Prophet Muhammad: Timeless Guidance of Renewal and Revival

The advent of the lunar month of Rabi al-Awwal brings to Muslims worldwide the joyful memory of Prophet Muhammad's birth (peace and blessings be upon him). The name of the month itself carries within its meaning the spirit of prosperity and renewal. The Arabic term "rabi'" means "spring", which is the season of the year between winter and summer which is a time of renewal, a time when new life begins and the face of the earth is covered anew with vibrant living colors.



The birth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the spring that took the entire world out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. His birth was a portal of divine mercy in the history of entire humanity. The time that preceded the birth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was known as the jahiliya (the era of ignorance) when social traditions and tribalism trounced human rights both inside and outside the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, the Quran describes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as a "mercy to creation". This mercy is unlimited for it includes teaching and guiding man to the straight path as well as promoting both his material and spiritual wellbeing. As such, this mercy is not limited to those who lived at the Prophet’s time but will continue to extend until the end of time. This is attested to by the Quran which, describing the Prophet’s mercy, states, “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds” (Quran 21: 107).

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Commemorating the Prophet's birth this year coincides with the rising call to renew religious discourse, which has become a necessity in our modern time to combat extremist ideologies and keep abreast of modern developments. In this context, some might confuse renewal with the rejected concept of innovation (bida'ah) and impede attempts to revisit Islamic jurisprudence. However, the Prophet’s hadith on the inevitability of renewal challenges this position. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) urged us to engage in renewal when he said, “God will raise for this Ummah at the turn of every century one who will renew its religion for it."

With the rapid developments the world witnesses continuously, Muslims are in constant need to remember that our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the first to exhort us to engage in ijtihad and renewal.



In his book Al-Jami' Al-Sagheer, Imam al-Suyuti explained the term "renewing religion" as "renewing its guidance, clarifying its truth and precedence, refuting the innovations and extremism presented to its followers or their reluctance in upholding it, and following its rules in managing the interests of the people and the law of society and civilization."

The demand to renew Islamic thought is not a novel issue. The call to renew Islamic discourse in order that it be consistent with the social, economic, cultural, and political interests of society was and continues to be raised by Muslim scholars. Examples include Imams al-Shafi'i, Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and Ibn Rushd from the early generation of scholars and Sheikh Hassan al-'Attar, Imam Mohammed Abdo, and others from the modern generations. Despite the different approaches pursued by those revivalists, the aim was and is still the same — namely, keeping the nuances of the Shari'ah consistent with the needs and demands of time.

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Imam Muslim recorded in his Sahih that after arriving in Medina, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once passed by some people who were fecundating some date palms, so he asked them what they were doing. When they told him, he said, “I don’t think that [fecundating the date palms] will provide any benefit,” or in another narration, “It would be better if you didn’t do that.” Therefore, they refrained from doing it, and that year the date harvest was not as abundant as it normally was in previous years. When they mentioned this to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), he replied, “I am only a human being. If I command you to do something related to your religion, obey; but if I tell you to do something based on my personal opinion, then [know] that I am only a human being.” In another narration, he is reported to have said, “You know better about your worldly affairs.”


In this Prophetic tradition, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) teaches us to work in the best interest of people by consulting specialists. Since Mecca was deficient in arable land, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not have any experience in date palm cultivation. This is why he later told the people of Medina, "You know better about your worldly affairs."

If we compare this example to our modern time, the current medical, economic and social developments require the advice of experts and specialists provided it does not contradict the fundamentals of the religion. This is what is meant by "renewal".

In another example relating to women traveling alone without a mahram, the basic rule when a woman travels is that she must be accompanied by a mahram. Proof to this is the hadith narrated through Ibn ‘Abbas (may God be pleased with them both) who said, “A woman must not travel unless she is accompanied by a mahram ….”

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However, some jurists from the Maliki school of jurisprudence as well as others allow women to travel alone if the way and destination are safe. This is based on the hadith of ‘Adi ibn Hatem who narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to him, “And if you live a long life, you will surely see a woman traveling from Hira till she circumambulates the Ka‘bah – fearing no one except God."

The change of lifestyle, venues and multiple means of transportation prove the Prophet's words true though he left us centuries ago. Women today travel alone for different purposes including work, study, or recreation without any fear.



The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us the importance of taking into account changes in time, place, people, and circumstances when it comes to the deduction of rulings. There is nothing wrong with having multiple questions relating to the reality of time and this has nothing to do with innovation as some people claim. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) offers us timeless guidance and his birth was the turning point that guided humanity, “… There has come to you from God a light and a clear Book” (Quran 5: 14). 

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