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Islam and Reformation

A common slogan among deep thinkers is that the problem with Islam is that unlike Christianity it’s never had a Reformation. On the face of it the claim is an odd one. The Protestant Reformation was an attempt to purify Christianity and return it to its pure and original form, cleansed of all syncretic cultural and philosophical overlays and corruptions. Presumably the corresponding event in Islam would be its return to its original form as a strict religion of the book, without modernizing accommodations or philosophical and mystical additions. Sounds very much like Wahhabism. So the problem with Islam in fact may be that it’s had a Reformation, and what we’re dealing with in the form of Al Qaeda is its protestant form. In short, we’re in the midst of a sort of Islamic equivalent to our Wars of Religion.

What the deep thinkers mean, of course, is that unlike mainstream forms of Christianity Islam hasn’t resigned in favor of liberalism its practical claim to the possession of public binding truth. As a result we now have two powerful systems of thought—Reformed Islam and liberalism—that not only claim to possess the truth but also define all deviation as violence and claim the right and obligation to enforce their understanding of truth on everyone everywhere. I agree with the deep thinkers that is a dangerous situation.

Where I disagree is the solution. What’s needed is neither an Islamic equivalent to the Protestant Reformation, since there’s already been one, nor Islamic submission to the universal claims of liberalism. Instead, what the world needs for the sake of human survival are beliefs that indeed claim truth, since that’s what makes a belief a belief, but also recognize a sort of universal natural law that allows even those in error certain rights, for example the right not to have truth forced on them. On the line of thought I prefer legitimate systems of belief would thus include traditionalist conservatism as well as traditional Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. They would not, however, include the unholy trio of liberalism, neoconservatism and Radical Islam until each gives up its imperialism.

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Comments

What a compelling piece! I suppose the remaining question analytically is whether or not the third way is possible for the unholy trio without giving up their essence. I suppose in principle Islam might be able to take the third way; but the other two are purely immanent and deny at least the relevance, if not the existence, of the transcendent. So if truth for the neocon/liberal is immanent then how can neocons/liberals be anything other than universally imperialistic? If truth is universal and the transcendent doesn’t exist then where does the truth have to manifest its universality except within the immanent?

I agree it’s impossible for any of the three to give up imperialism without giving up its most basic principles, although less impossible for Islam than for the other two. As you point out, liberalism and neoconservatism are in their very essence this-worldly universalisms, and that’s the definition of totalitarianism. Islam is so only accidentally, by virtue of the belief that God happens to have promulgated a comprehensive way of life and code of law applicable to everybody. I thought of adding a sentence or two saying as much but decided that might overload the entry.

Thanks for a fascinating angle on contemporary Islam. I haven’t seen it argued in that way. Any plans to publish a longer article?