Islam is unique in that it is both rooted and timeless.
Sincere revivers are the fighters for this noble cause of Islam. And, “…Allah will certainly help those who stand up for Him… ” (Quran, 22:40)
But, the word “reform” is causing confusion in the English Islamic discourse.
It is often translated in Arabic as aslaha أَصلَحَ and it has derivatives in the Quran (Quran, 11:88). This is obviously positive. But in English, the word “reform” is associated with deviants who want to transform Islam into a liberal secular product. Sincere Muslims refute this “reform,” which is nothing more than a synonym for modernizing the religion.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was clear when he condemned religious inventions that have no basis in Islam:
‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported:
Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “If anyone introduces in our matter something which does not belong to it, will be rejected“.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
The Islamic term for a rejected innovation is bid`ah بِدعَة. This includes the introduction of a new understanding of authentic narrations. It can be related to core theology such as Allah’s attributes, or everyday practices such as Hijab and Riba (usury/interest). All Muslims have to follow the understanding of the earliest three generations in Islam. And, every contemporary rule has to be based on that understanding.
Understanding Reform in Islam
Then comes the word jaddada جَدَّدَ and its derivatives. Yujaddido يُجَدِّدُ is translated as “renewal” in the following Hadith:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renew its religion for it”.
Sunan Abi Dawud 4291
Now, this is a Hadith that is frequently misinterpreted.
There’s almost a consensus among the scholars that Umar Ibn Abd Al-Aziz and Imam Shafii are among those renewers. This is a solid reference for those aspiring to renew and revive. Those two renewers were rooted in Quran and Sunnah.
Some modernist scholars hilariously claim Muhammad Abduh, the friend of British colonial powers, among these renewers. This is the man who was allegedly a secret contributor to Qasim Amin‘s The Liberation of Women, a clearly anti-Islam work calling for a feminist revolution in Muslim lands. This is far from what the Prophet ﷺ meant by renewal and revival.
Ahmad Al-Sayed has an elaborate lecture on the aforementioned Hadith. He states that renewal in the Islamic context means returning the religion to its original position of superiority in the lives of Muslims. This also requires the removal of falsehood and other obstacles.
In essence, the Islamic beliefs of tawhid and submission to Allah have been the same since Adam’s creation. But, it is the emerging deviances that required the periodic commissioning of prophets. Similarly, in current times, it is the new forms of Satanic schemes that necessitate defense tactics and renewal by pious Muslims.
In the context of liberating women, sincere renewers wouldn’t ask oppressed women to seek their rights by rubbing shoulders with men. This contradicts clear Islamic teachings. Instead, those supposed renewers and reformers should demand the state to provide for truly oppressed women or force guardians into fulfilling their obligations.
Umar Ibn Abd Al-Aziz used to send people in search of those who needed finances for marriage. This was true renewal and revival. But modern reformist imams only further people’s enslavement to corruption. Meanwhile, sincere renewers are behind bars.
We Still Need Reformers
I don’t believe the English word “reformer” is useful. The Quranic word is Muslih مُصلِح (singular) or Muslihun مُصلِحون (plural). Muslihun are not necessarily renovators. They are people who basically “fix or improve” something. Topics mentioned in the Quran include the finances of orphans (2:220), marital disputes (4:35), opposing general corruption on Earth (7:56), and much more.
The most vital example of Islah إِصلاح is the one done by the prophets and their followers (Quran, 11:88). Those are the Muslihun of the souls. They’re actively leading others to Allah’s guidance, and this is what we still need today. There will always be a need for those who reinstall the superiority of Islam in people’s lives.
However, anybody walking that path will be fought by Shaytan and his full-fledged army.
And thus We have made for every prophet an enemy – devils from mankind and jinn, inspiring to one another decorative speech in delusion. But if your Lord had willed, they would not have done it, so leave them and that which they invent.
If you’re aiming high for that goal, Allah has already set it out clearly for you. This worldly life would never be free of pain, but what’s for the sake of Allah is compensated.
What You Need as a Sincere Reformer in the 2020s
As a Muslih, you essentially need what was needed by our predecessors 1400 years ago.
The means of Islah إِصلاح naturally change with time. However, the required character of the Muslih is fundamentally similar.
The Quran has elaborated on spiritually nurturing the Muslihun rather than mentioning specific means of Islah. This is the argument on which Ahmed Al-Sayed based his eye-opening series of Quranic contemplations addressing Muslihun.
This article highlights some of the Quranic messages that were mentioned in the first few videos on Surat Al-Imran. I would recommend watching the series yourself because Al-Sayed explains historical and geographical details of the battle of Uhud, which add depth to the narrative.
The battle with falsehood hasn’t ended since Shaytan started it against Adam and his descendants. Therefore, what Allah addresses the early fighters with is timelessly relevant to every Muslih.
1. Regard Allah’s Knowledge of the Details of Your Steps
And [remember] when you, [O Muhammad], left your family in the morning to post the believers at their stations for the battle [of Uhud] – and Allah is Hearing and Knowing –
We all theoretically know that Allah is Hearing and Knowing, but the Quran’s purpose is to evoke a real sensation of those meanings. This is because the effectiveness of spiritual endeavors depends on the strength of faith. Allah specifically mentions the time of the day and the people the Prophet had left behind. Those details of preparation for the battle have been counted by Allah, although it turned out to be a tragedy for the Muslims.
2. Your Steadfastness Is Dependent on Your Reliance on Allah (Tawakul تَوكُّل)
When two parties among you were about to lose courage, but Allah was their ally; and upon Allah the believers should rely.
After the Muslim army marched towards the battlefield, two groups of believers intended to return to Madinah following Abdullah Ibn Ubay, the hypocrite. Allah states that if it wasn’t for His alliance, they would’ve slipped into that pitfall. Intrinsically, this is a Divine testimony for their faith. It was narrated that Jabir took pride in this Ayah, although it entailed blame for him and his people.
This is the highest level of Divine alliance that we should aim for. It’s what protected Prophet Yusuf from falling into Zina (Quran, 12:24). And, in Tahajjud (late-night prayer) that’s what should come to our mind when we call upon Allah with وَتَوَلَّنِي فِيمَنْ تَوَلَّيْتَ.
Additionally, if you’re looking for people on your team, this is a quality that you should aim to trace in their character. How frequently do they attribute their achievements to Allah in their talk? Look for life incidents that reflect Allah’s guidance and protection from falling into sin.
Any effort is futile without Allah’s support. It’s best to gain that support by cultivating sincere men for Islah roles.
3. Remember Allah’s Past Favours
And already had Allah given you victory at [the battle of] Badr while you were few in number. Then fear Allah ; perhaps you will be grateful.
This is a frequent Quranic message. At times of hardship, believers are reminded of previous days of ease. This re-instills faith in Allah’s ability to turn any situation into our advantage regardless of our means. Gratefulness for blessings requires work. In this context, Allah commands the believers to be fearful of him by remaining steadfast after the defeat at Uhud.
4. Tools Are Unguaranteed Means
Allah ordained this ˹reinforcement˺ only as good news for you and reassurance for your hearts. And victory comes only from Allah—the Almighty, All-Wise—
Ayat 124 and 125 mention the reinforcement by designated angels on the battlefield. However, in the following Ayah, Allah asserts that such miraculous support isn’t the reason for victory. No knowledge, weapon, or army will bring over victory without Allah’s support. The Quran ensures that believers remain attached to their Creator regardless of the circumstances.
5. Leave the Results to Allah
Not for you, [O Muhammad, but for Allah], is the decision whether He should [cut them down] or forgive them or punish them, for indeed, they are wrongdoers.
Muslihun have no say in Allah’s plan. All people have no say in how He plans their lives. The unfaithful will complain or refuse to accept Allah’s decisions, and still, they change nothing.
Believers are distinctive in being willfully submissive to Allah. If all our hard work reaps no fruit, we still have to put in the effort until Allah wills some change. It is up to Allah to show us the results of our work, or to take our lives before we glimpse the light.
In the Ayah, Allah gives the possibility of forgiving those who have killed the believers in battle. Let’s remember that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ lost his beloved uncle Hamza on that day. Yet, Allah forgave some of the disbelievers and destined their conversion into Islam. Among those are Khalid Ibn Al-Walid, who later became one of the most important and successful Muslim fighters and generals, may Allah be pleased with him.
6. Everyday Piety is Required for Steadfastness in the Battlefield
O believers! Do not consume interest, multiplying it many times over. And be mindful of Allah, so you may prosper.
In the midst of the Ayat narrating the battle of Uhud, verses 130-135 address societal issues starting with Riba (interest). These are the daily battlefields of continuous trials. And, the mindfulness of Allah in those fields contributes to the victory against enemies on the ground.
7. Find Comfort in the Stories of Previous Muslihun
Similar situations came to pass before you, so travel throughout the land and see the fate of the deniers.
This is another frequent Quranic message. Allah reminds the believers that they were not the first to go through hardship. We are directed to find comfort in the stories of those who have struggled before us for the sake of Allah. This message is much more effective than just talking about hope and rewards in the hereafter. Periodically, Al-Sayed shares snippets of his young students’ activities to raise the aspirations of their peers beyond video games.
