Why Islam doesn’t need a Reformation

Martersteig's depiction of Martin Luther burning the papal bull with 41 theses issued against him.

In recent months, cliched calls for reform of Islam, a 1,400-year-old faith, have intensified. “We need a Muslim reformation,” announced Newsweek. “Islam needs reformation from within,” said the Huffington Post. Following January’s massacre in Paris, the Financial Times nodded to those in the west who believe the secular Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “could emerge as the Martin Luther of the Muslim world”. (That might be difficult, given Sisi, in the words of Human Rights Watch, approved “premeditated lethal attacks” on largely unarmed protesters which could amount to “crimes against humanity”.)


Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect – embodied in, say, the Prophet’s letter to the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, or the “convivencia” (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain.

What they don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.

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Photo: Rischgitz/Getty Images.

1 Comment

  • Aaliyah says:

    What’s disturbing is where the calls for reformation are coming from – ex-Muslims, the New atheists and Islamophobes. The microphone has been ripped from the hands of orindary Muslims who are working hard to dispel myths and placed into the hands of these three main groups, each purporting to be the saviour of those backward violent Muslims. What’s even more disturbing is that the audiences for ex-Muslims and Islamophobes are not Muslims but ignorant non-Muslims who usually meet their criticisms of Islam with thunderous applause. I’m still haunted by Rula Jebreal’s chat with Bill Maher. Maher is an outspoken critique of Islam and Muslims and when she asked if he had ever read the Qur’an he answered that he had not. So when she offered him a book about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, he prompty left it behind and walked away after saying goodbye. Intellectual arrogance at its best with a massive audience to boot.

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