May 11, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10606

Saudi Cleric's Proposal To Establish New School Of Islamic Jurisprudence Rejected By Salafists And Hardliners, Praised, Endorsed By Liberals

May 11, 2023
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 10606

In an interview[1] aired on the official Saudi channel Saudia TV on April 7, 2023, Saudi cleric Saleh Al-Moghamsy, former imam and preacher of the prestigious Quba Mosque near Medina, expressed his wish to establish a new Islamic school of jurisprudence and argued that there is a dire need for such a school, saying that reexamination of the work of ancient scholars is inevitable. Al-Moghamsy further stressed that "a new school of Islamic jurisprudence must be established whether by a group of people or by one person and I pray to Allah to be that person." Elaborating on his proposal, Al-Moghamsy said that "there is a dire need for [a new school of jurisprudence]. During every phase of construction of jurisprudence for the Ummah, something was exaggerated. Now, during our time, we should reexamine the exaggerated issue. We must reevaluate the issues. The issue of the chain of the transmission [of Hadith] was exaggerated which led to the inclusion of a number of Hadiths that would be difficult to attribute to the Prophet Muhammad. It would be very difficult even if the scholars of Hadith argued that the chain of transmission was authentic. That should not be enough. The Hadith text must be correct."

As he had predicted in the interview, his proposal was strongly rejected by Salafi hardliners who questioned his credentials, ridiculed his justification and some even accused him of reviving the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology. Despite claims that his proposal was encouraged by the authorities in Saudi Arabia, Al-Moghamsy's call was condemned by the highest body of scholars in Saudi Arabia as well as by individual top scholars in the country. On the other hand, liberal writers and commentators praised Al-Moghamsy's proposal and noted that it should even go beyond the proposed idea to include removing outdated and radical texts from the Quran and Sunnah in order to make Islam compatible with modernity. Al-Moghamsy was fired from his position at the Quba Mosque in March 2020 for a tweet calling for the release of some imprisoned clerics. But in subsequent interviews, he blamed the Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf) for his dismissal rather than the Saudi leadership, the king and crown prince, whom he openly supports.

Council Of Senior Scholars In Saudi Arabia And Top Clerics Condemn Al-Moghamsy's Proposal

While some thought that Al-Moghamsy's proposal fits within the political and social changes in Saudi Arabia introduced by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, a few days after the interview, the top religious council in Saudi Arabia rejected Al-Moghamsy's call, saying it "lacks objectivity and realism." In a statement issued on April 10, 2023, the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars stated that: "Islamic jurisprudence, with its considered jurisprudential schools and its diverse types of ijtihad [religious reasoning], responds to all the demands of modern life. Islamic jurisprudence also reconciles its needs with Islamic law, which is harmonized by scientific bodies and jurisprudential councils that practice collective ijtihad."The statement further noted that "part of Allah's blessings on Muslims nowadays is that collective ijtihad can be exerted easily by scientific bodies and jurisprudential councils that interact positively with the needs of society and its cognitive, social and economic developments and the hundreds of decisions made by these bodies in various fields are clear testament to that."[2]

Also, shortly after Al-Moghamsy's interview, Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Ruhaily, who is postgraduate professor at Al-Madina Islamic University, a religious scholar teaching at the Prophet's Mosque in Madina, and Al-Moghamsy's successor as imam of Quba Mosque, posted several tweets in which he indirectly condemned Al-Moghamsy's proposal and questioned his scholarly status. Using the same phrase that Al-Moghamsy used in the interview to express his proposal, Al-Ruhaily wrote in a tweet published on April 7, 2023: "My wish from Allah is to protect the religion of the Ummah: Its creed and jurisprudence. It is impermissible to disregard the consensus of the scholars and it is impermissible to come up with an opinion that differs from the opinions of the scholars on disputed issues. When it comes to contemporary issues, it is impermissible for anyone other than scholars who are known for their religious reasoning. Anything new must be outside the margin of truth."[3] On April 8, 2023, Al-Ruhaily posted another tweet which seems to be directed at Al-Moghamsy. He wrote: "We have learned the morals of Islam and we do our best to abide by them and we also have been brought up adhering to the Arab's chivalry and we have not insulted anyone before in our whole life. Our morality does not allow us to use fairy tales and lies to appeal to people's hearts and we have followed the path of our scholars teaching people goodness, warn them of evil, explain the differences between the people who follow the Sunnah and those who follow their desires and we do not ask people to make us scholars."[4]


