Monday, February 27
The Reformation Is Now
I've read a number of articles in the secular press telling Islam that what it needs most is the blessing of a Reformation, like Christianity had at roughly the same age, which Reformation would instill the virtues of secularism, separation of church and state, and (what these articles imply but don't articulate) religious indifference.
According to the historical narrative of these journalists, the overbearing Catholic Church of the 16th century needed the Reformers to come along and announce that the Church wasn't in charge. A relieved peasantry woke up, said "Gosh, guess so!" and, in the burst of creative activity that followed, they ceased to be peasants and became respectable middle class citizens, embarking upon that quest of perfection through Science! and occasionally attending church services in the meantime.
"Oh, if only that would happen in Arabia...," they lament.
Fortunately, the Reformation is happening in Islam, right now. Unfortunately, our secular journalists have no idea what actually happened in the Reformation.
It is true that, a century after the 95 Thesis, Europe was a much more secularized place, and (at least in its northern half) the Church either served the state or played little public role at all.
It is not true, however, that this was in anyway a peaceful process, or that it was born from a desire to secularize. As I remember, the religious Europe of 1525 and the secular Europe of 1675 were separated by...
(1) Fierce religious in-fighting
(2) The Peasant's Revolt
(3) The Thirty Years' War
In otherwords, a whole lot of religious violence. In fact, it was only after over a century of violence that many Europeans began to write-off religion as "frankly, not worth it." It was that exhaustion with religion that resulted from the Reformation, rather than the Reformation itself, that gave birth to the fiercely secular regions of Europe today.
The general pattern of religious reformation which emerges, then, is..
(1) Long stability due to regulation of religious interpretation and governance
(2) Disruptance of that stability by individuals claiming the right of person religious interpretation
(3) Passionate in-fighting amongst the various factions
(4) Gradual exhausting with the cause of religion, due to the resultant violence
(5) Increased Secularism
In Christianity, we moved from the centralized governance of pope and bishops, to the self-interpretation of the Protestants, experienced in-fighting in the 30-years' War, and now have secularized northern Europe.
In Islam, you will note, it is Al-Qaeda which has abandoned the traditional schools of Islamic thought. As one Muslim blogger describes,
"Having severed the connection between themselves and 1400 years of scholarship and thought, having trashed the tradition of ijaza and person-to-person teaching, they comb through the books in their living rooms, making up that which suits whatever it is their hearts desire."
Formerly, only established schools had the right to issue fatwas (religious rulings), but the Islamic reformers have, for the first time, issued fatwas appart from the religious establishment. Now, we see the beginnings of religious in-fighting. Our same blogger observers,
"They wish for a civil war between the Sunnis and Shi’a not just in ‘Iraq but in the whole world. They wish to stomp out, by any means necessary, the Shi’a and Ahlu Tasawwuf, before they move on to the Baha’i, the Jews, the Christians.".
After enough violence, ordinary Muslims will write-off the project; "enough violence" being (to judge historically) a century of very bloody warfare.
The situation is full of irony: Islam is having the Reformation the Secular West desires it to have. But the very people who despise secularism, Al-Qaeda, will prove to be the most effective proponents of Arab secularism. However, the West ought've been careful what it wished for, because this process will be bloody indeed. It takes a high cost to dissuade a continent from ferverent practice of its religion, as the 16th century teaches us well.