Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (Persian: سید
جمالالدین افغانی), also known as Sayyid
Jamāl ad-Dīn Asadābādī (Persian: سید
جمالالدین اسدآبادی) and commonly known
as Al-Afghani (1838/1839 – 9 March 1897), was a political activist
and Islamic ideologist in the
Muslim world during the late 19th
century, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. One
of the founders of Islamic Modernism and an advocate of
Pan-Islamic unity, he has been described as being less interested
in minor differences in Islamic jurisprudence than he was in
Muslim response to Western pressure.
1 Early life and origin
2 Political activism
3 Political and religious views
4 Death and legacy
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Early life and origin
As indicated by his nisba, al-Afghani claimed to be of Afghan origin.
His true national and sectarian background have been a subject of
controversy. According to one theory and his own account, he was
born in Asadābād, near Kabul, in
Afghanistan. Another theory, championed by
Nikki R. Keddie
Nikki R. Keddie and accepted by a number of modern scholars, holds
that he was born and raised in a Shia family in Asadabad, near
Hamadan, in Iran. Supporters of the latter
theory view his claim to an Afghan origin as motivated by a desire to
gain influence among Sunni Muslims or escape oppression
by the Iranian ruler Nāṣer ud-Dīn Shāh. One of his main
rivals, the sheikh Abū l-Hudā, called him Mutaʾafghin ("the one who
claims to be Afghan") and tried to expose his Shia roots. Keddie
also asserts that al-Afghānī used and practiced taqīa and ketmān,
ideas more prevalent in the Iranian Shiʿite world.
He was educated first at home and then taken by his father for further
education to Qazvin, to Tehran, and finally, while he was still a
youth, to the Shi'a shrine cities in present-day
Iraq (then-part of
Ottoman Empire). It is thought that followers of Shia revivalist
Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa'i
Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa'i had an influence on him. Other names adopted
by Al-Afghani were al-Kābulī ("[the one] from Kabul") Asadabadi,
Sadat-e Kunar ("Sayyids of Kunar") and Hussain.[self-published
source] Especially in his writings published in Afghanistan, he also
used the pseudonym ar-Rūmī ("the Roman" or "the Anatolian").
At the age of 17 or 18 in 1855–56, Al-Afghani travelled to British
India and spent a number of years there studying religions. In 1859, a
British spy reported that Al-Afghani was a possible Russian agent. The
British representatives reported that he wore traditional cloths of
Noghai Turks in Central Asia and spoke Persian,
Arabic and Turkish
language fluently. After this first Indian tour, he decided to
Hajj or pilgrimage at Mecca. His first documents are dated
from Autumn of 1865, where he mentions leaving the "revered place"
(makān-i musharraf) and arriving in
Tehran around mid-December of the
same year. In the spring of 1866 he left Iran for Afghanistan, passing
Mashad and Herat.
After the Indian stay, all sources have Afghānī next take a
leisurely trip to Mecca, stopping at several points along the way.
Both the standard biography and Lutfallāh's account take Afghānī's
word that he entered Afghan government service before 1863, but since
Afghanistan show that he arrived there only in 1866, we
are left with several years unaccounted for. The most probably
supposition seems to be that he may spent longer in India than he
later said, and that after going to
Mecca he travelled elsewhere in
the Ottoman Empire. When he arrived in
Afghanistan in 1866 he claimed
to be from Constantinople, and he might not have made this claim if he
had never even seen the city, and could be caught in ignorance of
— Nikki R. Keddie, 1983
He was spotted in
Afghanistan in 1866 and spent time in Qandahar,
Ghazni, and Kabul. He became a counsellor to the King Dost Mohammad
Khan (who died, however, on 9 June 1863) and later to Mohammad Azam.
At that time he encouraged the king to oppose the British but turn to
the Russians. However, he did not encourage Mohammad Azam to any
reformist ideologies that later were attributed to Al-Afghani. Reports
from the colonial British Indian and Afghan government stated that he
was a stranger in Afghanistan, and spoke the Dari language with
Iranian accent and followed European lifestyle more than that of
Muslims, not observing
Ramadan or other
Muslim rites. In 1868, the
Kabul was occupied by Sher Ali Khan, and Al-Afghani was
forced to leave the country.
He travelled to Constantinople, passing through
Cairo on his way
there. He stayed in
Cairo long enough to meet a young student who
would become a devoted disciple of his, Muhammad 'Abduh. He
entered Star of East Masonic Lodge on 7 July 1868 while staying in
Cairo. His membership number was 1355. He also founded the Masonic
Cairo and became first Grand Master of it. He had been
excluded from the Scottish Masonic Lodge due to accusations of atheism
and he joined the French Grand Orient and became Grand Master of it.
In 1871, Al-Afghani moved to Egypt and began preaching his ideas of
political reform. His ideas were considered radical, and he was exiled
in 1879. He then travelled to Constantinople, London, Paris, Moscow,
St. Petersburg and Munich.
In 1884, he began publishing an
Arabic newspaper in Paris entitled
al-Urwah al-Wuthqa ("The Indissoluble Link") with Muhammad Abduh;
the title (Arabic: العروة الوثقى), sometimes translated as
"The Strongest Bond", is taken from the
Quran – chapter 2, verse
256. The newspaper called for a return to the original principles
and ideals of Islam, and for greater unity among Islamic peoples. He
argued that this would allow the Islamic community to regain its
former strength against European powers.
Al-Afghani was invited by Shah Nasser ad-Din to come to Iran and
advise on affairs of government, but fell from favour quite quickly
and had to take sanctuary in a shrine near Tehran. After seven months
of preaching to admirers from the shrine, he was arrested in 1891,
transported to the border with Ottoman Mesopotamia, and evicted from
Iran. Although Al-Afghani quarrelled with most of his patrons, it is
said he "reserved his strongest hatred for the Shah," whom he accused
Islam by granting concessions to Europeans and
squandering the money earned thereby. His agitation against the Shah
is thought to have been one of the "fountain-heads" of the successful
1891 protest against the granting a tobacco monopoly to a British
company, and the later 1905 Constitutional Revolution.
Political and religious views
Al-Afghani's ideology has been described as a welding of "traditional"
religious antipathy toward non-Muslims "to a modern critique of
Western imperialism and an appeal for the unity of Islam", urging the
adoption of Western sciences and institutions that might strengthen
Although called a liberal by the contemporary English admirer, Wilfrid
Scawen Blunt, Jamal ad-Din did not advocate constitutional
government. In the volumes of the newspaper he published in Paris,
"there is no word in the paper's theoretical articles favoring
political democracy or parliamentarianism," according to his
biographer. Jamal ad-Din simply envisioned "the overthrow of
individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their
replacement by strong and patriotic men."
According to another source Al-Afghani was greatly disappointed by the
failure of the
Indian Mutiny and came to three principal conclusions
that European imperialism, having conquered India, now threatened the
that Asia, including the Middle East, could prevent the onslaught of
Western powers only by immediately adopting the modern technology like
and that Islam, despite its traditionalism, was an effective creed for
mobilizing the public against the imperialists.
He believed that
Islam and its revealed law were compatible with
rationality and, thus, Muslims could become politically unified while
still maintaining their faith based on a religious social morality.
These beliefs had a profound effect on Muhammad Abduh, who went on to
expand on the notion of using rationality in the human relations
In 1881 he published a collection of polemics titled Al-Radd 'ala
al-Dahriyyi (Refutation of the Materialists), agitating for
pan-Islamic unity against Western imperialism. It included one of the
earliest pieces of Islamic thought arguing against Darwin's
then-recent On the Origin of Species; however, his arguments allegedly
incorrectly caricatured evolution, provoking criticism that he had not
read Darwin's writings. In his later work Khatirat Jamal ad-Din
al-Afghani ("The memoir of Al-Afghani"), he accepted the validity of
evolution, asserting that the Islamic world had already known and used
it. Although he accepted abiogenesis and the evolution of animals, he
rejected the theory that the human species is the product of
evolution, arguing that humans have souls.
Among the reasons why Al-Afghani was thought to have had a less than
deep religious faith was his lack of interest in finding
theologically common ground between Shia and Sunni (despite the fact
that he was very interested in political unity between the two
groups). For example, when he moved to Istanbul he disguised his
Shi'i background by labeling himself "the Afghan".
