Seyed Jamal Al Din Asadabadi (Afghani) the Leading Anti-Colonialist Muslim Scholar

  November 26, 2020   Read time 2 min
Seyed Jamal Al Din Asadabadi (Afghani) the Leading Anti-Colonialist Muslim Scholar
One of the key intellectual forces in the Tobacco Movement was Seyed Jamal Al Din Asadabadi. He is better known as "Afshani". His ideas laid the ground for groundbreaking changes in the field of anti-despotism movements in Iran. He was against the foreign colonialism and internal despotism.

By early 1890s Shirazi was recognized and referred to as the marja‘-e taqlid (the source of [universal] emulation) throughout the Shia world, a position for which he was at least in part indebted to the celebrated advocate of pan-Islamism, Sayyed Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (better known as Afghani). In a widely circulated letter to Shirazi in 1891, Afghani praised his clerical compatriot as the leader of the Shia world and called on him to oppose Naser al-Din Shah’s despotism, corruption, and selling out to foreign interests. Aside from the anti-Qajar opposition, some four decades earlier, this was the first open call in modern Iranian history for the overthrow of the shah, even though it did not call for the fall of the Qajar dynasty or the monarchy as a whole. Afghani, who earlier had been invited back to his homeland by the shah shortly before the Regie crisis to serve as an adviser to the state, soon came under suspicion for his implicit criticism of the shah. He received the cold shoulder from the shah and shortly thereafter, coinciding with the beginning of the Regie protest, was disgracefully dragged out of the shrine of ‘Abd al-‘Azim, where he had taken sanctuary (bast), and escorted to the Iraqi border. A renowned dissident, who appeared all his mature life in the guise of a Sunni Afghan, and chief advocate of pan-Islamism, Afghani stirred antiBritish sentiments from British India to Afghanistan to Istanbul to Egypt. Born in 1839 in the village of Asadabad, 32 miles east of Hamadan in western Iran, a region known for its heterodox Ahl-e Haqq community, Afghani received some standard Islamic philosophical training before moving to the Shi‘i cities of southern Iraq, where as a seminarian he was exposed to Shaykhi ideas. By the 1880s his magnetic presence had earned him a few devotees in Iran, including Malek al-Tojjar, and a few Naseri courtiers and statesmen. Yet contrary to his popularity in Egypt and India, and admirers such as the celebrated Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abdu, Afghani never earned great support in Iran in his own time. The complexity of his personality, his peripatetic lifestyle, his political versatility, and above all concealing his Shia identity under a Sunni façade could allow his message to be heard only through insidious channels. Having been humiliated in Iran in 1891, Afghani nursed a deep grudge against the shah, a resentment that no doubt contributed some years later to Naser al-Din Shah’s assassination. His collaboration with Muslim activists, such as the celebrated writer and intellectual Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, may have influenced Afghani’s emphasis on the shah’s illegitimate rule. His plea to Shirazi as the “head” (ra’is) and supreme exemplar (marja‘-e taqlid) of the Shi‘i community served to propel Shirazi to the forefront of the political struggle (Source: Iran, a Modern History by Abbas Amanat).