Reform At Will (Not)
“Reform”. For those who are not into the dhimmi mindset, for those who do not believe terrorism is “resistance against Western imperialism”, for those who recognize that we are the ones who are up against an imperialistic ideology, called Islam, that word is the last glimmer of hope for true lovers of peace, the only alternative to World War III. If Islam could be reformed to be like other religions, whether personal or national or having dreams of worldwide acceptance but through the power of the deity or of intellectual persuasion rather than through human military efforts, then the need to confront it on the worldwide battlefield would be spared from us. But hope is one thing; every hope needs to be evaluated by a study of its feasibility.
Is religious reform at will possible, and if so, how long could it take? Time is of the essence here, because, as Fjordman emphasizes, it will not do us much good to witness the reform of Islam after the demographic jihad has brought our states down on their knees before the god of the Koran. In an attempt to answer these questions, I compare religions and reformations in them; not all the comparisons may be applicable to Islam, yet the workings of the religious mind share some common points that can shed light on the issue.
The idea of religious reform at will suffers from the bias of the outsider view (“outsider” not necessarily meaning atheistic, but the view of anyone who does not share the belief system in question—for example, the way I view Scientology): it rests on the belief that one’s religion is a human artifact, a lump of clay to be molded as desired. This is decidedly not the view of any serious religionist. He who believes his religion to be lower than its practitioners will not follow it for long. That is evidenced not only by religion throughout all of history, but also today, in the situation where, for example, fundamentalist Christian churches are full to brimming with people, especially young people, while the liberal churches, those which assume religion to be man-made and malleable, sport a handful of old people. Religion is adhered to, not despite but because of its making demands on people; even truer today than in the past, for today religion serves for countless people their anchor against the emptiness of McDonaldism (a.k.a. globalism and consumerism).
Reforms have happened; sometimes they really did happen as a result of religious authorities sitting on their council and making decrees, but never did a reform take place out of a desire to fix “errors inherent in the religion itself”. The errors any religious reform is meant to fix are errors caused by humans deviating from the pristine state of the religion. That is an important fact that must be remembered when discussing religious reform, whether it be the historical Protestant Reformation or the future prospect of Islamic reform.
Historians say the Protestant Reformation opened the way to the Enlightenment, first by making the Christian Bible compulsory reading for all, then by allowing private interpretation of it—a process which, when carried to its conclusion, led people to doubt the religion itself. It goes without saying, however, that Martin Luther did not have the current Episcopal Church, with its woman priests, homosexual bishops, dropping of the Christian exclusivist message and substitution of Marxism-inspired social utopianism for it, in mind. He did not want to create a new church at all; he believed himself to be bringing Christianity back to its roots after centuries of (again, his belief) creeping apostasy.
Luther would have met the same fate as the Bohemian reformer Jan Huss (burned at the stake the previous century). However, he was backed by German princes who wanted lands of the Catholic Church for their own. Here is another fact about religious reform: unless there is political support for it, it will be crushed by the original form of the religion, by some way or another. That crushing need not be physical elimination; it can just as easily be religious ostracism, which delegitimizes the movement of reform. No Conservative or Reform Jews have been accorded by Orthodox Jews the treatment given to Muslim apostates, yet Orthodox Judaism has cut off those reform movements as legitimate branches of Judaism, and does not recognize their authority.
Religious reform can take the form of decree by the religious authorities, as in the case of the Second Vatican Council, but it often occurs quietly, as a de facto change. For example, in 18th- and early 19th-century Orthodox Judaism the acrimony between the chasidim (centered on the mystic layers of Torah study) and the mitnagdim (the more traditional sect, focused on debating Talmudic issues) was comparable to the aforementioned relations between Orthodox Judaism and the two reforming branches, but in the course of the 19th century the controversy died out. No religious decree declaring the end of the dispute was ever issued by the mitnagdim; the change happened just so, and Chasidic Judaism is now together with Yeshivish (or “Lithuanian”, because most of the mitnagdim were there) Judaism under the roof of Orthodox Judaism. As to why it happened, researchers are reasonably certain that it was because of the necessity to unite against a common enemy: the Enlightenment, with its challenge to faith (and, consequently, Reform Judaism). The circumstances can elicit religious reform, whether de facto or de jure; in both cases, this is not about a group of people sitting and saying, “Hey, let’s get with the times and reform our religion”.
