Interpreting Islam: Bandali Jawzi's Islamic Intellectual History.
Sonn provides us with a detailed introduction to the life of Bandali Jawzi and his current position in Arab intellectual thought and Islamic scholarship in general. The reverence with which he is still regarded by his compatriots comes as a jarring contrast to his obscurity outside the Arab world. Not that all Arabs at all times have regarded him with uniform respect and admiration. His avowedly Marxist world vision elicited the suspicion of Kurd Ali, for example, who criticized him for an alleged complicity with world communism. In recent years, as Sonn points out, Jawzi's political thought has enjoyed a resurgence in the Arab world and his far-reaching contributions to Arab social, intellectual, and economic history have won due recognition.
Sonn contextualizes for us the provenance and shaping of much of Jawzi's political and intellectual thought. The slow but pervasive European encroachment of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries harbingered unhappy developments for the Arab and Muslim peoples. Sonn describes how the Arabs were callously betrayed by Britain and France who had promised them independence in return for their assistance against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. Instead, according to the terms of the notorious Sykes-Picot agreement drawn up in secret between the British and the French, Arab territories were carved up by these two powers at the end of the war. Furthermore, Britain earmarked Palestine as a homeland for the world's Jews. The resulting disenchantment with the European models of "Enlightenment liberalism" that had proved to be such a travesty in relation to the Middle East impelled Arabs to explore alternative models of political systems, particularly the Marxist one. Local elites who had settled for sinecures granted by the mandate powers also had contributed to their disillusionment. Thus, the two strains of anticapitalism and anti-elitism fueled the growth of Bacthism and Nasserism between the two world wars. It is against this historical backdrop that we must place Jawzi's thought in order to understand and assess its relevance.
Sonn, however, presses the point that Jawzi's enamorment of the Marxian system did not overshadow his interpretive methodology which was drawn rather from the Islamic theological and legal traditions. Jawzi (who, incidentally, was a Christian) perceived a natural affinity between the principles of egalitarianism and social justice espoused by Islam and the objectives of socialism. The common denominator between his methodology and that of the Muslim intellectual, especially reformist, tradition is the hermeneutic principle of ijtihad (lit. "striving, exertion", therefore "intellectual exertion" and especially in the legal context "independent reasoning"). In Jawzi's case, the adoption of the principle of ijtihad fused with the imperative of critical reevaluation of the intellectual heritage of Islam was predicated upon the view that interpretations of canonical texts are necessarily "influenced by issues specific to the time and place in which they are produced" (p. 7). From this vantage point, one need but take one step further to arrive at the Foucaultian conclusion that all discourse is after all a function of power and intellectual interpretive constructs are synergistically linked to the quest for cultural and political dominance. This is a premise which when formulated by Michel Foucault (d. 1984) took the Euroamerican intellectual world by storm, inaugurating a trend that is still with us, called postmodernism, sometimes neohistoricism. As is well known, this Foucaultian perspective was very productively utilized by Edward Said in his Orientalism who demonstrated that European imperialism needed to objectify the Arab Muslim world as the unmitigated "other" to enable it to maintain its power base in the Middle East. Bandali Jawzi's History of Intellectual Movements in Islam already presages the development of this intellectual trend, viewing as it does interpretive works, which themselves were to achieve canonical status, as products of a specific time and place that helped support the status quo. Importantly, Jawzi however applies this basic hermeneutic "to both foreign cultures' interpretations of Arab/Islamic culture and to Muslims' interpretations of their own heritage" (p. 10).
