"Once you get the genie out of the bottle, you cannot predict what will happen," says Mohamed Kamal, a political science professor at Cairo University and a member of the influential Policies Secretariat in the ruling National Democratic Party. "When you use a religious discourse, no one can counter your argument or argue against you," he says. "In that case, you'll be arguing against Islam and against the Koran. You'll no longer be a political opponent. Rather, you'll be an infidel."" Shadid
Salman Rushdie recently wrote that the time is ripe for a transforming "Reformation" within Islam. He said that the time had come for Muslims to see their revelation as occurring within history rather than above it. Rushdie is probably more directly interested in the possibility of this kind of Reform than most people since he has been the target of several "fatwas" declaring him to be outside Islam, an "apostate" and therefore not protected from the wrath of the Believers.
One might ask if his opinion in this matter is shared by many of the Believers, especially since the opinion is his. There have been any number of attempts in Islamic history to place Islam on a more "rationalist" and less "pietist" course. In the first centuries of Islam, one of the most powerful competing schools of philosophy, theology and law in the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad was that of the "Mu'taziliin" (my own peculiar transliteration). They sought to relate the message of the Revelation to the knowledge they had acquired of classical Hellenistic and Byzantine learning through their conquests. For a time they prospered, and there was at least one Caliph who was a member of their school of thinking. Then, the forces of reaction came to the fore, the "Mu'taziliin" were overthrown with much bloodshed, crucifixions, beheading etc, and "pietism" became the guiding force of Sunni Islam and has remained such to this day. Oddly enough, the thinking of the "Mu'taziliin" survives only among the Zaidi Shia of Yemen and in Indonesia. As I mentioned, there have any number of attempts at reform, some of them claiming large numbers of adherents, and having the protection of princes lucky enough to live beyond the reach of majority opinion. All of them failed in the end. As a result, Sunni Islam remains a faith so closely wedded to scripture, precedent and a consensus of conformity that it has changed little in form or doctrine in a thousand years. It is not surprising that pious Muslims still speak of the Crusades, they are still living in the mindset of that time. Some will argue that we are as well. I think not.
The recent American wars against what is euphemistically called "Islamic Extremism" have placed Islam under great stress. The survival and prosperity of the Islamic Community is always at the front of the minds of Muslims. The level of pressure and violence against Jihadis is seen by a lot of Muslims as something that threatens to spill over into a general hostility to Muslims. This frightens them. As a result, there is now great ferment among the 'Ulema (scholars) of the Sunni world to include such centers of fermentation as al-Azhar and al-Zeituna in Cairo and Tunis respectively. The relevant discussion there seek a new consensus (Ijma') centered around the question of what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st Century CE. What could be a more important question?
Are the "moderate" Islamists of the type described in this article also seekers for a "reasonable" answer to the same question or are they just "shamming" in order to reach power so that they can impose their constipated view of religion and law on the unfortunate inhabitants of Islamic countries? There are a lot of Islamists (both Sunni and Shia) who wear nice, Western clothes. A lot of them are "shamming." The goal of every Islamist I ever met was ultimately to impose Sharia law. Those of you who were trained in anthropology know the difference betwee "Emic," and Etic" knowledge. This distinction is particularly important in this case.
Let us not be so foolish as to believe what they say of themselves. Let us find the truth before we accept their words.