What joins these two different traditions of reform together is the impact of Western colonialism. Both Hindu and Muslim reformers wished to assert their traditions again free of the European foreign yoke and yet both also wanted the best of the West which had allowed Europe to achieve both ethical values (if selectively applied) and (especially for Islam) the ability to exercise power.

Reformers in
Hinduism and



Hindu Reformers

Contemporary reform in Hinduism:

Ramohan Roy (1772-1833)
He founded Brahmo Samaj in 1828
  • His childhood was spent in Patna, an Islamic centre of learning
  • Family followed Caitanya
  • Became a revenue official in the East India Company
  • Retired 1815
  • Put his wealth into Brahmo Samaj
  • Wished to purify Hinduism of its unnecessary and harmful extras
  • Saw progress based on science
  • Influenced by Sufism
  • Detested of idolatry
  • Influenced by Upanishads and Vedanta
  • Rejected transmigration of the soul
  • Influenced by Sermon on the Mount
  • Influenced by ethical teaching in the New Testament
  • Unity of the godhead
  • Rejected Christ as the son of God
  • Dialogued with Christian missionaries to correct their false views of Hinduism
  • Encouraged unity between the members of all religions by blending the best elements of East and West
  • Opposed burning of widows (made illegal in 1829)
  • Opposed child marriage
  • Modernised archaic Indian system of education
  • In 1816 established the Vedanta College in Calcutta
  • Vedanta College promoted Hindu Unitarianism

Succeeded by:

Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905)

  • Revitalized the Brahmo Samaj
  • Founded Truth Teaching Society (Tattva Bodhini Sabha)
  • Members met regularly for prayer and religious discussions

Drew on:

  • Upanishads
  • Mahabharata

Succeeded by:

Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-1884)
  • Joined Brahmo Samaj 1857
  • Emphasised the devotional side of Hinduism
  • Accepted the divinity of the Asian Christ
  • Old Testament as the First Dispensation
  • New Testament as the Second Dispensation
  • Brahmo Samaj as Third Dispensation
  • Social reforms split the movement
  • Sen and supporters founded General Brahmo Samaj
  • Tagore continued with Adi Samaj (Original Brahmo Samaj)
  • Sen visited England in 1870
  • Then introduced education and emancipation of women
  • However, his daughter's marriage to a Hindu prince used orthodox rites
  • Said this was permitted by a revelation and so the movement split again

Shiv Dayal (1818-78)
  • Banker
  • Founded the Radha Soami Movement
  • Hindu and Sikh based
  • Can be followed by people of other religions
  • Union of Radha (symbolising the soul) and Soami (Swami) and the Master (God)
  • Yoga based on the creative word from the Supreme Being
After 1878 split:
  • One group to Agra and the banks of the Beas river near Amritsar
  • Amritsar group had Hindu and Sikh support (diverts from orthodox Sikhism)

Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901)
  • Bombay
  • Lawyer
  • Founded Prarthana Samaj
  • Monotheistic devotional movement of the Maratha 'saints'
  • Social work

Saiva Svami Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-1883)
  • Founded Arya Samaj
  • Bombay in 1875, Lahore in 1877
  • Aimed to restore Indian culture to its original dignity
Based on:
  • Rig Veda
  • Sama Veda
  • Yajur Veda
  • Not Brahmanas
  • Not Upanishads
Rejects (as Vedas do not have):
  • Child-marriage
  • Seclusion of widows
  • Image-worship
  • Pilgrimages
  • Incantations
  • Caste system within the Arja Samaj (Untouchables still low caste outside)
  • Did accept post-Vedic karma and rebirth
  • Women rights raised to Vedic times when the helpmates of men in religious, public and private life
  • Worship of the one formless God
  • Service to elders
  • Service to the community
  • Strong in Punjab
  • Many murdered there by other Hindus

Conservative-progressive split after 1883:

The progressives pursued:
  • Modern education and freedom of diet
  • Arya Samaj as the centre of a world religion
  • Yet anti-Christian and anti-Moslem propaganda

