Islamic Thought Is Not Immune To Reform

Dr Manta Drammeh (founder Timbuktu International Research Centre)
Dr Manta Drammeh (Managing Director of the Timbuktu International Research Centre and Associate Professor of Islamic Theology & Philosophy at the Muslim College)

By Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh

Reform has been the hallmark of Islamic thought for generations. It all started when the Prophet of Islam [Muhammad] appointed Maaz Ibn Jabal as the Governor of Yemen and asked him what he would do if confronted with issues he could not find direct answers in the Qur’an or the Prophetic tradition.  He replied that he would resort to analogical and intellectual reasoning referred to by Muslim jurists as (ijtihad).

Thus, Ijtihad became synonymous with rationality, empirical knowledge and scientific enquiry in Islamic tradition. In fact, the ability to deeply understand the Holy Qur’an or the Sunnah requires an element of rational thinking. Arguably, in order to understand both the Qur’an and the Sunnah requires an interdisciplinary approach early scholars referred to as tool sciences (Ilm alaalah) in order to appreciate deeply complex issues from human psychology, spirituality, cosmology, geography and philosophy to embryology and theology. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad reminded us in many sayings that the ink of a scholar is much better than the blood of a martyr by hundreds of times.  This is in reference to the significance of the need to engage with the scriptures with depth, profundity and reflective scholarship detached from parochial and superficial conclusions.

Indeed, the understanding of revelation (wahy) requires double-reading. That is the reading the recited text in the Qur’an and the other reading is related to the reading of the universe, cosmos and the nature of things.

Needless to say, the understanding of the Qur’an will require one to know Arabic language in all its manifestations, hadith sciences, history, jurisprudence and social/human sciences among others. As a result, some scientists who study the Qur’an are interested in the scientific aspects, while educationists and Sufis are interested in the moral, educational and ethical benefits learners get. On the other hand, philosophers approach it from rational perspectives. In addition to that, we will see scholars of law are interested mainly in the legal perspectives within the Qur’an. Similarly, social anthropologists will look at the Qur’an by studying the interesting human stories, civilisations and personalities. This what one can call human-centred approach within the Qur’an.

Relative to Hadith/Sunnah, a whole discipline was developed to study and understand hadith (mustalah al-Hadith). It is a set of principles in order to authenticate hadith from the rigorous study of both the text (matn) and transmission (sanad) of hadith. In fact, transmission became unique to Islamic tradition in dealing with hadith scholarship I fondly call surgical operation of hadith (Ilm al-Jarh).

In addition, Muslims have developed schools of jurisprudence and schools of theology. All these schools have to do with interpretation and circumstances. Within one school of law for example, you will have sub-schools.

Finally, I argue that circumstances dictate the need to respond to new issues intelligently and rationally without being necessarily apologetic. Thus, Muslims were able to critically engage with the Greek philosophy. Precisely, the Prophet said that at the end of each century, Allah will send one to renew the religion. This can be individuals in different parts of the world or institutions and groups of people. Consequently, I can claim that renewal or reform is not new to Islam. In fact, we had reformers throughout the Muslim world in different parts. We have Muhammad Abduh, Uthman Dan Fodio, Al-Kawaakbi, Sering Banba, Imam Malik Sey and Karang Khalifah Sillah, among hundreds.

‘Dr Manta is Managing Director of the Timbuktu International Research Centre and Associate Professor of Islamic Theology & Philosophy at the Muslim College.’


  1. A scholarly article in itself. Thankyou Dr. Drammeh for shedding light that many badly needed.
    Indeed,”Reform has been the hallmark of Islam for generations”

  2. Thank you Dr. Manta for these important clarifications. As the world develops so is the need for adaptations to new realities. Thank you.

  3. The problem is the west who are trying to introduce they rubbishy into Islam which will never never be accepted in Islam as gay low into Muslim countries , the true Muslim will face it until the end of the world . No more peace in the world unfortunately we all know why??

  4. Jazaka Allah Dr Darammeh

  5. thank you Dr Drammeh….

  6. I composed the following poem as guidance to those who are seeking guidance through the Quran and who believe in it as God’s ultimate authority and as the basis of the Prophet Muhammad’s (saas) teachings and example. God willing it can help you find guidance in this confused world.

