Tonight, 14 Feb 2017, BBC Newsnight’s Viewsnight carried an opinion that Islamic State is a Reformation in islam.
Canadian author Graeme Wood compared the similarities of the rise of Islamic State (ISIS) with the Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther, pointing to 1. the call to return to the original sources (the Bible and Quran) to read it for oneself, bypassing the priestly class and mainstream clerics, giving back power to the people, and 2. using the latest technology to appeal to the masses against officialdom (the printing press in the 16th century and the internet and social media in the 21st century).
Thus Islamic State (ISIS) was compared to the Protestant Reformation, an intellectual convulsion that is re-making the muslim world, calling muslims back to the original sources in the Quran. He called them Islamic Protestants.
However, Wood makes an important mistake. He pointed out that the Protestant Reformation led to a bloodbath, and so has ISIS, as if there was not only moral equivalence but also causative equivalence between the two. He failed to point out that the bloodbath at the Protestant Reformation was at the hands of officialdom, but the bloodbath by ISIS is at the hands of conservative muslims against officialdom – an important difference.
It is astonishing that this mistaken historical perspective is so easily publicised on national television.
Rather, Islamic State is the death-throes of koranic islam as it feels threatened by more rational islamic voices interacting with the love and toleration of Christianity. The islamic reformation is on the other foot and began many decades ago. Salman Rushdie’s Islamic Verses was a challenge to the authenticity of certain verses in the Quran. This led to a fatwah against him. Interaction with western civilisation over several decades has diminished islamic attachment to the details of koranic teaching, so that westernised islam distances itself from the blood-thirsty teaching in the koran.
ISIS is actually a bloody Counter-Reformation to moderating and reforming muslim teachers, comparable to the 16th century Roman Catholic bloody Counter-Reformation with its Inquisition and manipulation of the authorities to do its dirty work for it. It is not comparable to the liberating Protestant Reformers who gave to the world modern Parliamentary democracy, the right of private judgment and the freedom of thought and religion.
15/2/2017: Tariq Ramadan gave another perspective on Viewsnight tonight in which he contradicted Wood’s view and claimed that quiet reform is already happening among muslims, who “are trying to liberate themselves from both Arab and Asian patriarchy and Western cultural imperialism.” At least it confirms to some extent what I have written above.