Can Islam be reformed?

   This question has arisen often enough for it to merit examination. The short answer is ‘no’. Changing already long-established doctrine within Islam is strictly prohibited.

   My intention is to provide an essential overview using authentic Islamic sources to provide a platform to understand why, and further educate yourself, not exhaust the subject.

   Quran 5:3 “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.”

   It would seem contradictory to reform what is deemed perfect. Reform is a crime in Islam, in that it may contravene Sharia Law. To quote highly regarded Islamic scholars in the Hadith:

   – The Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Every innovation is misguidance and going astray” Reported by Abu Daawood (no. 4607), at-Tirmidhee (no. 2676)

   – And he (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) also said: “… and every innovation is misguidance and all misguidance is in the Hellfire.” Reported by an-Nasaa’ee (1/224) from Jaabir bin Abdullaah and it is saheeh as declared by Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah in Majmoo’ ul-Fataawaa (3/58)

   To quote from the highly respected and authoritative manual of Sharia Law, The Reliance of the Traveller:

   Reliance B7.2: Scholarly Consensus Is Legally Binding (see B7.1 for definition of ‘Consensus’)

   When the four necessary integrals of consensus exist, the ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihadm because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.

   It is not possible within Islam to redefine what has been codified in law, since the the previous definitions and conclusions within Islam have eternal legislative authority, as indicated by the following:

   “Imaam al-Shatibee in his excellent work, al-I’tisaam, has provided the most comprehensive, concise and definitive legislative definition of al-bid’ah.”

   The common name for the desire to introduce change or reinterpret Islam is Bid’ah (innovation), which means ‘a newly invented matter’.

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8 Responses

  1. Walter Sieruk says:

    The title of this article “Can Islam be reformed ?” is a very important question. Some people actually believe Islam can be “reformed.” For example , Lt. General Michael T. Flynn in his book THE FIELD OF FIGHT he takes the stand “for a complete reformation of the Islamic religion.” page 132. General Flynn ,no doubt, is sincere and really believes in that idea. Which such an ambitious goal it’s important to first define what a “reformation of Islam actually is. Maybe a “reformation of Islam” had already be done ? As in that it has occurred and is now accomplished. As strange and outlandish as this statement sounds this is explained in the following essay.
    On the topic of a reformation within Islam, a very different yet possible valid and true view on this had been explain by the Christian, Nabeel Qureshi ,who was in the past was a Muslim .He wrote in his book which is entitled ANSWERING JIHAD wrote about the suggestion “that Islam needs a reformation .What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the Islamic reformation. This might sound shocking, but consider: Just as the Protestant Reformation was an attempt to raze centuries of Catholic tradition and return to the canonical text, so radical Islam is an attempt to raze centuries of traditions of various schools of Islamic thought and return to the canonical text of the Quran and Muhammad’s life. This desire to return to the original form of Islam can be seen not only in the words of Sayyid Qutb, but also in his method. He focused almost entirely on references to the Quran. it is true also of the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS today, whose publications and proclamations are punctuated by references to the Quran and Hadith literature. Radical Muslim organizations are explicit in their aim to reform Islam.” page 75. Further on pages 79,80 the author makes his case clear by writing that “Radical Islam is the Islamic reformation . The endeavor to modernize Islam and make it relevant to the twenty -first century is called progressive Islam. Progressive Muslim thought leaders, though few in number and limited in influence are present and are working to recreate Islam’s religious framework from within. Indeed, that is what it would take for Islam to become devoted to peace – not reformation but reimagination. “

  2. Jon MC says:

    You make a good point and I was guilty of being inexact in my language, I should have written: “The Christian reformation was an attempt, in the view of its primary proponents, Luther and Calvin, to return to – or recover – the original teachings of the Gospels …”
    My point, just to clarify, was that the protestant reformation (whatever one may think of it) was a radical reformation in that it’s aim was to go “to the root” of Christianity.
    If you have a similar reformation within Islam you get Wahhab, Qutb, Maududi and – in all probability – Al-Qaeda and ISIL; not a “moderate” or “Modern” Islam at all.

    Your article link was a most interesting read.

  3. Sane James says:

    Another interesting point you make, ECAW. I was reading through the Reliance last night and was wondering about the authorship.

    As it is Islam cannot be changed, and to change it would be to destroy what it is right now. That in itself is not a bad thing.

    Islamic consensus on what constitutes Sharia does tell us that all things “must be evaluated and judged according to the comprehensive methodology of Sacred Law, by virtue of which it is and remains the final and universal moral code for all peoples until the end of time.”

    All peoples/End of time. That’s a far reaching statement to make, but does indicate a profound, dogmatic unwillingness to change.

  4. Walter Sieruk says:

    Can Islam be reformed ? The answer to that question is that Islam is actually unchangeable when it stands as it’s originally designed and meant be .That being based on this “holy book” the Quran. For the Quran instructs in the use of violence and killing for the advancement of Islam, as seen ,for example in Sura 5:33. 9:5,111,123. 47:4. . This jihad of Islam has no limit to a specific place and time. Which in in strong contrast to the Bible. As in the Old Testament book of Joshua . For as disturbing as the account is to read it’s recorded in that book that the violence and killing was ,very ,much, limited to a specific place [area of land] and time an no further the meant to be engaged in .Unlike Islam with its militant jihad . With Islam and the idea of reforming it, the very best with may realistically hoped for would be a watered down diluted mild form of “Islam ” with is not violent. Which would be in great contrast to non-watered down undiluted Islam which contains much deadly violence

    Furthermore, the very idea of the folly of even trying to “reform Islam” is ,somewhat , a reminded in the what is written in the Bible. For the Bible in Ecclesiastes 1:15. which informs the reader “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” [K.J.V.]

  5. A.H. says:

    Dear Jon MC,

    You wrote:
    “The Christian reformation was an attempt to return to the original teachings of the Gospels and to do away with the accretions (such as “indulgences”) that had come into being.”

    Indulgences still exist in the Church of the ages. Here below you will find an interesting link.

  6. Jon MC says:

    I would argue that it depends on what we mean by “reform”.
    The Christian reformation was an attempt to return to the original teachings of the Gospels and to do away with the accretions (such as “indulgences”) that had come into being.
    My point in stating this is that often in western usage the use of the word “reform” carries with it this undertone: that the intended action will return whatever it is to its original and better form, or will repair it in some way.
    (All to often, of course, “reform” is used as a cypher for “change”, but no-one wants to be called a “changist” – one might ask why.)
    In those terms Islamic reform is possible: the reform or renewal initiated by Wahhab and others is its latest manifestation.
    What is generally meant by “reform” in relation to Islam is “moderation” or “modernisation” and here I completely agree: such a reform (though I would prefer the more straightforward “modernisation” or “moderation”) is impossible, as Sane James states, such a change (another honest word choice) is directly forbidden by Islam itself

  7. ECAW's blog says:

    Mind you there is this from the appalling section O on acts which entail apostasy:

    o8(14) “to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims is part of Islam”

    And we know what the penalty is for that:

    o8.1 “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed”.

  8. ECAW's blog says:

    It is unfortunate, and confusing, that the translater of the Reliance of the Traveller, Nu Ha Mim Keller, used the same title for his book as that of the original mediaeval work which in fact only occupies sections E to O.

    Section B is Keller presenting quotes from various later Islamic scholars. B7.1 identifies the author of the four necessary integrals of consensus as Shaikh Abdul Wahab Khallaf who was a scholar of fiqh working in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century. The whole of B7, including the quote above appears to be from him.

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