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In the Name of God بسم الله
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S. Shuja

Isn't Islamic reform disallowed in the Quran?

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To respond to the very question, one should pay heed to the following items:

A. Definition:

Reform means to improve a system, law, organization etc. by making a lot of changes to it, so that it operates in a fairer or more effective way [Longman Dictionary].

B. The legitimacy of reform:

Reform in the sense of minor changes is allowed in Islam under the theme of Ijtihadwhich is almost equated as 'independent legal reasoning'. But reform in the sense of changing the whole content and structure of Islamic doctrines, is neither reasonable nor acceptable.

C. Who should reform religious codes of law?

Indeed, the eligible intellectuals and experts should undertake the issue because those who lack the required conditions and qualifications are unauthorized to modify religious beliefs, morals and rulings. The Muslim scholars and experts are expected to consider the Divine Will and satisfaction in every aspect of human’s life because Allah's sovereignty is absolute and covers the legislative domain as well (Monotheism in Quran, V.2, P.427). To change something slightly or completely, one has to put forth better alternatives with rich in content arguments; this task can only be done by the religious experts not by every ordinary layman.

D. The realm and extent of reform:

The Muslim scholars have been tolerant and even suggestive of modifying the secondary jurisprudential issues; but have been reluctant to reform the fundamentals of religion or to reshape their main line of arguments altogether. Thus, when one tries to talk to them about the issue of reform they typically say: what do you mean by reform? Reform can take legal and illegal forms. If reform is in the realm of dealings and transactions, it is allowed; but to modify the worshiping rituals and formulas, is illegal. They argue that the Divine Commands either address the spiritual aspects of human or the socio-political and contractual dimensions of their lives. The first is called عبادات = worshiping rituals and the second is titled معاملات = transactions and dealings. The first category does not undergo to any kind of reform because most of the formulas are fixed and unchangeable. Thus, no one is allowed to perform the morning prayer after the sunrise. But in regard with the etiquette of life, contracts and treaties and the ways of doing legitimate acts, one can bring changes. The conclusion one can draw is that reform is permissible in secondary issues not in the fundamentals of religion. Moreover, it depends on whether or not Allah or a ratified authority has enacted explicit laws and rulings or they have delegated those issues to human expediencies. With the presence of an explicit verse or prophetic traditions on an issue, no jurist is allowed to oppose the commands sanctioned by Allah or enact laws on the basis of his own opinion [Ijtihad alra'y] (Mutahhari, the principle of Ijtihad, P.4-5) because those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down are labeled as 'faithless', 'wrongdoers' and 'transgressors'. See the following verses: وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُم الفاسقون

Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down—it is they who are the faithless. Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down—it is they who are the wrongdoers. Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down—it is they who are the transgressors (Chapter al-Maidah/44, 45, 47).


1. the Quran.

2. Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, the principle of Ijtihad, P.4-5. [see:https://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/vol-10-no-1/principle-ijtihad-islam-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari/principle-ijtihad-islam#what-ijtihad]

3. Javadi Amuli, Monotheism in Quran, V.2, P.427-428.

4. Longman Dictionary.

Edited by S. Shuja

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