Sunnah's Role in Islamic Revival Featured

By Dr. Attia Elwishy June 03, 2024 250

Despite the divine revelation mentioning the “Sunnah” outside the context of the Quran, and despite the progression of civilization and modernization movements in various Islamic environments throughout history, which generally relied on the laws of existence inspired by the divine revelation and the observable universe, the idea of the Sunnah, within our written heritage, has remained tackled only within Islamic studies, scattered across various disciplines, suggesting that an elite understanding has somewhat permeated the study of psychological, social, and universal Sunnah, understanding its central role in the development of life and the flourishing of Islamic societies throughout the ages.

In our estimation, although the science of Sunnah may have been anciently neglected in written records of Islamic heritage for centuries, it remained in the philosophies of the sciences and the minds of scholars in a way that made it seem natural, present in their perceptions and behaviors, without rising to the level of specialized authorship. This made it difficult to trace the concept of Sunnah in Islamic writings over many centuries.

On the other hand, when we contemplate the Islamic civilizational achievements, with their theoretical foundations, practical manifestations, and value characteristics, we find that the Sunnahs of Allah and His laws in societies and horizons were a central source in managing the Islamic system of life through the ages.

Consequently, the renewed interest of Muslim scholars in studying Sunnah as an independent field, facilitating its understanding and emphasizing its application to different aspects of life, shows how much its absence impacted later generations after it was previously applied in the lives of predecessors.

Based on the available data from bibliographic surveys, we find that the study of the science of Sunnah (Fiqh As-Sunnah) did not receive proper attention until the early writings of the two scholars, Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Rashid Rida, to whom the credit can be attributed for laying the foundation of what can be termed “’Ilm As-Sunnah” (the knowledge and teachings based on the Sunnah).

Perhaps what gave those foundational ideas momentum and effectiveness is that the reform movements that emerged following the overthrow of the Islamic Caliphate (1341 AH/1924 CE) began to search for the objective reasons behind this civilizational decline. This contributed to expanding the circles of debate and intellectual discourse on the subject of Sunnah across various scientific and cultural frameworks in the Arab and Islamic spheres. It also reinforced for the elites the effectiveness of the Sunnah approach in various ways, attempting to reclaim the lost Islamic civilizational role.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and the diminishing hopes of reaching Islamic unity, some contemporary writings dug into the events through the Sunnah approach, investigating the causes of this defeat, to which societies have succumbed, along with the authority of states and the Ummah. This filled the horizons of Islamic existence with questions that stirred the minds of the concerned Muslims, seeking reasonable scientific explanations for the crisis of civilizational decline and the setback that affected the Muslim Ummah in all its parts—individuals, groups, institutions, and governments.

In this context, Shakib Arslan laid out his latest writings as a prelude to posing the most important question in his review, “The Present of the Islamic World: Why did Muslims lag behind while others advanced?” These questions were merely a reflection of the thoughts of the Sunni Al-Manar School, which Arslan accompanied its leaders and pioneers. Thus, his recent writings were significantly influenced by the thought of that school.

The ideas of Sayyid Qutb were an advanced example of the ideas of that reformist school. Almost every book by him reveals the deep meanings of the Sunnah to reform seekers in order to find solutions for the Ummah's civilizational crisis.

It can be said that Fiqh As-Sunnah infiltrated all the martyr Sayyid Qutb's works, promoting the Sunnah among various segments of cultured Arabs and Muslims, where he succeeded remarkably! Additionally, he presented intellectual and Sharia approaches, which had a significant impact on developing Sunnah thought. Unfortunately, he died before producing a comprehensive Sunnah project.

Mercifully, Allah decreed the emergence of a unique Muslim intellect who contributed to strengthening the pillars of Sunnah science and bringing it closer to independent knowledge. That figure was Malek Bennabi.

The ideas of Malek Bennabi came to represent a fundamental characteristic of an innovative phase in the Sunnah related to the universe, life, and humanity. These ideas constituted a serious attempt to uphold the Islamic civilization, whose problems exacerbated as the Ummah lost any remedy, almost leading to the depletion of its energy. Bennabi's inquiries became increasingly urgent day by day, seeking an Islamic civilizational solution, especially after losing confidence in the effectiveness of national projects within Arab and Islamic countries.

The significance of Bennabi's ideas did not settle with diagnosing the Islamic civilizational condition and its outcomes in the light of interpretative Sunnah and laws that describe the various aspects of that condition. But he also presented a framework of advanced deep thinking, providing all sorts of solutions for all problems.

One of the most notable aspects that made Bennabi's ideas about the Sunnah more precise, whether in presenting issues, diagnosing problems and remedies, or describing challenges, was their basis in revelation. His intellectual achievement earned scientific respect and appreciation, in addition to its solid methodology. He used Sunnah to reveal the sources of problems, the reasons for recovery, and the laws of positive development to face challenges through constructive and advanced development efforts.

According to Malik Bennabi's vision, the Sunnah engineered the relationships between the “people’s world,” the “ideas’ world,” and the “things’ world.” He presented a vision that gathered foundational conclusions in the field of Sunnah and gathered them into forms of action that could contribute to resuming civilizational action within a sound legal framework, free from intellectual absurdities or methodological imbalances.

Subsequently, there were various writings, ranging from intellectual works to academic studies and articles of varying quantity and quality. These writings were put together to provide a comprehensive picture of the Sunnah, attempting to infer the divine Sunnah that doesn’t change, derive its partial laws, and target its message in the general field of succession.

Naturally, Islamic studies and intellectual works have engaged with Sunnah thought in one way or another over the years, across different intellectual, academic, and cultural environments. Consequently, the topic of the Sunnah, due to researchers' interest and enthusiasm, has become a subject for public cultural discourse. Books were authored, articles were crafted, and research plans were proposed in higher academic studies to fill the gaps in the field of the Sunnah. However, we may notice some randomness in those efforts, which might be excusable for three reasons: 

The first reason is the lack of a roadmap to show the tackled topics, the nature of the approach, and its conclusions, to enable subsequent efforts to build constructively upon them.

The second reason is the absence of foundational methodologies and principles that govern the course of intellectual and academic activity, leading to the establishment of an independent scientific Sunnah discipline. Such a discipline should be comprehensive in its pillars, characteristics, and features and clear in its visions, means, objectives, and goals.

The third reason is the lack of a practical methodological connection between the jurisprudence of monotheism (Tawheed) and the jurisprudence of the Sunnah.

In conclusion, it's worth noting that the integration of Sunnah jurisprudence with Tawheed jurisprudence, the jurisprudence of rationalization, and the approach to rectification is what crowns rationality with the creation of capabilities to resume civilizational action anew.


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