Islam underwent reform in the 19th and 20th centuries. Previously, the advances of the Ottoman Empire had kept the religion in a complacent state; as the duty of jihad was being executed by the Sultan, there was no need to reform. But the Ottoman Empire began its decline in 1683, with the second unsuccessful siege of Vienna, and from the 18th century onward the scientific and industrial revolutions gave non-Muslim Europe military superiority to conquer many Islamic states. The distress of the Muslims at losing their dominions prompted them to try out various reforms, among which were nationalistic movements such as Pan-Arabism, Nasser’s Arab Socialism and the Baath movement. But already in the 19th century the voices of “Returning to the Original Islam” could be heard, as in Mahdi-ruled Khartoum, which took its toll on the British colonials, including their general, Gordon.
The figurehead of “Back to Islam” and “Islam is the Solution” is the Muslim Brotherhood (or Brethren), set up by Hassan Al Bana in the 1920’s. It is described as a reformist movement; that is perfectly correct, but this is exactly the opposite kind of reform we clamor for. Bana and his successor Qutb were no different from Luther in wishing to bring the religion back to its pristine state, away from its perceived current state of mass apostasy. They had, as Robert Spencer says repeatedly, no problem recruiting the canonical sources of Islam for their purpose. Here is yet another fact of religious reform: the weighty legacy of the canon.
I have brought this useful example before: Orthodox Judaism does not permit females to wear pants. This injuction is from the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:5), and the rabbinical interpretation of it gives the rule that males are to wear pants while females are to wear a dress. Now, you might find an Orthodox Jewish girl here and there who goes with pants, but that can in no way be taken as an example of religious reform. She will usually be condemned by her parents for that, if not by her society as a whole; and most importantly, no Orthodox Jewish rabbi could ever give it a de jure recognized status. Another example from the same area: boys and girls dancing together in Centrist Orthodox (also known as Religious Zionist; that’s where I belong) up until the 1980’s. It was a de facto custom; Rabbi Neriah zt"l had no problem mustering the Orthodox Jewish canon to put an end to that practice in the 1980’s. A de facto deviation can linger on for quite a time, but if it does not influence the canon, it cannot be called a reform. The writings of the Chasidic rabbis are now part of the Orthodox Jewish canon, which is why Chasidic Judaism is part of Orthodox Judaism now even though the mitnagdim never issued a decree to that effect. Pants for females and mixed dances are not forthcoming to Orthodox Judaism; anyone who dared to make changes in that department, be he even a well-respected rabbi, would be ostracized.
The change of times and circumstances may nudge religious reform. The prayer-book for Centrist Orthodox Jews adds prayers of thanksgiving for Israel’s Independence Day; the Ultra-Orthodox have not added those prayers, yet in the recent Lebanon War, last summer, they prayed for the safety of the state of Israel, something that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. The Neturei Karta huggers of Ahmadinejad, for all their religiosity and orthodoxy, are shunned universally for the traitors they are, even by anti-Zionist Satmar. In the case of women’s attire, there is no motive for reform; whereas, in the case of the agunot, women who cannot remarry because their husband refuses to divorce them and has fled to far away, the issue has gotten pressing today, so that many Orthodox Jewish rabbis have endeavored to find a remedy.
In summary, religious reform must first have a motive, and then it must withstand the opposition, not just of the mainstream branch, but of the mainstream canon of the religion. When we observe the state of Islam in our day, we find both requirements scarce at best. We would wish Islam to reform away from the jihad ideology, but we must ask ourselves: what motive is there for such a reform? The prerequisite for reform is the recognition that something is wrong, but the jihad ideology only brings rich dividends to the Muslims, foremostly because non-Muslim dhimmitude shows them that it pays. Jihad is, as Robert Spencer says, supported by the canon of Islam; to find room for repudiation of the jihad ideology within the canon, let alone to challenge the canon, requires an extraordinarily heavy lever of circumstance. It requires showing the Muslims that the jihad ideology is their undoing.
But that is not what is going on in the non-Muslim world right now. As long as Western universities, supposedly the bulwark of freedom of thought (but in reality hotbeds of Marxist sedition), detain students for stepping on flags with “Allah” written on them or for reprinting the Mohammed Cartoons, the reform of Hassan Al Bana and Sayyid Qutb will be the only one toward which the Muslims turn, for they are given daily proof that the two were right in stating that the return to the original Islam of jihad would restore the old glory of the Caliphate. This state of affairs adds to Fjordman’s warning that we may not have enough time to wait for Islamic reform: as things stand now, the awaited reform has zero chance of happening at all. Pacifism ensures the prospect of world war once again. G-d help us all.