Muslims Need an Enlightenment, Not a New Head of “Church”

The following guest-essay by Plum McCauley takes a look at the old debate about an Islamic “reformation” from a slightly different angle. Her local paper frostily turned down this essay. Imagine that.

Muslims Need an Enlightenment, Not a New Head of “Church”

by Plum McCauley

Many years ago Jonah Goldberg, in one of his columns for National Review Online, offered an interesting response to those in Islamic studies who opined in academic discussions that what that religion needed was a Martin Luther. His opinion was that on the contrary, Islam doesn’t need a Luther, it needs a Pope.

Now Catholics could reasonably object to the implication that the Pope — any Pope — lacks the religious fervor that was certainly the defining characteristic of Luther. But, like it or not, Goldberg’s conclusion expresses the reality that since the Reformation there has been a spectrum of ardor in Christianity ranging from tranquil devotion to fanaticism. And I think it’s safe to say that for him, having a Pope means eschewing the latter.

Because Luther inspired the revolt of so many Catholics from Rome’s domination and spurred them to independent interpretations of the Bible — resulting in a multitude of Protestant sects throughout Europe — his work appears in retrospect to have been a laudable attack against a monopoly over religious thought and practice. And there’s nothing the Western mind loves more than a rebel.

But that aftermath tends to obscure the fact that Luther’s ambition was reform — a “back-to-basics” approach to worship that was a fundamental rebuke to the Church’s licentiousness. His work may have functionally been a defiance of Church authority, but it was impelled by a desire to tighten up what he saw as moral laxity. And 16th-century Europeans were primed and ready to take up the cause of religious purification. The fact that his ideas resulted in so many unintended consequences (including peasant revolts, which took him completely by surprise) is an accident of history.

Considered in this light, Goldberg’s position makes sense. A “back-to-basics” reformist is indeed the last thing that the Muslim world needs. History has shown us that every time a Muslim country is overtaken by a spirit of religious reform that society takes several steps backward. The Iranian revolution provides a glaring example. The theocratic Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini became a drastically different place than that of the relentlessly modernizing Shah. One of the lesser-noted impacts of the Iranian revolution was the almost instant brain-drain caused by the hasty exodus of so many of its educated citizens who had the foresight to see what was coming.

Another example is that of the Taliban’s self-appointed role as Afghanistan’s religious conscience. Before the Taliban’s swift rise to power, Kabul was a relatively different place for women, before their freedoms were so violently curtailed. And consider Turkey. Under Erdogan, Turkey has undergone a political regression unthinkable a few decades ago when it wasn’t that distinguishable from the countries that formed the European block. Ultimately, all of these instances of “reform” for an Islam that has “lost its way” wind up being diametrically opposed to the advancement of human liberty.

One obvious reason is the inextricable link between church and state that prevails in Islamic countries, and until that Gordian knot is severed there will be nothing but social and political oppression. What the Muslim world needs, then, is not a Luther or a Pope but rather a period of enlightenment similar to Europe’s of the 18th century. Of course, The Enlightenment was the culmination of centuries of work, centuries of Europeans questioning authority or even completely upending it. But a significant component that enabled the Enlightenment was the earlier Humanist tradition which placed man in a position where he mattered.

It is precisely this that is lacking in the Muslim world, for how else could a book that commands wholesale death and slaughter be followed so unquestioningly? Are there really so few Muslims who object to these acts of atrocious cruelty? Most importantly, do Muslims really think that the choice to ameliorate mankind’s suffering instead of augmenting it is impious?

Armed with what the evidence tells us are the answers to these questions, I am hard-pressed to believe that there are so few Muslims who have the imagination to envision what that great, world-wide Caliphate will actually be like if they were to achieve it.

Perhaps Muslims should consider Kant’s advice when he said, “Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!” Until they do, Islam will be nothing but a misery-producing yoke driving its adherents mindlessly like cattle.

For more on the writings of Plum McCauley, see Plum’s Projects.

36 thoughts on “Muslims Need an Enlightenment, Not a New Head of “Church”

  1. The nearest thing muslims have to a Pope is a Caliph.

    As Peter was Jesus’ chosen successor on Earth, Caliph’s are “rightly guided successors” to old mo.

    And only Caliphs can legitimately call for a full on jihad with any legitimacy.

    So if anybody looks like legitimately getting named Caliph they should be quietly nuked from orbit.

    • I don’t see why the west is so hard pressed to justify the existence of Islam. If we are honest enough to speak the truth about how wrong this ideology is, we would have Muslims leaving Islam in droves.