Death and legacy
Asad Abadi Square in Tehran, Iran
Sayed Jamal al-Din Afghan's tomb in
Kabul University, Kabul,
He was invited by
Abdulhamid II in 1892. He went to Istanbul with
diplomatic immunity from the British Embassy which raised many
eyebrows, but nevertheless was granted a house and salary by the
Sultan. Abdulhamid II's aim was using Afghani for Pan Islamism
propagation. Al-Afghani died of throat cancer on 9 March 1897 in
Istanbul and was buried there. In late 1944, due to the request of the
Afghan government, his remains were taken to
Afghanistan and laid in
Kabul inside the
Kabul University; a mausoleum was erected for him
In Afghanistan, a university is named after him (Syed Jamaluddin
Afghan University) in Kabul. There is also street in the center of
Kabul which is called by the name Afghani. In other parts of
Afghanistan, there are many places like hospitals, schools, Madrasas,
Parks, and roads named Jamaluddin Afghan.
In Tehran, the capital of Iran, there is a square and a street named
after him (Asad Abadi Square and "Asad Abadi Avenue" in Yusef Abad)
Sayyid Jamāl-ad-Dīn al-Afghānī:", Continued the statement in the
history of Afghans Egypt, original in Arabic: تتمة البيان
في تاريخ الأفغان Tatimmat al-bayan fi tarikh al-Afghan,
1901 ( Mesr, 1318 Islamic lunar year (calendar)
Sayyid Jamāl-ad-Dīn al-Afghānī: Brochure about Naturalism or
materialism, original in Dari language : رساله نیچریه
(Ressalah e Natscheria) translator of
Muhammad Abduh in Arabic.
^ a b c d e f Nikki R. Keddie, Ibrahim Kalin (2014). "Afghānī,
Jamāl al-Dīn". In Ibrahim Kalin. The Oxford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam. Oxford: Oxford
University Press. (Subscription required (help)).
al-Dīn al-Afghānī [...] Two competing theories have been proposed
about Afghānī’s place of birth; questions regarding his
nationality and sect have become a source of long-standing
controversy. Those who claim that he was Persian and Shīʿī argue
that he was born in Hemedan, Iran. There is little evidence to prove
this claim, other than the fact that Afghānī’s father spent some
time in Iran and that Afghānī was well-versed in traditional Islamic
philosophy. The other theory holds that he was born in a village
called Asadābād near Kabul, Afghanistan.
^ a b c d e f g I. GOLDZIHER-[J. JOMIER], "DJAMAL AL-DIN AL-AFGHANI".
Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill, 2nd ed., 1991, Vol. 2. p. 417. Quote:
"DJAMAL AL-DlN AL-AFGHANl, AL-SAYYID MUHAMMAD B. SAFDAR [...]
According to his own account he was born at As`adabad near Konar, to
the east and in the district of
Kabul (Afghanistan) in 1254/1838-9 to
a family of the Hanafi school. However, Shi'i writings give his place
of birth as Asadabad near
Hamadan in Persia; this version claims that
he pretended to be of Afghan nationality, in order to escape the
despotic power of Persia."
^ a b c d e Nikki R. Keddie, Nael Shama (2014). "Afghānī, Jamāl
al-Dīn al-". In Oliver Leaman. The Oxford Encyclopedia of
Politics. Oxford University Press. (Subscription required (help)).
Despite his claim to Afghan origin—whence his name—overwhelming
evidence shows that al-Afghānī was born and raised in Iran of a
Shīʿī family. [...] Sunnī Muslims are often reluctant to admit
that al-Afghānī was raised in
Nizari Shīʿī Iran. Al-Afghānī
apparently feared the repercussions of an Iranian identification.
Moreover, he knew he would have less influence in the Sunnī world if
he were thought to be from Shīʿī Iran.
^ a b Nikki R. Keddie, Nael Shama (2014). "Afghānī, Jamāl al-Dīn
al-". In Oliver Leaman. The Oxford Encyclopedia of
Islam and Politics.
Oxford University Press. (Subscription required (help)). In 1897
al-Afghānī died of cancer of the jaw. No evidence supports the story
that he was poisoned by the sultan. In 1944, his remains were
transferred to Kabul, Afghanistan, and a mausoleum was erected
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Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī
Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī -
Muslim journalist and
^ N. R. Keddie, «
Sayyid Jamal ad-Din "al-Afghani": A Political
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Seyyed Jamaluddin Afghani
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was called a
Seyyed because his family claimed descent from the family
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