CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Contemplating Protestant Islam: A Look at Islamic Reform Movements through the Lens of Sixteenth-Century Christianity

by Charles McDaniel
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas), June 18-20, 2004. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

In an article that appeared in the Wilson Quarterly in its 1998 winter issue, scholar of Islam Dale F. Eickelman speculated that the latter half of the twentieth century will be reflected upon “as a time of change as profound for the Muslim world as the Protestant Reformation was for Christendom.”[1] Eickelman’s belief is founded largely on the roles of technology and communications accompanied by mass education in bursting the seemingly impenetrable bubble that has insulated much of the Muslim world from the forces of modernity. The consequence of Western penetration has been that “in unprecedentedly large numbers, the faithful-whether in the vast cosmopolitan city of Istanbul or in Oman’s tiny, remote al-Hamra oasis-are examining and debating the fundamentals of Muslim belief and practice in ways that their less self-conscious predecessors would never have imagined. This highly deliberate examination of the faith is what constitutes the Islamic Reformation.”[2]

A pronouncement by an American scholar that a reformation of the Islamic tradition is underway only exacerbates the perception of Western hubris and reinforces the attitude that all measurement of Muslim culture must be according to Western standards. This paper, unfortunately, will do nothing to temper those criticisms. It does suggest that Eickelman has presented a testable hypothesis and that, given the perceived impact of the Protestant Reformation on the development of Western Culture, the proof or lack thereof for Eickelman’s contention is potentially critical to predicting future developments in the Muslim world and to comprehending the present crisis between Islam and the West. Despite President George W. Bush’s contention that the U. S. and its allies are not at war with Islam, a strong argument may be put forth that liberal civilization is at war with an Islamic social order that is perceived as cultivating anti-Western terrorism.

Establishing the standard of sixteenth-century Christianity for evaluation of contemporary events in Islam also is justified in observing common tensions within the respective religions. Both have witnessed controversy and often conflict over the influences of rationalism and mysticism, the mediation role of the clergy, the importance of orthodoxy vis-à-vis orthopraxy, and the right/obligation of the believer to access the sources of faith and apply independent judgment in determination of religious meaning. Decisive doctrine in these areas reshaped Christianity in the Reformation era. Thus, to the extent that Islam may be experiencing similar alterations in its theological and institutional composition, one might predict a course of development similar to that of Christianity in the modern period.

Evidence of an Islamic Reformation

Much as proto-Protestant movements such as the Lollards of England and Hussites of Bohemia, nascent elements of an Islamic Reformation preceded modern reform efforts by generations. Ronald Nettler has observed that despite his status as a hero in Islamist circles, Sayyid Qutb’s work early in the twentieth century was critical in reorienting Qur’anic interpretation to an engagement with the “live issues and challenges” of modernity.[3] Qutb’s insistence that Islam is both personal and experiential established a foundation that has enabled the empowerment of the individual believer. Those “seeds of an Islamic Reformation” described by journalist Robin Wright were initially confined to groups of “clerics and intellectuals”; however, “instant mass communications, improved education, and intercontinental movements of both people and ideas mean that tens of millions of Muslims are exposed to the debate.”[4] Just as the printing press catapulted reform ideas beyond the walls of universities at Prague, Oxford, and Wittenberg, so too the Internet and satellite television have carried challenges to Islamic orthodoxy to the remotest reaches of the Muslim world.

The imprint of modern communications on the Muslim faith is unmistakable. It has contributed to the rise of a class of “micro-intellectuals” with broad access to the global community, thus resulting in what Eickelman, along with anthropologist Jon W. Anderson, have characterized as a “reintellectualization” of Islam.[5] Proliferation of new conceptions of the faith are evident, for example, in the popularity of books by lay Muslims such as Syrian engineer, Muhammad Shahrur, which challenge the traditional monopolization of Qur’anic interpretation by the medieval jurists.[6] Shahrur’s book blends together images from the Qur’an and civil engineering, as well as various linguistic forms.[7] This eclecticism demonstrates that “Islamic discourse and practice is rapidly shifting from the boundary-minded forms it assumed after the advent of European imperial expansion into Muslim lands to a more confident and differentiated internal and external dialogue.”[8]

The growth in popularity of books about Islam by lay Muslims also reflects a general rise in literacy that has created demand for religious works and outpaced the ability of the Islamic establishment to respond to it, not unlike the impact of Luther’s pamphleteering on a newly literate German population five centuries ago. According to Eickelman, “through fragmenting authority and discourse, the new technologies of communication, combined with the multiplication of agency facilitated by rising education levels, contribute significantly to re-imagining Middle Eastern politics and religion.”[9] The geographic boundaries that Eickelman identifies are artificially applied by limiting his inquiry to the Middle East. In fact, he recognizes that similar changes are occurring in Africa and Asia, in Diasporas throughout Europe and the Americas, and in the remotest reaches of Islam where “increasingly vocal debates on what it means to be a Muslim and how to live a Muslim life” are being played out in myriad cultural contexts.[10]

Similarly, theological disputations between reformers and defenders of orthodoxy within the Catholic hierarchy heralded major changes in the institutional composition of Christendom. Then as now the motivation to debate tenets of faith results from the empowerment of traditional outsiders by social and technological change. These changes have prompted both religions to risk much by actively confronting (and thus imbuing credibility) to presumed heretics who formerly had no standing. The changing politics of early modern Europe undoubtedly had a hand in promoting theological encounters for political gain. Yet the rise in literacy in this period combined with the burgeoning of a “micro-intellectualism” similar to that Eickelman and Anderson identify contemporarily in Islam, may well have inspired such forums for relatively apolitical ends. The masses of Europe, as present-day Muslims, desired control not only over their political futures but also their moral and spiritual destinies.

Western scholars have no monopoly over the judgment that Islam either is in need of or is presently experiencing major reforms. Abdullahi An-Na’im’s Toward an Islamic Reformation preceded Eickelman’s assessment by some eight years. Yet An-Na’im’s conceptualization of reform underscores a key difference between contemporary events and those of the sixteenth century: many Islamic activists seek the reform of their faith while retaining society’s foundation on Islamic law (Shariah). Although Calvin and Zwingli were influential in the development of mildly theocratic governments at Geneva and Zurich respectively, the political “model” emanating from the Reformation was Luther’s “Two Kingdoms,” which inspired the secularization of Western Culture. By contrast, An-Na’im’s desire is “to evolve an alternative and modern conception of Islamic public law that can resolve those problems and hardships” created by more rigid applications of what he terms “historical Shariah.”[11] Similarly, the Shiite scholar Abdulaziz Sachedina and his Sunni contemporary Khaled Abou El Fadl have suggested the possibility of significant reform within the context of a Shariah-based society.[12] Thus, secularization must not be assumed as a critical component of the reform Eickelman perceives.

Yet some individuals and even organizations have gone so far as to call for the secularization of Muslim culture. The Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society (ISIS) promotes liberal values in the Islamic world, including the right to “change one’s religion or belief,” a traditional sticking point for Muslim countries in the development of international human rights documents.[13] Similar concepts are being advanced in the academy. Wright notes a “haunting similarity to the Reformation” in the ideas of Abdol Karim Soroush, a political scientist at Tehran University often characterized as the “Martin Luther of Islam” for his willingness to broach division between mosque and state –an idea Wright describes as a “stunning shift for Islam.”[14] Stunning would be an apt description of such a development, for the notion of secularizing Muslim culture is a minority view even among those identified as Islamic reformers.

