Islamic Studies


By Dr. Ali Gomaa

Originally published at Ali Gomaa

There is a difference between change and creating change. The difference between them is intention and will, which require the formation of a plan and its implementation. Change happens automatically with the passing of time, the change of people due to life and death, the flow and intertwining of events, and the discoveries made, both in the sensory realm, as well as through the flashes of realization by which God provides openings to His servants in the realm of ideas. These discoveries later affect individual and group relations between people, and between countries and blocs. As for creating change, it involves studying reality and noting something that needs to be changed. This is where intention and will for that change appear and a person forms a suitable plan, which he implements to achieve his purpose or part of his purpose.

The expressions “reform” and “renewal” both fall into the category of “change”. Some authors of contemporary literature, according to their use of these two expressions, consider them to be synonymous, and use them interchangeably. I consider there to be a difference between reform and renewal. Reform assumes there is a deficiency in the world, which could reach the extent of a flaw, and which necessitates a certain amount of demolition and rebuilding. This is why reform also demands that one not submit to that which has been passed down, but consider that an error has been committed by those who have preceded us either in their understanding, their application, or both. This is the reason and justification for the process of demolition and rebuilding that puts an end to the current deficiency. With this concept of reform the idea of either a partial or a complete “epistemological rupture” can be accepted, based on the vision of the reformer, the extent of the reform, the extent of the desire, will, and intention to create change. Through this epistemological rupture the sources and tools of knowledge are criticized and new criteria for evaluation are formed. Thus the process of reformulating knowledge is carried out. All these are the first and essential steps in a plan of reform. Reform understood in this way usually faces strong resistance because firstly, it clashes with the prevailing culture, secondly, it puts forward an idea that hasn’t been tested before so there is fear of accepting it, thirdly, it formulates that idea in an original manner that differs from the formulations of established disciplines that have been studied and passed on from one generation to the next, and fourthly, because it describes a part of inherited knowledge as being deficient. Therefore, the task of reform is more difficult, and requires more time.

As for renewal, it is a process of adding something new that does not require demolishing or nullifying older knowledge, instead, it provides new things that are required by the times. The relationship of these additions to that which preceded is based on the concept of carrying out the duties called for by the times, that the predecessors successfully carried out the duties of their times based on the requisites of their era and their lives, and that you have duties of your time different from the duties of previous times. Therefore, although we respect inherited knowledge, we do not stop at it, and we do not oppose it, on the contrary, we respect it, add to it, and reformulate its methods to make them consistent with the new methods that we have added.

This is based on the idea of separating issues from methods. The issues are defined in our studies of grammar and syntax as the “complete sentence”, which consists in the Arabic language of a subject and a predicate, or a subject and a verb. A careful examination of the nominal sentence and the verbal sentence reveals that they are made up of two parts: a subject that we speak about, and something that we attribute to that subject, this is why we hear scholars of grammar refer to the subject (musnad ilayhi), the predicate (musnad), and predication (isnad). There are many different issues, they are as numerous as human expression, but when a person carries out the process of predication, they must apply certain methods or groups of methods in order to attribute the proper ruling to the subject. These methods vary based on the different fields that the issues fall under, such as the field of life where we say: the sun shines, or fire burns; or the mental and rational field with mathematical or geometric facts, which also have a sensory aspect in their application and benefits. There is also the transmitted field, where we say: the subject is in the nominative or indicative, or the object is in the accusative, which is not something that comes out of our creation or desire but has been transmitted to us in our inherited language. Similarly, there is the field of creation (al-wad’), where we agree on certain terms and expressions, such as formulation (ta’lif) in various sciences. Finally, there is the field of Islamic law, where we learn the commandments of shari’ah through detailed indications, such as when we say: prayer is obligatory, or bribery is prohibited. Therefore, the relation between the predicate and the subject is proving or refuting one towards the other.

Each field has its sources, its instruments that enable reaching its issues, and the conditions that must be satisfied by any researcher in this field. In fact, these three factors constitute methodology, that is why we see those who describe “usul al-fiqh” (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) as a methodology, since this science demonstrates the overall sources of evidence of fiqh (the sources), how to benefit from them (the instruments), and the state of the beneficiary (the conditions that must be satisfied by the researcher). The idea of not stopping at issues using methodologies, while sometimes reformulating them when needed in order to highlight them and explain their facts to the prevailing culture, is an important basis of the meaning of renewal.

