Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Islam's Martin Luther: Mohammed Wahhab?

The other day I ran across a link to an old Jonah Goldberg column on NRO about the oft-stated need for an 'Islamic Martin Luther'. Jonah is a much smarter guy than his flip style and pop-culture references might lead one to believe, and his analysis is interesting:

I know Americans tend to think that being anti-authority means being liberal. But by almost every definition of the Left today — to the extent such definitions are applicable — the Protestant reformations and revolts were conservative events. Protestants were not rebelling against the oppressively theistic rules of the Church, they were rebelling against the Church's worldly compromises in regard to those rules. (Think of the selling of indulgences — a modern-day liberal would love such soak-the-rich scams.) Martin Luther was motivated by piety, not by secular liberalism. The Catholic Church was burning books and heretics pretty selectively by the time of the Reformation. The Protestants adopted the practice wholesale.

If you travel around peace-loving Switzerland, for example, you'll discover that a couple of centuries worth of art is simply missing, because Protestant iconoclasts burnt it in giant bonfires to fuel their fondue-pots of religious fervor. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, has a very nice art collection, which includes depictions of lots of pretty-naked ladies and a few naked pretty ladies....

Which brings me to Islam.

The fact is that the Arabs have had their Muslim Martin Luthers and John Calvins. One was the 18th-century Mohammed Wahhab, founder of Saudi Arabia's austere version of Islam called Wahhabism....

In the latest issue of The National Interest, Adam Garfinkle notes that "The Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam is neither traditional nor orthodox. It is a slightly attenuated fundamentalism that dates only from the end of 18th century. . . . [A]s recently as 50 years ago the large majority of Muslims considered Saudi Wahhabism to be exotic, marginal and austere to the point of neurotic."

We all know that the Wahhabis, like their Taliban pupils, are fanatical iconoclasts. But it's rarely noted that they have always been fanatical iconoclasts. In 1925 Ibn Saud, the patriarch of the current Saudi dynasty, ordered the destruction of all the tombs, monuments, and shrines in Mecca and Medina. Crowds of fanatics destroyed the graves of Mohammed's family and even his house. Mosques were torched. Traditional Muslims barely stopped the Wahhabis from destroying Mohammed's grave itself.

This runs completely against the stereotype of "conservative" Saudi Arabia, until you think of mobs of similar "reformers" burning Catholic churches and artwork all across Europe (though I can't see Christians of any denomination seeking to destroy Christ's tomb)....
I think Goldberg correctly latches onto one of the key contradictions in traditional English/American discussions of the Reformation. Because many in the modern secular English speaking world consider themselves heirs on the Enlightenment, and because in Protestant England the Reformation came to be seen at the beginning of the abandonment of 'Romish Superstition', the established myth seems to be that the Reformation was itself full of Enlightenment-style thinkers. Yet Luther and Calvin would have unconditionally consigned to hell much of what the Enlightenment stood for. In their own way, the reformers had more in common with medieval piety movements turned heretical (like the Fraticelli) than with Voltaire and Rousseau.

What modern commentators are really wishing for is an Islamic Bishop Spong.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

What modern commentators are really wishing for is an Islamic Bishop Spong.

Suddenly, Wahhabi Islam doesn't sound so bad.