Reconsidering an Islamic Reformation

In the August Ekklesia, Giles Fraser offers an interesting response to the calls for a Islamic Reformation.

Salman Rushdie has now joined those who insist that Islam needs a reformation. What better place to assess such a demand than in the new Musée International de la Réforme in Geneva? Here familiar portraits of Luther and Calvin magically appear in a mirror to lip-synch the glories of the 16th-century Reformation – a revolution against a corrupt Catholic church that ripped off the gullible by selling passports to heaven. By translating the Bible into the vernacular (one of the earliest and most influential English Bibles was produced in Geneva in 1560), the reformers bypassed the power of the Catholic clergy to interpret the word of God to ordinary believers. The parallels with a religion that refuses to accept the authenticity of translations of the Qur’an are superficially powerful.

Even so, Islam already resembles a reformed religion a great deal more than Rushdie acknowledges. Reformation pamphleteers railed against the papacy as the whore of Babylon, yet there is no equivalent centralised authority in Islam. Nor is there a hierarchical clerical establishment. The sober dress of Muslim leaders and the absence of fancy vestments to mark them out as special are clearly reminiscent of post-Reformation austerity.

So too is the thoroughgoing commitment to iconoclasm.