Even those who stop short of calling for the secularization of Islamic society often employ the language and symbolism of the Protestant Reformation. Hashem Aghajari, presently in Tehran’s Evin prison under a death sentence for challenging the authority of Iran’s ruling mullahs, has openly called for Islamic Protestantism. In a strikingly Lutheran characterization, Aghajari states: “The Protestant movement wanted to rescue Christianity from the clergy and the Church hierarchy…. We [Muslims] do not need mediators between us and God. We do not need mediators to understand God’s holy books. The prophet [Jesus] spoke to the people directly. We don’t need to go to the clergy; each person is his own clergy.”[15] There is obvious similarity between Aghajari’s belief in each person as “his own clergy” and Luther’s “priesthood of the believer.” Moreover, Aghajari, following in the footsteps of Iranian reformer Ali Shariati, has called for a separation of “core Islam” from the “traditional Islam” that he believes has been distorted by the layering of laws and traditions that were specific to particular cultures. As Aghajari notes, just as the religious scholars of previous generations “had the right to interpret the Koran [in their way], we have the same right. Their interpretation of Islam is not an article of faith for us.”[16]

Other similarities exist between contemporary events in Islam and those in Christendom almost five centuries ago. A movement of Islamic humanism parallels the call for an Islamic Reformation by Aghajari and others in much the same way that Christian humanism, led by Desiderius Erasmus, accompanied the reforms of Luther and Calvin. Calvin, himself trained in the humanist tradition at the University of Paris, was one of many reformers who sought synthesis between Christian doctrine and classical knowledge. Some, like Erasmus, chose to remain nominally Catholic and their impact on the faith was dramatic: a return “to the sources” of the tradition; a renewed appreciation for classical knowledge; the subordination of the passions and promotion of aesthetic qualities; a distaste for “scholastic obscurity”; greater respect for the dignity of the human person; and the promotion of peace for all mankind through the recognition of our common humanity.[17]

Those same qualities are evident in Islamic humanism, which has a long history that spans the religion’s theological, ethnic, and geographical divisions. Muhammad Miskawayh, a Persian descended from Zoroastrian heritage, influenced the eminent qadis and assembled literati of Baghdad in the tenth century.[18] The courtly influence of Miskawayh was not unlike that of Erasmus on sixteenth-century European nobility, including monarchs like Henry VIII. Goodman notes that Miskawayh’s “masters shared his view that statesmen can learn from the actions of past rulers and from the recovered culture that Miskawayh was to lay out in a greater and lesser treasury of ancient knowledge, and in his works on ethics, happiness, moral education, logic, the natural sciences, divinity, arithmetic, alchemy, and cooking.”[19] Similarly, Islamic humanism today promotes the universalism of the Muslim faith and the respect for the human person found in its classical texts. Scholars like the Algerian Mohammed Arkoun argue for reassessment of Islamic sources using the instruments of the human sciences to unlock those universal truths that have been obscured through the closing of the “Official Corpus”:

A culture grows, enriches itself, and spreads when it has precise criteria for the identification of truth, good, and beauty not just for the clan, tribe, group, community, or nation but for the whole of humankind. Greek and religious thought have each taught us about such an ambition. But it has been shown that the logical categories of Aristotle, for example, are linked to the definitions and semantic structures of the Greek language. The revealed religions have tried to go beyond precarious and relative human knowledge by riveting attention and desire on the absoluteness of God. But they, too, have utilized naturally occurring human languages for delivering their messages. Neither Greek thought nor revealed religion has managed to undermine local knowledge and empirical forms of rationality in Mediterranean societies to the point of completely replacing them with one or the other forms of universalist thought. Whatever the debt of current Western scientific thought to local knowledge and global systems of thought originating in the Mediterranean basin, the criteria for the identification of truth, good, and beauty remain uncertain and much debated.[20]

Just as Christian humanism five centuries ago, Islamic humanism seeks to discover universal truths by reconciling various traditions divided by linguistics, history, geography-all while recognizing the ultimate impossibility of such a task. Process and result are melded in both humanist traditions. Importantly, much like Ibn Khaldun during the intellectual flowering of Moorish/Christian/Sephardic Spain, modern Islamic humanists seek to explore the origins of their faith unencumbered by the austerity of clericalism or the menace of state-sponsored religion.

In comparing the two religions, institutionalists would likely point to similarities in the process of development, maturation, decline, and restoration of these traditions. It may be more than coincidental that the observations of Eickelman and others of an Islamic reformation are occurring at a time when Islam is roughly the same age as was Christianity at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Yet these commonalities between Islam and Reformation-era Christianity might be challenged as largely circumstantial. Significant differences between these faith traditions also are evident. The most obvious of these is that no central institution exists in Islam as the object of reform as did the Catholic Church in Luther’s day.[21] The term “Protestant” was coined to describe those Lutheran-leaning princes who at the Second Diet of Speyer (1529) “protested” renewed religious oppression under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Those protests had a clear institutional object-the Holy Roman Empire-an equivalent to which does not exist in modern Islam, with the exception of certain national institutions such as Iran with its system of rule by Islamic jurists (foqaha) and its institution of velayat-e faqih that grants them near absolute authority.[22] Moreover, despite the inroads of communications and advances in education, there does not as yet appear to be a groundswell of support for reform by the masses equivalent to that inspired by Luther in the 1520s. Ideas for religious change appear somewhat confined to the intellectual and professional classes despite the exuberance of Western analysts who declare otherwise. Yet these facts alone do not defeat Eickelman’s thesis, for there is evidence that the collective understanding of Islam is changing and that varying interpretations are being transmitted in ways similar to those propagated via the “new” technology of the printing press in the sixteenth century. The question is whether these changes signify a reformation of the order of that which redefined Christianity, or are merely part of the ongoing transformation that has been occurring in Islam for centuries.

Two doctrinal principles are presented as definitional to the Reformation of the sixteenth century: sola fides, the concept that personal salvation is accomplished without mediation through the faith of the believer alone; and sola scriptura, the idea that Scripture is the foundation of the faith and must ground all religious tradition. These two theological doctrines were fundamental to Luther’s program and were revolutionary in the transformation not only of European Christianity but of all Western Culture. Sola fides provided religious justification for an individualist ethic that has powered the development of political and economic theory in the Occident. Sola scriptura concurrently dismantled a critical component in the authority structure of medieval Christendom by denying exclusivity in biblical interpretation long-claimed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is suggested that if developments analogous to these two radical changes are observed in Islam, then they may well portend a transformation of the Muslim world of the order that Eickelman predicts.

Sola Fides

Luther’s mantra both for redirecting Christian orthodoxy and attacking the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church was his contention that justification is possible by “faith alone.”  He expressed what would become the central pillar of Protestant orthodoxy in his “Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.”  In it Luther responded to those who maintained the Catholic doctrine of the inadequacy of faith in the absence of good works with the statement that “faith is God’s work in us.”  The superiority of God’s work to man’s insists on the primacy of faith to practice.  “Because of [faith],” Luther contended, “you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.”[23]  Although Luther acknowledged dependencies between the two, faith retains its a priori status for the reason that works, absent the grace of God, have no meaning.     

Dependencies between faith and works are recognized in Islam as well; however, historically, Muslims have tended to reverse the order of precedence, emphasizing practice vis-à-vis personal belief in most expressions of the faith. Timur Kuran notes, “traditionally, Islam has insisted more on orthopraxy (behavorial correctness) than on orthodoxy (doctrinal correctness).”[24] Emphasis on the practice of the faith was at its most extreme in the period of the Kharijites (literally “dissenters”) of the late seventh and early eighth centuries A.D. This group “firmly opposed salvation by faith and maintained that works were essential. Anyone committing a mortal sin was no longer a believer but became apostate, while the extreme wing believed that he could never re-enter the faith and should be killed for his apostasy.”[25] Such radicalism in religious morality has been rare in Islam just as it has been in Christianity. However, the continuance of the hudud-Shari’ah laws for specific crimes often viewed as severe by liberal societies[26]-in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan, suggests that adherence to a strict moral code maintains a more prominent role for Muslims than for Christians.

