11 Nisan 2015 Cumartesi

Introduction of Modernism into Islamic World

When speaking about the Modernist movement in Islamic world, one of the places that comes to the mind first is Egypt. When we look to the Islamic history over the last two centuries, we realize that the pioneers of the Modernist movement came from Egypt and their thoughts spread over Islamic world. Since the movement began in Egypt, it is important to read the history of modernism in Islamic world from an Egyptian author. I will share some noteworthy parts of the book, al-lslam wa al-Hadarah al-Gharbiyyah, which was written by Prof. Muhammad Mahmud Husayn, and also translated into Turkish.

Rifaa Tahtawi and Hayraddin Tunusi

According to the author,  the modernist wind started blowing when  Egypt, under the ruling of Qawalali Mahmad Ali Pasha, began to bring the science and technology from Europe. To realize his goal, Mahmad Ali Pasha brought foreign experts to his country and sent students to the European countries to get a good education. The foreign experts brought their families, schools, and hospitals with themselves. The author deals with this event as follows: It was an obvious danger for Egyptians to live together with these foreigners. The same danger was valid for the students being sent to Europe for education. How much these students are affected by European thought and movements can be understood from their writings when in Europe or after coming back to Egypt. Rifaa Tahtawi,  staying in Paris between 1826-1831, and Hayraddin Tunusi, staying in Paris between 1852-1856 can be given as an example for this,  [page 17].

These two people planted quickly the seeds, which they obtained from Europe, in  the Islamic world [page 18].  It can be seen in their works that they lowered themselves before Europe and  imitated Europe blindly. The author reveals their structures of thought through citing their works.

Lord Cromer and Lord Lloyd

Lord Cromer, a colonial governor of England in Egypt, says that  the severe conflict and difference between Muslims and colonizer Europeans  stem from the difference between religious and moral values, traditions and customs, language, art, and music. Cromer suggests two ways to remove this conflict: One way is to raise modern and privately educated generation in order to approach Egyptians to Europeans, especially to English in terms of thought and behavior. He established Victoria College due to this opinion. The second way is to develop an Islamic understanding which is consistent with Western civilization or at least close to it and does not  conflict with it, and subject to Islam to a new interpretation [page 41]. According to Lord Lloyd, the latter way was more effective than the former. 

Afghani – Abduh – Rashid Rida

The third section of the book is about Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abduh. According to the author, it is suspicious that al-Afghani's identity is not clear. al-Afghani says that he is an Afghani Sunni. However, the research conducted reveals that he is an Iranian Shiite. This can also be easily understood from the book of his sister's son Mirza Lutfullah Khan, from whom al-Afghani never kept away during his visits to Iran. Since the Afghani people in the Ottoman state were Sunni, al-Afghani concealed that he was Shiite. The lack of both a representative abroad and an ambassador of Iran facilitated al-Afghani's concealing his original identity. He could make people believe that he was from Afghanistan because Afghanistan did not have any representative abroad.

Hasan Fahmi Effendi, shaykh al-islam of the Ottoman state, stated that he had to struggle with al-Afgani when in his first visit to Istanbul he talked scandalously, treating prophethood (nubuwwah) as an art of the arts and equating prophets with philosophers. As a result of this struggle al-Afgani was removed from Istanbul [p. 61].

The opinions of Yusuf al-Nabhani, who came to know Abduh and al-Afgani and lived together with them, should be taken into consideration. He explained his opinions about them in the many parts of his  works in both verse and prose form. He witnessed that Abduh deliberately did not perform prayer (salat) [73]. In the third section of his work, al-Uqud al-Luluiyyah fi al-Madaih al-Nabawiyya, al-Nabhani says this  about those who have an affiliation with  Abduh  and his student Rashid Rida, “Although these ahl al-bidah (those who follow innovations in the religion) willingly imitated protestants, they, somehow, could not imitate the imams and elders of Muhammad's Ummah (followers), whose tracks have been followed for more than one thousand years” [p. 75]

Mustafa Sabri Effendi, shaykh al-islam of the Ottoman state, is one of the scholars who drew attention to  the danger of Abduh. Mustafa Sabri Effendi declares the following in his book, Mawqif al-Aql wa al-Alim min Rabb al-Alamin wa Ibadih al-Mursalin, “Abduh had a harmful effect on Islam and  those scholars distanced from the Islamic culture, who succeeded Abduh. His thoughts which I criticized in this book were blown up like a balloon. Due to his thoughts, undoubtedly supported by the propaganda of the Masons,  he was put in a high place among the ulama (scholars). This kind of situation led some of elderly scholars and a  lot of young people, who wanted to shine quickly  and become  famous, and to give speeches contrary to traditional knowledge.”

Mustafa Sabri Effendi says in another part of the book, “Abduh and his master al-Afgani might want to play the same role in Islam as Luther and Calvin played  in Christianity. But they did not have the opportunity to establish a new sect even though Luther and Calvin established a new sect. Their efforts merely helped the modernist movement, which wore the thought of irreligion.”

The attempt to westernize Islam was based on the reports of Lord Cromer and later that of Lord Lloyd. According to their reports, al-Azhar University was the center of the propaganda against Britain and would continue this attitude of anti-colonialism if it maintained its traditional structure. 

Fears of colonists

Professor Muhammad Husayn speaks of the colonists' fears that: “Islam will continue to maintain its authenticity even though it has lost its activity. One day Islam will establish its dominance again and remove Western values. As a result of this fear, Westerners and their local followers were talking about the approximation and interaction of the two civilizations in order to distort the authenticity of Islam. Their ultimate goal was to realize this.” [p. 103]

Alliance of religions

As to the alliance between the religions, especially between Islam and Christianity, the approximation the two religions to each other began with an agreement between English pastor Isac Taylor and Abduh and some of his friends in 1883 when Abduh was exiled to Dimashq. [p. 155]

Blind imitation

The blind imitation of the intellectuals, who have been affected by the reformist movement in Europe and the French Revolution, reminds us of this symbolic story about two donkeys: One donkey is carrying salt and the other sponges. The donkey with sponges sees his friend going into water, hence lessening his load by melting some of salt. Suddenly it comes to his mind that he might do the same, and he does so. But, he faces the inverse effect. The donkey going into the water with his load of sponges pays tragically  for his reckless mistake. A blind imitation might be deadly for a society. [p. 184]


When weak societies abandon their own culture and civilization and adapt to the culture and civilization of colonists, these societies lose their soul. Eventually they will excessively admire those who exploit them. Because they have forgotten the feeling that the colonists exploit them, they have no longer  a lively soul, saving them from this slavery and exploitation,  Under these circumstances, they see the exploiters as those who are superior to them, release them from the dark to the light, and bring them from brutality to 'contemporary civilization'. Here is the secret of the western countries which exploit different countries from East to West and desire to spread their religion, civilization, language, and culture. Here is the westernization politicians and orientalists have often remarked. [p. 188]

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