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Hope For An Islamic Reformation?

Posted on August 18 2010 5:00 pm
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This site has debated whether Islam, because of its nature, itself is the problem or rather, certain strains within the faith.  I have no desire to debate the proposition as a matter of description.  I don’t know details of the faith meticulously well enough to throw my hat in.  Though, if David Swindle and Robert Spencer are right (as they may well be) then it’s truly sad.  There are well over a billion self defining Muslims in the world, more than a nominal number of whom live in the United States.  Our allies in the Middle East self identify as “Muslims.”  Muslims are in the military (hopefully) fighting for our side.  And I know personally folks (one of whose favorite TV show is Will & Grace) who self identify as Muslims and who on the surface have no seeming desire to do what those 19 hijackers did.  It would be terrible if our fight were with all of “them” as opposed to certain extremist strains within Islam.

Further, embrace of religious pluralism is a fundamental American value.

Not all Founding Fathers were religious pluralists; but the ones who believed in extending religious rights beyond Protestant Christianity (that is, the ones who believed Roman Catholics and Jews should have religious rights) would give equal rights to Muslims as well.  They did not, as some conservatives might wish, endorse as coalition of Jews and Christians that excluded Islam.

This includes almost all of the notable Founders.  Perhaps they were ignorant of the true nature of Islam.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the FFs did not exclude Muslims when they extended religious rights beyond Christianity.  As George Washington himself put it claiming Muslims have equal rights with Jews to exemptions from laws that would use their tax dollars to fund teachers of the Christian religion:

I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief.

For these reasons, as a matter of prescription, we should support the idea that it’s certain strains within Islam that constitute the enemy.  Did George W. Bush really believe Islam, by its nature, is a religion of peace?  I don’t know.  He may have been projecting his hopes on how the religion might reform itself.

Can it?  Again, I don’t know.  I’m hopeful because I’ve seen how a few tweaks in interpretation of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures can lead to monumentally different results.  Most Jews, Roman Catholics and Christian fundamentalists don’t believe anymore in burning heretics at the stake or stoning to death adulterers, homosexuals and recalcitrant children, even though at one time they did and there is ample textual support in the Bible for these policies.

These were “problems” for Christianity which it overcame.  Experience with problems leads to creative solutions.  The Bible doesn’t seem clear that men have a right to worship freely.  It was experience with persecution among the sects that drove creative, novel interpretations that prevailed and worked.

We should hope for and support the same with Islam.

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