Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani: Symbol of Religious Revival, Reform & Unity

Seyyed Jamal Assadabadi or Jamal al-Din al-Afghani
[Asadabad, Iran, in 1838 - Istanbul, 1897]

The Persian activist-intellectual Said Jamal Assadabadi, who is perhaps more widely known today as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, was a key architect of the first wave of religious revivalism that swept across the Sunni world during the latter part of the 19thCentury.

After migrating to Egypt in 1871, Afghani began spreading his reformist teachings, and influenced a new generation of Egyptian scholars who became passionate advocates of pan-Islamist ideals. Afghani’s most famous disciple, Mohammad Abduh, would become the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar Seminary and a pioneer of the reformist socio-political approach to interpreting the Quran that underpinned the rise of salafism and its various streams. 

A philosopher and politician, he promoted the concept of unity of all Muslims against British rule in particular and against global western interests in general. After taking a trip to Europe and getting closely acquainted with the culture and civilization of the West and becoming aware of the colonialists’ plots, Seyyed began his relentless struggle in the heart of Europe and spared no effort in this regard.

His utmost anxiety at that time was the proximity between the different sects in the religion of Islam; he continued to warn Muslims against chasm and discord. His call for Muslim solidarity influenced Egypt's nationalist movement, Turkey's Tanzimat reforms, as well as Iran's constitutional and Islamic revolutions. Seyyed Jamal Aldin Asad Abadi’s boundless duty and love towards the sacred goal of Islamic unity is manifested in the title chosen by him for the magazine “Urwat-al-vosgha” and its essays.

During his teens, he studied theology and Islamic philosophy in Karbala and Najaf in Iraq. He came to realize that the Shi'i and Persian rational philosophy that had inspired him in India could be used to rid the Muslim masses of ignorance and poverty, especially if they were enhanced with armed struggle and savage confrontation.

From Egypt, al-Afghani traveled to Hyderabad, south of India where, for two years, he offered seminars, gave public lectures, and wrote. "The Refutation of the Materialists" (1881) was written at this time. This essay affords a glimpse of al-Afghani's growing interest in social consciousness, modernism, and rational thinking.

Seyyed attributed the main reason for discord and chasm among the Islamic Ummah as the governance of stray and illegitimate rulers and wrote: “If there were not any rogue rulers whose greed for hegemony over Eastern Muslims has been joined by the West, the entire world would speak with the voice of unity.” This point is the sheer fact that the tyrannical and corrupt governments, in order to keep their power resort to creating discord and chasm among other nations’ Ummahs. 

Al-Afghani died at the age of about sixty and was buried in a secret grave. In 1944, the government of Afghanistan claimed him as a citizen; his supposed remains were transferred to and buried on the grounds of the University of Kabul under a respectful shrine.

بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

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