Muslim Reform and the Jadids Issues

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Islamic history has witnessed enormous changes by engendered actions owing to emotional or intellectual intensity, as well as popular support. Sectarian controversy emerging very early in the development of Islam and thriving to this day is an obvious example. Two other manifestations of complaint however deserve our special attention because they underscore the vitality of Islamic civilisation through the centuries and represent modes of change predating”modern” notions of reform. The first has been Sufism, initially individual and ascetic, but overtly a mass movement organized in brotherhoods (turuq) pl.

tariqa) with its stress on the inner awakening and moral reformation of the individual. Sufism attracted not only to the uneducated but also, at least in its more moderate expressions to many representatives of the Ulema.

The second has been the often right-wing orthodox call for communal revitalization, epitomized intellectually in the writings of Ibn Tamiyya (the thirteenth -fourteenth century Hanbali alim and realized in the numerous eighteenth -and nineteenth-century reform movements ranging from the Wahabi(Arabia) to the Idrisiya(North Africa) and the Faraizi (eastern Bengal) The relationship between Sufism and orthodox reformism does not succumb easily to generalization.

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There existed always a basic tension when it came to synthesising the former’s methodology with the latter’s doctrine as al-Ghazali attempted philosophically in the eleventh century.

By the eighteenth century however evidence suggests that an integration of the two on a practical level was enjoying significant headway as Sufism absorbed the orthodox emphasis on the Quran hadith reports and the person of the prophet while reducing somewhat its own ecstatic practices and metaphysical tendencies.

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But Muslims have long accepted the legitimacy of periodic “renewal” (tajdid) of the community (umma)

As a modality of change tajdid had long served Islam’s interests unchallenged, its power and legitimacy drawn from the larger discourse of which it was an expression. When much of the Islamic world since the eighteenth century, for reasons that still arouse intense debate, appeared to many to be in decline and seemed less and less capable of successfully handling the political,economic and ultimately cultural challenge from Western civilisation. A typical response intellectual and popular was a call for renewal. The West’s challenge “proved” to be overwhelming, thereby forcing a revolutionary transformation in the minds of more and more Muslims, leading them to accept not only non-Islamic or western representations of the past and present but also and more importantly an alien non-traditional modality of change.

It is this Jadidism that will be addressed now using the Russian Islamic context. Within that context two persons will be examined whose perspectives reflect the fundamental distinctions between classical Islamic and modernist approaches to reform: Abu Nasr Qursavi and Ismail Bey Gasprinskii. Qursavi was a renewer , not an innovator, an implementer or a challenger. He is described as such by a leading figure among soviet muslims today as he had been by two of the most prominent “Russian”ulama of the nineteenth century, Sihabbeddin Mercani and Riazeddin Fahreddin,who compared him favourably with the fourteenth century reformer al-Taftazani (Abdullah,1985:11) The call to be rightly guided, to restore the relationship between man and God and to place it again at the center of man’s existence and to renew the umma make of Qursavi a mujadid. Qursavi deliberately upset many of his contemporaries by questioning their perception and practice of Islam,but his criticisms never bore revolutionary implications.

Among the Volga and Crimean Tartars,as well as Azerbaijanis and other Caucasian muslims, the late eighteenth to middle nineteenth century produced numerous Ulema and Sufi adepts who echoed the complaints of Qursavi. A detailed study of this has not been made but a situation that repeats itself at every turn for Russian Islam it can be suggested that a list of such men would likely include Abdurrahim Utiz-Imeni (1754-1836) Abdulmanih Kargali(17892-1826),Ibatulla Salih (1794-1867) and Abelcebbar Kandali (1797-1860) from the Volga region as well as Mulla Panaha Vagif (1717-1797) Mulla Veli Vidali (1709-1809) and Zeynulabdin Sirvani (eighteenth century) fromAzerbaijan and the Crimen Tartar Esmirza (1803-1883).In addition through the mid-third of the eighteenth century along the Volga,and later in Caucasia ,the tajdid modality of change found expression in mass movements frequently inspired by Sufi Turuq and directed largely against Russian colonialism. The calls for jihad (holy war) by Imam Mansur (1785-1791),Shaikh Muhammad of Yaraglar (1825) and Imam Samil (1834-1859) are but three examples.1

Colonial relations between Russia and her Muslim subjects encouraged however a reformist spirit of a qualitatively different kind. This fostered the emergence of a cadre of Russianized Muslims whose weltanshung reflected the effects of increasing Russian culture and various amounts of the “modernism”in which the greater Western complex was caught up. Some of these ‘new’, like Muslims like Abbas Kuli Aga Bakihanov (1794-1848) Mirza Fetali Ahundov (1812-1878) to name a few had actively participitated fully in the Russian side of imperial life.

Some ceased to be religious or even converted to Christianity as did Kazem Bek.2.But we understand there were also some who adapted aspects of modern culture without sacrificing as much of their Islamic identity in the process although much research is being done in this field. Through the collection of their writings all contributed to some measure to an emergence of a modernist discourse in their own native cultural mileux.

Stirrings of reform appeared in Central Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reform movements among other Muslims of the Russian empire especially Tartar reformers played a crucial role in the development of the Central Asian reform movement and ideology. The modernist discourse that was mentioned was popularly known as Jadidism. This had its most influential advocate in a Crimean Tartar Ismail Bey Gaprinski (1851-1914) who devoted his entire adult life to the goal of rendering the”new method” (usul-al-jadid) acceptable to his co-religionists. A key element in this program was education, and the goal was to replace traditional education with modern secular education.

A remarkable analogy can be drawn with that of British India in late 19th century when the great Mughal reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan decided to break away with the old traditions of Islamic education and merge with the system of British education. Sir Syed believed that sentimentality and emotion with old traditions of education was destructive to the progress of his community which was falling back so dangerously behind their Hindu counterparts. Thus Tartar reform was a part of a wider trend in the Muslim world during the nineteenth century.

One can categorise various intellectual responses to the changing conditions in the Muslim world at the time. Three main positions can be singled out. One argued for the primacy of political concerns, recognizing as legitimate any adaptation that facilitated the achievement of political goals . (In particular this related to the question of the preservation of the Ottoman Empire) This was opposed by as second position that was based on Islam and argued that politics was irrelevant if it did not allow for the preservation of Islam.

A middle way was represented by Islamic modernism the intellectual current to which Muslim reformers of the Russian Empire were most closely affiliated . Islamic modernism prescribed adaptation but not any cost. Reforms were both desirable and fully compatible with Islamic traditions, and they should be based on arguments congenial to Muslims. This was the general solution presented by the main architects of Islamic modernism,such as Jamal-ud-din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)

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Muslim Reform and the Jadids Issues. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Muslim Reform and the Jadids Issues

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