The enormous contribution of Shaykh Muhammad Abduh to modern Islamic thought can be summarized from his mission espoused in the influential newspaper, al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa, an important based where he projected revolutionary attempt to initiate reform and reclaim the religious tradition with clear vision to identifying ways in which to rectify the problems of the past which had led to decline; infusing Muslims with a hope of victory and eradication of despair; calling to steadfastness in adherence to the principles of the fathers and forebears; defending against the accusation levied against Muslim that they cannot progress as long as they adhere to the principles of Islam providing information on important political events; and enhancing relations between nations and improving public welfare.
This important initiative to undertake reform and defending modernism had a resounding impact on society, and Abduh’s work “continues to be influential both on his disciples and on those who thought that his compromises with the West went too far.
” (Haddad, Yvonne, 30-32).
Educational reform Abduh’s passion for reform had begun to develop at Ahmadi Mosque, Tanta and Jami’ al-Azhar, Cairo. The encounter with the conservative system of learning inspired him to undertake reform and embark on transforming the obsolete curricula where: “the students were to read texts, their commentaries, the glosses on the commentaries, and the super glosses on the glosses,” (Amin, Uthman 1953, 3) without critical analysis and comprehension. He introduced ground breaking initiatives to systematize the teaching class, syllabus and method of learning, ready to compete and advance with scientific style of Western education, and to include relevant ethical and moral discipline, science, philosophy, history and other classical literary tradition.
Abduh’s strategic focus to endeavour and undertake change at al-Azhar institution, was highlighted by Yvonne Haddad in her recent article on Abduh’s reform program: “His first experience with learning by rote, memorizing texts and commentaries and laws for which he was given no tools of understanding, was formative in his later commitment to a thoroughgoing reform of the Egyptian educational system”. (Haddad, 31) Abduh criticized the educational policy introduced by Egyptian government administered by the British. He tried to embark on reform initiative and transforming the whole structure of curricula, fees, subject, and teaching components and improving basic necessities of schools and teachers.
He emphasized the need to uplift the level and standard of al-Azhar University and emphasized the role of British to build a strong and liberal nation of Egypt: “The Egyptian governments spend only two hundred thousand Egyptian pounds on education out of an income of twelve million pounds. ‘Abduh’s primary motive and focus for educational reform was based on his convincing argument that the reform must start from educational structure which radically contrasted from al-Afghani’s political expediency to undertake reform by political mean.