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Discursive pluralism and Islamic modernism in Egypt.

THE TWENTY-FIVE YEARS BEFORE and after 1900 constituted one of the most ideologically innovative episodes in the intellectual history of modern Egypt. A prime example of this ideological creativity is the rise of a new movement among the country's Muslim thinkers. This movement displayed an affinity with the Enlightenment, daring criticisms of the orthodoxy, re-examinations of Islamic theology and its normative rules of conduct in light of the prevailing scientific standards, and an orientation towards social reforms and political moderation. The profusion of books, articles, Quranic exegesis, and treatises produced by such harbingers of Islamic modernism as Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Farid Wajdi, Qasim Amin and Ali Abd al-Raziq on historically significant issues not only generated a storm of controversy in Egypt but also affected the general course of the country's intellectual development. What were the historical conditions that promoted this new discourse in Islam? Who create d the necessary social space and resources for the rise of Islamic modernism? What were the determinants of its theme and orientation? While the literature abounds in thick descriptions of this remarkable intellectual movement, (1) the aim of this paper is to explain the historical factors underpinning its development and growth.


The correspondence perspective has long governed the historical thinking of the relations of ideas to social conditions. Rooted in Durkheim's mimetic conception of ideas, Marx's superstructure metaphor, and Weber's conception of elective affinity, this perspective presumes a duality of, and a determinate relationship between social structure and ideology. The scientific merits of this perspective, however, turned out to be its most serious weakness. It has been unable to answer its own central question--who or what connects social structure to ideology? Wuthnow casts doubts on the tenability of the correspondence premise by arguing that social structure and ideology relate in an enigmatic manner. Since ideologies are produced, rather than being reflections of social structure, Wuthnow reasoned that there must be sufficient resources for their production and a social space that permits them to grow. Since social structure and ideology are autonomous processes without one necessarily determining the other, then there must be specific historical conjunctures that would make cultural innovation possible. He thus poses the relation of ideology to social environment in terms of the problems of articulation. For Wuthnow, while exceptional economic growth provided the resources, the state furnished the necessary social space for the rise of diverse ideologies in Europe. (2) Collins also offers an alternative model based on an amended Durkheimian approach to ideological production. He claims that intellectual creativity takes place through contrasting position, these positions are generated by the dynamic of creation through opposition, and creation is fueled by the intellectual's emotional energy and cultural capital. He offers a two-step model of causality to explain the effect of external social conditions on intellectual diversity by indirectly rearranging the material base for intellectual life. Thus when external conditions disrupt the intellectual attention space, internal realignment takes place; and this in turn unleashes the creativity for formulating new positions and new tensions among the privileged arguers at the core of the network. (3)

Wuthnow and Collins still fall short of explaining how ideologies are actually produced and how their sociopolitical orientations take shape. As an alternative, it is argued here ideological production involves (i) the expression of opinions and beliefs, and (ii) the dissemination of these opinions and beliefs. The first refers to the actual production of ideas, and the second to the reproduction of their conditions of production. While conceding that concrete social conditions are important because they furnish the necessary resources, making culture production possible, I argue that the actual production of ideas takes place within the context of debate and back-and-forth discussions among the proponents of diverse ideas. I use Bakhtin's concept of "dialogic" to explain the production of ideas as a result of "constant interaction between meanings, all of which have the potential of conditioning others. Which will affect the other, how it will do so and in what degree is what is actually settled at the momen t of utterance." (4) "Understanding," says Holquist of Bakhtin, "comes about as a response to a sign with signs." (5) Expressions are made, meanings come about, and ideas are produced in relation to other expressions, meanings, and ideas that are present, occupying simultaneous but different space. (6) This relationship is mutual--words are responded to with words, rituals with rituals, symbols with symbols, and body movements with body movements. Idea causes idea.

Ideologies are thus produced within the dialogic of debates in the market of ideas, where the adherents of diverse ideological groups, in the words of Berger and Luckmann, "compete for the patronage of potential consumers of Weltanschauungen." (7) Debates, back-and-forth discussions, and ideological disputations set the internal dynamics of ideological production as each side of the debate structures the kind of argument its opponent is likely to advance against it and vice versa. Each side constitutes the target of ideological production for the other. On a more concrete level, I argue that ideological production is a discontinuous process that proceeds in an episodic fashion. Episodes begin and end with such dramatic events as a military coup, a significant social and political upheaval, the outbreak of a war or a revolution, dramatic changes in government's policies, a sudden economic swing, or an important cultural innovation, whether indigenously created or imported.

These theoretical propositions are used to explain the conditions of Islamic modernism. I argue that a new episode for culture production began following the Napoleon invasion of Egypt (1798-1801) and ended in the 1930s. (8) In this period, social transformation provided favorable social and political conditions for the rise of Islamic modernism. It also promoted a cultural pluralism in Egypt. This pluralism was reflected in the presence of such diverse groups as Christian missionaries, Westernizers (and the think-tank connected to British colonial administration), the followers of the Enlightenment, and the orthodox ulama. Intellectual debates and religious disputatious among these groups set the dynamic of meaning formation, each group constituting a target of ideological attack for the others. Naturally, this dynamic tended to modify or change the discourses of the parties involved. (9) The criticisms leveled against Islam by diverse ideological groups within the changing social conditions of nineteenth-ce ntury Egypt raised a set of historically significant issues. These issues are categorized into five broad binaries: (i) the empirical versus the Islamic sciences, (ii) the rational basis of law versus the shari'a, (iii) Western civilization versus the abode of Islam, (iv) gender equality versus male supremacy, and (v) constitutionalism versus Islamic conception of sovereignty. (10) The discourse of the Islamic modernists was one major resolution of these issues, as these thinkers formulated their ideas to bridge the rational sciences and the Islamic conception of knowledge, to appreciate Western civilization, to defend gender equality, and to favor constitutionalism.


Through a rationalist exegesis, the modernists aimed at opening the gate of ijtihad to examine the traditional sources of the Islamic jurisprudence--the Quran, hadith, qiyas, and ijma. Their rationalist approach was contrary to the traditionalists--Ahl as-Sunna wal-Jamma--who believed that anything that did not conforms to the Quran and the tradition of the prophet was false, that the ruling based on the consensus of the early generations of Muslim scholars is binding for all Muslims, that the Quran and the tradition cannot be opposed by rational reasoning, and that Islamic laws were immutable and unchangeable. In the pine-modern period, however, the odds of success for the modernists' intellectual endeavor were slim. The orthodox ulama were a powerful group, with close ties to the ruling elite. In addition, they enjoyed considerable social influences. (11) This formidable power secured their privileged cultural status and enabled them to frustrate any attempt at rethinking Islamic theology. (12) Key to the r ise of modern discourses was the social transformation of the nineteenth century. This transformation not only involved the expansion of commerce, the decline of the old and the emergence of new social classes, and changes in the structure and politics of the state, but also the decline of the traditional Islamic discourse and the emergence of competing ideologies.

This is not, however, to argue that modernist thought was absent in Islam's intellectual history before the nineteenth century. While for some modernism may be a cultural orientation and lifestyle associated with modern industrial democracies, in an intellectual sense modernism may be defined as the use of rational and empirical analysis to understand the natural and social reality based on certain objective rules and methodologies. In the latter sense, historical Islam displayed many instances of intellectual modernity. One early example of Islamic modernism was the Mu'tazilite rationalist school of the tenth century that considered the universe as "a rationally integrated system governed by laws of cause and effect, which God had created and set in motion once and for all." (13) Another is Ibn Khaldun's historiography and theory of dynastic change. Conceding, like his predecessors, that the caliphate had ceased to exist after the death of the forth caliph, and the sovereignty exercised by post-Rashidun Musl im rulers were no more than a "royalty," Ibn Khaldun attempted to uncover the sociological principles governing their action in order to reconcile religion and the secular law of politics. Ibn Khaldun's work thus provides an interesting instance of how the dynamic of Islamic culture had given rise to a secular and rational analysis. (14) Nevertheless, for complex historical and social factors, these attempts at modernity remained abortive, and from the seventeenth century on the three Islamic empires--the Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Safavids--that sheltered the entire abode of Islam were on the course of steady decline, while modernism had become the dominant intellectual movements in Western Europe.

Wuthnow focused on social conditions, particularly the state (rather than culture or religion), in explaining the rise of modern ideologies in Europe.

