There is a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) related by a number of hadithscholars (including Imam Abu Dawud, and Imam Hakim in his Mustadrak) that is unanimously considered to be sahih, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) made a very special statement. This article will discuss this hadith. Given the times that we are experiencing, people need glad tidings. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, Abshiru (or bashshiru): “Give glad tidings.” The hadith, narrated by Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him), is as follows:
“Allah will send (or appoint) for this umma at the end of every century someone who will revive their faith for them”.
At the end of every century, from the time when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) migrated from Makka to Madina Munawwara, every hundred years there has been at least one individual, if not more, who Allah has specially selected and appointed to be a reviver of the faith. What is the need for revival? We know that Allah has said in the Qur’an: “We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” (15:9).
This is speaking about the Qur’an in particular. However, when we are speaking about the Qur’an, we are speaking about the religion in general, as the Qur’an is the heart and the soul of our religion and it is preserved until today. Allah has taken this responsibility upon Himself.
Regarding the difference between this umma (nation) and the nations and communities of the past prophets (may the peace of Allah be upon them all), a hadithof the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) tells us that the Banu Israel (Israelites) had prophets that came one after the other among them. There was the rasul, the special messenger, which was Musa (upon him be peace) who came with a Sacred Law. After him numerous prophets came that revived the Sacred Law and message that Prophet Musa (upon him be peace) came with, and that is the difference between a messenger (rasul) and a prophet (nabi). Although we use these terms interchangeably, a messenger is a special type of prophet that Allah selects and gives a new Sacred Law to, one that would abrogate the previous one. Prophet Ibrahim (upon him be peace) was a prophet and a messenger, as was Prophet Musa (upon him be peace). With Prophet Musa (upon him be peace) he had Yusha’ ibn Nun (upon him be peace) and Harun (upon him be peace) who were prophets to support and assist him. The Israelites had many prophets that would come one after the other to redirect them to the Shari’a. In this umma, there will be no more prophets, neither rasul nor nabi, as the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the seal of the prophets (upon them be peace). Therefore, the responsibility of the revival of the religion has been given to the scholars.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) has communicated in many hadiths the virtue of the scholars and how they are to continue the message of the prophets (upon them be peace): “The ulama are the inheritors of the prophets” (Abu Dawud).
The first thing that we need to understand is that Islam has a very enduring nature. Islam will never be stamped out: “Allah will perfect His Light, although the disbelievers dislike it” (Qur’an 61:8). Allah will continue His Light until the last day, after which this world will end. While it is a fact that Allah is preserving this faith, yet there is a need for revival, and this is why Allah selects certain individuals from the umma, especially towards the end of each century, who revive the religion. Reviving the religion concerns aspects of it that have become corrupt. This could be because people have begun to spread innovations: in beliefs, ideologies or philosophies that are alien to the core fundamentals, and the soul and spirit of Islam. Whether it is an attack from outside of Islam or within it, there are individuals or groups Allah selects, in each field and discipline of Islam, who take the religion and purify it.
There is another hadithnarrated from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) where he says:
“This sacred knowledge of the religion is going to be taken and carried from every preceding generation by a group of the subsequent generation. They will expel from it the alteration made by those going beyond bounds, false claims of the liars and the false interpretations of the ignorant ones” (Bayhaqi).
From every preceding generation, a group will take knowledge and they will purify from it any misrepresentation of the religion. For example, someone may have come with a new claim about religion and corrupted a number of people; after all, ideas are prone to exaggeration. The whole reason that communism came about is because the core need of man was to have economic stability. In Russia, there was a massive gap between those who had and those who did not, and that is why one need among the many needs of humanity—of economic stability—was promoted as the main need of that time. Eventually that particular need became the dominant aspect around which everything else began to revolve and they formed an entire system around it.
Similarly, let us say there is a time when we need to promote politics in Islam, which is just one of its many aspects. If somebody takes that and makes it the entire crux and spirit of Islam, and begins to say that even your salat (prayer) is part of your Islamic politics and it is a type of training in obedience to the leader, and starts to reinterpret all other acts of worship around a political vision, he will corrupt the entire religion. He has taken one aspect of religion, and made it the core of religion. Therefore, Allah sends people to deal with the consequences of such corruption and innovation. They undertake the work of revival.
Who are the revivers?
When we look into our history, we see numerous individuals, some of whom are not considered revivers of faith because they did not live and pass away at the turn of an Islamic century. They may have passed away during the middle of the century. We have a number of hadiths in this regard, that speak about the enduring nature of our religion and the powerful nature of its continuity. However, people will fall off the bandwagon.