Anyone aware of the current complex reality must reject the idea of dualities. Reform and renewal are not two contradicting concepts that cannot be combined; one should not side with reform and oppose renewal, or side with renewal and oppose reform, and people should not be classified as reformers or renewers, for the desired change could need both reform and renewal. In some cases, different ratios of the two may be needed at different times, where we might need more reform than renewal in a certain case, or vice versa, or they might both be needed in equal ratios. This liberation of these two terms is something that I consider to be of the utmost importance if we wish to examine the religious conditions in Egypt from the end of the eighteenth century until the present times. An awareness of these conditions enables us to understand the present in order to build for the future. We can try together to classify the events that occurred as “reform” and “renewal”, as well as categorizing reform further into a criticism of inherited knowledge or a deficiency in inherited knowledge.

We can begin by discussing a great scholar who represents a milestone in fiqh in Egypt and the Islamic world, Sheikh Abul-Barakat Ahmad Al-Dardir, born in 1127 Hijri and died in 1201 Hijri (1715 – 1786 AD). He was one of the leading scholars of the Maliki school of law, and was the religious authority for the country since he was the Grand Mufti of Egypt. This is mentioned in Al-Yawaqit Al-Thaminah” (“The Precious Pearls”), and he was mentioned by Al-Jabarti in the second volume of his history of modern Egypt. Followers of Sheikh Al-Dardir’s history will find that he carried out all three authorities: the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. This is a condition related to his times that has changed so that the concept of separating the powers was accepted, then implemented, and then became a necessity that could not be done without. This is not a kind of objectionable change or alteration; rather it is a requirement for the establishment of justice, order, and equality amongst humanity. The state has now become a state of institutions that agreed on a constitution that represents a social concept that disciplines and restrains human society in the manner desired by God the Almighty. These restraints on human society can be found in the Quranic chapter entitled “Women”, may God help me in deriving some of them in order to demonstrate the commandments of Islam regarding this issue.

Sheikh Al-Dardir was buried in his now well-known mosque, west of the Al-Azhar mosque. His home was near that mosque, and I have seen amongst its ruins something that resembled a gallows. Our teachers would explain to us that he used to carry out verdicts of execution, for he was a judge and an executor, and he was the commentator on Mukhtasar al-Khalil so he also acted as a legislative authority. Sheikh Al-Dardir was famous for following an ascetic and moral lifestyle, characterized by a strong opposition to the injustice imposed by rulers on their subjects. This was one of the main factors that combined all these authorities in his hands. There was one instance where Murad Beik, one of the Mamluks during the Ottoman era, attacked the homes of some Cairo residents and confiscated their possessions. The people then turned to the Sheikh, who led a revolution to recover the their usurped rights. When news of this reached Ibrahim Beik, who was Murad Beik’s partner in governing the country, he feared that this revolution could intensify, and sent to Sheikh Al-Dardir, seeking conciliation and apologizing for the actions of his partner, assuring him that he would return everything that had been pillaged, or pay compensation for it. There are several other similar situations where the Sheikh stood up to Ali Beik Al-Kabir, another leading Mamluk. The point of this story is that one hundred years later this situation of having the legislative, judicial, and executing powers in the hands of one person required much reform and renewal. This is why we call for any study to transmit consciously and to clarify the positive aspects of this situation and to attempt to strengthen them or reproduce them, as well as the negative aspects, in order to resist or change them.

Other examples worthy of being studied are those of Sheikh Hasan Al-‘Atar, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Bajuri, Sheikh Salim Al-Bishri, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Darraz, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Sadek Arjun, Sheikh Abd al-Mut’al Al-Sa’idi, and Sheikh Abd al-Halim Mahmud. These scholars have not been studied and researched as they deserve to be as has been the case with Imam Muhammad Abdu, may Allah have mercy on his soul.

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  • Thanks Shaikh Suhaib for the translation,quite weighty concepts that he has made crystal clear and have address the need of it.

