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Jamaluddin Al-afghani Sayyid Jamal al-Din Muhammad b. Safdar alAfghani (1838-1897) Sayyid Jamal al-Din Afghani is considered to be the founding father of Islamic modernism. His place of birth, which has become a source of long-standing controversy, is not known, but he received his early education in various religious schools near Kabul, Afghanistan and Qazwin and Tehran, Iran. At the age of seventeen or eighteen, he went to India (1855/6) to continue his studies. During his sta



Transcript Sayyid Jamal al-Din Muhammad b. Safdar al-Afghani (1838-1897) Sayyid Jamal al-Din Afghani is considered to be the founding father of Islamicmodernism. His place of birth, which has become a source of long-standingcontroversy, is not known, but he received his early education in variousreligious schools near Kabul, Afghanistan and Qazwin and Tehran, Iran. At theage of seventeen or eighteen, he went to India (1855/6) to continue his studies.During his stay in India until 1882, Afghani became closely acquainted with the positivistic ideas of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and wrote his famous The Truth about the Neichari Sect and an Explanation of the Necharis (  Hakikat-i Madhhab-i Naychari wa Bayan-i Hal-i Naychariyan ), first published in 1881 in Hyderabad,in rejection of S. A. Khan and his followers. The book was later translated byMuhammad ‘Abduh into Arabic and published as The Refutation of theMaterialists ( al-Radd ‘ala al-dahriyyin ) in Beirut, 1886.In 1870, he traveled to Egypt and Istanbul where he received a warm welcomefrom Ottoman officials and intellectuals who were instrumental in the creationof the Tanzimat reforms. Afghani went to Egypt for the second time and stayedthere for the next eight years (1871-9) during which time he began to spread his philosophical and political ideas through his classes and public lectures.At the beginning of 1883, Afghani spent a short time in London and then wentto Paris. In Paris, Afghani begun to publish his famous journal al-‘Urwat al-wuthqa’  (“The Firmest Robe” – a title taken from the Qur’an) with the closecollaboration of his friend and student Muhammad ‘Abduh whom he hadinvited from Lebanon to Paris. Due to a number of difficulties, al-‘Urwah wasdiscontinued in September 1884 after eighteen issues. Through his essays andespecially his polemic against Ernest Renan, a French historian, philosopher and positivist, Afghani established considerable fame for himself in the Parisianintellectual circles.In 1886, he was invited by Shah Nasir al-Din to Iran and offered the position of special adviser to the Shah, which he accepted. Afghani, however, was criticalof Shah’s policies on the question of political participation. This difference of opinion forced Afghani to leave Iran for Russia (1886 to 1889). In 1889 on hisway to Paris, Afghani met Shah Nasir al-Din in Munich and was offered the position of grand vizier. But Afghani’s unabated criticisms of the rule andconduct of the Shah led to his eventual deportation from Iran in the winter of 1891. Afghani was later implicated in the murder of Shah Nasir al-Din in 1896.Afghani spent the last part of his life in Istanbul under the patronage and, later,surveillance of Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II. The demands for Afghani’s extradition   by the Iranian officials for his alleged involvement in the assassination of Shah Nasir al-Din were rejected by ‘Abd al-Hamid who, most probably, collaboratedwith Afghani for the implementation of his political program of pan-Islamism or Islamic unity ( ittihad-i islam ). To this end, Afghani sent a number of letters tovarious Islamic countries and leaders to mobilize and unite them against theBritish rule while at the same time trying to establish the foundations of amutual rapprochement between the Sunnis and the Shi`ites. According to somehistorians, ‘Abd al-Hamid grew suspicious of Afghani’s meetings with someArab leaders and the British officials in Istanbul and did not permit him to leavethe country. Afghani died of cancer in March 9, 1897 and was buried inIstanbul.Afghani’s career as a thinker and activist has had a deep impact on the Islamicworld and continues to be a source of inspiration and controversy for manytoday. Afghani’s project of Islamic modernism that he developed in his lectures, polemics, short essays, and newspaper columns was based on the idea of findinga modus vivendi between traditional Islamic culture and the philosophical andscientific challenges of the modern West. It would not be wrong to say thatAfghani took a middle position between blind Westernization and its wholesalerejection by the traditional ‘ulama’  . His basic assumption was shared by thewhole generation of the 19 th century Muslim thinkers and activists: modernWestern science and technology are essentially separable from the ethos andmanners of European nations and can and should be acquired by the Islamicworld without necessarily accepting the theological and philosophicalconsequences emerging from their application in the Western context. As weshall see below, Afghani’s views on science should be understood in the light of this general program of Islamic ‘reform’ or renewal ( islah or  tajdid  ).Afghani, unlike many of the revivalist thinkers of his generation, was wellversed in traditional Islamic philosophy ( hikmah ), and considered philosophyessential for the revival of Islamic civilization. This is clearly reflected in hisvarious lectures and particularly in The Refutation of the Materialists . In fact,Afghani’s philosophical arguments against the naturalists and materialistsderive their force from his philosophical training. As we see in his lecture “TheBenefits of Philosophy”, Afghani’s vision of a ‘modern Islamic philosophy’ wasclosely tied to his confidence in the recent advancements made in the fields of science and technology. Unlike traditional theology ( kalam ), philosophy shouldarticulate a cosmology based on the findings of modern science. These andsimilar ideas expressed by Afghani have been used by his critics and enemies tolabel him as a heretic. His role in the revival of the study of Islamic philosophyin the Arab and Indian worlds, however, remains unmistakable.Afghani’s political program of pan-Islamism ( ittihad-i islam ) sought to mobilizeMuslim nations to fight against Western imperialism and gain military power through modern technology. Afghani’s call for the