On the same day, Al-Ruhaily posted another tweet in which he wrote: "Moderation and centrism are in adhering to the Quran and Sunnah and everything that opposes Quran and Sunnah would be a deviation from centrism and toward extremism and negligence. Part of moderation and centrism is by adhering to the teachings of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad as they are the foundation of the Ummah brought up by the Prophet. Continue being moderate and do not be deceived by the illusion of deviant people as those who follow their desires are known for using religious terminologies outside of their real meanings."[5]

In addition to Al-Ruhaily, Saudi prominent scholar Sheikh Saleh Al-Sohaime, who is a professor at the Islamic University of Al-Madina and another scholar who teaches in the Prophet's mosque, also rejected Al-Moghamsy's proposal and his argument regarding isolated Hadith and the application of reason. On April 10, 2023, the official Twitter account of Sheikh Al-Sohaime published his response to Al-Moghamsy's proposal in which he harshly criticized Al-Moghamsy without mentioning his name and questioned his scholarly status. He wrote: "The person behind the proposal placed himself at the same level as senior scholars by saying 'my scholars' brothers.'" Condemning Al-Moghamsy's call for reasoning, Al-Sohaime wrote: "If the people behind this proposal are calling for the reliance on mental reasoning beyond religious texts, mental reasoning was the one that led them to come up with extreme and weird things that have been condemned by Muslims everywhere as soon as they watched that fake episode. I do not know by whose mental reasoning the religious issues should be decided. Would they be decided by the minds of philosophers, those who follow logic, thinkers, or the enlightened ones, as they claim?" Discounting Al-Moghamsy's status, Al-Sohaime wrote: "In conclusion I would like to say to this person who pretends to be a scholar, what can be understood from what you have stated during that dangerous episode is that you have criticized all the ancient scholars including the prophet's companions and those who followed them as if you would be able to come up with something unprecedented."[6]

Rejecting and ridiculing Al-Moghamsy's proposal, Syrian Cleric Muhammad Bin Shams Al-Din said: "People cannot say that they want to establish a new Islamic school of jurisprudence. Historically, I have not heard of any person who has said so. The four schools of jurisprudence were created because the four scholars led the discussion on religious issues... On issuing fatwas and teaching and their students absorbed the knowledge and then taught it to others. That's how some became followers of Abu Hanifa, others become followers of Imam Malik ..." Questioning Al-Moghamsy's scholarly status to make such a call, Shams Al-Din asked: "When have you ever dedicated yourself to jurisprudence... to be able to say: follow me in my new school of jurisprudence?" Shams Al-Din went on to say that "the doctrine of the people of falsehood... are often supported by oppressive rulers."[7]

Similar criticism was expressed by Moroccan Salafi cleric Abdallah Nahari, who argued that Al-Moghamsy's proposal might be related to the authorities' directives. In a video posted on his YouTube channel on April 15, 2023, he linked Al-Moghamsy's call to "the major shifts that have emerged in the Muslim world and in keeping with the encroachment of secularism, the encroachment of atheism and the encroachment of unnatural behavior... because the Islamic thought that is based on strong foundations has prevented all foreign thoughts from infiltrating our communities."[8] 

Some of those who criticized Al-Moghamsy accused him of aiming to promote the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood in encouraging nations to rebel against their rulers and compared his call to that of the late Sudanese Islamist scholar Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi. In a YouTube video published on April 8, 2023, Sudanese Salafi preacher Sheikh Muzammil Faqiri argued that human beings are not permitted to add anything new to the jurisprudence or the creed of Islam or to anything that is part of shari'a. Rejecting Al-Moghamsy's call and accusing him of promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, Faqiri said: "[Al-Moghamsyis] call for a new doctrine or religion is part of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. The first one in Sudan to call for the replacement of religion and who said that the doctrine of the prophet's companions has become outdated and called for the need to establish a new religion that contradicts the doctrine of the prophet companions as he claimed was the Muslim Brotherhood's affiliate Al-Turabi. In other Arab countries, the first one to call for that was the Muslim Brotherhood's affiliate Al-Qaradawi, and Muslim Brotherhood's affiliate Salman Al-Odah and others."[9]

