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July 13th 2015 print

Peter Smith

Forlorn Hopes of an Islamic Reformation

Muslims can, but Islam cannot be saved. Its scripture is innately flawed at source. If a god isn’t about universal love there is no point or product in trying to build society around him or even having him in the mix.

massacre smallI wrote a piece in April on Hirsi Ali’s book latest book Heretic (“Hirsi Ali’s Quixotic Tilt at Fixing Islam“). Daryl McCann reviewed the book for the June issue of Quadrant and Paul Monk wrote an erudite piece, inspired by Hirsi Ali’s book, for the July/August issue (editor’s note: Paul’s essay is still behind the paywall. Why not subscribe?). So it’s all been done to death, so to speak. Why then bring it up again?

Because, I don’t think that many in the West – aside from people like Robert Spencer (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam) — quite get it. McCann and Monk realise, as do I, that Hirsi Ali’s reference to the need for a ‘reformation’ in Islam, to parallel the Christian one, is hopelessly wide of the mark. However, they still appear to entertain a flimsy hope that Islam can be saved. This is utterly forlorn.

On the Reformation, Martin Luther was primarily interested in ridding the Catholic Church of indulgences as payment for sins. He had no objective of rewriting scripture. His objective was for the Church to act more in keeping with scripture and with Saint Paul’s direction that we could not gain redemption through our own works but through the grace of God alone. This didn’t mean we should not do good works, of course. And, in fact, such works in Luther’s sensible estimation were worth something, as distinct from the purchase of indulgences.

The Reformation did not change nor did it seek to change the essential elements of the Christian faith and it hasn’t done so. Now compare this with what Hirsi Ali sees as the required reform agenda for Islam.

  1. Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism.
  2. Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.
  3. Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
  4. End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong”
  5. Abandon the call to jihad.

I think it would have been the last thing on Luther’s mind to question and reinterpret scripture (as distinct from translating it into German) or to encourage criticism of Jesus or to downgrade the importance of the afterlife.

Men, at times, have done bad things in the name of Christianity, not least of which has been the historical persecution of Jews. The cure for that is to go back to Christ’s life and His example and His words; not to change them. They don’t need changing. They need following.

The Christian faith is a recipe for living with each other peacefully and with goodwill:  love God and your neighbour as yourself. There is no specificity as to who your neighbour must be. There is no allowance to be discriminatory or to be unkind to anyone.

Unfortunately Islam does not offer the same scriptural even-handedness. Maybe the Meccan passages of the Koran are peaceful enough, relatively speaking, as Hirsi Ali says, but the Medinan passages can’t simply be excised. There are clearly two classes of people: Muslims and the rest. And license is given to kill and/or subjugate the rest. This can’t be avoided, particularly when we are dealing with the very words of Allah.  Moreover, the Hadith has Muhammad having people killed and enslaved. And, he is a model to follow. How do we know? Allah said so in the Koran.

Hirsi Ali’s reform agenda is complete pie-in-the-sky. I haven’t read anybody, including McCann and Monk, who think otherwise. But, there is a thread which comes out of McCann’s and Monk’s articles, which point to an element of hope.

McCann points to the Renaissance (with its emphasis on ‘humanism’) as offering a possible redemptive path for Islam. Monk points to the Enlightenment (with its emphasis on science and reason) as offering a possible redemptive path. In my view both are whistles in the wind. Let me be clear, both articles are informed and scholarly critiques as you would expect. My issue is with the hope that they trail as an alluring possibility. I don’t think it is realistic.

The problem is Islamic scripture. Neither the Renaissance nor the Enlightenment changed the Christian scripture in any essential way. I have a King James Bible on my shelf originally published in 1611. It is still current. It was heavily based on Tyndale’s English bible, produced around three quarters of a century before, based on existing texts in Greek, Hebrew and Latin and influenced by Luther’s earlier German translation. The message of the Bible has stood the test of time and passions and provides a sound guide to living in a neighbourly way. To repeat; it doesn’t need changing, it needs following.

