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!”

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 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?

Actually, the Reformation started on October 31st, 1517.

Is there an actual institution for the Islamic reformers to rebel against, to reform?

Elmwood, given the history of Protestant Christianity (especially in the first 200 years after Luther), what on Earth makes you think an “Islamic Reformation” would be moderate?! What makes you think it would be in any way “kinder” or “gentler” than Islam in its existing forms?

Typo. I guess that invalidates the remainder of m message.

Not at all.

Note the second question - I’m unaware that there is a large, all-encompassing institution that is responsible for the guiding and training of the Islamic priesthood ala the Catholic church in Europe.

Huh. I guess you’ve missed the bazillion debates about this in your five years as a member ;).

To reiterate some comments I’ve made before, Islam is anything but monolithic and beliefs and practices have changed frequently. Indeed modern Islamic fundametalism is quite…well…modern in character and even age, dating back only a century or two in ideology in most cases ( though of course purporting to reach back to older traditions ).

As for “liberal Muslims”, there are plenty, including at least a couple on this message board :).

I’m not sure a schism, in terms of a massive breach into seperate sects is likely in modern day Sunnism. Islam is already divided into inumerable sects and brotherhoods, with some like the Is’maili Shi’a and some branches of the various Sufi brotherhoods often labeled as more moderate or liberal in the western sense. There are even some pacifist Muslims, mostly in Sufi orders like the Qadiriyya, Chishtiyya or the Senegalese Mouride.

More likely if we see movement towards greater liberalism it will be a more amorphous movement, individually driven. The lack of strong hiearchy in Sunni Islam ( Sufi masters aside in some cases ) would tend to argue against a mass organized move, I think.

Currently one big obstacle has been the recent ( last quarter century in particular ) historical failure of the western-style liberalism associated with secular governments in the ME/NA to materially improve the lot of the citizens. To the contrary, the secular, quasi-socialist, loosely pan-Arabist governments of the 1950’s to the present have for the most part been immensely corrupt and oppresive oligarchies.

Westen-style liberalism, which piggy-backed with secularism in the guise of modernization is seen as a failure, while fundamenbtalist Islamic organizations have grown to be viewed as the far less corrupt loyal oppositions, that contrary to the governments, care about the downtrodden and repressed.

Given the huge number of downtrodden and oppressed in the ME/NA ( not all of them merely poor, this includes a sizeable, deeply-frustated educated class excluded from power ), the lure of a fundamentalist, egalitarian and militant Islamic movement remains strong.

The big counter is the disgust everyday folk feel towards extremist acts - dancing in the streets was hardly the dominant response to 9/11 and strikes home even more when fundamentalist crazies bomb quiet areas of Morocco for example or murder female peace-workers in Iraq. Nonetheless, the further folk are radicalized by oppression ( real or perceived ), the more inured they can come to the suffering of others, especially when they are viewed as opponents ( i.e. as with those dancing Palestinians whose images were so widely broadcast ).

  • Tamerlane

I think it’s pretty difficult to judge Islamic countries as a whole from what you see on American TV stations. Yes, there are some countries (Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh for example) that are conservative to the point of verging on extremism, but they’re not the majority. What makes the news is NEWSWORTHY. You hear very little about more moderate Islamic countries, because it doesn’t grab the attention of America.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but the Quran is not inherently violent. Jihad refers more to internal struggle than war, which has specific rules associated with it (no non-combatant deaths, no women or child deaths, etc). America was pretty damn conservative in many ways until recently too. I’m not saying most Islamic countries aren’t conservative, I’m saying they’re not extremist. They ARE conservative in comparison to present day America, but I think people look at them and say “Wow, how archaic,” without noticing that we didn’t give women the right to vote until the 20s and that women STILL don’t have equal pay. We’re doing better, but we’ve got a while to go.

Bottom line of my post: Islam is not a violent religion. Most Muslims do not advocate violence. If you look at the division of Shiite and Sunni groups, you’ll find only a couple advocate getting involved in politics and violent action. It’s NOT the majority of Muslims. The religion doesn’t need reformation because of the extremists and fringe groups. There will always be extremists and fringe groups in every religion. If someone perverts the message of a religion, blame them, not the religion itself.

I suppose Israel doesn’t count…

:confused: What “failure”? In ME/NA countries with secular (if not “liberal”) governments, like Egypt and Iraq, has not the material lot of the people improved dramatically since, say, 1950? Or even since 1975?

I go to a Dopefest, and everyone else makes my points for me…

Essentially, I will back up what Tamerlane and Pessemisticgrace have said. Islam is not an inherently violent religion, it is the fact that some folk interpret the Koran literally that means that some people espouse violence, and carry out violent acts in the name of Islam – not that much different to any other religion.

Islam has also, like practically every other religion on the face of this planet, been hijacked for political purposes. This does not portray Muslims in a good light, whcih is unfortunate.

I’d really like to echo the sentiment of the last line of pessemisticgrace’s post – Islam is not inherently violent, but the people who have perverted and subverted Islam for their own political/violent means are inherently violent. Blame them for the violence/debasement of the religion, but do not lump all Muslims in together as peace hating, violent extremeists.

You’re quite right, that was a very poor choice of words on my part ( though in fact Egypt does have a worse adjusted PCI than it did in the 1950’s I believe - many/most ME/NA economies are currently pretty stagnant ).

Things like literacy and life-span have in fact increased greatly, even if most of these economies have suffered overall failures in terms of the ‘rentier’ effect of oil revenues and poorly implemented and unrealistic five-year plans ( or prestige boondoggles like the Aswan Dam, that both negatively impacted agriculture in the long run and drove up rates bilharzia infection ). However real power, economic and political, has remained trapped in the hands of relatively small and largely corrupt oligarchies. Further those governments have shown themselves a) very repressive and b) incapable of following through with promises of nationalistic triumphs ( the repeated failure to deal effectively with Israel for example ).

  • Tamerlane

Just a niggle: Bangladesh is technically a secular country, predominantly Muslim population but a significant Hindu minority, and it is a democracy. That is not to say it isn’t threatened by extremism, but for now it is not an Islamic country.

Wow, that was dumb of me. :wink: I amend my previous post. My point with Bangladesh is that the Muslim population is very conservative, particularly with regard to women.

It wasn’t dumb - it is an easy thing to get confused about - which countries in this part of the world are theocracies and which aren’t!

I would say that most of the women-oppression in this region derives from pre-Islamic customs that endure due to poverty and continued illiteracy.

Then there are extremists that pervert the message of the Qu’ran to oppress women, but it’s a total misinterpretation. The problem is that any moderates speaking out against the fundamentalists get death threats and endless trouble. From the life of the Prophet, there is everything to suggest that he greatly supported women’s rights and participation in business and religion.

Regarding the recent furore over the muslim woman leading prayers (at a US mosque, IIRC) - apparently there is even a precedent for that, where Mohammed ordered a woman who had paid for a mosque to be built to lead the prayers there.

Really, it’s like the “god hates fags” set of “christians”. Anyone who has ever read the bible should be acutely aware that “Jesus/God loves sinners” - but it suits a certain set to pervert a creed for their own ends. And as ever, the minority is far more vocal than the majority.