What about a Muslim Jan van Leiden?

Google Tariq Ramadan Martin Luther, and you’ll have a dozen headlines comparing the prédicateur to the Prediger – tentatively yet hopefully.

Assuming the impossible, suppose it were a near-perfect parallel. Would it logically require an upheaval in the Arab world comparable to the European turmoil in the years and decades after Luther’s Wittenberg demarche? As Luther’s preaching was soon followed by war and devastation, rather than peace and prosperity, should we expect a series of bloody uprisings by the impoverished across the Muslim world? Having identified a potential Luther, shouldn’t the freewheeling analogists have pre-selected a couple of potential Müntzers?

Actually, they would be on more fertile soil with Müntzer and various millenarians, such as the Munster Anabaptists. It’s not that ISIS is an exact replica of any Reformation-era sect but there is at least some ground for comparing and contrasting, and Luther is no longer a prerequisite.


  1. Almost all these attempts to compare Islam to Christianity and thus predict the future are hopeless failures. While there might be some overlap between the Qu’ran and the Bible, Islamic and Christian history are very different. You only need to ask if Tariq Ramadan is Luther, then who is the Pope? Sunni Islam seems to have more in common with non-conformist Protestantism than anything else; it’s very decentred and I get the impression virtually any man with a knowledge of theology and Islamic law can set themselves up as a preacher. Ramadan as Luther always seemed like wishful thinking on the part of some Western liberals. as you say, the Reformation was hardly an unmixed blessing in any case.

    Your idea that ISIS has parallels with the Anabaptists is much nearer the mark as there have certainly been outbreaks of millenarianism in Islam, e.g. the Mahdi in Sudan in the late 19th century.

    • Yes, it’s more or less obvious that Sunni Islam is decentralized – at most multipolar, to use a term from Putin’s lexicon. It’s probably hard to tell what exactly Sunni orthodoxy is at the moment but still possible to identify a minimal doctrinal core and, though it, a set of beliefs most Sunnis would find heretical. In a similar way, perhaps, most American Protestants have difficulty accepting the Mormons, Unitarians or Christian Socialists as fellow Christians.

    • I used to know an American (Californian but with Southern roots) Baptist preacher twenty-something years ago – a good, kind-hearted man whose theology bewildered me at the time. As far as I remember, his views of other Christian denominations were based on doctrine and ecclesiology. Baptists, in his view, are direct descendants of early Christians. They did not disappear in the dark ages between Constantine’s establishing Christianity as the state cult and the Reformation, although they were driven underground and persecuted. (I didn’t ask for more details, unfortunately.) Methodists were almost as strong on doctrine, in his opinion, but genealogically suspect: their roots were in the Church of England, which, in its turn, was an offspring of the Church of Rome, the Whore of Babylon. I should have asked about the Pentecostals, but I didn’t realize then how large and fast-growing they were.

      • I’ve known some evangelical types who’ve denied that Catholics are Christians, although I doubt they could have explained why two sacraments were better than seven or the doctrine of transubstantiation. They never translated these thoughts into any kind of “antipapist” action though.

        This is a much more serious business in contemporary Islam, where the idea of takfir (denouncing fellow Muslims as non-Muslim) is highly controversial as apostasy carries the death sentence. It’s the concept ISIS uses to justify slaughtering Shias. As far as I remember, Bin Laden was opposed to such sectarianism (possibly because his Syrian mother was either an Alawite or a Shia), whereas his disciple Zarqawi was extremely enthusiastic about takfir. Zarqawi was more of a violent petty criminal and misanthrope than a theologian ~@(he could barely spell his own name) but he became the spiritual godfather of ISIS.

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