A critical view of revivalist efforts

Greater Kashmir

The book is the English rendition of Tajdid-o-Ihya-i-Din by Al-Ash’ari , originally published in 1940 by Maulana Abul A’la Maududi. It begins with a critical study of various philosophies and doctrines of life prevalent in the world from the earliest times. Its thematic essence lies in the fact that Islam is the only way of life suited to the human nature. Divided into four chapters, the book aims at reviving the efforts for religious reconstruction. Besides, a critical analysis of the works of some the great Mujaddids like Imam Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi is systematically covered. Maududi has presented in a promising way the history of revivalist movement in Islam from a very critical perspective. He derides the hero-worship which according to him has become apparently a new religion both in East and West and is the cause of many of the human ills.

The first chapter (Conflict between Islam and un-Islam) discusses the four main doctrines; Atheism, Polytheism, Asceticism and Islam. While dissecting in detail the meaning of atheism, the author points out that the principle basis of this doctrine is the sheer ‘ignorance’ that misleads its adherents beyond measures. Maududi criticizes the idea of atheism which believes that ‘the whole universe has come into being by mere accident and there is no wisdom, no purpose, and no objective behind its creation’. He argues that those who believe in this sheer state of ignorance are the mental slaves of their perceptions. The author then critiques the idea of polytheism and asceticism.  These doctrines according to the author are nothing but the fanciful imaginations of a confused section of people. The fourth metaphysical doctrine (Islam) is the one presented by the Prophets of God. The author says that Islam is the only true doctrine which claims that the world is the kingdom of a Diving Being. The chapter also discusses the need of Mujaddids and the mission of Prophets in length.

The second chapter deals with the Nature of Islamic revival (Tajdid) and the achievements of the Mujaddids. It explains the meanings of innovation and revival and the difference between the two. The author tries to explain that we can’t call innovator of Islam a Mujaddid, because their work is more akin to innovation than revival. For Maududi, a Mujaddid is one who is characterized by a clear mind, penetrating vision, unbiased thinking, special ability to see the right path, power to think independently of the contemporary and centuries-old social and other prejudices, courage to fight against the evils of the time, inherent ability to lead and guide, and an unusual competence to undertake Ijtihad and the work of reconstruction. The author argues that history is witness to the fact that Ideal Mujaddid is yet to be born. He adds that Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz might have attained this position but he did not get a chance to achieve it. Regarding Mehdism, Maududi is of the view that it is not something to be claimed, rather it is something to be achieved. He argues whether he is born in this age or after thousands of decades, he will be for sure Al-Imam-ul-Mehdi whose coming has been clearly foretold by the holy Prophet (SAW) in his traditions. Maududi disabuses those who look askance at the idea of the coming of such a leader.

The third chapter of the book discusses some great Mujaddids of Islam and their achievements. Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was the first Mujaddid of Islam whose tenure witnessed a great revival in the Islamic system of governance. He changed the whole harsh policy pertaining to taxation and abolished all the unlawful taxes, including the duty levied on distilleries that had been imposed by the Umayyads. He re-organized and reformed the system of collecting zakat and set open the state exchequer for general public works. He compensated and remedied all the injustices which had been administered to the non-Muslims. Maududi points out that this first Mujaddid of Islam worked hard to such an extant that he was very much able to revolutionize life in all its various aspects. Ironically, the Umayyads turned against him by not accepting his revivalist works, thus conspired and poisoned him at the young age of 39. The reins of government then passed into the impious hands and all the good work done by him was thrown to the winds. The chapter also discusses the four imams, their contribution and the hardships they faced. Imam Abu Hanifa was whipped and imprisoned both by the Umayyads and the Abbasids and was eventually poisoned. Imam Malik was awarded seventy lashes during the reign of Al-Mansur, the Abbasid, and was tied so tightly that his hand was pulled out from the arm. Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal was tortured many times in the days of Al-Mamun, Mutasim and Wathiq and was flogged in a manner too cruel even for camels and elephants. Despite all these hardships, Maududi says the revered men did not allow the royal influence to impede or affect their works. In the next part of the chapter the author has critically discussed the philosophy and contribution of Imam Ghazali, Ibn-i-Taimiyyah and Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi.

The last chapter deals with the achievements of Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Maududi ranks him among the greatest leaders of human history who by dint of his intellectual power hewed a highway of knowledge. However, being little critical, Maududi asserts that all endeavors of Shah Waliullah seem to have been directed towards and absorbed by his heavy undertaking of criticism and reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. This did not spare him time enough to attend the ailments of his most immediate surroundings. The author credits Shah Waliullah for being the first scholar who understood and appreciated the real and fine difference between the history of Islam and the history of Muslims in a critical perspective. The first important piece of work accomplished by Shah Waliullah in this connection is that he has presented a balanced and moderate view of Fiqh, clear of all extremes and without showing inclination towards any one school. He has studied the principles and methods of deducing inferences worked out and adopted by each juristic school of thought and formed an independent view of their value and usefulness. It is for this reason that now he appears to be a Hanafite, a Shafi-ite, or a Malikite or Hanbalite.  He has criticized and differed sharply with those people who pledge themselves to follow one particular school in all matters of life, and those also who think they must always oppose a particular founder of school. The cardinal point of Shah Waliullah’s philosophy is that he tried to present such a picture of universe and of man in it that it fully accords with the genius of the Islamic system of morality and culture.

The book is a good read and makes the reader to understand the Islamic Revivalism and the core concept of Ijtihad in a somewhat comprehensive way. However, Maududi has interpreted many aspects of Islam through a different line by devaluing and underrating many Sufi ideas altogether which has invited much criticism from those who adhere the line of Sufism.

Shah Munnes Muneer has Masters in Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University.