By Charles D. Smith
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Extra info for Islam and the search for social order in modern Egypt: a biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal
So long as the fundamentals of belief were adhered to, a Muslim could interpret the law as he wished or seek the advice of legal scholars until he found one whose judgment suited his own. Here, in Risalat al-Tawhid, 'Abduh contrasted the elite, aware of God's intentions and able to use ijtihad, with the masses who would always need direct supervision. 34 Although found in the Muslim philosophical tradition, 'Abduh's heirs among the young secularists would apply the idea of the elite much more as used by al-Afghani.
My second point is that my use of the terms "secular" or "secularist" in the book means advocacy of the right to assert rationalist, scientific values not specifically found in Muslim sources without fear of religious condemnation; it does not mean atheism. Religion thus becomes a matter of personal faith in which the believer is responsible to God alone, not to religious officials such as the 'ulama of al-Azhar. Secularists can therefore accept the application of the religious law, the shari'a, in matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce, but they reject the claims of the 'ulama to have the right to dictate either personal beliefs or governmental policies on the basis of that law.
Abduh's principal concern was the welfare of the umma, the Muslim community, and the manner in which it adhered to the shari'a. He advocated the restoration of ijtihad so that the shari'a could be adapted to meet the new circumstances imposed by the impact of European power and culture. Applying himself more specifically to problems of reform than had al-Afghani, 'Abduh tried to establish a basis for accepting changes inspired by if not always derived from Europe while retaining the fundamentals of Islam.
Islam and the search for social order in modern Egypt: a biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal by Charles D. Smith