The Necessary Precondition of an Islamic Renaissance

The Necessary Precondition of an Islamic Renaissance

Modern rationalistic and pseudo-scientific interpretations of Islam are quite alien to Islam itself and lack a direct link with the original mission of the Prophet (SAW). They are devoid of the spiritual message which is the heart of the Qur’anic revelation. They fail to appreciate Islam as a spiritual and metaphysical tradition. But since Islam is essentially based on inward faith known in Arabic as Iman, its renaissance can never be brought about without first reviving and indeed revitalizing the faith of a large part of the Muslim community. There is no denying the importance of political freedom and the independence of Muslim countries and these have undoubtedly contributed to generate greater awareness of Islamic values and ideals. Similarly, the idea of an Islamic way of life and confidence in its superiority over other ideologies has been useful to a limited extent and deserves our praise. The movements which were launched in the past, or those still engaged in advancing the cause of freedom are in fact contributing partially and in their own way, to the revival of the Islamic message. But the most real and fundamental task in this regard still remains to be done. It is imperative for the entire intelligentsia of the Muslim world to pay attention to – and whosoever realizes its real importance should strive for – the cardinal principle that a forceful movement be launched for reviving and revitalizing the Iman in the whole of the Muslim Ummah. In this way, Iman must be transformed from mere verbal attestation (Qaal) to an inward existential faith (Haal)[1].

Iman is essentially attestation of, and inner faith in, some metaphysical truths. The first step towards attaining this faith is to believe more firmly in some truths even though they are not observable or perceptible, and to hold the things heard by the heart to be more trustworthy than the things heard by the ear. Belief in the unseen (Iman Bilghaib) is the first and foremost condition of Iman and this requires a radical change in the thought system and in the point of view of the believer. According to this new perspective, the whole order of creation should be taken as nothing more than a fleeting appearance or shadow, whereas the existence of God should be felt as an eternally living Reality[2]. Contrary to the view that the universe is a chain of eternally present and uncreated causes and effects, or that the world is governed by ‘natural’ forces and rigid mechanical laws, the Will of God, His design and purpose should be ‘seen’ and felt in operation at all times and in all parts of the cosmos. Matter is looked upon as insignificant, and the soul is thought to be man’s essence[3]. The locution Insan (man) is not to be attributed to man’s animal and corporeal body but to the Divine spirit, the presence of which makes man superior to angels[4]. Worldly life should appear to be transitory and unreal, and life Hereafter should alone be taken as real and everlasting[5]. The pleasure of God should be held as more valuable than the attainment of all the riches of this world. And, according to a saying of the Prophet (SAW), the riches of this world should not even be assigned a value equal to a mosquito’s wing[6]. Let it be clearly and distinctly understood that unless and until a major portion of the Muslim Ummah really undergoes this profound transformation in thought and belief, the vision and the fond hope of an Islamic renaissance can never be realized.

The most effective way to implant and inculcate faith in the hearts of the Muslim masses is the company and fellowship of such deeply religious persons whose hearts and minds are illumined by Divine knowledge and by the light of faith – persons whose hearts are untouched by conceit, hypocrisy, rancor, and avarice. It was through ceaseless evangelist and disseminating work, teaching and exhortation as well as practical examples portrayed through their conduct of life, that a continuous chain of pious and God-intoxicated people kept the beacon of faith burning after the collapse of Khilafah ala minhaj al-Nubuwwah[7]. Even though the winds of Western atheism and materialism are blowing high in Muslim lands, yet one can find here and there persons whose hearts and minds are full of certitude and staunch faith. The need of the time now is that the movement for Islamic faith and Iman be popularized and extended far and wide so that each and every inhabited piece of Muslim territory does have a few dedicated and selfless preachers whose sole aim in life is the pursuit of God’s pleasure, individuals who, in obedience to the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), make religious and moral guidance of people their sole aim and ambition in life[8]

