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Saroyan, M. “Rethinking Islam in the Soviet Union” in Solomon, S.G. (ed.) Beyond Sovietology: Essays in Politics and History (New York, London: M.E. Sharpe, 1993) pp. 23-52.


CHAPTER  7


REVIVAL   AND   REFORM   IN   ISLAM


^ THE TRADITION


The period in which formative developments took place in Islam, and at the end ofwhich Muslim orthodoxy crystallized and emerged, roughly covered a period oftwo centuries and a half. Since this was the formative period, one cannot strictly speak of either revival or reform in Islam during this time, for both revival and reform can logically occur only after an orthodoxy has been established. Nevertheless, it would be a grave error to overlook the developments that occurred during this period since the very emergence of orthodoxy occurred only after long struggle and conflict in the fields of politics, moral ideas and Spiritual motifs. Indeed the germs of all the subsequent major developments in Islam, involving moral and Spiritual issues, are traceable to this very early period in the history of the Muslim Community after the death of the Prophet. The issues as to whether the Muslims should have a State at all, and, if so, what would be its nature and structure; whether the Community should be based on a catholic toleration or exclusivism; what type of economic principles should be generally regarded as Islamic; whether man is free and responsible, or whether his actions are pre-determined; whether the Community should decide issues in a collective spirit through ijmä’ or whether it should accept the principle of an infallible Imäm—all these problems were in some form or another raised, and in some sort answered during the earliest generations of Islam.

These conflicts ultimately resulted by the third/ninth Century in the acceptance of certain settled attitudes and opiniöns which, during the course of these centuries, had been given currency in the form of Traditions (sing., Hadith) attributed to the Prophet. The 'people of the Tradition' (ahl al-Hadith) were responsible for formulating the content of Sunnism which has continued to constitute orthodoxy since then. In these struggles, one can speak of the Shi'i group as a protest phenomenon for a period, until Shi'ism developed its own theology and independent system. The protest was essentially social and political, against the suppressive attitude of the ascendant Arabs, particularly during the Umayyad period. But Shi'ism soon ceased to be a phenomenon of reform and protest, and hardened into a sect with its doctrines of the infallible imämate and oitaqiyya, i.e. dissimulation of belief.

The next reform phenomenon is the Süfi movement which started in the second/eighth Century, partly as a reaction against the political Situation, and partly as a complementary antithesis to the development of the Systems of law and theology in Islam. With the natural and rapid expansion ofMuslim administration, the speedy development ofMuslim law was inevitable. But since law can regulate only the external behaviour of man, some sensitive spirits reacted sharply to these developments, questioning the validity oflaw as an exhaustive or, indeed, as an adequate expression of Islam. The Süfi movement gathered momentum, and from its original moral and ascetic phase rapidly developed an ideal of ecstatic communion with God, a doctrine of esoteric knowledge as opposed to external, rational theology with a system of moral gymnastics as a means to the realization of its final goal. But Sufism, like Shi'ism, threatened to drift from the social and communal ethos oforthodoxy, both by making the individual the centre of its attention, and by its doctrine of esotericism.

Nevertheless, Sufism has exercised, next to orthodoxy, the greatest influence on the Muslim Community because of its insistence on the

inner reform of the individual, and has, ever since its birth, posed the biggest challenge to orthodoxy down to the dawn of modern times. Since the fourth/tenth Century, when Sufism aügned itself intellectually with liberalizing intellectual trends, and combined with ist esotericism the philosophic legaey of neo-Platonism, it has exerted a tremendous attraction on some of the best minds in Islam. Orthodoxy, however, did not and could not yield to the ideal of Sufism, which, being incurably individual, ran counter to the ethos of the Community. Finally, in the fifth/eleventh Century, al-Ghazäli forged a synthesis of Sufism and orthodoxy which has exercised one of the most durable influences on the subsequent development of the Community. The substance of al-Ghazäli's reform lies in adopting a Süfi methodology to realize the orthodox ideal. Sufism for al-Ghazäli is a way whereby the verities of the orthodox creed can be both established, and invested with füll meaning. This is, of course, not to say that the Sufism of al-Ghazäli is externally and mechanically attached to the truths of the faith; on the contrary, in his book al-Munqidh min al-daläl, he teils us how, after haVing forsaken traditional faith, and having wandered through philosophic thought and Ismä'ili doctrines, he discovered the truth in orthodox Islam, which, in the hands of its official exponents, had become a mere shell, a set of formal propositions without inner power.1 While, however, al-Ghazäli's influence has been of the utmost fecundity in the religious history of Islam, and has produced a broad via media, developments occurred soon after him which led Sufism and orthodoxy in different directions. Al-Ghazäli is a great watershed of religious ideas in Islam, and his influence has not altogether been in one direction. Although he himself claimed to rediscover the verities of the orthodox creed through Sufism, and many followed him in this path, there are strong elements in his writings which do not yield easily to this synthetic treatment, and he often gives the appearance of being a pure mystic rather than an orthodox mystic. It is certainly difficult to infer an effective societal ethos from his teachings. During the seventh/thirteenth Century, the Spanish Muslim Ibn al-'Arabi developed Sufism into a full-fledged pantheistic doctrine, and became the apostle of the new theosophic Sufism, around which clustered the majority of heterodox Süfis in the succeeding centuries. From the sixth/twelfth Century onwards, Sufism also became a mass movement in the form of organized brotherhoods (sing., tariqa) which invaded the entire Muslim world from east to west. The antinomian tendencies, which had often been latent in Sufism, and erupted sppradically in the form ofintellectual and Spiritual movements, now became rampant in the Muslim world, through their alliance with local religious milieus. Henceforward, this fact constitutes a permanent challenge and a threat to orthodoxy. The Süfi movement, in fact, gathered up a multifarious and vast stock of ideas, beliefs and practices; and, indeed, threw its mantle over all those trends which either wanted to soften the rigours of the orthodox strueture of ideas, or even rebelled against them, whether openly or covertly. Sufism thus not only afforded a haven to certain primitive practices and beliefs from various regions of the gradually islamized world, such as the worship of saints and veneration of tombs; but, in some of its manifestations, looked like being simply a spiritualized Version of Ismä'ili esotericism, or a philosophical dissipation of the orthodox position through intellectual or pseudo-intellectual arguments.