independence of individualMuslim nations has been a key factor in the development of the so-called  “Islamic nationalism” and influenced such Muslim figures as Muhammad Iqbal,Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Abu’l Kalam Azad in the Indian subcontinent and Namik Kemal, Said Nursi and Mehmet Akif Ersoy in the Ottoman Turkey.Later in the 20 th century, Afghani became a major source of inspiration for suchrevivalist movements as the Muslim Brethren of Egypt and the Jama`at-i Islamiof Pakistan. In many ways, Afghani continues to be hailed by various Islamicactivist groups as an important example of the activist-scholar type in theIslamic world. Afghani had also a deep impact on many Egyptian thinkersincluding Muhammad ‘Abduh, Rashid Rida, ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, Qasim Amin,Lutfi al-Sayyid and Osman Amin.Before delving into Afghani’s ideas on science, a word should be said about along-standing controversy surrounding Afghani’s ethnic srcin and religious( madhhab ) identity. One end of the controversy pertains to his being an Iranianor Afghan, and the other to his being Shi`ite or Sunni. Some have even claimedthat Afghani was born into a Turkish speaking Azari family in Hamadan.Curiously enough, the root of the debate goes back to Afghani himself for hewas acutely aware of the impact that his ethnic srcin and religious positionwould have on both the Sunni and Shi`ite worlds. As a matter of expedience, if not anything else, Afghani seems to have been willingly and deliberatelyambiguous about both issues to ensure the reception of his ideas in the Islamicworld. Be that as it may, Afghani’s influence on the Islamic world as a wholehas not been marred by the ways he has been portrayed up to our own day.As a public intellectual and activist, Afghani articulated and expressed most of his ideas through his lectures and wrote very little. He published only two booksin his lifetime. One is a history of Afghanistan and the other his famousrefutation of naturalism and materialism, which he singled out as the mosturgent threat to humanity in general and to the Islamic world in particular. It isworth noting that Afghani’s only published book of intellectual substance isdirectly related to the question of religion and science. Although very short,Afghani’s letter to Ernest Renan in response to his celebrated lecture atSorbonne given in 1883, in which Renan openly attacked Islam as an obstacle to philosophy and science, is another important document for the understanding of Afghani’s position on Islam and modern science.In The Refutation of the Materialists , Afghani gives a scathing criticism of thenaturalist/materialist position from the scientific, philosophical, ethical, andsocial points of view. He identifies the materialists as the epitome of evil intenton destroying human civilization. He traces the history of modern materialismto the Greek materialists, among whom he mentions Democritus, Epicurus, andDiogenes the Cynic. This short historical survey is followed by a scientific and philosophical criticism of Darwin and his evolutionary theory. Afghani rejectsthe idea of chance in nature and accuses the materialists of attributing“perception and intelligence” to atoms (i.e., matter) in and of themselves. Herejects totally the idea of universe as a self-regulating structure without a higher   intelligence operating on it. This is without doubt the most philosophical sectionof the treatise.Afghani then moves to his social and ethical criticism of the materialists.According to him, the materialists are intent to undermine the very foundationsof human society. They try to destroy the “castle of happiness” based on the six pillars of religion. These six pillars are divided into three beliefs and threequalities. The first belief is that man is a terrestrial angel, i.e., he is God’svicegerent on earth. The second belief is that one’s community is the noblestone both in the sense of belonging to the human world against the animal and plant kingdoms, and in the sense of belonging to the best human and religioussociety. This inherent exclusivism, for Afghani, is the most important motivefor the global race of goodness, which lies at the heart of all world civilizations.The third belief or doctrine that religion teaches is that man is destined to reachthe highest world, i.e., his innate ability to transcend the merely material andrealize the spiritual within himself.In addition, religion inculcates three ethical qualities in its followers. The firstquality is what Afghani calls “modesty” ( haya’  ), that is, the modesty of the soulto commit sin against God and his fellowmen. The nobility of the soul increasesin proportion to the degree of its modesty. Afghani considers this quality to bethe most essential element for the ethical and social regulation of society. Thesecond quality is trustworthiness, which underlies the very fabric of a society.The survival of human civilization is contingent upon mutual respect and trust,without which no society can have political stability and economic prosperity.The third quality promulgated by religion is truthfulness and honesty, which, for Afghani, is the foundation of social life and solidarity.Through these six pillars, Afghani establishes religion as the foundation of civilization and denounces materialism as the enemy of religion and humansociety. To stress this central point, Afghani mentions the Batinis and the Babisas followers of naturalism/materialism in the Islamic world. He also mentionsRousseau and Voltaire as modern materialists and uses a very strong languagein condemning their “sensualism” and anti-moralism. He even goes so far as toclassify socialists, communists and nihilists as nothing other than merevariations of materialism in the ethical sense of the term. He holds thematerialists responsible for the destruction of such great nations in history as thePersian, Roman, and Ottoman Empires. Since the materialist does not recognizeany reality other than gross matter and ‘sensuality’, he paves the way for thereign of passions and desires. In this sense, the materialist is immersed in theworst kind of metaphysical and ethical mistake and cannot be trusted even on a purely human level.In the last part of the treatise, Afghani turns to religion and, among religions, toIslam as the only way to salvation for humanity. He compares Islam to other world religions and asserts its superiority, implying that Islam is the only