Salam. Can you explain to me what is meant by tajdid and what is it's role in today's world?

Jasser Auda

Salam, Ahmad Faiz.

Thank you for your question.

Between Change and Renewal

First of all, there is a difference between change (taghyeer) and renewal (tajdeed). When you 'change' your house, you basically move somewhere else, or perhaps bring the old house down and then re-build it.

But when you 'renew' your house, you keep the pillars, the walls, and the general features, and you build on what is there in order to make the house more suitable to the changes that happened in your life with the passage of time.

Similarly, there are people who call for the 'renewal' of Islam in terms of totally changing or 'deconstructing' its basic pillars and features. This kind of renewal is not what I am calling for in this answer.

Renewal and Worldview

Many writers wrote about 'renewal', and addressed the topic from various angles. This is a wide topic. In the space allowed here, however, I will try to address this issue from the angle of what we call today 'worldview.'

'Worldview' is 'a set of pre-suppositions which we hold about the basic makeup of the world' (Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant. DOWNERS Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004, p.19-20), 'a frame of reference for human experience' (O. B. Jenkins, What Is Worldview?, 1999, and 'a system of belief.' Richard DeWitt, Worldviews: An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004, p.3.)

Thus, a worldview is the product of a number of factors that shape human 'cognition' of the world.

The following are examples of 'theories' that make up a human worldview:

1. God, the world, human beings, afterlife, knowledge, morality, and history. (Ninian Smart, Worldviews: Cross-cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs, 3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 1999, p.19-20)

2. Myth, doctrine, ethics, rituals, and society. (Smart, Worldviews)

3. Beliefs, concepts, sense of order, social constructs, role-models, and moral precepts. (Jenkins, What Is Worldview?)

4. The natural world, ethics, politics, biology, psychology, methods of scientific investigation, and many other factors. (DeWitt, Worldviews)

5. God, oneself, nature, space, and time. (Abdul-Fattah, Saif. 'On Imam Mohamed Abdu's Worldview' Paper presented at the Centennial of Sheikh Mohamed Abdu, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt Dec., 2005, p. 7)

All of the above theories show that a worldview is shaped by everything around us, from religion, self-portrayal, geography, and the environment, to politics, society, economy, and language.

Using the word 'culture' in a broad sense, worldview represents 'cognitive culture.' (Sire, Naming p. 28, Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, p. 29) Cognitive culture is the mental framework and sense of reality through which people view and interact with the outside world.

Customs and Islamic Law

Traditionally, the fundamental of al-urf (customs) in the theory of Islamic law deals with the 'interaction with the outside world.' A Hanafi, one of the great four scholars of jurisprudence, fundamental rule states that 'an implicit condition according to custom is similar to an explicit condition according to scripts'. (Al-Majala, Majallat Al-Ahkam Al-Adliyah (Journal of Justice Rulings) item 43, 45, see also: Ibn `Abdeen, Al-Hashiyah (Side Notes) vol. 4, p.556)

Various schools of law agree to this rule on the application level when there is no specific text to refer to. The purpose behind using the jurists' 'default' customs is to accommodate the circumstances of some people that are different from Arabic customs. (Masoud Ibn Musa Flousi, Madrasat Al-Mutakalimeen, Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rusd, 2004, p. 354)

However, the practical implication of al-urf on Fiqh itself is quite limited. Standard examples mentioned in the books of Uṣul Al-Fiqh (Principle of Islamic Jurisprudence) of what is subject to urf in the Islamic law is the value of dowry, the currency used in trade transactions, covering or uncovering one's head, and common usage of some Arabic words such as 'walad' and 'lahm,' could mean 'children' or 'boys' and 'beef' or 'beef and birds,' respectively, depending on one's region and dialect.

It is clear that these standard examples do not reflect, in any significant way, variations in human life other than the 'default' medieval Arabic world.

Thus, many Islamic rulings remained coupled with Arabic customs of the first two or three Islamic centuries and with that era's political borders, geography, food, economic resources, and social system, i.e., worldview.

For example, the forms of charity one pays to the poor at the end of Ramadan is still stipulated according to common foodstuffs of the seventh century CE mentioned in the related hadith, i.e., dates, raisins, and barley.

According to many scholars even today, a number of Islamic rulings continue to be based on the 'political borders' between 'the land of Islam' and 'the land of war.' (Ibn al-Qayim, Ahkam Ahl Al-Dhimmah  vol. 2, p. 728)

According to all written legal systems driven from the Islamic schools of law, a Muslim girl cannot get married unless she delegates her father (or a close male) to pronounce the marriage vows on her behalf, as was the Arabic tradition. Usually, marriage vows themselves could only be in Arabic.

