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Syed Jamaluddin Afghani and Its Muslim Philosophy

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Syed Jamal Ud din Afghani was born in Afghanistan and some believe that he was born in Persia 1838-97. But the majority opinion is that he was from Afghanistan. Some critics claim that he wanted to gain the support of Sunni groups among Muslims that’s why he used to mention Afghani in his name. According to the source he used to wear traditional clothes. He also spoke Turkish, Arabic, and Persian fluently. Afghani was a wanderer and he never lived in one place. He used to move all over the world and considered all the Muslim land as his father's land. He traveled all over the world and urged the Muslims for reformation and modernization. We got all the information about Afghani from his famous journal Urwalul-Wathq and some others also. He believes in science and technology and urged all Muslims to get modern education.


Historical context

After the 17th century, the Muslim world was under great threat. They were declining and there was no remedy for that. This decline was of intellectual decline and on the other hand the colonization policy of the west. Hence when Muslims faced such a decline then in the 18th century some intellectuals come into being and they started modernization reforms in Muslim lands. Some believe that the main reason for that decline was the traditional Ulema who took a high position in society and no one could challenge them. At that time the turkey was the only Muslim umpire who was independent. Hence all the eyes were on Turkey.

So in this scenario when westerns were expanding and they were making colonies everywhere, Jamal Ud Din emerged and he called for modernization and reformation in Muslim societies.

Afghani ideas of Reforms

Basically Afghani was a reformist and modernist. He wanted to change the prevailing status of Muslim society and wanted some reforms. He was very influenced by the western educational system. According to him if the west has progressed in any field then it is the result of education that they have given to their people. So he urged all Muslims to get modern education.

The important reformatory ideas of Afghani are;

He wanted the time-sensitive interpretation of the Quran:

According to Afghani Muslims of the current world need a time-sensitive interpretation of the Quran. According to him, the current interpretation is not suitable because the people who have written this interpretation were living in old ages and wrote this according to the time and condition of that time. He said that now time is different and the environment is different. We are facing new and different problems as compared to those who were in the old ages. Now we should keep this new thing in mind and should re-interpret the Quran. He said that those people who have interpreted Quran at that time used their brains and keep in mind those things prevailing at that time. Now the condition and environment are different. Muslims are facing new and many different problems as compare to those in past. So the Muslims of the current era should use their brain and they should keep in mind the current problems and situations, and then re-interpret Quran.

Need for Ijtihad:

He stressed the need for Ijtihad among Muslims and condemned those who said that the doors of Ijtihad has been closed. He said that those who are against the Ijtihad are basically done not want Muslims to progress and want their own benefit. He said that Ijtihad can be done at any time when the need arose. He was actually talking about the prevailing condition of that time when Muslims were not united and westerns were expanding. So to unite Muslims and to arise them he wanted Ijtihad among Muslims.

Importance of Knowledge and rationality:

Afghani focused much on knowledge and rationality. He gave many references from Quran and said that Muslims should get knowledge and focus on rationality. He said that we should not believe blindly in people without any reason. Actually Afghani was attacking the authority of traditional Ulema whose voice was considered as the last by the people. So he urged people do not believe blindly but they should investigate things by themselves.

Knowledge of Philosophy:

Afghani was a great fan of Philosophy and he wanted philosophy in the academic courses of schools and colleges. Afghani said that at every age there is one person who is more experienced and learned. He guides and teaches the rest of the people how to live and how to survive and without him, the survival of humankind will be in danger. According to him previously that man was the prophet who guided people in every affair but now in this era that man is a philosopher. He will guide and teach all the people how to live a good life.

He also compares the philosopher with the prophet and said that the teachings of the prophet are based on revelation and inspiration but the teaching of the philosopher is based on rationality and reason. He also said that the teaching of the prophet is for a certain group of people but the teaching of the philosopher is for all humankind. Also, the prophet cannot commit an error but a philosopher can commit an error. Basically, he wanted to say that since now no prophet will come so we should follow the teachings of the philosopher and he could be in the form of Khalifa.

He further said that to revive the Muslim civilization we should teach philosophy. Due to this kind of idea of Afghani, he was also called a hectic. Actually, the point was that many things in philosophy are opposed or against the religion so the religious people blamed him as a hectic who was preaching false things.

He said that we studied Plato like he is our master. But when we talked about Newton or Gallelue or any other modern societies we behave like they are our bid enemies. He said that we should acquire knowledge and it does not matter from where it comes. Either it comes from Newton or Plato we should get it.

