May 14, 2002


No Easy Task That: Islam Cannot Repeat Christianity's Modernizing Reforms (Derek Copold, May 12, 2002, Texas Mercury)
Recently a friend of mine from New Hampshire showed me exactly how deeply Americans misunderstand Islam. We were arguing about the aggressive nature of the Mohammedans, and he insisted that Islam's spiritual and moral elements could be separated from its political side, much as has happened in Christianity. I disagreed, pointing out that Islam is a faith rooted in politics and history, and that any such separation would be more than a simple reform of Islam; indeed, it would change it beyond all recognition, if not destroy it. Like many westerners, my friend is all too willing to apply Christian examples to Islam. Nothing could be more wrongheaded. Unlike Christianity, Islam's historical philosophy, its basic theology and the example provided by its founder, Mohammed himself, show that any attempt to isolate Islam's politics from its spirituality equates to asking Muslims to renounce the very heart and soul of their religion.

Despite being the poor deluded friend in this tale of woe, I essentially agree with Mr. Copold here. What I was saying, though apparently inartfully, was that Islam is going to have to be radically and probably violently reformed. He's absolutely correct, as he goes on to demonstrate, that Islam is significantly different than pre-Reformation Christianity and that the particular reason for this difference is that Judaism and Christianity were religions of the oppressed, so they necessarily have separation of Church and State built into them, while Islam very shortly after its birth became the religion of the rulers of the society in which it was born.

The unfortunate corollary of this fact is that the Islamic world judges itself by the success of its society generally. Thus, while a Christian community could consider itself spiritually healthy even while hiding in the catacombs, Islam requires that the community of believers dominate the world in order for Allah's favorable judgment to be made manifest. This might not be quite such a bad thing if we did not know for a certainty that the kind of totalitarian society that this vision requires is incapable of competing in economic terms with liberal capitalist protestant democracy. Therefore, by the terms upon which Islam requires that Muslims judge themselves, they are destined to disappointment.

This in turn means that a change is going to have to come, and I see only three possibilities :

(1) Islam could destroy the West and thereby prove that it is in fact in accord with Allah's plan for Man. This simply is not going to happen, if for no other reason than that the West will nuke the Middle East into submission before it does happen.

(2) Islam could choose its own destruction, could determine that it is better to fight that war with the West, even if the outcome is foreordained, in effect choosing to perish honorably rather than to compromise. I'd argue that folks like bin Laden and company are embarked on this course now.

or, (3) Islam will have to undergo a massive disruption, one that will be at least as bloody and violent as the Protestant Reformation and the attendant Religious Wars of the West.

At the end of this process, Islam will indeed be a significantly different religion than it is today. We must harbor no illusions about how extraordinarily difficult this will be, but I honestly don't see a fourth alternative. Do any of you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2002 12:49 PM
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