There will be people who consider themselves to be Muslims, but are on the edge, just clinging on to their faith. When something unfavourable happens to Muslims in the world or some Muslims decide to perpetrate certain crimes or acts of aggression, and the media hypes up these events, such people become very confused. They look at these events and think ‘if my religion was the truth, why is it becoming so blameworthy to be a Muslim today?’ Shaytan is always looking for ways to confuse us.
The spirit of this religion will constantly remain firm, and there will always be true ones on the straight path until the day of judgement. The question is whether we are among them and will we remain firm. This is the fitnah—the challenge.
A hadithstates that there will always be a group of people from this umma who will remain steadfast, upholding the religion of Allah. Those who try to forsake them will not harm them. The Arabic word used here is khidhlan (to forsake). Khidlan means to leave somebody alone, to stop supporting them and assisting them, basically, to side-line them. This happens often. We see this happening, day in day out, today. People are side lined because they call to the truth. However, the fortunate ones are those who are not concerned or harmed in the least by those who forsake them until the command of Allah comes to them, which is that they meet their death or the day of judgement comes upon them. They will remain holding onto the religion.
It is irrelevant whether you and I forsake the religion of Allah because there will always be a group who will uphold it. The religion is important, but it is also independent and self-enduring, because it is the religion of Allah Most High. It is not in need of you and I. We need Allah more than He needs us. So religion will continue. The question is whether we will continue on it or not.
Imam Suyuti passed away in 911 Hijri. It is said nowadays that Imam Mahdi’s time is imminent. There is no categorical information that tells us when he will appear. If we look into history, we have been in far worse times than we are in now, more deadly and detrimental scenarios than what we face today. Back in the early 9th Hijri, as Imam Suyuti says in his poem, people were saying that the Day of Judgment was very near. The 1000th year of Islam was nigh and people thought the world was going to end.
There have been many downs and dips in our history, but Allah be praised, we have also had our heights and elevations. When we look at our history, it fills us with joy and courage, as it shows that Allah Most High is with this umma. There were many times that it felt as though this religion was coming to an end, but Allah uplifted it again.
Let us look to the time of the Tartars, for instance, when they went into Herat. Herat was a bustling city, one of the main cities on one of the main caravan routes, and in those times, a place of great magnificence. When the Tartars had finished sweeping through Herat, only 27 or so people emerged from the ruins. We have carnage today but maybe nothing that can compare with what the umma has experienced in the past. We have deaths in large numbers, which we do not consider trivial, but we have fared worse. This should not make us despondent, nor should it make us question whether we are on the truth, or why the help of Allah does not appear to come to us. People asked these questions of Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and this angered him. He related to them stories of past nations who had their flesh torn from their bones, but it did not stop them from believing in Allah. This is all a part of life in this world. Allah did not promise us paradise in this world; Allah has promised us paradise in the hereafter. Allah Most High says:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Qur’an 2:155).
As has been mentioned before, many scholars such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Suyuti and numerous others have written that there were great scholars who did many exceptional things, and at times, their achievements were greater than some of the mujaddidin (revivers). Imam Bukhari’s work, for instance, in the collection, verification and compilation of hadiths, has been an important and enduring work from his time to our time. As monumental as his work is, Imam Bukhari is not considered a reviver of the religion because he passed away in 256 Hijri, which is the middle of the century, and not towards the end of it, as the hadith is said to indicate.
There is an agreement by consensus that the reviver of the first century was ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, and he is probably the greatest of the revivers. He was able to combine scholarship and rule. In his two years and five months as the caliph, he managed to achieve what many had not attained before him or after him. According to many great scholars, he is considered the first and greatest reviver.
The reviver of the second century was Imam Shafi’i; he was born in 150 Hijri and passed away in 204 Hijri. Scholars have said that after the first few centuries it was very difficult to have only one reviver of the religion. A reviver is the one who is still alive at the turn of the century, the beginning of the new century. He becomes knowledgeable of both the internal and external sciences; he is in conformity with the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and he speaks out against the innovations and corruption in the religion. This is generally something that is recognised by the ‘ulema who notice and acknowledge certain traits and characteristics and come to the conclusion that a particular individual must be a reviver. It is difficult for a single person to possess characteristics to reform the many different corruptions that may occur in the religion in its different aspects: the political, the judicial, the Sunna, hadith, Qur’anic interpretation, spirituality and so on. This is why the ‘ulama entertain the idea that it doesn’t have to be one person who is the reviver at the end of each century. There may be a reviver for the science of hadith, one for Qur’anic studies, one in reformatory guidance and spirituality, and so on. There could be revivers in each of the different fields of the religion.
