1. A Critical Comparison of the Positions of Sayyid Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh against that of Sayyid Qutb Regarding Knowledge, Islamic Law and Science.
Sayyid Al-Afghani and Sayyid Qutb represents two distinct schools of Islam. While Al-Afghani’s time was way before Qutb’s, it is rather ironical that the latter of the two men held the more fundamentalist beliefs on Islam. In fact, Qutb is regarded as one of the most important figures in the advancement of Islamic fundamentalist belief, while Al-Afghani is viewed by many as the founding father of Islamic modernism.
Being a fundamentalist, the views of Sayyid Qutb regarding knowledge, Islamic law and science are all centered on the Quran. Qutb expressed a strong belief that man should not rely on himself to be the sole source of knowledge. He was especially antagonistic towards the sciences as a source of knowledge, instead pushing for the acceptance of the supernatural or the imperceptible as elements from which man might gain knowledge. He held that belief in matters that cannot be seen was an important sign of man's ability to accept knowledge from fields outside of science. Similarly, he was a major driving force in the islamization of knowledge, hoping to synthesize the ethics of Islam intoa number of fields of modern thought. This would ideally result in a new ijma(consensus) among Muslims on afittingfiqh (jurisprudence) and a triumphof Islamic ethical norms over modern legal systems and scientific thought. Qutb was also a major proponent of sharia law, proclaiming it as the only solution to the abuses and injustices of his time.
On the other hand, the beliefs of Sayyid Al-Afghani and his student Muhammad Abduh vary greatly from those of Qutb. Al-Afghani, in a letter to the Journal des Débats, concurs with the thought of Ernest Renan, a French philosopher, that religion (including Islam)acts as an obstacle for the advancement of science and philosophy. Al-Afghani confesses that in essence, all religions are prejudicedagainst true knowledge and that they subdue the “free investigation” of scientific and philosophical truth. His beliefs were shared by Muhammad Abduh, whose similar exposure to the European world and its development convinced him that just as the power and development he had witnessed in the Western worldthrived on the knowledge of modern science and technology, so would it bring great things to theIslamic states of the Middle East if they adopted it. Al-Afghani also believed that Islam and its sharia law were compatible with rational Western thought.As such, Muslims had a chance to be politically unified under modern law while remaining Muslims. Again, these beliefs were shared by Muhammad Abduh, who furtheradvanced the concept of applying rational thought in the human relations aspect of Islam (mu'amalat).
Similar to Sayyid Al-Afghani and Sayyid Qutb, Ali Abd Al-Raziq and Ruhollah Khomeini represent two very distinct belief systems in the application of Islam to politics and the affairs of the state. While Ruhollah Khomeini strongly believed in the integration of Islam into management of the state, which he executed extensively as he founded the Islamic Republic of Iran and served as its Grand Ayatollah, Ali Abd Al-Raziq, an Egyptian scholar, resisted this line of thought, insisting that religion and politics were completely independent of each other.
Before partaking in a revolution in Iran and ascending to the position of supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini was a major opponent of the Shah of Iran and his style of government. Khomeini envisioned a theocratic Islamic republic where the state would be managed through sharia law and the country’s politics would run through a strict adherence to the Quran. Upon rising to become Ayatollah, Khomeini implemented this ideology, instituting a Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (velayat-e faqih), who would run the state. Khomeini’s ideology essentially signaled the end of secularist politics in Iran, blurring the line between politics and religion.
Conversely, Ali Abd Al-Raziq was a firm opponent of this ideology. Al-Raziq, in his teachings, continuously justified political secularism through Islamic means. He insisted that Islam is “a religion, not a state; a message, not a government”. He espoused the separation of matters of religion from matters of the state, perhaps reflecting the concept of separation of church and state that is advanced by Western democracies. In response, the notion of an Islamic state allegedly suggested by the Quran that is advanced by many Islamic scholars, Al-Raziq suggests that the idea of a universal Islamic caliphate should be considered a human innovation, rather than a religious imperative. He alleges that other scholars simply choose to interpret the holy book as implying the existence of this caliphate rather than objectively deducing it actually says. Al-Raziq’s work deconstructs the oft-advanced belief that religious and political spheres are intertwined and inseparable in Islam. While the thoughts put forward by Al-Raziq have been challenged by many Islamic scholars as being foreign ideas influenced by Western-leaning his tendencies, it is clear that his arguments are firmly supported by the Quran and many reputable Islamic scholars before him.