Similar conditions appear to have been at work in the process of cultural change in Egypt. In particular, the rise of the modern state in nineteenth-century Egypt was consequential for the rise of Islamic modernism. The driving force behind the state's intervention in culture was the ruling elite's ambition to overcome Egypt's military and technological backwardness that was so clearly demonstrated during the French occupation of the country. (15) To acquire the technical knowledge fundamental to his military aggrandizement, Muhammad Ali founded modern state schools, a printing press, and the School of Languages and Translation. He also sent students to Europe to study various branches of science. (16) Under Khedive Ismail, over a tenfold increase in the educational budget further expanded the requisite resources for culture producers. Directed by capable administrators like Ibrahim Pasha and Ali Mubarak Pasha, Egypt's cultural development forged ahead. The School of Languages and Administration was reopened and in 1886 became the first secular Law School under the direction of Vidal Pasha, a French jurist. Founded in 1872, Dar al-Ulum teachers' college played a leading role in the revival of Arabic literature. The Khedive also supported academic journals, including Rawdat al-madaris that aided the spread of science and scholarship among Egyptians. Private foreign and local educational institutions, foundations, and missions strengthened the state's educational program. (17) The British also assisted the rise of modern culture by implementing measures of reform. Under their tutelage, the Egyptian Press became a medium for public debates over socioeconomic and political issues. Favorable political conditions encouraged the influx of Syrian and Lebanese emigres to Egypt, who played a prominent role in the country's cultural change. Men of letters like Adib Ishaq and Salim al-Naqqash were followed by others like the Taqia brothers, Faris Nimr and Ya'qub Sarruf. They published daily papers al-Muqattam and al-Abram, a nd monthlies al-Hillal and al-Muqtataf. (18) In the second part of the nineteenth century, the landowning class grew in economic and political power as a result of the breakdown of the state's monopolies, the 1840s' Ottoman law regarding landownership, the state's fiscal crisis that necessitated the sale of state lands to private individuals, and the establishment in 1866 of the Consultative Assembly of the Delegates by Ismail. (19) The expansion of these classes provided a social basis of support for the rise of modern culture.


While the state's new cultural orientation disengaged the traditional historical alliance between the ruling elite and the orthodox ulama, and hence the removal of the traditional barriers on culture production, (20) the flooding of Egypt's cultural landscape by Western ideologies was a parallel process that diversified the structure of ideological contention in the country, undermining the conceptual schema of the Islamic orthodoxy. This conceptual schema consisted of a set of binaries that defined the identity of Islam as a religion and its followers as a religious community (umma): wahy (revelation) versus aqi (reason), towhid(divine unity) versus shirk (idol worshipping), the Shari'a (Islamic law) versus jahiliyya (state of ignorance), dar ul-Islam (the abode of Islam) versus dar ul-harb (the abode of war), wilaya (delegation by God) versus mulk (hereditary rule), khilafat(spiritual authority) versus sultanate (temporal authority), umma(universalistic Islamic solidarity) versus asabiyya (particularistic t ribal solidarity), and ijtihad (independent reasoning) versus taqlid (following the established rules).

The discursive pluralism of nineteenth-century Egypt did not simply mean the presence of different ideological groups in the country. For highbrow culture producers, scholarly debates were not simply the, clashes of ideas. These debates were also over the codes and conceptual framework in terms of which ideas were expressed. As the diffusion of modem culture to Egypt accelerated, the conceptual schema of the Islamic orthodoxy collided with alternative sets of codes in the discourse of the followers of the Enlightenment, British Westernizers, and Christian evangelicals. These codes included binaries like human reason versus superstition, scientific rationality versus traditionalism. civilization versus savagery gender equality versus male domination freedom versus despotism, Christendom versus Heathendom. Discursive pluralism signified conceptual pluralism as well.

Moreover, the spread of secular culture in the Muslim world, as Kerr has perceptively remarked, sharpened and brought to the fore the tension that has always existed in the Islamic social thought between "ideal and actuality, the spiritual and the temporal, virtue and power, God's command and man's behaviour." (21) In practical terms, too, any serious thought about the reorganization of sociopolitical life had direct implications for the role and function of the Islamic orthodoxy. Was it possible to discuss Europe's technological progress and the principles of the modem science without considering their contrast with the Islamic sciences? Could serious intellectuals admit the superiority of Western civilization without recognizing the decadence within the abode of Islam? How could one raise the issue of woman's education and her role outside the home without addressing the problem of male supremacy and polygamy? And, could any intellectual bring forward the idea of the people's sovereignty without contemplati ng its congruity, or lack thereof, with the Islamic notion of the caliphate?

The Enlightenment was a most powerful impelling force in the intellectual movement of Egypt. This is understandable because, on the one hand, Egypt needed Europe's tutelage for its developmental needs. On the other hand, the Islamic orthodoxy was not only incapable of offering a satisfactory account of Europe's breath-taking technological progress and scientific discoveries, but also some of its key concepts could not even capture the changing sociopolitical reality of Egypt. In this intellectual void, the Enlightenment furnished a useful conceptual framework and methods of discovery for the analysis of social order. Montesquieu's views on nation and nationalism, Guizot's conception of civilization, Comte and Saint Simon's evolutionary theory and positivist project, Rousseau's views on civil liberty, education, and general will, Ernest Renan's criticisms of religion, Spencer's evolutionary theory and views on education, and Silvestre de Sacy's discoveries of the pre-Islamic Egypt influenced Egyptians' view of society and history.

Such Arabic journals as Roudat al-madaris (22) and al-Muqtataf (23) disseminated modern ideas in the country. Al-Muqtataf published articles on subjects ranging from scientific discoveries, breakthroughs in medicine, technological inventions, literature, and the causes of Western progress and Eastern backwardness to the role of women in society. Appearing in the journal were the biographies of prominent scientists, eulogizing personalities like Isac Newton, (24) Galileo, (25) Louis Pasteur, (26) Charles Darwin, (27) Ernest Renan, (28) Humphry Davy, (29) Maria Mitchell, (30) and Herbert Spencer, (31) among others. Al-Muqtataf informed its readers of inventions like electricity, telephone, phonograph, and photography that had astonished people in the Islamic world. (32) Naturally, these momentous contributions to human progress enhanced the prestige of the rational sciences among the educated elite, stimulating the desire to uncover the secret of Western advancement.

Al-Muqtataf spread the idea that the regularities of the temporal world were governed by causal laws, which could be discovered via human intellectual exertion. This view collided with the traditional Muslim and Coptic views. Discussions of Darwin's theory of evolution and such astronomical discoveries as the roundness and movement of the earth produced a storm of controversies. (33) The religious conservatives, both Muslim and Christian, rejected Darwinism, their Westernizing counterparts defended the theory. (34) Al-Muqtataf also addressed women's issues by defending the right of women to education and work. (35)

The British also supported the new cultural movement in Egypt. While openly pursuing a policy of religious neutrality, (36) they were highly critical of Islam. Reflecting such a critical attitude was Cromer's Modern Egypt. Cromer portrayed Islamic history as "a dismal failure." He condemned Egypt for its intolerant religion, barbaric criminal law, degradation of women, and the illogical, immoderate, and the general muddle-headedness of its people. For him, Islam as a social system was a complete failure. This failure emanated from keeping women in a position of marked inferiority, the rigidity of its law, its tolerance of slavery and intolerance of other religions. (37) He considered the entire Islamic criminal justice primitive and inhumane. (38) He condemned the seclusion of women and the practice of polygamy, (39) stating that "the whole fabric of European society rests upon the preservation of family life. Monogamy fosters family life, polygamy destroys it." (40)

To be sure, political and economic interests were the motivating forces behind British occupation of Egypt. (41) Nevertheless, in Wilfred Scawen Blunt's judgment, the British were popular everywhere in the Islamic world, "being looked upon as free from the political designs of the other Frank nations." (42) Even if we question Blunt's assessment, we may be justified in arguing that the British contributed to the rise of cultural pluralism in Egypt because, as Wendell stated, "European Powers paradoxically did the native press an unquestionable service by removing the threat of arbitrary suppression by the will or whim of the khedive." (43) At the same time, while undermining the traditional barriers to modern discourses, they managed to stay away from directly interfering in ideological debates and religious disputations. This fact had most probably hindered the politicization of cultural exchange between Egypt and Europe despite inequality in the distribution of power. (44) This relative freedom in all likel ihood prompted the modernists to avoid oppositional politics. For Abduh and his followers, British rule, while in principle unacceptable, left the only viable opportunity gradually to educate their fellow Egyptians. (45)

The Evangelicals were the third major group contending for the intellectual control of Egypt. (46) They criticized British authorities for being overly pro-Muslim. (47) Like their Indian counterparts, the missionaries raised similar issues about Islamic culture in Egypt. They questioned the integrity of Muslim rulers, assaulted the character of Muhammad, and were particularly vociferous in condemning Islam for its treatment of women. A conspicuous fact in the history of Muslim domination in Egypt, said Presbyterian Charles Watson, "is the superiority of the the Moslem in mental ability." (48) The Muslim history, he claimed, "is for the most part a story of war, revolution, and tyranny." (49) As regards to Muslim's integrity, Watson said, "for the most part the history of Moslem Egyptian actions presents a record of treachery parried only by greater treachery." (50) Islam was also attacked for its treatment of women. Andrew Watson claimed that in nothing did Islam appear worse when compared with Christianity than in its treatment of women, and polygamy practiced by Muslim men was the twin sister of barbarism. (51) "In the West, woman is honored; in Egypt, she is despised.... Indeed, it is quite the general opinion in Egypt that a woman has a lower nature than a man." (52) Being kept in an inferior status, Muslim women have become inferior to the U.S. women intellectually, morally, and socially: "The intelligence, the patience, the culture, the self-denial of the western women, have their exact contrast in the ignorance, the superstition, the irritability, the boorishness and the selfishness of the Egyptian women." (53)

