Islam and that Reformation stuff

It’s a commonplace among the Very Serious People that Islam needs to have its reformation.

Hey Ho.

So here’s an idea: what if this is actually it?

Sure, this would be a partial reading of it. And history doesn’t repeat but the burps do have reminiscent tastes. And the Christian Reformation was marked by a series of ever more idiot fundamentalists rising up and slaughtering everyone they considered insufficiently Godly. The Hussites were not having nice little prayer meetings and calling for tea and tolerance.

So, what if Isis were viewed as, say, those Hussites? The Reformation actually coming a couple of hundred years later, after everyone had got sufficiently pissed off with the fundies and everyone settled down to that tea and tolerance.

The other way of putting this is that that Christian Reformation was marked by a remarkably bloody series of wars. This does not mean that a series of remarkably bloody wars is Islam’s Reformation but we might want to be alive to the possibility of that repeating taste to history.

43 thoughts on “Islam and that Reformation stuff”

  1. Interesting theory – the analogy with early Protestants certainly fits well with ISIS’s destruction of “impure” artworks, buildings and texts.

  2. So Much for Subtlety

    So, what if Isis were viewed as, say, those Hussites?

    I am not sure how that helps. I doubt people who are reduced to smears on the walls of the underground find any comfort in the thought that they are part of a larger historical process.

    It has, sort of, turned out that way in Iran. People found Protestantism, with its austere Bible-focused practice, much easier to give up than Catholicism with its folk religion of shrines and St Christopher medallions. The Iranians did not exactly ban shrine visits, but they were none too keen on them either. ISIS hates them with a passion.

    It is possible that Muslims will reject Salafi-style Islam and then have nothing to fall back on. But I doubt any of us will live to see it.

  3. Corruption and indulgences were a moderating influence on Christianity, or at least it’s impact on the population. The Reformation is overwhelmingly seen as “a Good Thing”, but I can’t see anything positive in a process which tore away those constraints and put the nutters back in charge.

  4. Also, with Christianity there was probably an underlying society which was deemed to have institutions, discoveries, and practices worth keeping once the religion part was stripped away (or vastly reduced). Is this the same with Islam? Which Muslim country, stripped of Islam, will represent a society worth keeping? I can think of some, but for most banging the Islamic drum is their only feature.

  5. The Reformation was a reaction against the leadership, control, and corruption of the Pope and the distant Vatican. Islam doesn’t have a figurehead, nor a foreign bureaucracy making up the rules. How can you protest when there’s nobody to protest against?

    Consider Iran, a religious state and the centre of Shi’a Islam. The state and religion are unified: the supreme leader is in charge of both nation and religion (similar to Communism in Russia). In Iran if you defy the religion you defy the state: and the apparatus of the state will come down on you rather heavily. Can a reformation really happen under such conditions?

  6. bloke (not) in spain

    I think you’re ignoring how little there was outside of religiosity at the time of the Christian Reformation. The Church was not only the center of religion but also the center of education & learning, encompassing schools & universities. It was there that the enlightenment type thinking was going on. New ideas largely stayed within the Church. Problem the Muslims have is anyone thinking in an ‘enlightened’ way will have the infinity of the the secular world available to do it in. So mainstream Islam tends to concentrate conservatism as it preferentially retains non-enlightened thinkers

  7. Loving your neighbour as you would yourself just does not apply to Islam. Christian martyrs die rather than relinquish their faith whereas Islamic martyrs die in order to take as many unbelievers with them as possible. Their ideal man killed any one who mocked him in addition to any political challengers including by deceit. Christ allowed the authorities to humiliate and execute himself. The Reformation was about the right of the individual to challenge authority in the interpretation of scripture. The Koran preexisted big Mo who received it from Gabriel and is unchanging and eternal, to hold otherwise is to be an infidel. The two religious systems are too different for any facile transference of concepts from one to the other.

  8. @Andrew M, it did happen in Christian places which were back then, not dissimilar to Iran today in terms of the intertwining of religion and state.

    I’m not optimistic of a “reform” outcome for the reasons previously mentioned, and am sure none of us will live to see it. The present will go on for at least another century. IS clearly has more than enough at least tacit support from the population it is brutalizing and I would not be surprised were it to become a fully-fledged state, devoted to out-Ayatollahing the Ayatollah, sunni side up obviously.

  9. So Much for Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany – “I’m not optimistic of a “reform” outcome for the reasons previously mentioned, and am sure none of us will live to see it. The present will go on for at least another century.”

    And yet you think it is racist to object to our present immigration policies even though they will result in Britain having a Muslim majority within that century.

  10. I’ve been thinking this for a while; its 1400 years since Islam was founded. What was Christianity doing 1400 years in?

    Looking forward to the 30 years war.

  11. It’s not a reformation Islam needs, it is an Enlightenment.

    What was Christianity doing 1400 years in?

    Not enjoying the benefits of the last 600 years of progress. Which has been largely driven by the Christian / Jewish / agnostic / atheist infidel West.

  12. As Ljh said, Islam isn’t really capable of reform because the Koran is the transcribed word of God. I think what we’re seeing is a wave of religious revivalism in Sunni Islam, such as has happened in the various flavours of Christianity from time to time.

  13. @SMFS,

    Please quote me saying that objecting to current immigration policies “is racist”. If you can’t, you owe me an apology, because I really don’t remember ever saying that objecting to current immigration policies is racist.

    Current immigration policies can be objected to for racist reasons, and indeed racists tend to object for those reasons. That doesn’t mean there aren’t sound, non-racist reasons to oppose current immigration policies. I believe Trevor Philips has been doing some recanting along those lines recently, no?

    I suspect you are doing what the hard of thinking often do – assuming that someone who largely isn’t in your camp fits your stereotype of your enemy.

  14. Davy – pushing someone out of a window is banned these days under health & safety rules.
    Wars are started for the strangest reasons and in the West we are not exactly good at planning for once wars finish. Iraq thats worse than under SH? Afghanistan where the locals have won against 2 superpowers by pretty much most definitions of the word ‘win’? Libya?

  15. ” Islam isn’t really capable of reform because the Koran is the transcribed word of God”.

    This is certainly a problem. However, what Western Europeans tend to forget is that the Bible is also the Word of God.

    Islam can, in theory, do as Christianity did and have “subsequent” revelations, though competition between Sunni and Shia doesn’t help.

  16. The Christian reformation was an attempt to make the church more like the early church.
    The person most like Mo in the last 20 years was Osama Bin Laden (although unlike Mo he wasn’t a pedophile). I am not sure that we want an Islamic reformation.

  17. Will Islam survive the 21st century? This is the same question that a couple of Russian academics posed about communism. In 1970, and they copped a few years in the gulag for their pains.

    On one hand the religion of talking rocks is such obvious bollocks, and the fundamentalists so obviously mental, that serious muslims are likely to simply drop their observance. (They can’t apostasise openly, that would be too dangerous.)

    On the other hand, consider the most visible manifestations of western freedom and individualism. To a muslim in the west, it’s promiscuity, drugs, proseletising homosexuality, absent parent and loss of family cohesion. To a muslim in the east, it’s a rain of bombs.

    Bernard Lewis, the greatest scholar of Islam, had his doubts about Islam’s ability to cope with modernity. I too am cautiously hopeful.

  18. er, should have mentioned that the Russian academics were asking about the 20th century, and were widely derided by even anti communist intellectuals in the west.

  19. The reformation of Islam is indeed underway and started with Kemal Ataturk (if not before) disbanding the Ottoman empire. (Some trace it back to Vienna in 1529 when the Islamic empire’s expansion was first halted, and they first had to compromise with the unbelievers.)

    It’s now proceeding apace through the process of ‘Westernisation’. Muslims fed up with the crap conditions move to Western countries and take up more secular lifestyles. Wealthier Islamic countries import Western culture and technology. Cultural and economic pressure from the West – pointing out all their traditional religiously-mandated barbarities – is leading to slow but steady reform. The front line of the battle between Islam and the West is not on the battlefields of Syria, but in the spread of TV, pop music, clothes shops, the internet, even McDonald’s. The reformation is happening in all those Muslim communities in Europe and America where the vast majority grow up thinking girls going to school is normal, and slavery and beheadings are not. Whose cultural assumptions are being redefined along more civilised/peaceful lines.

    It’s a slow process. Cultures move at the rate of generations of kids growing up. The old folks don’t so much change as get replaced. They’re no longer in charge of the world. And the next generation will bring *their* kids up a little further down that road.

    The process is now ongoing and unstoppable; all we need to do is survive long enough to get there. That’s why governments are working to keep things stable, keep things friendly, stop everything blowing up into polarizing conflicts and wars, and most of all, maintain as much direct cultural contact and infiltration of Western cultural values into Islamic societies as possible – both the ones over there and the ones over here. Our culture is much stronger, and it’s winning, but it can’t be rushed.

