Islam and Modernization

by DR. SAMI ALRABAA May 17, 2016

Is it possible to modernize Islam, or must it be banned, as some demand, or even scrapped as Dr. Ali Sina advocates in his book "Understanding Muhammad"? 

Radical Islam can only be Defeated through Modernizing Islam

In contrast to most religions of the world, in particular Christianity and Judaism, Islam has not yet gone through a modernization process. While Christians and Jews have managed throughout their history to reconcile religion with freedom, Muslims have not. Why is that? 

Before the Industrial Revolution the Christian puritans had the say in their societies. Monks in England and France used to roam the streets and force people to go and pray exactly like the Mutawas (morality police) in today's Saudi Arabia.

In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, accused of being heretic, by the Roman Inquisition for his scientific ideas, which were incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Bruno's "crime" was he dared to suggest, that the universe was boundless and that the sun and its planets were but one of a number of similar systems. He also suggested that there might be other inhabited worlds with rational beings equal or possibly superior to ourselves. 

In 1633 Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy for "following the position of Copernicus", which was contrary to the authority of Holy Scripture".  Under torture, he was forced to his knees to renounce all belief in Copernican theories, and was thereafter sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of his life.

The 16th and 17th centuries also witnessed religious wars among religious and political leaders.

Religious conviction was the basis for pristine political handling. Kaiser Wilhelm launched the I World War under the premise, "Gott ist mit uns" (God is with us).

In old times, followers of Catholicism, Luther, Calvin, Anabaptists, Quakers, and Unitarians - like radical Muslims, these days - believed that their set of moral rules were superior to all others, prescribed by God, and enforced by punishment, and wanted everybody to observe and impose these rules. By failing to do so, people offend the divine being and corrupt society. For believing so, they waged religious wars.  

Die hard Lutherans attacked Calvinists in Berlin and murdered thousands of them. In the streets of Paris, Catholics killed more than 3,000 Huguenots

Radical Muslims nowadays are acting like Christians in the old ages. In particular radical Sunnis; they are not at war only with the infidels, i.e. non-Muslims, but also with the Shiites, the Sufis, the Alawites, Ismaelites, the Druze, and followers of other Muslim sects.  

The rise of capitalism, expansion of education, and scientific research in the Western Christian world paved the way for more and more secularism. The German political economist Max Weber linked Calvinism to the rise of capitalism. Calvinism became an influential factor in modernizing religion.

During and after the Industrial Revolution and state building, people in England began to feel of themselves as English before feeling Protestants, and in France people thought of themselves as French, first and foremost.

In the Arab and Muslim world at large, there is no similar story to be told. The golden ages (700-1300) were followed by five centuries of Othman rule, characterized by despotism, abject backwardness, and poverty. The majority of Arabs thought of themselves as Muslims in the first place. Arab states did not exist until European colonial powers created these states by drawing arbitrary borders on the map. 

During the golden ages, the Muslim empire stretched form Spain to Indonesia - an empire that encouraged learning, tolerated critical scholars, translated and preserved scientific books. After that, as the West began rising to establish societies based on personal, scientific and religious freedom, the Arab-Muslim civilization slipped into retreat.

Dr. Sami Alrabaa, an ex-Muslim, is a professor of Sociology and an Arab-Muslim culture specialist. He has taught at Kuwait University, King Saud University, and Michigan State University. He also writes for the Jerusalem Post and is the author of the book: “Veiled Atrocities”, published by Prometheus, New York 2010 .

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