بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على اشرف الانبياء والمرسلين
The divine institution of Tajdid (Reform) or the Mujaddid (Reformer) is critically important in our Religion. It is my belief that after the institution of Nubuwwah (Prophesy) itself, it is the rank of the Mujaddid which is the highest and of greatest significance for the Ummah, even greater than that of the administrative Caliphate or Imamate, and likewise greater than the role of the Ulama (Islamic scholars) and the Mashayikh (spiritual mentors). This is because the Prophet عليه الصلوات والتسليمات said:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْعَثُ لِهَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ عَلَى رَأْسِ كُلِّ مِائَةِ سَنَةٍ مَنْ يُجَدِّدُ لَهَا دِينَهَا
Verily, Allah shall raise for this Ummah at the head of every century one who shall renovate for it its Religion
(Sunan Abi Dawud)
In other words, at least one Reformer is promised to appear at the beginning of every century who has been divinely appointed by Allah. That Mujaddid or Reformer does not merely discharge the work of reform of his own initiate, but under divine appointment and authority, hence he is مبعوث من الله and مأمور من الله, which is not necessarily and not ordinarily the case with the Prophet’s administrative successors (Caliphs), the Ulama, and the Mashayikh. But this does not mean that every reformer is divinely appointed, rather that a divinely appointed Reformer is promised to appear in this Ummah at the head of every hundred years. It is possible that Allah divinely appoint multiple Reformers at the same time, or that Allah divinely appoints a Reformer at a time other than the head of the century. That is His prerogative, but the Hadith related by Imam Abi Dawud Sulayman bin Ash’ath as-Sijistani رحمة الله عليه in his Sunan informs us that we should expect a divinely appointed Mujaddid at the head of every hundred years. So when such a figure does appear at the head of the century, engaged in the ministry of religious reform - meaning he is expending effort to revive the original creed and practice of Islam - it is reasonable to regard him as someone who has been divinely appointed by Allah, especially if he himself claims something to that effect. However, the Mujaddid is not licensed to legislate anything new into the Religion, or to command with what is contrary to the Shari’ah, or in any way oppose the Sunnah. One who does so is a false reformer and obviously not divinely appointed by Allah. He is in fact an innovator and a caller to the gates of Hell. On the contrary, the basic function of the Mujaddid is to revive the Shari’ah and the Sunnah. In every age and generation after the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم there is some aspect of the Religion that may have been corrupted or neglected by his Ummah. Surely, the Mujaddid of the time focuses his effort and ministry on rectifying that corruption. The corruption or error that a certain segment of the Ummah has fallen into may also be specific to a certain geographic region or class of Muslims, and not the entire Ummah collectively.
Protestant Christians claim the true Gospel is defended and restored in the Church through the Reformers, men like Martin Luther for example. But unlike Islam, they have no basis from their sacred texts to speak of a divine institution of Reform. This is another demonstrable sign of the superiority of Islam to false, corrupt and man-made religions like Christianity.
In the mainstream and orthodox Sunni tradition of Islam, individuals like Umar bin Abd al-Aziz, the Four Imams (Abi Hanifah, Malik, ash-Shafi’i, Ahmad bin Hanbal), al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyah, Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind (Mujaddid Alf Thani), Shah Wali Ullah, Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, the two martyrs Sayyid Ahmad of Rai Barailly and Shah Isma’il of Delhi, and others, are generally regarded as Mujaddidin. Though none of them were perfect or infallible, as that is a characteristic exclusive to the Prophets, their extraordinary service in defense and revival of the Faith cannot be denied.
For this reason, I identify the true Reformers as being among the esoteric Successors of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, whose work and significance is greater than that of the official administrators of the Ummah. The divinely appointed Mujaddid is also an Imam, one to be followed, even if he does not possess administrative authority or Earthly dominion. In fact, none of the four, great Imams of Islamic jurisprudence (Abi Hanifah, Malik bin Anas, ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad bin Hanbal رحمة الله عليهم) possessed administrative authority or even held the office of judge, but nevertheless we regard them as Imams, eminent individuals who are to be followed. Likewise, the extremely pious and saintly individuals of this Ummah, known for their strict adherence to the Sunnah, their Zuhd, Taqwa, and exemplary worship, are Imams for us. Here I am referring to the righteous Awliya, individuals like sayyidina Ali as-Sajjad (Zayn al-Abidin), Uways al-Qarni, Hasan of Basra, Harith al-Muhasibi, Junayd of Baghdad, Dhun-Nun of Egypt, Ali bin Uthman al-Hujwiri, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani and tens of thousands of others رضوان الله عليهم اجمعين. All of these individuals are those who are meant when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said:
كَانَتْ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ تَسُوسُهُمُ الأَنْبِيَاءُ، كُلَّمَا هَلَكَ نَبِيٌّ خَلَفَهُ نَبِيٌّ، وَإِنَّهُ لاَ نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي، وَسَيَكُونُ خُلَفَاءُ فَيَكْثُرُونَ
The children of Israel were administered by the Prophets. Whenever a Prophet died he was succeeded by a Prophet. But there is no Prophet after me, yet there shall come Caliphs who shall increase in multiplicity
Although this narration goes on to quote the Prophet as saying that we have to obey the Caliph to whom the Bay’ah was given to first, and so it appears this Hadith is referring only to the Caliphs of administration and rule, this is not necessarily so. Firstly, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم has said he shall be succeeded by a large number of Caliphs, but the rightly-guided Caliphs of administration and rule in this Ummah were few and far between. They are essentially the first five Caliphs (sayyidina Abi Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Hasan رضى الله عنهم) and a few righteous rulers thereafter, such as Umar bin Abd ul-Aziz. While it is true that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم enjoined upon us obedience to even the wicked and tyrannical rulers who would hold positions of administrative authority in this Ummah, they cannot by any means be described with the term Khalifah (successor). This is also made clear by the fact that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said that the children of Israel were administered by their Prophets, one after the other. Since all of those Prophets were righteous men, we have to conclude logically that the Caliphs spoken of in the Hadith who will succeed the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم and administer his Ummah must likewise be men of extreme piety.
Secondly, while the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said that the children of Israel were administered by their Prophets, this obviously does not mean that every ruler, judge or king of Israel was a prophet. On the contrary, the vast majority of them were not. With the exception of prophets Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, the rulers, judgers and kings of Israel were non-prophets, and many if not most of them were wicked, evil men. However, there were always present in Israel prominent Prophets who served as the moral compass of the nation, and who relayed divine commands to the people, though they did not serve in any official capacity. These are also meant when the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said: كَانَتْ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ تَسُوسُهُمُ الأَنْبِيَاءُ
The Arabic word السياسة and its derivative as used in this context does not necessarily refer exclusively to official, political rule, but also encompasses the kind of major influence that is wielded by a charismatic figure within society. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was to be succeeded by a large number of Caliphs, yet many if not most of them would not possess official, political authority. Such individuals who influence and lead the Ummah in an unofficial capacity, through their personal charisma, are what I call esoteric Caliphs, distinct from the exoteric Caliphs who possess Earthly dominion and official political authority. Many of the eminent figures of the Prophet’s progeny, such as Imam Ali as-Sajjad, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja’far as-Sadiq, Musa al-Kadim, Ali ar-Rida, and others عليهم السلام والرضوان were the major esoteric Caliphs or Successors of the Prophet. None of them possessed official political authority, but they wielded a great degree of authority and influence through their charisma. Likewise, the pious and learned scholar of the Religion is a sort of esoteric successor of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, who said regarding them:
إِنَّ الْعُلَمَاءَ وَرَثَةُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ
Indeed, the Ulama are the inheritors of the Prophets
As for the Prophet’s first five rightly-guided Caliphs - Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Umar al-Faruq, Uthman dhun-Nurayn, Ali al-Murtada and Hasan al-Mujtaba رضى الله عنهم - they combined within themselves both the external and esoteric faculties of the Khilafah, so that they were not merely Caliphs, but Caliphs upon the Prophetic Way. And of course, the esoteric attributes of the Prophetic Succession are greater than that of its exoteric ones. So when Imam Hasan resigned from the administrative caliphate after a brief period of six months, he nevertheless remained an esoteric Caliph. And on this basis I believe that the Ayat al-Istikhlaf, which says:
وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا
Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession in the land just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their Religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security
encompasses in its meaning the esoteric Caliphate along with the exoteric Caliphate. But as it relates to the esoteric Succession, it being manifested in the land refers to the charismatic authority and influence wielded by the esoteric Caliph enabled by him being recognized by the community of Believers as an Imam meant to be followed and obeyed. Establishment of the Religion as it relates to the esoteric Caliphate therefore does not necessarily mean in an official sense, but that for all intents and purposes through his leadership the people of established the Religion upon themselves, and the Religion is evidently flourishing in the land. Finally, the transformation of a state of fear into security refers, in the case of the esoteric Caliphate, to an inner peace and serenity that is attained through attachment to the esoteric Caliph of the time, and Allah knows better.