^ 1 That al-Ghazäli's mysticism is a purely external and 'methodological' affair is a thesis put forward by Farid JabteinhisLanotiondelama'rifacheszal-GhazäliQieinit, 1958); for ist criticism, see Fazlur Rahman's review of the same in BSOAS xxii/2 (1959), 362-4; also

his book Islam (London, 1966), Ch. VIII.

Whereas, therefore, Sufism, in its moderate forms, became acceptable to, and was even espoused by, the orthodox, ist flanks became the focal points of all those trends of.varymg degrees of intensity when sought either to reform orthodox Islam, or to dissipate it completely. The concentration of all these under cover of Süfi thought and practice offered a challenge, to meet which henceforth absorbed all the energies of the orthodox 'ulamä'. We thus see a whole complex of reform and counter-reform.

Just as the 'people of the Tradition' had played a decisive role in the early struggles against the Mu’tazila, the Shi’a and the Kharijites, and had helped to crystallize and formulate Sunni orthodoxy, so once again the same revivalist and reformist zeal appeared with the remarkable Ibn Taymiyya in the seventh-eighth/thirteenth-fourteenth centuries. Ibn Taymiyya was a professed follower of Ahmad b. Hanbal, and a typical representative of the right wing of orthodoxy. The immediate objects of his fiery criticism were Sufism and its representatives, but he was no less vehement against the pure thought of the philosophers, the esotericism of the Shi'a in general and the Ismä'ilis in particular. Even the orthodox Ash'arite formulation of the Muslim creed receives ist share of Ibn Taymiyya's critique.1 But although Ibn Taymiyya generally gives the impression of being a rigid conservative, uncompromising with either rationalism or Sufism, this impression is not altogether correct.

There is discernible in his wrtings a positive movement of the mind and spirit which genuinely seeks to go behind all historic formulations of Islam by all Muslim groups, to the Qur'än itself and to the teaching of the Prophet. There is ample evidence that he did not reject all forms of Sufism, and that he in fact regarded the Sufi intuition as being on a par with the ijtihäd of orthodox 'ulamä', both of which, he demanded, must be judged in the light of the Qur'än and the Sunna: Similarly, his critique of existing orthodoxy on some of the fundamental points of the creed, such as the freedom and the efficacy of the human will, almost tilts the balance in favour of the Mu’tazilites against the entrenched orthodoxy, and shows glaringly his boldness in resenting reigning opinions, even when orthodoxy had thrown ist manue upon them. Ibn Taymiyya, therefore, undoubtedly sought, with a large measure of success, to start afresh from the Qur'än and the Sunna, and to assign their due places to the subsequent developments in Islam, both orthodox and heterodox.


^ 1 See Fazlur Rahman's article'Post-F6rmative Developments in Islam', in Islamic Studies, Karachi, 1,4 (1962), 13.

1 Cf. Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Ch. VI.


Nevertheless, however, salutary and fresh the content of Ibn Taymiyya's attempt at the reconstruction of Islam may have been, it had certain serious limitations, which became conspicuous among his followers. These arose essentially from the fact that rationalism is condemned on principle, and insistence is almost entirely laid on the Tradition in understanding Islam. Ibn Taymiyya had acted as a liberalizing force against the authority of the medieval schools, and this wasthe reason for the unrelenting Opposition of the contemporary orthodox 'ulamä' who Wanted to maintain the medieval structure of beliefs and practices of Islam. Nevertheless the effect of his activity was to make rigid the earliest interpretations of Islam, and to entrench them more thoroughly, because of his summons back to the Qur'än and the Sunna.

For the Sunna was taken in a literalist sense, since Ibn Taymiyya was opposed on principle to rationalism. Secondly, the Sunna, as it appears in the form of Hadith literature, is not actually the work of the Prophet, but is largely attributable to the early generations of Muslims. The essentially formal and external cänons of criticism of Hadith, devised by the classical and medieval Muslim authorities/are inadequate for bringing about a genuine historical evaluation of"Hadith literature. The net result is that, whenever an invitation is given to the Muslims to go back to the Sunna of the Prophet, in actual terms it is an invitation to accept the formulations of the early generations of Muslims.

We have dwelt at some length on Ibn Taymiyya's work because, even though he was opposed by his'contemporaries, his teaching has not only had historical consequences, in the form of certain major reform movements in recent centuries, but his spirit of free and fresh thinking and enquiry may be said to be alive in much of Modernist Islam.

