Renewal (Tajdid) in Islamic sciences
Among the most manifest aspects of tajdid in Islamic thought is the renewal of Islamic sciences as follows:
1-Tajdid and the science of Islamic doctrine
(i) Using as many rational proofs to derive the Islamic creedal points home.
(ii) Avoiding imposing memorization in teaching as a means of persuasion and inculcating faith. This method has, for generations, undermined faith and transformed it into a superficial, stagnant, and undynamic faith.
(iii) Concentrating on the positive aspects in Islamic doctrine that impact behavior.
2-Tajdid and the Principles of Islamic jurisprudence
It is obvious that the principles of Islamic jurisprudence is the object of pride for Muslims and one of the remarkable achievements produced by the genius of our religious scholars. Ibn Khaldun said, "The science of the principles of jurisprudence is one of the greatest and most important of the legal sciences; moreover, it is the most beneficial."
Like other sciences, this discipline was tainted by deficiencies, necessitating its renewal and eliminating from it anything it that mars its beauty and reduces its benefit. This can only be achieved by:
- Tying the theoretical principles with Qur`anic verses, authentic Prophetic traditions, and the non-Prophetic traditions reported from the Companions and the tabi'een;
- Re-examining the discipline and presenting it in a manner that facilitates its understanding, freeing it from complexity and ambiguity;
- Manifesting the discipline of the objectives of Islamic law and encouraging its teaching and benefiting from it by finding solutions for modern life problems.
3- Tajdid and the science of Jurisprudence
Following are the steps for renewing and reforming jurisprudence:
- Re-opening the gates of collective ijtihad;
- Facilitating the conditions of ijtihad and its specific issues;
- The study of juristic issues must aim to arrive at truth, learn God's ruling on these issues, avoid seeking legal dispensations or indulging the whims and caprices of the people;
- Reforming juristic teaching.
4- Tajdid and the science of the sunnah
The following are necessary for renewing the science of the sunnah:
- All Islamic schools, institutes, and universities must give due attention to the various sciences of Prophetic traditions, especially the science of Takhreej al-Hadith. Moreover, students must receive practical training on the manner of tradition evaluation. The purpose is to move the science of tradition terminology from the theoretical to the practical sphere.
- Specialized scholarly assemblies must scrutinize the classical books of Hadith more thoroughly and analytically.
Sheikh Ahmed Shaker said, "In my opinion, it is obligatory to show the weakness of a weak tradition. Failing to do so, will lead the reader into assuming that it is an authentic tradition, especially if the transmitter is among the scholars of traditions who are an authority on the subject."
5-Tajdid and the science of Qur`an exegesis
Qur`anic exegesis is divided into tafsir bil ma`thur(explaining the Quran through the Qur`an, the Prophet's sunna, or based on what was transmitted by the Companions of the Prophet) and tafsir bil ra`y (explaining the Qur`an through opinion based on reason and ijtihad). As both modes of exegesis currently suffer faults and mistakes, reforming and renewing this discipline require finding and avoiding the factors that have led to these faults and subsequently reviving it based on authentic legal principles. The following steps are necessary to achieve this:
- Weeding out myths, and falsities from the books of tafsir bil ma`thur which cannot be accepted by sound mind. It is important to verify the books and evaluate any traditions found in them as well as judge them with equity.
- An exegete of the second mode (tafsir bil ra`y) must:
(i) Understand the Qur`an properly through the conventional Arabic language and refrain from superimposing meanings upon the verses out of his whims and desires.
(ii) Invoke the authentic material from al-ma`thur to assist in understanding the Qur`an and to avoid violating or contradicting the Prophet's exegesis.
(iii) Become acquainted with the occasions of revelation as an assistive means towards understanding the Qur`an and applying the text to real life contexts.
(iv) Become acquainted with the abrogated and the abrogating verses to avoid issuing a ruling based on an abrogated verse.
(v) Refrain from departing from the principles of understanding and reason and the general objectives which have been determined in the Qur`an as given.
(vi) Benefit from scientific discoveries and cognitive truths.
This last criterion is the most important as it necessitates re-evaluating the exegesis on a regular basis to demonstrate the Qur`an's inimitability. The flexibility of Qur`anic expressions generate numerous meanings all of which can be sustained by the verses. This is exactly what Ali Ibn Abu Talib was referring to when he offered his advice to Ibn Abbas at the time of the Khawarej's rebellion saying, "Do not indulge in unnecessary argumentation with them concerning the Qur`an as the verses are open to many interpretations."
The flexibility of Qur`anic diction is an important element of its inimitability and indicates that the words of God are infinite. For this reason, it was from the wisdom of God that the number of traditions transmitted explaining the injunctive verses far exceed the traditions explaining the beginning of the universe, the mysteries of existence, and those related to the universe and to man. The reason is because legal rulings are fixed—they do not change with time or age. The exegesis of verses related to the universe, on the other hand, are subject to scientific developments and this is the reason for their flexible wording.
If we follow the scholarly Qur`anic exegeses over the ages, we will find that the scholars of every age added new interpretations based on the new information and the ceiling of scientific knowledge afforded by their age. Scientific developments and changing cultures opened their eyes to the new implications that the verses had to offer.
All of this confirms the eternality of the Qur`an whose wonders are ceaseless. God the Almighty says, "Soon will we show them Our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the truth." [Qur`an 41: 53]
6-Tajdid and the science of Purification and Code of Conduct
Purifying the self is one of the reasons for which the Messenger was sent; indeed, it is the ultimate purpose and fruit of all the Divine Messages. God the Almighty says, "It is He Who has sent amongst the unlettered a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His signs, to purify them, and to instruct them on the Book and wisdom,--although they had been before, in manifest error." [Qur`an 62: 2] The Messenger of God said, "I was only sent to perfect good manners."
It is possible to see that the major acts of worship in Islam which are considered the foundational elements of the religion are only means towards purifying the self, adorning it with virtue, and purifying it from impurities and vice.
To attain the required reform and renewal in this sphere, it is necessary to:
(i) Posit a new study in behavior science encompassing the following:
- Reliance on Qur`anic verses and Prophetic traditions on the topic of purifying the self and refining manners.
- Brevity of explication and commentaries and leaving greater room for the source texts to penetrate deep into the souls, disciplining and reforming them.
- Simplify, clarify, and avoid ambiguous words and expressions that are difficult for non-specialists.
- New studies must accommodate the realities and the challenges of our modern age and correlate to the needs of the people.
- Revise the circulated books on behavior which contain good and beneficial material and remove from them false parables, errors, and ambiguous and misguiding terms.
7-Tajdid and the biography of the Prophet and Islamic history
The Prophet's biography is the living embodiment and practical application of the teachings of Islam as desired by God the Almighty. The Prophet's biography mentions the minutest details of his life. Islamic history is the natural extension of the Prophet's biography and the blessed fruit of the Prophet's school. Tajdid in the Prophet's biography and the history of Islam requires knowledge of the loci of its deficiencies that befell this important aspect of Islamic thought. Those who reflect on the early and later history books, will notice:
-Defects in documenting news and narrations;
-Defects in explicating and judging events.
These two defects permeated and, to a great extent, affected Islamic history. Falsifiers of Islamic history pursued the following means to undermine the Prophet's biography and Islamic history:
(i) Fabrications and lies;
(ii) Adding to or removing information from an authentic incident for the purpose of distortion and changing facts.
(iii) Putting information out of context.
The elements of tajdid in the Prophet's biography and history of Islam alert Muslims to the prominent flaws that befell this great science, the defects in documenting news and information, and in explicating and analyzing them. It is necessary to abide by the following criteria:
- Historical events must be narrated and interpreted in a manner that echo the Islamic conception of God, the universe and life and in accordance with the cultural norms of Muslim societies.
- Avoiding interpreting events under the weight of intellectual defeat.
Models of early and modern revivalists
1- Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz
It is unanimously agreed that the caliph Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz was the first revivalist in Islam. The first to confer upon him this title was Imam Mohammed Ibn Shihab al-Zuhari followed by Imam Ahmed who said, "It is reported in the Prophetic tradition that God will send at the head of every century someone who will renew the faith and practice of Muslims. We looked into the first 100 years [after the advent of Islam] and found this person to be Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz."Other scholars acknowledged his status as a revivalist due to his reformist acts and great efforts to renew Islamic life and restore the pure original essence and form that characterized it at the time of the Prophet.
Whether or not Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz deserved the title of the perfect revivalist, his deeds and efforts to restore the transcendental values that governed Islamic life at the time of the Prophet and the rightly guided caliphs, alone are worthy to place him at the head of the list of revivalists. His status as the head of a strong, extensive and well fortified caliphate was crucial to the success of his endeavors. Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz is credited with the following:
- Restoring the principle of shura (consultation), allowing the Muslims choose their ruler. When Umar was nominated as caliph, he considered refusing the office and put the matter to the people. They cried, 'We have accepted you, O leader of the believers!
- He not only changed the succession of power from being hereditary to become subject to consultation, but maintained that the caliphate must only be passed to the most qualified for it.
- From the first moment as caliph, he laid great stress on trustworthiness and appointed only the most trustworthy as officials.
- He chose his governors based on their qualifications and piety.
- He was just — a trait which he inherited from his grandfather, Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
- He instituted the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil, wherein evil was construed in its general meaning.
2- Imam ash-Shafi'i
Al-Shafi'i is considered a model of revivalism in the field of Islamic jurisprudence. About al-Shafi'is contribution to Islamic jurisprudence, Imam Ahmed said, "No scholar ever touches an inkwell or pen with his hand, save that he owes a debt to Al-Shafi'i." Abu Dawud observed, "I have not heard of anyone living at his time who was more trustworthy of Islam than him. Al-Shafi'i spread truth, repressed oppression, manifested proofs and taught piety." Ahmed Shaker likewise observed, "I believe that it not too farfetched to say that, among the scholars of Islam, there is none who matches this man's caliber. His knowledge of the Qur`an and sunna, precision in excogitation, eloquence, perspicacity and the originality of his argumentative skills and superior rhetoric are incomparable."
Each one of Imam al-Shafi'i's achievements suffices to elevate him up the rows of revivalists; they include:
(i) Codification of the science of usul al-Fiqh
His book Al-Risala was the first work to investigate the theoretical and practical bases of jurisprudence. Scholars prior to al-Shafi'i's time collected the Prophetic and non-Prophetic traditions available in their cities. When these reports conflicted, scholars would use their reason and judgment to reconcile the differences. Later when during al-Shafi'i's time, the reports from different cities became readily available in one place, the problem was compounded. Not only did inconsistencies exit between these traditions, but they also conflicted with the Prophetic traditions and non-prophetic traditions introduced from other places. Consequently, scholars restricted their understanding of these reports to the explanations provided by their sheikhs which they arrived at through their own judgments. In the absence of any regulating measure, scholars could not find a way out of this predicament until God inspired al-Shafi'i to establish the principles by which the various doctrines could be synthesized into a coherent system, paving the way for the importance attached by subsequent generations to the study of Prophetic traditions."
(ii) The sunnah
- He established the principles of usul al-hadith;
- He elevated the sunna, refuting the repudiations of those who rejected its validity as evidence.
- He collected the analyses of oral traditions.
- He used evidences with equity.
(iii) His knowledge and benefit to Islam
Imam al-Shafi'i was the first to establish the general principles for the rules of deduction. A study of these principles is considered a study of al-Shafi'i's unsurpassed ideology.
3-Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal
Imam Ibn Hanbal was considered a revivalist both in the scholarly and pragmatic sense of the word. He endeavored to promote and benefit from the sunna and the words of the Prophet.
(i) Scholarly revivalism
- He remained steadfast during the inquisition of what came to be termed in Islamic theological thought as the createdness of the Qur`an;
- He was an authority on the sunna sciences and the analyses of oral traditions as he lived at the time of the documentation of the sunna and the collection of reports. Moreover, he collected and screened Prophetic traditions.
(ii) Pragmatic revivalism
He did not merely seek to increase his repertoire of Prophetic traditions but benefited from and act upon them. On one occasion, he said, "Not once did I write a tradition, except that I acted upon it. When I came upon the fact that the Prophet underwent wet cupping and gave Abu Tayba [the practitioner] a dinar, I similarly gave a dinar to the practitioner when I underwent wet-cupping."
4-Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya
Ibn Taymiyya applied his extensive knowledge and understanding of the Qur`an and the sunna to tackling the issues of his time. Through his piety and the guidance of the fixed principles and objectives of Islam, Ibn Taymiyya rebutted the innovations and unprecedented matters that surfaced in religion during his time. He is hailed as a revivalist because he revitalized religion after it became disfigured with all kinds of innovations and deviations. On the practical plane, he was a living embodiment of the teachings of Islam, serving as a real life example to be followed. He sought to reconcile the principles of Islamic law to the prevailing conditions of the people and to the reality of the times, thereby benefitting Muslims.
Ibn Taymiyya was born in an era of major unprecedented political and intellectual events and changes. It was because of his work in such an environment that he is known as a revivalist. During his time, the Muslim community witnessed:
(i) The crusades against the Muslims;
(ii) The emergence of the Tatar and their invasion of Muslim lands;
(iii) The emergence of the Batiniyah heritical sect who gained power and influence;
(iv)The spread of heretical beliefs in various parts of Muslim lands;
(v) The enpormous influence of Greek philosophy on Islamic scholarship
Ibn Taymiyya faced these challenges with his tongue and pen. He defended Islam by resisting the Tatar and innovators, and by enjoining good and forbidding evil. He occupied a special place in the people's hearts because he occupied himself with their problems and sufferings. His knowledge permeated to all the people living at his time.
5-Jamal al-Deen al-Afghani
He is the greatest pioneer of the modern revivalist movement; the father of contemporary Islamic reawakening, the most prominent leader of the Islamic reformist movement and the vanguard of the revivalists of Islamic thought in modern times.
Jamal al-Deen al-Afghani traveled to many of the Islamic regions. He moved from India and settled between Egypt and Istanbul. At various points in time he lived in India, Egypt, Istanbul, the Hijaz, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Paris and London preaching, restoring, and reviving Islamic thought, seeking to shake the Islamic community from its slumber and stagnation, unshackling the chains of inertia and traditionalism, and moving the community towards an Islamic renaissance. The moving force behind his work was his desire to resist the encroaching western imperialism. To this end, he promoted the systems of shura and freedom in administering the affairs the community and the politics of Islamic governments. He incited revolts against local oppression and stoked anti-imperialist sentiments.
Though he believed in the importance of the role of the public and laymen in islah, he was instrumental in the production of a prominent elite group of Islamists who led the Islamic League for centuries. He revived thought and was the leader of the national liberation movement, preaching for social reform and triggering many revolts; his primary occupation was to prepare a cadre of reformers to continue his mission.
Having planted the seeds of tajdid, revivalism, and revolt in all corners of the Islamic world and having produced a generation of leaders, scholars, revolutionists and revivals, he finally arrived in Istanbul where he sought to liberate the will of Sultan Abdul Hamid (1226-1258 AH/1842-1918) from the reactionism and depravity of his court. He wished to resuscitate the Islamic League to resist Western colonial expansion in the states of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, he proposed to eliminate the sectarian and political discord between Iran and the Ottoman caliphate to halt western imperialism. He continued with his jihad on these fronts — intellectual revival and scientific enlightenment — until his death on 9 March 1897. He was buried in Istanbul and his body was moved years later to his home country, Afghanistan.
Before al-Afghani came along, there was no reference in the Muslim world for islah, tajdid, or change except Islam. All the juristic schools were Muslim as were the reformists and revivalists. Al-Afghani, however, lived and struggled for the sake of reform in an age when the materialistic and irreligious western culture perforated Muslim lands. This culture, represented in the secular Western enlightenment philosophy, gained partisans who, under the pretext of renaissance, called for replacing Islamic culture with Western culture.
With regard to a revival reference, Al-Afghani found himself before two choices: the first comprised the philosophical movement known as Western enlightenment, which was positive in nature and at times even materialistic, and whose philosophers replaced God with intellect, science, and philosophy.
If we compare the Islamic enlightenment promoted by Jamal al-Deen al-Afghani and the great figures of the Islamic revivalist movement with the positive secular Western enlightenment which formed the foundation of modern Western renaissance, the following factors become evident:
(i) Freeing the will and conscience of Muslims from subjugation to all form of tyranny and subjugating oneself to God alone; this is the epitome of the freedom of man.
(ii) Considering the Qur`an and the transmitted knowledge as the illuminating light of human reason. In this manner religion and reason are compatible and indispensible to one another.
(iii) Inferring faith truths from signs in the universe and man (creation, life, death and resurrection) and using them as proof for reflection in conjunction with naql and the metaphysical world.
(iv) Engaging in discourse, even with God, in quest of religious certainty which assures the heart through empirical experience. This is illustrated by the discourse between Prophet Ibrahim and God the Almighty; it enlightens man through both naql and reason.
On the other hand, the elements and premises of Western enlightenment— as illustrated by one of its most prominent advocates — include:
(i) Man is a natural animal—a social animal i.e. he is not a creation of the Divine who breathed of His spirit into him and appointed him as His vicegerent on earth.
(ii) Restricting man's concerns to matters of this world and to nature and not to the Here-after and the meta-physical world.
