In debates with Muslims, making an analogy to Martin Luther seems to make a lot of sense. In nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in 1517, he clearly separated himself from the existing church and Lutheranism became a differentiated and clearly identifiable protestant religion. If Muslims disavow the version of Islam practiced by ISIS, why do both then claim to be “true” Islam? Why isn’t there some clear distinction as there is between Catholicism and Lutheranism? Most people seem to have gotten there there are Sunni and Shia (and some have even heard of Wahhabists) but if say, Sunni subscribe to this peaceful version of Islam and Shia do not, wouldn’t that be something that people would point out? The problem is that the differences between them aren’t that great, and they aren’t about the things that really matter in the debate over Islamic militancy and creeping Sharia. Of a practicing Sunni, Shia, or Wahhabist, all would hope to impose Sharia law, and they would all attempt to restrict free speech when it came to blasphemy or satirizing Islam or the prophet Mohamed.
The fact that such a schism as Lutheranism created has not yet occurred is evidenced by a recent meeting in Washington, DC including a group known as the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. During this event, they released a document known as the “Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement / Signed by AIFD (December 4, 2015)“. It might seem ironic that eight of the fourteen signers are from outside the United States. In it, they call out specific reforms that they hope to see in Islam, and specifically reject certain teachings. They didn’t go ahead and call it another religion yet – did Luther call it Lutheranism, or did that come later? – but their reforms make sense. If the movement picks up steam, I doubt anyone would be disappointed. Except practicing Muslims, of course, who are seeing their teachings refuted.
That’s where the problems start. Reproduced here, since it’s short:
A. Peace: National Security, Counterterrorism and Foreign Policy
- We stand for universal peace, love and compassion. We reject violent jihad. We believe we must target the ideology of violent Islamist extremism, in order to liberate individuals from the scourge of oppression and terrorism both in Muslim-majority societies and the West.
- We stand for the protection of all people of all faiths and non-faith who seek freedom from dictatorships, theocracies and Islamist extremists.
- We reject bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.
B. Human Rights: Women’s Rights and Minority Rights
- We stand for human rights and justice. We support equal rights and dignity for all people, including minorities. We support the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
- We reject tribalism, castes, monarchies and patriarchies and consider all people equal with no birth rights other than human rights. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Muslims don’t have an exclusive right to “heaven.”
- We support equal rights for women, including equal rights to inheritance, witness, work, mobility, personal law, education, and employment. Men and women have equal rights in mosques, boards, leadership and all spheres of society. We reject sexism and misogyny.
C. Secular Governance: Freedom of Speech and Religion
- We are for secular governance, democracy and liberty. We are against political movements in the name of religion. We separate mosque and state. We are loyal to the nations in which we live. We reject the idea of the Islamic state. There is no need for an Islamic caliphate. We oppose institutionalized sharia. Sharia is manmade.
- We believe in life, joy, free speech and the beauty all around us. Every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. Ideas do not have rights. Human beings have rights. We reject blasphemy laws. They are a cover for the restriction of freedom of speech and religion. We affirm every individual’s right to participate equally in ijtihad, or critical thinking, and we seek a revival of ijtihad.
- We believe in freedom of religion and the right of all people to express and practice their faith, or non-faith, without threat of intimidation, persecution, discrimination or violence. Apostasy is not a crime. Our ummah–our community–is not just Muslims, but all of humanity.
FrontPage Magazine has an excellent point-by-point analysis of the declaration, but in a nutshell the major difference between this declaration and Luther’s 95 Theses is that Luther was pointing out how hypocritical the Pope and church had become, in straying from the teachings of the bible, while this declaration by the AIFD is flat out refuting teachings found in the Koran and other sacred texts. From FrontPage:
We support equal rights for women, including equal rights to inheritance, witness…This is found in B3 of the Declaration. But this statement is a specific rejection of two verses in the Koran. 4:12 states that a woman only inherits one half of what a man would get, and this means that if there is more than one wife, all the wives will have to share that one-half portion. 2:282 states that in property matters it takes the testimony of two women to equal that of one man. Are these verses not the words of Allah?
This one excerpt is enough to prove the point. If reforming the religion requires refuting major portions of the founding text, on what basis can one argue the reform, besides personal preferences? Some Christians may not be thrilled about it, but there are lively debates today about the age of the Earth and whether Noah and his ark really existed. To my knowledge, nobody has ever lost their life over it. However in Islam, this requires reform:
“Every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam. This is another amazing claim, found in C2 of the Declaration. After all, in the Koran Allah states that Islam was perfected during the time of Muhammad (5:3). How then can something that is perfect be criticized? And there are many verses that specifically prohibit criticism of Islam, Allah, or Muhammad (e.g. 4:59, 4:115, 9:63, 33:36, 33:57, and 59:7).”
So criticism is not to be tolerated, and is punishable by penalties up to and including death. But the declaration hasn’t just said this, they said “Sharia is manmade”. Few Muslims will agree to this. From Duhaim’s Encyclopedia of Law:
Sharia as a source of law, is, by definition, arbitrary and discretionary – some would prefer to describe it as flexible.
And yet even an authority such as the Oxford Dictionary of Islam proposes a distinction between sharia and fiqh as follows:
“Whereas shariah is immutable and infallible, fiqh is fallible and changeable…
The distinction – which limits sharia to the divinely provided law, and fiqh to the interpretation of sharia – is not universally followed. Many sources refer to fiqh as synonymous to shariah. As an example of the scope of confusion, note that the English language Oxford Dictionary of Islam is of no assistance, defining shariah using a deep Muslim tone:
“Shariah: God’s eternal and immutable will for humanity as expressed in the Quran and Muhammad’s example.””
By these definitions, Sharia is either the divinely-provided law, or it’s God’s eternal and immutable will for humanity. That does not sound manmade to me. Immutable seems fairly strict. This is why efforts for reform in the past have failed. Muslims are just as terrified to attempt reform, or speak out in general, as non-Muslims are to see people publicly satirize Mohamed or stage free-speech events with anti-Islam artwork and cartoons. Why wouldn’t this declaration be front-and-center on the evening news shows?
Is it possibly because it would point out the cognitive dissonance in supporting the premise that Islam is a religion of peace? The problems we see today aren’t a result of ISIS, they are a result of the teachings of the Koran. We see plenty of other instances of this problem – Al’Qaeda, Boko Haram, the names go on until they are indistinguishable. The same problem spawns the lone wolves who by themselves read a Koran, jump on the Internet and get plans for a bomb, buy a gun and start wreaking havoc. The commonality is the Koran.
We should support this reform. It should be called something other than Islam, though. Having American Muslims publicly advocate for this reform would help educate Americans to the true nature of the Islam we are fighting, and identify the true supporters of the Islam we wish we had. It would produce obvious evidence to the American people that there are peaceful Muslims who are working hard to quench the fires the Koran has started. They just don’t have any arguments other than their conscience to use to sway other Muslims with, and it’s doubtful we’ll hear anything more come of it. That should make us wonder: if not reforms like this, what are they teaching in America’s mosques?