Imam Muhammad Abdu
– the Innovator of the Egypt nation’s thought
Imam Muhammad Abdu was a pioneering innovator of the intellectual revival movement in Egypt and the Arab East in the 19th century enlighten-ment. He was also one of the Islamic enlightened intellectuals who rejected conventionalism, believed in openness to other cultures and the innovation of thoughts and social, political and religious reform.
Muhammad Abdu Khairallah was born in 1849 in Behera Governorate. In 1877, Muhammad Abdu obtained his graduate degree “Alamiya” (equivalent to BA) from Al Azhar, despite the opposition of some of his professors on account of his “so called” progressive ideas. When he became a professor at Al Azhar, he was mainly interested in teaching those topics which enlighten the mind and cultivate reasoning such as philosophy, logic and monotheism. He selected some reference books such as “Ethics” by Montesqueu, and “The History of Cities in Europe and France” by Francols Geseun to be the subject matter of his lectures. In history, he selected Ibn Khaldoun and his theory of sociology and urbanisation.
Thanks to his association with Gamal Eddin Al Afghani, he became involved in press writing. Al Afghani had been encouraging a number of Egyptian writers and intellectuals to make inroads into the Egyptian press. Soon he gained grounds on the political and intellectual scene. Since the foundation of the prestigious Al Ahram Newspaper in 1876, Abdu contributed articles urging religious, political and social reforms. He also called for the translation of foreign masterpieces in all fields of knowledge.
In October, 1880, he was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Egyptian Government official gazette “AI Waqa’le AI Masriyya”. Through his improvements, the gazette came to play a prominent, social, literary and intellectual role.
His call for reform was one of the reasons that motivated the Orabi Revolution of 1881. He was, therefore, sentenced for three months’ imprisonment and exiled from Egypt for three years.
Once again, he returned to Beirut in 1885. There, he made a deliberate appraisal of the whole situation. He managed to create an enlightened Islamic intellectual current. His house in Beirut was a meeting place for all political, intellectual and religious currents. In view of broad-minded and tolerant attitude and tactfulness, his meetings were frequented by Christians as well as Muslims.
He was then concerned with educational, social and religious reforms. He thought he should concentrate on the education and training of generations to combat ignorance and stand against foreign occupation. He believed that political, social and religious reforms were an arduous and protracted process, requiring reasoning, good judgment and rational action. In the context of his policy of reform, Muhammad Abdu developed an overall reform plan for Al Azhar, the endowments and Sharia (Islamic) courts. In spite of the open support by the British occupation, they deliberately encouraged his opponents to undermine his plan.
Muhammad Abdu’s call for reform was based on three main precepts:
-1- Religious reform aiming at liberating thought from the shackles of conventionalism.
-2- Language reform, in terms of styles and usages, aiming at evolving a modern, powerful medium of expression and an element for unifying and integrating the nation.
-3- Political reform, where he believed that a democratic line should be struck between the state’s right to obedience by the people and the letter’s right to justice by the state. This principle is the basis of social life and Islam was a democratic religion, he believed.
Imam Muhammad Abdu rejected the call for theocracy. He believed that ruling theocracy is known to Islam. It is rather the authority enforced through peaceful call for the good and prohibition of evil.
Imam Muhammad Abdu left behind a rich intellectual legacy. In addition to his rich contributions to the press, he made several researches in education. He introduced a new approach in verifying and translating classical heritage books. He co-authored with Qassem Amin in his book “The Emancipation of Women”. He also translated Herbert Spenser’s book on education.
Imam Abdu was the founder of a special school of reform. He had several disciples who adopted his call in many Arab and Islamic countries, including Shakeeb Arslan, Gamal Eddin Al Qasmi, Rashid Redha and others in Syria, Muhammad Sharaf Eddin and Muhammad Akef in Turkey and Muhammad Ibn Al Khoja in North Africa. The party of Reform Ulema in Algeria and the New Enterprise of Moroccan Reforms in Morocco were established on the basis of his call. In Iran, India and Indonesia, reformists were interested in the Imam’s call. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration for all reforms in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Denne artikel er hentet fra SIS – Egypt State Information Service, februar 2002.