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Intellectual developments

In the very first reactions of the Muslim leaders towards the West, the political and the intellectual factors have gone hand in hand. Thus, Jamal al-DIn al-Afghäni (1839-97) combined both these motives in his powerful appeal to the Muslims to awaken to the current Situation, toliberate themselves from Western domination, and to carry out the necessary internal reforms that would make for their regeneration and strength. He not only called upon the Muslims to stand against the West politically, but to estabüsh populär and stable governments at home, and to cultivate modern scientific and philosophical knowledge.

Although he was not a thinker of great calibfe, his activity has left enduring marks on Muslim Modernism as a whole. Apart from his political agitation, the most salient feature of his Spiritual attitude, which he has bequeathed to the Modernist Muslim, is his unbounded humanism. Indeed, there is evidence to the effect that even his appreciation of religion was based upon a humanist elan; for religion, including Islam, according to him served human ends. It, therefore, must be concluded that his emphasis on populism was not just a means to an external end, the strengthening of Muslim governments against a foreign enemy, but was possessed of intrinsic value. Indeed al-Afghäni appears to be the sympathetic advocate of the downtrodden and the deprived. This is the reason why al-Afghäni not only stirred up Islamic sentiments to rouse the people to meet the challenge of the West, but even appealed to rion-Islamic and pre-Islamic cultural factors for this purpose. In India, Egypt and Turkey, for example, he appealed to past Hindu, Pharaonic and pre-Islamic Turkish greatness, and thereby helped to rouse nationalist side by side with Islamic sentiments.

This brief analysis of al-Afghäni reveals simultaneously the unprecedented challenge faced by the Modernist, the complications latent in the modernist Situation, and the magnitude of the intellectual task.

Its complications are so great that it looks like a vicious circle; and the breaking of this vicious circle carries with it the inconsistencies and anomalies that are characteristic of Modernist attitudes.We have pointed out that the primary task of the pre-Modernist movements was to reform society. The alliance of the spirit of the modern age with the ethos of the pre-Modernist reformers helped further to weaken the Süfi hold upon the educated classes, and further to accentuate the consciousness of social reform. The criticism of historic Muslim social institutions (like polygamy, unregulated divorce and the Status ofwomen in general) by orientalists and Christian missionaries specifies the objectives of social reform for the Modernist. But social reform, on closer examination turns out to be a very complex affair, and begins to assume a purely intellectual aspect, because fe. mere change in social institutions cannot be carried out without rethinking the social ethic and ideas of social justice. Further, social reform implies legislation, and legislation raises very fundamental issues as to who is to legislate. and by virture of what authority.fThe entire philosophyoflaw becomes involved in this 'variouse theories’ of ijtihäd and ijmä' are put forth. This raises further problems of the political Constitution of the State, of representation, and the nature of political authority. But change in political ideas and attitudes not only presupposes legislation but also social change itself.

This is what we mean by the vicious circle. For the sake of convenience, however, we shall first outline the intellectual developments in modern Islam, since it is ideas which, when they become objects of conviction, are the most potent moving forces in a society.



