I 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.
- Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism.
- Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.
- Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
- End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong”
- 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.