In the milieu of this torrent of questions, it is easy to gloss over an oft-ignored dimension of the debate over reform, one that questions not the legitimacy of the reformers but rather the historical assumption that Muslim reformation belongs in the future rather than the present. It is entirely possible that arguments for reform in the Muslim world have been erected on the baseless presumption that Muslim reformation will follow a transforming path similar to the Protestant Reformation. Like Reformed Christianity, the Reformed Islam that will emerge will engender individual notions of faith and eschew the collective and archaic. This dangerous assumption situates the debate over reforming Islam in a context that is singularly Western and possibly irrelevant to the Muslim masses. Furthermore, like a deceptive shroud it ignores the transforming powers already unleashed on the Muslim world; reinterpretations of faith that speak not to Western audiences but rather to the throngs of Muslims in the streets from Cairo to Karachi and Teheran to Mogadishu. If the scales weighing reformation's present and future use the nomenclature of mass appeal, then this transformation of Islam, one that espouses the abandonment of confused post-colonial cultures for the perceived authenticity of a pan-Islamic unity, is surely winning. Built on the political thought of Hassan Al-Banna, Maulana Maudoodi and Ali Shariati, it has already transformed Islam into a resistance ideology that is seductive equally to audiences as diverse as Afghan refugees to British-born Pakistani immigrants. Strengthened by the political reality of the suffering of Palestinians, Iraqis and soon the Iranians, it has transformed Muslim identity into something inherently anti-Western. Under the auspices of this reformation, symbols such as headscarves have become emblems of silent resistance against Western hegemony and opposition to Western values has been rationalised religiously and given both political and divine meaning. Recognising the glaring reality of this existing Muslim reformation requires abandoning the comforting rationalisation that only extremists are attracted to the orthodoxy and resistance identity of this new Islam. Finally, it necessitates a fundamental redefinition of the debate that pits external critics against those that seek change from within. The inquiry should centre not on the search for the true reformer, the Muslim Luther, but in defining the collective that can counter the Muslim Reformation already under way.
Rafia Zakaria is a graduate student in Political Science at Indiana University