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Ijtihad-Need Of The Hour

By Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi

01 August, 2010

Ijtihad means the modern interpretation/re-reading of Shariah in the light of Quran and Sunnah to suit the requirements of time and space. IJTIHAD is an accepted concept in Islam and one can not deny its legitimacy. In a fast changing world, recourse to ijtihad is a must. However, there is no need for Ijtihad as far as basic beliefs and Ibadats (Prayers) are concerned, but in other matters of changed life styles Ijtihad is a great necessity. It is particularly important in relation to the status of women, relations between different Muslim Sects, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, the role of Muslims in non-Muslim societies, and Islamic economic theories. Unfortunately in recent past, restrictions on the practice of ijtihad were imposed both by religious establishments with vested interest and by repressive governments in Muslim countries opposed to democracy and freedom of inquiry.It has to be understood that freedom of expression is essential to the practice of ijtihad through which reconciliation of Islam and modernity as well as reform of educational system can be successfully accomplished. We are in dire need of Ijtihad; if there were no Ijtihad, the number of Muslins who would behave according to their personal opinion or according to non religious norms would multiply in every generation. Many scholars from different disciplines have expressed the opinion that the loss of ijtihad has been a central reason for the intellectual conservatism and stagnation in Muslim societies and, therefore, ijtihad is a prerequisite for the survival of Islamic Civilization in a modern world.

Shah Waliullah,

an outstanding scholar-reformer and a thinker par excellence, of eighteenth century, emphasized the need for Ijtihad in order to provide economic and social justice to Muslims at large He highly decried closing its gates and criticized the contemporary Ulema for approving it.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan,

(1817-1898- India), reformer par excellence, decried Taqlid (unthinking imitation) and closing the doors of Ijtihad, which in his opinion was responsible for the decline of Islam. He gave a Call that the Muslims could not progress without acquiring knowledge of modern sciences and technology. He asserted the simple truth that knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of any nation, it belongs to the whole mankind. Unfortunately he was dubbed a kafir (non-believer) by a section of Ulema. But Sir Syed Ahmed, in spite of all the calumny that was heaped on him, refused to be browbeaten. He maintained a valiant posture and succeeded in realizing the intellectual energy of Muslims and they started getting education of science. They rightly felt the need of Ijtihad. But, alas, powerful lobby of Ulema ‘overpowered" them and opposed all attempts to move towards Ijtihad.

Allama Iqbal

(1897 -1938-India), noted Islamic Scholar-Philosopher, considered Al-Ijtihad as "the principle of movement in the structure of Islam". He desired to reconstruct Islamic law or Shariah according to the needs and requirements of modern times. Only religious obligations or ibaadat, he argued, were beyond the law of change since they constituted the rights of God. But mundane or worldly matters (muamalaat) relate to the rights of the people and are subject to change and modification.
Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Islamic Scholar, India)-The tradition of ijtihad has been largely lost and Islamic thought has fallen prey to stagnation and rigid taqlid or blind conformity to past precedent.

King Hussein

(Jordan), "When Ijtihad-the possibility of reconciling faith and present-day life-stopped a long time ago, that was the beginning of a very sad deterioration that has continued over the years and has opened the way to all sorts of fringe movements and splits. We need to do whatever we can to repair that mistake."

Kassim Ahmad-

(Scholar, U.S.) -Contemporary ijtihad in Muslim society should be based on the universal principles. A way must be found quickly to release Muslim society from the clutches of hide-bound traditionalism that has weighed it down for so long.

Ben Badis

(1889-1940-Algeria) called for the reactivation of Ijtihad to rouse the Muslim world from its intellectual lethargy and recreate the vigour and elan of the early Muslim community.

Radwan Masmoudi

(Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy-Washington)-Science known as ijtihad (or reasoning and interpretation) was developed by Muslim scholars in order to understand and apply the message of the Qur’an to varying societal needs and conditions… this the process of ijtihad has enabled Muslims to be flexible and to learn from other cultures and civilizations. Islam teaches that no one owns the truth and that the true believer is always in search of the truth and wisdom; wherever he finds them, he follows. This ongoing search for truth and for the overarching Islamic principle of justice has led Muslims and Muslim scholars to respect one another’s opinions. Until about 1500 CE, this process allowed Muslims and Muslim societies to continually adapt in the face of changing societal conditions and new advances in knowledge. Unfortunately, as Muslim civilization began to weaken about four centuries ago in the face of Western advances, Muslims began to adopt a more conservative stance in an attempt to preserve traditional values and institutions. As a result, many scholars became inclined to view innovation negatively….this was the beginning of the decline of Muslim civilization. Since then, Islamic law has become increasingly detached from reality and modernity. Old interpretations no longer provide suitable answers to the difficult questions facing the Muslim world.

