Author: Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi
Translator: David Commins
Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook
Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi (Syria, 1866-1914) was the leading proponent of Islamic modernism in early twentieth-century Damascus. His publications numbered more than two dozen and covered religious disciplines such as Islamic law, theology, and exegesis; Muslim religious customs; and Arab history. He came from a family of minor religious functionaries and obtained his religious education from the city’s leading religious scholars. Qasimi emerged as a proponent of reformist ideas in the 1890s, but he was not able to openly publish his work until the Ottoman Constitutional Revolution created a freer political climate in 1908. He was one of a handful of liberal religious scholars in Damascus who favored constitutional government. Moreover, a younger generation of Syrians with inclinations toward Arab nationalism drew inspiration from his call for an Arab cultural and literary revival. His religious and political views made him the object of Ottoman suspicions and conservative scholars’ hostility. Consequently, he endured several episodes of persecution. His religious writings focused on two themes. One exhorted Muslims to overcome historical divisions into rival legal school and sects by returning to the Qur’an and the practice of the Prophet as the only bases of authority. The other emphasized the rational character of Islamic beliefs and practices. In this passage, Qasimi seeks to demonstrate that Islamic law possesses methods and principles, in particular the principle of ijtihad (independent reasoning), that allow for the adoption of new technology. To support this view, Qasimi cites an extensive series of classical Islamic authorities and texts.
al-Qasimi, Jamal al-Din. "Kitab al-irshad al-khalq" (Book of People’s Guidance). Translated by David D. Commins. Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook (2002): 181-87.