Martin Luther Rushdie

Salman Rushdie bravely — yes, bravely — calls for a reformation in Islam:

What is needed is a move beyond tradition — nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadi ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows of the closed communities to let in much-needed fresh air….

It ought to be fascinating to Muslims everywhere to see how deeply their beloved book is a product of its place and time, and in how many ways it reflects the Prophet’s own experiences.

However, few Muslims have been permitted to study their religious book in this way. The insistence within Islam that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socioeconomics of 7th-century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger’s personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?

The traditionalists’ refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the 7th century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.

Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace. This is how to take up the “profound challenge” of the bombers….

Yes, it is the reformation Christianity needed (and in some quarters needs still) against the fundamentalism, the literalism, that supports the authority of the self-chosen few.

  • Mumblix Grumph

    sniff sniff

    I smell another fatwa for Mr. Rushdie.

  • Mr Rushdi can be proud of his constancy in standing against the element most destructive of Islam, their radical right wing. That he has done it publicly at great danger to himself is all the more praiseworthy.

    And JJ: right you are, more of that ilk would do Christianity a good deal of good.

  • I agree that Islam needs reform, but you are a little off on the Christianity thing.

    The greatest work of Luther was to insist that people should read the bible themselves in order to have personal, unfiltered access to the word of God. Catholics believe that priests, being part of a hierarchy connected all the way to St. Peter, should be the ones to read and interpret the bible for them.

    Thus, while Catholics are susceptible to misinterpretations by priests, Protestants are more likely to become fundamentalist Christians, who see the bible as a literal and infallible document.

    Catholic priests don’t often sermonize that biblical words are literal and not part of a historic context. Priests relate the words to today.

    But I’ve heard many Protestant ministers say that the bible is literal and infallible.

    Fundamentalists, of all stripes, worry me.

  • Big Casino

    The comparison with reformation christianity is a bad analogy. We loose when we oversimplify.

    Catholics, Orthodox, Coptics, Chaldeans etc believe in Sacred Tradition alongside the bible.

    The reformation happened with a mix of political and economic currents in Europe at that time.

  • dfrisme

    One could say that we are already in the middle of an Islamic reformation of types. Which is why the Islamic fundamentalists are so active. They are trying to preserve their power base against various infidels and heretics, much like the Catholic church did with their Crusades and Inquisitions. Its not a perfect analogy by any means, the details are quite different.

    One thing that is the same, unfortunately, is that it makes for an “interesting” period of history. So much for the 90’s concept of “the end of history”…

  • kat

    Let’s wait for islam to catch up to Christianity before we worry about reforming present day Christianity. Just to be fair to islam.

  • So much for the 90’s concept of “the end of history”…

    Unless you think of this latest strain of Islamic fundamentalism as specifically directed against that concept, a la Jihad versus McWorld. Global capitalism and the postmodern culture of culturelessness it fosters is anathema to most traditional ways of life, but it seems to rub the Muslim world in a singularly irksome manner. Or perhaps they’ve just been able to mount the most coordinated resistance — Islam gives them a rallying point that most traditional cultures lack. What does a Micronesian fisherman have in common with a Basque shepherd? Diddly-squat, although both are threatened by globalization. But how about a dirt-poor Indonesian farmer and an Algerian goatherd? Not only do they have a common enemy, but a shared faith.

    The more red-meat souls among the commentariat here like to paint Islam as a global menace which will not rest until the entire world is dhimmified or destroyed under a restored Muslim caliphate. That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that Islamic fundamentalists don’t have a chance in the long run. Whether they want to believe it or not, the “End of History” is coming to the Arab world, just as it has come to the West and — to varying degrees — to the rest of the globe. In a lot of important respects this concept is synonymous with freedom, but I hesitate to call it that because the term has been coopted by forces within the American discourse which have no interest in freedom whatsoever but the perpetuation of their own traditional ways of life (mind you, they too are destined to lose).

    The freedom engendered by the “End of History” is a freedom from control — ideological control, religious control, cultural control. At the end of the day such a freedom is fundamentally incompatible with organized religion, which depends on a variety of all three forms of control to perpetuate itself. No offense to Reformed Jews or Unitarians or Moderate Muslims, but none of the original religions from which these latter-day groups spun off would recognize them as true believers. And in a deep and meaningful sense, they’re right. Once we start rationalizing away some core beliefs, where does it stop? If Noah’s Ark or the Garden of Even are meant to be read merely as metaphors, then why not the Resurrection as well? This is the basic problem of Reformation — take it to its logical conclusion and what you have left isn’t a religion but a religious-flavored philosophy.

