Features

Beware progress

"Beware progress" Continued...

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

The hankering of some Westerners after an Islamic reformation begs the question: What would it mean to follow Muhammad's example more closely?

As it happens, such a movement has been underway for more than 100 years and is in full swing today. It is what we know as Islamic radicalism. The ideal of an Islamic reformation has produced, among many other results, the global jihad movement, the push for Shariah revival and reimplementation of the Caliphate. This is what a desire to revive the example and teaching of Muhammad has led to.

There are two main reasons why renewing the example of Muhammad leads to Islamic radicalism.

One is that Muhammad combined within himself the offices of king, judge, general, and religious leader, thus unifying politics, law, the military, and religion. To follow his example means creating a theocratic political order, where the laws of the land are controlled by Islamic theology.

In contrast, Christian tradition has always distinguished the secular from the ecclesiastical, based on the Hebrew distinction between priests and kings. This feature of medieval Christianity-separation between religion and politics-was severely criticized by famous Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun. Muslim thinkers had always regarded it as one of the key weaknesses of Christianity.

The second reason why renewing Islam leads to radicalism is that many of the harsher elements of Islamic law-such as death for apostates, stoning adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, enslaving one's enemies, and killing nonbelievers-are firmly grounded in Muhammad's example.

Australian Muslim Waleed Aly was entirely correct when he said Islam has already had its reformation, and the outcome has been Islamic radicalism:

"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-Qaeda and the Taliban, cannot be cured by Reformation for the very simple fact that they are the Reformation." In today's world, if what is needed is a more moderate manifestation of Islam, then the very last thing that could ever accomplish this would be an Islamic reformation.

About Mark Durie

Mark Durie is an Anglican priest, human-rights activist, and scholar in Australia. He is also the author of a new book, The Third Choice (Deror Books, 2010), a provocative look at non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, past and present. Muhammad himself offered three ways for non-Muslims to live-convert to Islam, die by the sword, or surrender and live as inferiors often called "dhimmis." Osama bin Laden claims that "the West avenges itself against Islam for giving infidels but three options."

Durie traces the dire conditions for "third choicers" who live as Christians, Jews, or others under Muslim authority. Their covenant of surrender, he argues, requires payment and submission that's evident not only in the Arab world, but in the West -a cult of praise heaped upon Islam by leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Durie's ultimate purpose is to challenge that worldview. In the Quran man's problem is ignorance, he says, and the answer is success; in the Bible man's problem is sin and the answer is salvation: "The Bible's message is based on a completely different understanding of the human predicament."

As Durie discusses here, a proper view of each faith's roots is critical to a discussion of whether radical Islam can be reformed in the way that Christianity was in the 16th century. -Mindy Belz

Mark Durie
Mark Durie

Mark is an Australian scholar, an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum, and vicar of St Mary’s Anglican Church in Caulfield, Victoria, Australia. He is the author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom and hosts a blog on religious liberty.

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