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10 February 2010updated 24 Sep 2015 10:46am

Muhammad Abduh

The reformer.

By Ian K Smith

The Plato to al-Afghani’s Socrates, Abduh was his student and collaborator. Much of our information about al-Afghani is known through him.

Abduh is viewed as the architect of Islamic modernism. At points in his life an educationist, a political agitator and a propagandist, he eventually returned to the establishment as Mufti of Egypt.

Al-Afghani’s political vision entailed pan-Arab unity, which he believed could be achieved by influencing centres of political power. Abduh ultimately rejected this method and sought to change society through a process of educational and legal reform. Historians dispute the success of these efforts, but his reformist vision of Islam has had undeniable and far-reaching influence.

His Theology of Unity portrays a rational Islam, in step with the scientific age and immune to backward superstition. Abduh also uses this work to attack Christianity’s miracle traditions as an unscientific basis for faith. He argues that, in relying on solely the Quran and the Sunna, or prophetic traditions, Islam is the truly rational of the competing traditions.

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On the reformist character of Islam:

Islam will have no truck with traditionalism, against which it campaigns relentlessly, to break its power over men’s minds and eradicate its deep-seated influence.

Next: Muhammad Rashid Rida (d.1935)

Previous: Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d.1897)

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