Read Sir Sayyid’s position on Islam’s conformity with rationalism and Scientifice
By Dr. Tauseef Ahmad Parray
SIR Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) was undoubtedly a multidimensional personality: a pioneer of Islamic modernism, an educational and political activist, a theologian, a journalist and the main organizer of 19th century Islamic reformist thought in the subcontinent. . Recognized as the first Indian Muslim to feel the need and work for a new direction in Islam, Sir Sayyid called for a bold new theology (jadid ilm al kalam) or reinterpretation of Islam. Its contribution is mainly to educational and socio-religious reform.
In the 1960s, Aziz Ahmad (in his Islamic modernism in India and Pakistan) argued that Sir Sayyid’s achievements as a religious thinker in the context of Islamic modernism can be recognized as tackling two largely distinct problems: (i) the rationalization of the minutiae of non-essential dogma” and (ii) ” the liberalization of Islamic law”. As far as the latter is concerned, Sir Sayyid’s work is so dynamic and constructive that it has made an enormous impression on modern Islam in general and Indian Islam in particular. Similarly, Wilfred Cantwell Smith (in his Modern Islam in India) remarked that “the ideas which Sir Sayyid put forward, and the religion which he fashioned, were explicitly and in fact an Islam entirely compatible with progress, liberal and humanitarian morality, and its scientific rationalism”. . This is how the thought and contribution of Sir Sayyid, as a socio-religious reformer, were perceived in the 20e century.
Come directly to 21st century, Dr. Farhan Ahmad Nizami (in his long volume edited by Prof. AR Kidwai, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan: India’s Muslim Renaissance Man) states that Sir Sayyid was “one of the architects of a Muslim intellectual renaissance in India hardly imaginable in the mid-nineteenth century”, for his efforts and contribution as a “scholar, social reformer, theologian, political thinker, journalist , legislator, cultural historian, pioneer of comparative religious studies, advocate of mass education”, and in many other fields. He and his legacy remain relevant even today for many reasons, and one of The main reasons, for Nizami, is that “the problems he faced 150 years ago are, for Muslim communities around the world, as current as they were then, and perhaps even more intractable.
These statements are self-evident regarding the impact, influence and relevance of Sir Sayyid’s scientific and rational thought, both past and present. Against this background and bearing in mind the birthday of this great reformer, this article presents an assessment of Sir Sayyid’s scientific thought, emphasizing his position on the conformity of Islam with rationality and rationalism. and his views on religion-science compatibility and how his scholarship was received by Mulsims and non-Muslims alike.
Sir Sayyid’s position on religion-science compatibility: Is Islam compatible with science? Or is there conformity between reason and revelation? This was one of the fundamental problems encountered and tackled by the Muslim modernists of the 19e century, including Sir Sayyid. In addition to demystifying Koranic interpretation and calling for a renewal ijtihad, one of the crucial and significant themes in Sir Sayyid’s writings was to characterize the congruence between the sacred text and science and reason. A staunch supporter of Religion-Science compatibility, he considered natural law and divine law to be identical, for, he believed, revelation cannot oppose scientific actuality and only an agreement between the word of God and the work is essential. His aim was to eliminate the apparent contradictions between Islamic teachings and science – hence his oft-repeated thesis: “Islam is nature and nature is Islam”. He thus proposed a rule in the event of a perceived conflict between a law of nature and the Koranic verse: the Work (nature) qualifies the Word (verse) of God; that is to say, the Quran as the Word of God cannot conflict and contradict Nature as the Work of God: “There is nothing in the Quran which is in disagreement with the laws of nature.
He advances this thesis as follows: “It would be highly irrational to maintain that the work of God and the word of God are different and unrelated to each other. All beings, including humans, are the work of God, and religion is his word; the two cannot be in conflict”. Thus, he concluded that “Islam is in full conformity with nature” because “Islam is nature and nature is Islam”
Furthermore, Sir Sayyid argued that if we bear in mind the principles deducible from the Quran itself, we will find that there is no contradiction between modern science, on the one hand, and the Quran and Islam, on the other hand.
