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Muhammad Abduh pdf download

  • Book Title:
 Muhammad Abduh
  • Book Author:
Mark Sedgwick
  • Total Pages
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  • Preface
  • Tanta
  • Cairo
  • Afghani
  • Graduation
  • Muhammad Abduh’s Teaching
  • Politics
  • Freemasonry
  • The Opposition Press
  • Intervention
  • Defeat
  • Muhammad Abduh the Editor
  • Muhammad Abduh and Urabi
  • Triumph and Renewed Defeat
  • Exile
  • Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and Islam
  • To Paris
  • 4 PARIS
  • Muhammad Abduh and Wilfrid Blunt
  • Al-Urwa al-wuthqa
  • 5 BEIRUT
  • The Break with Afghani
  • In Search of an Occupation
  • Risalat al-Tawhid
  • The National Courts
  • The Azhar Council
  • Appointment as Mufti
  • Law Reform
  • The Azhar Lectures
  • Newspapers
  • Education
  • Financial Fatwas
  • The Transvaal Fatwa
  • Muhammad Abduh’s Methodology
  • Muhammad Abduh’s Intentions
  • Opposition in the Press
  • Deteriorating Relations with the Khedive
  • Reactions to the Transvaal Fatwa
  • Resignation
  • Death
  • The Enemy of God?
  • Public Life
  • Islam
  • Views on Muhammad Abduh
  • Conclusion
  • Glossary
  • Further Reading
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Muhammad Abduh, Mufti of the Egyptian Realm, had several jobs. His main task was to provide legal advice in the form of fatwas (responsa, non-binding rulings) on questions relating to the issues that came before the Sharia courts: inheritance, endowments, leases, and other aspects of family law.

During his six years in office, he issued about one thousand fatwas on these subjects, all of which followed established practice, and so are of little interest. It is possible that he used other ulema to draft these for him, since he produced on average more than three fatwas a week.

As Mufti, Muhammad Abduh also returned to national politics, becoming a member of the Treasury Council, a member of the Council for Endowments, and a member of the Legislative Council.

Of these, the council that really mattered was the Council for Endowments, which controlled the assets, mostly real estate, that financed the upkeep of mosques and the activities of the ulema. The property in question was very substantial, and – given its religious nature – beyond direct British control.

The Legislative Council, which consisted of fourteen appointed and sixteen elected members, reviewed all proposed legislation, but was purely advisory. Further, it advised the khedive, while real power lay not with the khedive but with the consul-general.

 It was still of some importance, however, and was the Egyptian equivalent of the Viceregal Legislative Council to which Ahmad Khan had been appointed in India.

The position of Mufti also involved duties at the Azhar, where Muhammad Abduh was already on the Administrative Council. Originally, there had been not one single Mufti of the Egyptian Realm but four Chief Muftis at the Azhar, one for each of the four madhhabs. The role of the Chief Hanafi Mufti had

developed over the century into the post to which Muhammad Abduh had been appointed. As a consequence, Muhammad Abduh was also the Azhar’s Hanafi Mufti, a post that carried both administrative and teaching duties.

His approach to administrative questions was similar to that he took on the Administrative Council, the difference  being that  he could  have  a more  direct impact,  for example in improving admissions standards by the use of an entrance examination for those wishing to study the Hanafi madhhab. On some occasions he went further, for example in raising the stipends of students who did well in subjects such as geography and history – though for this he had to use his own private funds.

Initially, Muhammad Abduh tried to teach a full range of courses at the Azhar, but soon gave up – probably because of lack of time – and instead delivered one regular lecture. Over time, these lectures became very popular, and not just with students. They were also attended by members of the public, predominantly from the elite, and even by Christians. Muhammad Abduh would sit in a chair facing the prayer niche, which was illuminated by gaslight, a striking symbol of progress. Next to him was a smaller chair, holding a lantern with four tapers.

Thus established, he would deliver his lecture slowly and clearly, with occasional pauses, in a style very different from that generally used by Azhari shaykhs.

The Azhar lectures were one of three ways in which Muhammad Abduh went beyond his required duties to engage in national and international debate. The other two ways were by issuing fatwas on general topics of public interest, and by writing in newspapers, one of which – Al-Manar (“The lighthouse”) – became very closely identified with him, and carried his messages beyond Egypt to the whole Muslim world.

These messages, which would not have surprised anyone who had read Risalat al-tawhid, had an extraordinary impact, and in the end changed the nature of Islam – though, as we will see, not necessarily in ways that Muhammad Abduh would have wished.

Risalat al-tawhid was written by an exiled Egyptian schoolteacher in Syria. The Azhar lectures, printed in Al-Manar, carried with them all the prestige and authority of the world’s most famous institution of Islamic learning, and all the prestige of the Mufti of the Egyptian Realm.

This might be a position of relatively recent origin, and more of a political than of a religious or a scholarly appointment, but even so it shared in the authority that had attached to the Azhar over the centuries. The basic message did not change much, then, but the medium changed enormously.


Muhammad Abduh’s lectures at the Azhar were in theory on tafsir, exegesis of the Quran, and were presented as tafsir in Al-Manar. Despite this, rather as Risalat al-tawhid is not really about tawhid (theology), the Azhar lectures were not really about tafsir.

They almost totally ignored the established methodology of tafsir, since Muhammad Abduh generally took a short Quranic text as his point of departure for a lecture which might be on a general religious topic, or might be on a social topic.

For example, Quran 2:170 refers to those who, when asked to follow what God has revealed in Islam, foolishly reply that they prefer to “follow the ways of [their] fathers.” A traditional tafsir might either discuss some of the pre-Islamic customs that the foolish might have followed, such as “slitting the camel’s ear” or explain that the verse was specifically addressed to a group of Jews who had responded to an invitation to become Muslim by saying they preferred to follow the religion of their fathers.

 In his Azhar lecture on this verse, Muhammad Abduh entirely ignored such concerns, and instead took the verse as an occasion to attack taqlid, arguing that it was now not the Jews but the Muslims who were excessively attached to the customs of their fathers. The active researcher who sometimes gets things wrong may well be closer to truth than the sheeplike follower of taqlid.

Another example is Muhammad Abduh on the part of Quran 2:165 that runs “Yet there are those who take others besides God andadan (as equals), loving them with the love of God.”A traditional tafsir of this might perhaps comment on the word andadan, translated above “as equals,” and specify that this means “as equal with God.”

It might then continue to explain that the verse refers to polytheists in Mecca, who worshiped idols, and who loved them in the sense of “magnifying them and being subservient to them.” It might perhaps end by stressing the evils of idol-worship by referring to a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad said that the greatest sin was to appoint a rival to God, while He alone created us.

 Muhammad Abduh instead took this text as the basis for a discussion of Sufism, explaining that while the early Sufis were great Muslims in terms of their morality and ascetic practice, official persecution forced them to hide their true beliefs behind symbols that subsequent generations took literally, leading later Sufis to hold their shaykhs in excessive reverence, and ultimately to the cult of tombs of saints.

 Instead of tafsir, then, Muhammad Abduh was simply using his text to repeat a view on popular Sufism that he had first expressed in the pages of Al-Waqa’i al-misriyya before the Urabi Revolt, and that derived in part from Guizot.

Muhammad Abduh used his Azhar lectures to promote other parts of his reformist agenda as well, for example by arguing against polygamy. Rather than revive the argument of Ahmad Khan that he had once used in Al-Waqa’i al- misriyya, he now objected on practical grounds – the inevitable jealousies between different wives, the hostility between children and wives who were not their mothers, and the resulting rows.

 He also promoted the virtues of hard work, again on practical grounds, avoiding philosophical discussions of the nature of predestination.

Muhammad Abduh also addressed the difficult issue of contradictions between generally accepted Muslim understandings of the universe and the new understandings revealed by natural science. He promoted a “scientific” worldview, arguing for naturalistic, non-miraculous understandings of events related in the Quran.

 References to angels, for example, might be to “natural forces.” References to “seven heavens” might be to the seven planets (the accepted number in 1900). The famous story of an Abyssinian army that was besieging Mecca being destroyed by stones from on high might refer to the impact of microbes, perhaps of smallpox. Stories such as this were anyhow used in the Quran to give lessons, not to teach history.

He even defended Darwin, arguing that natural selection was a device used by God, citing Quran 2:251, which states that “if God had not repelled some men by means of others, the earth would have been corrupted.”


Muhammad Abduh’s first newspaper contributions as Mufti were in Al- Mu’ayyad (“The divinely supported”), then recently established but already one of Egypt’s leading newspapers, edited by his friend Ali Yusuf, a supporter of the khedive.

 In 1900, Al-Mu’ayyad published a translation of an article by Gabriel Hanotaux, a prolific French historian who had served in the French embassy to Istanbul from 1885 to 1886 and as foreign minister from 1894 to 1898.

In an article on French policy toward its North African colonies, Hanotaux had been severely critical of Islam, which he explained in terms of Semitic and Aryan characteristics.

 He considered that it was the Semitic origins of Islam that led to its requirement for a blind submission to predestination, and that made God remote and so made man helpless. It was Islam, he argued, that was ultimately responsible for Arab decadence.

This was a similar argument to that made in 1883 by Renan, who also blamed Arab backwardness on Islam and on the Arab race.

Muhammad Abduh responded to Hanotaux in Al-Mu’ayyad, as Afghani had once responded to Renan in the Journal des débats. Like Afghani, Muhammad Abduh argued against explaining Arab decadence in terms of race and Islam by providing another explanation.

Unlike Afghani, he did not write of the hostility of religion in general to reason, but of the negative impact of Sufism. Also unlike Afghani, he addressed the Semitic/Aryan question directly.

 It was not Islam that had led to decadence, but Sufism, and Sufism was actually of Aryan origin (in this Muhammad Abduh was following theories then generally accepted in Europe, though nowadays mostly rejected). Europe had in fact benefited from contact with Semitic Arab civilization during the middle ages. And predestination was not the problem: the Islamic understanding of predestination was actually more complex than the Christian. Muhammad

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