Islamic modernism refers to the Islamic tradition’s reform by emphasizing the Quran and Sunnah to meet modern society’s needs. The movement came into existence in the nineteenth century. Its main goal was to increase the strength, flexibility and dynamic nature of the Muslim communities in general. This is one of Islamic society’s selective approaches to borrow from Western developments and prevent Western culture from replacing Islam’s culture. According to the Islamic modernists’ beliefs, the adoption of modern science and technology was a good step in reclaiming the Islamic heritage. Islamic modernism was the first among the other movements, such as Islamic secularism, Islamic, and Salafism. The founders of the campaign were Muhammad Abduh, Jamal ad-Din Al-Afghani and Muhamad Rashid Rida. The early Islamic modernists such as (al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu) used the term to show their attempt to renovate Islamic thoughts. The main aim of this paper is to discuss Islamic modernists.
Several Islamic modernists have been into existence since the movement was launched. Some of hese modernists are discussed below with their contribution to Islamic modernism.
Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī
Al-Afghani was one of the key founders of the Islamic modernism movement. He was a political and Islamic ideologist who was active in the Islamic world during the late 19th century. He is one of those known to have found Islamic modernism. He was not interested in the minor difference that existed in the Islamic family but was interested in creating a united Islamic family (Nikki & Ibrahim, 2014). Different sources have described the ideology of Al-Afghani as a source of creating Islamic unity by creating a modern critique of western imperialism. According to him, the adoption of modern western sciences and institutions could strengthen the Islamic religion. Even though he was referred to as a liberal by the contemporary English admirer Blunt, Al-Afghani did not advocate for any governmental institutions. This can be seen from the fact that none of his articles published in Paris had no words favoring political democracy. According to Al-Afghani’s biographer, he envisioned the overthrow of rulers who were unfair and replaced by strong men who could better work for the community. Al-Afghani was majorly disappointed by the Indian Mutiny’s failure and was made to come up with some important conclusions. The first conclusion was that the European imperialism concurring India was a significant threat to the Middle East and could deteriorate its peace. The second conclusion he made was that Asia could save itself from exploitation by the Western powers by adopting modern technology like the West. The last conclusion was that despite Islam being a traditionalist tool, it could be used as an effective creed for mobilizing the general public against the imperialists’ powers. As a result of these conclusions, Al-Afghani made a stand that Hindus and Muslims should come and work in unity to be in a position to remove the British rule from India.
The second Islamic modernist was Muhammad Abduh, an Egyptian Islamic scholar, theologian, Freemason and writer. He was and is still regarded as one of the key founding members of Islamic Modernism. Abduh was born in 1849 to a Turkish and Egyptian father and mother, respectively. According to Abduh, Muslims could not just rely on the interpretations of texts given out by the early interpreters (Ker, 2010). Therefore, he said that they needed to use their reasoning to be in a position to keep up with the times, which were continuously changing.
Abduh said that man was not created to be led by a bridle but was made intelligent to be in a position to use their knowledge wisely. Abduh believed that Islam was there to detach men from the world of their ancestors. To prove that the western powers were not to rule the Middle East and Asia, Abduh said that man was graced with the independence of will and independence of thought, which can help them think of what to do with themselves and become fully independent. He stated that these two tools are essential for creating happiness amongst men, as he also believed that these two principles contributed to the success of the Western powers. According to him again, God is there to educate humanity from childhood to adulthood. Abduh was against any action such as polygamy, which could result in injustice. Therefore, he believed in forming an Islam that would liberate men from slavery and abolish racial discrimination at all costs. To advocate for peace, Abduh called for a better relationship between the religious communities he believed could create a united Islamic community. For example, since Christianity was the second largest religious community in Egypt, Abduh
Chiragh Ali was an Indian Muslim scholar of the late 19th century. He made contributions to the school of Muslim modernists and was able to provide reformed thinking about the Quran (Hardy, 1972) . His most famous works in the school of Muslim modernists included A Critical Exposition of the Popular Jihad and Proposed Political. Ali did not publicly associate himself with politics but left his works to speak for himself. In his writings, Ali tried to correct what he believed was a misperception of Islam and Jihad. According to him, these misperceptions resulted from the creation of the hadith and the operations carried out by the Muslim jurists (Ali, 1984). Ali believed that jurists had taken the law into their own hands. By doing so, these jurists misused or wholly ignored the Qur’an. By following these beliefs, Ali was committed to creating a new interpretation of the Qur’an.