One of the softest critics of Al-Mogahmsy's call was Egyptian cleric and Muslim Brotherhood member Essam Talima, who agreed with the idea in principle but disagreed with him in practice, saying that establishing a new jurisprudence school requires more than an announcement on a satellite TV channel. He said in a video he posted on his YouTube channel on April 8, 2023: "It does not happen this way. The right way to do it would be by producing massive scholarly work that is based on methodology and principles whether by following the principles of ancient scholars... or introducing new ones by applying principles that differ from those applied by ancient scholars. The question now is: Was that what Sheikh Saleh Al-Moghamsy did? The reality is no. We are not aware of in-depth books that he has authored in jurisprudence research... personally, I am not aware of such books but he may have authored books that I have not heard about. Secondly... Did Sheikh Saleh draft a proposal for this new school of jurisprudence that we could read to determine whether his ideas were not covered by the four imams... What would the pillars of your school of jurisprudence be?"

Talima then noted that he does not believe that Al-Moghamsy will succeed, saying: "My personal opinion is that it would not work because, results can be inferred from introductions... you are 60 years old but we do not know of and have not seen any scholarly production showing your capability to establish a new school of jurisprudence or even a renewal of the ancient ones..." Another issue brought up by Talmia in his take on Al-Mashamsi's proposal was whether the new school of jurisprudence will address the issue of political jurisprudence and rulings, saying: "If a family is in power, and you live in a country where a family is in power, what would your opinion be about that? What is your opinion on how a ruler should rule? There are so many issues, including political ones, and all the scholars who created schools of jurisprudence had struggled because their jurisprudence touched on issues of public affairs, authority, statehood, governance, emirs, and rulers..." Talima concluded by stressing that Al-Moghamsy lacks the required qualifications to establish such school, saying: "We wish you would be able to but there is no indication that Al-Moghamsy will create a new school – not in preaching, nor in jurisprudence..."[10]

Egyptian Salafi cleric Abu Omar Al-Bahith also condemned Al-Moghamsy's proposal, saying it would lead to more disunity and fragmentation of the Muslim Ummah and the move would encourage others to launch their own Islamic jurisprudence school. Questioning Al-Moghamsy's qualifications, Al-Bahith asked: "What are the scholarly qualifications of Al-Moghamsy and what are his writings in jurisprudence and the fundamentals of Islam to seek the establishing of a new school of jurisprudence? And where is his scholarly work that would deem him qualified for this status? And where are the students of Al-Moghamsy who will carry his knowledge to other places as the students of the ancient scholars did in the past?"

Al-Bahith then criticized Al-Moghamsy for saying in a previous video that creating a new Islamic school of jurisprudence requires the approval from the authorities. He asked: "Did the prominent scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shafi'i, and Ahmad wait for permission from the authorities to create their schools of jurisprudence. Why is it just you who needs permission from the authorities? Is it not a crucial religious issue, as you said? So, does taking on such a great mission such as that require permission from the authorities? Unless you want the authorities to make the Al-Moghamsy school of jurisprudence the most dominant one among the people, not by their choice but by the empowerment of authority."[11]

One of the most detailed responses opposing Al-Moghamsy's proposal was delivered by Egyptian cleric Mustapha Al-Bakri in an 89-minute video published on the YouTube channel "Islamic Issues" on April 9, 2023. According to Al-Bakri, for Al-Moghamsy to create a new school of jurisprudence, he "would either copy what has been written by other schools of jurisprudence... or write something different than the schools of jurisprudence, or mix the two together in a blender like a cocktail. So, if he copied what has already been included in other schools of jurisprudence, and in this case, he would have brought nothing new... And any knowledge seeker would be able to expose and shame you by pointing to the original sources. If he claimed to be a scholar and came up with something new, then he would be someone opposed to the consensus of Muslims. [As if] Muslims have gone astray for 1,400 years and you are the one who came up with the truth."

