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The Blackweil Companion to 
Contemporary Islamic Thought 

Blackwell Companions to Religion 

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The Blackwell Companion to 
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Edited by 

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The Blackwell companion to contemporary Islamic thought / edited by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi'. 
p. cm. — (Blackwell companions to religion) 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN-13: 9 78-1-4051-2174-3 (hardcover : alk. paper) 
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1. Islam — 21st century. 2. Religious awakening — Islam. I. Abu-Rabi', Ibrahim M. 
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Notes on Contributors ix 

Editor's Introduction: Contemporary Islamic Thought: One or Many? 1 

Ibrahim M. Abu-RabV 

Part I Trends and Issues in Contemporary Islamic Tliouglit 21 

1 Contemporary Turkish Thought 2 3 
§ahin Filiz and Tahir Ulug 

2 Transformation of Islamic Thought in Turkey Since the 1950s 39 
Ahmet Yildiz 

3 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Approach to Religious Renewal and its 

Impact on Aspects of Contemporary Turkish Society 5 5 

^tikran Vahide 

4 Islamic Thought in Contemporary India: The Impact of Mawlana 
Wahiduddin Khan's Al-Risala Movement 75 
Irfan A. Omar 

5 Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Contemporary Islamic 

Thought in India 88 

Yoginder Sikand 

6 Madrasah in South Asia 105 
Jamal Mahk 

7 75 Years of Higher Religious Education in Modern Turkey 122 
Mehmet Pacaci and Yasin Aktay 

8 Hassan Turabi and the Limits of Modern Islamic Reformism 145 
Abdelwahab El-Affendi 


9 An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi's Islamic Discourse 161 

Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim 

10 Islamic Thought in Contemporary Pakistan: The Legacy of AUama 
MawdudI 175 
Abdul Rashid Moten 

1 1 The Futuristic Thought of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad of Malaysia 195 
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 

12 Religion, Society, and Culture in Malik Bennabi's Thought 213 
Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi 

1 3 Hassan Hanafl on Salafism and Secularism 257 
Yudian Wahyudi 

14 Towards a New Historical Discourse in Islam 271 
All Mabrook 

Part II Secularism, Modernity, and Globalization in Contemporary 

Islamic Thought 283 

15 The Second Coming of the Theocratic Age.? Islamic Discourse after 
Modernity and Postmodernity 285 
Aslam Farouk-Alli 

16 Europe Against Islam: Islam in Europe 302 
Talal Asad 

1 7 Ummah and Empire: Global Formations after Nation 313 
Mucahit Bilici 

18 Between Slumber and Awakening 328 
Erol Giingor (Translated by §ahin Filiz and Tahir Ulug) 

1 9 Islam and Secularism 338 
Asghar Ali Engineer 

20 A "Democratic-Conservative" Government by Pious People: 

The Justice and Development Party in Turkey 345 

Me tin Heper 

2 1 Secularism and Democracy in Contemporary India: An Islamic 

Perspective 362 

Syed Shahabuddin 

Part III The Question of ]ihad and Terrorism in Contemporary 

Islamic Thought 3 75 

22 Islam, Terrorism, and Western Misapprehensions 3 77 
Muhammad Fathi Osman 


23 Indonesian Responses to September 11, 2001 387 

Muhammad Sirozi 

2 4 The World Situ ation After Septeniberll,2001 408 

Khursid Ahmad 

Part IV Islamism, Sufism, and Pluralism in Contemporary 

Islamic Thought 423 

2 5 Sirdt al-mustaqim - One or Many? Religious Pluralism among Muslim 

Intellectuals in Iran 425 

Ashk Dahlen 

26 Contemporary Islamic Movements in Southeast Asia: Challenges and 
Opportunities 449 
Ahmad F. Yousif 

27 Transformation of Political Islam in Post-Suharto Indonesia 466 
Mun'im A. Sirry 

28 The Pilgrimage to Tembayat: Tradition and Revival in Islamic Mysticism 

in Contemporary Indonesia 482 

Nelly Van Doom-Harder and Kees De Jong 

PartV Justice, Dependency, and International Relations in 

Contemporary Islamic Thought 507 

29 Hindu Fundamentalism in Contemporary India: A Muslim Perspective 509 
Zafarul-Islam Khan 

30 Political Discourse of the Organization of the Islamic Conference 527 
Abdullah al-Ahsan 

3 1 Culture of Mistrust: A Sociological Analysis of Iranian Political Culture 544 
Mehrdad Mashayekhi 

32 What Do We Mean By Islamic Futures? 562 
Ziauddin Sardar 

33 Islam and the Science of Economics 587 
Syed Farid Alatas 

Part VI Women in Contemporary Islamic Thought 607 

34 Muslim Feminist Debates on the Question of Headscarf in 

Contemporary Turkey 609 

Ayse Kadioglu 

35 "Islamic Feminism": Negotiating Patriarchy and Modernity in Iran 624 
Nayereh Tohidi 


36 An Islamic Critique of Patriarchy: Mawlana Sayyed ICalbe Sadiq's 

Approach to Gender Relations 644 

Yoginder Sikand 

Index 657 

Notes on Contributors 

Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' is Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations 
at Hartford Seminary and editor of The Muslim World. He has authored Intellectual 
Origins of Islamic Resurgence in the Modern Arab World (State University of New York 
Press) and Contemporary Arab Thought: Studies in Post-1967 Arab Intellectual History 
(Pluto Press), and edited several books. 

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the School of Distance 
Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia. He writes on the politics of 
Islam in Malaysia and has contributed articles to many leading journals such as Kajian 
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Malay World, The Islamic Quarterly, Islamic Culture, Islamic 
Studies, Asian Studies Review, Global Change, Peace & Security, and Islam and the Modern 

Khursid Ahmad is a leading Muslim scholar and thinker of the Jamaat-e-Islami in 
Pakistan. He directs the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan and is the 
head of the Islamic Foundation in Leicestershire, England. 

Abdullah al-Ahsan is Professor of History and Civilization at International Islamic 
University Malaysia. Two of his major books are OIC: Introduction to an Islamic Political 
Institution (1988) and Ummah or Nation: Identity Crisis in Contemporary Muslim Society 
(1992). He is currently working on Muslim Society: From Crisis to Catastrophe. 

Yasin Aktay teaches at Seljuk University in Konya, Turkey. He is a leading scholar in 
Islamic social and political thought in modern Turkey. 

Syed Farid Alatas is Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Sin- 
gapore. He is the author of Democracy and Authoritarianism: The Rise of the Post-Colonial 
State in Indonesia and Malaysia (Macmillan, 1997). He is currently working on a book 
on Muslim ideologies and Utopias. 

Talal Asad is Professor of Anthropology at the Ph.D. Program of CUNY Graduate 
Center in New York. He is interested in the phenomenon of religion (and secularism) 


as an integral part of modernity, and especially in the religious revival in the Middle 
East. Connected with this is his interest in the links between religious and secular 
notions of pain and cruelty, and therefore with the modern discourse of human rights. 
His long-term research concerns the transformation of religious law {shan'ah) in 
nineteenth- and twentieth-century Egypt with special reference to arguments about 
what constitutes secular and progressive reform. He has published several books in the 
above areas, especially Formations of the Secular (Stanford University Press); and 
Genealogies of Religion (Johns Hopkins University Press). 

Mucahit Bilici is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, Ann 
Arbor. He has written several critical articles on Islamic thought in contemporary 
Turkey and the interplay between nationalism and religion in Muslim societies. 

Ashk Dahlen is lecturer of Iranian Languages and Islamic Studies at Uppsala Univer- 
sity, Sweden. He is the author of Islamic Law, Epistemology and Modernity. Legal 
Epistemology in Contemporary Iran and has published several articles on Persian 
literature, Sufism, and Islamic thought. He is a member of the Iranian Academy of 

Abdelwahab El-Affendi is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of 
Democracy, University of Westminster and coordinator of the Centre's Project on 
Democracy in the Muslim World. Educated at the Universities of Khartoum, Wales, and 
Reading, he is author of Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan (1991), Who Needs 
an Islamic State? (1991), Revolution and Political Reform in Sudan (1995), Rethinking Islam 
and Modernity (2001), and For a State of Peace: Conflict and the Future of Democracy in 
Sudan (2002). He has contributed to many leading journals, including African Affairs, 
Encounter, Journal of International Affairs, Futures, Muslim World, and the International 
Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, and to such works as The Routledge Encyclopedia of Phi- 
losophy (1998), SocialScience andConflict Analysis (1993), Islam and Justice [1997), Islam 
and Secularism in the Middle East {2000) , Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century (2003), 
and Understanding Democratic Politics (2003). Dr. El-Affendi is a member of the Con- 
sultative Council of the Arab Human Rights Organisation in the UK, and a trustee of 
the International Forum for Islamic Dialogue. Dr El-Affendi also contributes regular 
columns to Al-Ouds al-Arabi (London) and the Daily Star (Beirut). 

Mohamed El-Tahlr El-Mesawi is Assistant Professor at the KuUiyyah of Islamic 
Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia. 
His academic and intellectual interests include Islamic legal theory, modern and con- 
temporary Islamic thought and religion, and modernity studies. His publications 
include, among others, A Muslim Theory of Human Society, The Our'anic Phenomenon, 
The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World, and On the Origins of Human Society. 

Asghar Ali Engineer is a prolific Indian author on Islamic subjects. He directs the 
Center for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, India. 

Aslam Farouk-AUi teaches Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Cape Town, 
South Africa. He is the editor of the Annual .Review of Islam in South Africa (ARISA), 
associate editor of the Journal for Islamic Studies (JIS), and managing editor of the Journal 


for the Study of Religion (JSR). His main research interest is contemporary Islamic 

§ahiii Filiz is Professor of Islamic Philosophy and Turkish-Islamic Thought at 
Divinity School of Seljuk University in Konya, Turkey. He writes on traditional and 
contemporary Islamic philosophy. 

Metin Heper is Professor of Political Science at Bilkent University in Ankara. Turkey, 
and a founding and Council member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences. He is author 
of The State Tradition in Turkey, Historical Dictionary of Turkey, Ismet Indnii: The Making 
of a Turkish Statesman, and The State and the Kurds in Turkey: The Question of Assimila- 
tion (forthcoming). Professor Heper's edited or co-edited books include Islam and Poli- 
tics in the Middle East, Turkey and the West: Changing Political and Cultural Identities, 
Politics in the Third Turkish Republic, Strong State and Economic Interest Groups: The 
Post-1980 Turkish Experience, Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey, The State 
and Public Bureaucracies: A Comparative Perspective, and Institutions and Democratic 

Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim is Professor of History, International Islamic University 
Malaysia. His research interests include the history and politics of the Middle East, 
Sub-Saharan Africa, and Islamic revivalism. 

Ay§e Kadioglu is Associate Professor of Political Science in Sabanci University, Istan- 
bul, Turkey. She is the author of Cumhuriyet Iradesi, Demokrasi Muhakemesi (Republican 
Will, Democratic Reason), 1998, Metis, Istanbul. 

Zafarul-Islam Khan studied in India, Egypt, and the UK where he obtained a Ph,D. 
from Manchester University. He is director of the Institute of Islamic and Arab Studies, 
New Delhi since 1988, and editor of Muslim and Arab Perspectives since 1993 and The 
Milli Gazette since 2000. He is author and translator of over 40 books in Arabic, English, 
and Urdu including Hijrah in Islam (Delhi, 1996) and Palestine Documents (New Delhi, 
1998). He has organized as well as attended dozens of conferences and seminars in 
India and abroad. He frequently appears as a commentator on Islamic and South Asian 
issues on radio and TV channels including Aljazeera and BBC Arabic. 

Ali Mabrook obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy from Cairo University, where he taught 
for many years. He is currently Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department 
of Religious Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa. 

Jamal Malik is Professor of Religious Studies and Muslim Religious and Cultural 
History at the University of Erfurt. He is author of The Colonialization of Islam (New 
Delhi: Manohar and Lahore: Vanguard, 1996, 2nd edition 1998), Islamische 
Gelehrtenkultur in Nordindien (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997), and edited volumes Perspectives 
of Mutual Encounters in South Asian History 17 60-1860 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2000), 
Muslims in Europe. From the Margin to the Centre (Miinster: LIT, 2004), and Religious 
Pluralism in South Asia and Europe (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004). 

Mehrdad Mashayekhi teaches at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at 
Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He writes on contemporary Iran. 


Abdul Rashid Moten is Head and Professor of Political Science at the International 
Islamic University Malaysia. He has been teaching at university level for about 3 5 years 
in various countries. He has published 10 books and contributed about 80 articles to 
internationally refereed journals on Islam and the Muslim world. He is also editor of 
the Journal of Intellectual Discourse. 

Irfan A. Omar is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Marquette University. He is 
co-editor (with Bradford E. Hinze) of Heirs of Abraham: The Future of Jewish, Christian, 
and Muslim Relations (Orbis, 2005). He served as guest editor for the special issue of 
Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (Birmingham, UK), entitled, "Islam in Dialogue," 
15/1 (January 2004), and is currently an associate editor of the Journal of Ecumenical 

Muhammad Fathi Osman is a leading scholar in contemporary Islamic thought. He 
directs the Institute for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World in Los Angeles, 

Mehmet Pacaci is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the Divinity School in 
Ankara, Turkey. 

Ziauddin Sardar, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic, is regarded as one of the 
leading public intellectuals in Britain, featuring recently among Prospect'sTop 100. He 
is the author of the classic studies The Future of Mushm Civilisation (1979, 1987) and 
Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come (1985). The most recent of his over 40 books 
include Postmodernism and the Other {1998), The A to Z of Postmodern Life (2002), Islam, 
Postmodernism and Other Futures: A Ziauddin Sardar Reader (2003), his autobiography 
Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim (2004), and the co-authored 
international best-sellers. Why Do People Hate America? (2002) and American Dream, 
Global Nightmare (2004). A Visiting Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Department of 
Arts Policy and Management, the City University, London, Professor Sardar is the editor 
of Futures, a monthly journal of policy, planning, and futures studies and co-editor of 
Third Text, a critical journal of visual art and culture. He is a regular contributor to the 
New Statesman magazine and has a regular presence on radio and television in the UK. 

Syed Shahabuddin is a former Ambassador of India, former Member of Parliament 
and former editor of Muslim India. He is currently President of All-India Muslim 
Majlis-e-Mushawarat. He writes regularly on contemporary issues, both national and 

Yoginder Sikand is a reader in the Department of Islamic Studies at the Hamdard Uni- 
versity, New Delhi, India. He is the author of The Origins and Development of the Tablighi 
Jama'at, and Muslims in India Since 1947. 

Muhammad Sirozi is Associate Professor of Islamic Education at Program Pascasar- 
jana IAIN Raden Fatah in Palembang, Indonesia. 

Mun'im A. Sirry is a Ph.D. student in the Religious Studies program at Arizona State 
University, USA. He has written the following: Resisting Religious Militancy (Jakarta: 


Airlangga, 2003), Islamic Dilemma, Democratic Dilemma (Jakarta: Gugus Press, 2002), 
A History of Islamic Law: An Introduction (Surabaya: Risalah Gusti, 1996). 

Nayereh Tohidi is Associate Professor of Women's Studies and Sociology at Califor- 
nia State University, Northridge and a Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern 
Studies of UCLA. She has written extensively on gender and social change, women and 
modernization, democracy and Islamism in the Middle East and Central Eurasia, espe- 
cially h'an and post-Soviet Azerbaijan. Her latest publications include: Globalization, 
Gender and Religion: The Politics of Women's Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts 
(Palgrave, 2001); Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity (Lynne Rienner, 
1998); and "Women, Building Civil Society, and Democratization in Post-Soviet Azer- 
baijan," in Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition (Woodrow Wilson Center Press 
and the John Hopkins University Press, 2004). 

Nelly van Doorn-Harder is Associate Professor of Islam and World Religions at Val- 
paraiso University. Her areas of study are Islam in Southeast Asia, Muslim-Christian 
relations and Christianity in the Middle East. She is the author of Women Shaping Islam: 
Reading the Our'an in Indonesia (University of Illinois Press, 2006) and has written 
several books on the Copts of Egypt. 

Yudian Wahyudi is Assistant Professor of Islamic Legal Philosophy {Falsafat al-TashrV 
al-Islami) at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (Yogyakarta, Indonesia), and 
received his Ph.D. from McGill University in 2002 with the dissertation "The Slogan 
'Back to the Our'an and the Sunna'; A Comparative Study of the Responses of Hasan 
Hanafl, Muhammad Abid al-Jabiri and Nurcholish Madjid." During his residency as a 
visiting scholar at the Islamic Legal Studies Program. Law School, Harvard University 
(2002^), he wrote what he considers to be the second and third volumes of his dis- 
sertation: "The Problem of Psychologism in Our'anic Legal Hermeneutics" and 
"Shari'a and State in Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia," respectively. 

§ukran Vahide is a freelance writer and translator. She has written extensively on Said 
Nursi, and has translated a large part of his collected works into English. Her published 
works include The Author of the Risale-i Nur, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1992); and Islam 
in Modern Turkey: An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (2005). 

Tahir Ulu^ is research assistant at Selguk University Divinity School in Konya, Turkey. 
He has translated several books and articles from Arabic into Turkish. In addition, he 
is fellow of the Turkish Academy of Sciences. 

Ahmet Yildiz works at the Atatiirk Library in Ankara, Turkey. He has written several 
articles on Islam and politics in contemporary Turkey. 

Ahmad F. Yousif is Associate Professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, University 
of Brunei. Previously, Dr. Yousif taught at the International Islamic University Malaysia 
and the Department of Religious Studies, University of Ottawa (Canada), where he 
obtained both his M.A and Ph.D. degrees. 


Contemporary Islamic 
Thought: One or Many? 

Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' 

The progress of opinion is fluid and indefinite; it does not easily lend itself to 
any system of dates and clear-cut chronological divisions. 
D.C. Somervell, English Thought in the Nineteenth Century (London: Methuen & 
Co., 1929), 1. 

Modernization has taken place throughout the world through a series of 
social, political, and cultural movements that, unlike movements of change 
and rebellion in many other historical situations, have tended to combine 
orientations of protest and those of center-formation and institution-building. 
It has fostered the establishment of a universal civilization in which 
different societies have served one another as mutual reference points . . . The 
continuous spread of these assumptions throughout the world in a variety of 
guises - liberal, national, or socialist movements and ideologies - has greatly 
undermined the basis of legitimation found in historical or "traditional" 

S.N. Eisenstadt, "Post-Traditional Societies and the Continuity and Recon- 
struction of Tradition," Daedahis: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and 
Sciences, Winter 1973, 6. 

The Renaissance breaks with medieval thought. Modern thought distin- 
guishes itself from that of the medieval period by renouncing the dom- 
inant metaphysical preoccupation. The importance of partial truths is 
systematically valorized, while the pursuit of absolute knowledge is left to 
Samir Amin, Eurocentrism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989), 79. 

Enlightenment thought . . . embraced the idea of progress, and actively sought 
that break with history and tradition which modernity espouses. It was, above 


all, a secular movement that sought the demystification and desacralization of 
knowledge and social organization in order to liberate human beings from 
their chains. 

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cul- 
tural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 12-13. 

In his seminal 1946 essay entitled "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell 
bemoans the decline of English prose after World War Two, and points out that what 
is troublesome about some major English writing is lack of precision, sheer incompetence, 
and vagueness. This insight into the political language of England in the 1940s is, more 
or less, applicable to a good number of Western writings on Islam and the Muslim 
world, especially the journalistic type of writing. Our journalistic prose has often con- 
fused such terms as: (i) Islam: (ii) the Muslim world; (iii) Islamic history; and (iv) Islamic 
revivalism or fundamentalism. 

The concept "contemporary Islamic thought" reflects a wide variety of intellectual 
currents dominating the contemporary Muslim world since roughly the end of World 
War Two, the rise of the nation-state and the beginning of the decolonization process. 
It is possible to delineate four major intellectual movements dominating contemporary 
Muslim intellectual life: (i) nationalism; (ii) Islamism; (iii) Westernization; and (iv) state 
ideology. Far from being monolithic, each of the preceding categories contains a diverse 
number of positions on national, religious, political, social, and economic issues and 

Because of the complexity of the contemporary Muslim world and the nature of the 
political dynamics that have given rise to the nation-state in this world, it is impossible 
to talk of one homogenous Islamic intellectual history. In order to begin to analyze the 
different intellectual forces and modalities of the contemporary Muslim world, it is 
imperative to highlight the different intellectual histories of this world. Although there 
are some major commonalities between the several intellectual histories that make up 
contemporary Islamic thought, each intellectual history has responded to a unique set 
of circumstances and criteria that have in turn defined it over the past several decades. 
For example, the Partition of India and the subsequent creation of the modern nation- 
states of India and Pakistan in 1947 define, to a large extent, the contemporary intel- 
lectual history of Islam in South Asia. In the same vein, the emergence of the 
nation-state in Indonesia after centuries of Dutch colonialism defines the intellectual 
experience of the Muslims in that country. 

It is only in the preceding sense that one can discern multiple intellectual histories 
in the contemporary Muslim world. These multiple intellectual histories reflect the 
complex cultural and economic transformations taking place in the Muslim world since 
the nineteenth century, to say the least, that is to say, since the advent of Western cap- 
italism into many a Muslim country. As such, multiple intellectual histories have 
registered the cultural, religious, and intellectual responses to this encounter and doc- 
umented the rise of new social classes, new blocs of power, and new intellectual forces 
in almost every Muslim country. This has been the more poignant since the official end 
of colonialism in the 19 50s and 1960s. 


In the political area, many journalists and political scientists have written the 
general outlines, at least, of the political history of the modern Muslim world. In a more 
specialized way, due to academic division of labor, a number of scholars have written 
the social and political histories of each Muslim country. However, writing the intel- 
lectual histories of the modern and contemporary Muslim world has been a formida- 
ble task indeed. To carry this out requires a team of scholars who are versed in several 
Islamic and Western languages and who are familiar with the social, economic, and 
intellectual histories of the modern and contemporary Muslim world. The collection of 
articles in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought is intended to fill a 
major lacuna in this area and alert us to the various currents of thought dominant in 
the contemporary Muslim world and their articulation of the questions and challenges 
facing it. In addition, this collection of articles helps us formulate comprehensive per- 
spectives on the current movements of thought in Muslim societies. 

Speaking of multiple Islamic intellectual histories reflects the following criteria: one 
is the diversity of intellectual trends in each intellectual history; second is the host of 
issues and problems each intellectual history tackles; and third is the starting point of 
each intellectual history. For example, as mentioned above, contemporary Islamic intel- 
lectual history in South Asia is more or less predicated on the Partition of India and 
Pakistan in 1947 and the intellectual, moral, and political questions and burden gen- 
erated by such Partition. In the case of Indonesia, contemporary Indonesian intellec- 
tual history begins more or less after the independence of the country in 1945 and as 
a response to the great problems facing the country since independence. In the same 
vein, Arab intellectual history in both the Middle East and North Africa begins with the 
onset of the decolonization process of the 1950s and 1960s and the construction of 
the nation-state in different parts of the Arab world. Contemporary Turkish thought, 
on the other hand, owes its existence to the Kemalist experiment and the foundation of 
the modern Turkish Republic in 1 9 2 3 . In the latter case, it is quite impossible to address 
all the Turkish trends of thought emerging in the post-Republic phase without coming 
to grips with the intellectual genesis of Kemalism and its aversion to religion, that is, 
Islam in its private and public pronouncements and practices." 

So far, we have discerned four broad currents of thought in the contemporary 
Muslim world and ascertained that each current is deeply diverse, extremely complex, 
and is the product of various vital political, philosophical, religious, social, and histori- 
cal conditions and formations. In other words, although some intellectual historians, 
such as the American Lovejoy,^ argue that intellectual history is an autonomous field 
of knowledge, it is autonomous to the extent that it reflects the social and intellectual 
forces of each country. And it is a basic fact that these forces have been in constant 
interplay with one another. 

Several worldviews constitute a people's intellectual history and as such, intellectual 
history is necessarily multidisciplinarian by nature. It cuts across different fields of spe- 
cialization, especially philosophy, theology, history, politics, and political economics. It 
is also guided by different philosophical and ideological positions. As it is clear in the 
various essays included in this Companion, ideology is at the heart of intellectual history. 
In other words, even a careful reading of any particular worldview constituting intel- 
lectual history will not render a purely objective picture of that trend. Intellectual history 


is ideological by nature. Being ideological, one must read the constituent elements of 
intellectual history against their social, economic, and political backgrounds and con- 
texts. What this means is that, "Intellectual history cannot claim to be the true or only 
history ... It exists only in connection with, and in relation to, the surrounding 
political, economic, and social forces. The investigation of subjects of intellectual 
history leads beyond the purely intellectual world, and intellectual history per se does 
not exist.""* 

Because of the different worldviews they represent, intellectual historians do not 
work on the assumption of a shared specific method. This justifies the notion that intel- 
lectual history lacks one governing problematic. In effect, contemporary Islamic intel- 
lectual histories, far from being reduced to one problematic, are distinguished at the 
core by a variety of conceptual approaches and questions with varying degrees of 
intensity and interrelationship. 

One may summarize these problematics as both internal and external. On the inter- 
nal side, modern and contemporary Muslim intelligentsia have wrestled with the 
meaning of Muslim identity and tradition and their relevance to the contemporary con- 
cerns of the Muslim world. For example, Muslim women have begun to examine the 
position of the primary sources of Islam, that is to say, the Our'an and hadith, on 
women and the relevance of these primary sources to the current realities of the 
Muslim world. The debate on women and Islam is most poignant in such countries as 
Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, and Pakistan. On the external side, Muslim intellectuals 
have been wrestling with the big questions of modernity and globalization, their impact 
on Muslim societies, and the relationship between the Muslim world and the advanced 
capitalist West. All of these debates have something to say about the nature of the state, 
i.e., the ruling system, in the Muslim world. In other words, part of the story of multi- 
ple intellectual histories in the Muslim world revolves around the meaning of "the 
state" in contemporary Muslim intellectual discourse and the political elite's influence 
on contemporary Muslim societies. One might add that the intellectual history of "the 
state" in the modern and contemporary Muslim world is yet to be written. In other 
words, the intellectual history of the political elite in the contemporary Muslim world 
must be written in order to reflect the ideological positions of this elite over a period of 
time and its position on national as well as foreign issues. 

In reading the articles of this Companion, it is imperative to form a general sense of 
the elite in contemporary Muslim societies. By and large, one can differentiate four 
different types of elite in the Muslim world: (i) political elite; (ii) business elite: (iii) 
military elite; and (iv) intellectual elite. One must pay special attention to the 
connection between the political and intellectual elite in the contemporary Muslim 
world. Although it is quite difficult to summarize this relationship in a few sentences, 
it suffices to say that the political elite of many Muslim countries does not hail from the 
educated classes and that power and wealth have been used by the ruling power elite 
to acquire knowledge or acquire men of knowledge who can be useful in maintaining 
the political and social status quo. To a large extent, the power elite has also put to 
use some religious intelligentsia in order to promote the status quo in the eyes of the 
masses. This is true in almost every Muslim country. However that is not to say 
that all religious intelligentsia have been subservient to the state. A good number 


of them have opposed the authority of the political elite and their international 

The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought wrestles with the works of 
those Muslim intellectuals who represent a variety of social and intellectual positions, 
and in that sense the various articles in this Companion will help us appreciate the core 
ideas discussed by some of the main intellectuals in the contemporary Muslim world. 
Some of these intellectuals belong to well-established religious classes in Muslim soci- 
eties. They transmit a complex Islamic tradition in a highly dynamic age. Others have 
only recently risen to the fore. This is true, for example, with Ustaz Ashaari of Malaysia, 
whose grassroots organization has been banned by the government due to its challenge 
of the state's official religious discourse. (See Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid's article on 
Ustaz Ashaari in this Companion.) The same can be said about the case of Fethullah 
Giilen of Turkey, living in exile in the United States since 2000, for his movement 
represents a great challenge to the authority of the Turkish state.'' Giilen is a popular 
religious intellectual who has established and led the most powerful social and religious 
Islamic movement in contemporary Turkey, a movement that has been seen by some 
as posing a great danger to the Kemalist foundations of the Turkish Republic. Giilen 
was educated in the religious tradition current in East Turkey after the foundation of 
modern Turkey. His interpretation of the religious idiom has made him an attractive 
figure to a good number of religious intelligentsia in contemporary Turkey. 

It is important to bear in mind that being an intellectual in the contemporary Muslim 
world is a difficult undertaking, indeed. The intellectuals, by and large, have been active 
in the anti-colonialist struggle and have had a vision about the construction of the 
nation-state after independence. However, a good number of contemporary Islamic 
intellectuals feel betrayed by the political elite of their countries. Some have actively 
tried to change the status quo, as in the case of religious leaders in Iran, while others, 
as in the case of the intellectuals of the Justice Party in Turkey, have opted to democ- 
ratize their societies without attempting to change the Kemalist foundations of the 
state. A third type of Muslim intelligentsia and professional has opted to migrate to the 
West to seek their personal fortunes as an exit from their own dilemmas. The migra- 
tion of intellectuals to Europe and North America has been a saga of the Third World 
since the dawn of imperialism. The rise of the United States to world prominence 
exacerbated the "brain drain" from the heart of the Muslim world. Therefore, it is erro- 
neous to identify Muslim intellectual histories with just the intellectual forces present 
in the Muslim world. Many Muslim intellectuals in the West try every day to articulate 
a new identity that is in consonance with their social and political realities in the West. 

The relationship of the intellectuals with the masses is very complex in contempo- 
rary Muslim societies. Religious intellectuals, by and large, have kept in touch with the 
masses. However, a good number of religious intellectuals have adopted the official side 
of the government line and represented the elite in their dealings with the masses. It is 
important to be guided, though not limited, by Antonio Gramsci's ideas on the meaning 
of intellectual and power, culture and politics, exile and creativity, civil society and reli- 
gion. The distinction made by Gramsci between ecclesiastical and organic intellectuals 
might be helpful in dispelling some ambiguity about the role of the intellectual in 
contemporary Arab society. What prevents us from postulating that the most organic 


intellectual in the Muslim world of late has been the ecclesiastical activist, he or she 
who speaks the language of the masses and identifies with their suffering and 

On the whole, contemporary Islamic intellectual histories have dealt with the 
following questions and challenges. First is the issue of decolonization and political inde- 
pendence. Most Muslim countries have gained their independence from European colo- 
nialism only in the past several decades. Has political independence translated into a 
healthy process of modernization or economic development without any major objec- 
tion from the Center,? Second, in the decolonization process, all sorts of nationalist, 
secular and religious forces participated in order to rid their societies of European 
hegemony and exploitation. There was a measure of balance in the fight against the 
colonial structure. What happens to this balance after independence,? How do some 
forces highjack political decisions after independence,? Third, the Muslim world has 
experienced a tremendous demographic explosion since independence. What have been 
the ramifications of such an explosion on the infi'astructure of modern Muslim societies 
and what happens to the population born after independence.? Fourth, as a result of the 
lack of development in the countryside, the rural poor migrate to the cities or even over- 
seas, as in the case of many people from North Africa, What is the fate of the new urban 
poor and the relationship between this phenomenon and religion or religious activism 
in contemporary Muslim societies,? Fifth, there is the big question of the emerging 
political elite in Muslim societies after independence and the role of the military in pol- 
itics and the shape of civil society. All of these are major questions that await answers. 
It is not farfetched to argue that liberal democracy is not a reality in most, if not all, 
Muslim countries. Why has this been the case,? Is this due solely to internal factors,? Fur- 
thermore, the political elite in the Muslim world has put religion, that is to say, Islam, to 
its use. It has not shown a tendency to free religion from the patronage of the state, and 
as a result, a good number of the religious intelligentsia have taken the side of the state 
against the poor. The religious intelligentsia has been effectively co-opted. Sixth, one 
must raise questions about the social origins of the ruling elite in contemporary Muslim 
countries. What class interests do they represent,? What is their connection to world cap- 
italism.? Are they interested in democratizing their societies.? Seventh, what happens to 
the Islamist movements after independence.? The major ones were established during 
the colonial era and fought colonialism as vehemently as did the nationafist and secular 
forces. What is their fate in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and North 
Africa,? Eighth, what is the role of intellectuals in the Muslim world after independence.? 
This is a huge question with many possible answers. By and large, because of the pre- 
vailing political conditions in the Muslim world and the rule of either a military or tribal 
dictatorship, the intelligentsia has become disenchanted with the political structure and 
some resorted to silence or migration. The process of the "brain drain" is a direct result 
of actions on the part of the ruling elite in the contemporary Muslim world to accom- 
modate their intelligentsia and secure a free environment for academic research and 
intellectual freedom, where the intelligentsia can thrive and help the intelligentsia of the 
ancien regime transcend their predicaments and problems. Ninth, oil is a major com- 
modity in the modern world-system. This has created a unique situation in the Gulf 
states, where a number of underdeveloped countries with meager populations are pro- 

editor's introduction 7 

tected by capitalist interests and are developed overnight in order to meet the demands 
of the capitalist market. Are the Gulf states modernized? In other words, are they part 
of the historical project of modernity? Do they lack modernism? Do they have modern- 
ization? Tenth is the question of Palestine. Is this the never-fading issue? What has been 
its impact on the Muslim world? Is it true that Western and American support of Israel 
and the lack of support for Palestinian rights have solidified the anti- American forces in 
the Muslim world? Or are these forces angry with America and the West because of what 
they endured under colonialism and neo-colonialism? Eleventh, one notices after inde- 
pendence the virtual lack of knowledge that Muslim countries have about each other 
Educated people in Cairo, Istanbul, Karachi, and Jakarta know more about the West 
than they do about other Muslim countries. This phenomenon of the colonial past is 
still a problem today. How is it possible to develop inter-Islamic consciousness in an age 
of increasing specialization and in an age controlled by the Center? Furthermore, it is 
important to note that the educated people of the non-Arab Muslim world (i.e., Pak- 
istan, Malaysia, and Indonesia) know more about the Arab world than vice versa. Of 
course, much of this is due to the impact of Islam on these societies. This brings us to a 
whole host of questions about the lack of economic and political coordination in the 
Muslim world and its weak position vis-d-vis the world capitalist system. Twelfth is the 
status of religious sciences in the modern and contemporary Muslim world. There is no 
doubt that since its inception, the Islamic religious phenomenon contributed to the 
urbanization and modernization of the Muslim world. Islam is based on a sacred text, 
on literality. The Muslim world in the early modern period built a comprehensive system 
of madaris in order to impart Islamic teachings to the youth. In addition. Islamic civi- 
lization developed more or less an intact Islamic urban and literary cultural and reli- 
gious system. However, all of this collapsed with the advent of colonialism in the Muslim 
world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The Nineteenth-Century Background of Contemporary Islamic Thought 

In documenting the salient features of modern and contemporary Islamic intellectual 
histories, let us first focus our attention on the primary concerns of the Muslim intel- 
ligentsia at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. 
Only in this way can we understand the problematics of contemporary Islamic thought. 
As a reaction to the penetration of Western capitalist modernity into all aspects of 
Muslim societies from the Arab world to Southeast Asia, a significant number of 
Muslim intellectuals began to write down the general outlines of a new intellectual 
project that is often referred to as "Islamic modernism." In the Arab world, Iran and 
the late Ottoman period^ was represented by such luminaries as Jamal al-Din al- 
AfghanT, Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Rashld Rida, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (in 
his early phase), and a host of other religious scholars and thinkers who were intent 
on finding a rapprochement between their grand Islamic tradition and the scientific and 
philosophical achievements of capitalist modernity. In South Asia, the project of 
Islamic modernism was represented by such thinkers and activists as Sayyid Ahmad 
Khan, Amir Ali, Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad, and others.^ In Southeast Asia, most 


notably in Indonesia, the project of Islamic modernism was represented by the Muham- 
madiyyah organization and its founder, Muhammad Dahlan.'' 

The major features of classical Islamic modernism were as follows: (i) the revival of 
rational elements in the Islamic tradition; (ii) finding Islamic solutions to the challenges 
of the West; (iii) embracing the philosophical and scientific features of modernity; (iv) 
constructing new academic and religious institutions to meet the challenges of moder- 
nity; (v) the revival of Kalam science; and (vi) the revival of Islamic languages and focus 
on foreign languages. Islamic modernism can be said to be composed of two major fea- 
tures at the beginning of the twentieth century; (i) on the one hand, it was deeply con- 
scious of foreign occupation and its intellectual and educational design aimed at 
eradicating foreign control. This was the case with the Muhammadi3ryah; (ii) on the 
other hand, it saw the salvation of Muslims as being united with the foreign presence, 
as can be seen in the movement represented by Khan in India at the end of the nine- 
teenth century. However, the logical outcome of both sides of Islamic modernism was 
to lay down the blueprint for an independent homeland for Muslims in the Middle East, 
Southeast Asia, and South Asia. 

Along with the rise of nationalism in different parts of the Muslim world in the latter 
part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Islamic modernism paved the way 
for the foundation of the nation-state in the modern Muslim world. In Indonesia, for 
example. Islamic modernism combined with nationalism and the rise of other Islamist 
parties to power led directly to the creation of modern Indonesia. The same combina- 
tion of factors can be seen in the case of Pakistan. 

Independence, national struggle, and the creation of modern institutions have been 
the landmark of contemporary Islamic thought. In the case of the Muslims of South 
Asia, the Partition of India and Pakistan has been a watershed in both contemporary 
Islamic intellectual and Indian intellectual histories. It is quite impossible to understand 
the huge issues besetting contemporary Islamic thought in South Asia without under- 
standing this pivotal historical event and its intellectual, religious, social, political, and 
economic consequences and realities. 

The Meaning of Salafiyyah in Modem and Contemporary Islamic Tliouglit 

In general, the Salafiyyah refers to a diverse number of religious and intellectual forces 
in the modern and contemporary Muslim world that have taken their inspiration from 
the primary sources of Islam and that opt to live their contemporary lives in a way that 
is resonant with the ideals of the past and demands of the present. One can divide the 
Salafiyyah movement into three forms; pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. The 
best example of the pre-colonial is the Wahabiyyah, which has had a marked impact 
on modern and contemporary Islamic thought since its inception at the end of the eigh- 
teenth century in Arabia. One may consider the Wahabiyyah a great revolutionary 
movement in its initial thrust, since it relied on a comprehensive ideology of radical 
social and political change. It intended to purify society of superstition and negative 
social practices. The second is the colonial Salafl3ryah. In the Arab world, it is repre- 
sented by such scholars as Abd al-Oadir al-Jaza'irl, Ahmad al-Mahdl, al-SanusI, Hassan 


al- 'Attar, al-Saffar, Jamal al-DTn al- Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Rashid Rida. The 
third is the post-colonial Salafiyyah represented by such religious scholars and activists 
as Mawlana Mawdudl, Abd al-Oadir Awdah, Yusuf al-Sibai', Allal al-FasT, Sayyid Outb, 
and Muhammad Outb. One must not forget the several militant Salafi movements, 
such as the jihad and Jama'ah al-Islamiyyah in Egypt. Unlike the major Salafi trends, 
these movements seek to establish the islamic polity through a military take-over of the 

Many Salafi thinkers, especially from the Ahmad Khan school of thought in South 
Asia, sought accommodation with Westernization, as mentioned above. The Alighrah 
movement spearheaded by Khan in the nineteenth century produced generations of 
Muslim intellectuals in South Asia that sought accommodation between Islamic tradi- 
tion and Western modernity. By and large, this movement was not critical of colonial- 
ism and Westernization. It is only in the twentieth century that some Salafi thinkers, 
especially those belonging to Islamic revivalist movements, began to contemplate the 
disastrous implications of capitalist culture and philosophy for Islamic metaphysics and 
ethics. Such revivalist thinkers as Khurshid Ahmad, Sayyid Outb, Muhammad Baqir al- 
Sadr, Muhammad Hussain Fadlallah, and Rashid Ghannoushi have been critical of 
Western colonialism and its implications for the Muslim world. Because of its aggres- 
sive nature, capitalist modernity forced Salafi thinkers to seriously consider capitalist 
modes of production and their impact on modern Muslim societies. 

One can consider Islamism as a natural outgrowth of the nineteenth-century 
Salafiyyah, especially in its Abduh and Afghani formulations. Islamism can be sum- 
marized both as an indigenous response to triumphant imperialism and the deep sense 
of political, religious, and intellectual malaise enveloping Arab society in the interwar 
period, especially after the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1 9 2 3 . Being a response 
to the penetration of the modernity of imperialism in the different corners of the Arab 
world has always defined Islamist identity as intricately linked to that of the West. In a 
sense, this aggressive modernity has forced Islamism to be an avid observer of things 
Western, and has led it to present a comprehensive critique of the Western worldview 
and strategies in the Muslim world. This important dimension characterizes the 
thought of such people as Hassan Banna, Sayyid Outb, Muhammad Fadlallah, and 
many others. Although critical of imperialist modernity, both nineteenth-century 
Salafiyyah and interwar Salafiyyah adopted one key idea of Western modernity: the 
notion of reform and progress. However, one must draw an important distinction 
between the notion of progress as espoused by modernity and that as understood by 
the Islamic Salafiyyah. The Salafiyyah espousal of progress is not at all divorced from 
its appreciation of the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its modern 
intellectual positions. 

In the Arab world, for example, and especially before 1967, the Salafiyyah was on 
the defensive while Arab nationalism was on the offensive. The 1967 defeat drastically 
changed this: it weakened and even paralyzed nationalism and forced it to revert to 
Islamic themes in its public pronouncements. In the words of the Eg3rptian thinker 
Ghali Shukri, the Salafiyyah "mushroomed" after the 1967 defeat. This happened in 
such countries as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. A similar phenomenon took place in Iraq, 
especially after the second Gulf War 


After considering this historical sketch of the religious permutations of Salafiyyah, 
one must remember that the Salafiyyah movement in the Middle East was responding 
to a different set of circumstances than that in the Gulf states, especially the 
Wahabiyyah Salafiyyah in Saudi Arabia. In several Gulf states and most notably in 
Saudi Arabia, the Salafiyyah was intimately wed to the state to the extent that only an 
astute observer could distinguish the subtle difference between the state and the 
Wahabiyyah. The state claimed adherence to Islamic identity and the modernization of 
society. While the Salafiyyah in such countries as Syria and Egypt was on the defensive 
in the pre- and even post-1967 era, this was not the case in the Gulf states. The tribal 
Gulf state needed the Salafiyyah in order to boost its imported modernization programs 
in the 1960s and the 1980s and it needed it once again to attack Iraq in the second 
Gulf War Furthermore, one may argue that the official Salafiyyah in most countries in 
the Gulf took the side of the state against Iraq after its occupation of Kuwait. 

It is important to note that the Salafi3ryah included a number of distinguished Shi'ite 
thinkers in the Arab world, most notably Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr of Iraq and 
Muhammad Hussain Fadlallah of Lebanon. These two thinkers, in particular, have had 
a major impact not just on Shi'ite youth but on Sunnite youth as well. In addition, one 
must not forget the major impact of the 1979 Iranian revolution on Arab conscious- 
ness in general and the Salafi outlook in particular 

The success of the Iranian revolution was seen as the concrete embodiment of 
genuine Islam in an Islamic society. A number of Salafi thinkers began to publicize the 
ideas of such figures as Ali Shari'ati and Imam Khomeini. Iran's contemporary intel- 
lectual history has been deeply influenced by the Khomeini revolution of 1979; the 
debates within Iran since that time are important. In treating the Salafi trend with its 
complex components in contemporary Arab thought, it is important to invoke the 
famous distinction drawn by Maxime Rodinson between "Official Islam" and "Popular 
Islam." To begin with, this is more than an academic sociological distinction about the 
nature of religion in contemporary Arab society. "Official Islam" represents the posi- 
tion of the state on religion and its various mechanisms, both subtle and concrete, to 
define a manageable relationship between the two. The constitution of almost every 
Arab state proclaims that Islam is the official religion of the country and that the 
shan'ah is the main source of legislation. Besides raising questions about non-Muslims 
in Arab societies where the shan'ah is the main source of legislation, this official posi- 
tion raises the fundamental question about the religious elite who enjoy the support of 
the state. This religious elite, dispersed as it is in different corners of the country, gains 
the official patronage of the state through the creation of a ministry for endowment 
and religious affairs, whose function becomes to keep those rebellious young preach- 
ers who may not heed the call of official reason in check. 

Liberalism, Nationalism, and Marxism in the Muslim World 

Besides Salafiyyah in its bewildering varieties, liberalism has had a real presence in the 
Muslim world since the nineteenth century. It is beyond the scope of this Companion to 
deal with liberal, nationalist, and Marxist trends of thought in the Muslim world in any 

editor's introduction 11 

comprehensive manner. However, the reader must bear in mind that these tendencies 
have coexisted with the Islamic trend of thought, have influenced and been influenced 
by it. It suffices to mention that liberalism in Western thought refers to a mode of 
thought that reflected the economic and cultural aspirations of the nascent bour- 
geoisie. In its different economic and political activities, liberalism prides itself on the 
notions of liberty and democracy. As a complex bourgeois movement, liberalism sought 
to achieve a number of things: philosophically, it sought to introduce a radical break 
between metaphysics and rationalism or between faith and reason. Liberalism no 
longer considered metaphysics to be the queen of sciences; an unfettered exercise of 
thought was considered the new criterion for progress. To be sure, the progress of 
science in the nineteenth century gave liberalism an edge over all religious philosophies. 
Economically, liberalism sought to achieve the unobstructed movement of goods. 
Laissez-faire capitalism was its natural expression in the eighteenth and nineteenth cen- 
turies. Socially, liberalism was for constituting a new social and work ethic that was not 
defined by either religion or tradition, or where religious philosophies occupy a mar- 
ginal position. Educationally, liberalism preaches a new type of liberal education that 
rejects the control of religious reason and institutions. 

Modernization and Religious Revivalism 

Although we can date the beginning of contemporary Islamic thought to roughly the 
1950s, its seeds were planted in the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth 
centuries. The Muslim world's response to the challenges of colonization was multi- 
faceted; it sought to revive or reconstruct the religious, social, political, and economic 
institutions of the modern Muslim world. On the whole, three different movements 
channeled this response: modernization, nationahsm, and rehgious revivalism. 

The European challenge to the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century helped 
awaken the central authority from its slumber and encouraged it to launch an ambi- 
tious program of modernization called the Tanzimat, which began in the early part of 
the nineteenth century. The Empire responded by adopting Tanzimat, a wholesale mod- 
ernization of Ottoman society from the top down. Ottoman political and military elite 
were aware of the necessity of taking drastic "modernization measures" if they wished 
to keep the Empire afloat. Most leading Ottoman bureaucrats and intelligentsia, includ- 
ing the religious intelligentsia, were firmly behind modernization. The ulama supported 
modernization in the hopes that "the welfare of the ummah" would be safeguarded.^" 
Although the different nineteenth-century Ottoman sultans put their weight behind 
the Tanzimat, the process did not prevent the collapse of the Empire by the end of World 
War One. However, before the Empire folded, a new breed of secular Ottoman intelli- 
gentsia arose, and a small part of that intelfigentsia saw the salvation of the state in 
adopting Westernization. They saw this as the only solution to the backwardness of the 
state. The discourse of this community of people centered on a new understanding of 
nationalism, secularism, and progress. 

Therefore, in the case of Turkey, contemporary intellectual history begins with the 
construction of the ideological foundations of Kemalism in the 1920s. Atatiirk was a 


charismatic figure who desired the modernization of his country and people along 
European lines. One must situate the rise of different trends of thought in Turkey in the 
context of Kemalism and its impact on Islamic and leftist currents of thought. To a large 
extent, Islamic intellectual history in contemporary Turkey has been a response to the 
challenge of Kemalism to religious identity. One can discern four major trends of 
Islamic thought in contemporary Turkey: the first is the pacifist, represented by the 
thought of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, a leading theologian of world renown who wrote 
the Magnum Opus Risaleh Nur, and who founded a community known as the Nur com- 
munity^^ The second is an educational Islamic movement represented by the theolo- 
gian FethuUah Giilen, mentioned above. The third is the Islamic activist represented by 
the Refah party and the fourth is an activist moderate Islamic movement that works 
within the Kemalist system and that currently holds power in Turkey. (See Metin 
Heper's article in this Companion.) In addition to these representations of Islam, there 
is a host of Sufi brotherhoods that are still active in Turkey nowadays. 

As mentioned above, nationalism represents the second tier of nineteenth-century 
Muslim response to the predicament of the Muslim world and Western challenges. 
Nationalism, in Anderson's celebrated phrase, "is an imagined political community - 
and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign."^- Nationalism is a limited 
imagining of the nation, much more limited, let us say, than Christendom or the 
Muslim ummah. Nationalism did not have to defend a stagnant past, although very 
often it resorted to inventing its own past in order to give a certain measure of authen- 
ticity to its actions. The nationalist movement in the Muslim world led the nation in a 
struggle against colonialism, which paved the way to creating several nation-states in 
the Muslim world. As a matter of course, nationalist leaders of the Muslim world did 
not use religious themes in their speeches or slogans. Such personalities as Ahmed 
Sukarno in Indonesia, Kemal Atatiirk in Turkey, Muhammad All Jinnah in Pakistan, 
and Jamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt represent this trend. Being highly charismatic, these 
founding figures fought for the political independence of their nations from the West 
while being at the same time envious of Western scientific and political achievements. 
Although they fought political domination by the West, they opted to model their soci- 
eties according to the Western philosophy of life. It is interesting to examine the con- 
ditions in which Third World nationalisms arose. Much literature has appeared on the 
social or philosophical origins of European nationafism, but very little addresses the 
origins in the Muslim world. Overall, nationalism in the Muslim world fought very hard 
to liberate itself from imperialism in two important domains: the spiritual and the insti- 
tutional. On the spiritual level, as Partha Chatterjee ably shows, nationalism seeks to 
ensure its sovereignty on the personality of the nation, its past, and cultural identity. 
On the institutional level, it seeks to establish its nationalist state by learning from 
Western science and institution building. ^^ 

The rise of nationalism in India is particularly interesting. Most of the Indian intel- 
ligentsia of the nineteenth century, regardless of their religious affiliation, were united 
on an ambitious nationalist program of ridding the countey of British domination.^'' 
Any cursory reading of the career of the Indian Congress from the latter part of the 
nineteenth century until the 1947 Partition will undoubtedly reflect this preoccupa- 
tion. However, under pressure from the British and because of certain religious and 

editor's introduction 13 

economic conditions, some Indian Muslims began to contemplate a separate state from 
the Muslims of India, which became Pakistan after Partition. 

However, one must examine the genesis of nationalism in India from the prism of 
intellectual history. Modern Islamic intellectual history in India begins roughly after 
the failure of the Indian Mutiny against the British in 1857, which signaled the 
breakdown of the Mughal Empire and the onset of a new age for both Muslims and 
Hindus in India. Between 1857 and the end of World War One, several religious and 
intellectual tendencies developed among the Muslims of India competing for the for- 
mulation and definition of Islamic identity there. The following major movements 
arose: (i) the Alighrah movement, which was represented by Sir Ahmad Khan and his 
colleagues, and which advocated political and cultural openness to the English and 
their methods of teaching; (ii) the al-Khilafat movement, which aimed at preserving 
the Ottoman Empire; and (iii) the Muslim League. The al-Khilafat movement was 
Pan-Islamic in orientation and anti-British. In addition to these organized religious and 
intellectual bodies in Muslim India, there were a host of traditional educational insti- 
tutions such as the Dar al-Ulum, established in Deoband at the end of the nineteenth 
century. The Dar al-Ulum is still committed to its original vision of disseminating tra- 
ditional Islamic education in South Asia and creating bridges between the traditional 
religious elite and the masses. One of its most brilliant representatives is Sayyed 
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (See Yoginder Sikand's article on Mawlana Nadwi in this 

Since Partition, there has been some confusion about the true identity of Pakistan. 
Was Pakistan created for the Muslims of India or was it created as an Islamic state.'^'' 
The careers of the founders of Pakistan and the movement behind the establishment 
of the country have reflected this uncertainty.^'' What is certain is that only a portion 
of Indian Muslims were interested in migrating to Pakistan after Partition, and initially, 
the Jamaat-e-Islami, founded by Abu al-Ala al-MawdudI in 1941, stood against 
Partition on the grounds that the future Islamic state would be limited to Pakistan 
only^* The Pakistani movement was spearheaded by the Muslim "salariat class" of 
North India, a class that was "the product of the colonial transformation of Indian 
social structure in the nineteenth century and . . . comprised those who had received 
an education that would equip them for employment in the expanding colonial state 
apparatus as scribes and functionaries."^'^ This class did not represent the interests of 
the majority of the Muslim peasants in rural India or those of the Muslims in south 
India. This explains why the majority of Muslims in the south and in the rural areas 
did not migrate to Pakistan after Partition. However, the creation of Pakistan did not 
solve the problems of Muslims in India. In 1971, Pakistan lost East Pakistan, and 
Bangladesh was established in the name of Bengali nationalism. 

It is clear that the Partition left a deep mark on both Muslims and Hindus in South 
Asia. It signaled the failure of unitary Indian nationalism to establish one independent 
state after the termination of British colonial authority in India. However, both India 
and Pakistan opted to create a secular and not a religious system after independence. 
It is within this secular system in each country that one has to locate the debates 
around the big issues in each country, such as the creation of a religious state. This has 
been the more pertinent in the case of the Jamaat-e-Islami after the migration of its 


founder to Pakistan in 1948. MawdQdi never opted for Paliistan and he was one of 
the opponents of the Paldstan resolution in 1942. In other words, he did not see eye to 
eye with the Muslim League, which was fighting valiantly for the creation of a state 
for the Muslims of India. MawdudI did not initially opt for Pakistan since his Islamist 
vision of constructing an Islamic state all over India would have been greatly dimin- 
ished. And diminished it was by the time that MawdudI and the top leadership of the 
Jamaat-e-Islami chose to migrate to Pakistan. (See Abdul Rashid Moten's article in this 

It is within the parameters of the nation-state of both India and Pakistan that one 
must discuss Islamic intellectual history and its evolution to the present. Whereas the 
bulk of Islamic intellectual history in Pakistan has revolved around the Islamicity of 
the state and the necessity of constructing an Islamic political and economic system to 
be compatible with modernity, the bulk of Islamic intellectual history in India has 
revolved around the preservation of the secular and democratic foundations of the 
modern Indian nation-state. Muslims as a minority in India, albeit a major minority of 
around 15 percent of the population, have by and large eschewed the Islamic preten- 
sions of Pakistan, remained loyal to the indivisibility of India, and constructed their 
intellectual debates around the best ways and means to construct an Islamic identity 
in a secular environment. That is to say that even the most Islamist of movements in 
India, the remnant of the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been fighting to preserve the secular 
identity of the Indian state and against the Hinduization of the state. This is remark- 
able in view of the fact that the intellectual and political agenda of the Jamaat-e-Islami 
in Pakistan has been for the Islamization of the state. 

Since the creation of Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist movements 
in the country have failed to establish an Islamist political system, which defines to a 
large extent the intellectual debates of Islamists in Pakistan. There is no doubt that 
the intellectual leaders of the Jamaat, such as the founder MawdudI, Khurshid Ahmad, 
and others, have remained faithful to the vision of creating an Islamist system in the 
country. Opposed to that has been the nationalist and secularist vision of the founders 
of Pakistan, which has been kept intact by the army in the country. 

The third major response to the challenge of European colonization was Islamic 
revivalism. At the outset, it is crucial to differentiate among four major groups or classes 
of revivalism in the modern Muslim world: (i) pre-colonial: (ii) colonial; (iii) post- 
colonial; and (iv) post-nation-state. The Wahabiyyah of Saudi Arabia is a pre-colonial 
Islamic movement, which was created in reaction to internal Muslim decadence and 
sought to revive Islamic practices in light of a strict adherence to Islamic law and 
theology. To do so, the charismatic figure Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab allied himself 
with the Saudi family, which led to the creation of the modern Saudi state. 

Examples of the second form of colonial Islamic revivalism are the Muhammadiyyah 
and Nahdatu ul-Ulama organizations in Indonesia, both established in the first half of 
the twentieth century.'" We can also add the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the 
Jamaat-e-Islami of India. These were mass-oriented social and religious movements 
committed to ambitious programs such as the reform of Islamic education or the 
control of political authority in preparation for implementing the sharT'ah in the larger 
Islamic society. 

editor's introduction 15 

The onset of the nation-state in the Muslim world in the middle of the twentieth 
century and the supervision of the religious institution by the state, coupled with the 
failure of the nation-state on many fronts, resulted in the emergence of post-colonial 
forms of Islamic revivalism, which reflected extremist interpretations of religion and 
resorted to violence to achieve their objectives. The Egyptian jihad of the 1 9 70s and 80s 
is a case in point. 

The Taliban stands to be one of the major Islamist movements arising in response 
to the disintegration of the nation-state in Afghanistan. The Taliban emerged in 
response to the failure of the secular nation-state to build a new civil society and also 
to the failure of the urban Islamist movement in Afghanistan to arrest the further dis- 
integration of the state, especially in the wake of the withdrawal of Soviet forces in the 
late 1980s.'^ The Taliban movement arose in the context of the severe chaos taking 
place in the country in the 1990s, especially after the 'Americans had turned their 
backs on the ruins of Afghanistan.""" 

It is clear that the most significant post-nation-state Islamist movements, that is, the 
Egyptian jihad, the bin Laden movement, which must be examined against the wider 
context of Saudi Arabia in the 1 9 70s and 80s, and the Taliban, appeared at major his- 
torical junctures in contemporary Islamic history, precisely when secularism and the 
nation-state became exhausted, and when new possibilities of establishing a novel 
Islamist order seemed to arise. 

The Question of Islam and Modernity 

As various essays in this Companion show, modernity is the key to the main debates 
taking place in the Muslim world since the nineteenth century. Generally speaking, 
there are two ways to approach the question of "Islam and modernity." A host of 
Muslim theologians argue that Muslim tradition holds the answers to the many dilem- 
mas that modernity has produced in the Muslim world. The most representative thinker 
of this trend, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, argues that "To conclude, a conscious and intellec- 
tual defense must be made of the Islamic tradition. Moreover, a thorough intellectual 
criticism must be made of the modern world and its shortcomings. Muslims cannot 
hope to follow the same path as the West without reaching the same impasse or an even 
a worse one, because of the rapidity of the tempo of change today. The Muslim intelli- 
gentsia must face all these changes mentioned here, and many others, with confidence 
in themselves. They must cease to live in the state of a psychological and cultural sense 
of inferiority.""^ Here, it is not clear what exactly Islamic tradition is and whether or 
not the contemporary Muslim intelligentsia is expected to bypass modernity or coexist 
with it. The former is most likely the position of the author. However, Nasr does not tell 
us how to bypass a modernity that has permeated the entire Muslim world in the past 
200 years. 

The second approach to dealing with "Islam and modernity" is to delve into the 
impact of modernity on actual Muslim countries, political, ideological, and social move- 
ments, states, power elite, and social formations in general. This is a more plausible 
approach than the former. In this approach, one must wrestle with a number of 


significant questions and not just Muslim tradition, per se. Because of the triumph of 
modernity and the colonization of a significant portion of the MusUm world in the 
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, it is quite impossible to speak of two 
separate paths of evolution, development, or change. The fate of the Muslim world has 
been entwined with that of the West for at least the past two centuries. (See Ziauddin 
Sardar's article in this Companion.) 

The modern world-system and in principle, capitalism, has been the most potent 
result of modernity. Its impact on the world's economic and social structures has been 
without parallel. Therefore, the task of the Muslim intelligentsia must not be confined 
to developing Islamic paradigms or theories about Muslim tradition; neither should it 
be confined to the Islamization of knowledge. This is not feasible in the modern world 
where modernist capitalism has engendered profound changes in modern and con- 
temporary Muslim societies, changes that cannot be understood by using "traditional 
Islamic paradigms or epistemes." In this case, I take issue with Ziauddin Sardar's con- 
tention that "The task before Muslim intelfigentsia, then, is to develop, using the epis- 
temology of Islam, alternative paradigms of knowledge for both natural and social 
sciences and to conceive and mold disciplines most relevant to the needs of contempo- 
rary Muslim societies. Only when distinctive Islamic paradigms and associated bodies 
of knowledge have evolved can Muslim scholars contemplate achieving synthesis on 
an appropriate footing with knowledge created by Western civilization."'* 

To put it bluntly, the Arab and the Muslim worlds cannot boast an Arab or Muslim 
civilization at present. The political and economic elite in the Arab or Muslim worlds, 
regardless of their culture, are true participants in the civilization of capitalism. True, 
there is an Arab or Muslim culture, but it is currently dominated by the larger capital- 
ist civilization. We cannot compare a normative civilization (Islamic worldview) to a 
concrete and historically present civilization; that is, the global capitalist civilization. 
That is to say that it is impossible to fathom modern global identity outside the rubric 
of capitalism. We cannot view religious identity outside the domination of the capital- 
ist system. Capitalists (proponents of a capitafist civilization) can be found all over the 
world, including the Muslim world, and class conflict still defines social relations. Fur- 
thermore, the Muslim world, unlike Europe, has failed to develop its capitalist system 
in the modern period and has thus become dependent on the world capitalist system, 
which has been pioneered by the West. The Muslim world has culture, but lacks its own 
distinctive civilization. Some articles in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic 
Thought struggle with the concept of 'Islamic civilization' and reflect the ambivalence 
of some contemporary Muslim intellectuals about the revival of Islamic civilization 
under the current global conditions. 

