07 Jul What is Tajdid? Is it Reform?
What is Tajdid? Is it Reform?
Osama, Im not Muslim but what is tajdid? Is it reform?
I am glad that someone asked that question. I’ve gotten messages about my students’ question and I took it down (don’t worry I sent them an email), and I’m going to utilize your question to answer the various questions about tajdid that I have received.
I will begin by going into linguistics. Nothing fancy, nor am I linguist, but to understand what “tajdid” means, we have to talk about what does “tajdid” mean in Arabic and how we translate it.
When you put “tajdid” into google translate, what do you get? Renewal. Reform. Regeneration. Restoration. Revival. Notice a theme? Lots of “re” words, right? That’s how English works. You take a word, and you slap on prefixes and suffix to it, and you get a whole new word. It’s why in English academia when we take a word we “deconstruct” it, we take it apart, as each part of the word is simply a cog.
That’s English, though. You can’t exactly “deconstruct” Arabic words. Sure, anyone whose taken an Arabic class knows about finding the triliteral roots of Arabic words and how fantastically fun it is. Sike. So, every word in Arabic can more or less be traced to its root. This process does not work like it does in English. The process of conjugation and word construction means that you can’t cleanly separate the “parts” of a word in Arabic like you would in English.
For example, let’s use the root k-t-b. This root, as a verb, is “write,” pronounced “kutb.” So if I make it katabutu, it becomes “I wrote,” or if I make it ’aktubu, it becomes “I write.” Or I can take the k-t-b and make it kitab, or book, and so on and so forth.
I’m sure you’re saying “Great, you’ve wasted my life on semi-interesting dinner conversation, what about my question?” Let me connect the dots for you. The point is, with Arabic, you can’t simply “deconstruct” word, you have to understand their essence and the deeper meaning behind each word. If we are to describe this process in English as “deconstruction” then I think Arabic would be described as “discovery.”
Why? Because the power behind words, even on the most simple level is so much stronger in Arabic than in English. Arabic vocabulary is defined by more than just, well, definitions, but the connotations of words and their emotive power is something that English, as a language, does not share, at least not to the same degree.
So, to define tajdid as “reform” would be inaccurate. Reform’s connotations in English don’t exactly line-up with how tajdid is to be understood in Arabic.
So, then what is it?
Think of tajdid as a process of renewal akin to pressing the reset button on your Sega Genesis, but even then, it’s not right. The “re” words points to a specific process or procedure that should be followed. Tajdid is a process of “newification” but not in the sense that you genuinely have something new, but that you have what you originally started with again, and that original state is what is pure and perfect.
Muslims resist the use of “reform” and “renewal” not just to be difficult, but because those words suggest that there is something actually wrong with what is being “fixed” and that is not how tajdid works. Tajdid is not a process of reform, in the same sense that the Protestant Reformation was, tajdid is a near-constant process and one that does not push a particular change to the subject, rather, tajdid is predicated on the belief that the path towards positive change is a return to an original, pure state.
Thus, “reform,” as understood in the Western tradition, is not desirable by Muslims, because they do not see the religion itself in need of change. Muslims would look at what is undesirable in Islam as things that are deviations from the original message and the original spirit of Islam and The Prophet.Thus, any movements of “reform” or “renewal” or whatever you want to call it, will always be directed and predicated on a faithfulness to God’s revelation and His Prophet.
Tajdid, for a Muslim, is like you’re walking on a path, and you start straying. You don’t need to make a new path, don’t need to adapt to the fact that you’re not on the path. The simple answer is: go back to the path.
Yes, that was lengthy, but important, because I want you to know why, from a basic foundational level-up as to why tajdid is understood as something different than reform. If you do not know the premises as to why tajdid is differentiated from reform, then you’ll think it’s just one belief structure attempting to prevent change.
Insha Allah, I hope I was able to answer your question, and I always welcome new questions if you or anyone else has them.