Thursday, December 2, 2010

Muslim Reformation

It has been suggested on occasion that one thing that distinguishes Christianity from Islam is that Christianity underwent a reformation and the subsequent challenges of the European Enlightenment which sharpened it's theological convictions, but that Islam has yet to undergo a similar process. Ibn Warraq is perhaps the latest voice in the West to call for such a reassessment and reformation.

His article is interesting, but is less compelling than it might have been had it come from a devout Muslim. Warraq is neither devout nor Muslim. At any rate, here's the opening paragraph of his piece:
I have often argued that one of the redemptive graces of Western civilization is self-criticism, a deeply ingrained habit that has enabled Western man to reflect, to adjust, to improve his beliefs, to correct and change his situation — in short, to reform. The West has been able to submit even its most cherished beliefs to scrutiny. By contrast, self-criticism remains an elusive goal in modern Islamic cultures. David Pryce-Jones argues that the “acquisition of honour, pride, dignity, respect and the converse avoidance of shame, disgrace, and humiliation are keys to Arab motivation, clarifying and illuminating behaviour in the past as well as in the present.”

The codes of honor and shame “enforce identity and conformity of behaviour.” In such a system of values, it is impossible to admit publicly that one is wrong, for that would bring shame on the individual, the family, the country, or even one’s religion. Western-style satire would be very difficult in Arabic society, for that would risk the humiliation of one’s own culture.
However, there are signs of change.
Two of these signs were the Arab Human Development Report of 2003, in which leading Arab intellectuals lamented the poor state of the Arab Muslim world in every field of endeavor — from the scientific to the cultural. Then, in October 2010, came “The Casablanca Call for Democracy and Human Rights,” a document published by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy urging governments and activists across the Middle East to continue working toward democratic reforms.
Warraq discusses these two measures and the prospects for reform in the balance of the piece. He's not totally pessimistic, although stories like this one underscore the depth of the difficulty.