On the "Reform" of Islam | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | CWR
The President of Egypt, at Al Azhar University in Cairo, recently did everyone a favor by putting on the table, from inside of the Islamic world itself, the question of its public conduct and inner soul as they relate to the Muslim religion. Does its conduct, as manifest in its deeds, flow from its religious beliefs? One and a quarter billion Muslims, President al-Sisi bluntly affirmed, cannot hope to eliminate the other six and a half billion human beings. A May 14, 2014, article in the American Thinker estimated that over the centuries some 250 million people have been killed in wars caused by Islam. The religion itself thus needs, in al-Sisi’s view, a thorough “revolution” or transformation.
The issue that I bring up here, in the light of these observations, is this: “Is such a revolution possible without, in effect, eliminating the basic content of what we know as Islam?” If violence, terror, beheadings, forced conversions, bad treatment of women, and intolerance of others are removed or “transformed” in Islam, so that they are no longer parts of the religion but condemned by it, is it still Islam? Would it not be something totally unrecognizable as the same Islam faithfully loyal to its founding by Mohammed? If so, it would follow that something is radically disordered in the founding itself and its development to its present form.
No one thought that communism could fall except, perhaps, Reagan and John Paul II. Some elements of it still strive to hang on, to be sure, but its evils have generally been acknowledged as inhuman. Is there a similar hope about an unexpected turn in Islam? Could it almost miraculously morph into something else? Or, if it changes in any basic way, does it not have to change into something already known, such as Christianity? Or Hinduism? Or even modernism? Are the violent manifestations within Islam towards itself and others simply an aberration? Or, are they essential to the mission to which Islam is committed, namely, to conquer the world for Allah? The authors of Charlie Hebdo hoped that Islam would become as “harmless” as Christianity has become. But is a “harmless” Islam an irrelevant Islam?
In 2011, I called attention to the work of scholars (mostly German) in establishing a critical edition of the Qur’an. It becomes evident that the text of this famous book could not be what it is claimed to be—that is, a revelation in pure Arabic delivered directly from the mind of Allah in the seventh century through Mohammed. Moreover, it is said to be unchanged in any way, not only from its first appearance, but also from eternity.
My assumption, of course, is that the Muslim mind—or any mind—when faced with facts, can recognize a contradiction in its own origins or practices if pointed out. If the Qur’an cannot be what it said it was, how can anyone uphold it? If it is a correlation to previously existing texts, its origin is not what it said it was. The effort to eliminate the scholars who even dare to wonder about this issue is not an argument in favor of the Qur’an, but against it, a sign of unwillingness to examine the evidence. One can only suspect that the failure of any source in Islam itself to produce a critical edition of the Qur’an, combined with the efforts to impede anyone else from doing so, is an indirect proof that many in Islam know there is something strange about the original text that is not explained by the theory of direct revelation.
Muslim thinkers, in the light of contradictory statements in the Qur’an, have had to devise a philosophical thesis about Allah’s nature that would, supposedly, defend the text from incoherence.