in Islamic countries. Support the secular dictators who have little chance of instituting western freedoms in their countries and who fuel the types of Islamic fundamentalism that is happening today â€“ or support the growing influence of those who would take Islam back to the 7th century.
The choices are not pretty but we need to establish some kind of strategy that will help us walk a middle path.
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