Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
10 February 2010updated 24 Sep 2015 10:46am

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani

The prime mover in the Islamic renaissance.

By Ian K Smith

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was the founder of Islamic revivalism, the movement to restore Muslim civilisation to its former glory. Al-Afghani was an activist who travelled around the Islamic and European worlds preaching political and religious reform, being courted, getting exiled, and generally creating controversy.

Al-Afghani called for pan-Arab unity as a response to western colonialism — the main voice among many. He claimed Afghan Sunni descent (hence the name al-Afghani), but many believe he was in fact of Persian Shia origin. From 1884 onwards he published from his base in Paris, together with his student Muhammad Abduh, the Firmest Bond, an important anti-imperialist journal protesting against British colonialism in Egypt and Sudan.

Al-Afghani was described as a liberal by English contemporaries, including Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Towards the end of his life he was a prominent agitator in the run-up to the Iranian constitutional revolution, leading to his eviction from Iran in 1891.

However, there is little proof that he ascribed to European liberalism, and his deference to intellectuals such as Ernest Renan was aimed at defending Islam, rather than adopting European ideas.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

On the rationality of Islam:

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

The Islamic religion is the only religion that censures belief without proof.

Next: Muhammad Abduh (d.1905)

Back to list.