Islamic reformers, however, are mixed as to the importance of religious morality to personal salvation and in their views of the order of precedence between individual belief and communal practice. Most reformers recognize as did early Protestants the need to lessen the distance between God and believer. Sarfraz Khan observes: “Muslim reformist movements, like their Christian counterparts, are based on an understanding of a personal relationship between man and God; they seek to abolish, or at least to minimize, the mediating role of the clergy in this relationship.”[27] Khan notes the common democratic attitude emanating from reformist activism, and its contribution to developments in Islam that mimic those of early modern Christianity, including the “translation of the Quran into the vernacular” and the “offering of prayers in indigenous languages.”[28]

Acknowledgment of need for a personal relationship in Islam between God and believer does not translate directly to a Protestant conception of salvation, however. El Fadl states that the “concept of salvation, as it exists in the Christian theological tradition, is foreign to both the language and spirit of the Qur’an.”[29] The difference is that “doing good, struggling to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and being just with oneself and other human beings and creation are part and parcel of finding the balance (almizan), equanimity, and peace.” Moreover, “the pursuit of this peace, balance, and justice is at the core of the submission to God and the obligations of vicegerency [sic].”[30] Thus, to the extent that the Lutheran-Calvinist emphasis on human impotence with regard to salvation was manifested in cultural institutions that formed in the early modern West, certain of those developments may not be repeated in the Muslim world even if an Islamic reformation is realized. For example, from a Weberian perspective, less emphasis on the notion of sanctification through wealth in Islamic theology may limit the religion’s capital accumulation and consumption inhibiting chracteristics that Weber saw as the critical Protestant contributions to the development of Western capitalism. Indeed, the charitable institution of zakat (literally “purifier of wealth”) might be taken not only to mean diminishment of divine attribution for wealth vis-à-vis Christianity, but also recognition that human systems that promote wealth require periodic purification because of their inherently flawed systems of justice.[31]

Divisions among Muslim reformers over differing conceptions of human and divine justice are long-standing and perhaps most contributory to the refusal of Muslims to fully embrace Western norms of human rights and political governance. If Islam today exhibits resistance in its encounters with liberal political and economic theory, it is because of hesitation among its modernists as much as its fundamentalists, as Ebrahim Moosa articulates:

What [Muslim modernists] did not undertake or in some cases refused to undertake was to subject the entire corpus of historical Islamic learning to the critical gaze of knowledge-making process (episteme) of modernity. They of course correctly suspected that a complete embrace as a philosophical tradition would result in an Islam that they would not be able to recognize. They still felt that the pre-modern Muslim epistemology as rooted in dialectical theology (ilm al-kalam) and legal theory (usul al-fiqh) was sufficiently tenacious, if not compatible with the best in modern epistemology. With a few exceptions, this expedient attitude toward modernity is an indication of both the good faith as well as the naiveté of some of the modernist Muslim reformers.[32]

Moosa continues by observing Mohammed Iqbal’s acquiescence to the “new knowledge” in the writing of history. Yet, “Iqbal’s caveat of an ‘independent attitude’ for some signaled a caution and resistance to the allure of modern knowledge…. How Iqbal expected far-reaching and different understandings of early Islamic teachings to take place without taking the risk of embracing the modern episteme, he never elaborated.”[33]

The same may be said of both Martin Luther and John Calvin, who never adequately articulated what should be the appropriate Christian response to the rise of Copernicanism and various other challenges to the Christian worldview in the humanist universities of the sixteenth century. Luther often welcomed the new knowledge generated in the academy without fully comprehending its ultimate effects on Christian orthodoxy or his reform program.[34] John Dillenberger believes that the two most influential reformers of the sixteenth century were apprehensive about the potential distractions caused by science, observing that Luther especially “was fearful that an undue concentration upon natural explanations would obscure the ultimate ground of things.”[35] Yet that apprehension did not translate into a rejection of the new knowledge for either man. Both were resigned to the changes that would result from discovery in the arts and sciences, and individual believers, to a large extent, were left to sort out on their own the meaning of these discoveries for religious faith.

Scholars of Islam too are divided on the importance of personal faith in the lives of Muslims and the means by which faith can be sustained in the face of modernity. Lenn Goodman applies something of a Calvinist notion of sanctification in his description of faith in Islam, stating: “Obedience to God’s will is the clearest mark of faith. But faith itself is the Islamic way to salvation. The cardinal sin is kufr, faithlessness, unbelief, and ultimately unforgivable ingratitude for God’s manifold blessings.”[36]

Yet even among contemporary reformers, faith is rarely divorced from those prescriptive institutions that forge the Muslim umma. Sachedina describes the confluence of faith and law in contributing both to the individual’s justification before the Creator and to a collective harmony unattainable in societies where the two are partitioned:

Islamic law as an expression of the human endeavor to carry out the divine will on earth is actually identical to the belief that faith is an instrument of justice. When law and faith merge in an individual’s life, they create a sense of security and integrity about the great responsibility of pursuing justice for its own sake. And when this sense of security and integrity is projected to the collective life of the community, it conduces to social harmony…. The separation of law and faith, on the other hand, results in the lack of commitment to justice that leads to chaos, violence, and even war.[37]

Thus, as opposed to the Reformation of Christendom in the sixteenth century, many of those leading efforts to reform Islam remain cognizant of the need for religious law to guide the development of individual faith. Many, like Sachedina, see reform as the need for social reconstruction around a “classical” conception of shari’ah. Yet he also perceives a personal component to the reconceptualization of Islam through the medium of the fitra-the God-given nature of the human person that guides the individual Muslim on the “right path.” Accordingly, the individual is “endowed with personal dignity and liberty as part of his or her fitra, standing in direct relationship with God, the Creator, the Master of the Day of Judgment. This unmediated relationship, this covenant between God and humanity, suggested a new autonomy and agency of individuals sharing a set of beliefs and ideological commitments to the transcendent power and authority of God.”[38]

Recognition that the unmediated relationship between God and believer must be enhanced by his or her communal identity places Islam on a higher plane of development than its sister religions, Judaism and Christianity. According to Sachedina, “Christianity developed the inherent split between sacred and secular in a monastic ideal of radical withdrawal from the world, particularly the familial and political world, which was quite alien to the Old Testament way of thinking.”[39] Luther’s “two kingdoms” theory was merely an institutional refinement of monastic withdrawal that attenuated some of its consequences; it did not eradicate the dualism. It was a fatalistic concession to a pessimistic view of human nature and a conception that relatively few were elected by God. Luther uses his famous apple tree analogy to illustrate the purpose of law:

The just man [der Gerechte] of his own accord does all and more than any law [Recht] demands. But the unjust [Ungerechten] do nothing that is right [recht], and therefore they need the law to teach, compel and urge them to act rightly. A good tree[40] needs no teaching and no law in order for it to bear good fruit; it is its nature to do so without teaching or law. A man would have to be an idiot to write a book of laws for an apple-tree telling it to bear apples and not thorns, seeing that the apple-tree will do it naturally and far better than any laws or teaching can prescribe. In the same way, because of the spirit and faith, the nature of all Christians is such that they act well and rightly, better than any laws can teach them, and therefore they have no need of any laws for themselves.[41]

In the same treatise, however, Luther vacillates between a position that “no man is by nature a Christian” and, therefore, “God hinders them all, by means of the law, from doing as they please and expressing their wickedness” to the view that “the world and the many are unchristian and will remain so.”[42] A secular and worldly law is thus justified by either of Luther’s positions. He has covered his bases on the need for the sword to “preserve peace, punish the wicked, and restrain sin.”[43] This recognition of the need for the sword in a pervasively unchristian world and the duty owed by all Christians to those who wield it means a social order in which the “true Christian” must often suffer unjust authority for the preservation of peace-a perpetually dualistic state in the eyes of many Muslims.

By contrast, Islamic reformers are called to a much more difficult task. In the words of Iqbal, they “must rethink the whole system of Islam without breaking from the past”; moreover, this must be accomplished without temporalizing existence. Iqbal was insistent that “the spiritual and the temporal are not two distinct domains, and the nature of an act, however secular in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it… An act is temporal or profane if it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity of life behind it; it is spiritual if it is inspired by that complexity.”[44] Thus, the rejection of a dualistic framework for the construction of society is essential to Muslim modernists, past and present. Iqbal, Sachedina, and other reformers of the Islamic tradition, see their faith as superior to Protestant Christianity in preserving a vital unity (tawhid) that centers on the oneness of God.[45]

An analogy may be drawn between early Protestant debates over the freedom of human will and its contribution to salvation and a similar debate in Islam that actually predates the Reformation. Luther’s development of a mild predestinarian theology in the tradition of Augustine was opposed by many of his fellow reformers and, most notably, the champion of Christian humanism, Desiderius Erasmus, who insisted on the freedom of human will in matters of soteriological importance.[46] Their exchange was critical in the formation of Protestant orthodoxy, being decided for the immediate term in favor of the Wittenberg Augustinian. Calvin’s theology intensified human dependence on God’s will and his successors in the Reformed tradition continued to expound this doctrine. Reformation scholar Alister McGrath notes that Theodore Beza based his entire theological system “on the divine decrees of election-that is, the divine decision to elect certain people to salvation and others to damnation.”[47]

One may observe a Calvinist conception of the “elect” in the Ash’arite tradition of Islam. The Ash’arite emphasis on God’s utter omnipotence is derived from Qur’anic verses such as Sura 9:51: “Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us” and the phrase repeated throughout the Qur’an that Allah “forgives whom He pleases and chastises whom He pleases.”[48] Perhaps most directly predestinarian is the phrase found in Sura 10: 99-100 that “it is not for a soul to believe except by Allah’s permission; and He casts uncleanliness on those who will not understand.” Much as Luther and Calvin rebelled against their humanist training on the freedom of the will, Abu l-Hasan al-Ashari (873/4-932), founder of the Ash’arite school, rejected his education in the Mu’tazilite tradition to ascribe to a more divinely deterministic worldview. Goodman notes that al-Ashari and his followers,

saw Mu’tazilite theodicy, which deduced God’s actions and requitals from the a priori given of His goodness, as pollyannaish, a refusal to take seriously the fact of natural evil. In arguing for God’s freedom to act and choose at His pleasure, they too, in their own way, were defending human moral perceptions. For to free God’s will from human moral notions was to maintain the internal integrity of those notions: God need not hew to human standards, but we need not pretend that all is well by those standards. Thus the Ash’arites refused to discover concealed goods behind every apparent evil and held fast by a kind of positivity about the way the world is.[49]

This debate over the autonomy of the human will flourished in the twelfth century as articulated by its principal proponents al-Ghazali (d. 1111) for the Asharites and Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) for the Mutazilites. In most traditions of Islam it has been settled largely in favor of the former group and a continuance of deterministic theology in which Allah as the omnipotent Lord of all exercises His own will in His own way, beyond total human comprehension. The settlement of this debate, according to Leonard Binder, “produced a patrimonial establishment which was characterized by the effort to achieve order, but without at the same time striving for rationality. Hence, Muslim patrimonialism did not produce the conditions for the emergence of the equivalent of the Protestant ethic.”[50]

The question is whether this debate on the autonomy of human will is being reenergized by the modern encroachments on Muslim society that Eickelman perceives. Some scholars have suggested that the educated and elite classes in Muslim societies are advancing a notion of free will in Islam. Sachedina goes so far as to speculate that the Mutazilite theological position on human free will is dominant among “modern exegetes,” who “believe that human beings are endowed with sufficient cognition and volition to pursue their spiritual destiny through the revealed message of God.”[51] That judgment may be premature; however, there is little question that the theological dynamism of Islam has been amplified in recent years and is spurring debates like this one which parallel those of Christianity in the sixteenth century.

Just as in the Protestant Reformation, many of these movements are taking place on the fringes of the Muslim world. In medieval Christendom, challenges to orthodoxy emerged on frontier of the empire in Bohemia, Britain, southwestern France, Scandinavia and the northern German states. Similarly, movements now underway that, viewed collectively, may constitute an Islamic Reformation are observed not so much in the Middle East but on the Asian and African continents. Robert Bocock, for example, studied the Shii following Ismailis of Tanzania and drew some interesting analogies between their “affinity with modern commercial and professional activities” and similar traits within Calvinism that Max Weber famously described.[52] Bocock posits various similarities and differences between the Ismailis and Calvinists in their respective views on individualism, predestination, wealth, organization, and mysticism. Similarities are observed in the “congregational” organization structure of both groups and a common rationalism and individualist ethic capable of powering a modern market economy, though Bocock makes it clear that the Ismailis are more communally oriented than were the Calvinist communities of early modern Europe.[53] The Ismailis also adhere to a moderated form of predestination. Differences are observed in the Calvinists rejection of mysticism, which many Ismailis embrace and the latter’s more liberal consumption ethic that allows spending for personal pleasure.[54]

Despite growing theological diversity in Islam, the doctrines (or lack thereof) of salvation and the need for mediation between God and the individual are critical issues dividing Protestant Christianity from Islamic reform movements. If no mediation is required, then institutional layers that ultimately form in most religions have the potential to hinder rather than advance the individual’s spiritual development. These issues ultimately are manifested in differing conceptions of social order, from theocratic constructs to notions of secular society. Importantly, in these critical areas, Islamic reformers differ not only with ideals of Western liberalism-many of which were spawned in Protestant theology-but also with each other.

Sola Scriptura

Monopolies on scriptural exegesis held by particular institutions are prime targets in the reformation of any religion based on sacred texts. This was true in the sixteenth century as not only Luther but a diverse array of humanists, academics, Anabaptists, spiritualists, and assorted lay theologians gained access to the Bible and began to assess its meaning. But Protestant Christians have long been divided between two equally inaccurate judgments of what Luther intended in breaking the grip of canonists’ and theologians’ on the Bible. Some have viewed it as a return to literalism from the intellectual manipulation (and corruption) of Scripture by the scholastically trained “professionals” of the Catholic hierarchy. Others have observed in this aspect of the Reformation the complete emancipation of Scripture for the believer in his newfound “priestly” status.

In fact, neither Luther nor his principal magisterial colleagues, Calvin and Zwingli, sought to direct Christianity toward either literalism or subjectivism in scriptural interpretation. As McGrath notes, none of the magisterial reformers “was prepared to abandon the concept of a traditional interpretation of Scripture in favour of the radical alternative. As Luther gloomily observed, the inevitable result of such an approach was chaos, a new ‘Babel.’”[55] Indeed, tragedies resulting from the German Peasants’ War of 1525 and the Anabaptist uprising at Münster, Westphalia (1534-35) have been attributed to the Reformation’s role in loosening the Catholic Church’s command over Scripture.

Determination of the appropriate mediating role of religious institutions in the exegesis of sacred texts is critical to contemporary events in Islam. Scholars have noted a decline in clericalism in various Muslim countries that may result from a loosening of the grip this class once held over Qu’ranic interpretation. Two principal groups are emerging to fill the void. One, a more radical class of Islamists trained in the madrasas who desire to return the faith to a pristine state employing a literalistic interpretation of sacred text. While this group might itself be described as clerical, its fervor for reform, promotion of widespread literacy, and willingness to challenge traditional structures give it an anti-establishment character. The other group, pointing toward a modernist interpretation of the Qu’ran and more malleable application of Shariah, has insisted upon the relevance of Qu’ranic principle to contemporary issues. The point, however, is that both groups are returning to Scripture for legitimation and, consequently, reshaping Islamic culture toward broad Scriptural literacy, a movement highly consistent with Christianity in the sixteenth century. A review of a special issue on Islam in the French journal Le Nouvel Observateur summarizes the phenomenon rather well, stating, “The reality of Islamic thinking today might be much more diverse than most people think: both conservatives and modernists are actually engaged in new readings of Islam.”[56]

This range of thought on the place of the Qu’ran in Muslim societies exhibits similar diversity to that on the role of the Bible in early Protestant communities. Attempts to construct Biblical societies based on literal interpretations of Scripture in combination with prophetic vision were observed in the formation of Anabaptist communities at Münster and Nikolsburg, Moravia (1527).[57] Comparable theocratic strcutures are observed in modern-day Iran, Sudan, and, formerly, in the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. More mildly theocratic conceptions of Calvin and Zwingli argued for moderate integration between church and state, not unlike that being called for by contemporary reformers who perceive a fluid Shariah as the appropriate foundation for modern society.[58] Finally, Luther’s “two kingdoms theory,” which assumed Christianity as the religion of the people, contributed the philosophical foundation for the modern secular state. That same model has made inroads in certain Muslim countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, which profess secularity while retaining Islam as their official religion.

