It must not be forgotten that, according to the principle of Ijma already mentioned, the interpretation of the precepts and laws which regulate the lives of the Faithful, as laid down in the Qur’an and in the Traditions of the Prophet, can be done at any time and for any generation. Such an interpretation, by means of the Ijtihad which is a personal and living research, can be made, within the general limits of the Qur’an and Traditions. The suppleness of Muslim Law enhances its value, and its broad lines leave room for vigorous growth and adaptation to the changing and unforeseeable circumstances of international life. Muslim Law must, therefore, be freed of the rigid character, given to it by ancient codifications. It would be erroneous to assume that the door to interpretation has been shut, because the four leading juridical schools of Muslim orthodoxy had already decided, for all time, as to the prescriptions of Muslim Law.

Even with regard to these four schools (Hanafite, Shafi’ite, Malikite and Hanbalite), an individual Muslim is free to choose among them the rules to follow on different points; and to do that, he may not be obliged to strictly adhere to a single school. The practical result of this universally admitted freedom is quite obvious; it simplifies the carrying on of law and more easily meets modern conditions of life.

As regards the Qur’an, we stress the fact, that to be better understood — without being blindly attached to the exegesis of ancient authorities — it would inspire Muslims to a revival of religious thought and action. The Traditions and Sayings of the Prophet are to be seriously and critically studied with a view to freeing them from posterior deviations and infiltrations. As regards the four juridical schools, we may point out that their divergences are of little importance, and there are no antagonisms between them.

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Nowadays, Islam must be looked upon as being at a turning point in its history. Islam, whose faith is extremely powerful and unshakable [sic], owes its supremacy as a universal religion to its spiritual forces. Endowed with a remarkable power of adaptability to the conditions and necessities of different ages and spaces, its spirit exceeds the narrow framework of a purely literal interpretation of its laws and codes.

Among the vital and very serious problems, with which Muslims are faced today, is that of religious revival. There is a growing recognition among Muslims that they must show themselves to be alive to the present, facing forward and feeling responsibility for the future. In accordance with the Muslim principle of Ijma (i.e. the majority of opinion of the learned doctors of the Islamic religion), Muslim jurists (Fuqaha), savants (Ulama), and doctors of Muslim Law can gather together to discuss the religious problems affecting the welfare of Muslim peoples around the world …

It must not be forgotten that, according to the principle of Ijma already mentioned, the interpretation of the precepts and laws which regulate the lives of the Faithful, as laid down in the Qur’an and in the Traditions of the Prophet, can be done at any time and for any generation. Such an interpretation, by means of the Ijtihad which is a personal and living research, can be made, within the general limits of the Qur’an and Traditions. The suppleness of Muslim Law enhances its value, and its broad lines leave room for vigorous growth and adaptation to the changing and unforeseeable circumstances of international life. Muslim Law must, therefore, be freed of the rigid character, given to it by ancient codifications. It would be erroneous to assume that the door to interpretation has been shut, because the four leading juridical schools of Muslim orthodoxy had already decided, for all time, as to the prescriptions of Muslim Law. Even with regard to these four schools (Hanafite, Shafi’ite, Malikite and Hanbalite), an individual Muslim is free to choose among them the rules to follow on different points; and to do that, he may not be obliged to strictly adhere to a single school. The practical result of this universally admitted freedom is quite obvious; it simplifies the carrying on of law and more easily meets modern conditions of life. As regards the Qur’an, we stress the fact, that to be better understood — without being blindly attached to the exegesis of ancient authorities — it would inspire Muslims to a revival of religious thought and action. The Traditions and Sayings of the Prophet are to be seriously and critically studied with a view to freeing them from posterior deviations and infiltrations. As regards the four juridical schools, we may point out that their divergences are of little importance, and there are no antagonisms between them.

It is, therefore, necessary to seek, again, a direct contact with the Qur’an and with the authentic Traditions, and thus secure a doctrinal and moral purification. It is also necessary to eliminate from the beliefs all popular superstitions.

