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An Islamic Martin Luther? Not likely

Reader comment on item: When Sunni and Shiite Extremists Make War
in response to reader comment: Islamic Reformation overdue

Submitted by Ron Thompson (United States), Jun 19, 2013 at 18:31

It is a beguiling and intriguing thought to hope for an Islamic Martin Luther to provoke a Reformation within Islam that would lead, as eventually happened within Christendom, to the birth of political liberty out of the birth of religious freedom of conscience.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that would seem to prevent any sort of opening to individual freedom of conscience in Islam, let alone political liberty. Indeed, all the signs seem to point in precisely the opposite direction, with a doubling down on the darkest definitions of orthodoxy in the most religiously active Muslim nations and communities.

The first reason for this is a factor which, to my continuing amazement, I never see discussed, and which sets Islam entirely apart from the other two monotheisms, Judaism and Christianity. That is the degree to which Islam, unlike the other two, is the product of one mind and one personality.

When Luther started his great rebellion, he had a holy book composed of the thoughts, sermons, and admonitions of many minds and hearts in both the Old and New testaments. So he, as do Jews and all other Christians, had a range of sensibilities and mindsets to choose from. It is a source of strength, as well of course of endless dispute, that as many of those thoughts and feelings came from very different personalities, they are often inconsistent and even contradictory to each other.

This is not true in Islam, There is no Sermon on the Mount in the Koran to offset the Jealous God passages. Everything in the Koran bears the stamp of the intolerance and violence preached by Mohammed.

Tellingly, there is no Golden Rule in Islam, its second big difference from Christianity (and Judaism, and the other major, non-monotheistic world religions). Hence there is not even the pretense in Islam of thinking of, or taking into account, the well-being of any Other.

Unlike Christianity (and Judaism), the rule remains true that the Koran is only valid in the Arabic language. One of Luther's major accomplishments was to translate the Bible into German, thereby taking its contents out of the exclusive interpretation of clerics, and rendering its thoughts accessible to all literate laymen (the Bible is of course translated into the languages of all communities of Christians).

It may seem strange that so many millions of Muslims who don't speak Arabic, nevertheless take great pride in memorizing the Koran, but it seems true, and that the only people (besides Arabs) who can read the Koran in their own language, are non-Muslims. Therefore non-Arabic-speaking Muslims get their Islam from fiery clerics, who seem unified in their hostility to anything remotely like tolerance or respect for other religions, or for non-belief.

When Luther took his stand and sparked the Reformation, he, and Europe, already had almost a century of the revolutionary movement of Humanism and then the full-blown Renaissance as background to the demand for freedom of religious conscience, the right of each to practice Christianity as he saw fit.

In Islam, despite the fact that the believers are surrounded by other models of thinking, Islam is increasingly intolerant within itself. Indeed, for some time now, the most violence Muslims face is … from other Muslims.

Maybe some might argue that the murderous hatred spreading rapidly between Sunnis and Shiiites throughout the Middle East bears some parallel to the religious wars between the Reformation and Counter-reformation countries of the Sixteenth century, but neither branch of Islam has any of the respect for human individualism that characterized, in different ways, both of the great branches of Christendom, which had already produced the Renaissance, and which went on to produce modern Science, and then the Enlightenment.

There is no parallel to any of these events in past or present Islam.

And lastly, due to Mohammed's prohibition of depiction of the Human form, there is no amelioration or humanizing of Islam's religious message, as there has been by numerous artists in Judaism, and the branches of Christianity.

So it is a pleasant idea to ponder the possibility of a Martin Luther come along in Islam,but I see no way it could happen – Mohammed built his hermetically closed and rigid system too well. And so, although it is a thought most people are still unwilling to tolerate in their consciousness, the only 'reform' possible to Islam may be through its collapse.

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