The missionaries established schools as a principal method of teaching and preaching. (54) They also published such periodicals as the semi-religious weekly Orient and Occident which by the end of its second year in 1906 managed to attract several thousand readers, of whom over a thousand were claimed to be Muslims. Meetings were organized to discuss social, national, historical, or moral subjects. While no religious disputations were allowed, the meetings were used to gain acquaintance with Muslims and draw them to other meetings for debates on female education, the drink question, moral purity, and for the reading of history. Evangelistic meetings were often followed by disputations. (55) By 1906, there were eight missions in Egypt with a total of 141 foreign workers and 664 native workers. They established 170 elementary schools with 11,312 pupils, 25 boarding and high schools with 4,576 pupils, 3 colleges or seminaries with 687 pupils, 4 hospitals with a 3,586 patient capacity, 10 clinics, while the Copti c church had 62 organized congregations. (56)


The forerunners of Islamic modernism formulated their ideas Within this pluralistic discursive context. These thinkers were concerned with the problems facing their community. Educated Muslims who were aware of Europe had naturally realized the agonizing backwardness of their society: archaic technology, primitive level of scientific knowledge, despotic political institutions, and the poverty and illiteracy of the masses. Naturally, these historical exigencies had impressed a sense of urgency upon their minds. Their ideological resolution, however, neither directly emanated from nor was dictated by these exigencies. It was formed in a different manner. The Islamic ideological universe was being attacked from all sides by the followers of the Enlightenment, British Westernizers, and evangelical Christianity. The discourse of the modernists was formed within the context of these controversies as these thinkers formulated an Islamic response to their adversaries. In doing so, they realized the inadequacy of the methodological framework of the Islamic orthodoxy that had dominated al-Azhar and other institutions of higher learning in Egypt.

To formulate an alternative method of Quranic exegesis, these thinkers reexamined the methods of the Islamic jurisprudence. Of the four sources of Islamic jurisprudence, the Quran and hadith were reinterpreted, and ijma and qiyas were fundamentally transformed. The door of ijtihad was pushed open as human reason competed with prophetic revelation, maslaha turned into utility, shura into parliamentary democracy, ijma into public opinion, the ideas of natural selection and the survival of the fittest crept into the Islamic views of change, polygamy became a questionable (even unlawful) institution, and Islam itself became identical with civilization--all congruent with the norms of nineteenth-century social thought.


Rifa'a Badawi Rafi' al-Tahtawi (1801-73) was among Egypt's first modern thinkers. The modernism that Tahtawi espoused was not an intellectual outgrowth of his educational background as a graduate of al-Azhar, although it had undeniably affected the manner in which he approached modern ideas. Being involved in the state's educational program, he came into a close encounter with the ideas of the Enlightenment and with the European lifestyle during his sojourn in Paris (1826-31). (57) How did Tahtawi develop his ideas? Tahtawi could not have remained strictly loyal to his orthodox upbringing, while performing the task of modernizing Egypt's educational system. His position was indeed congruent with a differentiated conception of knowledge that constituted a core element in his modernist thought. In the Islamic orthodoxy, knowledge had a uniform structure, and the ulama embodied both rational and religious scholarship. Thus when he introduced rational science to the learned Egyptians, he clarified a distinction n ot quite known in Muslim academia between scientists who knew rational knowledge (i.e., science) and the ulama who were scholars of religious knowledge (i.e., theology). Tahtawi informed his readers that one should not assume that French scientists were also priests. Priests were only knowledgeable on religious matters, even though some might also be scientists. In France, many scientists were not familiar with Christian theology. This fact, in his view, explained why Christians had surpassed Muslims in sciences: Europeans had emphasized rational sciences, while alAzhar and other Muslim universities were all pre-occupied with traditional sciences. (58) Thus it appears that the differentiation of knowledge in Tahtawi's mind paralleled social differentiation--a phenomenon consistent with a standard argument in the correspondence theory of knowledge.

Yet this differentiated conception of knowledge Tahtawi was introducing to Egypt, had a dynamic of its own separate from that of social differentiation. Knowledge differentiation provided a discursive space for the rise of modernism, while effectively undermining the conceptual framework underpinning the traditional educational institutions. For the acceptance of the utility of the separation of the rational from the religious sciences had legitimized the foundation of the modern school for fulfilling the technical needs of the country. At the same time, it was tantamount to the admission of a possibility of the advance in the rational sciences rendering the religious claims about social life and physical universe superfluous. Tahtawi did not see this contradiction, and here one may detect the influence of religious training on his thought. For him, as for many other modernist thinkers, it was an article of faith that there was not much difference between the principles of the Islamic law and those of 'natura l law' on which the codes of modern Europe were based. To demonstrate this claim and to establish the consistency of his views with Islam, he often made reference to the Quran and the hadith. He, however, realized the new challenges facing Islam. He demanded a more intellectual activism from the ulama, arguing that they were not simply the guardians of a fixed tradition. He believed that it was necessary, and a legitimate practice, to adapt the Shari'a to new circumstances. (59)

Many issues that Tahtawi dealt with in his numerous writings and translations were elaborated and expanded by later modernists. (60) There is, however, an element of discontinuity between his experiences and those of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1839-97.) Given the vast progress Egypt was experiencing under Muhammad Ali, Tahtawi had every reason to be optimistic. For al-Afghani the situation was different. His extensive travels enabled him to observe closely the deteriorating conditions of Muslim nations and the increasing European domination of the Islamic land; these experiences prompted him to reflect upon their causes and how to bring back past Muslim glory. AlAfghani's pan-Islamic ideas broadly corresponded to the emerging nationalist-cum-Islamic movement against increasing foreign domination. He visited India circa 1857, when he was still young, and might have witnessed the Indian mutiny of 1857-58. He was involved in anti-British movements in Egypt, Iran, and elsewhere.

It is not, however, convincing to argue that al-Afghani's pan-Islamism was a reflection of the exigencies of the anti-imperialist struggle. In his ideological reflections, al-Afghani fixed his gaze on three distinct targets: European powers, the despotic rulers of the Muslim nations, and the orthodox ulama. In his woridview, three elements featured prominently: (1) a decadence consciousness that permeated his thinking about Muslim nations; (2) the idea of Islamic unity against Western political domination; and (3) a positive philosophical expose on rational sciences and critique of the orthodox ulama. Al-Afghani's quarrel with the West was political in nature. His discourse, on the other hand, displayed an affinity with the nineteenth-century paradigm on society and history, in particular Guizot's perspective on civilization as progress and development of both social life and individual faculties. (61)

Al-Afghani used this perspective to explain the decline of the Islamic civilization. In the past, he said in al-Urwa al-wuthqa, (62) Muslims were superior in all fields of human endeavor. But, "today, Muslims are stagnated in their education and knowledge." The reform suggested by some Western educated individuals was not successful in treating the malady of the umma. For these individuals, reform meant taking pride in emulating the West in their dress, food, and furniture, belittling the indigenous culture and people, and running to the service of the foreigners. The solution was a return to the fundamentals of Islam. The Muslims must realize that their strength in the past was due to their adherence to Islam. (63) Islam declined because of the weakening of the solidarity among Muslims and the division of Islamic territories into different kingdoms, each being ruled by a despot who was interested in fulfilling only his own desires and working according to his whims. Muslims should unite and learn from the ex perience of other nations. (64) It was the time for them to wake up to the bare essentials of their humanity. (65)

In his more abstract philosophical expose, there were barely traces of the influence of the pressing need for a pan-Islamic movement. Al-Afghani responded to the critics of Islam in terms of the discursive framework of the nineteenth-century Enlightenment. Al-Afghani (with Abduh) took issue with European writers who had considered Islam the cause of the backwardness of Muslim societies. They rejected the claim that the belief in al-qada wa al-qadar (predestination) was responsible for Muslim decadence. These Europeans, they said, were mistaken because they had confused this term with al-jabr (compulsion). All sects in Islam agreed that belief in al-qada wa al-qadar did not mean a submission to the status quo. Nor did it justify lagging behind other nations, and accepting a retrogressive state as a fateful decree from God. The notion of al-qada wa al-qadar indicated "omniscience" and "omnipotence" of God, not compulsion. It meant that God knew everything before it happened, when and how it would happen. The kn owledge of God was not in contradiction with the believer's free will. In fact, the free will within the broader knowledge of God would make humans accountable to their deeds. God had decreed that Muslims must observe their religious beliefs and perform their duties that also included striving for progress, and defense of their rights and freedom of choice. (66)