The bases of modern reformist thinkine; are, as we have pointed out above, supplied by the pre-Modernist reform movement. It is, therefore, not an accident that the most important Modernist thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries come from a purificationist-reformist background. We have quoted the notable example of Jamal al-Dln al-Afghani; similar ones are provided by Muhammad 'Abduh (d. 1905) of Egypt and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1898) of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, even though both of these men propounded somewhat different Solutions, as we shall see presently. The purificationist reformlegacy of pre-Modernist days, however, could only have prepared the ground for this Modernist thinking, and in the preceding pages we have brought out its essential limitations. Indeed, in so far as its emphasis was Iiterally on a 'going back' to the Qur'än and the Sunna, it appears a positive hindrance in the way of progressive thinking, and, in fact, most reactionaries or revivalists opposed Modernist thinking on these very grounds. Yet, the unanimous call of all the pre-Modernist reforms to ijtihäd supplied the requisite inspiration for the Modernist to Start his work. The actual purificationist activities of these early movements, and their combined efforts either to reject, or at least to control, the extravagances of Sufism stood the Modernist in good stead. In this connexion too, the objective work of orientalists, which focussed attention on the early centuries ofIslam, cannot be denied its value. Even the missionary, with his narrow outlook, did not fail to provoke discussion. But in spite of continuity with earlier reform phenomena, Modernist thinking had to go far beyond anything achieved by the pre-Modernist reform, both in the nature of the questions raised, and in the content of the answers given. The most fundamental question that was raised in Islam (after a lapse of about nine centuries) was that of the relationship between faith and reason, or of faith and scientific thought. This question had preoccupied the minds of the Western thinkers themselves for centuries, particularly from the beginning öf their Renaissance, and one cannot help thinking that, to some extent, they have projected their own preoccupations into Islamic discussions around this particular problem. Nevertheless, this question was not raised in Islam for the first time. The Mu'tazilites and the philosophers had asked the same question, and given their own Solutions. But the question as raised in the nineteenth Century had acquired a new dimension, because of the fact that the actual or putative conflict was not just between religion and thought, as had been the case previously, but that a new scientific world-view had emerged, or was emerging, which had its own claims for recognition. The answers given to this basic problem, both in their form and content, by Muhammad 'Abduh and by Sayyid Ahmad Khan are highly interesting, and at the same time reveal the different approaches of these two types ofModernist. While both emphasize that there cannot be any conflict between Islamic faith and reason, or the religion of Islam and science, and further maintain that Islam is a positive rational and scientific force in the world, the attitude of Muhammad 'Abduh, who was a trained 'älim, is a much more moderate one than that of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. While Muhammad 'Abduh more or less seeks to regenerate the rationalizing spirit of the Mu'tazilite school, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, on the other hand, espouses the much more radical course of medieval Muslim philosophers, such as Ibn Sinä and Ibn Rushd. This difference does not stop merely at a general level, but appears in the detailed Solutions to specific problems handled by both of them. While it is the aim of both of these thinkers to encourage belief in the scientific world-view, and consequently to discourage belief in superstitions and miracles, the difference in the formulation of their answers is remarkable. Muhammad 'Abduh. declares as a general principle that the possibility of miracles is to be accepted, but that every particular miracle claimed may be doubted with impunity, either on rational or historical grounds. Thus, one may reject all the miracles one by one, but one may not reject the possibility of miracles as a principle. Very different is the case with Sayyid Ahmad Khan. He, first of all, lays down the principle of 'conformity of nature'. Nature he declares to be a closely knit System of causes and effects which allow of no supernatural Intervention. Indeed, Sayyid Ahmad Khan seems to espouse a kind of deism which was fashionable among the nineteentli-century scientific circles of the West, and was also closely related to the spirit and the thinking of the medieval Muslim philosophers. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, therefore, categorically and on principle, rejects the possibility of miracles. Similarly, in the field of historical criticism, the questi.xi of Hadith comes under discussion. On this point, again, Muhammad 'Abduh maintains that one does not incur infidelity to Islam if one doubts any given Hadith, but Hadith must be accepted on principle and in general. Sayyid Ahmad Khan, on the other hand, most probably aided by his colleague, Maulavi Chirägh 'Ali, rejects all Hadith. One may say that the method adopted by Sayyid Ahmad Khan was more thorough-going and consistent, and its conclusions are more radical than those of Muhammad 'Abduh. But we must remember that neither of these men was aiming simply at producing scientific thought, but that their basic aim was reformist. Reform imposes its own terms, has its own rhythm; and therefore a reformist may well find that he has to put his conclusions in a way that would be acceptable to a large number, if not the whole, of his Community. In this sense, as subsequent developments have shown, Muhammad 'Abduh's ideas have been more potent, and have taken deeper root in the soil than those of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, whose educational policies were more acceptable to Muslims than his religious ideas.

