Islamic Modernism is a movement that has been described as “the first Muslim ideological response to the Western cultural challenge” attempting to reconcile the Islamic faith with modern values such as democracy, civil rights, rationality, equality, and progress. It featured a “critical reexamination of the classical conceptions and methods of jurisprudence” and a new approach to Islamic theology and Quranic exegesis (Tafsir). A contemporary definition describes it as an “effort to re-read Islam’s fundamental sources—the Qur’an and the Sunna, (the practice of the Prophet) —by placing them in their historical context, and then reinterpreting them, non-literally, in the light of the modern context.”
It was the first of several Islamic movements – including Islamic secularism, Islamism, and Salafism – that emerged in the middle of the 19th century in reaction to the rapid changes of the time, especially the perceived onslaught of Western civilization and colonialism on the Muslim world. Founders include Muhammad Abduh, a Sheikh of Al-Azhar University for a brief period before his death in 1905, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, and Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935).
The early Islamic Modernists (al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu) used the term “salafiyya” to refer to their attempt at renovation of Islamic thought, and this “salafiyya movement” is often known in the West as “Islamic modernism,” although it is very different from what is currently called the Salafi movement, which generally signifies “ideologies such as Wahhabism”. Since its inception, Islamic Modernism has suffered from co-option of its original reformism by both secularist rulers and by “the official ulama” whose “task it is to legitimise” rulers’ actions in religious terms.
Islamic Modernism differs from secularism in that it insists on the importance of religious faith in public life, and from Salafism or Islamism in that it embraces contemporary European institutions, social processes, and values. One expression of Islamic Modernism, formulated by Mahathir Mohammed, is that “only when Islam is interpreted so as to be relevant in a world which is different from what it was 1400 years ago, can Islam be regarded as a religion for all ages.”
Salafism and modernism
The origins of Salafism in the modernist “Salafi Movement” of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh are noted by many authors, although others say Islamic Modernism only influenced contemporary Salafism. According to Quintan Wiktorowicz:
There has been some confusion in recent years because both the Islamic modernists and the contemporary Salafis refer (referred) to themselves as al-salafiyya, leading some observers to erroneously conclude a common ideological lineage. The earlier salafiyya (modernists), however, were predominantly rationalist Asharis.
Muhammad Abduh and his movement have sometimes been referred to as “Neo-Mutazilites” in reference to the Mu’tazila school of theology. Some have said Abduh’s ideas are congruent to Mu’tazilism. Abduh himself denied being either Ashari or a Mutazilite, although he only denied being a Mutazilite on the basis that he rejected strict taqlid to one group.
Some themes in modern Islamic thought include:
- The acknowledgement “with varying degrees of criticism or emulation”, of the technological, scientific and legal achievements of the West; while at the same time objecting “to Western colonial exploitation of Muslim countries and the imposition of Western secular values” and aiming to develop a modern and dynamic understanding of science among Muslims that would strengthen the Muslim world and prevent further exploitation.
- Denying that “the Islamic code of law is unalterable and unchangeable”, and instead claiming it can “adapt itself to the social and political revolutions going on around it”. (Cheragh Ali in 1883)
- Invocation of the “objectives” of Islamic law (maqasid al-sharia) in support of “public interest”, (or maslahah, a secondary source for Islamic jurisprudence). This was done by Islamic reformists in “many parts of the globe to justify initiatives not addressed in classical commentaries but regarded as of urgent political and ethical concern.”
- Reinterpreting traditional Islamic law using the four traditional sources of Islamic jurisprudence – the Quran, the reported deeds and sayings of Muhammad (hadith), consensus of the theologians (ijma) and juristic reasoning by analogy (qiyas), plus another source ijtihad ( independent reasoning to find a solution to a legal question).
- Taking and reinterpreting the first two sources (the Quran and ahadith) “to transform the last two [(ijma and qiyas)] in order to formulate a reformist project in light of the prevailing standards of scientific rationality and modern social theory.”
- Restricting traditional Islamic law by limiting its basis to the Quran and authentic Sunnah, limiting the Sunna with radical hadith criticism.
- Employing ijtihad not to only in the traditional, narrow way to arrive at legal rulings in unprecedented cases (where Quran, hadith, and rulings of earlier jurists are silent), but for critical independent reasoning in all domains of thought, and perhaps even approving of its use by non-jurists.
- A more or less radical (re)interpretation of the authoritative sources. This is particularly the case with the Quranic verses on polygyny, the hadd (penal) punishments, jihad, and treatment of unbelievers, banning of usury or interest on loans (riba), which conflict with “modern” views.
- On the issue of jihad, modernists such as Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida, took a different line than “traditionalist-classicist” scholars, emphasizing that jihad was allowed only as defensive warfare to respond to aggression or “perfidy” against the Muslim community, and that the “normal and desired state” between Islamic and non-Islamic territories was one of “peaceful coexistence.” According to Mahmud Shaltut and other modernists, unbelief was not sufficient cause for declaring jihad. The conversion to Islam by unbelievers in fear of death at the hands of jihadists (mujahideen) was unlikely to prove sincere or lasting. Much preferable means of conversion was education. They pointed to the verse “No compulsion is there in religion”[Quran 2:256]
- On the issue of riba, Syed Ahmad Khan, Fazlur Rahman Malik, Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida, Abd El-Razzak El-Sanhuri, Muhammad Asad, Mahmoud Shaltout all took issue with the jurist orthodoxy that any and all interest was riba and forbidden, believing that there was a difference between interest and usury.
- An apologetic which links aspects of the Islamic tradition with Western ideas and practices, and claims Western practices in question were originally derived from Islam. Islamic apologetics has however been severely criticized by many scholars as superficial, tendentious and even psychologically destructive, so much so that the term “apologetics” has almost become a term of abuse in the literature on modern Islam.
History of Modernism
Commencing in the late nineteenth century and impacting the twentieth-century, Muhammed Abduh and Rashid Rida undertook a project to defend and modernize Islam to match Western institutions and social processes. Its most prominent intellectual founder, Muhammad Abduh (d. 1323 AH/1905 CE), was Sheikh of Al-Azhar University for a brief period before his death. This project superimposed the world of the nineteenth century on the extensive body of Islamic knowledge that had accumulated in a different milieu. These efforts had little impact at first, however were catalysed with the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 and promotion of secular liberalism – particularly with a new breed of writers being pushed to the fore including Egyptian Ali Abd al-Raziq’s publication attacking Islamic politics for the first time in Muslim history. Subsequent secular writers including Farag Foda, al-Ashmawi, Muhamed Khalafallah, Taha Husayn, Husayn Amin, et. al., have argued in similar tones.
Abduh was skeptical towards Hadith (or “Traditions”), i.e. towards the body of reports of the teachings, doings, and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Particularly towards those Traditions that are reported through few chains of transmission, even if they are deemed rigorously authenticated in any of the six canonical books of Hadith (known as the Kutub al-Sittah). Furthermore, he advocated a reassessment of traditional assumptions even in Hadith studies, though he did not devise a systematic methodology before his death.
Influences on other movements
The “early Salafiyya” (Modernists) influenced Islamist movements like Muslim Brotherhood and to some extent Jamaat-e-Islami. The MB is considered an intellectual descendant of Islamic modernism. Its founder Hassan Al-Banna was influenced by Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida who attacked the taqlid of the official `ulama and insisted only the Quran and the best-attested ahadith should be sources of the Sharia. He was a dedicated reader of the writings of Rashid Rida and the magazine that Rida published, Al-Manar. As Islamic Modernist beliefs were co-opted by secularist rulers and official ulama, the Brotherhood moved in a traditionalist and conservative direction, “being the only available outlet for those whose religious and cultural sensibilities had been outraged by the impact of Westernisation”.
See also: Modernism (Islam in Indonesia)
The Indonesian Islamic organization Muhammadiyah was founded in 1912. Described as Islamic Modernist, it emphasized the authority of the Qur’an and the Hadiths, opposing syncretism and taqlid to the ulema. However, as of 2006, it is said to have “veered sharply toward a more conservative brand of Islam” under the leadership of Din Syamsuddin the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council.
Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Rashid Rida and, to a lesser extent, Mohammed al-Ghazali took some ideals of Wahhabism, such as endeavor to “return” to the Islamic understanding of the first Muslim generations (Salaf) by reopening the doors of juristic deduction (ijtihad) that they saw as closed. Some historians believe modernists used the term “Salafiyya” for their movement (although this is strongly disputed by at least one scholar – Henri Lauzière). Toward the end of the twentieth century, however, the term “Salafi movement” became associated with the Wahhabism, and strongly antithetical to Islamic modernism which is seen as forbidden innovation (bidah).
Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi writes:
Rashid Rida popularized the term ‘Salafī’ to describe a particular movement (i.e., Islamic modernism) that he spearheaded. That movement sought to reject the ossification of the madhhabs, and rethink through the standard issues of fiqh and modernity, at times in very liberal ways. A young scholar by the name of Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani read an article by Rida, and then took this term and used it to describe another, completely different movement. Ironically, the movement that Rida spearheaded eventually became Modernist Islam and dropped the ‘Salafī’ label, and the legal methodology that al-Albānī championed – with a very minimal overlap with Rida’s vision of Islam – retained the appellation ‘Salafī’. Eventually, al-Albānī’s label was adopted by the Najdī daʿwah as well, until it spread in all trends of the movement. Otherwise, before this century, the term ‘Salafī’ was not used as a common label and proper noun. Therefore, the term ‘Salafī’ has attached itself to an age-old school of theology, the Atharī school.
Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller writes:
The term Salafi was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter-day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh.
Although not all of the figures named below are from the above-mentioned movement, they all share a more or less modernist thought or/and approach.
- Abdulrauf Fitrat (Uzbekistan, then Russia)
- Ahmad Dahlan (Indonesia)
- Ali Shariati (Iran)
- Chiragh Ali (India)
- Farag Fawda (neomodernist) (Egypt)
- Ğäbdennasír İbrahim ulı Qursawí (Russia)
- Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (Afghanistan or Persia/Iran)
- Mahmoud Mohammed Taha (neomodernist) (Sudan)
- Mahmoud Shaltout (Egypt)
- Mahmud Tarzi (Afghanistan)
- Malek Bennabi (Algeria)
- Mohammed al-Ghazali (Egypt)
- Muhammad Abduh (Egypt)
- Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah (Egypt)
- Muhammad Iqbal (India)
- Muhammad al-Tahir ibn Ashur (Tunisia)
- Musa Jarullah Bigeev (Russia)
- Qasim Amin (Egypt)
- Rashid Rida (Egypt)
- Shibli Nomani (India)
- Syed Ahmad Khan (India)
- Syed Ameer Ali (India)
- Wang Jingzhai (China)
- Abdelwahab Meddeb (France)
- Abdennour Bidar (France)
- Gamal al-Banna (Egypt)
- Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (Pakistan)
- Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (Pakistan)
- Soheib Bencheikh (France)
- Tariq Ramadan (Switzerland)
- Wahiduddin Khan (India)
- Abdisaid Abdi (Somalia)
- Irshad Manji (Canada)
According to at least one source, (Charles Kennedy) in Pakistan the range of views on the “appropriate role of Islam” in that country (as of 1992), contains “Islamic Modernists” at one end of the spectrum and “Islamic activists” at the other. “Islamic activists” support the expansion of “Islamic law and Islamic practices”, “Islamic Modernists” are lukewarm to this expansion and “some may even advocate development along the secularist lines of the West.”
Many orthodox/traditionalist Muslims strongly opposed modernism as bid‘ah and the most dangerous heresy of the day, for its association with Westernization and Western education, whereas other orthodox/traditionalist Muslims, even some orthodox Muslim scholars think that modernisation of Islamic law is not violating the principles of fiqh and it is a form of going back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Supporters of Salafi movement considered modernists Neo-Mu’tazila, after the medieval Islamic school of theology based on rationalism, Mu’tazila. Critics argue that the modernist thought is little more than the fusion of Western Secularism with spiritual aspects of Islam. Other critics have described the modernist positions on politics in Islam as ideological stances.
One of the leading Islamist thinkers and Islamic revivalists, Abul A’la Maududi agreed with Islamic modernists that Islam contained nothing contrary to reason, and was superior in rational terms to all other religious systems. However he disagreed with them in their examination of the Quran and the Sunna using reason as the standard. Maududi, instead started from the proposition that “true reason is Islamic”, and accepted the Book and the Sunna, not reason, as the final authority. Modernists erred in examining rather than simply obeying the Quran and the Sunna.
Critics argue politics is inherently embedded in Islam, a rejection of the Christian and secular principle of “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. They claim that there is a consensus in Muslim political jurisprudence, philosophy and practice with regard to the Caliphate form of government with a clear structure comprising a Caliph, assistants (mu’awinoon), governors (wulaat), judges (qudaat) and administrators (mudeeroon). It is argued that Muslim jurists have tended to work with the governments of their times. Notable examples are Abu Yusuf, Mohammed Ibn al-Hasan, Shafi’i, Yahya bin Said, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ismail bin Yasa, Ibn Tulun, Abu Zura, Abu Hasan al-Mawardi and Tabari. Prominent theologians would counsel the Caliph in discharging his Islamic duties, often on the request of the incumbent Caliph. Many rulers provided patronage to scholars across all disciplines, the most famous being the Abassids who funded extensive translation programmes and the building of libraries.
- Islam and Modern Life
- Islamic Revival
- Islamic Democracy
- Liberal Muslim movements
- Modern Islamic philosophy
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia