Muhammad Abduh

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Muhammad Abduh at a young age

Muhammad Abduh , Egyptian-Arabic Mohamed Abdou ( Arabic محمد عبده Muḥammad ʿAbduh ; * 1849 in the Nile Delta ; † July 11, 1905 in Alexandria ), was an Egyptian journalist , religious and legal scholar whopursued pan-Islamic goals and was one of the most important representatives of the Islamic reform movement. From 1899 to 1905 he held the office of Grand Mufti of Egypt . His most important contribution to the Islamic reform movement was to convey the view of Islam as a rational religion that does not have to be in contradiction to modern developments such as science and technology.


Early years in Egypt

Muhammad Abduh grew up in a farming family from Lower Egypt. Before he studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo in 1866 , he attended a secondary school and a madrasa , where he came into contact with the mystical teachings of the Sufis through his uncle Sheikh Darwish.

In 1870 he met Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani , who gave him a new perspective on the traditional teaching content. From him he took the point of view that Muslims at the present time have distanced themselves from true Islam and must therefore admit growing defeats towards the West. He was also introduced to European literature, philosophy , theology and sciences and learned through him to recognize technical and scientific progress in the West, while the Western way of life is to be rejected for the Islamic world. Stimulated by his teacher and by reading Western literature, Abduh's view of the current political and social problems in Egypt changed. It became his goal to lead Egypt into the modern age through higher education and properly lived religiosity.

In 1876 he completed his studies with the title of scholar and then taught - often as a private teacher - logic , theology , ethics and politics . In 1878 he became a history professor at the Dar al-ulum University (Arabic: "House of Sciences") and later professor of Arabic at another university. Abduh also worked as a journalist, wrote a. a. for the newspaper al-Ahrām , in which he called for educational reforms and for the learning of modern science and humanities.

In 1879 he went into exile for a short time , forced because of his resistance to a foreign government. A year later he was allowed to return and became editor of the official government newspaper , al-Waqāʾiʿ al-Miṣriyya . Under his leadership, the newspaper became the mouthpiece of reformist ideas, which also propagated the liberation of Muslims from European hegemony and the renewal of Islam on its own. At the same time he became a censor of all Egyptian media.


In 1882 he sided with the opposition in a nationalist uprising against the government and was forced to leave Egypt. Via Beirut he reached Paris in 1884 , where he met his old teacher Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani . Together they began to publish the reformist magazine al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqā . In the magazine, which was immediately banned by British government officials in Egypt and India, both called on Muslims to unite under their religion against foreign rule and to find their way back to the true religion of the pious forefathers ( as-salaf as-salih ) . In 1884 ʿAbduh traveled to Tunis .


At the beginning of 1885 ʿAbduh returned to Beirut , where he initially gave private lectures on the life of the Prophet and the interpretation of the Koran. In late 1885 he was appointed teacher at the Sultānīya Madrasa. Here he translated al-Afghānīs writing against the Dahrīya and prepared a commentary on Nahdj al-Balāgha , a collection of speeches, letters and sayings by ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib . In Beirut he also wrote his possibly most important work, the "Treatise on the Confession of Unity " ( Risālat al-tauḥīd ).

Return to Egypt

Muhammad Abduh

In 1889 ʿAbduh returned to Cairo . There he found a job as a Qādī . In 1897, together with the younger Syrian scholar Raschīd Ridā, he founded the magazine al-Manār (the lighthouse), which advocated overcoming the Madhhab antagonisms among Muslims and, like al-ʿUrwa al-wuthqā, developed an international reputation . In 1898, in this magazine, he brought up the idea of holding an all-Islamic congress in Mecca under the leadership of Amīr al-muʾminīn Abdülhamid II , which should have a branch in every country as a permanent institution.

The appointment as Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1899 was a great honor for Abduh. He held this office until his death in 1905. In his role as Grand Mufti, he also wrote a number of theological , legal and philological writings and also began work on a comprehensive commentary on the Koran , which was also published in a magazine. This comment sparked a storm of indignation and resentment from other scholars.

Muhammad Abduh died in Egypt on July 11, 1905.


Throughout his life, Abduh advocated the synthesis of Western ideas and Muslim ideas. Although he is considered a modernist by many of today's Salafists , he promoted the idea of Salafiyya , i.e. H. the return to the exemplary way of life of the Islamic ancestors. He can therefore be seen as an important thinker in the Salafist movement itself. His theological thinking was characterized by the effort to prove the fundamental compatibility of revelation and reason.

Abduh continued the teaching of his tutor Jamal al-Din al-Afghanis , taking up his belief that Islam is not an obstacle to modern development, technology and science. Abduh was convinced that Islam even had the best prerequisites for modernity - traditionalists and orthodoxy, especially in the conservative al-Azhar University , in his view conveyed an outdated and sometimes wrong version of Islam. Throughout his life, Abduh therefore mainly campaigned for educational institutions in which a new religious view was to be taught, which could not be realized until his death.

