Don’t know how I missed this when it came out, but I just came across an article by Genieve Abdo in The Washington Post on the recent "Secular Islam" gathering the credibility of which I ("New from Monty Python: the Ministry of Silly Islamic Activists" and others (e.g., alt.muslim, eteraz.org) have challenged. Not surprisingly, she seems to share our scepticism about their claim to being reformers, much less their ability to deliver the goods.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A small group of self-proclaimed secular Muslims from North America and elsewhere gathered in St. Petersburg recently for what they billed as a new global movement to correct the assumed wrongs of Islam and call for an Islamic Reformation.
Across the state in Fort Lauderdale, Muslim leaders from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Washington-based advocacy group whose members the "secular" Muslims claim are radicals, denounced any notion of a Reformation as another attempt by the West to impose its history and philosophy on the Islamic world.
The self-proclaimed secularists represent only a small minority of Muslims. The views among religious Muslims from CAIR more closely reflect the views of the majority, not only in the United States but worldwide. Yet Western media, governments and neoconservative pundits pay more attention to the secular minority.
I agree with her points here, but I wish she’d given a more space to just how the secular "reformation" being advocated by this group and its friends in Washington runs afoul of understandable, deep-seated religious sensitivies on the part of Muslims and is thus inevitably a nonstarter. She hints at it by pointing out that Muslims object, understandably, to outside intervention in their religious tradition, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
For one thing, these constant analogies to the Protestant Reformation are completely out of place.
The "reformation" of Islam being proposed by secular polemicists such as these bears almost no resemblance to the change in Western religious thought that was sparked by Martin Luther in 1517. Luther spoke out against the sale of papal indulgences as a staunchly traditional Christian believer and a supporter of the Church.
Luther did not attack Christian faith, nor did he reject the place of Christian values and laws in his society. He did not hurl invective at the God or founder of Christianity, nor did treat the Church and its tradition as enemies that must be stamped out for the sake of progress. To the contrary, his quarrel with the Catholic Church concerned a small number of important but narrow theological matters. Far from rejecting his tradition’s sacred texts, Luther re-affirmed their centrality by virtue of being divinely inspired. Hence his famous maxim of Sola scriptura or "By scripture alone".
By today’s standards, Martin Luther was not less religiously orthodox or conservative than the church clerical establishment that he (eventually) turned on, and a new, equally religiously-conservative church quickly sprang up in the lands where his reforms prevailed.
Thus to compare the "reforms" advocated by these anti-Islamic crusaders and often avowed atheists to the Protestant Reformation betrays gross ignorance of Western religious history. It’s a fundamentally ahistorical and misleading analogy, but it’s inexplicably precisely what the MSM is peddling constantly, implying that Muslims by not embracing these declared enemies of themselves and their faith are resisting the example of progress exemplified by the Protestant Reformation. Even though– far from being kindred spirits of the so-called Secular Islam Summit–Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other leaders of that movement would’ve cheerfully burnt these characters at the stake.
Abdo also makes a very important point when she says that CAIR is far more representative of Muslim public opinion than the Summit. This is something Washington needs to understand. Whatever you think of CAIR–and I think they for the most part do good, important civil rights work that would go undone otherwise–that’s the reality. There are things one can disagree with CAIR on, but on the issues for which they get incessantly smeared as extremist or "Wahhabi" by Islamophobes, CAIR consistently represents the overwhelming consensus among Muslims.
This is another discussion, but I think the fact that CAIR gets hounded for advocating views that are commonplace among normal Muslims shows how little room there is in the American political system today for Muslims, or real dissent on W ashington’s misguided Mideast policies.
The least Islamophobes could do is to cease their charade of claiming to only oppose "Islamic extremism" when their strident attacks on CAIR for the commonplace of positions among Muslims reveals that their real target is the Muslim community at large. They insist on having their cake and eating it, too–smearing the whole Muslim community for legitimate political dissent while they piously decry any intention to stereotype Muslims.