Al-Afghani's modernist view on the role of religion and critique of the orthodoxy bore no mark of East-West controversy and the necessity of a Muslim unity against European domination. It was rather formulated in the context of debate with Renan. The latter had attacked early Islamic Arabs for their hostility to rational philosophic inquiries. Al-Afghani responded first by criticizing Renan for advancing a racist argument that the Arabs by nature were hostile to science. Then, he explained the relationship between Islam and science in terms of an evolutionary perspective, arguing that prophecy was necessary because ail peoples in their early stage of development were incapable of accepting reason to distinguish good from evil. They were led to obey the advice of their preachers in the name of the Supreme Being to whom were attributed all events. "This is no doubt for men one of the heaviest and most humiliating yokes, as I recognized; but one cannot deny that it is by this religious education, whether it be M uslim, Christian, or pagan, that all nations have emerged from barbarism and marched toward a more advanced civilization." (67) Al-Afghani further argued that "all religions are intolerant, each one in its way." (68) On science and religion, al-Afghani provocatively attacked Muslim religion, the orthodox ulama, and the despotic rulers of Muslim nations. "Whenever it became established," said he,

this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvelously served in its designs by despotism.... Religions, by whatever names they are called, all resemble each other. No agreement and no reconciliation are possible between these religions and philosophy. Religion imposes on man its faith and its belief, whereas philosophy frees him of it totally or in part. (69)

Al-Afghani's anti-imperialist and pan-Islamic politics often tended to override his modernist discourse. On many occasions, al-Afghani glorified the early Islamic civilization arguing that the people of early Islam had no science, "but, thanks to the Islamic religion, a philosophic spirit arose among them, and owing to that philosophic spirit they began to discuss the general affairs of the world and human necessities." (70) He often portrayed himself as a staunch believer. In "the Refutation of the Materialists" delivered in 1880-81, al-Afghani advanced a pragmatic defense of religion, that is, the utility of the orthodox for the majority and the danger of sects including the materialists. (71) He argued that religion was the mainstay of nations and the source of their welfare and happiness, while naturalism was the root of corruption and source of foulness. In this text, he criticized diverse theories, ranging from Darwin's theory of evolution to various schools such as socialism, communism, and nihilism. H is fierce criticism was also extended to Sayyid Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement in India.

Keddie explained away these contradictory elements by arguing that "Afghani was profoundly influenced by a tradition, particularly strong among the Islamic philosophers, that it was correct and proper to use different levels of discourse according to the level of one's audience. Like the philosophers, he believed that the masses, 'amma, were not open to rational philosophical argument." (72) An altenative explanation of this contradiction is based on the insertion of al-Afghani in two diverse discursive frameworks. One is political and the other philosophical. As a modernist thinker and in exchange with philosophers, he was critical of religion. But as an anti-British activist, his discourse was orientated towards pan-Islamic oppositional politics. Given his anti-imperialist project, he naturally viewed pan-Islamism as the most effective way of combating imperialism. His modernism was as much radical and provocative as that of the Aligarh, and there was not much in his philosophical view that could not be rec onciled with that of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and associates. If, for him, their naturalism was wanting and their commitment to Islam suspect, it was because of their "complicity" with the British.


Al-Afghani's bold political expression came at the expense of his residential stability. In every country he visited, he stirred up controversy, which led to his expulsion. Further, his position within the established religious hierarchy was too tenuous to constrain his daring philosophical utterances. This form of oppositional politics was not congruent with the political realism of his closest associate, Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). (73) For Abduh, political and philosophical expositions had to be 'tamed' by the reality of British presence in the country, on the one hand, and by the prerogatives of the Islamic orthodoxy that he ended up heading as the Mufti of Egypt, on the other. Abduh's political realism conformed to that of Tahtawi. Here again, this convergence of the views of both thinkers may be attributed to the similarities in their social positions. To pursue their distinctly religious objectives, both men had to follow a moderate line. For Abduh, moderation was the only alternative. The Urabi rebell ion had been crushed by the British and Urabi's brinkmanship indeed gave credence to Abduh's misgiving about the wisdom of bringing constitutionalism to Egypt via a violent method. It also reinforced the belief that priority must be given to education so that the people could perform the duties of a representative government with intelligence and firmness. Both the government and the people must become accustomed gradually to the giving and receiving of advice, and if the country were ready for participation in the government, there would be no point in seeking such participation by the force of arms. (74)

Nevertheless, the sources of Abduh's ideas and the nature of the intellectual problem he tackled were beyond the particulars of his social situation. Abduh was inspired by the Enlightenment discourse. (75) In his modernist reading of Islam, Abduh abandoned the traditional formula of Islamic exegesis in favor of the rationalist methods. In his view, an individual independent ruling was essential. Although a collective judgment of the community was possible, such a consensus was never infallible and could not close the gate of ijtihad. Abduh argued that the real rejection of Islam, the real kafir, was the refusal to accept the proof of rational argument; the hallmark of the perfect Muslim community being both law and reason. Muslims could accept the result of scientific inquiry. These methodological premises were the bases of Abduh's efforts to demonstrate the affinity of Islam with modern scientific thinking. In his exegesis of the story of the prophet David and his war with the Philistines in the Quran, for example, Abdub deduced from the verses fourteen propositions concerning sociopolitical change, progress, and war, calling them "sociological laws of the Qur'an." He argued that Allah's will is executed according to a general law. War among nations is one of these general laws. War was natural among humans because it was an instance of the struggle for existence. Part of this general law was the Quranic verse that stated that "Were it not for the restraint of one by means of the other, imposed on men by God, verily the earth had been utterly corrupted." (77) Abduh claimed that the idea of natural selection did not contradict Islam. He attacked false sociologists who believed that the idea of the struggle for existence was the discovery of the contemporary materialists. He further maintained that the Quran admitted that life could not be right without natural selection, or the survival of the fittest. People fight each other for truth and benefit. This struggle saved the earth in the way that it would save the t ruth and righteousness.(78)

Abduh's reformism was also to overcome the cultural duality that was created by modernization. Egypt had two diverse systems of education, each creating its own category of educated elite with a corresponding cultural orientation. One was the orthodox and conservatives who had resisted all change. The other was the cultural tendency of the younger generation that had embraced all ideas of modern Europe. Abduh doubted the possibility of successfully transplanting European laws and institutions to Egypt Bridging the gap between these two intellectual orders was one of Abduh's central projects. His intellectual solution to this distinctly Muslim problem, however, was formulated in terms of the framework of the French Enlightenment. Abduh viewed Egypt's cultural predicament from a Comtean perspective. Like Comte who was engaged in the construction of a universally acceptable system of ideas that were to transcend both the rationalist zeal of the French Revolution and those who wanted to return to the old order, A bduh was preoccupied with showing that Islam contained the universalistic creed that could link the two cultures and form a moral basis of modern Egypt. (79) Further, a general religions awakening, for Abduh, had another utility of being the only method available. Reforms by secular means such as philosophy or culture had required the erection of a new structure for which neither materials nor the necessary personnel were present. (80) Islam could form a basis for progress because, in his view, it was compatible with reason.

The use of reason, in Abduh's thought, however, was not tantamount to the admission of the Mu'tazilite's position. Such an admission in all likelihood would have impaired his relationship with al-Azhar's Ash'arite theologians, undermining his position as the Mufti of Egypt, and jeopardizing his reformist project. Rather, he used reason in a parallel competence with revelation, both belonging to the same sphere, neither accepting separation nor conflict among them. (81) Yet Abduh had to modify his theological compromise with fellow Azharites in order to meet challenges to his faith coming from people on the opposite side of the Islamic orthodoxy. In particular, French historian Gabriel Hanotaux and Lebanese-Egyptian journalist Farah Antun criticized Islam from a rationalist and secular perspective. In these debates, Abduh appeared to have taken position quite close to rationalism and the notion of natural law.

To emphasize the difference between Islam and Christianity--or two civilizations, one Semite in origin and the other Aryan--Hanotaux discussed the viewpoints of the two religions on the fundamental questions of the nature of God and predestination. Christian belief in the Trinity or God's immanence in human life, he argued, formed the theological foundation for appreciating man's worth and his nearness to God. Muslim belief in God's unity and transcendence, in contrast, underlay the thought of man's insignificance and helplessness. Further, the active use of means and self-dependence among Christians emanated from the idea of free will, while the stagnation of the Muslims was rooted in the doctrine of predestination and blind submission to law.

