The Need for an Islamic Reformation

Every day it seems like there is some new tragedy arising in the Middle East. People are killed while others join the “cause” and in most cases the actions are placed under the broad banner of Islam. ISIS, which is rapidly spreading throughout the Middle East, and Boko Haram which is primarily contained in Nigeria are some of the biggest proponents of this, justifying murder within the context of their interpretation of the faith.

According to Muslim tradition, Islam began when its prophet, Muhammad, was visited in a cave by the angel Gabriel, who proceeded to recite the first revelations of the Qur’an to him in 610 CE. He was forty years old and began to spread the word, calling people to worship what he considered to be the one true God (

With later years, two sects within Islam emerged, the Shiites and the Sunnis. This schism goes back to the question of who the predecessor of Muhammad would be after his death in 632 CE. Most Muslims of the time followed Arabic tradition where a council of elders would choose the leader. Those who chose the prophet’s close friend Abu Bakr became Sunnis, while a “small group of the prophet’s companions believed that the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib, was more qualified for the job” (The Shia Revival, 35). This small group would later be identified as Shiites. Sunnis and Shiites continued to differ not only over who should be the predecessor, but also what role they should play (38).

Even though this may have occurred centuries ago, it still plays a role in geopolitics today. As such, an Islamic reformation may be necessary in this context. Why do certain Muslims still react when satirists create caricatures of Muhammad like with the recent Charlie Hebdo incident? Why did Salman Rushdie have a fatwa issued against him for writing a book? Is it because a reformation has not yet occurred?

As an apostate who left Islam, I am fearful of certain people. There are Muslim countries though, where such is a crime punishable by death.
According to “A Reformation for Islam” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts” ( It is not to say that Islam is inherently violent, but that certain elements of it may be, that certain aspects may no longer work in today’s society as they once did centuries ago in a desert.

There are Muslims who do think critically of their faith though, they are the dissidents. They are the ones who recognize the historical implications of certain norms and values within Islam. They understand that people and societies evolve and as such rules need to as well. They are on the fringes in most countries, but are also the keys to creating a lasting peace. They are not outsiders to the faith, quite the opposite, and as such may even hold a deeper comprehension into what it entails. When people see others like themselves rising up to say that certain things need to change, it may make a difference.
A reformation could happen, it could change many futures in the process, but in the meantime, hopefully there will be some people left…

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