Fortunately, in the recent past there has emerged in the Indo-Pak  subcontinent a mass religious movement, the impact of which is visible on a vast multitude of people. It has led them to a firm belief in Islam and the radical change of values that this entails. That is to say, the Creator, the spiritual existence, the human soul and the life Hereafter are held superior to the whole order of creation and worldly life. This movement is the Jamaat-e-Tableegh. It is an off-shoot of the movement of Deoband. It was founded and initiated by persons of deep and inner religious conviction. Although more than a third of a century has flown past, its fervor and emotional zeal has not abated a bit. Though we do not wholly agree with its approach and methodology, there is no denying the fact that it has brought about a complete change in the thinking of a great many people, who have started to feel that it is the Creator and not the created objects that should command our attention and that the uncaused first cause[9], and not the finite causes, is of prime importance. Similarly they develop a strong belief that it is not food or water but the Will of God that mitigates hunger and quenches thirst. Even the minor injunctions and precepts of the faith start appearing to them as of intrinsic worth and goodness without being grounded upon any logical argumentation or considered as part of a system of life or as a means to establish it. The smallest details of the Holy Prophet’s (SAW) Sunnah appear to these people as pregnant with light (Noor) and splendor. They content themselves with the minimum material requirements of life and spend a major part of their time and energy in the propagation of Islam in their own way. 

But as this movement addresses the sentiments and not the reason of the people and its main emphasis lies on action and not on understanding, its influence and efficacy is limited. The members of a community who hold reason and understanding to be superior to sentiments and action, remain uninfluenced by this type of preaching. The very mental constitution of these people compels them not to appropriate passionately anything that does not satisfy the test of reason and critical inquiry. They cannot attain the deeper levels of religious life without first untying the intellectual knots of their minds. These are the people who constitute the intellectual minority of a society and who command leadership over its ideology and policy. A change and indeed a total revolution in their viewpoint and way of thought is therefore of paramount importance. If Iman and belief could not be kindled in their hearts and they remained in the darkness of disbelief, faith occurring merely in the lower strata of society could not guarantee Islamization in a real and enduring sense. 

[Islamic Renaissance – The Real Task Ahead by Dr. Israr Ahmad, p. 19-23]


[1] The terms Qaal and Haal are often found in the literature of Tasawwuf or Islamic mysticism. Generally speaking, when the avowed attestation of Iman, something spoken and verbal, develops inwardly and permeates the entire being and activity of the believer, the Qaal deepens and enriches into Haal

[2] Dr. Israr has delivered detailed lectures on the reality of human worldly existence in comparison to the absolute existence of God in light of Ayah 3 of Surah Al-Hadid: 

He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward: and He has full knowledge of everything. (Al-Hadid, 57:3) 

These video lectures are available under the lecture series: ‘A Selected Course of the Study of the Holy Quran, VE-9-35’. 

[3] Dr. Israr also quotes a sentence of Upanishad to put human material existence in its proper perspective: 

Man in his ignorance identifies himself with the material sheets that encompass his real self.

[4] This refers to the Verse 34 of Surah Al-Baqarah (2nd Surah of Qur’an), according to which God ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam. 

[5] In the Qur’an, the word ‘belief’ is used for faith in God but the word ’certain’ is used for faith in Hereafter to stress its significance and importance in straightening human action:

“… for it is they who in their innermost are ‘certain’ of the life to come!” (Al-Baqarah, 2:4) 

[6] The prophet’s (SAW) saying is: 

If in the sight of Allah the world had the value equal to that of the wing of a mosquito, He would not have allowed a disbeliever even to have a mouthful of water out of it.  

[7] This is an alternative expression for Khilafat-e-Rashida, the ‘Rightly Guided’ Caliphate (Khilafah) of Hadrat Abu Bakr, Hadrat Umar, Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat Ali (RAA). 

[8] This refers to the saying of the Prophet (SAW): 

If Allah guides a man to the right path through your effort and struggle, this is better for you than the costly brown camels. 

[9] This is how philosophers have traditionally conceived of God as Necessary and Ultimate Being, existing independently and in its own right. 

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