Revivers throughout history
From the revivers of the early centuries, we have mentioned ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz in the first century, but in individual disciplines such as the science of hadith for example, we have ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. Then, we have Qasim ibn Muhammad, Salim ibn ‘Abdillah and Hasan al-Basri. We had the likes of ibn Sirin, the great muhaddith, mufassir and dream interpreter. We had Muhammad al-Baqir. In the second century, we had people like Yahya ibn Ma‘in along with Imam Shafi’i, as has been already mentioned. In the third generation, we had Imam Nasa’i, Qadi Abu ’l-Abbas ibn Surayj. In the fourth generation, we had Imam Hakim al-Nishapuri, a great hadithscholar who collected and compiled narrations that he felt were at the same level as those in Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim’s works which were not mentioned by them. There is Hafiz ‘Abd al-Ghani ibn Sa’id al-Misri and Abu Hamid al-Isfirayini, who were among the great Ash’ari scholars, along with Imam Baqillani Abu ’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari.
In the fifth century, we had Imam Ghazali, who definitely deserves the position of a reviver, as agreed upon by many scholars. In the sixth century, there was Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. In the seventh century, many say it was the great ibn Daqiq al-‘Id. In the eighth century, another great Ash’ari theologian named Imam al-Bulqini and Zayn al-Din al-Iraqi, the great hadithscholar. In the ninth century, the reviver was Imam Suyuti, and in the tenth century, Imam Shihab al-Din al-Ramli.
After the tenth century we also have Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, also aptly known as Mujaddid Alf Thani (Reviver of the Second Millennium) who emerged at the turn of the second Islamic millennium. The amount of work he did to deal with the corruption of the ruler of the time, who tried to mix the religion of Islam with Hinduism, is quite phenomenal. For this reason, he was considered a reviver of his time.
In the eleventh century, there was also Ibrahim ibn al-Hasan al-Kurdi al-Qurani and Sayyid Murtada al-Husayni al-Zabidi who wrote a profound commentary on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din. Some scholars say that if all the other books were destroyed, then this commentary would suffice for us. Some say Shah Waliyullah al-Dihlawi was among the revivers of the eleventh century, and the same for Imam al-Haddad and Mulla Ali al-Qari. In the twelfth century, we have Imam Saleh ibn Muhammad ibn Nuh al-Fulani. In more recent times in the thirteenth century, we have Imam al-Tahtawi, Shah ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Dihlawi and ‘Uthman bin Fudi (may Allah have mercy upon them all). For the recent century, we will leave it to the ‘ulama. And Allah knows best.
How Allah (glorified and exalted be He) uses individuals for His work
Imam Hasan al-Basri was a remnant of the Companions. He was not one of them, as he came after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) departed from this world but he was among the generation that saw the sahaba, and he acted as a bridge between them and the people that came after them. He had lived at a time when the spirit of Islam was strong and people were enthusiastic about their faith, upholding the best of values and morals. Then, as he witnessed the sahaba leaving the world, he became aware of the decline of the umma and how the rulers of the time were corrupt, who in turn were being followed by the people in their corruption. He had benefited from the sahaba, so he would deliver heart-rending speeches, drawing people back to the true ways of Islam. It was through his powerful and emphatic speeches that Allah rekindled the spirit of Islam. Although he is not generally considered a reviver he was considered to be a saviour of the Islamic spirit.
In the first century, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was appointed the caliph of the Muslims. In two years and five months, he had completely turned around the state of the umma. His efforts were so great that the entire umma, which by then spread all the way across the north of Africa, had become so affluent and successful that there was not a single person who was eligible to receive zakat. This was because of the distribution of wealth in a just manner that people had sufficient sustenance. The suffering that we have today is because the laws of Islam are not implemented, including the absence of proper zakat discharge and distribution. This is why others are progressing further than the Muslims.
After ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and Imam Shafi’i, came Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. During his time came a new and even greater trial. The texts of the Greeks, such as Aristotle, Plato and other philosophers started becoming available in translation in the Arabic language due to the translation movement by Harun al-Rashid and his son Ma’mun al-Rashid. Many Jewish and Christian Arabs were employed to translate Greek and Syriac works into the current Arabic language, and slowly these began to circulate in the Muslim lands. Those who could read and had scholarly interests began to take these philosophical works and decided that it would be appropriate to adopt some of the views and amalgamate them with the religion of Islam. Benefitting from such works on a very supplementary and auxiliary level, using them just in some subsidiary manner may have been acceptable, as some scholars did later on. Instead they decided to mix them with the religion of Islam, which caused it to become corrupt with foreign elements being introduced, thus changing its image.
This became a very big issue when they could not reconcile between it and a hadith or Qur’anic verse. Whenever a perceived clash arose, they gave preference to their own understandings over the clear sacred text. They innovated many deviant ideas and beliefs; one of their biggest deviations being their belief that the Qur’an was a creation of Allah’s rather than His eternal uncreated word, contrary to the beliefs of the Ahl al-Sunna wa ’l-Jam’a. This issue became so widespread that ‘ulama who opposed their views were persecuted, and in many cases, killed in the inquisition.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was brought before the caliph of the time, Mu’tasim bi’ Llah to answer questions on certain aspects of his beliefs. He remained steadfast on the beliefs of the Ahl al-Sunna wa ’l-Jam’a. Though he was lashed, punished, tortured and imprisoned, he fought against these deviant beliefs and upheld the true beliefs. Allah used Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal to preserve the true beliefs of Islam in the face of deviation, and today we do not see people from this deviant group anymore.
During the fifth century of Islam, a new fitna occurred. Several Hellenistic philosophers such as Alfarabi, ibn Sina (Avicenna) and later ibn Rushd (Averroes) held the idea that the Qur’an was revealed for people who lacked intellect, and that there were certain people that Allah had chosen who could grasp the realities of the world using only their intellect. They believed that people like Aristotle and Plato were at the same level of the prophets (may the peace of Allah be upon all the prophets) and that Allah had chosen to give them intellect rather than revelation. These philosophers felt that they could reconcile their ideas with the Qur’an and introduced the idea of double truths. They became so strong in their belief that there was no scholar to respond to them in a comprehensive way.
Allah then sent the reviver of the fifth century, Imam Ghazali, who despite his busy life as the rector of the Nizamiyya College in Baghdad, read all the books of the philosophers over the course of two years in his free time, and wrote a book titled The Objective of the Philosophers. After this, he wrote another book in response to the philosophers titled The Incoherence of the Philosophers, refuting their ideas. Up until his time, there was no one who could respond to them. Nobody possessed the requisite knowledge and methodology, and so Imam Ghazali learned their ways and did so. The manner in which he responded to them was to be marvelled at. Whilst being cautious yet bold and at times sarcastic in his remarks, he was capable of making light work of their claims, often questioning what had possessed them to make such statements that he believed even children would not make. Mawlana Abu ’l-Hasan Ali Nadwi writes that for about a hundred years there was nobody who was able to respond to Ghazali’s refutation. This is said to have caused a heavy blow to Hellenistic philosophy, and according to some caused their decline. What is important for us is that Allah used Imam Ghazali to remove corruption in the religion of Islam during the 5th century and fulfilled His promise of the ever-enduring nature of Islam.
Reviving Islam in the present day
We have to realise that whether the Imam Mahdi comes in our time or not is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to do something for our religion ourselves, which is to teach our children and to learn ourselves. Our responsibility is to hold fast to the religion of Allah Most High. When we go wrong, we correct ourselves and try to do better.
We have to realise that there will be many difficulties. However, there could also be another glorious period of Islam before we even hear about Imam Mahdi’s appearance. The point is that we need to strengthen our own faith because that is our responsibility. On the day of judgement, we cannot go to Allah and give the excuse that we were awaiting the arrival of the Mahdi. Even if we have lost hope of becoming revivers of Islam ourselves, then we can at least hope that the revivers are from among our children, but we need to give them the right environment. We need to give them the correct upbringing at home. We have to build our communities to do that which attracts people to the religion of Islam out of the darkness. We are not a people that exist only in a contemporary period. We are products of a legacy that has existed for over 1400 years, we have had rises, and we have had falls, but just as history repeats itself, so will time repeat itself. Allah takes for the service of His faith many different people in many different ways. We pray that Allah Most High chooses us for His work and makes us a means of reviving the din of Islam.
Transcribed by Usamah Muttakin
Edited by Abdul Aziz & Adnan Ashraf