The purpose of the Institute for the Revival of Traditional Islamic Sciences (IRTIS) can be found in the following ḥadīth,
يحمِلُ هذا العِلمَ من كلِّ خلَفٍ عدولُه ينفونَ عنهُ تحريفَ الجاهِلينَ وانتحالَ المبطلينَ وتأويلَ الغالينَ
Ibrāhīm ibn ʿAbdurraḥmān al-ʿUḍrī said that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “The just, possessors of Truth from every generation will preserve and safeguard this Knowledge from the distortions of the innovators, the assumptions of the prattlers and the misinterpretation of the ignorant.” (Transmitted by al-Bayhaqī)
This is by no means a claim by the Institute that we are worthy of the honourable rank as described by the Prophet ﷺ. But rather this ḥadīth is understood as an instruction in that individuals from the Umma should be striving to partake in this work. That is the intention of the Institute and we pray that Allah the Almighty raises us amongst those described as the just and the possessors of Truth safeguarding His Dīn – Āmīn.
This ḥadīth provides us with a mission:
- “Every generation will preserve…”
- This means that every generation, including the current one living in the 15th/21st century, must preserve the knowledge through preserving its authenticity. In Islam, authenticity was safeguarded through the isnād
As the isnād system preserves the knowledge content, a hermeneutics of continuity must be applied to preserve its relevance within the 15th/21st century. Traditionalism incorporates both preserving the related texts (mutūn) and teachings (i.e. the hermeneutics of continuity of the previous generations) of the tradition, but also how to preserve
- its application to address new knowledge, technology, societal structures, and living conditions.
- “…and safeguard…from distortions of the innovators…”
- To safeguard against innovation first of all means safeguarding it from classical sectarian innovation, which means by representing Sunnī creed (ʿaqīda) and dialectical theology (ʿilm al-kalām) in relation to other sects or innovations from heretics, as we believe these represent the original teachings and intents of revelation. These intrafaith discourses must be held according to the highest standards of civility and ethics which in classical Islam was called the science of debate and argumentation (ʿilm al-jadal wa-l-munāẓara).
- Also safeguarding it by understanding how a hermeneutics of continuity 1 differs from a hermeneutics of discontinuity. Keeping a tradition relevant and meaningful requires thoughtful principles (uṣūl) which safeguards universal human standards and values in the application of the tradition without requiring an epistemological brake. Innovation discontinues the application of tradition by claiming the need for a different epistemology to safeguard universal standards.
- “…and safeguard…from…the assumptions of the prattlers, and the misinterpretation of the ignorant.”
- Assumptions and misinterpretations are mainly based on ‘thin descriptions’ of both the tradition and religion, which are made to conform to societal or someone’s fears and desires. Assumptions by those who want to have attention or power over other believers by claiming to understand the tradition and religion without having any scholarly basis. Anti-intellectualism and authority issues make people mistrust and reject experts and scholars and claim that the tradition is too difficult or made too difficult by them. Intellectual and ethical scholarship must serve and guide the community in experiencing their religious adherence as an invaluable and meaningful asset to their lives, and provide them with accessible ‘thick descriptions’ of the tradition which explains why the complexity and multiplicity of the tradition is a benefit and a mercy and not a burden or obstacle. This requires a meaningful and critical apologetics of traditional scholarship and authority.
- Assumptions and misinterpretations are also made by those, Islamophobes and extremists alike, who want to scare and stir up hate with people by incriminating Islam for not upholding universal human standards and values, or by claiming that Islam is meant to fight against the world, humanity and universal standards and values. This requires meaningful and critical apologetics of traditional interpretations and how they relate and contribute to universal human standards and values such as the inviolability of human life.
Therefore one of the central concerns of the Institute is to explore, construct, and provide a hermeneutics of continuity of the traditional Islamic sciences. This is done through several means:
- Professionalising seminary-trained and modern academically-trained scholars by providing traditional teachings based on the Dars-i Nizāmī to academic scholars of Islam (as confessional academics), and providing academic skills to seminary scholars, to enhance both their teaching, research, and writing skills.