In response, Abduh indicated that the present culture of Europe did not originate from the Aryans and the Greeks, but from contact with the Semitic nations. All nations borrowed from one another. And the western Aryan borrowed from the eastern Semitic more than the depressed East was taking from the independent West. The doctrine of the unity of God was not a Semitic belief but a Hebrew belief only. Discussions of predestination were not peculiar to any one religion. Christians were not in agreement on the question of man's free will. Finally, in his defense of the doctrine of the unity of God, Abduh resorted to reason by arguing that compared to the ideas of God existing among other groups, the Islamic doctrine was based on the highest form of reasonable belief that was attained by the intellect, whereas belief in the Trinity gave no place to reason, as Christians themselves would confess. (82) In the second controversy, Antun criticized Islam for being less tolerant towards learning and philosophy than Chri stianity. The emergence of modern civilization in Europe was made possible because learning had triumphed over persecution in Christian Europe. Abduh responded by arguing that Christianity also persecuted its own scholars as well as the adherents of other faiths, and that Islam historically contributed to civilization and learning. Abduh, however, acknowledged that there were historical reasons for the current rigidity of Islam. (83) In these two debates, we may detect a clear shift in Abduh's expose away from the Ash'ari and towards a more explicit Mu'tazili, a theological position Abduh had consciously attempted to eschew. (84)


A major component of the dominant view of the world order in the nineteenth century was the civilization versus savagery dichotomy. The use of this dichotomy in Islamic modernism implied the admission of the irrelevancy of the dar ul-Islam-dar ul-harb duality. It was also symptomatic of a more serious problem for the Islamic belief system. The civilized order in Europe, resting on the organizing principles different from the revealed laws of Islam was an anomaly for the modernists. For if a non-Islamic order surpassed Muslims in science and technology, understanding its sociological laws would not only uncover the secrets of its progress but also reveal the existence of new principles of social organization that had produced a society better than Muslim societies. How could one reconcile the tension between the organizing principles of European civilization and the principles of Islam that, in the Muslim view, were far superior? (85)

Al-Afghani and Abduh tried to resolve this dilemma by advancing a modernist interpretation of Islam and attributing the decline of Muslims to certain historical causes, while at the same time remaining loyal to the scholarly tradition of their religion. Another way of tackling this anomaly was an apologetic trend that sought an easy way out by trying to uncover an Islamic precedent for modern ideas of Europe. Traces of this trend were visible in the articles of al-Muqtataf as some writers tried to uncover in Islamic history an intellectual pedigree for Darwin and Galileo. (86) Muhammad Farid Wajdi (1875-1954) took this argument to a logical extreme by making a simple assumption that Islam was a perfect model of civilization. His central premise was that everything the modern world had discovered and approved was foreseen in the Quran and bidden in its verses. (87) While for Abduh a true society was based on the teaching of Islam, in Wajdi there was a subtle change in them relationship between the two, and a t rue Islam conforms to civilization.

In Hourani's assessment, Wajdi's work was polemical and lacked the vivid sense of responsibility Abduh and other thinkers had displayed toward Islam. (88) This may be the case; but how are we to explain Wajdi's expose? Abduh's scholarly responsibility was certainly an aspect of his intellectual sophistication. He was also constrained by the discursive context within which he advanced his reformist ideas. His academic position as the head of al-Azhar and background in Islamic scholarship placed an effective limit on his expression. Wajdi, on the other hand, fixed his gaze on debates in Europe, France in particular. He took issue with such writers as Benjamin Constant, Ernest Renan, and Joseph Geyser. (89) His book was published in French and was intended for a French audience, without being too concerned with other Muslim views such as the Islamic orthodoxy. Too anxious to defend Islam visa-a-vis the Europeans, Wajdi dissolved Islam in modernism. (90)


The status of women in Egypt was among the most hotly debated issues in the intellectual encounters between the followers of traditional Islam and its opponents. In this context, Qasim Amin (1865-1908) formulated a systematic defense of women's rights from an Islamic standpoint. Amin's writings reflected a growing gender awareness in the country, reinforced by the extension of education to women (91) and by such women's press as al-Fatah (The Young Woman, 1892), al-firdaus (Paradise, 1896), and Mir 'at al-Hasna' (Mirror of the Beautiful, 1896). (92) But more directly, his assessment of the situation of women echoed the criticisms leveled against Islamic Egypt. He was provoked when Duc d' Harcourt, a French writer, criticized Egypt for its backwardness, the low status of women and the use of the veil. Amin responded by defending the veil and criticizing the promiscuity of European social life. Thenceforth, he studied European views on women and concluded that the advancement of Egypt lay in the uplifting of it s women. (93)

In Amin's view, women's problem was rooted in the country's tradition for preserving despotism, in the despotic political institutions for promoting male domination, and in the institution of the ulama for their views on women's education, seclusion, veil, polygamy, and divorce. With few exceptions, Muslim theologians had manipulated Islam however they wanted and had made it an object of ridicule. (94) While recognizing Western achievements in gender equality, (95) Amin denied the role of Christianity in the advancement of women. (96) The Shari'a, on the other hand, "stipulated the equality of women and men before any other legal system." (97) The low status of women in contemporary Egypt is therefore no fault of Islam. In fact, Amin's argument conformed to the position of other Islamic writers that male supremacy and polygamy were rather cultural issues that also existed in non-Islamic cultures. (98)

On veiling, Amin argued that the Shari'a allowed a woman to uncover her face and her palms, but covering the face and the veil had been part of the ancient traditions that preceded Islam. (99) On the issue of marriage, Amin again assailed the Muslim ulama for considering it as "a contract by which a man has the right to sleep with a woman." (100) A true marriage must be based on both physical attraction and a harmony of spirit, which was possible only when it was based on a mutual consent. (101) Using a modernist exegesis of the Quran, Amin took position against polygamy. Polygamy, he argued, implied an intense contempt for women. No woman would like to share her husband with another woman, just as no man would accept the love of another man for his wife. This monopoly over love was natural for both men and women. (102) In explaining away the Quranic injunction on polygamy, Amin followed the same logic as that of Indian modernists--justice in a polygamous relationship was impossible. (103) Finally, divorce wa s permissible in Islam, but it should not be a man's prerogative only. (104)

By referring to the Shari'a, Amin claimed his feminist expose to be Islamic. His response to his critics, however, took a secular orientation--the appeal was no longer to the Shari'a but to science and to Western achievements: "Look at the eastern countries; you will find woman enslaved to man and man to the ruler.... Then look at the European countries; the governments are based on freedom and respect for personal rights, and the status of women has been raised to a high degree of respect and freedom of thought and action." (105) Thus it appears that Amin's view on women, the formulation of an Islamic feminist conception of gender relations, and the shift in his view toward a secular reasoning--were all shaped within the context of debates and clashes of meanings.


The question of political authority in Islam did not feature prominently in the works of Egyptian modernists in the late nineteenth century. The heterogeneity of the ruling elite under British occupation, discursive pluralism, and the British policy of religious neutrality appeared to have made the issue of the caliphate insignificant. Moreover, the religious justifications for the traditional ruler-ulama alliance had little support among the country's intellectual leaders. The Ottomans were still the nominal rulers--with the conservatives tending to support their rule while modern intellectual leaders demanded independence and constitutionalism. In the national liberation movement, even pan-Islamist-nationalists like Abd Allah Nadim (1845-96) and Mustafa Kamil (1874-96) did not wish to establish an Islamic government in their country.

The discursive context in which Ali Abd al-Raziq (1888-1966) published his treatise on al-Islam was usul al-hukm (Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority, 1925) was different. The new liberal-nationalist state was under the conservative attack. This conservatism originated from the ideology of the Arab caliphate movement. The idea of an Arab caliph was part of the Arab nationalist discourse that had originated in Syria in response to Turkish secularism and national chauvinism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (106) This discourse, in its modernist formulation, first appeared in the works of Abdul Rahman al-Kawakibi who, along with Naqib Azoury, a Christian. formulated the idea of the Arab right to secede from the Ottoman Empire and to establish an independent Arab caliphate. Kawakibi's thesis, however, demonstrated the debilitating effect of despotism on both the society and the individual character. (107) But the caliphate movement in Egypt became the rallying point of the conservative fo rces, and Khedive Abbas Hilmi was more interested in becoming the caliph than establishing a constitutional system. (108) After the 1919 revolution, his son, King Fuad, did not give much support for the Constitution either. Fuad also had ambitions of becoming the caliph, particularly following the abolition of the caliphate by the Turkish government in l926. (109)

Thus for the first time in modern Egypt the caliphate became an ideological target in opposition to which al-Raziq boldly formulated an Islamic justification for the national democratic state. Al-Raziq claimed that the caliphate had no basis either in the Quran, the tradition, or consensus among the ulama. Theoretically, the caliphate embodied both religious and secular authorities, and was held by those who had succeeded the Prophet. But, the examination of the proofs presented in support of this institution provided an insufficient basis to sustain the claim of this form of government. "If we were to collect all his [the Prophet's] direct teachings on the question of government, we would get little more than a fraction of the principle of law and organizations needed for maintaining a state." (110) Al-Raziq then argued that the chief purpose of Muhammad was religious, not political. His intention was not to establish an empire, nor did his mission require him to exercise power over his followers. His prophe tic mission was purely spiritual. The political changes Muhammad brought about were the incidental consequences of his moral revolution. From this al-Raziq went on to attack the historical experience of the caliphate by declaring that the institution had hindered the progress of the Muslims. Islam had thus nothing to do with this or that form of government, and it never prohibited Muslims to destroy the old and establish a new political system on the basis of the newest concepts and experiences. (111)


