Public Lecture: "Understanding Reform from an Islamic Perspective" by Prof. Tariq Ramadan

Topic: “Understanding Reform from an Islamic Perspective”

Speaker: Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, Oxford University, U.K.

Day/Date/Time: Friday, 30 January 2015, 9:30am - 12:00noon

Venue: International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia

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There is in the classical Islamic tradition, a central reference to the need for a renewal, revival, and consequently, reform of our reading and understanding. Debates have often – quite legitimately – concentrated on clearly determining the abilities and limits necessary for the practice of tajdid and ijtihad. While some scholars called for the practice of ijtihad as a condition to faithfulness, others wanted to forbid it. What nevertheless remains the majority opinion is that the rereading effort (tajdid) and the tool of critical interpretation of texts (ijtihad) are indispensable means to face contemporary challenges.

The debate over the question of the renewal, revival, and reform of Islamic sciences is thus very old one among Muslim scholars. As early as the twelfth century, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali referred to the necessary “revival” (ihya’) of “religious sciences”, in a magisterial seminal work that bears just that title. Closer to our own times, in the late nineteenth century, with the Nahda and Salafiyya movements, and the critical output of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad ‘Abduh, those concepts spread and became ubiquitous in contemporary discourse.

The contemporary Muslim conscience has to transform the turmoil of converging or contradictory ideas into an energy of debate, renewal, and creativity that produces faithfulness as well as serene coherence at the heart of our modern age and its challenges.


Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the Oxford University (Oriental Institute, St Antony’s College) and also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology. He is Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, (Qatar) and the University of Malaysia Perlis; Senior Research Fellow at Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan) and Director of the Research Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) (Doha, Qatar).

He holds an MA in Philosophy and French literature and PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva. In Cairo, Egypt he received one-on-one intensive training in classic Islamic scholarship from Al-Azhar University scholars (ijazat in seven disciplines). Through his writings and lectures Tariq has contributed to the debate on the issues of Muslims in the West and Islamic revival in the Muslim world. He is active at academic and grassroots levels lecturing extensively throughout the world on theology, ethics, social justice, ecology and interfaith as well intercultural dialogue. He is President of the European think tank: European Muslim Network (EMN) in Brussels.

He is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

Latest books: “Islam and the Arab Awakening” OUP USA (2012); “The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East” Penguin (April 2012); “The Quest for Meaning, Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism” Penguin (2010); “What I believe” OUP USA (2009); “Radical Reform, Islamic Ethics and Liberation” OUP USA (2008),« Au péril des idées » (French) with Edgar Morin, Presses du Châtelet, March 2014.


The renowned Muslim public intellectual, Tariq Ramadan in a lecture on “Understanding Reform from an Islamic Perspective” (IAIS Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 30 January 2015) reframed the discourse on reform by emphasizing reform of the self as the prelude and prerequisite to social reform, inspired no less than the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him!) himself, who “prayed at night to transform the world during the day”. This personal reform should culminate in a sense of personal security (salamat al-nafs) in the individual, a state necessary to attain to the Qur’anic ideal of the “tranquil soul” (nafs al-mutma’innah). Such objective necessitates the intensification and accommodation of Shariah in the heart (tatbiq al-Shari’ah fi’l-qalb) by transcending what Imam Nawawi described as the “lower” level of worship i.e. based on expectation of reward, to the “higher” form of worship which is performed out of sheer love for God.

Reforming the self also means reforming one’s attitude towards the environment or nature. In fact, nature functions as both the “context” to which one must adapt with the goal of transforming, and also on a higher plane, as ‘revelation by other means’. Indeed, the Qur’an as revelation itself connects to nature, as evidenced in how God makes oath by the events of nature (“By the dawn”, “By the night”, “By the ten nights”, etc), and how the Prophet himself wept when those verses were revealed.  
The reform envisaged here is thus wider than popular depictions of reform, especially those which are propagated by some jurists, for whom ijtihad (independent reasoning), tajdid (renewal) and islah (reform) are construed from a strictly legal standpoint thereby reducing the reform agenda to questions of rulings (ahkam) alone.  To the contrary, law itself is a means, not an end: it merely circumscribes, not prescribes – the latter being the function of ethics.
This explains the need to move from “adaptation reform” to “transformation reform”, two approaches by which the text (i.e. revelation) and the context (the lived social reality) may interact. Whereas adaptation reform only “responds” to changes as and when they happen so as not to lag behind, transformation reform calls for active participation as agents of change itself.
To accomplish the latter, Muslims should look to their own tradition, its intellectual and historical heritages, to set their own goals and objectives rather than merely responding and reacting to “the West”. Too often the Muslim world judges its own accomplishments by reference to the West (e.g. by locating “Islamic” antecedents to existing Western “achievements”), which in a way detracts the pursuit of independent objectives. In reality, Islamic tradition, especially its ethical thrust can infuse contemporary agendas towards the betterment of the ummah—recall that the Prophet (pbuh) was also sent for the refinement of ethics (makarim al-akhlaq).
[prepared by Tengku Ahmad Hazri]

Contact Information

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