The epitome of Ibn Taymiyya's message may be formulated as follows: Man on earth must discover and implement the will of God. The will of God lies enshrined in the Qur'än and embodied in the Sunna of the Prophet.

This will of God is the Shari'a. A Community which consciously sets out to implement the Shari'a is a Muslim Community. But in order to implement the Shari'a, the Muslim society must set üp certain institutions, the most important of which is the State. No form of the state, therefore, has any inherent sanctity: it possesses sanctity only in so far as it is an effective instrument of the Muslim Community.1 This implementation of the will of God is the 'ibäda or 'service to God'. It will be seen that this message emphasizes not merely the individual, but Sie collective being of the Community, and, therefore, lays greater stress on social virtues and justice than on mere individual virtues. In so doing, Ibn Taymiyya once again captures the essential spirit of the Qur'än and of the Sunna of Muhammad, and thus goes beyond the historic "Muslim Community. Now the reform movements which burst upon the Muslim world during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries exhibit this common characteristic, that they bring into the centre of attention the socio-moral reconstruction of Muslim society, as against Sufism, which had stressed primarily the individual and not the society.

1 I. Goldziher, Muhammadanisehe Studien, Vol. II; J. Schacht, The Origins of MuhammadanJurisprudence (Oxford, 1959); Fazlur Rahman,' Sunnah, Ijtihäd and Ijmä' in the Early period, in Islamic Studies, I,/i, (1962); idem, 'Sunnah and hadith', in Islamic Studies, 2, (1962).


It is common to begin an account of these reform movements with Wahhabism, the puritanical, right-wing reform movement led by Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhäb (d. 1206/1792) in central Arabia. Alreadyin the first quarter of the seventeenth Century, however, the Indian divine, Shaykh Ahmad of Sirhind, had laid the theoretical basis of a similar reform. Shaykh Ahmad (d. 1034/1-62 5) reacting specifically against the abuses into which Sufism had fallen both theoretically and at the practical level, and working against the background created by the eclecticism ofthe Mughal Emperor Akbar under the intellectual sponsorship of the two brothers Abu'1-Fazl and Fayzi, vindicated the claims of the Shari'a with its socio-moral ethos, against the latitudinarianism of the Süfis, and the vague liberalism of the pure intellectuals. As with Ibn Taymiyya, so with Ahmad Sirhindi, the activism of classical Islam came into füll focus with the re-emphasizing of the Shari'a? But political developments in India, and the rapid decline of Muslim power in the subcontinent, could not provide the necessary conditions for the realization of Sirhindi's objectives. Nevertheless, through his work and that of his followers, a reformed Spiritual tradition came into existence which played a prominent role in keeping the threads of the Community together in the political and social chaos that followed the decay of Mughal power. But the Wahhäbi revolt in the heart of the Arabian peninsula during the next Century was much more radical and uncompromising towards the un-Islamic accretions, and the superstitious cults Hnked with populär Sufism. The movement of Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhäb was directly inspired by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, but in some major aspects it departed from Ibn Taymiyya himself. Thus, unlike Ibn Taymiyya, the Wahhäbis rejected all forms of Sufism, even though they termed their system tariqa Muhammadiyya.

They also rejected, with much more virulence than Ibn Taymiyya or Ahmad Sirhindi, the intellectualist trends inIslam, which they looked upon with great distrust. Although they rejected the authority of the medieval schools of law, following Ibn Taymiyya, and, like him, insisted on ijtihäd, or fresh thinking, they did practically everything in their power to discourage the actual tools of positive fresh thinking by rejecting intellectualism.The untiring emphasis of the Wahhäbis (and kindred groups) on ijtihäd has hence proved fruitless andpractically they have become' followers' (muqallidün) of the sum total of the Islamic legacy of the first two centuries and a half, even though being described as 'followers' is anathema to them. The Wahhäbis, however, have done good work by bringing into relief the principles of Islamic egalitarianism and co-operation, and actually founded co-operative farm-villages.


1 This question has been more precisely studied in a forthcoming monograph by Mr Qamaruddin Khan, to be published by the Central Institute of Islamic Research, Karächi; in a general way it has been treated by H. Laoust in his Les docirines sociales etpolitiquts d'Ibn Taimiya (Cairo, 1939).

1 See Fazlur Rahman Selected letters of'AhmadSirhindi, to be published by the historical

Society of Pakistan, Introduction.


Reform movements, fundamentally of a puritanical character, and seeking to rid the Muslim society of the causes responsible for ist degeneration and corruption, grew up in a large part of the Muslim world in the Indian subcontinent. Shäh Wali Allah of Delhi (d. 1176/ 1.762), following upon Ahmad Sirhindi, set to work on broadly similar lines. He saw, however, that the political Situation in India had radically changed since Sirhindi's time, and he therefore propounded a system which would be congenial to the Spiritual environment of the Indian subcontinent, and at the same time calculated to regenerate Islamic forces. His attitude towards Sufism is not one of rejection, but of assimilation as far as possible. But while interpreting the message of Islam in these terms, Shäh Wali Allah endeavoured to create a social-political substructure for it. He attacked the social and economic injustices preväiling in society, criticized the heavy taxes to which the peasantry was subjected, and called upon the Muslims to build a territorial State which might be integrated into an international Muslim super-state. The thinking of Shäh Wali Allah, although fundamentally in agreement with other similar reform movements, so far as the social side is concerned, sharply contrasts with the Wahhäbi movement in that it seeks to integrate various elements rather than to reject them. Political conditions were ünfavourable to him, and his ideas ultimately generated a purely puritanical type of movement, not unlike that of 'Abd al-Wahhäb. This movement, which swept over northern India during the first half of the nineteenth Century, was led by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi of Räe Bareli and a grandson of Shäh Wali Allah, Muhammad Ismä'il, both of whom were killed in battle against the Sikhs in 1831.