It is clear that capitalist civilization is dominant worldwide, although it has crystal- 
lized in various cultural and social forms depending on the country in which it 
flourishes. The capitafist system is strongest in North America, Europe, and Japan, with 
North America taking the leading role in world economic and scientific affairs. Here 
one must draw a distinction between globalization and Americanization, or between 
globalization and hegemony. Globalization is an objective socio-historical and economic 
process that began in the sixteenth century from the remnants of the feudal system. 
It has gone through major transformations ever since then. On the other hand. 

editor's introduction 17 

Americanization or American hegemony is the product of the leading scientific and 
economic role the United States has played in the present world capitalist system. (See 
Mucahit Bilici's article in this Companion.) Britain was the dominant capitalist power in 
the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. Therefore, globalization and 
American hegemony are not necessarily synonymous. At this point in time, however, 
the United States is the sole leading power, but it is unlikely that it will play this role 

Why is it important to come to grips with contemporary globalization.? Since the 
nineteenth century, the Arab and Muslim worlds have been hard pressed to find 
solutions to their dependency on the capitalist West. Although the Muslim world has 
witnessed several political movements, most notably nationalism (which attempted to 
put an end to the structural and economic dependency of the Muslim world on the 
West), no viable solution has been found. The crisis of the social system in the Muslim 
world has resulted from the international division of labor under capitalism and the 
current hegemony of the United States. By and large, the political elite in the Muslim 
world either benefit from this division of labor or are unable to alter it to their 

Has globalization been advantageous to the political elite in maintaining their 
authority.? Has globalization weakened the contemporary state in the Muslim world.? f 
think that globalization has often aided the political elite in the Muslim world in spread- 
ing thefr version of "false consciousness" by means of the mass media and given them 
the technological means to exercise full hegemony over society. Capitalism in the 
Muslim world, although concentrated in few hands, is deeply entrenched. It is part of 
the global capitalist system. As such, it competes with other capitalist groups or for- 
mations in the pursuit of unlimited wealth and power, when possible. Domestically, 
Arab capitalism assumes a relentless pursuit of power in order to protect its economic 
interests while constantly pursuing greater wealth. Instead of working for the progress 
of its society, capitalism in the Arab world seeks only the preservation of its hegemony 
and the expansion of its control. This expansion takes the form of a meager investment 
in religious institutions in order to exploit the religious feelings of the masses for its 
materialist ends. 

One may say that modernity is an historical project with around 500 years of 
history. Since the inception of modernity, the world has gone through unparalleled 
major epistemological, industrial, scientific, economic, political, and military transfor- 
mations that have affected every corner of the world. One can locate significant 
markers or paths in the historical march of modernity: the European discovery of the 
New World; the Protestant Reformation; the Industrial revolution; the Enlightenment 
and its idea of progress; secularism; colonialism; nationalism; the creation of the 
nation-states, etc. 

The Enlightenment was the seed bed of modernity in the seventeenth and nine- 
teenth centuries. David Harvey is correct when he says that, "Enlightenment thought 
embraced the idea of progress, and actively sought that break with history and tradi- 
tion which modernity espouses. It was, above all, a secular movement that sought the 
mystification and de sacralization of knowledge and social organization in order to lib- 
erate human beings from their chains.""' 


Most scholars of Islamic studies in the West follow, more or less, a Eurocentric 
approach by considering modernity to be a positive and somewhat monolithic process 
since its inception. Those in the field have been enamored of the philosophical formu- 
lations of such scholars as Jiirgen Habermas, Richard Rorty, Vattimo, and others, who 
do not for a moment consider the polarization created by modernity between one world 
and another, between one's civilization and another's backwardness. There has not yet 
been a critical appraisal of this phenomenon in the field of Islamic studies. Fazlur 
Rahman wrote the most significant book on Islam and modernity from an Islamic per- 
spective.^'' To date, few scholars have followed in his footsteps. The field is still waiting 
for a major reflection on the problematic of modernity and Muslim responses to it 
or interaction with it. I hope that the various articles in The Blackwell Companion to 
Contemporary Islamic Thought will help us formulate the right questions about the 
state of modernity and religion in the contemporary Muslim world. 

Finally, most of the trends discussed by the authors in this Companion discuss the 
public manifestations of Islam and some present what they consider to be an Islamic 
perspective on the current situation. It is quite important to understand the position of 
Islam in the contemporary nation-state in the Muslim world and in the larger context 
of the dominance of capitalism in contemporary Muslim societies. There is no doubt 
that both State and Islamism have exploited religion to advance and/or protect certain 
political and economic interests. One may argue that in many Muslim countries, the 
political elite have failed to offer a coherent nationalist program or ideology to rid their 
societies of economic dependence and political stagnation since independence. In 
some Muslim countries, authoritarianism seems to be the mode of political practice. 
Democracy has not been deeply anchored in contemporary Arab and Muslim societies. 
Because of widespread social, economic, and demographic changes taking place in the 
past five decades, religion has gained more public prominence than ever before. In the 
ensuing social and economic dislocation experienced by a significant number of people, 
religion has offered hope and solace. 


1. See my Contemporary Arab Thought: Studies in Post-1967 Arab Intellectual History (London: 
Pluto Press, 2004), especially chapters 1 and 2. 

2. See P. Kinross, Atatiirk: The Rebirth of a Nation (London: Phoenix Giant, 1995). 

3. See 0. Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: George BrazUler, 1955). 

4. F. Gilbert, "Intellectual History: Its Aims and Methods," Daedalus. 100(1), 19 71, 94. 

5. Compare the current political elite in the Muslim world to what American sociologist C. 
Wright Mills had to say about the American elite in the 1950s: "By the middle of the twen- 
tieth century, the American elite have become an entirely different breed of men from those 
who could on any reasonable grounds be considered a cultural elite, or even for that matter 
cultivated men of responsibility. Knowledge and power are not truly united inside the ruling 
circles: and when men of knowledge do come to a point of contact with the circles of pow- 
erful men, they come not as peers but as hired men. The elite of power, wealth, and celebrity 
do not even have a passing acquaintance with the elite of culture, knowledge and 

editor's introduction 19 

sensibility; they are not in touch with them although the fringes of the two worlds some- 
times overlap in the world of the celebrity." C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1957), 351. 
5. See Ba3Tam Balci, Missionaires de I'lslam en Asie centrale: Les ecoles twques de FethuUah 
Giilen (Paris: Maisonneuve and Larose, 2003), and John Esposito and Hakan Yavuz (eds.), 
Turkish Islam and Secular State: The Giilen Movement (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 

7. See M. Salt Ozervarli, "Kalam in the late 19th and 20th Centuries," The Muslim World. 
89(1), 1999,91-102. 

8. See Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964 (London: Oxford 
University Press, 1967), and Mushirul Hasan, Islam in the Subcontinent: Muslims in a 
Plural Society (New Delhi: Manohar, 2002). 

9. See George Kahin, Revolution and Nationalism in Modern Indonesia (Cornell: Cornell 
University Press, 1952). 

10. "Leading ulema not only sanctioned and supported the innovations initiated by the Sultans 
and their military and civU advisors, both Ottoman and European. Some of them also played 
a major role in conceiving, suggesting, and planning reforms on European lines." Uriel 
Heyd, "The Ottoman Ulema and Westernization in the Time of Selim III and Mahmud II." 
In Albert Hourani, Philip Khoury and Mary Wilson (eds.). The Modern Middle East: A Reader 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 30. 

11. See Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' (ed.), Islam at the Crossroads: On the Life and Thought of Bediuzza- 
man Said Nursi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). 

12. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London; Verso, 1991), 6. 

13. Chatterjee argues that "anticolonial nationalism creates its own domain of sovereignty 
within the colonial society well before it begins its political battle with the imperial power. 
It does this by dividing the world of social institutions and practices into two domains - the 
material and the spiritual. The material is the domain of the 'outside,' of the economy and 
state-craft, of science and technology, a world where the West had proved its superiority 
and the East had succumbed. In this domain, then, Western superiority had to be acknowl- 
edged and its accomplishments carefully studied and replicated. The spiritual, on the other 
hand, is an 'inner' domain bearing the 'essential' marks of cultural identity. The greater 
one's success in imitating Western skills in the material domain, therefore, the greater the 
need to preserve the distinctness of one's spiritual culture. This formula is, I think, a fun- 
damental feature of anticolonial nationalisms in Asia and Africa." Partha Chatterjee. The 
Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories in the Partha Chatterjee Omnibus 
(New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 6. 

14. Some leading Muslim thinkers, notably Sa3ryid Ahmad Khan, were pro-British. According 
to M.J. Akbar, "This disciple of the British [Ahmad Khan] became hero to the elite of a com- 
munity which had lost its pride and confidence after a century of stagnation; whose leaders 
had degenerated from emperors to caricatures; whose poetry had collapsed from philoso- 
phy to self-deprecation or lament; whose vision was so debilitated that when asked to sur- 
render self-respect in return for bread, it happily did so. For a pat on the back and a 
knighthood, Sayyid Ahmad Khan happily denounced the bravery of those numerous 
Muslims who fought the British in the wars of 185 7. Inevitably, he could not resist becom- 
ing a bit of a caricature himself, wearing English clothes after his knighthood in 1888 and 
acquiring a knife and fork for his table. But he still did his writing still sitting on the floor." 
M.J. Alcbar, Nehru: The Making of India (London; Viking, 1988), 16-17. 

15. "Deoband was a centre of conservative Islam where young men of religious turn of mind 
were trained in theology, Islamic history and other old-fashioned disciplines. Western 


learning was taboo, for it was one of the fundamental beliefs of the school that any truck 
with the infidel was tantamount to a compromise with heresy." A.K. Aziz, The Making of 
Pakistan: A Study in Nationalism (Lahore: Sang-E Meel Publications, 2002), 1 78. 

16. This question is at the heart of many studies of modern Pakistan. See Akbar Ahmed, Jinnah, 
Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (London: Routledge, 199 7); Tariq Ali, 
Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State (London: Penguin, 1983), and Lawrence Ziring, 
Pakistan in the Twentieth Century: A Political History (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 

17. See Jean-Luc Racine, "Pakistan: Quel islam pour quelle nation.' Le Monde Diplomatique, 
December 2001, 12-13. 

18. Mushirul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation: India's Muslims since Independence (Boulder: 
Westview Press, 199 7), 69. 

19. Hamza Alavi. "Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity and Ideology," in Fred Halliday and Hamza 
Alavi (eds.), State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan (New York: Monthly Review 
Press, 1998), 68. 

20. On the Muhammadiyyah. consult the major study by Deliar Noer. The Modernist Muslim 
Movement in Indonesia, 1909-1942 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978): see 
also George Kahin, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 
1952) and Robert Hefner, Civii Society: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 2000). 

21. See M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). 

22. John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (London: 
Pluto Press, 2000), 7. 

23. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man (London, 1975), 148. 

24. Ziauddin Sardar, Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come (London: Mansell, 1985), 104. 

25. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change 
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 12-13. 

26. Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press. 1982). 


Trends and Issues in 
Contemporary Islamic 

1 Contemporary Turkish Thought 2 3 
§ahin Filiz and Tahir Ulug 

2 Transformation of Islamic Thought in Turkey Since the 1950s 39 
Ahmet Yildiz 

3 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Approach to Religious Renewal and its 

Impact on Aspects of Contemporary Turkish Society 5 5 

^iikran Vahide 

4 Islamic Thought in Contemporary India: The Impact of Mawlana 
Wahiduddin Khan's Al-Risala Movement 75 
Irfan A. Omar 

5 Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Contemporary Islamic 

Thought in India 88 

Yoginder Sikand 

6 Madrasah in South Asia 105 
Jamal Malik 

7 75 Years of Higher Religious Education in Modern Turkey 122 
Mehmet Pacaci and Yasin Aktay 

8 Hassan Turabi and the Limits of Modern Islamic Reformism 145 
Abdelwahab El-Affendi 

9 An Overview of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi's Islamic Discourse 161 
Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim 

10 Islamic Thought in Contemporary Pakistan: The Legacy of 

AUama MawdudT 175 

Abdul Rashid Moten 

1 1 The Futuristic Thought of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad of Malaysia 195 
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 

12 Religion, Society, and Culture in Malik Bennabi's Thought 213 
Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi 

1 3 Hassan Hanafi on Salafism and Secularism 257 
Yudian Wahyudi 

14 Towards a New Historical Discourse in Islam 271 
Ah Mabrook 


Contemporary Turkish 

§ahm Filiz and Tahir Ulug 

The objective of this chapter is to critically evaluate contemporary Turkish thought 
from a historical and sociological perspective and shed new light on its evolution from 
the beginning of the Republic to the present time. The foundation of the Republic of 
Turkey in 1923 was a watershed in modern Turkish history leading to the emergence 
of a new nation-state and a contemporary Turkish thought, which will be analyzed in 
this chapter. 

This new Turkish nation-state inherited massive problems from the Ottoman Empire. 
From the beginning, this nation-state has grappled with two major issues. The first issue 
has been that of constructing a new Turkish identity different from that of the Ottoman 
state. The second issue has been that of importing and internalizing Western values en 
masse. These values have been expressed and manifested in such concepts as national- 
ism, secularization, and modernization of the country. In the view of the founders of 
the Republic, Turkey was not merely a piece of land, but also a nation in the modern 
sense. In other words, the construction of the new nation was seen as the "re-building 
of a non-existent past," rather than a departure from the tradition of the East or Islam. 

To appreciate the critical transformation of intellectual life in contemporary Turkey 
from that of the late Ottoman period to the contemporary period, a brief analysis of the 
intellectual developments in the late Ottoman period will be useful. One may delineate 
three major trends of thought at the time. These are: (i) a Pan-Islamic Ottoman trend 
of thought that stood for the modernization of the state; (ii) a nationalist trend 
of thought that emphasized the Turkish nation at the expense of the other 
nationalist/ethnic components of the Empire; and (iii) a Westernized trend of thought 
that took Westernization as the only model for the Ottoman state to follow. Very often, 
the difference between category (i) and (ii) gets blurred. 

The third category, Westernized trend in Ottoman thought, was represented by such 
luminaries as Abdullah Cevdet, Celal Nuri, and Kiligzade Hakki, who attempted to build 
a Turkish version of the Enlightenment. However, these thinkers failed to construct 
solid philosophical foundations for any Turkish Enlightenment due to their narrow 


interpretations of European Enligiitenment. Nevertheless, a small but influential 
number of pre- World War One Ottoman thinkers were in agreement on the notion that 
Islamic tradition was no longer compatible with the conditions of modernity. Kemal 
Atatiirk took the lead in the political realm to apply a strict separation between the reli- 
gious and public spheres, thus greatly boosting the Westernized trend in Ottoman 
thought. Atatiirk's main goal was to "modernize" Islam, so to say. as a means of cre- 
ating a new identity for the Turkish nation.^ 

The foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 officially set in motion Kemalism 
as the ideology par excellence of the new Turkish nation. Islamic ideology had played a 
leading role in the Ottoman Empire but it failed to compete with the rising ideology of 
Kemalism in the 1920s and 1930s. "Religion was relying upon institutions that had 
political implications inconsistent with the basic principles of the new state: those insti- 
tutions could no longer stand, even inharmoniously, side by side the secularized sector 
... A secular conception of national unity negated both the traditional and the 'mod- 
ernist' view of a state associated with or based upon religion. This negation was sym- 
bolized by the abolition of the sultanate, soon followed by the abolition of the caliphate, 
and the establishment of a republican form of government based upon the sovereignty 
of the people constituting a nation."" The decade of the 1940s witnessed a significant 
impact on the life of Turkey due to certain external and internal factors. The external 
factors were the rise of fascism in Europe and the entry of the United States in World 
War Two on the side of the Allies, which enabled Kemalist Turkey to play the card of 
democracy and secularism. The internal factors can be seen with Kemalism trying to 
institutionalize its ideology by building schools and other institutions. One can locate 
the current predominant school of contemporary Turkish historiography and theoret- 
ical thought in this period. 

During this time a number of influential intellectuals supported the notions of 
democracy and secularism and the number of academic and intellectual periodicals 
rose rapidly. Of interest in this regard have been such leading periodicals as Insan 
[Human Being), Yeni Adam (New Man), and Yurt ve Diinya (Home and the World). Of the 
many Turkish intellectuals, such thinkers as Fuad Kopriilii, Hilmi Ziya Ulken, and 
Niyazi Berkes, who was from Cyprus but was trained in Turkey, are noteworthy. 

With the coming of Adnan Menderes to power in 1950, a radical shift in Turkish 
politics took place. Menderes encouraged a multi-party system and thus opened the 
way for new political and intellectual forces to emerge on the Turkish intellectual scene 
in the 1950s and 1960s. Further accelerating change was the speedy industrialization 
of the country after the foundation of the Republic, which produced new social classes 
that had been thitherto non-existent. This was to be seen especially with the new 
Turkish bourgeoisie that had social, political, and economic aspirations that were some- 
what different from those of the bureaucrats who had ruled Turkey until then. 

The rise of new social classes in Turkey coincided with the onset of the Cold War In 
this new world situation, Turkey found itself in the Western camp taking an active role 
in the fight against communism and other radical ideologies. On the intellectual scene, 
the journal Forum played an active role in opposing communist ideology and in calling 
for a closer cooperation between Turkey and the West. 

To a certain extent, the Cold War had a dramatic impact on Turkish intellectual life. 
Those intellectuals who identified themselves with the state and Kemalism supported 


the official line on the Cold War. Others, mainly on the left, opposed the Cold War 
although they were not adverse to Kemalism, especially in its official stand on a strict 
separation between state and religion. 

One of the main consequences of the social, political, and economic transformations 
of Turkish society in the decades following the foundation of the Republic was the rise 
of Islamism in Turkey in the 1960s. This political Islamism has owed its rise to other 
Islamist movements in the Muslim world, as well. Turkish Islamists relied a great deal 
on the intellectual contributions of the main thinkers of Mawdudfs Jamaat-e-Islami in 
Pakistan and India and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. A great number of books were 
translated from both Urdu and Arabic, and Islam was presented as an alternative to all 
political models including in particular democracy. The rise of Islamism in Turkey was 
therefore not a reflection of the indigenous cultural dynamics of Turkish society, and 
that, for the most part, Turkish Islamism rejected Kemalism out of hand. 

In addition to the increase of Islamism in Turkey in the 1960s, a new form of social 
Islam was on the rise in that decade. Turkey at that time was a developing economy 
and society and was modernizing rapidly. This rapid development led to the migration 
of a large number of people from the countryside to the major urban areas, such as 
Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir The new migrants from the countryside carried with them 
their own "flexible" notions of Islam that one may term "folk Islam." This "folk Islam" 
venerated saints and certain forms of hierarchies. This form of Islam has its own heroes 
and institutions, which played a significant role in the assimilation of the Turkish peas- 
antry into the cultural and religious life of the big cities in Turkey. The decade of the 
1970s was a focal one in the adaptation of the peasantry to city life. "Much of post 
Second World War Turkish political history seems to hinge on the dilemma facing the 
Westernising secularist elite: either to have free elections, and thereby to hand over elec- 
toral victory to parties willing to play up to the religiosity of the countryside and small 
towns, or to uphold the Kemalist heritage, but only at the cost of overruling the popular 
vote. It seemed that they could have democracy, or secularism, but not both . . ."^ 

Turkish political culture was badly shaken by the military coup that took place in 
1980. This coup shook the confidence of the Turkish intelligentsia in the state. Some 
intellectuals argued that the main aim of the coup was to perpetuate the control of the 
tiny Turkish elite over the people and the economy of the country. The coup made it 
difficult for Turkish intellectuals to take an active role in politics. In addition, the coup 
made it possible for a large number of intellectuals, from the left and the religionist 
circles, to subject Kemalism to severe criticism. Kemalism was seen as a symbol of eco- 
nomic and political dominance by the few against the many. One of the consequences 
of the coup was the creation of a new synthesis in Turkish politics, which can be 
referred to as Islamism and nationalism. This new synthesis and trend of thought was 
defined by thinkers such as Erol Giingor 

A General Contour of Turkish Intelligentsia 

Two major characteristics are common to all the post-republic Turkish intellectuals.* 
The first characteristic is that they were overwhelmed by the economic, political, and 
military power of the West. So the West and their stand toward the West was their 


major element in defining their identity. Second, these intellectuals took on the same 
mission, which was to save the country. Of course, this does not mean they were agreed 
on all the matters always. An example has been the term ay dm (enlightened person), 
which was coined in the 1950s by Turkish leftist thinkers to distinguish themselves 
from Islamist and Ottomanist thinkers, who by and large have preserved the Ottoman 
word "munevver" to connect themselves to the past. 

One needs to keep in mind the fact that the coups have had a defining impact on 
Turkish intellectual life. This is all the more true with the 1980 takeover for it led to a 
drastic rise in the number of "civil thinkers." In fact, this rise was the very consequence 
of the ban li'om governmental posts, which was imposed upon the thinkers and intel- 
lectuals by the authority of martial law. ^ 

With the rise of a post-modernist discourse, the above new intellectual class came 
to place a great emphasis upon the native Turkish culture. But we should call attention 
to the lack of their depth in the political and intellectual backdrop of this new trend. 
So modern Turkish intellectualism failed to produce its own indigenous stance in the 
case of the Turkish post-modernist trend, but rather blindly reiterated the slogans.*' In 
addition to the emergence of the post-modernist discourse, there was a multitude of 
factors that had a strong impact on Turkish intellectual life. In this context, I would like 
to mention Turgut Ozal's coming to power in Turkey and Gorbachev's adoption of the 
policy of Perestroika in the Soviet Union along with the demise of the communist bloc. 
As a result of the political and economic changes in Turkey's northern neighbor, the 
polarization between the right and left, secularist and anti-secularist gave way to a 
polarization between statist thinkers and the supporters of civil society. The statist dis- 
course is represented by a host of nationalist-conservative thinkers such as Diindar 
Ta§er, Miimtaz Turhan, Erol Giingor, and Orhan Tiirkdogan, along with some leftist 
intellectuals such as Attila Ilhan and Baykan Sezer. The flank of civil society support- 
ers is largely made of Islamist-conservative and leftist thinkers. 

Attention should be drawn to the fact that the major difference between the above 
two trends lies in their stance with respect to Western values. While the former group 
has serious misgivings about the notion of civil society and modernism being identified 
with Westernism, the latter views Westernism as the only way to achieve democratic 
rights. The term "conservative Westernism," which was recently minted by Tayyip 
Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party, to define their position vis-d-vis 
the West well exemplifies the rapprochement between the Islamists and Westernism. In 
the final analysis, we should come to realize that Islamism in the context of Turkey has 
replaced the component of Turkish nationalism in relation to the Turkish Westerniza- 
tion or modernization. 

Intellectual Identity Crisis 

The National Struggle, which led to the creation of the modern Turkish Republic in 
1923, no doubt made a considerable contribution to the development of the new 
Turkish identity. We need to bear in mind the fact that this identity is made up of 
Ottoman, Muslim, and Turkish components. Nevertheless, in the early years of the 


Republic, the endeavors to build a nation in the modern sense by excluding the Ottoman 
and Islamic components - for which Halk Evleri (Public Houses) were set up in place 
of Turk Ocaklari (Turkish Associations) -ended in failure. In addition, insistence upon 
this mode of an identity-building process led the society to identity crises and broke the 
single Turkish identity into three pieces as "Ottoman, Turk, and Islam." Therefore the 
components of Islam and Ottoman culture, which soon intermingled, have been very 
often in clash with Turkish nationalism. One can easily see the reflections of such a 
polarization between Turkism and Islamism-Ottomanism in such writings as The Devel- 
opment of Secularism in Turkey (1964) and Turkiye'de (^agdas Diisiince Tarihi (History of 
Modern Thought in Turkey, 1966) by Niyazi Berkes. 

Toward the 1980s, we see rapprochement between Islamism and Turkish national- 
ism. The harmonization of Islamism with Turkish nationalism was developed and advo- 
cated by Aydmlar Ocagi (The Association of Intelligentsia). Later Turgut Ozal, the 
founder of the Motherland Party, further cultivated this discourse by incorporating it 
into his famous quadruple of liberalism, leftism, nationalism, and Islamism. In addi- 
tion to Ozal's Motherland Party, the National Salvation Party and the Nationalist Move- 
ment Party also harbored the same ideology. But, while the former placed greater 
emphasis upon Islam, the latter laid greater stress upon Turkish nationalism. 

Thanks to the adoption of a multi-party system in the 1950s, Islam gained a huge 
power in the Turkish political realm. In this political course, while the rightist political 
parties envisioned the ways to hunt for votes from the countryside, the traditionalist 
section of society came to face a deep identity crisis as a result of the large-scale migra- 
tions. In this context, it should be noted that Sufi orders came once again to gain influ- 
ence in the political and economic realm in the early 1970s. 

In addition to the political ramifications of the domestic migrations a host of 
momentous developments in the economic field took place as well. Having until then 
been the carrier and representative of traditional Islam, the tradesmen adopted tem- 
poralism and subjectivism, which are central to modernity, and thereby played a 
leading role in the instrumentalization of Islam. The attempts of economic legitimiza- 
tions on the refigious bases in Turkish society secularized the religious communities 
and contributed to the rise of the consumerist culture seen in capitalism.^ 

As regards the leftist- Westernized trend of thought in Turkey, the social conditions 
of the 1960s, which favored academic studies of economics and politics as two leading 
disciplines, gave vigor to the Kadro movement. In this environment, the notions of 
Socialist revolution and freedom were first enunciated by Hikmet Kivilcimli (d. 1971) 
in his Tarih Oncesi-Taiih-Devrim-Sosyalizm (Pre-History-History-Revolution-Sociahsm). 
In his Devrim Uzerine [On Revolution), Dogan Avcioglu (d. 1983) holds that a revolution 
is a social fight. As a leftist thinker, Mehmet Ali Aybar (d. 1995) attempted to make a 
synthesis between Kemalism-socialism and democracy in his Bagimsizlik, Demokrasi, 
Sosyalizm {Independence, Democracy, and Socialism). Though the synthesis seems to have 
been broken from Kemalism by such followers of the Yon movement as Mihri Belli (b. 
1916) and Dogu Peringek (b. 1942), these figures have never failed to join the broken- 
off intellectual faction in face of the threats of irtica (reactionism). 

This movement relied heavily on the statist ideology in maintaining a revolutionary 
outlook. It tried to reconcile statist and Kemalist ideologies with socialism. The Yon 


movement, which arose in the years in which the Third-World ideology reached its 
peak, drove the Turkish intelligentsia into a premature ambition for seizing Turkish 
political power. Furthermore, it adopted an ideology of using force to change the 
system. ITowever, it neither developed a program nor succeeded in its ambition of 
coming to power in the early 1970s. 

Turkish intelligentsia could not make good use of the 10 years between 1961 and 
1971 due to their obsession with Cold War ideology and they swerved to populism. The 
democratic and liberal settings that wiped out the dichotomy of masses versus intelli- 
gentsia led to a filling of the vacuum, on the part of the left flank, which emerged after 
the downfall of the "bureaucrat" intellectual class. The Yon movement and Turkish 
Labor Party fostered leftist ideology on the base of Anglo-American empiricism, rather 
than Marxism.* 

Referred to as "Leftist Islam, " the movement tried to interpret Islam in harmony with 
secularism and Turkish nationalism. Osman Nuri German in his Modern Turkiye Ifin 
Dinde Reform {Religious Reform for Modern Turkey) and Cemil Sena in his Hazreti 
Muhammed'in Felsefesi {The Prophet Muhammad's Philosophy) called for worship in the 
native language, undressing Islam from Arab cloth and, in turn, Turkicizing and ren- 
dering Islam compatible with a moral and scientific attitude approved by Kemalism. 
Sabahattin Eyyiiboglu (d. 1978) and Macit Gokberk (d. 1993) furthered this dis- 
course to an extent that it overlapped with the Turkish humanism of heterodox- Alawi 

The left flank failed to follow a steady line in its quest for identity because most of 
the leftist thinkers did not bestow due consideration upon what they forfeited. Due to 
the collapse of the leftist ideology, the Marxist and socialist thinkers suffered a great loss 
of public credibility. As a consequence, they were forced to redefine themselves with a 
new identity. Undoubtedly, the growing popular culture contributed largely to this 
endeavor. Until then, the intellectual class had been composed of a relatively narrow 
and homogeneous family. Their primary role was to introduce science, education, and 
culture to the masses. The present-day tableau is quite different: because the masses 
now have a wider access to higher education, the number of individuals who could join 
the intellectual class radically increased. Hence, the once culturally leading position of 
the small and privileged groups of intellectuals who centered around a few universities 

The identity crisis revealed itself through the journals of growing number and 
varying contents in the 1980s. The post-1980 journals addressed the social problems 
in a way radically different from such journals as Kadro and Yon. Journals of post-1 980 
such as 2000'e Dogru {Toward the Millennium), Nokta {Point), Yeni Gundem {The New 
Agenda), Gergedan {Hippopotamus), and Argos shifted attention to the millennium, rather 
than clinging to the past. Coinciding with the late 1990s, the Islamist journals forsook 
the "confrontation with the regime." Due to its theoretical shallowness. Islamic radi- 
calism has lost ground in front of the globalized liberalism in Turkey; the proponents 
of this movement have put aside their former strict attitudes in exchange for the bless- 
ings of capitalism and political power. 

By and large, the above journals focused on the foreign thinkers unknown to the 
Turkish people in the 1980s. In an attempt to gain more exposure for the country with 


the outside world, they advocated a global economy at the possible expense of the 
Turkish national culture. As for the Islamist journals, they concentrated their atten- 
tions on the outside Islamist movements through translations. 

Populism was another symptom of the identity crisis of the Turkish intelligentsia. 
The intellectuals of Turkey began writing about their lives. Local affairs, society, and 
paparazzo news occupied the headlines. This is clear evidence of a departure from 
meaningful discussion of national values to the "global culture." The tension between 
the modern and post-modern came to the surface. The notion of coexistence superseded 
such dichotomies as secularist versus anti-secularist and left versus right in the 1980s 
and 1990s. Two leading pre-1980 thinkers, Attila Ilhan and Idris Kiigukomer, over- 
turned the definitions of reactionary versus progressive. After this short investigation 
into Turkish intellectual life, we can proceed to describe some prominent intellectuals 
and their views in brief. 

Leftist Thinkers 

Hasan Ali Yucel [1897-1961] 

Hasan Ali Yiicel involved a large variety of tendencies such as revolutionism, Turkish 
nationalism, Kemalism and MawlawT-Sufi ideals in his thought. He supervised the 
project of Turkish and Islamic encyclopedias between the years 1938 and 1946, during 
which he was minister of education. He ensured translation of a number of Western 
classics into Turkish. Yiicel is seen as one of the pivotal figures of the Turkish Renais- 
sance. To him, Atatiirk dismantled the rule of despotism.'' 

Pertev Nail! Boratav (1916-98) 

Boratav made a huge contribution to the socialization of the Kemalist ideology. In addi- 
tion, he set down an inventory of Turkish folklore. Boratav believed that the way West- 
erners interpreted the word "Orient" reflects the Western colonial point of view, which 
sees the East as colonized countries. To the West, the East was stuck somewhere in one 
or another of several development phases. The East is charged with supplying raw 
material for the West. 

Niyazl Berkes [1908-88] 

The journal Yon did play an important role in the change of Niyazi Berkes' mindset. 
The influence he exerted on the Turkish intelligentsia was quite limited mainly because 
he eschewed the daily affairs of politics. Yet Berkes made a tremendous contribution to 
Kemalist ideology by cultivating a new school, which deserves to be called "Berkesism," 
Though he brought a slight novelty to the economic doctrine of the Yon movement, 
Berkes broadened and developed Kemalism as far as to carve out a pan-Kemalist Weltan- 


schauung. The works of Berkes had a deep impact on the post-1960 studies of sociol 
ogy and politics. 

Halide Edip Adivar [1882-64] 

Adivar is l^nown for her novels, political activities, and academic pursuits. She estab- 
lished a close friendship with famous Turkish nationalists such as Ziya Gokalp and 
Yusuf Akgura, and worked in Turk Ocaklari (Turkish Associations). In her early novels, 
which are of an emotional character, she mainly dealt with the psychological problems 
of educated women in a context of love and marital relationships. In her late writings, 
she moved from the individual toward the social. Yeni Turan {The New Turan, 1912) m 
which she elaborated on the ideology of Turkish nationalism is seen as the work of a 
transition stage. 

Kemal Tahir [1910-73) 

For a long while, Tahir remained at the core of intellectual debates with his thesis of 
society and history, which forms the major theme of his novels. His stress on the 
Turkish culture vis-a-vis the Western was embraced by Baykan Sezer. Tahir holds that 
Turkish society is dissimilar to the West for its line of development is fundamentally 
different. Unlike its Western counterparts, the Ottoman society is a non-class 
society. Thus, Turkish novelty should reflect its own social reality. In his first village 
novel, Sagirdere [The Deaf Creek, 1955) and Korduman {The Bhnd Smoke, 1954) which 
is a continuation of Sagirdere, he elaborates on Turkish villagers' problems, village 
economy, and values without detaching them from their historical context. This differs 
from the approach, to the village, of the authors of the Village Institute background. 
His position is also diametrically opposed to Ya§ar Kemal's in his Ince Memed {Thin 

To put in the words of Fethi Naci, "He used the tools of social sciences, rather than 
the tools of expression specific to the literature.""' Devlet Ana {The Mother State, 1967), 
in which he made expression of his views as to the Asian Type of Production (ATP), 
sparked hot debates. To him, the gravest mistake the Ottoman governing elite made 
was the attempt to Westernize the country, which was embarked on with the abolish- 
ment of the Janissary troops. Nevertheless, the ATP (Marx's view was introduced into 
the Turkish socialist discourse in the 1 9 60s) is the shortest way - without having need 
of capitalization or feudalization - to achieve modern socialism. The Republic's West- 
ernization project was a grave mistake as was that of the Ottoman. Tahir asserts that 
all the reforms Atatiirk realized since the foundation of the Republic are such slight 
and toy-like reforms that they cannot be reckoned as upper structures in a hierarchy. 
The abrogation of the sultanate is not valid because it was not voted by the Turkish Par- 
liament. If we were now to have the caliphate, millions of Muslims would follow us. 
Tahir asserts that Kemalism is evidently a backward ideology. The notion of the pure 


Turkish language is a straightforward treachery to the homeland/^ He sees the social- 
ist movement in Turkey as an agent of the Westernization. 

Ismail Hakki Baltaaoglu [1886-1978] 

Ismail ITakki represents the profile of the Turkish intellectual who came from the lower 
class and took a Western style of education. He acted as a link connecting the Ottoman 
Empire to the Republic, the Second Meshrutiyet to Kemalism. He always kept his ideo- 
logical allegiance to Ziya Gokalp in sociology and education, and remained near to 
Atatiirk and Ismet Inonii. Acting as an executer of the Union and Progress policies in 
the field of education, Baltacioglu had edited the journal Yeni Adam until the 1960s, 
which involved nationalist, traditionalist, secular, statist, and revolutionist views. Like 
Gokalp, he wanted to see the people who live in the Republic of Turkey "embrace the 
Turkish identity and evolve from being subjects to modern citizens." As he espoused 
the Turkicization of the religion, he can be classified in the conservative-nationalist 
category including such figures as Peyami Safa, Miimtaz Turhan, and §ekip Tung. In 
this respect, he might be regarded as a link connecting the "progressive" discourse, viz., 
the revolutionist Kemalists, to the conservative, that is, the nationalist-conservative 
groups. The above five tendencies of the journal Yeni Adam demonstrate that Kemalism 
has a socialist character Ismail Hakki provided a deep insight into the way the conser- 
vative group wants to view Atatiirk. 

Do^n Avaoglu [1926-83] 

After Ismail Hakki, the ideology of Kemalist socialism was maintained by Avcioglu. He 
contributed to the stipulation of the 1961 Constitution once he was elected from the 
Republican People's Party to the constitutional parliament. He played an active role 
within post- 19 60 Turkish politics through the journal Yon. He published the 
journal together with Miimtaz Soysal and Cemal Re§it Eyiiboglu until 1967. In his writ- 
ings he defended "Kemalist socialism." He stressed maintaining the Kemalist revolu- 
tions in the infrastructure and went against Pan-Turkism. He says, "Turkey would be 
able to defeat reactionaries with the army's helping hand." As a socialist thinker, he did 
not fail to identify the nationalist-conservative discourse with reactionism though he 
has a strong nationalist vein. Not only did Kemalism's illegitimate marriage with social- 
ism produce such a view that blames the nationalism of racism, and Islam of reac- 
tionarism, it also justified its intellectual support, on the basis of lack of thought 
freedom, to the terrorist acts perpetrated by the separatist, micro-ethnic and micro- 
sectarian groups of Marxist-Leninist character in the 1990s. Because of the left, 
Kemalism was turned into the official ideology and the state both came into clash with 
its unwavering supporters, viz., the nationafist-conservative groups, and became vul- 
nerable to leftist Kemalism, which came to act as a champion of the separatist move- 
ments. The direction that leftist Kemalism swerved in the 1990s was in opposition to 


the national culture and religious values. Nevertheless, on the eve of the millennium, 
the Turkish left found the Islamists by its side in the fight against the common enemy, 
i.e., the "nation state and national culture." 

Tank Zafer Tunaya [1916-91) 

Taking part in the commission which laid down the 1961 Constitution, Tunaya claims 
that Western civilization is the leading civilization, and it should be considered as a uni- 
versal achievement of humanity. So the ultimate aim of the Turkish revolution should 
be to join the Western civilization. To his mind, this has been necessitated by the 
depressing conditions; it is not because of admiration of the West, nor is it a fantasy. 
Turks have been a civilized society since pre-Islamic times. Thus, they would never lose 
their identity within the Western civilization. In contrast to Third- World nationalism, 
the Kemalist mode of nationalism champions Westernization, and aims at achieving a 
level of competing with the powerful Western countries.^" 

§erif Mardin (1926-) 

Mardin's post-1960 writings mainly focused on a critique of Marxism. He positioned 
himself at the center in the early 1960s, but in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, he 
participated in the opposition flank. His conclusive works are ones that he wrote in the 
1960s. His writings of the 1980s were filled with the shortcomings of the modernist 
and conservative intelligentsia prior to him. 

§erif Mardin is known as the Max Weber of Turkish sociology. He believes that the 
modernization of the Republic period is indicative of the departure from the past and 
the beginning of a new era. The Kemalist project is the "first Turkish modernity 
project". In this regard, Kemalism is both a project of transformation and a sweeping 
social design. In Kemalism, political rationalization is prior to and definitive for 
economy and culture. 

Because Turkish modernization looked on the masses as an "object" of transforma- 
tion, it produced a conflicting relationship between the center and the periphery. The 
modernization history of Turkey is at the same time the history of pushing Islam off 
the ummah structure. As popular Islam was affected by Kemafism, believes Mardin, the 
relationship growing between Kemalism and popular Islam based on Orthodox-Sunni 
Islam would confront a serious problem of validity. ^^ 

Baykan Sezer [1939-) 

Baykan Sezer is one of those who first realized that the sociology being set up "from 
the West, for the West and because of the West" did not meet the needs of Turkish 


He asserts that it is not possible to understand the present Turkish society without 
investigation into the Ottoman. Because the historical continuity is indispensable, a 
departure from the past would not help to understand the West. The most serious 
mistake the Turkish left has done is to turn a blind eye on the splendor of the Turkish- 
Ottoman history. Thus, in a good number of points, he followed in the footsteps of 
Kemal Tahir hi opposition to Kiray, he thinks that sociology is not an experimental dis- 
cipline, but rather a method of addressing the society as a flowing reality. 

To him. it would be odd to edify any Turkish sociology ignoring the Turkish-Ottoman 
history. He takes exception to those who mention Turkish society within the category 
of the underdeveloped societies on the basis that the Ottoman society was marked by 

Sezer attempts to interpret Turkish society and Turkish history in reference to two 
major incidents, which demonstrate that the stages of Turkish history do not conform 
to the Western scheme, (i) The Turkicization of Anatolia: This means that Turks left 
their homeland but were able to maintain their identity, (ii) The Ottoman's adoption of 
Westernization: He believes that Westernization begs attention, and it is impossible to 
become Westernized without participation in the colonialist world order. Though 
Turkey has become Westernized, it failed to achieve the desire. The import sociology 
precluded us from understanding ourselves.^** 

The return to the Turkish-Ottoman culture and the indigenous Turkish sociology 
demonstrates that the Gokalpian synthesis of "Turkicization, Islamization, and mod- 
ernization" has survived until now. Nonetheless, trivial political interests and popular 
culture have since the 1990s overshadowed this synthesis and emasculated Turkish 
theoretical thought. 

Rightist Tliini<ers 

Ziya Gokalp (1876-1924) 

Although the period in which Ziya Gokalp lived is outside the scope of the present study, 
we are forced to touch briefly on his views for two reasons. First. Gokalp has had a 
lasting impact on both the right and left intellectual trends. So it would be impossible 
to understand the post-Republican thought in general, and the rightist worldview in 
particular, without taking into consideration his views. Second, though he inspired 
both the rightist and leftist intelligentsia, his synthesis most resonated through the 
rightist thinkers. 

The rightist intellectuals took up his ideas to the extent that the leftist thinkers, who 
were enchanted by the spell of the rising micro-ethnic and micro-sectarian trends in 
the 1990s, came to renounce Gokalp's revolutionist and groundbreaking views of 
which they once made use. The left flank relinquished to the right the sheer rightist 
Gokalp, whose revolutionist and innovative aspects were left to oblivion by the right. 
While he was clothed in a "nationalist-conservative" guise and presented as an enthu- 
siastic defender of the traditional structure inherited from Sunnism and the Ottoman, 
his revolutionist and innovative aspects were brushed aside. ^' 


Fuad Kdprulu [1890-1966] 

Being the founder of a school in Turlcish historiography, I'Copriilii contributed largely to 
the studies of the Turkish literary history. By doing so, he became the first Turkish 
scholar and politician among the nationalist flank to stand up and break the Oriental- 
ist sway on Turkology studies. Kopriilii's studies on Turkish history were continued by 
his students, among whom are Abdiilkadir fnan, Faruk Siimer, Abdiilbaki Golpmarli, 
Pertev Naili Boratav, Osman Turan, Mustafa Akdag, and Halil Inalcik. He was deeply 
influenced by Gokalp's nationalist ideas. He combined the Turkist ideology with modern 
historiography and laid down the foundation for studies in the field of heterodox 

Miimtaz Turhan (1908-69) 

Gokalp influenced Turhan in developing his thoughts and incorporating the intelli- 
gentsia and masses into the Turkish national unity, making good use of science and 
technology in the fostering of social institutions. To him, national culture is funda- 
mental to be a nation. What he understands from Westernization is used to enrich the 
national culture. Turkish nationalism arose as a historical response to the imperial 
desires of the West and the separatist demands in the shadow of the Ottoman Empire's 
fall. Turhan has much in common with Berkes in terms of influencing a number of 
Turkish intellectuals. 

Hllmi ZIya Ulken [1901-74) 

Ulken is mentioned along the same lines as Mardin and Baykan Sezer, who are 
known for descriptive and analytic methodology. He influenced modernist intellectuals 
in the early years, and conservative intellectuals in the late years of his career 
(1940-50). He criticized both Orientalists and Eastern scholars. The mistake of the 
Easterners is to render all subjects the matter of faith and thereby deviate from the 
essence of Islam. 

In the view of Ulken, Turks' conversion to Islam did not bring about a serious con- 
flict for Turkish identity. This is because the pagan beliefs failed to produce a holistic 
worldview, rather than the close similarity between the pre-Islamic Turkish beliefs and 
Islam. Nevertheless, when the Turks were faced with the foreign model, i.e. the West, 
they experienced their first trauma because of the huge gap between the new model 
and the Muslim tradition. Ulken was opposed to Gokalp's views as he found artificial 
the distinction Gokalp made between civilization and culture. He likens Gokalp's dis- 
tinction to that which was made between substance and form in scholastic minds. To 
him, one cannot imagine a cultural spirit without technology. Knowledge does not com- 
promise its holistic and interconnected nature. Western technology cannot be sepa- 
rated from its civilization.^'' 


Erol Gungor (d. 1983) 

The following remarks of Gungor on secularism reflect the growing inclination of the 
Turkish right to the nationalist-conservative discourse and, in turn, its abandonment 
of the Gokalpian statism, which infringes in the religious sphere: 

Tlie Republic of Turkey is a secular state. The hegemony of the clergymen or the sway of 
religious considerations over the state cannot be approved of However, some politicians 
intervene in religious affairs and, some intellectuals want the state to meddle even in the 
way of worshipping. These interventionist secularists sometimes succeeded to have the 
opportunity to use the state power against the religion. If Turkey would be tardy to adopt 
the democratic system, it would be quite possible to change the way, language and time of 
worshipping. Those who are most crazy for the reformation in religion would never 
worship even once though all kinds of reforms were put into effect. You would say, "One 
can be interested in religious affairs though one does not personally have a faith." To be 
interested in religious affairs is quite different from intervention in the affairs of a pious 

The Present Situation of Turi<isli Intellectual Life 

Modern Turkish thought is replete with diverse profiles of intellectuals who have striven 
to shape Turkish political power. Islamist, Westernist, and nationalist thinkers have all 
desired political power and control of the state apparatus. Of the above trends, Islamism 
might be considered to be an offshoot of the Kadro movement's tendency to manipu- 
late political power. 

The spread of Islamism in the 1960s gave vigor to the vulgarization inaugurated by 
the uncontrolled flow of migration from the rural areas to the big cities. The exaltation 
of peasantry led the emigrants living in the suburbs to hold faster to the custom which 
they "brought with themselves from their villages." In the following years, we see an 
inclination to urbanization. The urban culture sacrificed the national culture, instead 
of the vulgar one, for the sake of getting rid of peasantry and continuing the West- 
ernization project, but it failed to achieve these aims; in addition, this process instigated 
the creation of subcultures. The intellectuals' loss of confidence in the state, caused by 
the 1980 military coup, led both to the departure from Kemalism and weakened the 
sense of loyalty to the state. 

As emphasized by Meeker, the rise of Islamist discourse in the 19 70s and 1980s was 
a response to the identity crisis resulting from the passage from Gesellschaft to Gemein- 
schaft. He points out that ". . . the Muslim intellectuals make their appearance in the 
wake of a period of ideological exhaustion precisely because Islam is perceived as an 
alternative to the conflicting constructions of modernity. But when they speak of Islam, 
they do not have in mind the traditional beliefs and practices of the Turkish Gemein- 
schafU rather, they envision an Islam that was never perfectly realized in Turkey, 
one that is based on divine revelation and orthodox practice, not on past customary 


practices in the Ottoman or any other Islamic Empire."^* Islamism in Turkey seems to 
be critical of the Westernist modernization project. In the 1980s, Islamism "came as a 
response to the crisis of dependent modernization in Turkey. In the 1980s, a large 
marginalized and dispossessed segment in the metropolitan centers joined the petite 
bourgeoisie of provincial towns in support of Islamist politics."^'' So the supporters 
of the Islamist movement included "the large university student population, especially 
upwardly mobile youths who must compete with the established urban middle and 
upper-middle classes; members of the unskilled young urban sub-proletariat whose 
number has increased with the migrations and a higher level of unemployment; and 
some from the state-employed petit bourgeoisie, proletarianized by falling real wages 
and high inflation, particularly since the early 1990s."'" 

Having until then been divided into five groups - Islamist, Turkist, Westernist, 
Kemalist, and socialist - Turkish intellectuals gradually evolved into two groups as 
secularist versus anti-secularist and then statist versus pro-civil society. Such a trans- 
formation demonstrates that these apparently various intellectual typologies and 
political-intellectual identities are basically similar and interpenetrative categories. 

The "statist" intellectualism of today is composed of conservative-nationalist 
thinkers. Some religious communities and Sufi brotherhoods are included in this cate- 
gory as well. But the most important section of this group is those who call themselves 
"the supporters of civil society"; though the supporters of civil society are diametrically 
opposed to each other, they become united in the common stress in their micro-ethnic 
and micro-sectarian aspirations. 

In the wake of the political failure of the leftists, a secular version of a Westerniza- 
tion argument has been converted by the Islamists, who are nowadays on the rise in 
politics, into a "conservative Westernization," and then into a Westernization process 
to be adopted fully. The intellectuals who have been in a clash with the nation have 
taken the place of the intellectuals who have been in a clash with the state. So nothing 
important has changed. 

Political concerns and practices outweigh intellectual concerns. Turkish political life 
has impeded the progress of Turkish intellectual life. But the military coups seem 
to have mitigated the severity of the hindering politics, which has no intellectual 

There are several reasons for this; 

1. Although the age of empires passed a long time ago, the Ottoman Empire, 
which had been suffering successive defeats and territorial losses since 1683, 
collapsed far later than it should have done. This late downfall of the Empire 
delayed the formation of the Turkish nation-state. 

2. The young Republic grappled with the problems of the post-modern age 
before it had completed the phase of nation-state required by the modern age. 

3. For daily and populist concerns, Turkish intellectuality undermined succes- 
sively Kemalism, statist tradition, leftist discourse, religious values, and 
finally national culture. 

4. In the pre-1980 period. Westernization and modernization had been char- 
acterized by the leftist discourse. Today Westernization has its "refigion." To 


run against the former was reckoned as opposition to Ifemalism. To go 
against the latter may now be considered as opposition to the ideal of civil 
society or even to Islam. This is so therefore that to discuss the disadvantages 
of participation in the European Union (EU) is now put on a par with indif- 
ference to the cause of women's head covering. 

Turkish nationalism, Westernism, and Islamism can be seen as three major lines of 
post-1950 Turkish thought. There has been a strong interaction between those ide- 
ologies, and so there emerged a number of auxiliary currents such as Kemalism, liber- 
alism, and conservatism, all of which can be viewed as the conglomeration of the above 
major lines. One ought to note that though the former three ideologies seem to be diver- 
gent from and opposed to each other, they are, in fact, complementary to one other in 
that they are concerned about the well-being of the country as a whole. 

At the beginning of the Republic, Turkish nationalism and Westernism were the two 
fundamental components of the state ideology, but the 1980s witnessed rapproche- 
ment between Westernism and Islamism, and Turkish nationalism left its place to 
Islamism. Since then, the Westernization project has continued but with the substitu- 
tion of Islamism for Turkish nationalism. At present, it seems to be Turkey's long-term 
bid for joining the EU that holds together Islamists and Westernists ever more strongly. 
While the Westernists thereby aim to integrate with the European civilization, the 
Islamists envisage an expanded freedom in religious practices. Moreover, the current 
conflict over the EU can be seen as a reflection and continuation of the tension between 
the center and the periphery, which goes back to the foundation of the Republic. 


1. Himmet Hiiliir and Anzavur Demirpolat, 'Aydin Kimligi, Segkincilik ve Siirekmik (Intellec- 
tual Identity, Elitism, and Continuation)," Selfuk Universitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitiisii 
Dergisi. 5, 1999, 380-2. 

2. Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGUl University Press, 
1964), 481, 510. 

3. Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 59-50. 

4. Contemporary Arab intellectualism suffered quite similar problems. For further informa- 
tion see, Ibrahim Abu-Rabi', Contemporary Arab Thought. Studies in Post-1967 Arab Intellec- 
tual History (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 1-39. 

5. See Ali Aliay, 'Aydinlar Uzerine Bir Balci§ (A Glance at the Intellectuals)," in Tiirk Aydmi ve 
Kimlik Sorunu (Istanbul: Baglam Publications, 1985), 423-36. 

5. See Himmet Hiiliir, "Toplumsal Bilim Soyleminde Yerellik (Localism in the Discourse of 
Social Science)," Selfuktleti^im, 1/3, 2000, 114. 

7. Anzavur Demirpolat, "Tiirkiye'de Islami Iktisat Ahlakinm Yiikseli§i, Rasyonalite ve Kapi- 
talizm: Konya Ornegi (The Rise of Islamic Ethic of Economy inTurlcey, Rationality and Cap- 
italism: The Case of Konya)," Selfuk Ueti^im. 2/4. 2003, 200. 

8. Yavuz G. Yildiz, Tiirk Aydini ve Iktidar Sorunu, 3 73. 

9 . Hasan Ali Yiicel, Hiirriyet Gene Hiirriyet {Freedom Again Freedom). (Ankara: I§ Bankasi Pub- 
lications, 1954), 11/368-71. 


10. Cumhuriyet Ansiklopedisi {The Republic Encyclopedia). (Istanbul: YKY Publications, 2003), 

11. Kemal Tahir, Notlar (The Notes). (Istanbul: Baglam Yayinlari, 1992), 56-2 74. 

12. Tank Zafer Tunaya, Devrim Hareketleri Iginde Atatiirk ve Ataturkgiiliik (Atatiirk and Atatiirk- 
ism within the Revohitionist Movements). (Istanbul: Baha Press, 1954), 6, 120, 122. 

13. See E. Fuat Keyman, "§erif Mardin Toplumsal Kurami ve Tiirk Modernitesini Anlamak (To 
Understand 5erif Mardin's Social Theory and Turkish Modernity)," Dogu-Bati. 4/16, 2001, 

14. See Baykan Sezer, "Tiirk Sosyologlari ve Eserleri (Turkish Sociologists and Their Writings)," 
Sosyoloji Dergisi, 3/1(1989), 4; Baykan Sezer, Sosyolojinin Ana Ba^hklan (The Main Headings 
of Sociology). (Istanbul: Istanbul Universitesi Edebiyat Fakiiltesi Publications, 1985), 
50-65: Baykan Sezer, Sosyolojide Yontem Tartismalan (Methodological Debates in Sociology). 
(Istanbul: Siimer Press, 1993), 15-200. 

15. For further information, see Ziya Gokalp, TiirkQulugiin Esaslan (The Main Principles of 
Turkism), (Istanbul: Inkilap ve Aka Press, 19 78), 90-4; Ziya Gokalp, Tiirklesmek, 
islamlasmak, Muasnia^mak (Turkicization, Islamization. Modernization). (Istanbul: Inkilap ve 
Aka Press, 1976), 10-20. 

16. Ta§kin Taki§, "Degerler Levhasinm Tersine Cevrili§i: HUmi Ziya Ulken (The Overturn of 
Plate of the Values: Hilmi Ziya Ulken)," Dogu-Bati Dergisi. 3/12, 2000, 96, 100-9. 

17. Erol Giingor, Sosyal Meseleler ve Aydmlar (Social Problems and Intellectuals), (Istanbul: 
Otiiken Press, 1993), 123. 

18. Michael E. Meeker, "The New Muslim Intellectual in the Republic of Turkey," in Richard 
Tapper, ed., Islam in Modern Turkey. Religion. Politics andLiterature in a Secular State. (London: 
I.B.Tauris, 1991), 216-17. 

19. Haldun Gulalp, "The Crisis of Westernization in Turkey: Islamism versus Nationalism," 
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences, 8/2, 1995. 

20. NUufer Narli, "The Rise of the Islamist Movement in Turkey," Middle East Review of Inter- 
national Affairs, 3/3, 1999, 42. 


Transformation of Islamic 
Thought in Turkey Since 
the 1950s 

Ahmet Yildiz 


Islamic thought as a concept does not signify Islam as a religion per se, it rather denotes 
the totality of intellectual, cultural, and political products by the Muslim elite, namely 
ulama and intelligentsia. The relationship between the Islamist movement and Islamic 
thought is that Islam for the first time put its stamp on a certain scheme of political 
action. Islam in this way has been interpreted as a project of political liberation formed 
under the instigation of Western political, economic, and cultural power Hence, from 
its beginning, Islamism has been equally religious and political. As a political project, 
it aimed at the restoration of the state power both domestically and internationally 
through the incorporation of Western science and technology. As a religious project, it 
reinterpreted Islam, which was the source of the state's legitimacy, so as to Islamize the 
Western concepts of progress and development. Despite its emphasis on the return to 
the original sources, the Islamic movement could not achieve the religious renewal 
{tajdid) in conclusive terms, and its religious emphasis has been replaced by a conve- 
nient political pragmatism. In this respect, Islamic thought and Islamic movement cor- 
respond to the same thing. Islamism involves ideas and speculations as well as activism. 
While Islamic movement reveals the activism of Islamism, Islamic thought denotes the 
intellectual watercourse of that activism. Therefore, they are in close transivity and can 
be merged under the same rubric as Islamism.^ 

Islamic thought in a sense can be seen as "literal/textual Islam." Being textual-based 
partly involves the literature created by the historical ulama, but essentially, it 
exposes the Our'an, the books of the tradition, codified sources of fiqh and general 
Islamic literature. The Western references can be added to this list as well. In this 
respect, the range of Muslim thinkers has a wide variety that cannot be limited to the 
class of ulama. It includes intellectuals, engineers, writers, journalists, and professional 
politicians, in short, both intellectuals and intelligentsia with its traditional and modern 


In this chapter, I will discuss the articulation and differentiation of Islamic thought 
in Turkey in relation to such ideas as nationalism, conservatism, democracy, liberalism, 
socialism, and Kemalism, in particular, during the multi-party era in Turkey with 
special emphasis on the period of its diversification and politicization (19 70s to 1990s). 
This period will receive special emphasis because Islamic thought for the first time in 
the Republican history became a self-confident, legitimate, and to an important extent, 
legal partner in the deliberative public space, however delimited its boundaries may be. 

It is difficult to delimit the boundaries of Islamic thought compared to other currents 
of thought because, while the definition of Islamism in the social and political litera- 
ture could be highly expandable, those who feel themselves as Islamists are very few. It 
is important to distinguish between Islam and Islamism in that the former cannot be 
represented by any person, group, or corporate body while the latter is a locus of 
multiple representation. 

The delimitation of the Islamic discourse is required also by the problem of dual 
legitimacy that this concept embodies. The prevailing understanding of secularism in 
Turkey equates Islamic thought with reactionarism and sees it as contradictory to the 
principle of laicity, which has led to the ban on its legal existence. Due to the problem 
of social as well as political legitimacy over Islamic thought, Muslim thinkers and 
movements have adopted an indirect language. Accordingly, demands motivated by 
Islamic sentiments have been expressed around such idioms as human rights, justice, 
democracy, ireedom of religion and conscience, loyalty to the national religious char- 
acter of Turkish nation, patriotism, and moral and familial values. 

The legitimacy problem of Islamic thought arises not only due to the restrictions 
imposed by the militant secularist Republican establishment but also to the reserva- 
tions of Muslim thinkers themselves. However it is defined, there is no shared definition 
of Islamism by all Islamists. Hence, the appellation "Islamism" has been generally used 
by outsiders. Those known as Islamists prefer to call themselves plainly Muslim. There- 
fore, in a country populated in a great majority by Muslims, the question of how to dif- 
ferentiate Islamism assumes importance. S. Sayyid's definition seems to be promising 
in this regard. According to Sayyid, Islamism is a project in which one as a Muslim posi- 
tions his relations from within the historical formation and traditions of Islam and 
renders this for himself as a reference map. Hence, an Islamist is one who acts in accor- 
dance with a Utopia defined by a language that emanates from the texts deemed to be 
Islamic in their various forms." 

The evolution of Islamic thought in Turkey can be thought of in two ways. The first 
way is a subject-based approach and it argues that Islamism does not denote a fact that 
emerged and ceased to exist in a historical context. It puts Muslim ulama, intellectuals, 
and intelligentsia as the primary agents and makes a periodization by drawing upon 
the religious, cultural, and political perceptions of these three agents. Taking into 
consideration the new risks and opportunities associated with the intellectual, socio- 
economic, and political environment in which the perceptions of these agents were 
shaped, there are three periods in terms of the evolution of Islamic thought in Turkey: 
(i) the period of Islamic thought (1908-50); (ii) the period of the Islamic move- 
ment (1950-90s); (iii) the period of "pure" Islamic thought which Islam, no longer 
being considered as a position of power, has been taken to mean an alternative 


Weltanschauung on intellectual and ethical grounds in view of the idea of "Western 
civilization" (post 2000). 

The second way of periodizing the evolution of Islamic thought in Turkey is context- 
based. Bringing together these two approaches, in this study, I will make use of both 
constructivist and contextualist approaches. I will focus on the intellectual and politi- 
cal background that nourished Muslim thinkers, the sources that illuminated them, 
their intellectual and activist profiles, as well as the concepts they used, the issues they 
problemitized and the discussions they triggered. 

This chapter will deal with the evolution of Islamic thought in Turkey over five 
periods, but will combine the first and second ones.' 

1. The period of accommodation (1 8 70s-l 924): This period is characterized by 
a defensive modernization in order to "save" the Ottoman-Islamic state and 
preserve Islamic culture. 

