The Kitab al-Malâhim in the Sunan of Abu Da'ûd opens with the following Hadith:
"At the beginning of every century God will send to this community someone who will renew/revive/restore religion." (Inna Allah yab'ath li-hadhihi al-umma 'ala ra's kull mi'a thana man yujaddid laha amr diniha.)
Interpreting the 'utterances' of the Prophet - the Hadith as they are collectively referred to - has always appeared to be far more problematic than the exegesis of the Qur'an, the most obvious reason being the question of authenticity. (There are other reasons, of course, which do not concern us here). It is no secret that the Hadith have not all been accepted as authentic. In fact only a small number of the sayings attributed to the Prophet have received the unanimous approval of specialists in the fields of Hadith: with the exception of al-Muwatta' and the collections of Muslim and Bukhari, most collections contain Hadiths which are presumed to be authentic side by side with ones which are either dubious, or which should be rejected outright. Even those Hadiths which are worthy of being considered authentic have been questioned and criticised by masters in the field.
The mujaddid Hadith is no exception. Abu Da'ûd himself appears to have considered the ascription of this saying to the Prophet as being somewhat dubious, while other scholars point out that the last two links in the isnad or chain of transmission are suspect. Other traditionists present variants of the Hadith without quoting any authority, as if the words were their own, or else ascribe the Hadith to the Prophet without mentioning any chain of transmission.
Obviously, since I am no expert in the field of Prophetic traditions, it is not for me to pronounce on their authenticity. Personally speaking, there are certain things about the question of the mujaddid which bother me, but the authenticity of the Hadith - whether or not it was actually uttered by the Prophet - is not one of them. For regardless of whether it is authentic or not, I believe that the saying expresses a reality that has been experienced by many communities in the past, and that is being experienced today, in our own time, even as we are assembled here.
The main thing which bothers me is the way we Muslims have interpreted the Hadith; that is, more often than not in accordance with our own ends. Obviously this is not a reflection on the Hadith, after all there are numerous verses in the Qur'an whose authenticity is clearly beyond doubt, which have been deliberately misinterpreted to suit any number of personal objectives.
Muslim scholarly interest in this Hadith has focused almost exclusively on personalities - on the identity of the Mujaddidîn: the concept of Tajdid, its nature and necessity, have rarely, if ever, been discussed. As the Hadith was disseminated through the Muslim world, and through time handed down through generation after generation of Muslim scholars, many different lists of Mujaddidîn were compiled. In fact it would not surprise me in the least if there turned out to be as many different lists as there are compilers: I myself have seen more than twenty, and although some names appear on more than one list, no two lists are the same. When one studies these long lists of people considered as Mujaddidîn, one cannot help but notice that each list is coloured by the particular orientation of its compiler. Thus a list drawn up by a Hanbali would, more often than not, contain only Hanbalites; a list compiled by a Sufi would consist solely of Sufis, and so on. In short, scholars from every school or circle or ideological grouping tend to apply the Hadith to their own masters. There is one list, drawn up no doubt by a scholar attached to some royal court, in which every name is that of a king or sultan.
Given that there is no consensus of opinion as to how a mujaddid is recognized or chosen as a mujaddid - it is, after all, a purely honorific title and not a position or function - then perhaps a variety of lists is inevitable. A less generous but somewhat more realistic view would, in my opinion, be that we are rather prone to obsession with personalities, and that the elevation of 'one of our own' to some exalted position serves to confer upon us a kind of vicarious glory and sense of pride and fulfilment.
There are various other points of contention in this issue. For example many scholars agree that the first two Mujaddidîn were 'Umar b. al-'Aziz and al-Shafi'i, who died in 101 and 204 respectively. No one, of course, could dispute the services of these men to the cause of Islam. Yet one cannot help noticing that it was the date of death which was taken into account in determining the identity of the Mujaddidîn. This in keeping with the habit of Muslim biographical literature to go by the death date of a person, but it is hardly compatible with the literal meaning of the Tradition, because shortly after the turn of the century these men were dead and thus unable to restore or renew religion. And which is why later scholars stipulated that the mujaddid be alive and active after the turn of the century. Then there is the question of those scholars whose services to Islam are beyond question, but who were inelligible for the title of mujaddid simply because their death dates were incompatible with the Hadith. The time and energy wasted by countless scholars in disputing and refuting the lists compiled by other scholars is yet another point. In short, there can be few Hadith whose poss-ible interpretations allow for bigotry and partisanship to the extent that this one does.
However, none of this is a reflection on the mujaddid Hadith itself, and should not be a reason for rejecting the Hadith as some scholars have done. Personally I feel that the arguments for and against the authenticity of the mujaddid Hadith, while enlightening in themselves, are ultimately ir-relevant. For just as there are sayings attributed to the Prophet which are clearly at odds with both the Qur'an and human reason, and which therefore must be rejected, there are many truths which are supported by the Qur'an and human reason but which were never encapsulated in an utterance - a Hadith - of the Prophet. Incidently, a relatively fail-safe way of testing the authenticity of any Tradition is given by the Prophet himself, who is reported to have said: "Whatsoever is told to you as my words, compare it with the Book of God: what is in agreement with it is from me, whether I have actually said it or not." Given that criterion, I see no reason to reject the mujaddid Hadith, and every reason to accept it.