It is doubtful, however, whether Sayyid Ahmad was directly influenced by the Wahhäbis as is generally believed.1 The Sanüsi movement of the nineteenth Century in Libya exhibits similar characteristics. Although it had the organized. form of a Süfi tariqa and included some Süfi practices as well, its objectives were radically different. It was basically a social refprm movement, aiming at the purification of society from degenerate beliefs, and particularly from corrupting malpractices. Above all, it sought to promote a sene of moral solidarity based on honesty, egalitarianism and economic justice. In spite of the fact that some of the views of the Sanüsi shaykh were attacked by some of the al-Azhar authorities as being heretical, the sociological bases helped its growth, and subsequently it waged a bitter struggle against the expansionist policies of Euro pean colonial powers. On more or less similar, but basically more militant lines, were laid the foundations of the Fulani Jihäd involevement of 'Uthmän dan Fodio and the Mahdist movement in the Sudan. We may sum up the general characteristics of all these movements as follows.

Although the attitudes of these reform phenomena towards Sufism ranged from an outright rejection to a more or less modified acceptance of it, the purely world-negating attitudes of medieval Sufism were combated by them. Those movements, such as the Indian, which integrated Sufism into their system, developed a much more positive Sufism, endeavoured to eradicate the socio-moral evils that came in the wake of the spread of Sufism and, on the whole, gave it a more dynamic outlook.


^ 1 See Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Ch. XII. It is noteworchy, however, that Sayyid Ahmad also called his movement Tariqa Muhammadiyya, cf. Murray Titus, Indian Islam (Oxford, 1930, revised edition under the title Islam in India and Pakistan, i960), 181-2.


The primary concern of all these movements was with the socio-moral reconstruction and reform of society. Although it would be a bold denial of facts to say that any of these movements gave up or even hnderplayed the concept of the after-life, yet it is significant to note that the emphasis had shifted more towards the positive issues of society, whether in political, moral or Spiritual terms. The reason for this is not far to seek. It was the social degeneration ofMuslim society that had called forth these movements in the first place. They had not come into existence to rectify or strengthen beliefs about the other world but to reform the socio-moral failures of the Muslim Community, through which this society had become petrified. Because oftheir very nature, therefore, these movements strengthened, in varying degrees, the activism and the moral dynamism which had been characteristic of pristine Islam. All of these movements were politically active; most of them resorted tojihädto realize their ideals.

This fact, again, aligns them more directly with pristine Islam rather than with historic Islam. All of these movements, without exception, emphasized a 'retum' to pristine Islam in terms of the Qur'än and the Sunna of the Prophet. In practice, however, as we pointed out in the case of Ibn Taymiyya above, the Sunna oi the Prophet meant the practice or the doctrines worked out by the earliest generations of Muslims.

For this reason, although all these movements unanimously proclaimed the right of ijtihäd, and denied final authority to all but the Prophet, they were yet able to make but little headway in the reformulation of the content of Islam. The historical belief that the Hadith genuinely contains the Sunna of the Prophet, combined with the further belief that the Sunna of the Prophet and the Qur'anic rulings on social behaviour have to be more or less literally implemented in all ages, stood like a rock in the way of any substantial rethinking of the social content ofIslam. When, therefore, the leaders ofthese movements issued the call 'back to the Qur'än and the Sunna'', they literally meant that history should move backwards. For the ideal had already been enacted at a given time in the past, viz. in seventh-century Arabia. We shall subsequently see that this utterly revivalist attitude has undergone a considerable modification under the impact ofthe Modernist movements in Islam, although what revivalism exactly means still remains unclear to the revivalist himself as we shall see.

The account given above ofthe pre-Modernist reform movements which swept over the larger part of the Muslim world during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has clearly established that the consciousness of degeneration, and ofthe corresponding need to remedy social evils and raise moral Standards, was generated from the heart of Muslim society itself. This needs to be pointed out emphatically, because there is a common error which leads many observers of presentday Muslim society, and its attempts at rethinking and reconstruction, to regard these as being primarily the result of the impact of the West.

There are certain considerations which seem.to render such a conclusion plausible. The impact of the modern West upon the Muslim East begins with the political and economic expansionism of the West. In almost every case, the Muslim lands suffered a political and military reverse at the hands of the West, and consequently came under ist subjection. Because of this political subjection, and the psychologicäl - forces generated by it, the Muslim response tö the West on the plane of intellectual and scientific thought, and the religious issues raised by this thought, has not been, in its first phase, as constructive as it would have been if the Muslims had been politically ascendant. An average foreign observer, therefore, tends to look upon the Muslim society as an inert mass suffering from a reaction to the Western impact at all levels, but unable to adopt a positive enough attitude towards it. Worse still, many of the modern educated Muslims themselves have come to believe this. The trouble is that the average modern educated Muslim knows as little about his past heritage as does the average foreign observer.