It is, therefore, necessary to seek, again, a direct contact with the Qur’an and with the authentic Traditions, and thus secure a doctrinal and moral purification. It is also necessary to eliminate from the beliefs all popular superstitions. Educational reform is one of the fundamentals of Renaissance, we mean religious and moral education. And as it is essential to re-establish the religious unity of the Ummah (the nation of Believers) a real rapprochement and consequent union between Sunnites and Shi’ites should be aimed at and worked for. Even a unification of the four juridical schools, which exist within the orthodoxy itself, may be realised. A tremendously powerful and unshakable [sic] religious unity may thus be achieved …

Any neglect in this supreme task would entail a serious problem for Islam. Muslim youth might be led astray and would risk, in modern times of materialistic Western civilisation, clashing doctrines and spiritual confusion, becoming agnostic, sceptic or influenced through atheist writings. The older members of the community would have neither the energy nor the necessary power to bring about, alone, the desired religious revival by means of a general and collective movement. This is an issue too vital and too serious to permit of neglect.

As far as technical and economic progress is concerned, we admit that Muslim countries are, in fact, one or even two centuries behind Western Christendom in this material domain.

As far as technical and economic progress is concerned, we admit that Muslim countries are, in fact, one or even two centuries behind Western Christendom in this material domain. Muslims are much to blame in this respect, because they have neglected the injunctions of the Qur’an to discover all the secrets of nature and fully utilise its immense resources. In fact, Islam encourages its followers to study and dominate it economically. Says the Qur’an:

Behold! In the creation of the Heavens and Earth, and the alternation of the Night and the Day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding, (Qur’an 3:190)

Seest thou not that God has made subject to you (men) all that is on the Earth … (Qur’an 22:65)

It is God Who has subjected the sea to you, that ships may sail through by His command, that ye may seek of His bounty, and that ye may be grateful. And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the Heavens and on the Earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect. (Qur’an 45:12-13)

Awakened Islam strongly aspires to religious revival, a revival worthy of the great periods of its glorious history. Religion, then, would have found its primitive rigour, liberated, as it should be, from a fixed static juridism and theology. Without danger, Islam would become able to occupy itself with modern sciences and material inventions, which today make the power of the West and cause its material superiority over the Muslim world. Genuine Islam is in perfect agreement with reason, and none of the real acquisitions of reason can be contrary to it. It is able to assimilate modern sciences and methods, without allowing them to interfere with the Faith and Muslim tradition. It would be able to catch up with the obstacles which separate it from the Western world and to undertake a fertile and efficient reorganisation in all domains. This reorganisation will not only be spiritual, but also material, in order to assure to the Muslim peoples a complete economic and industrial equipment and a technical independence, without which no permanent national satisfaction may be attained …

Awakened Islam will learn to make use of the mechanical and technical genius of the West.

[We must] … emphasise the necessity of mastering the economic resources of nature, as the Western nations have already accomplished. Awakened Islam will learn to make use of the mechanical and technical genius of the West.

The little developed but vast tracts of land in various Muslim countries in Asia and Africa, if their resources were exploited by means of co-operative Muslim enterprise along modern scientific lines, could certainly help to remove the destitution, hunger and economic distress existing in a terrible slate among many Muslim peoples. The ensuing social progress will particularly help to relieve the rural masses of their deep state of misery, for their material conditions of existence will be greatly improved. In this connection, modern and efficient sanitation and hygiene should be widely applied. Physical fitness and mental ability are necessary conditions of progress. This economic and social progress would constitute an important factor towards permanent political freedom of the Muslim people. It is our belief that a free and progressive Muslim world, a land which commands the very centre of the world’s inter-continental traffic, and which possesses an important wealth in raw materials will constitute an important stabilising factor in the world peace of tomorrow. Its freedom will constitute the best guarantee against conflicts and rivalries between the Great World Powers of tomorrow …

[U]nfortunately, in Africa, the local Muslim populations are very weak and backward, culturally, economically and socially. They cannot stand alone against the onslaught of the numerous Christian Churches, let alone the question of the conversion of other African races to Islam. Unless we look seriously and quickly to the African Muslims, the same tragedy which had happened in the past in Muslim Spain, during the Islamic period, would repeat itself in Muslim Africa.

