An Islamic Reformation is the world’s best chance for peace

April 2, 2015
The Ottoman era Suleymaniye mosque is covered by fog as the sun sets in Istanbul

The Ottoman era Suleymaniye mosque is covered by fog as the sun sets in Istanbul. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

If a young woman, before her marriage or after it, is found to have had sexual relations with another man not her betrothed, she is sentenced to be stoned to death. By contrast, a man who rapes or seduces a young girl usually must pay a fine to her father, and offer to marry her himself.

This punishment, ordained by God, is not confined to the ideologues of Islamic State. It is to be found in the holiest books of Jews and Christians: in a part of the Jewish Torah, known to Christians as Old Testament’s book of Deuteronomy.

The Jewish literary critic Adam Kirsch writes that “in Deuteronomy, we find the same kind of panic about female sexuality, the same need to control women’s feelings and behavior…(while) under Talmudic law, (a woman) is not a legally competent individual, but the responsibility of a man.”

The Talmud is a compendium of centuries of Jewish thought and commentary on the Torah.

Why, then, should those born within the cultures of the two older monotheistic faiths — Judaism, the oldest, and Christianity — recoil in horror from the obedience of some Muslims to these commands of God, since our cultures contain the same observances and our cultures’ holy figures approved them?

Because both Christianity and Judaism were profoundly changed by the Reformation and the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment’s apostles included large figures from the Christian tradition — David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Rene Descartes; and from the Jewish, in Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelsohn. They, and a legion of others, thought “freedom and toleration were … essential to the pursuit of enquiry, both religious and secular.” Their belief became, especially in France, a cause, a militant proclamation of freedom of thought and of publication, a definition of the rights of man.

“Man” to a degree meant also “woman” — but far from completely. The idea of male supremacy continues worldwide. Only under the influence of liberal and socialist reformers, emancipatory movements and feminism did (some) cultures recognize real, substantial equality of the sexes — rarely completely.

Islam did not join the renaissance, the rebirth, of Judaic and Christian cultures that began at the end of the 1500s and then evolved over centuries. Islam has within it millions of devotees who are liberal in their thoughts and actions, and who believe that nations should be secular, tolerating all religions and those with none. But the religion and the commentators on it do not lend them support: the religion still, in theory and in much of its practice, aspires to be the spine to a nation’s politics, the guide for its judiciary.

Last month, two powerful voices — one Jewish, one a Muslim breakaway — have been raised to give voice to the same belief: that until Islam undergoes its own rebirth, in which its divine commands are generally allowed to give way to secular, enlightenment practices, the majority of  Muslim moderates will be held hostage by the minority of Muslim extremists.

Benny Morris is professor of history at the University of the Negev: he is the most prominent member of the revisionist historians of the 1980s who broke with Zionist orthodoxy and who wrote a searing, detailed book about the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. An ardent leftist, he became a much more conservative figure, seeing in the failure of the negotiations in the early 2000s between Israel and the Palestinian leadership proof that the Palestinians would never agree to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

At a talk in London, Morris poured scorn on those Western leaders – As President Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron — who argued the attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in January had “nothing to do with the true religion of Islam.”

Islamist violence, Morris said, is perpetrated in the name of Islam. Denying it doesn’t promote good community relations. It obscures a real problem that must be faced.

Morris’ other view — that all Muslims, militant or moderate, “hated” the West — seems to me to be wrong. I asked him if he thought the Palestinian Israelis were biding their time before turning on their Jewish fellow citizens? He replied that the Israeli government’s demonizing of them was wrong. Instead, the government must do all in its powers to bring Israeli Arabs into full citizenship.

Yet if they are suffused with hatred, how would that help?

The “renegade” Muslim I spoke of earlier is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her journey began with escape a forced marriage in Somalia, through the Netherlands and to the United States, where she now lives. She has also traveled from being a devout Muslim to a challenger of Islam’s basic precepts. She has been the subject of powerful memoirs, such as The Caged Virgin and Nomad and has been forced to live behind armed protection. Last month, she wrote that “the theological warrant for intolerance and violence is embedded in (Muslims’) own religious texts. It simply will not do for Moslems to claim that their religion has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. The killers of Islamic state and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.”

Judaism and Christianity, she writes “gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past” so that extremism in both is confined to the fringes. “Regrettably in Islam it is the other way around: it is those seeking religious reform who are the fringe element.”

Hirsi Ali is a woman of notable bravery; one who cares deeply about the religion she felt forced to leave. She ardently wishes to engage those whom she calls “Mecca Muslims” — devout and peaceful men and women, “the majority from Casablanca to Jakarta” in “a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith.” The reformation of Islam, she writes, would benefit not only the faithful: Westerners, too, “have an enormous stake in how the struggle over Islam plays out.”

An Islamic reformation would be painful, surely internally violent — as reformation’s various phases were in Christianity. It would mean the sharp diminution of the power of the Imams; frontal challenges to the moral framework of millions, and to the power of religiously based dynasties, like the House of Saud. But if reform, and opening a space for free, unafraid debate, is to move from the fringes to the center and allow the majority to encompass both secular citizenship and devout practice, this hard transition is necessary — especially for Muslims themselves, the first and most numerous victims of extremism.

