Saturday, March 05, 2005

Islam Needs a Reformation?

Does Islam need a Reformation? That's the claim sometimes made, but it's a problematic one. Protestants vowed to restore the early Church in its purity from idolatry and its reliance upon scripture alone. In the Muslim context, that could mean something like a Wahabi version of Islam. Perhaps a Muslim Reformation has been growing since the 19th century but is only now having a global impact on non-Muslims.

I've been reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (New York: Perennial, 2001). Here's what he says about the violent years of Protestant reform:

"Violent events were to be typical of European life till the middle of the 17C. Riot, combat, sieges and sacks of towns, burnings at the stake, and escape by self-exile repeat without letup. In Germany, 23 years of war, with breathing spells, kept in the field two unstable leagues of princes, Protestant and Catholic. In the Netherlands, the seesaw went on for a somewhat shorter time; likewise in the Swiss cantons, where the capable leader Huldreich Zwingli, by combining theology with economic reform, provoked the war in which he met his death. In France the last 30 years of the century were devoted to eight bouts of civil war, with ambush, assassination, and massacre in between, including the famous one on the feast day of St. Bartholomew. The English Civil War, also impelled by sectarian passions, was reserved for the next century." (Barzun, Dawn to Decadence, 15-16)

From Luther's 1517 posting of his 95 proposition down to the 1660 reversal of the English experiment in Puritan politics covers about a century and a half. Religious turmoil can last a long time, and we currently suffer the misfortune of living in these "interesting times." Expect to remain 'interested' for a while.


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