In Islam's intellectual history, there have been several instances of modernist attempts by Muslim scholars. The rise of Islamic modernism in nineteenth-century Egypt was one of such instances. The aim of this paper is to explain the historical conditions that made this movement possible. It has argued that in addition to its historical significance in affecting the course of intellectual movement in Egypt, Islamic modernism raised challenging questions for theories of cultural change that proposed a correspondence of ideology to social structure. To be sure, insofar as Islamic modernism was contingent upon the modernists' social position and the existing social arrangements, we may argue that the Egyptian case provided some support for the correspondence theory. Certainly, the rise of this new discourse was promoted by a conjunction of several historical factors--the breakdown of the traditional order, the decline of the old and the emergence of new social classes, the state-initiated-and-directed modernizat ion, European intervention, and the rise of a new educated elite. The forgoing analysis, however, did not support a stricter claim of the correspondence perspective that ideas reflected social differentiation, class or status group interests. This analysis, however, provides corroborative evidence for Wuthnow's thesis on the role of the state in furnishing the necessary social space for culture production. Likewise, to the extent that ideological production is conceived as an outcome of debates, contrasting positions, conflicts and disagreements over relatively small positions (the law of small number), this analysis of the origins of Islamic modernism supports Collins' model of intellectual creativity.

To explain the actual production of meaning, I began by suggesting that sociopolitical ideas are produced in relation to other ideas and through active engagements of ideological producers themselves. The production of ideas is non-anonymous. It is systematic and focused on a set of historically significant issues. How these issues are resolved in the work of ideological producers depends on the context and structure of the available meaning. Using this analytical scheme, I argued that Islamic modernism was an outcome of the discursive context of the ideological contentions in the second part of the nineteenth-century Egypt. This context was pluralistic, reflecting the presence of several diverse discourses: Islamic orthodoxy, the nineteenth-century Enlightenment, the Europocentrist discourse of the British Westernizers, and the discourse of mission Christianity. The clashes of ideas and religious disputations in this period resulted in the crystallization of such historically significant issues as the relati onship between the rational and Islamic sciences, the nature of Western civilization, the status of women, and the nature of political authority in Islam. I have traced the influence of the existing discourses in shaping Islamic modernism in the works of the leading Islamic thinkers: Tahtawi's introduction of the differentiation of religious and rational sciences, al-Afghani's modernist expose on the function of religion; Abduh's rationalist-revelational exegesis of the Quran; Qasim Amin's formulation of Islamic feminism; and Abdul alRaziq's re-examination of Islamic political theory were all, as it were, formulated within the context of criticisms leveled against Islam and Islamic history by diverse ideological contenders as well as by the challenges to the Islamic conception of the universe posed by Europe's new scientific discoveries and technological breakthrough.

I have used the concept of episode in this study to emphasize discontinuity in ideological production. Napoleon's s invasion of Egypt marked the beginning of a new episode in the history of Egypt. It not only set the stage for significant sociopolitical changes but also enormously influenced the minds of the ideological producers. European interventions in the affairs of Egypt, the country's integration into the world economy and the development of capitalism, the rise of landowners and merchants, and, most significantly, the formation of the modem bureaucratic structure of the state were the distinctive features of the episode that structured culture production. The Enlightenment was the dominant discourse during the period under investigation. Such seminal ideas as civilization, the belief in human evolutionary progress, and the test of civilization provided by the status of women furnished the general intellectual framework in relation to which Islamic thinkers developed their theological and sociopolitica l views. The concepts and methodologies the precursors of modernism had employed and the specific ideas on various sociopolitical issues they had developed were shaped principally by such binaries as civilization versus savagery, progress versus stagnation, gender equality versus male domination, political freedom versus oriental despotism, human reason versus prophetic revelation. This episode ended in the 1930s, when liberalism was effectively challenged by various supra national ideologies. The Egyptian cultural experience thus lends credence to the contention that ideological production transpires within a bounded historical process that has a beginning and an end.

To underscore the cultural distinctiveness of this episode, we may contrast it with the post-thirties when radical/leftist discourses (e.g., Arabnationalism, national-socialism, Islamic fundamentalism) became part of the dominant cultural trends in Egypt. In the former episode, the basic parameters of the discursive fields were set, among other things, by the idea of social evolution, with the West residing at the pinnacle of the world civilization. In the latter episode, on the other hand, the imperialism versus people dichotomy, with the West being the site of the world imperialism, structured ideological production. The image of the West projected by the imperialism paradigm was that of an exploitative economic institution, decadent cultural order, and aggressive political system--all opposed to the features for which the Islamic modernists applauded the West. It may be postulated that these diverse portrayals of the West constituted one of the key differences in the discursive fields in relation to which Islamic modernism and fundamentalism were produced. Understanding the distinctive features of an episode may thus provide important clues on the nature of ideological production and cultural trends within the civil society. It may enable us to uncover the fundamental cultural codes around which ideological disputations revolve, and provide the means to predict the form of social movement most likely to emerge within the society.


(1.) See, for example, Charles C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt (New York: Russell and Russell, 1933); Malcolm Kerr, Islamic Reform (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Elie Kedourie, An Essay on Religious Unbelief and Political Activism in Modern Islam (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1966); Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Hamid Enayat, Sayri Dar Andisheh-ye Arab (An Overview of Arabic Thought, Tehran, Iran: 1977), and Modern Islamic Political Thought (London: MacMillan, 1982); Hisham Sharabi, Arab Intellectuals and the West (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1970); Issa Boullata, Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arab Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990); and Abdallah Laroui, The Crisis of Arab Intellectuals (LA: University of California Press, 1976).

(2.) Robert Wuthnow, Communities of Discourse: Ideology and Social Structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp.1-22, 55, 481, 530-31.

(3.) Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 388, 379, 791-2, 380.

(4.) M. M. Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel"; In The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, Michael Holquist (ed.), (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 426.

(5.) Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World (New York: Routledge, 1990).

(6.) Ibid: 21.

(7.) Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, "Sociology of religion and sociology of knowledge," in Roland Robertson, (ed.), Sociology of Religion (New York: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 70.

(8.) The thirties marked a major change in the orientation of Egyptian intellectuals. See Nadav Safran, Egypt in Search of Political Community (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961); Charles D. Smith, "The 'Crisis of Orientation': The Shift of Egyptian Intellectuals to Islamic Subjects in the 1930's," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 4 (1973): 382-410, and Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husanyn Haykal (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983).

(9.) An interesting case study that demonstrates this process in a different context is Larson's examination of how the people of highland Madagascar come to understand and practice the Christianity introduced to them by British missionaries during the early nineteenth century. Larson argues that the native Malagasy grafted this new religion onto their language and existing religious practices. See Pier M. Larson, "'Capacity and Modes of Thinking': Intellectual Engagements and Subaltern Hegemony in the Early History of Malagasy Christianity," American Historical Review, 102,4-5 (October, 1997): 969-1002.

(10.) Sharabi considers the term Islamic modernism imprecise. Instead, he prefers reformism, because, for him, this movement was "tradition-bound"(p. 7), and in it "the critical consciousness which a genuine rationalism would have necessarily required failed to emerge" (p. 37). The reformists Sharabi is referring to are people like al-Afghani, Abduh, Nadim, Rida, while he places people like Qasim Amin in the category of Muslim secularists. We may find support for Sharabi's position in Kerr's analysis of Islamic reformism that Abduh "remained faithful to certain fundamental Ash'arite formulas" (see Kerr, p. 111). But it must be kept in mind that, as Kerr indicated "'Abduh was a conservative by language and manner and a radical by the implication of many of his teachings" (p. 105). Nevertheless, our yardstick in defining Islamic modernism (and also Islamic fundamentalism) is the position of the Muslim scholars on these five historically significant issues. Whether they displayed a critical consciousness that wo uld satisfy Sharabi's conception of modernism is a judgment call, and the assessment of which is beyond the scope and intent of this paper.

(11.) See Daniel Crecelius, "Nonideological Responses of the Egyptian Ulama to Modernization," in Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, Nikki R. Keddie(ed.), (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 167-210; Afaf Lutfi Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," in Keddie, Scholars, Saints, and Su]is, pp.153-54; and Gabriel Baer, "Urbanization in Egypt, 1820-1907," in Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East: The Nineteenth Century, William R. Polk and Richard L. Chambers (eds.), (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), p.147.

(12.) New Islamic movements in the pre-modern period like the speculative fundamentalism of Shah Wali-Ullah (1703-62) and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-87) transpired under the state's weakness and the decline of the ulama. These thinkers challenged both the legitimacy of the ruling dynasty as well as the static formalism of the orthodox Muslim jurisprudence. See Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p.201; Hourani, pp.37-78; G. N. Jalbani, Teachings of Shah Waliyullah (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1967), p.9; Qeyamuddin Ahmad, The Wahabi Movement in India (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1966), pp.13-14.

(13.) Kerr, pp.59, 111.

(14.) Mansoor Moaddel, "Islamic Culture and Politics: A Theoretical and Historical Assessment," Annual Review of Sociology (2002).

(15.) For analyses of social change in Egypt see Afaf Lutfi Marsot, "The Role of the Ulama in Egypt During the Early 19th Century" in Political and Social Change in Modern Egypt, M. Holt (ed.), (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), and Egypt in the Reign of Muhammed Ali (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Gabriel Baer, A History of Landownership in Modern Egypt 1800-1950 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962); Panayjotis J. Vatikiotis, The History of Egypt, 2nd edition (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); Charles Issawi, Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis (London: Oxford University Press, 1947); and Peter Gran, Islamic Roots of Capitalism (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979).

(16.) James Heyworth-Dunne, An Introduction to The History of Education in Modern Egypt (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1968), pp.104-223, 253; Vatikiotis, p.98.

(17.) Vatikiotis, pp.101-107, 183.

(18.) Ibid: 179, 183, 186-7.

(19.) Abdel-Rahim Mustafa, "The Breakdown of the Monopoly System in Egypt After the 1840s," in Political and Social Change in Modern Egypt, pp.29 1-307; Hamied Ansari, Egypt, The Stalled Society (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), pp.63, 74; Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo," p.43.

(20.) For an analysis of the ulama response to sociopolitical change in nineteenth-century Egypt, see Crecelius, "Non-ideological."

(21.) See Kerr, p. 1. The fundamental problem, in this view, was not the validity of the Islamic sociopolitical theory. It was rather a lack of what Gragg calls the tests of "Islamicity." See Kenneth Cragg, "The Tests of 'Islamicity,"' Middle East Forum (November, 1957), pp.15-17, 33. Following Gragg, Kerr argues that the doctrine of Caliphate did not identify an adequate procedure of identifying, choosing, installing, and if necessary, deposing, the caliph. Nor did the doctrine of jurisprudence offer the means of officially ascertaining the consensus on a given point of law (Kerr, p. 10).

(22.) For an overview of the missions and intellectual orientations of Roudat al-madaris, see Muhammad Abd al-Ghany Hasan and Abd al-Aziz al-Dosouqi, Roudat al-madaris (Cairo: al-Hayat al-Misriyya al-Aama al-Kitab, 1975).

(23.) Two Syrian Christians, Ya'qub Sarruf and Faris Nimr, founded al-Muqtataf in Beirut in 1876, but weary of the everlasting vexation of the Ottoman officials, the editors immigrated to Egypt and continued the publication of the journal there. See Martin Hartmann, The Arabic Press of Egypt (London: Luzac & Co.,1899), pp.1 1, 69-70. Farag, on the other hand, argued that the immediate reason for the departure of Sarruf, Nimr, and Makarius from Syria was the Lewis affair. See Nadia Farag, "The Lewis Affair and the Fortunes of al-Muqtataf," Middle Eastern Studies, 8, 1 (January 1972), 73-83.

(24.) al-Muqtataf vol. 1(1876), p.133.

(25.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 5, (1880), p.10.

(26.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 6(1881), p.313.

(27.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 7 (1882). pp.2-6.

(28.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 17(1893), p.101.

(29.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 20 (1896), pp.161-65.

(30.) al-Muqtataf, vol.23 (1898), pp.801-805.

(31.) al-Muqtataf, vol.29 (1904), pp.1-8.

(32.) For example, see al-Muqtataf, vol. 2 (1877), pp.107,208; and vol. 7 (1882), p.134.

(33.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 1(1876), pp.141, 174, 231, 276, 279, 268.

(34.) See Abdel A. Ziadat, Western Science in the Arab World: The Impact of Darwinism, 1860-1930 (London: Macmillan, 1986), pp.26-27. See also al-Muqtataf, 30 (1905), p.565.

(35.) al-Muqtataf, vol. 1 (1876), p.160; vol. 4 (1879), p.256; vol. 8 (1883), p.573; and vol. 11(1886), p.486. Articles that criticized women's situation appeared, arguing that women, like men, have intelligence. Emphasizing the significance of the role of mother in society, of educating women, and of teaching them their rights, these articles pushed forward the idea of equality between men and women (al-Muqtataf, vol. 7 [1882], p.279; vol 8 [1883], pp.7, 52, 53, 358, 469, 641, 548, 585). Writers and contributors also debated woman's role outside the home, and her rights. Abu Khatir and Salim Shakra exchanged ideas on women's right to education (al-Muqtataf, vol. 10 [1885], pp.634, 676, 739). Another commentator, Wadeh al-Khouri, praised women's situation in England, France, and the U.S., indicating that they had the mental capability to perform important social functions if they were given opportunities similar to men. Najeeb Antonios criticizes him for going too far in imputing rights to women (al-Muqtataf, vol. 11 [1886], pp.170, 232). Shibli Shummayal in his essay on "Are men and women equal?," enumerated the physiological differences between men and women (al-Muqtataf, vol. 11 [1886], pp.355-360, 401). Ya'qub Sarruf used the word "feminist" in his eulogy of Miriam Nimr Macarius (1860-1887), an activist for women's rights [vol. 12 (1887), 435]. Other articles on women covered topics like "high esteem of women under the Pharaohs" [vol. 12 (1887), 677], "women and elections," [vol. 13 (1888), 624], a discussion of a book on women's right in Islam by the first inspector of Arabic science from the Ministry of Education [vol. 15 (1890), p.268], the claim that women's mental capability was weaker than men [vol. 15 (1890), pp.376-383], and that women had smaller brain than men [vol. 16 (1891), p.643].

(36.) The Englishman, said Cromer, "will scrupulously abstain from interference in religious matters. He will be eager to explain that proselytism forms no part of his political programme." Evelyn Baring Cromer, Modern Egypt (New York: Macmillan Company, 1908), vol. 2, p.141.

(37.) Cromer, p.135.

(38.) Ibid: p.163.

(39.) Ibid: 139, 155.

(40.) Ibid: 157.

(41.) While France was espousing the cause of their bondholders in Egypt and the protection of the Suez Canal, England was more anxious to protect its interests in Egypt because eighty-nine percent of all shipping sailing through the Canal was British and the Canal's strategic importance as the artery to India and the other colonies of the Far East. See Afaf Lutfi Al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer: A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (New York: Praeger, 1968), pp.1-2. It is noteworthy that "before the occupation was decided upon Gladstone mentioned the rights 'of the foreign bondholders' as on a par with those of the Sultan, the Khedive, and the people of Egypt." See H. C. G. Matthew, The Gladstone Diaries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), Vol. 10; lxxii.

(42.) Wilfrid S. Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (NY: Howard Fertig, 1967 [1895]), p.9). Al-Muqtataf (1880, vol. 5, p.154) viewed British occupation as beneficial for Egypt. Most of the Syrian emigres were dedicated to the Westernization process and had a strong influence on the climate of opinion in Egypt. See Jack A. Crabbs, The Writing of History in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (Cairo: The American University Press, 1984), pp.185-86; Jamal Mohammad Abmed, The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp.30-31.

(43.) Wendell, Charles, The Evolution of the Egyptian National Image: From its Origins to Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), p.202.

(44.) This is in a sharp contrast to the cultural policies pursued by the states in Egypt, Iran, and Syria in the post 1950s period. The state's suppression of the pluralistic environment not only channeled oppositional politics through religion but also politicized culture production. The state provided a favorable context for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. See Mansoor Moaddel, Class, Politics, and Ideology in the Iranian Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); "The Social Bases and the Discursive Context of the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism: The Cases of Iran and Syria," Sociological Inquiry (1996), pp.330-355.

(45.) Ahmed, Intellectual Origins, pp.51-52.

(46.) The spread of mission Christianity in the Islamic world was made possible by European powers and by the protective measures they obtained for the Christians and Jews living in Ottoman territories. See Edward William Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians (London: John Murray, 1871), vol 1, pp.136-37; and Stanley Lane-Poole, The Life of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1888); Hourani, 39-40, 53. Muhammad Ali's tolerance of religious diversity also aided the missionaries. When Europeans interceded with him for a woman who had been condemned for apostasy, "he exhorted her to recant; but finding her resolute, reproved her for her folly, and sent her home, commanding that no injury should be done to her." See Lane, 137. Sultan Abd al-Majid's decree on religious liberty also favored religious pluralism.

(47.) Charles Watson, In the Valley of the Nile: A Survey of the Missionary Movement in Egypt (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908), p.208; and Andrew Watson, The American Mission in Egypt: 1854-1896 (Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1898), p.361. See also Susan Sachs, "American Headstones Tugging at Egypt's Memory," The New York Times (November 8, 2000), A4.

