Does Islam need a Reformation?
by Abu Daoud
I have noticed a good deal of talk regarding the hope that exists in the West of a Reformation for Islam. There are two points I wish to make in response.
The first is regarding what exactly constitutes a "reformation." Historically the term refers to a decentralized group of reformation movements throughout western Europe in the 16th Century. But there is a significant gap between what the Reformers intended and actually accomplished. The complete picture is complex, but Calvin and Luther (among others) would be horrified to see the seemingly endless multiplication of Protestant-tradition churches we see today--that is, the continual splitting of denominations and ecclesial bodies.
The Reformers did, however, claim that they were returning Christianity to its original, if obscured, Apostolic and Biblical roots. There was a concrete and pervading desire to reject what the Reformers understood as traditions that departed from the original Biblical mandates. The relation of the believer to God was also made more direct, jettisoning the role of the priest or the bishop as the representative of Christ. The Reformers also introduced what were either entirely new or recovered principles of interpreting Scripture. Inherent in this entire and largely uncoordinated group of reform movements was a decentralization of power from the bishop of Rome (the Pope) to local pastors, congregations, laity, royalty, and governments.
So the second question is what would "Reformed Islam" look like? Well, it would discard centuries of traditions that people adopted to live with the presence of diversity and plurality--even taking into account how minor those accommodations were. It would also release the individual Muslim from accountability to his community, making him directly accountable to God and his mandate for perpetual and global jihad. It would finally lead to a proliferation of schools of interpretation, many of them accusing the other of faithlessness in right interpretation of the Qur'an.
I would therefore argue that we have in our midst a highly-Reformed Islam in the form of what is alternately called Wahabi or Salafi Islam. There is an interesting history behind each of the words and they are not identical. Suffice to say that followers of Salafiism understand themselves as interpreting and living out the Qur'an and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad) in accordance with the original and plain meaning understood by Muhammad and his companions (the salafi, which is Arabic for "predecessors.")
It was indeed this school of Reformed Islam that highly influenced the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Not for centuries have we seen a government that so faithfully and perfectly obeyed the pattern of the early Muslims (salafi). In other words, the Afghanistan under the Taliban was Reformed Islam. It was Islam stripped of accretions not mandated by the Qur'an or his companions (who play a role like the Apostles in many ways), who understood themselves as interpreting the Qu'ran plainly and simply, without the influence or intermediary of distracting scholars and philosophers and theologians.
Part of Reformed Islam is the return to active, vigorous and perpetual jihad, as was the custom of Muhammad and his companions. Muhammad himself was part of over 70 battles/raids during his own lifetime, very few of which were defensive. The expansion of jihad we see today is not radical or fundamentalist Islam. It is Islam in its most historically accurate and pure form.