However, I say this with certain reservations. The key to accepting this Hadith as being at least conceptually authentic lies in its ambiguity - or maybe I should say, the 'looseness' of its phrasing. The Arabic word man or 'who' can mean either one person or more than one person. Thus we have to allow for the possiblity of there being more than one mujaddid in any one age. And the hundred year-span is a popular motif which occurs in many different contexts: like the numbers seven and forty. It is a figure of speech and should not be taken as indicative of a cyclical pattern of renewal or reform on a strict 100 year basis. What I believe the Hadith is saying is that whenever necessity dictates, God inspires a person or persons who, through their lives and works, present the realities of belief and Islam to the people as they were meant to be presented. In a manner that accords with both the true spirit of revelation and the underlying needs of the age. The mujaddid thus accomplishes two extremely important things. Firstly, he re-reveals the Qur'an to the people of his own time just as it was intended to be revealed, and indeed as it was revealed by the Prophet some fourteen hundred years ago; and secondly, he does so in a way that is accessible to the level of mind of people in his own time, thus uncovering aspects of the Qur'an that were hidden from the people of Mecca and Medina in the 7th century. This for me is the true meaning of tajdid. I am always reminded of this by the Nur magazine, on the front cover of which is written: As time grows older, the Qur'an grows younger; its signs become apparent. The blessed Prophet himself said that there were certain aspects of the Qur'an which would be understood only by generations yet to come, thus foreshadowing the concept of tajdid.
Revelation and reason also provide ample proof of the necessity and importance of the mujaddid. Indeed, if the Qur'an is Divine revelation for all men and at all times, as its verses assert, and if Divine guidance is bestowed on all who wish to be guided, as the Creator promises, then it follows that in every age there will be a person, or persons, whose duty it is to re-reveal the Qur'an and uncover those truths which are meaningful only with the passing of time. Such individuals are the ‘ulama - and by ‘ulama I mean those who are alluded to in the verse, Those who truly fear God among his servants who have knowledge, and not simply anyone who is an expert in the field of theology or jurisprudence. The latter may have knowledge, but may not be an 'âlim in the true, Qur'anic, sense of the word.
And among these ‘ulama there will inevitably be those whose understanding of the cosmos will be greater and nearer to the Qur'an than the understanding of others. They are the Mujaddidîn.
The Mujaddidîn, as ‘ulama, are the inheritors of the Prophets, as another well-known Tradition asserts. Tajdid can thus be seen as an extension of prophethood, and the mujaddid as a prophet for his own time. I use the word prophet advisedly: I am sure that no one will jump to conclusions that are not there. Obviously, the mujaddid is a fallible and sometimes flawed human being, possessing none of the accoutrements of prophethood enjoyed the anbia. The words vouchsafed to the Prophet in the form of divine revelation, the Qur'an, are final and cannot be bettered, while the words of the mujaddid can - and obviously will - be bettered, given the ongoing nature of Tajdid. The prophets have a seal, a khâtam, which the Mujaddidîn do not have: so long as the world continues and time moves on, there will always be new Mujaddidîn, unlocking more and more of the Qur'an, to take the place of those before them. And so on....
As for the present age, one look at the state of the Muslim umma is enough to tell us that we have never needed tajdid so badly as we need it today. This point needs no elaboration.
Our problem is not that we aren't Muslims - after all, we number almost a billion. Our problem is that most of us do not believe. And most of those who do believe, do so deficiently, believing not in God alone but also in partners that are set up alongside Him. The verse, And most of them believe not in God without associating others as partners with Him, is of the utmost relevance in our day and age. It is not the outer citadel of Islam that is under attack but the very foundations of belief. And thus the most important duty of a mujaddid in today's world is to save belief and raise it to a level of certainty whereby it is able to withstand all the doubts and assaults made against belief and religion at the present time. This calls for a vision of reality which addresses human reason, as well as the heart and other faculties. This calls for an understanding of the Book of Creation that satisfies the intellect as well as the spirit. The present age resembles the 'asr al-jahiliyya - the age of ignorance which preceded the revelation of the Qur'an. It is the age of ENE [ana, the ego], the age of nafs al-ammara run wild, and the reconstruction of the human individual - the re-clothing of the human spirit in the God-reflecting robes of belief, submission, and sincerity (iman, islam and ihsan). This is the task of the mujaddid today.
