They did have a Reformation
“We’ve got to work closely with live-and-let-live Muslims because there needs to be, as President (Abdel Fattah) Al-Sisi of Egypt has said, a religious revolution inside Islam. All of those things that Islam has never had – a Reformation, an Enlightenment, a well-developed concept of the separation of church and state – that needs to happen, but we can’t do it; Muslims have got to do this for themselves, but we should work with those who are pushing in that direction.
“The other thing that’s needed is a restoration of cultural self-confidence in those who are supporters of Western civilisation. All cultures are not equal and, frankly, a culture that believes in decency and tolerance is much to be preferred to one which thinks that you can kill in the name of God, and we’ve got to be prepared to say that.”
In order to prevent a clash of civilizations, or worse, Islam must reform. This is the contention of many Western peoples. And, pointing to Christianity's Protestant Reformation as proof that Islam can also reform, many are optimistic.
Overlooked by most, however, is that Islam has been reforming. What is today called "radical Islam" is the reformation of Islam. And it follows the same pattern of Christianity's Protestant Reformation.
The problem is our understanding of the word "reform." Despite its positive connotations, "reform" simply means to "make changes (in something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it."
Synonyms of "reform" include "make better," "ameliorate," and "improve"—splendid words all, yet words all subjective and loaded with Western references.
Muslim notions of "improving" society may include purging it of "infidels" and their corrupt ways; or segregating men and women, keeping the latter under wraps or quarantined at home; or executing apostates, who are seen as traitorous agitators.
Banning many forms of freedoms taken for granted in the West—from alcohol consumption to religious and gender equality—can be deemed an "improvement" and a "betterment" of society.
In short, an Islamic reformation need not lead to what we think of as an "improvement" and "betterment" of society—simply because "we" are not Muslims and do not share their reference points and first premises. "Reform" only sounds good to most Western peoples because they, secular and religious alike, are to a great extent products of Christianity's Protestant Reformation; and so, a priori, they naturally attribute positive connotations to the word.
This vulnerability has now reached breaking point: millions of more Korans published in Arabic and other languages are in circulation today compared to just a century ago; millions of more Muslims are now literate enough to read and understand the Koran compared to their medieval forbears. The Hadith, which contains some of the most intolerant teachings and violent deeds attributed to Islam's prophet, is now collated and accessible, in part thanks to the efforts of Western scholars, the Orientalists. Most recently, there is the Internet—where all these scriptures are now available in dozens of languages and to anyone with a laptop or iPhone.
In this backdrop, what has been called at different times, places, and contexts "Islamic fundamentalism," "radical Islam," "Islamism," and "Salafism" flourished. Many of today's Muslim believers, much better acquainted than their ancestors with the often black and white words of their scriptures, are protesting against earlier traditions, are protesting against the "medieval synthesis," in favor of scriptural literalism—just like their Christian Protestant counterparts once did.