Förmulation of the principle that Islam not only did not oppose reasonand science, but encouraged both, persuaded an ever-increasing number of Muslims to take up the study of modern science. Another attempt made by an Indian Muslim to develop a new rationalist theology was also inspired by the leadership of Sayyid Ahmad Khan; this was the Work of Muhammad Shibli Nu'mäni (d. 1914) who is, however, better known as a historian. In his work entitled 'Um al-kaläm he described the historical genesis and development of the classical Muslim schools of theology. This was followed by a second work entitled al-Kaläm, wherein Shibli endeavoured to restate the theses of classical theology in the light of the general nineteenth-century scientific world-view. In doing so he, like Muhammad 'Abduh, resurrected the rationalist trends of the Mu'tazilite School. His work was, however, rejected as heretical by the orthodox 'ulamä7 of the Deöband Seminary. Shibli subsequently left 'Aligarh School (founded by Sayyid Ahmad Khan) and joined the Nadwat al-'Ulamä' at A'zamgarh near Lucknow, where he framed his own syllabus for combining traditional and modern learning. The Nadwa, as it is called, however, has not produced any thinker of high calibre, and for all intents and purposes its alumni are indistinguishable from the conservative 'ulama'.

An obvious corollary of the principle that Islam encourages scientific and rational enquiry is that Islam is a great civilizing and educative force. The fact that through Islam the Arabs became world conquerors and progenitors of a great civilization, supplies the necessary historical evidence for this. The most effective argument built around this thesis was worked out by the eminent Jurist Sayyid Amir 'Ali (d. 1928), whose main contention was that Islam is inherently a civilizing and progressive force. An inevitable result of this position is that those segments of Muslim history, which represent the decline of the Muslims and their civilization, must be rejected as unrepresentative of Islamic history. This is what, in fact, many Islamic historians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century have done. This procedura has been vehemently criticized by certain Western scholars, who have described it as subjective and betraying a lack of intellectual integrity. Irrespective of this controversy, we may note that the character of the intellectual products of Islamic civilization does exhibit something tangibly different from the ancient period, and we think it undeniable that Muslim thought, especially scientific and philosophic, Stands at the threshold of modernity. As for the charge of selectivity and subjectivity against Amir 'Ali and others, we must once ägain remember that these men were not simply historians but implicitly reformers. This explains why they underline those segments of Muslim history which represent greatness and progress in civilization. These are an implicit invitation to the Muslims to re-create parallel history in the future. We must, therefore, distinguish this from strictly descriptive historiography. If a Muslim sees his faith expressed more adequately in one segment ofhistory rather than another, vre cannot see any legitimate objection to it. In any case, the idea that all knowledge and progress is par excellence Islamic is part of the stock-in-trade of Muslim Modernism, and an inevitable conclusion from the principle that Islam invites man to search and enquire. This is why Muhammad Iqbal (1876-193 8), when he speaks approvingly of the rapid movement of the Muslim world towards the West, says that by acquiring knowledge from the West the Muslims are only retrieving their lost heritage which they must once again cultivate and develop.