Al-Bakry dedicated part of the video to condemning those who supported Al-Moghamsy's proposal and accused them of pretending to care about the consensus of the ummah while they are the first to go against it. He said: "There are issues that the Ummah has consensus over and those are considered the fundamentals and the bases to all Muslims and it would be impermissible for anyone to question them. These are people such as Al-Fayed, Ibrahim Issa, Al-Bihairy, and those who are part of the rationalist school. This school has completely deviated from the concept of consensus." He further accused them of "intending to take part in anything that would create chaos."[12]

In addition to clerics and preachers, some Arab politicians and intellectuals also commented on Al-Moghamsy's proposal. For example, London-based Saudi Islamist dissident Sa'd Al-Faqih argued that Al-Moghamsy wanted to "do a favor to Muhammad bin Salman to change the religion." In a video posted on his YouTube channel on April 10, 2023, Al-Faqih noted that "Al-Moghamsy wanted to present a religion that fits the standards of Bin Salman... that is why the pro-bin Salman intellectuals hailed the proposal."[13]

Supporters Of Al-Moghamsy's Proposal

Supporters of Al-Moghamsy's proposal praised him for expressing it and some have even gone beyond his call to question the attribution of some of the Hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad to include authentic Hadiths that are outdated or sound unreasonable.

On April 8, 2023, Saudi Twitter user Fahad Muhammad Al-Roqi, who describes himself on Twitter as the deputy chairman of the municipal council of the city of Makkah, posted a video along with a tweet in which he defended Al-Moghamsy and his proposal and called on "all researchers and scholars to support Saleh Al-Moghamsy to develop a new and diverse school of jurisprudence as the Islamic Ummah is in need for this religious reasoning during this time that witnesses many developments and changes, and science has advanced tremendously allowing people to gain access to information much easier than in the past.."

In his video, Al-Roqi who has over 17,000 followers praised Al-Moghamsy and condemned those who mocked and belittled him and addressed them by saying: "There is nothing wrong with his proposal. May Allah reward him and Allah knows that I thought about this for a long time. We are the sons of Saudi Arabia and we are the most knowledgeable people about the Quran and about the Islamic jurisprudence and Sheikh Saleh is from Madinah and he is a scholar and if he sought the support of other clerics and researchers to create a moderate Islamic school of jurisprudence, that may unite the ranks of the Ummah. The scholars such as Malik and Ibn Hanbal applied religious reasoning and nothing should stop us from applying religious reasoning at this time. Why do we have to suspend religious reasoning? Religious reasoning should be permissible until the end of time and that is his proposal."[14]

Female Saudi writer Abeer Al-Ali described Al-Moghamsy's proposal as "courageous" and proposed that before creating a new school of jurisprudence, scholars with deep knowledge in the four schools of jurisprudence remove everything that is not compatible with our time. In an article published on the Saudi daily Al-Watan on April 12, 2023, she wrote: "Thinking outside of the box of static and mundane issues in the Islamic schools of jurisprudence is a good and courageous idea toward making changes that would impact the daily lives of people and their knowledge which exposes the errors, loopholes, and mistakes that exist in religious concepts and jurisprudence rulings that shaped the lives of entire communities for many years. Although the idea of creating a new school of jurisprudence would be a good one, priority should be given to allowing fair and capable scholars with deep knowledge about the known schools of jurisprudence to rid them from Islamic heritage that would be incompatible with our time and contradict reason and logic."[15]

In an article titled "Ijtihad Beyond the Scope Of Juristic Schools" Saudi writer Tawfiq Al-Saif defended Al-Moghamsy's proposal and highlighted the importance of reexamining the fundamentals of Islam. According to Al-Saif: "The most important argument [of those supporting that Ijtihad should be absolute] is the need to rationalize religious thinking and the rules of Shari'a... the reasoning behind this point is that modern science has advanced and impacted multiple aspects of life and become a necessity for decent and dignified living conditions. This is why modern people have relied on scientific productions in almost all of their aspects of life and used scientific methods as a foundation in all decision making. As a result of this advancement, some of the ancient juristic edicts have become unintuitive to people and rather questionable in terms of their relevance to the reality and requirements of life and the consequences of its implementation in comparison to the similar ethics and systems invented by modern science."

