Renewing the Religious Discourse Renewing the Religious Discourse
Dr. Ali Gom'aa
The Former Mufti of Egypt
The Islamic Law (Shari'ah) used to praise the concept of "Renewal" (Tajdid) as well as clarifying its vitality and importance. As a matter of fact, the texts of the Islamic Shari'ah underscore that meaning; on the one hand, it refers to "Renewal" (Tajdid) as an enforceable obligation, and urges all Muslims to abide by it. Indeed, the Islamic Shari'ah considers the concept of "Renewal" (Tajdid) as part of the Muslims' faith, since it believes that at a certain point, faith may diminish and needs to get renewed in the hearts of the monotheists. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said to his Companions in one of his Hadiths: “Renew your faith.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, how can we renew our faith?” The Prophet said, “Say often there is no god but Allah.” (Musnad Ahmad 327/14, Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain 285/4).
On the other hand, Islamic Shari'ah invokes that "Renewal" (Tajdid) is a blessing granted by Allah Almighty to the Islamic nation, as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renew its religion for it". (Sunan Abu Dawood 109/4, Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain 567/4)
Since then, the scholars of our Islamic nation kept on paying tribute to the concept of Renewal (Tajdid), considering it as a religious obligation and one of Allah's blessings and grants. In fact, the concept of "Renewal" (Tajdid) had neither been prejudiced against nor had become under fire of suspicions in the previous eras; thus, renewing the religious discourse was present probably throughout the Islamic history, and it adapted itself according to the needs, requirements, circumstances and conditions of every different age, so that to make the Islamic religion suitable for every time and place. Lamentably, in the modern age and according to the traditional conservatives, the concept of "Renewal" (Tajdid) acquired negative connotations as they believe that "Renewal" (Tajdid) means abandoning and neglecting some or all of the ordinances of the Islamic Shari'ah and adopting the irregular and the deviated judgments and rulings rather than those which are agreed upon by the sincere scholars. Moreover, those conservatives assume that "Renewal" (Tajdid) implies selecting certain lawful texts which agree with personal inclinations and interests, or that "Renewal" (Tajdid) includes both the constant and the variable judgments. For all the above mentioned reasons, the concept of "Renewal" (Tajdid) and its supporters gained bad reputation among most of the conservatives; hence, the sincere scholars calling for "Renewal" (Tajdid) faced stumbling blocks in their attempts to clarify the true meaning of "Renewal" (Tajdid).
In order to correct these misconceptions, it should be cleared that the word "Renewal" or "Tajdid" actually occurred in the Holy Qur'an and Prophetic Sunnah, carrying the meanings of resurrection, revival and rejuvenation, and not reconstruction and creation. The experiments carried out by the Muslim scholars proved such meanings and implications. In fact, the astute Imam Al-Ghazali topped those scholars by his insight and excellence. He realized that Fiqh was aloof from the psychological and sentimental objectives that urge the believer to follow the path of piety and solemnity as prerequisites for worshipping Allah; thus, Fiqh, unfortunately, neglected such objectives, turning itself into a soulless hollow body. As a matter fact, to get out of such stagnant status, Imam al-Ghazali suggested "Renewing" the Islamic theology in order to bring people back to the main objective of the Islamic Shari'ah which is worshipping Allah Almighty, constructing the land and purifying one's conscience; thus, Imam al-Ghazali wrote his famous book "The Revival of the Religious Sciences", where he chose the word "Revival" as a connotation for "Renewal", to signify that Muslim scholars should renew and revive the religious discourse, the religious constants, as well as the tools used to present the lawful and cultural meanings of the Islamic Fiqh. This process may be called "Realizing the Reality", and what is deduced from this process is that understanding the religious texts is associated with "Renewal" (Tajdid), and this process cannot be accomplished except by using the tools of apprehension mentioned in the human legacy, and to accustom them to the necessities and the variables of each age.
Hence, it is our duty to follow the contributions achieved by the ancient prominent Muslim scholars throughout history in the "Renewal" issues, and to take into consideration that those scholars abided by several provisions and rules which we, as contemporary scholars, should observe, contemplate and clarify their significations, and to turn them into approaches that could be adopted and followed. Indeed, we, as modern scholars, should not get engaged in examining the issues, dilemmas, conflicts, arguments and judgments tackled during the previous ages, since every time and place has its own circumstances; however, we should acknowledge our duties towards the age and the community we are living, and in to take advantage of the earlier and ancient approaches, while surpassing the issues of the early ages.
This approach would bear its fruits only if certain specifications and criteria were applied on "Renewal" (Tajdid) and “Mujadideen”. As for the process of "Renewal" (Tajdid) itself; it should be taken into consideration combining the most important three elements in the Islamic legacy which are: the sources, realizing these sources in the light of reality, and to link these sources with reality.
As for the sources, the Holy Qur'an and the Prophetic Sunnah are the most authentic ones, besides other sources such as the agreed Fiqh guidelines, which include Consensus (Ijma'), Analogy (Qiyas) and public interests (Masleh Mursala). Additionally, there are other sources which could be considered as the practical application of deducing the judgments of the above mentioned sources, such as the inherited Fiqh legacy. As a matter of fact, the scholar responsible for "Renewal" (Tajdid) should take into consideration, while carrying out the process of "Renewal" (Tajdid), certain elements: first, the above mentioned sources, and second the reality of the time and place he/she is living in, which is illustrated through realizing the sources in the light of reality with its four main components which are: time, place, people and their circumstances. The third element in the process of "Renewal" (Tajdid), which is the most important one, is how to link these sources with the method of recognizing them as well as realizing the reality, so that the scholar or the Mujtahid will not apply the judgments he/she reads in scholarly books to a vast different reality, that has nothing in common with these judgments, and that is case that Imam al-Qarafi had described as "An Evident Error".