8. Trials Are Meant to Be
If you have suffered injuries ˹at Uḥud˺, they suffered similarly ˹at Badr˺. We alternate these days ˹of victory and defeat˺ among people so that Allah may reveal the ˹true˺ believers, choose martyrs from among you—and Allah does not like the wrongdoers—
Both ease and hardship have been destined by Allah. Trials expose hypocrisy. And, for the believers, their wounds are Allah’s planned pathway to their higher ranks in the hereafter.
Inclusively, conflicts with enemies were meant to be.
…And if Allah had willed, He could have taken vengeance upon them [Himself], but [He ordered armed struggle] to test some of you by means of others…
Therefore, please stop trying to reach a middle ground with people who are just enemies. This world is not Jannah. Fighting is part of its reality, so fight for a good cause. Otherwise, we’ll be fighting over politics, football, and other nonsense. Isn’t this the case already?
9. Principles Don’t Depend on Their Holders
Muḥammad is no more than a messenger; other messengers have gone before him. If he were to die or to be killed, would you regress into disbelief? Those who do so will not harm Allah whatsoever. And Allah will reward those who are grateful.
During the battle, when the rumor of the Prophet’s death ﷺ spread, some of the believers lost faith. This is Allah’s blame to them. Again, gratefulness here implies work, which is to remain steadfast in the battle.
Years later, this was the Ayah which Abu Bakr recited after the Prophet’s death ﷺ. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab was in complete denial of the reality until he heard that recitation.
“…Whoever worshipped Muhammad, then Muhammad is dead, but whoever worshipped Allah, then Allah is Alive and shall never die.”
~ Abu Bakr (RA)
10. Blame Yourself not the Circumstances
Why [is it that] when a [single] disaster struck you [on the day of Uhud], although you had struck [the enemy in the battle of Badr] with one twice as great, you said, “From where is this?” Say, “It is from yourselves.” Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.
The disobedience of the believers was mentioned earlier in Ayah 152. The statement “It is from yourselves” is central to this whole series of Quranic contemplations.
Allah didn’t blame the believers for the wrong choice of weapons or the battlefield location. He blamed them for what lay in their hearts of worldly desires, fear of enemies, and prioritizing their lives over that of the Prophet ﷺ. When things don’t turn out the way you wanted, question what lies in your heart.
Ultimately, the most sincere of Muslihun will ask Allah for forgiveness amid the pain they endure for his sake. In the same Surah, Allah narrates the words of sincere fighters with previous prophets.
And how many a prophet [fought and] with him fought many religious scholars. But they never lost assurance due to what afflicted them in the cause of Allah, nor did they weaken or submit. And Allah loves the steadfast.
And their words were not but that they said, “Our Lord, forgive us our sins and the excess [committed] in our affairs and plant firmly our feet and give us victory over the disbelieving people.”
11. The Level of Patience Depends on Iman (faith).
Then after distress, He sent down upon you security [in the form of] drowsiness, overcoming a faction of you, while another faction worried about themselves, thinking of Allah other than the truth – the thought of ignorance, saying, “Is there anything for us [to have done] in this matter?” Say, “Indeed, the matter belongs completely to Allah.” They conceal within themselves what they will not reveal to you. They say, “If there was anything we could have done in the matter, we [i.e., some of us] would not have been killed right here.” Say, “Even if you had been inside your houses, those decreed to be killed would have come out to their death beds.” [It was] so that Allah might test what is in your breasts and purify what is in your hearts. And Allah is Knowing of that within the breasts.
The most faithful are the most tested. Still, because they’re grounded in certainty, they’re blessed with peace of heart.
The ayah mentions that those who were concerned about themselves (not Islam) were deprived of this blessing. Worldly concerns weaken patience. A believer also knows that battles don’t make death any closer.
In times of hardship, your ultimate gift is sakina سَكينة (stillness/calmness). Contemplate the six ayat which mention this keyword in the Quran. They’re all concerned with trials of conflict. Ibn Taymiyyah also has a specific personal situation with those ayat. He may have been the first to label them as Ayat of Sakina آيات السَكينة.
Al-Sayed’s series of contemplations don’t end here. And, the Quran’s message doesn’t end at the end of his series. This is the remedy every Muslih needs. So, grab the Quran and get set, for this is the ongoing battle.
O believers! Patiently endure, persevere, stand on guard, and be mindful of Allah, so you may be successful.
Note: Personal favorite recitations of Surat Al- Imran are the ones by Ahmed Al-Shafey and Ahmed Al-Ajmy. For more accurate and raw recitations, check the ones by Al-Hussary, El Minshawy, Abdul Basit, and Mustafa Ismail on quranicaudio.com.