2. The period of withdrawal (1924-50): This period is marked by withdrawal 
from public space to the world of inner self against the authoritarian 

3. The period of articulation with modernist rightism (19 50s-70). 

4. The period of confrontation and challenge (1970s-97): A period in which 
the Islamic movement as a distinct and independent movement of thought 
gained a new momentum after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and challenged 
the supremacy of the Western model in intellectual, moral, and power 
terms by trying to capture the state and use it as a tool for Islamizing the 

5. The period of reflexivity and self-critique (post 1997). After the so-called 
"post-modern coup" of February 28. 1997, Islamic intellectual and urban- 
dominated discourse entered a new phase of self-questioning by positioning 
itself willingly to an individual-based Islamic perspective without forgetting 
the idea of Muslim community, and tried to formulate Islam more in moral 
and social terms rather than giving primacy to the political, and refrained 
from open confrontation with the still militant secular state. 

Periods 1 and 2. "Accommodation and Withdrawal": Late Ottoman 
and Early Republican Islamic Thought 

Islamism as a movement of thought emerged in the last quarter of the nineteenth 
century. It sprang from the notion of salvaging the state. Its prescription for salvation 
was the Islamization of "society" by restoration of state and education. Among the 
main concepts that Islamists advanced were renewal {tajdid), revival (ihya), and reform 
(islah). The determining parameters of the Islamist thought in the late Ottoman period 
embodied a state-centric perspective, Cartesian thinking, conception of a mechanical 
universe, the idea of progress, the grasp of modern/Western science as a savior, the 
sublimation of technological achievements, and as a necessary corollary of all these, 
the ideal of a heaven on earth. 


The embodiment of this line of thinldng involved the propositions such as the fol- 
lowing: the Muslim world is in a state of disarray and humiliation in military, economic, 
and political terms. The underlying reasons for this are the intellectual, ethical and spir- 
itual backwardness and decadence. The guilty for these sins is not Islam but tradition, 
the established institutions, and wrong and mischievous historical understandings and 
practices due to foreign influences. Interestingly the regime of sultanate was considered 
to be among the most important causes of this unacceptable state of decay. 

Drawing upon these propositions. Islamist thought of the late Ottoman period 
offered a return to the Our' an and the Sunnah by reviving the path of the righteous 
predecessors {selef-i salihin). Essentially, Islamic thought in this period had two pillars: 
the first pillar prioritized the return to the fundamentals of Islam (Salafism), and the 
second one grasped Islam in rationalist terms (modernism). The opening of the gate of 
jurisprudence (ijfiharf) was considered to be the basic instrument of finding solutions 
from within the religion to the newly emerged problems. The activation of the spirit 
of jihad as a setback against the Western imperialist expansion was another basic 

The distinction between real Islam, historical Islam, and ideal Islam, the acceptance 
of Western supremacy and Muslim backwardness, attributing the roots of Western 
material progress to Islam, perception of scientific knowledge as value-free and accord- 
ingly, the interpretation of the Our' an in the light of scientific developments, and the 
Islamization of Western political institutions such as parliament, elections, and popular 
consent by drawing Islamic parallels to them were the qualifying features of Islamist 
thought. This eclecticism tried to reconcile Islam and modernity and led to the adop- 
tion of a thoroughly apologetic mood and thinking. Therefore, we can say that the con- 
tours of Islamic thought in the late Ottoman period, among the leading figures of which 
were Said Halim Pasha, Mehmet Akif (the writer of the Turkish national anthem), E§ref 
Edip Fergan, Muhammed Hamdi Yazir and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi,' have been shaped 
in reactive terms marked by the heavy impact of the Ottoman confrontation with the 
"victorious West." This gave Islamic thought a historical rather than a purely essen- 
tialist character. 

After the establishment of the Republic, Islamism implied an incomplete struggle of 
emancipation and became an umbrella for a new struggle of emancipation against the 
self-colonization Turkey experienced under the Kemalist model. The residuals of the 
Islamism of the late Ottoman period continued as a well-established spring in Turkish 
Islamic thought during the Republican period in terms of its main problem of saving 
the state. Due to this state-centric tendency. Islamic thought in Turkey always hosted 
Turkish nationalism as a strong component and never assumed an anti-Western/ 
modern character, as some might argue.'' 

The triumph of Western nationalism as the hegemonic ideology in the Republican 
period pushed Islam out of the public realm. Unlike Ottoman Islamism, the early Repub- 
lican Islam became a popular "underground" movement rather than a state-led one. 
The introduction of the printing press and newspapers had not changed the Ottoman 
literate class, which was under the supervision of the state in its production of thought 
into intelligentsia, a group that is normally relatively independent in its thinking and 
intellectual productions. Because both the state and Islamists had the same ideals, this 


state of affairs did not constitute a problem in the evolution of Turkish Islamic thought. 
In the Republican period, however, the interpretation of Islam was under the control 
of the state and assumed an authoritarian character Both the Directorate of Religious 
Affairs and the higher institutes of Islam contributed to the supervision of the religion 
by the state rather than the creation of independent Islamic thinking, which may feed 
the Muslim community in an organic fashion. 

During the single-party period (1924-46), the tradition of Islamic thought experi- 
enced a radical interruption. Only when the transition to multi-party democracy took 
place, could Islamic thought take a fresh breath and begin openly to question the 
absolutes of the Kemalist Westernism. The single-party period of militant state secu- 
larism can be considered a period of interregnum [fetret) in terms of the production of 
Islamic thought, Islamism in this period was not a legitimate partner in formulating 
public policies. Rather, it was portrayed as the main enemy of the state and the source 
of backwardness, called in official militant secularism as irtica (reactionarism). During 
the setting up of the new Republican regime, Islamism was in opposition to the ruling 
ideology that continued to express its "outrage" towards militantly anti-Islamic state 
policies. When Turkey decided to join the "democratic camp" formed after World War 
Two, there was a deeply felt confrontation between Islamism and Kemalist states. This 
change determined the contours of the political game in the following periods. 

Period 3. The Rebirth of Islamic Thought as a Rightist-Nationalist 
Movement (1950-1970) 

With the transition to multi-party politics, the Republican People's Party (RPP), then 
in power, began to react to the societal opposition from the Democrat Party (DP) that 
adopted a political language reinforced by religion, and hence tried to soften its stance 
vis-d-vis Islam, This state of affairs created a relatively tolerant atmosphere for the 
recovery of religious thought. The DP authored such symbolic revolutionary acts as 
the Arabic call to prayer (azan) and compulsory religion classes in schools. Yet the DP 
was deeply committed to the secularist understanding of the Republic and therefore 
had no intention of creating a political order based on solely religious credentials. The 
DP was tolerant towards individuals, and to a certain extent, societal Islam, but heavily 
against political Islam, It allowed for a liberalized social milieu for Islam as a living space 
without sacrificing Kemalism, however'' 

The political opposition gained its visibility in this period thanks to its emphasis on 
the RPP's repressive policies over religious life and maintained its existence via appeal 
to religious motives. Nonetheless, the realm of state was under the strict control of the 
Kemalist ruling elite, and it was this elite that had the monopoly of the final say over 
the political game. The Muslim masses began to rediscover politics in this relatively 
"free" period and made its reappearance from the terrain that it had been forcefully 
imprisoned. Islamic demands were basically centered around the expectation to live ac- 
cording to Islam in the private realm. Accordingly, for the religious groups that emer- 
ged under the title of cemaat, the most crucial issue was the capability to have access 
to religious education and the study of the Our'an, the traditions of the Prophet, Urn 


u hal (catechism), and Nursi's Risale. Gradually the demands of these groups began to 
encompass the social realm in the form of having access to public religious education, 
Our'an courses and the increasing number of schools for preachers and prayer leaders 
(Imam-Hatip OkuUari). 

The basic feature of Islam in the 1 9 50s is nationalist conservatism.* Its political dis- 
course reflects a sense of victimization by Kemalist policies of self-colonization. Until 
the beginning of the 1970s, Islamic thought and activism were led by such figures 
as Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Siileyman Hilmi Tunahan, Necip Fazil Kisakiirek, and 
Hiiseyin Hilmi I§ik. The common denominator of all was the importance attached to a 
religious understanding of the world based on national and spiritual values. 

The background of Islamic thought in this period was shaped not by the legacy of 
late Ottoman Islamic thought but by an updated idea of revising the Republican revo- 
lution, which would characterize the political Islam of the 1980s. Deployed within a 
nation-state framework, this revisionism could easily be translated to a form of religious 
nationalism because Islamism has evolved as a liberationist/salvationist ideology. Con- 
servative thought and political discourse, which formed the backbone of all rightist dis- 
courses and policies including Islamism, offered an alternative national identity based 
on religious identity. This led the national identity to assume a religious coloring while 
reinforcing the allegiance of religious groups to the national state.' This in turn made 
centrist right, ultra-nationalism, and religious conservatism allies for a certain period 
of time. 

During the 1960s. Islamic thought discovered the Muslim thought at large via the 
intensive efforts of translation from such leading Islamist figures as MawdudT in Pak- 
istan and Sayyid Outb in Egypt. Thanks to gaining access to "global" currents of Islamic 
thought, Turkish Islamic thought became more universally oriented despite its inward- 
oriented nationalist-local leanings. Democracy was imported into the Islamic vocabu- 
lary in this decade following the new, relatively pluralist and open public sphere partly 
created by the 1960 constitution. Democracy was politically instrumental in opposing 
single-party rule and therefore had an additional legitimacy in the Turkish Islamic 
thought from the 1960s on. One of the most conservative and radically Islamist 
periodicals republished in the 1950s was E§ref Edip's Sebilurre^ad. Yet "democracy" and 
"freedom" were its two principal references. This conception of democracy reflected an 
instrumentality structured around the idea of democracy as a channel suitable for 
incorporating the will of the religious masses into the public sphere. Unlike the Muslim 
countries with a colonial past. Islamic discourse in Turkey has always had a democratic 

Period 4. Diversification and Over-politicization of islamic Tiiougiit 

The 1970s witnessed the crystallization of a distinct Islamic identity differentiated from 
the leftist and rightist varieties under the impact of an ummah-based perspective trig- 
gered by the translated Islamic literature and catalyzed by the Kurdish Islamists. This 
was not so much an intellectual as it was a political differentiation. The Islamic move- 


ments in Egypt, Pakistan, and later, Iran and the works of Hassan Banna, Sayyid Qutb, 
Mawdtidl, and All Shariati were particularly influential in shaping Turkish Islamic 
thought towards a more universal conception of Islam, and thus the understanding 
that Islam is not something limited to personal life but also has public claims, took root 
in the Turkish form of Islamism. 

Towards the end of the 1970s, the Islamization of state institutions and the idea of 
the Muslim world as the horizon of Turkish Islamism, translated into politics in the 
motto of the "Muslim common market" by the National Salvation Party (NSP). The ide- 
ology of the NSP (National Outlook) was based on the equation of nation and religion. 
With Islam becoming a public actor, the NSP played an important role in shifting 
Islamism from a nationalist-conservative creed towards a transnational perspective. 
This Muslim world-oriented perspective which perceived the Western world as alien at 
the least and as enemy at the most had an effect on religious groups in later years as 
well. The so-called Islamic Revolution in Iran carried this understanding further. This 
transnational conception of Islamic ummah gained further momentum with the end of 
the Cold War in the hands of religious groups. 

With the decline of the line that grasped Islam first and foremost as a political 
reference, the transnational Turkish Muslim mind adopted a global imagination that 
made possible the interaction with Western values and institutions, namely basic rights 
and liberties, economic and political liberalization, democratization and civil initiatives 
with simultaneous rupture from traditional understanding. One may say that the waves 
of globalization deeply affected Muslim thought in Turkey. 

The 1980s witnessed internal differentiation among Muslim groups, and their legal 
and intellectual legitimacy in partaking in public debates. In this respect, the post-1 980 
period is a most dynamic, vivid and intellectually colorful period. The parameters of the 
public debate were set by such concepts as civil society, liberalism, human rights, and 
participatory democracy. The focus of this debate was the criticism of the official ide- 
ology, the recognition of other and peaceful coexistence, to which the notion of a demo- 
cratically constructed societal contract was basic. It was claimed that the state-civil 
society pattern of relation in Turkey lacked legitimacy in that its constitution was not 
the outcome of a societal contract but rather reflected an authoritarian, "from above" 
imposition. The idea of a plural society based on multiplicity of law and the so-called 
Medina document were the models advanced by some Muslim intellectuals. 

The intellectual efforts led by a renowned Muslim intellectual Ali Bulag to develop 
an Islamic conception of a plural society based on different groupings of law were the 
overt manifestation of the postmodern wave. The construction of such Western ideals 
as pluralism, rule of law, and fundamental rights and liberties under an Islamic guise 
via reconstruction of historical Islamic institutions and practices expressed the 
Islamization of the values of "the positive West." As Muslim intellectuals began to com- 
prehend better the different modalities of modernity and epistemological paradigms, 
the image of the West gained a more positive recognition. 

This was the moment of intersection between postmodernism and Islamism, 
common to both of which was the criticism of the prevailing Western mode of moder- 
nity.^" Unlike the intellectual representatives of traditional Muslim groups, independent 
Muslim intellectuals completely divorced themselves from nationalist rightism and 


gained inspiration from more universal sources. The arrival of post-modernism in 
Turkey before globalization provided the opportunity to critique the modernist mono- 
poly over the public sphere. The fact that Muslim intellectuals had a legitimate say in 
the public sphere did not mean that they all espoused the same theses and took the 
same positions. As a matter of fact, they had radically contrasting strands. For example, 
the works of Ismet Ozel, a leading Muslim intellectual and poet, suggested rejection of 
modern science, and especially, technology towards the end of the 1970s on the 
grounds that it caused alienation in the Muslim conscious. Ironically, Ozel was a pro- 
ponent of Islamic political hegemony and therefore was a strong supporter of the 
parties of the National Outlook movement, which were heavily developmentalist in 
technological terms. 

The post-modernist impact on the Turkish Muslim intellect in political terms, 
however, can be seen in two early figures: Ali Bulag and Bahri Zengin. The post- 
modernist and pluralist model of Ali Bulag was introduced with reference to the con- 
tract made by the Muslim Prophet and the Jews of Medina after Hijrah. The first part 
of this contract regulated the relations between the Ansar and Muhajiroun. The second 
part involved the relations between Muslims and Jews in Medina and set a treaty of non- 
aggression between them, while making them ally with each other against the attacks 
of third parties. Muslims, though in the minority, were the founding party and the 
Muslim Prophet was appointed as the arbitrator The intention was to show that Islamic 
historical experience was not alien to the notion of pluralism, which would imply that 
Islam cannot claim to be an intrinsically authoritarian theocracy. It was possible to 
develop an Islamic political model based on civil liberties and recognition of basic 
human rights. ^^ 

The reinterpretation of the Medina Treaty so as to secure a firm ground for an 
Islamic pluralist and participatory model of politics was in fact an obvious example of 
the post-modern perspective. The end of the positivist myth of modern science as the 
only form of truth, the loss of faith in the notion of linear progress, the failure of 
Marxism, the awkward need for social cohesion deepened by the so-called wild capi- 
talism of Turgut Ozal's neo-liberal policies and Kemalist militancy of modernism all 
made the notion of 'Adil Diizen" (Just Order) advanced by the Welfare Party very 
popular and paved the way for the politics of multi-culturalism and identity. This also 
made possible the reconstruction of traditional patterns of communal life. The 
carriers of this line of thought were followed by masses uprooted from villages and 
towns, and hence newcomers to the cities. They were socialized in the secular institu- 
tions and had no classical Islamic education. Their references were mainly Western 
rather than Islamic. The use of Western intellectual tools to critique the West became 
a common practice. 

The model of the Medina Treaty as a search for a pluralistic society represents the 
culmination of Turkish Islamic thought in the 1980s and 199Qs. The conception of 
society as a project through an Islamic content wrapped in Western political discourse 
points to an unresolved dilemma in Turkish Muslim thought. A second element in this 
public debate was a project based on the conception of multiple-law polity. Led by such 
adherents of the National Outlook as Bahri Zengin and Abdurrahman Dilipak, this 
project was in a sense an adaptation of the early Islamic practice or rather the Ottoman 


millet system. The objective in such social prescriptions was to carve out pockets of 
social space for Muslims in Turkey so that they live according to their religious affilia- 
tion based on consent and pluralism/' 

The same leitmotif was sustained through the Welfare Party's motto of "Just Order". 
This political campaign was aimed at the rehabilitation of the Turkish political system 
based on the welfare state model instead of a radical transformation. All three projects 
- the model of Medina, a multi-law polity, and Just Order - were sympathetic imitations 
of a plural conception of polity justified by reference to certain Islamic practices. But 
they all missed a principal point that in modern times there is individual existence 
which in no way can be reduced to or absorbed into any communal affiliation, and that 
modern society by definition is characterized by cross-cutting identifications which 
makes the assumption of an homogeneous, non-conflictual communal existence 
nearly impossible. 

Apart irom Muslim intellectuals, the expression of Islamic thought at the level of refi- 
gious groups involving sufi and non-sufi groupings delineated a more pragmatic 
approach and basically tried to create and protect a proper environment in order to malce 
most use of "opportunity spaces," which would enable them to carve a strong foothold 
for peaceful existence.^' Their understanding is in line with a secular democracy that 
recognizes Islam as a legitimate and peaceful element and allows Muslim groups to 
teach, propagate, and live in accordance with their faith. For these groups Islam is first 
personal, second social, and last political. Therefore, politicization of Islam is not a must 
and does not have any precedence over personal and societal levels. This line of think- 
ing urges dialogue between faiths and civilizations traditionally conceived to be antag- 
onistic. Most of these groups, the most prominent of them being the Giilen movement 
of Nurcu splinter,^* therefore do not have any ideological reservation towards Turkey's 
accession to the European Union. This opportunistic approach has a cost as well: the 
internal secularization. Such groups suffer from a group-based oligarchy crystallized 
around the leader cult, which relegates individuality to non-importance. 

The last brand of Islamic thought is represented by highly marginal yet vocally influ- 
ential radical factions. One of their leading figures is Erciimend Ozkan. He calls for over- 
throw of the established regime, by any means necessary. This reactionary rejectionism 
is a modern form of Hariji-Salafi comprehension and it has no historical mainstream 
Islamic basis. This radical and dogmatic posture not only rejects the established politi- 
cal regime, but also targets Muslim groups who prefer to maintain good relations with 
society at large. Despite its vocality, this line of Islamic thought in present-day Turkey 
has lost all its credibility and therefore is no longer an actor worthy of consideration 

The major actors in the emergence of a distinct Islamic political identity are parties 
of the National Outlook movement led by Necmettin Erbakan, an overt manifestation 
of in transitivity between Islamism and nationalism. National Outlook is a generic term 
expressing the specific tradition that has produced various political parties with 
religiously informed political agendas in Turkey. Erbakan considered parties of the 
National Outlook, especially the National Salvation Party (NSP) and the Welfare Party 
(WP), as the political extension of the Turkish-led "global Muslim community" 
(ummci/i).^' Those parties represent an endeavor for reconciliation of traditional Islam 


and modernism at the political level. In this regard, the WP's understanding of religion 
is based not on a "fundamentalist" reading of Islamic history but on pragmatic dis- 
course of an epic, heroic past. The articulation of that heritage with modernism con- 
fined to scientific and technological developments and in this context the belief that the 
religion is the leitmotif of "development and progress", a Muslim version of the Weber- 
ian idea, was the schematic framework on which the WP's discourse of refigion was 

The intellectual sources and material connections of Erbakan and his friends molded 
their minds into an interesting synthesis of traditional Sunni-based Islamic culture and 
Sufi worldview embedded in a developmentalist discourse. The heroic conception of 
history by the National Outlook, the adoration of the glorious past, and the expression 
of the road leading to the solution for the present-day problems through an heroic 
imagination of the past under the motto of "a great Turkey once again," are evident 
reflections of a growth-oriented developmentalist perspective structured around a ter- 
ritorially grounded Islamic nationalism. The National Outlook vigorously advance the 
idea that the dependent and powerless position of the Muslim world at large and Turkey 
in particular was associated with the dominance of global Western imperialism, which 
makes anti-Westernism an integral part of that discourse. 

The main question of the National Outlook is a continuation of the intellectual 
agenda of the nineteenth-century Islamists with the predicament "Islam versus the 
West." The dilemma was to find an explanation for the rising fortune of the West in 
view of the continuously declining power of the Ottoman Empire, or more properly the 
Muslim world. The Islamic Weltanschauung was imperative to meet the overall Western 
challenge. What Necmettin Erbakan called "Mill! G6rii§" (the National Outlook) was 
nothing but this according to him. Islam and nation were conflated in the double 
meaning of milli in Turkish i.e. religious or national, the implication of which was 
determined by the intent of the user 

The ideological core of the National Outlook is a combination of a traditionalist dis- 
course and a "modern," defensive, positivist conception of the so-called Western science 
and technology. This science and technology is readily welcomed through its natural- 
ization by reference to its Islamic roots. The Turkish nation is believed to have under- 
gone a deep moral degeneration due to the emulation of the Western way of life, which 
was also responsible for the breakdown of the Ottoman "eternal" order Therefore, 
regaining the historical grandeur depends on both material and spiritual development. 

With its popufist and pragmatic politics. National Outlook has become an eclectic 
ideological program with its articulation in the 1990s of "Just Order" discourse. Draw- 
ing upon such Islamic injunctions as social solidarity and absence of interest {riba), 
the Just Order appeal was a critic of capitalism at macro level. Like other propositions of 
the National Outlook, it was based on the interpretation of Islam as preached by Erbakan 
and his close associates, yet not justified on the basis of Islam. Taking their legitimacy 
from Islam and their legality from the established political regime, the parties of the 
National Outlook, in that capacity, have given birth to a double discourse producing 
irresolvable inner contradictions. Yet, what is claimed is that its core formulation is 
capable of providing what Turkey needs, independent of time and place, and thus it is 
not amenable to change in accordance with changing circumstances, because the 
National Outlook does have axiomatic certitude. The categorical rejection of ideological 


change is closely related with the connection, even identification, of the National 
Outlook with Islam itself. Ironically enough, the impact of the post-modernist political 
wave on the Muslims did not result in a change in the political posture of the National 
Outlook. It preserved its classical "axiomatic" purity against such political contagion by 
perpetuating a positivist conception of development based on Islamic nationalism, the 
main bastions of which were material as well as spiritual growth, heavy industry and in 
particular the national defense industry. In the last analysis, one can readily suggest that 
the National Outlook was not intended for clearing the account of Islam with moder- 
nity: rather it was a political movement whose main motto could probably be that "it is 
we who can create a better modernity."^*' 

After the mid-1980s, the public visibility of Islam drastically increased. While its 
social manifestations remained local, intellectually it became more universal, i.e. more 
interested in the problems of the Muslim communities as a whole. This distinction cor- 
responds to a socially more traditional and intellectually more literate Islamism. This 
widening angle between social and intellectual spaces became a graphic feature of 
Islamism in these years. In this respect, political Islamism is a movement of forming 
and protecting the balance between the social and intellectual with a view to reinforce 
religion. Therefore, the Islamization policies pursued by the state in this decade, the 
transfer of the important figures of Turkish nationalism to Islamism following a period 
of questioning the meaning of such concepts as state and nation, and the increasing 
primacy of the Kurdish question were functional in the universalization tendency of 
Islamism. Yet, in the last analysis, nationaUsm continues to be the final determinant in 
Turkish Islamism. 

Period 4. Post-1997: Reflexivity and Questioning tlie "Self" and "Otlier" 

In the late 1990s, political demands were preceded by civil and societal ones. The early 
years of the 1990s, however, were the years that Islamists realized the importance of 
politics and political participation. This realization was accompanied by a questioning 
process as to where the state stands in the route to establish an "Islamic state." The 
nature and function of the link between the realization of Islamic ideals and the 
modern state as the principal instrument of those ideals were brought to the intellec- 
tual agenda. 

In February 28, 1997 a military coup took place in Turkey. Kemalist military forced 
the then Prime Minister Erbakan to resign together with other members of the cabinet. 
The official Islamization policies imposed by the military after the 1980 coup had 
enhanced the Islamic social movements and contributed to the formation of demands 
for the political public space to be regulated Islamically In the process. Islamic move- 
ments reached the capacity to create an alternative public space and gained an immense 
power of political mobilization. In the 1994 local general elections, an openly Islamist 
party, the Welfare Party, for the first time in the Republican history won over its secular 
rivals and became the first such party to be elected. In the 1995 national elections, it 
again registered a great victory and became the major partner of the following coalition 
government. This was the beginning of a naked confrontation between Islamism and 
the civil-military Kemalist secularist establishment. The soft coup that occurred in the 


form of a declaration of the National Security Council under the heavy pressure of the 
military wing instructed the ruling coalition headed by the leader of the Islamist Welfare 
Party, Necmettin Erbakan, to implement 18 directives that represented a counter move 
against Islamization policies initiated by the military after the 1980 coup. These 
directives epitomized a crude positivist intellect to reengineer the whole social and 
political realms and viewed the political Islam as the number one enemy of public order. 
The coup of February created a crisis of self-confidence for the Islamist movements, 
relegated the Islamic visibility once again towards the private realm, and led to a 
reflexive thinking among Muslim intellectuals as well as movements with a view of 
political empathy founded upon the notion of defining first the Islamic self and then 
its other accordingly. 

In this asymmetrical confrontation between Islamism and the Kemalist establish- 
ment, Islamism was left alone by its traditional allies, i.e. nationalist and conservative 
groups. The iron curtain used for containing Islamism turned out to be very tough. 
Despite this, Islamism neither intellectually nor ideologically wanted voluntarily to 
concede to the so-called "laicist" dictat. February 28 became a touchstone that revealed 
the conjunctural nature of the relation between Islamism and rightist conservatism. 
Rightist conservatism divorced itself thoroughly from Islamism in order not to be iden- 
tified with it and hence to have a separate life of its own, a position that politically 
proved to be very costly. Ironically, this divorce, unlike the prior pattern of relation that 
gave rightism a superior hand vis-a-vis Islamism, produced a new conservatism char- 
acterized by Islamic dominance represented by the Justice and Development Party 
(Adalet ve Kalkmma Partisi) known in Turkish as the AKP, which became the ruling 
party after the November 3, 2002 elections. 

The AKP is a party that rejects political Islamism as its ideological backbone yet is 
inspired by it, especially in its understanding of morality, which found its manifestation 
in the appellation that the party elite saw as appropriate for their ideological program: 
"conservative democracy". ^ ^ Inspfred by Ozal's policies of free market and political lib- 
eralism, the AKP severed its ties with political Islamism and defined a new role for Islam 
that narrowed its political manifestations. In order to widen the spaces of public liber- 
ties that shackle the larger Islamic interests, the AKP showed great enthusiasm and 
diplomatic effort in securing Turkey's accession to the European Union, a unique polit- 
ical determinant that is capable of pushing for change in the military structured 
Turkish polity. Thus the AKP, in its all features, is a concise expression of "rationalized" 
Islam in the political framework set by the coup of February that gives prime impor- 
tance to ascribing to refigion a non-political role. 

During the post-February 28 process. Islamists clearly learned the hard lesson that 
democracy as the frame of a political game is not something to play with. On the con- 
trary, it is vital if Islamists are to have a proper legitimate place in the public realm in 
their confrontation with the secularist establishment. In this way, we may expect tra- 
ditional Islamism to interact with modernity within a deliberative plane on the one 
hand, and differentiation and individualization among Muslim groups on the other. All 
this may lead Islamists to adopt democratic politics as a sine qua non, and not just 
a bastion for pragmatic, self-centered bargaining. Naturally, the internalization of 
democracy by Islamists on theoretical as well as practical grounds is necessary but 


not sufficient for the emergence of a democratic landscape in Turkey. The democrati- 
zation of the general political context, particularly the rejection of the militarist under- 
standing of laicism, is also a must. 

The securitization of everything that carries an Islamic overtone after 9/11 and the 
grasp of Islam and Muslims in exclusively real politics terms increased the cohesion 
around the idea of ummah among religious Muslims and further deepened the feeling 
of victimization by "the West" that led to a universal mood of resistance against forced 
Westernization along political lines. All this has contributed to the local Islamic groups' 
will to leave aside their parochial glasses and become partners of a universal anti- 
Western mobilization. This repoliticization brought about by globalization may cause 
the narrowing of the intellectual space in the Muslim plane. ^^ 

By Way of Conclusion 

Islamic thought in the late Ottoman and early Republican years until the 19 50s has 
some principal differences irom the strands of Islamic thought that prevailed during 
the post-1950 multi-party politics through the 1990s. While pre-1950 Islamism was 
a state-centered reform movement, the latter had a positioning distant from, even 
against the state. The former placed relatively more emphasis on an intellectual plane 
vis-d-vis the political one. The latter as a movement on the political periphery/opposi- 
tion had a stronger socioeconomic and political component but a relatively weak intel- 
lectual aspect. It was believed that a strong intellectual formation would come into 
existence after the attainment of political power. The leadership profile of the former 
was composed of ulama, intellectual ulama or an elitist group who had undergone a tra- 
ditional or modern education and therefore its connection with the historical scientific 
and intellectual legacy of Islam was quite strong. The leadership profile of the latter, on 
the other hand, was composed of intellectuals and intelfigentsia involving engineers, 
lawyers, writers, journalists, and professional politicians with a Western-style educa- 
tion. Therefore, its link with the historical legacy of Islam has been very weak. While 
the former adopted a fundamentalist/Salafi attitude towards tradition, it preserved its 
ties despite its embrace of what is modern. The latter carried this reaction to the edge 
and condemned, in some occasions, tradition, as exemplified in the 1990sbyYa§arNuri 
Oztiirk, a modernist theologian and charismatic preacher, under the motto of "the 
Our'anic Islam." 

We can trace the history of Islamism in the Muslim lands including Turkey back 
more than a century, but the intellectual dimension of this movement is relatively 
recent. Islamic thought and movements carrying out a struggle for power under a dis- 
tinct perspective of man and society with their own references that distance them from 
other political movements became independent and distinct only after the end of 
1960s. Until that time, Islamism remained in a defensive and apologetic position 
against the instigation of Western modernism, and therefore sought alliance with 
rightist, modernist political movements especially in the case of Turkey. The most 
important reason for this is that Islamic thought rejected all kinds of leftist suggestions 
on the implicit assumption that leftism is nothing more than mere atheism. During the 


period that can be called pre-Islamism (1920s to 1970s), communism in Turkey 
represented the core content of secularism. Therefore, we cannot see a serious product 
of Islamic thought in this period, with the exception of Said Nursi's writings, Risale-i 
Nur, which reintroduced a core Islamic worldview in a militantly anti-Islamic milieu 
where Muslim masses were in desperate need of basic Islamic idioms. Pre-Islamism 
embodied the reaction and a survival strategy for the religious elite. Against the Kemal- 
ist modernization project, which removed religion as a frame of reference, they sought 
protection in exchange for anti-communism. In this way pre-Islamism could cling to a 
point of compromise between Kemalism and rightist modernism. 

The post-1 9 70s witnessed the emergence of Islamism as a distinct political identity 
and its divorce from other "kin" currents of thought and movements. Islamic thought 
emerged as a powerful self-reflection of national problems with an increasing tendency 
to widen its horizons on a transnational plane. With the ideological vacuum created by 
the sweep of the socialist left in the 1980s, Islamic thought gained precedence over 
other currents of thought and became one of the main channels for manifesting the 
Kurdish grievances. On practical grounds, it contributed to the emergence of a sociopo- 
litical context that carried the Welfare Party (WP) into power and became influential 
in the determination of the idioms of its political discourse. 

The mispoliticization of Islam during the 1990s, however, was an important element 
in the dethroning of the WP from power and the following regime of cleansing Islam 
from the public sphere. These anti-Islamic policies came to a halt with the 2002 
national elections. The Justice and Development Party with its Islamically sensitive 
political liberalism came to power and a new era began that reflected a novel experi- 
ence for Islam-democracy reconciliation. 

In the new millennium, an Islamic understanding of putting the individual at the 
center and attaching importance to pluralism has come to the fore. The increasing 
urbanization of Turkey, the expansion of horizon brought about by globalization, the 
self-confidence inspired by postmodern perspectives that put an end to the conception 
holding the Western modernity as the only grand narrative of the truth, has radically 
influenced the Islamist way of reading the secular and sacred. According to Bulag, indi- 
vidual preferences, new Islamic formations that are more voluntaristic and less organ- 
ically moved, an open public space and a consciousness that has a religious perspective 
on life as a product of the Islamization process from below, are the leading features of 
this period. And they decrease the emphasis on political centralism and state-centric 
Salvationist mood. Though there is a change with millennium Islamism, this does not 
mean a radical rupture from the preceding patterns of Islamism.^' 

The focus of Turkish Islamism is not the establishment of a social and political order 
regulated by Islamic principles, but an Islamism aimed at the creation of conditions 
that would make the daily and institutional practice of Islam possible through forcing 
the state and other forces into negotiation and a more just and equal distribution of 
resources in Turkey. In this sense, solidarity with other Muslim countries and groups 
has not been given prime importance though it incorporated such themes as Islamic 
unity, religious brotherhood, commonality of being oppressed by capitalism, and 
Zionism into its political discourse. Therefore the leitmotif of the ummah is not a con- 
stituent of Islamic thinking and discourse. ~° The Marxist-turned Islamist poet and 


thinker Ismet Ozel's strong emphasis on Turkishness, despite his claim of equality 
between Turkishness and Islam, is a symbolically important indication of this inward- 
oriented, nationalistic consciousness that impedes any internalized transnational 
Islamic horizon in the form of essential allegiance to the ummah. 

There are two crucial questions in the evolution of Turkish Islamic thought during 
the Republican period. The first is the relation of Islamism with the Republican ideol- 
ogy, Kemalism, and the second, representations of Islamism. The first question allows 
us to better understand the evolution of Islamic thought in Turkey and the infiltration 
of Western ideas of democracy, secularism, and modernity into Islamic discourse and 
their instrumentalization. The second question may help us to comprehend the stand- 
ing of Muslim intellectuals. Actors of Islamic thinking consist not only of intellectuals 
but also of a variety of intelligentsia including bureaucrats, preachers, doctors, engi- 
neers, and teachers, which yield to the emergence of miscellaneous representations of 
Islam that is essentially non-academic. This state of affairs has partly changed during 
the 1990s with the contributions of academics advancing an interpretation based on 
a literate understanding and hermeneutics approach. This contribution, however, is 
focused on the internal transformation of religious thought rather than its relation to 
the public space. The various representations of Islamism around Islamic brother- 
hoods, foundations, associations, journals, and magazines are aggregated and articu- 
lated by Muslim intellectuals. This mediation is crucial in transmitting Islamic thinking, 
values and practices into wider society in the form of meaningful and intellectually 
acceptable translations. Separate from all Islamic representations in organic terms, 
Turkish Muslim intellectuals are in a position to explicate the dilemmas of the Islamic 
thought by going back and forth between the social and the intellectual,^^ 

The transformation of "Islamic intellectual" into "Muslim intellectual" in the post- 
millennium period is an evident indication of the pluralization in Islamic identity 
marked by a "civic" Islamic consciousness. Islam as a religion and Islamism as 
dynamic/historical interpretations of Islam will continue their evolution. In present- 
day Turkey, Islamic thinking has a fractured and differentiated nature. It embodies a 
widening spectrum of discussion spaces. Therefore, we cannot mention "Islamic 
thought or identity" in singular terms. What we have arguably is a plurality of Islamic 
thinking and identity. 


1. Ahmet Aksu, "Tiirkiye'de Islami Harelcetin Geli^im Siireci," Bimya ve Islam, 3, 1990, 

2. Cited by Yasin Aktay, "Sunu§," in Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi Dii^iince: Islamcihk, vol, 6 (Istan- 
bul: ileti^im, 2004), 18, 

3 . In this periodization, I have drawn upon Ferhat Kentel's description of the history of Islamic 
thought in Turlcey. See Ferhat Kentel, "19901arin Islami Dii^iince DergUeri ve Yeni Miislii- 
man Entelektiieller," in Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi Diisiince: Islamcihk, vol. 5 (Istanbul: Ileti§im, 
2004), 722-3, 

4. Ismail Kara, Tiirkiye'de Islamcdik Diisiincesi, Metinler/Kisiler I, 3rd edn. (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 
1997), 15-66, 


5. Nursi in his later writings during the early Republican period overtly criticizes his stance 
in the period concerned and states that his basic mistake was to take the propositions of the 
modern science as value free and absolutely true, and hence judging the Our'anic injunc- 
tions accordingly. See Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mektubat (Istanbul: Yeni Asya Ne^riyat, 
1994), 426-7. For Nursi's thought, one of best sources is ^erif Mardin, Religion and Social 
Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Albany: State University of 
New York Press. 1989). 

6. Nuray Mert, "Tiirkiye Islamciligina Tarihsel Bir Baki§," in Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi 
Dii^iince/Islamcihk, vol. 6 (Istanbul: Ileti^im Ya3rinlari, 2004), 412-13. 

7. Dogan Duman, Demokrasi Siirecinde Tiirkiye'de Islamcihk (Izmir: Dokuz Eyliil Yayincilik, 
199 7), 34-46, 

8. Tanil Bora, Tiirk Sagmm Uf Hah Milliyetfilik. Muhafazakarhk, Islamcihk (Istanbul: Birikim, 

9. Mert, "Tiirkiye Islamciligina Tarihsel Bir Baki§," 414. 

10. Miicahit BUici, "Kiireselle^me ve Postmodernizmin Islamcihk Uzerindeki EtkUeri," in 
Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi Diisiince/ Islamcihk. vol. 6 (Istanbul: Ileti§im Yayinlari, 2004), 

11. For Bulag's views, see AliBulag, "Birarada Ya§amanin Miimkiin Projesi: Medine Vesikasi," 
Bilgi veHikmet, 5, 1994; see also Ali Bulag, Din, Devlet ve Demokrasi (Istanbul: ZamanKitap, 

1 2 . This proj ect was used as a pretext by the Turkish Constitutional Court in 1 9 9 8 when it took 
the decision to close down the then party of the National Outlook movement, the Welfare 

13. For a competent evaluation of the evolution of Islamic cemaats in Turkey in terms of the 
perspective of "opportunity spaces" see Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). 

14. For the Giilen movement, see M. Hakan Yavuz and John L. Esposito (eds.), Turkish Islam and 
the Secular State: The Gulen Movement (New York: Syracuse University Pres, 2003). 

15. For the National Outlook movement see Necmettin Erbakan, Milli Goriis {National Outlook) 
(Istanbul; Dergah Yaymlari, 1975). 

16. For the articulation of politics in Islamist terms as understood by the National Outlook per- 
spective, see Ahmet Yildiz, "Politico-Religious Discourse of Political Islam in Turkey: The 
Parties of National Outlook," Muslim World. 93/2, 2003, 187-210. 

17. Yalgin Akdogan. Muhafazakar Demokrasi (Ankara: AK Parti Yaymlari, 2003). 

18. Ahmet ^igdem, "Islamcihk ve Tiirkiye Uzerine Bazi Notlar," in Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi 
Diisiince: Islamcihk, 2 7. See also his Tasra Epigi: Tiirk Ideolojileri ve Islamcihk (Istanbul; Birikim 
Yaymlari, 2001), 12 7-43. 

19. Ali Bulag, "Islamm Ug Siyaset Tarzi veya Islamcihgm Ug Nesli," in Modern Tiirkiye'de Siyasi 
Diisiince: Islamcihk, 49-50. 

20. Cigdem, "Islamcihk ve Tiirkiye Uzerine Bazi Notlar," 26-7. 

21. Ibid. 


Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's 
Approach to Religious 
Renewal and its Impact on 
Aspects of Contemporary 
Turkish Society 

§ukran Vahide 

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960) was distinguished from other religious leaders 
in the Islamic world in recent times by his seeking to reverse its decline vis-d-vis the West 
not through political struggle or the establishment of the Islamic state or other means, 
but through the revitalization of faith or belief [imdn). He identified the gravest danger 
to "the edifice of Islam" as coming from the decay of its intellectual underpinning, 
which had been weakened over the centuries by currents of alien thought and was then 
facing renewed threats in the form of materialist philosophy and modernity, which 
he expressed in terms of "philosophy"^ and "modern civilization." The greatest danger 
these posed was to the faith of the mass of believers. Hence in Nursi's view, the restate- 
ment of the basic tenets of the Islamic religion, and "the renewing and strengthening 
of belief" through new methods, were of paramount importance and took precedence 
over every other form of struggle aimed at reconstruction. 

To reorient believers towards their Maker and instill in them a Our'anic worldview 
in the way Nursi envisaged would also render them capable of coping with the intel- 
lectual and ethical challenges of the rapid secularization and Westernization that took 
place in Turkey following the founding of the Republic in 1923. Such building of 
morally strong believers would lead inevitably to the strengthening and consolidation 
of society, which he felt was threatened with dissolution due to the displacement of 
Islam. Although Nursi's writings, known collectively as the Risale-i Nur, uncompro- 
misingly expound the fundamentals of belief while refuting the bases of materialist phi- 
losophy, the method of serving religion that he developed has, since 1950, for the most 
part been implemented successfully within Turkey's secular system. The Risale-i Nur 
has continued to be popular among succeeding generations, despite the changes 


wrought by the ongoing secularization process, just as it was taken up enthusiastically 
in the early years of the Republic by sections of the Anatolian populace raised in 
Ottoman times. With its many bifurcations and offshoots, the movement that grew up 
around the Risale-i Nur (the Nur community or movement) continues to be one of the 
largest religious movements in Turkey, making it a significant social and political force 
within the country." It is also active in a number of other countries worldwide. 

This chapter will examine two areas of Nursi's thought that are directed towards 
religious renewal and that have had an impact on various aspects of Turkish society. 
These are firstly his ideas related to the revitalization of belief and moral renewal; and 
secondly, his ideas concerning the character and functions of the Nur movement, and 
its mode of struggle in a secular society. The two areas are interrelated. The latter will 
include discussion of Nursi's attitude towards political struggle in the cause of refigion, 
as well as throwing light on his understanding of secularism. 

It will assist in explaining the impact and continued relevance of Nursi's thought if 
we look briefly at his aims and endeavors in the early period of his life during the final 
decades of the Ottoman Empire. For although he himself divided his life into two dis- 
tinct periods, which he called the Old and New Said, and there were fundamental 
changes in his stand towards a number of matters, this early period has a direct bearing 
on the matters discussed in this chapter, particularly in respect of his stated goals in life 
and his acquaintance with the currents of European thought that became progressively 
influential in Turkey. 

From his earliest youth, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi^ was possessed with the desire to 
restore Islam to its rightful position as "master of the sciences" and fount of knowledge, 
for it was the source of "true" civilization and human progress. To this end he dedicated 
himself to the reform and updating of madrasah education in his native eastern Ana- 
tolia, and of the disciplines taught therein. His particular concern was firstly with 'Urn 
al-kaldm (theology), as the main means of intellectual defense against the attacks of 
rationalistic skepticism, and secondly, with tafsir (Our'anic exegesis), as the means of 
explicating Islam's principal beliefs. Nursi's conventional education was minimal, but 
through his own exertions he obtained a firm grounding in both the traditional 
madrasah sciences, and, uniquely among members of the learned profession in the East 
at that time, in the modern physical and mathematical sciences. Fundamental to his 
projects for the restructuring of education was the reintroduction of the latter and their 
combined teaching with the religious sciences: 

The religious sciences are tlie light of the conscience; the sciences of civilization are the 
light of the intellect. The truth is made manifest through the combining of the two. The 
students' aspirations will take flight with those two wings. When they are separated, it 
gives rise to bigotry in the one, and wiliness and skepticism in the other.'' 

Prompted by explicit outside threats, around the turn of the century Nursi took the 
decision to focus his attention on the Our'an itself We are told that all the sciences he 
had learnt became "steps to understanding it." However, according to his own account, 
the pressing social and political questions of the day diverted him, and it was only later 
that he addressed himself to it seriously. 


Nursi became involved in the struggle for constitutional government, and for three 
or four years after the Constitutional Revolution of 1908 worked for its acceptance, 
especially among his fellow-countrymen of the Eastern Provinces. During these years, 
which he spent partly in Istanbul publicizing the problems of the East and trying to win 
support for his projects, he witnessed at first hand the debates that raged around 
current issues.' The initially few, but active, proponents of materialism and positivism 
contributed to the debate. Nursi did not take part in these polemics, but in his works of 
the period he replied to some of the materialists' assertions, in order to dispel the doubts 
they had raised about aspects of the Our'an and matters of belief. He thus became 
closely acquainted both with the liberal ideas of constitutionalism, some of which he 
himself adopted, and with positivism and other philosophical currents whose advocates 
in Turkey were challenging Islam in the name of science. 

Following World War One and Ottoman defeat, Nursi suffered a spiritual crisis, and 
after a period of inner turmoil, emerged as the New Said. The upshot of this inner strug- 
gle or quest for "a way to the essence of reality" was that he took the Our'an with its 
message of pure divine unity {tawhid) as his "sole guide," and attempted to divest 
himself of the influences of "philosophy" and science. These had "plunged him into 
materiality" and provided him with no answers to the fundamental questions he had 
been driven to ask by war, death, and the transitoriness of things. 

Nursi supported the independence struggle and was invited to Ankara by the 
national government. He eventually arrived there from Istanbul sometime around the 
time of the Turkish victory in October 1922, and was offered various religious posts in 
the Eastern Provinces by Mustafa Kemal, who wanted to profit from his influence. 
Nursi, however, refused them, for he perceived that his hopes for the country's future 
were at odds with the new leaders' plans for its Westernization and secularization. It 
had been his intention to assist in remaking Turkey as a center of Islamic civilization. 
He concluded that political opposition would serve no positive ends, so renouncing 
political involvement of all kinds, he returned to Van where he retired into solitude. It 
was from there that in March 1925. following the Shaikh Said Revolt, he was rounded 
up together with many of the region's tribal and religious leaders, and thousands of its 
people, and sent into exile in western Anatolia. Contrary to the government's accusa- 
tions, he had advised against the revolt. Regarded as a potential threat by the govern- 
ment, he was held for the next 2 5 years in what was nominally exile, but was often little 
better than house arrest. He served three terms of imprisonment along with numbers 
of his students. It was under these constraining conditions that Nursi wrote the Risale- 
i Nur, in which he sought to explicate the basic teachings of the Our'an in such a way 
as to refute the basic assumptions of positivist philosophy, one of the ideological bases 
of the new state. It will be useful before examining how Nursi tackled these problems, 
to mention a few facts about the series of reforms that were enacted after the founding 
of the Republic. 

It was Mustafa Kemal's avowed aim "to achieve an unconditional transformation to 
Western civilization,'"' and to build a modern nation-state out of what remained of the 
Ottoman Empire. Such a project required the rapid modernization. Westernization, and 
therefore secularization of Turkey. The process had begun with the modernizing 
governmental reorganization known as the Tanzimat (1839-76); its military, legal. 


bureaucratic, and educational reforms, together with subsequent measures, had to a 
great extent reduced the areas of Islamic jurisdiction, in effect secularizing the state. 
Yet despite these reforms, apart from the official classes who were involved with the 
reformed institutions in some capacity, the character, culture, and identity of the 
Muslim population remained largely unaffected. After taking the momentous steps of 
abolishing first the sultanate (November 1, 1922) and then the caliphate (March 3, 
1924), therefore, most of the rapid succession of reforms enacted by Mustafa ICemal 
were directed at social and cultural institutions, which would effectively remove all 
outward signs of Islam, and strike at the root of popular culture.^ In addition, a radi- 
cally reformed "national" education system, the function of which was to inculcate 
"universal, humanist, secular, positivist" principles,* was also to educate the people in 
the six principles of Kemalism.' Of these latter principles, which were made both the 
program of the party founded by Mustafa Kemal, the Republican People's Party (RPP), 
and the ideological basis of the state, nationalism and secularism were the most strin- 
gently enforced. The intention was to eliminate all existing religious identities, and 
create a uniform secular, nationalist identity. 

The Revitalization of Belief and Moral Renewal 

This section will describe the method Nursi developed to prove the essential teachings 
of the Our'an in the face of the projected replacement of Islam, not only as a system of 
government but also as a religion and way of life, by Western systems and philosophies. 
It forms the basis of his extensive writings, the purpose of which was to renew and 
revivify the people's faith, and was undoubtedly one of the chief reasons for their 
impact, both in the early years of the Republic and subsequently. 

Said Nursi was an Islamic scholar and teacher who in his writings propounded 
orthodox Sunni doctrines related to all the principal tenets of belief on occasion citing 
arguments refuting Mu'tazilite and Predestinationist (Jabriyyah) tendencies and other 
deviations from "the middle way." In this sense, his thought is not original; his main 
contribution, which may be seen as innovative, was, besides his making his goal the 
revitalization of the faith of ordinary believers, the method he developed to do this. 
Arguably, in his early works there is a discernible influence of modernist trends, espe- 
cially in his emphasis on science and rationalism. The distinguishing mark of the New 
Said was the primacy he gave to revelation over reason,"' and his endeavors to prove 
the Our'an's "miraculousness" {Vjdz) and self-sufficiency as a source of knowledge and 
of the principles and precepts of human life. In fact, he admits that as the Old Said he 
tried to fight the materialist philosophers with their own weapons, which probably 
refers to his attempt to develop a rationalist method, but that this was unsuccessful.^^ 
So as the New Said he strove to develop a method or system of thought inspired directly 
by Revelation, that is, a purely Our'anic method. And this he claimed to have achieved 
with the Risale-i Nur. It comprises several elements. 

The chief elements of Nursi's new method occurred to him during his transition into 
the New Said, and are based on observation of and reflective thought {tefekkur) on the 
beings and processes of the natural world in the manner of the Our'an. The key concept 


here is what Nursi called "mand-yi harfi" (lit. the significative meaning [of things]), a 
term he borrowed from Arabic grammar^" by which he meant considering or "reading" 
things for the meanings they express and "on account of their Maker;" in other words, 
the Our'anic viewpoint or way of looking at things. This is in contradistinction to mate- 
rialistic science and philosophy, which look on beings as signifying only themselves 
{mand-yi ismf - the nominal meaning [of things]). For example, he writes: 

According to tiie Our'anic view, all tlie beings in the universe are letters, expressing 
tlirough their significative meaning, the meaning of another. That is, they make linown 
the names and attributes of that Other. Soulless philosophy for the most part looks in 
accordance with the nominal meaning and deviates into the bog of nature.^' 

As a methodological device, the significative (harfL) viewpoint is supported by, or 
functions through, "deductive argumentation in the form of proofs."^** Beings are seen 
as evidence for their Maker's attributes and are pondered over in such a manner as to 
deduce proofs of them. Using argumentation of this sort, Nursi offers numerous proofs 
of the Creator's existence and unity, and for the resurrection of the dead and other 
"pillars of belief," as well as for many other cosmic truths. Likening the universe to 
a book, he emphasizes the mutually interpretative relationship between it and the 
Our'an; that is, he demonstrates how, by both expressing the same truths, the one 
interprets and expounds the other.^' Furthermore, by "reading" the beings in the world 
around us in this way, he is at the same time seeking to point out the invalidity of the 
basic postulates of naturalism, positivism, and other materialistic philosophies: the 
concepts of nature, causation, chance, and coincidence. With this approach, Nursi is 
also intending to clarify confusions caused by these concepts. For instance, in his Trea- 
tise on Nature, he says: "... [T]here are certain phrases that are commonly used and 
imply unbelief. The believers also use them, but without realizing their implications." 
He then lists three such phrases: "Causes create this." "It forms itself (spontaneous gen- 
eration)." And "It is natural. Nature . . . creates it," and through nine "impossibilities," 
proceeds first to demonstrate their logical absurdity, and then to prove the necessity and 
truth of divine unity. ^"^ Part of the "First Impossibility" of the third phrase is as follows: 

If the art and creativity, which are discerning and wise, to be seen in beings, and particu- 
larly in animate beings, are not attributed to the pen of determining and power of the Pre- 
Eternal Sun and instead are ascribed to nature and force, which are blind, deaf, and 
unthinking, it becomes necessary that nature should either have machines and printing- 
presses for their creation, or include in everything the power and wisdom to create and 
administer the universe. The reason for this is as follows: 

The sun's manifestations and reflection appear in all fragments of glass and droplets on 
the face of the earth. If those miniature, reflected imaginary suns are not ascribed to the 
sun in the sky, it has to be accepted that an actual sun exists (lit. has external existence) 
in every tiny fragment of glass smaUer than a match-head ... In exactly the same way, if 
beings and animate creatures are not attributed directly to the manifestation of the Pre- 
Eternal Sun's names, one has to accept that present in each being, especially if it is 
animate, are a nature, a force, or quite simply a god, possessing infinite power and wUl, 
knowledge and wisdom. Such an idea is absurd . . /^ 


Nursi expanded and elaborated his method when he started to write the Risale-i Nur 
in exile. Allegorical comparisons are a device he came to make extensive use of, an 
example of which is given in the quote above. He said they were inspired by the com- 
parisons of the Our'an and are an aspect of its miraculousness since, like "telescopes" 
and "stairs," they are a means of bringing close and reaching distant, lofty truths. They 
thus induce certainty, causing "the intellect, as well as the imagination and fancy, and 
the soul and caprice ... to submit."^* Nursi often uses such comparisons to illustrate 
the superiority in various fields of the Our'an, belief and guidance, over "philosophy" 
and misguidance. 

It may be noted at this point that because of the function Nursi foresaw the Risale-i 
Nur fulfilling in the particular conditions of the twentieth century, he endeavored to 
bring together in complementary fashion different disciplines and types of knowledge. 
His objective was to revivify belief through developing new teaching methods, where 
existing forms were inadequate or had been abolished. As a popular didactic work, 
therefore, the Risale-i Nur performs the function primarily of tafsir (Our'anic exegesis 
or explication), and of such other traditional madrasah sciences as logic, 'aqd'id 
(doctrine), usul al-din (the principles of religion), and kalam (theology). Nursi himself 
emphasized its primary function, perhaps because of its original, unfamiliar form and 
style. ^' He also called it "a work of kalam,"-° and has been credited with carrying 
out a genuine renewal {tajdid) in this field. '^ He looked on the work as being in 
the madrasah tradition, yet, since, as he frequently stressed and is noted in the next 
section, it addresses the human inner faculties (the heart) in addition to the intellect, 
it is probably fair to say that he intended it to perform also what he perceived to be the 
essential functions of Sufism."' Nevertheless, he denied any connection with Sufism, 
although he was frequently accused by the government of founding a new tarikat (Sufi 
order). The orders had been declared illegal in 1925 and their activities banned. Nursi 
was not opposed to Suflsm, but stated that he considered it inappropriate for modern 
times since it was ill-equipped to respond to the attacks of science and materialism. 
Some writers have found elements of his style and method to be reminiscent of Sufi 

A further significant matter is Nursi's incorporating modern scientific knowledge in 
his expositions of the Our'an's verses. This had been one of the main features of his 
projected reformulation of the madrasah sciences in his youth (as had been the bring- 
ing together of the three main educational traditions represented by the learned pro- 
fession, Sufism, and modern secular education), but it was as the New Said with his 
discovery of the Our'anic method based on the significative {harfi) viewpoint that he 
may be said to have achieved it. He concluded that when considered from the signi- 
ficative viewpoint, "the physical sciences become knowledge of God.""* What this 
amounts to is that Nursi utilizes scientific facts when describing the processes of the 
natural world to prove "the truths of belief" For example, 

It is as if each particle were aware of every single tasli ... for it hears and obeys every 
dominical command that courses through the air. It aids all animals to breathe and to live, 
all plants to pollinate and grow, and cultivates all the matters necessary for their survival. 
It directs and administers the clouds, makes possible the voyaging of sailing ships, and 


enables sounds to be conveyed, particularly by means of wireless, telephone, telegraph and 
radio, as well as numerous other functions. 

Now these atoms, each composed of two such simple materials as hydrogen and oxygen 
and each resembling the other, exist in hundreds of thousands of different fashions all over 
the globe; I conclude therefore that they are being employed and set to work in the utmost 
orderliness by a hand of wisdom."' 

There are numerous such examples in the Risale-i Nur. It could be added that very 
often the imagery Nursi uses to depict the universe is distinctly Newtonian or mecha- 
nistic in that he likens it to "a machine," or "factory," or "clock," made up of compo- 
nent parts. His interpretation is, however, strictly Our'anic, as mentioned. Nursi's main 
purpose here was most probably educative, and, by updating Our'anic exegesis by 
authentic methods, to demonstrate how science might be used to prove the truths of 
religion rather than to confute them. Furthermore, he intended to rebuff the imputed 
clash and conflict between religion and science that had caused so much confusion and 
was intended to discredit Islam. In this connection, it should be pointed out that in dis- 
tinction to post-Enlightenment Western thought, which is epistemologically "com- 
partmentalized" and based on the fundamental differentiation and dichotomy between 
mind and matter, body and soul, science and religion, and so on, Nursi tried to estab- 
lish an "epistemological wholeness" and organic relations between the various cate- 
gories of knowledge, revealed and scientific, and art, ethics, and belief,''^ and within 
man himself with his many faculties. This is consistent with the Our'an and its insis- 
tent teaching of divine unity. The fundamental epistemological dissimilarity between 
the Our'an and "philosophy" is also the basis of the dissimilarity between the harmo- 
nious interrelation of man, society, civilization and the cosmos as taught by the Our'an 
on the one hand, and the conflict underlying all man's relations as taught by "philos- 
ophy" on the other, that Nursi was at pains to illustrate with his many comparisons 
between the two. 

Belief and man 

Nursi's treatment of belief or faith (imdn) is one of the most original and effective 
aspects of the Risale-i Nur, and his persuasive analyses are certainly one of the 
main reasons for the work's impact on successive generations. In this brief discussion, 
it will be useful to consider it in tandem with his treatment of man; that is, the human 

Nursi's intention with the above-mentioned method was to gain for people a 
dynamic, living faith that he calls "belief by investigation" {imdn-i tahkiki). This form of 
belief, which is a conscious affirmation and verification, is the opposite of "belief by imi- 
tation," which can be easily dispelled by doubts. Belief by investigation may be attained 
through reasoning reflective thought on the divine works and names, and rises in 
degree and strength to the number of the names and cosmic truths that are thus com- 
prehended. According to Nursi, "it contains degrees to the number of the manifesta- 
tions of the divine names," and may "reach the degree at which the whole universe 


may be read as though it were a Our'an."'^ Such belief is thus closely linked to the sort 
of knowledge ('ilm) he terms "the sciences of belief ('ulum-u imaniye)." The vital prop- 
erty of such knowledge is its being "the light and sustenance for man's many subtle 
inner faculties:" "after entering 'the stomach' of the mind, the matters of belief that 
come with [such] knowledge are absorbed by the spirit, heart, inner heart, soul, and 
other subtle faculties; each receives its share according to its degree."'^ 

Belief in God and its necessary corollaries, knowledge of God and worship, are, 
according to Nursi, the purpose of man's being "sent to this world," They are also his 
innate or primordial duty. So too, belief in God is "the highest aim of creation and its 
most important result."''' By virtue of these complementary facts, it is only through 
belief that human beings can find happiness and fulfillment. This constitutes one of the 
main themes of the Risale-i Nur, which Nursi elaborates with numerous allegories, 
comparisons, and arguments. It is also an area in which he points out the paradoxes 
and failures of "philosophy" and "misguided science," which, although their stated aim 
is the conquest of human happiness, have rather brought humanity pain and suffer- 
ing, since they have sought it in worldly pleasures and through their false principles 
and viewpoint. With these comparisons, which disclose both the reality and the causes 
of "the misguided's" circumstances, Nursi is aiming to deter "the sensible among them" 
by demonstrating that "in misguidance is a sort of hell in this world, and in belief 
a sort of paradise." It was to this analytical, psychological approach that Nursi 
ascribed the Risale-i Nur's spread, despite all the hostile propaganda and efforts to 
prevent it. '" 

Nursi's whole system of thought hinges on his understanding of the human "I" or 
ego, and on the concepts of the significative meaning of things and the nominal 
meaning, which have been described. The "I" is one aspect of the Trust assumed by 
man,^^ which he can truly carry out only when he ascribes to the "I" a significative 
meaning. That is to say, when a person's "I" understands that it is "mirror-like" and 
that its power, knowledge, ownership, and other attributes are merely apparent, and 
are imaginary "tiny units of measurement" for understanding the Creator's true 
knowledge, power, and ownership - that "[the T] is a measure that makes known the 
absolute, all-encompassing and limitless attributes of the Necessary Being," then the 
person will see the universe as it is in reality and "the duties it is performing," He will 
abandon his imaginary ownership and ascribe all power to the True Owner He thus 
purifies his soul, and truly carries out the Trust, Conversely, "if the T views itself solely 
in the light of its nominal and apparent meaning, if it believes that it owns itself and 
its attributes, then it betrays the Trust, " For as it ascribes power to itself so it will ascribe 
power to causes in the outside world and fail to see the universe for what it is; it will 
associate partners with God on a grand scale," 

Nursi's approach to ethics and moral renewal 

Moral renewal was a question to which Nursi attached the greatest importance, both 
in the early period of his life," and as the New Said after the foundation of the Repub- 
lic, However, in that he treats ethics as a dimension of his cosmology or of the cosmic 


system, in this second period his approach differs considerably. He does discuss ethical 
and moral questions in a variety of other contexts, but essentially his approach is to 
present moral precepts and values as a part of the whole (holistic) Qur'anic order 
or system.'* The precepts of "justice, frugality, and cleanliness" may be taken as an 

To show how basic these three qualities are to human life, Nursi points out how they 
are manifested in the cosmos as universal laws and govern all beings. Briefly, the 
wisdom (hikmet) apparent throughout the universe "turns on economy and lack of 
waste," commanding man to be frugal. And the justice and balance in all things enjoin 
justice on him. While the constant cleansing "cleans and beautifies all the beings in the 
universe. So long as man . . . does not interfere, there is no true uncleanliness or ugli- 
ness in anything." hi this way Nursi points out how closely connected these Qur'anic 
injunctions and Islamic principles are with the universe, and that it would be as impos- 
sible to uproot them as it would be to change the universe's form.'' That is to say, he 
convincingly shows that if one acts contrarily to them, one does so in defiance of the 
whole universe. 

