The Importance Of Islamic Renewal Today – Analysis


What Renewal?

Considerable importance is granted by Muslim scholars to the issues of renewal and ijtihad, particularly the renewal of Islamic intellectual heritage. This renewal is the constructive process that continues the action of ancestors and benefits from the ijtihad of contemporary scholars in rebuilding cultural identity and entrenching its principles and lofty references as well as the divine revelation which guides man onto the straight path.

This revelation is the referential framework and knowledge regulator in the Islamic civilization’s view of all concepts and matters. It is the factor most likely to propel it towards shedding the manifestations of backwardness which emerged during past historical phases, spread the culture of ijtihad that promotes complementarities and the unity that defies conflict, and reposition the Islamic Ummah on the scene of cultural action and human contribution.

For Asʿad AbuKhalil, Mahmoud Haddad writing in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, Islamic revival or renewal is:i

“The Arabic terms iḥyāʿ (revival) and tajdīd (renewal) are often used concurrently, but renewal is more akin to iṣlāḥ (reform) than revival, which is more concerned with re-awakening of certain Islamic practices or ideas. Both terms are also used in the context of modern Islamic movements, but they also have important premodern roots. Premodern renewal was usually associated with a specifically designated purifier who, according to the ḥadīths (Prophetic traditions), would come at the “head of each century” to renew the faith and practice of Muslims. Many puritanical reformers were, as a result, identified by their followers as the designated renewer or mujaddid of the era. Revival had a stronger sense of a strengthening of the spiritual dimensions of faith and practice, as seen in the writings of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111CE). In the modern era the terms refer to the attempts by Islamic modernizers and Salafīyah advocates to introduce more Islamic influences into the lives of Muslims who have been subject to Western currents of thought and practice, particularly in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt. Shaykh Ḥasan al-ʿAṭṭār (d. 1834/35), an Egyptian cleric who worked closely with the French experts who accompanied Napoleon, may have been one of the first reformists/revivalists when he said: “Our countries should be changed and renewed [tatajaddadah] through knowledge and sciences that they do not possess.””

At this age of globalization where challenges are growing in size and number, revitalizing Islamic intellectual heritage, renewing it and shedding light on the riches that contributed to the march of human civilization seem to be of utmost importance if we are to counter the standardization and alienation attempts and centralist cultural tendencies that negate the multiplicity of historical courses in shaping human civilization.

Islamic thought needs new blood and a reformist boost to be given by the Ummah’s scholars in a wise approach free from the logic of exclusive bipolarity, where the sources of knowledge are integrated. Thus can be edified the civilization of the Ummah of the middle way, known in Arabic culture as wasatiyya, which stands witness to all mankind and carries the universal message of Islam.ii

Cultural Diversity

Inequality in the consumption of cultural products and inequality in creativity are an intolerable injustice. For individuals and companies, exercising cultural rights is often hampered by inequality in economic development between individuals and States.

However, amid serious globalization challenges threatening to undermine the principles of plurality and sustainable development, each individual and each community must be able to contribute to the building of the present and the making of the future. For this reason, at the international level, the action of Islamic peoples ought to be in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the principles of the International Convention on Cultural Diversity. Such international instruments provide a common framework for alleviating world poverty and reducing disparities with regard to cultural rights, towards achieving sustainable development.

Indonesian Muslims recite the Quran in Masjid Istiqlal, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata, Wikipedia Commons.
Indonesian Muslims recite the Quran in Masjid Istiqlal, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata, Wikipedia Commons.

To ensure a better implementation of this process, Muslim thinkers will have to accentuate their efforts to ensure access to culture for all, with particular attention paid to special needs groups (children, young people, women, disabled people, exiled, refugees, prisoners, special groups etc.,) who often are on the sidelines of the cultural action. In addition, there could not be any acceptable, harmonious, and equitable sustainable development unless the cultural dimension is integrated in the process, and unless it is taken into consideration in the political, economic and social plans and programs. Therefore, more focus should be given to the field of culture so that it will be able to attain the place it deserves as a decoder and interpreter of sustainable development. Thanks to culture, sustainable development will be perceived as a new societal project, and as the engine of a new phase for the organisation of human activities. iii