In Part One, Sonn provides a short and useful overview of the development of the principle of ijtihad in both the fields of tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an) and usul al-fiqh (sources of jurisprudence). She charts the development of this hermeneutic from the first century of Islam (seventh century CE) to its attenuation, as received wisdom affirms, around the tenth century of the common era. Attenuated though it might have become, ijtihad remained and remains an actual and potential vibrant means of judicial interpretation and lawmaking. Sonn describes how recourse to ijtihad has remained an active hermeneutic for the legal scholars of Islam from al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) in the medieval period to Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) in the modern. Such a presentation helps confirm the recent thesis of Wael Hallaq ("Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?" International Journal of Middle East Studies 18 ) that the ominous judgement "the doors of ijtihad were closed in the tenth century" has never been tenable. The principle of ijtihad has historically been in a tense, adversarial relationship with the notion of taqlid, usually defined as uncritical "imitation" of legal doctrine. This view was made popular, among others, by Joseph Schacht in his introductory manual on Islamic law (Introduction to Islamic Law ) and had until very recently remained unchallenged in Western Arabist circles. Sonn evokes as well the traditional dichotomy between these two concepts in this section of her book but the construction of taqlid as the binary opposite of ijtihad has been questioned in recent times. Sherman Jackson's recently published book Islamic Law and the State (1996)), which came out too late for Sonn to consult, offers us a far more nuanced understanding of the term taqlid and its relation to ijtihad. Rather, Jackson argues persuasively that ijtihad and taqlid are better understood not as "mutually exclusive linear moments in Muslim history but rather competing hegemonies that stood (and continue to stand) in perpetual competition with each other" (p. 77). Each therefore represents a certain intellectual and juridical tendency which ebbed and flowed relative to the other at different junctures in time. A useful addendum at this point in Sonn's presentation would have been a short excursus on the growth of Muctazili thought in the Islamic world from the eighth century on and its showdown with Ashcarism in the tenth century. The Muctazila who represented the rational school emphasized the use of caql (reason) and therefore ijtihad as their hermeneutic principle whereas al-Ashcari and his school of thought (which bears his name) underscored adherence to legal precedents and therefore resorted more to taqlid. Al-Ashcari's influential school did effectively dampen but never completely extirpated the rational mode of judicial and theological inquiry. Such an excursus would be well warranted since Muctazilism as a school of thought was all-pervasive at least through the tenth century, and al-Ashcari before his "conversion" was himself one of the Muctazila. This would have created for the reader a larger historical context for understanding the evolution of these schools of thought and established the centrality of the twin hermeneutics of reasoning and imitation in the field of jurisprudence. In her conclusion to this section, Sonn rightly emphasizes the importance of the reformist milieu created in the wake of Muhammad Abduh (the rector of al-Azhar, d. 1905) and Iqbal's influential thought during the first quarter of the twentieth century in the shaping of Bandali Jawzi's own intellectual perspective.
Part Two is the English translation of Bandali Jawzi's work entitled in Arabic Min Ta'rikh al-Harakat al-Fikriyyah fi'l-Islam (Jerusalem, 1928). Jawzi's narrative is embedded in the Marxist vision that seemed so full of promise in the early decades of this century. He projects his optimistic reading of Marxism backwards to a time when the notion of an Islamic commonwealth held out similar possibilities for the realization of the principles of tolerance and socio-economic equity. The Prophet Muhammad is primarily represented as a social reformer whose genius lay "in describing and enumerating the diseases of Arab society, more so than in remedying them and uprooting their causes" (p. 87). The main reason for this, as described by Jawzi, is that he was primarily concerned both in Makka and Madina in creating a broad social consensus for implementing the ultimate Islamic objectives of social justice and eradication of gross economic disparities. Therefore, "the Prophet's social and religious reforms were incomplete, owing to something the Europeans call tolerance (compromise)" (p. 89). After the Prophet's death in 632 CE, Jawzi traces the confluence of historical and socioeconomic factors that led to internecine strife under the third and fourth caliphs, cUthman b. cAffan and cAli