- Teaching novice students of the traditional sciences through the Dars-i Nizāmī together with the academic skills as provided by The Olive Foundation (Dār al-ʿUlūm al-Zaytuniyya), the mother organisation of IRTIS.
- Generating translations of traditional Islamic texts and/or providing them with contemporary commentaries (shurūḥ/ḥawāshī). Forthcoming is the translation of al-Ṭaḥāwī’s Sharḥ Kitāb al-Athār (Turath Publishing). Current research projects include Uṣūl al-Shāshī, Tafsīr al-Nasafī, and Sarakhsī’s Sharḥ al-Siyar al-Kabīr.
- Generating contemporary Islamic commentaries on modern international texts, such as on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and research writings to provide guides in how to understand and engage modern human rights discourse from an Islamic perspective. Through this IRTIS pursues the revival and further development of the science of Islamic human rights discourse (ʿilm al-ḥuqūq). The need and strategy for this science has been expounded upon by IRTIS research assistant Arnold Yasin Mol in his research paper “Islamic Human Rights Discourse and Ijtihād” in the Journal of Islamic Ethics. 2
- Generate new texts and research writings on contemporary subjects and issues, such as new fiqh texts engaging with modern living conditions, and (semi-)academic writings. IRTIS’ founder and head researcher, Muftī Amjad M. Mohammed, published “Muslims in Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications” (Islamic Texts Society, 2013) which traces the process by which Muslim migrants arrived in Western Europe-in particular Britain-and explains how the community developed its faith identity through three particular stances: assimilation, isolation and integration. Its findings argue that the assumption that Islam causes Muslims to isolate from the indigenous population and form ‘a state within a state’ is false, and that Islamic law actually gives Muslims confidence and the ability to integrate within the wider society. It does this by showing how traditionalism provides a hermeneutics of continuity which can meaningfully address contemporary issues, and views Western countries as dār al-ṣulḥ, lands of truce, wherein Muslims have the obligation to fulfil their duties as faithful Muslims and as faithful citizens. 3
- Address larger contemporary issues through research fatāwā, whereby personal requests for fatwā are answered by The Olive Foundation’s Markaz al-Iftāʾ wa’l-Qaḍāʾ.
- Organise and participate in seminars and conferences.
- Organise and participate in (online) courses and lectures.
- Initiate the Journal of Traditional Islamic Sciences (JTIS).
- Providing continuity of identity through Islamic primary and secondary schools through The Olive Foundation.
Through these activities a hermeneutics of continuity is provided to both the general Muslim community, the scholarly Muslim community, and non-Muslims, which displays through critical research the validity and coherence of traditional Islam within contemporary global society.
To establish these objectives the Institute cooperates with a large network of academic and research institutes, scholars, fatwā centres and councils, publishers, and traditional educational institutes (madrassas and dār al-ʿulūms).
Wa alaykum as-salam,
Mufti Amjad Mohammed
Founder and Dean
- The concepts of hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity are originally used within Catholic discussions on Vatican II in how the council, especially concerning its embrace of modern human rights discourse, represents a break with the Catholic tradition or not. I have used it here in relation to the Islamic tradition and human rights. For discussion on the hermeneutics and Vatican II, see: Kurt Martens. “Dignitatis Humanae: A Hermeneutic Perspective on Religious Freedom as Interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church”, in Hermeneutics, Scriptual Politics, and Human Rights: Between Text and Context (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), 150-151. For the dichotomy between liberalism and traditionalism within Islamic hermeneutics, see: Amjad M. Mohammed, Muslims in Non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study With Application (UK: Islamic Texts Society, 2013), 25-46. How to analyze modern Islamic literature on this hermeneutics ↩
- Journal of Islamic Ethics (JIE), Volume 3, 2019 ↩
- Muslims in non-Muslim Lands: A Legal Study with Applications ↩