(iii) Adopting 'natural religion' which is an invention of the human mind in lieu of 'Divine religion' and relegating religious feelings to mythological fears.
(iv) Freeing reason from the authority of religion.
(v) Replacing metaphysics and naql with empirical knowledge.
(vi) The brain governs thinking; man does not have a soul.
(vii) Man is the absolute being instead of God and religion.
(viii) Inferring morals from human nature instead of from religion. The criteria for morals are happiness and pleasure instead of spiritual virtues.
(ix) Substituting social affiliation for religious affiliation as the means towards worldly happiness.
(x) The foundation of laws are physics and history instead of religion … freeing history from Divine laws.
The comparison between Western and Islamic enlightenment manifests their root differences. Western philosophy considers man a natural animal and replaces God and revelation with reason alone. In comparison, man in Islamic enlightenment is God's creation. Islamic philosophy is based on reason and revelation together. These differences between Western and Islamic enlightenment highlight the differences between an enlightenment that enlightens man with Islam and one that dispenses with religion and excludes the laws of God.
6- Mohammed Abdu
He is an Islamic preacher and imam. He is renowned for his reformist ideas, call to freedom from all kinds of foreign imperialism and persistent colonialist endeavors for the sake of developing Islamic and educational institutions. He was also acknowledged for his persistent endeavors to reform and develop Al-Azhar, the endowments, and the Islamic courts. Imprisonment and exile did not deter him from exerting tremendous effort towards societal development and reform.
Mohammed Abdu is considered one of the pioneers of islah of the early Egyptian and Arab modern renaissance movement. He played an important role in reviving the relationship between Islam and reality and society. He awakened the Islamic community out of its slumber which pushed it into the centuries of stagnation and backwardness following the closing of the door of ijtihad and a failure to adopt to evolving complexities of contemporary life.
Within the reformist movement, Imam Mohammed Abdu was a conservative who maintained that islah is attained through propagating knowledge to both individuals and nations as well as through a gradual shift towards democracy. Sa'ad Zaghloul was another proponent of this trend which is contrary to that which calls for personal and political freedom adopted by European countries. Other advocates were Adeeb Ishaq and a group of intellectuals who studied in Western countries.
His reformist vision
Mohammed Abdu outlined the goals of his reformist program into three matters:
(i) Renewing religious understanding after it had become calcified during a period of cultural decline and which stifled the spirit of ijtihad and removed religious understanding from judicious interaction with reality and the acquisitions of the scientific mind. Mohammed Abdu called for, "Liberating the minds from the shackles of blind following; understanding religion in light of what was understood and implemented by the early generations of Islam before the emergence of the various juristic schools; and receiving our understanding of Islam from its primary sources. Thus, religion becomes one of the criteria guiding human reason and preventing it from falling into error and confusion. In this way, we attain God's wisdom in preserving the human world order, making religion science friendly, providing motivation to look into the universe and discover its secrets, taking full cognizance of established scientific facts, and depending on it for self refinement and reforming deeds."
(ii) Language reform
Mohammed Abdu stressed the importance of studying the Arabic language and its pedagogical methodologies. He described language as one of the major elements next to the community's religion, morals, cultural and historical legacy. Moreover, he maintained that renewing the methodology of language is the impetus for religious reform and renewal since the religious primary texts are in Arabic. Towards this end, he sought to make core reforms in the methodology of teaching the principles of Arabic and for establishing linguistic assemblies to monitor its affairs. He called for authoring linguistic and scientific dictionaries and books on rhetoric and critical studies.
(iii) Political reform
Mohammed Abdu described political reform, saying, "It is the element upon which the social life of Muslims rests. Muslims were only afflicted with impotence, weakness, and humiliation due to a lack of it thereof. It is distinguishing between the state's right to obedience by the people and the latter's right to justice by the state."
It can therefore be noticed that Mohammed Abdu's reformist efforts revolved around two main axes: religious and political reform.
It is therefore apparent that the core of Mohammed Abdu's reformist program is understanding religion. In light of this, it is possible to read his books, in spite of the number of their topics, from this angle i.e. reforming Muslim understanding of their religion and tying this to the evolution of their conditions and circumstances for the sake of calling upon them to reform every aspect of their reality.
At this point, it is possible to maintain that Mohammed Abdu's obsession with examining matters of Islamic doctrine and monotheism was reformist in nature — it was not purely for the sake of knowledge as was the case with some of the scholars of theology that preceded him.