time has come for the Muslims to realize the importance of the true Quranic
teachings which stress education, knowledge, research ..
By: Mohammed Rafi
Apr 5, '08 12:23 PM
The Islamic Renaissance is a relatively
new social phenomenon which is of immense importance to the future of the
Muslim civilization, and which presumably has some serious implications for the
The great intellectual and cultural movements of the West like the Renaissance,
the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century and the
Romantic Movement of the Nineteenth Century could not have been possible
without Europe's contact with Islamic thought. Today, the Muslims of the world
need a revival of true Islamic values ordained in the Quran.
Even though some Muslim scholars do not like the idea of associating the term
'Renaissance' with Islam, yet it has been an exciting theme of discussion at
various Islamic fora during the last three decades.
The term is generally used in the sense of a general awakening that has been
taking place among the Muslims since the middle of the nineteenth century under
the influence of some fresh thinking and activism.
It is a process of moderernization of the Muslim world with an Islamic
orientation to design the scheme of modernization by conforming to Islamic
norms. Even though a heavy emphasis on intellectual, political, economic and
technological development in common in both, the European Renaissance and the
Islamic Renaissance, the two are significantly different in their
There are three undercurrents that together constitute the mainstream of the
Islamic Revivalist movement: reformism, Intellectualism and activism.
apparently the three undercurrents maintain their separate identity, but because
of he commonality of goals, they reinforce and strengthen one another.
The term reformism refers to forces involved in the reform of the Muslim
society through the improvement of the performance of the social institutions
such as the family, Masjid, school etc.
The term activism refers to political awakening, seeking transformation of the
existing Muslim societies into truly Islamic societies. An intellectual
movement, seeking promotion of Islamic thought and Islamic outlook of life
through advancement of knowledge in all modern fields of physical and social
sciences is called Islamic intellectualism or Islamization of knowledge.
This should not be confused with the religious oligarchy's total stress on
rituals alone. After five centuries of sleep and gloom and repression, the dawn
of light and learning, of life and joy came to Europe in the 14th, 15th and
The European Renaissance's love of the human, the natural and the sensual; its
individualism, self-expression and self-assertion, its religious skepticism and
free-thinking, its love of power and pelf, fame and earthly glory, discovery
and exploration was clearly against the Christian norms of the Middle Ages
which were characterized by its stress on poverty, chastity and obedience.
For the last thousand years or so the clergy has not permitted freedom of
thought and belief. It appears that we are still living in the European
Medieval Age where the common man had no right to think and express freely. The
conventional Friday sermon that no one understands is an example of the
retrogressive Muslim society.
In order to understand the true meaning of the Islamic revivalist movement, we
need to examine it in its true historical perspective. Historically the reform
movement was started by Imam Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) when he found that Muslim
scholarship, swayed by the ideas and thoughts of the early Greek philosophers
had caused too much confusion in matters of faith and ideology.
The suggested the course of Sufism as a damage control strategy. Later on
Ibn-e-Khaldun tried to clear the intellectual mess by presenting the basic
principles and percepts of Islamic philosophy in a clear and simple way.
Ghazali's mystical approach initially worked well and it became an important
institution in spreading the message of Islam in many Asian countries, but over
a period of four centuries, the system became corrupted and a source of many
In India, Sheikh Ahmed Sarhindi (1563-1624) known as the Mujaddid of the Second
Millennium assumed the big responsibility of bringing spiritual, intellectual
and social reform at a time when Islamic civilization was being absorbed in the
Hindu culture through the deliberate attempts of Akbar and his misguided
advisors. He also tried to put Sufism on the right path.
Shah Waliullah (1703-1763) felt the need to bring the Muslims closer to the
teachings of the Quran, the book of guidance in Arabic which very few Indians
understood. He translated the Quran into Persian and had to face the wrath of
many ignorant Muslims for this.
Even Persian was understood by a very few Muslims, ultimately Shah Waliullah's
son Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Quran into Urdu.
In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Muslim forces and the Eastern Roman Empire
known as the Byzantine Empire came to a final end. The Christian west, leaving
Muslims to enjoy their land and victory, turned out to sea.
In 1492 Columbus discovered America and in 1498, Vasco-da-Gama reached India by
a new sea route. The European explorers found large reservoirs of silver and
gold in the American continent. They colonized many countries in American,
Asian and African continents and made huge profits by trading in goods.
Gradually Muslims lost almost all sea trade to the Europeans and were subjugated
and subdued in many parts of the world. The Turkish forces gave a tough
resistance to the advancement of the Europeans in the Muslim lands, but
circumstances were not in their favour.
The lack of an intellectual base was the main hurdle in any kind of
industrialization. By the mid eighteenth century the Islamic civilization was
in a state of intellectual confusion, political chaos and economic
It appeared as if the Islamic civilization had come closer to extinction.
However, it did not happen. In the mid nineteenth century some noble souls came
forward to rescue the sinking ship.
The Sanusi Movement in North Africa, The Wahabi Movement led by Mohammad Ibn
Al-Wahab in Saudi Arabia, the Mahdi Movement in Sudan and the Midhat Pasha's Reform
movement in Turkey facilitated the process of awakening among the
The Educationist-reformist Movement led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in India and the
Reformist-Activist Movement of Jamaluddin Afghani had a very significant impact
on the process and became the facilitators of the Islamic movements of the 20th
Mohammad Rashid Ridha, Shaikh Muhammad Abdu and several others aspired to make
a change in the Muslim thinking through their efforts to eradicate perversion
(Jahiliya) and to liberate the masses from blind imitation. (Taqleed).
The time has come for the Muslims to realize the importance of the true Quranic
teachings which stress education, knowledge, research and a scientific approach
to problems. Briffault in his book 'The Making of Humanity' says 'The light
from which civilization was once more rekindled did not arise from any embers
of greco-Roman culture smoldering amid the ruins of Europe, nor from the living
death on the Bosphorus (Byzantine Empire).
It did not come from the Northern but from the Southern invaders of the Empire,
from the Saracens... it was under the influence if the Arabian and Moorish
revival of culture, and not in the 15th Century, that the real Renaissance tool
place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe.'
The fundamental values practiced in the West such as the dignity of man,
rationality, equality, justice, humanism, liberalism, civility etc are
definitely closer to the Islamic values than to medieval Christianity.
Muslims have to reassert Islam's stress on the respect for human life and
justice to one and all without any racial or religious prejudice. Today, more
than ever we need a true 'reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.'
All the democratic, moral, social, economic and human ideals are already
enshrined in the Quran and have been practically shown by the Prophet .
Muslims have to realize that there is no compulsion in religion (9:99) and they
have to do justice even to people they do not like (5:8).
The main objective of the much needed Islamic Renaissance should focus on the
analysis of all relevant facts and factors, in the broader context of modernization
of the contemporary Muslim world.
Moreover, the purpose of this effort must be a proper assessment and subsequent
balanced approach in all matters. There is definitely a shortage of new energy
and fresh ideas in most of the existing Islamic movements.
However, these movements are keeping Muslims alive to their spiritual, moral
and social responsibilities and they are a deterrent to anti-Islamic forces
trying desperately to secularize the existing Muslim societies in the name of