In my historical research on the Islamist Entanglement, I have been examining the intellectual undercurrent that runs through Middle Eastern history during the Western Ascendancy of 1683-1839 and subsequent Western Supremacy over the region. It has been a fascinating project, with far greater rewards that I had suspected. Among the most interesting characters I have found on this journey has been an Islamic intellectual named Jamal ad-Din “Al-Afghani.”
Al-Afghani, so called because he claimed Afghan lineage at one point in his life, though historians are quite convinced he was actually of Persian descent, is one of the wellspring intellectuals of modern Islamic reaction against the West.
Jamal ad-Din, known as “Al-Afghani”
Predictably, Al-Afghani’s intellectual work contains primarily denunciations of Western imperialism and various calls to Muslims to build a proper apparatus to match the West’s superior power, such as through the creation of a Pan-Islamic union. As a reactionary and Pan-Islamist, Al-Afghani occupies a unique place in the intellectual history of Islam as a mentor of key Islamists, such as the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and through them to Osama Bin Laden.
It is thus especially surprising to find in his writings passages that would thrill the most rational among us and show incredible insight into reality. For instance:
“It is philosophy that makes man understandable to man, explains human nobility, and shows man the proper road. The first defect appearing in any nation that is headed toward decline is in the philosophic spirit. After that deficiencies spread into the other sciences, arts, and associations.”
What is so striking about this statement is that it is true and profoundly insightful, especially when you consider that Al-Afghani would have learned about scientific history from the West when the science of history was devolving into Marxist materialism and Rankean antiquarianism. How many modern Western philosophers uphold such a conviction?
Why does philosophy have such power? Al-Afghani explains:
“Philosophy is the escape from the narrow sensations of animality into the wide arena of human feelings…In general, it is man’s becoming man and living the life of sacred rationality. Its aim is human perfection in reason, mind, soul, and way of life….It is the foremost cause of the production of knowledge, the creation of sciences, the invention of industries, and the initiation of the crafts.” (emphasis mine)
This are some of the most eloquent passages I’ve read from any philosopher, including Nietzsche (when he’s exalting the individual) and Ayn Rand.
If only these were the answers Al-Afghani had stuck with, and the message he had transmitted exclusively to his progeny!