Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- What hinders ‘tajdid’* in Islam? The concept of tajdid has fixed principles and a fundamental direct connection to Islam with its characteristic versatility to suit any time or place. Islamic Shariah law also allows for a fair amount of flexibility, which in turn enables it to deal with all aspects and variables in life.
But what prevents Islamic tajdid from being viewed as an auto-mechanism that has existed throughout history? Why is not perceived of as a response to a number of problematic issues that have come to the forefront as a result of the current imposed reality with its pressing issues?
But the real question is: Does the diversity of the notion of tajdid with all its meanings and connotations reflect a crisis in the manner by which this revival is undertaken in our present day and age?
Asharq Al-Awsat asked a number of Islamic scholars and intellectuals to share their views:
Professor at Al-Azhar University Abdel Halim Oweiss cited the Prophet’s (PBUH) saying “Tajdid is the nature of life” and affirmed that it is well-established in Islam, furthermore supporting it by the Prophet’s saying, “Allah will send forth someone at the beginning of every century to revive religion in the Ummah.”
As such, he followed by saying that tajdid in Islam must provide people with a comprehensive view capable of transcending previous errors and doctrinal pressures and personal inclinations. He also added that it needs to be removed from the rational emphasis that reduces Islam to a mere philosophical theory. It should equally be detached from the jurisprudential overemphasis that reduces Islam to law and it should be divorced of the overly sentimental view that renders Islam into a personal spiritual experience that quickly become inundated by groundless heresies and superstitions, he said. Add to that certain over exaggerations and projections that result in casting a shadow on Islamic truth whilst having no connection to religion.
Oweiss stated: “The issue with Islam today is that it is confined to the limited understanding Muslims have of Islam and in their incapability of dealing with it. Only a few Muslims can attain the highest level of true Islam. Moreover, some Muslims only regard specific or partial aspects of the religion or impose a doctrinal, theoretical or superficial view upon it.”
Dr. Mohammed al Dusuqi, professor at the Islamic Shariah department at Cairo University’s Dar El-Ulum concurred and added that, “Tajdid and development is a law of the universe and tajdid in religion is a duty and necessity for every age. It is also a testimony of the universality of Islam and the validity of Shariah for any time and place.”
He continued, “Although much controversy surrounds tajdid today, particularly the religious discourse in the Islamic arena; the problem confronting tajdid is how to formulate a diligent scientific mentality capable of transforming this tajdid into a practical reality, as opposed to mere theoretical thinking.”
Al Dusuqi stressed that the basis of religious renewal is ‘ijtihad’ (interpretation), which relies on hypothesizing and added that the widest field for interpretation and revival are the aspects or events that have not been directly revealed in the Quranic text of in Sunnah (Prophetic sayings).
Ijtihad must confront reality with a broad scientific open-minded view that should include more objectives and practical conceptions and less branches and particulars, he said. Al Dusuqi added that ijtihad must have faith in modifying fatwas [religious edicts] in accordance with the changes of time and place and that it must also focus on the central issues whilst addressing both the rational mind and the spiritual dimension without becoming overcome by zeal or emotional affectation.
The professor explained: “If ijtihad is the essence of Islam then the duty of tajdid; a collective duty, is one that Shariah necessitates upon so that Islam can continue to be well-preserved and may be passed down in its pure form. It [Shariah] has been strongly present throughout the formation of the Ummah and will continue to be suitable to every time and place as the voice that calls for wisdom and guidance whilst confronting allegations and falsehoods that seek to harm the religion and its followers through rational arguments and logic. Such ill-intentioned polemics only result in more prejudice, fanaticism and defamation.”
To activate the role of those responsible for tajdid in the Ummah, al Dusuqi suggests establishing an ijtihad and tajdid academy that must be independent and absolutely devoid of doctrinal extremism. He believes that it can act as a supreme council in this regard whilst tackling issues as they arise. He also proposes that all the Islamic states should make financial contributions to this academy, moreover suggesting a reconsideration and overhaul in the educational system both structurally and in content. Al Dusuqi stated that this would aim at dissolving the conflict between the educational duality and intellectual disparity so that it may be replaced by the true concepts of Islamic creed.
Regarding the regulations of religious revival, al Dusuqi said, “there is no place for tajdid in the fixed principles and established regulations because they set provisions that remain constant in the face of change, irrespective of time, place, customs and traditions. These do not provide subjects for ijtihad.”
As for the head of the comparative jurisprudence department at Al-Azhar’s Shariah and Law faculty, Dr. Abdul Fatah Idris, he said, “tajdid in Islam is one of the basis of life and throughout the history of Islam there have been those who effectuated that revival because life is continuously developing and in flux, and therefore; it is important to share the Islamic standpoint.”
He continued, “If the resurgence of Islam is what is intended then it is in fact the core of Islam and it is what jurisprudents define as ‘tajdid’. The issue of tajdid is not a recent phenomenon but an old one that was [formally] raised since the beginning of the last century, or rather; with every change and development that takes place with time. With the passage of time and changing circumstances since traditional classical jurisprudence was founded, people’s problems have changed and conversely, there must be new thought to address these changes and events.”
“In order to prove the validity of Islamic law (Shariah) for any place and age, Muslim jurists must renew fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and reconsider many previous issues, provisions and interpretations that are no longer appropriate for our present reality,” he added.
Dr. Omar Mukhtar al Qadi, a professor at Al Azhar University’s Shariah and Law faculty and a member of the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World’s (FUIW) General Secretariat, stressed that, “religious revival is a duty for all Muslims so that they may counteract the civilizational decline and so as to assimilate the age’s developments and innovations made by societies within the context of their historical development.”
However, he warned that some may confuse the notion of Islamic revival in its true sense with the understanding adopted by secularists and modernists as a slogan. Al Qadi affirmed that tajdid in Islamic thought is a necessary tool with which to confront modern developments, particularly since Islamic law is characterized by being flexible.
Moreover, the professor added that many scholars, clerics and thinkers are calling for tajdid in Islam to propel Muslims into the age of globalization and so as to assist them in countering superficial and extremist claims that seek to defame Islam. This would also safeguard the religion against adopting non-Islamic visions into it that would threaten the Islamic call and identity.
“Islamic thought is evolved and open to all other trends and attitudes,” al Qadi concluded.
* Tajdid: Arabic term meaning revival, resurgence or renewal. Islamic revival is a popular and controversial concept that has been around for quite some time. Shariah law; however, does not enjoy the same degree of tajdid.