views updated


Tajdid is the Arabic term for "renewal." In formal Muslim discussions, this term refers to conscious efforts to bring about the renewal of religious faith and practice, emphasizing strict adherence to the prescriptions of the Qur˒an and the precedents of the prophet Muhammad. The foundation for this usage is a widely accepted tradition in which Muhammad is reported to have said, "God will send to this umma [the Muslim community] at the head of each century those who will renew its faith for it." Persons engaged in this activity of renewal are called mujaddids.

Although there have been disagreements over the details, and over which Muslim leaders were deserving of the title of mujaddid, the basic understanding of the importance of renewal has been remarkably constant throughout Islamic history. In the course of the history of the human community of Muslims, Muslims recognize that the actual faith and practice of the people sometimes departed from the ideal defined by the Qur˒an and the model of the Prophet. Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad is the final Messenger of God so that in those times when Muslims have not lived up to the Islamic ideal, the community does not need a new prophet, it needs renewal. This mode of response to historical change is most important among Sunni Muslims. Within the Shi˓ite traditions, there is greater emphasis on messianic styles of religious resurgence, with an important theme being the coming of the anticipated Mahdi, or rightly-guided leader whose appearance will be part of the events leading to the final establishment of God's rule of justice.

The approaches of leaders of renewal have usually emphasized certain common themes. The first was the call for the return to the Qur˒an and the sunna (traditions of the Prophet). This often involved condemnation of practices that were identified as illegitimate innovations and departures from the Islamic ideal. This was not a simple conservative perspective since it involved a rejection of at least some aspects of existing conditions. As a result, a common second element in movements of renewal is the call for exercising informed independent judgment (ijtihad) and a rejection of the practice of simply following the judgments and interpretations of previous teachers (taqlid). The debates between the advocates of the two positions, ijtihad and taqlid, form a major part of the intellectual history of movements of renewal in Islamic history.

A number of major figures in Islamic history are usually identified as having been mujaddids in their era. Among the most important of these are Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111 c.e.), a teacher who brought together mystical and legal dimensions of Islamic faith, Ahmad ibn Taymiyya (d. 1327), a scholar whose ideas inspired later puritanical movements of renewal, and Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (d. 1763), whose teachings on socio-moral reconstruction provide foundations for most major modern Islamic movements in South Asia. A special figure in the line of renewers is Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), who was called the "Mujaddid of the Second Millennium" because he lived at the end of the first thousand years of the Islamic era. Sirhindi was a leader of a reform-oriented Sufi brotherhood, the Naqshbandiyya, in India. His branch of that order became known as the Mujaddidi. It later played important roles in activist reform in Central Asia and the Middle East and organized resistance to European expansion in areas like the Caucasus.

In the modern period, concepts and movements of tajdid take many different forms. Many movements have their intellectual origins in the teachings of Muhammad ibn ˓Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792 ), who joined with a chieftain in central Arabia, Muhammad ibn Saud (d. 1765), to create a political system and movement of puritanical renewal. In its strictness and uncompromising approach to what it defined as innovations, the Wahhabi movement came to be seen as the prototypical militant style of Islamic renewal. By the late twentieth century, even militant movements that had no direct connections with the actual Wahhabi tradition came to be called "Wahhabi."

Modern movements that emphasized the importance of the intellectual dimensions of renewal through ijtihad became important by the late nineteenth century. A leading personality in this was the Egyptian scholar Muhammad ˓Abduh (d. 1905), who served as Grand Mufti of Egypt. ˓Abduh emphasized the compatibility of reason and revelation in Islam. Al-Manar, the journal reflecting his teachings, was read by intellectuals throughout the Muslim world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Other conscious movements of intellectual renewal developed in the Russian Empire under Isma˓il Gasprinskii, in India with Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, and elsewhere.

Throughout the twentieth century, the movements of rationalist renewal continued. However, they were overshadowed by Muslim movements advocating broader programs of social and political Islamization. The Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, and the Jama˓at-e Islami, established in South Asia by Abu l-A˓la˒ Maududi (d. 1979) in 1941, became the most visible examples of modern-style renewal movements. These movements presented programs for creating Islamic states and societies in the modern world. Although for a time they were overshadowed by secular nationalist and radical leftist movements, by the 1980s the movements of Islamic resurgence were the most visible opposition movements in many countries, and often they set the agenda for the Islamization of political discourse throughout the Muslim world. Intellectuals within these movements, like Hasan al-Turabi, who led the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan for most of the final third of the twentieth century, wrote about the necessity for tajdid in rethinking all of the fundamentals of political, social, and legal structures in the Muslim world.

By the late twentieth century, many of the more visible militant Muslim groups, like al-Qa˓ida, were concentrating on issues of power and jihad rather than ijtihad. The broad tradition of renewal in Islam continued in new forms, among the militants and also among scholars who continued the process of reexamining the sources in order to present ways of having renewed Islamic life in the contemporary world.

See alsoIjtihad ; Reform: Arab Middle East and North Africa ; Reform: South Asia ; Taqlid .


Brown, Daniel. Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Voll, John O. "Renewal and Reform in Islamic History: Tajdid and Islah." In Voices of Resurgent Islam. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

John O. Voll