b. Abi Talib, which prevented the wholesale realization of the Prophet's goals. His critical view of the Umayyads, who rose to power in 661 CE after the era of the four caliphs, and whose primary failing he saw as excessive love for money and power, is tempered, however, by begrudging admiration for their levelheadedness and administrative skill. Unfortunately, the worldly finesse of the Umayyads did not enable them to see how their power-hungry, elitist ways were fomenting social disgruntlement at the lower echelons, which eventually led to their fall and ushered in the next dynasty, the cAbbasids. Under the cAbbasids, according to Jawzi, a newly enfranchised class of Persian notables forged an alliance with the erstwhile predominantly Arab elite to continue repressing the lower classes, among whom were a large number of disaffected, underprivileged Persians. According to Jawzi, these disaffected Persians fed the general aura of discontent by chafing under the twin burdens of economic disparity on the one hand and social discrimination on the other on account of their ethnic background. The various rebellions staged by this group are briefly chronicled by Jawzi, culminating in the protest movements of the ninth century (regarded by Jawzi as socialist revolutionary) of Babak al-Khurrami, of the Ismaiciliyya (whose adherents are still with us), and of the Qaramita, a subsect of the Ismaiclis (the last two factions, it should be pointed out, were Sevener Shici). Traditional Sunni Muslim (as well as Twelver Shici) historiography has depicted these groups as heretical, even beyond the pale of Islam, but as has been recognized, the accusation of heresy (Arabic zandaqa) is often fraught with political overtones, an indictment more of the accused's perceived opposition to core Establishment values rather than of theological errancy (cf. Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam ). Jawzi's treatment of these marginalized groups is predicated on this interpretation. This leads to somewhat of an idealized reading on his part of the checkered history of these factions, although he is far from an unabashed apologist for them. He presents them, warts and all; in his summing up, he acknowledges for instance that many of the fraternities set up by the Ismaiclis became "the cause of reactionary and religious or blind nationalist movements" (p. 172). This is but the way of the world, for all reform movements, however purely conceived, degenerate with the passing of time into caricatures of themselves. Jawzi's particular merit lies in astutely isolating the sociological and economic factors salient to his thesis which contributed to the growth of these three movements and which nurtured for a while the dissemination of their ideas "to create internationalist sentiment in Islam" (p. 132). As in the early decades of the twentieth century during our author's time, so in the medieval period; such "internationalist" movements espousing the brotherhood of men were doomed to failure because they were perceived as politically seditious by the powers-that-were who preferred for their own benefit a fragmented citizenry.
The end notes provided by Sonn for her own commentary and as supplements to Jawzi's own notes are helpful and informative. However, on page 200, in note 40, Jawzi gives the Latin word fossatum ("excavation, ditch") as the etymon for Fustat, name of the first Muslim settlement in Egypt. This etymology for Fustat has fallen into disfavor however. Fustat rather is an indigenous Arabic word meaning "tent," appropriate for an area first settled by soldiers. The word consequently came to refer to a city, especially a large and populous one (cf. Edward Lane, Arabic-English Lexikon ).
A few minor errors were noticed in the book, mainly in the transcription of proper names. On page 24, the following names given as al-Zamakshari and Fakr al-Din Razi should be correctly transcribed as al-Zamakhshari and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. On page 197, n. 11, Ismacil b. Abad should be rendered as Ismacil b. cAbbad. On page 198, note 5 has Abu cAla' al-Macarri which should read Abu al- Ala' al-Macarri; on page 199, n. 27, the title of the book given should start off with Mukhtasar ("abridgement") not Mukhtasir ("one who abridges").
Interpreting Islam forefronts the life and thought of a remarkably innovative twentieth-century Arab thinker and reformer and is therefore a valuable contribution to the field of modern Islamic thought. Professor Sonn is to be highly commended for rightfully restoring Bandali Jawzi to Arab Muslim intellectual history and in presenting his major work in a fluid, engaging translation. (The Arabic original, however, was not available to me and I could not spot - check the translation). This book should prove very appealing to both the specialist and the nonspecialist and will be a useful aid in stimulating classroom discussions on how politics and religion interface, especially in the Islamic milieu.
- Asma Afsaruddin