28 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Islam definitely has work to do. Islamic countries have lost their innovation and progress. When is the last time you heard of a medical breakthrough coming from an Islamic university? How about alternative energy? Civil engineering? Anything useful at all?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Here goes Alkaline State who loves nothing more than to see Muslims killing each other (which he has stated so many times in the past).

When was the last time we in America had an innovation?????
Last time was GWB with ‘Shock and Awe”. And we all say how innovative that was!!!!

As for Mr. Lloyd, you cite an Israeli and Miss Hersi Ali, who is an atheist that is still bitter about her arranged marriage back in her home country. You need to cite more credible sources. Like A REAL MUSLIM!!!!!!!

And for all of you non-Muslims, I can give you a great solution. LET THE MUSLIMS SORT THERE OWN PROBLEMS. THEY DO NOT NEED A GROUP OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS IMPOSING THEIR VIEWS ON THEM. IT WILL ONLY MAKE THEM WORSE!!!!

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

No_Apartheid retorts: “When was the last time we in America had an innovation????”

Let’s see. How about…. today.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/201 5/04/150402092042.htm

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/201 5/04/150402132800.htm

Now find us some similar research and technology from Islamic countries. You guys are alway bragging that there are a billion muslims now. Great. So what kind of stuff do you make?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

What the Islamists DO have time for at universities:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/0 2/us-kenya-security-college-idUSKBN0MT0C K20150402

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

A side topic, but one that should not be allowed here. Feminism seeks favoritism and is not equality or justice. It is man hate. The patriarchy theory is bunk.

Peace will never come to mankind as long as most are still entrenched in mystical beliefs.

No_apartheid, Akaline is more likely simply saying that Muslims are violent and our interference in their affairs just simply directs their violence at us. They don’t have to kill each other, but they do. We cannot change that, they must.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Seems to me the author has failed to recognize the impact that the teachings of Jesus had on what we now would call Christian doctrine. The Reformation was primarily about “restoring” the Faith back to its Scriptural foundations; rather than “transforming” the Faith. And so, in the Gospel of John we have the account of how Jesus refused to “condemn” the woman “taken in adultery”. Of course, Jesus was later to “pay” the penalty for this sin [and the sins of the world], when he died on the cross. Additionally, in the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus does not condone a double standard re adultery/immorality – but rather exposes the hypocrisy that had developed within 1st century Judaism regarding that and a number of issues. As for the elevated status of women [in comparison to 1st century Judaism and in contrast to traditional Islam], we see that rooted in the beginning of the Church – as both men and women are present on Pentecost to receive the filling of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual equality of the sexes was expressly taught by Paul in his letter to the Church at Galatia (3:26-28) – “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Contrary to the opinion of the author, true Christian doctrine was not created from whole cloth during the Reformation [and certainly not during the Enlightment],rather, during the Reformation, Scripture was once again held up as the sole standard of sound doctrine [and practice].

Posted by cashrj | Report as abusive

brotherkenny4, just to clarify: Are you saying that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are not patriarchal religions? Because they actually pride themselves on being patriarchal religions. Women are available to be raped and married for a fee to her father, in the bible. Is there a similar provision to transact men?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Let me correct ! Dear John Lloyd if a man & women commit “Zina” Sexual intercourse without marrige they will both on the status of marriage if Un-married they are to be flogged a hundred lashes,if married both will be stonned to death. So please stop telling a lie people that is very #Harsh #Discriminating towards female.It was Islam who gave women the right inheritance at a time when people of Europe were busy in thinking whether women are human beings or not. & For Ayyan hirsi A marriage without consents of male & female is not marge until both agree.

Posted by SAM786 | Report as abusive

they are to be flogged a hundred lashes.

Posted by SAM786 | Report as abusive

The central point of the article, which is excellent, is that Islam needs to reform itself … by itself. Outside interference would be counterproductive. This should be self-evident.

High technology doesn’t confer a higher morality.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

This is completely WRONG! Christianism never had a single piece of text urging or allowing the use of violence. The Deuteronome (and the whole Old Testament) is NOT part of the Christian tradition: It’s Jewish tradition. It’s considered by Christians only as an historical document telling the history of Poeple of Israel which Christians claim to descend spiritualy. It’s by no mean a set of rules. Christian never observed any religious rule which contradicted the teaching of Christ.

The Christ has clearly said that stoning the adultery women is a crime. That “the one who never sinned throw the first stone”[sic]. This is one of the most famous parable of Gospels. 100% opposed to what is thaught by Islam today.

During the whole history of Christianism in Europe (not including Byzantinum), cases of women being put to death because of adultery were EXTREMELY RARE and when this happened is was NEVER by invoking religious reasons and was ALWAYS considered a murder. Not a single time in 2000 years of Christianism, a cleric has ordered or even tolerated the dead of a woman for adultery.

Posted by Fredleding | Report as abusive

The reformation was quite violent look at the 30 years war and the English civil wars. But the losses must have put pressure on all sides to hide the doctrines that the Churches invented to to allow such wars.