    In the name of God the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
    Ar-Rabbaniyyah: The Wise way of the Lord
    These are lessons of the deen.
    By deen, discipline is what we mean.
    The discipline of the Koran must be seen!
    It is our duty to teach it to the keen.
    First, is the most basic clarification.
    The Koran is God’s last prophetic revelation.
    But ‘Alcoran’ is just the nickname given to it.
    It is the recited reading given to Mahomet.
    Evoke God’s peace and blessings upon mentioning his name!
    This is a command with which the Koran came;
    An Arabic book, given to this Arabic man,
    From the tribe of Koreish. Hisham was his clan,
    His ancestor was Nebaioth, son of Ishmael, son of Abraham.
    Evoke blessings and peace on all of them from God’s merciful hands!
    ‘Arbat is the original Arabic name of Mahomet’s, Nebaioth’s and Ishmael’s land,
    In it stands God’s temple built by Ishmael and Abraham.
    The new Zion to the south…found in Teman.
    Its prominence is due to the failings of Israel’s pride.
    So the promise was snatched from them and given to Kedar’s ties.
    The new song is our recited reading sung in harmonious stride.
    Check with the people of mention and mind!
    Some of them know the truth of the black Arabs, green in skin,
    And the last prophet who has come from them;
    The light of the Gentiles, Jinni and Men!
    So what are the principles of this deen?
    And its truths for all of you to glean?
    Islam is only its nickname,
    Which means salvation, mending and submission in the Classical Arab’s domain.
    It is in his tongue that the Koran came.
    It is his tongue that the Koran gave fame.
    So what does it say our last prophet told us to be?
    Be of the Lord. Be godly!
    Teach and make known this book, its writing and decrees.
    To teach and be of Him, constant study is the key.
    To study is to be always a student, observing humbly;
    Thinking, absorbing and pondering…summingly.
    So this deen is first and foremost Ar-Rabbaniyyah.
    It is the mother of all the stones thrown at Mina!
    The wise ways and truths of our only true master.
    He owns our bodies and our souls in every matter.
    Fulfill your allegiance to Him, you’d better.
    So gladly bind upon yourself all of His fetters!
    But know and learn which fetter truly belongs to Him!
    No solitary practice or narration poses any obligation;
    Only what is certainly true passed on through mass transmission.
    And mass transmission must be authentic with no possible omissions.
    So what of ritual prayer and all of the solitary traditions?
    They do not obligate but can be practiced if they give the Koran their complete rendition.
    In fact, every narration must surrender to every detail of its expressed mission.
    The ritual prayers in the Koran are explicitly two,
    It is probable that that may even bother some of you.
    Dusk and dawn; to pray more…
    Is but fable…it is only lore,
    Even if our perpetual prostration is due.
    Give Him your best prayers, they are indeed for you!
    Make them ‘Wusta,’ that is, most noble, modest and moderate!
    Stand and bow your face to the floor!
    Your bowings and standings must be multiplicate
    Recite His words back to Him, then bow down! Glorify, exalt and supplicate!
    Through this, His words you will consecrate.
    Anything more than this is to supererogate.
    Humble yourselves and call on Him alone before your final fate!
    Bow and stand the times you will and shorten in times of threat!
    If you bow numerous times His command you will have met.
    Be the bowings, two, four or eight,
    The Mathany can fall under this, so seven is great,
    Yet by no means a mandate.
    Bow towards His holy temple and never an idol of it make!
    We are unitarians, and wherever we turn there is His omnipresent face!
    Aside from this are the pilgrimage to that temple and Ramadan.
    That temple is in the valley of Becca and the believers are its commandants.

    There are three lunations within which the pilgrimage is made.
    The holy cycles are formed of four lunar grades.
    Three come after Ramadan, which is first in this holy parade.
    Waxing Shawwal, Dhul-Hijjah and Dhul-Qi’dah are the lunations well known.
    The practices of the pilgrim are all those that can be sanctioned by our holy tome.
    The Shuhoor are only and always lunar to be exact,
    But do not discard the 12 solar months of the stellar Zodiac!
    Both of these are indeed celestially divine facts.
    And do not let the ‘baa’ instead of the ‘meem’ of Becca for Mecca cause you grief!
    In some words they change places, like shakeem and shakeeb.
    In Ramadan do not eat or drink when colors become clear with the sun’s light!
    Then eat and drink at sundown, which is the beginning of the night.
    Also, do not engage your husbands or wives in coitus, what is nigh or anything of the like,
    This is usually fine during the day, but during Ramadan only at night.
    As for inheritance, make a will as you like!
    Be just and make sure that you do what is right!
    All that is not willed is to be distributed according to our holy book.
    Men, because of duty you inherit more. May others still their envious looks.

    Men, fulfill your duty, never walk the path of a whore.
    Both you and she will have a fiery end in store.
    The rest of the deen is Zakat:
    Meaning be honorable, become better and turn away from what is not.
    Always prefer those who profess and act upon our faith.
    Respect for blood, you must never abate!
    Protect yourselves from harm and evil! That is Taqwaa.
    The best of you engages in it the most and is Atqaa!
    Build yourselves, your families and your brethren,
    Never mind faux pas’!
    Fight for blessings and peace and be ever ready for intelligent war!
    The Chief devil, Iblees, can take many, many forms.