In fact, an argument can be made, I think, that both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment worked to bring out respect for individuals and the removal of superstitions, which allowed the literal message of Christian scripture to hold more sway over human affairs. The abolishment of slavery is perhaps an example. Of course, reason and science and modernity have resulted in a decline in Christian religious observance, which has gathered pace over recent decades. Perhaps that was an inevitable by-product. But that is by the way.

There is absolutely no possible correspondence with Christian experience when it comes to Islam. The only thing that can be done is to gut Islamic scripture – basically as Hirsi Ali proposes – before anything in tune with open and tolerant societies can come out of it. Quite simply this is not possible. If the Renaissance or the Enlightenment had depended on societies denying the divinity of Jesus Christ and scrapping most of the Bible they would not have happened.

It cannot be expected, under any circumstances, that whole cultures built on a particular religion, with 1.6 billion adherents, will abolish the very essence of what they believe. Hirsi Ali had it right in her previous book, Nomad, in which she expressed her belief “that Islam was beyond reform, that perhaps the best thing for religious believers in Islam to do was to pick another god.” I tend to think another book will have her back to that position.

I doubt there is a solution. But, if there is one, it will not be found by relying on flimsy hopes of Islamic societies following paths remotely the same as did Christian societies. Islamic scripture is not fit for the purpose.

 

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [11]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Right on the money once again Peter. The delusion of all those people – most of whom we would expect to know better – who repeat ad infinitum that “extremist” Muslims distort Islam; that true Islam is a “religion of peace”; that “we are not at war with Islam”; and similar inane cliches, ought to wake up to reality, particularly since the bulk of them make up the leadership of western democracies. How patently absurd of them advocating that violent Islam can and should be defeated with ideas superior to theirs, such us those of western civilisation. That stance is utterly impotent against those who fervently believe that their faith is the ultimate of perfection and are ready to die defending it. And that conviction is not restricted to the extremists. Sadly, if it ever becomes necessary to defeat Islam in order to ensure our own survival, it will have to be with the force of arms.

    • rosross says:

      You cannot defeat ideas. Religions are ideas. A war against Islam is as deluded as a war terrorism or communism. And the Americans for all their military power have demonstrated consistently in the last half century – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – that force of arms will never defeat people who have justice on their side and a commitment whether it is to country or religion.

      Apart from which Islam is no threat to anyone but Muslims in the main. It is certainly no threat to the Western world where more than 50% are women who would never convert or accept such misogyny. And with China and India contributing more than two billion of the world’s population, with India largely Hindu and China increasingly Christian, there is a snowball’s chance in hell of Islam making inroads.

      And then you have the fact that Muslim nations are not united. Iran and the Saudis hate each other, the largest Muslim nation Indonesia has nothing in common with the rest, and none of them, Saudi and Iran perhaps aside, have any capacity for military action which would present a threat to the rest of the world.

      Most Muslims are moderate. Most Muslims live in developing countries with more to think about than jihad. Most of the emphasis on Islam is a propaganda game played by the US, dancing a tune to Israel which seeks to find a way to justify its continued subjugation of Palestine and its attacks on its Muslim neighbours.

      • Bill Martin says:

        I never suggested that Islam as an idea could or should be defeated by force of arms, only that if our survival were at stake we would have to resort to the force of arms. Granted, Islam is most unlikely to ever become a military threat to western civilisation while they are busy murdering one another over semantics in their religious texts. The existential peril to us is demographic in nature. The proportion of Muslims in the populations of many western nations, especially in Europe, is increasing at an alarming rate, boosted by immigration and a very high birth rate. As the result of that, an ever increasing range of concessions and special privileges are granted to Muslims living in the west, while their leaders continuously clamour for more and complain loudly of suffering discrimination. The conclusion is inescapable that Muslims will become the majority in western countries, form their political parties along the way and eventually elect an Islamic government. Almost certainly these newly created “Islamic States” will be following the various flavours Islam, as they do now in the Middle East, and get on with murdering one another, as they do now in the Middle East. S

      • Bill Martin says:

        I never suggested that Islam as an idea could or should be defeated by force of arms, only that if our survival were at stake we would have to resort to the force of arms. Granted, Islam is most unlikely to ever become a military threat to western civilisation while they are busy murdering one another over semantics in their religious texts. The existential peril to us is demographic in nature. The proportion of Muslims in the populations of many western nations, especially in Europe, is increasing at an alarming rate, boosted by immigration and a very high birth rate. As the result of that, an ever increasing range of concessions and special privileges are granted to Muslims living in the west, while their leaders continuously clamour for more and complain loudly of suffering discrimination. The conclusion is inescapable that Muslims will become the majority in western countries, form their political parties along the way and eventually elect an Islamic government. Almost certainly these newly created “Islamic States” will be following the various flavours of Islam, as they do now in the Middle East, and get on with murdering one another, as they do now iddle East, having simply expanded the arena of their savagery. All those “moderate Muslims” will count for nought in this scenario, they will merely be part of the cast of the millions in the blood-soaked drama. In the meantime, we don’t see mass demonstrations anywhere by moderate Muslims protesting the atrocities committed by their violent brethren. So what of the rest of us? That is written in great detail in the Koran: convert to Islam, be killed or live under humble dhimnitude and pay the jizza. That is what we might one day have to fight against with the force of arms.

        Bill Martin.

      • a propos says:

        I am surprised to find this response in Quadrant. Let’s hope that the regular reading of this magazine will help to evolve the , rather quaint, thought process of this respondent. Nevertheless, I’d like to take an issue with some, if not most, of the points espoused in this comment. I suspect that it is likely to be a wasted effort but I cannot let these inanities go unchallenged.
        1. There is no war of the West against Islam, quite the opposite – there is a war of Islam against the West. Remember 9/11? By the same token, speaking of justice – do I take it to understand that you mean those people, who behead their victims have justice on their side? Or that the same people who enslave, literally, those who they capture have justice on their side? Or the same people, who destroy monuments of a historical significance – they too have justice on their side?
        2. About Islam not being a threat to anyone but Muslims themselves – do you mean to say that it is OK to kill Muslims? And what about people of other faiths , who do not wish to convert to Islam? Is it OK to kill them too?
        3. The way you present your arguments are similar to the habitual use of “Taquiya” – telling the lies to infidels in order to gain an advantage in a discussion. Your intentional misrepresentation of the danger Islam represents to the world today is consistent with this technique.
        4. Muslims are, indeed, mostly peaceful and moderate people, who are in danger of being attacked by the Islamic radicals. The problem with this is that it takes only 10% of a population to control the rest (like Nazis, like Communists)through the fear of violence, intimidation and coercion.
        4. Your diatribe against the USA and Israel is not at all surprising, given the content of your writing, but it certainly does not add credibility to your opinion.

        • Bill Martin says:

          It appears obvious that you have taken issue with the comment by rosross not with the one by Bill Martin immediately above yours. Would have been helpful if you pointed this out.

          • a propos says:

            It is , indeed, correct – I have taken an issue with the respondent’s view under the Nom De Plume “rosross” and not, repeat, not with Bill Martin’s. I am clarifying it now. Do accept my apology.

  2. rosross says:

    The major problem with Islam, as it is in essence with all religions apart from Christianity,is that there is no strata of management for the religion. Catholicism, Protestantism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Uniting Church and variations on the theme of Christianity, like Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, all have overseeing bodies which are capable of discussing, reaching agreement and instituting change for the religion as a whole.

    How can a religion be nudged into an evolutionary path which has it more in tune with the modern world, without such a system of management?

  3. Homer Sapien says:

    Hirsi Ali ist worth reading.To me the “Qadrant” ist a bit like the orchestra on the Tianic making beauiful noises while the ship (the West) is heading undeterred towards the ice berg.

  4. Bill Martin says:

    Very true, our demented leaders are leading us, sleepwalking, to our doom. Quadrant, together with a scant few other publications, is doing its best to sound the alarm and for that it should be commended, not deprecated.