Many people in the West wishfully think that Islam will eventually reform out of its endless bloodshed. As the hopeful idea goes, in the West our own model is Christianity, which had a Reformation. So, logic might say that religious reformation is possible in Islam as well. But in fact, the parallel falls apart, because it is based in a gross misunderstanding of the roots of both Christianity and Islam. And in the case of Islam, reform to peace and tolerance is impossible.
So why did Christianity need a Reformation? The roots of the trouble begin in the early 4th Century, when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. And so the Church authority became dominant by its alliance with state authority. In time, that exclusive power corrupted the Church.
So then, Muslims and their defenders often cite the Crusades, as evidence of a violent strain in early Christianity. Crusader armies were indeed a mess of conflict all around. But they were feudal wars, of states against other military powers.
A primary declared purpose was for Crusaders to free the Holy Land from Islamic conquest. But the movements typically veered far away from that goal, as the armies and state powers competed against each other. Perhaps their inability to unite in a Christian conquest shows that Christianity is just not designed for that.
It is also flawed thinking for Christians to buy into guilt about the Crusades. They were fueled as defensive reactions, long after centuries of persistent Islamic onslaught. For centuries, Muslims had repeatedly attacked all of the Christian and European lands around the Mediterranean coasts and had charged deep into France.
In response to those pressures, the ragtag armies of Europe fought back, just as they did against the Viking raiders from the north, and against the Huns from the east. Jews and Christians were under specific attack by Muslims, whose Quran called them out by name as “the wrongdoing people” whom Muslims must not take as allies, but rather as enemies to be conquered.
Long after the Crusades had come and gone, ultimately ending as failures, the Christian world of Europe went through some remarkable changes, which transformed Christianity back to its roots. To kick it off, in the early 1400s, the invention of the movable type printing press greatly expanded Bible literacy to the masses.
Then, by the early 1500s, people like Martin Luther began to react against problems of corruption in the Church. The Protestant Reformation refers to this movement. It brought pressure against a dominant Catholic Church that had grown corrupt with self-serving wealth, hypocrisy and power, after more than a millennium in which it had held exclusive spiritual control over the people, in alliance with the various succeeding states. The Reformation rapidly gained its many followers precisely because people found that the corrupted Church had drifted far from the actual teachings of Jesus.
Protestants discovered that the fundamental teachings of Jesus meant compassion, love, and generosity, among other virtues that we recognize as good in humanity. And they learned that salvation was available equally to them all, whether humble or wicked. So for masses of Christians, to follow reformation away from the corrupted Church was a natural path to spiritual prosperity, by the core teachings of the Bible.
So how would a similar path of reformation flow in Islam? Whereas the New Testament Bible is the source text for Christians, leading them fundamentally back to the life and teachings of Jesus, there are three source texts that lead Muslims back to the person of Muhammad.
As a primary source, Islam has Quran. That book is the eternal and perfect word of Allah, as collected verses that were revealed to Muhammad. Then also, Muslims have the collections of hadith, which vary in scholars’ acceptance of authenticity, but which detail the sayings and deeds of Muhammad and his Companions. And third, Muslims have the Sira, which is the oldest and most complete biography of Muhammad.
Fundamentalism in Islam compels an Islamic scholar to study those three texts, to learn everything about what Muhammad did and said, as Quran declares him to be the “excellent example” for a Muslim to follow. Islam exists only through Muhammad. The definition of a Muslim is one who submits as he declares that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Islam literally means submission. And Muhammad lived a life that explicitly dictates how that submission is to be done, in order to best please Allah.
In Christianity, it became clear to reformers reading their Bibles that Jesus never held political power. He never represented any earthly state. His Kingdom was in Heaven, and never of this world. But Muhammad was a real-world politician. Muhammad controlled people as an elite law-enforcer. He was a military commander, who led and ordered armies into battle. Under full power during his lifetime, Muhammad was the Islamic state. And so in the power realm, Jesus and Muhammad are polar opposites.
Fundamental Christianity stays as far away from state power as possible. While fundamental Islam draws power to itself as a totalitarian state. So, any attempt to reform Islam back to its roots always ends in an Islamic State, in which people are to be under complete control by Islamic Law. The life example of Muhammad and the doctrine of Islam both demand it.
