The Muslim World Doesn’t Need a Luther; It Needs a John Locke—or a Moses Mendelssohn

On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Mustafa Akyol examines the suggestion that Islam needs its own reformation to rid it of its more intolerant, bellicose, and brutal strains. He argues that the historical analogy is inapt—not least because Martin Luther sought to free Christianity from the church hierarchy, for which there is no Muslim equivalent:

[T]hose who hope to see a more tolerant, free, and open Muslim world should seek the equivalent not of the Protestant Reformation but of the next great paradigm in Western history: the Enlightenment. The contemporary Muslim world needs not a Martin Luther but a John Locke, whose arguments for freedom of conscience and religious toleration planted the seeds of liberalism. In particular, the more religion-friendly British Enlightenment, rather than the French one, can serve as a constructive model. (And . . . special attention should also be given to the Jewish Enlightenment, also called the Haskalah, and its pioneers such as Moses Mendelssohn. Islam, as a legalist religion, has more commonalities with Judaism than with Christianity.) . . .

Because there is no central religious authority to lead the way, one should consider the only definitive authority available, which is the state. Whether we like it or not, the state has been quite influential on religion throughout the history of Islam. It has become even more so in the past century, when Muslims overwhelmingly adopted the modern nation-state and its powerful tools, such as public education.

It really matters, therefore, whether the state promotes a tolerant or a bigoted interpretation of Islam. It really matters, for example, when the Saudi monarchy, which for decades has promoted Wahhabism, vows to promote “moderate Islam,” as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently did, giving some hope for the future. It is especially significant that this call for moderation implies not just fighting terrorism but also liberalizing society by curbing the “religion police,” empowering women, and being “open to the world and all religions.”

This argument may sound counterintuitive to some Western liberals, who are prone to think that the best thing for a state is to stay out of religion. But in a reality where the state is already deeply involved in religion, its steps toward moderation and liberalization should be welcome. It’s also worth remembering that the success of the Enlightenment in Europe was partly thanks to the era of “Enlightened despots,” the monarchs who preserved their power even as they realized crucial legal, social, and educational reforms.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Enlightenment, Islam, John Locke, Moses Mendelssohn, Reformation, Religion & Holidays

 

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy