Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have there been any important Muslim religious reformers?

According to a Hadith, Muslims believe that at the beginning of each Islamic century God will raise up for the community a mujaddid (muJADdid), a “renewer” who calls people to a fresh awareness of their faith. Muslim tradition has identified a succession of important historical renewers. In modern times, too, a number of major reformers have taken on the daunting task of inciting their fellow religionists to adapt their ancient faith heritage to changing circumstances. Like reformers in any tradition, these Muslim pioneers have often met with resistance to the changes they proposed. Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), for example, worked to promote reason as nearly equal with revelation as a source of knowledge. His suggestion that some elements of the Qur’an were not of divine origin caused considerable stir. Abduh, nevertheless, served as Grand Mufti of Egypt and was a leading influence at the al-Azhar University, a flagship institution of Islamic traditionalism.


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