(48.) Charles Watson, In the Valley of the Nile, p.78.

(49.) Ibid: p.87.

(50.) Ibid: p.92.

(51.) Watson, The American Mission, 52-53.

(52.) Ibid: 436.

(53.) Ibid.

(54.) Watson, In the Valley of the Nile, pp.122-23.

(55.) Ibid: 193-95.

(56.) Charles R. Watson, Egypt and the Christian Crusade (New York: United Presbyterian Church of North America, 1907), Appendix 4, 274-75. According to Samir Raafat, an Egyptian historian, "back then...a lot of people found...American evangelical system as a way out of the dogma of their own churches. American education was more liberal. It was co-educational. It was new and modern" (cited in New York Times, November 8, 2000, A4.)

(57.) Crabbs, p.69.

(58.) Enayat, Sayri, pp.29-30; see also Tahtawi, Takhlis al-ibriz, p.133.

(59.) Hourani, Arabic Thought, p.75.

(60.) Tahtawi and students in the School of Languages translated over 1,000 books into Turkish and Arabic. Personally, he listed twenty-eight works of various kinds, which he wrote, translated, or edited. See Crabbs, pp.72-74.

(61.) F. Guizot, The History of Civilization, vol. 1-3, translated by William Hazlitt (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1890), first lecture, 24.

(62.) This was an Arabic periodical published in Paris between March and October 1884, under the political directorship of al-Afghani and the editorship of Muhammad Abduh. The journal was predominantly anti-British, containing about forty articles on British hegemony, government, deception, and the manner in which Great Britain dealt with other nations. There were also over twenty articles on Islam and Islamic civilization.

(63.) "Madi al-Umma wa Hadirouha wa ilaa]u ilaliha," (The Past and Present of the Umma and the Treatment of its Malady), al-Urwa al-wuthqa, pp.45-60.

(64.) "al-Wahdat al-Islami-yah" (Islamic Unity), al-Urwa al-wuthqa, pp.130-140.

(65.) "al-Amal wa Talab al-Majd" (Hope and the Pursuit of Glory) al-Urwa al-wuthqa, pp.151-162.

(66.) "al-Qada wa al-Qadar" (Predestination), al-Urwa al-wuthqa, pp.102-117.

(67.) "Answer of Jamal ad-Din to Renan," cited in Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din "al-Afghani" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), p.183.

(68.) Ibid.

(69.) Ibid: 187.

(70.) Cited in Keddie, An Islamic Response, p.105.

(71.) Keddie, An Islamic Response, p.73.

(72.) Ibid: 37-38.

(73.) The latter in fact tried to convince Jamal ad-Din to stop attempting to obtain rights from the colonial powers. He proposed to him that they should go to a place where it would be possible to educate people. See Hourani, Arabic Thought, p.258. Abduh believed that the elimination of external constraints was not enough for building a just Islamic government. Al-Afghani did not accept his suggestion, considering his friend discouraging and not helpful (mouthabbit). See Al-Manar, vol. 8 (1906), pp.453-475.

(74.) Adams, pp.55, 64; Cromer, pp.179-81; al-Manar, vol 8 (1906), pp.413, 462; Hourani, Arabic Thought, pp.158-59; Enayat, Sayri, pp.120-23. In a self-description of the objects of his career, Abduh indicated that I later abandoned this question of political authority for fate to determine and for the hand of God to settle, for I realized that in such matters nations reap the fruits of what has been planted and cultivated over a long period of years, and that it is this planting with which we must now concern ourselves, with God's help. Cited in Kerr, p. 109.

(75.) Abduh admired Herbert Spencer, whom he visited in Britain, and translated his Education from a French version into Arabic. He had read Rousseau's Emile, Tolstoy's novels and his didactic writings, Strauss's Life of Jesus, and the works of Renan. He had some contact with European thinkers, had written to Tolstoy on the occasion of the latter's excommunication from the Russian Church, and had traveled to Europe, whenever he could, to renew his soul, as he said, and because it revived his hopes about the future of the Muslim world. See Adams, p.67; al-Manar, vol. 8 (1906), p.66; Hourani, Arabic Thought, p. 135.

(76.) Hourani, Arabic Thought, p.148; Bryan Tuner, Weber and Islam (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 147; Adams.

(77.) The Quran, Surah II, verse 252.

(78.) Al-Manar, vol. 8 (February 10, 1906), pp.921-930; see also Adams, pp.141-42.

(79.) Hourani, Arabic Thought, pp.139-40; Adams, pp.97-99; Cromer, pp.180-81.

(80.) Adams, p.110.

(81.) Kerr, p.107.

(82.) See Adams, pp.86-88; and Hourani, p.144.

(83.) Cited in Adams, pp.89-90. See also Donald M. Reid, The Odyssey of Farah Antun: A Syrian Christian's Quest for Secularism (Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1975), pp.80-90.

(84.) In Hourani's apt assertion, it is significant that both his controversies were concerned, not with the truth or falsity of Islam, but with its being compatible with the supposed requirements of the modern mind; and in the process, it may be that 'Abduh's view of Islam was itself affected by his view of what the modern mind needs. See Hourani, p.144; and Reid, pp.85-86.

(85.) Al-Muqtataf mentioned the controversy about the relationship between Christianity and religion. See al-Muqtataf, vol. 15, 1891, pp.353-365, 425-432,497-503; and Hourani, p.162.

(86.) For example, a commentator stated that the idea of the roundness of the earth could be found in al-Ghazali's works (see al-Muqtataf vol. 1, p.217). Riaz Pasha, the education minister, joined in the debate, arguing that the notion of the earth's stability was contrary to both religion and science. And, a certain Amin Shameal established an affinity between Darwin's evolutionary theory and Ibn Khaldun's theory of social evolution and dynastic changes (al-Muqtataf, vol. 10 [1885], pp.145-46). Rashid Rida also advocated the idea that Darwinism did not contradict the Quran (al-Manar, vol. 8[1906], 920).

(87.) Cited in Adams, p.244.

(88.) Hourani, p.162.

(89.) See for example Farid Wajdi, "Islam and Civilization," in Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Islam: An Anthology of Islamic Modernism and Fundamentalism (New York: Saint Martin's Press, 2000).

(90.) In a reverse direction, there is a parallel argument in the works of the forerunners of Islamic fundamentalism. They, too, tended to disregard the diversity of views in Muslim scholarly tradition. Their discourse was formulated primarily in reaction to modem Western ideologies. While people like Wajdi attempted to establish the identity of Islam with civilization, for the fundamentalists there is a disjunction between Islam and Western civilization.

(91.) Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp.127-43.

(92.) Beth Baron, The Women's Awakening in Egypt: Culture, Society, and the Press (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp.14-16.

(93.) Adams, p.22.

(94.) Qasim Amin, The Liberation of Women, trans. Samiha Sidhom Peterson (Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 1992), p.8-9.

(95.) Ibid; 50.

(96.) Ibid: 7.

(97.) Ibid.

(98.) Among modernist Muslim scholars in India who defended women's rights, see Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Selected Essays By Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan From the Journal Tahzib al-Akhlaq, translated by John Wilder (Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1972[1870-76]; and Gail Minault, "Sayyid Mumtaz Ali and 'Huquq un-Niswan': An Advocate of Women's Rights in Islam in the Late Nineteenth Century," Modern Asian Studies 24, 1 (1990).

(99.) Ibid: 42,45.

(100.) Ibid: 76.

(101.) Ibid: 78-79.

(102.) Ibid: 83.

(103.) Ibid: 85.

(104.) Ibid: 101.

(105.) Cited in Hourani, p.168.

(106.) See Zeine Zaine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism (Delmar, NY: Carvan Books, 1973).

(107.) George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1961), p.95.

(108.) See Sylvia G. Haim, (ed.) Arab Nationalism: An Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962), p.42. For a more detailed analysis of political influence in the writings of Kawakibi and others see Elie Kedourie, "The Politics of Political Literature: Kawakabi, Azouri and Jung," Middle Eastern Studies, 8, 2 (May 1972), pp.227-240.

(109.) Richard P. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p.39.

(110.) Cited in Abmed, Intellectual Origins, p.118.

(111.) Adams, pp.259-68; Abmed, Intellectual Origins, pp.117-9; Hourani, pp. 185-8; Hamid Enayat, Modern Islamic Political Thought, pp.62-8.

Mansoor Moaddel is a Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University. This paper is part of a larger project on the determinants of ideological production in the Islamic world in which the determinants of Islamic modernism in India. Egypt, and Iran; liberal-nationalism in Egypt, Syria. and Iran; and Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria. Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Syria is analyzed. This project is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SBR 96-01439, SBR 92-13209) and United State's Institute of Peace (080-965) and fellowships from United State Information Agency--American Center of Oriental Research and Eastern Michigan University. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the view of the NSF and other institutions that supported this study.
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Author:Moaddel, Mansoor
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Date:Jan 1, 2002
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