    This of course was the danger of the original Reformation. If you say that no one or nothing should mediate between a man and his God, it is tantamount to saying that organized religion is bunk. Take the argument a little further and you’ll start questioning the Scriptures themselves as well. Luther may not have gone past this point, but this period of European intellectual history was rife with people who did. The Renaissance and Reformation was the first time postmodernism reared its head in the history of human ideas (okay, maybe the Greeks flirted with it as well, cf. the sophists, but this was the first time it happened “globally” rather than locally), and it did a considerable amount of damage to “tradition” before the backlash created an uneasy tension between faith and reason which held for centuries until the likes of Marx, Darwin, and Freud threatened to overturn the apple cart once more.

    I’ve no doubt that the Muslim world will eventually “reform”. But I don’t think it’s something that will be achieved by the likes of Salman Rushdie, brave as he is for holding his ground on the issues of free speech and freedom of religious interpretation. But Rushdie and many other pundits have got the situation ass-backwards — reforming Islam is not a precondition to victory in the War on Terror, but its result. As much as people focus upon it to exclusion of all else, radical Islam is incidental to those who kill in its name. Had Mohammed never been born, these same individuals would have found another ideology to coopt and exploit against the West.

    We obsess over “Islam’s inherent violence” at our own peril — the real enemy is not a force definable by itself but a counterforce that rises in opposition to our own. Listen to the mullahs and clerics if you don’t believe me — they explicitly define themselves in relation to us, as a categorical rejection of our values, not an enumeration of their own. This is not faith, but resistance garbed in faith. We will ultimately prevail because globalism will ultimately prevail, not because we change the culture of Islam but because globalism will have made Islam irrelevant, or at least no longer worth blowing oneself up for.

    History is not returning from the dead anytime soon, but it may take a few generations yet for the far corners of the earth to receive the news of its demise.

  • JE:
    3 cheers, very meaty – excuse the relating of your thought to the ‘red meaters’ that also post here.

    On a point where I disagree: your “Had Mohammed never been born, these same individuals would have found another ideology to coopt and exploit against the West.” While you’re right about the eventual disagreements between west and east, I think that you could have profitably used “Mohammed and Christ” rather than just Mohammed. and I think it’s the inevitable struggle between haves and have-nots, which take on trappings of social and religious character, that is happening. I recall that the Puritans reacted against the engrained prosperous English nobility – and eventual bloody conflicts were the result.

  • Ravo

    I think it’s the inevitable struggle between haves and have-nots, which take on trappings of social and religious character, that is happening. I recall that the Puritans reacted against the engrained prosperous English nobility – and eventual bloody conflicts were the result.

    That might explain the conflicts between the Muslim sects whose ruling classes keep the oil money, but because much of the Middle East sits on massive oil fields and many Muslims go from birth to the grave without ever knowing labor, (in fact disdain the thought) the tired liberal attempt to blame the West, whose people work very hard for what they put on the table, for achieving prosperity, can’t explain their conflict with us.

  • Ptolemy

    Thank you Ravo!! Of course, you will now be placed in the wingnut category by the nuanced commenters on the Left.

  • While it is true that “red-meaters” grab on just a little too eagerly to the evils of Islamic extremism (in that they never liked them Muslims anyway, now they’ve got an excuse to spew pseudo-racist venom), that doesn’t mean that we as a world aren’t in for a long hard slog against religious fascism, mostly abroad of course but there are obviously rumblings of a similar trend at home.

    Jimmy Breslin once compared the current state of Islam, a religion roughly 600 years younger than Christianity, to where Christianity was back in the 1400-1500s. That is, constant infighting and bloodletting, inquisitions, torturing of heretics and wars based at least in part on different permutations of the “one true faith.” Meaning: we’re in for a long and depressing slog, Islam may just need a couple centuries yet to grow up.

  • Ravo

    Did Christianity really once maintain everyone on the entire earth who won’t convert must be killed?

  • Leo

    Exaclt what do you mean by “Reformation of Christianity”? What is it about Christianity that is getting in the way of the world?