To elaborate on his point, Al-Saif noted that traditional jurisprudence considers banking transactions and modern contracts such as insurance policies as usury despite the fact that they have become an integral part of the economy and of making a living. Al-Saif also rejected the traditional juristic position on women and on their role in life. He wrote: "Religious minds in general and most of the juristic rulings lean towards isolating women and limiting them to in-house duties based on the assumption that women are not equal to men, therefore, they cannot do their jobs or take positions similar to theirs. However, we can now see that these assumptions such as keeping women inside the house, for example, are no longer the case in the living requirements and necessities in our time." Al-Saif concluded his article by saying that "Applying Ijtihad in the fundamentals of Islam is essential to allowing the religion to encapsulate the necessities of this era, its people, and to tackle its challenges."[16]

Bahraini writer Salah Al-Jowder also agreed with Al-Moghamsy's proposal, which he considered more of a call for renewing the religious discourse than for the establishment of a new school of jurisprudence. In an article published on the Bahraini daily Al-Ayam, on April 20, 2023, Al-Jowder wrote: "Al-Moghamsy's proposal is an opinion that aligns with the necessities of life, practical jurisprudence, and the cycle of history. Many issues have emerged in the world; therefore, he expressed his opinion rightfully according to Islam, the constitution, and the law and no one can suppress him. And whether we agree or disagree with Sheikh Al-Moghamsy about the founding of a new school of jurisprudence, there is a need today to review the cumulation of heritage that some have thought are part of the religion but the fact is that they are an accumulation of customs and traditions that have burdened Arab and Islamic societies."[17]

Liberal researcher and Egyptian YouTuber Ahmed Saad Zayed expressed his solidarity with Al-Moghamsy, condemned his critics and stressed the need for a humanist Islamic school of jurisprudence that should be supported by governments and Muslim scholars. In a video titled "Why Would Al-Moghamsy's School of jurisprudence certainly be better than the four schools of jurisprudence?" which was published on April 18, 2023, Zayed said: "I am thankful for Al-Moghamsy because he can see the problem with Islam. He is a Muslim man unlike [French President] Macron who said that Islam is in crisis... Let's forget about Macron whom they think is a devil. Al-Moghamsy is a religious scholar who has spent most of his life taking part in Islamic da'wa [preaching, invitation to Islam]."

After naming several clerics and individuals who share Al-Moghamsy's view on the importance of establishing a new school of jurisprudence, Zayed expressed his views on how it should be done to succeed. He said: "We need to learn about the values of our era and make Islam compatible with them. We live in the 21st century and we should not care about the opinions of those who lived in the fifth, sixth, or seventh centuries... We should care about our time, our capabilities, and open-minded people... For this new humanist school of jurisprudence to succeed, some religious scholars should embrace it and it should also be embraced by authorities whether local, international, Arabs, or Muslims and if many authorities embrace it, it would be the dominant school in a generation or two."[18]

Saudi author Abdo Khal welcomed Al-Moghamsy's proposal, yet he noted that a new school of jurisprudence would not add anything new and suggested that any new school of jurisprudence should be comprehensive and that it would likely be established by a research institute with a diverse team of scholars in multiple fields.

In an article published by the Saudi daily Okaz on April 16, 2023, Khal noted that Al-Moghamsy's proposal was focused on a "narrow angle" because "the fifth school of jurisprudence that he wished to create would not add anything new. Being a scholar, Al-Moghamsy knows that the various Sunni schools of jurisprudence, though there are many of them, there is not much difference between them and they could not resolve emerging modern-day issues." Khal also pointed out that Al-Moghamsy's proposal "did not include a desire to combine all the different schools of jurisprudence into one that would rectify the differences between them to rid the Ummah of divisions and juristic disputes." Elaborating on his vision of a perfect new school of jurisprudence, he wrote: "I think any revivalist school of jurisprudence for the Islamic Ummah should be comprehensive, allowing the Ummah to live in the future while addressing rulings on apostates, the abrogator and abrogated verses, or offensive jihad... It should be able to dare to oppose Hadiths whose text contradict the Quran or contradict reason and science. The new school of jurisprudence should be founded on foundations that are in harmony with the dynamic of life that will allow the revival to be focused, research-based, correcting and abrogating all that does not align with the verses of Allah. Rigorous reexamination should be conducted on the era when the Hadith and the biography of the Prophet Muhammad were written and when the four schools of jurisprudence were created... which means that everything that was written 1,200 years ago must be reviewed, as that was the period of time – 200 years after the death of the Prophet – during which many Hadiths and the biography of the prophet were written."