    ISIS is the old Islam fighting back. We’re invading and digesting their society, assimilating their people, and (as they see it) corrupting their values. From their point of view, they’re quite correct. So they’ve consciously gone back to the origins of Islam – their actions and atrocities in Syria, Iraq, and North Africa are based on how Mohammed acted and fought. They’re hoping that by using the same methods they can repeat his trick against the decadent Byzantine Christian empire. And as with the Byzantines, militarily they haven’t got a hope, but it’s not really a military war, it’s all about credibility and the will to fight. It’s about persuading the West not to fight, and persuading the Muslims in the West that they’re going to win. If they can reach that tipping point of credibility, to persuade the Muslim world that they’re here to stay and the West *cannot* get rid of them, then many of those Muslims who don’t resist because they know they’ll lose and get stomped on could switch sides. That would be *real* trouble. They’re over here, embedded in our societies, and it would halt the slow Westernisation process at a stroke if we were to have a civil war. The Islamists win.

    They need to stomp on ISIS quickly (or better, help the moderate Muslims stomp on them). They need to stomp on any flames of Islamist enthusiasm in the West. But at the same time, they have to avoid the Muslims getting isolated from Western society. They have to keep up that cultural infiltration. Because having committed to this strategy of cultural assimilation, you can’t back out half way. People will generally pick the side they think is going to win, and if they’re not totally certain it’s going to be us, it might be us that gets assimilated.

  20. The Bible is so big and diverse it allows theology to adapt to liberalise with society. Yes that also leads to schism and wars but once they are over then change can still happen. The Iislamic text is lot shorter, more or less written at the same time by the same author in the same language. Add in the central tennet is that this is gods word and you get much less theological wiggle room.

  21. A little, Hallowed Be, but not by that much. It’s just a question of degree.

    Modern Western European Christianity is one thing; listening to true believers in the US is very much an eye-opener. The most striking difference is that the Old Testament still matters.

  22. What was Christianity doing 1400 years in?
    It was keeping Europe’s civilisations intact through multiple Great Plagues, which e.g. halved the population of England and Wales.

  23. I’d suggest that the Deobandi in India are the Hussites or the Lollards. Da’esh are the Calvinists. But the 95 theses were in 1517. When was there any real tolerance (aside from the weirdness of Poland)? The Enlightenment doesn’t come until there is total exhaustion from the seventeenth century’s wars. Real toleration, not until at least the 1830s. That’s three hundred years after Luther and Calvin.

    “Hold the line, wear them down, and wait twelve generations” might be correct, but it’s the least inspiring slogan ever.

  24. Hallowed Be,
    True, but Islam can also change if the authorities require it.

    Constant contradictions aside, there isn’t that much wiggle room in the Bible. If Western Europeans can simply make up new rules, so can Islam.

    Don’t forget, Islam already has schism.

  25. So Much for Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany – “Please quote me saying that objecting to current immigration policies “is racist”. If you can’t, you owe me an apology, because I really don’t remember ever saying that objecting to current immigration policies is racist.”

    I owe you an apology? I am impressed BiG, I really am. Here is a Yiddish word you may like chuztpah.

    But I want to be fair, tell you what, you manage to actually post something substantive and go a whole day without an insult and I’ll think about it. But from where I sit, I don’t think someone whose entire schtick is dishonest insult is in any position to be demanding apologies. Even if I was wrong.

  26. @ljh – “Loving your neighbour as you would yourself just does not apply to Islam. ” it does.

    Might not see it when watching ISIS throwing a gay man from a window, but Islam consists of so much more than those people.

  27. The reformation of Islam is indeed underway and started with Kemal Ataturk (if not before) disbanding the Ottoman empire.

    Let it not be forgotten – especially with the centenary approaching – that the first act of this ‘reformation’ was the extermination of the Armenians. Rob and kill the dhimmis who had traditionally served as the brains of the Ottoman Empire (in return for the privilege of not being massacred more than once a generation or so), slowly teach the then 95% illiterate Turks to replace them and use the Kurds as the new punchbag.

    Good for the Turks perhaps, but from a non-Muslim point of view it’s hard to see how Turkish ethno-fascism is preferable to either traditional or contemporary forms of Islamic barbarism.

  28. Johnny Bonk: while charity is one of the pillars of Islam, the recipients may only be coreligionists and it includes the financial support of jihad. Armenians had lovely Turkish neighbours until 1915.