The source of this diversity in both religions is lack of uniformity on the role of human agency in the interpretation of Scripture. Early in his theological development, Luther was inclined towards a position not unlike that of the later “radical reformers” regarding the accessibility of the Word to the individual Christian. In his Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther exposes the monopolistic hold on Christendom by agents of the pope who had exclusive rights to explication of biblical truths. Yet his repugnance toward the papacy contributes to an idealism that such truths were virtually self-evident, even to the most unlearned and illiterate Germans:

Their claim that only the pope may interpret Scripture is an outrageous fancied fable… The Romanists must admit that there are among us good Christians who have the true faith, spirit, understanding, word, and mind of Christ. Why, then, should we reject the word and understanding of good Christians and follow the pope, who has neither faith nor the Spirit?[59]

This optimism of the youthful Luther waned quickly in the aftermath of the German Peasants’ War of 1525 in which various spiritualists and “sword-bearing” Anabaptists (schwertler)[60] who claimed personal inspiration in the meaning of Scripture inspired an uprising that led to the deaths of thousands. Luther himself was frequently blamed for this tragedy for having opened the Pandora’s Box of subjective interpretation. His subsequent dispute with Zwingli over one of the simplest statements in the New Testament: “hoc est corpus meum,” “this is my body” (Matthew 26:26) dashed whatever illusions remained over the possibility of a universal right to biblical exegesis.[61] Zwingli had been equally optimistic as Luther that Scripture was easily understood, yet neither could arrive at mutual accommodation even over these four simple words spoken by Jesus. The Protestant solution to this problem was to construct “filters” for interpretation such as Luther’s Lesser Catechism (1529) and Calvin’s Institutes (1559), which once again placed the power of biblical exegesis in the hands of a few. McGrath states: “To put it crudely, it became a question of whether you looked to the pope, to Luther or to Calvin as an interpreter of Scripture…. The idea that everyone had the right and the ability to interpret Scripture faithfully became the sole possession of the radicals.”[62]

Islam appears to be experiencing similar consternation as to the responsibility for Qur’anic interpretation. In this regard the role of the madrasas is of particular interest in the evolution of Islam. While one is tempted to compare these fundamentalist schools to the literalism of some Anabaptist groups in the sixteenth century, perhaps a better analogy can be drawn to the Jesuit Order of the Catholic or Counter Reformation.[63] The centerpiece of both is education centered in literal interpretations of their respective holy books. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, one of the formative influences on Jesuit theology and an opponent of “modern” theories like Copernicanism, insisted that “not the propositions alone [of the Bible], but each and every word pertains to the faith. We believe that no word in scripture is unnecessary, nor is it incorrectly placed.”[64] It was this view that led to the rejection by Bellarmine and other Jesuits of scientific discoveries and philosophical theories that seemed to conflict with Scripture. Likewise, the rote memorization and dogmatism of the madrasas have a conservative character designed to preserve sacred traditions. In his article, “Origin and Character of ‘al-madrasah,’” A. L. Tibawi states, “Of one thing we are reasonably sure. The madrasah which symbolized the victory of orthodox theology over speculative and natural philosophy, excluded the teaching of falsafah (philosophy).”[65] Therefore, institutions both of the madrasas and the Jesuits were designed as bastions of orthodoxy to insulate Islam in the former case and Christianity in latter from modernist movements. The Jesuits responded directly to the theological challenges of Protestantism while the madrasas, though long-established centers of learning in the Muslim world, were fundamentalized in their now dominant Wahabbist form to counter perceived incursions on Islamic culture brought about by Western educational institutions.[66] In this sense, both are reform attempts designed to stem even more radical reform movements.

The willingness of contemporary Muslim groups to challenge traditional interpretations of Scripture and even the authority of the learned ones (ulama) as its sole interpreters, according to Ellis Goldberg, “implies a radical redefinition of the present Muslim community to its past and to the guardians of received knowledge from the past.”[67] Goldberg continues by describing the methodology employed for reform by Sunni activists:

Contemporary Sunni radicals attack the well-developed and sophisticated consensus of the ‘ulama on two levels: First, they deny that the prior meanings are correct; and second, they deny the very right of such scholars to determine the meanings. This double attack on the ‘ulamas’ interpretations and their right to define them makes contemporary Sunni activism comparable to the Protestant impulse in Europe. A refusal to accept received interpretations means a return to the origins: Scripture.[68]

Luther’s decision at Wittenberg to burn books of canon law along with the papal bull excommunicating him from the Catholic faith lends credence to Goldberg’s analogy. Luther abhorred the intense legalism and corruption inspired by institutionalized orthodoxy and reinforced by a cryptic scholasticism. Wresting the monopoly on scriptural interpretation from those who held it for political gain was central to his reform program, just as breaking the hold on Qur’anic exposition by the ulama is fundamental to the reforms of Sunni “Protestants.”

Consistent with Eickelman’s thesis, expanded literacy in both these societies must be seen as critical in their respective transformations regarding the role of Scripture. Harvard anthropologist R. W. Niezen contends that “radical religious protest in medieval Europe and in contemporary Muslim Africa has occurred within religious communities in which widespread literacy is developing and in which a new awareness of the scriptural message is a key element in the promotion of a reformed faith.”[69] Niezen illustrates the consequences of the confluence of monopolistic control of scriptural interpretation with rising literacy in case of the English Lollards of the 14th and 15th centuries. In that case, “the attempt to establish a new orthodoxy did not always succeed but often led to disintegration into ignorance and creative prophetism.”[70] The institutional rigidity that guarded Christian orthodoxy in medieval Europe likely contributed to the violent responses to such heresies as Lollardy.[71] By contrast, the perceived successes of West African madrasas result largely from “the decline in influence of traditional clerical groups and the subsequent failure of Western education to bring about a new and successful social and economic order.”[72] Also important to preservation of the madrasas’ autonomy is the absence of hierarchy in the Islamic clerical structure. Muslim clerics adhere to the various “schools” of thought in which interpretation is arrived at largely through a learned consensus rather than being enforced from above.

The absence of hierarchy in Islam means that the theological principle of ijtihad, “systematic original thinking” in the development and application of shari’ah, assumes great importance. Ijtihad was subordinated in various instantiations of Islamic practice for centuries. Ironically, Khan observes that the resurgence of this doctrine was led by ultraconservative revivalist movements such as Wahhabism, which “opened the door for more liberal forces to interpret the Quran and sunnah more freely.”[73] Rather than having disappeared completely from the tradition, Eickelman and Anderson believe that ijtihad was one of the traditional Islamic practices that was “compartmentalized” under colonial and secular governments in support of social order.[74] This suppression, however, has resulted in a split between widely divergent trends in the construction of shariah-based societies. One trend witnesses a “de facto privatization of religious faith” while the other has been toward radicalized doctrines such as that of the Ayatollah Khomeni’s wilayat-i faqih, which “asserts the sovereignty of jurists over the texts they interpret.”[75] It is the “right to ijtihad” among competing factions in Muslim societies that is under scrutiny today and that will have a major influence in determining the adoption or rejection of liberal values in those societies.

Most all Muslim reformers are agreed that, in the words of El Fadl, “Shariah relies on the interpretive act of a human agent for its production and execution.”[76] The question remains, however, whether that agency is an individual or institution. Luther’s disdain for the canonists and theologians of his time suggests his realization of the corrupting power of human institutions in the construction of religious law. Yet later in life, he came to understand the coequal danger of subjectivism.[77] Islamic reformers too realize the danger of associating the infallible ideal of divine law with necessarily flawed institutional structures devised for its interpretation and implementation. El Fadl has resolved this conflict for himself by concluding that “Shari’ah ought to stand in an Islamic polity as a symbolic construct for the divine perfection that is unreachable by human effort.” “Put differently,” he says, “Shari’ah as conceived by God is flawless, but as understood by human beings is imperfect and contingent.”[78]

What divides reformers, however, is the extent to which they are willing to concede fallibility in the discernment and application of Islamic law. For some, like El Fadl, the flaws are significant to the point that a “religious state law is a contradiction in terms.”[79] Such an interpretation offers a clear path to secularization not unlike that initiated by Luther’s doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms,” a path on which many reformers are unwilling to tread. In their minds, the imperfection of Shari’ah in its many instantiations does not defeat the principle of society based on Islamic law; it simply accentuates the need to “get it right.” Sachedina, for one, is convinced that the secularization of Islamic culture would greatly damage the tradition and lead to a destructive social disharmony. He notes that “peace is the outcome of justice maintained at each stage of interhuman relations. The separation of law and faith, on the other hand, results in the lack of commitment to justice that leads to chaos, violence, and even war.”[80] Thus, maintenance of integrality between individual faith and law is essential to the existence of Islam. Diminishment of either results in dualism and dissolution, not unlike that which many perceive to have resulted from the Protestant Reformation.