[There is a need to] … encourage and work out the best measures of Muslim activity for spreading Islamic culture both in India and in Africa. As for India, the Indian Muslim community might be able to carry out this task among the non-Muslims. But, unfortunately, in Africa, the local Muslim populations are very weak and backward, culturally, economically and socially. They cannot stand alone against the onslaught of the numerous Christian Churches, let alone the question of the conversion of other African races to Islam. Unless we look seriously and quickly to the African Muslims, the same tragedy which had happened in the past in Muslim Spain, during the Islamic period, would repeat itself in Muslim Africa. A supreme duty claims us to avert such a disaster. We should organise efficient help and proper religious education by means of well selected and able missions to those regions. The spread of Islamic education among them is fundamental. Again, similar missions ought to be sent to the vast Muslim regions of the Dutch Indies …

Pan-Islamism is a real heritage of every Muslim. Every true Muslim must be a Pan-Islamist. But by Pan-Islamism we do not mean political Pan-Islamism such as was practised by Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey. We mean a spiritual union of Muslims, a religious and moral unity of the Muslim peoples all over the world, and a consolidation of Muslim solidarity and an up-to-date social and economic outlook.

It has always been the foolish, unfortunate and unfounded political fear of Islam, more than that of Hinduism or Buddhism, that caused the Christian nations to continuously attack Islam and to belittle the life of the Prophet, exposing it to false and libellous interpretation.

It has always been the foolish, unfortunate and unfounded political fear of Islam, more than that of Hinduism or Buddhism, that caused the Christian nations to continuously attack Islam and to belittle the life of the Prophet, exposing it to false and libellous interpretation. Churches were deliberately garbling and maliciously raising prejudices against Islam. We cannot allow this false propaganda to go unchallenged. As an antidote to this flood against Islam, staunch efforts should be made to set up Muslim centres of culture in an increasing number all over the lands of Islam. This is a vast field in which the intervention and activity on the part of Muslim States is essential …

There is nothing menacing or antagonistic in Muslim revival to the happy evolution of other communities. Islam has no aggressive intention or plan of violence against other world religions or peoples, either socially or materially. For we Muslims believe that mankind should live as one great family. We respect other communities. But we wish to raise ourselves to the standard of modern and advanced nations, and to protect ourselves from the disintegrating forces that threaten to keep us behind and constitute a serious obstacle to our full development. Only thus will it be possible for Muslim countries to take their worthy place in the rebuilding of the post-war world and to render the highest services to mankind.

His Highness the Aga Khan III (with Dr Zaki Ali)

NOTES FROM K.K. AZIZ

  1. The [source] book has four chapters: “The Fundamentals of Islam” by the Aga Khan (pp 1-10), “Islam and Medieval Sciences” by Dr Zaki Ali (pp 11-58), “Islam and Mental Health” by Dr Zaki Ali (pp 59-71), and “Religious Revival of Islam” by the Aga Khan and Dr. Zaki Ali (pp 72-83). It carries a two-page foreword in which the authors say:

    “The post-war period affords an excellent opportunity for international cooperation and progress.In the organisation of peace, the Islamic world is likely to be a strong stabilising factor. Mutual understanding between the nations is essential to the desired cooperation and our purpose in writing this small book is to promote understanding… We believe that Islam has a brilliant future, and we wish to see the future of Muslims, shaped to the spirit of Islam. A tree and progressive Muslim world is essential not only for the mutual advantage of the Muslim peoples, but for the maintenance of the peace of tomorrow and for the common good of humanity.”

SOURCES

  • Text (secondary source): Aga Khan III, Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz, Kegan Paul International, 1997, Vol II, pp 1183

    [Text verified and/or corrected from this source by NanoWisdoms]

  • Prince Aga Khan and Dr. Zaki Ali, Glimpses of Islam, Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, first published 1944, 2nd enlarged ed 1954, repr. 1961, 1965, 1973, Chapter 4, The Religious Revival of Islam, pp 72-83.

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