The process of local cultures invading Christianity has also occurred in Islam. The Sufi traditions were full of that. But the effect is far more limited in Islam than in Chrisitianity, as Islamic reformers come through periodically and "purify" Islam by returning to the texts. When people say "Islam needs a Reformation" it shows they understand neither Islam nor the Reformation. Getting rid of "pagan" accretions and going back to the original texts WAS precisely what the Reformation was about and occurs in Islam regularly.
As Mark Durie points out about the Protestant Reformation:
Throughout the whole medieval period the idea of reformation (reformatio) was prestigious, and many reform movements chased after this ideal. Reformation meant going back to one's roots, and just about everyone agreed that this was a Good Thing. For medieval Christians, a reformed Christianity meant being more Christ-like, more apostolic, and more Pauline. …What Islam lacks is not Protestant belief in the primacy of scripture—on the contrary, Islam holds to that more strongly than the most fervid Protestant—but the Orthodox/Catholic notion of scripture as a product of the Church (the body of believers) and the world, as the direction creation of God, trumping Scriptures, as the indirect creation of God.
The European Reformation - so often invoked in comparisons with Islam today - was driven by a desire to re-form Christianity a second time, taking it back to its roots. It sought to move ahead by going backwards. Its inner logic had nothing to do with the modern idea of progress or the Darwinian concept of 'evolution'. The Reformation was not a 'progressive' movement in the modern sense, but one which sought to 'regress', renewing the example of Christ and his apostles.
This is why Luther and other reformers encouraged believers to read their Bibles for themselves, in their own native tongue. Luther regarded it as the duty of every Christian to be constantly renewing their own faith from the original sources.
Conversely, Islam entirely lacks the Protestant notion of final interpreting authority residing in the believers and their consciences. Instead, it has a more "Catholic/Orthodox" view of final interpreting authority residing in the scholars, the ulema.
To put it another way, Islam combines the worst features of the Christian traditions (textual literalism and trumping clerical authority) and lacks the best features (this-world-based reasoning and individual conscience: the modern Western synthesis).
It is precisely because modern Western civilisation has largely dropped the authority of scripture and of priests while marrying Protestant notions of governance to Catholic/Orthodox notions of reasoning-grounded-in-this-world being not merely a but the source of truth, that the gap between Western civilisation and Islam is, in crucial respects, wider than it was between Christendom and Islam. At the same time, the capacity of Western examples and ideas has—due to communication and transport technology—to intrude into Islam greatly magnified.
Clash of civilisations (and other frictions) anyone?
This gap also makes it harder for Muslims to integrate into Western society: particularly if multiculturalist welfarism operates to systematically undermine any incentive to do so. As the work of Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels (long interview here, another here and another here) brings out rather starkly:
A French survey in Le Figaro showed that only 14 percent of the country's estimated five million Muslims see themselves as "more French than Muslim." Research (pdf) made by the German Ministry of Interior shows that only 12 percent of Muslims living in Germany see themselves as more German than Muslim. A Danish survey published by the pro-Muslim pro-democratic organization Democratic Muslims led by the Danish PM and Muslim Naser Khader showed that only 14 percent of Muslims living in Denmark could identify themselves as "Democratic and Danish."A major sign of the failure of such integration in Europe is that younger generations of Muslims are generally more committed to their Muslim identity—one typically manifested against the surrounding Western societies—than their parents.
A poll published in February 2006 of British Muslims found that 40% supported the introduction of Shar’ia in parts of the UK while 41% opposed that: a December 2006 poll found support for Shar’ia was much stronger among British Muslims aged 16-24 [37%] than those over 55 [15%].) The latter poll also found that British Muslims over 55 were more likely to agree (56%) than to disagree (28%) that people in their area were more religious than 10 years ago. While those aged 16-24 were significantly more likely to rate religion as the most important thing in their life (90%) than those over 55 (76%); much more likely to support Muslim women wearing veils (74% to 28%), more likely to support making homosexuality illegal (71% to 50%), to think apostasy should be punished by death (36% to 19%), to support polygamy for Muslim men (52% to 18%), to think a Muslim woman should not marry without consent of her guardian (57% to 33%) and to admire organizations such as al-Qaeda that fight against the West (13% to 3%). (It is worth noting that 80% of 16-24 year old and 92% of over 55 British Muslims in the poll disagreed that al-Qaeda was to be admired.)