These disagreements among Muslim reformers have been amplified by the mass availability of sacred texts via the Internet and other forms of mass communication and the development of electronic forums for lay interpretation that are beyond the control of the Islamic establishment. The fact that this “establishment” is institutionally diverse and lacks a formal hierarchy may mean that the dissemination of the exegetical function that is occurring may be accomplished with less conflict than was the case in the Protestant era of Christianity. Regardless, evidence demonstrating an attenuation of clerical command over the Qur’an’s interpretation offers the most substantial evidence for Eickelman’s thesis that an Islamic reformation is underway.  

Is Reform Necessary?

A rather ambiguous answer to this question is that it depends on who is asking it. The perceived need for Islamic reform differs between Westerners and Muslims as it does among factions within Islam itself. These differences among various groups result from what American philosopher John Dewey commonly referred to as the “end in view”-in this case, the desired goal of each group achieved by the development of Protestant Islam. The United States and its allies seek global stability and greater assurance that Muslim countries will work to stem the rising tide of terrorism. They seek to “jump ahead” from the need to reform Islam to the establishment of stable democratic societies. Western pundits, however, seem to avoid the question of whether Islam must be reformed to achieve democracy or at least some subset of liberal values that will enable Muslim countries’ participation in the global order. We are learning that the desirability of reforming Islam and the need to achieve democracy in Muslim nations are fundamentally different issues. Islamist groups that advocate reform desire more pristine Islamic societies minus the contradictions that many believe have resulted from Western influences. Islamic modernists are divided between those who believe Islam can thrive within a secular state founded on a religion-less or at least religiously neutral constitution, and those who see Shariah as adaptable and capable of serving as the foundation for modern forms of governance.

An insight into the West’s perception of the need for reform in Islam is observed in an article Michael Ledeen wrote for the National Review. In Ledeen’s discussion of fellow columnist Tom Friedman’s coverage of Hashem Aghajari, the Iranian academic on trial for his life for challenging “the infallibility of the ruling mullahs,” he notes a critical difference between “reformers,” who advocate a more tolerant form of Islamic Republic, and “revolutionaries” who desire a secular state.[81] According to Ledeen, Americans should side with the revolutionary student and intellectual groups rather than mere reformers like Aghajari because our achievement of a secular civil society “lies at the heart of our own remarkable political success, and because it lies at the heart of the war against terrorism.”[82] Ledeen further articulates what he considers the proper goal of American involvement in the Muslim world:

We lack standing in the internal Islamic debate. Interpretations of the Koran and Mohammed’s reflections are matters for Muslims to debate among themselves. But we should have a lot to say about the separation of mosque/church and state, which is crucial to the proper functioning of democracy, in America and elsewhere. Both the Iranian secular revolutionaries and many leading ayatollahs agree that a similar requirement should be institutionalized in Iran as quickly as possible. These enlightened ayatollahs-many of who are certainly not in favor of religious reform-recognize that the longer the conflict rages, the more likely it is that Islam itself will a victim of the regime’s eventual downfall.[83]

Yet the American government is rather ambiguous in defining the degree of separation between mosque and state that should exist in those Muslim countries it now occupies: Iraq and Afghanistan. Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor and advisor to the State Department in the development of the Afghan Constitution, described the hybrid Shariah/constitutional system that has been implemented in Afghanistan, noting that the constitutional court there is a mix of secular and Islamic judges “that presumably has the power to adjudicate whether a given law violates the values of Islam.”[84] Moreover, in those areas of law where Shariah is applicable, the “particular school of Shariah that a given person belongs to will be respected, so no one will be obligated to follow a branch of Shariah that is not their own branch.”[85]

Feldman admits that these are “experiments” in Islamic constitutionalism that have the “possibility” of success, which coequally suggests the possibility of failure. The rise of American-sponsored illiberal democracies is a concession to the difficulty of establishing constitutional government in countries where religious law forms a significant part of the national heritage. It is significant that many Islamic reformists who call for the religious modernization of their societies do so with a caveat-that any reforms will incorporate a central role for Shariah. The U.S. government’s desperation to liberalize the Muslim world, ironically, may produce an unintended and illiberal consequence: the development of Islamic democracy.[86]  


The question of what aspects of Luther’s and Calvin’s reforms made them unique and inspired such monumental changes in Western Culture is more difficult to answer than may be apparent. For, in surveying pre-sixteenth-century movements such as those of the Waldensians, Albigensians, Lollards, Hussites, and other proto-Protestant groups, one locates most of the doctrinal and institutional features that became the Reformation. These groups recognized the corruption of the Catholic Church and the abuses inspired by simony, indulgences, lay investiture and other flaws in the Church as a money-making institution.[87] They also desired to remove institutional layers that had accumulated over the millennia and a half of the Church’s existence and return it to a more pristine state that had existed in the Church of the Apostles. Virtually all these reform movements sought to minimize the distance between clergy and laity, to eliminate sacraments and other practices that lacked biblical foundation, to have available both Scripture and worship in the local vernacular, to enable parishioners to experience communion in both kinds,[88] and to remove the legalism and clericalism that they perceived as extinguishing the faith. From this vantage, Luther’s reforms appear utterly unoriginal and Calvin’s even less so.

Similarly, talk of Protestant Islam fails to do justice the continual process of reform that has taken place for the fourteen centuries of its existence. Islam has been less monolithic and has experienced more continual reform movements than has been recognized by non-Muslims and even some adherents of the faith. Kharijism, Mu’tazilism, Ismai’ilism, Murjism, Sufism, Wahhabism-these movements are chronologically well distributed across the Islamic tradition.[89] The great debate over Islam’s spiritual and rational character between the Ash’arites and Mu’tazilites may well be reenergized in the face of modern encroachments on Muslim society; however, this is merely a replay of events that occurred centuries ago. The role of tradition and status of the clergy in Islam have been no less controversial than in Christianity. Proliferation of the madrasas has served to attenuate those status differences, to inspire knowledge of the Qu’ran by lay believers, and to encourage a return to the sources of the faith by all Muslims. Yet it is also seen as inspiring a fundamentalist intolerance that generates hatred of the West and even the terrorism that has led to the present impasse.

Many Islamists advocate a role for Islam similar to that of the Catholic Church in medieval Christendom-a monistic institution that must operate with an air of infallibility. They perceive reforms already underway in Islam as replicating what were ultimately tragic consequences for Christianity. Mohammed al-Abbasi states: “Predictably enough, our own Islamic Protestantism, like that of Calvin, Luther and Cromwell, has in practice yielded division rather than unity, and mental and cultural poverty rather than a new brilliance. Not only are the Muslim Protestants (salafis, as they inaccurately call themselves) at loggerheads with traditional orthodox ulema, but they find it notoriously hard to agree among themselves.”[90] Much as Hilaire Belloch’s exposé of the destructive consequences of Protestantism in How the Reformation Happened, they perceive the dissolution of a once vibrant and uniform tradition into a cacophony of subjectivism-the very antithesis of religion.

Their alternative, however, is the institutionalization of orthodoxy forged by necessarily flawed human institutions that make claims to infallibility. The enforcement of that orthodoxy through both religious and secular means prompts the very reform movements that these traditionalists decry. Attempts to institutionalize truth inevitably inspire human passions to discover a “yet truer truth.” Thus, the impetus for reform is ever-present.