      Here we are trying to appease the crocodile thinking that it will not eat us once it has supremecy of the swamp, when we know that, that is the first thing it will do.

      The world has to realize that Islam is a failed experiment in regards to modernity and humanism, and there is no amount of reformation or reinterpretation that will change it…

      It’s time to toss Islam into the dustbin of history along with Nazism and communism.

      • I also don’t see why we try so hard to justify its existence, except that our minds are not in the habit of being critical. Political correctness has numbed that part of our faculties.

  2. From my observation over the last 20 or 30 years the happening places for Islam have been streets, roof tops, infantry positions, and VBIEDs. The abode of morons, fanatics, or smug p____s. Muslims in palaces, bureaus, newsrooms, and classrooms do and say with a watchful eye on the door, ever mindful of the threat of a visit from the local equivalent of AntiFa.

    One prof in Egypt was thrown out the window by his students for suggesting something like reform or interpretation of Islam. A physics prof was lecturing in Pakistan about the recent earthquake and his students responded that Allah causes earthquakes. Did he dare contest that?

    Mobs form in Pakistan at the mere mention of reform of blasphemy laws, and they kill.

    Islam’s a bottom-up affair and resistant to innovation or the “rethinking” of anything. Flashes of individual brilliance die out. The Shah gave it a shot but the street heard the malevolence of the Ayatollah. Being told which direction to relieve oneself in had enormous appeal it seems. As do discussion boards where the intricate rules of ablution and the cancelling effect of a rumbling stomach are earnestly discussed.

    All that Ataturk attempted got trashed. Change in Islam is just an illusion. Maybe Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and some of the Stans show that a sensible compromise with objective analysis is possible.

    • Your Egypt and Pakistan examples get to the root of the problem of reforming Islam…

      1. Koran is eternal word of Allah, thus reform is blasphemy
      2. There is no scientific cause and effect in Islam, everything happens due to Allah’s will, thus people are too insignificant to be able to learn/discover/interpret

      Seems to me that one option to help alter this state is archeology and historical scholarship. Ever notice how scared they are of archeology in the Middle East? The more we learn about the 6th and 7th centuries the more clear it is that the standard Islamic narrative is nonsense. Every early caliphate coin discovered with a cross on it and every earlier and different Koranic verse found brings us one step closer

      • That “Allah wills everything” is pretty amazing. Every blink of my eye is commanded by Allah as is the trajectory of every artillery shell and every beat of a sparrow’s wing. And if you attempt to find ways to predict the path of a shell it’s blasphemy.

        The cache of pages from various Korans discovered in a mosque in Yemen (?) is problematic for those who adhere to the approved version of how the Koran came to be. Too, wasn’t it 200 years after the death of Mohamed before any written version of the Koran was published?

        I think you’re right about the hypersensitivity regarding the ancient record. I wonder if the urge to destroy all that came before Mohamed came from a desire to obliterate such inconvenient discoveries. Aren’t the Saudis adamant about not allowing archeological exploration in SA?

      • The Ummah are also taught that questions are the tool of Shai’tan and asking them is a ticket to the underworld.

        Archaeology won’t convince them of anything. The Ummah will simply dismiss un-islamic findings as the tool of the devil.

    • Now THAT is an interesting point, that Islam is a bottom-up affair. And it’s positively frightening that those at the bottom lap up violence so eagerly. I’m hard-pressed to think of a people in history who, instead of decrying injustice, spread it so willfully–and with so much bloodshed. Other than the Aztecs, I guess. But I still can’t wrap my head around the idea that even at the “bottom” there’s so little push to end human suffering. That’s so BASIC!

      • Having elites running things isn’t all that great either, at least elites who are certifiable. Overall our scholarly and journalistic luminaries did a good job of keeping facts and rational analysis as the focus of intellectual life. Until recently.

        You just can’t beat this video of the Muslim flat earth guy. I link to it with abandon to show how the otherwise sensible scientist has to dance around the Koranic certainties entertained by the other fellow. He’s deferential to him and it’s amusing in a way. But the gravitational pull of his ignorance is plain and the scientist dares not ridicule the man.

        The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia or one of his recent predecessors also was strong on the flat earth deal. Even the ancient Greeks knew the earth was a cube. I mean, really.

  3. I’m not hopeful for reform or evolution of thought in a theocratic society that’s based on a text that was dictated by God, through an angel, directly to a man (Muhammad). Unlike Judaism and Christianity, the faithful cannot reinterpret their texts.

    The Word of Allah is undisputable, unalterable, and unquestionable.