Over the past twenty-five years there has been much talk of the 'Islamic revival', of Islamic governments, the reintroduction of Islamic laws; we have even witnessed an 'Islamic' revolution. The words 'Muslim', 'Islam' and 'Islamic' are everywhere. Yet rarely do we hear the words 'God' or 'belief'. This is why the Risale-i Nur stands out so prominently. But before we turn to the Risale-i Nur and its author, let us consider the following quote, which contains a definition of the mujaddid:
"The high servants of religion which are described in the Prophetic traditions as coming at the start of every century are not innovators, they are followers. That is to say, they do not create anything themselves, they do not bring any new ordinances; they adjust and strengthen religion by way of following to the letter the fundamentals and ordinances of religion and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad; they proclaim the true and original meaning of religion; they remove and render null and void the baseless matters which have been mixed up with it; they reject and destroy attacks made on religion; they establish Divine commands and proclaim and make known the nobility and exaltedness of the Divine ordinances. Without spoiling the basic position or damaging the original spirit, they carry out their duties through new methods of persuasion appropriate to the understanding of the age, and in new ways and with new details."
Anyone who has studied the Risale-i Nur should, given this definition of the function of the mujaddid, have no trouble in recognizing the signs of tajdid and the imprint of a mujaddid on any one of its five thousand pages.
For the Risale-i Nur is a commentary for our times on the treasures of the Qur'an. In fact, if we understand the Qur'an to be guidebook to the cosmos, the Risale-i Nur is a guidebook to the Qur'an. Perceiving correctly that the most awesome disease of the present age is unbelief, the author of the Risale-i Nur sets out to explain the central teachings of the Qur'an based on criteria set by the Qur'an itself (tafsiru'l-Qur'an bi'l-Qur'an) and as such says nothing from himself. The main difference between the Risale-i Nur and other works of exegesis is that the Risale-i Nur gives priority to the question of 'belief through investigation' (tahqiqî iman) plus the fact that it speaks in terms that are relevant to 20th century man.
So far as I am aware, the Risale-i Nur is the only comprehensive body of Qur'an-based teachings in existence at the present time that addresses consistently the problems facing man in terms of belief. An understanding of iman, of why it is necessary for us to nurture and increase belief, is essential if man is to escape the threat of annihilation: I believe that the Risale-i Nur gives us this understanding. To non-believers it shows the futility of unbelief; to believers it shows the way in which they can re-evaluate, re-affirm and increase their belief. This last point is of the utmost importance, for the general decline in the Islamic world was caused not by any doctrinal incompatibility with the implications held by certain scientific advancements, as was partly the case with Christianity; rather, decline in the Islamic world is a result of the weakness of Muslims in sustaining their belief. It is a fact that the West was able to progress materially only by marginalizing Christianity; in the Islamic world, the abandoning of religion caused only decline - the decline which is still all around us and at present shows little sign of abating.
One of our major weaknesses, as we have already seen, was the inordinate amount of emphasis placed upon secondary issues (fer'î) rather than fundamentals. The Risale-i Nur redresses this imbalance by giving priority to the fundamental truths and realities of belief, without an understanding of which all secondary issues are meaningless.
In short I would say this: after many years of searching and comparing, my belief is that the Risale-i Nur is the only self-contained, comprehensive Islamic work that sees the cosmos as it actually is, presents the reality of belief as it truly is, interprets the Qur'an as our Prophet intended, diagnoses the real and very dangerous diseases that afflict modern man, and offers a lasting cure.
Thus, I am convinced that the author of the Risale-i Nur qualifies beyond all doubt for the title of mujaddid. I do not know whether he is the only mujaddid of this age, or whether the Risale-i Nur is the only work of tajdid; to repeat what I said earlier, I can only say that after half a lifetime of searching, I have found no one else who deserves the title of mujaddid more than the author of the Risale-i Nur.
Having said that, I must point that I am not here merely to pronounce a glittering eulogy on Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. As he himself asserted time after time, it is not the man that is important but the message that he brings. In this context I would say one thing to those students of the Risale-i Nur here in Turkey: do not make the same mistakes that our brothers made in centuries long past, and that some make even today. For some of our Arab brothers, the fact that the blessed Prophet was an Arab, with an Arabic Qur'an, has filled them with misplaced pride, a sense of vicarious glory: for many, Islam and its Prophet have become, in effect, an extension of their individual nefs or ego. For them, Islam has become something they own, a cultural appendage, a possession. The students of the Risale-i Nur must beware of falling into this trap. The fact that a mujaddid emerged from your part of the world, from your community, is a cause for neither pride nor glory. If anything, it should serve to heighten your sense of respons-ibility, for, as those who are nearest to the Risale-i Nur, it is your supreme duty to spread its message and to act as its ambassadors and representatives. For the Risale-i Nur is not the property of one nation or a few individuals: it is a message from a sincere brother, inspired by his Lord, to the rest of mankind, as such belongs to all of us.
To those Muslims who are not students of the Risale-i Nur, I would also say one thing: if you are looking for a way to Allah that is safe and sure, tried and tested, then approach the Risale-i Nur with an open mind and an open heart: you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
A work such as the Risale-i Nur, which reflects the light of the Qur'an, illuminates the cosmos and gives meaning to human existence cannot be ignored. For only Islam - submission to the Creator - stands between modern man and catastrophe; and I believe that the future of Islam depends on the Risale-i Nur and on those who follow, and are inspired by, its teachings.
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