  29. Ataturk rose to power in 1918 after the genocide. Kemalism is aggressively secular, hence making brimmed hats compulsory to interfere w religious head on floor banging as he saw religion as the reason the ME had fallen behind. He gave women the vote before most of Europe and kept a firm grip on religious establishments. The Aya Sofya stopped being a mosque and became a museum. He encouraged exploration of Anatolia’s earliest civilisations for roots. The Baathists in Arab countries followed similar programs, needing a strong military to keep the religious in check. Iran under the shah looked to Ancient Persia. This was the Reformation and Enlightenment, now slung under the bus by cheering western antifascists. The previously oppressed religious are now in charge and the Dark Ages have returned.

  30. LJH- that was secularisation. Not the same as the reformation of the religion itself. You shld be able to get rid of a dictator (godwin’s: tick) and not suddenly go back to the dark ages.

  31. NiV,

    > It’s a slow process. Cultures move at the rate of generations of kids growing up. The old folks don’t so much change as get replaced. They’re no longer in charge of the world. And the next generation will bring *their* kids up a little further down that road.

    What a lovely thought. Unfortunately, it is the exact opposite of what is actually happening. It’s the kids who are going over to fight for ISIS while their grandparents recoil in horror and shop them to MI6.

  32. Hallowed Be: islam cannot be secularised. It is not a private matter hence the division into Dar ul’islam(place of peace) where the ummah rules and Dar ul’haq (place of war) ie the rest of us. Secularists hoped that religion would become a private folkloric matter by limiting who preached what and where, steering clear of the jihad stuff, hoping it would go away and the ME become a modern society. They were wrong.

  33. LJH. -we agree then. I’m pointing out that Islam has some fundemental characteristics that mean we should not expect it necessarily to develop in a similar way to christianity. My impression is because the theology is pretty clear, if you want to go against it you have to surpress it, and there you have your ME dilemma.

  34. Andrew M said:
    “The Reformation was a reaction against the leadership, control, and corruption of the Pope and the distant Vatican. Islam doesn’t have a figurehead, nor a foreign bureaucracy making up the rules. How can you protest when there’s nobody to protest against?”

    I’m not sure that’s correct. Luther’s Theses weren’t a condemnation of the concept of a Pope. On the contrary, they were a call on the Pope to change Church practice to fit with Luther’s concept of a more “pure” form of Christianity based on earlier practices.

    That then got mixed up with secular politics and power grabs, it got messy and armies got involved.

    So, a religious desire to change the religion to an “earlier”, “purer” and basically fundamentalist form, mixed up with states and politicians trying to use it for their own advantages. I can see why Tim thinks there are parallels.

  35. Ataturk rose to power in 1918 after the genocide.

    The ‘Young Turks’ (i.e. the army) were already essentially running the place during WW1, despite the titular rule of the fossilised Sultan. There is also the small matter of the attempt to complete the genocide via the ‘Army of Islam’ in the Caucasus, which forced the surviving rump of Armenia to voluntarily accept Bolshevik rule as the alternative to complete annihilation.

  36. Ataturk kept his distance from the Young Turks who began as a political movement trying to resuscitate the decaying Ottomans before ww1. Its leaders, Inonu and others went into exile after Ataturk successfully resisted the partition of Turkey by the Great Powers at the end of WW1 when western Anatilia would have become part of a larger Greece. Himself an atheist from the Balkans he simplified the issues of ethnicity by declaring everyone in Turkey a Turk and silencing those who wished to maintain an alternative identity. Unlike the YTs he harboured no fantasies of panTurkism.

  37. Islam isn’t really capable of reform because the Koran is the transcribed word of God
    There’s some truth in that in theory, but in practice Islam, like any other religion, can be whatever its adherents want.
    For example, in the 11th century, the mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam flourished within the Seljuk empire, which had no problems with his poems praising wine. And mathematics in Islamic countries was centuries ahead of the west.

    The equivalent of ISIS at that time were the Christian crusaders, who celebrated their successful sieges of Antioch and Jerusalem by massacreing the inhabitants: Christian, Jewish and Muslim alike.

  38. So Much for Subtlety

    PaulB – “The equivalent of ISIS at that time were the Christian crusaders, who celebrated their successful sieges of Antioch and Jerusalem by massacreing the inhabitants: Christian, Jewish and Muslim alike.”

    The equivalent of ISIS …. that the locals preferred to their own governments. Ibn Jubayr expresses his disgust that the local Muslim population were treated so well by the Crusaders that they supported them and did not want to be ruled by Muslims.

    So not quite ISIS then

  39. Ibn Jubayr expresses his disgust…
    Not in the 11th century he doesn’t. Perhaps in 85 years’ time ISIS will have progressed to become less oppressive than some of the regimes it supplants.

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