What generates these differences is not the lack of a Reformation, the lack of going back to Scriptures, but precisely the process of doing exactly that, of seeing the Qur’an, the hadith and the life of Muhammad as the source of moral knowledge and guidance. Of going back to the “roots” of Islam, precisely as the Reformation sought to do with Christianity.
Consider the comments of a prominent American Muslim, quoted here:
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the woman who was invited by Hussein Obama to represent Muslims in the interfaith prayer of the Democrats Presidential convention, and who is the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), when asked whether Wahhabism is an extreme right wing sect of Islam, responded:Mark Durie again:No it’s not true to characterize ‘Wahhabism’ that way. This is not a sect. It is the name of a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had acquired over the centuries. It really was analogous to the European protestant reformation.
Australian Muslim Waleed Aly was entirely correct when he said Islam has already had its Reformation, and the outcome has been Islamic radicalism:When Westerners say “Islam needs a Reformation”, what they typically mean is that they want Islam to go through an Enlightenment, to turn into something like post-Enlightenment Western religion. But they typically forget what Europe went through that “tamed” religion and religious claims. Worse, they fail to understand that the strands in Christianity that the modern Western synthesis is based on are absent from Islam. Worse still, they often lack any serious commitment to the virtues of the (sceptical) Enlightenment, and to (sceptical) Enlightenment values, while opposing the creation of serious incentives to encourage Muslim integration and Islamic adjustment."Still, Western calls for an Islamic Reformation grow predictably and irrepressibly stronger, while those familiar with the Islamic tradition easily observe that radical and terrorist groups such as al-Qa'ida and the Taliban, cannot be cured by Reformation for the very simple fact that they are the Reformation." [People like us: how arrogance is dividing Islam and the West, p.xv].For those today whose world view is shaped by the ideal of progress, and look out upon Islam peering through the frame of Western assumptions about 'backwardness', 'progress' and 'evolution', Waleed Aly's insight can be difficult to grasp. Yet it is essential that it be understood and appreciated.
In today's world, if what is needed is more moderate manifestation of Islam, then the very last thing that could ever accomplish this would be an Islamic Reformation.
They typically suffer under the cognitive flaws that George Santayana found in Bertrand Russell, of whom Santayana wrote:
His outlook was universal, but his presuppositions were insular.It is a great foolishness, to burble on about the values of different cultures and then not take cultural (indeed, civilisational) differences seriously, as if somehow your particular presuppositions are some incipient human universal, just waiting to burst forth in all folk. As if you are not a product of specific history, while others are products of very different histories: differences that cannot be simply assumed to be inherently reconcilable. It is one thing to think a variety of cognitive perspectives aid decision-making (which, up to a point at least, the evidence is they do): it is another to presume they all embody some deep, ultimately conforming, unity.
It is not a Reformation that Islam lacks: Islam is experiencing an imported modernity while lacking much of what modernity grew out of in the West, making modernity an even more alien experience. Islam is the other universalist civilization, and operates on very different premises. Those different premises need to be taken seriously: to be not either wished away or treated as immutable features of human reality. For they matter to the extent that people act on them, so it is how people think about them that drives their significance.
As Muslim apostate Ali Sina points out, the difference between the Reformation in Christianity and Reformation in Islam is that there are some very real differences in the messages of the Gospels, New Testament and life of Jesus compared to the Qur’an, the hadith and the life of Muhammad:
What is the essence of the reformation in Islam? The essence of the Wahhabi belief is that man is not free but a slave of Allah. People are Ibad. (slaves)(Ali Sina also argues there is not such thing as moderate Islam, only Muslims who do not wish to buy the whole package.)
This is diametrically a different discourse from the discourse of Protestantism and here is the essential difference between Christianity and Islam.
On the surface, there are many similarities between Christianity and Islam. Both believe in a God, both rely on an intermediary between man and God, both faiths are eschatological - have a hell, a heaven and an afterlife, etc. However, in their core, they are very different, in fact opposite to one another. The reformatio of both these faiths took the same road, but seaking [sic] the origin of their faith, they went opposite directions. Islam is not a continuation of Christianity, as Muhammad and Muhammadns claim, but it is an anti Christian belief in its core. Christianity advocates freedom of man, Islam, his slavery. One brings the message of liberation, the other, of submission.
I understand the temptation to try and “re-imagine” Islam, but such “re-imagining” is potentially disastrous if it is based on wishful thinking rather than accurate understanding.
ADDENDA Mark Durie has a post on the problems of reformation in Islam, particularly for women.