Mujaddid of the Hijri 14th Century
It was during the debates surrounding Ahle Sunnat differences with the Nadwis that a number of Ahle Sunnat ‘ulema’ made the remarkable claim that Imam Ahmad Raza was the mujaddid (renewer) of the Hijri 14th century. In the course of the Ahle Sunnat meeting in Patna in 1900, Maulana Abdul Muqtadir Badayuni (may Allah be pleased with him), the sajjada-nishan [successor to a Sufi pir] of the Khanqah e-Qadiria at Badayun, referred to Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) in his sermon as the ‘mujaddid’ of the present [that is, 14th century Hijri] century. Zafaruddin Bihari wrote that all those present at the meeting accepted the title, and that later thousands of others, including several ‘ulema’ of the Haramain, did so. Thus there was ijma (consensus) among the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat on the question.
The proclamation of Imam Ahle Sunnat Ahmad Raza Khan Qadiri as the mujaddid at this meeting occurred at a time when ‘ulema’ who identified themselves as Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat were strongly united in condemnation of the Nadwat ‘ulema’ and Ahmad Raza had written extensively in its rebuttal, and it was not surprising that his personal influence should have grown considerable as a result.
As Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) and his followers saw it, of course, their movement was not new: their main purpose being to revive the beloved Prophet’s sunna, they were following in the footsteps of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his Companions (RA), and thereby reviving the ‘old’ way. For the same reason, the term ‘founder’ was, as it is today, rejected as a way of describing Imam Ahamd Raza’s relationship to the movement. To the ‘ulema’ attending the Ahle Sunnat meetings, the term ‘mujaddid’ seemed to perfectly describe the role he had come to play, while at the same time being a means of commenting on that they collectively found wrong with the Muslim community of their day.
The concept of mujaddid is based, as Zafaruddin Bilhari indicated on the hadis of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) from Abu Daud (Radhiya Allah ta’ala anhu) in which the Prophet is reported to have said, “On the eve of every century Allah will send to this community a person who will renew its religion”. The need for renewal is premised on the Muslim belief that, ‘an almost unarrestable process of decline’ set in immediately after the death of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). The process of decline could, however, be temporally reversed by the appearance once every hundred years, of the renewer or mujaddid who would revive the beliefs and customs of the prophetic age.
Among the conditions necessary for one to qualify as mujaddid, Maulana Zafaruddin Qadiri Razvi (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote, were that the man (it could not be a woman) be a Sunni of sound belief, an alim who combined in himself all the sciences and skills (ulum o funun ka jami), that he be well known (the most famous among the celebrated of his age), a protector of religion unfettered by fear of going against prevailing ‘innovations’, and learned in Sharia and Tariqa (Sufism). He also has to satisfy the technical requirement that he be well known by the end of the century in which he was born, and at the beginning of that in which he was to die. In fact, failure to appear at the right time disqualified an otherwise acceptable person. According to Zafaruddin, Shah Wali Ullah (may Allah be pleased with him) [1115-76/1703-62] could not be a mujaddid because he was born and died in the Hijri 12th century, thus failing to span two centuries. Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi (1201-47/1786-1831) was disqualified for the same reason. Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) on the other hand, did span two Islamic centuries, having been born in 1272/1856, and died in 1340/1921.
The Ahle Sunnat saw Imam Ahmad Raza Khan as having succeeded Shah Abdul Aziz (may Allah be pleased with him), Shah Wali Ullah’s (may Allah be pleased with him) eldest son, as mujaddid. Shah Abdul Aziz as mujaddid of the Hijri 13th century was said to have had all the necessary qualities of learning, piety, and fame among the ‘ulema’ both in India and the Arab countries. He was a brilliant teacher of Hadis, and writer of fatawa, and moreover, had disassociated himself with the movement of Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi and Shah Muhammad Ismail. When Shah Ismail wrote the book ‘Taqwiyat al-Iman (strengthening the faith)’, he was unable to write a rebuttal (disproof) to it, being then a blind man in old age. However had he not been so weak it is said that he would have done so.
Maulana Zafaruddin recognized (as does the classical theory of tajdid) that there could be more than a single mujaddid in any one century. Sometimes there was no consensus on any one person. This was indeed the situation in late 19th and early 20th century British India, in which different Muslim groups looked to different people as the mujaddid of the century. The Deobandis looked to Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (though he himself suggested that the term could be applied to a group of ‘ulema’ rather than a single individual), while the founder of the Ahmadi movement claimed that he was the mujaddid.
Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (may Allah be pleased with him), a Naqshbandi Sufi and contemporary of Shaikh Abdul Haq (may Allah be pleased with him) was widely accepted by the 19th century ‘ulema’ as the renewer of 11th Hijri century, and perhaps even as ‘Renewer of Second Millenium’ [mujaddid-e alf-e sani], whose task was of particular importance because it happened to inaugurate a millennium. Alahazrat Imam Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) respectfully refers to him on one occasion as ‘Hazrat Shaikh Mujaddid’, and mentions with approval his work ‘Mabda’ o Ma’ad’. Imam Ahmad Raza’s evident familiarities with Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (may Allah be pleased with him) works make it unlikely that he would not have known about Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s (may Allah be pleased with him) ‘unothodox’ views on the Prophet Muhammad’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) prophethood, and of Shaikh Abdul Haqq’s (may Allah be pleased with him) strong objections to these. The controversy over Shaikh Sirhindi grew even greater during Aurangzeb’s reign and in 1682 some Indian ulema asked certain others in the Haramain for their opinion, and the Sharif of Mecca wrote that ‘the ulema’ of the Hejaz thought Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (may Allah be pleased with him) was a kafir (infidel). In 1679 Aurangzeb issued a decree forbidding the teaching of those ‘false ideas’ contained in Shaikh Sirhindi’s ‘Maktubat’, which ‘are apparently opposed to the views of the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat’.
Debate about Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (may Allah be pleased with him) appears to have ceased in the 18th century, perhaps Shah Wali Ullah’s (may Allah be pleased with him) acceptance of Shaikh Sirhindi as renewer of the 11th century (though not the Renewer of the Second Millennium) eased the way and calmed the later ‘ulema’, who do not appear to have interested themselves in the controversy. Barbara Metcalf writes that the Naqshbandi order, increasingly influential in the 18th century in north India due to the contribution of mystics and poets like Mirza Mazhar Jan-i Janan (1700-80) and Mir Dard (1721-85), both of Delhi, ‘was to shape the views of many ulema toward sobriety in spiritual experience and rigorous adherence to religious law’. In this their position resembled Shaikh Abdul Haqq Muhaddis Dehlawi’s (may Allah be pleased with him) insistence that tasawwuf be guided by sharia.
The same trend is also associated with the Chishti order, though along somewhat different lines than the Qadiri and Naqshbandi sufi orders.