A compensation paid for unintentional killing is still the responsibility of one's 'tribe' (al-`aqilah) even in non-tribal social systems. (Sayyed Sabiq, Fiqh Al-Sunnah, vol.3, p. 29)

Similarly, in some remote areas, liability for murder for an unknown perpetrator is determined according to qasamah (which is a form of 'territorial liability,' according to Hanafis and Zaidis, and a 'next of kin liability,' according to the rest of classic schools). (Peters, Rudolph. "Murder in Khaybar: Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Qasama Procedure in Islamic Law", in Islamic Law and Society VOl. 9, No. 2, 2002, p. 133.

The Role of the Jurist

The Quran and the sections of the prophetic traditions that are law-related are the jurist's 'sources' and part of his/her 'worldview' too. The other components of a jurist's worldview are combined with 'sources' in order to produce Fiqh.

A 'worldview,' however, has to be 'competent,' i.e., built on a 'scientific' basis, as explained below. A jurist without a 'competent worldview' is not 'competent' enough to make accurate judgments.

This competence is another expansion to the skills of Fiqh al-Waqi` (understanding the status quo), which the Muslim scholar Ibn al-Qayyim set as a condition for competence in ijtihad. (Ibn al-Qayyim, Al-Turuq Al-Hukmiyah  vol. 1, p. 5) This proposal has the following two impacts on the law:

Literal Application of Islamic Law

First, considering changes in the jurist's 'worldview' will decrease literalism in the Islamic law. A literal following of a ruling turns it into some sort of 'ritual.' I argue that it is necessary to maintain constancy in the area of rituals in the Islamic law, such as prayers, fasting, and pilgrimage.

However, exaggerating the area of rituals always happens at the expense of the higher objectives of the Islamic law. A balance between these two ends is required for a balanced renewal.

The following examples illustrate this point. The purpose behind the end-of-Ramadan charity (ṣadaqat al-fiṭr) is to help the poor. It is reported that the Prophet had said, "on that day, give the poor enough so they do not have to beg." (Ibn Hajar, Fath Al-Bari Sharh Sahih Al-Bukhari, p. 375)

However, this charity was placed under the category of rituals and, therefore, applied in every place and time to the letter. When geography and society change to the extent that dates, raisins, and barley become of no use to the poor, a literal and 'ritualistic' application of this charity would defeat the purpose behind it.

Similarly, in some developing countries with a majority of Muslims, one's relatives are held responsible for paying the compensation for unintentional killing because they are supposed to be of his or her tribe, as mentioned above.

But if little significance is accrued to one's tribe or ethnic group, due to a different 'worldview' of social structures, then a literal application of al-aqilah (the family) goes against the purpose of justice itself.

Finally, (Arabic) marriage vows and Friday sermons are generally not understood in non-Arab speaking communities and this is the case in most of the mosques that I have been to in the UK, to my surprise.

Conducting these in the Arabic language is due to the rulings that decreed that vows and sermons are rituals in their own right. Thus, the sentimental meaning of the vows and the social meaning of the sermons are compromised.

This analysis is not suggesting that acts of worship and purposes of the law are in contradiction. 'Worship' is a purpose of the Islamic law in its own right. However, it has to be balanced with other social purposes.

Islamic Law & Social Sciences

The second impact of the proposed condition of a 'competent worldview' is 'opening' the system of Islamic law to advance in natural and social sciences. Judging some status quo or 'reality' can no longer be claimed without proper research that is based on sound and 'competent' physical or social sciences methodology.

Some issues in the Islamic law related to legal capacity, such as 'the sign of death,' 'maximum pregnancy period,' 'age of differentiation,' or 'age of puberty,' were traditionally judged based on 'asking people.'

Since 'methods of scientific investigation' is indeed part of one's worldview,' (DeWitt, Worldviews, p. 5), I would say that 'asking people' cannot be claimed today without some sound statistical proof or social study.

This takes us to the realm of science (natural and social), and defines a mechanism of interaction between the Islamic law and other branches of knowledge.

Therefore, a jurist should consult specialists in medical, economical, political, or any other field, and ask them to determine the fact for him/her. Empirical data should have 'authority' in this area, even if it were 'uncertain' according to traditional logic.

It is true that 'science' evolves with time, and this will entail regular updating of our scientific decisions and answers. Nevertheless, the evolution of science is part of the natural evolution of the jurist's 'worldview,' and accordingly must be reflected in the law. This maintains 'openness' and 'renewal' in the system of Islamic law.

If renewal occurs, its role in today's world, as you mentioned in the second part of your question, will be to present a proper, rather than a distorted picture of Islam. There are numerous obvious benefits for this presentation.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.



Source: — Ask about Islam — Jasser Auda.