In an important article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Islam Needs a Reformation,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for a kind of reformation that actually can happen.
Although in some parts of her article Ali speaks of reforming “Islam itself”—a goal made impossible by the fact that Islamic scripture is historically set—her overarching aim is to persuade certain kinds of Muslims to reform the way in which they approach Islam.
Ali identifies three different groups of Muslims: Medina Muslims, Mecca Muslims, and Muslim dissidents. These groups amount to: those who take Islam seriously, those who take it semi-seriously, and those who choose to think critically about the religion. Ali's goal is to persuade Mecca Muslims to become Muslim dissidents, to examine Islam critically, to judge it accordingly, and, preferably, to do what she and a small minority have done: exit the death cult.
Ali observes that over the centuries Jews and Christians “gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past.”
[B]ecause their faiths went through a long, meaningful process of Reformation and Enlightenment, the vast majority of Jews and Christians have come to dismiss religious scripture that urges intolerance or violence.
Although the Talmud and the Bible still do and always will contain commandments to murder and to violate rights in other ways, Jews and Christians today largely ignore those parts, and this is the direction in which Ali wants to persuade Mecca Muslims to move. As she puts it, Mecca Muslims’
religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity—the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it. The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status. . . .
It is my hope to engage this . . . group of Muslims—those closer to Mecca than to Medina—in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith . . . [and to persuade them to become] Muslim dissidents . . . to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion. To some extent—not least because of widespread revulsion at the atrocities of Islamic State, al Qaeda and the rest—this process has already begun. But it needs leadership from the dissidents, and they in turn stand no chance without support from the West.
Ali specifies five areas that require amendment, and they amount to a complete repudiation of the essence of Islam (which, again, is why I see the reformation she seeks not as reformation of the religion per se, but rather as reformation of the way in which less-serious Muslims approach the religion). Ali aims to persuade Mecca Muslims to: . . .