The salient question is whether events, both religious and secular, are coming together in ways similar to those experienced in the tremendous cultural upheaval of sixteenth-century Europe. There is little doubt that modernity is making inroads into the Muslim world in ways that Eickelman and others have described. The expansion both of mass communications and literacy in Islamic countries are documented phenomena. It is also clear that many Muslim nations are exhibiting frustration with austere forms of clericalism that are perceived as “holding back” their societies from greater prosperity and fuller participation in the world community. What is less clear is the role of Shariah in the redefinition of these societies and the extent to which even Islamic “reformists” are willing to part with elements of Islamic law, especially those that are perceived to contradict liberal values.

In this way, Muslims who now call for the reform of Islam are prompting philosophers, political scientists, historians, sociologists and even non-academics in liberal societies to reflect on the Protestant Reformation and its contribution to contemporary culture. Muslim progressives may also be stimulating uncertainty on the part of the West in the promotion of liberal values. Is it possible that institutional hybrids like the shariah/constitutional systems being implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan are not simply concessions to “less liberal” societies but also reflections of self-doubt in Western democracies. Indeed, it may be that modernists like Sachedina, An-Na’im, and El Fadl are today the most influential protagonists in the development of social philosophy, Islamic and otherwise.

[1] Dale F. Eickelman, “Inside the Islamic Reformation,” Wilson Quarterly 22 (Winter 1998): 80.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ronald Nettler, “A Modern Islamic Confession of Faith and Conception of Religion: Sayyid Qutb’s Introduction to the TAFSĪR, FĪ ZILĀL AL-QURĀN,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 21, no. 1 (1994): 103.

[4] Robin Wright, “Islam and Liberal Democracy: Two Visions of Reformation,” Journal of Democracy 7, no. 2 (1996): 67.

[5] The authors say that by “reintellectualization,” they mean “presenting Islamic doctrine and discourse in accessible, vernacular terms, even if this contributes to basic reconfigurations of doctrine and practice.” See Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson, “Redefining Muslim Publics,” in New Media in the Muslim World, eds. Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 12-13.

[6] Shahrur’s book, all 800 pages of it, is entitled The Book and the Qur’an: A Contemporary Interpretation (1990), and was said back in 1998 to have sold tens of thousands of copies.

[7] Eickelman and Anderson, 12.

[8] Ibid., 13.

[9] Eickelman, “Communication and Control in the Middle East: Publication and Its Discontents,” in New Media in the Muslim World, 38.

[10] See Eickelman and Anderson, 7-9.

[11] Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990), 1-2.

[12] Khaled Abou El Fadl, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, ed. Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 30-36 and Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001), 43-44, 99-101.

[13] The Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society (ISIS) mission statement reads: “We believe that Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue. The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (ISIS) has been formed to promote the ideas of rationalism, secularism, democracy and human rights within Islamic society. ISIS promotes freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief, freedom of intellectual and scientific inquiry, freedom of conscience and religion – including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief - and freedom from religion: the freedom not to believe in any deity.” See http://www.isisforum.com/.

Differing views on basic human rights between Muslim and Western countries were observed in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (1981) was finalized in Cairo to offer an Islamic complement to the UN document and to articulate a comprehensive “Muslim view” of human rights.

[14] Robin Wright, “An Iranian Luther Shakes the Foundations of Islam,” The Guardian (1 February 1995) [quoted from The Los Angeles Times, 1995]; available at www.seraj.org/guard.htm. Wright is a journalist for the Times who has written extensively on Islam.

[15] Seyyed Hashem Aghajari [transcript of speech delivered at the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the death of Ali Shariati, Tehran, Iran] 19 June 2002; accessed at www.ilrs.org/faith/aghajaritext.html on 12 June 2004.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See Virgil Nemoianu, “Teaching Christian Humanism,” First Things 63 (May 1996): 16-22 and Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1980), 290-317.

[18] Lenn E. Goodman, Islamic Humanism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003), 102.

[19] Goodman, 107. Interestingly, an institutional similarity between Islamic and Christian humanism may be observed in the eclectic Sincere Brethren of Basra (Ikhwan al-Safa) and the Brethren of the Common Life, a movement of humanist piety begun in Germany that preceded the Reformation and of which Luther was a member early in his religious training. See ibid., 49-50

[20] Mohammed Arkoun, Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers, trans. and ed. Robert D. Lee (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), 32-33.

[21] Robin Wright, “Islam and Liberal Democracy: Two Visions of Reformation,” Journal of Democracy vol. 7, no. 2 (1996): get page (64-75.)

[22] Asghar Schirazi, The Constitution of Iran: Politics and the State in the Islamic Republic (London: I. B. Tauris, Publishers, 1997), 12-14.

[23] Accessed at http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/luther-faith.txt on 22 May 2004.

[24] Timur Kuran, “The Genesis of Islamic Economics: A Chapter in the Politics of Muslim Identity,” Social Research 64 (Summer 1997). Kuran references Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Islam in Modern History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), in noting that the definition of a “good Muslim” is “usually not someone whose beliefs conform to an accepted doctrine, as Protestant Christianity defines a good Christian. It is someone whose commitment to Islam is evident through observable behaviors. The Islamic counterpart to the Christian concept of heresy is bid’a, which means ‘deviation’ and has traditionally been interpreted to mean “behavioral nonconformism.” See ibid.

[25] Sheldon Shapiro, “Morality in Religious Reformations,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 18 (October 1976): 448. One of those killed for his apostasy by the Kharijites was Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed who is regarded as the founder of Shii Islam.

[26] For more on the role of hudud laws in both historical and contemporary Islam, see Chapter 17 “Hudud: Central to Islam?” in Chandra Muzaffar, Rights, Religion and Reform: Enhancing Human Dignity Through Spiritual and Moral Transformation (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), 233-238.

[27] Sarfraz Khan, Muslim Reformist Political Thought (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 2.

[28] Ibid., 2.

[29] In fact there is no “literal equivalent to the word salvation” in Qur’anic Arabic. See El Fadl, “Reply,” in Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, 117.

[30] Ibid., 117.

[31] For more on zakat, see Jonathan Benthall, “Financial Worship: The Quranic Injunction to Almsgiving,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 5 (March 1999): 27-42. The concept of the jubilee year in Christianity has some affinity with the Islamic pillar of zakat. Jubilee too is concerned with reconciliation of parties, remission of sins and offenses, and the promotion of social justice. However, the association of jubilee with the Catholic doctrine of indulgences seems to have limited Martin Luther’s exploration of this theological principle. For more on the Christian doctrine of the jubilee, see John Paul II, TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE "On Preparation for Jubilee of the Year 2000” Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II - November 10, 1994; accessed at http://myweb.lmu.edu/fjust/Docs/JPII_Millennium_Letter.htm on 29 June 2004.

[32] Ebrahim Moosa, “The Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam,” in Progressive Muslims, 119.

[33] Ibid.

[34] See Donald Kobe, “Luther and Science”; accessed at http://www.leaderu.com/science/kobe.html on 22 June 2004.

[35] John Dillenberger, Protestant Thought and the Rise of Natural Science: A Historical Interpretation (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960), 33-34.:

[36] Goodman, 89.

[37] Sachedina, 43-44.

[38] Sachedina states that fitra acknowledges the “this-worldliness” of human nature; consequently, it “recognizes its limitations in matters that enhance religious life.” Thus, the fitra “sits in judgment to determine the moral value of human action but avoids judging the rightness or wrongness of human faith.” Ibid., 81-82.

[39] Ibid., 83.

[40] According to the editor, “The implicit reference is to the parable in Matthew 7.18.” See Martin Luther, “On Secular Authority: How Far does the Obedience Owed It Extend?” in Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority, ed. and trans. Harro Höpfl (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 9.

[41] Luther, “On Secular Authority,” 9.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., 10-13.

[44] Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (New Delhi: Kitab Publishing House, 1974), 97, 154; quoted in Muzaffar, 240-41.

[45] Muzaffar suggests regional variations in which Islamic dualism, similar to that of Western culture, is developing. He specifically cites Malaysia as a Muslim country in which a dichotomy has developed “between religion and life, faith and society.” According to Muzaffar, “this explains why [Malaysians] can faithfully observe the daily prayers and the annual fast and yet side-step moral values in politics, administration, business and in their social life.” Politics and business in Malaysia “have their own axioms which, in their thinking, have little to do with ethics or morality.” Interestingly, capitalism has made great strides in Malaysia in recent years with the Petronas Towers, the world’s largest skyscrapers located in Kuala Lumpur, serving as symbols of that fete. See Muzaffar, 308.

[46] Erasmus’ most famous work on the subject, “On the Freedom of the Will,” can be located in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. and ed. E. Gordon Rupp in collaboration with A. N. Marlow (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969).

[47] McGrath notes that “the rest of [Beza’s] theology was concerned with the exploration of the consequences of those decisions. The doctrine of predestination thus assumed the status of a controlling principle.” See Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 130. Interestingly, followers of Luther and Calvin took their respective theological traditions in opposite directions following the deaths of the two greatest reformers of the sixteenth century. As McGrath observes, “In marked contrast [to Calvinism], later Lutheranism marginalized Luther’s 1525 insights into divine predestination, preferring to work within the framework of a free human response to God, rather than a sovereign divine election of specific individuals.” See ibid., 131.

[48] For example, see S. 2:284, S.4:88, S5.18, S.5:40. Also interesting in this context are the surahs that state the impossibility of reforming those “whom Allah has caused to err.” For more on Muslim conceptions of predeterminism , see George F. Hourani, “Islamic and Non-Islamic Origins of Mu’tazilite Ethical Rationalism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 7 (January 1976): 59-87; and “Predestination in Islam”; accessed at www.abrahamic-faith .com/shamoun/Predestination%20in%20Islam.html on 7 June 2004.

[49] Goodman, 97.

[50] Leonard Binder, Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 221.

[51] Sachedina, 33.

[52] Robert F. Bocock, “The Ismailis in Tanzania: A Weberian Analysis,” The British Journal of Sociology 22 (December 1971), 369 [emphasis author’s]. Max Weber presented his famous thesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1988) [original publication 1904].

[53] Bocock, 369.

[54] Ibid. 369-70.

[55] McGrath, 156.

[56] “Moderate Muslim Thinkers Take New Approach to Koran,” Religion Watch (May 2004): 5.

[57] See James Stayer, Anabaptists and the Sword (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1972), 259-60 and “Biographical Notes,” in The Radical Reformation, ed. Michael G. Baylor (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 264-65.

[58] McGrath, 211-14.

[59] Martin Luther, Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520); quoted in McGrath, 151.

[60] Although Anabaptism is usually associated with pacifism, this sect of Christianity was divided between so-called “sword-bearing” (Schwertler) and “staff-bearing” (Stäbler) groups in the 1520s and 1530s.

[61] McGrath, 152.

[62] Ibid., 155. See also 152-54.

[63] The Catholic/Counter Reformation is considered to have begun with the Council of Trent (1545-1563) although the Jesuit Order, which was critical to its administration and theological definition, was formed in 1541.

[64] Taken from Prima controversia generalis de concilis, et ecclesia militante; the Latin text and its analysis is in U. Baldini and G. Coyne, S.J., eds. and trans., The Lovain Lectures (Lectiones Lovanienses) of Bellarmine and the Autograph Copy of his 1616 Declaration to Galileo (Vatican City: Specola Vticana, 1984), 40, n. 92; cited in Irving A. Kelter, “The Refusal to Accommodate: Jesuit Exegetes and the Copernican System,” Sixteenth Century Journal 26, no. 2 (1995): 279.

[65] A. L. Tibawi, “Origin and Character of ‘al-madrasah,’” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 25, no. 1/3 (1962): 228.

[66] For an analysis of Wahhabism in the madrasas, see: Fareed Zakaria, “The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?” Newsweek (October 15, 2001).

[67] Ellis Goldberg, “Smashing Idols and the State: The Protestant Ethic and Egyptian Sunni Radicalism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 33 (January 1991): 13.

[68] Ibid.

[69] R. W. Niezen, “Hot Literacy in Cold Societies: A Comparative Study of the Sacred Value of Writing,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 33, No. 2. (Apr., 1991), 227.

[70] Ibid., 228

[71] The Lollards were followers of the fourteenth-century English reformer John Wycliffe, “who were for the greater part ordinary people, mainly craftsmen, [and] opposed the subjection of the English church to Rome, the temporal rule of the clergy, the doctrine of transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, the consecration of physical objects, masses for the dead, pilgrimages, and the veneration of images.” See Ozment, 210. John Wycliffe’s body was exhumed and burned posthumously for his heresies.

[72] Niezen, 236.

[73] Khan cites F. Rahman, Islam, 2nd edition, (Chicago and London: 1979), 197-98. See Khan, 91-92.

[74] Eickelman and Anderson, 12.

[75] Ibid., 13.

[76] El Fadl, 30.

[77] McGrath, 151-55.

[78] El Fadl, 33-34.

[79] El Fadl states: “Either the law belongs to the state or it belongs to God, and as long as the law relies on the subjective agency of the state for its articulation and enforcement, any law enforced by the state is necessarily not God’s law.” See ibid., 34.

[80] Sachedina, 44.

[81] Michael A. Ledeen, “Tom Friedman’s Reformation,” National Review Online (6 December 2002); retrieved from www.benadorassociates.com/pf.php?id=155 on 4 June 2004.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] “Constitutionalism in the Muslim World: A Conversation with Noah Feldman,” (2 April 2004); accessed at the U.S. State Department website at http://malaysia.usembassy.gov/wf/wf0402_feldman.html on 14 May 2004.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ray Takeyh has stated that “the integration of an Islamic democracy into global democratic society would depend on the willingness of the West to accept an Islamic variant on liberal democracy.” He goes on to speculate on what an Islamic democracy would look like: “Undoubtedly, Islamic democracy will differ in important ways from the model that evolved in post-Reformation Europe. Western systems elevated the primacy of the individual above the community and thus changed the role of religion from that of the public conveyor of community values to a private guide for individual conscience. In contrast, an Islamic democracy's attempt to balance its emphasis on reverence with the popular desire for self-expression will impose certain limits on individual choice. An Islamic polity will support fundamental tenets of democracy--namely, regular elections, separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and institutional opposition--but it is unlikely to be a libertarian paradise.” See Ray Takeyh, "Faith-based Initiatives: Can Islam Bring Democracy to the Middle East," Foreign Policy 127 (November/December 2001):70.

[87] Simony is the practice of selling church offices and “other spiritual things.” Indulgences in the sixteenth century were payments made to the Catholic Church for the remission of sins or to reduce one’s time in purgatory. Lay investiture was the practice of a secular ruler “investing” or appointing someone to a religious office. See Ozment, 141-143.

[88] Jan Huss, the Bohemian reformer who preceded Luther, was executed at the Council of Constance in 1415 for several heresies, one of the most prominent being his insistence that the Catholic laity should experience communion in both kinds-both blood and body. The practice of reserving the “cup” exclusively for the clergy was considered a scripturally groundless ritual that artificially separated clergy from laity in the Christian Church. See Ozment, 164-66.

[89] The Murjites have some similarities to the Anabaptist tradition of Christianity, being largely apolitical and pacifist as well as espousing the equality of all Muslims before God. See David F. Forte, “Islam, Past and Future,” Religion & Liberty 12 (January-February 2002).

[90] Mohammed al-Abbasi, “Protestant Islam”; accessed at www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/misc/pislam.htm. Salafism is one of many Islamic movements that idealizes a golden age and desires to return the faith to its more pristine state under the Prophet Muhammad. According to UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, “the founders of Salafism maintained that on all issues Muslims ought to return to the original textural sources of the Qur’an and the Sunnah (precedent) of the Prophet. In doing so, Muslims ought to reinterpret the original sources in light of modern needs and demands without being slavishly bound to the interpretive precedents of earlier Muslim generations.” See Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Ugly Modern and the Modern Ugly: Reclaiming the Beautiful in Islam,” in Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, ed. Omid Safi (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2003), 55.

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