Friday, January 18, 2013

Notes on the Muslim Reformation

Last October, when troubles in Mali first began to make the news, I suggested that “What is now proceeding in that region is, in fact, a conflict within the Muslim community.” I might also have said, more accurately, “a local conflict within a much wider revolution that is reshaping the greater Muslim community.” In the now very densely populated world, where technological modernity, originating in the West, overwhelmingly dominates everything, strands of influence and motivation are very difficult to isolate. Add to that the self-centered nature of every society, and when I do then it does seem as if phenomena like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are principally aiming aggression at the West. But a very plausible, and perhaps much more fundamental underlying motivation arises from within Islam itself aimed, in the first instance, at Islam, trying to reform it. The hatred of the West is a secondary byproduct of that, motivated in part because the West blocks this “Muslim Reformation,” principally to retain control over oil and mineral resources, and in part because hatred of the West is a handy motivator of the Muslim masses.

If we take the start of Christianity to be 29 AD, the beginning of Christ’s ministry, it took Christianity 1488 years before (in 1517), Luther launched the Reformation. It was, ultimately, a “back to the basics” movement. If we take the start of Islam to be 610 AD, the year Mohammad had his vision, 1402 years have passed since—time enough for Islam to have drifted roughly as far from the True Faith as Christianity had by Martin Luther’s time. In the Muslim world reform takes the form of a “return to Sharia.” It’s aim is to dislodge nominal Muslim but actual secularist authoritarian elites. At the core. Or thus, I suggests, we might view it. Another way to put it: Even if the West were suddenly to vanish from the globe, the Muslim Reformation would go right on.

The rootings of this reformation are traceable to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by one Hassan al-Banna, its aim the restoration of the Qur’an and Sunnah. That last word means “tradition,” and Sharia its most perfect form. This movement has proliferated since, and Osama bin Laden was the student of one of its later very prominent members, Sayyid Qutb, a secularist turned fundamentalist committed to government under Sharia.

In the West the Reformation has long since faded. In the intermediate period, “On Sunday the Bible [was their] ledger, and on week-days the ledger [was their] Bible” (link), but in these latter days only the ledger remains. We’ve lost even a remote memory of what it is like to live in a religious culture. Hence we imagine that the Muslims only desire democratic and market liberties to become normal citizens of the world. Therefore we face the Muslim Reformation with absolute bafflement and shake our head in incomprehension saying, “Why do they hate us?”

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