Jamal al-Din Afghani, one of the most influential Muslim reformers of the nineteenth century, was most likely born in Asadabad, Iran, into a Shiite family. Throughout his life, however, he emphasized his Afghan ancestry, perhaps to broaden his appeal to Sunni Muslims. Little concrete information is available about his early life, but he probably received a traditional Islamic education in Iran and Iraq.
During a visit to India around 1855, he was exposed to Western scientific and political thought for the first time. His stay in India coincided with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (the Indian revolt against the East India Company), and his attitudes toward European and particularly British imperialism may have begun to form then. Around 1866, Afghani began his peripatetic career as a Muslim intellectual and political activist by accepting a post in the government of Afghanistan.
Over the next thirty years he traveled to or resided in Istanbul, Cairo, Paris, London, Tehran, and St. Petersburg, frequently being forced to relocate because of his reformist views and political activities. Afghani is commonly viewed as the nineteenth century’s chief ideologue of pan- Islamism. But his ideas, many of them expressed through the journal al-_Urwa al-wuthqa (The firmest grip; a reference to Qur_an 2:256, 31:22), which he copublished with Muhammad _Abduh, never amounted to a coherent ideology. More than anything else, Afghani was driven by opposition to European imperialism in Muslim countries, which he argued could be fought only by a rejuvenation of Islamic culture.