What Islam needs is a Reformation. This is a claim that one often hears in the Western media. In another version, it is an Enlightenment that Islam really needs. In either rendering, Western history is invoked to reveal a pathway for Islam. The West, too, once knew a time when intolerance reigned, the logic runs, but then a revolution took place that ushered in freedom. Should Islam experience a similar revolution, it, too, would realize freedom.
Muslims will not likely find these pathways to be promising.
My new book, Religious Freedom In Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today, argues that the Muslim-majority world is not religiously free in the aggregate but that it does contain some religious freedom and that where religious freedom is lacking, Islam is not always the reason for its absence. Does Islam carry the potential for expanding religious freedom?
At 11:30 in the morning of December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a produce vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, set himself on fire in front of the local government headquarters in order to protest governmental corruption and in so doing provoked a historic wave of demonstrations and uprisings across the entire Arab world.
Did the Arab Uprisings succeed?
The French secular model of laïcité—which aims to mark a formal separation of church and state—is a core republican value of the French state and some segments of French society. However, it is often poorly or only partially understood, both domestically and abroad. In its original formulation, laïcité was not designed to eliminate religion from areas outside the jurisdiction and purview of the state, nor to uphold a specific faith over another. Rather, it was supposed to dissipate religious practices from the operations of the secular French state. In public or private matters outside the functioning of the state, laïcité should be no threat to freedom of religion. But in practice, recent instrumentalizations of this model have attempted to contain people of minority religious faiths or coerce them into a closed secularism. Such rampant abuses of laïcité threaten and sometimes violate religious freedom, ultimately undermining pluralism and social stability.
In the last two posts, I have argued that Islam is not hardwired for violence, but even a casual consumer of contemporary news in the West is likely to ask: What about the shootings by an Islamist in the nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016? Or the violence that Islamists have perpetrated in Paris, London, Madrid, Berlin, Fort Hood, Ottawa, Boston, and so many other places? Or the Islamic State? Or the attacks of September 11, 2001? A more informed observer might add this: What about the many Muslims around the world who have been victims of Muslim terrorism? These phenomena did not appear motivated by the rationales of religious freedom or secular repression, the political theologies that I have argued govern other patterns of Muslim-majority states. No, this violence appears motivated by the Islamic faith.