There is an idea popular with liberal Westerners regarding the potential of an Islamic Reformation. According to the all-seeing wiki, this Reformation would bring Islam up to speed with the rest of the world (or Europe) - Islam would become a liberal, modernist, humanist religion. The unofficial spokesman of this Reformation is Salman Rushdie, although several "Progressive Islam" movements are sometimes associated with the idea of reform within Islam.

I would say that this comparison to the Reformation is mis-applied. The Islamic Reformation is already underway, in the form of an IslamIST Reformation. While the analogy to the Protestant Reformation is of limited utility, since it is already in use it should at least be corrected.

The Islamists as Reformers

Driven, ambitious men of a religious bent are dissatisfied with the present state of their chosen religion. The see corruption in their temporal and spiritual leaders and indifference on the part of their co-religionists. They see the changes in theology from the founding of the religion to the present day, and mark these as unauthorized, un-Godly innovations. They urge a return to the sole legitimate religious Scripture. Religion should guide all aspects of personal and public life, in their view. To that end, they establish organizations, and issue proclamations of the characteristics of "true" religion. They are viewed by some as having no "authority" to issue such proclamations, but to their supporters, these statements are often viewed as law.

Who was just described? Martin Luther and John Calvin, or Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb?

The differences

1. There is no Catholic Church and single orthodoxy to reform.
In the Islamist movement, it is the temporal leaders and outside forces who are primarily to blame for the current state of the religion, rather than the religious leaders. These Islamic religious leaders, the scholars of law and theology, are not held as the answer, however. To the Islamists, in general, the state should remain the dispenser of law, which it has become in the Sunni Islamic world in the past 100 years. The movement is thus a reform, not a return to the "classical" Islamic state. The state would remain, but with the Islamists in charge, using an Islamic worldview to dispense justice, with possible advising by the scholars. (See Noah Feldman, "The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State")

2. The direction of violence.
I would almost say that the Islamists have jumped the gun and declared jihad before their chickens were hatched, to keep mixing metaphors. Serious attempts were made at the internal reforms, in Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Sudan, and Syria; these met with mixed success, mostly failures. Before these reforms took hold, however, branches of the Islamists declared a wider, global fight against their oppressors, the West. Now the very governments which the Islamists initially sought to reform have the world superpower allied against them. The chances for Islamists to take control of the government in Egypt, for example, are much lower now than 10 years ago.

3. Democracy.
This may be the Islamist's best chance, due in part to the Bush administration's hand-tying policies. The U.S. is not only protecting its interests and seeking retribution for the September 11 attacks, it is seeking to promote democracy worldwide. The problem here is that the power of the U.S. is so great, the corruption of governments in most Islamic countries so complete, that the most inspirational option available to the majority of Muslims is the Islamist movement. If the Islamists are able to be elected into office, the U.S. would be unable to deny their legitimacy.

So...Where to?

The Islamic Reformation, as listed by wikipedia, doesn't stand a chance. Liberal Muslims can, if they want, live in a secular, western society, taking refuge in multiculuralism and giving their Islamic roots a token nod. Simply put, there is no impetus to fight for a Reform.
The Islamists, the real Reformers, have that impetus. They live in majority Muslim countries, have deep and abiding faith and ties to their religion, and are pissed off. The character of their Reformation is different than the Protestant Reformation, but it may well change the world in an equally significant way.
I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I have read a good deal about Islam and the Middle East, speak Arabic, and generally "get" the area better than the average American. So, what course of study would I recommend to the Average American interested in increasing his/her area knowledge? Sticking with good ol' ink and binding books (although there are many great online sources or articles - that may be another post), here goes:

1st Semester:

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan
A recent contribution (2005), this book is accessible enough for someone who doesn't know a Sufi from a Sunni, but won't bore someone with a higher level of knowledge. Aslan is a moderate Muslim, Persian in origin, living in America. As a basic overview of Islam, this book does a remarkable job, utilizing a unique and helpful dual topical/chronological ordering. As a sole source of higher commentary, it's a bit weak, and undoubtably many Muslims would disagree with Aslan's characterization of the splits between the various sects. Aslan also claims that Islam is ripe for a Reformation, along the same lines as the Protestant Reformation, and his book is partly a call for continuing dialogue between the different sides (roughly modern/moderate and fundamentalist.) This claim is much more at debate than Aslan portrays, but his claims shows that at least one side (his side, the moderates) are willing to debate the "soul of Islam."

Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger
Thesiger's work is a classic in Arabian studies, and is out in a re-issue this year. One of the first Europeans to travel in the heart of Arabia, Thesiger crossed the Empty Quarter with Bedouin guides in the 1950s. This book reads like a James Michener novel, and describes both the unique desert way of life and the complex tribal politics in the region. Perhaps its most valuable function for a modern student is to give a baseline for understanding a style of Islam and living just 50 years ago, without which it is difficult to appreciate just how rapid and core-shaking the change has been in the Middle East with the discovery of oil and influx of the West.

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr
Nasr is one of the preeminent scholars of the Middle East today, and his book The Shia Revival is his most popular for a reason. It deals with an overarching theme in the modern Islamic world: the divide and struggle between Shia and Sunni Islam. Nasr brings the student up to speed, covering the historic divisions between the two branches of Islam, the rise of secular nationalism, the Shia backlash against secularism in Iran, and the (possible) rise of Iraq as the first Arab Shia nation. Nasr's premise of a Shia ascendency is well argued, but he may have a tendency to explain all issues in the Middle East as reflecting this struggle, sometimes ignoring more local concerns. This book excellently bridges the gap between history and current events, along with giving a possible future.

And now you're ready for
2nd Semester:

Islam in the World, by Malise Ruthven
Ruthven covers what Aslan ignored, and then some. I only recommend this book if you're seriously interested in understanding the complexity of Islam, and have some time to devote to the study. If that's you, then this is the book. Ruthven outlines the history of Islam and its cultural context, from the Prophet to today. He also discusses the finer points of the difference between the sects of Islam, not only discussing historical factors but also differences in theology. This book also examines the political interplay between Islamic scholars and the state throughout history, and briefly covers Islamic economic principles. If any of these areas interest you in particular, Ruthven also provides an extensive "further reading" list.

A Peace to End All Peace: The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin
This book details the effects of colonial ventures into the Middle East, from the late 1800s through WWI, especially dwelling on the Palestinian issue. (By the way, if you're interested more particularly in the Palestinian Issue, check out Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Charles Smith.) The lines of the modern states in the region are often the result of British or French colonial concerns more than an accurate reflection of the local situation, and Fromkin here shows why. To the modern student, this book highlights the difficulty of attempting to impose sudden change upon the Middle East (not that any examples come to mind...).
Along the same topic, but with more modern updates, try Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong?. Like Fromkin, Lewis covers the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but he covers a broader historical period and attempts to explain the current situation in the broader Muslim world in terms of the "clash between Islam and modernity."

So, there you have it. What books would you add to this course, or subtract?