Besides being ignorant of his own cultural background, he is mentally a creature of what is essentially the Western educational System the projection of the West into the Muslim East. He, therefore, begins to think that in so far as progress is actually being achieved in the Muslim world, or is even conceivably achievabje, it will be a mere duplication of the West, and that Islam is either neutral in all this, or is perhaps a positive hindrance.

The reform movements described above naturally owed nothing whatsoever to any foreign influence in their genesis, since to postulate any such influence would be a historical absurdity. From the characteristics common to those movements enumerated at the end of the last section, we must conclude that, in so far as thefact and the form of the reformist zeal are concerned, they antedate modern Islam, and that modern Islam is a simple continuation, in these respects, of the pre-Modernist reform movements. Where modern Islam does differ from the legacy of these movements is in its positive content. We have seen above that all these movements laid emphasis on fresh thinking (ijtihäd), but that they were unable to give any large new content to their thinking, because their actual intention was focussed on pristine Islam. What the Modernist Muslim has essentially achieved is the maintenance of pristine Islam as a Source of inspiration and motive energy, and to this energy he has sought to attach a Modernist content. The meäsure of success with which this has been done so far, and the rhythm of this entire movement, are now left for us to describe. But we must once again emphasize the continuity between the pre-Modernist äwakening and the Modernist renaissance, inasmuch as both are concerned with society. Even the terrific zest and dynamism displayed by the modern movements of überation from foreign rule are essentially a continuation of the activism of the pre-Modernist reform movements. It is true that to this early Islamic activism, a new nationalist motif has usually been added; but we shall have'to discuss more closely the relationship of the nationalist thrust to the einliestjihäd motivation in various segments of Muslim society.


^ Intellectual developments

In the very first reactions of the Muslim leaders towards the West, the political and the intellectual factors have gone hand in hand. Thus, Jamal al-DIn al-Afghäni (1839-97) combined both these motives in his powerful appeal to the Muslims to awaken to the current Situation, toliberate themselves from Western domination, and to carry out the necessary internal reforms that would make for their regeneration and strength. He not only called upon the Muslims to stand against the West politically, but to estabüsh populär and stable governments at home, and to cultivate modern scientific and philosophical knowledge.

Although he was not a thinker of great calibfe, his activity has left enduring marks on Muslim Modernism as a whole. Apart from his political agitation, the most salient feature of his Spiritual attitude, which he has bequeathed to the Modernist Muslim, is his unbounded humanism. Indeed, there is evidence to the effect that even his appreciation of religion was based upon a humanist elan; for religion, including Islam, according to him served human ends. It, therefore, must be concluded that his emphasis on populism was not just a means to an external end, the strengthening of Muslim governments against a foreign enemy, but was possessed of intrinsic value. Indeed al-Afghäni appears to be the sympathetic advocate of the downtrodden and the deprived. This is the reason why al-Afghäni not only stirred up Islamic sentiments to rouse the people to meet the challenge of the West, but even appealed to rion-Islamic and pre-Islamic cultural factors for this purpose. In India, Egypt and Turkey, for example, he appealed to past Hindu, Pharaonic and pre-Islamic Turkish greatness, and thereby helped to rouse nationalist side by side with Islamic sentiments.

This brief analysis of al-Afghäni reveals simultaneously the unprecedented challenge faced by the Modernist, the complications latent in the modernist Situation, and the magnitude of the intellectual task.

Its complications are so great that it looks like a vicious circle; and the breaking of this vicious circle carries with it the inconsistencies and anomalies that are characteristic of Modernist attitudes.We have pointed out that the primary task of the pre-Modernist movements was to reform society. The alliance of the spirit of the modern age with the ethos of the pre-Modernist reformers helped further to weaken the Süfi hold upon the educated classes, and further to accentuate the consciousness of social reform. The criticism of historic Muslim social institutions (like polygamy, unregulated divorce and the Status ofwomen in general) by orientalists and Christian missionaries specifies the objectives of social reform for the Modernist. But social reform, on closer examination turns out to be a very complex affair, and begins to assume a purely intellectual aspect, because fe. mere change in social institutions cannot be carried out without rethinking the social ethic and ideas of social justice. Further, social reform implies legislation, and legislation raises very fundamental issues as to who is to legislate. and by virture of what authority.fThe entire philosophyoflaw becomes involved in this 'variouse theories’ of ijtihäd and ijmä' are put forth. This raises further problems of the political Constitution of the State, of representation, and the nature of political authority. But change in political ideas and attitudes not only presupposes legislation but also social change itself.

This is what we mean by the vicious circle. For the sake of convenience, however, we shall first outline the intellectual developments in modern Islam, since it is ideas which, when they become objects of conviction, are the most potent moving forces in a society.