Muqtedar Khan

(Islamic Scholar, U.S.).- Today, the Islamic Ummah is in disarray. It has not only lost its past glory, but has also lost the capacity to comprehend the virtues and the causes of its past glory. It is in decline and unable to defend or take care of itself. After nearly 100 years of Islamic revivalism the best we have to show is the Taliban. I believe the singular reason for this state of affairs is the transformation of a people from processors of ideas to recyclers of ideas. On the moral and spiritual front we are trying to recycle the ideas of our forefathers and on the material front we are just consumers of Western ideas. The sooner we realize the absence of ideas and encourage, freedom of thought, creativity, and intellectual self-determination, the sooner will we recover some semblance of our past glory and fulfill our God given mandate of universal moral leadership.

Hasan Al-Turabi,

(Islamic Thinker, Sudan), also stressed the need of Ijtihad for helping to move the Muslim Society along the rest of the societies of the world.

Tahir Mahmood

(Legal authority-India) .. ancient juristic wisdom has to be changed through Ijtihad to meet the contemporary demands.

Asghar Ali Engineer.

(Social Activist & Islamic Scholar, India)-Since Islam came into existence in a changing society, it emphasized the need for dynamism and the principle of ijtihad.

Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed,

President, Islamic Research Foundation, USA, "Only by the exchange of Ideas through Ijtihad, it will be possible to safeguard the Muslim world from deterioration and empty westernization".

Amin Madani

(Islamic Scholar, Saudi Arabia)-"giving every novelty a negative and static response is not an impediment to it; on the contrary it encourages its dissemination because everyone is filled with a desire for evolution. If the novelty is not examined in a practical, wise and flexible approach, the masses will avert negativity and adopt the novelty with all its implications on the premise that it is one of the requirements of evolution."

Zia Gokalp

(1876-1924 – Turkey) - The Social Shariah is continually changing in accordance with social evolution. The stagnation of the world of Islam is due to the failure of the Muslims to relate the ‘nass’ to the ‘urf’ by means of ijtihad. Islam is the only religion that exhorts change. In a modern state, the right to legislate and to administer directly belongs to the people. All provisions existing in our laws that are contrary to liberty, equality and justice and all traces of theocracy and clericalism should be completely eliminated.

Rashid Rida

(1865-1935-Syria)- Islam as a religion is based on reason and the Islamic Shariah is founded on the basis of Ijtihad. Without Ijtihad, it is difficult to claim that Islam is an eternal religion. Therefore, if any person stands in the way of Ijtihad or tries to prevent it, he is really undermining the basis of Islam and its Shariah and destroying its distinctiveness from other religions. What a heinous crime is being committed, then, by these ignorant persons who call themselves the Ulema of Islam.

Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Washington- Resolution-2008 -

Islamic movements and reforms need a New Agenda: 1. Democracy as a priority - defending human rights, accountability, rule of law, and fighting corruption and poverty 2. Ijtihad - Developing a modern interpretation of Islam and even of Shariah (the old interpretations are frankly frightening especially the way they have been implemented in some countries). Ijtihad - not only by religious leaders but also by secular leaders and scientists, scholars, etc..

U.S. Institute of Peace - Resolution

(2004): To reinterpret Islam for the twenty-first century, the practice of ijtihad (interpretation and reasoning based on the sacred texts) must be revived. Religious scholars effectively terminated the practice of ijtihad five hundred years ago. But the principles of interpretation are well established and the need for contemporary interpretation is compelling. Muslim scholars and leaders in the United States and other Western societies have particular opportunities as well as a responsibility to lead a revival of ijtihad. Muslim scholars in the West have the freedom to think creatively while still being faithful to the texts, and their new interpretations could stimulate new thinking among the more traditional religious establishments in Muslim countries (Radwan Website).

In view of the above-mentioned opinions and facts, the Members of Sir Syed Scientific Society, Lucknow, feel that the door of Ijtihad (re-interpretation) should be kept open as permitted by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Restrictions and opposition of ijtihad are practised by vested interest of religious establishments and by repressive governments in Muslim countries. Democracy and freedom of inquiry and expression are essential to the practice of ijtihad and to the successful reconciliation of Islam and modernity. Reform of Muslim educational systems is also essential.

In this regard it may be suggested that Muslim legal experts like Law Professors , retired Judges, senior advocates, Ulema of well-known Islamic Centres and learned persons of modern knowledge form a Committee for Ijtihad in each country including India and take up the work of interpreting or amending the Shariah according to the changing times. Interpretation of the Shari’a (Ijtihad) should not be confined to legal scholars but should be open to those with creative imagination. Necessary changes in the Shariah have to be made to protect human rights in the present day troubled and vastly changed society as already done in several Muslims countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Bangladesh, Jordan, Tunisia etc. It is important to note that Allama Iqbal had issued more or less similar appeal in 1932 which reads as ", "I would recommend that an assembly of the religious scholars (ulema) be constituted, in which those Muslim lawyers be included who have studied the modern principle of law, so that in the light of the current situation, the Islamic Law (shariah) is protected and further expanded".


(Dr. Mohd. Iqtedar Husain Farooqi)
Deputy Director (Scientist-F) National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow
Secretary, Sir Syed Scientific Society, Lucknow
C / 3-2 Shahid Apartments, Golaganj, Lucknow - 18
Tel. : 0522-2610683, Mobile : 9839901066
Email : [email protected]