It is obvious, however, that pure Westernism, i.e., the projection of the West into the Muslim society, could not and cannot succeed unless it creates for itself a moral and cultural basis within Muslim society. This means that there must be a process of Integration and assimilation of the new forces, and adaptation of their institutional embodiment to the moral-cultural heritage of Islam and vice versa. This vital function is to be performed by Muslim Modernism. But Muslim Modernism, after its initial launching by thinkers like Muhammad 'Abduh, Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sayyid Amir 'Ali, unfortunately, underwent a rapid transformation, and degenerated, on the one hand, into pure apologetics, and, on the other, developed into a more or less purely secular Westernism. Indeed, the story of the decline of positive Modernist thought, beginning roughly with the second decade of the present Century, is both interesting and füll of lessons. In the Middle East itself, the synthetic thought-movement of Muhammad 'Abduh split itself into three parts. In its main direction, under the leadership of his disciple, Rashid Ridä, it developed a fundamentalist character, and, although its reformist zeal remained, it progressively assumed the reactionary features of the original Wahhäbi movement. Its reformist programme became really limited to the elimination of differences among the different schools of law; it was essentially a throw-back to eighteenth Century pre-Modernist fundamentalism. Secondly, the defensive dement in Muhammad 'Abduh gave rise to a prolific apologetic literature, particularly at the hands of Farid Wajdi. On all issues of major reform, this apologetic trend defended the old against the new, and endeavoured to create an effective wall against the influx of modern forces and ideas. From being a defence mechanism, it gradually developed into inhibitionism. When, for example, Qäsim Amin's book entitled al-Mar'a al-jadida (' The new woman'), arguing for improving the Status of women and their emancipation, was published, Farid Wajdi wrote a reply wherein he defended the traditional place of Muslim women in society; and so on. Thirdly, a more or less unmixed thrust of Westernism developed, among the eminent representatives of which may be counted Dr Tähä Husayn. The truth is that the strength of this pure Westernism is commensurate with the vitulence of the resurgent fundamentalism and its defensive arm, the new apologetic; this, in turn, is the füll measure of the failure of effective Modernism.

In the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent the same story is repeated. The initial modernism of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sayyid Amir 'Ali was subjeeted to bitter invectives and, in fact, denounced as pure Westernism. Men like Abu'l-Kaläm Äzäd, and the poet Akbar of Allahabad, attacked uncompromisingly the introduetion of new ideas and institutions into Muslim society. While the more learned writings of the former were addressed primarily to the higher classes, the bitter epigrams of Akbar proved very effective at the lower-middle class level. Akbar wrote particularly against the new education, and relentlessly satirized the movement for the emancipation of women. Here is one of his quatrains:

Yesterday, having seen some women without veil,

Akbar sank into the earth out of hurt Islamic pride.

When asked whither their veil had gone, they replied

'The veil has fallen upon men's intelligence'.

The reasons for this vehement reaction, and the submergence and decline of modernist thinking, are manifold, and they can only be briefly indicated here. First, the new ideas brought by modern education needed time to ripen in order to produce mature representatives. The relative immaturity of the representatives of modernity has been a great hindrance to the acceptance of modern ideas, and their consequent assimilation through Modernist thought. Allied to this is the fact that the early exponents of Modernism did not fully grasp the deeper Spiritual and moral factors behind the phenomenal flowering of modern Western civilization, and they took mainly into consideration only certain external manifestations of this inner vitality; such as modern democratic institutions, universal education, and the emancipation of women.

The deeper fountains of the creative vitality of the West, particularly humanism in its various forms, were not studied properly and given due weight.1 The result was that an attempt was made to transfer, because of their attractiveness, certain more or less external institutions of the West to a new soil wherein they were not properly adapted to the new conditions. Indeed, the Moderhist did not develop traditional Muslim thought from the inside to supply an adequate basis for the new values and institutions. It is perhaps also true that liberalism, as it has grown in the modern West, claims absolute validity for itself, and seeks no compromises or rapprochement with any other System of ideas or values. It is obvious enough that this liberalism, pushed to its logical conclusions, is self-defeatingj and that it must impose certain checks upon itself. The early Muslim Modernists, the starting point of whose Modernism lay in Westernism, almost deified liberalism, and sought to impose its categories upon Muslim society. The result was that, when their message penetrated into the interior of the society, it was vehemently rejeeted.

1 Muhammad Iqbal, in the first chapter of hisReconstruction of religious thought in Islam, hadwarncd Muslims against being dazzled by the external glamour of the West and had insisted on a deeper penetration into the spirit that moves the Western civilization. But, despite the fact that Itjbäl himsclfgoes to great lengths to eultivate a humanist spirit at the philosophical level, he rojeets it almost uncompromisingly in favour of a pure transcendentalism on theethical plane. This fact itself demonstrates how difficult it is to change quickly settledhabits of thought.

