Islam needs an Enlightenment – not a Reformation

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the latest public figure to call for an Islamic Reformation. The faith of her fathers, she believes, needs to be purged of its violent and intolerant tendencies, made compatible with contemporary values. Many others, Muslims and non-Muslims, have made similar arguments; but the brave and brilliant Somali refugee has, so to speak, earned a special right to be heard.

What, though, do we mean by “Reformation”? Most people mean that they want a more modern Islam, one which accepts the separation of church and state, the equality of women, the supremacy of Parliament and so on. This, though, is very far from what the Christian Reformation was about. Its architects were not seeking a cuddlier, more ecumenical version of their faith. On the contrary, just like today’s Salafists, they wanted to purge and purify, to go back to an older and more demanding template, one more closely tied to the Scriptures.

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