I have been reluctant to use the Protestant-rooted term "reformation" when speaking about Islam and whether somehow it needs to shake itself to the core and reinvent itself for today's world.
The term reformation, after all, refers to a particular set of events in the world of Christianity and it has seemed to me to be both historically anachronistic and even inhospitable for Christians to call for a reformation in and of Islam.
But it now turns out that some Muslim scholars are using that very term, consciously borrowing the concept from Christianity as a way of encouraging fellow Muslims to think about ways Islam might adapt itself to what has moved past modernity to become post-modernity.
All of this was the subject of a recent "Sightings" column from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The author is a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic studies at that divinity school.
He writes about Abdulkarim (or Abdolkarim) Soroush, a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, who now is being described as a Muslim Martin Luther -- to drag the reformation connection directly over to the Christian experience.
And he quotes Muhammad Iqbal, a Muslim reformer, this way: "We are today passing through a period similar to that of the Protestant revolution in Europe, and the lesson which the rise and outcome of Luther's movement teaches should not be lost on us."
Maybe now that some Muslims themselves are using Protestant Reformation language to describe what is happening -- or perhaps what some think needs to happen -- in Islam it's more permissible for Christians to explore the Islam-Reformation connections.
And yet I remain a bit skittish about doing so. For one thing, it is terribly difficult to take something that happened 500 years ago in Europe and overlay it on Islam, whose center of gravity is found in Saudi Arabia. There are countless ways in which the analogies of that are awkward or simply don't fit.
For another, I'm perfectly happy to let Muslims use whatever language they like in describing possible ways Islam can or should adapt to new times. But I think it's discourteous -- and maybe even arrogant -- for Christians, especially Protestants, to call for changes in another religion along the lines of what their religion experienced centuries ago.
Still, Muslims seeking various changes in Islam would do well to study the ways in which other faiths have adapted to changing times -- and one area of legitimate study would be the Protestant Reformation.
Perhaps what is needed is a public seminar among Christians and Muslims in which the topic would be how best to study one another's history and learn from it. Included in such a seminar would be discussion of proper language to use, whether by Muslims or Christians. What we don't need is for a gathering of Christians to be demanding reformation of Islam while a gathering of Muslims picks apart Christianity for its perceived sins and errors.
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A 1,500-YEAR-OLD BIBLE
Speaking of the Muslim world and Christianity, a 1,500-year-old Bible, it turns out, is being kept by authorities in Ankara, Turkey. Apparently Turkish police found it in an anti-smuggling raid. Well, I don't know to whom it belongs or where it should be kept, but I do know I find it impressive that people managed not to destroy a Bible over 1,500 years. I guess that's why we call such documents sacred texts.
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P.S.: Have you signed up yet for the 7-9 p.m. March 1 workshop on "Writing Persuasive Essays" that I'll lead at the Writers Place in Kansas City? The link I've given you gives the modest price and details for Writers Place members. Here's the link for nonmembers. Tell your friends. Let's have a good crowd and some fun as we learn.