Lastly, Muslim society has had to summon up all its energies and concentrate its force on seeking to liberale itself from the political domination ofthe West, whether dkect or indirect. From approximately the beginning of the Balkan Wars in 1912, the Muslim world became conscious that either it must gain independence of foreign powers, or it must finally go under. In this grim struggle where nationalism and Islam fought hand in hand, unity and solidarity were the overriding dictates. In the history of lslam whenever unity and solidarity have had to be emphasized, differences of opinion have always been discouraged, since differences of opinion have been seen as creating doubts. Since Modernism involves a strenuous and sustained intellectual effort, and must necessarily breed some difference of opinion (liberalism, in any case, must tolerate difference of opinion and Interpretation), intellectualism and Modernism were consequently discouraged, and fundamentalism was proportionately strengthened. It would not be going too far tp say that the Muslim Community in general has usually tilted the balance in favour of external solidarity at the expense of inner growth. This also explains why the most serious of all intellectuals in modern Islam, Muhammad Iqbäl, in fact tended to discourage intellectualism by what he wrote. He ceaselessly invited the Muslims to cultivate an unshakable certainty, a firm faith, and derided the claims of the pure intellect. There is little doubt that the genius ofIslam is also activist, as we have pointed out earlier in this essay, and Iqbal largely recaptured that activist spirit; but there is all the difference between saying that knowledge must end in action, and between emphasizing action at the expense ofthe claims of intellectualism.

Given these trends, it is not surprising that strong groups arose in the Middle East and in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent which were basically fundamentalist, füll of an unbounded zeal for action, and suspicious of both modernity and intellectualism. The Muslim Brotherhood ofthe Arab Middle East, banned in Egypt in 19 5 6, and the Jamä 'at-i Islämi of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent which became especially powerful in Pakistan, and was banned early in 1964, are similar versions of twentieth-century Muslim revivalism and anti-intellectualist activism. Yet, on closer examination, it appears that the revivalism ofthese groups is more in spirit than in substance. For whenever the representatives of these movements are pressed on any intellectual issue, it is revealed that their position is characterized not by an actual thought-content from the past, but by hardly any thought at all. They are more suspicious of both Modernism and modernity (making hardly any distinction between these two) than they are cornmitted, in the final analysis, to a literal repetition of any actual segment of past history. What has given them power over the middle (and particularly lower middle) classes is not a systemätic and coherent understanding of the past, but their embodiment of a reaction against modernizing trends in the Upper strata of society; and the fact that they possess no systemätic thinking (despite the fact that they are very vocal), does not count against them, because there is hardly any intellectual Modernism in any case. In terms of thought, therefore, they are not at any real disadvantage vis-a-vis the modernized classes.

In the recent past, however, certain important developments have taken place in certain parts of the Muslim world, notably Pakistan and Egypt, where centres for the development of Muslim Modernism have been officially set up. The Council of Islamic Research at al-Azhar is even more recent than the Central Institute of Islamic Research in Pakistan. The extent and depth of impact of these institutions on the intellectual life of the Muslim Society will be revealed only with the passage of time. The real task before the Muslim Modernist intellectual is not so much to integrate any given theory or doctrine of modern science and philosophy, as to create the very postulates under which modern thinking becomes possible. Modern thinking on principle must reject authoritarianism of all kinds and must, therefore, rely upon its own resources, facing its risks and reaping its fruits. Openness to correction and, in this sense, a certain amount of doubt, or rather tentativeness, lie in the very nature of modern thought which is an everunfolding process, and always experimental. It is on this crucial point that the very nature of modern knowledge comes into conflict with the mental attitudes inculcated by the modern Muslim revivalist or quasirevivalist movements. The task is, no doubt, difficult and beset with dangers; but there is no particular reason to be pessimistic about the final result, given the right effort.



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