Compromise between traditional culture and modern education:

Syed Jamal Ud Din Afghani said that we need a compromise between traditional culture and modern education. He said that Muslims should not follow the western educational system blindly. He said that if we will get whole of the western education that we will come under the direct slavery of the west and they do not need to conquer us. He talked about the middle path which Muslims should be followed. He was actually criticizing the ideas of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was in favor of pro-British policies. And he wanted that Muslims should follow western education and culture to be progressed.

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Condemn traditional Ulema:

He said that those Ulema who considered that by banning modern education and science in Muslim countries and Muslim institutions, they are serving the religion actually are hurting the religion. Afghani said that these people are hurting Muslims very much. He also said that the main hurdle in the way of Ijtihad is this traditional Ulema who actually do not want Muslims to be united under one banner.

Afghani ideas of unity

Afghani was the great advocate of Islamic unity. He urged all Muslims in the world to unite under one Khalifa. According to him the main reason for not progressing the Muslims and for the expansion of westerns is the disunity among Muslims. And from this disunity, the sects are the main hurdle (Religious sects).

The main ideas of Afghani regarding the unity of Muslims are;

Unity of Muslims under the Ottoman Umpire:

Afghani was the great advocate of the unity of Muslims under the ottoman Khalifa. In this regard, he gave a plan that how Muslims should unite under the ottoman Khalifa. He said that first, the Ulema of every independent Muslim country should build regional centers in their respective country or the different parts of the country. In these regional centers, there will be Ijtihad or we can say Majlis e Shura. Everyone who is participating in this will speak and will give his suggestion or recommendation. These regional centers will be connected through global centers. In these global centers on Ulema from each state will represent and there will be again Majlis e Shura under the Khalifa. In this way, there will again happen the process of Ijtihad and then the final decision will be taken which will be acceptable for everyone and no one will have the right to speak against it.

He also said that there should be at least one official representative from each independent Muslim state. These officials will gather in one of the holy places of the Islamic world. But most of the time it was Turkey. This conference will be headed by the ottoman Khalifa and world affairs will be discussed. The decision of Khalifa will be the last authority in this case and no one will challenge it.

He actually wanted to make a Muslim commonwealth in which all the Muslim states would participate under Khalifa. Many times when he travelled to Turkey he advises the Khalifa of that time that he should form a Muslim league and turkey should protect the rights of Muslims. They should cooperate. But no one heard his voice.

Muslims should avoid religious difference:

According to Afghani, there are two main sects in the Islamic world and these are the Shia and Sunni. Afghani said that the difference between these two groups is the main hurdle in the progress of Muslims.

According to Afghani the differences among the Muslims are due to selfish rulers who due to expand their tenure or due to maintain their position in government provoke these differences. Afghani said that neither Hazrat Ali nor Hazrat Umar would like to see Muslims fighting with their names. Hence indirectly he talked about the unity of Shia and Sunni.

Gave examples from the past:

Afghani said that in the past era Muslims were successful because they were united. The Muslims living in the Afghan always supported the Muslims living in Persia whenever there was any necessity. And same was the case for other countries. But now the situation was changed. He said that when there was a revolt in India in 1857 no one came to defend the Muslims of Indian from the foreigners and whenever there has any hard time on Persia or Afghan then no one came forward to defend them because there was a religious and political difference among the Muslims. He said that the Ulema of Afghanistan considered the Muslims of Persia as hectic and the same is the case with the Persian ulema who considered the Afghanis as hectic. And also the political difference is there. He stressed that Muslims should forbid this kind of difference and should at least unite politically.

His Pan-Islamic ideas:

Syed Jamal Ud Din Afghani was the great advocate of Pan-Islamic ideas. The term pan-Islamism was first used in the western periodicals of Germany in the 1880s. There are different perceptions about this term and its origin. Some western scholars believe that it was the perception of fear among western powers about the rise of the Muslims. Because we can see that till now the west was dominating the world and the Muslim intellectuals and leaders were emerging. We can take the example of the Indian revolt of 1857. We can also take the example of the Tobacco boycott movement in Persia in which the Persian individuals boycotted tobacco. Due to which the pro-British Persian rulers suffered a lot. Also in Turkey, many intellectuals were emerging. And after the defeat of Egypt and Tunisia from the British there was a sense of unity among Muslims and they started to unite under one ban. Also, they started reforms in Muslim societies and urged Muslims to unite. There was a great result for that. There were intellectuals like Syed Jamal Ud Din Afghani, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Altaf Hussain Halli, and many others who started to think for the Muslims and their well-being. In this way, there was a sense of fear among the westers that if once these Muslims aroused then there will be a great difficulty to handle them. This sense of fear is known as Pan-Islamic. Which was due to the political, economic, and cultural unity of Muslims around the world.

