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BLUNT, Wilfrid Scawen-

The future of Islam


The two chief agents of religious reform in Europe were the misery of the poor and the general spread of knowledge. It is difficult at this distance of time to conceive how abject was the general state of the European peasantry in the days of Louis XI. of France and Frederick III. of Germany. The constant wars and almost as constant famines, the general insecurity of the conditions of life, the dependence of a vast majority of the poor on capricious patrons, the hideous growth of corruption and licentiousness in the ruling classes, and the impotence of the ruled to obtain justice, above all, the servile acquiescence of religion, which should have protected them, in the political illegalities daily witnessed--all these things, stirring the hearts of men, caused them to cry out against the existing order of Church discipline, and inclined them to Reform. On the other hand, as we all know, the invention of printing had caused men to read and the invention of the New World to travel. Moreover, in the fifteenth century the Ottoman Turks, then an irresistible power, were invading Europe, and a new element of contact with an outside world was created, and a new fear. Christendom certainly at that time was in danger of political annihilation, or fancied itself to be so, and the apprehensions of devout persons in Central Europe were roused to a vivid consciousness of impending evil by the thought that this was perhaps another authorized scourge of God.

I will not strain the parallel further than it will bear, but I would suggest that causes somewhat analogous to these are now at work among the Mussulmans of the still independent states of Islam, and that they are operating somewhat in the same direction. The Mussulman peasantry, especially of the Ottoman Empire, are miserable, and they know that they are so, and they look in vain to their religion to protect them, as in former days, against their rulers. They find that all their world now is corrupt--that the law is broken daily by those who should enforce the law; that the illegalities of those who ruin them are constantly condoned by a conniving body of the Ulema; that for all practical purposes of justice and mercy religion has abdicated its claim to direct and govern. They have learned, too, by their intercourse with strangers, and in the towns by the newspapers which they now eagerly read, that this has not been always so, and that servitude is not the natural state of man or acquiescence in evil the true position of religion, and they see in all they suffer an outrage inflicted on the better law of Islam. I was much struck by hearing the Egyptian peasantry last year attribute the lighter taxes they were then enjoying to the fact that their new ruler was "a man who feared God."

At the same time the learned classes are shocked and alarmed at the political decline of Islam and the still greater dangers which stare her in the face, and they attribute them to the unchecked wickedness and corruption with which the long rule of Constantinople has pervaded every class of society, even beyond its own territorial borders. They complain now that they have been led astray, and believe that the vengeance of Heaven will overtake them if they do not amend their ways. In all this, I say, there is something of the spirit which once goaded Christians into an examination of the bases on which their belief rested, and of the true nature of the law which tolerated such great corruption.