The Islamic Renaissance is a relatively new social phenomenon which is of immense importance to the future of the Muslim civilization, and which presumably has some serious implications for the whole world.
The great intellectual and cultural movements of the West like the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century and the Romantic Movement of the Nineteenth Century could not have been possible without Europe's contact with Islamic thought. Today, the Muslims of the world need a revival of true Islamic values ordained in the Quran.
Even though some Muslim scholars do not like the idea of associating the term 'Renaissance' with Islam, yet it has been an exciting theme of discussion at various Islamic fora during the last three decades.
The term is generally used in the sense of a general awakening that has been taking place among the Muslims since the middle of the nineteenth century under the influence of some fresh thinking and activism.
It is a process of moderernization of the Muslim world with an Islamic orientation to design the scheme of modernization by conforming to Islamic norms. Even though a heavy emphasis on intellectual, political, economic and technological development in common in both, the European Renaissance and the Islamic Renaissance, the two are significantly different in their orientations.
There are three undercurrents that together constitute the mainstream of the Islamic Revivalist movement: reformism, Intellectualism and activism. apparently the three undercurrents maintain their separate identity, but because of he commonality of goals, they reinforce and strengthen one another.
The term reformism refers to forces involved in the reform of the Muslim society through the improvement of the performance of the social institutions such as the family, Masjid, school etc.
The term activism refers to political awakening, seeking transformation of the existing Muslim societies into truly Islamic societies. An intellectual movement, seeking promotion of Islamic thought and Islamic outlook of life through advancement of knowledge in all modern fields of physical and social sciences is called Islamic intellectualism or Islamization of knowledge.
This should not be confused with the religious oligarchy's total stress on rituals alone. After five centuries of sleep and gloom and repression, the dawn of light and learning, of life and joy came to Europe in the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries.
The European Renaissance's love of the human, the natural and the sensual; its individualism, self-expression and self-assertion, its religious skepticism and free-thinking, its love of power and pelf, fame and earthly glory, discovery and exploration was clearly against the Christian norms of the Middle Ages which were characterized by its stress on poverty, chastity and obedience.
For the last thousand years or so the clergy has not permitted freedom of thought and belief. It appears that we are still living in the European Medieval Age where the common man had no right to think and express freely. The conventional Friday sermon that no one understands is an example of the retrogressive Muslim society.
In order to understand the true meaning of the Islamic revivalist movement, we need to examine it in its true historical perspective. Historically the reform movement was started by Imam Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) when he found that Muslim scholarship, swayed by the ideas and thoughts of the early Greek philosophers had caused too much confusion in matters of faith and ideology.
The suggested the course of Sufism as a damage control strategy. Later on Ibn-e-Khaldun tried to clear the intellectual mess by presenting the basic principles and percepts of Islamic philosophy in a clear and simple way.
Ghazali's mystical approach initially worked well and it became an important institution in spreading the message of Islam in many Asian countries, but over a period of four centuries, the system became corrupted and a source of many new problems.
In India, Sheikh Ahmed Sarhindi (1563-1624) known as the Mujaddid of the Second Millennium assumed the big responsibility of bringing spiritual, intellectual and social reform at a time when Islamic civilization was being absorbed in the Hindu culture through the deliberate attempts of Akbar and his misguided advisors. He also tried to put Sufism on the right path.
Shah Waliullah (1703-1763) felt the need to bring the Muslims closer to the teachings of the Quran, the book of guidance in Arabic which very few Indians understood. He translated the Quran into Persian and had to face the wrath of many ignorant Muslims for this.
Even Persian was understood by a very few Muslims, ultimately Shah Waliullah's son Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Quran into Urdu.
In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Muslim forces and the Eastern Roman Empire known as the Byzantine Empire came to a final end. The Christian west, leaving Muslims to enjoy their land and victory, turned out to sea.
In 1492 Columbus discovered America and in 1498, Vasco-da-Gama reached India by a new sea route. The European explorers found large reservoirs of silver and gold in the American continent. They colonized many countries in American, Asian and African continents and made huge profits by trading in goods.
Gradually Muslims lost almost all sea trade to the Europeans and were subjugated and subdued in many parts of the world. The Turkish forces gave a tough resistance to the advancement of the Europeans in the Muslim lands, but circumstances were not in their favour.
The lack of an intellectual base was the main hurdle in any kind of industrialization. By the mid eighteenth century the Islamic civilization was in a state of intellectual confusion, political chaos and economic stagnation.
It appeared as if the Islamic civilization had come closer to extinction. However, it did not happen. In the mid nineteenth century some noble souls came forward to rescue the sinking ship.
The Sanusi Movement in North Africa, The Wahabi Movement led by Mohammad Ibn Al-Wahab in Saudi Arabia, the Mahdi Movement in Sudan and the Midhat Pasha's Reform movement in Turkey facilitated the process of awakening among the Muslims.
The Educationist-reformist Movement led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in India and the Reformist-Activist Movement of Jamaluddin Afghani had a very significant impact on the process and became the facilitators of the Islamic movements of the 20th Century.
Mohammad Rashid Ridha, Shaikh Muhammad Abdu and several others aspired to make a change in the Muslim thinking through their efforts to eradicate perversion (Jahiliya) and to liberate the masses from blind imitation. (Taqleed).
The time has come for the Muslims to realize the importance of the true Quranic teachings which stress education, knowledge, research and a scientific approach to problems. Briffault in his book 'The Making of Humanity' says 'The light from which civilization was once more rekindled did not arise from any embers of greco-Roman culture smoldering amid the ruins of Europe, nor from the living death on the Bosphorus (Byzantine Empire).
It did not come from the Northern but from the Southern invaders of the Empire, from the Saracens... it was under the influence if the Arabian and Moorish revival of culture, and not in the 15th Century, that the real Renaissance tool place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe.'
The fundamental values practiced in the West such as the dignity of man, rationality, equality, justice, humanism, liberalism, civility etc are definitely closer to the Islamic values than to medieval Christianity.
Muslims have to reassert Islam's stress on the respect for human life and justice to one and all without any racial or religious prejudice. Today, more than ever we need a true 'reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.'
All the democratic, moral, social, economic and human ideals are already enshrined in the Quran and have been practically shown by the Prophet . Muslims have to realize that there is no compulsion in religion (9:99) and they have to do justice even to people they do not like (5:8).
The main objective of the much needed Islamic Renaissance should focus on the analysis of all relevant facts and factors, in the broader context of modernization of the contemporary Muslim world.
Moreover, the purpose of this effort must be a proper assessment and subsequent balanced approach in all matters. There is definitely a shortage of new energy and fresh ideas in most of the existing Islamic movements.
However, these movements are keeping Muslims alive to their spiritual, moral and social responsibilities and they are a deterrent to anti-Islamic forces trying desperately to secularize the existing Muslim societies in the name of modernization.
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