Since the term was originated from the west but Afghani used it most of the time. He was a great advocate of Pan-Islamic ideas. He wanted the Unity of Muslims in all cases. Whether it is political or cultural or economic he wanted Muslims to remain united. And as I mentioned above he wanted this unity under the leadership of Khalifa. It is important to note that he compared this khalifa with the philosopher I mentioned above. Since he was also a follower of Al Farabi and liked the concept of prophet king. He considered that the khalifa should have the qualities of prophet king mentioned by Al Farabi. in any way he wanted to see Muslims united.

Construction of an alliance among Muslim states:

As I have mentioned above that Afghani was the great advocate of Muslim unity under the one khalifa. He in this case gave his ideas in his famous journal Urwalul-Wathq. There are three main characteristics of this journal.

First, this journal was the expression of resistance against Europeans and Britain in Particular.

Second, this was the symbol of Islamic unity and was against any kind of Muslim disunity and religious sectarian.

Third, it was basically the debate for why Muslims are declined and how Muslims can regain their reputation.

So with the help of this journal Syed Jamal Ud Din Afghani spread his message of unity among Muslims. He traveled to Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan and called the leaders to unite under one shelter. He used to address the young Turkish students and remind them of their past glories. He said that Muslims were once so strong and united that if anyone tried to invade Persia then the afghan move forward and they defend Persia and if there was any problem with Afghans then Persia moves forward and they defend the afghans. The same is the case with Turkey. They always helped the Muslims in the world whenever there was any hardship.

Syed Jamal Ud Din Afghani said that Muslims were so strong at a time that if Khalifa raised his voice then the Chinese emperors surrendered and the westerns kings got frightened. He reminds us of all the past glories.

After that, he gave his ideas that there should be one official representative from each Muslim state. They will gather under the leadership of Khalifa.

He said that Muslims all over the world should not think based on ethnicity or racially instead they should think based on religion. If we will think based on religion then Muslims can unite and gain their past glories. It is the only solution for that.

Actually, he was very sensitive about the unity of Muslims. He wanted to see all the Muslims under the leadership of one Khalifa. He always supported khalifa. There is an important point to keep in mind that the was against the despotic regime. He actually supported the constitutional monarchy. By constitutional we mean that as he was impressed by the philosophy of Al Farabi and he Al Farabi gave the full system of who will be an imam in the form of 12 conditions. So Afghani believe that one who will be Khalifa should also fulfill these 12 conditions. Due to this kind of idea, he was often displaced from one country to another and he did not live in any country permanently.

In the end, his all theories focused on the unity of Muslims.

Afghani ideas of liberation and anti-colonization

Afghani thought that those Muslim states who are under the control of westerns should fight with westerns. He called it the holy war. He was severe against the colonization policy of western and he was especially against Britain. He considered that it the religious duty of Muslims to reclaim the defeated areas of their land which westerns have conquered. He refereeing to the Muslims of India and Egypt which were under the control of western powers.

He also suggested to the Muslim leaders not to follow the west blindly. He was referring to the Shah of Iran and some leaders of Egypt. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of India was also under his consideration. He said that leaders should not adopt the pro-British policy but instead, they should get rid of these westerns. He condemned the policy of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan which was totally pro-British. He said that it is not the way to liberate from westerns instead we should follow our leaders and we should follow our culture so that we could regain our past glories. He said that we should adopt those practices due to which we were ruling the world, not of those who are ruling us. That why he took the middle path and said that we should only follow those things which are beneficial for us and we should not adopt their whole culture. If we will adopt their whole culture then we will come under the straight slavery of westerns.

So in this way, he wanted to liberate the Muslim minds and wanted them to act according to their own traditions. This is the only way to get liberation from western powers.

He used to provoke Britishers against Russia and Russian against the Britishers. In this way, he wanted a war between big powers so that Muslims could get relief from that. He thought that if these big powers would be fought with each other then the colonies of these countries would also get benefit from this. We can see this in world war 1 and world war 2. After world war 1 the British in India become a little bit weak as compared to before the war. The native Indians were becoming strong and strong and they were raising more and more. And there was a dramatic change after world war 2 when the British become extremely weak and he himself wanted to go out of India.

This was the thinking in Afghani’s mind when he used to provoke Britishers against Rusian and Russian against Britishers. And the purpose was the same to liberate Muslims.

So this was the kind of perception of Afghani through which he thought that Muslims could liberate themselves from the western rule.