  • Abu Layla:

    Asalamu alaykum,

    I pray you are well akhi and that your faith is strong. I’m not sure I understood your message? Are you of the opinion that there is no “reform” regarding the Muslim nation? If so, how do you understand the hadith of Ibn Majah from the Prophet [sa] who said, “At the head of every century Allah will send a reformer who will reform, for the community, its religion.” This hadith is sound and was acted upon by the salaf and the khalaf of this Umma. Imam al-Syuti [may Allah’s mercy be upon him] even wrote a small treaty on this topic listing those he felt were the Mujjadi’s [reformers] of this community. He was not alone in this as there were other great scholars who did the same.

    As for the qualifications of such reformers, the majority hold that they will be the scholars of Fiqh [the outer sciences] because, as the great sufi al-Sh’arani mentioned in Tanbih al-Mughnatin, “There is a binding agreement that one who has not mastered the outer can’t engage in the inner.” Sidi Zaruq said, “Shari’ah [here he means fiqh] can survive without tasawwuf, but taswwuf cannot survive without Shari’ah.” Thus, while calls to reform the hearts are great, there can be no tasawwuf with out fiqh and faith. For that reason Ibn Ashir al-Maliki began his famous texts with creed, fiqh and finally tasawwuf.

    Dr. Ali Gooma is a Faqih, Usoli, Muhaddith and a member of a Tariqah as I heard him say, “I’m versed in both the Shadiliy and Naqshabandi ways.” It is important to distinguish between legislated “reform” and “reform” that fails to meet the requirements of Shari’ah. I trust the scholarship of Dr. ‘Ali and hope that others will as well.

    For more, I recommend you read the article of Dr. al-Qaradawi on this site that talks about the difference between tajdid and tabdid.


  • AS

    There is much in the article that requires development in the form of dialogues that maybe span a few posts. Due to the nature of the article it stands as one robust in a series of themes interlaced. Two themes that strike out at me as a reader are the theme of “tajdid and islah” and then “working with Islamic tradition”.

    The first theme renewal and reform are interesting notions but one thing is clear there is an effort to claim the Muslim world is in need of a “protestant reformation” and this takes us to the matter of fundamentalism and then liberalism both which imply to some degree a doing away with tradition. The other turn is moving towards a sort of Muslim Catholicism wherein we emphasize tradition and the saints and the ascetic life as it was practiced by earlier generations as a normative age.

    In any event, it is clear that the two notions of reform and revival open up a multiplicity of trajectories not only in how we read tradition but moreso in how we understand the political sphere. One can make the argument that 18 and 19 th century scholars fell to the wayside in terms of revival as well as those who came before. A program involving an analytical understanding of various scholars in Egypt before the 18th and 19th century would definitely do well to aid us to understand the role of Azhari Ulema in revival efforts or as models of revival and in this sense allow us to cultivate a sense of continuity, “sanad” that connects the present past and future.

    There stands a lot to be done the say the least this article at least charts a course for serious inquiry into understanding how to work with tradition and how to study the principles of Islamic revival and further how to conceptualize the relationship between the scholar, the social context and politics.

    One feels so much depth in this type of discourse that it hurts to stop here it is my hope that this post turns into a series of blogs, contemplation over the meaning embedded herein. Perhaps we can etch out a serious and mature discourse by way of this post and gain a sense of orientation in regards of how to deal with revival and the role of tradition in that effort.

    Allahu Al’am
    Shukran Jazeelan Wa Baraka Allahu Fika

  • wa `alaykum salam,

    By ‘Mujaddid’ I understand it to be ‘Reviver’: somebody who filters out whatever that is not of the deen which has crept into the understanding/practice of peoplewhich they regard as part of the deen, or, bring back that which has been lost and is not being acted upon.

    Our deen itself doesn’t need changing i.e., matters upon which have been for centuries been clearly regarded to be permissible or impermissible and so on.

  • Imam Suhaib,

    Does a Mujaddid have to be a faqih? Is it possible for the mujaddid not to be a scholar of the traditional Islamic sciences?

    Malcolm X (rahimahullah) comes to mind, but I don’t know if he would be considered a mujaddid or not…

  • Asalaamu alaikum Shaykh Suhaib,

    “Thus, while calls to reform the hearts are great, there can be no tasawwuf with out fiqh and faith.”

    I am not sure I agree with that. Let me pose to you an example in a different aspect. Say you have a doctor who is so arrogant and filled with envy, and sees his self-importance that he does not listen to the patient and misdiagnosed the patient. And you have another person who wants to help people but he has no knowledge of medicine and gives a prescription or a medication to a person without permission or quaification to do so. Are they not both abusing the patient/person?

    I would say that there can be no faith without both tasawwuf and fiqh. They both go hand in hand. What I see from people in many communities is students who learn Fiqh and come to the US and start to put themselves in positions to speak on everything under the sun. They are so arrogant and filled with envy as they undermine social workers, counselors, psychologists, etc., and start to promote themselves as marriage counselors, youth counselors, educators, etc., I know some of them who grew up in the middle east and barely lived here yet they arrive here and start to bash people who were raised here as well as bash counselors who seek to help heal the communities. While they hurl Fiqh at you, the fiqh is embraced in envy, undermining logic, and a desire for power and self-promotion. It is like the 4,6,8 year degree in Fiqh got to their head and they think they know all, see all, and hear all. You cannot communicate with such people because they flash the fiqh degree in your face everytime you try to point out that they are abusing the community by speaking on issues beyond their knowledge. They can say if a marriage is valid or not, but they are not qualified to counsel marriages on the brink of divorce.

    How can such people guide others when their knowledge of some years in Fiqh gets to their head?

    Finally, can you answer this question for me? When Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings began his prophethood, did he begin with Fiqh or tasawwuf? What came first? Self-discipline and connecting to God, or Islamic Law?

    My understanding is Tasawwuf or self-discipline came first. Correct me if I am wrong.

    I end with this…There was a study done by Howard Beckman and Richard Frankel in 1984 – that researched doctors and found the average time patients were allowed to talk was 18 seconds. The majority of lawsuits against doctors was found to be for their failure to listen and not their lack of knowledge/qualifications in medicine. When doctors were presented with the evidence, they insisted they listened longer than this. And if they listened any longer, the patient would never stop talking. So Beckman and Frankel did a follow up study and found the contrary was true. That when patients were RESPECTED and given the time to talk – no patient talked more than 90 seconds. And most talked for 30 seconds. The same is true with most professionals and people of knowledge/Fiqh or data, is when they lack humility and fail to listen – they end up creating more harm than good.

    [9:61] “Some of them hurt the prophet by saying, “He is all ears!” Say, “It is better for you that he listens to you. He believes in GOD, and trusts the believers. He is a mercy for those among you who believe.” Those who hurt GOD’s messenger have incurred a painful retribution.”

    What value is Fiqh if you cannot actively listen to people and how can you listen if you lack humility and fail to cleanse yourselve from spiritual diseases and see your self-importance and knowledge and DISRESPECT others knowledge in other areas than fiqh?

    BTW, this is not directed at you personally. I don’t see you in that light, but we cannot pretend this problem does not exist in our communities. We need to confront it. We need to stand up and tell students of fiqh, that your knowledge of fiqh does not qualify you to be a youth or marriage counselor. Humble yourself and know your limitations.


  • Asalamu alaykum,

    Sr. Fedwa:

    I would like to thank you for this discussion and the opportunity to chat with you, learn, grow and gain new horizons. I certainly agree with you that one cannot exclude tasawwuf from the picture. However, the quote that you mentioned was one of Sidi Ahmed Zaruq in his Qawai’d Tasawuff. Its meaning is that, at the end of the day, the sufi cannot escape the bounds of Islamic law. If there is a doubt regarding any affair, it is the law that has the final say and not an esoteric enterprise. For that reason Junaid said, “If you see a man flying in the sky, don’t follow him until you see how he acts with Allah’s orders and prohibitions.”

    Regarding the Prophet’s mission, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, it began with an order “read” and ended with an order “fear.” Those orders, in different forms dealt with the entire human being. Some dealt with ihsan, some with akhlaq, some with law and some with creed. Thus, I would not dare say that there was no ihsan nor practice in the early community.

    Finally, while I agree with your experiences, the same can be said for those who went and studied tasawwuf. I’ve seen some of them acting in the manner you described above.

    For me, I try and stick to the opinion of the majority, as noted by al-Sh’arani, “One cannot master the inner sciences, until he’s mastered the outer.” However, as Ibn Taymiyyah noted, “Neither are exclusive to the other.”


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