In his inaugural speech at "Al-Azhar International Conference on Renovation of Islamic Thought", the Grand Imam states,
“Islam and renewal are two sides of one and the same coin, and they together can well serve people's interests.”
“Renewal is a pure Qur’ānic law enacted by Almighty Allah as a prerequisite for change to the best.”
“The moderate reformist trend is more entitled to undertaking the mission of Islamic thought renewal.”
The Grand Imam declares the founding of "Al-Azhar Center for Heritage and Renewal”.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Prof. Ahmad At-Tayyeb delivered an inaugural speech today (Monday, Jan 27th, 2020) at "Al-Azhar International Conference on Renovation of Islamic Thought", in the presence of Egyptian Prime Minister, Engineer Mustafa Madbouly, who attended the conference on behalf of Mr. Abdul Fattah El-Sisi the President of Egypt. The conference witnessed the participation of prominent figures and distinguished political and religious leaders from around the world, representatives of endowment and fatwa houses and Islamic councils in 46 out of the 57 Muslim countries comprising the Muslim world.
Here is the full text of the speech.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Ever Merciful
All praise is due to Allah. May Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon our Master Muhammad and upon his family and companions, and those who follow his path and adopt his approach.
Your Eminence, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly representing President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, may Allah safeguard him and guide his way!
Eminent Muslim scholars from around the world!
May Allah’s Peace, Mercy and Blessings be upon you all!
Our dear guests, guest of blessed Egypt, welcome to this first of its kind conference: "Al-Azhar International Conference on Renovation of Islamic Thought". Thank you all for accepting our invitation and for taking the trouble of coming here. Thanks a lot for your kind participating in this conference.
The topic of Islamic thought renewal is such a broad one. It has recently become a vague and ambiguous concept due to the frequent treatment of it in the press and satellite TV programs at the hands of both well-informed and ill-informed persons equally. It has been addressed by those who are well versed in discussing topics, often without fully investigating or properly approaching them. That is why scholarly treatment of the topic needs more than the limited time and space allotted for a single speech as this. As such, we can only make some hints and brief notes.
The first thing to note is the relationship between renewal and maintenance of Islam as a living religion that is meant to serve achieving welfare to the entire humanity. This is a positive correlation where the two variables are almost identical. It is like the relationship between the two sides of one and the same coin, so much so that the separation of the two can only lead to disfiguring or ruining the coin, rendering it worthless.
Historical records prove that Islam – along with renewal - has remained a faith capable of serving people's interests and of appealing to them through offering a role model for good conduct and sound dealing, regardless of people's race, color or faith. History also witnesses that with stagnation, blind imitation and bigotry, faith remained a historical reflection of ancient nations and archaic civilizations, being at best confined to prayer houses, or statements to be remembered on certain occasions, like funeral and burial traditions. This miserable destiny still represents a sweet dream and a rosy hope for marauders in the east and the west who seek to undermine Islam specifically among all religions and ideologies. Unfortunately, some of those plotters only nominally belong to this religion.
Muslims should note that the law of regeneration or renewal is a pure Qur’ānic enactment that has long been investigated by leading scholars of the Islamic tradition, especially in our rationally well-established tradition. Those scholars discovered the necessity of renewal for development in politics and sociology, perceiving that Almighty Allah has set renewal as a prerequisite for change to the best. They also knew that in its absence the conditions of the Muslims would inevitably deteriorate in all walks of life.
In considering the law of renewal, our scholars drew on explicit and implicit references in Qur’ānic verses of which the following are examples:
- “That is because Allah would not change a favor which He has bestowed upon a people until they change what is within themselves.” (Qur’ān, 8:53)
- “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’ān, 13:11)
- “You see the mountains thinking them rigid, while they actually pass on like moving clouds.” (Qur’ān, 27:88)
- “Did We fail in the first creation? But they are in doubt about a new creation.” (Qur’ān, 50:15)
- “Unquestionably, to Allah do [all] matters revert.” (Qur’ān, 42:53)
- “There is no deity except Him; to Him belongs the [ultimate] destination." (Qur’ān, 40:3)
They also drew on an authentic hadith in this regard, which reads, “Surely, Allah sends to this [Muslim] nation at the turn of every hundred years those [scholars] who renew its [understanding of] religion.”
