Friday, January 9, 2015

A powerful call for a Reformation of Islam

While all civilized people are focused on and outraged by the Islamist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo -- more on that anon -- perhaps a far more important event that occurred on New Year's Day is flying largely under the radar. A certain speech by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the highlight of a series of blog posts by PJMedia's Roger Simon:
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an extraordinary speech on New Year’s Day to Cairo’s Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry calling for a long overdue virtual ecclesiastical revolution in Islam.  This is something no Western leader has the had the courage to do, certainly not Barack Obama, despite his Muslim education.
Accusing the umma (world Islamic population) of encouraging the hostility of the entire world, al-Sisi’s speech is so dramatic and essentially revolutionary it brings to mind Khrushchev’s famous speech exposing Stalin. Many have called for a reformation of Islam, but for the leader of the largest Arab nation to do so has world-changing implications.
Here are the key parts as translated on Raymond Ibrahim’s blog:
I am referring here to the religious clerics.   We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before.  It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.  Impossible!
That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.  It’s antagonizing the entire world!
Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!
I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.
All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.
I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands. [bolds mine]
This is potentially huge. One of the facets of Islam I have highlighted in the past is the fact that Islam was founded some 600 years after Christianity, so one could say that Islam is some 600 years behind Christianity. Put another way, while it is 2015 for Christianity, it could be considered 1415 for Islam. Christianity in 1415 was about a century before what is traditionally considered the beginning of the Reformation -- and the massive convulsions in Christianity -- in the form of Martin Luther's 95 Theses. So if one uses the Christian Reformation as a measuring stick, it is almost time for Islam to have a Reformation of its own.

Jonah Goldberg explains how huge this could be:
Words are cheap, particularly in a region where the currency is measured in blood. But al-Sisi has also backed up his words with deeds. On Tuesday, al-Sisi attended a Coptic Christian Christmas Mass, the first time anything like that has been done by an Egyptian president. He spoke of his love of Christian Egyptians and the need to see "all Egyptians" as part of "one hand."
Is al-Sisi the "Muslim Martin Luther" people have been waiting for? Almost surely not, for the simple reason that the Muslim Martin Luther was always a Western idea ill-suited to Muslim realities (which is why some of us have argued Islam needs a pope more than a Luther). Al-Sisi, a military man, not a cleric, could be more like an Egyptian Atatürk — the Turkish strongman who modernized and secularized Turkey a century ago (and whose work is currently being dismantled by the soft-Islamist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan).
Or maybe we're just in uncharted territory? Who knows? What is clear, however, is that this is a big deal.
Simon agrees, saying "That’s pretty radical stuff in a country where many Coptic churches have been burned and Christians encouraged to flee the country." Simon also suggests that al-Sisi should be considered for the Nobel Prize:
Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize virtually for no more than being elected president — and then made a hash of everything.  El-Sisi came into power by something of a coup over the Islamofascist Morsi — and then has worked hard to make peace, rein in and seal off Hamas, turn Qatar from the Islamist camp, etc., etc. — far more Nobel-worthy than anything Obama ever even dreamed of.

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