In this regard, previous actions undertaken by Muslim thinkers underlined the importance of including the cultural dimension in every sustainable development approach, especially the protection of cultural diversity — which is the equivalent of nature’s biodiversity — , as well as the reassertion of the value of artistic and cultural practices and, generally, the intangible heritage which is the basis of indigenous knowledge and cultures. This is about addressing the problem of sustainable development with its cultural dimension, especially the environment, health and genetic resources.

muslim schoolchildren school islam educationBy having “culture” and “sustainable development” articulated around a common challenge, thinkers will pursue their efforts for consolidating the place of culture in the relations of the human being with his immediate surroundings. Their action will highlight the cultural dimension that is necessary to be integrated in the management of the environment and health, in order to better adapt them to the expectations of populations. The safeguard of genetic resources, which are essential elements for the preservation of knowledge and traditional expertise, will undergo a similar action.

Therefore, sustainable development requires a deep change in our means for understanding the world. It cannot be conceived in isolation from the relations that exist between Man and Nature. It is inherent to the acceptance of the values of cultural diversity which themselves are intrinsic in the culture of peace. In fact, accepting differences means that other cultures are seen as a source of enrichment, and as a driving force for development. It, also, means ensuring harmonious relations between them. Accordingly, thinkers will continue their action for the dissemination of the values of cultural diversity within the different components of the society.

Empowering Women

Muslim women
Muslim women

Linking sustainable development to indigenous cultures reflects understanding of the importance of traditional knowledge and know-how in the wellbeing of society, of putting a halt to the increased poverty rates among women and of empowering them economically, socially and culturally. Action ought to be continued to reach the goals laid out in this field on the role of women in sustainable development. The objective is to overcome the obstacles hindering women’s development within society by fighting all forms of economic and social discrimination and highlighting the Islamic perspective on this issue.

For Raheel Raza, President of the Council of Muslim Facing Tomorrow, the Islamic revival has to concern itself with the following issues:iv

“There are some key issues that are imperative to bring about change in the Muslim world.

Gender equality is one of them. In parts of the Muslim world, 50 percent of their citizens – i.e. women – are treated as second-class citizens. They are denied basic human rights to education, employment and freedom of movement. Islamic reform must address this gender parity, so that with education, enlightenment and equal rights, Muslim women will be among the leaders of the movement.

Pluralism and respect for those following a different path are also essential components of reform. This is especially important for Muslims living in the West where they interact with people from all faiths, races, and sexual orientations.

Another key aspect of Islamic reform is to learn from other faiths. How have they reformed by putting aside some notions from centuries ago, that are no longer compatible with the 21st century? In Islam, there is the idea of “armed jihad,” which was valid in seventh-century Arabia because there were no nation states, borders or the United Nations. Tribes only knew how to deal with other through armed warfare (which is essentially the meaning of armed jihad). The reform movement asks for Islamic leaders to delete the notion of armed jihad from the understanding of Islam today.”

With regard to indigenous cultures, delays in the adoption of a universal convention on the protection of popular arts, traditional know-how and genetic resources confirm the economic and cultural challenges inherent to this issue. With this in mind, emphasis must be laid in this sensitization process on the role of traditional know-how in sustainable development.

Two Iranian women wearing hijab. Photo by Zoom Zoom, Wikipedia Commons.
Two Iranian women wearing hijab. Photo by Zoom Zoom, Wikipedia Commons.

Indeed, it is not enough to guarantee the right of linguistic minorities to cultural expression but also their right to monitor the exploitation of their intellectual heritage. Furthermore, and considering the major role the civil society plays in this regard as the link between national policies and the strategies of sustainable development international organizations, the scope of partnerships with civil society organizations and institutions will be broadened to achieve the desired objectives.

Today, it is axiomatic that the development of education, science, culture and communication hinges on security and peace, within or between countries both at the regional and international levels. No development will be conceivable under a climate filled with ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions. The same is true for the lack of justice and mutual respect, which are key elements for creating international relations that could promote prosperity and human development.

Also, it is internationally recognized that the alliance of civilizations represents the sole means that can restore balance to the world and establish peace, respect for diversity and the acknowledgment of the legitimate cultural rights and cultural specificities of the different peoples and nations.

