Portal: Modern Movements in Islam

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A plethora of modern religious, social, political, and intellectual movements have primarily defined themselves vis-à-vis the Islamic tradition. Some of these movements have embraced the Islamic tradition wholeheartedly in an attempt at revival, others have sought vigorously to reform and reorient it, and still others have rejected it out right and sought its dismantlement. Specific examples of each include the Deobandi traditionalist movement most notably expressed through the proliferation of madrasas across the Indian subcontinent, the puritanical Salafi movement powered by Saudi Arabia evidenced by the global distribution of Darussalam publications, and finally the fast-spreading ex-Muslim movements across the world iconized by the ongoing establishment of ex-Muslim councils in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Britain, Norway, Jordan, America, Canada, Morocco, and many others.[1] While this last variety of movement - that is, those that define themselves against Islam - is perhaps not best described as a 'movement in Islam', it shares in common with the former varieties the fact that a particular, largely new-found relationship with the Islamic tradition comprises its essence, and thus can reasonably be grouped alongside them.

The lineage of all of today's movements in one way or another can be traced through the History of Islamic Thought.


The Islamic tradition has as its essence the legal interpretive methodologies of the mainstream schools of Islamic law. It is a defense and prioritization of any or one of these methodologies against attempts at reforms that traditionalist movements in the Islamic world have in common. While the various interpretive schools within the tradition have been and continue to have reasons to be cooperative, their internal dialogue is also not without its conflicts.

The All Pakistan Ulema Council is a Muslim organization in Pakistan, founded with the intention of reducing sectarian and interfaith violence through a return to the Islamic tradition, whose members include Islamic clerics and legal scholars from a range of persuasions. Its head is Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi.
The Taliban is a politically and militarily mobilized fundamentalist Hanafi group operating in Afghanistan. The group governed part of the country between 1996 and 2001 and has since tried to restore its control. The group seeks to implement traditional Islamic law without cowering to Western imperatives.

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Salafism is a broad umbrella term for Islamic movements which conceive of themselves against the later, historical Islamic legal tradition as harkening back to the purer form of Islam found directly in the texts of the scriptures. Thus, while salafi movements hold in common their supreme elevation of what are the same scriptures, they are also far more internally diverse and disconcodant than the traditional schools of Islamic law, for the various salafi movements have no basic approach to scriptural interpretation that they can be said to hold in common - that is, beyond a shared contempt for the traditional schools developed over hundreds of years. In this sense, the difference between Salafis and traditionalists in Islam is usefully compared to the difference between Protestants and Catholics/Orthodox Christians in Christianity.

Salafism is a modern Islamic movement which seeks to reform Sunni Islam through a return to scripture and the ways of the salaf al-salih, or the first three generations of Muslims. The movement seeks particularly to replace what it perceives to be the excessive interpretive apparatus of the traditional madhhabs, or schools, of Islamic law with direct references to scripture. The Salafi movement also seeks, for similar reasons, to replace the Aristotelian theology of mainstream Sunnism as expressed by Asharism with the more scripturalist and literalist theology of the salaf.
Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (محمد بن عبد الوهاب, born 1703 in 'Uyaynah; died 1792) was a Muslim scholar from the Najd region of what is today known as Saudi Arabia, who founded the eponymous Wahhabi branch of the Salafi movement, a movement which he would also be ultimately responsible for popularizing in general.
Love for the sake of Allah and hate for the sake of Allah is an Islamic concept is known as Al Wala' Wal Bara' (loyalty and disavowal). A Muslim is required to love what Allah loves, and hate what Allah hates. The doctrine has become a core element of the modern Salafi movement which seeks through the doctrine to dichotomize the world into that which is Islam and un-Islamic, leaving little room for anything in between.

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Modernist movements, while comprising a very small minority of intellectuals engaged in Islamic thought, distinguish themselves in a clear fashion from traditionalists and Salafis. Modernist movements share in common a straightforward acknowledgement, often made explicitly, of the merits of modernity. These movements come in various forms - ranging everything from the introduction of new and even infallible spiritual leaders and the radical re-conception of what constitutes Islamic scriptures to the outright appropriation of critical western philosophies. What they share in common, however, is a desire to move Islam towards meeting the moral, social, legal, and even financial expectations of the modern world. To many in the Muslim world, these movements appear as contemptible concessions to the west, analogous, even, to holding the door wide open for enemies with colonial ambitions. As the 2021 edition of the widely acclaimed Muslim 500 puts it, "Islamic modernism remains popularly an object of derision and ridicule, and is scorned by traditional Muslims and fundamentalists alike".[2]

Quranism is a modern movement which seeks to reconceive Islam solely in light of the Quran while disregarding the hadith. The movement is largely inspired by a distaste for the more unsavory contents of the hadith. Critics have argued that Quranism is hardly possible given that most of Islamic ritual, law, and doctrine derives from the hadith rather than the Quran. Several elite modern traditionalist scholars have declared Quranists heretics and non-Muslims.
The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was published after several Muslim-majority nations refused to sign the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The CDHRI purports to derive exclusively from Islamic scripture. The CDHRI has been heavily criticized for its denial of equal rights for men and women, religious freedom, free speech, and key rights.

