OPENING THE DOORS OF ISLAM
It has become a commonplace observation that Islam today requires a Reformation with an Islamic Martin Luther. This is the absolute last thing Islam needs now, the triumph of faith over reason with resultant bloodshed and sectarian slaughter lasting over a century (ca. 1520-1648) and costing the lives of millions.
That horror was the Reformation. What Islam needs instead is an Enlightenment.
It turns out there is a term in Arabic for enlightenment, for analysis and interpretation through reason, that has an honorable tradition in Islamic jurisprudence and thought. Get to know the word, for it is the salvation of Islam: Ijtihad.
The greatest disaster to occur to Islamic philosophy was an 11th century Persian theologian named Al-Ghazali (1058-1111). Prior to him, there was lively and spirited debate – with words, not swords – over what this or that passage in the Koran really meant. Al-Ghazali ended all of this with his book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers.
It was an attack on the thought of Islam’s greatest genius, Abu Ali Sina, Latinized and known to us as Avicenna (980-1037). Author of 450 books in every known branch of science and study, Avicenna was the Islamic Aristotle, or more appropriately, the Islamic Aquinas whose life’s work was to reconcile the reason and logic of Aristotle with the theology of Islam (as Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274, attempted to do with Christian doctrine).
As such, Avicenna became the champion of Ijtihad, reasoned faith. Al-Ghazali hated nothing more than Ijtihad, bitterly condemning Aristotle, Plato, and other Greeks as infidels, and denouncing any who used their ideas (Avicenna in particular) as corrupters of Islam.
And he went further. True Islamic faith, he claimed, was the total rejection of reason, which included causality independent of the Moslem god. The cause of anything and everything is not the independent identity of the things involved given to them by God (as Aristotle and Avicenna would maintain), but the immediate and capricious will of God at that moment.
When fire and cotton are placed together, the cotton is burned not by any inherent characteristics of both, but the direct decision of God. Everything – everything – is a miracle.
You can quickly see the impossibility of the concept “Law of Nature,” of any rational science, of rationality altogether, with such a belief. And it was this belief that took over Islam a thousand years ago. It has yet to recover.
Al-Ghazali is credited with “closing the doors of Ijtihad.” With independent reasoning about the meaning of the Koran and the Hadith (the accepted collection of Mohammed’s words and deeds), there can be no debate, only acceptance. Every word in them must be literally true.
Until and unless Islam can break free of this theological straitjacket, it is doomed to remain in the Dark Ages – and “moderate” Islam doomed to be dominated by Islamofascism.
That’s because for every verse in the Koran the moderates can cite, the Islamofascists can refute them with a dozen. There is no possibility of women’s rights in Islam or an end to Islamic terrorism, for example, until verses like Sura 4:34 that condone wife-beating, or those that condone slavery and killing infidels and spreading Islam with violence, on and on, are challenged as not being the true words of Allah.
That they are being challenged by a growing number of Moslem scholars, that there is an emerging Ijtihad Movement stirring within Islam, is the best hope for an Islamic Enlightenment.
The founder of the Moslem Brotherhood whose thought is the basis for modern Islamofascism, is Hassan El Banna (1906-1949). His younger brother, Gamal El Banna, has now become a fervent advocate of Ijtihad. Ijtihad has been embraced by the most prominent leader of Indonesia’s 200 million Moslems, Abdurrahman Wahid. There is even an Ijtihad website: ijtihad.org.
We can hunt Moslem terrorists down and kill them. We can cause seeds of doubt to arise in fundamentalist brains with ridicule and mockery. We can stand up to Islamofascist intimidation and bullying demands. We can laugh at their accusations of “Islamophobia.”
But the neurosis of Islamofascism can only be eradicated from within Islam by Moslems themselves. Ijtihad is how they are going to do it, how they are going to open the doors of Islam after being closed for a thousand years and bring it into the 21st century. Let’s wish them luck.