He attributed the general weakness of the Muslims of his time to two problems: (1) ignorance of one's own religion or wrong belief; (2) Despotism of the Muslim rulers. In his opinion, these central problems could only be solved by a return to the “true religion” ( aṣl al-dīn al-islāmī ), above all through improved educational systems and a modernization of old interpretations of religious orthodoxy . He refused to accept the interpretations and consensus of previous generations of legal scholars as the only true interpretation of questions of faith, as well as the blind imitation of previous generations ( taqlid ). His critical attitude towards the blind belief in authority, however, came up against a limit when it came to the authority of the Koran. He said that in the event of contradictions between Koranic statements and non-Koranic histories, only the Koran should be believed.

He rejected some traditional prohibitions such as the wearing of European hats ("Transvaal Fatwa"), as did polygyny . Although he was liberal in many ways towards women, he did not want to give women political power.

Abduh's most important disciple was Rashīd Ridā . While the latter took a conservative path, Ali Abd Ar-Raziq developed Abduh's approaches in a secularist direction.

See also


  • Muhammad Abduh: The theology of Unity . Translated by Ishaq Masa'ad and Kenneth Cragg. Allen & Unwin, London 1966
  • Humans or mules? Muhammad Abduh in conversation with Lord Hartington , the British Minister of War. In Andreas Meier, Ed .: Political currents in modern Islam. Sources and Comments. Federal Agency for Civic Education , BpB, Bonn 1995 ISBN 3893312390 ; and Peter Hammer Verlag , Wuppertal 1995, ISBN 3872947249 , pp. 45-50
  • Bismarck and the religion, in Andreas Meier, Hg .: The political order of Islam. Programs and Criticism between Fundamentalism and Reforms. Original voices from the Islamic world. Peter Hammer, Wuppertal 1994, ISBN 3872946161 , pp. 90–94 (original: year 1900. German only in this edition)
  • Charles C. Adams: Islam and modernism in Egypt. A Study of the Modern Reform Movement Inaugurated by Muhammad Abduh , American University at Cairo, Cairo 1933 ( digitized version )
  • ʿAbdelḥamīd Muḥammad Aḥmad: The dispute between al-Azhar and the modernist movement in Egypt from Muhammad Abduh to the present. Hamburg 1963
  • Antony Black: The History of Islamic Political Thought . Routledge, New York 2001, ISBN 0-415-93243-2
  • Carl Brockelmann: History of Arabic Literature. Supplement Volume III . EJ Brill, Leiden, 1942. pp. 315-321.
  • Thomas Hildebrandt: Were Ǧamāl ad-Dīn al-Afġānī and Muḥammad ʿAbduh Neo-Muʿtazilites? , in: Welt des Islams 42 (2002) 207-262
  • Elie Kedourie : Afghani and 'Abduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activism in Modern Islam. Frank Cass, London 1997.
  • Andreas HE Kemke: Foundations in the Muslim legal life of modern Egypt. The shari'at law reports by Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905) on the waqf. Frankfurt 1991
  • Anke von Kügelgen: Averroes and Arab Modernism. Leiden 1994
  • Christopher Radler: A biography as a political tool. Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) and the rebellion of Ahmad Urabi in the reception of Tahir at-Tanahi (Mudakkirat al-Imam Muhammad Abduh) . Berlin 2010. ISBN 978-3-87997-375-0
  • William Montgomery Watt : Islamic Philosophy and Theology . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 1985, ISBN 0-7486-0749-8 .
  • Rotraud Wielandt: Revelation and history in the thinking of modern Muslims . Wiesbaden 1971, pp. 49-72

Web links

  • Stephan Conermann: Abduh, Muhammad , Lexicon article in: Ralf Elger and Friederike Stolleis (eds.): Kleines Islam-Lexikon. History - everyday life - culture. Munich: 5th, updated and expanded edition 2008. Available from the Federal Agency for Civic Education.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Definition according to Anke von Kügelgen: Abduh, Muḥammad. Encyclopaedia of Islam , THREE. Edited by: Gudrun Krämer , Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson.
  2. ^ Muhammad Zaki Badawi: The reformers of Egypt. London: Croom Helmet, c1978
  3. a b c d e Kügelgen, Anke von. "ʿAbduh, Muḥammad." Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Edited by: Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson. Brill, 2008
  4. a b Kedourie, E. (1997). Afghani and 'Abduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activism in Modern Islam, London: Frank Cass
  5. Cf. Brockelmann: History of Arabic Literature . 1942, Vol. III, p. 317.
  6. See Martin Kramer: Islam assembled. The Advent of the Muslim Congress. New York: Columbia Press 1986. pp. 27-30.
  7. Mustafa, Imad (2013): Political Islam. Between the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah. Vienna: Promedia. P. 26f.
  8. Cf. Wielandt 51f.
  9. ^ Voll (JO) .: "Abduh and the Transvaal fatwa: the neglected question." In: . In: T. Sonn. (Ed.): Islam and the question of minorities. Atlanta, (1996), pp. 27-39. (South Florida - Rochester - Saint-Louis - Studies on Religion and the Social Order, 14) .
  10. ^ This edition also as a special edition of the state center for political education North Rhine-Westphalia with the same ISBN. Abridged versions of dsb., The Political Mission of Islam. Programs and Criticism between Fundamentalism and Reforms. Original voices from the Islamic world. Peter Hammer, Wuppertal 1994, there pp. 84–90. With a longer preliminary remark on the person of Abduh