Afghani religious attempt toward transcending the Sunni Shia Dichotomy

Throughout his whole life, Afghani tried his best to bridge the gap between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. He was much worried about this issue. He believed that Sunni and Shia are the two main sects of Islam and the origin of these sects is the same that is one Islam. Afghani’s personal experiences influenced him a lot to make these suggestions. And to think about this important issue.

Afghani claimed that both Sunni and Shia are the two main sects of Islam and if they will combine then it will be a great advantage for the Islamic world. He believed that in the initial stage of Islam there was no sect but with time and by the different interpretation of the Quran, there formed different sects in Islam, and among the Sunni and Shia are the most important. According to Afghani the base of these two sects is the same that is Islam and now we should go back to these basics and we should re-interpret the Quran and Sunnah so that these differences may get off.

Afghani’s influence on Indian Muslims

Jamal Ud Din Afghani influence almost all the Muslims living in India in one way or another way. His influence was of different types on every scholar of India. For example, his influence on Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was different as compared to in Allama Iqbal and Maulana Altaf Hussain Halli and many other Muslim scholars.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was basically against the ideas of Jamal Ud Din Afghani. Afghani ideas were based on anti-British policy while the ideas of Sir Syed were based on pro-British policy. This was the main difference between these two scholars. Sir Syed believed that Muslims should ensure complete loyalty to Britishers. And Muslims should try to get the maximum benefit from the Britishers. He also believed that Muslims should acquire modern education and also they should adopt the western culture so that they may progress. But Afghani believed that there must be a compromise between traditional culture and modern education. Muslims should not acquire whole or total education of westerns because in this case, they will indirectly come under the supervision of westerns. There is another important thing, Sir Syed was a naturalist and they believed that nature is the basic standard through which we can judge the validity of religion. But Afghani was against these ideas and he was against materialism. He also wrote a book in response to sir Syed’s book which was named “The refutation of Materialists”. In short, there was a clear difference between the ideas of Afghani and sir Syed.

Altaf Hussain Halli was also among the influenced personalities of Jamal Ud Din Afghani. Impressed by the ideas of Afghani he wrote a Musadas in 1879 which was based on the ideas of unity of Muslims. Especially the praised Indian Muslims that they are the best in the world.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad is also among the influenced personalities of Jamal Ud Din Afghani. He developed the Pan-Islamic ideas of Afghani. He also wanted the unity of Indian Muslims in any case and they were basically against the partition of India. They believed that if Pakistan is for the Indian Muslims then where the rest of the Muslims would go who live in utter Pardash or in other provinces of India where Muslims are in minority. That’s why they believed that India should not be divided and Muslims should stay united. The important work which Abdul Kalam Azad did was he published his paper on the parallel lines of Uratul Wuthqa. Which contain the ideas of Afghani.

In this list, I will also add Allama Muhammad Iqbal who was equally impressed by the Afghani ideas. Iqbal also believed that Muslims should be recognized based on religion, not based on nationality or race. Iqbal said that if Muslims will recognize each other based on religion then many problems would be solved automatically.



In conclusion, I would say that he wanted the time interpretation of the Quran and Sunna. He believed that the current interpretation of the Quran and Sunna was written by those who lived in their age. They use their own brain and keep in mind the things present at that time and then they interpret Quran. But now the era is changed. There are lots of new things and lots of new problems which we are facing. To resolve these new problems we have to re-interpret the Quran and Sunna.

He was basically against the absolutist regime. He supported monarchy but within the limits of the constitution. In other words, he supported the constitutional monarchy. Due to these kinds of ideas, he was often exiled from one country and another. He was influenced by Al-Farabi and supported the concept of Imam.

To unite Muslims he wanted a Muslim league under the supervision of the Ottoman caliph. All the religious matters and worldly matters would be held under the caliph and his verdict on any cases would be considered as the last one. No one can challenge the decision of the caliph.

He tried his best to bridge the gap between the Sunni and Shia sect of Islam. He believed that Sunni and Shia are the two main pillars of Islam and the differences among them are due to the selfish rulers. He urged the Muslims to follow Quran and Sunnah because the source of every sect is Quran and Sauna. And if we really believe Quran and Sunna and follow them in the true sense then all the difference would automatically disappear.

Through his pan-Islamic ideas, in his famous journal Urwatul Wuthqa wrote about the religious, political, economic, and cultural unity of all Muslims.

Almost all the main Indian scholars were influenced by the ideas of Afghani including Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Iqbal, Moulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Moulana Abdul Kalam Azad, and many others.

Actually, his ideas were more modern for the people living at that time. That’s why he did not immediately get much popularity at his time. But with time, when people really realized the things they started to preach the teachings and ideas of Afghani.

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