Thanks and gratitude to Almighty God are another example. In a short piece enti- 
tled On Thanks,'"'^ Nursi cites some of the many Qur'anic verses enjoining thanks, and 
demonstrates how both the Qur'an and the Qur'an of the universe "show thanks to be 
the most important result of creation." 

Conscious thanks and praise for the innumerable bounties dispersed through the 
universe are also the chief of man's three primordial "duties." These bounties he 
receives and experiences on multiple expanding levels, from that of the physical senses 
to that of belief, which extends beyond the sphere of contingency." 

Another universal principle or law that Nursi explains, this time to berate the idle 
and urge the lazy to work, is that of the pleasure to be found in exertion and work. He 
illustrates his point persuasively with a series of delightful examples from the animal, 
vegetable, and mineral realms.'^ 

Nursi's vision of the cosmos also connects man to all beings, revealing the existen- 
tial brotherhood and love between him and all things.'' 

Many of the moral qualities that Nursi wishes to impress on his readers, he explains 
within the framework of his comparisons between the ways of revelation and philoso- 
phy, contrasting them with their opposites. At the base of these is the concept of 
ubudiyet, which may be translated as worshipful servitude or service of Almighty God, 
and is the worshipful attitude that a believer adopts when he internalizes the Qur'anic 
[harji) viewpoint. ""' Ethics are of course an inseparable part of religion, or even the same 
thing, *^ and proceed directly from belief. Thus, in other contexts Nursi links desirable 
qualities with a particular tenet of belief For example, he enjoins "contentment and 
resignation" on himself when suffering his unjust imprisonment since it was divinely 
determined (kader), and to meet it with "endless thanks and patience" since it was also 
necessitated by divine wisdom and mercy, and even to magnanimously forgive the offi- 
cials responsible.*^ 

The moral quality Nursi emphasizes above all others, however, is sincerity {ihlas). As 
the quality he most wanted to inculcate in his students, it is discussed in the following 


The Main Features of the Nur Movement, and its Mode of Straggle 
in a Secular Society 

In this section, an attempt will be made to outline Nursi's ideas concerning the func- 
tions, character, and mode of service of the Nur community, and to indicate the areas 
of Turkish life - religious, social, cultural, ethical, and political - on which they have 
had most impact. A number of studies have been published on developments associ- 
ated with the movement subsequent to Nursi's death in 1960, and its impact on polit- 
ical and other matters.*' Here, discussion will be limited to the movement's main 
features and to its activities during his lifetime. 

A striking feature of the community that grew up around Nursi's writings was its 
focussing on these writings rather than on their author, despite his powerful charisma. 
This marked a shift from the traditional focus on the shaikh or religious leader that was 
notable among the Sufi orders. It has been said that the Nur community pioneered this 
transition,'*'' which, with improvements in education and communications, was in time 
adopted by the orders,'*' and by Islamic groups generally. This aspect of the Nur move- 
ment thus paved the way for the expansion, revitalization, and diversification of the 
Islamic movement in Turkey in the final decades of the twentieth century.*'' 

As a mode of religious struggle, text-orientation was to an extent forced on Nursi. 
For both the surveillance under which he was kept in his places of exile, and the con- 
straints legal and otherwise on numbers of people forgathering, particularly for any 
activity that could be construed as religious, precluded his teaching personally or acting 
as a religious guide in the traditional sense. However, this looking to the text for guid- 
ance was also his choice. For he always modestly insisted that he was a mere student 
of the Risale-i Nur like his students; that is, the Nur students. One reason for this was 
his wish not to obscure "the sacredness of the Our'an" reflected in his writings, and so 
negate their effectiveness.'*'' Another was the question of "sincerity," which is discussed 

Moreover, the movement itself grew up around the Risale-i Nur, the Risale 
was its raison d'etre. It was composed of students dedicated to the writing out and 
dissemination of the Risale in the extremely adverse conditions of the early years of 
the Republic, whom Nursi strove to bind into a cohesive community. Notwithstanding 
both the economic hardships, and the persecution suffered by the Nur students, 
punctuated by terms of mass imprisonment, their numbers increased as they spread 
Nursi's writings. Women and children were no less keen to participate in this joint effort 
to spread "the lights of the Our'an," despite the practical difficulties involved - the 
overall literacy rate in Turkey in 1928 was only around 8 percent.*^ In the course of 
time, the underground campaign to disseminate the Risale-i Nur undoubtedly had the 
secondary effects not only in keeping alive the Arabic script after it was banned at the 
end of 1928, but also in raising the literacy and cultural levels of large numbers of 

Central to Nursi's conception of how service of the Our'an and belief may be carried 
out effectively in contemporary society is the notion of the collective personality {^ahs- 
According to Nursi, the modern age is the age of the community or social 


collectivity, and the collectivity gives rise to a spirit or collective personality through 
which it can function much more productively than if represented by an individual, no 
matter how powerful.'" Individual persons would most likely be defeated in the face 
of "the aggressive collective personality of misguidance." Thus, one of Nursi's main 
endeavors was to impress on his students the importance of such a collective person- 
ality and to inculcate in them the moral qualities necessary for its formation. The chief 
of these was sincerity, the greatest strength of the Risale-i Nur's way,'^ and its basis. It 
necessitated renouncing the ego so as "to transform the T' into 'we'; that is. to give up 
egotism and to work on account of the Risale's collective personality." For "... To have 
a large pool, the ice-blocks of the ego and personality have to be cast into the pool and 
melted."'" This required that they should seek nothing but God's pleasure in their 
actions, practice self-abnegation before their brothers, and participate in their com- 
munal struggle with resolute, unwavering devotion. 

A letter instructing the students in other qualities Nursi deemed vital, namely taqwa, 
variously translated as fear of God, God-consciousness, or piety, and good works {amel- 
i salih) states clearly the function he foresaw them, as students of the Risale-i Nur, ful- 
filling in society. This, by their "avoiding sins and what is forbidden" {taqwa) and "acting 
within the bounds of what is commanded and in the way of winning God's pleasure 
(good works)," was to resist and repair the [moral] corruption caused by the "shaking" 
of the rules and precepts of Islam.'' This function he frequently mentions in his writ- 
ings and court defenses, but usually without defining precisely what it entails. The letter 
here is useful in that it links the Risale-i Nur's "repairing" function to another area of 
Turkish life on which Nursi had an impact: his revival of the traditional emphasis on 
"personalistic" social relations and related ethics, and his seeking to reform society 
through the reform of the individual.'** In contrast to the modernist view of society 
in which individual persons are merely components or "lifeless atoms" subject to the 
mechanistic functioning of fixed laws, and subordinate to the entities of state and 
society, Nursi, following the Our'an, situates persons at the center of social relations; 
he puts them in the traditional categories of father, mother, children, the aged, the 
youth, the sick, and so on, and treats them in terms of ethics. An example is the above- 
mentioned letter; 

Respect and compassion, the most important principles in administering social life, have 
been badly shalien. In some places it has had grievous consequences, concerning aged 
parents. . . . [Wjherever the Risale-i Nur encounters this fearsome destruction, it offers 
resistance and repairs the damage." 

That is to say, Nursi intended through the Risale-i Nur's proofs of "the truths of 
belief" to strengthen traditional Our'anic values and institutions, so as to combat the 
disintegrative forces unleashed by modernization, and repair their harm. For, indeed, a 
specific purpose of the new educational system, and the other secularizing reforms, and 
the whole drift of cultural Westernization, was "the liberation of the individual from 
the collective constraints of the Muslim community," and "to replace (the) personalis- 
tic ties ... by a set of rules that tried to obviate control . . . ,""" and to substitute Islamic 
ethics with positivistic ones. 


Nursi's great fear, especially with the rise of communism, was that the rejection of 
Islamic behavioral norms would lead to a moral decline and slide into anarchy, because, 
he argued, "Muslims do not resemble others: if they abandon their religion and divest 
themselves of their Islamic character, they fall into absolute misguidance, becoming 
anarchists, so that they can no longer be governed." In consequence, although the Nur 
students' primary duty was "to save belief and teach the people about 'belief by inves- 
tigation,'" their second duty was "to save this nation and country from the danger of 
anarchy.'"' Nursi frequently emphasized this function of the Risale-i Nur, also making 
it one of his main lines of defense in the court cases brought against him. He pointed 
out that by strengthening the five principles of "respect, compassion, refraining from 
what is prohibited (hardm), security, and the giving up of lawlessness and obedience to 
authority," the Nur students were preserving public order and saving social life from 
anarchy.'^ He therefore impressed on the authorities that they should realize "the 
country and nation's" need for the Risale-i Nur, rather than trying to suppress it.'' 

Religious repression continued in Turkey until the coming to power of the Democ- 
rat Party (DP) in the elections of May 19 50, although with the beginnings of the mul- 
tiparty system''" after the end of the World War Two, the government made some 
concessions to the people's religious needs. The Soviet Union's domination over eastern 
Europe, and its belligerent demands over the Istanbul Straits, probably with a view to 
extending communist influence over the Middle East, helped to push Turkey into joining 
the Western alliance, now led by the United States. 

Nursi's continuing struggle has to be seen against the backdrop of increasingly 
severe treatment, culminating in 20 months' imprisonment in Afyon in 1948-9. The 
Nur community took shape as events unfolded, its members being molded and tem- 
pered by their lengthy ordeal. Nursi was the main defendant in three major trials, in 
connection with which he was imprisoned together with varying numbers of his stu- 
dents, a result of which a fair proportion of his writings with effect from 193 5, consist 
of his defense speeches, and petitions and letters to judicial and other authorities. At 
every trial virtually the same charges were brought against him, although he was 
acquitted by Denizli Court: founding a secret political organization, founding a Sufi 
order, engaging in activities that "might" disturb public order, exploiting religion for 
political ends,''^ and so on. The onus was on Nursi to prove the falsity of the charges. 
It should not be understood from this, however, that Nursi tailored his method of 
service under force of circumstance to fit the charges - although undoubtedly he con- 
ducted his defenses very skillfully. As the next section will show, it was his view that 
such a method was necessitated by the adoption of the secularist principle. Moreover, 
the harsh and completely unjustified treatment the Nur students received may be seen 
as serving to forge them into a disciplined, self-sacrificing, and seasoned community 
capable of pursuing their goals in unfavorable conditions of all kinds. 

Positive action and jihad of the word 

Nursi defined their struggle in terms of positive action and jihad of the word ( jihad-i 
mdnevi), by which he meant a non-physical or moral jihad. In a passage interpreting the 


verse, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." (2:265), he argues that given the cir- 
cumstances of the day, jihad should take this form: 

By [tlie matters of| religion being separated from [those of] this world on that date, freedom 
of conscience, which is opposed to force and compulsion in religion, and to religious strug- 
gle and armed jihad for religion, [was accepted as] a fundamental rule and political prin- 
ciple by governments, and [this] state [also] became a secular republic. In view of this, 
[jihad] will be a non-physical religious jihM with the sword of 'belief by investigation' (iman- 
1 tahkiki). , , , a great hero in the contest of this jihad of the word , , . is the Risale-i Nur . . . 
for its immaterial sword has solved hundreds of the mysteries of religion, leaving no need 
for physical swords. . , , 

... It is due to this mighty mystery that the Risale-i Nur students do not interfere in the 
politics and political movements of the world and their material struggles, nor attach 
importance to them, nor condescend to [any involvement with] them, , , . They feel not 
anger at their enemies, but pity and compassion. They try to reform them, in the hope that 
they will be saved, ''" 

As is seen from this, Nursi's interpretation of secularism was at variance with the 
official version, which, inspired by French thought, sought the eventual elimination 
of religion since it held it to be the chief obstacle to progress, or at least its complete 
domination by the state. He therefore always denied the persistent accusations that he 
had contravened the principle of secularism. He argued that "freedom of conscience 
governs everywhere in this age of freedom,'"'' and that accordingly, since "secularism 
means being impartial, . . , the government should not interfere with the religiously- 
minded and pious, the same as it does not interfere with the irreligious and 

According to this line of argument, it was perfectly licit for the Nur community to 
pursue its endeavors to strengthen and save religious belief through the Risale-i Nur. 
Nursi asserted also that at the present time there is a vast difference between internal 
jihad (within the realm of Islam - Islam dairesinde) and external jihad. Force may only 
be used against outside aggression.''' Nevertheless, given the potentially volatile situa- 
tion and the facts that he and his students were in a defensive and vulnerable position 
vis-a-vis the authorities and subject to constant provocation by their agents, he con- 
stantly stressed their "duty" of preserving public order and security, and insisted that 
they directed all their energies to their ji/iad of the word and always acted positively, dis- 
regarding worldly currents and avoiding any actions that might lead to strife. Avoid- 
ance of direct involvement in political and social matters has thus become one of the 
most distinctive characteristics of the Nur movement, Nursi offered numerous reasons 
for his insistence on this question. The main ones are as follows. 

Firstly was "the sacredness" of the Nur students' service, and its importance, alluded 
to in the passage quoted above. According to Nursi, their striving to win eternal life for 
themselves and others was incomparably more important than the misguided's efforts 
to secure fleeting worldly life, so they should evince no curiosity about worldly affairs. 
Moreover, preoccupation with peripheral, political matters causes a person to neglect 
his essential duties and to waste his life on trivia,''^ as well as causing heedlessness and 
damaging belief and spiritual life.''* 


Also, because of the partisan nature of politics, a person who becomes involved with 
them cannot preserve his sincerity; the likelihood is that he will sacrifice everything for 
his political ideals. "Whereas the truths of belief and sacred service of the Risale-i Nur 
may not be made the tool of anything . . . and have no aim and purpose but God's plea- 
sure.'"'' Political involvement may thus lead to the degradation, exploitation, and 
betrayal of the Our'an's truths.^" 

Nursi says too that having been exposed to the misguidance of science, what the 
people of Islam now most need is to be shown "the light of the Our'an," so their hearts 
can be healed and their belief saved. If confronted by "the club of politics," it either 
scares them off or causes them to waver and doubt, and even to disbelieve. They have 
to be shown the light and be guided to it.^^ Moreover, there are people open to the truth 
in all political currents, so the one presenting them should remain impartial. 

The reason Nursi cites most often for his opposition to political involvement is that 
it may lead to the harming of innocents, which is contrary to the "compassion, truth, 
right, and conscience" of the Risale-i Nur, and to justice. He often explains this in con- 
nection with the verse, "No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another,"(Our'an, 
6:164, etc.) interpreting it as, "no one is answerable for another's error or crime, even 
a relative's." The brother, family, or children of a criminal cannot be held responsible 
for him and made to suffer due to partisanship, as is often the case.^~ He reckoned that 
it was because the 500,000 Nur students had complied with this principle that the 
forces working to disturb public order had failed to do so, while they had succeeded in 
other countries. ^^ 

Finally, Nursi was anxious that the Nur students should act in a conciliatory manner 
towards believers, including heretics and even Christians, so that "nothing should 
happen in social and political life that might prevent the spread of the Risale-i Nur in 
the Islamic world."'''' 

For a more complete picture, however, the above reasons should be seen in tandem 
with the expansion of the Nur students' activities after the coming to power of the DP 
and its partial relaxation of strict secularist policies of the single-party era. 

Expansion in the 1950s 

The Democrat Party era ( 1 950-60) marked a watershed for Nursi and the Nur students 
in that it provided the opportunity for him both to train a new generation of young stu- 
dents, and after the Risale-i Nur was finally cleared by Afyon Court in 1 9 5 6 to establish 
the guidelines for its greatly expanded publication, and to found the system for the "der- 
shanes" (Nur study centers), all of which were key elements in the formation of the now 
swiftly growing Nur movement and its future activities. 

These last 10 years of Nursi's life are sometimes differentiated from the New Said 
period and called the Third Said period. According to some sources, the name refers to 
the expansion of the movement's activities,^' while according to others, it refers to an 
expansion of Nursi's own activities,^'' for on the coming to power of Menderes and the 
DP, he gave them his enthusiastic support and, with the aim of "making politics serve 
religion," concerned himself to an extent with political developments. 


Arguably, this was not much of a departure from his earlier practice. During his trials 
in Denizli (1943—4) and Afyon (1948-9) and the years between he had sent numerous 
petitions and letters putting his case to departments of government and the judiciary. 
Similarly, he had sent letters of advice such as the one (ca. 1946) to Hilmi Uran. the 
ex-Minister of the Interior and then General Secretary of the RPP, warning that the 
Turkish nation could resist the communist threat only by relying on the Our'an.^^ With 
the Democrats, he extended this practice: he sent a few chosen students to Ankara to 
further their case, and from time to time wrote letters of encouragement or advice to 
Menderes and other members of the government. The most significant of these explain 
what Nursi called "fundamental Our'anic laws;" that is, fundamental revelational 
principles the application of which would remedy economic, social, and political ills 
that had arisen from the introduction of principles of "human" origin; that is, princi- 
ples originating in Western philosophy. ^^ 

In this connection, it may be recalled that Nursi had been an ardent supporter of 
constitutional government at the beginning of the century. Now that Turkey had a gov- 
ernment that was S3rmpathetic to Islam and intended (or so he hoped) to govern in 
accordance with principles congruent with "Islamic" government, Nursi equated it 
with the constitutional government of that time. During the 1950s he republished for 
his younger students some of his works - those cited here are newspaper articles - of 
the former period, but substituted the word "constitutionalism" with "republicanism:" 
"Republicanism consists of justice, mutual consultation, and restriction of power to the 
law."^^ In another, the original title of which was "Long live the illustrious shan'ahl" 
which he changed to "Long live the fundamental laws of the Our'an!", he equated con- 
stitutionalism with "republicanism and democracy [cumhuriyet ve demokrat)."''" 

From this it is understood that in the tradition of Namik Kemal, and following 
him virtually all the Ottoman intellectuals and ulama of the day,^^ Nursi accepted as 
"Islamic," representative government in a Muslim society when based on such princi- 
ples as justice, consultation, and the law. He therefore urged the Democrat government 
to adopt and apply the above-mentioned principles. 

Again during this period, Nursi both sought ways of disseminating the Risale-i Nur 
in the Islamic world, to strengthen "the brotherhood of belief," and he encouraged 
Menderes to heal the breach with it and re-establish ties. In this connection, he sup- 
ported Turkey's joining the Baghdad Pact in 1 9 5 6, writing Menderes and the President, 
Celal Bayar, a letter of congratulation. **' 

These are all questions that were influential on the future course of the Nur 
movement. Another, interfaith dialogue and cooperation, was pioneered by Nursi 
in the 1950s, and has subsequently been advanced by some branches of the Nur 

With the change in the configuration of world powers after the Second World War, 
Nursi modified his attitude towards the West and looked positively on it in so far as it 
upheld Christian values. So too, within the framework of adherence to revelational 
principles, he advocated cooperation between Muslims and Christians in combating 
aggressive atheism. ^^ He himself initiated dialogue with Christian leaders by, in 1950, 
having one of his works sent to the Pope in Rome, and, in 19 53, personally visiting the 
Greek Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, Patriarch Athenagoras. Underlying these moves 


was Nursi's urgent wish to bring about reconciliation on all levels in order to establish 
universal peace. 

The Nur community's positive action and efforts to strengthen society in the face of 
"the immaterial destruction" of irreligion, and its support for the Democrat Party, won 
the government's confidence. As one historian has noted, by acknowledging its sup- 
port, the Democrats implicitly legitimized the movement.^* It was a great victory for 
Nursi, vindicating his method and rewarding his 30 years of patient, silent struggle. 
Although the Nur students were still subject to police raids and had to act with caution, 
they were free to publish the Risale-i Nur. For the first time, its volumes were printed in 
the Roman alphabet on modern presses. The movement was not suppressed, and Nur 
study centers {dershanes) were opened all over the country. In Diyarbakir and the East 
there were around 200 in operation, with "four or five" for women in the town itself*' 
Nursi also encouraged the Nur students to turn their houses into "home madrasah," 
allotting time to communal readings of the Risale, the distinctive feature and central 
activity of the Nur movement. The movement grew in influence,*'' especially as the 
government's popularity waned in the second half of the 1950s, its vote in the 1957 
elections allegedly being a decisive factor in the Democrats' victory*'' In the decades 
following Nursi's death, its influence further increased as it grew in strength and 


Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's endeavors in the field of religious renewal were directed 
towards the revivification of faith in the fundamental "pillars of belief" For in his view, 
it was through the strengthening and reconstruction of these foundations, "the refuge" 
of the mass of believers, that Islam could best withstand the onslaughts of modernity 
and overwhelming currents of materialist thought of Western origin. When faced with 
their particular manifestation in Turkey, he expounded in the Risale-i Nur a compre- 
hensive system of thought which was inspired by the Our'an and which sought to 
situate "the truths of belief" within a coherent picture of the cosmos that was informed 
by modern science and would provide a "modern" God-centered alternative to the pos- 
itivist vision. Nursi's main objection to materialist philosophy was that, because of - in 
his view - its false principles and denial of the metaphysical, it was detrimental both to 
the individual and to society. In his writings, therefore, he attempted to bring together 
and combine different disciplines so as to prove the essentials of religion in a way that 
would both afford intellectual certainty, and satisfy spiritual needs and man's inner fac- 
ulties. The revival of Our'anic values and ethics thus effected would strengthen the 
bonds of society. In this way he sought to compensate for the failures and deficiencies 
of the modernizing project and to mend its harms. *** 

Nursi's belief in the self-sufficiency of the Our'an obliged him at the outset to turn 
down offers of posts in the new government and to not allow himself to be co-opted 
into its cadres.'" This was the main reason for the years of persecution he suffered. His 
conception of religious struggle in terms of jihad of the word and positive action, 
however, transformed the disadvantages into advantages and made possible the even- 


tual successes of the Nur movement in carrying out religious renewal in a secular 


1. The term piiilosopliy is used in the Risale-i Nur to denote aspects of Western civilization: 
"European philosophy and human science . . . are the spirit of [modern] civilization." See 
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Words (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2002), 423. It is often 
used to mean natural philosophy, naturalism, or a materialist interpretation of science, or 
may refer to modernity with its science and technology. It represents the dominance of 
reason and rejection of revelation. 

2. SeeHakanYavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 

3 . For Nursi's life, see relevant sections in §iikran Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey: An Intellec- 
tual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005). 

4. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, MUndzarat (Istanbul: Sozler Yayinevi, 19 77), 72. 

5. See Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (New York: Routledge, 1998), 
347ff; S. HajTi Bolay, Tiirkiye'de Ruhgu ve Maddeci Goriisun Miicadelesi (Ankara: Alcgag, 

5. Berkes, Development of Secularism, 464. 

7. See Erik J. Zurcher, Turkey: A Modern History (London: LB. Tauris, 2001), 200-1. 

8. See Sina Ak§in (ed.), Tiirkiye Tarihi (Istanbul: Cem Yaymevi, 1989), iv, 471-4. 

9. For the six principles, see §erif Mardin, "Religion and Secularism in Turkey," in Hourani 
et al. (eds.), The Modern Middle East (London: LB. Tauris, 1993), 365; Dietrich Jung with 
Wolfgango Piccoli, Turkey at the Crossroads: Ottoman Legacies and a Greater Middle East 
(London: Zed Books, 2001), 75-8. 

10. Nursi stated that "the doors of ijtihad" were open, but that in the "stormy" conditions of 
the times (1929) when denial is rife and Islam is under attack by "the customs of Europe 
and legions of innovations," they should be kept fast shut." See, Words. 49 5. 

11. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Letters 1928-1932. Eng. trans. §ukran Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler 
Publications, 2001), 516. 

12. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Barla Lahikasi (Istanbul: Envar Ne^riyat, 1994), 348; Farid 
al-Ansari, "The Theory of Ethics in Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Works," in Sixth International 
Symposium: Globalization. Ethics and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Risale-i Nur (Istanbul: Sozler 
Publications, 2004), 292. 

1 3 . Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Flashes Collection. Eng. trans. §ukran Vahide (Istanbul: Sozler 
Publications, 2000), 156. 

14. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nuriye. Turk, trans. Abdiilkadir Badilh (Istanbul: 
1998), 236. 

15. See, for example, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Rays Collection. Eng. trans, ^iikran Vahide 
(Istanbul: Sozler Publications. 2002), 163; Nursi, Words, 145, 251. 

16. See, Nursi, Flashes, 232-54. 

17. Nursi, Ftos/ies, 238-9. 

18. Nursi, Letters, 443-4. 

19. See, for example, Nursi, Letters, 434, 43 7; Rays. 90, 399, 512-13; Nursi, Kastamonu 
Lahikasi (Istanbul: Envar Ne^riyat, 1994), 48. 

20. See Nursi. Bnrto Lfl/iikflsi, 162: Kastamonu Lahikasi. 172; Nursi, EmirdngLn/iifeflsi (Istanbul: 
Envar Ne§riyat, 1992), i, 90. 


21. See Muhsin 'Abdulhamid, Modern Asrm Kelam Alimi, Bediiizzaman Said Nursi. Turk, trans. 
Veli Sirim (Istanbul: Nesil, 1998), 63ff. See also Hamid Algar, "The Centennial Renewer: 
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and the Tradition of Tajdid," Journal of Islamic Studies 12/3, 2001, 

22. In several places in the Risale-i Nur Nursi quotes Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, "the hero and 
sun of the Naqshbandi Order," as saying, "The final point of all the Sufi ways is the clarifi- 
cation and unfolding of the truths of belief" {Letters, 40) and, "The unfolding in clarity of 
a single truth of belief is preferable to a thousand miraculous deeds and mystical visions" 
{Rays, 188) Nursi also stated that the Risale-i Nur contained "the essence of all the twelve 
great tarikats." See, Emirdag Lahikasi, ii, 54. Moreover, he confessed that among his 
"masters" were al-Ghazali and Jalal al-Din Rumi, Sirhindi, and Abd al-Oadir Gilani. The 
latter two were instrumental in his finding his path during his transformation into the New 
Said and were influential on him in various ways, but not in Sufism. Sufism, perhaps, should 
not be confused with "spirituality." 

23. See, for instance, Algar, "The Centennial Renewer," 306; Hamid Algar, "Sufism and Tarikat 
in the Life and Work of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi," Journal of the History of Sufism, 3, 2001, 
217; §erif Mardin, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman 
Said Nursi (Albany; SUNY Press, 1989), 175. For Nursi's own comparisons between the 
methods of the Risale-i Nur and both 'ilm al-kalam and Sufism, See, Letters, 388-9. 

24. Nursi, Mesnevi. Tr, Badilh, 86. 

25. Nursi, Rays. 133. 

26. See Mehmet S. Aydin, "The Problem of Theodicy in the Risale-i Nur," Islam at the Cross- 
roads: On the Life and Thoughts of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (New York; SUNY Press, 2003), 

27. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Key to Belief (Istanbul; Sozler Publications, 1998), 104-5. 

28. Nursi, Letters, 389. 

29. Nursi, Letters, 265. 

30. Nursi, Rays, 639-40. 

31. SeeOur'an, 3 3;72. 

32. Nursi, Words, 558-60. 

33. See, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Damascus Sermon (Istanbul; Sozler Publications, 1996), 

34. A number of writers have referred to this aspect of Nursi's thought. See Mardin, Religion 
and Social Change, 224; al-Ansari, "The Theory of Ethics," 282-4, 

35. Nursi, Ftashes, 402. 

36. Nursi, Letters, 428-32. 
3 7. Nursi, Ffashes, 456-7. 

38. Nursi, Ffes/ies, 169-73, 

39. Nursi, Flashes, 324; Nursi, Letters, 342. 

40. See, Nursi, Words, 562. 

41. See al-Azzawi. "The Ethical System in Said Nursi's Works," Sixth International Symposium: 
Globalization, Ethics, and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Risale-i Nur, 247, quoted from Taha Abdel 

42. Nursi, Flashes, 329. 

43. Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity, Chapters 7, 8; Hakan Yavuz, "Print-Based Discourse and 
Modernity; The Nur Movement," Third International Symposium on Bediuzzaman Said Nursi 
1 995 (Istanbul; Sozler Publications, 199 7), ii, 3 24-50; M. Hakan Yavuz, "Nur Study Circles 
{Dershanes) and the Formation of New Religious Consciousness in Turkey, " in Ibrahim Abu- 
Rabi' (ed.), Islam at the Crossroads, 297-316; Metin Karaba§oglu, "Text and Community; 


An Analysis of the Risak-i Nur Movement," in Ibrahim Abu-Rabi' (ed.), Islam at the Cross- 
roads, 253-96. 

44. Yavuz, "Print-Based Discourse," 32 7-8. 

45. See Mardin, Religion and Social Change, 230; Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity, 130. 
45. For detailed discussion, see Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity, 103-31. 

47. Nursi, Letters, 3 77. 

48. Feroz Ahmed, The Making of Modern Turkey (London: Routledge, 2002), 82. 

49. The concept of the collective or corporate body was introduced into Ottoman thought by 
Namik Kemal, who took it from Rousseau. See §erif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman 
Thought (S3'racuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000), 333-4. There is no conception of, or 
provision for, corporate bodies in the shari'ah. See, Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern 
Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 393. Nursi adopted the idea in his youth 
along with others of Namik Kemal, but in the later period assigned it novel functions. 

50. See Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mesnevi-i Nuriye. Turk. Trans. Abdiilmecid Nursi (Istanbul: 
Envar Ne§riyat, 1994), 102. 

51. Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 149. 

52. Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 143. 

53. Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 148-9; Nursi, A Guide for Youth (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 
1991), 79-81. 

54. Mardin offers illuminating discussion of these latter matters in Religion and Social Change, 
10-13, 155-71. 

55. Nursi, A Guide for Youth, 81. For further examples, see, Nursi, Words, 574-6; Rays, 203-5, 
242-7; Letters, 492-7. 

55. Mardin, "Religion and Secularism," 368-73. 

5 7. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 2 1 . 

58. See Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 13 7, 241; Rays, 3 72. 

59. Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 241; Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 78. 

50. The DP was officially registered January 7, 1946. See, Ziircher, Turkey, 22 Iff. 

51. See, for example, Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 28; ii, 12 7-8. 

52. Nursi, Rnys, 290. 

53. Nursi, Letters, 503. 

54. Nursi, Rays, 386, 305. See also, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Tarihge-i Hayati (Istanbul: Envar 
Ne^riyat, 1996), 219, 231. 

55. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, ii, 242. 

55. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 43-4; Rays, 384. 

57. Nursi, Rays, 223-4. 

58. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 55-8. 

59. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 38-9. 

70. Nursi, Rays, 3 72; Kastamonu Lahikasi, 117-18, 145. 

71. See Nursi, Flashes, 143-4; Letters, 68-70. 

72. See Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 39; ii, 241; Rays, 3 72. 

73. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, ii, 77. 

74. Nursi, Kastamonu Lahikasi, 247. 

75. Nursi, Tarihge, 512. 

75. Necmeddin §ahiner, Bilinmeyen Taraflariyla Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Istanbul: NesU, 2004), 

77. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, i, 217-20. 

78. For discussion of these ethical principles, see, Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey, 317-18, 
32 7-9. 


79. Nursi, Damascus Sermon, 78. 

80. Bediuzzamaii Said Nursi, Divan-i Harb-i Orfl (Istanbul: Sozler Yayinevi, 19 75), 53. 

81. Ismail Kara, Islamcilann Siyasi Gdriisleri I: Hilafet ve Me^rutiyet (Istanbul: Dergah Yayinlan, 
2001), 50, 9 7ff. 

82. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi, ii, 222-5. 

83. See Nursi, Flashes, 203-4 ff, 8; §ukran Vahide, 'An Outline of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's 
Views on Christianity and the West," in Ian Markham and Ibrahim Ozdemir (eds.), Global- 
ization, Ethics and Islam (Basingstoke: Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 115-16. 

84. Ziircher, Turkey, 245. 

85. Nursi, Emirdag Lahikasi. ii, 231. 

86. Binnaz Toprak, "The Religious Right," in Hourani et al. (eds.). The Modern Middle East. 638. 

87. Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey, 330. 
8 8 . Ziircher, Turkey ,201. 

89. §erif Mardin has noted aspects of these. See Mardin, "Reflections on Said Nursi's Life and 
Thought," in Ibrahim Abu-Rabi' (ed.), Islam at the Crossroads, 46; Mardin, Religion and Social 
Change. 25. 

90. The great majority of the ulama were absorbed into the state system. See Hugh Poulton, 
Top Hat. Grey Wolf, and Crescent (London: Hurst, 1997), 99-100. 


Islamic Thought in 
Contemporary India: 
The Impact of Mawlana 
Wahiduddin Khan's 
AI-Risala Movement 

Irfan A. Omar 


Born in 1925 in Badharia, Azamgarh in north India, Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan 
turned 80 on January 1, 2005. If we calculate his age according to the Hijri calendar, 
as he himself prefers, he passed his eightieth year more than two years ago. Mawlana 
Khan lost his parents at an early age and was brought up under the supervision of his 
paternal uncle, Sufi Hamid Khan. He studied at Madrasatul Islah in Sarai Mir where he 
graduated in 1944. 

Mawlana Khan has had a rather challenging and, by all standards of scholarly rigor, 
a productive and stimulating life. He is still vigorously engaged in community as well 
as scholarly activities and travels often to international peace conferences, attends 
inter-religious meetings, and addresses gatherings of Muslims and non-Muslims all 
over India and abroad. His writings continue to fill the pages of the monthly journal 
Al-Risdla (published since 1976 in Urdu and in English since 1984) and many 
other publications. One thing he does not do is "preach," in mosques that is. 
Because of his stature as a scholar and community leader, he is often invited to give the 
khutba, a sermon that precedes Muslim congregation prayers on Fridays. However, he 
never accepts such invitations because, as he related to this author, he is not a preacher 

His long gray hair, flowing beard, and the white traditional Indian outfit, on top of 
which he wears a rather worn-out grayish white overcoat most times of the year, reveal 
his Sufistic sympathies. His profile is sometimes reminiscent of Rabindranath Tagore, 
which may be significant if we consider Mawlana Khan's public image as a modern- 
day Muslim "guru" in the eyes of an increasing number of Hindus. His is a rather 


monastic look. But there is no monasticism in Islam, as Mawlana Khan would say, 
and so his appearance is perhaps a reflection of his simple taste and pietistic 

The "Nationalist" Mawlana 

Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan is a leading scholar of Islamic thought among Indian 
Muslims today. In fact, he has been called one of India's "foremost Islamic scholars" 
and a "nationalist Mawlana."^ Mawlana Khan was presented with one of the highest 
national awards in India, the "Padma Bhushan," in January 2000. He is also the recip- 
ient of many other community and peace activist awards from various national and 
international organizations. In 2002, he was invited to Zug, Switzerland by the Nuclear 
Disarmament Forum to receive the "Demiurgus Peace International Award," which is 
given annually in recognition for one's "achievements in the field of strengthening 
peace among nations."' 

Wahiduddin Khan combines knowledge of the traditional reUgious sciences {'uliim 
al-din) with the cultural, sociopolitical, and ethical discourse of his times. He is an avid 
reader and keeps himself updated on current events. He often draws on his knowledge 
of contemporary events to highlight the moral plight of our times. His familiarity with 
the foundational literature on science and religion, ethics, and political discourse 
informs his own writings in Islamic moral theology. Widely traveled, he shows excep- 
tional knowledge of and interest in Western as wefl as modern ethical concerns. His 
writings display an eagerness to apply the lessons learned from his explorations to 
critical issues facing Muslim societies both in India and elsewhere. 

Mawlana Khan has authored well over a hundred works, many of which have been 
translated from Urdu into Arabic, English, and Hindi. He has published numerous arti- 
cles in newspapers and journals and has given countless interviews to such prominent 
national and international media outlets as The Times of India, The Indian Express. 
Newsweek, the BBC, the All India Radio, and many others. As mentioned above, his 
writings fill the pages of the Al-Risala Urdu monthly of which he has been the editor- 
in-chief since its inception in 19 76. As founder-president of "The Islamic Center" estab- 
lished in 1970, Mawlana Khan has presided over a kind of Islamic movement that is 
fundamentally different from all other movements in contemporary Muslim history. 
Known as the 'Al-Risala movement," and which Mawlana Khan often cafls "mission," 
it has gradually influenced and shaped Muslim thinking over the last 40 years, a 
measure of which can be found in the changing attitudes of the Indian Muslim lead- 
ership in the late 1990s.' 

Muslim religious and political leadership for the most part ignored Wahiduddin 
Khan in the early phase of his mission and dubbed him varyingly as "anti-Muslim," a 
"Libyan agent," and, more recently, the "Hindu agent." They felt that his conciliatory 
and self-critical tone was not apropos of Islam's dignified past status in India. In their 
view the solution to Muslims' problems was to be found in taking a hard-line approach 
and invoking the law to curb Hindu right-wing attacks on Islam and Muslims. Khan, 
on the other hand, advocated a dialogical approach and he himself initiated direct talks 


with several Hindu leaders and right wing groups. By the late 1990s most of the 
Muslim leaders had effectively come to realize that their confrontational approach had 
basically emboldened the forces of Hindu militant extremism and caused a sharp 
increase in the number of problems faced by Muslims. Thus, somewhat cognizant of 
the social forces at work, they presently have become less confrontational, less law 
invoking, and more conciliatory towards Hindus. 

What distinguishes Wahiduddin Khan from scores of other ulama in the Muslim 
world in general and in India in particular is his very idea of Islam.'' He sees Islam as a 
personal struggle for faith in God and sincere reaching out to God in pursuit of a life of 
piety. Simply put, he is emphatically opposed to any political understanding of Islam. 
To him, political struggles of Muslims around the world cannot and must not be pro- 
moted on the basis of Islamic teachings. Islamic lifestyle and culture are decisively sep- 
arate from any worldly matters that engage Muslims. This does not necessarily imply a 
dichotomized view of being Muslim in a world that is increasingly secular. It simply dis- 
allows the construction of an artificial connection between Islam's religious calling and 
Muslims' worldly challenges. Khan does not denounce politics as such, but he argues 
that politics is a matter of choice whereas Islam is not. One may or may not take up a 
political cause such as a separatist movement organized in Kashmir but one must not 
confuse such causes with Islam.' His critics have argued that taking up causes in 
defense of the community is integral to Islam and therefore must be regarded as an 
activity which is part of one's faith. Mawlana Khan could not agree more. However, he 
argues that political separatism, which is blindly pursued without reflection on either 
the alternate solutions to the problems, whatever they may be, or the consequences of 
separatist struggles where the very freedom and stability of society they are trying to 
secure are threatened and eroded are not and cannot be reconciled with the teachings 
of the Our'an and hadith. 

Islam and the Other 

Wahiduddin Khan's perception of the world does not include the "other." He is critical 
of the generally dichotomized view of some Muslim leaders who interpret Islam as an 
ideology pitted against other, in their view, deviant ideologies, that is, the worldview 
which sees "us" vs. "them" without regard for the complications that such a worldview 
may pose in the real world. In fact, the ideologizing of Islam has reached a point where 
in some Muslim groups the process of identifying "us" is limited to those who subscribe 
to the narrow interpretations of that group. Thus rhetorically, "us" for such groups may 
rhetorically mean all Muslims, but in reality it includes only those who agree with the 
authoritative voice that speaks on behalf of the group while claiming to speak on behalf 
of the whole of Islam itself. 

Khan deconstructs this ideological worldview presented in the name of the faith. He 
understands "Islam" - an individual's quiet surrender to the will of God - as primarily 
a personal relationship between the believer and God. This understanding of Islam, he 
argues, emanates from the Our'an and was lived out by Prophet Muhammad as evi- 
denced through a careful study of his sirah. 


The Al-Risala movement today represents a growing number of Muslims, many 
of whom come from the intellectual and managerial classes. The movement has 
many followers who work independently and are not dues-paying members; the 
organization has no structure except the implicit recognition of Mawlana Khan's 
spiritual leadership. Those who agree with his way of explaining Islam support 
the movement by continuing to follow his writings by subscribing to the journal 
Al-Risdla. Through his continuous efforts, Mawlana I-Chan aims to transform 
attitudes by infusing what he calls a "moral spirit" in the practice of Islam, particularly 
in regard to relations with the so-called "other." Thus the Al-Risala movement is pri- 
marily a movement for moral reform. Today Khan's following includes not only 
Muslims, but also Hindus and people from other faiths whose participation has added 
a whole new layer of complexity to this unique Islamic movement, and has also con- 
firmed his own belief that the moral campaign alone is the heart and soul of Islamic 

Islam and Politics 

Mawlana Khan's understanding of Islamic revival is quite different from the political 
revivalists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in many Muslim lands who sought 
to instill the masses with nationalistic and/or Islamic sentiments against the then colo- 
nial masters. In this regard. Khan's view is diametrically opposed to all contemporary 
violent manifestations of revivafism in the name of Islam. He argues that Islamic move- 
ments that seek to carry out their struggles in militant terms, variously known as "ter- 
rorists" and "jihddis." are doing a disservice to Islam and Muslims. 

Khan's idea of Islamic revival is the very antithesis of the many political struggles 
(with their potential for the eruption of violence) launched in the name of Islam in 
recent decades in various parts of the Muslim world. In fact. Khan is opposed to any 
politicization of religion as well as to involving religion in political struggles. Simply put, 
he thinks it is a good idea to separate religion and politics, a notion resisted by many 
other Muslim intellectuals. Given the nature of complexities around this notion, there 
is no easy solution to this debate and the Muslim discourse today contains arguments 
on both sides of this great divide. 

Wahiduddin Khan, like Abul Kalam Azad (d. 1958), also argues for a temporal sep- 
aration of religious and political action. Based again on the prophetic example, he 
justifies such a separation for the sake of the end result.^ The estabUshment of an 
Islamic state is nowhere requfred either in the Our'an or in the Sunnah of the Prophet 
Muhammad. The prophets came to "warn" humankind of the impending danger if 
they failed to heed the will of God. By confusing a political agenda with our spiritual 
goals we not only misunderstand dm or faith as enunciated in the Our'an, we also 
endanger our social causes by being labeled as divisive and sectarian in an increasingly 
pluralistic world. To Khan, politicization of refigion is known to create problems for 
the Muslim community's development; hence it is against the spirit of Islam. For 
him, the separation between reUgious and political spheres is meant to maintain 
religious freedom while continuing dialogue on matters of the world where Muslims 


and non-Muslims can find a common ground in the spirit of cooperation and national 

Thus, while the task of many Muslim organizations is to mobilize Muslims to 
promote Muslim political action (this includes the nonviolent as well as potentially 
violent groups), Khan's mission, by contrast, strives for an intellectual and ethical 
revival which will conform Muslim behavior to what Khan calls the faith and practice 
of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. In fact the bulk of the short narra- 
tives filling the pages of Al-Risdla and some of his other works draw on stories of the 
sahdba (companions of the Prophet) in order to highlight the moral and its possible 
applications to contemporary situations. 

Key Objectives of the Al-Risala Movement 

As far as one can glean from the collective writings of Mawlana Khan, the Al-Risala 
movement seems to be emphasizing two main principles. 

A. Muslims need to exercise greater self-criticism and not be ashamed of the past 
mistakes of their forebears. They must not be bound to history and should 
not insist on glorifying it, especially since it is known to contain many less 
than glorious moments. Muslims should engage in ijtihdd and rethink and 
articulate anew the core message of Islam in light of modern challenges and 
its applications. This amounts to a reform from within.^ The key components 
of this rethinking are nonviolence and reconciliation. 

1. Self-criticism as a means to reform from within 

Mawlana Khan has often placed greater responsibility upon Muslims for the 
ills in their midst. For example, throughout the 1980s he argued that com- 
munal riots, which were mostly anti-Muslim riots and pogroms, happened 
because Muslims provoked Hindu extremist groups by their confrontational 
posture against the Hindus. This provocation may not have warranted whole- 
scale destruction of Muslims' lives and property, but in Khan's view it was 
sufficient to constitute favorable conditions in which violence could take 
place. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that when Muslims are in the 
minority they would naturally stand to lose in any such conflict. Therefore it 
is the Muslims who will always have a greater responsibility to ensure such 
conditions do not arise wherein their communal and financial interests may 
become targets. In other words. Khan consistently puts forth the argument 
that conflict takes place because of the willingness and presence of two or 
more opponents. Furthermore, he places blame for inflamed circumstances, 
which often result in violence, squarely on Muslim leadership, both religious 
as well as political. If Muslims could learn to be patient, to resist temptations 
to react unkindly, and to practice tolerance even when provoked, then con- 
flict could certainly be avoided. Thus Khan advocates an extreme form of 
pacifism. To many Muslims this is a harsh verdict coming from a Muslim 


2. Nonviolence and reconciliation as central to Islam in the twenty-first century 
Being a traditional scholar, Mawlana Khan cites the Our' an to justify his 
approach of reconciliation. In the tradition of Azad, I'Chan argues for a model 
of cooperation with other communities and participation in the process of 
nation building, rather than the model of conflict and impasse some Muslim 
leaders, both in the 1940s and since independence, seem to have encouraged. 
In his writings, he often cites the episode of Hudaybiyah, which occurred in 
early Islam during the time of the Prophet. It involved the peaceful resolu- 
tion of a potential conflict and possible confrontation between the Muslims 
of Medina and the Ouraysh of Mecca over the issue of pilgrimage to the 
Ka'bah. This event has sometimes been characterized as the cornerstone of 
Muslim success in the early stages of Islamic expansion even though it was 
seemingly a humiliating defeat for Muslims. Not only does Khan imbue this 
thesis of reconciliation with an imperative tone, he also argues that this is 
the only possible Islamic behavior in the present scheme of things in India 
and elsewhere. Violence, he says, "is against the spirit of the age" and there- 
fore Muslims must part with it even if there is enough justification for it. The 
path to peace and the establishment of an Islamic society must originate from 
a Hudaybiyah-style, diplomatic, non-confrontational, non-aggressive, and 
ultimately non-political approach. 

B. Muslims must engage in dialogue with others (with an intention to invite 
them to learn about Islam) because of the present realities of Indian polity. 
Muslims thus need to re-orient themselves to living in a pluralistic and multi- 
cultural ethos. They must develop inter-cultural, inter-religious, and inter- 
ethnic relations in order to cooperate on issues such as providing greater 
access to education and inculcating moral values. Khan believes that this 
form of activism, which to him is utterly Islamic, would attract others to 
Islam and hence allow Muslims to carry out one of their core Islamic duties 
of calling people to Islam, or da'wah. 

1. Dialogue with the "other" 

Wahiduddin Khan is a rare person in the sense that in his capacity as an 'dlim 
(religious scholar) he has shown a way for Muslims to engage in dialogue 
with members of other faiths. He has made particularly great inroads in 
establishing conversations between Muslims and Hindus on a host of issues. 
In his effort to win over the Hindu right-wing groups, he has participated in 
their meetings to show what he calls "true" Islam - an Islam which does not 
"otherize" or seek to alienate and an Islam which calls for peace, not revenge 
and retaliation. To some extent these efforts to bring the extremists among 
Hindus closer to accepting Muslims as fellow Indians (as opposed to how they 
are otherwise viewed as "foreigners") have been productive. Khan has won 
respect among many such Hindus maintaining an interesting "alliance." 
However, some real fruit of this interesting relation building with extremist 
Hindu elements has been the effect on other moderate and eclectic Hindus. 
Many other Hindus have begun to pay greater attention to Islam and often 


have greater sympathies with Muslims while being critical of the extremist 
elements within their own religion. 

In Mawlana Khan's view, it is imperative that Muslims seek direct talks 
with their Hindu neighbors and try to build bridges with them instead of cre- 
ating an environment of hostility by regarding them as the "other"* In past 
conflicts, Muslims often invoked the law and relied on help from the govern- 
ment to resolve the conflicts. Khan believes that Muslims should try harder 
to resolve their differences directly with their Hindu opponents. 

Thus, in Khan's view, dialogue can benefit all communities by facilitating 
cooperation on common issues across the board, but such a dialogue is also 
open to missionary activity. Hence all communities would have the right to 
"present" their religious teachings to others without engaging in proselyti- 
zation as such. 
Engaged Islam 

Khan emphasizes the need for Muslims to become part of the national "main- 
stream" and contribute to the nation as a whole. Khan's primary impetus 
comes from the teachings of the Our'an and the hadith. Muslims' main goal 
should be to become an exemplary moral community that lives out the prin- 
ciples of Islam by following the teachings of the Our'an and the Sunnah of 
the Prophet Muhammad. At the same time they have a responsibility to the 
nation of which they are a part. Thus they must not neglect their public 
duties as citizens of India without relinquishing their religious objectives and 
requirements. In his view these two are perfectly reconcilable from a Our'anic 
perspective. While the Islamic notion of a sharT'ah-hased state is valid, it is 
not an absolute requirement for living out Islam faithfully.'' The vision of 
many Islamic movements in recent history and even in present-day India is 
based on the design of an Islamic state where in their view by applying the 
Islamic law in its totality Muslims will be able to live out their faith in ideal 
terms. This is a fantastic thesis from Mawlana Khan's perspective not only 
because the goal of establishing an Islamic state remains implausible for 
various reasons, once established, but also it is not certain that a viable man- 
ifestation of Islamic law can be agreed upon by all participants of such a 
state. Furthermore, a significant portion of shari'ah (some would say the most 
vital part of it) is already applied by Muslims in their daily lives without 
having to establish an Islamic state. Thus it seems foolish to risk current 
Muslim resources on an objective which by all accounts falls short in the 
dividends it might yield in a distant future. 

Mawlana Khan argues that as minorities Muslims can find copious ways 
to live out their religious and spiritual responsibilities. At the same time they 
must engage with other religious communities in contributing to the 
demands of their specific sociocultural ethos. As citizens of a secular nation, 
they must accept the pluralistic ethics in relation to worldly matters while 
their religious and cultural principles are safeguarded within a secular 
system that provides for complete freedom of religious practice and propa- 


gation. Sectarian struggles should be put aside and not be confused with reli- 
gious struggles. 

Islam and Secularism 

Many Muslim leaders today are attempting to show that secularism is not necessarily 
bad for religion but rather is a workable solution to inter-religious friction. In particu- 
lar the Muslim religious leadership, notably in Indonesia, has been speaking of a recon- 
struction of the traditionalist discourse that seeks to align Islam with modern 
geo-political realities. Mawlana Khan can be counted among the few who have cham- 
pioned this trend in the Indian subcontinent. He speaks of the need for ijtihdd (provid- 
ing fresh insights in legal matters based on a re-examination of the sources of Islamic 
law) for a systematic adaptation of Muslim life and thought to the changing times. One 
of the challenges for Muslims is to learn to engage within the realm of secularism and 
religious pluralism as a means to peace and inter-religious harmony. 

Muslim minorities in many countries have supported secularism in order to main- 
tain a level of religious and cultural freedom in many countries. But in India this has 
not been the case; Muslims have rather been suspicious of secularism, afraid that, as a 
minority, they would lose their cultural and religious heritage to the overwhelming 
influence of the majority (Hindu) culture and religion. The Indian ulama especially have 
not been in favor of the secularization of Muslims and hence did not elaborate on it. 
Therefore individuals like Wahiduddin Khan are pioneers among the ulama class in 
openly "theologizing" about such notions as secularism and relating it directly to the 
fundamental ways of being a Muslim. 

In the early years of independent India, the term secularism was almost always 
wrongly translated into Urdu as "ghayr mazhabi" (irreligious) and wrongly equated with 
"la diniyat" (atheism).^" Since Urdu was the main language of communication for the 
Muslim masses, gradually there emerged a general feeling of disgust with secularism 
since Muslims believe that their religion "restrains them from accepting the autonomy 
of worldly life which is the basis of secularism. "^^ Ziya-ul Hasan Faruqi, one of the early 
Muslim intellectuals associated with the Jamia Millia Islamia and an associate of such 
secular Muslim intellectuals as Zakir Hussain, Abid Hussain, and Mohammad Mujeeb, 
wrote extensively in an effort to convince the Muslim masses that secularism in India 
is not synonymous with atheism. Neither does it mean rejection of religious values: 

It is a secularism based on democratic traditions and liberal tliouglit and is not only toler- 
ant toward religion but grants to all full freedom of religious faith and practice. [Further- 
more Muslims must] also realize that in a country lUce India it is only this brand of 
secularism which can provide safeguards for their cultural and religious freedom and can 
give strength to their status as a religious minority.^" 

While it is true that the "idea of the secular state involves a theological question 
. . . ," in practice the history of Islam reveals that, except for the first few years, the 
Islamic state had always maintained a mundane and secular status. Whereas tension 


existed between the hukkdm (political authorities) and the ulama (religious authorities), 
the latter generally supported the secular arrangement of the state for a variety of 
reasons; an important one being that "a stable political system, whatever its nature, 
was better than a state of anarchy"^' 

Citing Sa'id Ahmad Akbarabadi, an influential Indian 'alim, Faruqi reminds us that 
there are two aspects of Islam - dm and shari'ah, "while din is immutable, the shari'ah 
has been constantly changing." Further, the changes (or reform) in the shan'ah are 
essential in order to keep it current with the times. These changes, however, are limited 
to those things on which the injunctions of the Our'an are not explicit, for example, 
polygamy, which may be "controlled, or abolished" as per the necessity of the times. ^^ 

But there is a danger in holding such views, especially when it comes to dealing with 
Muslims who are still very religious (read, "traditional") in their outlook and do not 
accept change and innovation very easily. As Mushir-ul Haq also notes, for change to 
take place in these old traditions, religious sanction is a must. Without the blessing of 
the ulama, secularism would not be accepted by Muslims since they have been made to 
view it as an innovation (bida').'^^ 

Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan argues that secularism as practiced in India is not anti- 
Islamic since there are no arguments against it in the Islamic legal tradition. An impor- 
tant principle of fiqh (jurisprudence) is that "everything is lawful unless it is declared 
unlawful" (al-aslfi al-ashyd' al-ibahah). Since there is no clear regulation concerning sec- 
ularism, it should not be rejected prima facie. '^'' Instead it should be examined in light of 
the needs and demands of the community. Muslims have a choice to either accept or 
reject it on the basis of rational arguments. Like the secular Muslim leaders discussed 
above. Khan believes that secularism does not hinder either the growth or the suste- 
nance of the Muslim way of life in India. ^^ 

Mawlana Khan argues that when we are concerned with matters of belief, worship, 
and the hereafter, we must adhere to the letter of the Our'an. But where worldly matters 
are concerned, we are permitted to accept commonly held views insofar as they do not 
contradict or negate the former.^* Mawlana Khan often draws from the prophetic 
example to establish his point, claiming that Prophet Muhammad is known to have 
followed pre-existent regulations in matters of the world. The Prophet respected estab- 
lished international customs and regulations as binding unless they were seen as an 
impediment in practicing his faith. Therefore one can and must respect international 
laws and even adapt useful practices insofar as they do not prevent one from following 
one's religious beliefs. Wahiduddin Khan not only approves of secularism but he also 
deems it necessary to separate religious matters from political aspirations for the sake 
of the growth of Muslim societies around the world. ^' 

Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan is perhaps one of the most significant voices from 
among the ranks of the ulama in India to support the idea of secularism, not just as it 
is implemented in India but universally. Mawlana Khan says, echoing Akbarabadi, that 
secular India is neither ddr al-harb nor ddr al-Isldm; instead it is ddr al-da'wah, a land full 
of opportunities for the Islamic mission. Secularism has many beneficial aspects for 
Muslims, which they did not have in the past. It allows for freedom of speech and prop- 
agation of one's faith to others. This to him is fundamentally significant because 
Muslims' main task in this world is to engage in da'wah, or to be more precise, 'amr bil- 


ma'ruf, nahi 'an al-munkar, promoting the good and forbidding what is evil."" Thus, sec- 
ularism is not only beneficial to the Islamic cause, but it also mirrors Islam's own vision 
of a pluralist society.^^ Secularism is one form of a social system promoting diversity 
and allowing each component of a diverse society to operate and grow interactively (as 
manifest in national aspects) as well as independently (as manifest in religious aspects) 
at the same time."" 

For Khan secularism and pluralism are indicators of good health in any society and 
allow for growth of all religions as they compete with each other in "good works" - for 
the noblest of all in the eyes of God is the one striving most earnestly in the direction 
of what is righteous.-^ The Our'anic focus is on interaction rather than just a verbal 
exchange of ideas; hence Khan's emphasis on engaging other communities in dialogue 
as well as on Muslim participation in the national mainstream culture of India.'* 

The Impact and the Current Focus 

Even though Khan primarily wrote on the general issues of Islamic life and ethics as 
well as Islam's interrelationship with the modern age, he has also been writing on the 
life and struggles of Indian Muslims. From the beginning of the movement, his main 
focus has been reform among Indian Muslims with respect both to how they view Islam 
as a faith and how they live out that faith as a minority group in the midst of others 
with differing historical perspectives. One major element of Khan's thought has been 
his passionate call for the rebuilding of mainstream Indian culture. He projects a bright 
future for Muslims in India if and only if they become a giving people contributing to 
the national growth, politics, economy, culture, and to society as a whole. Muslims 
should become unreservedly involved in nation building; they should become part of 
the mainstream. By remaining in their limited spheres of activity, and railing about 
their personal problems without regard for those of others, they are viewed as sectar- 
ian at best. In addition, an antagonistic response from the Hindu right wing has been 
increasing due to reactionary Muslim politics. Therefore a different strategy is needed 
to counter the anti-Muslim trends, removing those conditions that allow the Hindu 
extremist groups to portray Muslims as alienated from their nationalistic ethos. 

As a self-imposed rule, Mawlana Khan did not speak of politics and of politicians 
until very recently. He argued for a long time that he was apolitical, that he was not 
affiliated with or in favor of any party or political group. But analysis of his writings 
from the last few years reveals a slight shift in his posture; he projects for himself a wider 
role, which is infused with a nationalistic tone. He is no longer apolitical and has begun 
to assume a role of a political commentator but with an orientation toward social 
harmony. For example, the special issue of Al-Risdla Urdu (July 1999) is entitled 
"Ta'mir-i Hind" (Building India), in which Khan deals with issues of nation building and 
social and religious harmony, particularly critiquing select political and religious 
leaders. In his previous writings he had refrained from such open critique of his con- 
temporaries, especially political leaders. 

Recently another shift in his movement may be noticed. This is regarding his inter- 
actions with non-Muslims who have come to understand him, as he would agree, better 


than Muslims do. Many of these individuals, mostly Indians, and all professionals 
working in various fields such as journalism, finance, etc., have engaged him for guid- 
ance and "counseling" and in the case of some, for conversion to Islam.'' This is a new 
dimension of his mission and leadership, which is still unfolding and needs careful 

For the past two years he has been holding bimonthly sessions called the "spiritual 
class," in which a dedicated group attentively engages him in conversation on matters 
of faith. Almost all of these individuals have had little or no interest in Islam prior to 
their coming into contact with Mawlana Khan. Some of them come from Hindu back- 
grounds and now reportedly are practicing Muslims. By coming into contact with 
Mawlana Khan, they say, their lives have changed for the better. A small loyal group 
among them have taken to accompanying Mawlana Khan on his travels in India and 
abroad, hence the title of one of his recent articles, "Class on Wheels.""'' 


Wahiduddin Khan does not project himself as a reformer. He outlines the nature of his 
mission in his pioneering book. Fikr-e-Isldmi as ijtihdd. In his view, reform {isldh) implies 
the existence of a faulty ideal requiring reform. Islam, as for many earlier revivalists 
who have attempted tajdid (renewal), still consists of those very ideals that existed at 
the time of the Prophet Muhammad. There are no changes required insofar as Islam is 
concerned. It is Muslims who have forgotten how to reinterpret and reapply Islam in 
every age according to the needs and circumstances of the time. Thus his task is to 
provide this reinterpretation of Islam for today's Muslims and those non-Muslims who 
are willing to collaborate on building and maintaining a multi-cultural ethos. 

He argues that what is lacking in the Indian Muslim community at large is a coher- 
ent vision of the reapplication (by way of ijtihdd) of the Islamic ideals. These ideals in 
Khan's interpretation are pluralism, tolerance of differences, utilizing peaceful means 
to activism and becoming progressive within the scope of the teachings of Islam. '^ 

Even though Mawlana Khan remains a controversial figure in India because of his 
critique of contemporary ulama and due to his innovative interpretation of Muslim 
history, his view of Islam and the role of Muslims in the twenty-first century is increas- 
ingly making sense even to those who did not previously agree with him. Thus it may 
be said that the future holds positive prospects for the principles enunciated by Mawlana 
Khan. Once he is no longer living, successive generations will encounter these princi- 
ples and rationale without any subjective bias against the man. 


1. John F. Burns, "Gandhi's Ashes Rest, but Not His Message," The New Yorl< Times, January 
31, 1997. In Indian and international media coverage he has been identified variously as 
a chief spokesperson for the Muslims of India; a "liberal" Muslim scholar; and even a Sufi. 

2 . Al-Risala Urdu, August 2003. 


3 . Mawlana Khan has been assisted in his mission by two of his children, the younger of his 
two sons, Dr. Saniyasnain Khan, and his daughter, Dr, Farida Khanam, both of whom are 
accomplished scholars and have established themselves as authors/editors. They have 
worked closely with Mawlana Khan since the beginning of his mission, managing the logis- 
tics of the mission and also doing translation work and public relations. Farida Khanam is 
primarily responsible for translating Mawlana Khan's works into English. Dr. Zafarul Islam 
Khan, the elder son, is also a noted scholar of Islam and Muslim intellectual traditions and 
history. He is not particularly associated with the Al-Risala movement and for the most part 
disagrees with his father's approach to Muslim reform in India. Mawlana Wahiduddin 
Khan, interview by author, New Delhi, January 21, 1998. 

4. Wahiduddin Khan was formerly a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (founded in 1941) of 
Mawlana Abu'l Ala Mawdudi (d. 19 79). He worked with the Jamaat for 15 years before 
resigning due to ideological differences. For more on the nature of these differences, see 
Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, Ta'bir ki ghalati, second edn. (New Delhi: Maktaba Al-Risala, 
1987 [1963]), 19. 

5. Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, interview by author. New Delhi, January 6, 2004. 

5. This refers to a hadith reported in Bukhari and Muslim regarding the issue of what to do 
about a selfish ruler where the Prophet is quoted as saying, "give them [the rulers] their 
due and ask God your due." Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, Fikr-e-Islanu (New Delhi: 
Al-Risala Books, 1996), 160. 

7. Mawlana Khan does not think Islam needs reform but rather Muslims' understanding of 
Islam needs to be corrected. See his Fikr-e-IsMmi. 

8. Wahiduddin Khan, "Hindu-Muslim Dialogue," Al-Risala English, November-December, 
1994, 15. 

9. Christian W. Troll, "Sharing Islamically in the Pluralistic Nation-State of India. The Views 
of Some Contemporary Indian Muslim Leaders and Thinkers," in Christian- Muslim Encoun- 
ters, Yvonne Y. Haddad and Wadi' Z. Haddad (eds. ), (Gainesville; University of Florida Press, 
1995), 245-62. 

10. Ziya-ul Hasan Faruqi, "Indian Muslims and the Ideology of the Secular State," in South 
Asian Politics and Religion, D. Smith (ed.), (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 
140. See also Abid Husain, The Destiny of Indian Muslims (Lahore: Oadira Book Traders, 

11. Mushir-ul Haq, Is/floi in Seciitar Iiidjfl (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1972), 1. 

12. Faruqi, "Indian Muslims and the Ideology of the Secular State," 149. 

13. Ibid., 139-42. Coulson argued similarly that in Islamic history there had been a conve- 
nient separation of religious and political spheres even though ideologically it never found 
much support. See Noel James Coulson, A History of Islamic Law (Edinburgh: Edinburgh 
University Press, 1964). 

14. Faruqi, "Indian Muslims and the Ideology of the Secular State," 148. See also Sa'id Ahmad 
Akbarabadi, "Hindustan ki shar'i haithiyat (India's Status in Light of SharT'ah)," Burlian, 
July-September, 1966, 190-7. 

15. Haq, Islam in Secular India, 86. 

16. Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, Din-i kamil (New Delhi: Maktaba al-Risala, 1992), 365. 

17. For more on this issue, see Irfan A. Omar, "Islam and the Other: The Ideal Vision of 
Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan," Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 36/3-4, 1999, 423-38. 

18. Al-Risala Urdu, September 1998, 23. 

19. Khan, Din-i kamil, 356. 

20. Referring, among others, to the verses 3:104 and 110 of the Our'an. 

21. Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, interview by author. New Delhi, India, January 21, 1998. 


22. Mawlaiia Wahiduddin Khan, "A Return to Secularism," interview in Asinu'eek, January 13, 
1993; and also his "The Future of Secularism," The Hindustan Tunes, April 25, 1995. 

23. The Our'an says: 'And each one has a goal toward which he turns; so race one another in 
good works . . ." 2;148a; see also 49;13, 4;1, in The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, trans. 
M. M. Pickthall (New York; New American Library, 1953). 

24. Irfan A. Omar, "Indian Muslims and the Search for Communal Harmony; Some Notes on 
Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan," Studies in Contemporary Islam, 2/1, 2000, 60-6. 

25. In a recent interview with the author (January 6, 2004), he acknowledged a shift in his 
attention towards non-Muslims or the new Muslims who regularly come to him for general 
discussions and learning about Islam. 

25. See Al-Risala Urdu, November 2004, which published accounts by some of these close dis- 
ciples relating their transformation experience in their own words. 

2 7. Mawlana Wahiduddin Khan, "Co-Existence of Religions in India," The Times of India, 
August 19, 1993. 


Sayyed Abu I Hasan 'Ali 
Nadwi and Contemporary 
Islamic Thought in India 

Yoginder Sikand 

Faced with the ominous rise of Hindu fascism and an increasingly Hinduized state, the 
Muslims of India struggle to preserve their separate identity, which they see as under 
grave threat. Post-Partition Indian Muslim scholars have been particularly concerned 
with reinforcing the faith and identity of their fellow religionists, while at the same time 
asserting the need for Muslims to critically engage with the wider society to protect and 
promote their interests. The balance that they have sought to maintain between com- 
mitment to Islam and to the notion of the universal Muslim ummah, on the one 
hand, and to the Indian state on the other, has not been free from tension. In the 
fascist Hindutva imagination, the Indian Muslims are continuously reviled as Pakistani 
"fifth columnists," as "enemies of the nation," and so on, and their patriotism is 
said to be suspect. The Muslim as the menacing "other" occupies a central place in 
Hindutva discourse, and this has been used to legitimize large-scale anti-Muslim vio- 
lence. Matters have been made more complicated with the activities of anti-Indian and 
anti-Hindu Islamist groups in Kashmir and in neighboring Pakistan, thus further 
reinforcing widespread anti-Muslim prejudices in India and thereby strengthening the 
Hindu right. 

The late Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (d. 1999), more popularly known as Ali 
Miyan, was one of the leading Indian ulama of modern times, recognized in Muslim 
circles worldwide for his scholarship and his dedication to the cause of Islamic revival. 
This chapter provides an introduction to his life and works and a broad overview of his 
writings. It focuses, in particular, on Nadwi's own vision for Islam in contemporary 
India, striving to reconcile the Islamic commitment of the Muslims of the country with 
their status as citizens of a nominally secular state and as members of a multi-religious 


Early Life 

Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi was born in 1913 at Takiya Kalan, also known as Daira-i Shah 
AlimuUah, a village near the town of Rai Bareilly, in the present-day Indian state of 
Uttar Pradesh. His family, which claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad, had 
produced numerous illustrious scholars and Sufis. Among the several leading Islamic 
scholars and activists that the family had produced, and in whom Nadwi took great 
pride, was Sayyed Ahmad Barelwi, the charismatic eighteenth-century leader who had 
launched a failed jihad against the Sikhs in the Punjab.^ 

As a child, Nadwi was sent to the village mosque school, where he studied the Our'an 
and learnt Arabic and Urdu. His father, Sayyed Abdul Hai Hasani, an accomplished 
Islamic scholar in his own right^ and the rector of the famous Nadwat ul-'Ulama 
madrasah' in Lucknow for many years, died when he was nine, and he was brought 
up by his mother, a pious woman who had memorized the entire Our'an by heart. A 
particularly important influence on him at this stage was his elder brother, Sayyed 
Abdul Ala, who later assumed the post of director of the Nadwat ul-'Ulama. From his 
brother Nadwi learnt Arabic and studied books on the life of the Prophet. By this time 
he had developed a deep commitment to the cause of Islam. This was accompanied by 
a growing antagonism to the West, which he began to see as responsible for much of 
the misery of the Muslims the world over. As one of his biographers notes, he was now 
fired by a "hatred of the West," not of individual Westerners as such but of "Western 
oppression.'"* This was to have a lasting impact on his subsequent life and in his cham- 
pioning of Islam as an alternative to Western "decadence." 

In order to train as an 'alim he was sent to the Nadwat ul-'Ulama for higher Islamic 
studies. Established in 1898, the Nadwat saw itself as a leading center for the training 
of reformist ulama. He also traveled to Lahore, where he studied the Our'an for a while 
under Mawlana Ahmad Ali (d.l962). In 1931. he went to Azamgarh to study with the 
noted Islamic scholar, Sayyed Sulamian Nadwi at the Dar ul-Musannifln, established 
by the renowned Mawlana Shibli Nu'mani (d. 1 9 1 4 ). The next year he went to Deoband, 
where he studied Our'anic commentaries under the noted Deobandi 'dlim, Mawlana 
Sayyed Hussain Ahmad Madani. Alongside his study of the Our'an and Islamic law, he 
began taking an interest in Sufism as well, being enrolled into various Sufi orders.' 

A major turning point in Nadwi's life came in 1 9 34, when he was appointed to teach 
Arabic and Our'anic commentary at the Nadwat ul-'Ulama. The Nadwat was to remain 
central to his life thereafter, just as he was to remain central to the life of the madrasah, 
turning it into a widely recognized center for Islamic research.'' He continued teaching 
at the madrasah even after he was appointed its rector in 1961 after the death of his 
brother, a post that he occupied till his own death. 

It was at the Nadwat that Nadwi's great skills as a writer and orator were able to 
develop and flourish. He is credited with having written almost 180 books, mostly in 
Arabic and some in Urdu. Many of these books have since been translated into various 
other languages. Nadwi's particular interest lay in Islamic movements, and his first full- 
length study was on the jihad movement of his ancestor Sayyed Ahmad Shahid, begun 
in 19 36 and completed three years later. Another of his major literary achievements 


was his five-volume Tarikh-i Da'wat-o-'Azimat, a history of revivalist movements among 
Muslims in India. Nadwi wrote extensively on the poet-philosopher Iqbal and his quest 
for a normative Islamic social order and polity, on the life and works of Mawlana 
Muhammad Ilyas, the founder of the Tablighi Jamaat, on the contributions of Muslims 
and Islam to world culture, and a series of books on Islam in the contemporary Arab 
world, where he had traveled widely, stressing the glory of the Arab contribution to 
Islam and human progress, calling upon them to go back to their Islamic roots, while 
at the same time bitterly castigating dictatorial Arab regimes for their secularism, their 
cultural and political enslavement to the West and their often brutal suppression of 
Islamist movements. He was also critical of such ideologies as nationalism, commu- 
nism, and pan-Arabism, which he saw as having taken the place of Islam as the guiding 
light of the Arabs and as having caused their downfall. Having traveled extensively in 
the United States and Europe, Nadwi also penned several books and tracts on contem- 
porary Western civilization, condemning it for what he regarded as its crass material- 
ism, for what he saw as its immorality and godlessness, but at the same time insisting 
that Muslims should not hesitate to benefit from its scientific achievements. 

Nadwi's writings were concerned to present Islam as a comprehensive worldview. 
As such, therefore, he echoed the argument of the Islamists that an Islamic state 
was essential for the laws of shari'ah to be implemented in their entirety. However, 
he was, at the same time, a realist, aware that this was out of the realm of human 
possibility in the contemporary Indian context. He argued that an Islamic political 
order could be established in India only in some remotely distant future. Rather than 
struggling directly for it in the present, he believed that the Indian Muslims should focus 
their energies on missionary efforts and trying to build what he saw as a truly Islamic 
society, on the basis of which alone could an ideal Islamic political order come into 

Besides his voluminous scholarly output, Nadwi was occupied with several Indian 
as well as international Islamic organizations. In recognition of his outstanding con- 
tribution to Islamic studies and to the cause of Islam, he was awarded the Shah Faisal 
Award in 1980. In addition to serving as the rector of the Nadwat ul-'Ulama. he was 
the head of the Dini Ta'limi Council (The Religious Education Council), Uttar Pradesh, 
member of the Standing Committee of the Dar ul-Musannifin, Azamgarh, member of 
the Consultative Committee of the Dar ul-'Ulum madrasah, Deoband, chairman of the 
Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies, director of the Foundation for Studies and Research, 
Luxembourg, member of the Organizing Committee of the Islamic Center, Geneva, 
member of the Board of Directors of the Rabita al-Adab al-Islami al-Alami (The World 
Committee for Islamic Literature), Amman, member of the Standing Committee of 
the Rabita al-Alami al-Islami (The World Muslim League), Mecca, member of the 
Consultative Committee of the Jami'a al-Islamiya (Islamic University), Medina, as well 
as visiting professor at the universities of Damascus, Medina, and Marrakesh. 
His involvement with these organizations and institutions enabled him to travel 
widely, both in India as well as abroad, which, in turn, exercised a major influence on 
his own writings as well as his work among the Muslims of India, to which we now 


Muslims as a Minority: Between Faitli and Citizensliip 

Nadwi's views on Muslims living as a minority in India and how this predicament could 
be reconciled with an understanding of Islam as going beyond personal piety to 
embrace collective affairs as well as the polity, must be seen in the context of his under- 
standing of the historical role of Islam in India. Nadwi portrays a romantically ideal 
picture of much of the history of the Muslim presence in India. Thus, he says, the first 
Muslims came to India "supremely unconcerned with worldly aims and ambitions" 
guided only by "the lofty sentiment of religious service." The message of equality and 
social justice that the early Sufis preached struck a powerful chord among the people, 
especially the "low" castes, and scores of them embraced Islam at their hands. For their 
part, successive Muslim kings of India are said to have been "men of courage and ambi- 
tion," who "carried the country to glorious heights of progress and prosperity." They 
considered themselves as "divinely-appointed trustees of God's land and servants of His 
people." The Muslims who came to India from abroad settled down in the country for 
good, thus making it their home, unlUce, for instance, the British. As such, their con- 
tributions to Indian culture have been immense. It was under Muslim rule that most of 
India was unified into one administrative unit and the country was brought into 
contact with the outside world. Muslims helped develop new styles of architecture, art, 
dress, language, and literature, as well as promoting trade, agriculture, and industry. 
More importantly, Islam provided the Indians with the concept of Divine Unity, bitterly 
critiquing polytheism, priesthood, idolatry, and various superstitious beliefs and prac- 
tices. Its message of social equality and women's rights, too, had a profound impact, 
and many Hindu reformist sects owed their inspiration to Islamic influence. In more 
recent times, Muslims also played a leading role in the struggle against British imperi- 
alism and for the cause of Indian freedom.* 

Because of the great contributions that Muslims have made to Indian history and 
culture, Nadwi argued, they have as much right to live in India as equal citizens as do 
people of other faiths. As he put it, "The Muslims are not only citizens of an equal status 
with anybody in India; they are also among its chief builders and architects, and hold 
a position second to none among the peoples of the world for selfless service to the 
motherland.'"' This argument appears to have been directed both at Hindu chauvinists, 
who insisted that Muslims must either migrate en masse to Pakistan or else give up their 
separate religious identity, and at the Muslim supporters of the "two-nation" theory 
who did not see any possibility for peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Muslims 
living in the same country. 

Muslim leaders in post-1947 India have had to deal with the question of Pakistan 
squarely. Lingering mistrust among Hindus about the alleged role of the Muslims who 
stayed behind in India in the Partition of the country, as well as accusations of Muslims 
being Pakistani fifth columnists, forced Nadwi to come out strongly in favor of a united 
India, though his patriotism was not tainted with anti-Pakistan sentiment.^" Although 
Nadwi had studied under such protagonists of the Pakistan movement as Mawlana 
Ashraf Ali Thanawi, he was opposed to the demand for the creation of a separate state 


for the Muslims of India even at the height of the Pakistan movement in the 1940s/^ 
In this regard he was influenced by the leading ulama of the Deoband seminary with 
whom he had studied, and who were known for their fierce opposition to the "two- 
nation" theory, which Nadwi considered to be a "foUy."^" Opposed to the demand for 
Partition, principally because he felt that only in a united India would Muslims be able 
to carry on with their religious duty of missionary work, Nadwi insisted that Muslims 
could live along with others in a common homeland in peace and harmony and yet 
remain true to their religious commitments.^' 

Distancing himself from the Muslim League, Nadwi moved closer to other Muslim 
organizations. In 1940, he came under the influence of Sayyed Abul Ala MawdudI, the 
founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fierce critic of the Muslim communalism of the 
League, and a passionate advocate of an Islamic state. Impressed with Mawdudi's "bold 
rebuttal of the attacks and conspiracy of Western writers, Jews and Christians, against 
Islam," he joined the Jamaat,^* being put in charge of its activities in Lucknow. This 
relationship proved short-lived, however, and he left the Jamaat in 1943.^' He is said to 
have been disillusioned by the perception that many members of the Jamaat were going 
to "extremes" (g/u(Zu)"' in adoring and glorifying MawdudI as almost infallible, this 
being seen as bordering on "personality worship" (shaksiyat parasti). At the same time, 
he felt that many of them believed that they had nothing at all to learn from any other 
Islamic scholars. He was also concerned with what he saw as a lack of personal piety 
in MawdudI and leading Jamaat activists and with their criticism of other Muslim 
groups. ^^ 

It is likely that the Jamaat's own understanding of the Islamic mission in the 
Indian context, based as it was on the primacy of the political struggle to establish an 
Islamic state, was also a crucial factor for Nadwi's parting of ways with MawdtidT. 
It appears that while Nadwi shared much the same understanding of Islam, as an all- 
comprehensive way of life, with the Islamic political order a necessary pillar, he differed 
from the Jamaat on the crucial question of strategy, seeing the Jamaat's approach as 
unrealistic in the Indian context. This opposition to the Jamaat's approach continued 
even after 1947, although Nadwi maintained cordial relations with Mawdtidl, and 
never failed to meet him whenever he visited Pakistan.^** 

Nadwi's differences with the Jamaat come out clearly in his book Asr-i Hazir Mai Din 
Ki Tahfim-o-Tashrih {Understanding and Explaining Religion in the Contemporary Age), 
penned in 1978, which won him, so he wrote in his introduction to its second edition 
published in 1980, fierce condemnation from leading members of the Jamaat. Here, 
Nadwi took Mawdtidl to task for having allegedly misinterpreted central Islamic beliefs 
in order to suit his own political agenda, presenting Islam, he claimed, as little more 
than a political program. He accused MawdudI of equating the Islamic duty of "estab- 
lishing religion" {iqamat-i din) with the setting up of an Islamic state with God as sov- 
ereign and law maker. At Mawdudi's hands, he said, "God" (ilah), "the sustainer" {rabb), 
"religion" {dm), and "worship" {'ibadat) had all been reduced to political concepts, sug- 
gesting that Islam is simply about political power and that the relationship between God 
and human beings is only that between an all-powerful king and His subjects. However, 
Nadwi said, this relationship is also one of "love" and "realization of the Truth," which 
is far more comprehensive than what MawdudI envisaged.^'' 


Linked to Nadwi's critique of MawdudI for having allegedly reduced Islam to a mere 
political project was his concern that not only was such an approach a distortion of the 
actual import of the Our' an but also that it was impractical in the Indian context. Thus, 
he argued, Mawdudl's insistence that to accept the commands of anyone other than 
God was tantamount to shirk, the crime of associating others with God, as this was 
allegedly akin to "worship," was not in keeping with the teachings of Islam. God, Nadwi 
wrote, had left several areas of life free for people to decide how they could govern them, 
within the broad limits set by shari'ah, and guided by a concern for social welfare. 
Further, Nadwi wrote that Mawdudl's argument that God had sent prophets to the 
world to establish an Islamic state was a misreading of the Islamic concept of prophet- 
hood. The principal work of the prophets, Nadwi argued, was to preach the worship of 
the one God and to exhort others to do good deeds. Not all prophets were rulers. In fact, 
only a few of them were granted that status. Nadwi faulted MawdudI for "debasing" 
the "lofty" Islamic understanding of worship to mean simply "training" people as 
willing subjects of the Islamic state. In Mawdudl's understanding of Islam, he wrote, 
prayer and remembrance of God are seen as simply the means to an end, the estab- 
lishment of an Islamic state, whereas, Nadwi argued, the converse is true. The goal of 
the Islamic state is to ensure worship of God, and not the other way round. If worship 
can be said to be a means at all, it is a means for securing the "will of God" and "close- 
ness to Him."-° 

If the Islamic state is then simply a means for the "establishment of religion" and 
not the "total religion" or the "primary objective" of Islam, it opens up the possibility 
of pursuing the same goals through other means in a context where setting up an 
Islamic state is not an immediate possibility, as is the case in contemporary India. Nadwi 
refers to this when he says that the objective of iqamat-i din needs to be pursued along 
with hikmat-i din ("wisdom of the faith"), using constructive, as opposed to destructive, 
means. Eschewing "total opposition" (kulli mukhalifat), Muslims striving for the "estab- 
lishment of the faith" should, he wrote, adopt peaceful means such as "understanding 
and reform" and "consultation." Muslims should make use of all available legitimate 
spaces to pursue the cause of the "establishment of religion," propagating their 
message through literature, public discussions, training volunteers, winning others 
over with the force of one's own personality, and establishing contacts with govern- 
ments, exhorting them to abide by shari'ah, seeking to convince them of the superior- 
ity of the solutions to worldly problems that Islam is said to provide. It is clear that such 
spaces are available even in Muslim minority contexts, and Nadwi suggests that Indian 
Muslims, too, should seek to take advantage of these to pursue the mission of the 
"establishment of the faith," even in the absence of realistic possibilities for the imme- 
diate setting up of an Islamic state. 

Although Nadwi agreed with MawdudI in arguing for the necessity of an Islamic 
state, he insisted that "wisdom" demanded that the strategies for attaining the goal be 
formulated in accordance with existing social conditions. Thus, he noted, it was not 
necessary for a political party to directly launch a movement for the cause, especially 
if the odds were heavily weighed against it. A more realistic approach would be, he said, 
to "prepare people's minds" for Islamic government through a "silent revolution." 
Although these remarks seem to have been directed at Islamist groups working in 


Muslim majority countries, Nadwi clearly saw this pragmatic approach as the only fea- 
sible way to carry on with the mission of "establishing the faith" in the Indian context. 
To Nadwi's multifarious missionary efforts in post-1947 India, all of which were 
directed towards this one overarching goal, we now turn. 

Muslims in Post-1947 India 

With the Partition of India in 194 7, Indian Muslim leaders were forced to come to terms 
with the grave threats with which the community was now confronted. Even the 
Jamaat-e-Islami was forced to reconsider its strategies on more realistic lines. It aban- 
doned "the rule of God" {hukumat-i ilahiya] as its immediate goal, substituting it with 
"the establishment of the faith" {iqamat-i dm). It even went so far as to insist that in the 
given circumstances it saw democracy and secularism, which MawdudI viewed as the 
twin evils of Western political thought, as indispensable, for the only alternative would 
be Hindu fascism. In the context of anti-Muslim violence and growing Hindu aggres- 
sion, which he saw as bent on the "cultural genocide" of the Muslims and as aimed at 
turning India into "another Spain," Nadwi, too, insisted that Muslims adopt a prag- 
matic strategy that would enable them to reconcile their commitments to their faith, 
on the one hand, and their responsibilities towards their country, on the other"^ 

Clearly, Nadwi seems to have felt, the Islamic imperative of struggling for the "estab- 
lishment of the faith" need not necessarily take the form of political activism alone. 
There were other, perhaps more efficacious, means to the same goal, focussing on the 
individual believer, instilling in him a commitment to the faith. Gradually, as the 
number of such individuals grew, and others, influenced by the moral virtues that they 
witnessed in them, began to take an interest in Islam, if not actually converting to 
the faith, an Islamic society could be created, Nadwi believed, on the basis of which an 
Islamic political order could emerge. Nadwi was pragmatic enough to realize that 
efforts to establish an Islamic state in India without building up an Islamic society that 
would encompass a majority of the people of the country was Utopian. Hence his insis- 
tent appeal to the Muslims to focus their energies on strengthening their commitment 
to their faith as well as engaging in missionary work among others. 

An indication of this growing pragmatism was Nadwi's wholehearted participation 
in the work of the Tablighi Jamaat, which he first came in touch with in 1943. The Tab- 
lighis consciously eschewed political activity, refraining from communal controversy 
and conflict. With its simple message of faith in God, the Tabfighi Jamaat probably sug- 
gested itself to Nadwi as the most pragmatic strategy for Muslims in India to adopt. 
Nadwi remained deeply appreciative of the Tablighi Jamaat till the end, exhorting the 
students and teachers of the Nadwat to take part in its work and even going so far as 
to publish a biography of its founder 

Nadwi was equally appreciative of the role of the traditional madrasah in promot- 
ing Islamic awareness, seeing the ulama as the rightful leaders of the masses in 
the absence of Muslim political authority. He clearly saw that in post- 194 7 India the 
centuries-old tradition of Islamic learning as well as the very Islamic identity of the 
Muslims were under grave threat, and insisted that one of the principal tasks before 


the community was the preservation of Islamic knowledge through the madrasah 
system. Nadwi played a key role in the setting up of the Dini Ta'limi Council (The Reli- 
gious Education Council) in 1959, which aimed at providing religious education to 
Muslim children through a chain of mosque schools. The Council, which Nadwi headed 
for many years, also sought to combat negative porh-ayals of Muslims and Islam in text- 
books used in government schools.-* 

Political Involvement 

Faced as the Muslim community was with problems that demanded a political solution, 
Nadwi was forced against his will to enter the field of politics."' In his autobiography 
Nadwi wrote that prior to 1964 he had no interest in political affairs, being immersed 
in his scholarly pursuits. A sudden spurt in violent attacks against Muslims instigated 
by Hindu chauvinists, as well as the continuing indifference of the government to 
Muslim problems, led him to turn his attention to politics. At a time when the role of 
the state had extended into almost every sphere of life, he wrote, the Muslims could not 
afford to remain aloof from politics. To do so would be tantamount to "collective 
suicide," for they would not be able to protect their identity and even their lives in the 
face of the growing threat of Hindu aggression as well as the Hinduization of the 
state.-'' Accordingly, in 1964 Nadwi, along with other leading Muslim figures, set up 
the Muslim Majlis-i Mushawarat (The Muslim Consultative Assembly) to chalk out a 
political strategy for the Muslims. Nadwi saw the Majlis as playing a central role in 
mobilizing Muslim voters as a powerful political force. The Majlis was intended to create 
a dialogue with established political parties in order to inform them of the problems of 
the Muslims, and to promote intercommunal amity in the country.^^ By thereby seeking 
to integrate the Muslims into the mainstream of political life in India, the Majlis, as 
Nadwi saw it, was also intended to enable Muslims to prove to others their Our'anic 
status of khair ummat (the best community). It was only in a climate of peace, Nadwi 
wrote, that non-Muslims would be willing to listen to the Islamic "invitation.""^ 

The setting up of the Majlis was a sign that the Muslims were no longer willing to 
be treated as a passive vote-bank of the Congress Party Incensed at the Congress' indif- 
ference to Muslim problems, Majlis leaders argued the need for Muslims to seek to enter 
into alliances with other political parties, promising Muslim votes in return for assur- 
ances of protection of Muslim interests. As Nadwi stressed, the Muslims "had not 
written out a letter of slavery" for any party, arguing that the Congress could no longer 
take the Muslim vote for granted. Rather, he said, Muslims, acting within the frame- 
work of the Indian Constitution, would support political forces that could guarantee 
protection of their lives, property, and religious freedom."' Contrary to Nadwi's expec- 
tations, however, the Majlis died a premature death not long after it was born. 

Nadwi believed that as a minority, Muslims needed to work along with existing polit- 
ical parties, rather than set up one of their own. The legacy of the Muslim League had 
left too many scars to allow Nadwi to contemplate the possibility of a separate Muslim 
party. This did not mean, Nadwi insisted, that Muslims should not organize on their 
own as a separate bloc, and on that basis seek to create a dialogue with other political 


forces to protect their own interests. In fact, this is what, in addition to the Majlis, the 
Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) and the Babri Masjid Action Committee, in both 
of which Nadwi played a leading role, actually intended. The MPLB was set up in 1972, 
and Nadwi headed it from 1983 till his death. Its purpose was to protect Muslim per- 
sonal laws from interference by the state and to combat what were seen as "un-Islamic" 
practices among the Muslims. 

In a country where shan'ah was applicable only to the realm of personal affairs, 
Nadwi saw the threat of tampering with Muslim personal law by the state as tanta- 
mount to a "conspiracy" against Islam. Thus, he asserted, "We cannot ever allow 
anyone to impose on us any other social and cultural system and personal law. We 
understand this as an invitation to apostasy, and so we must oppose it as we would 
oppose any invitation to renouncing our faith. This is our right as citizens of this 
country, and the Indian Constitution not only allows for this but positively supports us 
in our quest for the preservation of our democratic rights and freedoms."^" Although 
Nadwi envisioned shan'ah as all-encompassing, extending even to collective affairs, by 
thus accepting its jurisdiction being restricted to personal affairs as the basic minimum 
acceptable to Muslims, he saw the possibility of the Indian Muslims coming to terms, 
at least for the present and the immediate future, with what, in theory, is a secular polity. 

Nadwi saw secularism, understood both as state neutrality towards all religions as 
well as harmony between followers of different faiths, as indispensable for a plural 
society like India and for protecting Muslim interests. Even at the height of the Babri 
mosque controversy, in the early 1990s, when Hindu zealots, targeting a mosque in the 
town of Ayodhya, which they alleged had been built on the ruins of a temple dedicated 
to the god-king Ram, unleashed a wave of attacks against Muslims, Nadwi counseled 
dialogue and restraint, rather than retaliation and conflict. Warning Muslims not to 
take to the path of violence, he sought to present a solution to the dispute that might 
satisfy both sides. ^^ He met with Hindu religious leaders to help evolve a mutually 
acceptable solution, believing that the matter should not be left to politicians who had 
a vested interest in communal conflict. 

In the wake of the destruction of the Babri mosque in December 1992, Nadwi 
reacted by issuing an appeal for calm. He called for the reconstruction of the mosque 
on its original site, a ban on all organizations preaching communal hatred, and a 
"storm-like movement" for promoting intercommunal harmony and patriotism. He bit- 
terly criticized the action of some Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh who reacted to 
the destruction of the Babri mosque by attacking Hindu temples there. He condemned 
this as "a negation of the teachings of Islam," adding that Muslims in these countries 
should protect their non-Muslim minorities and serve as a "model" for Hindus in India 
to emulate vis-a-vis their own minorities. ^ ' Appealing to Muslims not to lose heart in 
the face of mounting attacks and to desist from counter-violence, Nadwi argued that 
they should respond by seeking to protect their separate communal identity and by 
engaging in Islamic missionary work, and, in this way, try to "bring India to the right 
path." They must, he said, turn to God for help, repent of their sins, abide by the com- 
mandments of God, and recite the Our'an regularly, particularly those verses of the 
holy book that talk about "peace," "security," "victory," and "divine assistance." At this 
juncture, he pointed out, Muslims must remember that particularly since they are a 


minority, they should strive for peaceful coexistence with people of other faiths, and 
work with them for social justice. They must not despair in this hour of trial, but, 
instead, should steadfastly endure tribulations in the path of God, not hesitating even 
to sacrifice their lives as martyrs for their faith. '^ 

Inter-Religious Dialogue 

In the wake of mounting attacks against Muslims, inter-religious dialogue assumed a 
particular urgency for Nadwi. The need for Muslims to reach out to the wider society 
first suggested itself to him in the early 1950s in the course of his involvement with 
the work of the Tablighi Jamaat. While appreciating the work of the movement among 
the Muslim masses, he felt that it had tended to neglect the role of the ulama in the 
affairs of the country as a whole. The ulama, he felt, had a special role to play in pro- 
moting awareness among the Muslims of the changing social conditions in the country, 
in order to make them "ideal citizens" and capable of "obtaining the leadership of the 
country." As he put it: 

If you malie Muslims one hundred per cent mindful of their supererogatory prayers, 
making them all very pious, but leave them cut off from the wider environment, ignorant 
of where the country is heading and of how hatred is being stirred up in the country 
against them, then, leave alone the supererogatory prayers, it will soon become impossi- 
ble for Muslims to say even their five daily prayers. If you make Muslims strangers in their 
own land, blind them to social realities and cause them to remain indifferent to the radical 
changes taking place in the country and the new laws that are being imposed and the new 
ideas that are ruling people's hearts and minds, then let alone [acquiring] leadership [of 
the country], it will become difficult for Muslims to even ensure their own existence." 

Accordingly, Nadwi began efforts to reach out to non-Muslims, seeking to establish 
better relations between Muslims and them, this being seen as necessary for mission- 
ary work. Such efforts at interaction took various forms. Thus, for instance, Nadwi 
began taking an interest in the efforts of the Dalits in their struggles against caste 
oppression, having as early as 1935 met with Dr. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader, inviting 
him to accept Islam along with his followers.^' He established close ties with the 
Bangalore-based English fortnightly Dalit Voice, releasing its inaugural issue in 1980. 
Dalit Voice advocated an alliance between all marginalized communities in India, 
including Dalits, Backward Castes, Tribals, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, 
against "upper" caste Hindu oppression, and Nadwi was an enthusiastic supporter of 
the cause. ^'' In order to reach out to well-meaning non-Muslims, as well as to highlight 
Muslim problems, Nadwi was instrumental in setting up the English weekly One Nation 
Chronicle, which, after it failed to take off was replaced by the fortnightly Nation and the 
World. Both names were deliberately chosen to reflect an insistence that Muslims, too, 
considered themselves part of the Indian "nation," and, therefore, could not afford to 
be ignored.'^ Nadwi served as head of the trust under whose auspices the journal was 
published. Sayyed Hamid, editor of the journal, writes that Nadwi saw the journal as 


promoting among its readers "balance and goodwill" among people of different 

Nadwi called for inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and others, particularly 
Hindus, envisaging this as going beyond mere theological exchange to take the form of 
joint efforts for building a more harmonious and just society, hi his introduction to a 
survey of Muslim contributions to Indian culture, he wrote that for people of different 
faiths to peacefully live together, it was necessary that they should understand each 
other's religion and culture, regarding whatever they found good therein as "precious 
and worthy of encouragement and preservation,"" When two civilizations meet, he 
remarked, there is always a two-way process of interaction between them, each being 
influenced and molded by the other. Such interaction must not be seen as necessarily 
negative, because "human existence is based on the noble principle of give and take." 
In this, he wrote, "lies its strength and glory," 

It was because of such exchanges in the past, he commented, that numerous reform- 
ers, influenced by Islam, emerged among the Hindus, preaching the unity of God and 
the oneness of all humankind. On the other hand, as a result of being open to indige- 
nous cultural influences the Muslims of India developed their own "individual national 
character" that sets them apart from Muslims elsewhere. Not all these influences may 
be wholesome, Nadwi remarked, pointing to the existence of caste, social discrim- 
ination, and extravagant customs among the Indian Muslims as examples of the 
"baneful" impact of their encounter with Hindu society. However, he noted, by not hes- 
itating to adopt positive features of the surrounding culture with which it had come 
into contact, Indian Muslim culture had developed "a beauty and richness which 
is characteristically its own,"*^ Overall, he said, Muslims had actually "benefited 
immensely" from the "ancient cultural heritage" of India, In particular, it had, he 
wrote, enabled them to successfully meet the onslaught of Western culture, preserving 
their cultural heritage largely intact, in contrast to Muslims living in "so-called Islamic 
countries," Further, he added, the depth and profundity of Indian Muslim thought, par- 
ticularly Sufism, was a result of the interaction of Islam with "social, cultural and intel- 
lectual processes native to India,"'*" This cultural dialogue had endowed the Muslims 
with a rootedness in the Indian context so that they "operate not like an alien or a trav- 
eler but as a natural, permanent citizen who has built his home in the light of his pecu- 
liar needs, circumstances, past traditions and new impulses," Nadwi insisted that it was 
thus "utterly futile" to expect Muslims to "lead a life of complete immunity from local 

While not advocating a form of inter-faith dialogue that might lead Muslims to com- 
promise on thefr faith, being convinced that Islam was indeed the only perfect religion, 
Nadwi advocated what could be called a "dialogue of life," appealing for people of dif- 
ferent religions to work together for common purposes. He saw the struggle against vio- 
lence as the single most urgent need of the times, and here Muslims could work together 
with others to establish a more peaceful and just society. He often spoke out against 
extremism of all sorts, insisting that what was required was a band of missionaries who 
could "douse the flames of hatred and enmity," In this way, Hamid writes, Nadwi taught 
the Indian Muslims how they could "live in a religiously plural society in such a way 
that their beliefs could remain free from the stain of communal prejudices and conflict, " 


while "living together with others in harmony by respecting each other's religious 
beliefs." He insisted that rather than being a "barrier" in the path of Islamic mission- 
ary work, such a stance was actually a "facilitator".** 

The Payam-i Insaniyat ("The Message of ITumanity") was Nadwi's principal vehicle 
for the promotion of better relations between Muslims and others. The noted Shi'ite 
leader, Mawlana ICalbe Sadiq, a close associate of Nadwi in the MPLB, writes that the 
Payam-i Insaniyat was Nadwi's "favorite program," which he envisaged as a means to 
"bring peace to India," through which alone the Muslims could "obtain their true 
stature."*' As its name suggests, it was intended to be a forum where people of differ- 
ent faiths could come together on the basis of their common humanity and belief in 
common values. The Muslims had a special role to play in this regard for, as Nadwi saw 
it, it was they who had first "gifted the message of humanism, love, tolerance and 
concern for social welfare to the people of the country"*'' Further, it was the religious 
duty of the Muslims to do so, for their status as the "best community" in the Our'an 
was bestowed upon them precisely because they "enjoin what is good and forbid what 
is evil."*^ As such, Hamid writes, it was also geared towards bringing Muslims to inter- 
act with others for addressing issues and problems of common concern, thus trying to 
reverse the trend towards "separatism" that had made them "indifferent" to these 
issues.*^ Nadwi insisted that the Muslim community could no longer "live in its on 
imaginary world [. . .] cut off from the mainstream of national life." Rather, they 
needed to join hands with others in building the country,*'' for their lives were "inex- 
tricably linked to each other's." The Payam-i Insaniyat, as he saw it, pointed to the 
most appropriate way in which Muslims could play a leading role in building a new 
India. '° 

The origins of the Payam-i Insaniyat go back to the early 1950s, when, in the wake 
of growing attacks on Muslims by Hindu chauvinist groups, Nadwi began addressing 
joint Hindu-Muslim public rallies, calling for communal harmony'^ In the course of 
his interaction with Hindus he discovered that many of them had doubts about Islam, 
which, he recognized, not only further widened the distance between Hindus and 
Muslims but also stood in the way of the spread of Islam. This led him. in 1974. to for- 
mally launch the Payam-i Insaniyat as an effort to promote better relations between 
Muslims and people of other faiths. Although Nadwi envisaged it as a popular move- 
ment, it failed to take such a form, revolving around himself as a charismatic person- 
ality. Because of this, after his death it witnessed a sudden decline. Although it did not 
have any registered office or members, it later gave birth to more organized bodies such 
as the Society for Communal Harmony, consisting of a group of Hindu and Muslim 
intellectuals committed to the cause of communal harmony, and the Forum for Com- 
munal Understanding and Synthesis, with broadly the same objectives.'' 

The activities of the Payam-i Insaniyat consisted, largely, of organizing public rallies 
addressed by Nadwi, his deputy Mawlana Abdul Karim Parekh of Nagpur, as well as 
other Muslim and Hindu leaders, and publishing literature in various languages on 
communal harmony from an Islamic literature penned by Nadwi himself Nadwi's 
speeches at Payam-i Insaniyat rallies generally focussed on moral values that people of 
all religions generally hold in common, on communal hatred, violence and oppression 
of marginalized groups, on growing materialism, immorality and corruption in public 


life, and on other such issues of concern to Indians irrespective of religion, while at the 
same time claiming that Islam could offer an ideal antidote to all of these. While calling 
for closer cooperation between people of different faiths, Nadwi insisted that Muslims 
must steer clear of any moves towards a "unity of religions" (wahdat-i adyan), as that, 
as he saw it, was a "great strife" (fltnah), which could threaten to undermine the notion 
of Islam's uniqueness and superiority.'' He, however, maintained that India as a whole 
as well as each community individually could progress only in a climate of peace. For 
this people of all communities must learn to live together in harmony despite their 
differences. Islam, he stressed, actually enjoined upon Muslims the task of building 
friendly relations with others, rather than alienate them or turn them into enemies. 
"The prophets," he declared at a Payam-i Insaniyat gathering in 1978, "always strove 
to make sure that the beads of humanity always remained strung in one necklace." On 
the other hand, he said, "Satan always tries to break the necklace and cause the beads 
to collide against each other."''' Inspired by his speeches, Nadwi claimed, some Hindu 
extremists were provoked to remark that "Muslims are more concerned than us to save 
this country"" The same enthusiastic response does not, however, seem to have been 
evoked when, in 1978, under Nadwi's instructions, his deputy, Mawlana 'Abdul Karim 
Parekh, met the head of the Hindu chauvinist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and 
sought to convey the message of the movement to him, in an effort to convince him 
"how much concern the Muslims have for the country.""' 

Insisting that Islam positively enjoined peace among peoples of different faiths, 
Nadwi argued that Muslims had a special role to play in the work of the Payam-i 
Insaniyat. Not only was this their religious duty, it was, he said, also indispensable if 
they were to live in security and able to progress as a minority. He likened the move- 
ment to the half-i fuzul, a group headed by Muhammad in Mecca before he was 
appointed as a prophet, and consisting entirely of non-Muslims, mainly pagan Arabs. 
Just as the half-i fuzul aimed at helping the poor and the oppressed, irrespective of 
religion, and "enjoining the good and forbidding the evil," so, too, Nadwi said, must 
Muslims in India today work along with people of other communities for spreading 
"true" religion, peace, love and justice, for Muslims, he insisted, have been appointed 
by God for that very purpose. Further, it was in the vital interests of the Muslims them- 
selves, he said, to see that India was spared the ravages of violence. At a public gath- 
ering at Hyderabad in 1998, Nadwi remarked that the welfare of each community 
living in the country was dependent on the welfare of all the other communities as well. 
Each Indian had two homes, his own little hut as well as the large mansion that is India. 
The interests of the mansion have to be placed before those of the hut, for if there was 
no peace and prosperity in the former then the inhabitants of the latter could never 
prosper.'^ "It is but natural," Nadwi noted at another Payam-i Insaniyat rally, "that a 
passenger traveling in a boat would not allow someone else to make a hole in it," for in 
that case all the passengers would sink together. The only way the Muslims, as a minor- 
ity, could live with respect in any country was by proving their usefulness to others. 
They could also, by their actions, show others that Islam had a viable, in fact, the "ideal" 
solution, to all the problems afflicting the country. In this way, by "saving" India and 
thereby "winning the love and confidence" of its people, God would "provide an oppor- 
tunity for Muslims to occupy the leadership of the country"'* 


Nadwi envisaged the Payam-i Insaniyat as a means for Muslims to establish friendly 
relations with people of other religions, so that in this way they could impress them 
with the teachings of Islam and clear their misunderstandings about the religion. By 
bringing Muslims and others to work together to solve common problems, the Payam- 
i Insaniyat. Nadwi believed, would provide a means for Muslims to carry on with the 
Islamic duty of missionary work. Thus, at a speech delivered at a Payam-i Insaniyat rally 
in the aftermath of the bloody riots at Bhiwandi in 1984, in which dozens of Muslims 
were killed, Nadwi remarked that although the Muslims had been living in the country 
for well over a thousand years they had failed in their duty of explaining the teachings 
of their faith to the Hindus and impressing them with the same. Instead of befriending 
them, Muslims had alienated them, turning them into enemies. The time had now 
come, he said, that through efforts like that of the Payam-i Insaniyat, Muslims must 
show others what "jewels they hide in their hearts," how deeply inspired they were by 
their religion to "show love and human concern" for others, and how "useful" they 
actually were for the country as a whole. Islam, he insisted, was actually a religion of 
peace, and its true followers had "love, not hatred, for all humanity," for all human 
beings, irrespective of religion, were God's creatures and, hence, brothers to each other. 
Muslims, he said, should seek to convince others of this through their actions, and one 
way to do this was to work along with them for a more peaceful and just Indian society. 
This, he argued, would be a great service that they could render to both India as well 
as Islam. '*' Nadwi commented that God had chosen India to be their country, and this 
being their home they should exhibit "love" for it. Islam, he said, positively encouraged 
them to have "love for their land," and the best way in which they could express their 
patriotism was to work against oppression of all kinds, joining hands with others for 
this cause, while also carrying on with the mission of spreading the message of Islam 
that God had entrusted them with.''" 

In advocating peace with others, Muslims, Nadwi insisted, would not be betraying 
their religion. Rather, he pointed out, Islam is clear that human beings, irrespective of 
religion, race, caste, and class, are "the most precious" of God's creation, and an 
"expression of Divine mercy." Hence, Muslims should strive for peace and must also 
raise their voices against all forms of oppression. In this way, they would show others 
that they are "indispensable" to the country, rather than a burden.''^ But peace, he 
pointed out, could not be had if one community sought to impose its beliefs or culture 
on the others. Religious fi'eedom was a must in a religiously plural society, and for this, 
Nadwi argued, true secularism {na mazhabiyat) - state neutrality vis-a-vis all religions 
- and democracy were indispensable, or else nothing could save India from the grave 
threat of a fascist take-over.''" His words are proving to be truly prophetic, as recent 
events so tragically illustrate. 


1. Muhammad Hasan Ansari, Hazrat Mawlana Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi: Hay at Aw 
Karnamey Aw Unke Malfuzat - Eli Ajma'ali Khaka (Lucknow: Maktaba-i lami'at ul- 
Mu'miiiat, 1999), 18-24. 


2. He was the author of the Nuzhat al-Khawatir, an eight-volume encyclopedia containing 
details of over 5000 hidian ulama. and the as-Shaqafat ul-Islamiya fl'l Hind, a history 
of Arabic learning in India. He headed the Nadwat ul-'Ulama from 1915 till his death in 

3. Established in 1898, the Nadwat sought to provide a harmonious blend of traditional 
Islamic and modern education. 

4. 'Abdullah Abbas Nadwi, Mir-i Karavan (New Delhi: Majlis-i 'Ilmi, 1999), 3 1-8. 

5. Ibid.. 26-34. 

5. Muhammad Nafis Hasan, Meri Tamam Sarguzasht: Sayyed Abul Hasan 'Ali Nadwi (Delhi: 
2000), 32. 

7. 'Abdullah Abbas Nadwi. op. cit., 48. 

8. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India (Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research 
and Publications, 1980), 8-21. It is interesting to note that Nadwi here sees Muslims as 
outsiders who have settled in India, while ignoring the vast majority of Indian Muslims who 
are actually descendants of indigenous converts. It is remarkable how he echoes the views 
of anti-Muslim Hindu ideologs. 

9. Ibid.. 8-21. 

10. In his comments on the role of the Muslims in the Indian freedom struggle he writes of the 
participation of Muslims in the Congress, but consciously ignores their role in the Pakistan 
movement. He glosses over this by alleging that the Partition was largely a result of com- 
munal tendencies within the Congress, the role of Hindus in instigating anti-Muslim 
violence, social discrimination, "communal suspicion" and the "political immaturity" of 
the Indians in general (Ibid., 120-1). 

11. Sajfyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi. vol. 1 (Lucknow: Maktaba al-Islam, 
2000), 250. 

12. Sajryed Abul Hasan 'Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 121. 

13. Hasan, op. cit., 113. 

14. Abdullah Abbas Nadwi, 61. 

15. Rizwan Ahmad Nadwi, "Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi: Shaksiyat-o-Kirdar," in Rabita 
(Delhi, 2000), 44. 

16. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, op. cit., 242. 

17. Hasan, op. cit., 33. 

18. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, op. cit., 245. 

19. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, 'Asr-i Hazir Mai Din Ki Tahflm-o-Tashrih (Dar ul-Arafat, 
Lucknow, 1980), 20-73. 

20. Ibid., 66-98. 

21. Ibid., 109-23. 

22. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, vol. 3 (Lucknow: Maktaba al-Islam, 
1998), 82. 

23. Abdullah Abbas Nadwi, op. cit., 163. 

24. Hasan, op. cit.. 136. 

25. Sayyed Hamid, "Mawlana Ali Miyan", in Rabita (Delhi, 2000), 53. 

26. Hasan, op. cit., 85-6. 

27. Hasan, op. cit., 141. 

28. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, vol. 2 (Lucknow: Maktaba al-Islam, 
1998), 102. 

29. Ibid., 90-103. 

30. Muhammad 'Abdur Rahim Ouraishi, "Muslim Personal Law Tehrik Hazrat Mawlana Ali 
Miyan Ke Daur-i Sadarat Mai", in Rabita (Delhi, 2000), 112. 


31. He suggested that the mosque be taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India as a pro- 
tected monument. Muslims should be allowed to pray in the mosque, while in the court- 
yard a "historical and cultural" memorial to Ram could be built and where "historical 
information" on Ram could be disseminated (Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i 
Zindagi, vol. 2, op. cit., 152). 

32. Hasan, op. cit., 155-58. 

33. Sayyed Abul Hasan All Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, vol. 5 (Lucknow: Maktaba al-Islam, 
1994), 180-6. 

34. Quoted in Hasan, op. cit., 35. 

35. Ansari, op. cit., 89. 

35. Interview with V. T. Rajshekar, editor of Dalit Voice, Bangalore, February 1, 

3 7. In this Nadwi was in agreement with the views of Deobandi scholars like Mawlana Hussain 
Ahmad Madani on composite nationalism, of the Hindus and Muslims of India being 
members of a common nation. He, however, made a crucial distinction between patriotism 
{watan dosti) and national chauvinism ("nation worship" or watan parasti), asserting that 
while Islam positively enjoined the former, it was opposed to the latter, seeing it as shirk 
(associating any being with God) and as leading to bloody strife. See, for instance, Sa3^ed 
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Calamity of Linguistic and Cultural Chauvinism (Lucknow: Academy 
of Islamic Research and Publications, n.d.). 

38. Sayyed Hamid, op. cit., 49-50. 

39. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 1. 

40. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 75. 

41. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 58. 

42. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 75. 

43. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muslims in India, op. cit., 58. 

44. Sayyed Hamid, op. cit., 51. 

45 . Sayyed Kalbe Sadiq, "Mawlana Sajryed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi: Ek Nazar-i Aqidat, " in Rabita 
(Delhi, 2000), 47. 

45. Sayyed Hamid, op. cit., 51. 

47. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Reconstruction of Indian Society: What Muslims Can Do 
(Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, n.d.), 34. 

48. Sayyed Hamid, op. cit., 51. 

49. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Reconstruction of Indian Society: What Muslims Can Do, 
op. cit., 2. 

50. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Reconstruction of Indian Society: What Muslims Can Do, 
op. cit., 15. 

51. S. M. Rabey Hasan Nadwi, "The Philosopher of Islam: A Close-Up," in Shariq Alavi (ed.), 
The Fragrance of the East (Lucknow: 2000), 23. 

52. Hasan, op. cit., 132-3. 

53. Abdul Karim Parekh (ed.), Murshid-i Ruhani Musleh-i Ummat Hazrat Mawlana Sayyed Abul 
Hasan 'Ali Nadvffi UrfAli Miyan Sahib Ke Khutut Mufassir-i Quran Hazrat Mawlana Abdul Karim 
Parekh Sahib Ke Nam (Delhi: Farid Book Depot, 1999), 3 3. 

54. Hasan, op. cit., 123. 

5 5 . Muhammad Ayub Nadwi, "Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi Aur Tehrik-i Payam-i Insaniyat," 
in Rabita (Delhi, 2000), 117. Also, Hasan, op. cit., 125. 

55. Parekh, op. cit., 140. 

5 7. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, vol. 4 (Lucknow: Maktaba al-Islam, 
1999), 55-7. 


58. Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Karavan-i Zindagi, vol. 2, op. cit., 114-25. Nadwi argued 
that it was only the Muslims who could save India because Islam alone could provide a solu- 
tion to the problems of the country. Thus, at an address to the faculty and students of the 
Dar-ul 'Ulum madrasah at Deoband he asserted that "Muslims have been born for the lead- 
ership and custodianship of the entire world. Only Muslims can save this country because 
they alone have faith in the Unity of God, in human equality, and in a complete system of 
social justice and in the Hereafter" (Karavan-i Zindagi. vol.2, op. cit., 309). 

59. Muhammad Ayub Nadwi, op. cit., 118-19. 

60. Hasan, op. cit., 132. 

61. Hasan, op. cit., 128. 

62. Hasan, op. cit., 129-30. 


Madrasah in South Asia' 

Jamal Malik 

Considerable criticism has been directed toward traditional Islamic educational insti- 
tutions, the madrasah (the Arabic word for school), on the basis that they are a breed- 
ing ground for terrorism and a training camp for jilidd, as had already been suggested 
by the Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2001, one month before the dreadful 
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The powerful perception of the 
supposedly unilateral inter-relatedness between religious schools and jihad, between 
mullah and violence, produced and perpetuated fear in the public mind in the West. As 
a result, the relationship between state power and civil rights has been subjected to very 
severe restrictions - and without major reactions from the public. This has enabled gov- 
ernments to push through restrictive policies in a way not known before, as was the 
case with General Parvez Musharraf's announcement of a crack-down on violent orga- 
nizations early this year, which seemed to come as a relief to the world. 

Efforts in Pakistan and other Muslim countries to integrate madaris (plural of 
madrasah) into the national educational systems are not new, but they are currently 
seen as a part of the war on terrorism. Even in secular hidia, the approximately 
100,000 madaris - one-quarter of which are teaching different syllabuses with stu- 
dents sometimes more qualified than those from formal universities - have become 
subject to scrutiny and suspicion, as was the case in May 2001 under the Home 
Minister L.K. Advani. 

However, since madaris fulfill the needs of religious education, it seems rather un- 
satisfactory and indeed too simplistic to equate madaris with terrorism, as is suggested 
in General Parvez Musharraf's historic but moralizing speech of January 12, 2002. In 
post-colonial tradition he indulges in a rather sweeping "othering" of the ulama, remi- 
niscent of the nineteenth-century topos of the mad mullah. Even if the General ap- 
preciates religious schools as excellent welfare and educational organizations, better 
even than non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and even if he is aware of the 
madrasah's political role, he cannot disguise the fact that he is influenced by the notion 


that religious scholars are narrow-minded and propagate hatred. The country's future 
was to be a non-theocratic but an Islamic welfare state, he postulates. 

To understand the speech and the policy of the crack-down, it seems proper to scan 
the structural, formative, and normative developments in the field of Islamic education 
in the subcontinent that have been regarded as responsible for the latest scenario. 

It is evident that there is a variety of ulama institutions, e.g. there are mosques, khan- 
qahs, shrines, maktabs, waqf and madaris. All of them have a long tradition in South 
Asia, since they were often sponsored by the ruling classes and notables in qasbahs (gar- 
rison posts and local market towns with an Islamic scholarship) and residency towns. 
Especially religious schools (dini madaris) were of utmost importance both for the 
national as well as the cultural integration process. In this regard religious schools may 
be regarded as a continuation of the Nizamiyya tradition in Baghdad," when it became 
prominent under the Saljuq wazir in Abbasid caliphate, Nizam al-Mulk al-Tusi, in the 
eleventh century as a means not only for countering the rising Isma'ili da'wah and the 
spread of Shi'ite "heresies" and of the Mu'tazilah but also for mass education, and to 
integrate the empire. In this way the foundation stone was laid for the establishment of 
state-loyal scholarship, which would theologically legitimize the state. Sciences taught 
at the madaris provided centers of training for theologians and the service elite and, 
thus, were to become models for quasi-universities in the Islamic world. 

And, Islamic law encouraged pluralism, so that a science of disputation ( 'ilm al-khildf) 
was developed, being a part of Islamic legal training. This went so far that a doctrine 
of mura'dh al-khildf {concession to disputed doctrine) was demanded from the jurists to 
accommodate opposite views. ^ Hence, law stood in the forefront of the syllabus, rather 
than theology, which was an extracurricular activity* In spite of the "science of the 
classification of the sciences," which had divided the sciences into traditional 
(naqliyyah) and rational {'aqliyyah), sacred (diniyyah), and profane (dunyawiyyah), there 
were "no separate madaris exclusively for religious education . . . Theology became a 
regular subject in the madrasah curriculum in later periods. . . ."' and thus highlighted 
religious identity, which was to become a major issue in South Asia. 

The contemporary increase of madaris in the subcontinent is reminiscent of the pre- 
colonial times when the country was dotted with them.*" When dealing with these insti- 
tutions, however, state intervention has to be taken into account, since it is the state 
that has had a major impact on traditional institutions. Thus, in our context, the 
modern or colonial (state) sector is considered to be the significant other 

I would like to throw some light on the background of these developments, by 
showing how state policies have been changing traditional education in content and 
form during the last decades and how autonomous religious institutions have reacted 
to these policies. I will also discuss the normative changes in religious education, the 
social and regional background of religious scholars, and the latest trends resulting 
from state encroachment into these autochthonous institutions. The focus is thus laid 
on the struggle between reform-Islam as perceived by state authorities and Muslim 
avant-garde on the one hand, and the targets of change, the Islamic scholars, on the 
other A short introductory note on the historical background of reforms in the field of 
Islamic education will provide the basis for the argument of this presentation, namely 


that state Islam has produced new - albeit uncontrolled - dynamics among religious 

A Historical Glance 

In the Muslim world, the eighteenth century was one of great cultural achievements 
with reformist ideas and a new approach to life, as can be discerned particularly in the 
writings of (Sufi-)poets of that time, exemplified in literary salons and the advent of the 
Urdu language. Parallel to these paradigmatic cultural and scientific changes, the nor- 
mative patterns also changed, culminating, for instance, in the reform and standard- 
ization of education, as developed by, among others, scholars in northern India. 
Emphasis was placed on the so-called rational sciences with Islamic law, logic, philos- 
ophy, syntax and Arabic language, being important subjects. This syllabus - the dars-e 
nizami - called after its founder, MuUa Nizam al-Din (d. 1 748) from Sihala in northern 
India, offered a general education designed for the service elite. ^ 

The dars-e nizami was, to a certain extent, later incorporated by the colonial masters 
into their institutions, e.g., the madrasah in Calcutta, and it (dars-e nizami) was subject 
to several reforms even before the advent of nation-states on the subcontinent. These 
reforms go back to the nineteenth century - although there had been a reformist trend 
headed by the Delhi school and scholars like Shah Wall UUah (d.l 762), who had pos- 
tulated mystic revaluation and the promotion of what has been called the traditional, 
transmitted sciences {manqulat). This tradition was also part of an inter-regional 
network, and had a profound emancipating power.^ 

However, in the nineteenth century - in the wake of colonial penetration - with the 
introduction of new systems of education, the madrasah turned into an institution 
exclusively for religious learning, while some groups made use of Islamic symbolism to 
mobilize against colonial power Other South Asian Muslims tried to change, reform, or 
conserve it, as a means to counter colonialism, which had threatened to marginalize 
both traditional scholars and social order, especially after 1857. Various Sunnite 
schools of thought emerged, such as the Deobandis, the Barelwis, and the Ahl-e 
Hadith.'' They appealed to specific social groups and were tied to particular regions, and 
thereby added to the religious and societal complexity of South Asia. And so law, devo- 
tional mysticism, and prophetic tradition determined thefr different orientations. 

Yet another movement, the modernist Aligarh school, tried to anglicize the Muslim 
educational system, but this was contested by the Council of Religious Scholars 
(Nadwat al-Ulama), which aimed at an integration of both religious and secular edu- 
cation. Established in 1893, the Nadwat demanded, besides curricular reforms, an 
alliance of all Muslims.^" These reforms, however different they may have been, were 
thought to be achievable only through "modernization." It was in this context that 
modernity came to be regarded as the opposite of tradition and thus determined the 
fate of Muslim education, from the nineteenth century onwards. Religious institutions 
that did not subscribe to this development were marginalized but still provided knowl- 
edge to the majority of Muslims. This led to a dramatic societal split and disintegration 


in Muslim societies. It was only the recent wave of Islamization that has given the 
madrasah new life, however unwillingly and ambivalently. But before turning to ulama 
institutions in Pakistan let us first give a short overview to the situation in independent 

As is well known, religious schools are independent in economic terms, financed 
through donations, zakat, sadaqat, tabligh, publications, and waqf, etc. In contemporary 
India there were only three major madaris run totally on government resources: 
Madrasah 'Aliyah Calcutta, Madrasah Aliyah Rampur, and Madrasah Shams al-Huda 
Patna. We are not so much concerned with these rather courtly institutions, neither 
will we dwell on Aligarh, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Jami'ah Nizamiyya in Hayder- 
bad, or the Madrasah Nizamiyya in Lucknow which was established by Abd al-Bari 
Farangi Mahalli in 1905. All these institutions have already been discussed academi- 
cally from different aspects. 

What is more relevant to us is the development and impact of religious schools 
that are run without major governmental ideological or financial support like the 
majority of religious schools or those having a transnational significance like the 
Nadwat al-Ulama. 

ReUgious schools have been the target of reforms also in the twentieth century, when 
several state madrasah boards came into being, \ike the one in Bihar established in 
1922 which, in 1990, controlled more than 900 madaris with more than 80,000 stu- 
dents in the province, or the Madrasah Education Board Calcutta established shortly 
before independence,^^ Notwithstanding the macro-political developments following 
1947, that had a decisive effect on society, the number of madaris increased after Par- 
tition, probably as a manifestation of Muslim fear of the Hindu majority. They might 
have provided the Muslim minority with a broad institutional framework on the micro- 
level, like the manifold shrines of holy men. 

This increase was followed by several attempts to reorganize the numerous religious 
schools, not only because "The scope for the intellectual development of Muslim com- 
munity through these institutions is tremendous," but also because "75 percent of the 
Muslims, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal are literate because of these 
maktabs and madrasahs, "^^ Over a decade ago it was estimated that there were "more 
than 20,000 maktabs and madrasahs in India," housing several thousand students. ^^ 

Despite a number of attempts to reorganize the madaris - e.g., the Central Waqf 
Council in 1965, Deeni Talimi Council in the United Provinces, in West Bengal, Assam 
and Bihar in 1978 and 1981 - by integrating formal education (mathematics, geo- 
graphy, history, etc) and setting up a network of religious schools, the institutions 
seem to have little organizational or academic links on the basis of schools of thought 
in independent India, except for different state Madrasah Education Boards. Indeed, 
these boards provide partly finances and degrees recognized by several Indian univer- 
sities, by al-Azhar in Cairo, and by Medina University of Saudi Arabia, 

Even Deoband, the most popular ulama institution in the subcontinent, or the Dar 
al-Ulum in Saharanpur seem to have no umbrella madrasah organization in India, Only 
the Nadwat al-Ulama, "one of the most outstanding institutions for imparting instruc- 
tion in the Islamic Sciences . . . (with) one of the finest libraries of the Subcontinent,"^'' 
presently provides education to about 4000 students, approximately 2000 thereof 


being boarders. Its well-organized network had more than 60 affiliated religious 
schools, run by graduates of its seminary in Lucknow, spread all over the country, par- 
ticularly Bihar, United Provinces, Kerala and Assam, as well as in Pakistan, Nepal and 
Bangladesh, hi 1990 the Nadwat organization could show some 13,250 students and 
more than 3320 teachers.^' Therefore, the Nadwat considers itself to be an umbrella 
organization of Muslim educational institutions. Presupposition to the affiliation is the 
curriculum taught at the Nadwat, which offers integrated education (modern subjects, 
English, etc.), as well as missionary activities. The budget of the school in Lucknow 
amounted to nearly 5 million Indian rupees, mostly from private donations.^'' 

Its popularity is due to the activities of its late rector, Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi 
(d. 1999), a well-known Muslim thinker, member of the Rabita al-Alam al-Islami and 
chairman of different Muslim and Indian societies (All-India Muslim Personal Law 
Board, Islamic Literature, etc.).^^ While it is true that the Nadwat stands for a secular 
position, which would support national integration, and in this way has developed a 
clearly different position from the more politically inclined Jamaat-e-Islami, some of 
Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi's statements were not bare of postulates that could have 
put him in line with Islamists. 

Traditionally, madaris also have cultural and political significance. And it is because 
of their potential as a nucleus for Muslim reform, development and mobilization, that 
"a special effort (therefore) must be made to get the information to these institutions."^^ 
However, this would imply state intervention, which again is incompatible with the 
constitutional immunity of private educational institutions in India. Therefore, the 
developments and changes in Indian madaris will more or less remain private 
initiatives. While, after 1947, in independent India these schools were left more 
or less untouched by the secular state, some attempts have been made recently to mod- 
ernize the madrasah system, notably under the eighth Five-Year Plan, 1992-97, The 
objective of the scheme of "Modernization of Madrasah Education", launched in 
1993-4 and administered by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, was to 
encourage these traditional institutions by giving financial assistance to introduce 
science, mathematics, social studies, Hindi, and English to their curriculum. Only 
registered voluntary organizations, which have been in existence for three years, 
were considered for assistance. In the first phase, primary classes of middle and sec- 
ondary level madaris were to be covered. In the second phase (during the ninth Five- 
Year Plan), the coverage was extended to institutions providing education equivalent 
to secondary stage. The performance of the scheme was to be reviewed after three years 
of its operation. Initially, the recommendations of the Working Group on moderniza- 
tion of madaris had suggested a meager grant of iRs 91.65 crores (916.5 million) for 
the ninth Five-Year plan (1997-2002). But the amount actually provided was iRs 48 
crores (480 million), while the total amount actually released did not exceed iRs 16 
crores (160 million). But "to make the Scheme viable an allocation of at least Rs 500 
crore should be made for the Scheme in the tenth Five Year Plan."^' So far, the plan 
was rejected by major madaris because madrasah education was finked with national 

In Pakistan, as in most other Muslim countries, the situation was quite different right 
fi'om the very beginning. Political leaders have always been interested in bringing the 


madaris into the mainstream national system of education, in order to try to curb their 
financial and political autonomy. 

State Encroachments in a Nation-State 

state encroachments in Pakistan became prominent fairly early, with Ayub Khan's 
nationalization of religious endowments and schools during the 1960s. He had plans 
to utilize their traditional autonomy for the nation-building process and to attach them 
to the state-run infrastructure. Connecting traditional Islam to modern political 
systems seemed to be an adequate measure to motivate the scholars for national ideol- 
ogy. The institutional affiliation of these schools to state machinery was to be paralleled 
by curricular reforms which, however, aroused a feeling of deficiency among the rep- 
resentatives of religion.'" They therefore established umbrella organizations for reli- 
gious schools - just prior to the proclamation of the West Pakistan Waqf Property 
Ordinance 1961. 

The main tasks of these umbrella organizations were to reform and to standardize 
their educational system, and of course, to counter state authority collectively. But as 
the ulama are no monolithic block, they organized themselves, their adherents, and 
their centers according to different schools of thought, that is Deobandis, Barelwis, Ahl- 
e Hadith, the Shi'ites and the Jamaat-e-Islami, a recently founded religio-political party. 
The Deobandis in Pakistan established the Wifaq al- Madaris al-'Arabiyya in Multan in 
1959. In the same year the Barelwis founded the Tanzim al-Madaris al-Arabiyya in 
Dera Ghazi Khan/Punjab while the Shi'ites set up the Majlis-e Nazarat-e Shi'a Madaris- 
e Arabiyya in Lahore. The Ahl-e Hadith had already set up the Markaz-e Jam'iyyat Ahl- 
e Hadith in Lyallpur (today's Faisalabad) in 1955. The Jamaat-e-Islami, on the other 
hand, started organizing its religious schools under the Rabita al-Madaris al-Islamiyya 
from Lahore only in 1982. 

During Bhutto's time in government Islamic scholars were able to negotiate some 
concessions, but it was with the advent of so-called Islamization in the late 1970s, that 
state activities touching on traditional institutions in general and centers of Islamic 
learning in particular took increasing effect. 

In fact, madaris are widespread in South Asia, and they not only play a decisive role 
in the dissemination of knowledge, but also have a considerable moral impact on local 
culture. They also have social functions and can be mobilized in political crises for a 
variety of purposes. Their political significance, both external and internal, is immense. 
So religious schools have a significant educational, societal and political potential, 
although most of them had been pushed to the margins of the political process before 
the beginning of Ziyaul Haq's Islamization policy, when they regained significance, 
partly as an alternative educational system. So we shall now turn to the changes that 
occurred in reUgious education and schools during the recent past, and show the 
complex interrelatedness of a unifying state policy and religious scholars in a multi- 
cultural incremental society. 


Islam ization of the Ulama 

As in other Muslim countries, the Islamization policy in Pakistan has resulted in a new 
dimension of curricular reform and has ushered in a new phase of institutionalization. 
For the first time the degrees of religious schools were put on a par with those of the 
formal education system and recognized by the University Grants Commission. To be 
sure, their formal recognition was connected with certain conditions: instead of the 
eight-year syllabus taught hitherto, the students were now supposed to be instructed 
by a modernized syllabus lasting 1 6 years. This meant that the religious scholars would 
have to follow the suggestions of the "National Committee on Religious Schools" estab- 
lished in 1979,"^ The report of the Committee suggested making 

concrete and feasible measures for improving and developing Deeni-Madrassahs along 
sound lines, in terms of pliysical facilities, curricula and syllabi, staff and equipment etc. 
etc. so as to bring education and training at such madrassahs in consonance with the 
requirements of modern age and the basic tenets of Islam ... to expand higher education 
and employment opportunities for the students of the madrassahs . . . integrating them 
with the overall educational system in the country . . ."" 

The committee's demands aimed at an integrationist curriculum, but were ignored 
by the Deobandi Wifaq and also by the Barelwi Tanzim in their new religious courses 
while at the same time the ulama were able to enlist official recognition by minor mod- 
ifications, thereby gradually being put in the position of exercising more and more 
influence on the secular sector. This demonstrates the ability of religious scholars to 
meet demands for innovation and pragmatism without acting against their own inter- 
ests. The idea of this reformed Islam ostensibly stood in contrast to the concepts of most 
of the ulama, however. Consequently, these suggestions provoked considerable reaction 
for some time, but with the insistent pressure of the government and its support - i,e. 
through zakat money, as we shall see - and with the equating of their degrees with those 
of national universities in 1981/82, the ulama became more and more convinced of 
the potentially positive consequences of this policy for them. They did adapt the cur- 
riculum by merely adding subjects from the formal primary education system to their 
own syllabus, and Arabic instead of English was used on the certificates. Thus, the dura- 
tion of education was extended from eight to 1 6 years, but grades one to eight and nine 
to 16 represented parts of totally separate systems of education: the first was secular, 
as taught in formal schools, complemented by "Reading the Qur'an" and "Basics of 
Islam"; the second continued the traditional dars-e nizami. So the ulama showed their 
ability to secure official recognition by implementing these minor changes, and they 
were gradually able to exercise more and more influence on the government's policy. 

Theoretically, these degrees, once recognized, were to open up economic mobility 
and possibilities of promotion for the graduates. However, as we shall see, there was no 
consideration of how and where the now officially recognized armies of mullahs would 
be integrated into the job market. This shortsighted planning soon resulted in consid- 
erable problems. 


Parallel to these administrative and curricular reform measures, the economic situ- 
ation of religious schools was changed and, indeed, improved with the assistance of 
funds disbursed through the central and provincial zakat funds set up by the govern- 
ment in 1980: 10 per cent of the alms collected from current accounts through zakat- 
deducting agencies go to religious education if curricular reform and political loyalty 
are observed. These additional financial resources enhanced the budgets of religious 
schools considerably, making up as much as one-third of their annual income, and were 
exclusively at the disposal of the rectors of the religious schools, e.g., the ulama. This 
certainly created new expectations and new patterns of consumption especially in 
terms of the material conditions of madaris, such as higher salaries, investment for 
alterations, modernization of school buildings, etc. 

Results and Reactions 

As a result of these changes, a new dimension of mobility of these scholars and their 
centers of learning can be discerned. One is tempted to speak of an expanding indige- 
nous infrastructure that in the early 1990s had already had far-reaching conse- 
quences: Firstly, the prospect of zakat grants resulted in a mushrooming of madaris, 
mostly in rural areas. In response, the government has introduced various measures to 
try to stem the tide, but this has only resulted in new problems. Zakat funds for these 
schools were curtailed and registration under the Societies Act 1860 made obligatory. 
In 1984, the disbursement of zakat was limited to those schools that had already been 
registered for at least four years. Moreover, since 1985, madaris have had to present a 
Non-Objection Certificate issued by the respective Deputy Commissioner if they want 
to be eligible for zakat funds. Recent policy has been even stricter. Secondly, the number 
of the graduates of higher religious schools - not to speak of students in religious 
schools in general - was constantly on the rise, as these institutions now also offer 
formal primary education with officially recognized degrees. Thirdly, the Islamization 
policy brought in a new phase of institutionalization among umbrella organizations, 
so that the number of affiliated schools has increased tremendously (growth rates up 
to 1000 percent in only seven years, e.g., 1977-86). Fourthly, the data available on 
religious schools also shed light on their spatial distribution and the social and regional 
background of their students. 

The Deobandis, Barelwis, and Shi'ites recruit their students and graduates from 
rural and tribal areas which - irom the point of view of modernization theories - are 
infrastructurally and economically not at all or only partly developed and where the 
parceling of land has produced a few large land-holders and huge masses of small land- 
holders and peasants as well as landless laborers without jobs. Their regions of origin, 
however, display a high degree of functioning traditional order and social relations. 

The Deobandis prevail in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in Baluchis- 
tan, where tribal society exists, in parts of the Punjab and of Sindh. Until the mid- 
1980s, their graduates for the most part hailed from some districts of the NWFP and 
especially from Afghanistan. Recently, however, the Deobandis increasingly recruit 
their scholars from Punjab, which has been a stronghold of the Barelwis. Also, the 


Deobandi centers of graduation have shifted in recent times: Karachi has replaced 
their traditional catchment areas of Peshawar and increasingly draws graduates 
from foreign countries (however, excluding Afghans) and from Punjab, Sindh, and 
Baluchistan. Moreover, the available data suggests that in very few cases graduates 
originate from traditional scholar families. However, here changes have occurred 
during the last decade: even more students come from families whose heads carry the 
title of Mawlana (Arabic: "our master"; in this context meaning religious scholar). 

The Barelwis, in contrast, continue to find their social basis predominantly in rural 
areas, mainly in the highly densely populated province of Punjab and parts of Sindh, 
in areas where the cult of holy men is extremely popular and widely practiced and 
where a high concentration of land-holdings exists, while tribal areas are hardly tar- 
geted for circulating their thought. Again, during the last decade, every third graduate 
of both schools of thought - Deobandi and Barelwi - has shown a religio-scholarly 
family tradition. Moreover, in the case of both groups, one may now find an increasing 
inter-provincial and rural-urban migration from the place of origin to the new centers 
of graduation. 

The Shi'ites, who have also formalized and organized their schools tightly for the first 
time under the regime of Ziyaul Haq as a result of the latter's Sunnite tendency, have 
two spatial areas of concentration: in the Northern Areas and in some districts of 
Punjab dominated by folk Islam, such as the districts of Jhang and Sargodha. A migra- 
tion to the center of their cult and scholarship in Lahore is also clearly discernible. 

The Ahl-e Hadith, in contrast, have their stronghold in what may be called com- 
mercial centers and important internal market places in northern Punjab and in 
Karachi, just analogous to their original social basis in Northern India in the nineteenth 
century. Apparently, they have no ambitions to expand into other regions, which leaves 
vacuums in their infrastructure in NWFP and in Sindh and especially in Baluchistan. 

The religious schools of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has started organizing its insti- 
tutions only very lately, can be found mostly in politically perceptive areas, be they near 
the Afghan border or in important political centers such as provincial capitals and 
Islamabad. Its graduates mostly hail from urbanized regions, even though some areas, 
like the NWFP, show rural background. It should be added, however, that affluent 
Muslims - also in India - hardly ever send their children to madaris which, thus, care 
for the poor. 

The analysis thus demonstrates that each school of thought has its own reserved 
area, be it tribal, rural, urban, trade-oriented, or even strategic. The candidates for grad- 
uation of the Deobandis, Barelwis, and Shi'ites may be understood above all as repre- 
sentatives of the traditional sector For that reason, one may find them primarily in 
areas traditionally structured. As they have some representatives in intermediary social 
sectors - sectors economically, socially, and normatively lying between modern and tra- 
ditional systems - they are also settled in zones with a certain degree of official seizure, 
such as in urban Sindh or other modernized districts, i.e., in northern Punjab. This is 
true for members of the Ahl-e Hadith and of the Jamaat-e-Islami in particular Hence, 
heterogeneity of Islam in Pakistan is traceable in regional patterns. 

This distribution of land among different schools of thought corresponds to the 
socio-economic structure of the respective geographical regions. It naturally involves 


political power, has promoted the regionalism of Islam, which challenges, rejects and 
interferes with the enforcement of universalizing normative Islam as is propagated by 
the avant-garde and the government. 

Religious schools do not only have important social, cultic, educational, and eco- 
nomic functions and significance. As can be derived from frequent statements, they are 
of quite some importance in areas pertaining to internal and external politics as well 
and therefore cannot be ignored. On the surface, they played a significant role in the 
so-called holy war of Afghanistan since they recruited and trained some of the holy 
warriors (mujahidin). The Dar al-Ulum Haqqaniyya near Peshawar, which was the 
main center of Deobandi scholarship in Pakistan up to the 1980s, is one of many insti- 
tutions in point. Moreover, in politically sensitive areas in the vicinity of the Afghan 
border, new religious schools - particularly of the Jamaat-e-Islami - have been estab- 
lished especially for that purpose and they receive appropriate funds for that task from 
official zakat funds. 

Internally, religious schools are not to be abandoned either, for they produce the 
majority of members and leaders of religious-political parties and associations, such as 
the Barelwi-dominated Jami'at-e Ulama-e Pakistan and the ]ami'at-e Ulama-e Islam of 
the Deobandis. The schools can be mobilized for pecufiar ends through financial and 
political incentives, particularly in periods of crisis, as was the case in the movement of 
the Pakistan National Alliance against Bhutto in 1977. As the schools and their per- 
sonnel have direct access to the masses, their pacification is most important for the 
center. However, all the more astonishing is the connection of zakat disbursement to 
religious institutions with particular circumstances. Conditions like these inevitably led 
to a stiffening of the positions of some influential politicized religious dignitaries. Out 
of fear of dependency, they have rejected the acceptance of zakat money as political 
bribery, as in the case of a branch of the Deobandis led by the son of the late Mufti 
Mahmud, Mawlana Fazl al-Rahman, a current leader of the Majlis-e Muttahida-ye 
Amal (MMA). In doing so, they referred to a fatwa of the Mufti, who had called the 
zakat system illegal because it came from deductions from interest-bearing accounts. 
The boycott of the zakat system was, however, limited mainly to the politically restless 
province of Sindh and to a stronghold of the Deobandis. Here they had apparently allied 
themselves with local nationalists. In order to counter this boycott and to subject the 
province to the control of the government, Islamabad started to support other loyalist 
schools, particularly many of the Barelwis, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Ahl-e Hadith, and 
some loyalist Deobandis. Again, the Dar al-Ulum Haqqaniyya is one main center of the 
latter group, with Mawlana Sami ul-Haq heading it. Bearing this tendentious policy in 
mind, one tends to have the impression that through specific support of the traditional 
infrastructure of politically convenient ulama, a contrast to or bulwark against popular 
opposition is being established. 

The state, for a time, was successful - in cooperation with Islamist groups and a reli- 
gious elite - in imposing its own Islamically sanctioned measures and thus legally 
expanding colonial structures such as the economic and educational system. Recently, 
similar encroachments have been attempted in the field of the judicial system through 
the Shari'at Bill. At the same time, the number of religious institutions has increased 
considerably as a result of financial privileges related to Islamization policy. The gov- 


ernment did succeed partially in damming up the mushroom-growth of religious insti- 
tutions by means of a precise new policy, which succeeded at least in part in subduing 
parts of the clergy and their centers to its own interests. The shortsighted Islamization 
policy has, however, created massive unforeseen but theoretically foreseeable problems. 

In the wake of the formalization and reform of religious schools, an increasing trans- 
provincial north-south migration from rural to urban areas can be observed, a sign of 
the degree of spatial mobility of the young religious scholars. Students from specific 
regions then look for schools and teachers who comply with their cultural perceptions 
and ethnic affiliations and the search for corresponding institutions that create iden- 
tity-giving substructures in an urban environment, which may otherwise be perceived 
as alien and even hostile. The migrant scholars-to-be gather in the metropolis and 
potentially contribute to conflicts that are often religiously and ethnically motivated. 
The fact that the number of religious schools and their students have grown spectac- 
ularly in urban, and even more in rural areas, also suggests that it is not only cities that 
have become locations of increasing conflict. The hinterland has also been drawn more 
and more into the sphere of religiously legitimized battles. Thus, the Islamization policy 
has promoted the institutionalization of different groups, on the one hand, but has fos- 
tered their politicization and even radicalization, on the other And since contemporary 
regimes are not able or willing to integrate ulama in a productive way, their increasing 
marginalization and deeper friction within society are the results. The prognosis is not 
bright: Following the tremendous increase in numbers of religious scholars and their 
centers of learning, a great potential for conflict has arisen, because young theologians 
have been pouring into the labor market, especially in urban areas. Tens of thousands 
of formally recognized students whose degrees are now equivalent to the MA in 
Arabic/Islamiyyat have little prospect of employment. So far, in all reform measures, 
corresponding planning for the labor market has been neglected by government func- 
tionaries. Employment for these ulama is not available, either in the courses offered for 
Our'anic studies in formal schools - courses that should have been a foundation for the 
promised Islamization of the country, or in reading circles and mosque schools that 
should have improved the poor literacy rate. This lack of planning and the consequent 
imbalance between graduates and employment opportunities is mainly the result of the 
prejudice of the officials themselves. The American advisor on religious education made 
the following criticism: "Reservations were voiced by various officials of the provincial 
Departments of Education about recruiting 'Mawlanas' for the schools on the suspi- 
cion that they would divide the students on the basis of their own preferences for a par- 
ticular 'Maktab-i-Fikr'." He hastened to add that "these suspicions, however, were 
proved in the field to be ill-founded. Such suspicions should never be allowed to affect 
the making of educational policy at any level. "'^ 

It is only as teachers of Arabic courses, which have been promoted since 1979, that 
some young scholars have found some jobs. These courses, however, targeted Pakista- 
nis going to work in the Middle East, and so were motivated primarily by pragmatic 
monetary considerations. On a different front, the military, against the background of 
the Cold War, has been encouraging the recruitment of religious scholars since 198 3 
- with foreign aid. In the medium term, this has led to new values and structures in 
the army, especially at junior levels of command. 


With the official support of religious scholars in the 1980s and even in the 1990s, 
the political strength of representatives of this section of Islamic traditionalism has 
increased unmistakably. Thus, the Islamization policy - or better the politics of 
de-traditionalization - has ultimately forced the politically dominant sector to rethink 
its own position. The center may be pushed onto the political defensive, a position from 
which it could extricate itself only by violence, and with increasing alienation from the 
rest of the society. This danger exists especially when indigenous social and educational 
structures, such as endowments, alms and religious schools, still existent and mostly 
functioning, cannot be adequately replaced and thousands of unemployed mullahs 
who have access to the masses are not successfully integrated. This policy has clearly 
boomeranged - "The spirits which they conjured up . . ." 

The conflicts in the rural hinterland, particularly during recent years, have in fact 
pointed to a wider, pervasive crisis, the result which state functionaries and their foreign 
advisors had not taken into account, a policy based on ill-considered and misconceived 
modernistic perceptions. As a consequence, the bearers and protagonists of various 
Islamic traditions have taken self-defensive and isolationist, albeit radical positions, a 
development which is also taking place in other Muslim regions.'* 

Meanwhile, the revolution in raised expectations has pushed many graduates of reli- 
gious schools into the hands of different players: Their role in the Cold War in 
Afghanistan, when they were shortsightedly exploited by certain groups and govern- 
ments, their role in post Cold- War Afghanistan, when once again, they were caught up 
in power politics supported by different secret services,"' and now in the post-Taliban 
era, when some of them have taken sides with terrorist groups. 

The Coming of the Mullah 

The rhetoric of Islamic symbolism and jihad has shown that it can be effectively used 
as a means of self-defense against foreign encroachments. Consequently, there has been 
constantly increasing pressure on the state by religious elements. The Council of 
Islamic Ideology set up in the 1960s, and the Pakistani Federal Ministry of Religious 
Affairs, should not therefore be blamed for issuing outrageous Islamic proposals. -'' Sim- 
ilarly, the failure to reform the Blasphemy Law in 1994 and 2001,-^ or the madaris in 
1995 and 2001, is simply a reflection of the aggressive mood of the ulama. 

In fact, in May 2000, Islamic parties, who recruit their members from religious 
schools, were powerful enough to demand several Islamic provisions,'^ some of them 
met instantly by the government. But in order to increase control over them, the current 
regime came up with yet another madrasah reform proposal, such as the Pakistan 
Madrasah Education (Establishment and Affiliation of Model Dini Madaris) Board 
Ordinance, 2001 (August), and setting up a madrasah regulatory authority under the 
Madaris Registration Ordinance 2002 in June,''' but the move came up against strong 
resistance from those running the madaris. It was said that by the end of 2002 madaris 
should be overhauled. Given the meager amount allocated for madaris reform by the 
Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in January 2004 one may again 
have doubts about the outcome. Only PakRs 5.7 billion (5700 million [Pakistani 


rupees]) are to be spent on 8000 madaris,'" eventually leaving each madrasah with 
not too much amount to maneuver, even if this amount is much larger than the one 
allocated for the Indian scheme "Modernization of Madrasah Education" noted above. 

Having said that, let us briefly return to the speech of January 12, 2002, in order to 
look at the ongoing battle between the clergy and the state. It is true that General 
Musharraf called for a peaceful sunnatization of life worlds, referring to Islamic mys- 
ticism and prohibiting madrasah students from going for divine force (khuda'ifauj). The 
reconstruction of tradition ought to serve to raise the madrasah and bring it to a level 
with the mainstream. ^^ The major task seems to be to open up the job market for the 
graduates. Similarly, mosques should be reformed in order to guarantee a secular and 
modernized society, otherwise Pakistan will be marginalized - and radicalized. This 
policy'" clearly aims at controlling approximately 20.000 madaris with approximately 
3 million students, and more than 50,000 mosques - a solid power structure." 

The control of the ulama seems to be even more important since there has tradi- 
tionally been a movement across the borders of Pakistan with Afghanistan, India, and 
Kashmir. This is especially true of some ethnic groups, who may outnumber their fellow 
ethnic group in Afghanistan, and are linked by family networks, commercial connec- 
tions, and religio-political solidarity. Hence, despite the Pakistan government's recent 
strict policy against foreign students, Afghan students of religious schools have given 
their promise to continue their Islamic education in Pakistan. 


To conclude: The reforms envisaged by the state have produced an imbalance that has 
resulted in a variety of problems, some of which were temporarily alleviated through 
jihad in Afghanistan. In the wake of these developments, several different branches of 
Islamic learning and madaris have emerged. We need to distinguish: firstly, students of 
religious schools in general, secondly, mujahidin or freedom fighters, thirdly, Taliban, 
and fourthly, Jihadi groups. 

As far as the first category is concerned, they have been subject to several reforms 
from within and from without, but have played a quietist role. Because of traditional 
ties with Afghanistan and other neighboring countries and as a result of the use of jihdd 
rhetoric, some students were used as foot soldiers in the Cold War This is the second 
group - the mujahidin. In order to keep this group under control and to keep a grip on 
the region for economic and political purposes, another version was established by 
interested parties: these were the Taliban. Both the mujahidin and the Taliban are 
known for their forced recruitment of young children in madaris and refugee camps. 
As for the fourth category, the Jihadis, some of them can be traced back to groups 
returning to Pakistan from other battlefields such as Kashmir and Afghanistan, their 
leaders being middle-class and secular educated men, rather than madrasah students, 
though madrasah students have also joined the militant and radical groups. There 
seems little doubt that some of these organizations run private armies, collect compul- 
sory donations, and indulge in militant and terrorist activities. Some of them, such as 
Lashkar-e Tayyiba and Jaish-e Muhammad, have made a regional conflict, the Kashmir 


cause, their raison d'etre. But what is the reason behind their radicalization? Mere 
hatred, violence, and the obsession for jihad.' It is true that the struggle for victory over 
a super-power and their alleged connections to some international networks enhances 
their feeling of Islamicity, no matter how blurred and intangible that may be. But it is 
the objective material conditions plus the symbolic power of regional conflicts, such as 
Palestine and Kashmir, that make up for the explosive mixture, because these conflicts 
represent the suppression of whole nations. 

However international these organizations may be, they have arisen primarily as a 
result of an internal problem caused by political mismanagement, as we have 
explained, and they have subsequently been exploited by external powers. In these cir- 
cumstances it is too easy as well as false to blame the mullahs and Islamic learning 
alone, let alone using the simplistic and stupid metaphor of the "axis of evil," which 
seems to ignore the diversity of the situation. This muscle flexing divides the world into 
goodies and baddies. 

The role of external powers in South Asia has been outlined elsewhere, and should 
be held responsible for these developments as much as the role of the state, a state, that 
has been constructing and perpetuating a martial climate all over the country. The dra- 
matic flaunting and celebration of military power on national occasions such as Pak- 
istan Day, the propagation of jihad in textbooks even in formal schools^'' and daily on 
television for the cause of Kashmir, etc. are cases in point. This state-promoted violence 
and hatred from childhood onwards might be part of the painful nation-building 
process and search for ideology, but it certainly fails to instill tolerance and acceptance 
of plurality under the students. Instead the tensions unleash the struggle between the 
haves and have-nots. The alarming increase in kidnapping for ransom in the cities as 
well as in rural areas, the killing of whole families by senior family members because 
of lack of material resources are causes of major concern. In this scenario religious 
schools provide at least space for some kind of education and survival, and what is more 
important, they use the variety of religious repertory to make sense of the predicaments 
people are facing in a highly fragmented society. The growing presence and visibility of 
religious power in the public sphere shows this struggle between the neo-colonial elite 
- mostly the military that has been ruling in Muslim countries - and religious scholars 
who have been exploited in different quarters but have constantly been denied their 
share, very dramatically. In the face of these developments the making of an epitomiz- 
ing prophet is easy: the ladinist savior, who would lead the campaign against suppres- 
sion. It should be noted that the basis of this Islamically tuned radicalism still has 
indeed a very secular basis: social conflict, poverty, suppression. The basis is not Our'an, 
but social reality, which is put into an Islamic symbolism only. Formerly violence and 
terror were legitimized nationally, today use is made of the Islamic repertory, not 
because this violence is or has become Islamic or religious, but because the political dis- 
course has shifted. 

Certainly, the latest crack-down policy can hardly diminish the significance and 
power of these groups, because they reflect systemic problems. Unless these problems, 
e.g., material conditions of the common people be improved and regional conflicts 
be solved, are tackled, these groups will start operating under different names, 
change their modus operandi or shift their operations to elsewhere making use of trans- 


Islamic networks. As a popular divine has opined, a reaction was brewing: "This gov- 
ernment is paving the way for Islamic revolution by creating hurdles for the Islamic 
parties." The divine hastened to add, "There may not be instant reaction but they will 
respond once the dust is settled . . . We are just watching the situation but the silence 
will not last for long. . . The timing of this announcement by the president [e.g., crack- 
down] has raised suspicion in the minds of religious people. It is being done under U.S. 
pressure."^' And he asked "If they were terrorist groups, then why were they allowed 
to operate for such a long time.?" 

The criminalization of the ulama therefore seems no option at all. In a country that 
is heavily under their socio-cultural and religious influence, a dialog of bullets is a dead 
end. Instead, it is more important to integrate these sections of society properly in order 
to prevent a cold war before it gets too hot and becomes a war that no one can deal 


1. This is an updated version of. "Djniamics among Traditional Religious Scholars and their 
Institutions in Contemporary Pakistan, " in Madrasa. La Transmission du Savoir dans le Monde 
Musulman. Nicole Grandin and Marc Gaborieau (eds.), (Paris: 1997), 158-82: idem, "Tra- 
ditional Islamic Learning and Reform in Pakistan," International Institute for the Study of 
Islam in the Modern World- ISIM Newsletter. 10 (Leiden: 2002), 20-1. 

2. See Gary Leiser, "Notes on the Madrasa in Medieval Islamic Society," The Muslim World, 76, 
1985, 15-23; Dominique Sourdel, "Reflexions sur la diffusion de la madrasa en Orient du 
Xle au Xllle siecles," Revue des Etudes Islamiques. 44, 19 75, 165-84: fanine Sourdel- 
Thomine, "Locaux d'enseignements et madrasas dans I'islam medieval," Revue des Etudes 
Islamiques, 44, 19 75, 185-97. 

3. Muhammad Khalid Masud, "Religious Identity and Mass Education," in Islam in the Era 
of Globalization, fohan Meulaman (ed.), (London: Routledge Curzon, 2000), 233-46, here 
p. 237. 

4. G. Makdisi, The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West (Edinburgh: 
Edinburgh University Press, 1981). 

5. Masud, "Religious Identity," 23 7. 

5. See G.W. Leitner, History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882 
(New Delhi: 1971, first edition 1883: Languages Department Punjab). 

7. For that tradition see Francis Robinson. The 'Ulama ofFarangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in 
South Asia (New Delhi: permanent black, 2001). 

8 . For this context see lamal Malilc, "Muslim Culture and Reform in 1 8* Century South Asia, " 
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society , 13/2, 2003, 227-43. 

9. For these movements and groups, see Barbara D. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, 
Deoband 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982). 

10. For this movement see famal Malik, Islamische Gelehrtenkultur in Nordindien. Entvficklungs- 
geschichte und Tendenzen am Beispiel von Lucknow (Leiden: E.J. BrUl. 199 7). 

11. See Kuldip Kaur, Madrasa Education in India: A Study of its Past and Present (Chandigarh: 
Centre for Rural and Industrial Development, 1990), 225: for madrasah education in India 
in general see S. Maqbul Ahmad, "Madrasa System of Education and Indian Muslim 
Society," in S.T. Lokhandwalla (ed.) India and Contemporary Islam (Simla, 19 71), 25-36: 


Mohammad Akhlaq Ahmad, Traditional Education among Muslims; A Study of some Aspects 
in Modern India (Delhi: B.R. Pubhshiiig Corporation, 1985). Unfortunately, no recent data 
were available on the contemporary state of ulama institutions in Bangladesh. See, however, 
A.K.M. A5?yub Ali, History of Traditional Education in Bangladesh (down to A.D. 1 980) (Dhaka: 
Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, 1983). 

12. Kaur, Madrasa Education, 254. 

13. See Kaur. Madrasa Education, 210; see also An]uman-e Nida-ye Islam (ed.), Fihrist Madaris- 
e 'arabiyya diniya (Kalkutta: Anjuman-e Nida-ye Islam, 1404/1983). 

14. See Ziyaud-Din A. Desai. Centres of Islamic Learning in India (New Delhi: Ministry of Infor- 
mation and Broadcasting, 1978). 

15. This is based on a list provided by the administration staff of the Nadwat in October 1990. 

16. Muslim India, 111(1993), 125. 

1 7. Compare Jan-Peter Hartung, Leben und Wirken von Sayyid AhiX l-Hasan al-Hasani an-Nadwi 
(1913-1999) als Beispielftir religios politische Netzwerke in Stidasien (Ph.D. Islamic Studies, 
University of Erfurt, 2003). 

18. Cited in Muslim India, 127, July 1993, 323. 

19. See Hamdard Education Society, Evaluation Report on Modernization of Madrasa Education 
(UP) (New Delhi: 2 00 3 ); an interesting overview is provided by Amir Ullah Khan, Moham- 
mad Saqib, and Zafar H. Anjum, To Kill the Mockingbird. Madarsah (sic! ) System in India: Past, 
Present, and Future,, 
consulted 20 Feb. 2004. 

20. Cf. Government of Pakistan, Report of the Committee set up by the Governor of West Pakistan 
for Recommending Improved Syllabus for the Various Darul Ulooms and Arabic Madrasas in West 
Pakistan (Lahore: 1962). 

21. See Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Riport qaumi kamiti bara-ye dini 
madaris Pakistan (Islamabad: 1979). 

22. The report, however, recognized the role of religious schools as transmitters of the cultural 
heritage and also the students' strong motivation to learn, which was unknown within the 
formal system where there was much corruption; see Gov. of Pakistan, Riport qaumi kamiti, 
115f and8f. 

23. Yusuf Talal Ali, Draft chapter on Islamic Education for inclusion in the Report of the President's 
Task Force on Education (Islamabad: 1982, mimeo), 6. 

24. For further readings consult Dale F. Eickelman and James Piscatori, Muslim Politics (Prince- 
ton: Princeton University Press, 1996). 

25. Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: 
Yale University Press, 2000). 

26. Such as the verdict of riba by the Supreme Court Shariat Appellate Bench in 1999, aboli- 
tion of the old Family Law Ordinance (men can practice polygamy without permission of 
their first wives, women only may marry with a wall), the acceptance of Taliban idol- 
bashing by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, closure during prayer times, when defaulters 
are to be punished, no songs and dances on PTV, no women in advertisements, insurance 
declared un-Islamic, kalima on the flag, Friday as weekly holiday, etc.; see Khaled Ahmed, 
"The Myth of 'Misinterpreted' Islam," The Friday Times (Pakistan: January 11-17, 2002). 

2 7. The idea was that instead of filing a blasphemy case with the police, a senior administra- 
tion official should oversee the procedure. 

28. That is (i) Integration of special Islamic provisions of the constitution of 19 73 into the 
Provincial Constitution Order of Oct. 1999. (ii) Keeping separate electoral for Muslims and 
Non-Muslims for elections at district and commune level, (iii) Implementation of Friday as 
the holy day. (iv) Anti-Islamic activities of NGOs be banned, (v) Government should guar- 


antee not to touch madaris and Jihadi groups. While the first two demands were achieved 
during the next few months, the rest is stilt to be negotiated. 

29. See The Gazette of Pakistan: Ordinance No. XL of 2001. And, Hukumat-e Patdstan, Model 
Dini Madaris, Wizarat-e Madhhabi Umur, Shubah-ye dini madaris (Islamabad: n.d.). 
Compare also Hukumat-e Pakistan, Pehli Salanah Report (August 2001 - September 2002) 
(Islamabad: Pakistan Madrasah Education Board, 2002). 

30. Cf. The News. "Rs 5.7 b allocated for madaris reforms" (January 8, 2004). This amount is 
a very small portion in relation to the overall projects worth 185.6 billion. 

31. In working out his message in Urdu language. General Musharraf makes deliberate use of 
Islamic symbolism and vocabulary {huquq al-'ibad, shari'at, etc.), but crucial words from the 
vocabulary of secular society, such as tolerance, intellectual difference and debate, freedom of 
thought, etc., are used in the English language version. 

32. General Musharraf has reiterated his policy on several occasions (such as January 17, 
2002), as when he addressed religious scholars at a two-day National Conference of Ulama 
and Mashaikh in Islamabad, under the aegis of the Minister for Religious Affairs. Again the 
General asked the ulama to play their role for the benefit of the common man and leave the 
matter of jihad to him. He announced that all party funds would be checked, and in future, 
no new mosque or madrasah would be opened without prior permission of the government, 
and no one would be allowed to call for jihad. 

33. Interestingly enough, Pakistani stocks rose 2.4 percent following General Musharraf's 
speech. The News (January 15, 2002), p. 11. 

34. "Textbooks and the Jihadi mindset", DAWN (February 12, 2002). 
3 5 . The News (January 1 5 , 2 002 ), 1 1 . 


75 Years of Higher Religious 
Education in Modern Turkey 

Mehmet Pacaci and Yasin Aktay 

The modern-day Turkish Republic was built upon the ashes of the old Ottoman Empire. 
In order to create a completely new and more powerful entity, those who formed the 
Republic discarded the earlier structure wherein religion was an integral part of the 
state and adopted instead a secular model. Kazamias summarizes what the founders of 
Turkey did to create a secular state: 

In 1923 the Ministry of Education toolc over tiie administration and control of all religious 
schools and all their means of support. In the same year, the teaching of religion was pro- 
scribed in all state schools. The abolition of the caliphate in 1924 was followed by the 
closing of all medreses and other separate religious schools, by the elimination of the 
august office of seyhiilislam, and by the replacement of the Ministry of Religious Law with 
a Presidency of Religious Affairs under the prime minister. In 1928, Article 2 of the first 
Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, which had made Islam the state religion, was 
amended, providing for disestablishment; and in 193 7 the principle of secularism was 
incorporated in the Constitution. In the meantime, jurisdiction of the courts of the serial 
had been taken over by lay. Western-modeled courts, and a Turkish Civil Code, a virtual 
replica of the Swiss Civil Code, had replaced the orthodox private Mohammedan laws. 
By 1930, what few secondary schools for religious leaders had survived went out of exis- 
tence, and by 1933, the foundering Faculty of Theology of Istanbul University was also 

The Turkish Republic has nonetheless inherited much from its Ottoman predeces- 
sor, such as the religious tradition of the nation and, quite paradoxically, so-called West- 
ernization and modernization. In spite of the fact that religion has been displaced from 
the actual structure of the state, contention regarding religious issues has continually 
persisted throughout the course of the 75-year history of the new state. Religion in 
education or, more specifically, the issue of religious education has always been an indi- 
cation of the position of the state vis-d-vis the religious culture of the country. In this 
chapter, we will focus on the development of higher religious education in modern 
Turkey during its 75 years of existence. 


Table 7.1 Curriculum of the Faculty 

Courses Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 

Glorious Tafser (Tefsir-i §erif) 3 3 3 3 

Hadith and Methodology of Fiqih 2 2 2 2 

(Hadis ve Usul-i Fikih) 

Science of Fiqih (Ilm-i Fikih) 2 2 2 2 

Methodology of Fiqih (Usul-i Fikih) 2 2 2- 

Science of Theology (Ilm-i Kelam) 2 2 2 2 

History of Islamic History (Tarih-i Din-i Islam) 2 111 

General History (Tarih-i Umumi) - - - 1 

Methodology of Teaching (Usul-i Tedris) - - 1 1 

Total 13 12 14 12 

The idea of a higher religious academy has its roots in the philosophy of the Ottoman 
era. According to Ulken, one of the first deans of the Faculty of Ilahiyat, Ankara, the 
very notion of a Faculty of Ilahiyat appeared at the same time as that of the modern 
university in Ottoman Turkey. The actualization of the project was effected by Emrul- 
lah Efendi, the Minister of Education {Maarif Nazm) at the time.^ At an independent 
university, a faculty separate from that of the medrese was convened for the first time. 
EmruUah Efendi was the mastermind of the theory known as the "Tuba tree" {Tuba 
Agaci), which is an upside-down tree believed to exist in Paradise according to Muslim 
tradition. This theory promoted a rational and modern type of education from the 
highest to the lowest levels.' The implementation of that theory resulted in the opening 
of a university {Daru'l-Funun) in 1908.* This university included a branch called Ulum- 
u Aliye-i Diniyye, which was later called Ulum-i §er'iyye. This is an early example of what 
would later become the faculties of Ilahiyat, which are branches of higher religious 
education characterized by their freedom from secular concerns. The curriculum of the 
faculty was as shown in Table 7.1. 

Later, some changes occurred and, for the fourth year, Ilm-i Hikmet (Knowledge of 
Wisdom/Philosophy), Tarih-i Edyan (History of Religions), Siyer-i Nebevi (Life of the 
Prophet), Kitabiyet-i Arabiyye and Tiirkiyye (Arabic and Turkish Literature) courses 
including Usul-i Fikih (Methodology of Fiqh) were added to the program.' In 1913, a 
new regulation was imposed upon the university by Emrullah Efendi. The reorganiza- 
tion of the departments {^u'be) was as follows: 

• Department of Tafser and Hadith 

• Department of Theology 

• Department of Philosophy 

• Department of Fiqh 

• Department of Religious Ethics (Ahlak-i §er'iyye) and Life of the Prophet 


With these changes, courses such as Ilm-i Ahlak-i §er'iyye ve Tasavvuf (Science of 
Religious Ethics and Mysticism), Garb Felsefesi (Western Philosophy), Felsefe ve Tarihi 
Felsefe (Philosophy and History of Philosophy), and Ilm-i Hilaf (Discipline of Contra- 
vention) were added to the curriculum/' 

On September 11, 1919, a new law closed the faculty as a result of opposition to the 
traditional offerings. The reasoning was that the traditional medrese were sufficiently 
structured to provide the Turkish people with religious education, and, therefore, there 
was no need for any other institutions with the same purpose. The medrese. meanwhile, 
were also experiencing deep transformation in an effort to modernize. According to 
ULken, graduates of the medrese began to achieve prominence. HocaTahsin Efendi, for 
instance, taught modern psychology, while Izmirli Ismail Hakki in Yeni Ilm-i Kelam com- 
pared kelam doctrines with Western philosophy. Ali Sedat Bey promoted and taught 
modern logic and methodology^ In fact, a considerable number of ulama supported or 
substantially contributed to modernization reforms in the Ottoman state. ^ 

When Western influence expanded to the Ottoman State, contemporary ideas in the 
field of education emerged. Yet, traditional modes of education persisted alongside new 
ones. Eventually, this coexistence created a dualism in the structure of the educational 
system of the state. In this dual composition, the medrese gave a traditional and reli- 
giously rooted education, whereas the mekteb provided a Westernized or modern type 
of education. Kazamias refers to this dualistic nature in his account of the inaugura- 
tion of the Galatasaray Lise as a mekteb in French style. The supporters of the new 
establishment were called Tanzimatci. They were known as the defenders of reform in 
the state and of the Westernization of the institutions and cultural life of the empire. 
At the other extreme, however, stood the conservatives, who believed in the traditional 
institutions and were the champions of Islam and religious schooling. They were the 
so-called Medreseci.^ 

This mekteb-medrese dualism continued until the parliament of the new Turkish 
Republic passed the law of unification of instruction {Tevhid-i Tadrisat) on March 3, 
1924. This happened only a year after the declaration of the new Turkish State on April 
23, 1923. The secular character of the state and the law of unification of instruction 
had the most profound and permanent influence, not only on education in general, but 
on religious education in particular. According to this law, education now fell under 
the authority of the Ministry of Education. With this law, all mektebs and medreses 
were attached to the Ministry of Education both administratively and financially. 

As with any issue related to religion, there was much heated discussion about the 
concept of secularism in government, which was held as one of the necessary princi- 
ples of the new Turkish State. Following the establishment of a new faculty, these con- 
tinuing discussions played themselves out both in parliament and the media. Many 
were loath to abandon the Muslim traditions of the country. On the one hand, many 
approved of the secular quality of the state, but on the other, the people's religious 
demands were not to be denied. This situation was a painful paradox in the minds of 
modern Turks. 

Fierce debate ensued regarding the interpretation and execution of the law by the 
government of the time. The closing of the medrese by the Ministry of Education gave 
rise to considerable opposition. The decision to shut down the medrese by Vasif Bey, the 


Minister of Education, was considered by the conservative media as a gravely biased 
attack against the old institutions. An article in Sebilurresad interpreted the initiative 
as ruining the families of 16,000 scholars and advocated the reconstruction of the 
medrese rather than their elimination.'" The opposition, moreover, regarded the 
medrese as a primary source for students of higher religious education in Turkey. They 
argued that without the medrese, the Faculty of Ilahiyat would be left without students 
and become obsolete. ^^ 

In contrast, an article in Cumhuriyet written by Falih Rifki described the action as 
very brave and as the eradication of 16,000 dogmatists in one night.^" Ismet Inonu 
gave a speech against the opposition at a Teachers Union meeting in 1925. He referred 
to the central point of the contention as well as the government's persistence on its 
revolutionary position regarding religious education and also religion itself: 

We have already known that opinions would be advanced that certain institutions should 
have been reformed rather than closed by the Unification of Instruction Law and we also 
have predicted the results of this kind of objection. The Great Assembly, however, already 
has decided. To accelerate the goals that are to be gradually achieved is to make a revolu- 
tion. . . . We believe that the initiative has nothing to do with being irreligious. . . . The 
cleanest and the most authentic form of Islam has been manifested among us . . . You 
teachers! You will give a national 13^36 of education, not a religious and international one. 
We will witness that the religious training is not an attack against the national and that 
both types of the educations will be performed in their own modes. ^^ 

The revolutionary action of the government continued to be disputed in later years. 
In 1955, Halide Edip Adivar, one of the few significant females involved in the struggle 
for Turkish independence, criticized the government's treatment of the medrese. She 
regarded the medrese as the most important source of students for the Faculty of 
Ilahiyat and believed that the struggle against corrupted forms of Islam would be easier 
if the way she suggested had been taken. She said: 

It has been a great error to close the medrese which had already taken a modern way. Had 
the evkaf schools been closed first these (medrese) would have carried on religious educa- 
tion and the establishment of Faculty of Ilahiyat would have been done on these already 
settled foundations when we separated the state from the religion. This would have saved 
us, on the one hand, from Medieval narrow-mindedness, and on the other hand, we would 
not have approached towards the cliff of the dogmatism (for the satisfaction of our natural 
religion instincts) through a sect that is based on ignorance and came from abroad; it is 
also ignorant and irrelevant to the enlightening and eminent principles of Islam. ^'' 

In fact, every action the government took regarding religious education caused dis- 
satisfaction. In the polemics of the day, definitions both of secularism and religion were 
demanded and proffered. Defenders of religious tradition emphasized the historic role 
of religion in creating the nation and suggested definitions of laicism as something not 
against religion along with the reforms. Their arguments were founded on the premise 
that religious education was needed to uphold the moral requirements of Turkish 
society^' Ahmet Cevdet, the chief editor of Ikdam, for instance, defended the necessity 


of religious education for young generations of the nation. He wrote, "Unless a nation 
gains a proper religious education it cannot develop a strong country. Then, no other 
youth throughout the world is so incomplete as Turkish youth and nation." He con- 
cluded "Such a youth (as a Turkish one) cannot form a nation. . . ."^'' The same argu- 
ment was repeated after more than half a century. Bolay argued the necessity of 
religious education to prevent the disassociation of man from his transcendental 
source. He emphasized the integrative function of fslam for the citizens of Turkey.^^ 

Advocates of laicism have been inclined to see religion as a barrier to modernization 
and regard the medrese and religion itself as a source of ignorance and dogmatism. 
They concluded, in accordance with their definition of laicism, that a secular state is 
not required to give any religious education.^* Sadrettin Celal Bey, in an article pub- 
lished in Son Telgraf, argued that religion had been the primary agent of ignorance and 
corruption in the country. A secular state, he continued, does not interfere with the 
religious beliefs of the people. He regarded religion as a personal matter to be kept out 
of matters of state. He believed that leaving religious education to the family and abol- 
ishing state-sponsored religious courses were the necessary consequences of a secular 

Mehmet Oglu Ihsan, a teacher, replied to the above-mentioned article by Sadreddin 
Celal Bey in Son Telgraf. He emphasized the use of religious education in the ethical and 
moral education of the younger generations and stated that religious education was 
not a barrier to achieving modernization.'" 

By the authority of the fourth article of the law of unification of instruction, the 
Imam-Hatip schools at the secondary level and Darulfiinun Faculty of Ilahiyat at the 
higher level were opened. The opening of the latter was on April 21, 1924. It was pro- 
jected that the faculty would meet the need for religious instruction and help train spe- 
cialists in religion, who were also fluent in modern scientific methods. The curriculum 
of the faculty was designed to promote a modern and active understanding of religion. 
The eighth article of the regulation {Talimatname) , which formulated the three-year 
Ilahiyat education, lists the names of the courses as follows: 

• Tafsir and History of Tafsir, Hadith and History of Hadith (Tefsir ve Tefsir 
Tarihi, Hadis ve Hadis Tarihi) 
History of Fiqh (Fikih Tarihi) 
Sociology (Ictimaiyyat) 
Ethics (Ahlak) 

History of Islamic Religion (Din-i Islam Tarihi) 
Arabic Literature (Arap Edebiyati) 
Philosophy of Religion (Felsefe-i Din) 
History of Theology (Kelam Tarihi) 
Muslim Philosophers (Islam Feylesoflari) 
History of Mysticism (Tasavvuf Tarihi) 
History of Philosophy (Felsefe Tarihi) 
Islamic Esthetics (Islam Bediiyyati) 

Prevailing Islamic Sects (Hal-i Hazirda Islam Mezhepleri) 
Ethnography of Muslim Nations (Akvam-i Islamiyye Etnografyasi) 


• Religious History of Turks (Tiirk Tarih-i Dinisi) 

• ISistory of Religions (Tarih-i Edyan)^'^ 

According to the regulations, students who wanted to register for the Faculty were 
required to have graduated from high school and also must have passed an entrance 
examination in Arabic and Persian. The faculty was allowed to accept students from 
Imam-Hatip schools as well. In the first year, the faculty received more than 400 ex- 
students from the higher levels of Daru'l-Hilafe and Medresetul-Mutehassisin, both of 
which had been closed earlier.'' 

Right after the decision to open the Faculty of Ilahiyat, bitter criticism appeared in 
the media. Again, two groups were prominently featured. This time, both of the groups 
criticized the government for this initiative. One of them criticized the curriculum of 
the faculty as religious narrow-mindedness and strictness in education and life in 
general. The other group directed its criticism toward the inadequacy of the curricu- 
lum in giving a real religious education. According to the latter group, this was because 
basic religious sciences were not sufficiently employed in the curriculum. In an article 
in Sebilurresad, they stated the curriculum was neither a curriculum of natural science 
nor that of a Faculty of Ilahiyat.-^ A similar criticism on the general character of the 
curriculum was vocalized in the Parliament as well. Rasih Kaplan, for instance, an MP 
from Antalya, argued that the faculty taught the history of religions rather than 
Islam.-'' In fact, the criticism of the laicists that the curriculum promoted religious dog- 
matism unquestionably fails. Almost every effort of the faculty provides a contempo- 
rary and novel approach toward religious matters. Criticism from conservatives who 
expect a more traditional form of religious education seems more accurate. The content 
of the issue number 14 published in the fourth year can be given as a sample of the 
modern approach of the faculty members: 

(Yaltkaya), Mehmed §erefeddin, "Islam'da Ilk Fikri Hareketler ve Dini 

Mezhepler" (First Thought Movements and Religious Sects in Islam), pp. 1-27 

Izmirli Ismail Hakki, "Islam'da Felsefe Cereyanlary" (Philosophical Trends in 

Islam), pp. 28^5. 

(Ayni), Mehmet Ali, "Nefs Kelimesinin Manalari" (The Meanings of the Word 

"Nefs"), pp. 46-52. 

Halil Halid, "Ismaililer, Aga Han, Hint Miislumanlari" (Ismalites, Agha Khan, 

and Indian Muslims), pp. 53-60. 

(Baykara) Abdulbaki, "Tevhid Kelimesinin Tarihi Safhalari" (The Historical 

Stages of the Word "Tawhid"), pp. 61-72. 

(Yoriikhan) Yusuf Ziya, "Tahtacilar" (Tahtacis), pp. 73-80, (Er, 199 3, 59). 

The anxieties and predictions regarding from where the students of the faculty 
would come unfortunately were realized. It was for no other reason than the lack of 
students that the faculty was closed in 1933. Since Imam-Hatip schools were not given 
the status of lycee/high school, their graduates could not register at the faculty. Fur- 
thermore, graduates of the faculty were deprived of many rights of graduates of other 


After the closing of a Faculty of Theology in Istanbul, the opening of a new one 
appeared on the agenda of the Turkish Parliament following the seventh convention of 
the Republican People's Party (RPP) in the late 1940s. The proposition of opening a 
second Faculty of Divinity raised the same furor in Parliament and the media that 
opening the first had seen. Opening a new Faculty of Theology promptly set forward 
the issue of the secular character of the state once again. The traditionalist wing of the 
ruling RPP advocated revising the definition of secularism. They argued that secular- 
ism was misunderstood and misapplied in Turkey. They claimed that it was understood 
as bringing up the young without refigion and the consequence was immorality. 
According to traditionalists, religion had a moral purpose with an important role in 
social life. Despite the fact that Islam was the religion of the majority in the country, it 
had become inferior vis-d-vis other religions. There was, then, a disparity in favor of the 
non-Islamic minority refigions in the country. Religious communities had established 
their own independent organizations all over the world. But in Turkey, this opportunity 
was not afforded to Muslims. Hence, they contended, the presidency of Religious Affairs 
should be independent and equipped to educate Turkish men for refigious service. 
Having recognized religion as having moral value, they maintained that new genera- 
tions should have a solid religious education. 

The secularist and revolutionist members of the party, however, were fearful of the 
potential impact of religion on the secular character of the state. Once again, they 
insisted on confining religious matters to the realm of the private. According to the sec- 
ularist wing of the party, religion could easily be abused in the hands of the corrupt. 
They appealed to racial and national values by referring to a famous saying by Mustafa 
Kemal: "The ultimate power of a Turk is immanent in his noble blood." Thus, religion 
should be regarded as a phenomenon between an individual Turk's conscience and 
God."'' The seventh convention, rejecting the traditionalists' considerations, declared 
strict revolutionism."^ 

The suggestion that was advanced to settle this issue came from the Assembly Group 
of the RPP itself This was one of the results of democratization in Turkey. Because of 
its promise for liberation in religion and religious education, the Democratic Party won 
62 seats in the Parliament. This forced the leadership of the RPP to make a serious 
adjustment in its policy of religion."* The party in power also began to realize rapid 
change in the balance of the vote profile in favor of opposition parties on account of 
their strong emphasis on religion. The RPP, at that time, had a negative image with 
regard to religion in the eyes of its constituents. Tunaya^' counted 24 parties in Turkey, 
most of which were alike regarding their emphasis on freedom of religious matters. 
Eventually, the RPP recognized the compelling necessity of reviewing and modifying 
its policy with respect to religion. Shortly after the seventh congress, it became obvious 
that the RPP could no longer ignore the demand for more attention to religion. As a 
result of this transformation, the RPP suggested founding a new Faculty of Ilahiyat. 
Clearly, the RPP regarded itself as the only real protector of the modern Turkish Repub- 
lic.'" In late January 1948, deputies Ibrahim Arvas and Fatin Gokmen tabled a bill to 
this effect in Parliament, In February 1948, the council of the RPP approved a report 
calling for the establishment of a Faculty of Ilahiyat as well as some other religious 
institutions of education. The program and texts for this education were to be prepared 


by the Presidency of Religious Affairs and eventually they were subject to the approval 
of the Ministry of Education. The new Nation Party also stated that it favored the estab- 
lishment of a Faculty of Ilahiyat in Istanbul on July 22, 1948. In addition, on May 20, 
1948, the RPP suggested to the Ministry of National Education that in order to open 
courses in Imam and Hatip, secondary school graduates could register after complet- 
ing military service. Thus, the Ministry of Education opened courses of Imam and Hatip 
in eight different places within a 10-month period. The goal of these courses was to 
overcome the shortage of qualified men who could lead prayers and funeral ceremonies. 
But creating a proper concept of theory as well as a project of higher religious educa- 
tion was still a burdensome issue. ^^ 

Tahsin Banguoglu, the Minister of National Education, touched upon the matter of 
the faculty curriculum in a report. He reflected that the new definitions of secularism, 
religion, and university might appear for many as deviant from true secularism, 
Banguoglu stated that: 

The subjects that will be studied on the Faculty wUl be religious in majority, like exegesis 
(tefsir), tradition (hadis), jurisprudence (fikih). Besides, such courses from the Faculty of 
Language, history and geography as well as ethics, psychology, sociology will be taught 
, , , Again the language courses of the Faculty of Literature will be the associate courses. 
Furthermore history of religions and some other religions comparatively will be learned 
. . . Theology is by itself an autonomous discipline, while the Faculty of Literature is 
only a faculty of human sciences. In this respect by its foundation we will not repeat the 
mistake that once was made at the University of Istanbul. The essential core here will be 
the religious sciences." 

The very same mistake articulated by Banguoglu had been mentioned as well by 
Baltacioglu, an adviser to Atatiirk for so-called religious reform, in the same session of 
the Parliament, Baltacioglu commented on the character of the new faculty as follows: 

, , , in that Faculty of Ilahiyat (in Istanbul) I also had some responsibility. In one sense, we 
realized that it was a kind of Faculty of sociology. But here, the Islamic sciences will be 
essential, and the sociological sciences will be secondary. . . . After fifty years I have come 
to the conviction, and I do not refrain from expressing it from this seat, that if a person 
who acquires all of the disciplines such as ethics, aesthetics and literature doesn't receive 
religious education to be given by the government, then human personality cannot be 

The prevaifing optimism was reflected in the media, as well. On January 31, 1948, 
the influential editor, Cihat Baban, pointed out in Tasvir that such a proposal was not 
a deviation fr'om secular principles and that religion was both an individual and a social 
matter. He also claimed that if Turkey did not bother to train religious specialists, false 
convictions would spread among the people. He added to this that Turkey must also 
harness the might of Islam over and against Soviet pressure. On February 4, 1948, M, 
Tuncer, writing in an Izmir-based paper Yeni Asya opined that the state must train a 
society of well-informed, patriotic religious vanguards who could teach religion to the 
people in these difficult times, ^'' These sentiments were echoed by Nadir Nadi, editor of 


Turkey's semi-official paper, Cumhuriyet, when he reiterated the need for religious 
guides (Din Rehberleri) on February 12, 1948. A number of influential scholars and 
politicians also faced the creation of the Faculty of Ilahiyat with a sympathetic welcome 
and expressed their hopes regarding its ability to provide urgently required modern and 
enlightened religious leadership. Ahmed Remzi Yiiregir, for instance, expressed his 
strong belief that the faculty would be "no place for superstition mongers."'' 

In the national Parliament, however, much anxiety continued to be expressed lest 
the new Faculty of Theology once again helped generate the rigidity and obscurantism 
of the old medrese. Defending the initiative was the duty of the Minister of National 
Education Tahsin Banguoglu. He announced that "it will be worthy of Atatiirk's Rev- 
olution and will not work in the spirit of the medrese, but will work against regressive 
trends."'^ He replied that the proposed Faculty of Theology was a natural result of the 
reform processes set in motion by Atatiirk, and said: 

This idea is essentially of a nature that will put to rest our friends' anxieties. We are not of 
the opinion that the old medrese should be revived. School and medrese, beginning with the 
Tanzimat. lived side by side for a hundred years and bred people who had two different sorts 
of mind. This person with a two-fold mentality rolled throughout a whole century with 
an internal struggle. The Faculty of Divinity that we are about to establish will not work 
with this manner of thinking ... In this respect the Faculty of Ilahiyat will be established 
as a scientific body and apart from encouraging regressionist movements it will indeed 
function as an arm against them to impede them and to annihilate them. The Faculty of 
Divinity will be a torch of light like other scientific institutions that have been established 
since the Tanzimat and, therefore, the superstitions will escape before this radiance like 

The next significant step leading to the creation of the new Faculty of Ilahiyat 
occurred when the Senate of Ankara University decided to examine this project 
on January 7, 1949. Shortly after that, on January 23, 1949, the program of the new 
Republican cabinet led by M. §emseddin Giinaltay was declared. Giinaltay was a 
student of religious sciences, a medrese graduate and a distinguished historian. Giinal- 
tay pledged to follow Western democratic models and to defend the principles of the 
Turkish revolution. Freedom of conscience was declared holy in his program.'^ 

The issue was finally brought to Parliament by the government following the deci- 
sion of the Senate of Ankara University to open a Faculty of Divinity. The proposition 
was made on May 3, 1949, with the following leading incentive: "In order to make the 
investigation of religious questions according to the possible scientific principles, and 
also to provide the required conditions for raising men of religion effective in their pro- 
fession and comprehensive in their thinking, the Senate of Ankara University has 
decided that a Faculty of Divinity is to be opened in accordance with its Western coun- 
terpart . . ."" 

Meanwhile, Banguoglu tried to explain the purpose of opening the Faculty of 
Ilahiyat, distinguishing the concept of faculty from that of the medrese. He believed the 
medrese to be places in which to learn the tenets of Islam, whereas the faculties were 
"houses of science, they endeavor to make comparison, observation and finally, if pos- 
sible, explanation. "*'° 



Table 7.2 Program of the Faculty for 1949-50 academic year* 








Foreign language (English, French, 





Logic and Philosophy of Sciences 


Islam and History of Sects 


History of Islamic Art 


Comparative History of Religion 



Prof Necati Lugal at the FLHG* 
Prof Necati Lugal at the FLHG 
Followed at the Foreign Language 

Dept. of FLHG 
Mehmet Karasan at FLHG 
Hamdi Ragip Atademir at FLHG 
Prof Yusuf Ziya Yoriikan 
Prof Remzi Oguz Arik 
Prof Hilmi Ziya Budda 

* FLHG stands for the Faculty of Language, History and Geography in Ankara 

Emin Soysal (Mara§), referring to the mektep and medrese dualism that had 
occurred in the past, defended the opening of the Faculty: 

Was Great Atatiirk irreligious? No! He was never an irreligious person. Great Atatiirk 
was a great person who wanted this country to develop and improve along a European 
way. . . . This country is in need of this institution and verily there is a great need of it.""' 

Thus, the law that authorized the formation of the new faculty took effect on June 
10, 1949, and, at the outset, a teaching staff was appointed for a period of up to seven 
years. This included a dean, eight professors, 1 5 docents and 2 9 research assistants The 
law included an allocation of 43,000 Turkish lire (TL) for the budget of the Faculty of 
Divinity until the coming fiscal year beginning on March 1, 1950. According to the 
reports, only 39,865 TL were apparently spent in this first half year.*^ 

During the first semester, over 85 students enrolled in the faculty for the four-year 
program. Out of this number, 80, consisting of 58 male and 22 female students, suc- 
cessfully completed the first semester. In the second semester, 130 new lycee/high 
school graduates were registered. The Faculty graduated a total of 40 students in 1 9 5 3 , 
nine of whom were female.''* 

The curriculum of the Faculty of Ilahiyat changed drastically in 1972. The four- 
year program increased to five years. In the first three years, Arabic and foreign lan- 
guage courses were emphasized and the last two years were allocated to specializing in 
two basic areas. Two departments, accordingly, were established in the faculty, the 
Tafsir and Hadis Department, and the Theology and Islamic Philosophy Department. 

For 10 years, the Faculty of Ilahiyat at Ankara remained the single institution for 
religious higher education, except for the Islam Tetkikleri Enstitusii, which had been 
working under the auspices of the University of Istanbul. 


Ten years after the establishment of the faculty in Ankara, a higher Islamic institute 
(Yuksek Islam Enstitiisu) opened in Istanbul on November 19, 1959. Several reasons 
were given for the need for a new higher religious educational institution. Again, Ismail 
Hakki Baltacioglu made a distinction between the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara and the 
Darulfiinun: the latter was to emphasize a kind of sociology of religion and the former 
to deal with religious issues in order to meet the needs of religious service for the people. 
Even though the latter was expected of the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara, there were 
still some problems in training specialists to guide believers in religious rituals and prac- 
tices. As Ba§gil argued (1985), the Faculty of Ilahiyat focused on training philosophers 
and sociologists of religion. This was the first reason given for opening another higher 
institution for religious education. Secondly, the number of the Imam-Hatip schools 
had considerably increased (there were 19 Imam-Hatip schools in the country at that 
time) and the need for teachers could not be met solely by the graduates of the Faculty 
in Ankara. Also, at that stage, the Imam-Hatib schools and the faculty were regarded 
as quite separate establishments and there was no attempt to associate the two. The 
former was established to foster men of religion like imams and hatibs, while the latter 
was more of an intellectual center for a scientific understanding and interpreting Islam 
for adapting to the needs of the changing world. Hence, it was intended primarily to 
train teachers for Imam-Hatib schools as well as offer courses of religion at ordinary 
secondary schools and lycees.*' 

Newly opened higher Islamic institutes grew with the increase in the number of 
Imam-Hatib schools. In 1971. a new institute appeared in Erzurum called the Faculty 
of Islamic Sciences. With the initiative of the rector of Atatiirk University, the faculty 
started a five-year program on July 22, 1971, open only to Imam-Hatip school gradu- 
ates. It suffered from a shortage of academic personnel in the early years. The cur- 
riculum of the faculty was similar to that of the other higher religious education of the 
time. It included some pedagogical courses as well.'"' 

Each of the institutes and the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Erzurum were eventu- 
ally transferred into the faculties of Ilahiyat by the extensive reforms of the Council of 
Higher Education (CHE) (Yuksek Ogretim Kurulu) in 1982. This procedure was a kind of 
recovery operation for the higher Islamic institutes, since they were suffering from the 
stagnant character of their curriculum. The curriculum really gave the impression of 
having been an extension of a secondary religious school. The same courses were 
repeatedly followed in the course of the four-year education: Arabic, Hadith (Prophetic 
Tradition), Exegesis, Our'anic Recitation, Theology {Kelam ve Akaid). Hence, one of the 
reasons that the CHE converted them into faculties was the very appeal of the insti- 
tutes. Yet, there was another compelling reason for this conversion and it was related 
to the coup d'etat in 1980. The reforms of the CHE were considered to be the second 
attempt at the unification of education. As a matter of fact, seven institutes of higher 
Islamic knowledge were transformed into faculties of Ilahiyat and the same curricu- 
lum was applied all over Turkey. The old curriculums of Ilahiyat education were 
reviewed in accordance with the criticisms directed toward them. Thus, in the first year, 
students were taught Arabic, some introductory learning regarding the Our'an, and 
some practical issues on Islam. The emphasis on teaching Arabic was a particularly 
favorable amendment to the curriculum, even though before the reform, Arabic had 


been part of the education at the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara. Rahman stated that he 
had given lectures in Arabic in Turkey, and several in the audience discussed matters 
with him in Arabic. He added that this was unique to the Arab world, except to a limited 
extent in Indonesia.*^ 

The curriculum has been revised many times and is still evolving. On April 23-5, 
1981, the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara hosted the "First Religious Education Seminar 
in Turkey." An associate professor, among many other academics, seriously criticized 
the curriculum and the teaching methods in the faculties of the time. Papers entitled 
"The Problems of Religious Education in Faculties," "The Shortcomings in Higher 
Religious Education," and "Religious Education in Higher Islamic Institute and its 
Problems" discussed the curriculum and teaching methods at length. According to the 
author of one paper, for instance, to achieve an effective curriculum, it was important 
to recognize that the prevailing curriculum was replete with obsolete and unimportant 
courses. After the unification of the higher religious institutions, several meetings were 
held to discuss the coordination of the faculties and the development of the curricu- 
lum. One such meeting was organized by Samsun Ondokuz Mayis University, entitled 
"The Symposium of the Instruction of Religious Sciences in Higher Education" 
{Yuksekogretimde Din Bilimleri Ogretimi Sempozyumu) on October 21-3, 1987. In this 
gathering, Ba3rraktar Bayrakli, the Professor of Islamic Education at the Faculty of 
Divinity of Marmara University, delivered a paper that was characteristic in outlining 
some of the problems of the curriculum of the Faculties of Ilahiyat. He criticized the 
conception of education that relies solely upon the teacher's efforts in the classroom. 
He also suggested that the definition of "student" should be modified. The curriculum 
should be altered to provide greater participation of the students. There were, to him, 
some artificial divisions in the content of the courses. For example, the Our' an and the 
exegesis of the Our'an were given in different courses and in two different languages, 
one in Arabic and the other in Turkish. He also complained about the excessive 
number of courses. Bayrakli believed it more important for students to be able to follow 
the contemporary debate on Islamic and modern issues rather than studying debates 
that took place among certain schools in early Islam. In 1988, another symposium, 
entitled the "Symposium of Religious Education and Service," was held in Ankara 
as a result of a joint initiative of the Presidency of Religious Affairs at Ankara Univer- 
sity and the Foundation of Religious Affairs. This symposium dealt with secondary reli- 
gious education from the perspective of religious services. After a year, another 
symposium was organized by the Faculty of Ilahiyat of Samsun Ondokuz Mayis Uni- 
versity called "Religious Sciences Today and Their Problems" (Gunumuz Din Bilimleri 
Sempozyumu, June 27-30, 1989). Sixty-three academics of the nine Faculties of 
Ilahiyat presented their papers on the problems in various areas of higher religious edu- 
cation in Turkey in 10 sessions. The symposia had varying degrees of influence on later 
modifications of the curriculum, beginning in 1991. For example, many courses 
required for pedagogical formation were dropped or made optional. The number of 
Arabic courses was increased. The first year was devoted to Arabic education as a 
preparatory/preliminary one. Some optional courses were added, such as Contempo- 
rary Islamic Movements in the Islamic World, Interrelationships among Today's Reli- 
gions, Contemporary Movements of Philosophy, The History of the Islamic Countries 


and their Geography. In 1992, the departmental structure of the faculties was revised 
as follows: 

• The Basic Islamic Sciences Department 

• Philosophy and the Religious Sciences Department 

• Islamic History and Arts Department 

While efforts to increase the quality of education were proceeding, something else 
happened as well. At present, there are 23 faculties of Ilahiyat in Turkey. The increase 
in number first took place with the conversion of higher Islamic institutes to faculties 
of Ilahiyat. Until the late 1980s, there were only nine faculties. In 1987 Harran Uni- 
versity (§anliurfa) Faculty of Ilahiyat became the tenth faculty. In 1993 Sakarya Uni- 
versity, Karadeniz Technical University (Rize), Inonii University (Darende), Dicle 
University (Diyarbakir), Siile3rman Demirel University (Isparta), and Yiiziincii Yil Uni- 
versity (Van); in 1994 Gazi University (Qorum), Firat University (Elazig), Cumhuriyet 
University (Sivas), and Qukurova University (Adana); in 1995 Onsekiz Mart University 
(Qanakkale); in 1996 Istanbul University; in 1997 Siitgiiiman University (Kahraman- 
niara§) and Osman Gazi University (Eski§ehir) added one Faculty of Ilahiyat to their 
campuses. A faculty in Akdeniz University was officially decided to be opened, but this 
has not as yet happened.''^ 

The new Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara played a significant role in the case of the 
Faculty of Islamic Sciences. The staff and the deans of the new faculties of Ilahiyat 
were mostly appointed from the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara. In 1993, the deans of 
six of the nine faculties of Ilahiyat were graduates of the Faculty of Ankara. Only 
recently were deans appointed from their original staff With this development, the new 
policy of the CHE became effective. To support the newly established universities outside 
the main big cities, numerous academics were reassigned to them. Since 1982-3, some 
30 academic personnel of different levels have left the Faculty and gone to other uni- 
versities, due to the lack of academic positions allocated in Ankara. 

In 1988. initiatives for a new higher religious educational institution were proffered 
by the President of the Presidency of Religious Affairs, Prof. Dr Mustafa Said Yazicioglu, 
who was originally from the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara. No sooner was he appointed 
to the position on June 17, 1987 (he stayed in the position until January 3, 1992)than 
he realized that the officers of the establishment were themselves poorly educated. He 
officially wrote to the CHE demanding they open an institute with a higher quality of 
officers. The CHE agreed to do so and, in fact, they opened a two-year middle level insti- 
tute between Imam-Hatip school and the Faculty of Ilahiyat. It was called the Higher 
Ilahiyat School of Profession {Ilahiyat Meslek Yuksek Okulu). In his letter. Professor 
Yazicioglu remarked that the Presidency had 54,476 officers working in mosques and 
teaching Our'anic courses and yet only 2209 of them had received higher religious 
education. Accordingly, the Executive Board of the CHE decided to establish four Higher 
Ilahiyat Schools of Profession in Ankara, Izmir (Dokuz Eyliil University), Istanbul 
(Marmara University), and Bursa (Uludag University) on December 29, 1988. It was 
stipulated that only officers who had graduated irom Imam-Hatip schools and had 
worked for the Presidency for at least two years would be eligible. They were also asked 


to obtain the required mark from the Central Student Selection Examination. Certain 
pedagogical courses, such as sociology and psychology of education and general and 
special teaching methods, measuring and evaluation beside basic religious courses 
such as Arabic, Tafsir, Hadith and history of religions were included in the curriculum. 

In 1989, two Ilahiyat faculties in Istanbul and Izmir opened the new program and 
accepted students. Later, in 1992, Erzurum Atatiirk University and Bursa Uludag 
University did, as well Van Yiizuncii Yil University to the far east and Trabzon Tech- 
nical University to the north registered students in 1994. The program has not yet been 
opened in Ankara. 

Recently, another notable program with a purpose similar to that of the Higher 
Ilahiyat School of Profession has been developed under the auspices of Professor 
Yazicioglu. In the early 19 90s he realized that the Higher Ilahiyat School of Professions 
program would not be sufficient to improve the academic levels of the officers of the 
Presidency within the short time necessary. In 1998, there were only 1095 students: 
589 of this number were female, 506 students were male.*' Therefore, he suggested 
developing yet another institute focusing on different aspects of the educational system. 
According to statistics, officers who had graduated with a higher religious education 
stillmade up only 3.76 percentof that population. '"Yazicioglu's project, however, could 
not be implemented until 1998. The Executive Board of the CHE made a decision on 
July 11, 1997 to institute a program called the Pre-BA Ilahiyat Program {Ilahiyat 
Onlisans Prograim). Unfortunately, the process could only begin with another decision 
by the Board on December 11, 199 7. According to the decision, the goal of the program 
was to elevate the level of the education of the officers who work at the state organi- 
zations in the category of religious service who had graduated from Imam-Hatip 
schools.'^ The fact that Professor Yazicioglu had been a member of the CHE in addition 
to having been the President of Religious Affairs provided him with an intimate knowl- 
edge of the shortcomings of the organization. It was this unique perspective that 
inspired him to see the progress carried out. In fact, what occurred was that the 
program of the Faculty of Ilahiyat of Ankara University and the Open Education 
Faculty of Anadolu University worked together. The strictly academic part of the 
program, such as preparing curriculum, textbooks and television lessons, was accom- 
plished by the Faculty of Ilahiyat. Coordination of remote education was conducted 
by the Open Education Faculty of Anadolu University based in Eski^ehir The textbooks 
were printed and television lessons prepared according to the curriculum at the 
Anadolu University. The program officially began in the 1998-9 school year. About 
4000 officers of Religious Affairs and graduates of Imam-Hatip schools were accepted, 
having passed the Student Selection Examination given to graduates of secondary 
education all over the country. Because the two-year program seeks to provide the 
opportunity to all officers graduating from Imam-Hatip schools, the required marks for 
acceptance to the program are kept quite low. The mark was 105 for the 1998 exami- 
nation. The Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara has recently instituted another initiative for 
the betterment of the curriculum. In 1997, Professor Mustafa S. Yazicioglu, dean of the 
Faculty of Ilahiyat of Ankara University, created a committee composed of young aca- 
demics of the faculty, and put them in charge of developing the curriculum. The goal 
of the new program was "to train a type of Ilahiyat graduate who can depend on the 


Our'an itself as the most basic source of the religion, rightly evaluate the cultural her- 
itage, interpret daily life as well as produce solutions to the problems that are faced." 
The document they released outlined the basic principles of the program and also stated 
that it hoped to provide the students with an understanding of the general concepts of 
culture and history, besides basic knowledge of religious sciences. In the program this 
committee envisioned two kinds of courses. First are the compulsory courses, which 
give a basic knowledge of a specialized field. The purpose of the other group of courses, 
namely the "elective courses," which starts in the fifth semester, is to unify the theo- 
retical and practical goals of the education. For the latter, the courses are designed to 
meet the needs of an interdisciplinary education for the Ilahiyat students and to ensure 
that the students follow current developments in their chosen field. In this new 
program, the number of elective courses has been increased as much as possible, and 
therefore, they have reached up to roughly 40 percent of the overall courses in the last 
two years. Even though the program was prepared for the Ilahiyat in Ankara, the CHE 
has mandated the program for faculties all over the country. 

The committee was also responsible for designing another program called the 
Primary Education Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge Teacher Program 
(ILkogretim Din Kiiltiiru ve Ahlak Bilgisi Ogretmenfigi). It focussed upon the courses 
of the Ilahiyat field. The pedagogical part of the program became a general program 
prepared by the CHE for all faculties graduating teacher candidates. To conduct 
the program, departments were established in the Faculties of Ilahiyat. These are in 
Atatiirk (Erzurum), (Jukurova (Adana), Dicle (Diyarbakir), Dokuzeyliil (Izmir), Erciyes 
(Kayseri), Istanbul, Marmara (Istanbul), Ondokuz-Mayis (Samsun), Selguk (Konya), 
and Uludag (Bursa) universities. They were chosen from universities that have a par- 
ticular expertise in pedagogical courses. Except for Istanbul and Diyarbakir, because 
of a shortage of staff, the faculties accepted students for the program in the 1998-99 
academic year. The graduates of this four-year program will specifically be trained as 
teachers of religious culture and moral knowledge in the eight-year primary education 

In 1999, the faculty decreased the number of new students to 23 70. Out of this 
number, 1890 students were part of the regular Ilahiyat program and 480 participated 
in the Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge Teacher program, in accordance with 
the formation of Ilahiyat education. ^^ Some in the right-wing media regarded the drop 
in number as an expression of hostility towards the faculties of Ilahiyat. In an infor- 
mative composition in Yeni §afak, the changes were given under the title "Ilahiyatlarin 
Fermani Imzalanmi§" (The Execution Edict of Ilahiyats has been Signed) (May 13, 

In the 1997-8 academic year, there were 14,320 students in all faculties of Ilahiyat 
throughout Turkey. Of this number 4487 were female students and 9833 were male. 
The Faculties of Ilahiyat accepted 1120 new female and 2098 new male students, 
totaling 3218 students in the same year There were 328 female graduates and 1091 
male graduates that same year, making a total of 1419 students.'* The graduates of 
the faculties have the opportunity to find positions either in the Ministry of Education, 
as teachers, or at various levels of the presidency of Religious Affairs. This is because 

Table 7.3 Four-year Ilahiyat education program developed in 1997'" 

First year 

First semester 

Second semester 









Major Themes of the Our'an 


Reciting the Our'an and Tajwid 


Islamic ISistory I 


History of Hadith 


Foreign Language 


Foreign Language 


Turkish I 


Islamic History II 


Introduction to Psychology 


Turkish II 




Introduction to Sociology 


Principles of Kemalism and 


Principles of Kemalism and 


History of Revolution 

History of Revolution 

Fine Arts/Physical Training 

Second year 

Third semester 

Fourth semester 









Reciting the Our'an and Tajwid 


Methodology of Tafsir 


History of Tafsir 




Foreign Language 


Foreign Language 


Methodology of Hadith 


History of Theology 


Islamic History III 


Reciting the Our'an and Tajwid 


History of Ancient Philosophy 


History of Islamic Philosophy 


Turco-Islamic Literature 


History of Isamic Civilisation 


Psychology of Religion 


Sociology of Religion 




History of Turco-Islamic Art 


Third year 

Fifth semester 

Sixth semester 

Compulsory courses 


Compulsory courses 


Arabic 2 

Tafsir 2 

Study of Our'an Translations 2 

Methodology of Islamic Law 2 

Theological Schools 2 

Modern Age Philosophy 2 

Arabic 2 

Methodology of Islamic Law II 2 

Systematic Theology I 2 

History of Islamic Sects I 2 

History of Religions II 2 

History and Philosophy of 2 

Table 7.3 Continued 

Third year 

Fifth semester 

Sixth semester 

Compulsory courses 


Compulsory courses 


History of Religions 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective courses 


Elective courses 


Hadith Criticism 


Contemporary Comments on 
Hadith and Sunnah 


Reciting the Our' an 


Philosophy of History. 


Semantic of the Our' an 


History of Science in Islam 


Method and Critique of ISistory 


Islamic Arts and Aesthetics 


History of Islamic Institutions 


History of Education in Islam 


Methodology in Social Sciences 


History of Turkish Thought 


Turkish Religious Music 


Turkish Theologians 




Ottoman Turkish 


Turkish Religious Music 


Astronomy and Sciences of Space 




Modern Biology 


Fourth year 

Seventh semester 

Eighth semester 

Compulsory courses 


Compulsory courses 


Islamic Law I 


Islamic Law 


Systematic Theology II 


Religious Oratory 


History of Islamic Sects II 


Philosophy of Religion II 


Religious Education 


Islamic Philosophy of Ethics 


Philosophy of Religion I 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective Course 


Elective courses 


Elective courses 


Contemporary Approaches to 
the Our' an 

Our'anic Judgments and Modern 



Table 7.3 Continued 

Elective courses 


Elective courses 


Comparative Islamic Law 


Contemporary Trends of 


Religious Trends in Turkey 


Contemporary Theological 


Reciting the Our' an 


Inter-religious Dialogue 

Contemporary Muslim Thinkers 


Contemporary Islamic Trends 


Comparative Folk Beliefs 


Contemporary Trends in 


Contemporary Mystical Trends 


History of Turkish Republic 


Ottoman Turkish 


Problems of Philosophy of 


Paleography and Epigraphy 


Philosophy of Ethics 


Public Relations 

Texts on Religion and Literature 

Texts on Classical Theology 

Selected Hadith Texts 

Religious Texts in Foreign 


Arabic Eloquence 

of their knowledge of Persian as well as Arabic and a Western language. Thus far the 
graduates of the faculties of Ilahiyat can teach special courses at Imam-Hatip lycee 
(IHL). They have also taught courses of religious culture and moral knowledge at 
ordinary lycee and secondary schools. Moreover, they have been permitted to give some 
cultural lessons. 

Graduates could also find positions at the Prime Ministry, the Turkish Radio Televi- 
sion organization and at the State Archives because of their knowledge of Ottoman 
Turkish. The Ministry of National Defense used to recruit a certain number of students 
as teachers at the military secondary and higher schools or at the moral departments 
of the Land, Sea and Air forces" until the very early 1990s. 

Recent changes by the CHE have resulted in three different Ilahiyat programs in the 
above-mentioned faculties. Thus, graduates of the faculties are directed mostly towards 
positions within the Ministry of Education. On July 11, 1997, the CHE decided to rede- 
termine the work areas of the graduates of the faculties of Ilahiyat. The graduates were 
divided into three categories according to the different programs they had followed. The 
Primary Education Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge Teacher Program produces 
teachers for primary schools. Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge teachers for sec- 
ondary schools are trained in a three-semester MA program, which is only available at 
the Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara, and which accept graduates of ordinary four-year 


Ilahiyat BA programs. Another MA program is instituted for training teachers for the 
Imam-Hatip lycees in Anliara. 

During the course of the 50-year history of the Ilahiyat, a tradition gradually 
took shape. The faculties of Ilahiyat, especially the one in Ankara, developed along 
lines unique to themselves. The Professor of Exegesis, Siileyman Ate§, for instance, 
engaged in polemics regarding whether the people of Scriptures, Jews and Christians 
(Ehl-i Kitab) would achieve ultimate salvation, that is. Heaven. ''' The Professor of The- 
ology, Mehmed Dag of Samsun, one of the two translators of Fazlur Rahman's well- 
known work Islam into Turkish wrote an article on the non-necessity of head covering. 
In Izmir, the Professor of Philosophy of Religion, Mehmed S. Aydm, the co-translator 
of Mehmed Dag in the translation of Rahman's book, and the Professor of the History 
of Islamic Sects, and Etem Ruhi Figlali, the author of various books on the contempo- 
rary Islamic sects, especially on Shi'ite Islam, are also good examples of such a tradi- 
tion. Academics from the Faculty of Ilahiyat have most recently constituted the 
editorial board of the journal Islamic Research {Islami Ara^tirmalar) , which is based in 
Ankara. For the last 10 years, this journal has been known for its critical view of tra- 
ditionalism and its rather modernist approach towards religious issues. Some special 
issues, such as on women in Islam, the history of the Our'an and on hadith criticism, 
created something of a furor The younger generation of the same society is now editing 
another quarterly named Islamiyat, which began in 1998. The chief editor of the 
journal is Mehmet S. Hatiboglu, a hadith scholar who is very well known for his criti- 
cal approach to tradition. Together, these men have created and best represent the new 
tradition of the Faculty of Ilahiyat of Ankara. The tradition is known simply as Islamic 

The Faculty of Ilahiyat in Ankara is preparing to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. 
With a few exceptions, this is also the fiftieth anniversary of higher religious education 
in modern Turkey. During the last 50 years, 22 more faculties have been established. 
The state has increasingly acknowledged the people's need for formal higher religious 
education over the course of time. Modern Turkey has been pursuing an understand- 
ing of Islam as it applies in that country for 75 years. This has resulted in a reconcili- 
ation of the Turko-Islamic tradition, which is unique to Turkish heritage, and modern 
interpretations of Islam. This goal, in fact, has been affirmed at every opportunity. In 
an article published in the daily Hurriyet on the recent changes of the Ilahiyat, the 
program writer' ' wrote glowingly of the citizens' achievement in fulfilling and living 
the tenets of Islam. He believes that the people's knowledge of Islam in Turkey is the 
result of thousands of years of history along with customs that have evolved based 
upon Islam's espousal of tolerance. 

Also, the purpose of higher religious education, besides increasing the quality of 
the graduates who will potentially staff the Ministry of Education and Presidency of 
Religious Affairs, was articulated as: 

to be able to train our youngsters in Islam and to raise them as the individuals who are 
aware that they are citizens of a secular, democratic and social law state . . . and also are 
proud of being citizens of the Turkish Republic as well as the Turkish nation; and that if 
one hears ezan (call for prayer) and if the glorious Turliish flag is flying then we owe this 


to great leader Atatiirk and his colleagues in the army and in the politics who founded the 

In the following years the initiatives for updating the higher religious education have 
advanced. Specialists, from all over Turkey, of higher religious education organized 
another conference and discussed the problems of restructuring and the future of the 
education at Isparta Siileyman Demirel Ilahiyat Faculty in October 2003. A less com- 
prehensive initiative regarding the issues was taken by the quarterly Islamiyat in 2004. 

The Pre-BA Ilahiyat program (Ilahiyat Onlisans Programi). for instance, attracted 
many more students from Imam-Hatip schools. The program mostly reached its goal of 
elevating the level of education of the religious service people. The Imam-Hatip grad- 
uates, however, find it difficult to be successful enough to register for any higher edu- 
cation program after a new rule regulating university entrance. The new rule directs 
Imam-Hatip graduates specifically towards higher refigious education, as almost the 
only option, rather than other fields. Moreover, because of its heavy conditions for sec- 
ondary school graduates in general (in which Imam-Hatip schools are regarded), the 
rates of entering university drastically dropped from 192,786 in 1998-99 to 64,534 
in 2002-3, for instance. On the other hand, the condition of 105 points from the uni- 
versity entrance examination has been lifted and all Imam-Hatip graduates have had 
the right to register for the program without taking the examination since 2001. As 
a result more than 40,000 of Imam-Hatip graduates including the ones already 
appointed as servicemen in Refigious Affairs consisted of about 100,000 students of 
the Open Education Faculty of Anadolu University in 2002. In the following year 
14,000 new students joined. Although theoretically the graduates of the open Ilahiyat 
program can also continue their higher education in full BA programs the opportunity 
is rarely given because of the quota allocated to higher religious education. In 2004 
for instance, only 445 Imam-Hatip graduates could register at 22 Ilahiyat faculties. 
Nonetheless, recently some projects have been suggested to change the two-year 
program to a four-year full higher refigious education like the Ilahiyat program. With 
this new two-year program the graduates of the Pre-BA program will complete their 
higher refigious education in four years, benefiting ii-om internet technology. 

The Primary Education Refigious Culture and Moral Knowledge Teacher Program 
has generated more than 250 graduates from the Ankara Ilahiyat since its inaugura- 
tion in 1998. The three-semester MA program to educate both secondary school refi- 
gious culture and moral knowledge teachers and Imam-Hatip religious course teachers 
produced about 150 graduates from the Ankara University Ilahiyat Faculty in 2003. 
The fact that the quotas for refigious course teachers in primary and secondary schools 
as well as the Imam-Hatip schools given by the Ministry of Education were very low led 
to concern among the students of Ilahiyat faculties about their future. The Ministry 
allocated only 100 positions for refigious teachers between 2000-4. That the number 
needed to be more than 1000 created a positive atmosphere among the students in 2004. In 
spite of the difficulties in establishing the teacher education programs, the actual situ- 
ation promotes specialization in certain areas in order to provide better work opportu- 
nities for their graduates. Siileyman Demirel University and Cumhuriyet University 
Ilahiyat faculties have taken the initiative in order to specialize in educating their 


students from the Ilahiyat program for the area of religious service. This initiative, 
therefore, aims at producing more qualified graduates to work at the presidency of Reli- 
gious Affairs. 

In the last two years the bid to enter the European Union has increasingly affected 
higher religious education both formally and qualitatively as it influences all aspects of 
life at different levels in Turkey. Because higher education in general has entered a 
process of integration with the EU education system the Ilahiyat faculties also have 
been affected. For the time being the process mostly encourages raising the standards 
of higher education in all aspects to those of the EU within the framework of 
its higher education developing programs. Therefore an intense effort has been 
made by the Ilahiyat faculties to be accredited by and integrated within the European 
university system. In this context Ankara University Ilahiyat Faculty has already 
signed a cooperation agreement, both at the level of students and staff members, with 
Erlangen University in Germany. In the near future the number of such agreements 
will increase. 


1. Andreas M. Kazamias, The Education Quest for Modernity in Turkey. (Chicago: University of 
Cliicago Press, 1966), 185f. 

2. See Ali§it, Bahattin, "Islamic Education in Turlcey. Medrese Reform in Late Ottoman 
Times and Imam-Hatip Schools in the Republic," in Richard Tapper (ed.), Islam in 
Modern Turkey: Religion, Politics and Literature in a Secular State (London: LB. Tauris, 1991), 

3. Recai Dogan, "11. Me§rutiyet Donemi Egitim Hareketlerinde Din Egitim-Ogretimi," Ankara 
Universitesi ilahiyat Fakultesi Dergisi. XXXVIII, 1998, 367-98f. 

4. HUmi Ziya Ulken, "Ilahiyat Fakiiltesinin Gegirdigi Safhalar," Ilahiyat Fakultesi Alhumii, 
1949-1960. 1961, 3. 

5. Mustafa Ergiin, 11. Me^rutiyet Doneminde Egitim Hareketleri, 1908-1914 (Anliara: Ocak 
Yayinlari, 1996), 260. 

6. Ergiin, II. Me§rutiyet. 259ff. 

7. Ullcen, Ilahiyat, 5. 

8. Dogan. II. Me^rutiyet, 1998; see also Kazamias, The Education Quest, 71ff. 

9. Kazamias, The Education Quest. 66. 

10. "Ocak Sondiirmek De Meziyet imi§," Sebilurre^ad 9 Tesrinievvel. 1340. XXIV/620, 1925, 

11. Yahya Aflf, "InhUal Eden Ilim Ordusu," 5 Haziran 1340. XXIV/603, 1924, 69. 

12. Falih Rifla, 2 Te§rinievvel, 1340, "Bize Atatiirlcgii Hoca Lazim, §eriat Ulemasi DegU!," 
(Cumhuriyet, 1924), 1. 

13. inonii, 1925, 76f. 

14. Halide Edip Adivar, Tiirkiye'de §ark,Garp ve Amerikan Tesisleri (Istanbul: Dogan Karde? 
Yayinlari, 1955), 104. 

15. Ethem Ruhi, 30 Tesrinievvel, 1340 'Ahlak-i Diniyye Filmi," Sebilurresad, XXIV/623, 1924, 
398: Ahmet Cevdet, 11 Kanunievvel, 1340, "Yegane fare-i Selamet Ahlak-i Diniyyedir," 
Sebilurresad, XXV/629, 1924, 79: Hasan Hikmet, 1340, 1924, 89ff. 

16. Ahmet Cevdet, 2 7 Eylul, 1340, s. 1 


1 7. Siileyman Ha3Ti Bolay, "Yiiksek Ogretknde Din Egitimi," in Milli Egitim ve Din Egitimi Ilmi 
Seminer Tebligleri (Ankara: Aydinlar Ocagi Yajrinlari, 1981), 177-86. 

18. Sadrettin Celal, 6 Agustos 1340, "Terbiyenin Esaslan," Son Telgraf, 51,2. 

19. Sadrettin Celal, 23 Temmuz, 1340, "Muallimler ve Cumhuriyet," Son Telgraf. 37.3. 

20. Mehmet Oglu Ihsan, 26 Temmuz, 1340, "Muallimler ve Cumhuriyet (Sadreddin Bey'e 
Cevab)," Son Telgraf. 40, 1924, 3. 

21. Istanbul Darulfununun §ahsiyeti Hiikmiyesi Hakkinda Kanun, Darulfiinun Talimat- 
namesi, 1932, 6 Burhaneddin Matbaasi, Istanbul. 

22. W. Frederick Frey, "Education: Turkey," in Robert E. Ward-Dankwart and A. Rustow (eds.). 
Political Modernization in Japan and Turkey (New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1970), 

23. Yahya Aflf, 29 Maj^s 1340, "Vebali Miiderris Beylerin Bo3Tiuna," Sebilurre^ad. XXIV/602, 
1924, 57. 

24. Minutes of TBMM, Term II, vol. XVIII, 297. 

25. Osman Ergin, Tiirkiije Maarif Tarihi (Istanbul, 1977), 1742; also see Parmaksizoglu, 
Tiirhye'de Din Egitimi (Ankara: MUli Egitim Basimevi, 1966), 25. 

26. Minutes of the 7th Congress of the RPP (1948), 449-65. 

2 7. TarikZafer. Tunaya, Islamcilik Akimi. Simavi Ya5'inlari, second edn. (1991), 185. 

28. DavutDursun. Din Biirokrasisi: Yapisi, Konumu ve Geli^imi. I§aret Yayinlari (Istanbul, 1992), 

29. Tunaya, islamcilik Akimi. 1 79-80. 

30. Dursun, 192-3 

31. Ibid. 

32. Minutes of TBMM, Term VIII, vol. XX, 227-84. 

33. Ibid. 

34. Howard Reed. "The Faculty of Divinity at Ankara I. II," Muslim World. 46, 1956, 305. 

35. Reed, 309. 

36. Ibid. 

3 7. Ibid. 

38. Ibid., 305-6. 

39. Miinir Ko§ta§, 'Ankara Universitesi Kurulu§ ve Tarihgesi," Ankara Universitesi Ilahiyat 
Fakilltesi Dergisi, XXXI, 1989, 8. 

40. Minutes of TBMM, Term VIII, vol. XX, 22 7-84. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Reed, 309. 

43. ilahiyat Fakiiltesi Alhumu. 1961, 14. 

44. ilahiyat Fakiiltesi Albiimil, 1949-1960 (Ankara: Tiirk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1961), 16. 

45. Annual of the Istanbul, YIE (Yiiksek Islam Enstitiiitusii) (Istanbul: Yiiksek Islam 
Enstitiitiisii Vakfi Yayinlari, 1982). 

46. Muhammet §evki Aydm, Cumhuriyet Doneminde Din Egitim Ogretmeni Yeti^tirme ve 
istihdami (1923-98), an unpublished dissertation (1999), 99f. 

47. Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1982), 98. 

48. Aydm, 119. 

49. YOK (Yiiksek Ogretim Kurulu) Yayin ve Dokiimantasyon Daire Ba^kanligi Tez Veri Merkezi 
(Ankara, 1999). 

50. DiB (Diyanet i^leri Baskanhgi)1997 Yih istatistikleri (Ankara, 1998). 

5 1 . Murat Barkan, Nasil Qalisnaliyvn? Rehber Kitap (Eski§ehir: Anadolu Universitesi Yayinlari, 
1998), 6. 


52. Ilahiyat Fakiilteleri Ogretmen Yeti§tirme ve Lisans Programlan (1998), 47-53. 

53. Kamuran Zeren, "Ilahiyata Kota," Hiirriyet, May 11, 1998. 

54. YOK (Yiiksek Ogretim Kululu) APK Daire Ba§kanligi (Ankara, 1999). 

55. Ko§ta§, 1989. 

56. Ate§, 1991. 

57. Zeren, 1998. 


Hassan Turabi and the Limits 
of Modern Islamic 

Abdelwahab El-Affendi 

At one point in the second half of the 1970s ]3assan Turabi, no stranger to controversy, 
suddenly found himself at the center of a fierce and rather unusual storm. Turabi, a 
former law professor who had been educated at London University and the Sorbonne, 
had only recently been released from a long period of political detention, being accused 
of helping to destabilize the regime of the then President Ja'far Numairi (1969-85). 
The main Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Turabi led since 1964, dom- 
inated student politics and was active within the trade unions and the opposition 
National Front (NF). In this capacity, it had engineered, or participated in, a number of 
civilian and military uprisings against the military regime between 1969 and 1977, 
when NF leaders struck a deal with the regime. 

Following that deal, Turabi was appointed (controversially) to a senior post in the 
Sudanese Socialist Union, the only legal political party in the country. However, the new 
controversy in which Turabi found himself embroiled had little to do with politics, not 
directly anyway. It revolved around the apparently trivial, even grotesque, question of 
whether, if a fly fell into someone's drink, he/she should immediately throw the bever- 
age away, salvage some of it, or dip the fly completely into the cup and then drink 

The latter advice is the one apparently recommended by the Prophet Muhammad, 
according to a report in the collection of Bukhari, regarded by the majority of Sunni 
Muslims as the most authentic compilation of prophetic words and deeds (al-Zabidi, 
1986). This advice has become the subject of controversy in recent times, given the 
state of knowledge in medicine today. Some apologists tried to argue the soundness of 
this advice by adducing help from medical science, and even regarded this as a miracle, 
in that advanced knowledge, which could only be divine in origin, must have guided 
the Prophet in making this insightful proposal. 

Turabi would have none of this, rejecting this advice outright, a position that was 
not received kindly by the traditionalist majority. In the exchanges that ensued, Turabi 
attempted to deploy a whole battery of methodological devices, which, he believed. 


would enable the reformer to deal with the problems posed by traditional Islamic 
jurisprudence. First he challenged the common Sunni belief in the veracity of all the 
reports contained in Bukhari's collection. While the diligence Bukhari displayed in 
checking and rechecking his sources and scrutinizing the accuracy of their reports 
is commendable, one cannot ascribe infallibility to Bukhari and other hadith 
compilers and all their sources. So reports like this one, which appear to contradict 
reason and the established findings of modern science, may be dismissed as not being 

However, even if the report could be reliably traced to one of the Prophet's com- 
panions, the person in question could have been mistaken in what he reported. He may 
even have had motives or a vested interest in purposefully misreporting the statement 
or incident in question. Even supposing that a problematic report could be traced to the 
Prophet himself without any identifiable lapses in the chain of transmission, or pos- 
sible explanations from the motives and defects of the transmitters, then it could still 
be challenged. The basis for such a challenge is the distinction between what the 
Prophet did and said in his capacity as a human being, and what he did and said in his 
capacity as a Messenger of God. The first could cover a wide range of advice and actions 
relevant to worldly matters, such as specific acts he had performed as a military leader 
or in his personal and individual capacity. Not all these acts are normative, unless 
covered by explicit rules indicating this. There are many instances, in fact, of the 
Prophet admitting error in such matters. 

These remarks appeared to touch what Sunni Islam regard as the core of Islamic 
doctrine. Reformers since the early centuries of Islam have always called for a return 
to the "original sources" of the faith. By this they meant the Qur'anic revelation and 
the practice of the Prophet and his immediate successors, the (four) rightly guided 
caliphs. The Our'an as the direct unmediated Word of God was the top of this hierar- 
chy. But the normative authority of the Prophet was no less central, since the distinc- 
tion between which utterances of his could be classified as Qur'anic verses is ultimately 
based on his own explicit instructions. The Prophet's companions also play a crucial 
role in this hierarchy, having faithfully transmitted the Prophetic remarks and contex- 
tualized them. In the final analysis, the authoritative hadith compendia, Qur'anic 
exegeses and jurisprudential works complete this circle, providing as they do the frame- 
work for ascertaining which is which. Turabi's challenge to these pillars of doctrine 
threatened to bring the whole system down. 

The Conservative Reaction 

It was no surprise, therefore, that his attitude should create unease at first and an out- 
right revolt within the movement later. A small group from within the Muslim Broth- 
erhood's conservative wing led a revolt that kept festering until it crystallized in 1980 
in a formal split (El-Affendi, 1991,85-9; Makki, 1990, 90-2). The loose coalition that 
led the split was made up of old political rivals of Turabi's and traditionalists and neo- 
Salafis. Most dislUced Turabi's political pragmatism and ideological "flexibility." 
The Salafis in particular resented his toleration of the dominant Sufi Islam of Sudan. 


Politically, most opposed the deal with Numairi, and Turabi's reluctance to join the 
Egyptian-led International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

While this coalition did not achieve much success in carrying the rank and file with 
it, it succeeded in putting Turabi on the defensive. He was forced to withdraw or tone 
down most of his remarks, and adopt a more cautious attitude, trying to steer clear of 
similar controversies. But the opponents did not let up, and the campaign against 
Turabi soon moved abroad. In 1980, an Egyptian cleric, who also happened to be a 
leading figure in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, wrote a letter to the top figure in 
the ulama hierarchy in Saudi Arabia, Shaykh 'Abdul- Aziz Bin-Baz, complaining that he 
had been informed of "a man named Dr. Hassan Turabi, who occupies a post of Min- 
ister of Religious Affairs or something of that sort, and who propagated very outlandish 
views." These included: denying that adulterers should be stoned to death, approving 
the marriage of Muslim women to Jews or Christians, arguing that conversion by a 
Muslim to Christianity or Judaism is not apostasy, alleging that no set penalty exists in 
Islamic law for alcohol taking, arguing that the principles of Islamic jurisprudence or 
the terminology of the science of hadith were not binding on Muslims today; and, 
finally, seeing no objection to men and women mixing together On account of these 
allegations, the correspondent called on Bin-Baz to do what was necessary to stop the 
propagation of these "dangerous ideas."' 

Bin-Baz duly passed the letter on to Turabi and asked him to answer the allegations, 
which he did. In a letter to Bin-Baz, he denied making public any views on the issue of 
stoning of adulterers, saying that he merely consulted a small circle of people on a view 
on this matter expounded by the late prominent Egyptian 'dlim, Shaykh Muhammad 
Abu-Zahra. On the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslims, Turabi said that he 
had only made some tentative remarks to American Muslims who were facing prob- 
lems of women converts whose husbands remained non-Muslim. On the question of 
apostasy, he denied having made a distinction on account of the religion to which the 
believer converts, but only discussed some views by recognized Islamic authorities who 
regarded apostasy to refer only to those waging war against the community. On the 
issue of the penalty for drinking, Turabi said that his views were put forward in the 
context of negotiations to reform the laws during the early phase of Numairi's Islamiza- 
tion program, and were meant to win over members of the Law Revision Committee 
who approved the banning of alcohol, but disagreed about the penalty. On the issue of 
jurisprudential principles, Turabi argued that the view expressed by him distinguished 
between principles based on clear Islamic injunctions, and those devised by later jurists, 
which he did not consider binding. With regard to the segregation of the sexes, he 
argued that women were not segregated at the time of the Prophet, and that some 
Muslims today see the segregation of women and their confinement to the home as a 
substitute for proper religious education. 

In concluding his letter, Turabi complained that he had been the target of a politi- 
cally motivated campaign of vilification by figures from the Egyptian Muslim Brother- 
hood, which was behind most of these allegations. The problem today, he added, was 
not the existence of deviant or heretical Islamic views, but the rejection of Islam in its 
entirety by whole generations of Muslims. The return to Islam must take this into 
account and accept many compromises in the transitional phase.* 


Notwithstanding tliis conciliatory tone, tlie campaign against Turabi's views con- 
tinued unabated in conservative circles. In the early 1980s, one critic named ibn Malik 
(probably a pseudonym) published a booklet entitled Al-Sdrim al-MaslUl fi'l-Rad Aid al- 
Turabi Shdtim al-Rasiil (The Unsheathed Sword, in Reply to Turabi, Abuser of the Prophet).^ 
In the book, the text of the "incriminating" lecture in which Turabi first put forth 
his views on hadith was published verbatim, with scathing rejoinders to his assorted 
"heresies." The campaign gained added vehemence following Nimeir's Islamization 
policies of 1983-5, and the allegations were voiced freely during the democratic inter- 
lude of 1986-9. The exchanges became more heated as Turabi's high-profile contri- 
butions to the debate on Islamization became the center of much attention in Sudan 
and beyond. 

The Vision Restated 

The points of contention are at the heart of the liberal and reformist views of tradi- 
tional Islam, and were the focus both of liberal critiques of "fundamentalists" who 
wanted to reassert the traditional vision, and of apologetics, which sought to defend 
that vision. Turabi in this regard occupied the peculiar position of being the leader of 
the "fundamentalist" camp and the proponent of relatively "liberal" views within that 
camp. Whenhebecame Attorney General and Minister of Justice again in 1988, Turabi 
gave the most frank expression of his views in this area, in particular with relation to 
the issues of the rights of women and non-Muslims in an Islamic state. 

Turabi was challenged publicly on these views in a televised debate in June 1988, 
when it was put to him that his proposals for exempting the predominantly non-Muslim 
South from the implementation of Islamic law had no basis in sharT'ah. which cate- 
gorically rejected any co-existence with non-Muslims except on unequal terms. He was 
also questioned on the right of non-Muslims and women to accede to top posts in an 
Islamic state. His reply was that he saw no objection to either, adding that relations 
between Muslims and non-Muslims could only be based on agreements acceptable to 
both sides. Reaching such deals was not against Islamic law, but actually reflected its 
spirit and it used to be the practice of Muslims since the time of the Prophet. Turabi 
also rejected the traditional view that Muslims were bound to go to war against non- 
believers, saying that such a view reflected the dominant international situation in 
pre-modern times, but is no longer compatible with the present conditions where inter- 
national law guarantees peace for all.^ 

These views were fiercely attacked by conservatives, as shown by an article published 
in Al-Ayydm daily on June 30, 1988 by a certain Abdalla Fadallah Abdallah, who 
accused Turabi of defying sharT'ah by propagating eccentric views not supported by any 
credible authority. Turabi's claim that some schools of thought held the view that 
women could become judges was meant to give the false impression that some of the 
four major (Sunni) schools of jurisprudence endorsed this ruling, which was not the 
case. Only isolated figures offered such opinions. Turabi's view that jihdd was not rel- 
evant today contradicts the overwhelming consensus of all major religious authorities. 
In particular there is no disagreement among Muslim jurists that pagans should be 


fought without let-up. This applies to adherents of "African creeds" in Sudan, whom 
Turabi wants to make part of his "Islamic state." Modern and traditional authorities 
dispute Turabi's views that non-Muslims occupied leading roles in Muslim polities in 
the past, and writers like Abu'l Ala Maududi did show that non-Muslims have never 
occupied executive roles in Muslim polities, nor did they participate in electing the 
caliph. Thus Turabi's claim that non-Muslims have equal rights under Islamic law has 
no basis whatsoever in shan'ah. 

Turabi's submission in late 1988 of new "Islamic laws" to the Constituent Assem- 
bly occasioned another attack. Critics argued that the laws which Turabi tabled did not 
conform to shan'ah, and were based on a secular constitution that provided for equal 
access to key posts in the state for non-Muslims (Musa, 1988). Turabi bases his views 
on Our'anic verses that gave the Prophet the option of not adjudicating in disputes 
between non-Muslims. But many authorities interpret these verses differently, and hold 
that they had been abrogated by later provisions in the Our'an itself The argument from 
the model of the Medina state, which Turabi called a "federal state" between Jews and 
Muslims, is also disingenuous, since the Medina arrangement was more of a defense 
pact than a state. Jews were never given any right to exercise authority over Muslims 
as part of that pact (Musa, 1988). 

Like his practical proposals, Turabi's methodological proposal for reforming shan'ah, 
as expounded in his book Tajdid al-Fikr al-Islami (1987), angered many conservatives. 
In particular his call for "a contemporary interpretation of the Our'an," which he jus- 
tified by arguing that "every Our'anic exegesis in the past had reflected the spirit of its 
time," was condemned as a sacrilegious quest to subordinate the Our'an to the exi- 
gencies of reality, and not vice versa. This view, and the claim that Islam had never 
taken its final shape but must evolve with time, was seen by one leading critic as "a call 
for a new religion, and not a renewal of religion" (Ibrahim, 1995, 49-56). It also con- 
tradicted the consensus of Muslim authorities who regard the time of the Prophet as 
the normative summit to which all Muslims must aspire. Turabi also seeks to distin- 
guish his project, which he terms the "development or modernizing of religion" {tatwir 
al-din) from the renewal of religion {tajdid al-din). The latter referred to the revival of 
past modes of thinking and behavior, while the former involves the "adapting of reli- 
gion to new phases of life." This shows clearly his subversive intent, and his determi- 
nation to make religion adapt to reality rather than reform and correct this reality so 
that it may conform to religious norms. His express views about the role of women and 
non-Muslims, and his rejection of many explicit hadith predicting the return of Christ 
or the rise of the Mahdi are clear indications of how he envisages this "development". 
If fashion favored more freedoms for women, we are supposed to race in that direction, 
regardless of what the Our'an and hadith said, and if it becomes the vogue to allow 
non-Muslims to lord it over believers, then that is the direction in which we should 
"develop" our religion. And if the idea of waging war in the cause of Islam had been 
"left behind by the time" then we should abandon this sacred duty for all time (Ibrahim, 
1995, 59-70). 

Turabi's attempts to distinguish between the "essence" of religious commitment and 
eternal religious values on the one hand, and their "particular manifestations" and 
applications that are changeable with circumstances, on the other are equally repre- 


hensible. It makes it very difficult to distinguish his views from those held by secular- 
ists or heretics who teach that forms of religious observance can change with time and 
circumstance. Turabi even goes a step further, arguing that every region and commu- 
nity "could select a form of worship appropriate to it." He also assails those who call 
for moderation and cautious adaptation of traditional beliefs to the changing times, and 
calls for radical and "daring" defiance to tradition, while condemning all those who 
adhere to the heritage as "rigid" and "timid". He thus wants to cancel all the contri- 
butions of past generations and go back directly to the original sources, as if the con- 
tributions he condemns were based on anything other than a conscientious and 
informed reading of those sources (Ibrahim, 1995, 73-4, 79-83). 

Any doubt about the damaging and subversive import of Turabi's methodological 
proposals is dispelled when we see his application of these proposals in practice. His call 
for women to mix freely with men and occupy top posts in the state contradicts the pro- 
visions of shan'ah, which does not recommend women to go out to work except in dire 
need, and under conditions of strict segregation. Turabi justifies his defiance of the con- 
sensus of all ulama over the centuries by arguing that women's liberation is going to 
happen anyway (Turabi, 1973), forgetting that what he calls "traditional society" is 
quite capable of defending itself and winning. The current Islamic resurgence is proof 
of that, and defeatist calls like Turabi's will not affect the determination of Muslims 
to live according to the exigencies of their faith, come what may (Ibrahim, 1995, 
198-200, 203-4). 

The Liberal Reaction 

While Turabi stirred up anger within traditionalist ranks, he was not the darling of the 
liberals either. Except for a brief period in the early 1970s when the Muslim Brother- 
hood's support for democracy made it acceptable to a wide section of the political spec- 
trum, the movement and its leadership became the target of increasingly acrimonious 
criticism from most political groups. The hostility became more pronounced as the 
movement stuck by Numairi during his last few years of extreme unpopularity and sup- 
ported his controversial Islamization program. 

In his assessment of that period. Numairi's former foreign minister, Mansour Khalid, 
took issue with Turabi and his supporters for trumpeting Numairi's reforms, which 
were the "incarnation of barbarism and religious fanaticism," as the "dawn of a new 
Islamic civilization" (Khalid, 1986, 128, 132, 140). Khalid does not disagree with 
Turabi on the need to transcend traditional Islamic thought and give a totally new 
expression to Islamic values more appropriate to our time. But he accuses Turabi of not 
having lived up to the ideals he propagated, and even going back on enlightened stances 
he held earlier Turabi had argued in 1968 that the Islamic constitution embodied the 
rule of law and not of men, and that it abhorred theocracy, rejected dictatorship, and 
safeguarded individual rights. Again in 1977, Turabi joined a committee set up by 
Numairi to revise Sudanese laws, which recommended a very cautious approach to 
amendments, lest precipitate action may cause severe disruption in prevailing norms 
or lead to chaos. However, no sooner had Numairi announced his precipitate and 


chaotic reforms in September 1983, than Turabi turned back against all those wise 
positions and fully backed measures which enhanced dictatorship and made a mockery 
of justice (Khalid, 1986, 32-6, 23 7-9). 

On the rights of women and non-Muslims, Turabi and his supporters either tried to 
argue disingenuously that traditional Islamic jurisprudence guaranteed these rights, or 
insisted that the laws they proposed safeguarded them, neglecting provisions in these 
same laws which either abrogated or at least diluted these rights. Turabi was the first 
to realize that the September 1983 laws contravened Article 38 of the 1973 Constitu- 
tion, which guaranteed equality for all citizens before the law, because he intervened 
with the Speaker of the People's Assembly (Parliament) in 1984, urging him to pass 
the constitutional amendments proposed by Numairi to avoid the laws "becoming 
unconstitutional" (Khalid, 1986, 43). 

In their support for Numairi's reforms and his proposed constitutional amendments, 
the Islamists have displayed serious intellectual and moral shortcomings, failing to dis- 
tinguish between Islam's eternal values and the historical expression of these values in 
traditional societies of centuries gone by. While they condemn traditional jurists for 
their rigidity in interpreting Islam, they have not themselves hesitated to endorse the 
charade of 1983-5, which took Islamic values and institutions out of their historical 
context and distorted them beyond recognition. This was most evident in the 198 3 
Penal Code, which amended only 10 articles out of 450 of its "secular" predecessor. 
All it did was to introduce the Hudud (Islamic punishments) without even taking care 
to redefine the crimes to accord with the provisions of traditional Islamic law, thus 
resulting in applying religiously based punishments to "secular" crimes. Nevertheless, 
the supporters of those laws trumpeted this collage as an unprecedented legal revolu- 
tion that marked the end of colonial domination in the legal sphere and heralded the 
dawn of a new Islamic civilization. Turabi himself was at the forefront of those defend- 
ing these laws and their excesses. He excused the excessive application of amputation 
sentences following the institution of "emergency courts" in April 1984 as "an Islamic 
necessity," but described the setting up of exceptional courts as a bold move which 
paved the way for Sudan "to offer its original contribution to human civilization after 
a period in which it had occupied a marginal and dependent position" (Khalid, 1986, 
58-76, 110-11, 113, 152-7, 281). 

All this is a far cry from Turabi's otherwise valid remark to a conference in Khar- 
toum on September 25, 1984 that "the Prophetic model of Islam, with its texts and 
legal practices, is an eternal normative standard, which must nevertheless undergo evo- 
lution in its concrete expressions in order to realize the same values under different cir- 
cumstances" (Khalid, 1986, 244). But this is precisely what the reforms of 1983-5 
failed to do. What they achieved was quite the opposite: they took Islamic institutions 
and policies out of their historical context, depriving them in the process of all meaning 
and significance. The legal and constitutional provisions enacted or proposed then dis- 
played "a horrifying confusion of claimed Islamism, distorted democracy and the legal 
institution of despotism," stamping Islam in the process with practices that were "the 
remotest from its spirit of democracy and respect for man" (Khalid, 1986, 248). 

Contending that there is an Islamic alternative to democracy, Turabi pointed to some 
of the practices during the Medina period and the Mahdist state in Sudan as partial 


applications of this presumed alternative, while expressing some reservations about 
how Islamic history embodied these practices. However, Turabi and his supporters 
forget that the modern democratic state is based on the accountability of the ruler, polit- 
ically through the parliament, and legally through the ability of the judiciary to over- 
rule his decisions in certain circumstances. All these safeguards were not known in the 
traditional Islamic state during any phase of its history, making violence the only 
means through which the populace could react against injustice (Khalid, 1986, 

On the equally pivotal question of human rights, the Islamists, and especially Turabi, 
painted themselves into a corner. They kept arguing that Islam recognized basic human 
rights and freedoms long before the West. But when confronted with concrete ques- 
tions, they were not able to substantiate their claims. When Turabi was quizzed during 
the 1967 deliberations on the constitution on whether it was possible for a non-Muslim 
to become the head of state under an Islamic constitution, he wriggled and squirmed 
for quite a while before answering in the negative. This showed how uneasy he was with 
his own stance on the matter, and highlights the intellectual and moral predicament 
of the Islamists who wanted to impose on reality social institutions incompatible with 
it. The predicament of the modern Islamists is further compounded by their purported 
rejection of all the achievements of modern civilization, which they condemn as "alien" 
and "godless," while being quite happy in practice to avail themselves of all these 
"godless" achievements without any qualms (Khalid, 1986, 267, 287-90). 

In sum, Khalid argues, it could be said that both Turabi's theoretical proclamations 
and practical positions are the antithesis of his claims to a modernizing and enlight- 
ened contribution to the revival of Islam. In fact, Turabi embodies in his conduct the 
"ossification of traditional Islamic jurisprudence" which he decries so much, and 
reflects the attitude of men who "lived with their minds outside history." The revival of 
Islam can only become a reality by assimilating all the positive contributions of modern 
civilization, a task that requires a radical rethinking of Islamic categories similar to 
what the Catholic Church had attempted to do in Vatican I and II. The Islamists are not 
qualified to perform this task due to their intellectual failings, which are compounded 
by moral failings that are not less serious. These have been reflected in their enthusi- 
asm for Numairi's distorted Islamic policy, and the way they supported and promoted 
dictatorship and barbarism in the name of Islam during that period. When they later 
tried to distance themselves from that embarrassing position, they did not do so by re- 
evaluating their earlier stance and criticizing it. Instead, they resorted to historical dis- 
tortion and intellectual blackmail to silence their critics, and continued to condemn as 
heretics those who opposed the stance they themselves admit was erroneous (Khalid, 

Creeping Secularization? 

Turabi's ideas were also criticized from a similar perspective by another Sudanese 
liberal, who points in similar terms to the gap between Turabi's words and deeds, 
arguing that Turabi sounds at times more like a social scientist than a religious reformer 


when he differentiates clearly between the eternal and human aspects of religion. But 
while acknowledging a clear theoretical distinction between religion as such and its 
various expressions, in practice, the Islamists are quick to condemn any opponent who 
contests their particular interpretation of Islam as a heretic and unbeliever (Ali, 1991, 

Turabi's calls for the democratization of ijtihdd and shifting it away from traditional 
ulama, and his advocacy of the widest possible freedom for its practice, also makes him 
sound quite liberal. It also betrays aspects of the imperceptible secularization of the 
movement's perceptions and orientations (Ali, 1991, 172-5). Yet these ideas are 
negated by the Islamists' latent conservatism, revealed in their inability to clearly 
answer questions such as: how can we distinguish between form and content in reli- 
gious expression, given that form and content are often one and the same.? Or: what 
would guarantee that the ijtihad of the wider community through its elected represen- 
tatives in parliament would conform to the "eternal" Islamic principles? Here Turabi 
advocates some form of "supervision" by official authorities, which in fact translates 
into the institution of a formal religious authority in Islam, something that is contrary 
to the spirit of the religion, which had not known any formal religious authority in the 
past, and does not recognize one (Ali, 1991, 172-3). 

