Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī

Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī
Born Sayyid Jamaluddin ibn Safdar
1254 AH/ 1839
Died 9 March 1897 (aged 58)
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Cause of death Cancer of the jaw[4]
Resting place Kabul, Afghanistan[4]
Nationality Disputed[1][2][3]
Religion Islam
Creed Disputed[1][2][3]
Notable idea(s) Pan-Islamism

Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī[5][6][7][8] (Dari/Persian: سید جمال‌‌‌الدین افغانی), also known as Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn Asadābādī[9][10][11] (Persian: سید جمال‌‌‌الدین اسد‌آبادی) and commonly known as Al-Afghani (1838/1839 – 9 March 1897), was a political activist and Islamic ideologist in the Muslim world during the late 19th century, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. One of the founders of Islamic Modernism[8][12] and an advocate of Pan-Islamic unity,[13] he has been described as being less interested in minor differences in Islamic jurisprudence than he was in organizing a Muslim response to Western pressure.[14]

Early life and origin

As indicated by his nisba, al-Afghani claimed to be of Afghan origin. His true national and sectarian background have been a subject of controversy.[1][2] According to one theory and his own account, he was born in Asadābād, near Kabul, in Afghanistan.[1][2][15][16][17][18][19] Another theory, championed by Nikki R. Keddie and accepted by a number of modern scholars, holds that he was born and raised in a Shia family in Asadabad, near Hamadan, in Iran.[1][2][3][5][7][17][20][21] Supporters of the latter theory view his claim to an Afghan origin as motivated by a desire to gain influence among Sunni Muslims[3][20][22][23] or escape oppression by the Iranian ruler Nāṣer ud-Dīn Shāh.[2][5] One of his main rivals, the sheikh Abū l-Hudā, called him Mutaʾafghin ("the one who claims to be Afghan") and tried to expose his Shia roots.[24] Keddie also asserts that al-Afghānī used and practiced taqīa and ketmān, ideas more prevalent in the Iranian Shiʿite world.[5]

He was educated first at home and then taken by his father for further education to Qazvin, to Tehran, and finally, while he was still a youth, to the Shi'a shrine cities in present-day Iraq (then-part of Ottoman Empire).[17] It is thought that followers of Shia revivalist Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa'i had an influence on him.[22] Other names adopted by Al-Afghani were al-Kābulī ("[the one] from Kabul") Asadabadi, Sadat-e Kunar ("Sayyids of Kunar") and Hussain.[25] Especially in his writings published in Afghanistan, he also used the pseudonym ar-Rūmī ("the Roman" or "the Anatolian").[17]

Political activism

At the age of 17 or 18 in 1855–56, Al-Afghani travelled to British India and spent a number of years there studying religions. In 1859, a British spy reported that Al-Afghani was a possible Russian agent. The British representatives reported that he wore traditional cloths of Noghai Turks in Central Asia and spoke Dari, Arabic and Turkish language fluently.[26] After this first Indian tour, he decided to perform Hajj or pilgrimage at Mecca. His first documents are dated from Autumn of 1865, where he mentions leaving the "revered place" (makān-i musharraf) and arriving in Tehran around mid-December of the same year. In the spring of 1866 he left Iran for Afghanistan, passing through Mashad and Herat.

After the Indian stay, all sources have Afghānī next take a leisurely trip to Mecca, stopping at several points along the way. Both the standard biography and Lutfallāh's account take Afghānī's word that he entered Afghan government service before 1863, but since document from Afghanistan show that he arrived there only in 1866, we are left with several years unaccounted for. The most probably supposition seems to be that he may spent longer in India than he later said, and that after going to Mecca he travelled elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire. When he arrived in Afghanistan in 1866 he claimed to be from Constantinople, and he might not have made this claim if he had never even seen the city, and could be caught in ignorance of it.[27]
Nikki R. Keddie, 1983