Ghabdennasir Qursawin was a prominent Islamic theologian. He was credited with the revival of modernism and reform-oriented Islam. During his existence, Qursawin advocated for the fact that there was a need for reforms to the Muslim community. He was influenced by the advancement of technology, which was used by a Western power. He believed that technological progress is what made the western powers powerful. Therefore, he thought that by the Muslim community applying these technological advancements, they could be more powerful and updated.
Muhamud Tarzi was publicly known as a powerful politician and intellectual. He was known as the father of journalism in Afghanistan. He worked very hard to fight against religious extremism and obscurantism. Tarzi mainly used his journalism works to promote the Islamic modernism movement. One of the most influential newspapers Tarzi published was Seraj-al-Akhbar. The newspaper was published every week from 1991 to 1919 (Tarzi, 2003). the newspaper played a significant role in the development of the modernist movement in Afghanistan. Being an influential government official, Tarzi worked very hard to ensure the Muslim community was up to date in technology. He supported the other modernists by providing the Muslims with access to the technologies used by the western powers. He and his colleagues believed that they could improve the Muslim community’s status all over the world. Since the newspaper reaches so many people at once, the idea of Tarzi publishing his modernist ideas in a newspaper was a good one and could change the Islamic community.
Shibli Nomani was an Islamic scholar during the British Raj. After the war of independence, Nomani fought hard to help the Muslim community regain their lost heritage and traditions in the battle for freedom. He disagreed with Sir Syed Ahmed, who wanted to save the Muslim community from the Western rulers (Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy, 2009). According to Nomani, the Muslim community needed to adopt the Western powers’ technological advances to become more powerful and recognizable. By acquiring these technical skills from the west’s ruler, Nomani believed that they could improve their status and become a better community. Since Islamic modernism involved a fight for technological advances amongst the Islamic community, Monani is also regarded as a modernist since his contributions were outstanding. What inspired Namani to become an Islamic modernist was the progress 0f science and education, which was present in the Western community. Therefore, he was eager to encourage Muslims to make the same progress produced by the western community. He went ahead to warn the Muslims of getting lost in the culture of the west.
According to the discussion above, it can be seen that all the Islamic modernists were working towards a common goal. This goal was to enhance the Muslim community’s development in line with the Western powers’ development status. This means that almost all the modernists advised the Islamic community to develop themselves while referring to what the western powers are doing in terms of scientific development and education. It is agreeable that the modernists were leading the Muslim community in the right direction as they guided them towards better and advanced developments. Therefore, it can be concluded that Islamic modernist was a good idea as it can help in advancing a specific community in terms of technology. Therefore, all these modernists should be remembered for the work they have done in taking the Islamic community to the right technology. The current Muslims should continue with the old modernists’ works to ensure their idea does not get lost into thin air.
Ali, M. C. (1984). A Critical Exposition of the Popular Jihad. Delhi, India: Idarah-I Adabiyat-I Delli.
DarulMusannefinShibliAcademy. (2009, November 03). Muhammad Shibli Nomani. Retrieved from Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy web site: http://www.shibliacademy.org/Allama_Shibli_Nomani
Hardy, P. (1972). The Muslims of British India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ker, M. H. (2010). Abduh Muhammad. In Hoiberg, & H. Dale (Eds.), Encyclopædia Britannica (15th ed., pp. 20-21). Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.
Nikki, K. R., & Ibrahim, K. (2014). Afghānī, Jamāl al-Dīn. In K. Ibrahim (Ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tarzi, M. (2003). Mahmud Tarzi. Retrieved from Mahmud Tarzi Web Site: http://www.mahmudtarzi.com/type1.php?menu_id=10