Khal concluded by expressing his conviction that the new school of Islamic jurisprudence will not be created by a person but rather by a giant research institution that "would have the capabilities to filter out the weak and isolated Hadiths and riding the biography of the Prophet Muhammad of all the lies that had been included in them. I am mostly certain that the new school of jurisprudence would not be established by one person regardless of his knowledge but rather it would be represented by a research institution with dozens of scholars with expertise in all fields of knowledge and the end product of this institution would be a new and well-researched and examined school of jurisprudence."[19]

Egyptian writer, thinker, and professor Mohamed Abo Ayad also agreed with Al-Moghamsy but proposed that a scientific committee with representatives from all Muslim countries and schools of jurisprudence create this new school of jurisprudence.

On April 8, 2023, Abo Ayad published a post on Facebook in which he wrote: "I agree with the proposal of founding a new Islamic school of jurisprudence. Sheikh Saleh Al-Moghamsy was right when he said that Islamic jurisprudence is a human invention and should be revised. This revision is what we call in Egypt 'revival of thinking and the Islamic discourse.' The schools of jurisprudence are schools in comprehending Quran and Sunnah. Ancient scholars tried their best in comprehending and nothing should prevent current scholars to examine Islamic texts and establish a new school of jurisprudence that considers people's current realities."

Abu Ayad then voiced his views on how the new school of jurisprudence can be established. He wrote: "I disagree with Sheikh Al-Moghamsy in saying that he would like to create the school of jurisprudence by himself with the possibility of seeking the support of other scholars. I believe that this school should be established by a scientific committee that should be created for this purpose. This committee should include representatives from multiple Muslim countries from all sects and schools of jurisprudence. Of course, this new school will not be imposed on all Muslims but rather it would present a new guiding vision and it would not cancel the old schools of jurisprudence, as that would be impossible to do."[20]

Along with Khal's views, Saudi poet and Twitter user Saeed Bin Mousaad, who has almost 13,000  followers posted a tweet on April 16, 2023, saying: "The four schools of jurisprudence were a result of scholars applying religious reasoning. They are the main ones but there are others. It would be a requirement for the Sunni scholars of the Islamic world to convene and unify all the schools of jurisprudence into one school in all Muslim countries because the Ummah would be united and stay away from disagreeing in some of the details on which they should have a consensus."[21]

While it is currently unclear whether Al-Moghamsy will follow through with his proposed wish with actions and introduce a plan or more details on his views about the new school of jurisprudence or be discouraged by the wide rejection to his ideas, the mixed reaction regarding his proposal reflects the great obstacles facing reformers in the Arab and Muslim world challenged by Islamists and hardline Salafists, let alone by the radical jihadists of terrorist organizations.


[1], April 7, 2023.

[2], April 10, 2023.

[3], April 7, 2023.

[4], April 8, 2023.

[5], April 8, 2023.

[6], April 10, 2023.

[7], April 9, 2023.

[8], April 15, 2023.

[9], Alril 8, 2023.

[10], April 8, 2023.

[11], April 10, 2023.

[12], April 9, 2023.

[13], April 10, 2023.

[14], April 8, 2023.

[15], April 12, 2023.

[16]توفيق-السيف/الاجتهاد-خارج-إطار-المذهب, April 19, 2023.

[17]دعوة-لمراجعة-السند-وتجديد-الخطاب-الديني.html#.ZED-xvi88so.whatsapp, April 20, 2023.

[18], April 18, 2023.

[19], April 16, 2023.

[20], April 9, 2023.

[21], April 16, 2023.

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