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Thread: The Islamic Reformation: will it ever happen?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    The Islamic Reformation: will it ever happen?

    On 21 October 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Saxony. This act is often considered to be the start of the Protestant Reformation.

    In the early 1800s, some recently emancipated German Jews worked to modernize Juewish practice and beliefs, to integrate their religion into the contemporary culture of the day. The result was Reform Judaism. Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism emerged shortly afterwards.

    After a terrorist attack, or the beheading of someone by an extremist group of some sort, many Americans ask "Why aren't moderate Muslims speaking out against it? All you see are Muslims dancing in the street at the news, firing off their AKs and yelling 'Allah Akhbar!' and 'Lalalalalalala!'"

    There doesn't seem to be an liberal strain of Islam; beliefs and practice are almsot unchanged since the founding of the religion. On the surface, Islam seems extremely monolithic and conservative. If there are liberal or moderate strains of the faith, very few people have heard of them.

    I'd like to know if there will ever be an "Islamic Reformation," a schism that could result in what would seem like a kinder, gentler, more modern Islam, akin to Reform and Conservative Judaism or non-fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. If not, why? What would prevent the reformation of Islam?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Quote Originally posted by Dan
    On 21 October 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Saxony. This act is often considered to be the start of the Protestant Reformation.

    In the early 1800s, some recently emancipated German Jews worked to modernize Juewish practice and beliefs, to integrate their religion into the contemporary culture of the day. The result was Reform Judaism. Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism emerged shortly afterwards.

    After a terrorist attack, or the beheading of someone by an extremist group of some sort, many Americans ask "Why aren't moderate Muslims speaking out against it? All you see are Muslims dancing in the street at the news, firing off their AKs and yelling 'Allah Akhbar!' and 'Lalalalalalala!'"

    There doesn't seem to be an liberal strain of Islam; beliefs and practice are almsot unchanged since the founding of the religion. On the surface, Islam seems extremely monolithic and conservative. If there are liberal or moderate strains of the faith, very few people have heard of them.

    I'd like to know if there will ever be an "Islamic Reformation," a schism that could result in what would seem like a kinder, gentler, more modern Islam, akin to Reform and Conservative Judaism or non-fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. If not, why? What would prevent the reformation of Islam?
    My (unprofessional) understanding of Islamic history is that in some ways modern fundamentalist Islam is as much a product of the modern era as fundamentalist Protestant Christianity-for the same reason (people desperately searching for an alternative to modernism that hasn't worked for them). Not that there were not other fundamentalist movements in the past (John Calvin, the Roundheads,the Puritans).

    Many Islamic societies of the Middle Ages were quite tolerant and flowered in culture. Remember that it was the Spanish CATHOLICS that expelled the Jews and created the most extreme forms of the Inquisition.

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    Interesting column today by Christopher Hitchens, who I may disagree with (pro-war) but who has some good thoughts on things:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2119392/fr/nl/




    Fighting words A wartime lexicon.


    Stop the Masochistic Insanity
    The violent response to the report of "Quranic abuse" isn't about faith, it's about intolerance.
    By Christopher Hitchens
    Posted Monday, May 23, 2005, at 9:16 AM PT

    Toward the end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, when music had already been banned and women excluded from Islamic rituals by being immured in their homes, and when new non-Quranic punishments—such as being buried alive—had been promulgated for homosexuals, an arcane point arose among the fierce Islamists who ran the place: Should paper bags also be haram, or forbidden? The point was an exquisitely delicate one. It was known that such bags were made from recycled paper. It had been alleged that old and torn copies of the Quran had been thrown, or must have been thrown, somewhere and sometime, into the vats of pulp. Was there, therefore, not a real risk that each paper bag might contain a profaned fragment of the divine word? The thought of toilet paper being made in this manner may have been too obscene even to consider, but in the event, paper bags were banned, just as most reading material had already been.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    In fact there are many "liberal" Muslims interpreting the Koran significantly differently than the clerics in the Arab world. The vast majority of them are Muslim scholars working at Western universities though.

    There is a problem (and a danger) in seeing this as a "Muslim" rather than an "Arab" phenomenon. In fact the problems in the so-called "Muslim world" have far more to do with the use of Religion by Arab leaders than anything else. And even then the connection to religion is tenuous (Saddam Hussein for instance was just a run-of-the-mill secular despot who really didn't have much of anything to say about Religion).

    Parallels can not be drawn to the Christian reformation because the structure of the religions are very different. The Catholic church is a monolithic, hierarchical organization. Most of Luther's complaints had to do with hypocrisy and corruption in that organization rather than any matters of dogma.

    No such structure exists in Islam, and it functions basically like Protestantism already. In the Arab world, however, most governments reserve the right to interpret the religion as they see fit. It's as if each country has its own “Church of England” that does the political government’s bidding.

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    I think jordanb makes some good points. Unfortunately, though, the pressures of modernization and competition for resources mean these issues are becoming more prevalent in non-Arab Muslim societies Nigeria, for instance, where violent internecine sectarian violence is spreading-often promoted, interestingly enough, by local politicans.

    An interesting book I recently read looks at the issue of Modernization and Islam in Malaysia. Darn it, can't remember the name of the book.

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