    • Joe, thank you for your response. And I get your point. But I grew up a Baptist, and to Baptists, the Bible is also the direct word of God and “interpretation” is (or was) suspect. I guess what I’m looking for in Islam is some equivalent of “Love thy neighbor,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” etc. Or some version of the Sermon on the Mount. Or something like “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” Do they have any of this in the Qur’an? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

      • I read Quran. You do? Islam is not changeable. Anyone wants to change Islam died or ran. Hopeful for reforming Islam? Delusional. Better plan to defend against the adherents.

  4. “….driving its adherents mindlessly like cattle.”

    “The only power the muslim community possesses is to acknowledge and obey.”

    Ruling by AMJA
    Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America

    It is how they want it to be.

    • How, out of the repressive atmosphere of the Inquisition, did the West get so many rebels? We owe modern science to these people.

      • I suspect you know the answer, Plum: it’s the Enlightenment, which sprang from the Reformation. Some commenters here blame it for the decline in faith among Christians and Jews, and they may be right, but I’d rather live among current Westerners than my more bigoted ancestors of a few centuries ago (and not only because they probably smelled awful!)

  5. I’d have to look at the compensation package before breaking out the old C.V. And I demand to entertain other offers while considering theirs. People of my caliber don’t come round that often and I wouldn’t consider any sweetener less than a full year of petro revenues as an initial signing bonus, and those incentives better be incentivizing or there will be no deal. Of course, Infallibility is to be recognized from the get-go, as well as the power to fatwa away any attempt at criticism, as nothing but a firm hand upon the rudder will do. Good management isn’t cheap, and when I’m at the trough, I will feed.

  6. I am skeptical. Here is the problem: When Luther revolted against the Vatican, he was not turning his back on Jesus Christ or the Bible. He was revolting against the corruption of the Vatican. How does Islam reform without rejecting large parts of the Koran (the Medina period) and the person of Mohammad as prophet? There would be very little left of Islam.

    One would think that all these millions of Muslims who are migrating to the West would experience their own “enlightenment”. It sure isn’t working in Europe. That we are having better success in America is largely due to the fact that the initial wave of immigrants were educated. Thus they are not living in no-go zones and rioting in the streets and committing rapes and street crime like the unskilled immigrants in Europe. Yet their potential for radicalization is the same as elsewhere.

    Possibly, Muslims could turn to Sufism or the Ahmadi brand of Islam. They have a pretty good track record when it comes to violence and hate, but they are considered as heretics by mainstream Muslims. And they still worship Mohammad and read the Koran.

    In short, there are no easy solutions. It is encouraging to see true Muslim reformers like Zuhdi Jasser, Shireen Qudosi, Steven Schwartz (the last two are Sufists) and a few others, but they are too few in numbers.

    Until the madness and the jihad ceases (which is no time soon), we need to keep them out of our countries.

    • I really enjoyed the replies including the one I am replying to, very educated indeed. Still I don’t see anything right about Sufism, must be misinformation. Please let me give an example of what Islamic Sufism is all about. There’s a famous motto in Islam that everyone has heard: “There’s no God but Allah”. Around 800 A.D. Sufists noticed this motto is not what it should be. Influenced by the idea of unity with God, they changed tho motto to “There’s no God but Me”. After a short while a clever one noticed this is not perfect either. So he changed it to “There’s no Me but Me”. For around three centuries they smoked joint, danced in circles and chanted “there’s no Me but Me”. Now this motto is out of fashion, they found more ridiculous stuff, but the spirit of Sufism is the same. I prefer to tie these weed-cult Sufists to your post-modern dimwits [and do hurtful things to them].

      To get back to the main article, I really can’t imagine a reform. Perhaps I am not the most authorised person to comment on the subject, but please bear with me. The direction of the said Enlightenment cannot be determined in advance and I am afraid if a minority are “enlightened” it will be in the direction of leftism.

      To justify my words, please let me focus on a location I know better and author also mentioned it for an example, Iran. Majority of what author calls educated citizens are no better than a replica of Stalin. Leftism is the mainstream school of thought among the aforementioned group and the most Right person from Iran may look like a dangerous commie to the average American, or at least what once was an average free Christian American. If you don’t believe me please run a real test. Find these people and give them questionnaires. There are reasons behind this if you think about it: Islam is right next door to Communism. Communists at heart will convert to Islam and Muslims will convert to Communism. I don’t call this enlightenment.

      • I have often noticed the similarities between these two totalitarian tyrannies. One of them has a godhead, Allah; the other has Karl Marx to worship. Both think they should rule the world.

