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CHIRAGH `ALI (1844-1895), Indian modernist author. Chiragh ‘Ali came to prominence as a supporter of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement. He came from a Kashmiri family settled in the United Provinces and served the British administration in North India in various judicial and revenue positions. In 1877, thanks to the recommendation of Sir Sayyid, he entered the service of the nizam of Hyderabad. There he rose to the position of Revenue and Political Secretary and was known by the title Nawab `Azam Yar Jang.

Chiragh ‘Ali agreed with Sir Sayyid that there could be no conflict between the word of God, as contained in the Qur’an, and the work of God, as expounded in modern science. His writings are modernist apologetics designed to refute missionary and orientalist criticisms of Islam as incapable of reform. Among his works are The Proposed Political, Constitutional and Legal Reforms in the Ottoman Empire and Other Mohammedan States (1883) and A Critical Exposition of the Popular Jihad (1885). He also wrote frequently in Sir Sayyid’s journal of Muslim social reform, Tahdhib al-akhldq (The Muslim Reformer), published in Aligarh.

Chiragh ‘Ali maintained that Islamic religion inculcated no set political or social system and that the schools of Islamic law, as human institutions, were subject to revision. Muslim governments were in no way theocratic, nor did jihad imply a forcible expansion of the faith. On the contrary, all the Prophet’s wars were defensive in nature. Chiragh `Ali, as a modernist, based his ideas on the teachings of the Qur’an; all other sources of law, including hadith, were subject to interpretation. He was particularly dismissive of the founders of the classical schools of Islamic law, whose writings, he felt, reflected the needs of their times but had little applicability to the modern age.

Chiragh `Alt’s writings were influential among Western-educated Muslims of the Aligarh school in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He championed education for women and was critical of polygamy and divorce. He also argued that slavery was incompatible with the true spirit of Islam. His favorable discussion of political reforms in the Ottoman empire was a factor, albeit a minor one, in the Indian Muslims’ growing sympathy for Turkey in the period before World War I.

[See also Aligarh and the biography of Ahmad Khan. ]


Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964. London, 1967. Good general guide to intellectual modernism in Indian Islam.

Chiragh ‘Ali. The Proposed Political, Constitutional, and Legal Reforms in the Ottoman Empire and Other Mohammedan States. Bombay, 1883. Chiragh ‘Ali’s main exposition of his reformist ideas.

Hardy, Peter. The Muslims of British India. Cambridge, 1972. Short intellectual history of Muslims in nineteenth- and twentieth-century India, in political context.

Saksena, Ram Babu. A History of Urdu Literature. Reprint, Lahore, 1975. One of the better guides in English to Urdu authors’ lives and works.

Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. Modern Islam in India. Rev. ed. Lahore, 1963. Provocative and original Marxist analysis of modernist thought in Indian Islam.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/chiragh-ali/

  • writerPosted On: November 4, 2012
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