Modern dawah (Islamic evangelism)

Parallel to the purposes of the various ideological movements in Islam, the specific techniques used by evangelists of all sects have evolved with time. The most famous technique created and continued to be used by Islamic evangelists in recent times is that of the purportedly miraculous concord and prediction of modern science with and by Islamic scriptures. This evangelical technique has comprised what is perhaps the majority of Islamic evangelism in the West and continues to grow in popularity in the East.

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Among the many and diverse matters discussed in or touched upon by Islamic scriptures are topics of direct or indirect scientific interest. These topics include reproductive science, embryology, cosmology, medicine, and a slew of other topics. While mainstream academic scholars and scientists have found the discussion of these topics contained in Islamic scripture to be unremarkable in its seventh-century context, in recent times, many traditional Muslim scholars and figures have argued that Islamic scriptures contains statements which not only adhere to but also predict modern science. Criticism of these ideas has been widespread and has even come from Muslim scholars themselves.
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A medical doctor by training, Naik is famous for theorizing and employing correlations between Islamic scripture and modern science for the purpose of dawah, or evangelism.
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Bucailleism is a term used for the movement to relate modern science with religion, principally Islam. Named after the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille, author of The Bible, the Quran and Science, Bucaillists have promoted the idea that the Quran is of divine origin, arguing that it contains scientifically correct facts, and that "one of the main convincing evidences" that lead many to convert to Islam "is the large number of scientific facts in the Quran."
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In the 1980s he accepted an invitation by the Embryology Committee of King Abdulaziz University to produce a special 3rd edition of his most successful book The Developing Human specifically for use by Muslim students in Islamic Universities. The additions to the text for this new edition were those of co-author Abdul Majeed al-Zindani. Moore's name is frequently cited by modern Islamic scholars.

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The ex-Muslim movement

The fast-spreading ex-Muslim movements across the world is iconized by the ongoing establishment of ex-Muslim councils in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Britain, Norway, Jordan, America, Canada, Morocco, and many others.[1] Unlike the most other movements in and about Islam in the modern world, the ex-Muslim movement apparently enjoys the advantages of unity intrinsic to all movements which are primarily oppositional in nature and lack much if any of their own ideological content. Even while there has been collaboration between religiously unaffiliated ex-Muslims, ex-Muslim converts to Christianity, and critics of Islam from various faiths, however, that the largest part of the ex-Muslim movement identifies as part of the broader anti-religion, atheist, and agnostic movement spreading through the world can result in a slight, albeit by no means mutually exclusive, divergence of interests with groups and figures who identify with non-Islamic faiths.

In the Islamic tradition, atheists are generally lumped together with all other disbelievers for the simple reason that they reject the 'Signs of Allah' and reject Prophet Muhammad's claim of being Allah's messenger. Modern Islamic scholars have concluded that atheism is the worst form of disbelief, and, according to a 2013 poll by Pew, the vast majority of the world's Muslims believe that atheists are immoral.

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Other movements

Other movements in and about Islam in the modern world include everything from new religious sects founded around charismatic spiritual leaders to highly political movements in Western and especially European nations that have adopted explicitly anti-Jihadist, anti-Islamic, and even anti-Muslim platforms.

Ahmadiyya (sometimes referred to as Qadiani) is a religious movement founded towards the end of the 19th century in Punjab, British India. Central to the Ahmadiyya is the belief in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder, as the Promised Messiah and Mahdi (the apocalyptic leader who Islamic scriptures say will bring peace and the final, global dominion of Islam). The Current leader, or Imam and caliph, of the Ahmadiyya community is Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

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  1. 1.0 1.1 International Coalition of Ex-Muslims
  2. S. Abdallah Schleifer; Tarek Algawhary; Aftab Ahmed, eds, "IIIC. Islamic Modernism", The Muslim 500 (2021 Edition ed.), Amman, Jordan: The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, p. 59, https://themuslim500.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/TheMuslim500-2021_Edition-low_res_20201028.pdf 
    The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (MABDA المركز الملكي للبحوث والدراسات الإسلامية) is an independent research entity affiliated with the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought is an international Islamic non-governmental, independent institute headquartered in Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.