The bases of modern reformist thinkine; are, as we have pointed out above, supplied by the pre-Modernist reform movement. It is, therefore, not an accident that the most important Modernist thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries come from a purificationist-reformist background. We have quoted the notable example of Jamal al-Dln al-Afghani; similar ones are provided by Muhammad 'Abduh (d. 1905) of Egypt and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898) of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, even though both of these men propounded somewhat different Solutions, as we shall see presently. The purificationist reformlegacy of pre-Modernist days, however, could only have prepared the ground for this Modernist thinking, and in the preceding pages we have brought out its essential limitations. Indeed, in so far as its emphasis was Iiterally on a 'going back' to the Qur'än and the Sunna, it appears a positive hindrance in the way of progressive thinking, and, in fact, most reactionaries or revivalists opposed Modernist thinking on these very grounds. Yet, the unanimous call of all the pre-Modernist reforms to ijtihäd supplied the requisite inspiration for the Modernist to Start his work. The actual purificationist activities of these early movements, and their combined efforts either to reject, or at least to control, the extravagances of Sufism stood the Modernist in good stead. In this connexion too, the objective work of orientalists, which focussed attention on the early centuries ofIslam, cannot be denied its value. Even the missionary, with his narrow outlook, did not fail to provoke discussion. But in spite of continuity with earlier reform phenomena, Modernist thinking had to go far beyond anything achieved by the pre-Modernist reform, both in the nature of the questions raised, and in the content of the answers given. The most fundamental question that was raised in Islam (after a lapse of about nine centuries) was that of the relationship between faith and reason, or of faith and scientific thought. This question had preoccupied the minds of the Western thinkers themselves for centuries, particularly from the beginning öf their Renaissance, and one cannot help thinking that, to some extent, they have projected their own preoccupations into Islamic discussions around this particular problem. Nevertheless, this question was not raised in Islam for the first time. The Mu'tazilites and the philosophers had asked the same question, and given their own Solutions. But the question as raised in the nineteenth Century had acquired a new dimension, because of the fact that the actual or putative conflict was not just between religion and thought, as had been the case previously, but that a new scientific world-view had emerged, or was emerging, which had its own claims for recognition. The answers given to this basic problem, both in their form and content, by Muhammad 'Abduh and by Sayyid Ahmad Khan are highly interesting, and at the same time reveal the different approaches of these two types ofModernist. While both emphasize that there cannot be any conflict between Islamic faith and reason, or the religion of Islam and science, and further maintain that Islam is a positive rational and scientific force in the world, the attitude of Muhammad 'Abduh, who was a trained 'älim, is a much more moderate one than that of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. While Muhammad 'Abduh more or less seeks to regenerate the rationalizing spirit of the Mu'tazilite school, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, on the other hand, espouses the much more radical course of medieval Muslim philosophers, such as Ibn Sinä and Ibn Rushd. This difference does not stop merely at a general level, but appears in the detailed Solutions to specific problems handled by both of them. While it is the aim of both of these thinkers to encourage belief in the scientific world-view, and consequently to discourage belief in superstitions and miracles, the difference in the formulation of their answers is remarkable. Muhammad 'Abduh. declares as a general principle that the possibility of miracles is to be accepted, but that every particular miracle claimed may be doubted with impunity, either on rational or historical grounds. Thus, one may reject all the miracles one by one, but one may not reject the possibility of miracles as a principle. Very different is the case with Sayyid Ahmad Khan. He, first of all, lays down the principle of 'conformity of nature'. Nature he declares to be a closely knit System of causes and effects which allow of no supernatural Intervention. Indeed, Sayyid Ahmad Khan seems to espouse a kind of deism which was fashionable among the nineteentli-century scientific circles of the West, and was also closely related to the spirit and the thinking of the medieval Muslim philosophers. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, therefore, categorically and on principle, rejects the possibility of miracles. Similarly, in the field of historical criticism, the questi.xi of Hadith comes under discussion. On this point, again, Muhammad 'Abduh maintains that one does not incur infidelity to Islam if one doubts any given Hadith, but Hadith must be accepted on principle and in general. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, on the other hand, most probably aided by his colleague, Maulavi Chirägh 'Ali, rejects all Hadith. One may say that the method adopted by Sayyid Ahmad Khan was more thorough-going and consistent, and its conclusions are more radical than those of Muhammad 'Abduh. But we must remember that neither of these men was aiming simply at producing scientific thought, but that their basic aim was reformist. Reform imposes its own terms, has its own rhythm; and therefore a reformist may well find that he has to put his conclusions in a way that would be acceptable to a large number, if not the whole, of his Community. In this sense, as subsequent developments have shown, Muhammad 'Abduh's ideas have been more potent, and have taken deeper root in the soil than those of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, whose educational policies were more acceptable to Muslims than his religious ideas.

Förmulation of the principle that Islam not only did not oppose reasonand science, but encouraged both, persuaded an ever-increasing number of Muslims to take up the study of modern science. Another attempt made by an Indian Muslim to develop a new rationalist theology was also inspired by the leadership of Sayyid Ahmad Khan; this was the Work of Muhammad Shibli Nu'mäni (d. 1914) who is, however, better known as a historian. In his work entitled 'Um al-kaläm he described the historical genesis and development of the classical Muslim schools of theology. This was followed by a second work entitled al-Kaläm, wherein Shibli endeavoured to restate the theses of classical theology in the light of the general nineteenth-century scientific world-view. In doing so he, like Muhammad 'Abduh, resurrected the rationalist trends of the Mu'tazilite School. His work was, however, rejected as heretical by the orthodox 'ulamä7 of the Deöband Seminary. Shibli subsequently left 'Aligarh School (founded by Sayyid Ahmad Khan) and joined the Nadwat al-'Ulamä' at A'zamgarh near Lucknow, where he framed his own syllabus for combining traditional and modern learning. The Nadwa, as it is called, however, has not produced any thinker of high calibre, and for all intents and purposes its alumni are indistinguishable from the conservative 'ulama'.

