Refutation of the Materialists


Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838–97) was a pan-Islamic thinker, political activist, and journalist, who sought to revive Islamic thought and liberate the Muslim world from Western influence. Many aspects of his life and his background remain unknown or controversial, including his birthplace, his religious affiliation, and the cause of his death. He was likely born in Asadabad, near present-day Hamadan, Iran. His better known history begins when he was 18, with a one-year stay in India that coincided with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857‒59. In what would become a life of constant travel, he soon went to Mecca to perform Hajj, before returning to Afghanistan to join the service of the country’s ruler, Dost Mohammad Khan (1793–1863). He later sided with Dost’s son Mohammad Aʻzam, who ultimately lost in a power struggle with his British-supported brother Sher Ali. Al-Afghani’s political activism eventually took him to Paris, London, Tehran, Saint Petersburg, and Constantinople. It was during his second stay in Egypt (1871–79) that he cemented his role as a reformer. He found in Cairo a class of young intellectuals who gathered around him, established newspapers, and used these papers to disseminate his ideas. Chief among al-Afghani’s Egyptian disciples were scholar Muhammad ʻAbduh, journalist ʻAbd Allah al-Nadim, and nationalist politicians Mustafa Kamil and Saʻd Zaghlul. Al-Afghani’s influence on both modernist and traditionalist Islamic thought continues to the present. An activist who sought to effect change through political journalism and public speaking, he did not write many books. This treatise, entitled al-Radd ʻalā al-dahrīyīn (Refutation of the materialists), was a rebuttal of the views of the pro-British Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who had argued that science is more important than religion in the rise of civilizations. First written in Persian following al-Afghani’s exile from Egypt to India, it was translated into Arabic by his student Muhammad ʻAbduh, with the help of al-Afghani’s assistant Arif Efendi.


Title in Original Language

الرد على الدهريين

Type of Item

Physical Description

70 pages ; 25 centimeters


  1. N.R. Keddie, “Afgani, Jamal-al-din,” in Encyclopædia Iranica 1, number 5 (New York: Bibliotheca Iranica Press, 1985).

Last updated: August 17, 2016