Alliance Of Cultures And Cultural Dialogue

The cultural strategy of the Islamic World must underline that no one culture can survive by its own, and that cultural diversity and interaction between civilizations, cultures and peoples are realities that could not be circumvented. This approach will contribute to promote the level of dialogue, both inside and outside the Muslim world, and extend the scope of participation and consultation necessary for its implementation, as well as combating all forms of fanaticism and withdrawn attitudes.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI chairs installation ceremony of the Higher Council of the recently set up Mohammed VI Foundation for African Islamic scholars.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI chairs installation ceremony of the Higher Council of the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Islamic scholars.

Muslim countries will have to focus their action on programs and activities aimed at entrenching the culture of dialogue and the respect of cultural specificities and cultural diversity in consolidating human rights, understanding and concord between cultures; encouraging governments to ratify and publicize the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions; disseminating its contents as widely as possible, especially among young generations and civil society organizations; and working towards ensuring a democratic governance and the respect for cultural rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities.

These actions must, also, seek to enhance the sense of citizenship and active participation of foreign nationals and immigrants, as well as educating them on the values of tolerance and the rejection of all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred.

Similarly, these actions will strive to reactivate the concept of international cultural Takaful in order to firmly establish the culture of human rights and the rights of peoples; consolidate cultural relations and cultural exchange; facilitate cultural mobility and the freedom of movement of people and ideas by encouraging South-South and North-South programs for student exchange visits.

Furthermore, this approach is aimed at setting up consultation mechanisms on labor and immigration to ensure the respect of human dignity of immigrants and foreign nationals; devising tourism’s development policies within the respect of cultural and cultural identities; ensuring social harmony and combating poverty, violence, marginalisation and social vulnerability.

Fighting Islamophobia

Protest in Canada supporting Muslims.
Protest in Canada supporting Muslims.

In this age of globalization, information explosion and the multiplicity of audio-visual media and channels, the issue of image has acquired more weight and urgency in view of the impediments that may hinder the flow of information and its communication capacity. This has become even more relevant following the international changes to which Islam and Muslims were party, and in the aftermath the image of the Islamic civilization became the subject of a tremendous amount of premeditated and unpremeditated distortion.

There was talk of the phenomenon of Islamophobia that has taken many forms of which the most blatant is the discrimination against Muslim immigrants in employment, housing, education and other fields. Some Western parties have even gone further and began to flaunt their hostility towards Islam, desecrate and denigrate its sanctities and make racist statements that are punishable by law and condemned by international conventions. Some Muslim institutions were the victim of vandalism and desecration as were some mosques, graves and cultural centers in the West.

Faced by the escalation of this phenomenon and its progression from a state of dormancy to one of active notoriety, it is necessary for Muslim intellectuals to take charge of the mission of countering this phenomenon and addressing it following a two-tiered and tightly devised plan.

The first part consists of the emergency measure of monitoring and compiling what is written and said about Islam, condemning it and engaging legal action against it in cooperation and coordination with regional and international partners. The second part is presenting the truthful image of Islam on the ruins of the erroneous misconceptions and stereotypes circulating either in the media or school curricula, history books or biased literary works, which action represents a long-winded and strenuous road.

The United State Institute for Peace, an official American think tank, Islamic renewal/revival is seen in the following light and logic:v

“In general, the Islamic renewal movement comprises four broad groups. Proponents of “civic Islam” include civil society organizations that advocate women’s equality, human rights, social responsibility, environmental protection, and similar social issues but make no overt claim to political power. Referring to the progressive teachings of Islam, they call on regimes to enact reforms and respect basic rights. Proponents of “Islam and democracy” include parties and movements that see no incompatibility between Islamic values and teachings and modern democratic principles. This group advocates participation in the political process with the goal of achieving power and applying political reforms on the basis of Islamic principles. Proponents of “reforms within Islam” include leading religious figures, scholars, and academic institutions that call for reinterpretation of Islamic laws, a historical reading of Islam and the Qur’an, and the modernization of Islamic knowledge. “Culturally modern Islam” developed mainly among Muslim communities living in the West. These diaspora groups and organizations, which try to articulate a “western Islamic identity,” see no tension between being a Muslim and a citizen of a western democracy. Tying these diverse actors together is their commitment to modernize Islamic institutions, traditions, and practices.”

One of the major objectives that Muslim thinkers must seek to fulfill is to modify this erroneous image. Their action in this regard consists of many joint programs that they must begin to implement with international partners to cleanse school curricula from these stereotypes, and produce an Islamic Encyclopaedia which will present an alternative and full image on the Islamic world and its civilization, penned by Muslim and fair-minded Western authors. Universities in the Muslim world must monitor seriously the Islamophobia phenomenon and draw up a database on all the manifestations of animosity towards Muslims and Islam, thus enabling researchers to study them or engage legal action against them, in addition to helping countries build up their cultural policies.