But what about a possibility for peace under Islam anyway? Some supposed reformers might cling to the idea that even under an Islamic state, Islamic rule might become benevolent. But the problem with that proposal is that the Islamic texts command Muslims to not call for peace with non-Muslim when they become superior in power over them.
Muslims are supposed to be kind and helpful to each other. But there is no equality to be had in the doctrine for non-Muslims under that Islamic state. If they fail to convert to Islam, they must be either subjugated as lower class citizens, or they must be killed. In contrast, Jesus taught his followers to simply move on away from the house of anyone who would not be open to his message of love and salvation.
In the end, Jesus died tortured, forsaken, humbled, and betrayed. His final message was to ask his Father in Heaven to forgive those people who had harmed him so horrifically, because they had acted in ignorance. In contrast, Muhammad died as a dictatorial warlord, at the top of his earthly powers. Muhammad’s final message was to command more slaughter, to advocate deception as a war tactic, and to observe that he had been made most victorious through terror.
When tracing back to fundamentals of Christianity, believers find a Jesus who gave comfort to the most downtrodden of people he would encounter along the way, from adulterers facing a stoning, to lepers facing isolation and disdain from other people. Jesus even went seeking for these poor people. He humbly washed the feet of the lowest of humanity whom he encountered. His role was always one of compassionate service to the meekest of humans.
But when tracing back to fundamentals of Islam, Muslims find in Muhammad a self-serving climber who married into wealth. Muhammad pursued endless power, by money, politics, self-promotion, thievery, lying, lust, enslavement, terror, and the sword.
Jesus brought hope and mercy to the downtrodden. Muhammad cobbled together horrific spiritual extortions from the various cults and sects he encountered, to put himself at the center of a power base of thieves and killers, who divided up sex slaves and stolen war booty among themselves.
Jesus quickly gained flocks of thousands who eagerly came out to hear Him while witnessing his miracles, and to spread His Word. But Muhammad failed for 13 years in attempting to become a cult leader, gaining only a small band of about 150 cultists, until he found sudden mass success by tactics of lying, stealing, terrifying, and killing, while seizing power and spoils in government and in war.
That early failing was surely a troubling experience for Muhammad, who went so far as to reveal a Quran verse about it: “Oh Muhammad, you are not a madman.” But to the wider population of Mecca and the region, he was easily dismissed as both crazy and ignorant of doctrines of the faiths from which he borrowed to build his own cult.
As a local politician, a gangster who formed alliances with bands of thieves, Muhammad became so much of an undesirable element that he was expelled from Mecca and went to set up his criminal base in Medina. There, his gangster activity became more violent, more extreme, more warlike. He won, because he outcompeted any rivals in the most extremist brutality and horrors.
Muhammad demeaned women as lesser beings to be enslaved and sexually abused, for the convenient satisfaction of the lusts of his young warriors. That same lust satisfaction became a promised benefit in Allah’s Paradise, for any of those young, male, sex-hungry killers who died in battle.
Whenever Islamic warfare finally settles down in a society after conquest, some Islamic scholars then spot the encroaching corruptions of non-observance, and seek to reform the lives of Muslims, back to Muhammad’s fundamentals that are found in the source texts. So then Islam gets reformed, by people such as Wahhab in the 18th century, or by Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden in the 20th century, or by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the 21st century. Those reformist movements find that they can only be true to Quran and Sira and hadith by becoming the monsters of Wahhabism, and Iran’s theocracy, and al Qaeda, and Islamic State.
The closer Muslim reformers get to Muhammad, the more horrific Islam becomes for the non-Muslims under their power. Because he was a tyrannical warlord, there is no possible reform of Muhammad into the virtues shown by Jesus.
And the idea of somehow trying reform Islam into a thing less horrific is nothing new to our time. Even in Muhammad’s time, Quran warned Muslims against the same people who now tell us they are reformers. Those people were dismissed in Quran as corrupters. Allah’s commanded penalty for their corruption is that they must be killed by Muslims.
And even without that threat always hanging over them, their reform makes no sense for Islam. It would require tearing out horrific page after page of brutal commands from Quran; or else twisting plain meanings of verses into the most bizarre abstractions, which then lose any reasonable relation to Muhammad’s life as the verses were revealed.
So rather than pursue the folly of reform, they would serve us all better to just walk away from Islam or make a new cult. As they keep fooling so many among us that they can reform Islam into our virtues, their efforts only manage to make the world safer for Islam.