Here, it is worthwhile reminding or asserting that the rulings of Islam are classified into two categories: Definitive rulings that are fixed and thus may not be changed or renewed. These are conclusive rulings in terms of their evidence and interpretation. The reason behind their stability in face of the law of development is that Allah’s enactments in this respect are applicable at all time and every place. Most of these rulings relate to matters of creed, acts of worship and morals, while only a few of them pertain to family system and some other detailed issues of life. A space-age Muslim, for instance, still prayers in the same way done by his Muslim predecessors in the desert at the camel-age. This also applies to fasting, Zakah (the poor due) and Hajj (pilgrimage), which all have kept their very form for about fifteen centuries now. Yet, this case seldom applies to fixities established through definitive evidence or through the consensus of the [Muslim] nation.
The second category consists in the rulings liable to change. These involve other human daily life aspects such as civil, constitutional, criminal, economic, political, social, and transactional laws. They also include governance, international relations, common decency, customs and traditions related to food, drinks and clothing, etc. In these fields, the Islamic law of Shari`ah is introduced in the form of collective and general principles, allowing a spacious room for several applications and various modes which are all lawful as long as they serve common interests approved in terms of Shari`ah and morals.
“Reformers among our contemporary scholars offer as example to this category the issue of 'sales contracts', which is profusely addressed in contemporary laws. Yet, referring to the respective rulings introduced in the Glorious Qur’ān, one would find only three. This also applies to the laws of constitutional jurisprudence where the Qur’ān establishes only three principles, namely Shūra (consultation), justice and equality. The same also applies to punitive and economic laws and the like.”
Elaboration on the reasons behind closing the gate of Ijtihad and discontinuity of the renewal movement, and even on the respective stance of modern Muslim scholars and other intellectuals, falls beyond the scope of this brief speech. Yet, I should very concisely note that an overview of the Muslim and non-Muslim cultural scene reveals that those undertaking the responsibility towards our youth and our nation are not serious enough. There was total silence in face of the spreading phenomenon of religious fanaticism on the levels of education, missionary and guidance. Though fanatical calls do not honestly represent Islam, they have gained considerable financial and moral support. Added to this is the rise of westernization and modernization trends dedicated to scandalizing, mocking and distorting the image of Muslim figures, and flouting their heritage. Many Muslim youth are now bound to make a choice in this arena between two evils, either opting for seclusiveness, hatred, violence and rejection of the others or plunging into an abyss of stray and cultural suicide. The seclusive trend has failed in its mission, betting on the Muslims’ ability to keep on living well while closing the gates in face of the influx of Western culture. It retracted, leaving behind vulnerable Muslim youth who could not face the sweeping influx of such foreign culture. Here, I would claim that if this trend has failed, the trend adopted by the westernized and the modernists was not any more fortunate. Thus, it turned its back on heritage and showed no reservation in flouting and attacking it. Besides, its propagators sang the wrong note in a way that rendered the scene more chaotic.
Today, I have no doubt that the moderate reformist trend is alone entitled to undertaking the mission of renewal desired by the nation. By renewal I mean the sort of innovation that does not distort the faith or cancel it. Rather, it is one that drinks from the founts of faith and seeks guidance through it, while dropping unfit juristic rulings that were once applicable at certain historical moments during which they constituted a form of renewal necessitated by their respective circumstances. When appropriate rulings are not available, new rulings should be inferred in a way that conforms to the objectives of the faith. We thus wish that this approach is honestly reflected in today's conference of Muslim scholars held at Al-Azhar.
I would like to conclude this speech by maintaining that this conference is not a typical one or a repetition of former conferences. Rather, it is meant to undertake the mission of discussing specifics and particularities, and conclusively decide on them. We discovered that the issues liable to renewal are too many to be encompassed in one conference. Therefore, Al-Azhar Ash-Sharif has decided to establish a permanent center that is titled “Al-Azhar Center for Legacy and Renewal”. This center would have, as its members, scholars from inside and outside Egypt. It would also encompass a group of university professors and experts in different epistemological fields who wish to contribute to the process of renewal anticipated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Thank you for your ardent listening.
May Allah’s Peace, Mercy and Blessings be upon you.
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar