Sunday, April 22, 2007

Keeping up with Irshad Manji

Irshad Manji is what happens when a Muslim woman gets liberated. Thanks to a plucky personality, quick mind and sixth sense of effective public relations she puts a positive modern face on an ancient faith that has suffered a lot of bad press lately. I became aware of her only recently thanks to Pieter Dorsman. She is the focus of a snip in FP by Preeti Aroon commenting on the Public Broadcasting program Faith Without Fear which focused on Irshad Manji.

All these links are worth a look. No need for me to belabor simple points.

As an aside, Aroon said (twice, already)...

"If Christianity could have its Protestant Reformation, it seems possible for Islam to have one too." Yesterday's program mentioned that the Protestant Reformation was accompanied by its share of violence, which took place over centuries.
Daniel Nexon at Duck of Minerva picked up a good point, namely that it is an unfortunate but common practice for those who don't pay attention to history to conflate the Protestant Reformation with the Enlightenment.

The Protestants, in general, were the back-to-basics religious extremists of the sixteenth century. More of that sort is decidely not what Islam needs.

I'm not arguing that the Catholic Church couldn't get downright nasty and repressive. It could and it did. But Catholic humanism represented a far more tolerant strand of Latin Christianity than early modern Zwinglianism, Lutheranism, or the Reformed Church. We shouldn't confuse pre-Reformation Catholicism with Counter-Reformation Catholicism, nor Protestant movements with later, often Protestant, champions of liberal enlightenment.

I'm currently finishing a book manuscript that points to some interesting parallels between early modern Europe and the contemporary period, yet I cannot stress two points enough:

First, the "does Islam need a Protestant Reformation" question depends on a grossly distorted view of the nature of the Protestant Reformations.

Second, even if the question didn't precede from bad history, the circumstances of the Reformations simply don't travel well to those of contemporary Islam.

Tired old saying: Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it.

If there's anything we don't want it is a latter-day repeat in Islam of a Protestant Reformation. A retrograde fundamentlist extremism is quite enough. In fact, that stripe of back-to-basics religious extremists is what we already see (and face in combat).

What we can pray for is another Enlightenment.

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