He was spotted in Afghanistan in 1866 and spent time in Qandahar, Ghazni, and Kabul.[7] He became a counsellor to the King Dost Mohammad Khan (who died, however, on 9 June 1863) and later to Mohammad Azam. At that time he encouraged the king to oppose the British but turn to the Russians. However, he did not encourage Mohammad Azam to any reformist ideologies that later were attributed to Al-Afghani. Reports from the colonial British Indian and Afghan government stated that he was a stranger in Afghanistan, and spoke the Dari language with Iranian accent and followed European lifestyle more than that of Muslims, not observing Ramadan or other Muslim rites.[26] In 1868, the throne of Kabul was occupied by Sher Ali Khan, and Al-Afghani was forced to leave the country.[5]

He travelled to Constantinople, passing through Cairo on his way there. He stayed in Cairo long enough to meet a young student who would become a devoted disciple of his, Muhammad 'Abduh.[28] He entered Star of East Masonic Lodge on 7 July 1868 during staying in Cairo.[29] His membership number was 1355. He also founded the Masonic Lodge of Cairo and became first Grand Master of it. He had been excluded from the Scottish Masonic Lodge due to accusations of atheism and he joined the French Grand Orient and became Grand Master of it.

In 1871, Al-Afghani moved to Egypt and began preaching his ideas of political reform. His ideas were considered radical, and he was exiled in 1879. He then travelled to Constantinople, London, Paris, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Munich.

In 1884, he began publishing an Arabic newspaper in Paris entitled al-Urwah al-Wuthqa ("The Indissoluble Link"[7]) with Muhammad Abduh; the title (Arabic: العروة الوثقى), sometimes translated as "The Strongest Bond", is taken from the Quran – chapter 2, verse 256.[30] The newspaper called for a return to the original principles and ideals of Islam, and for greater unity among Islamic peoples. He argued that this would allow the Islamic community to regain its former strength against European powers.

Al-Afghani was invited by Shah Nasser ad-Din to come to Iran and advise on affairs of government, but fell from favour quite quickly and had to take sanctuary in a shrine near Tehran. After seven months of preaching to admirers from the shrine, he was arrested in 1891, transported to the border with Ottoman Mesopotamia, and evicted from Iran. Although Al-Afghani quarrelled with most of his patrons, it is said he "reserved his strongest hatred for the Shah," whom he accused of weakening Islam by granting concessions to Europeans and squandering the money earned thereby. His agitation against the Shah is thought to have been one of the "fountain-heads" of the successful 1891 protest against the granting a tobacco monopoly to a British company, and the later 1905 Constitutional Revolution.[31]

Political and religious views

Al-Afghani's ideology has been described as a welding of "traditional" religious antipathy toward non-Muslims "to a modern critique of Western imperialism and an appeal for the unity of Islam", urging the adoption of Western sciences and institutions that might strengthen Islam.[23]

Although called a liberal by the contemporary English admirer, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt,[32] Jamal ad-Din did not advocate constitutional government. In the volumes of the newspaper he published in Paris, "there is no word in the paper's theoretical articles favoring political democracy or parliamentarianism," according to his biographer. Jamal ad-Din simply envisioned "the overthrow of individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their replacement by strong and patriotic men."[33]

According to another source Al-Afghani was greatly disappointed by the failure of the Indian Mutiny and came to three principal conclusions from it:

He believed that Islam and its revealed law were compatible with rationality and, thus, Muslims could become politically unified while still maintaining their faith based on a religious social morality. These beliefs had a profound effect on Muhammad Abduh, who went on to expand on the notion of using rationality in the human relations aspect of Islam (mu'amalat) .[35]

In 1881 he published a collection of polemics titled Al-Radd 'ala al-Dahriyyi (Refutation of the Materialists), agitating for pan-Islamic unity against Western Imperialism. It included one of the earliest pieces of Islamic thought arguing against Darwin's then-recent On the Origin of Species; however, his arguments allegedly incorrectly caricatured evolution, provoking criticism that he had not read Darwin's writings.[36] In his later work Khatirat Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani ("The memoir of Al-Afghani"), he accepted the validity of evolution, asserting that the Islamic world had already known and used it. Although he accepted abiogenesis and the evolution of animals, he rejected the theory that the human species is the product of evolution, arguing that humans have souls.[36]

Among the reasons why Al-Afghani was thought to have had a less than deep religious faith[37] was his lack of interest in finding theologically common ground between Shia and Sunni (despite the fact that he was very interested in political unity between the two groups).[38] For example, when he moved to Istanbul he disguised his Shi'i background by labeling himself "the Afghan".[39]

Death and legacy

"Asad Abadi square" in Tehran, Iran
Sayed Jamal al-Din Afghan's tomb in Kabul University, Kabul, Afghanistan

He was invited by Abdulhamid II in 1892. He went to Istanbul with diplomatic immunity from British Embassy which raised many eyebrows but nevertheless, was granted a house and salary by the Sultan. Abdulhamid II's aim was using Afghani for Pan Islamism propagation. Al-Afghani died of throat cancer on 9 March 1897 in Istanbul and was buried there. In late 1944, due to the request of the Afghan government, his remains were taken to Afghanistan and laid in Kabul inside the Kabul University, a mausoleum was erected for him there.

In Afghanistan, a university is named after him (Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan University) in Kabul. There is also street in the center of Kabul which is called by the name Afghani. In other parts of Afghanistan, there are many places like hospitals, schools, Madrasas, Parks, and roads named Jamaluddin Afghan.

In Tehran, the capital of Iran, there is a square and a street named after him (Asad Abadi Square and "Asad Abadi Avenue" in Yusef Abad)


See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Nikki R. Keddie, Ibrahim Kalin (2014). "Afghānī, Jamāl al-Dīn". In Ibrahim Kalin. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)). Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī [...] Two competing theories have been proposed about Afghānī’s place of birth; questions regarding his nationality and sect have become a source of long-standing controversy. Those who claim that he was Persian and Shīʿī argue that he was born in Hemedan, Iran. There is little evidence to prove this claim, other than the fact that Afghānī’s father spent some time in Iran and that Afghānī was well-versed in traditional Islamic philosophy. The other theory holds that he was born in a village called Asadābād near Kabul, Afghanistan.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I. GOLDZIHER-[J. JOMIER], "DJAMAL AL-DIN AL-AFGHANI". Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill, 2nd ed., 1991, Vol. 2. p. 417. Quote: "DJAMAL AL-DlN AL-AFGHANl, AL-SAYYID MUHAMMAD B. SAFDAR [...] According to his own account he was born at As`adabad near Konar, to the east and in the district of Kabul (Afghanistan) in 1254/1838-9 to a family of the Hanafi school. However, Shi'i writings give his place of birth as Asadabad near Hamadan in Persia; this version claims that he pretended to be of Afghan nationality, in order to escape the despotic power of Persia."
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Nikki R. Keddie, Nael Shama (2014). "Afghānī, Jamāl al-Dīn al-". In Oliver Leaman. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)). Despite his claim to Afghan origin—whence his name—overwhelming evidence shows that al-Afghānī was born and raised in Iran of a Shīʿī family. [...] Sunnī Muslims are often reluctant to admit that al-Afghānī was raised in Shīʿī Iran. Al-Afghānī apparently feared the repercussions of an Iranian identification. Moreover, he knew he would have less influence in the Sunnī world if he were thought to be from Shīʿī Iran.
  4. 1 2 Nikki R. Keddie, Nael Shama (2014). "Afghānī, Jamāl al-Dīn al-". In Oliver Leaman. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. Oxford University Press. (subscription required (help)). In 1897 al-Afghānī died of cancer of the jaw. No evidence supports the story that he was poisoned by the sultan. In 1944, his remains were transferred to Kabul, Afghanistan, and a mausoleum was erected there.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Afghan, Jamal-ad-Din". N.R. Keddie. Encyclopædia Iranica. 15 December 1983. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  6. "Afghan, Jamal ad-Din al-". Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Jamāl ad-Dīn al-Afghān". Elie Kedourie. The Online Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  8. 1 2 "Jamal ad-Din al-Afghan". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  9. Stéphane A. Dudoignon, Hisao Komatsu, Yasushi Kosugi (2006). Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic World: Transmission, Transformation, Communication. New horizons in Islamic studies. Taylor & Francis. p. 42. ISBN 0415368359.
  10. Said Amir Arjomand (1988). Authority and Political Culture in Shi'ism. SUNY series in Near Eastern studies. SUNY Press. p. 120. ISBN 0887066380.
  11. Ahmad Hasan Dani (2005). Chahryar Adle, ed. History of Civilizations of Central Asia: Towards the contemporary period: from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century. History of Civilizations of Central Asia. UNESCO. p. 465. ISBN 9231039857.
  12. "Sayyid Jamal ad-Din Muhammad b. Safdar al-Afghan (1838–1897)". Saudi Aramco World. Center for Islam and Science. 2002. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  13. Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical Dictionary of Islam (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001), p. 32
  14. Vali Nasr, The Sunni Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (New York: Norton, 2006), p. 103.
  15. From Reform to Revolution, Louay Safi, Intellectual Discourse 1995, Vol. 3, No. 1 LINK
  16. Historia, Le vent de la révolte souffle au Caire, Baudouin Eschapasse, LINK
  17. 1 2 3 4 Keddie, Nikki R (1983). An Islamic response to imperialism: political and religious writings of Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn "al-Afghān". United States: University of California Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780520047747. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  18. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/299778/Jamal-al-Din-al-Afghani
  19. N. R. Keddie, «Sayyid Jamal ad-Din "al-Afghani": A Political Biography», Berkeley, 1972
  20. 1 2 Oliver Leaman (2010). "Afghani, Seyyed Jamaluddin". In Oliver Leaman. The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Islamic Philosophy. Continuum. (subscription required (help)). Seyyed Jamaluddin Afghani [...] was born in 1838 at Asadabad near the Afghan-Persian border. He was called a Seyyed because his family claimed descent from the family of the Prophet through Imam Husayn. The title of ‘Afghani’ refers to his Afghan-Persian heritage, and served usefully to identify him more broadly than as a Persian. This would have identified him with the Shi'a and limited his influence in the Islamic world.
  21. Mangol Bayat (2013). "al-Afghani, Jamal al-Din". In Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. Afghani was born in Iran
  22. 1 2 Edward Mortimer, Faith and Power, Vintage, (1982)p.110
  23. 1 2 Arab awakening and Islamic revival By Martin S. Kramer. Books.google.com. 1996. ISBN 9781560002727. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  24. A. Hourani: Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798–1939. London, Oxford University Press, p. 103–129 (108)
  25. Tanwir, Dr. M. Halim (2013). Afghanistan: History, Diplomacy and Journalism. United States: Xlibris Corporation. p. 67. ISBN 9781479760923.
  26. 1 2 Molefi K. Asante, Culture and customs of Egypt, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31740-2, ISBN 978-0-313-31740-8, Page 137
  27. Keddie, Nikki R (1983). An Islamic response to imperialism: political and religious writings of Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn "al-Afghānī". United States: University of California Press. pp. 11–14. ISBN 9780520047747. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  28. Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge: Cambride UP, 1983), pp. 131–2
  29. Soner Yalçın, Beyaz Müslümanların Büyük Sırrı-Efendi 2, 2006, pp. 215–217
  30. "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Translation". corpus.quran.com. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  31. Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran (Oxford: One World, 2000), pp. 183–4
  32. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (London: Unwin, 1907), p. 100.
  33. Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 225–26.
  34. Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 62–3
  35. Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge: Cambride UP, 1983), pp. 104–125
  36. 1 2 The Comparative Reception of Darwinism, edited by Thomas Glick, ISBN 0-226-29977-5
  37. Kedourie, Elie Afghani and Abduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political activism in Modern Islam (1966, New York, Humanities Press)
  38. Nasr, The Shia Revival, p.103
  39. Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, Princeton University Press, p. 65
  40. "Tatimmat al-bayan fi tarikh al-Afghan". Archive.org. Retrieved 8 June 2012.

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