Muhammad Abduh argued that Muslims could not simply rely on the interpretations of texts provided by medieval clerics, they needed to use reason to keep up with changing times. He said that in Islam man was not created to be led by a bridle, man was given intelligence so that he could be guided by knowledge. According to Abduh, a teacher’s role was to direct men towards study. He believed that Islam encouraged men to detach from the world of their ancestors and that Islam reproved the slavish imitation of tradition. He said that the two greatest possessions relating to religion that man was graced with were independence of will and independence of thought and opinion. It was with the help of these tools that he could attain happiness. He believed that the growth of western civilization in Europe was based on these two principles. He thought that Europeans were roused to act after a large number of them were able to exercise their choice and to seek out facts with their minds. His Muslim opponents refer to him as an infidel. Abduh does not advocate returning to the early stages of Islam. He was against polygamy and thought that it was an archaic custom. He believed in a form of Islam that would liberate men from enslavement, provide equal rights for all human beings, abolish the religious scholar’s monopoly on exegesis and abolish racial discrimination and religious compulsion.
Mohammad Abduh made great efforts to preach harmony between Sunnis and Shias. Broadly speaking, he preached brotherhood between all schools of thought in Islam.
Abduh regularly called for better friendship between religious communities. As Christianity was the second biggest religion in Egypt, he devoted special efforts toward friendship between Muslims and Christians. He had many Christian friends and many a time he stood up to defend Copts. During the Urabi revolt, some Muslim mobs had misguidedly attacked a number of Copts resulting from their anger against European colonialists.
Abduh explained that the purpose of his ideology and theology was:
to liberate thought from the shackles of imitation (Taqlid) and understand religion as it was understood by the community before dissension appeared, to return, in the acquisition of religious knowledge, to its first sources, and to weigh them in the scale of human reason, which God has created in order to prevent excess or adulteration in religion, so that God's wisdom may be fulfilled and the order of the human world preserved, and to prove that, seen in this light, religion must be accounted a friend in science, pushing man to investigate the secrets of existence, summoning him to respect established truths and to depend on them in his moral life and conduct.
Abduh (and his peers) were considered Salafis (appeal to the "pure" ancestral form of the religion); however, Abduh's Salafism was meant to allow liberal reform rather than to stifle it, and it should not be confused with Salafi doctrines of his successors and of certain others, which are used to propagate either a very conservative or a radical reactionary doctrine of Islam. In essence, Abduh saw Islam as progressive at the times it came down and saw that as one if its fundamental principles and a key to early successes - modern day Salafis, narrow minded in their thinking, can only see a return to the ancestral form as one based on purely imitiation of norms at the time (taqlid).
"Muhammed Abudh and the Quest for Muslim Humanism" (http://www.salaam.co.uk/knowledge/muhammad_abduh.pdf)
"Muslims who have romantically accepted the theory that the adoption of certain political forms will of itself produce change... fail to realize that mere form, however ideal, can produce only what the social context permits. These intellectuals fail to grasp the reality that a constitution setting the political, social and economic purposes of a society can survive and produce the desires results only in so far as the community is willing to allow. This willingness is contingent upon the understanding not merely of a very few, but on the consensus of the whole society."
"Mohammed Abduh set out to revitalize society by bridging the gap between the perplexed educated Muslim and the orthodox believer. He recognized the dangers in the dichotomy of separate systems of value for the few and the many. He saw the necessity of an indigenous value system in which all could participate."
Two main tenants of Abduh's: 1. striving for human perfection through indepenendent reason, virtue and reasonable conviction 2. Education, since human knowledge is acquired not by dispensation but through investigation
"The romantics in modern Islam retreated into dubious mysticism. The conservative apologists, by virtue of their defensive position, presented ridiculous interpretations of historical fact and dogma. Finally, the secularists alientated themselves completely from the mass of citizens. (I think Pan-Arabism at one time presented a viable path for leading a secular movement but selfish, cronyistic, corrupt autocratic leaders ensured that failed - this was written in 1954 right before Nasserism really took off)...
"Insisting upon internal reforms first through the spread of education and the elevation of the public character to a standard of social responsibility, he gave political and social maturity precedence and priority over political independence"
"God promised to those who believe and do good that he shall make them inherit the earth as those before them... it becomes imperative, therefore, that justice be the rule upon which men shall act for the attainment of the good.... AND, AS OPPRESSION CAUSES DESTRUCTION, JUSTICE BECOMES THE ONLY PROGENITOR OF A HAPPY LIFE"
"... Abduh stood between the outright secularists on the one hand, and the romantic modernist on the other, by insisting upon the systematic re-formulation of dogma without its divorce from the religious experience of the masses - in fact, the only possibility open to organic change in the present-day Muslim communities."
"Consequently, any humanist reform on his part had to presuppose "humanism with God" (that is, one which would never question the notion of a supreme being.) It had to be a religious-oriented humanism in contrast to the secular-nationalist variety if it were to benefit the masses; one in which secular values become part of the popular endeavor and social philosophy through an invigorated religious doctrine."
"Abduh's view of God, moreover, is one of a Supreme Being who demands the attainment of a virtuous and just life through a developing effort for knowledge, as a positive good. Despair then, is a result of collective resignation."
"In order to further activate the belief in God into social action, Abduh offers a bold admonition in that "weeping does not raise the dead, neither does pity bring back the past, nor sorrow prevent catastrophe. Action [work] is the key to success."
"Allah shall not change the condition of a folk until they change what is in them" and promotes ‘rational choice over taqlid’
"For those virtues established by the divine law as definite realities are accepted and lived only after they have been defined by man's reason. Thus, God has revealed his way forever - it is up to man to look into himself with a critical eye for he cannot blame other than himself for his shortcoming... "Change in people must come about through reason and perception."
"Flux, rather than a predetermined order becomes the rule and guiding principle. It is easy for the Muslim intellectual to rationalize such principles against traditional teaching. But it is more important that the masses accept it emotionally. Those who reject religion as useless find themselves lacking any contact with the masses. Those clinging to religious orthodoxy refuse to re-examine their position in light of a changing world, thus gradually alienating all those inclined to creative thought."