Written by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by Umm Hajar (ummhajar@gmail.com)

Tajdid or the process of renewal to the religious comprehension is a necessity. Throughout the history of this ummah, the movement or the struggle of tajdid was instrumental in preventing the ummah from becoming weak and incompetent. In a sahih hadith reported by al-Imam Abu Daud, the Prophet s.a.w said: “Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years someone who will restore its religion for it.”


All through the time, advocates of tajdid appeared one after another to carry out various endeavors and to confront different challenges. Tajdid was implemented in various fields for the wellbeing of the ummah. Caliphate ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was a prominent advocate of tajdid (mujaddid) based on the consensus of the ummah. After him, other scholars who were regarded as mujaddid appeared such as al-Imam al-Syafi’i (deceased in 204H), al-Imam Ibn Taimiyyah (deceased in 728H) and others.

The word ‘man’ or ‘someone’ as stated in the hadith above instigated different interpretations among the scholars. They debated whether the hadith implied that ‘someone’ will be sent for every century or a number of individuals will be sent but spread all over the place and in different countries, or if it implied any particular movement or the likes of it. Whatever it may be, it is more important to derive from this hadith that tajdid in Islam is necessary.

Tajdid does not denote the establishment of a new religion. There are two different definitions that can be assigned to tajdid. The first definition is to restore the religion’s original look just as we would restore the condition of something that has gone bad or has expired. Renewal or tajdid means that the situation and time renders it necessary to restore something to its original form. A practical exemplar is the renewal of our driving license or something similar. Basically, we have the original driving license but it has to undergo a renewal process because it is old or expired.

The second definition of tajdid is that it can also imply the innovation of certain element to fulfill contemporary need and requirement such as the innovation of modern vehicle. It has never been created before but it serves the same basic purpose required by humankind since the earliest of time that is to move from one place to another.

Therefore, in the context of Islam, innovation should be performed such that it does not change the religion but rather, it is to satisfy the new understanding or view brought about by the change in circumstances. However, it should not deviate from the essence and the requirement of al-Quran and al-Sunnah. In other words, the renewal of Islam refers to the restoration of the original look of Islam that is being practiced by the ummah because the look of Islam has been contaminated or neglected as time passes by and as circumstance varies. It can also refer to the construction of new understanding and new view to meet the contemporary requirement but is still centered upon the al-Quran and al-Sunnah.

In another hadith, the Prophet s.a.w said:

“This knowledge must be carried by those who are righteous among the successors (from one generation to another). They deny (oppose) the deviance performed by the extremists, the false claims made by the immorals and the interpretation done by the ignorants.” (Reported by al-Baihaqi, Ibn ‘Adi and others. Ranked by hasan by al-Imam Ahmad).

Al-Quran and al-Sunnah are adjustable sources of Islam. However, there are two major problems concerning these two divine sources, first is that they are contaminated and second is that they are misinterpreted. Al-Quran is being contaminated by the irresponsible ones who add elements of Israiliyyat and mythical stories to it though its preservation is guaranteed by Allah. To the untrained eyes, those stories that are linked to the al-Quran are considered funny and impractical.

This blunder is commonly done by a significant number of religious speakers who frequently appear in electronic media in our country. Similarly, throughout the history, thousands of fabricated hadith were created to for the sake of various parties or due to lack of knowledge. In Malaysia, hadith is being quoted and narrated haphazardly by many individuals to the extent that even comical or garbled stories are linked to hadith. All these require tajdid.

Akidah is the core of Islam. The akidah of Islam is simple and comprehensible, as simple as the concept of akidah described in Surah al-Ikhlas. One who reads the al-Quran will find the intelligibility of akidah of Islam described in it, in Surah al-An’am for instance. The explanation is not convoluted like some syllabus used to teach people the attributes of Allah that goes something like Allah is existent and the opposite is non-existent, Allah is hearing and the opposite is deaf, Allah is seeing and the opposite is blind. Many of the muslims, new and old, are not clear about akidah and can easily ‘switch their religion’ despite having memorized this syllabus. This is because the syllabus was based on philosophical thoughts that is not as solid as the simple and comprehensible akidah described by al-Quran and al-Sunnah. We need tajdid in this area.

In applying fiqh, mazhab fanaticism that is being passed down to us by some religious conservative is causing us to become a society that is ‘color-blind’ on facts or completely lacking of curiosity not questioning what are the basis for the religious practices being performed. We fail to ask if the religious practice originates from al-Quran and al-Sunnah or is a mere presumption. Even those who are fanatic to mazhab Syafi’i are not sure if the opinions they are upholding are indeed the opinions of al-Imam al-Syafi’I (deceased in 204H) or are only words that come out of people’s mouth.

Even more worrying is the fact that our fiqh comprehension that is lacking of supporting evidence or built on weak evidence leads to narrow-mindedness and imposes inconvenience to the ummah. Unnecessarily arduous rules that are not based on clear nas are enforced such as the direction to ‘purify’ the whole house issued by some quarters. In addition to lacking of clear nas, it is unreasonably burdening. The need to have a fiqh comprehension that is based on strong supporting evidence and is undemanding is a requirement in this era. In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w said:

“Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” (Reported by al-Bukhari)

Tazkiah al-Nafs or spiritual refinement that is being referred to by some people as tasawwuf is essential to the soul. However, a matter as delicate as that involving the spiritual bond of a person with Allah requires the guidance of al-Quran and al-Sunnah. If not, one will wander off and enter a world that is filled with philosophical words, dreams of the afterworld, stories of saints and the supernatural and various other strange philosophies. It no longer leads them to Allah but instead, it leads them into the messy domain of weird Sufism causing them to abandon their study on al-Quran as well as hadith and concentrate only on what their ‘tok syeikh (chief) says’. In this matter, tajdid is required.

Humankind needs politics to survive in a communal life. Islam has the guideline for that. However, because we have become so habituated to the Western politics, sometimes we are even worse than them, politics no longer brings forth happiness and tranquility to the ummah but it instigates nuisance, anxiety and other unpleasant states of mind. The application of Islam in our politics is hardly noticeable even by those who are spotting the Islamic brand or the likes of it. In this matter, tajdid is required.

A lot of the contemporary issues we are encountering these days were not known in the past. To ensure a continuous survival of the ummah, various new opinions are required to cater for the change that the ummah and the world are experiencing. The opinions of preceding theologians may not be wrong but have expired due to the change in time and circumstances. Therefore, tajdid to those opinions or formulation of new opinions that are still centered upon al-Quran and al-Sunnah are required and a must. Some of the nas from al-Quran and al-Sunnah has to be viewed in a much broader context in terms of its meaning and substance.

Therefore, obviously, the endeavor and movement that advocates tajdid is necessary for the ummah including us in Malaysia. This is regardless of the fact that every now and then, tajdid advocates are criticized and subjected to various slanders by those who are bothered by tajdid. Regarding this phenomenon, the Prophet s.a.w once said:

“Indeed Islaam began as something strange. And it will return as something strange the way it began. So give glad tidings to the strangers” He was asked, “Who are the strangers O Allah’s Apostle?” He answered, “Those who are righteous when the people have become corrupt.” (Reported by Ahmad, sahih)