During the last thirteen centuries, whenever the world of Islam was plunged in the darkness of decadence, an outstanding personality emerged, who, by his illuminating achievements, dispelled the gloom encompassing it. One such personality was Jamaluddin Afghani, the harbinger of Muslim Renaissance in the 19th century. Being a wandering missionary, a versatile genius, an intellectual and an orator of the highest calibre, he brought about a universal awakening throughout the world of Islam. He moved about in the capitals of Muslim countries—lecturing, discussing and writing about his mission to bring about the unity of Muslims, leaving behind him a band of zealous workers, who continued his work even after his death. Several movements of religious revival and social reform owe their origin to Afghani and were started by his disciples who were deeply influenced by him.
In fact, no other person has influenced the 19th century Islam more profoundly than him. Another great thinker of the East, Dr Iqbal, pays glowing tributes to Jamaluddin Afghani when he says: `A perfect master of nearly all the Muslim languages of the world and endowed with the most winning eloquence, his restless soul migrated from one Muslim country to another, influencing some of the most prominent men in Iran, Egypt and Turkey. Some of the greatest theologians of our time, such as Mufti Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, were his disciples. He wrote a little, spoke much and thereby transformed into miniature Jamaluddins all those who came into contact with him… He never claimed to be a prophet or a renewer; yet no man in our time has stirred the soul of Islam more deeply than him. His spirit is still working in the world of Islam and no one knows where it will end.’
Syed Jamaluddin was born in 1838 at Asadabad (Afghanistan). His father Syed Safdar, a descendent of Syed Ali Al-Tirmizi, later migrated and settled in Kabul . Even at the early age of eight years, Jamaluddin exhibited extraordinary intelligence. Before he was 18, he was well versed in almost all the branches of Islamic learning including philosophy, jurisprudence, history, metaphysics, mathematics, medicine, sciences, mysticism, astronomy and astrology. His learning was encyclopaedic and his genius was versatile.
Having equipped himself thoroughly in diverse branches of western and oriental learning, he set out on his sacred mission of bringing about an awakening in the decaying world of Islam. He entered India when he was hardly 18 and roamed about in this country for more than a year, influencing those who came into contact with him. At this time, India was passing through a critical period of her history. It was a lull before the storm. The fire of native hatred against the tyrannical alien rule which had installed itself as the supreme power in the country through intrigues and conspiracies was smouldering slowly and at last burst forth in May, 1857 in the form of the first war of independence, in which the Indians made a united effort to throw off the alien yoke. At this time, when the storm of revolt had engulfed northern India . Jamaluddin Afghani was in Makkah, where he had gone for pilgrimage.
After perfoming Haj, he went to Kabul. Here he was welcomed by the Afghan ruler, Dost Muhammad, who bestowed upon him an exalted position in his government. He wielded much influence both among the Afghan intelligentsia and the masses. On the death of his patron, the throne of Kabul was occupied by Sher Ali who did not like the progressive ideas of Jamaluddin. He was, therefore, forced to leave Kabul.
Leaving Kabul, he proceeded again to Hejaz to perform the Holy Pilgrimage. He was not allowed to take the overland route via Persia. He had to travel through India. In 1869, when he entered India for the second time, he was honourably received by the government. But he was not allowed to meet the Indian leaders, except under the strict eyes of the government of India. The alien government which had a bitter taste of the national upheaval in 1857 was afraid of his revolutionary progressive ideas, and soon he was despatched in a government ship to Suez. After a stay of about eight years in Egypt, Jamaludin Afghani left Cairo in March, 1879, and arrived in Hyderabad Deccan ( India ). Here he worte his famous treatise, “Refutation of the Materialists”, which created a stir in the materialistic world.
It was through his influence that the Muslims in Russia were permitted to print the Holy Quran and other religious books, whose publication was earlier banned in Czarist Russia. Here, in St. Petersburg, he met Shah Nasiruddin Qachar, the ruler of Persia. A little later, the Shah met Syed Jamaluddin in Munich, Germany, for the second time. He was so much impressed with his dynamic personality that he offered him the exalted position of Prime Ministership of Persia. The Syed hesitated, but yielded due to the extreme persuation of the Shah.
But Jamaluddin Aafghani was not destined to live long. He had an attack of cancer of the jaw in 1896 and died on March 9, 1897. He was buried with great honour in the Sheikh’s cemetery near Nishan Tash. Thus ended one of the most dynamic personalities of the age—one who made kings tremble.
Jamaluddin Afghani was a great Muslim revolutionary and reformer who aimed at the unity of Muslim people all over the world. He wanted to make Islam a great force in the world. The imperialists, whose interest lay in the division of the world of Islam, were always conspiring against him and did not allow him the peaceful propagation of his mission. But the magnetic personality of Jamaluddin Afghani, his versatile genius, his sincerity and eloquence, deeply stirred those who came into contact with him and gave birth to nationalist and progressive movements in several Muslim countries.