Muḥammad ‘Abduh (1 January 1849 - 11 July 1905) (also spelled Mohammed Abduh, Arabic: محمد عبده) was an Egyptian Islamic jurist, religious scholar and liberal reformer, regarded as the founder of Islamic Modernism sometimes called Neo-Mu’tazilism after the Medieval Islamic Mu’tazilites.
Muhammad Abduh was born in 1849 into a family of peasants in Lower Egypt (i.e. the Nile Delta). He was educated by a private tutor and a reciter of the Qur’an. When he turned thirteen he was sent to the Aḥmadī mosque which was one of the largest educational institutions in Egypt. A while later Abduh ran away from school and got married. He enrolled at al-Azhar University in 1866.
Abduh studied logic, philosophy and Islamic mysticism at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He was a student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani,a philosopher and Muslim religious reformer who advocated Pan-Islamism to resist European colonialism. Under al-Afghani’s influence, Abduh combined journalism, politics, and his own fascination in Islamic mystical spirituality. Al-Afghani taught Abduh about the problems of Egypt and the Islamic world and about the technological achievements of the West.
In 1877, Abduh was granted the degree of ‘Alim (“teacher”) and he started to teach logic, theology and ethics at al-Azhar. In 1878, he was appointed professor of history at Cairo’s teachers’ training college Dar al-Ulum, later incorporated into Cairo University. He was also appointed to teach Arabic at the Khedivial School of Languages.
Abduh was appointed editor and chief of al-Waqāʾiʿ al-Miṣriyya, the official state newspaper. He was dedicated to reforming all aspects of Egyptian society and believed that education was the best way to achieve this goal. He was in favor of a good religious education, which would strengthen a child’s morals, and a scientific education, which would nurture a child’s ability to reason. In his articles he criticized corruption, superstition, and the luxurious lives of the rich.
He was exiled from Egypt by the British in 1882 for six years, for supporting the Egyptian nationalist revolt led by Ahmed Orabi in 1879. He had stated that every society should be allowed to choose a suitable form of government based on its history and its present circumstances.
Abduh spent several years in Ottoman Lebanon, where he helped establish an Islamic educational system. In 1884 he moved to Paris, France where he joined al-Afghani in publishing The Firmest Bond (al-Urwah al-Wuthqa), an Islamic revolutionary journal that promoted anti-British views.
Abduh also visited Britain and discussed the state of Egypt and Sudan with high-ranking officials. In 1885, he returned to Beirut and was surrounded by scholars from different religious backgrounds. During his stay there he dedicated his efforts toward furthering respect and friendship between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
When he returned to Egypt in 1888, Abduh began his legal career. He was appointed judge in the Courts of First Instance of the Native Tribunals and in 1890, he became a consultative member of the Court of Appeal. In 1899, he was appointed Mufti of Egypt, the highest Islamic title, and he held this position until he died.
While he was in Egypt, Abduh founded a religious society, became president of a society for the revival of Arab sciences and worked towards reforming al-Azhar University by putting forth proposals to improve examinations, the curriculum and the working conditions for both professors and students.
He travelled a great deal and met with European scholars in Cambridge and Oxford University. He studied French law and read a great many European and Arab works in the libraries of Vienna and Berlin. The conclusions he drew from his travels were that Muslims suffer from ignorance about their own religion and the despotism of unjust rulers.
Muhammad Abduh died in Alexandria on 11 July 1905. People from all around the world sent their condolences.