In order to prevent a clash of civilizations, or worse, Islam must reform. This is the contention of many Western peoples. And, pointing to Christianity’s Protestant Reformation as proof that Islam can also reform, many are optimistic.
Overlooked by most, however, is that Islam has been reforming. What is today called “radical Islam” is the reformation of Islam. And it follows the same pattern of Christianity’s Protestant Reformation.
The problem is our understanding of the word “reform.” Despite its positive connotations, “reform” simply means to “make changes (in something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.”
Synonyms of “reform” include “make better,” “ameliorate,” and “improve” — splendid words all, yet words all subjective and loaded with Western references.
Muslim notions of “improving” society may include purging it of “infidels” and their corrupt ways; or segregating men and women, keeping the latter under wraps or quarantined at home; or executing apostates, who are seen as traitorous agitators.
Banning many forms of freedoms taken for granted in the West — from alcohol consumption to religious and gender equality — can be deemed an “improvement” and a “betterment” of society.
In short, an Islamic reformation need not lead to what we think of as an “improvement” and “betterment” of society — simply because “we” are not Muslims and do not share their reference points and first premises. “Reform” only sounds good to most Western peoples because they, secular and religious alike, are to a great extent products of Christianity’s Protestant Reformation; and so, a priori, they naturally attribute positive connotations to the word.