Islam and Modernity: Remembering the Contribution of Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)

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Aasia Yusuf


The Egyptian jurist, religious scholar, and reformer, Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), is regarded as the architect of what has become known in the West as ‘Islamic modernism’. A disciple of Jamal al-Din Asadabadi – better known as ‘al-Afghani’ (d. 1897) – Abduh’s intellectual legacy opposes despotism and champions freedom, law, and rationality. One of the major aims of Abduh was to show that Islam is reconcilable with modern thought, and thus, he argued that Islam is indeed compatible with the supposed requirements of the modern mind. He not only stressed that Islam taught the acceptance of all the products of reason and intellect, but also asserted the need to interpret and reapply the principles and ideals of Islam to formulate new responses to the political, scientific and civilisational challenges of the west and of modern life. This article discusses Abduh’s contribution and his legacy within this context. It also throws light on Muḥammad Ali Pasha’s (r. 1805-48) preceding policy of modernisation in nineteenth-century Egypt (including education and social and political reforms) and on ʿAbduh’s role in reforming Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.

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