We always wonder how Europe and America reached this level of rationality and religious tolerance. Dozens of religions, sects and beliefs peacefully co-exist there. There are open debates about religions and their history in universities across Paris, London and New York.
Their libraries are full of books and magazines about philosophy, psychology and anthropology, which study the phases of human development since thousands of years.
Martin Luther, a German priest born more than 500 years ago, is one of those who contributed to the West’s prosperity and progress. His ideas, which changed the face of Europe and the entire world forever, are being recalled these days.
Remembering the story of this man, who became a monk after a lightning bolt struck near him, is important as it benefits our world which is suffering from exhausting and ravaging intolerance and hatred.
Martin Luther did three major things. The first thing is that he rejected the idea that salvation must be via tormenting oneself because of sins. Luther himself suffered from psychological pain and was obsessed with purifying himself from his sins. This is why at some point he made confessions for six continuous hours as he feared the dark fate that awaits him.
After thoroughly reading the Bible, he realized that this exhausting concept is not true. He replaced it with a simple yet important idea and this salvation is a blessing that God grants his followers. God blesses people and has mercy on them without having them exhaust themselves and purge themselves from imagined sins.
The right question would be where is the second Frederick of Prussia who embraced Kant and Voltaire and gave them the freedom to thinkMamdouh AlMuhaini
This idea liberated souls from the heavy feeling of continuous guilt and it changed the gloomy perspective towards life. It directly linked man to God without mediators and translators. Life’s dark and bleak horizon thus became bright. People began to think about life and how to enjoy it instead of thinking about death and hell.
This is where the strict Protestant work values emerged from. People who think about death and torture cannot be busy with work and innovation. So what’s the use of all this if fate will be tragic?
The second important thing he has done was translate the Bible from Latin, which only expert clergymen read, to German. At the time, this was a revolutionary step that allowed people to read the Bible for the first time without needing a mediator or an interpreter. The clergy’s power decreased since then and began to gradually collapse until it completely disappeared.
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The third thing he did was to challenge the Roman Catholic Church when he nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg. He nailed them to object to the church’s corruption which he witnessed when he visited Rome years earlier as he saw how the church enjoyed glamor while people around it were poor, sick and in need.
To his luck, his objections quickly spread thanks to the invention of the typewriter by Gutenberg. The typewriter is like Facebook and Twitter going by today’s standards. His ideas quickly spread and gained followers and supporters, and they later became the base of the Protestant sect, which we know today and which rejected Rome’s tutelage. This was on October 31, 1517. This is when Christianity split forever.
Luther’s most angry protests were over the Roman Catholic Church’s act of selling indulgences to make money. The church sent priests and missionaries across Europe to collect money in exchange of reducing the pain of the sinful at the purgatory, the state where pain and punishment are according to Catholics. Luther challenged this idea and said salvation is not granted by humans but only by God and for free.
This is how the concept of religious reform developed. The relation with God does not need mediators. Man can read and interpret religious texts alone without the help of a corrupt and extremist category of priests. God alone grants mercy and blessing without tormenting people or asking for money.
Decades later, religious wars between the original sect and the defected sect erupted. The most famous war was that which lasted for 30 years from 1618 until 1648. Luther’s ideas did not die out but they prospered.
New ideas based on them emerged and he himself rejected some of them as he thought they were more liberated than they should. It is also due to his ideas that social revolutions erupted. An example is the Peasants’ Revolt in 1524, which came as an angry reaction to bad livelihood conditions. The revolt, however, was crushed after more than 100,000 peasants were killed.
Luther was a charismatic, brave, energetic and controversial character. These personal characteristics also played a role in his historical religious and ideological revolution. This shows that personal traits play a huge role in major historical events.
Religious reform marked the beginning of the European renaissance and the beginning of ending religious intolerance. It was followed by significant ideological eras like enlightenment and modernity. Many people and several reasons led to this American and European renaissance, which dazzles us today. There is no doubt that Luther is one of its heroes.
However when it comes to our side of the world, there are these questions: “Where is the Muslim Luther? When will a Muslim version of Luther come?” These are wrong questions.
Islamic history and our present are full of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, thinkers and philosophers who provided rational and spiritual interpretations of Islam. These interpretations protect Islam’s pure essence and links it to today’s world. They remove all forms of intolerance. There are dozens and perhaps hundreds of Muslim “Luthers.”
During al-Ma’mun’s era, translations flourished and rational thinking and philosophy were popular. Debates were officially organized between people belonging to different faiths and beliefs. It is due to this intellectual freedom and cultural openness that translations and sciences developed and esteemed philosophers like Tawhidi, Miskawayh, Al-Ma’arri, Brethren of Purity and others, emerged.
We know that this enlightening spirit has extinguished and the golden era has ended. We entered a phase of intellectual bankruptcy at the same time as Europe began to exit its Middle Ages. This is when Europe launched scientific, industrial, intellectual and technological revolutions, which have helped it dominate the world until today.
Therefore, the question of where is the Muslim Luther is wrong. The right question would be where is the second Frederick of Prussia, known as the enlightened despot, who embraced philosophers like Kant and Voltaire and allowed them freedom of thinking until their ideas spread and defeated fanatics following bitter conflicts.
Or where is the second Catherine who did the same when she embraced philosophy and rationality and contributed toward spreading them? Without their protection and support, we would probably never heard of such thinkers or of Luther before them.
The scientific and intellectual renaissance cannot flourish in this vacuum. It flourishes through enlightening leaders and politicians who believe in the future and who protect renaissance until it solidifies rationality, tolerance and modernity and shatters extremist thinking once and for all.