Posted by lex, on September 28, 2007
We ourselves have recently bandied about the notion of an “Islamic Reformation” as being a necessary precursor to fulfilling the limpid aspirations of those who sport those cute little “Coexist” bumper stickers on the back of their Priuses in lieu of a Bill Engvall sign.
(What is the plural for “Prius” by the way? My construct seems a little too close to something you’re supposed to call your doctor about, if it hasn’t gone back down within four hours.)
Returning to point at hand – can it be that it’s already happened, our hoped-for Reformation? And we missed it?
Writing in the Guardian, Ali Eteraz thinks so:
The Muslim equivalent of nailing the 95 theses was the desecration of a graveyard and the stoning of a woman for adultery.
According to 18th century records, the Ottoman Empire – Islam’s ruling power – had not flogged, imprisoned, or passed the death sentence on adulterers for nearly 400 years. Under the kanun – secular Ottoman imperial law – the highest punishment for adultery had been a fine. The traditionalist Ottoman jurists had relied on the Quran’s “four witnesses” rule, which had made proving adultery virtually impossible.
Along came a self-professed Islamic reformer named Abdul Wahhab. He was trained classically but attracted to Ibn Taymiya – who 400 years earlier had broken away from Sunni traditionalism. Wahhab said that procuring a confession was enough to stone someone to death and proceeded to do so.
If the name “Wahhab” sounds vaguely familiar, you’re on the right track. And peaceful coexistence probably isn’t coming just around the bend:
Wahhab’s “reformation” started Sunnism’s unmooring from traditionalism. The Quran and the hadith, long bound together in a legal system (and hierarchy) so complex that, according to the orientalist John Makdisi, it gave birth to British Common Law, were now left wide open for Wahhab and his followers to access. What they now had was the power to do ijtihad. Except, in their distaste of Ottoman scholarship, they made up their “method” as they went along. It was a mixture of Quranic literalism and deference to Hanbal’s hadith corpus (which was much larger than competing versions).
Philosophers concur that when a text, any text, can be interpreted by anyone using any means at their disposal, the most likely result will be for the text to become subservient to ideology. Wahhab was a rebel; his ideology was intolerance, patriarchy and violence. It coloured what kind of ideological direction Muslim dissenters of the future would take.
But, you know: If at first you don’t succeed…
Use a bigger hammer.