An obvious corollary of the principle that Islam encourages scientific and rational enquiry is that Islam is a great civilizing and educative force. The fact that through Islam the Arabs became world conquerors and progenitors of a great civilization, supplies the necessary historical evidence for this. The most effective argument built around this thesis was worked out by the eminent Jurist Sayyid Amir 'Ali (d. 1928), whose main contention was that Islam is inherently a civilizing and progressive force. An inevitable result of this position is that those segments of Muslim history, which represent the decline of the Muslims and their civilization, must be rejected as unrepresentative of Islamic history. This is what, in fact, many Islamic historians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century have done. This procedura has been vehemently criticized by certain Western scholars, who have described it as subjective and betraying a lack of intellectual integrity. Irrespective of this controversy, we may note that the character of the intellectual products of Islamic civilization does exhibit something tangibly different from the ancient period, and we think it undeniable that Muslim thought, especially scientific and philosophic, Stands at the threshold of modernity. As for the charge of selectivity and subjectivity against Amir 'Ali and others, we must once ägain remember that these men were not simply historians but implicitly reformers. This explains why they underline those segments of Muslim history which represent greatness and progress in civilization. These are an implicit invitation to the Muslims to re-create parallel history in the future. We must, therefore, distinguish this from strictly descriptive historiography. If a Muslim sees his faith expressed more adequately in one segment ofhistory rather than another, vre cannot see any legitimate objection to it. In any case, the idea that all knowledge and progress is par excellence Islamic is part of the stock-in-trade of Muslim Modernism, and an inevitable conclusion from the principle that Islam invites man to search and enquire. This is why Muhammad Iqbal (1876-193 8), when he speaks approvingly of the rapid movement of the Muslim world towards the West, says that by acquiring knowledge from the West the Muslims are only retrieving their lost heritage which they must once again cultivate and develop.

It is obvious, however, that pure Westernism, i.e., the projection of the West into the Muslim society, could not and cannot succeed unless it creates for itself a moral and cultural basis within Muslim society. This means that there must be a process of Integration and assimilation of the new forces, and adaptation of their institutional embodiment to the moral-cultural heritage of Islam and vice versa. This vital function is to be performed by Muslim Modernism. But Muslim Modernism, after its initial launching by thinkers like Muhammad 'Abduh, Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sayyid Amir 'Ali, unfortunately, underwent a rapid transformation, and degenerated, on the one hand, into pure apologetics, and, on the other, developed into a more or less purely secular Westernism. Indeed, the story of the decline of positive Modernist thought, beginning roughly with the second decade of the present Century, is both interesting and füll of lessons. In the Middle East itself, the synthetic thought-movement of Muhammad 'Abduh split itself into three parts. In its main direction, under the leadership of his disciple, Rashid Ridä, it developed a fundamentalist character, and, although its reformist zeal remained, it progressively assumed the reactionary features of the original Wahhäbi movement. Its reformist programme became really limited to the elimination of differences among the different schools of law; it was essentially a throw-back to eighteenth Century pre-Modernist fundamentalism. Secondly, the defensive dement in Muhammad 'Abduh gave rise to a prolific apologetic literature, particularly at the hands of Farid Wajdi. On all issues of major reform, this apologetic trend defended the old against the new, and endeavoured to create an effective wall against the influx of modern forces and ideas. From being a defence mechanism, it gradually developed into inhibitionism. When, for example, Qäsim Amin's book entitled al-Mar'a al-jadida (' The new woman'), arguing for improving the Status of women and their emancipation, was published, Farid Wajdi wrote a reply wherein he defended the traditional place of Muslim women in society; and so on. Thirdly, a more or less unmixed thrust of Westernism developed, among the eminent representatives of which may be counted Dr Tähä Husayn. The truth is that the strength of this pure Westernism is commensurate with the vitulence of the resurgent fundamentalism and its defensive arm, the new apologetic; this, in turn, is the füll measure of the failure of effective Modernism.

In the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent the same story is repeated. The initial modernism of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sayyid Amir 'Ali was subjeeted to bitter invectives and, in fact, denounced as pure Westernism. Men like Abu'l-Kaläm Äzäd, and the poet Akbar of Allahabad, attacked uncompromisingly the introduetion of new ideas and institutions into Muslim society. While the more learned writings of the former were addressed primarily to the higher classes, the bitter epigrams of Akbar proved very effective at the lower-middle class level. Akbar wrote particularly against the new education, and relentlessly satirized the movement for the emancipation of women. Here is one of his quatrains:

Yesterday, having seen some women without veil,

Akbar sank into the earth out of hurt Islamic pride.

When asked whither their veil had gone, they replied

'The veil has fallen upon men's intelligence'.

The reasons for this vehement reaction, and the submergence and decline of modernist thinking, are manifold, and they can only be briefly indicated here. First, the new ideas brought by modern education needed time to ripen in order to produce mature representatives. The relative immaturity of the representatives of modernity has been a great hindrance to the acceptance of modern ideas, and their consequent assimilation through Modernist thought. Allied to this is the fact that the early exponents of Modernism did not fully grasp the deeper Spiritual and moral factors behind the phenomenal flowering of modern Western civilization, and they took mainly into consideration only certain external manifestations of this inner vitality; such as modern democratic institutions, universal education, and the emancipation of women.

The deeper fountains of the creative vitality of the West, particularly humanism in its various forms, were not studied properly and given due weight.1 The result was that an attempt was made to transfer, because of their attractiveness, certain more or less external institutions of the West to a new soil wherein they were not properly adapted to the new conditions. Indeed, the Moderhist did not develop traditional Muslim thought from the inside to supply an adequate basis for the new values and institutions. It is perhaps also true that liberalism, as it has grown in the modern West, claims absolute validity for itself, and seeks no compromises or rapprochement with any other System of ideas or values. It is obvious enough that this liberalism, pushed to its logical conclusions, is self-defeatingj and that it must impose certain checks upon itself. The early Muslim Modernists, the starting point of whose Modernism lay in Westernism, almost deified liberalism, and sought to impose its categories upon Muslim society. The result was that, when their message penetrated into the interior of the society, it was vehemently rejeeted.


1 Muhammad Iqbal, in the first chapter of hisReconstruction of religious thought in Islam, hadwarncd Muslims against being dazzled by the external glamour of the West and had insisted on a deeper penetration into the spirit that moves the Western civilization. But, despite the fact that Itjbäl himsclfgoes to great lengths to eultivate a humanist spirit at the philosophical level, he rojeets it almost uncompromisingly in favour of a pure transcendentalism on theethical plane. This fact itself demonstrates how difficult it is to change quickly settledhabits of thought.


Lastly, Muslim society has had to summon up all its energies and concentrate its force on seeking to liberale itself from the political domination ofthe West, whether dkect or indirect. From approximately the beginning of the Balkan Wars in 1912, the Muslim world became conscious that either it must gain independence of foreign powers, or it must finally go under. In this grim struggle where nationalism and Islam fought hand in hand, unity and solidarity were the overriding dictates. In the history of lslam whenever unity and solidarity have had to be emphasized, differences of opinion have always been discouraged, since differences of opinion have been seen as creating doubts. Since Modernism involves a strenuous and sustained intellectual effort, and must necessarily breed some difference of opinion (liberalism, in any case, must tolerate difference of opinion and Interpretation), intellectualism and Modernism were consequently discouraged, and fundamentalism was proportionately strengthened. It would not be going too far tp say that the Muslim Community in general has usually tilted the balance in favour of external solidarity at the expense of inner growth. This also explains why the most serious of all intellectuals in modern Islam, Muhammad Iqbäl, in fact tended to discourage intellectualism by what he wrote. He ceaselessly invited the Muslims to cultivate an unshakable certainty, a firm faith, and derided the claims of the pure intellect. There is little doubt that the genius ofIslam is also activist, as we have pointed out earlier in this essay, and Iqbal largely recaptured that activist spirit; but there is all the difference between saying that knowledge must end in action, and between emphasizing action at the expense ofthe claims of intellectualism.

Given these trends, it is not surprising that strong groups arose in the Middle East and in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent which were basically fundamentalist, füll of an unbounded zeal for action, and suspicious of both modernity and intellectualism. The Muslim Brotherhood ofthe Arab Middle East, banned in Egypt in 19 5 6, and the Jamä 'at-i Islämi of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent which became especially powerful in Pakistan, and was banned early in 1964, are similar versions of twentieth-century Muslim revivalism and anti-intellectualist activism. Yet, on closer examination, it appears that the revivalism ofthese groups is more in spirit than in substance. For whenever the representatives of these movements are pressed on any intellectual issue, it is revealed that their position is characterized not by an actual thought-content from the past, but by hardly any thought at all. They are more suspicious of both Modernism and modernity (making hardly any distinction between these two) than they are cornmitted, in the final analysis, to a literal repetition of any actual segment of past history. What has given them power over the middle (and particularly lower middle) classes is not a systemätic and coherent understanding of the past, but their embodiment of a reaction against modernizing trends in the Upper strata of society; and the fact that they possess no systemätic thinking (despite the fact that they are very vocal), does not count against them, because there is hardly any intellectual Modernism in any case. In terms of thought, therefore, they are not at any real disadvantage vis-a-vis the modernized classes.

In the recent past, however, certain important developments have taken place in certain parts of the Muslim world, notably Pakistan and Egypt, where centres for the development of Muslim Modernism have been officially set up. The Council of Islamic Research at al-Azhar is even more recent than the Central Institute of Islamic Research in Pakistan. The extent and depth of impact of these institutions on the intellectual life of the Muslim Society will be revealed only with the passage of time. The real task before the Muslim Modernist intellectual is not so much to integrate any given theory or doctrine of modern science and philosophy, as to create the very postulates under which modern thinking becomes possible. Modern thinking on principle must reject authoritarianism of all kinds and must, therefore, rely upon its own resources, facing its risks and reaping its fruits. Openness to correction and, in this sense, a certain amount of doubt, or rather tentativeness, lie in the very nature of modern thought which is an everunfolding process, and always experimental. It is on this crucial point that the very nature of modern knowledge comes into conflict with the mental attitudes inculcated by the modern Muslim revivalist or quasirevivalist movements. The task is, no doubt, difficult and beset with dangers; but there is no particular reason to be pessimistic about the final result, given the right effort.





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