Reform of normative Islam needed to combat radicalism

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, some have voiced the need for a reformation within normative Islam, similar to the 16th century Protestant Reformation of Western Christianity.

Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” and targeted for death by Ayatollah Khomeini, has called for a Muslim Reformation to combat jihadist ideology.

Saudi activist Mansour al-Nogaidan, a former jihadist himself, said Islam needs someone with the courage of Martin Luther to throw off rigid adherence to literal interpretations of the Quran.

These and other advocates for a reformation in Islam apparently assume the Protestant Reformation was about softening or watering-down Christian theology and practice, and they see the need for such in Islam.

They are well-intentioned, but they show they don’t really understand the Reformation, which was a return to Holy Scripture as the sole source and norm of Christian faith (in Latin, sola scriptura).

In other words, it was about Christians returning to their theological roots, rather than distancing themselves from the same.

Do progressive Muslims like Rushdie really want Islam to return to its theological roots in the Quran?

At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (sola gratia).

Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The Apostle John wrote, “God is love,” and “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Christianity and Islam are not at all analogous in this regard.

They are worlds apart on the nature and being of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, salvation and eternal life.

Progressive Muslims who advocate a Protestant-like Reformation in Islam seem to be saying that Islam needs to Westernize, to tolerate differing points of view and to welcome self-criticism within its own ranks, particularly in Muslim-majority countries.

Knowingly or unknowingly, they are promoting not a reformation but a revision of their faith.

Hashem Aghajari, a former Islamic revolutionary in Iran and now a college professor, was sentenced to death for urging Iranians to “not blindly follow” their clerics.

“We need a religion that respects the rights of all — a progressive religion, rather than a traditional religion that tramples the rights of people,” Aghajari said.

Such progressives are the real heroes in Islam.

Ironically, they receive little help from western liberals who, from fear of being considered Islamophobic, refuse even to suggest there might be a problem with Islamic faith and governance.

That sort of neglect helps no one, including our Muslim neighbors and friends here in Columbus.

Every religion and every ethnic group struggles with the same issue: sin.

None of us can live up to our own ideals, much less God’s.

That was evidenced by Christianity’s serious need for a reformation 500 years ago, and Islam’s need for revision or for some sort of real, fundamental change today.