There is a very old rabbinical law that forbids wars between Jewish groups. Note Jewish Kings where very found of non-Jewish mercenaries for their civil wars. The kings obviously did not buy into peace.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

Ideally the Quran needs to step down as the penultimate guide to a future prosperous earth (as does the Holy Bible). Sacred books have served a valuable service to Mankind to guide cultures and civilisations through to modern times. However the sacred books have not yet been written to guide the earth through all of the challenges presenting from 2015, into the future. The planet is straining and all of our collective energies must be channelled into meeting the myriad of ecological challenges, and food and water supply issues, to heaving population pressures. Islam wishes a purity of religious devoutness to signal an evolving planet. Christianity likes to impose moral fibre and democratic demands on outside cultures, by sheer force of military precision. All of these unrealistic pursuits are counterproductive to resolving ‘our’ shared responsibilities to create a more resilient planet to inhabit. If all military expenditures were ceased, massive resources would be released to target Mankind’s confronting issues.

Posted by BaliBrave | Report as abusive

mr john please show where in christinaty and judism punishment of rape is what u mentioned,in islam its same for men and women.
God always does justice

Posted by rih90 | Report as abusive

I wonder how Reuters can spread lies about Islam so blatantly that too in the very first paragraph OF THE ARTICLE BY USE OF CLEVER WORDINGS AND ATTRIBUTING PRACTICES OF SOME RELIGIONS, PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS TO ISLAM..

THe truth is that THere is no difference in punishment for illegal sexual intercourse for men and women in Islam. Both receive same punishment.

The below paragraph does not represent Islamic punishment. It may be reuters code of conduct policy but not Islam at all. ………
“If a young woman, before her marriage or after it, is found to have had sexual relations with another man not her betrothed, she is sentenced to be stoned to death. By contrast, a man who rapes or seduces a young girl usually must pay a fine to her father, and offer to marry her himself.”

Dont use cleaver wordings to fool people and spread misconceptions about ISLAM.

Posted by abdulhafiz | Report as abusive

Can wickedness reform?

Posted by foc | Report as abusive

My graduate degree was in Historical Theology (Christian theology) and I think the author of this article makes some good points about the process which Christianity went through during the Reformation. In general, what Luther was trying to Reform in the church was the corrupting influence of money… papal indulgences, etc. What resulted was many years of war – and a great loss of life for Protestants, Catholics, and especially radical reformers like the AnaBaptists (Mennonites, Amish, Huguenots, and many others.) Gradually out of all this violence the role of women as “more than property” came to be accepted, and scientific progress became valued. In other words “modernity” became tolerated. Perhaps this is what we are seeing with all the conflicts in Islam? For the sake of my children, I hope so…

Posted by GormTheOld | Report as abusive

Jews and Christians have largely de-toxified their religions. It would be well if Islam did also.

Posted by RobertJKolker | Report as abusive

The examples of Christianity and Judaism now a days with all the social degradations in society like homosexuality, adultery, usury, living out of wedlock, etc,etc will not be accepted for a Islamic reform where the laws of the Sharia are there to punish those Muslims that do anything not allowed. What Muslims are doing and they shall implement harder is to get rid of those radical elements which are miss interpreting the religion so that they can help vested interest create discord and animosity as well as bad press for Islam

Posted by gentiler | Report as abusive

Education is the only cure for religion.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

ISLAM IS BASED ON QURAN AND HADITH.NO NEED FOR REFORMATION.SATTAN IS ACTING AGAINST ISLAM.OTHER RELIGIONS NEED REFORMATION NOT ISLAM.ISLAM GODS RELIGION.OTHER RELIGION MAN MADE.QURAN GODS WORDS OTHER BOOKS ARE ALTERED AND MAN MADE.FIRST RELIGION ON EARTH ISLAM LAST RELIGION ON EARTH ISLAM BEFORE THE WORLD IS GOING TO DIE.

Posted by S.M.SALAHUDDIN | Report as abusive

I think you should first complete your homework about Islam, before writing, as the punishment for illicit sexual relationship is the same for both man and woman, not different as you stated in the beginning of your essay.

Posted by fas_Malik | Report as abusive

Religion kills. Choose reason.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Very amusing..shouldn’t this be in the humor section..?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The Quran is loaded with satanic verses. Fix that first.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

John – I admire your optimism, but nobody should bet the farm on an Iranian reformation. This is a good article: “Iran Deal Warning” https://jackworthington.wordpress.com/20 15/04/07/iran-deal-warning/

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

Very Pithy. Nuts and bolts. Also very Ivory Tower Academica.

Posted by SoledadCross | Report as abusive

sarkozyrocks writes: “nobody should bet the farm on an Iranian reformation.”

Iran does not need a reformation. They’ve had one, and they don’t allow ISIS or Boko Haram types in their country. They kill them.

This is more than we can say for Cheney and Bush. They basically spent 2 trillion taxpayer dollars and 4,000 American lives…. to build ISIS a home in Iraq.

You get what you vote for.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive