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Sayyid QutbThe Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual$

James Toth

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199790883

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199790883.001.0001

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(p.251) I. Dramatis Personae(in alphabetical order)

(p.251) I. Dramatis Personae(in alphabetical order)

Source:
Sayyid Qutb
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849–1905)

Muhammad ‘Abduh was both the father of modern, secular Islam and a major contributor to salafi Islam and the Islamist movement. He accomplished these contradictory undertakings by claiming that modern Egyptians could be devout Muslims and that devout Muslims could also be modern. He was a student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and was swept up into al-Afghani’s maelstrom of religion and politics. While he was in exile for two years, he and al-Afghani published the very influential journal, al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa (The Firmest Bond) in which the salafiyya movement was born. It sought to revive Islam by referring to the precedents established by the first generation of Muslims, the salaf. Yet when ‘Abduh returned to Egypt, he turned conservative once he was appointed the chief mufti of Egypt. His students continued his contradictory approach, including both Rashid Rida, the famous Islamist, and Sa‘d Zaghlul, the father of Egypt’s secular nationalism. ‘Abduh attempted to reform the al-Azhar by making it a better nationalist university, yet he also wrote about tawhid and ijtihad, unity and interpretation, as ways of revitalizing Islam.

‘Abduh was born in 1849 in Shanra, a village near Tanta, Gharbiyya province, in the central Delta, although he and his family soon moved to Mahallat al-Nasr in neighboring Bahaira province where they owned property. In 1862, ‘Abduh enrolled in the Ahmadi mosque school in Tanta, second in prestige only to al-Azhar. In 1869, he attended al-Azhar where he studied Sufism and philosophy, although his uncle discouraged him from continuing with mysticism.1

When al-Afghani arrived in Cairo in 1871, ‘Abduh was still a student. He soon joined the growing circle of enthusiasts captivated by al-Afghani’s magnetism. He finished his al-Azhar studies in 1877. Afterward, as al-Afghani plunged into local politics, ‘Abduh became associated with the intrigues of his teacher. Al-Afghani joined a number of local Masonic lodges, stood accused of conspiring to assassinate Khedive (Viceroy) Isma‘il, participated in the successional rivalries for Egypt’s throne, and endorsed a constitutional republic. When al-Afghani was arrested and deported in August, 1879, ‘Abduh was banished back to Mahallat al-Nasr for a year.2 (p.252)

Within the year, he returned to Cairo now as editor of the official government gazette, al-Waqa‘i al-Misriyya, director of government publications, and member of the Council of Higher Education.3 ‘Abduh was soon caught up in the tumult of the nationalist movement under Colonel Ahmad ‘Urabi and became one of its ardent civilian leaders, although he claimed later he was but a “reluctant” participant.4 Echoing popular sentiment, he, too, was angered by the imperiousness of the “Joint Note” of January 1882 in which the British and the French sought to restrain the khedive’s authority and he joined ranks with the Chamber of Deputies and other intellectuals to oppose foreign intervention in Egypt’s domestic affairs. When an ad hoc national assembly, al-Jam‘iyya al-Umumiyya, met for the second time in July, 1882 as the British navy bombarded Alexandria, ‘Abduh was its secretary in a meeting that denounced Tawfiq as a traitor, supported ‘Urabi’s insurrection, and called for a war against England. With the British victory, ‘Urabi surrendered and was tried by a military tribunal. As secretary, editor, and conspirator, ‘Abduh was exiled, this time out of the country.

‘Abduh first traveled to Beirut, but by the end of 1883, he moved to Paris where he joined his old teacher, al-Afghani. Together the two collaborated in publishing al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa from March to October 1884. Despite its short lifespan, its 18 issues were widely distributed throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds and had an immense impact on numerous Islamic intellectuals and scholars.

Until 1879, ‘Abduh’s politics were pan-Islamist under al-Afghani’s influence. Then between 1879 and 1882, ‘Abduh became a devoted nationalist while the editor of al-Waqa‘i al-Misriyya during the ‘Urabi revolt. After 1882, he reverted back to pan-Islamism under the renewed influence of al-Afghani and exile in Paris, until the end of his foreign sojourn in 1888. When he returned to Egypt, not only did he become a nationalist once again, but he also became a collaborator in support of British tutelage and a dignified member of Egypt’s colonial and religious establishment.

Coming on the heels of France’s occupation of Tunisia and England’s victory in Egypt, al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa championed al-Afghani’s earlier themes of Islamic solidarity in defense against Europe’s hegemony. But whereas before the two writers defined unity more in terms of a unified civilizational focus, now it involved a much more concrete political alliance. Pan-Islamism became the solution to the failures of Muslim nations and their individual nationalisms. Political and military defeats were explained as the consequence of incorrigible rulers, their absolute despotism, and weak religious devotion. A revitalized Islamic umma, with a unified outlook, rejuvenated Islamic law, and a heightened sense of justice could restrain the tyranny of its rulers. The journal proved to be strongly anti-authoritarian and critical of Muslim rulers for not being Islamic.5

In the end, al-Afghani’s personal commitment remained much greater than ‘Abduh’s, and the two parted company. ‘Abduh followed strong leadership and adapted himself to the prevailing winds. Once he distanced himself from al-Afghani’s charisma, his political ardor cooled. He left Paris and never saw (p.253) al-Afghani again. He moved to Beirut where he taught for three years at the newly established al-Madrasa al-Sultaniyya (The Sultan’s School) which became a liberal center for Muslims and non-Muslims to discuss Arab nationalism.6

It is not clear what negotiations took place that allowed Muhammad ‘Abduh to return to Cairo. What is obvious, though, was that his political intensity had diminished. He preferred mild educational and judicial reforms over defiant subversion. Gone were the radical intrigues, the polemical journal articles, and the bold plans for regicide. Disenchanted, he abandoned al-Afghani’s strident provocation and adopted a conciliatory approach toward the British based on gradual reforms. Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, the chief British administrator in Egypt from 1883 to 1907, urged Khedive Tawfiq to pardon ‘Abduh and to appoint him to a prestigious position. ‘Abduh returned in 1889 and became a qadi, or judge, in the religious courts and later an appeals judge in the national courts. Very soon, he became one of the most popular Islamic reformers, along with ‘Abd Allah al-Nadim and ‘Ali Yusuf. However, unlike the other two, ‘Abduh was much more conformist.7

‘Abduh and his supporters became the center of the new Umma (People’s) Party and its publication, al-Jarida (The Newspaper). They considered themselves to be the representatives of those with real interest in their country, best served, they concluded, by cooperating with the British. The Umma’s main rival was the anti-British Watani (National) Party of Mustafa Kamil.

In his later years, ‘Abduh became convinced that religious and educational reform represented the true solution for Egypt’s malaise. This required a revitalization of the true spirit of Islam. Salafiyyism’s return to a pure Islam was seen as the only way to face Europe’s domination because it had been the accretions and innovations over the centuries that had made Islam weak. Islam did not contain the knowledge needed to compete equally with the West. Thus ‘Abduh recommended an overhaul of traditional education by introducing modern disciplines and modernizing the shari‘a. This meant reforming al-Azhar, the mosques, and the shari‘a courts. This moderate approach would avoid confrontations with the Palace. Yet Khedive ‘Abbas Hilmi II still saw ‘Abduh in league with Lord Cromer seeking to undermine his authority. Thus the khedive rejected many of ‘Abduh’s proposals, as mild as these were, and attempted to discredit ‘Abduh’s reputation.8

In 1895, ‘Abduh was appointed to an administrative council for reforming al-Azhar. He remained the chief advocate for reform until shortly before his death in 1905, when he resigned in frustration and began to campaign for a secular university. In 1899, he was appointed Mufti of Egypt and a member of the national Legislative Council, established in 1883 as the smaller successor to Egypt’s Chamber of Delegates. These appointments came with the full support of Lord Cromer, and for the rest of his career, ‘Abduh remained obligated to the English. The progressive politics he had nurtured, inspired by al-Afghani, were replaced by a much more moderate position that advocated gradual changes through educational and legal reforms.9

He died on July 11, 1905. (p.254)

Ahmad Zaki Abu Shadi (1892–1955)

Ahmad Zaki Abu Shadi was born on February 9, 1892, the son of a well-to-do lawyer. His first volume of poems appeared in 1908 when he was just 16, and he may have even established his own journal, Hada’iq al-Zahir (Gardens of Flowers) the same year. Others claim his first volume of poetry was called ‘And al-Fajr (With the Dawn) and was published in 1910. Two years later, in 1912, he attended medical school in Egypt, but a shattered love affair pushed him to leave and travel first to Istanbul and later to London where he resumed his medical studies. There, he received a diploma in bacteriology and married an Englishwoman. He remained in England for 10 years, even during the outbreak of the 1919 revolution. Nationalist admirers may have exaggerated his patriotism, emphasizing the poems he composed at the time, such as “Bilad al-Nil” (Homeland of the Nile) and the suspicions these verses engendered with Scotland Yard, as signs that he had not completely succumbed to the English.

When his father’s health declined in 1922, Abu Shadi returned to Egypt. He sought employment as a bacteriologist and jumped immediately into the swirl of Egypt’s literary societies. He set up the Rabitat al-Adab al-Jadid (New Literature League) in Alexandria in 1927 before founding the Apollo Society in Cairo in 1932. He published 15 books of poems, and his most famous collection was al-Shafaq al-Baki (The Sad Twilight) published in 1927.10

Abu Shadi had already irritated the literary world well before he founded the Apollo Society. In March 1917, while still in England, he published a letter in al-Muqtataf (Selections) chastising two of the founders of the Diwan school, ‘Abd al-Rahman Shukri and ‘Abd al-Qadr al-Mazini, for the literary debate they were engaged in before they joined together with al-‘Aqqad in 1921 to publish Diwan Kitab fi al-Adab wa al-Naqd (The Collected Volume of Literature and Criticism) that established the new school.11

Abu Shadi was influenced by the literary society, the Writers’ League (al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya), founded in New York City in 1922 by three early Arab American literati of Christian Lebanese Syrian background: Jibran Khalil Jibran (1883–1931), Amin al-Rihani (1876–1940), and Mikha’il Na‘ima (1889–1988). He was also inspired by the Poetry Society that had formed in England in 1909.12

Abu Shadi insisted that there had to be a new, modern style of poetry in Egypt and an end to the neoclassical approach. Poetry, he wrote, is the means of discovering “the secrets of existence. It is the expression of the spirit of the universe, whose greatness and beauty it reveals.”13 He promoted himself as the single most important innovator in Egypt’s poetic scene, an egotism that engendered much resentment. Since he was heavily influenced by British poets and English literature in general, he became a major conduit of Anglo-European ideas and style.14 (p.255)

Echoing ideas found in the Diwan school, Abu Shadi claimed that poetry should be restricted to feelings and imagination. He agreed with that school’s founder, ‘Abbas al-‘Aqqad, on the central idea that poetry requires a unity; its beauty and truth are to be based on this unity and not on its separate components. He advocated a free flow of ideas, even if they conflict with traditional themes and conventions. Personal emotional expression means a flexible style, language use, and rhythm.15

Abu Shadi took sides in a literary battle between al-‘Aqqad and the neoclassical poet, Mustafa al-Rafi‘i (1880–1937) that had begun back in 1930 and that continued to fester until it erupted later in 1938.16 Abu Shadi’s Apollo Society came to al-Rafi‘i’s defense despite its intentions to remain neutral. This earned Abu Shadi the intense acrimony of al-‘Aqqad and his supporters, including Sayyid Qutb. In September 1932, al-‘Aqqad wrote an article in the Apollo’s first issue strongly disparaging the journal’s name, whose Greek origin, he argued, symbolized its complete Westernization. Six months later, after al-‘Aqqad had published a collection of poetry, Wahy al-Arba‘in (Revelations at Forty), the journal published two blistering critiques by Abu Shadi and Isma‘il Mazhar.

Al-‘Aqqad accused the Apollo Society of harboring political motives and cooperating with the Palace and the Sidqi government. The Diwan members were avowed Wafdists while the Apollo members were associated—“collaborated,” Qutb was to write—with the more authoritarian administration of Isma‘il Sidqi, his Sha‘ab Party, and the royal palace. The Apollo Society was also accused of seeking government funds for its publications. Such fights soon alienated financial contributors, and the journal ran out of money, forcing Abu Shadi to close it down in 1934.17

The following year, Abu Shadi moved to Alexandria where he established a similar literary society, although this may have simply been the continuation of his 1927 activities in the same city. There, he published one new journal, Adabi (My Literature), and revived a second, al-Imam (The Minister). But since he was far removed from the center of literary activity in Cairo, he failed to maintain the same influence, and his literary efforts were marginal.

The brief two years of vigorous composition, publication, and debate in Cairo earned Abu Shadi much acclaim for inspiring poets inside and outside of Egypt and for providing a new channel in which poets could express their modern romanticism and nostalgia. The Apollo Society and its journal supported young poets and helped introduce them to Western poetic styles in ways that contrasted with the Diwan school with its more parochial and limited influence just inside Egypt.18

In 1942, he was appointed the chair of bacteriology and deputy dean of faculty at the Medical School at the newly established Alexandria University. But after his wife died in 1946, Abu Shadi moved permanently to the United States where he worked for the Saudi Arabian delegation at the United Nations and for Voice of America.

He died in New York City on April 12, 1955. (p.256)

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838–97)

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was the first Islamist and, until Sayyid Qutb, the only major Islamist to target the West (primarily Europe) and not just focus on criticizing and attacking national governments in the Muslim world. This international focus involves what the Islamic movement came to call “The Far Enemy,” in contrast to “The Near Enemy” of local regimes.19 Between al-Afghani and Qutb came a series of domestic-oriented radicals—Muhammad ‘Abduh, Rashid Rida, and Hasan al-Banna. Al-Afghani operated within the global imperium of Britain and Qutb acted under the global hegemony of the United States. Both perspectives reflected a globalism that was absent in the interim period characterized by heightened nationalism and a strong state corporatism.20

Al-Afghani was the first major pan-Islamic intellectual in Egypt, warning of the dangers of European imperialism. He was the first to see that the emerging social breakdown required a new understanding of Islam. He considered the relationship between Europe and Islam to be an antagonistic one that threatened the Muslim world with its very existence. Earlier Egyptian thinkers, such as Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi (1801–73), had envisioned Europe as an attractive, but distant, partner, with bodies of knowledge (science) and ways of thinking (philosophy) that could be learned and adopted without harming Egypt.21 Al-Afghani, however, saw in Europe’s intense materialism and lack of strong morals a peril that could dominate not just Egypt but the entire Islamic community. He was a man very much ahead of his times. At a time when Egyptian intellectuals were still fascinated with Europe, al-Afghani was preaching caution.22

Al-Afghani, together with his student, Muhammad ‘Abduh, was also the first major intellectual to define the salafiyya movement. This doctrine meant returning to the pure Islam of the first generation of Muslims, or salaf.

Al-Afghani was born in October–November 1838 in the town of Asadabad in Qazvin province in northwest Iran. His nisba name of origin, the Afghan, shrewdly disguised his true sectarian identity—Persian Shi‘ite—that would have limited his activities and travels in the Sunni world of the Middle East and India. Shi‘ite Islam still permitted Islamic interpretation, which had declined after the 9th century among Sunni Muslims. Al-Afghani advocated the Shi‘ite perspective, but in the Sunni world, this was considered heresy.23

As a boy, al-Afghani moved to the provincial capital for further schooling and then on to Tehran before attending higher education in Iraq in the 1850s. There he was introduced to the near-heretical, liberal Shaykhi doctrines that undermined the elite position of Shi‘ite clergy by arguing, instead, that any layperson could interpret shari‘a. From 1856 to 1858, al-Afghani was traveling through India when in May 1857, the Indian Mutiny erupted, a ferocious rebellion against British colonial rule. This experience strongly impressed upon him the dangers of Western domination. He continued his travels, stopping briefly in Cairo in 1869, and then on to Istanbul where he stayed until 1871. His intellect and personality (p.257) quickly brought him into elite circles. Yet al-Afghani moved back to Cairo two years later after a dispute over modernizing Islam, of bringing religion, science, and rational philosophy together. He stayed on after the Egyptian government awarded him a stipend to teach at al-Azhar.24

Al-Afghani lived in Egypt from 1871 to 1879. He exerted a major influence on the political activists and reformers attempting to raise Egypt out of the economic, social, and political malaise caused by the cotton market collapse of the late 1860s. His stay occurred at the same time as Europe’s heightened intrigue and energetic efforts to gain territory so as to resolve the “Eastern Question” of what to do with—or how to conquer—the “sick man of Europe,” the Ottoman Empire.25

From 1871 to1877, al-Afghani avoided political activism and worked just as a teacher, although he was very charismatic and greatly admired by a growing circle of students, officials, and intellectuals. They were inspired by his sharp intellect and dynamic lessons in philosophy, logic, theology, jurisprudence, mysticism, and current events. His followers became the leaders of Egypt’s new political and intellectual scene, including Muhammad ‘Abduh, ‘Abd Allah al-Nadim, and Sa‘d Zaghlul. He lectured on the dangers of European intervention, called for a national unity to resist it, and promoted the broader solidarity of all Muslims everywhere.26

Although initially he was on good terms with Egypt’s Khedive Isma‘il, their relationship soon soured. In 1879, al-Afghani called for a national constitutional party and he delivered fiery public speeches denouncing Egypt’s ruler. When the British contrived to depose Isma‘il, al-Afghani supported the wrong side of the successional struggle, favoring Isma‘il’s uncle Halim over his son, Tawfiq. Although al-Afghani appeared to be on positive terms with Tawfiq, his public position against the Europeans who installed the new ruler raised suspicions that his support for the throne was insincere. The new khedive believed that al-Afghani was working for a constitutional republic and so in August 1879 arrested him and deported him to Jeddah in the Hijaz.27

Al-Afghani traveled to India, where he wrote a number of important books, including his most famous, al-Radd ‘ala al-Dahriyyin (The Refutation of the Materialists) in which he challenged the Islamic modernizer and secularist Sayyid Ahmad Khan of India (1817–98). When the ‘Urabi officers revolt took place in Egypt in 1882, al-Afghani left India and joined Muhammad ‘Abduh in Paris where the two published the influential, mass circulation newspaper, al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa (The Firmest Bond) which targeted the relations between the Islamic and the European worlds and demanded reforms in Islam.28

Writing for al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa crystallized al-Afghani’s ideas about a practical pan-Islamic response to the European threat that bordered on subversion if not outright militancy. He began to see himself as a Muslim Martin Luther, reforming Islam as a religion but also shaping an entire civilization. He wanted to transform Islam but not necessarily secularize it. For unlike Christianity which had (p.258) to jettison either religion or modernity, Islam, he felt, could reconcile the two. Modernizers like Khan had essentially relegated religion to secondary importance. But Muslims could be modern within Islam and had no need to reject religious doctrines.29

Al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa lasted only seven months, but it had a very significant impact on the region’s intellectuals. It introduced Arabs to such new ideas as freedom, independence, and the rights of the ruled. It focused on reforming governments, overthrowing tyranny, resisting imperialism, and inspiring Islamic unity. It diagnosed the reasons for Islam’s decline—ignorance, fatalism, disunity, and despotic, corrupt, and incompetent rulers—and it explained the reasons for the West’s high achievements—its science, rational philosophy, and political doctrines. If Muslims were to retain parity, they had to learn these new ideas. But their rulers had betrayed them. Steeped in greed and ignorance, and repeatedly capitulating to Europeans, they had to be tightly restrained through constitutions and parliaments.30

In 1885, al-Afghani continued his travels to England (to convince the British to end their rule in Egypt), Russia (to stir up opposition against the British), and Persia (to conspire to overthrow the Shah) before being invited to Istanbul in 1892 by the Ottoman sultan, ‘Abd al-Hamid II. Their relationship soon deteriorated, however, and al-Afghani was placed under house arrest, which limited his ability to publish and speak. There, he died from cancer in 1897.31

Al-Afghani did not write profusely, and his ideas were often disorganized. But he popularized a number of intellectual trends in Islamic thought, and his impact, either directly or through his students, was substantial. His main theme was the idea of solidarity in the face of Western encroachment. Real unity in a Muslim nation rests on common religious conviction. If that dissipates, society itself dissolves, and this is what al-Afghani believed to be taking place in the Muslim world. Only by a return to a true Islam could the strength and civilization of Muslims be restored. Had Muslims been strong and united, Britain could never have conquered India, first, and later Egypt. Europe was successful because of its advanced material state and technology. Although these had developed in Europe due to the separation of religion from education and government, this division did not have to happen—and should not happen—in Muslim countries. Islam itself is already rational, he argued. It does not require secularization to thrive.32

‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad (1889–1964)

‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad was born on June 28, 1889, in the southern provincial capital of Aswan. His early life very much paralleled the trajectory of Sayyid Qutb, his disciple. As a young boy, al-‘Aqqad was immersed in both nationalist and Islamic discourse, from his father, elementary school, and his own curiosity. At the age of 16, he began his career as a government clerk, but left public service (p.259) three years later and moved into journalism as the editor for the Cairo newspaper, al-Dustur (The Constitution). This move coincided with the beginning of Mustafa Kamil’s National Party in 1907, and al-Dustur and al-‘Aqqad quickly aligned themselves with both Kamil’s nationalism and a pan-Islamic rhetoric. Al-‘Aqqad soon broke with al-Dustur’s pan-Islamism, bending more and more in the direction defined by Muhammad ‘Abduh and Sa‘d Zaghlul. In 1909, he became unemployed when al-Dustur ceased publication, and afterward alternated between Cairo and Aswan, between government and journalistic employment, and between mental acuity and mental breakdown. He worked on the editorial staff of a number of important newspapers and magazines and met many influential men of letters. He taught himself literature and poetry.33

Throughout the 1920s, al-‘Aqqad was an active member of the Egyptian Parliament. He spoke out strongly against the rising authoritarianism of Prime Minister Isma‘il Sidqi who suspended the Egyptian constitution on October 22, 1930. His speech against Sidqi and King Fu’ad earned him nine months in prison. Upon his release in 1931, his fame skyrocketed. However, in 1935, he was expelled from the Wafd Party because of personal conflicts with the party leadership, and in 1937, joined the splinter group, the Sa‘dist Party, under Ahmad Mahir and Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi, and was once again elected to Parliament.

Al-‘Aqqad wrote more than 100 books on such topics as philosophy, religion, biography, and poetry. He was ordinarily somber and aloof, but he reacted viciously to personal criticism. He demanded firm, undying loyalty from his supporters, and cruelly attacked those who turned treacherous toward him. The sum total of his seriousness, egotism, and haughtiness was an arrogant and patronizing demeanor, buttressed by a lurking insecurity due to his lack of formal schooling. Al-‘Aqqad was a polarizing figure, charismatically attracting both friends and enemies, but seldom leaving those he met unmoved. His acerbic style, clarity, and precision won him admiration. But he earned the enmity of many who suffered from his sharp pen, his biting vitriol, and his stinging attacks.

Al-‘Aqqad was a staunch proponent of Romantic poetry in Egypt, and he published eight major collections. His poems were strongly influenced by the English Romantic poets, but they also reflected classical styles as well. Yet his fame was based primarily on such scholarly works as his Abqariyyat (Geniuses) series and his 1937 novel, Sarah. His most controversial religious book was published in 1942 and was simply called Allah.

Of the three co-founders of the Diwan school—al-‘Aqqad, ‘Abd al-Rahman Shukri, and ‘Abd al-Qadr al-Mazini—al-‘Aqqad became the most iconoclastic. His lifelong mission turned into a campaign to tear down the old literary tradition and erect a totally new one as the exclusive and unassailable reformer of contemporary Arabic literature in Egypt. He approached his studies of literature and his criticism of the literati with a crusading zeal and displayed an extensive range of knowledge and interests, particularly notable for an autodidact. His mind constantly probed the motives and character of those he reviewed.34 He introduced (p.260) new standards of writing and composition, and a new perspective in evaluating the efforts of others. He was convinced that “his ideas would open a new chapter in the history of Arabic literature” as he called for “modernism, truth, greater depth and portrayal of the poet’s self” and sought to initiate a “revolution” in poetry and literary criticism, while independently assuming the entire burden of modernizing these two genres for himself.35

Although al-‘Aqqad modestly called Shukri the school’s leader—he was, after all, the oldest member—it was really al-‘Aqqad who was the most established and foremost poet of his times. He was the most outspoken of the three and presented his own compositions in grandiose terms. Ironically, the other co-founders of the Diwan school ended up fighting each other and pretty much stopped writing poetry, leaving al-‘Aqqad the group’s leading lyricist by default.36

The school had a very influential role in Egyptian literary circles, sponsoring and publishing modern writers, and entering the fray in literary battles in 1934, 1938, and 1943.37 Even without the further contributions from al-Mazini and Shukri, the Diwan school continued to promote an anglophile, romantic and individualistic style of poetry.

Al-‘Aqqad’s criticism and arguments are classic examples of modernizing apologetics.38 The superior qualities of the works he reviewed and critiqued were repeatedly attributed to European influence and the inferior traits were always excused by their Arabic or Semitic origin (following the intellectual fashion of the late 19th century of bundling these two together). Al-‘Aqqad’s ideas were quite similar to those of the French Orientalists, Ernest Renan and Gustave Le Bon. At the beginning of his career, al-‘Aqqad also employed the well-known theories of the famous 19th-century English essayist and critic William Hazlitt (1778–1830) who had concluded that the formative elements in intellectual production can be predicted from knowing the thinker’s personal temperament and inherited physical and racial characteristics. This temperament, Hazlitt determined, is inborn. Al-‘Aqqad adopted Hazlitt’s ideas that a poet’s disposition, once known and understood, is the primary predictor of the author’s writings, and that this temperament is established at birth. Thus al-‘Aqqad wrote about “the Arab manner of thinking” and “the Egyptian natural disposition”—all familiar expressions of national character studies derived from late 19th-century eugenics theory.

Jayyusi comments,

He was able to create in the minds of a generation thirsty for change and modernization but hazy in vision and perception, a mental impression of his importance as a poet. This may have been the result of the abundance of his poetic output on the one hand, and his well-informed and authoritarian critical writings on the other. Consequently, a good number of critics and writers on poetry in Egypt accepted his poetry (together with the poetry of al-Mazini and Shukri) as an example of (p.261) what modernized poetry should be in Arabic, with the inevitable lowering of the standards of aesthetic appreciation in Egypt.39

During World War II, al-‘Aqqad supported the Allied side. It was during the wartime that al-‘Aqqad and Qutb began parting company. In 1952, al-‘Aqqad similarly supported the Revolution under Jamal ‘Abd al-Nassir. In 1959 he was awarded the State Prize for literature.

On March 12, 1964, he died quietly in his home in the suburb of Heliopolis located northeast of Cairo.

Hasan al-Banna (1906–49)

Hasan al-Banna was the founder, at the age of 21, of Jama‘at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (The Society of Muslim Brothers or the Muslim Brotherhood) in Isma‘iliyya in 1928. (It relocated to Cairo in 1932.) Al-Banna subscribed to the salafiyya doctrines and concepts of social and political unity, tawhid, adopted by his intellectual forebears, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and Rashid Rida. Yet more than these earlier three, who for the most part remained writers, he set about organizing a permanent organization to realize these principles through concrete action. The Brotherhood established charitable activities, newspapers and journals, and paramilitary battalions. When the Palestinian revolt erupted in 1936, al-Banna shifted from concentrating on social justice and welfare to emphasizing anti-colonialism and armed combat. It was never absolutely clear whether the Brotherhood promoted participatory democracy and elections or advocated military force and violence. Twice al-Banna announced his intentions to run for parliamentary elections. Yet at the same time, the Brotherhood also established the Secret Apparatus to wage war against the Zionists in Palestine but which could also be turned against adversaries inside Egypt. Just as his lifelong institution building was remarkable, he also met his death in a dramatic fashion, assassinated by an assailant suspected of working for the security forces attached to the prime minister, Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Hadi.

Al-Banna was born on October 17, 1906, in the town of Mahmudiyya in the Delta province of Bahira, the oldest of Shaykh Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Banna’s five sons. He was influenced by his father who was the local imam, a watchmaker, and an independent Islamic scholar; by his teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Zahran, editor of an Islamic journal and head of the local Hasafiyya Sufi branch; and by the nationalist revolution of 1919. He studied with Shaykh Muhammad until the age of 12 when he enrolled in the Primary Teachers’ Training School in nearby Damanhur, where he studied until 1923 when he moved to Cairo to attend Dar al-‘Ulum.

At the age of 12, he joined his first Islamic organization, the Society for Moral Behavior, and founded a second, the Society for Prohibiting Evil. He also (p.262) established the Hasafiyya Benevolence Society (HBS). In school, he was elected president of the school’s literary society, and along with other students, founded the Society for the Prevention of Sin. Later, in Cairo, he joined the Society for Islamic Ethics and the Association of Muslim Youth (YMMA). Such societies were active in organizing efforts to reform Islam and to prevent the backsliding that their members considered prevalent throughout Egypt. Both the HBS and the YMMA served as prototypes for the Muslim Brotherhood.40

Al-Banna graduated in May 1927; the following September, he was assigned his first teaching post in Isma‘iliyya, a city midway along the British-controlled Suez Canal. In March 1928, al-Banna founded the Society of Muslim Brothers in order to help six workmen employed by the British army who had come to him complaining of discrimination and exploitation.41

Soon, new branches appeared in towns and cities throughout Egypt. By June 1933, the Brotherhood had opened 15 branches, 100 by March 1936, and over 300 by June 1938. In 1936, it had registered more than 20,000 members. Eight years later, the number ranged between 100,000 and 200,000, and by 1948, after al-Banna’s assassination, the number peaked to well over a million members.42

In October, 1932, the Education Ministry transferred al-Banna to Cairo. He immediately began to propagate the Brotherhood message through the mass media of newspapers and journals as well as providing weekly programs of lectures, sermons, and public readings in coffeehouses, mosques, and branch offices.

The Brotherhood’s primary goals included teaching Islamic morals, strengthening Islamic unity, reviving religious activism, and modernizing Islam. It established programs for private Islamic schools, adult literacy programs, clinics and hospitals, ambulance services, pharmacies, mosque construction, carpet and embroidery workshops, sports teams and athletic activities, Boy Scouts (or Rovers), model farms, Ramadan iftar tables, subsidized burials and cemeteries, village electrification, and welfare payment channeled through Brotherhood-operated zakat committees attached to neighborhood mosques.43

In 1936, the Brotherhood took up the cause of Palestinians rebelling against the British and Zionists by organizing programs of fund-raising and material support. It staged rallies, scheduled special “Palestine Days,” convened mass meetings, dedicated public prayers, wrote and published incendiary pamphlets, mounted posters, and published special editions of the Society’s newspaper. The Palestine campaign had a major impact on the Brotherhood. It changed from being simply a benevolent society that had emphasized charity, preaching, and education to an organization that stressed political activism and displayed hostile attitudes toward the government and imperialist powers. By 1939, the Muslim Brotherhood became a major player in Egypt’s national politics. The British and the Palace were both wary that its anti-Zionism was essentially a pretext for promoting anti-Palace and anti-colonialist policies.44

In order to protect the organization and appease the authorities, al-Banna sought patrons from the Palace, al-Azhar, and Parliament, although this (p.263) contravened the policy of avoiding elite ties that might compromise Brotherhood policies and actions. Yet even as al-Banna warned against violent confrontations, the Brotherhood soon came under increasing pressure to adopt more radical tactics.

In October 1937, at a mass demonstration of several thousand protesters in Cairo, the police were called in, and, for the first time, Brothers were arrested for their political activities. In September 1938, in response to calls for defending al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Brotherhood initiated programs training its Boy Scouts (or Rovers) in paramilitary techniques and organizing them into battalions. When in February 1940, the radical Society of Our Master Muhammad’s Youth (Shabab Muhammad) broke away from the Brotherhood, al-Banna still advocated nonviolence. But he also went about creating the Secret Apparatus the following April as a new internal structure to carry out a more subversive approach to domestic and regional politics.45

After February 4, 1942, when the British imposed a Wafd cabinet on the government, new elections were called for that March and the Brothers decided to contest the elections. Al-Banna himself ran for Parliament from Isma‘iliyya. Worried that the Brotherhood would pull votes away from the Wafd, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Nahhas demanded that al-Banna stand down. Al-Banna agreed, but only on condition that the Brotherhood resume its publications closed down under martial law and that the government forbid prostitution and the sale of alcoholic beverages. When new elections were scheduled again in 1944, al-Banna and members of the Muslim Brotherhood again promised to field candidates. This time they did not withdraw, even under strong pressure from the British. Nevertheless, they were defeated, even in districts considered Brotherhood strongholds.46

The war’s end lifted martial law but did not diminish British control. When the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty came up for renegotiation, the Brotherhood rose up four-square against any infringement of Egyptian sovereignty. Student demonstrations in early February 1946 protested Britain’s continued domination. Demonstrators from all fronts—Wafd, Muslim Brothers, and Communists—came together in the National Committee of Students and Workers and called for a general strike at the end of February. But the Brotherhood refused to participate—it viewed such alliances and united fronts with suspicion—even while its members unofficially joined the rally.

After November 1947, when the issue of Palestine came up before the United Nations and Britain absolved itself of the matter, many groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, prepared for Israeli independence by training their paramilitaries for action. Government indifference simply angered and provoked ordinary Egyptians.

In October 1948, a Brotherhood ammunition depot was discovered on the estate of one of its members. An even more incriminating incident occurred in November when a policeman stopped a jeep that turned out to carry documents pointing to armed violence by the Secret Apparatus. Al-Banna was arrested two (p.264) weeks later but was released almost immediately. Yet when Cairo’s police chief was killed by a bomb in early December, the government banned the Brotherhood again. Three weeks later, Prime Minister Mahmud al-Nuqrashi was shot in the back as he entered the Interior Ministry. In response, the new prime minister, Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Hadi, arrested and persecuted Muslim Brothers with a vengeance.47

On Saturday evening, February 12, 1949, as al-Banna left a meeting at the central offices of the Muslim Youth (YMMA), a lone stalking gunman emerged from the shadows and shot him in his chest seven times before stepping into a waiting taxi. Al-Banna stumbled back into the YMMA offices to call the police but passed out. He was whisked away to the closest medical center and eventually transferred to Qasr al-‘Aini Hospital where he was admitted to intensive care. Shot at 8:25 in the evening, he died just before 2 o’clock in the morning of the 13th. Four months later, the expected assassination attempt on ‘Abd al-Hadi failed. By the time he left office in July 1949, though, close to 4,000 Muslim Brothers had been arrested and imprisoned.48

Taha Husayn (1889–1973)

Taha Husayn, one of the leading writers in the 20th century, was known as “the dean of Arab Letters.”49 He was born on November 14, 1889, in the village of Izbit al-Kilu, outside the town of Maghagha, in the southern Egyptian province of al-Minya. His family was a middle-class family with some land. When he was two years old, he suffered a mistreated eye ailment and as a result was blind for the rest of his life. In al-Minya, he attended the local Qur’anic school, the kuttab, and memorized the Qur’an.50 At the age of 13, he was sent to Cairo to live with an older brother and attend al-Azhar University. But he did not perform well, failed his final exams, and dropped out before completing his studies. Then in 1908, he enrolled in the newly established—and secular—Egyptian (later Fu’ad I, and later Cairo) University as one of its first students. At the time, the university was staffed with European faculty, and Husayn gravitated toward such Orientalists as the Italian Carlo Nallino and the German Enno Littmann with their focus on the ancient world and its early civilizations. In 1914, he was the first Egyptian to receive his doctorate from the university, with a dissertation on Abu al-‘Ala al-Ma‘arri, a blind 10th-century Syrian philosopher and writer who attacked religious dogma and supported rationalism.51

Husayn became a protégé of Lutfi al-Sayyid, one of the most prominent Egyptian nationalists of the early 20th century and the first president of the national Egyptian University. Al-Sayyid helped Husayn at key moments in his life—receiving a coveted scholarship to study in France, achieving prestigious faculty and dean appointments at the national university, and obtaining career-saving pardons from political storms. At the time of World War I, Husayn received his scholarship to France, first to the University of Montpellier and then later to the (p.265) Sorbonne. He attended classes taught by Emile Durkheim, Gustave Lanson, and Lucien Levy-Bruhl. His 1919 dissertation was written about Ibn Khaldun’s social philosophy. He also obtained a diplome superieur in ancient history, Latin, and Greek based on a thesis about crimes of treason in ancient Rome. In 1917 he married a French woman, his loyal reader. After completing his studies, he returned to Egypt in 1921 and was appointed to the faculty at his alma mater as a professor of ancient Greek and Roman history. Since he was an Azhar dropout, his selection generated an outcry of protest.52

In 1925, Husayn switched his faculty affiliation from ancient history to Arabic literature. Then in 1926, he published his highly controversial book, Fi al-Shi‘r al-Jahili (Pre-Islamic Poetry) which denied the divine authenticity of the Qur’an.53 This case brought him public outrage, investigations by the national parliament and al-Azhar, and near-expulsion from the faculty but for his ties to al-Sayyid. Despite the book’s republication the following year in a toned-down version, he remained controversial throughout his career, especially among religiously minded scholars and politicians.

In 1930 he was appointed dean of the Literature Faculty, but was subsequently dismissed under the Sidqi administration in 1932. Nevertheless, he was reappointed in 1936. This second appointment failed, however, and Husayn moved from the university faculty to the position of inspector with the Ministry of Education where Sayyid Qutb worked. Here Husayn published another divisive book, The Future of Culture in Egypt, which, while ostensibly dealing with the immediate problems of schools and education, advocated a complete imitation of all things European. Despite this wholesale Westernization, Husayn also wrote about Islamic themes, indicating, perhaps, more an opportunism than a genuine curiosity about religious subjects. J. Brugman called him a “free thinker” and a “radical liberal.”54

In 1942 he benefited from the British-imposed Wafd administration and became first a consultant to the education minister and then later president of the new Alexandria University. He further capitalized on his Wafd connections when, in 1950, he became the minister of education. After the 1952 revolution, Husayn lost his position, along with other Wafdist officials. He tepidly supported ‘Abd al-Nassir and Egypt’s newfound nationalism. He was the first to be awarded the State Prize in Literature, in 1952.

He passed away on October 28, 1973, in Cairo.

Muhammad Mandur (1907–65)

Muhammad Mandur was born in 1907 in the village of Kafr Abu Mandur—named for his elite family—in northern Gharbiyya (now Kafr al-Shaykh) Province. He was a student at Egypt’s national university from 1925 to 1929 where he doubled majored in law and literature. He attended courses taught by Taha Husayn, (p.266) who persuaded Mandur to study in both disciplines and later played a key role in obtaining a scholarship for him to study in France. Mandur did not receive a study-abroad scholarship at first because of his poor eyesight, but soon, with sympathetic assistance from Husayn, who himself was blind, Mandur went on to France where he attended the Sorbonne from 1930 to 1939. Although he earned several diplomas in economics and legislation and in experimental phonetics, as well as a licence in both French and African literature, he failed to earn a doctoral degree.55

He returned to Egypt when the war broke out in Europe and secured a lecturer appointment at Fu’ad I (later Cairo) University that was arranged by Ahmad Amin who had just succeeded Taha Husayn as the new dean of the university’s Faculty of Literature. Then, in 1942, when Mandur began attending the new Alexandria University to earn his doctorate, he startled his professors by choosing Amin as his supervisor instead of Taha Husayn, his undergraduate mentor, who, by then, had become president of the new university. Subsequently, when Mandur graduated in 1943, he was deliberately passed over for further promotion at the university. Mandur resigned, left university teaching completely, and began a career in journalism. This episode might have implied a falling out between Mandur and Husayn, but Brugman declares that “an ideological difference of opinion between Taha Husayn and Mandur can hardly have been the cause of this delay [Brugman actually means “rupture”] in Mandur’s career, for nothing in their writing of the period points in this direction.”56

Moreover, despite this disagreement, the two remained philosophically alike. Both had studied with, and were strongly influenced by, the same teacher, Gustave Lanson (1857–1934), the well-known historian and critic of French literature who had emphasized the study of artistic and textual characteristics instead of extrinsic contextual and subjective factors. Brugman claims, however, that since Lanson had died in 1934 at the age of 77, he was probably too old during the 1930–39 period Mandur studied in Paris to teach any classes for Mandur to attend. Yet Lanson’s influence remains clear. Mandur translated one of the French scholar’s celebrated articles that appeared in Arabic as “Manhaj al-Bahth fi al-Lugha wa al-Adab” (Research Program in Language and Literature), he relied on Lanson for his intellectual foundations, and he assumed Lanson’s pioneering perspective that criticism should not be an exact science.57

Mandur sought to revolutionize literary criticism by advancing the methods followed in France. He urged his colleagues to adopt the French romantic style of expression that evoked aesthetic values such as beauty and that aroused the feelings and the imagination of the reader.58 He argued that whereas science investigates the general, literary criticism should analyze the particular. His imaginative and groundbreaking articles appeared in al-Thaqafa (Culture) which had been launched in 1939 by Ahmad Amin, his mentor and dean at Fu’ad I University.59 His most famous book was his first, Fi al-Mizan al-Jadid (New Balance). (p.267)

Mandur chafed against “all restrictions against liberty” which extended to adopting a distinct libertine outlook, and it was Mandur who translated Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, then considered as “an outrage against public morality” even by Parisian standards.60

Mandur argued that all those who considered literary criticism an exact science were doomed to failure. He rejected any method that employed external factors, such as culture and history, and he also eschewed explanations based on the personality of the writer, the approached promoted by ‘Abbas al-‘Aqqad, founder of the rival Diwan school of poetry. None of these, Mandur argued, gives agency to a writer’s creativity and imagination or allows for artistic originality.61 (For al-‘Aqqad’s methodology, see his biographic sketch in this Appendix.)

He repeatedly attacked critics like al-‘Aqqad who believed literary criticism contained general deductive rules and causal explanations—what might appear today as a structuralism determinism: “If we adopt only the rind and the skeleton of things,” Mandur wrote, “and leave out the essence and hidden meanings, we will lose our authenticity without achieving a [new] and genuine [sensibility].”62

Mandur condemned positivist science altogether and rejected material causality. In their place, Mandur offered studies that concentrate just on the texts themselves, the “l’explication de texts” method that alone can unlock the secrets of aesthetic and expressive creativity. Juxtaposed to the failed scientific technique employed by his rivals was the true and successful artistic and impressionistic styles adopted from France.63

Mandur assumed a political aloofness and feigned partisan neutrality. This position was particularly emphasized in his 1949 book, Fi al-Adab wa al-Naqd (Literature and Criticism). Written at the height of both left-wing demonstrations and political action against the Palace and the Egyptian government, as well as during his own professional career editing liberal and socialist publications, the book described Mandur’s attitude toward politics:

The free mind does not submit to coercion, whatever its motives may be. Just as mankind is in need of emancipation from tyranny and ignorance, it also needs to be emancipated from suffering and bad taste. Art for art’s sake can let man escape from himself, thus making him oblivious of his agony. It also polishes his feeling and smoothes the rough edges of his taste. These are indubitable services to mankind and, probably, have more influence on the human personality than we think.64

Yet gradually Mandur began to claim that although he advocated a politically impartial literature, he was unable to deny that literature had a “social function”—what he called “battle literature.” In his later years, he promoted a more socially engaged literature despite his earlier, apolitical theories of literary criticism.65

After leaving teaching in 1943, Mandur began his journalism career as the editor of the Wafdist journal, al-Misri (The Egyptian). Three months later, he moved (p.268) on to edit the party newspaper, al-Wafd al-Misri (The Egyptian Wafd). Under Mandur, the party organ acquired a notorious reputation as a Communist publication. He went on to work at Sawt al-Umma (Voice of the Nation), another Wafdist newspaper, and, in 1950, he was elected to Parliament. A year after the 1952 revolution, which he supported, the Wafd and its publications were shut down. He was then appointed to the faculty in Arabic literature at the Institute of Higher Arabic Studies associated with the Arab League. He later traveled to Romania and the Soviet Union, which reinforced his strong socialist politics, and, afterward, turned to theater and drama. He secured a teaching appointment to the Institute of Theater and became its director in 1959.66

He died in Cairo in 1965.

Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi (1903–79)

Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi was born on September 25, 1903, in Aurangabad, in the state of Maharashtra in central India. He came from an aristocratic family that generations earlier had served in the Mughal government of India before the British takeover. Mawdudi’s father was particularly religious and he sought to provide his son a classical education that did not involve English schooling. This elite but traditional education was cut short, however, when his father died and Mawdudi dropped out of school. He began to work as a journalist and soon became an ardent nationalist. In 1919, he joined the Khilafat movement, a pan-Islamic effort to strengthen the Ottoman caliphate from 1919 to 1924. The Khilafat movement also had ties to the Hindu Congress Party; together they sought to end British rule in India. Mawdudi moved to Delhi and became acquainted with many of India’s Islamic scholars. For three years, he edited their official newspaper, Muslim. This gave his writing a distinct Islamic tone. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924, Mawdudi renounced his nationalist perspective, worried that nationalists in the Congress Party were more Hindu than Indian. In 1926, he received a certificate in religious training in the Deobandi (or Hanafi) legal tradition.67

In response to the assassination of a Hindu revivalist in 1925 and the subsequent anti-Islamic backlash, Mawdudi called on all Muslims to defend their faith. His sermons were published in a groundbreaking treatise called al-Jihad fi al-Islam (Jihad in Islam). This elevated Mawdudi to the upper ranks of religious scholars and proved to be the final step in his transition from secular nationalist to Islamist.68 He began writing intensely on Islam, particularly addressing its minority status in South Asia. Like Sayyid Qutb in Egypt, Mawdudi blamed the decline of the Muslim community in India on corruption and foreign accretions that had distorted the religion. The solution, in his mind, involved returning to Islam’s original practices and beliefs. When the government refused to respond, he attacked it for its fecklessness and corruption. (p.269)

Mawdudi soon shifted from passive writing to committed political action. In 1938 he joined with Muhammad Iqbal to create an ideal Muslim commune in the Punjab called Dar al-Islam. In 1942, he began writing a series of Qur’anic interpretations, Tafhim al-Qur’an (Understanding the Qur’an) that, like Qutb’s In the Shade of the Qur’an, appealed to readers in a simple, popular style. Nevertheless, his Islamism remained elitist and tied to parliamentary democracy by working through the existing constitutional system, much like Egypt’s current Muslim Brotherhood, rather than violently overthrowing the government like Egypt’s more radical Islamist associations.

Mawdudi established the Jama‘at Islami, or Islamic Party, in 1941. But the organization soon weakened so that the events of the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan caught it unprepared. Mawdudi relocated to Lahore, launched a new party branch, and began campaigning for an Islamic state instead of a secular, nationalist one. Even though Pakistan had anchored its national identity firmly to religion, Mawdudi demanded an even greater role for Islam. He was arrested repeatedly from 1948 to 1950 for his agitation, again in 1954–55 when he barely avoided capital punishment, again in 1964, and finally in 1967, for challenging the legitimacy of Pakistan’s secular government. His final political campaign occurred in 1970 but the Jama‘at Islami lost in national elections to the leftist Awami League and the centrist Pakistan People’s Party. Mawdudi then resigned and returned to writing.69

He died on September 22, 1979, and his funeral in Lahore attracted over a million admirers.

Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi (1913–99)

Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi was born on December 5, 1913, in Rai Bareli, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. He was born into an aristocratic family with genealogical ties to the Prophet’s family and which earlier in the mid-19th century had organized a religious movement based on a Wahhabi-style Islamism. His family was strongly associated with the Nadwat al-‘Ulama (Scholars Circle) of Lucknow, a scholastic and reformist movement that started in 1894, and with the seminary associated with the Nadwa, called Dar al-‘Ulum, which Nadwi’s father directed. Both institutions were connected to the Deoband movement that started earlier in 1866 to promote Islamic missionary work (da‘wa or tabligh) and to the Khilafat movement for reinvigorating the caliphate. Young Abu al-Hasan received a thorough education at his father’s school, but one that was anchored more to the Arab world than to India.70

In response to the growing Hindu nationalism and British secularism of the 20th century, Nadwi attempted to distinguish a pan-Islamic identity in India through Arabization. He hoped to revitalize Islamic scholarship and to expand its intellectual horizons by emphasizing Arabic and the Arab world. Islamic studies (p.270) would cease to be archaic, medieval, and classical, he concluded, but become, instead, a lively discussion held throughout the Muslim world. In essence, Nadwi sought to further strengthen the ties of Indian Muslims with the Arab world as a way of carving out a distinct but historical minority status and identity. This meant dining and dressing like Middle Easterners, and reading the Arabic language press from Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Many of the ideas Nadwi shared with Muhammad ‘Abduh, Rashid Rida, and Sayyid Qutb were learned from the pages of Rida’s Islamic journal, al-Manar, and other Cairo magazines such as al-Risala and al-Thaqafa. These gave Nadwi a thorough introduction to contemporary intellectual trends in the Arab world and strongly influenced the political programs of the Scholars’ Circle in the 1930s.71

Nadwi and the seminary encouraged educational reform. It adopted textbooks from Egypt that taught modern standard Arabic instead of the classical language, although there was criticism that these were too secular.72 For this reason, Nadwi began writing his own textbook based on Egyptian prototypes but stressing Islamic and Indian content. He wrote children’s books in Arabic and edited an anthology of Arabic prose for advanced students. In 1984 Nadwi helped establish the League of Islamic Literature, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and became its first president.

Nadwi was essentially an Arabophile—he wrote his books in Arabic instead of English or Urdu—and an Easternist, by contrasting the spiritual East, with its moral superiority, and the materialist West and its secular decadence. He viewed nationalism as a European ruse to divide the Islamic world and to undermine its collective strength. Arab nationalism in particular proved to be a destructive doctrine constituting a new jahiliyya—a term he adopted from Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi and used in a kharijite fashion. Arabs could once again overcome jahiliyya, he argued, and restore their lost leadership by reducing their Arab identity and expanding their Islamic character. This anti-nationalist perspective corresponded with the anti-Nassirist Islamists in Egypt and Nadwi’s pan-Islamist supporters in Saudi Arabia. It also fit well with his own attempt to strengthen the Islamic connections between Arab and non-Arab Muslims. What made the Arabs great—Islam—was also what made non-Arabs great as well.

Nadwi’s 1950 book, Madha Khasira al-‘Alam bi Inhitat al-Muslims (What the World Lost as a Result of the Decline of Muslims), analyzed the history of Islam, with its early glory, the loss of pious leadership, and its gradual decline into the abyss, much like Qutb concluded in the final chapter of Social Justice. Similarly, the spirit of Islamic revival, lost among its rulers but still flickering among ordinary Muslims, could spark Islam’s resurgence. This awakening required an intellectual elite and a reformist ‘ulama to first rewrite Islamic history—“correctly” this time—and then overcome the Western-derived jahiliyya and revitalize an authentic Islam. For Nadwi, this also meant reviving Islam in India by emphasizing its affinities to his Muslim confreres in the Middle East. Thus he rejected both the colonial facade of English and the hybrid veneer of mixing Persian, Hindu, (p.271) and Urdu, and sought, instead, an authenticity based on Islam’s original medium, Arabic.

Nadwi served as the rector of the Nadwa in Lucknow. He received the King Faisal Award from Saudi Arabia and the Sultan Hassan al-Bolkhaih International Prize from Brunei and Oxford University for his publications and service on behalf of Islam.

He died on December 31, 1999, and more than 200,000 followers attended his funeral.

Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865–1935)

Muhammad Rashid Rida was a student of Muhammad ‘Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, but took their radical ideas in a more conservative direction, discussing such ideas as tawhid (unity) and the salaf, the first generation of Muslims, for example, in a less figurative and more concrete fashion. He criticized and rejected Sufism as the distorted outcome when Islam is reduced to mere orthodoxy without orthopraxy, faith without shari‘a law. He gravitated first toward a Hanbali interpretation of Islam, the most conservative of the four codifications of Islamic law, and the one most commonly found in his native Syria. Later, however, Rida inclined in the direction of the even more conservative Wahhabi branch of Hanbali law practiced in Arabia (later to become Saudi Arabia). This led him to appreciate both a stricter interpretation of Islam and the danger of rival, but false, theologies. More rigid and disciplined than his two mentors, Rida condemned the Europeans for achieving their hegemony by abandoning their religion. He therefore encouraged a return to Islamic law and a strict orthopraxy. Rida’s ideas and proposals appeared on the pages of his famous Cairo journal, al-Manar (The Beacon), which began publishing in 1897 and continued for the rest of his life. His conservative views were also documented in such books as al-Wahhabiyun wa al-Hijaz (The Wahhabis and the Hijaz [the west coast of Saudi Arabia, the site of Mecca and Medina]), al-Manar wa al-Azhar (Manar and the Azhar), and al-Sunna wa al-Shi‘a (The Sunnis and the Shi‘ites).

Rida was born on September 25, 1865, in al-Qalamun, a seacoast town just south of Tripoli, Syria (later in Lebanon). His family was well known for its piety and scholarship, an elite sayyid, descended from the Prophet Muhammad, which gave it considerable standing in local religious and political affairs. Young Rashid received a traditional education in the town’s Qur’anic school. He then attended an Ottoman government school in Tripoli for one year before enrolling in the new National Islamic school established by the distinguished Shaykh Husayn al-Jisr (1845–1909) who synthesized traditional religion together with modern science. Rida’s teachers introduced him to journalism, and he wrote for several journals and gained a respectable reputation as an intellectual. He graduated in 1892.73 (p.272)

An early aversion to Sufism turned him in the direction of Ibn al-Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.74 Rida’s embrace of their arch-conservative interpretations of Islam branded the Islamic movement with a rigid, reactionary character. Whereas his predecessors had attempted to modernize Islam, Rida and his successors sought to Islamize modernity instead.75

After reading al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa, the famous publication of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad ‘Abduh, Rida became fascinated with their ideas and the salafiyya movement they initiated, the return to an original, unadulterated version of Islam purged of innovation, superstition, mindless traditionalism, and passive fatalism. He had hoped to study with al-Afghani, but loathed living in Istanbul. Instead he moved to Cairo in 1897 to collaborate with ‘Abduh.76

A year after his arrival, Rida began publishing the salafi journal al-Manar, closely modeled on al-‘Urwa al-Wuthqa. ‘Abduh warned Rida to avoid politics and to focus instead on reform through education. Rida complied until ‘Abduh’s death in 1905, but thereafter published more explicitly doctrinaire articles. Over its 37 years, al-Manar proved to be one of the most influential journals on Islamic reform. It published articles on religious, social, political, and scientific issues. It criticized the ‘ulama, the Westernized elite, and cosmopolitan notables. It serialized ‘Abduh’s explanations (tafsir) of the Qur’an, reviewed books that discussed educational and religious reform, and disseminated legal opinions (fatwa or fatawi).77

Rida saw himself squeezed between the secular nationalists who blindly imitated Europe and al-Azhar ‘ulama who blindly imitated tradition. He was one of the earliest Islamic thinkers to see danger in the emerging doctrine of modern nationalism, but he also castigated Islamic clerics for their doctrinal errors, their abuse of power, their support of tyranny, and their unworthy leadership and apathy.78

Like earlier reformers, Rida advocated reviving interpretation, but he wanted this to be less lenient than his predecessors. Too flexible a scope for ijtihad, he argued, allowed for Westernization. He relied heavily on hadith, a characteristic of the conservative Hanbalis, and exhibited a more literal understanding of religion, as opposed to a symbolic interpretation.79

Rida sought an enlightened ‘ulama who had a genuine ability to interpret the Qur’an, exercise electoral judgment, and consult with the leaders and the community. To this end, he established a seminary, the Institute of Preaching and Guidance. He tried first to set the academy up in Istanbul, but the Sultan refused. He turned to Cairo, and received approval and financial support from Khedive ‘Abbas in 1912. However, the school closed two years later when World War I began.80

Initially Rida embraced al-Afghani’s radical repudiation of the West and its imperialism. However, once in Cairo and under the moderating influence of ‘Abduh, and seeing the benefit from appeasing the British, Rida assumed a more conciliatory tone. He embraced pan-Islamism and at first considered the Ottoman Empire as its embodiment, as the only way to protect Muslims from (p.273) external attack. Yet in due course, Rida began to question this accommodation. In 1912, when Italy invaded Libya, he became alarmed by the weakness of the Ottoman Empire and by the ferocity of the Europeans. He blamed Istanbul for the decline of the Muslim world and proposed major religious and political changes to strengthen the government and to prevent disintegration.81

Religiously, he called for a renewed unity of all Muslims to improve their abject conditions and confront European aggression by eliminating differences among the various schools of Islamic law and smoothing over the sectarian differences between Sunnis and Shi‘ites. Politically, he called for constitutionalism and consultation (shura) as mechanisms for restraining authoritarian rulers, and for the renovation of shari‘a law by either creating a new legal school or else merging existing schools together. He worked relentlessly to establish political associations, parties, and conferences to advance these reforms.

When Husayn ibn ‘Ali, Sharif (governor) of Mecca, declared war against the Ottoman Empire and sparked the Arab Revolt of 1916, Rida enthusiastically embraced the idea of an Arab to replace the incumbent Turkish caliph. However, when he learned of Husayn’s reliance on British funding, his enthusiasm cooled, and he turned and embraced Husayn’s rival from the central Arabian Nadj, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Sa‘ud. Then, as the Young Turk radicals in Istanbul moved more in the direction of a narrow Turkish nationalism, Rida began promoting a pan-Arab sovereignty and a more authentic Arab caliphate headquartered in Mecca.82

World War I dismantled the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with Germany. The caliphate soon came under attack. On November 1, 1922, the imperial sultanate was abolished, leaving the caliph as a symbolic figure without power. Then Turkey was recognized as a republic on July 24, 1923, and the caliphate was abolished altogether on March 3, 1924.

In 1923, after the caliphate had been weakened but before it was completely abolished, Rida published his book al-Khilafa aw al-Imama al-‘Uzma (The Caliph or the Great Imamate), a passionate plea for its restoration in order to defend Islam, maintain order, and enforce shari‘a. Yet when the office was finally eliminated a year later, two controversial books appeared—‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm and Taha Husayn’s Fi al-Shi‘r al-Jahili—and Rida was at the forefront of those condemning their publications. He called ‘Abd al-Raziq an enemy of Islam and accused Husayn of apostasy.83

In response, Rida decided that he would devise a complex and detailed program that called for a new caliphate, a revival of shari‘a law, and a return to the salaf. What he designed was no less than a systematic Islamic political science. Although the plan lacked specific details that could have made the program operational, it went much further than previous proposals toward conceptualizing the actual steps of Islamic revival.

After World War I, Rida rejected the policy of cooperating with colonial rulers. Realizing that ‘Abduh’s advice of appeasement merely led to disappointment, he returned to the radical perspective of al-Afghani. He became disillusioned by (p.274) British treachery with the Arab Revolt and with Zionist colonization in Palestine. He concluded that British reforms were an illusion intended to further its imperialism, to divide and rule Egyptian society, and to insert enemies in their midst by moving European Jewish settlers to Palestine.

Throughout the 1920s, Rida and al-Manar became enthusiastic champions for the most conservative interpretation of Islam, that of the Wahhabis who, together with Ibn Sa‘ud, were uniting much of Arabia.84 It was after a trip to Suez to meet Ibn Sa‘ud that Rida died on August 22, 1935, in Cairo.85