An Islamic renaissance

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.


Source: Dawn

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Older Comments:
Assalamu alaikum. I would like to correct bro RA who said wahabism is barbarick and was went against the teachings of Islam. But my request s dat ye should not judge a book by its cover.

Yes, and it is time for the West to wake up to to true meaning of Islam. The media in the United States has overlooked the truths of the Quran and hadith. We are sadly lacking in our education to other than a Christianized version of reality. Personally, I am looking forward to the modernization effort in progress.

This is just another sweet talking but better than nothing. First word of the almighty God came through his last warner or messanger to mankind is not a warning or command to accept him as lord or heaven or hell or anything but "Read" so we will learn, this is the key. Muslims ruled the world not by power or sword as it is said but by the power of creativity with knowledge and the foundation of all that knowledge came from the Koran, Hadith and related knowledge of Physics, astronomy, biology, politics, economics to understand the message of the Koran. So basically to get to high of any society muslims must read again in the light of the Koran to implant in social life and live by it, another way to say to get back to the roots of success as a muslim all must be a fundamentalist not as the west means to be a religious fanatic but be a decent human as the muslims were in the first generation - nothing on this earth can hold any nation to reach to the top again. I have seen grave worshipping in South Asian countries by muslims also I have seen woman are banned in many places including Masjids in the middle east, there is a problem one is extreame one way or another, then the Turks wants Islam to be out of the way in social life, there is a problem, Dubai wants to be gambling, alcohol and vice capital in middle east, Egypt wants to continue with military backed dictatorship, Iraq wants Sunnis out of politics, Hamas wants to built School and Fatah wants Casino in Palestine, Pakistan is happy to continue honor killing of woman, Nigeria, Indonesia is competing for the first position for bribary and corrouption recently Bangladesh jailed two of the leading woman ex-primiers in for the same, this list can go on and on. What is the problem all of them are out from the fundamental message in the Koran of social justice and last messengers way of life they did not read to understand the actual Koran or Hadith but poor explanation by other half educated person. continue

It is better to say that we as Muslims need to reform ourselves,
not the religion itself. We do not need to adapt the Qur'an to
modern times. It is the everlasting Word of Allah. The cause of
our backwardness and retardation socially, intellectually is
because we have not and are not practicing Islam they way it was
meant to be practiced. There needs to be less "movement" and
more stillness. The problem is that there are too many
movements and not enough reflection on and remembrance of

As-salam alaikum,
This is a typically venal & insidious piece laying the foundations for the agenda of the think tanks e.g. RAND & the Islamic Reformation echoing the Christian Reformation. Maryam Jameelah (the erstwhile Jewish American Margaret Marcus) in her breathtakingly incisive books exposed the servile Uncle Toms who are apt to worship the fickle idol of CAPRICIOUS MORAL RELATIVISM. Ironically this article was written in a Pakistani newspaper. She calls the hollow mindless imitation "SYMPATHETIC MAGIC", as when a savage drinks the blood of an enemy warrior to absorb his abilities. Islam is now in its C15th & the Boss man is getting impatient. Those who worship reckless novelty as the symbolic predecessor to "progress" in a necessarily causal relationship are only fooling themselves as the Qadianis. Anything that has to change has no absolute value. Islam is a transcendental message of a completed Deen, this day...

salamu alaykum.
great article by the author, but i think he's complicating things just a little. the same with brother usman ali hannan. great observation bro usman, but the ills of the ummah today arent the explanations of the quraan, exegesis et al. that assumes muslims today are ACTUALLY PRACTICING, which isnt the case. less than 5% of muslims today actually pray 5 times a day.
thats the problem. we've abandoned the most basic tenent of the faith, well after the shahaadah.
how can the ummah hope to succeed under any capacity when less than 5% of its adherents practice the faith?

also, just taking note with the picture inserted with the article. the petronas towers in malaysia.
if the author hoped to portray malaysia as a beacon of what a muslim state should be today, or hope to be, then i'm in absolute agreement with him. malaysia is an advanced first world state (the second largest exporter of robotics after japan), its managed to do so with a muslim majority of less than 65% of the general population. there are muslim laws in the state, muslims abide by the shariah (no death penalty) - and equally important, the non-islamic malaysian community is treated with the same respect and honor ancient muslim states afforded their non-islamic populace.

however, if the author was using the petronas towers (formerly the tallest in the world) to represent what 'intellectual islam' is, then he's in err. grandeur and pomp is not what islam represents. khalif umar (ra) as leader of the most powerful state on the planet used to travel from city to city with his mule and assistant, not air force one. we shouldnt fall into the kaafir illogic that claims high structures as signs of an intellectual civilization.

It is a historical fact that Muslims lose their ground whenever they deviated from the Qur'an and authentic hadiths. The trickiest form of such deviations occur when Qur'an is explained in light of weak hadiths and such explanations are taken as a substitute of original verses of the Qur'an. The solution lies in sticking to the original verses and not to the commentaries. This is the way for the Ummah to move forward because the Qur'an is a book that lasts until the end of humanity. Those commentaries may serve a useful purpose for the time being, but soon enough they become banal or outdated or logically inconsistent. This is only natural.

The mistakes that many ulamas make is that they stick to these null and void commentaries even if they are nonsense. They fear that if they refute them, Islam would get crushed. However, the reality is opposite. Rather Islam gets cornered when such commentaries are not refuted or discarded, no matter how long lasting and deep rooted they are. Another common thinking pattern among ulamas is that if we refute some ancient commentary, it would be like showing disrespect to those commentators. This is the root cause of scholarly rigidity of our Ummah in terms of Islamic thinking. It should be understood that early scholars were fallible just as modern scholars are. Going against them doesn't represent going against Islam. Nor does it represent showing disrespect to them. Rather it is a sign of our respect towards their work that we base our scholarly pursuit based on their work at the same time being able to refute them. This should be the healthy mentality of scholarly pursuit.

So where do we draw the line? Of course the line becomes obvious when it comes to the Qur'an. No single word of it can be challenged (actually the verses are so strong that challenging them is quite impossible anyway) or changed. Also the authentic hadiths should be taken as a standard yardstick. This should be the pro-active healthy approach.

Yes, we have to read and understand Quran and Sunna of phrophet Mohammad ( SAWS ). This is the need of hour.

We have to come to define the experience of the Islamic world as it is now and the dynamics that are associated in dealing with it with some other name. 'Islamic Rennaisance' just does not cut it. We will end up following the template of 'Rennaisance' unbeknowest to us. That was the Christian/European experience. Not that of the Muslim world. There is no shortage in the English language for describing the collective experience of the Muslim World. One can also import some appropriate word from Arabic and other languages in the Muslim world and make it mainstream usage. Think of any? How about, "Muslimiyyat"


As far as my little knowledge of English language goes the only meaning to renaisance I could find is "revival". And when you revive something, my dictionary tells me, you make "it come back to conciousness, or original state again". You don't CHANGE IT. Note the emphasis.

Why are we bent on "modernising" Islam to suit us? No wonder the RAND corporation had the guts to classify Muslims into fundamentalists, traditionists, modernists etc. Why do we give them the opportunity to find loopholes in our believe. No, in as much as I believe in the revival of Islam cos' of the derailings of must of us from the true teachings of the faith, I would not succumb (and 'm sure so does anybody with true aqeeda) to modernising it(Islam) to suit our sadistic needs of the twentiest century.

Let me ask this innocent question, When the Prophet(SAW), together with the khulafur-rashidun and the rightly guided companions built the Islamic Empire that covers 2/3 of the world, what approach did they use?

Innocent Answer; they use the Qu'ran as it was then, period.

And by implication We should use the Quranic teachings as it is now to move ahead! Knowing fully well that these teachings does not stress "..a scientific approach to problems" as the author puts it but on the other hand enable progress in education, knowledge and research for the benefits of today's world and the one of tomorrow.