Revival and Renewal

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The Arabic terms ihya (revival) and tajdid (renewal) are typically used in the context of modern Islamic movements, although they have premodern roots. Premodern renewal was usually associated with a designated renewer (mujaddid) who, according to hadith, would come at the beginning of each century to renew Muslim faith and practice. The modern call for revival and renewal derives from perceptions of backwardness and stagnation in Muslim societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Islamic thinkers encourage a renewed commitment to Islamic values and practice as the means to achieve development and progress.

The eighteenth-century revivalist trend is represented in India by Shah Wali Allah (d. 1762) and in the Arab world by the Wahhabis of Arabia. Rather than concerning themselves with competition with the West or adapting to modern life, they focused instead on the purity of religion and cleansing it of alien elements and bidah (innovations). Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1787) believed that Muslims in his time had strayed from the correct path of Muhammad's example. His proposed solution was to return to the simplicity of early Islam and the religious texts. He sought to revive Islam's role in society through an emphasis on tawhid (the unity and uniqueness of God). Sufi and popular religious manifestations, such as visitations of tombs and veneration of saints, were dismissed as un-Islamic and polytheistic. Other late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revivalist movements stressing that Islam alone should guide the lives of Muslims include the Sanusis of North Africa, the Mahdists in Sudan, and the Barelwis of India. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century reformist strand is represented by Islamic thinkers and activists such as Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897), and Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938). Recognizing that Muslim society was underdeveloped in comparison to Europe, they declared the comparison to Europe, they declared the necessity of a revival and rejuvenation of Islamic thought and practice in order to restore dignity and greatness to Muslims. They did not call for imitation of Western ways, however, instead stressing the compatibility of science and Islam, pointing to the contributions from Islamic civilization evident in European progress and modernity. By teaching that reason and faith are compatible, such reformers encouraged the rejection of taqlid, or imitation of traditional thought and practice, declaring it a major factor in the stagnation of the Muslim world. They advocated the continuous process of interpretation of texts through ijtihad, or independent reasoning in legal matters, in order to regain Islam's dynamism and ability to deal with changing circumstances. They taught that Islam was flexible and creative enough to adapt to modern times. Like the revivalists, they opposed practices considered superstitious (such as visiting saints' shrines), politically passive, or compromised by colonial governments.

In the twenty-first century, reform efforts have centered on questions of major political reform, the establishment of a new caliphate in order to unify Muslims throughout the world, the need to improve the status of women in Islamic societies, legal reforms guided by the principle of public interest, and educational reforms requiring the inclusion of modern science and technology in school curricula as the vehicle for the revitalization of the Muslim world. In many cases, advocates of Islamic revival and reform have found themselves in opposition to official government policies, sometimes resulting in government crackdowns against the movements. Revival and renewal are often understood in national terms, including elements of national independence and national resistance. The major names in the contemporary history of revival and renewal are associated with struggle against foreign control and occupation.


Subjects: Islam.

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