In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Muhammad 'Abduh

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Life of Muhammad ʿAbduh
  • Translations
  • Muhammad ʿAbduh and Rashid Rida
  • Influence of Muhammad ʿAbduh

Islamic Studies Muhammad 'Abduh
Sukidi Mulyadi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0001


Muhammad ʿAbduh (b. 1849–d. 1905) was a chief reformer in the movement of Islamic reform that sprang from Egypt in the late 19th century. He engaged in reform in a time when Muslim society was in a period of stagnation and decline. A great reformer, ʿAbduh is presented in many different images. He is sometimes praised for being a humanist reformer who offered an ethical, social, and humanistic interpretation of Islam. His humanistic approach to Islamic reform was grounded on a belief that Islam is a religion that constitutes a set of moral virtues and an ethical system relevant to the construction of an idealized just society. Others portray him as a liberal reformer who offered a liberal and modern interpretation of Islam. Reformed Islam in the liberal mind is equally compatible with human reason, progress, and liberty. It strikes some readers that ʿAbduh, along with his great mentor Jamal al-Din “al-Afghani” (b. 1838–d. 1897), was nothing more than an unbeliever who manipulated the project of Islamic reform for political objectives. For some, however, ʿAbduh was neither a humanist nor a liberal reformer nor an unbeliever. In this view, he was an authentic religious reformer, chiefly driven by theological considerations. His arguments for Islamic reform were firmly grounded within the Islamic discursive tradition that allows for a critical mode of human reasoning (ijtihād), as distinguished from one opposed to unreasoned acceptance of established religious authority (taqlīd).

General Overviews

A concise presentation of ʿAbduh’s humanistic interpretation of Islamic reform is given in Vatikiotis 1957. A general presentation of liberal and modernist trends in ʿAbduh’s movement for Islamic reform is found in Gibb 1947, Hourani 1983, and Rahman 1979. Haddad 1994 portrays ʿAbduh as a “pioneer of Islamic reform” who addresses the challenges of his time and lays a great emphasis on the thematic projects of Islamic reform. Adams 1933 provides a more detailed analysis of ʿAbduh’s life, his thoughts, and his religious characters of Islamic reform, while Haj 2009 puts ʿAbduh’s project of Islamic reform within the intellectual genealogy of the revival/reform (tajdīd/iṣlaḥ) movement in the 19th century. Kedourie 1966 calls into question the political and religious careers of al-Afghani and ʿAbduh as Muslim reformers and argues instead for their chief characters of religious unbelief.

  • Adams, Charles C. Islam and Modernism in Egypt: A Study of Modern Reform Movement Inaugurated by Muhammad ʿAbduh. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933.

    A well-informed study of ʿAbduh’s views and activities as a Muslim reformer. Contains a brief overview of ʿAbduh’s chief mentor, Jamal al-Din “al-Afghani” (Iran, b. 1838–d. 1897), and chief disciple, Rashid Rida (Syria, b. 1865–d. 1935).

  • Gibb, H. A. R. Modern Trends in Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947.

    A modern classic text that puts ʿAbduh’s movement for reform in the historical context of modernist Islam. ʿAbduh’s program for reform comprises four themes: (1) the purification of Islam, (2) the reformation of Islamic higher education, (3) the reformulation of Islam in light of modernist thought, and (4) the defense of Islam against European attacks.

  • Haddad, Yvonne. “Muhammad Abduh: Pioneer of Islamic Reform.” In Pioneers of Islamic Revival. Edited by Ali Rahnema, 30–63. London and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books, 1994.

    This volume presents a collection of articles that provides an ideal introduction to the nine pioneers of Islamic revival and reform that left a deep impact on the modern Islamic world. Haddad’s essay offers an overview of ʿAbduh’s life, his sociopolitical milieu, his brilliant observation on the internal and external challenges, and his reform project.

  • Haj, Samira. Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

    A comparative study of the two Muslim reformers—Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muḥammad ʿAbduh—and their arguments for Islamic reform. Their reformist ideas are understood, interpreted, and evaluated “in terms of the manner in which they engage with and speak from a historically extended, socially embodied set of arguments that have their own internal standard of rational coherence.”

  • Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    A seminal work that presents a wide-ranging survey of the thoughts of Arab thinkers from the first generations, such as al-Tahtawi to Taha Husayn. Taking the history of thought as his method, Hourani pays close attention to what ʿAbduh wrote and thought on the discourse of reform and links his reformist thought to circumstances in which ‘Abduh lived and grew up. First published in 1962.

  • Kedourie, Elie. Afghani and ʿAbduh: An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activisms in Modern Islam. London: Frank Cass, 1966.

    A critical work that calls into question the authenticity of al-Afghani and ʿAbduh as Muslim reformers. Instead, the author regards the two men as unbelievers.

  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

    A survey of the history of Islam from the time of the Prophet Muḥammad to the developments of modern Islam. Rahman places ‘Abduh as the rationalist thinker in two senses: his general emphasis on the role of reason in Islam and his restatement on the tenets of Islam in response to the challenges of modern life. On ‘Abduh and his intellectual modernism, see pages 212–226.

  • Vatikiotis, P. J. “Muhammad ʿAbduh and the Quest for a Muslim Humanism.” Arabica 4.1 (1957): 55–72.

    DOI: 10.1163/157005857X00228

    An insightful essay that focuses on ʿAbduh’s appeal for a humanistic Islamic reform with specific reference to his writings in the Paris-based journal al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqā (Indissoluble Bond), 13 March–16 October 1884.

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