The West tends to view Islam as stuck in the middle ages for not having gone through its equivalent of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. Why does Islam seem to be incompatible with secular governments and modern views of civil liberty?
Could it be our Christian perspective that leads us to imagine an Islamic Reformation as possible, i.e. we went through it, now it’s Islam’s turn? Not necessarily. Irshad Manji, a Canadian Muslim, and author of The Trouble with Islam, believes the time is right.
“If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now,” she argues in her book. “If we’re sincere about fighting the asphyxiating despotism” that Al Qaeda seeks to spread, she adds, “we can’t be afraid to ask: What if the Koran isn’t perfect? What if it’s not a completely God-authored book? What if it’s riddled with human biases?” (source)
Manhi’s motives for Islamic reformation may be more personal than academic. Her admitted lesbianism and otherwise Western lifestyle raises suspicion over her motives much like a mellow gaze and a sweet, smokey smell emanating from a Libertarian political candidate.
Nonetheless, Manji’s advocacy cuts to the heart of the debate: how is a Muslim to view the Koran? And therein lies the problem, or at least an important distinction between Islam and Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI, in an interview with Father Joseph Fessio, said:
[I]n the Islamic tradition, God has given His Word to Muhammad, but it’s an eternal Word. It’s not Muhammad’s word. It’s there for eternity, the way it is. There’s no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism’s completely different: that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the Word of God, it’s the word of Isaiah, not just the Word of God, but the word of Mark. He’s used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world. And therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there’s an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations. (source)
I know, I know. I probably shouldn’t be quoting the Pope as an expert on Islam (and some of you are asking, “only Islam?”), but is he making a valid point? I’m curious. How much of radical “Islamism” is attributable to a literal reading of the Koran as Allah’s spoken word and how much is land politics? Is it possible to separate the two? What percentage of Muslims believe the Koran to be Allah’s spoken word?
Mark Roberts just started a series discussing the Islamic view of the Koran as well as how a Christian should relate to the Bible. He also has many links from Muslim sources for additional information.
I welcome your comments as I attempt to figure this out.