While some have argued that Islam needs a Martin Luther-like figure to reform the religion, the Muslim theologian Mustafa Akyol argues that his coreligionists could gain more from someone like Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the German Jewish philosopher who was among the founders of the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Akyol writes:
[There are numerous] similarities between [Mendelssohn’s] arguments and the arguments of contemporary Muslim reformists. Mendelssohn offered a new interpretation of Judaism where Jews could be true to their faith while being full members of Gentile society. He argued against religious coercion among Jews, with the argument that only under freedom can genuine religiosity flourish. These are the exact same issues that Muslim liberals are dealing with today.
It is notable that Mendelssohn was criticized in his time both by more conservative Jews, who found him too liberal, and by Gentile skeptics, who found him too Jewish. One of the latter, a Christian writer named August Friedrich Cranz, judged Mendelssohn’s reformism a hopeless effort. For Cranz, Judaism was a religion of “armed ecclesiastical law,” and Jews would never be able to accept freedom of religion unless they “directly contradict” the faith of their forefathers. He sounds like [those] today who . . . think there can be no real Muslim liberals except the ones who really cease to be Muslims.
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