The conservatives stressed:
  • Infallibility of the Veda
  • Karma
  • Rebirth
  • Sacredness of the cow
  • Anti-Christian and anti-Moslem propaganda
In 1947 at partition, Muslims killed all members at the Lahore headquarters and took the society's property

Ramakrishna (1834-1886)
  • Bengali brahmin and mystic
  • Sannyassin
  • Ramakrishna married but kept his vow to chastity
  • The marriage was never consummated
  • He regarded all women as the 'Holy Mother' Kali.
  • Sexuality acts against spirituality
  • The desire for wealth and possessions prevents full spirituality
Stands for:
  • Living a pure, devotional and simple life
  • Not causing harm to any creature
  • Deep devotionalism
  • Experiencing every aspect of the Divine
  • Recognising the goddess Kali and other Hindu divinities
  • Recognising Buddha, Christ and Allah
Had visions of:
  • Kali, Radha and Sita (Rama's devoted wife, thus joys of married bliss)
  • Christ after studying the New Testament
  • Muhammad when in the company of Muslims
  • Christ is a son of God/ incarnation of Vishnu
  • Rejects Christ as unique (divisive and evil).
  • All deities are identical and hence there is no need for synthesis
  • Each path leads to Oneness (Brahman)
Ramakrishna taught:
  • To realise and develop the divine potentiality within
  • When attained, conventional good and evil are replaced by knowing what is of God
Ramakrishna's chief disciples were:
  • Keshab Chandra Sen of the Brahmo Samaj
  • Narendranath Datta

Vivekananda (1863-1902)
  • Originally Narendranath Datta
  • Vivekenanda was his name when a hermit
  • Fame at the Parliament of Religions in 1893
  • Promoted Ramakrishna in United States and United Kingdom
  • Stressed plurality of Hinduism within and without
  • Set up Ramakrishna mission

Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950)
  • Bengali educated mainly in England
  • Returned to India in 1893
  • Entered the State service of Baroda
  • Studied Indian culture and yoga
  • Joined the Nationalist movement at partition of Bengal in 1905
  • Imprisonment for sedition in 1908
  • Profound mystical experience in gaol
  • Afterwards went to the French settlement of Pondichery
  • Wrote books and developed his own philosophy of Integral Yoga
  • 1920 on French woman 'the Mother' ran the ashram

The Theosophical Society
  • Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) and Colonel H. S. Olcott
  • Founders in New York in 1875
  • Centre in India with Mrs Annie Besant as leader
  • Mrs Besant a nationalist
  • Elected President of the Congress Party
  • Founded Banaras Central Hindu College in 1898
  • Became Banaras Hindu University
  • Promotes welfare
  • Promotes Hinduism and syncretic core truths of religions
  • One Universal Spirit in the developing cosmos and potentialities of the human spirit
  • Cosmos rises and falls to quiet but achievements hold until next universe
  • All souls (Monads in this universe) come from the Absolute in divine unawareness and when awakened descend into animal, vegetable or mineral forms
  • Conscious evolution immpediately leads to the law of karma
  • Reincarnation allows perfection to the divine
  • Adepts or perfected beings (White Brotherhood/ Mahatmas) supervise the world process
  • They are divine and with humankind and all beings (as Mahayana Buddhism)
  • Humankind and animals differ in degree only
  • No exploitation or cruelty allowed

Krishnamurti (born 1896)
  • In Theosophical Society
  • 1929 he said he did not want disciples
  • Left Theosophical Society
  • Change of heart in the individual leads to change in society for good
  • Schools in England and the United States