    • Agree. Btw jihad ceases only temporarily. Don’t bet on allowing Muslim stay & Koran protected. Ban Islam & Moslem.

    • Those at the bottom who are driving the violent, fundamentalist version of islam can only be countered by an equally violent and cruel leader similar to a cross between Stalin and Ataturk. Order has to be imposed from the top, and the power of the mob and the inciters of the mob; namely the ignorant mullahs, ruthlessly hunted down and purged.

      Such a process could impose order from the outside long enough for a tamer, less fanatical version of islam to take root in an atmosphere where even the slightest hint of fanaticism and fundamentalism would be enough to get one executed, and one’s family and friends sent to the gulag. This would likely take generations though, until anyone who dared challenge the new system had been hunted down.

      Currently, those in islam who advocate and use violence to maintain the most primitive and regressive version of islam rule the roost. Until this is challenged by someone even more willing to use violence and even more ruthless in imposing order, nothing will change.

  7. Enlightenment comes from the inside. If they don’t find it in themselves, there is no way to put it into them and they will remain a threat to everybody else until those find the heart to remove the threat efficiently and for good. Almost funny the stubbornness they actually see it the very same way from their side. They’re even ahead of us as they have no qualms about using force to prevail. “Ahead” here doesn’t mean they’re further advanced, they just never left the mental stone age while we’ve yet to come around the 360 degrees to recognize the existential danger. To fight monsters you have to become a monster yourself. That’s what we’re more scared of than we fear the enemy, because we’ve already been to hell and back. This enemy forces us to the ultimate sacrifice — which is not our lives, but our souls. We are going to lose ourselves. Only we know that we can start over, because we’ve done it before.

    • Forgot, I’ve been meaning to add the hint at North Korea. What I do find odd is that we have seemingly no problem imagining a near-future world with them being nothing but a note in the history books should they initiate violence or don’t stop the inevitable sliding into it. (That their paranoia stems from having experienced utter destruction already is another topic, it doesn’t remove the threat to our generation.) I don’t understand why we think this way in one case but can’t where Islam is concerned. It throws a monkey wrench into the logic described above.

      • Well, one reason might be that North Korea is a distinct PLACE, as opposed to an ideology entrenched in the minds of people living all over the planet. I think it’s a logistics problem.

      • Of course, a good chunk of Westerners, specifically progressives, don’t believe that NK should become “nothing but a note in the history books”: they believe in peace at all costs, including abject surrender. This is what appears to be their “plan” with regard to Islam.

  8. ‘an enlightenment’
    The EUropean liberal consensus thinks it’s going to create a “European Islam”.

    The hubris would seem matched only by the depth of the wishful-thinking.

    There are various initiatives from the EU Commission-backed ‘EurIslam’ study project, “finding a place for Islam in Europe”, (although Koopmans’ study on outgroup hostility is a warning that Islam is finding a place for Europe), to the development of Islamic theology degrees, through which various EU governments might ‘professionalise’ imams, control the narrative and guide which languages are used in the mosque, thereafter progressive ‘values’ might be transmitted and absorbed, presumably by osmosis.
    One German education ministry offcial, on the creation of taxpayer-funded Islamic centers in Germany, gushed it is a “historic development, comparable to the rise of protestant Christian theology after the Reformation 500 years ago.”

    Which is highly debatable to say the least.
    I don’t recall history progressive secular officials outwith the religion, paying to kick-start a ‘Reformation’ but hey-ho.
    Several ‘liberal’ mosques have also appeared, most recently one in Berlin, where the female in charge, received 10 times more hate-mail than messages of encouragement and now has a 24/7 armed guard.
    It would be reasonable to assume the majority of the hate-mail, was not from ‘Islamophobic’ Europeans.
    The mosque could be a strong candidate for decoration with some of Mrs Merkel concrete diversity blocks.
    Ironically these efforts to shape a ‘European Islam’, would appear to have merely re-hardened attitudes in the Islamic world.
    The response from various religious establishments round the Muslim world, was telling.
    Al-Azhar University issued a ‘fatwa on the foundation of liberal mosques per se’.
    Turkey’s main Muslim authority, Diyanet, said the new mosque’s practices:
    “do not align with Islam’s fundamental resources, principles of worship, methodology or experience of more than 14 centuries, and are experiments aimed at nothing more than depraving and ruining religion”.

    It’s made absolutely crystal clear, there might be Islam in Europe but there will not be a ‘European’ Islam. Progressive attempts to reform from outwith, merely help harden and establish an ideology in Europe, that stands opposed to everything the enlightenment represents.

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