End notes:
ii. Brinton J. G. 2015. Preaching Islamic Renewa: lReligious Authority and Media in Contemporary Egypt.University of California Press.

Preaching Islamic Renewal examines the life and work of Muhammad Mitwalli Sha‘rawi, one of Egypt’s most beloved and successful Islamic preachers. His wildly popular TV program aired every Friday for years until his death in 1998. At the height of his career, it was estimated that up to 30 million people tuned in to his show each week. Yet despite his pervasive and continued influence in Egypt and the wider Muslim world, Sha‘rawi was for a long time neglected by academics. While much of the academic literature that focuses on Islam in modern Egypt repeats the claim that traditionally trained Muslim scholars suffered the loss of religious authority, Sha‘rawi is instead an example of a well-trained Sunni scholar who became a national media sensation. As an advisor to the rulers of Egypt as well as the first Arab television preacher, he was one of the most important and controversial religious figures in late-twentieth-century Egypt. Thanks to the repurposing of his videos on television and on the Internet, Sha‘rawi’s performances are still regularly viewed. Jacquelene Brinton uses Sha‘rawi and his work as a lens to explore how traditional Muslim authorities have used various media to put forth a unique vision of how Islam can be renewed and revived in the contemporary world. Through his weekly television appearances he popularized long held theological and ethical beliefs and became a scholar-celebrity who impacted social and political life in Egypt.
iii. Hofmann M. W. “A Plea for Islamic Renewal” in Islamic Studies. Vol. 40, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 297-304. Published by: Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad Stable URL:

Baldauf, Ingeborg. “Jadidism in Central Asia within Reformism and Modernism in the Muslim World,”Die Welt des Islams41, no. 1 (2001): 72–88. A study of the thinking of the Islamic reformers in Central Asia.

Dallal, Ahmad. “The Origins and Objectives of Islamic Revivalist Thought, 1750–1850.”Journal of American Oriental Society113, no. 3 (1993): 341–359. A novel study that challenges the view that most Muslim revivalist movements stemmed from the one ideological root of the Wahhābīyah in Arabia.

Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, ed.Islamic Resurgence in the Arab World. New York, 1982. Different short studies on Islamic movements in the Arab world in the 1970s.

Esposito, John L, Islamic Revivalism. Washington, D.C., 1985 Looks at the general reasons behind Islamic revivalism in the second half of the twentieth century.

Esposito, John L, Islam and Politics. 3d ed. Syracuse, N.Y., 1991. Discusses the relationship between modern Islamic movements and their perception of political activity

Keddie, Nikki. “The Revolt of Islam, 1700 to 1993: Comparative Considerations and Relations to Imperialism.”Comparative Studies in Society and History36, no. 3 (1994): 463–487. A historical and contextual framework about the clash between Islamic societies and imperialism since the eighteenth century.

Kerr, Malcolm H.Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riḍā. Berkeley, 1966. A textual analysis of the ideas of two prominent Arab Muslim reformers.

Lapidus, Ira. “Islamic Revival and Modernity: The Contemporary Movements and the Historical Reading.”Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient40, no. 4 (1997): 444–460. A study that directs our attention to the context of the rise of the Islamic movements in relation to the problems of modernity.

Levtzion, Nehemia, and John Obert Voll, eds.Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam. Syracuse, N.Y., 1987. Sundry articles that take the Islamic renewal and reform movements back to the eighteenth century instead of looking at the nineteenth century as their starting point.

Livingstone, John. “Muḥammad ʿAbduh on Science,”The Muslim World85, no. 3–4 (1995): 215–234. The positive ideas of a major Muslim reformer on modern science and its sanction by Islam.

Mutalib, Hussin. “Islamic Revivalism in ASEAN States: Political Implications.”Asian Survey30, no.9 (1990): 877–891. The phenomenon of Islamic revivalism in a region where different cultural currents intersect.

Voll, John Obert. “Renewal and Reform in Islamic History: Tajdīd and Iṣlāh”. In Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, pp. 32–47. New York and Oxford, 1983. A short study on the ideologies of different reform movements in different parts of the Muslim world

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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