He also believed that in secular affairs where Islam is silent, Muslims should emulate Western practices. He believed in religious pluralism and found it absurd to believe that the prophets of God appeared only in Arabia and Palestine to reform a handful of Arabs and Jews, and that other peoples were deprived of the knowledge of the divine. It can be considered, as argued by Riffat Hassan (in his chapter on South Asia in Shireen T. Hunter’s Reform voices in Islam) as a pioneer of “interreligious dialogue” because “he worked for greater understanding, goodwill and harmony between Muslim sects and between Muslims and non-Muslims”.
Thus the ideas advanced by him, and the religion fashioned by him, were, to use Smith’s terminology, in fact an Islam entirely compatible with progress and “[Western] scientific rationalism. It will not be an exaggeration to call Sir Sayyid as being, without a doubt, the most rational in his approach and ideas.
At Sir Sayyid’s “Rational interpretation” of Islam and its scholarly reception: Various writings, past and present, have highlighted and appreciated different areas of Sir Sayyid’s thought and activity, social, political, religious, educational and cultural in which he made reforms. But almost all agree that his chief achievement was a revival of the morale and prestige of Muslims in British India, and that it is his credit for restoring the dynamism of Muslims in India. as a socio-political force. Sir Sayyid’s socio-religious reforms of all kinds, which he initiated and introduced, have been highly appreciated, although sometimes criticized (notably by some Ulama) as well. In this context, below is presented a brief summary of the views, praises and appreciations of some of the scholars and writers (Muslim and non-Muslim), revealing both the importance and the relevance of the rational interpretation of Islam by Sir Sayyid and his reformist thinking.
For example, Aziz Ahmad considers his efforts a “dynamic and constructive achievement that made a huge impression on modern Islam.” In the words of Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, Sir Sayyid was one of the most imposing figures in the galaxy of the 19e Muslim reformers of the century, who worked zealously to bring about a change in Muslim thought and behavior and in fact contributed many elements essential to the development of modern Indian society. For Trara Chand, he brought “a revolution in Muslim thought” and Bashir Ahmad Dar (in his Religious Thought of Sayyid Ahmad Khan) regards Sir Sayyid as “the first man in modern India to realize the need for a new interpretation of Islam that is liberal, modern and progressive.
Similarly, Sir Sayyid’s reform efforts, as summarized by Francisn Robinson (in his chapter on South Asia in the 5th volume of The New Cambridge History of Islam), were aimed at molding Muslims capable of operating successfully in the world of Western knowledge and British power”. In his view, Sayyid Ahmad’s achievement was more than just the way to shape Islamic modernism and create the key institution of Muslim higher education; he inspired innovation on a broad front designed to help Muslims embrace modernity, which has been called the Aligarh movement.
It is an undeniable fact that significant and systematic activity introduced by modernists like Sir Sayyid emphasized the need to reinterpret Islamic law through dynamic legal tools (like Ijtihad) and by a rational approach.
In short, it is no exaggeration to say that Sir Sayyid was a true heir to the reformist legacy of Shah Waliullah and one of the pioneers of Islamic modernism. He emphasized, in high terms, socio-religious and intellectual reform and is truly recognized as the initiator of a revolution in Muslim thought, which called for a new theology to meet the challenges and changes modern. Emphasizing a rationalist approach to Islam and religious issues, Sir Sayyid believed that there is no contradiction between the Word of God (Quran) and the Work of God (Nature). True to his rationalist attitude, he stressed the importance of Ijtihad and a rational interpretation of Islamic religious sources and thought, as he believed that both were necessary to make Islam acceptable for the new era, and that Muslims would not understand Islam nor would others appreciate it if presented rationally. He thus proved to be the pioneering representative of Islamic modernism in South Asia who presented a new orientation of Islam and reacted to the modern era.
Note: Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s birthday is October 17, Monday
- Dr. Tauseef Ahmad Parray is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, Govt. Graduated from Sogam College, (Kupwara). Comments to [email protected]
Follow this link to join our WhatsApp group: Join now
Be part of quality journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the difficulties, we still do it. Our journalists and editors work overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what matters to you, tell great stories and expose injustices that can change lives. Today, more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever before, but only a handful are paying as advertising revenue plummets.
CLICK FOR DETAILS