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)
  • In merchant caste
  • Assassinated by member of Hindu Mahasabha (Great Assembly)
Was Orthodox Hindu, meaning:
  • Daily religious rites
  • Temple-worship
  • Veneration of the cow (it provides, represents innocence and the protection of the helpless)
Influenced by:
  • Jainism - on many sidedness (religions)
  • Particularly the Jain Rajchandra Ravjibhai Mehta, whom Gandhi called Raychandbhai, who led to Gandhi's dharma (religion) for freedom from illusion and the transitory
  • Tolstoy - The Kingdom of God is Within You: the modern state is unnecesary and aggressive and individuals can be changed by truth and love
  • Raychandbhai and Tolstoy together for ahimsa (passive resistance with truth)
  • Ruskin - Unto This Last: individual's good is good of all, all work is equal, and life's fulfilment is in working
  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Sermon on the Mount
  • Isa Upanishad
  • Nineteenth century European liberalism
Double view:
  • Renounce the world as we cannot possess it but enjoy it while we can as God's creation
  • Lust he experienced and rejected
  • Still friendly to women
  • Promoted personal liberation from desire, anger, greed, vanity
  • Joined together non-injury to all creatures and truth (giving harmlessness, kindness, restraint in all things, and universal compassion)
  • Non-violent resistance
  • Tried to alleviate Untouchables called Harijan (sons of God)
  • Ate vegetarian food
  • Wore a homespun cotton loincloth (self sufficiency in simplicity) and cloak
  • No mission founded
  • Did found ashram open to men, women and children
  • Ashram supported and developed small scale industries
  • Promoted the spinning wheel (care for the destitute)
  • With Nehru guided Indian independence
  • Strongly opposed to Partition


Reformers in
Hinduism and

Islam And Modernism

Or a secularised alternative

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897)
  • Islamic modernist
  • Born and educated in Iran
  • Educated in British India
  • Teacher and political activitist
  • Taught in Egypt
  • Adviser to the Shah of Iran
  • Travelled in Europe
  • Touched India
  • Opposed European imperialism
  • Promoted national (Arab) unity
  • Promoted pan-Islamic unity
  • Constitution should check power
  • Disliked by Muslim and British rulers alike
  • He and followers in the Urabi nationalist revolt against British and Deported from Iran in 1891 for generating Tobacco Protest
  • In a secret society in France
  • Published articles on social and political reform
  • Published a newspaper preaching Islamic reform and anticolonialism
  • French influence in Egypt in 1882
  • Invited to Istanbul by Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid
  • Then under virtual house arrest in 1896 after Iran's Nasir al-Din Shah was assassinated by a follower
Afghani identified:
  • Muslim political decline
  • Religious stagnation
  • European expansionism
  • Autocratic rulers
  • Religious establishment (ulama and its backward view of Islam)
Afghani looked to Europe and promoted:
  • "Protestant Islam"
  • Needed a Martin Luther and reformation
Islam once encouraged:
  • Progress
  • Change
  • Knowledge
  • Reason
  • Science
  • Work Ethic
  • Civilisation
  • Philosophy
  • Social bond
  • Muslim unity would be a key to revitalising
  • Anti-imperialism would be a key to revitalising
  • Society, culture, religion and people needed revitalising
  • Active engagement with West
  • Confront the West
  • Europe had subdued and smothered the Islamic identity
  • Europe offered solutions in science, technology, constitutional elected assemblies
Stages to whole revival:
  • Revitalize Islam
  • Generate Muslim solidarity
  • Gain independence from the West

Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905)
  • Egyptian
  • Enthusiast of Afghani
  • Exiled to with Afghani for being in the Urabi revolt
  • Busy with him in Paris until return
  • Intellectual
  • Social reformer
  • religious scholar
  • Member of the ulama
  • Mufti (chief religious leader)
  • Taught at al-Azhar University
  • Taught at Dar al-Ulum to prepare Azhar graduates for government positions
  • Set up Salafiyya movement
  • legitimacy from elders (salafi) of the early Muslim community
After exile focussed on:
  • Intellectual  work
  • Religious activity
  • Wrote in al-Manar (The Lighthouse) on Quranic exegesis and theology
  • Educational reform
  • Social reform
  • Promoted the compatibility of revelation and reason
  • Opposed the tradition (taqlid) only
  • Promoted the legitimacy of reinterpreted Islam to respond
Attempted to reform:
  • The ulama in curriculum of al-Azhar University
  • The religious courts
  • Laws concerned with worship of God were immutable
  • Laws concerning social affairs could be changed
  • In favour of European dress
  • In favour of Banking interest
  • Legal and educational reforms to improve the status of Muslim women
  • Liberalise marriage
  • Liberalise divorce
Critic of polygamy:
  • Permitted only as a concession to social conditions in Arabia at the time of the Prophet
  • Claimed Quranic ideal (Quran 4:3 and 4:129) was monogamy
  • Permission for more than one wife depended on equal justice and impartiality, in reality impossibe
  • Many states adopted this reform
Qasim Amin (1863-1908)
  • Lawyer and judge
  • Feminist thrust
  • Wrote The Emancipation of Women and The New Woman
Subjugation of Muslim women unIslamic:
  • Emancipation of women like the nationalist anti-imperialist cause Women second class deteriorates the family and society
  • Women second class retards national development
  • Equality of the sexes exists in Islam
  • Denounced the veil and seclusion
  • Against arranged marriages
  • Criticised Man's right to divorce when the wife cannot

Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98)
  • Indian subcontinent
  • British loyalist
  • Lived through the Mutiny of 1857
  • Wanted survival of the Muslim community in British India
  • Restore a debilitated and defeated Muslim community
  • Islam no threat to British interests
  • Tackled ulama who dismissed the British as enemies of Islam
Called for:
  • New theology
  • New Muslim leaders
  • Built Anglo-Muhammadan Oriental College (renamed the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920)
  • Modelled on Cambridge University
  • Wore Western clothing
  • Had a European life-style
  • Accepted a knighthood by Queen Victoria

Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938)
  • Lived in India
  • Traditional upbringing
  • Intimate knowledge of the West
  • Studied in Munich (doctorate in philosophy)
  • Studied in London (law degree)
  • Became a lawyer
  • poet - philosopher of southern Asia
  • Islamic modernist
  • Secular nationalist
Drew on Islamic heritage and Western philosophy:
  • Hegel
  • Bergson
  • Fichte
  • Nietzsche
Produced his own synthesis and reinterpretation of Islam:
  • Islam needed a Protestant like reform with Luther's insights
  • Islam could draw on Europe to independently reform
  • Liked its dynamism, intellect, technology
  • Sharp criticism of European colonialism and imperialism
  • Opposed capitalism
  • Opposed Marxist atheism
  • Opposed secularism
  • Islam restore itself as a religion of peace and social harmony
  • Muslims reclaim political independence
  • Adopt Islamic versions of Western concepts and institutions such as democracy and parliamentary government
  • Nationalism only transitory as he was pan-Islamic
  • Yet for a separate Muslim state in Indian subcontinent
  • Local communities built up first
  • Independence from Britain
  • Muslim culture to restore its rightful place in history

Taha Husayn (1889-1973) in Egypt
  • Blind from an early age
  • Attended a village religious school
  • Educated at al-Azhar University
  • Then Egyptian (Cairo) University
  • Sorbonne in France (1915-1919) - gained a doctorate
  • Writer
  • Educator
  • Minister of education (1950-52)
Promoted separation of religion and politics:
  • Political system and religion separate
  • Constitution and the State is practical
  • Thus European customs and institutions from personal to institutional
Strongly pro-Western liberal and secular:
  • Wrote Future of Culture in Egypt
  • Not Islamic past
  • Not Islamic modernism
  • Egypt past and future in West
  • Roots of Islam in the West
  • Stress on shared common religious and geographic origins (one God, the Mediterranean)
  • Secularism had long been part of Egypt's tradition
  • Yet independence from Europe


Reformers in
Hinduism and


Esposito, J. (1995), The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 55-62.

Stutley, M (1985), Hinduism: The Eternal Law: An Introduction to the Literature, Cosmology and Cults of the Hindu Religion, Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press, 141-150.

Brown, J. (1989), Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, London: Yale University press, 76-82