Science is a strength that is able to strengthen a community. Muslims need to have the courage to develop the strength of science. Developments also have to be made to useful scientific thinking in the minds of every person in the community. If this can be done, it will bring back the glory days of Islamic civilization that prevailed before. Such are the thoughts of Sayyed Jamaluddin Al-Afghani.

The regression of Muslims is not due to the fact that Islam is not adapting to changes as time passes but that Muslims have been influenced by a static nature, easily giving up hope, and forgetting the philosophy of knowledge as truly taught by Islam. This is the opinion of Sayyed Jamaluddin Al-Afghani, a very influential expert on Islamic development in the Islamic world in the 19th century. His ideas on development and change succeeded in raising awareness among Muslims to stand tall nest to their English colonialists and to battle against English colonisation circa 19th century AD.

According to Muhd Murat Md Aris: “His character and ideas on change and development caused him to migrate from Kabul to India and Egypt. There, he was chased out by English colonialists who were unhappy with his ideas and spirit he had in awakening the Muslim community. Finally he went to Paris in 1882 to form a group called Urwatul Wuthqa.  This academic group published a journal that was critical in criticising western ideologies, its sciences and much more. The Europeans especially in Islamic countries banned this journal as it fanned the flames of the Islamic spirit. In Egypt, Afghani turned his home into a centre for lectures and discussions attended by the likes of Muhammad Abduh, and Saad Zaghlul; the latter a famous Egyptian freedom fighter. Afghani’s struggle was continued by some of his disciples including Abduh, who influenced one of the scholars of Al-Azhar, Rashid Reda. He was a great admirer of Afghani’s ideologies and remembered them well. Afghani was also a constant source of reference and admired, mentioned, by many thinkers and scholars of Islam, including Muhammad Iqbal in a few of his writings.” 

Sayyed Jamaluddin Al-Afghani was often offered to as the Prodigy of the East. Afghani hailed from Afghanistan. He was born in 1838, and died in 1897 in Istanbul, Turkey. He was known for his loud voice in promoting a change in mindset amongst Muslims to prevent them from becoming static. Afghani found that the Muslim community was not advancing and only paid any attention and adhered to issues brought up by previous scholars.

Mohd Murat explains: “According to Afghani, this understanding is so incongruent to the dynamism of Islam’s own jurisprudence as well as the true philosophy of knowledge. It is through this dynamism that Islam was able to continue to be relevant regardless of place, time and circumstance. Afghani held to the principle that Islamic teachings actually encompassed all aspect of living, including ibadah, law and social issues. This was the view he propounded. It was very popular among the front runners of Islamic movement.”

He further illuminated that Afghani’s battle or his vocalness was not directed merely at colonialists. He even criticized the Arabs themselves in the aspect of a country’s administration. It was clear that he was a fighter who placed much importance on haqiqi: “In terms of administration, Afghani raised a new idea or conclusion in that he saw a pattern of widespread autocratic rule among Muslim society that needed to be changed to democratic rule. This led to him being regarded as a controversial figure who was against the Caliphs and Caliphate system as the remnants of the Ummayyah Caliphate were still in existence in Turkey under the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid. As a result he was deemed as being an anti Caliphate and against a hereditary style of leadership. In Afghan’s opinion, these were against the true concept of democracy. Even though democracy was popular in the West, he only saw it is an Islamic concept, in line with the concept of shura and more.”    

The ideologies propounded by Afghani are very relevant in this day and age, especially in the death of critical learning for the sake of community and nation in the world today. Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, for example, reminds us that the Islamic world is now facing a multitude of challenges. Muslim societies are now at the end stage of regression if leaders hinder innovation and critical thinking. The rise of reformists and thinkers in the 19th and 20th centuries such as Jamaluddin Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, as well as many more, encourages in critical thinking and openness in the learning of sciences from the West or East. Dr. Yacoob added, as Singaporean Muslims, we have to play a part in moulding more Muslims who are progressive, steadfast in their faith while striving towards the good of mankind. We study the context of the rethinking process expounded by Afghani, which is suited to our current circumstances.

Afghani focused on basic issues in his fight against the cruelties of colonisation. Apart from corruption, he felt that space has to be given to fight for the rights of the less fortunate and those who always found themselves trodden upon, like women, for example.

From the viewpoint of religion, Afghani encouraged more dialogues among religions based on this universal method. It showed a vast opportunity for Islam to raise the issue of dynamic knowledge philosophy and suitable for human psyche as well as nature’s events.