Reform in religion

Reform in religion

Whenever I write on the subject of Islam, some of my readers say “reform” must be made in religion. Some of the generals of the Feb. 28 period also wanted reforms to be made in Islam.

These views stem from emulating the “Renaissance” and “reform” movements in Europe’s history. Since Europe was freed of the medieval darkness by the Renaissance and reform, then we need them too! 

The economic, social and cultural dynamics that started in the 11th century and caused the Renaissance… The true nature, content, causes and effects of the Protestant Reformation… 

These yearnings are superficial and pretentious views that are based on insufficient knowledge about these highly complicated factors. 

The Protestant Reformation is indeed remarkable. The pioneer of the reform, Martin Luther, had nothing to do with Renaissance thought, and he was no less a religionist than the pope in Rome.
Moreover, because he wanted to eliminate the “church” in between and focus solely on the “scriptures,” he was a “fundamentalist.” He banned taverns, theaters, card games and obliged women to wear certain types of clothes. Calvinism, besides this rigorous and authoritarian structure, was ultimately the cause of the development of education and economic rationalism in Europe because it focused on trade and education in a disciplined way.

If we take Calvinism as a historic experience; then we should be extremely content with the religious communities in Turkey being engaged in education and trade. However, those who want “reformation in religion” actually prevented the drift toward education with the headscarf ban and toward trade with the paranoia over “green capital.” 

Central authority in religion 

The most significant feature of the Protestant Reformation is its opposition to the central authority of the pope. In this vacuum of authority, in time, secular freedoms as well as Protestant sects developed while creative diversity came to the fore. In Islam, however, there has never been a central spiritual authority like the Vatican or a spiritual hierarchy. The caliphate was not a spiritual establishment, it was political.

One aspect of the groundlessness of seeking “reform” in Islam is that those who want “reform” are expecting it from secular authority! The authoritarian secular state, in the words of Hilmi Ziya Ülken, had even closed the scientific institutions of “modernist Islamism.” This situation, in the long run, caused ignorance in religious sciences on one hand, and, on the other, paved the way for the translations of Arabic-language fundamentalist books. 

The state should absolutely not intervene in the religious field in any way and should only meet social needs, including cemevis. 

The ‘renewal’ concept 

The Protestant Reformation was not a secular movement; on the contrary, it was a fundamentalist movement accusing the pope of acting disrespectfully toward the Bible. In our time, churches are empty in Protestant European societies, but in the United States, it is Catholic churches that are empty; Protestant churches are able to maintain their congregations as before. (Steve Bruce, “Religion and Modernization,” p. 151)

It is apparent that the “reform” concept is definitely not suitable for Islam. However, the desperate state of the Muslims is also very obvious! I see the “renewal” and “jurisprudence” concepts that are in Islam’s own terminology as a path to a solution. Advancement in this direction may be through social dynamics, with the efforts of well-educated pious people, not through the intervention of the state.

The social platform of such advancement will be constituted with the development of education, market economy, urban life, opening up to the world and, finally, with the development of science and contemplation. In the Islamic world, meanwhile, the most advanced country in this respect is Turkey. 

Taha Akyol is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept 25. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.