Friday, January 2, 2015

Looking for Islamic Luthers

An early Protestant representation of Church-State relations
between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor
Last week, in his annual Christmas address, Pope Francis prayed for victims of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. His prayers for both Christian and Muslim victims of the jihadis’ violence were a fitting tribute to one of the most dismal aspects of 2014. But the pope’s words also offered a striking contrast between the manifest humility of the Vatican — back on the good side of what seems like a decades long good-pope/bad-pope routine — and the savagery of a newly declared caliphate.
This contrast led some observers (like, say, Bill Maher) to declare we should stop being so politically correct and state the obvious: Islam remains stuck in the Middle Ages. And even those who found this particular formulation too crude were still struck trying to explain why it seems that so many Western countries have figured out how to separate Church and State, while Muslim countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Turkey continue to struggle.
One of the most enduring explanations is that the Islamic world really needs its own Reformation — a Muslim Martin Luther to bring the religion of Mohammed into modernity. It’s an argument that Thomas Friedman and various others have been making for over a decade. In the last year aloneFetullah Gulen and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were added to the short list of potential Martin Luthers. Many analysts and critics of Islam seem committed to the idea that, be it a reclusive Turkish preacher or a authoritarian Egyptian general, there must be someone out there who can straighten out the confusion over church and state in in the Muslim world and finally help Islam make the jump from totalitarian fundamentalism to enlightened, liberal religion, from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to Pope Francis. 
But before Western observers start applying lessons from European history to the Muslim world, a little self-reflection is in order. Wasn’t the Reformation an attack on the Catholic Church? Didn’t Martin Luther, the man who began it, once write a book called Against the Roman Papacy: An Institution of the Devil? Indeed, every time a Western writer identifies an Islamic Martin Luther, it highlights an unresolved question about Western society itself: Is today’s modern Christian world a triumph of Protestantism over the pope or a reflection of Christianity’s more secular essence, inherent in Protestantism and Catholicism alike?
For the rest of my belated and not all that original take on this issue check out the full article at Foreign Policy: