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Jamāl-al-dīn Asadābādī.

Sayyid Jamāl-al-dīn al-Afghānī (Persian: سید جمال الدین الافغاني; actually Sayyid Muḥammad ibn Ṣafdar Husaynī Asadābādī -سید محمد بن صفدر حسینی اسدآبادی)(born 1838[1] - died March 9, 1897) was a political activist and Islamic nationalist active in Qajarid Persia, Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. One of the founders of Islamic modernism,[2] and an advocate of pan-Islamic unity,[3] he has been described as "less interested in theology than he was in organizing a Muslim response to Western pressure."[4]


Early life

Jamāl-al-dīn was born in the village of Asadābād, near Hamadān, Iran, into a family of local sayyeds.[1][5] Although some older sources claim that Jamal al-Din was born in a district of Kunar Province in Afghanistan also called Asadabad,[6][7] overwhelming documentation (especially a collection of papers left in Iran upon his expulsion in 1891) now proves he was born in 1838 in Iran. He spent his childhood there and was brought up as a Shia Muslim.[1][5][8] According to the best evidence, he was educated first at home, then taken by his father for further education to Qazvin, to Tehran, and finally, while he was still a youth, to the Shi'ite shrine cities in Iraq.[5] It is thought that followers of Shia revivalist Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa'i had an influence on him.[9] An ethnic Persian, Jamal-al-Din claimed to be an Afghan in order to present himself as a Sunni Muslim [10][11] and to escape oppression by the Iranian ruler Nāṣer ud-Dīn Shāh.[5]

Political activism

"Asadabadi square" in Tehran, Iran.

In 1857, Jamal al-Din spent a year in Delhi and after performing the pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca, he returned to Afghanistan in 1858. He became a counselor to the King Dost Mohammad Khan and later to Mohammad Azam. At that time he encouraged the king to turn to Russians and to oppose the British. However, he did not encouraged Mohammad Azam to any reformist ideologies that later attributed to Jamal al-Din. [5] In 1859 a British spy reported that Jamal Al-Din is a possible Russian agent. The British representatives reported that he wears traditional cloths of Noghai Turks in Central Asia, speaks fluently Persian, Arabic and Turkish. [12] Reports from the British Government in India and Afghani government say that he was a stranger in Afghanistan, spoke Persian with Iranian accent and followed European life style more than that of Muslims, not observing Ramadan or other Muslim rites. [5][12] In 1868, the throne of Kabul was occupied by Sher Ali Khan, and Jamal al-Din was forced to leave the country.[5]

He decided to travel to Istanbul, although he journeyed through Cairo on his way there. He stayed in Cairo long enough to meet a young student who would become a devoted disciple, Muhammad 'Abduh[13].

In 1871, Jamal al-Din moved to Egypt and began preaching his ideas of political reform. His ideas were considered radical, and he was exiled in 1879. He then traveled to different European and non-European cities: Istanbul, 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"[1]) along with Muhammad Abduh. The newspaper called for a return to the original principles and ideals of Islam, and for greater unity among Islamic peoples. This, he argued, would allow the Islamic community to regain its former strength against European powers.

Jamal al-Din was invited by Shah Nasser al-Din to come to Iran and advise on affairs of government, but fell from favor 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 Jamal al-Din quarreled 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 "fountainheads" of the successful 1891 protest against the granting a tobacco monopoly to a British company, and the later 1905 Constitutional Revolution.[14]

Political and religious views

Jamal al-Din's ideology has been described as a welding of "traditional" religious antipathy toward unbelievers "to a modern critique of Western imperialism and an appeal for the unity of Islam", urging the adoption of those Western sciences and institutions that might strengthen Islam.[11]

Although called a liberal by a contemporary English admirer, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt,[15] Jamal al-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 al-Din simply envisioned “the overthrow of individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their replacement by strong and patriotic men.”[16]

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

  • that European imperialism, having conquered India, now threatened the Middle East
  • that Asia, including the Middle East, could prevent the onslaught of Western powers only by immediately adopting the modern technology of the West
  • and that Islam, despite its traditionalism, was an effective creed for mobilizing the public against the imperialists. [17]

He believed that, in fact, Islam (and its revealed law) was compatible with rationality and, thus, Muslims could become politically unified whilst 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) [18].

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, the ideas attributed to evolution are sufficiently caricatured as to strongly argue he had not himself read Darwin's writings at the time.[19] In his later work Khatirat Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (The Ideas of al-Afghani), he admitted that the validity of the principle of selection, claiming it had been long known and used by the Islamic world. However, while accepting transitions from non-living matter to plants (Abiogenesis), and plant to animal, he rejected the transition from Ape to Man due to the question of the soul.[20]

Among the reasons why Jamal al-Din is thought to have had a less than deep religious faith 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),[21] and his failure to marry. He is said to have "picked up female companionship when he wanted it without any show of religious scruples."[22].

Death and legacy

He died on March 9, 1897 in Istanbul and was buried there. In late 1944, due to the request of Afghan government, his remains were taken to Afghanistan and laid in Kabul inside the Kabul University, a mausoleum was erected for him.

Today in Iran he is honored as a revolutionary Islamic thinker and a national hero. There is a square named after him in Tehran.


  1. ^ a b c d Britannica Encyclopædia, Online Edition 2007 - link
  2. ^ Jamal al-Din al-Afghani Jewish Virtual Library
  3. ^ Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical Dictionary of Islam (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001), p. 32
  4. ^ Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (New York: Norton, 2006), p. 103.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g N.R. Keddie, "Afghāni, Jamāl al-dīn", Encyclopædia Iranica, Online Edition 2005-2007
  6. ^ From Reform to Revolution, Louay Safi, Intellectual Discourse 1995, Vol. 3, No. 1 LINK
  7. ^ Historia, Le vent de la révolte souffle au Caire, Baudouin Eschapasse, LINK
  8. ^ N. R. Keddie, "Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography", Berkeley, 1972
  9. ^ Edward Mortimer, Faith and Power, Vintage, (1982)p.110
  10. ^ Edward Mortimer, Faith and Power, Vintage, (1982)p.110
  11. ^ a b Arab awakening and Islamic revival By Martin S. Kramer
  12. ^ a b Molefi K. Asante, Culture and customs of Egypt, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0313317402, 9780313317408, Page 137
  13. ^ Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge: Cambride UP, 1983), pp. 131-2
  14. ^ Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran (Oxford: One World, 2000), pp. 183-4
  15. ^ Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (London: Unwin, 1907), p. 100.
  16. ^ Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 225-26.
  17. ^ Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 62-3
  18. ^ Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge: Cambride UP, 1983), pp. 104-125
  19. ^ The Comparative Reception of Darwinism, edited by Thomas Glick, ISBN 0226299775
  20. ^ ibid.
  21. ^ Nasr, The Shia Revival, p.103
  22. ^ Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet, p. 184

Further reading

External links



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