These contradictions are inherent in the project of Islamist "renewal" itself As a 
sociological phenomenon, religious renewal is an attempt to adapt modern transfor- 
mations to the religious truth as encapsulated in the religious text. This can be achieved 
in one of two ways: either to adapt the reality and make it conform to the exigencies of 
the text as traditionally understood, or to attempt to reinterpret the text to make it 
conform to the new reality. However, the second option, which the Islamists espouse, 
overlooks the fact that it would appear impossible to achieve a genuinely modernizing 
project without a break with tradition. The failure of the Islamists to realize this is at 
the root of their problem. Fundamentalist thought wants to separate the achievements 
of modernity from its values and philosophical preconditions, such as rationality, 
freedom, objectivity and the critical outlook. The other problem is that Islamists dream 
of a renewal of Islamic thought which would precede the renewal and modernization 
of social and economic relations. They just seek to treat the symptoms of backward- 
ness rather than its real causes (Ali, 1991, 165-7). 

At a more practical level, while we find Turabi pretends to reject the anti- 
democratic prescriptions of Sayyid Outb and Abu'l al-MawdudI, he nevertheless 
expresses numerous reservations about democracy. He argues that democracy has, in 
Sudan, "been spurious and vulnerable to internal failures and external imperialist 
manipulations." He also tries to distinguish between the Western concept of democ- 
racy and the Islamic concept of shurah (consultation) in a deliberate attempt to weaken 
and dilute democracy. Turabi himself admits that Islamic political thought had not pro- 
vided any significant contributions in the area of democratic government, apart from 
the insistence on consultation and the supremacy of sharT'ah. The democratic creden- 
tials of the movement are further compromised by its insistence on equating itself with 
the community, a motif that is reiterated constantly in its discourse. It was no surprise, 
therefore, that, when the movement came to power after the coup of 1989, its style of 
government was extremely anti-democratic. It monopolized power in all fields, adopted 


a totalitarian stance vis-d-vis civil society and committed serious abuses of human 
rights under various pretexts. In the end, its claims of empowering society and ener- 
gizing political participation could only retain any significance if we accept their claim 
that the society and the movement were identical (Ali, 1991, 193-204). 

Reform or Reformation? 

Ali recommends outright secularism as a remedy to the crisis of revivalism, a proposi- 
tion seen by another Sudanese liberal (AbduUahi An-Na'im) as a non-starter (Ali, 
1991, 8; An-Na'im, 1990, 1-2). An-Na'im also argues that Islamic revivalism in its 
usual manifestations is not the answer either. The contributions of men like Turabi, 
who stands out as "an effective spokesman for the contemporary proponents of 
sharfa/i," in fact points to the limits of that type of Islamic reformism, which remains 
bound by the terms of the tradition. While Turabi spoke frequently of the need 
for reform and flexibility, he did so mainly in general terms, and was usually evasive 
when attempts were made to pin him down to specifics. For example he speaks of 
women's "rightful place in public life, " without specifying what this rightful place might 
be, in particular since he relates it to shari'ah, which we know discriminates against 
women. The way he addresses the rights of non-Muslims also leaves many gaps and 
does not seem to consider full citizenship rights for them. Similar vagueness is seen 
when he claims that, in an Islamic state, the powers of the ruler are subject to shari'ah, 
neglecting the fact that no agreement was reached among traditional jurists on any 
definite provisions that would allow this (An-Na'im. 1990: 39^3). It is safe to say, 
therefore, that the ideas of Turabi do not advance us much beyond traditional Islamic 
thought. This has meant that Muslims seeking to come to terms with modernity have 
only one of two options: "either to continue to disregard shari'ah in the public domain, 
as used to be the case for the majority of modern Muslim states, or to proceed to enforce 
shari'ah principles regardless of constitutional, international law and human rights 
objections." The first option An-Na'im finds "objectionable as a matter of principle," as 
well as being unrealistic given the rising demands for re-Islamization. The second he 
finds "morally repugnant and politically untenable," in particular since it subjects 
women and non-Muslims "to many indignities and humiliation" (An-Na'im. 1990, 

The only solution left is thus to find an "adequate reform methodology" which would 
enable Muslims to live according to their faith while fully enjoying "the benefits of sec- 
ularism," which include respect of human rights, constitutional and democratic safe- 
guards and the opportunity to live in peace within the international community. Such 
a methodology An-Na'im finds in the ideas of his mentor, the late Mahmoud Muham- 
mad Taha (1909-8 5), who proposed a revolutionary concept of "reverse abrogation," 
of Our'anic texts. According to this concept, we have to read the Our'an "backwards," 
so to speak. While the Our'an laid down some basic principles in the early stages of rev- 
elation, elaborating on them and supplying detailed rules of conduct later, we have now 
to try to transcend the historical expressions of these values, including those of the time 


of the Prophet and his immediate successors, hitherto regarded as highly normative by 
the whole Muslim community. What needs to be done is to look at the broad principles 
laid down, mainly, but not exclusively, in the Meccan period (the first part of the 
Prophet's mission before emigrating to Medina and setting up the Muslim community 
there), and subordinate specific legal provisions spelt out in the Our'an or specified by 
the Prophet (and the rules derived from those subsequently) to these more general prin- 
ciples. The latter are designated as "primary verses," while the more specific are termed 
"subsidiary verses." In Taha's words, "we consider the rationale beyond the text. If a 
subsidiary verse, which used to overrule a primary verse in the seventh century, has 
served its purpose completely and become irrelevant for the new era, the twentieth 
century, then the time has come for it to be abrogated and for the primary verse to be 
enacted. In this way, the primary verse has its turn as the operative text in the twenti- 
eth century and becomes the basis of the new legislation. This is what the evolution of 
shflif'fl/i means" (An-Na'im, 1990, 59-60). (The term "evolution of shan'ah" {tatawwur 
al-shan'ah) of course resonates withTurabi's own concept of "development of religion" 
{tatwTr al-din).) 

The conclusions of An-Na'im are as startling as his premises are familiar The call 
for the radical reconstruction of shan'ah by "reading backwards" and separating the 
fundamental principles from their historical expressions is far from uncommon. But the 
decision to scrap the bulk of the concrete heritage, including much of the Prophet's 
own sayings and practice, to say nothing of getting rid of a significant portion of the 
Our'an was shocking. 

But An-Na'im's proposals met with resistance from secularists who saw irreconcil- 
able contradictions in this "secular founding of a religious state". An-Na'im, these 
critics argue, accepts the "benefits of secularism" such as modern constitutionalism, 
human rights, and international law, in addition to getting rid of the "inconvenient" 
texts in Our'an and hadith and rejecting the authority of traditional and modern ulama. 
But he still maintains the sacred foundation of the state, which will reproduce the 
struggles over who controls this "sacred" authority once more. As a result, we are left 
with a "confused secular state," which is rejected by secularists because of its religious 
foundations, and shunned by the Islamists who do not concur on the line of reasoning 
that led to its establishment. In such a state, religious legitimacy, "if it is not a mere 
mask confined within determined limits it cannot exceed, will automatically, in virtue 
of its inner mechanisms, generate endless forms of despotism which would throw away 
the benefits of secularism with which An-Na'im is so enamored" (Ahmed, 1996, 

An-Na'im's work was subject to a wide range of criticisms, which we cannot cover 
comprehensively here. But one would like to refer in passing to the comment of Ishtiaq 
Ahmed that even though An-Na'im is at pains to label his solution Islamic, it is clear 
that "the moral weight of constitutionalism and universal human rights weighs heavier 
with him than loyalty to dogma," thus making his "a rational response of a Muslim 
rather than the Islamic response of a rational intellectual. " This leads Ahmed to wonder 
why An-Na'im would not consider secularism as an option which could strengthen 
Islam in the same way as the Founding Fathers in the United States advocated 


secularism to protect religion from being corrupted by politics (Ahmed, 1993: 71) (To 
which An-Na'im's reply was that, if he were to get his way, the rational response of the 
Muslim intellectual and the Islamic response of the rational intellectual would be one 
and the same (An-Na'im, 1993, 105-7).) 

The Predicament Defined 

The rival attempts by Turabi and An-Na'im to find the door out of the confines of tra- 
dition, rather than jumping over the wall, or "exploding a bomb" to blow away the front 
door, as Yalman characterized the approach of Kemal Atatiirk and his colleagues in 
Turkey (Yalman, 1973) seem to have run into similar barriers. Turabi's attempt to rad- 
ically reappraise the Islamic heritage are of the type some critics may readily dismiss as 
traditional isldhi (reformist) methodology (Arkoun, 1993). But the strong traditional- 
ist reactions to his critical evaluation of the early generation of Muslims, and his daring 
to question remarks of the Prophet himself, show the limits beyond which it is difficult 
to advance. On the question of Our'anic exegesis, Turabi had moved beyond theory to 
practice, and is now busy compiling his own interpretation of the Our'an, with pre- 
dictably startling "revelations" (Turabi, 19 98). But the problem remains: What can give 
these new readings any authority.? Given the violent reaction among the guardians of 
tradition, why should these modern readings be seen as less arbitrary than their pre- 
decessors.? And if the ancients have read the Our'an with the eyes of their time, making 
numerous concessions to prevailing norms and traditions, how is any other reading 
going to get beyond its time and the prevailing norms and interests.? What makes a par- 
ticular "modern" reading so privileged, in view of the fact such a reading is, in contrast 
to the ancients, acutely conscious that it was manipulating the texts to support prede- 
termined views and preconceived prejudices.? Every reading of the texts in this context 
becomes potentially secularizing in that it self-consciously starts from premises derived 
from without the particular religious view in question. 

In contrast to Turabi. An-Na'im's proposals start from the incompatibility of sharVah 
with modern norms and end up with a formula that is not so incompatible, a rather 
suspicious feat of hocus pocus. But even here, his formula falls short. On the controver- 
sial issue of Islamic punishments, An-Na'im admits that his methodology would not be 
able to do away with these, since "there are no verses [in the Our'an] on which one 
could rely in challenging the very explicit and categorical verses providing for Hudud." 
His suggestion was, therefore, "to limit their application in practice" (An-Na'im, 1991, 
109), a very uncontroversial suggestion that even the present Sudanese government 
has gone a long way to implement. 

The fundamental question which the stances of both Turabi, An-Na'im, and others 
pose is this: where is the Archimedean point on which one can stand to evaluate the 
totality of the Islamic heritage from outside it.? If, as Arkoun recommends (Arkoun, 
1987) and Turabi actually does, one is to stand judge over whether the early genera- 
tion of Muslims and the following generations were truthful and/or perceptive in 
understanding the divine message and conveying it, what would be the basis of such a 
judgment, given that it can only use the material supplied by those generations? The 


attempt to rewrite Islamic doctrine radically demands an unprecedented charismatic 
authority. Only prophets and saints could convincingly say to believers: "It is written, 
but I say unto you ..." 

The proponents of revolutionary views need to carry the masses with them, for they 
certainly cannot hope to have the support of the doctors of the religion, who are by 
definition the guardians of the heritage. If Turabi's and An-Na'im's experience is any- 
thing to go by, then the problem is that both the traditionalists, who appear to be in the 
majority, and the secularists, who are the more influential politically, reject these 
reformist proposals. This would rob the Islamist movements of their most precious 
asset: their democratizing potential. The modernizing Islamic movements could con- 
tribute to democratization and stability in Muslim states if they could carry the tradi- 
tionalist masses with them in support of a viable modernizing project. But if their 
programs were to be as unpopular with the masses as those of their modern secularist 
rivals, as well as alienating the influential modern sectors and non-Muslim con- 
stituencies, then such programs must by necessity be anti-democratic. 

In the case of Sudan, this is precisely what happened. Turabi's radical reforma- 
tory ideas aroused suspicions in the very constituency he was supposed to rely 
upon: the traditional religious establishment. However, the alliance of the movement 
with Numairi's authoritarian regime and the support for his crude Islamization 
policies also alienated the other potential constituency: the Islamic liberals. This made 
it inevitable that the Islamization program espoused by the movement would have to 
be implemented in conditions of less-than-perfect democracy, to put it very mildly 


As mentioned above, Turabi's ideas are not only problematic in themselves, but they 
have faced difficulties during practical implementation when Turabi's party ascended 
to power under the military regime after June 1989. Turabi was accused, as we have 
seen, of deviating from some of his earlier prescriptions, especially with regard to 
democracy and reform. Overall, his experiment in power was a total disaster, not least 
for him. He has not only lost much of his credibility, but also his grip on power and 
fi'eedom, as his more powerful supporters turned against him. He was stripped of his 
powers in an internal "coup" in December 1999 and jailed in February 2001 for over 
two years. He was released in late 2003 only to be re-arrested in March 2004, accused 
of plotting a coup. 

During his decade in power, Turabi's position on such issues as opposition to multi- 
party politics and press fi'eedoms have undergone some changes and faced worldwide 
criticism. Since his fall from power, he has made some revisions to his ideas, but they 
do not appear to signal a major shift from his earlier stance, since he has as yet failed 
to engage in meaningful self-criticism. In fact, his "revisions" appear to take more the 
character of polemics against his opponents than attempts at genuine rethinking. 
His estranged followers who remain in government, on the other hand, continue to 
adhere to the overall intellectual framework outlined by him earlier. Their political 


rupture with him did not signal any shift towards a new radically different approach. 
If anything, the movement's capacity to generate new ideas has suffered considerably 
as a result of his departure. 

Turabi's contribution to modern Islamic thought and practice on re-Islamization 
appears to reveal some of the more serious limitations of modern Islamic reformism. 
At one level, modern Islamist leaders who want to radically rethink Islamic doctrine in 
defiance of prevalent attitudes appear to rob modern Islamism, at least in the short 
term, of its democratizing potential. Islamists who want to reformulate doctrine in 
terms that are unfamiliar to the masses are effectively back in the same boat with their 
secularist rivals, unless, of course, they are exceptionally charismatic. Hassan Turabi's 
peculiar predicament stems from the fact that he has antagonized the traditionalists on 
doctrinal grounds, and the same time alienated the liberal modernizers on political and 
intellectual grounds. His politics has come to overshadow his otherwise promising 
reforming ideas. As a politician, he had to engage in many unpopular maneuvers 
that had more often than not been in direct contradiction with the values he had been 
propagating. The double handicap of expediency politics and radical reformist ideas 
inevitably leads to authoritarianism. While the radical reformer places himself above 
and outside doctrine as the masses see it, the politician wants to push through his 
program by manipulation and compromise. In both cases, mass support and moral 
authority are compromised, and coercion becomes indispensable. 

The traditionalists do not fare much better in confronting reality. Their insistence on 
sticking to the traditional message, however impractical that may be, may respond to 
a tendency in Muslims to prefer to "keep shari'ah intact and inviolable in theory even 
if that was not possible in practice" (An-Na'im, 1990, 6). This meant that traditional- 
ists would prefer sharVah to be replaced by secular laws than to be modified and adapted 
to meet emergent needs and perceptions. And thus traditionalists contribute in thefr 
own way to stagnation and secularization. 

Yet the anomie resulting from the failure of all these schools of thought has led to 
stagnation and favored despotism. And despotism is an unstable and a very dangerous 
affair, not least for the despots themselves. The recent developments in Sudan are a 
sharp illustration of this. For Turabi, it had been a very expensive lesson learned way 
too late. 


1. Tliis article was written during a period when I had been a beneficiary of a grant from the 
United States Institute of Peace. I am grateful to the Institute, and to the then Grant Direc- 
tor David Smock, for the generous support given. Needless to say, the views expressed here 
are strictly my own. 

2. Turabi's views on this matter are scattered in many sources. The author has compiled them 
from publications and personal interviews with Turabi and associates. See El-Affendi, 1991, 
ix-xbc, 166-180 and Turabi 1984. Cf. Ibrahim, 1995, 13-21. 

3. The text of the letter of Abdul-Badi' Saqr, dated 24 Dhu al-Oa'ida 1400 AH (October 4, 
1980) is reproduced in Ibrahim. 1995, 233-4. 


Text of letter reproduced in Ibrahim, 1995, 23 7-42. No date is given for the letter, but Bin- 

Baz's letter to him was dated October 26, 1980. 

The book aptly reproduces the title of a polemical work by Ibn-Ta}Tni3ryah. 

A transcript of the debate was published in Al-Ayyam daily on June 19 and 20, 1988, and 

is also reproduced in Ibrahim, 1995, 208-32. 


Ahmed, Atif, "Ma'azaq al-Shari'a wa Tahaddiyat al-Tahdlth" (The Predicament of Shari'ah and 

the Challenges of Modernization), Riwdq 'ArahT, 1/4, October 1996. 
Ahmed, Ishtiaq, 'AbduUahi An-Na'im on Constitutional and Human Rights Issues," in Tore Lind- 

holm and Kari Vogt, eds.. Islamic Law Reform and Human Rights: Challenges and Responses 

(Copenhagen: Nordic Human Rights Publications, 1993). 
Ali, Haydar Ibrahim, Azmat al-Islam al-Siyasi: Al-Jahha al-Islamiyya al-Oawmiyya Namudhajan {The 

Crisis of Political Islam: The National Islamic Front as an Example) (Casa Blanca: Centre for 

Sudanese Studies, 1991). 
An-Na'im, AbduUahi Ahmed, Towards an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and 

International Law (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990). 

— "Towards an Islamic Reformation: Responses and Reflections," in Tore Lindholm and Kari 
Vogt, eds. , Islamic Law Reform and Human Rights: Challenges and Responses (Copenhagen: Nordic 
Human Rights Publications, 1993a). 

— "Constitutional Discourse and the Civil War in Sudan," in W.M. Daly and A.A. Sikainga, eds., 
Civi] War in the Sudan, (London: British Academic Press, 199 3b), 97-116. 

Arkoun, Muhammad, Rethinking Islam Today (Washington DC: Centre for Contemporary Arab 
Studies, 1987). 

— "The Concept of 'Islamic Reformation'," in Tore Lindholm and Kari Vogt, eds.. Islamic Law 
Reform and Human Rights: Challenges and Responses (Copenhagen: Nordic Human Rights Pub- 
lications, 1993). 

Daly, M.W and Sikainga, A.A. eds.. Civil War in the Sudan (London: British Academic Press, 1993). 
Deng, Francis, War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in Sudan (Washington, DC: The Brookings Insti- 
tution, 1995). 
El-Affendi, Abdelwahab, Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan (London: Grey Seal Books, 

Gellner, Ernest, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals (London: Hamish Hamilton, 

Ibrahim, Abdul-Fattah Mahjoub M., Al-Duktor Hassan al-Turabi wa Fasad Nazariyyat Tatwir al-Din 

(Cairo: Bayt al-Hilcmah, 1995). 
Khalid, Mansour, al-Fajr al-Kadhib: Numairi wa Tahrif al-SharVa {False Dawn: Numairi and the 

Distortion of Shari'ah) (Cairo: Dar al-HUal, 1986). 
Makki. Hassan, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi'1-Siidan (Khartoum: IRSS, 1990). 
MalUi, Abu Abdallah Ahmed ibn, Al-Sarim al-Maslul fi'l-Rad 'Ma al-Turaii Shatim al-RasUl. 
Mazrui, Ali, "The Multiple Marginality of Sudan," in Yusuf Fadl Hassan, ed.. Sudan in Africa 

(Khartoum: Khartoum University Press, 1971), 240-55. 
Musa, Awad al-Karim, "Mashru' al-Oanun al-Jina'T Mukhalif li'1-Shari'a" (The Draft Penal Code 

is Contrary to Shari'ah), Al-Khartoum, November 24, 1988. 
Sikainga, Ahmad Awad, "Northern Sudanese Political Parties and the Civil War," in W.M. Daly 

and Ahmed A. Sikainga, eds.. Civil War in the Sudan (London: British Academic Press, 1993). 


Turabi, Hassan Abdallah, "Al-Diii wa'1-Tajdid," Al-Fikr al-Islami. 1/2, September 1984, 13-45. 

— TajcEd al-Fikr al-Islami (Jeddah: Al-Dar al-Saudiyya, 1987). 

— Al-Tafsir al-Tawhidi {The Unitary Interpretations [of the Our'an]) (Khartoum: Hay'at al-A'mal 
al-Filcriyya, 1998). 

Yalman, Nur, "Some Observations on Secularism in Islam: The Cultural Revolution in Turkey," 

Daedahis. 102/1, Winter, 19 73. 
al-Zabidi, Zaynul-Abidin A.A., Mukhtasar Sahiih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Nafa'is, 1986). 


An Overview of al-Sadiq 
al-Mahdi's Islamic Discourse 

Hassan Ahmed Ibrahim 

Like all other Mahdist movements, the Sudanese Mahdiyyah was about to fade in 
history after the bloody overthrow in 1898/99 of the radical and isolated religo- 
political regime that supported it. Nonetheless, Mahdism, or rather Neo-Mahdism, sur- 
vived under the umbrella of a modern politico-religious party, the Umma Party 
(founded in 1945), which discarded violence and abandoned religious extremism. The 
credit of this historic transformation should go, first and foremost, to the architect of 
Neo-Mahdism, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi^ (1885-1959), and, subsequently, to his 
most favored grandson, al-Sadiq (1936-)," whom he had groomed for a future leading 
role in the party and the country. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, the de facto leader of the Neo- 
Mahdism since 1961, had, on his part, tried his utmost to follow in the footsteps of his 
visionary grandfather. Indeed, al-Sadiq had recently proudly recorded that his "grand- 
father established a religious organization as a modern and moderate avatar of the 
Mahdist revolution," and that he "led that group, modernized its organization and 
democratized its decision making organs,"^ though, he had elsewhere admitted that he 
did not acquire much of his mentor's mastery of manipulation which is seemingly 
important in Sudanese politicking. However, based on the core of al-Sadiq's sizable 
Islamic discourse, of which some pieces are not in print, this chapter focuses on an 
interesting aspect of his colorful, but rather controversial, career, namely his input into 
contemporary Islamic thought, that will be studied under some selected subheadings. 

The Mahdist Notion 

The concept of the Mahdiyyah, which broadly claims that God will send at the end of 
time "the" Mahdi (the rightly guided), or, from time to time "a" Mahdi, to end oppres- 
sion and establish justice, had been strongly opposed by Ibn Khaldun and a modern 
Azharite scholar, Shaykh Sa'd Muhammad Hassan, who had both cast doubt on its 
Islamic roots. They maintained that the Mahdiyyah is, at best, a notion that is not 


firmly substantiated by tlie Our' an or tlie autlientic Sunnahi (thie Prophiet's 

Wiiile admitting that neithier tlie words Mahdi or Mahdiyyah had been specifically 
mentioned in the Our'an, and that none of the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) 
recorded in al-Sahihayyn of Bukhari and Muslim speak of the Mahdiyyah, al-Sadiq al- 
Mahdi had, nonetheless, maintained, in a number of scholarly works on the issue, ' that 
the Mahdiyyah is in essence Islamic. 

In the private communication mentioned above, al-Sadiq claimed that the 
Mahdiyyah had been authenticated in 2 3 hadiths ascribed to the Prophet and recorded 
in "three of the six books of true {sahih) prophetic traditions": three in al-Tirmidhi, 
seven in Ibn Maja, and 13 in Abu Daud's traditions. Muslim religious and political 
thought, al-Sadiq continues, interpreted those hadiths in terms of 10 schools of 
thought about Mahdism. Three of them are Shi'ite: (i) "The Twelvers," who claim that 
the Mahdi is the twelfth imam in a specific line of succession from Ali ibn Abi Ualib 
through his wife Fatima; (ii) "The Seveners," who assert that the Mahdi is the seventh 
in that line of succession; and (iii) "The Zaydis," who think in terms of "plurality of rev- 
olutions," i.e. the Mahdi may be any qualified descendent of Fatima who stands up to 
injustice. Four other schools are: (iv) Sunnite, i.e. the Expected Mahdi should appear 
before the end of time; (v) the imam expected to restore Islam in each century; (vi) Ibn 
Kathir's contention that the Mahdi is the twelfth in number of outstanding Muslim 
leaders starting with the four rightly guided caliphs; and finally (vii) al-Razi's concept 
of "leaders of the Islamic community who stand up as witnesses to the truth of the 
Islamic message." Two other schools are: (viii) Sufi, namely that the Mahdi is the g/iflwt/i 
- chairman of the occult hierarchy of saints: and (ix) Ibn Arabi's concept that the 
Mahdi is the right hand of the prophetic light {al-nur al-Muhammadi) . The tenth school 
is al-Farabi's philosophical school, articulated in his book The Perfect City, which 
claimed that the Mahdi is the head of that city. 

While referring to these schools of Mahdism, the literature of the Sudanese 
Mahdiyyah (1881-98), al-Sadiq opined, revealed that his great-grandfather's 
Mahdiyyah constituted a distinct eleventh school that rejected eschatology and mirac- 
ulous signs for the appearance of the Mahdi. Moreover, this literature shows that the 
Sudanese Mahdi had taken his mission by instructions from the Prophet in a Sufi vision, 
but he knew that the Islamic community would outlive his own life. Al-Sadiq summa- 
rized his unique view on the issue of the Mahdiyyah by recording that the Sudanese 
Mahdi "had divorced Mahdism from eschatological considerations, from end of time 
signs and from traditional speculations about Mahdism. He tied his message to his own 
pious credentials, to the urgency of reform, to the function of reviving the Our'an and 
Sunnah, and to the supreme authority vested in him by Divine calling to fulfill that 

Islam and Social Change 

Contrary to the prevalent presumption, within and outside the Muslim world, of the 
"rigidity" of Islam, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi maintained that Islam ordained a dynamic 


response to social change. The Our'an cited the experiences of other peoples, expressed 
interest in their achievements, and took an open attitude toward "the adoption of useful 
ideas and institutions of foreign origin."'' Armed with this Our'anic licence, 'Umar ibn 
al-Khattab, the second rightly guided caliph, had, for example, confidently copied some 
Persian experiences such as the land tax called al-khardj and the book-keeping system 
of the diwdn, and the early Muslims actively indulged in the acquisition of the then well- 
known philosophies. This flexibility and universality, which had been largely Muslim 
during the first phase of Islamic history, had, furthermore, enabled Islam "to reshape 
the cultures of the civilized world," and introduced Europe to the concepts of "religion 
based on conscience rather than on establishment," and "faith based on a holy text 
rather than a holy man."* 

This flexibility, al-Sadiq continued, is also glaringly reflected in the noticeable 
freedom, enjoyed by the numerous schools of Muslim law,' to interpret the Our'anic 
text in a variety of ways to suit their communities and circumstances. To facilitate this 
process, Muslim jurists had innovatively introduced numerous devices, which had 
occasionally been employed to justify /atwas (Islamic edicts) that may not be explicitly 
supported by a Our'anic text. Chief among those devices were al-ijmd' (consensus), 
which allowed "dominant trends in public opinion to influence legislation" and al-qiyds 
(analogy), which permitted "the extension of a rule into further horizons." Others were 
al-istihsdn (juristic preference), which made it possible for "rational consideration to 
override textual ones", al-istisldh or al-maslahah al-mursalah, which affirmed public 
interest, and al-istishdb, which maintained the possible acceptance of customs and prac- 
tices that do not contradict the specifically prohibited. Finally was the device of al-naskh 
(abrogation) of one revealed text by a later one.^° 

However, as al-Mahdi had credibly argued, this dynamic and open-minded attitude 
was gradually marginalized, and, by the end of the twelfth century CE, it was practi- 
cally eclipsed in favor of the phenomenon widely known as taqlid (bfind following or 
imitation). By then a large sector of the jurists dogmatically declared the end of the 
thus far actively pursued ijtihdd, or creative reasoning in the interpretation of the 
Our'anic text and prophetic tradition. This meant that succeeding Muslim scholars no 
longer had any initiative, but had to follow the rulings and principles laid down by their 

Al-Sadiq tried to understand, not to justify, the phenomenon of taqlTd. In his book, 
Jadaliyyat al-Asl wa al-'Asr^^ which may be loosely translated as The Dialectics of Identity 
and Modernization, and other scholarly pieces, he critically analyzed the underlying 
factors for the dominance of taqlid, and articulated its far-reaching repercussions in the 
world of Islam. His first factor for this "sacredness" to the ijtihdd of the pioneering schol- 
ars may be grouped under the title 'Awdmil ma'riflyyah I'tiqadiyyah (knowledge and doc- 
trinal factors). The closure of the door of ijtihdd, al-Sadiq maintained, was not a political 
decision, but an outcome of the long-held presumption that the scholarship of the early 
scholars is not for "discussion", so to speak, because it is "the" knowledge that had been 
sanctioned by God, and should therefore be strictly followed. The advocates of the taqlid 
had, furthermore, narrowly understood, or rather misunderstood, the Islamic princi- 
ple of submission to God's will, which they erroneously took as the total negation of 
man's role. Another factor for the institution of the system of taqlid was, in al-Sadiq's 


words, "certain historical circumstances." The early Islamic system of government, 
which was in essence "a type of participatory populism,"^' had been replaced, since the 
time of the Ummayads, by successive authoritative monarchic regimes that terminated 
freedom of thought and action, and established "a class-based economy" that subordi- 
nated the interests of the community to the selfish interests of the rulers and their ilk. 
While a small activist sector of the frustrated Muslim populace resisted this developing 
despotism and grave injustice through violent revolutionary uprisings, the majority 
expressed their abhorrence by "effecting a withdrawal from the existing body poli- 
tics. "^^ They found shelter in the emergent Shi'ite community, and in the quietist shel- 
ters provided by the Sufis. Moreover, the would-be four founders of the Sunni schools 
of law "pursued their activities at an arms-length from governments of their day" in 
order to protect the sharVah from the selfish interests of the sultans. 

To many of the pious Muslims, the taqlid was also needed to shield the faith against 
some rational and oriental philosophies that had crept into Muslim land as a result of 
its interaction with other civilizations. Most dangerous of all was what Sayyid Outb 
(executed August 1966) called al-isti'mdr al-flkn wa'l rii/ii"^* - the Western intellectual 
and spiritual colonialism, and the concurrent ultra-secular drive of some local politi- 
cians and intellectuals, such as Kamal Atatiirk, Taha Hussain, and Salama Musa, who 
had misleadingly insisted that modernization is synonymous^' with Westernization, 
and had thus threatened the very identity of Islam and the dignity of the Muslims. 

As al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had correctly observed, this radical traditionalist approach had 
been reflected in the ideologies of many of the jihad movements in modern and con- 
temporary times, including his great-grandfather's nineteenth-century Mahdiyyah. 
They insisted that the adoption of the "historically relevant" political system of the 
Khilafah (caliphate) is a religious duty, adamantly refused to deal with the West, 
Jdhilliyat al-Oarn al-'Ishrin (the modern jdhilliyah), as Sayyid Outb called it, or the Satan 
as later dismissively named by Khomeini and Osama bin Laden. 

While understanding the historical factors that triggered the pervasion of the regime 
of taqlid, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi seems to be convinced that the consequential intellectual 
stagnation of this system had tarnished the image of the contemporary tajdid wave 
itself and harmed the interests of the Muslim ummah at large. It destroyed its "inner 
vitality" and "purposefulness," and placed it in a historical limbo cut off between the 
seventh and twenty-first centuries, thus preparing it "for foreign domination."^'' Al- 
Sadiq's position against taqlid was specifically articulated in the following statement, 
"The system of taqlid was instituted with the purpose of protecting the cause of right- 
eousness. It served that cause at the cost of spiritual and intellectual initiative and sub- 
stituting rigidity for the flexibility of Muslim social teachings. "^^ 

Al-Mahdi had seen in the dogmatism and, more importantly, al-intiwd' (reactionary 
tendency) of the contemporary Salafi movements an imminent danger to Islam and the 
Muslims, and had therefore urged them to revise their path. In particular, he cautioned 
them, Islam does not dictate a specific system of government, be it the caliphate or any 
other, and that any system may be Islamic as long as it fulfills two sets of conditions: 
viz. a set of general principles, including popular participation and observance of 
justice; and the application of Islamic legislation in an enlightened and rational 
While pinpointing some basic drawbacks of the Western civilization,^^ 


al-Sadiq had, nonetheless, emphasized that it had achieved great accomplishments that 
should be appreciated and never belittled. The current mainstream Muslim position 
that concentrates on these shortcomings is, in al-Mahdi's words, wahamun sakhif" 
(foolish illusion). 

Knowing that history is a guide, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi urged his co-religionists to restore 
the historic flexibility of Islam in their own world. This could be attained without won- 
dering "outside the pale of Islam" as the phenomenon itself is Islamic to the core.~^ 
When non-Muslim opinion refers to Islamic fundamentalism, al-Sadiq maintained, "it 
is the system of taqlid that they should have in mind.""^ Al-Sadiq should also be hailed 
for being a contemporary pioneer, and an active participant, since the 1970s, in calling 
for a new functional iitihad, which he gave the neo-logism ijtihad 'asn,^^ to address the 
needs of the modern state. In this position, he was presumably guided by his great 
grandfather's famous comment on the iitihad of the early scholars, viz. "They are men 
and we are men, and we should exist ourselves as they did." 

It is worth noting here that al-Sadiq had criticized, in varying degrees, all the con- 
temporary experiments that apply to the shaii'ah: in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, 
Nigeria, and in his own country, the Sudan. He dismissed Numairi's 1983 Islamic laws 
as faulty in essence, formulation, and application particularly because they ignored the 
essential prerequisites for the establishment of the Islamic state. Far from being Islamic, 
he considered them as a futile political maneuver to gain popularity for an unpopular 
regime at the expense of the major Islamic forces in the Sudan. Similarly, he criticized 
the current Islamization program in the Sudan that has been orchestrated, since 1989, 
by the extremist National Islamic Front (NIF). The request of its ironically called "sal- 
vation" [inqddh) regime to vow a bai'ah for its leader, 'Umar al-Bashir, its apostation of 
Muslims who disagreed with it and its zaka law had all, in al-Mahdi's opinion, departed 
from Islamic dawdbit (conditions). In Iran, al-Sadiq called for the replacement of wildyat 
al-faqih (the right of absolute rule by the supreme theologian) by wildyat al-jamhiir (the 
rule of the people), allowing the faqih to have a symbolic status only. He also criticized 
the faflure of the Iranian regime to accommodate "the other," which led to a cycle of 
violence. In hindsight, al-Sadiq had criticized the short-cut "surgical operation" that 
led in 1947 to the creation of Pakistan because it has been harmful to the interests of 
its Muslim population as well as to the remaining Muslims of India. Al-Sadiq had been 
particularly outspoken in his criticism of the ultra reactionary program of the former 
Taliban regime, particularly its dismissal of democracy as un-Islamic. But his position 
towards the complicated issue of the sharVah in Nigeria had not significantly gone 
beyond the general remark to approach it "in a rational, orderly way, and shut away 
any heated action and reaction." All in all, these so-called Islamic programs have been, 
in al-Sadiq's view, "associated with a dictatorship, which, short on legitimacy, 
embraced Islam to dress up its usurpation power.""* In a number of scholarly Islamic 
gatherings, al-Mahdi proposed to convene a special conference "to study the lessons of 
contemporary Islamization, and to make an objective analysis of the experiences and 
issue a guiding declaration for the whole Muslim community"'' 

However, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi's bold position vis-a-vis dogmatism and extremism had 
not always been undertaken without hazards to his integrity and even risks to his own 
safety. Suffice it to mention here that Numairi's trial and execution in 1 9 8 5 of Mahmud 


Muhammed Taha,"*" under the guise of apostasy, was meant to be a warning to al-Sadiq 
that he may be next in the line if he continued his opposition to the regime's alleged 
Islamic laws of 1983.'^ He was also subjected to intimidation, imprisonment, and exile 
by the dictatorial and fictitiously "Islamic" regimes of Numairi (1969-85) and 'Umar 
al-Bashir (since 1989). 

Nonetheless, one may occasionally find a difficulty in reconciling some of al-Mahdi's 
enlightened views with his actual political performance when in power, specifically so 
on two occasions and on two significant issues. First was the unconstitutional expul- 
sion in November 1 9 6 5 of the democratically elected members of the communist party 
from the constituent assembly, and the dissolution of the party itself shortly after al- 
Mahdi's assumption of the premiership in June 1966. These drastic measures were 
taken under the pretext of an isolated blasphemous speech by a student of reported 
communist tendencies, and because, in the then apologetic words of al-Sadiq, "the very 
existence of the communist party contradicted the belief in the existence of God, 
Sudan's sovereignty with an international creed [and its call for] class dictatorship."^^ 
Irrespective of the validity of these charges, the measures taken were incompatible with 
al-Sadiq's expressed commitment to al-shura. democracy and the democratic process. 
His latest expression in this connection was given in a statement in August 2003 in 
which he demanded that the United Nations set up "a Good Governance Watch" that 
should be "based upon four pillars: participation, accountability, transparency and the 
Rule of Law.""'^ However, that anti-communist drive had seemingly been instrumental 
in triggering the May 1969 military coup that ousted al-Sadiq from the premiership 
and suspended the parliamentary system for 16 years.'" 

Secondly, notwithstanding his repeated and unreserved condemnation of Numairi's 
"Islamic" laws, appropriately known as the "September [1983] laws", al-Mahdi, who 
had shortly afterwards occupied the premiership, hesitated to scrap {kans in his words) 
these reactionary and opportunist laws forthwith, and satisfied himself with freezing 
them. However, he defended his position by claiming that the "Islamization program" 
of his government, which rejected the traditional division of the world into the abode 
(ddr) of Islam and that of war, had actually started the mechanism to orderly replace 
these laws by an alternative Islamic legislation that would safeguard the constitutional 
rights of the non-Muslims.'^ But this process came to an abrupt end by the NIF coup 
d'etat in 1989" that had, however, abruptly ended al-Sadiq's second premiership. But 
many people have difficulty in accepting this argument. 

Islam and Human Rights 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of December 10, 1948 stipulated 
in article 1 that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They 
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit 
of brotherhood.'"' However, with the active support of many Muslim rulers, some 
Muslim scholars maintained that certain parts of the UDHR, specifically the preamble 
and five of its articles (4, 5, 16, 18, and 19) contradict Islamic injunctions. Based on 
their interpretation of the Qur'anic five "verses of the sword,'"'* they argued that Islam 


prohibited co-existence (al-muwdldh) with the non-believers, including the "Peoples of 
the Book." It furthermore required Muslims to forcefully protect their unique culture 
and religious identity, which, in their view, had already been fundamentally threatened 
by a statement in the UDHR preamble, viz. "Whereas it is essential to promote the devel- 
opment of friendly relations between nations."^' They therefore call upon Muslims to 
reject the Declaration, or, at least, profoundly dilute it. 

In a couple of scholarly works, of which a seminar paper entitled "Islamic Perspec- 
tives on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights""' is perhaps the most important, 
al-Sadiq al-Mahdi disagreed with those scholars who, in his words, "lived through his- 
torical experiences." Their presumption is superficial, fails to comprehend the overall 
humanistic message of Islam, and is therefore "beside the point." Their reading of the 
five verses of the sword "is shallow as these verses prohibit Muslims from initiating hos- 
tilities against others, and allow them to only fight to deter aggression." Islam is there- 
fore a peaceful religion that urges its followers to observe "the other," and it calls for 
cooperative inter-religious and inter-state relations." This accommodative message is 
spelled out in no fewer than 100 verses dispersed among 48 chapters of the Our'an. 
Al-Sadiq dismissed the enthusiastic support of many Muslim rulers to this rejectionist 
position as "ridiculous and irrelevant." Far from being triggered by any religious con- 
siderations, these rulers, and their "apologists" are motivated by their awareness that 
the UDHR constituted a direct threat to their despotism and the legitimacy of their total- 
itarian rules. ^* 

In his balanced support for the UDHR, al-Sadiq records, "Islam means submission 
to the Will of God. If the Will of God is the source of pre-destination, then submission 
to the Will of God negates any human volition. The revealed texts of Islam may be 
quoted to support both pre-destination and free will. Without free will morality and 
human endeavor become nonsensical. Free will is itself part of the design of 
mankind."" He further stresses that Islam recognizes human worth vividly and in a 
more permanent and inalienable manner than other religious and the secularist doc- 
trine as well. Al-Mahdi sees no contradiction between the revelation and reason. On the 
contrary, "reason is a pre-condition for belief" as the Our'an does not address those 
who have not yet developed it because of immaturity or lost it because of insanity.*" 

Those who claim that the UDHR is incompatible with Islam, be it the Muslim rejec- 
tionists or human rights activists, cite in support for their case the position of Islam 
towards slavery''^ and religious freedom and the Islamic canonical punishments known 
as the Hudud. However, as explained below, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi goes a long way to 
counter these and other accusations in order to emphasize his conviction that Islam is 
basically in line with the UDHR. 

While admitting that the Our'an recognizes slavery, and that Muslim societies prac- 
ticed this inhuman activity, al-Mahdi cautioned from jumping to the erroneous pre- 
sumption that Islam does not endorse article 4 of the Declaration, viz. "No one shall be 
held in slavery or servitude, slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their 
forms."*- For the relevant verses in the Our'an do not describe slavery as a favorable 
practice, but only regulate an existing institution, and make several regulations for its 
gradual abolition. It should be remembered that slavery had, by the seventh century, 
been deeply rooted in all human societies, and its abrupt eradication was bound to 


ignite great upheavals.*^ Indeed, in al-Mahdi's view, the slavery article of the UDHR 
receives unqualified support from the Our'an as clearly demonstrated in the following 
verse: "0 mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made 
you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye despise each 
other) . Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most right- 
eous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).'"** 

There is a consensus among Muslim jurists that the HudUd specifies six canonic pun- 
ishments, in addition to the retributive canon "an eye for an eye and a tooth for the 
tooth." These are: (i) death for al-riddah (apostasy); (ii) arm amputation for theft; (iii) 
cross-amputation, death, or banishment for al-hardbah (armed robbery); (iv) stoning to 
death for adultery and 100 lashes for fornication; (v) 80 lashes for alcohol consump- 
tion; and (vi) 80 lashes and witness disqualification for sexual allegations that are 
unsupported by three other witnesses. 

However. al-Sadiq al-Mahdi argued that the Huditd should not be taken out of 
context, but had to be viewed within the philosophy behind them, namely to be in 
essence a deterrent against crime, and the strict conditions for their application, which 
requires a welfare state and an Islamic social order which fights crime by spiritual, 
moral, social, and economic means, and the institution of justice in general.*' All this 
permitted a high degree of flexibility. In this respect. al-Sadiq quoted two precedents 
undertaken by 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second rightly guided caliph. In the first, he 
refused to punish two employees for stealing a camel, and fined their employer because 
he underpaid them, and in the second he suspended the punishment for theft during a 
period of famine ('dm al-ramddah). It is on this very ground that al-Mahdi criticized 
Numairi's so-called "Islamic way" and his September 198 3 laws.*'' As for extra-marital 
intercourse, the required proof is so exacting, four trustworthy witnesses who saw the 
offenders in action, that it is virtually impossible to establish. To deter unsupported 
sexual allegations, that could poison the society through character assassination 
between competitors and foes, Islam had commendably imposed severe punishments 
on the offenders. It should also be remembered that Islam had provided alternative pun- 
ishments for these canonic punishments; al-diyah that allows material benefits for the 
victim or his family, and al-ta'zir (discretionary punishment), which "in essence means 
mundane criminal law that measures punishment to crime and evolves with socioeco- 
nomic conditions."*^ From this discussion, one may suggest that al-Sadiq seems to be 
of the bold opinion that the Hudud may, even should, be frozen. 

Article 18 of the UDHR, which guarantees the absolute right of everyone "to 
freedom of thought, conscience and of religion," including "freedom to change his reli- 
gion," and "freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, 
to manifest his religion in teaching, practice, worship and observance,"*^ provoked a 
heated debate over the compatibility of the presumed riddah punishment with the 
current standard human rights. However. al-Sadiq al-Mahdi appears to consider the 
traditional fatwa of capital punishment to the riddah to be obsolete and Islamically 
unsubstantiated. Though the Our'an abhors and condemns change in religious belief, 
it is silent about any temporal punishment for apostasy. Moreover, the authenticity of 
the hadiths on which these jurists based their judgment on the issue of the riddah, in 
al-Mahdi's view, is doubtful. However, while possibly justified in the past as a "political 


expediency" to guard against treason, this punishment has become politically counter- 
productive in the modern world where Islam is growing at the expense of other reli- 
gions. An Islamic degree imposing any kind of punishment for a change of religion 
could be reciprocated to the detriment of the one-third of the Muslim population living 
as minorities in non-Islamic countries, including the approximately 12 million living 
in Europe and the United States.*' 

Notwithstanding this bold view on the riddah issue, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had, to say the 
least, refrained from openly condemning Numairi's trial and execution of the 76-year- 
old Mahmud Muhammad Taha, the controversial leader of the vocal and elitist party, 
the Republican Brothers, on January 18, 1985 under this very same charge. This insti- 
gated charges of insincerity and double standards against al-Mahdi from some quar- 
ters within and outside the Sudan. But al-Sadiq's lack of enthusiasm for Taha seemed 
to have been motivated by the latter's preaching, like the Bahais and Oaddianes, of a 
cult that "went beyond the denunciation of taqlTd to the emptying of Islam itself'"" For 
he claimed that Islam has two messages, a limited one for the seventh century and 
a universal message, al-risdlah al-thdniyah, which embodied the Meccan Our'anic 
verses.'^ This queer doctrine had infuriated many Muslims within and outside the 
Sudan, including the militant Ansar, the power-base of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi. We should 
also remember that Taha had abused al-Mahdi in some of his publications, including 
Hddha Huwa al-Sadiql (This is al-Sadiq!). 

The biological, physiological, and psychological differences between men and 
women had been the basis for much discrimination against the latter. Some early, and 
contemporary, Muslim jurists had decreed inferior status for women, e.g. half status as 
witness and half a share in inheritance. While not going all the way to suggest total 
gender equality, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi emphasized that Islam masterminded a gigantic leap 
for the liberation of women 14 centuries ago, and thus could not possibly preach their 
degradation. The issue for him, and to other contemporary Muslim thinkers, is "not 
superiority and inferiority of status", but "a calculus of moral and material of making 
the family a viable social unit." Hence a woman's "half status" as witness concerns only 
financial matters on which she is not usually acquainted and therefore less aware. 
However, if she acquired such an expertise, she would be eligible for full witness status. 
Similarly half a share in inheritance for a woman is linked with the duty of men as 
breadwinners to the family. Nonetheless, if circumstances changed and society 
demanded it, a deceased "may freely dispose with a third of the inheritance.'"^ 

Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had also disagreed with the extremists' claim that the shari'ah 
requires women to be confined to the household, and to have no political rights or the 
rights to occupy public posts. In his drive to refute this conservative position, al-Sadiq 
protested that the Our' an had highly praised the character and good governance of the 
only woman that it referred to, Balqis, the queen of the Kingdom of Saba'. Besides, it 
emphasized, in several verses, the equality of all believers, men and women alike, and 
made them responsible for all their deeds. The Prophet had on some occasions consulted 
women and took their advice, and many women have been recognized as reliable nar- 
rators of the prophetic tradition. 

In an open letter, displayed over the Internet, to the Amir of Qatar commending his 
latest decision to grant women a measure of political rights, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi main- 


tained that the shari'ah confers upon women the rights of election and standing for 
membership of parliaments. Women have the right to be a witness and the right to elect 
is a form of being a witness. Membership of legislative bodies is a kind of wakalah (rep- 
resentation), which is permissible for Muslim women. Their denial of these, and similar 
rights, al-Mahdi continued, "would create a contradiction between them and their age" 
that could, in turn, lead to a serious /ifnah (dissension) that Muslims are religiously 
ordained to avoid.'* However, unlike Fahmi Huwaydi,''' and a few other Muslim intel- 
lectuals, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi does not seem to be in favor of women's occupancy of the 
position of head of a state, or, at least, he is silent on the issue. 

Contrary to the opinion of some jurists, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi argued that marriage is 
a "voluntary civil contract" not a "religious sacrament," in which the two parties 
engage freely, hence it may include a provision that gives the wife the right of divorce. 
As for polygamy, al-Sadiq emphasizes that it is not an Islamic duty, and is limitedly per- 
mitted to resolve certain problems, such as differences in the couple's sexuality, and 
numerical imbalance between men and women in a society. Nonetheless, al-Mahdi 
revolutionarily maintains that polygamy may be prevented. In fact, perhaps following 
a/flfwa of Muhammad 'Abduh, al-Sadiq records, "Since Islam requires equality treat- 
ment for the wife concerned, and since it is recognized that such equality is impossible, 
it is possible to legalize against polygamy without violating Islam." Furthermore, he 
continues, "if the self-image of women develops in such a way that they cannot toler- 
ate polygamy, as is happening with educated and modernized women, the prevention 
of polygamy may be in the interest of social stability, a sacred purpose for Islamic 

Muslim-Muslim Dialog 

We have sufficient evidence to contend that al-Sadiq al-Mahdi was a pioneering con- 
temporary politician - a scholar who urged, since the dramatic success in 1979 of the 
Iranian Islamic revolution, the necessity of a Muslim-Muslim dialog to settle the his- 
toric doctrinal and political differences between the Shi'ites and Sunnites. Under the 
apparent influence of the nineteenth-century's legacy of hakim al-sharq (the sage of 
the East) , Jamal al-DTn al- Afghani (183 7-9 7) , ' ^ al-Mahdi maintained that what binds 
the two sects - one message, one Prophet, and the same Holy Book - is much more 
fundamental than "the psychological and intellectual barriers" that had been created 
between them over the long years of bitterness and hostility. In both Sunnite and Shi'ite 
experiences there are ideas that could bridge this historic gap. Jordan, a Sunnite 
country, had, for example, consulted Shi'ite schools of Islamic law, like the Ja'fari and 
the Zaidi, for formulating its civil code of 19 76, while numerous Shi'ite scholars, like 
'Ali Shari'ati, emphasized the role of the shuratic concept of wildyat al-Jamhur rather 
than that of wildyat al-faqih, "thereby coming closer to Sunni conceptions." Though 
rather lethargic, the dialog conducted in the late 1970s between Sula3rman al-Bushra 
and Sayyid Abdul Husain, then respectively Shaykh of al-Azhar and the head of the 
Shi'ite ulama in Lebanon, could be utilized to stimulate a meaningful dialog between 
the co-religionists.'^ But this seems to be rather optimistic as the differences between 


the Sunnites and the Shi'ites were, and still are, so deeply rooted that the chance of 
success for such a dialog is quite remote. However, al-Mahdi's initiative brought him 
rebukes and charges of irreligiosity from many Sunni quarters. Interestingly in a tete- 
a-tete debate, in Baghdad sometime in 1987, between the then Sudanese premier Sadiq 
al-Mahdi and the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain, the latter had reportedly 
shouted at his "guest" for supporting al-Furs al majus (the heathen Persians), while al- 
Sadiq lectured him on the origins and development of Shi'ite thought.^' 


Islamic thought is so rich that it is hard for a contemporary Muslim intellectual to be 
really original or a trailblazer in the full sense of the word. However, irrespective of this 
proviso and the brutal, but largely Utopian,™ criticism of al-Sadiq al-Mahdi's local pol- 
iticking, it is fair to suggest that he has an imprint in the broader, indeed universal, field 
of contemporary Islamic thought. As a great-grandson of the Sudanese Mahdi, and the 
leader of the largest and historically militant religious party in the Sudan, one would 
have expected al-Sadiq to be a fervent advocate of the current rigid and uncompro- 
mising Islamic wave. But the above bird's eye view of his diversified Islamic discourse 
gives us weighty evidence to maintain that he had systematically and consistently 
opposed this irrelevant and reactionary attitude towards the question of identity, and 
preached an enlightened one. which is more consistent with the Islamic message. 
Admittedly, however, occasionally there was no congruity between al-Sadiq the theo- 
rist and the politician. But this rare dichotomy, which may have been triggered by the 
sensitive and sensational issues involved, and the extremely fluid status of Sudanese 
politics, should not be allowed to belittle the man's significant contribution in the arena 
of Islamic intellectualism. His apologists had even argued that he could have then deliv- 
ered on those and other issues, had the electorates given his party a massive mandate 
to rule the country single-handedly. However, such an "ideaUst" position may no longer 
be possible in the increasingly diversified and polarized Sudanese society, and the Neo- 
Mahdists should be prepared to work and cooperate with the other major political forces 
to uplift the country from its present tragic abyss. Now that a new peaceful era is seem- 
ingly on the horizon, the issues of Islamic entity, identity, and outlook are expected to 
be hotly debated. It is here that al-Sadiq al-Mahdi's progressive views on Islam and 
social change would be most relevant and useful. 


1. For a study of tlie career of Abd al-Raliman al-Malidi, see my book entitled Say y id 'Abd 
al-Rahman al-Mahdi: A Study of Neo-Mahdism in the Sudan 1 899-1 956 (Brill, Leiden, 2004), 

2 . Unlike many leaders of traditional Muslim parties and sects, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi is well versed 
in both Islamic disciplines and modern thought. 

3. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam and the West: 11 September 2001-8 February 2002" (an 
unpublished paper 2002), 


4. In his Muqaddimah, chapter 52, Ibn Khaldun studied the issue of the Mahdi3'yah under the 
indicative title Fi Amr al-Fatimi, while Shaykh Sa'd articulated his position in a book enti- 
tled Al-Mahdiyyahfl al-Islam. 

5. Of al-Sadiq's scholarship on the Mahdiyyah is his book Yasalunaka 'an al-Mahdiyyah (Beirut 
1955), and a private communication in which he articulated his views on the originality 
of the Mahdiyyah in Islam. 

6. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "My Views on the Mahdiyyah," a personal communication. 

7. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi. "Islam, Society and Change", in John Esposito (ed.). Voices of Resurgent 
Islam (New York 1983), 233. 

8. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Social Change in Islam." an unpublished lecture presented at Sokoto 
University, Nigeria, on April 25, 1980. In another undated lecture delivered in the Islamic 
University of Omdurman, Sudan, al-Sadiq detailed his argument of the tremendous impact 
of the Muslims on Europe, which, in his words, "transported her out of the age of 

9. Early jurists developed several schools of Muslim law of which, in al-Sadiq's view, 
eight have become famous: Hanafl, Maliki, Ja'fari, Zaidi, Shafl'i, Hanbali, Zahiri, and 

10. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam, Society and Change," in Esposito, op. cit., 238. 

11. This book, published in Khartoum, June 2001, is based on a paper, with the same title, that 
al-Mahdi presented in a conference organized by the Egyptian ministry of nJ-waij/' (endow- 
ment) in Cairo during the period May 31-June 3, 2001. 

12. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam, Society and Change," in Esposito, op. cit., 234. 

13. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam and Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa", an unpub- 
lished paper, 3 . 

14. Sayyid Outb, Dirasat Islamiyyah (Cairo, 1957), 152, quoted by Ibrahim Abu Rabi', Intellec- 
tual Origins of Islamic Resurgence in the Modern Arab World (Albany: State University of New 
York Press, 1995), 133. In chapters 4-5 (pp. 92-219) of this book, Abu Rabi' gives an 
elaborate assessment of the career and thought of Sayyid Outb, whom he calls "the master 
theoretician of Islamic resurgence" at this stage, p. 144. 

15. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Al-Din wa al-Wuhdali al-Wataniyyah," a lecture delivered at the Niger- 
ian Institute for International Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria, on June 28, 2001. 

16. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam. Society and Change," in Esposito, op. cit., 236. 

17. Ibid., 235. In this respect al-Sadiq al-Mahdi quoted Malik bin Nabi's famous statement, 
"The Muslim world was colonized because it was colonizable." 

18. See above, pp. 7-8. 

19. In al-Mahdi's view, the two major drawbacks of the Western civilization are its denial of al- 
ghayb (the transcendental or the beyond), and its lack of supreme spiritual and moral 
values. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Al-Tatruf al-Dini wa Atharuhu 'ala al-Amn al-Oawmi al-Sudani 
(Khartoum, 1985), 11-12. 

20. Ibid., 11. 

21. See below, pp. 2-3 . 

22. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam, Society and Change," in Esposito, op. cit., 236. 

23. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, Al-Tatruf al-Dini wa Atharuhu 'ala al-Amn al-Oawmi al-Sudani, 13. This 
booklet is based on a lecture, under the same title, that al-Sadiq delivered in the High 
Military Academy, Khartoum, on January 28, 1985. 

24. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Lessons from Modern Islamization Programmes," a lecture delivered 
at Arewa House, Kaduna, Nigeria, on June 30, 2001, 2, 11. 

25. Ibid., 10. 

26. Ibid., 12. 


2 7. A letter by Maiisur Khalid, a former top aide of Numairi, to The Times (London), February 

9, 1985, quoted by Gabriel Warburg, Islam, Sectarianism and Politics in Sudan since the 
Mahdiyyah (London, 2003), 154. See also Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Politics andlslam in Con- 
temporary Sudan (Richmond, Surrey, 1997), 138. 

28. G. Warburg, Islam, Nationalism and Communism in a Traditional Society: The Case of the Sudan 
(London, Franc Cass 1978), 117. Under the interesting sub-heading "democracy for the 
faithful," Abdel Salam Sidahmed gives an account of these dramatic events and their 
impact on the future of liberalism in the country (89-94). He records that they had 
"perhaps signaled the end of the liberalist tendency which appeared in the 1930s, and was 
significant through the era of the nationalist Movement and the 1950s," Sidahmed, op. 
cit., 93. However, Abd al-Mahmud Abu al-Amin, the secretary general of the Ansar orga- 
nization and a close aide of al-Sadiq, had recently admitted that the expulsion of the com- 
munist MPs and the dissolution of the party was "a grave political mistake," for which he 
publicly apologized on behalf of the Ansar and the Umma party. For this long interview, 
see Al-Bayan newspaper, July 7, 2004. 

29. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, 'An Inter-religious Council at the United Nations," a statement read at 
the summit of world leaders, held at Seoul, Korea, August 11-16, 2003. 

30. Mahmud Galander, an insider of the May regime, wrote his personal observations on that 
era in a book entitled Sanawat al-Numairi (The Years of Numairi), (Cairo, 2005). 

31. Interestingly, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had carefully avoided in all his discourse the usage of the 
traditional Islamic nomenclature al-dhimiyyin (non-Muslims under the protection and rule 
of Muslims), apparently because of its offensive nature to the susceptibilities of the tradi- 
tional and Christian citizens in the southern and other parts of the Sudan. 

32. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Lessons from Modern Islamization Programmes," 6. 

3 3 . Article 1 of the UDHR that was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly, resolu- 

tion 217A (III) of December 10, 1948. 

34. Verses 4, 5, 9, 29, and 36 of chapter 9. 

35. The preamble of the UDHR . 

36. This is an unpublished 14-page paper that had been presented in a seminar on the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, date and place of the seminar is not 

3 7. Al-Sadiq detailed his position towards the issue of inter-civilizational dialog in a paper, enti- 
tled "Mustaqbal al-'Alaqah bayn al-Hadarah al-Islamiyyah wa al-Hadarat al-Ukhra," which he 
presented at the fourteenth conference of the Egyptian Ministry of Endowment, Cairo, May 

38. Ibid., 2 and 12. 

39. Ibid., 3. 

40. Ibid., 3. 

4 1 . Among those who maintained that Islam legitimized slavery is Bernand Lewis in his booklet 
Race and Colour in Islam (New York, 19 71). 

42. Article 4 of the UDHR. 

43. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islamic Perspectives on the UDHR," 4. 

44. 49:12. 

45. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi discusses these issues in detail in part one of his book al-'Uquhat al- 
Shar'iyyah wa Mawqi'iha min al-Nizam al-Islami (Khartoum, 1984). 

46. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Lessons from Modern Islamization Programmes," 4-5. 

47. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam Perspectives on the UDHR," 6. 

48. Article 18 of UDHR. 

49. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islamic Perspectives on the UDHR," 9. 


50. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam, Society and Change," in Esposito, op. cit., 236. For more infor- 
mation about Taha's trial and his execution, see Gabriel Warburg, Islam, Sectarianism and 
Politics in the Sudan since the Mahdiyyah, 160-5, and Sidahmed, Politics and Islam in Con- 
temporary Sudan. 122-3 and 136-8. 

51. Taha articulated this view in two books Tariq Muhammad [Khartoum, 1966) and Al-Risalah 
al-Thaniyyah min al-Islam (Khartoum, 1967). 

52. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi discussed the issue of gender equality in a book entitled Al-Mar'ah wa 
Huququhafl al-Islam (2nd edition, Khartoum, 2002). 

53. A letter from al-Sadiq al-Mahdi to the Prince of Qatar, displayed over the Internet. 

54. Fahmi Huwaydi expressed his support to the right of a woman to be a head of state in an 
article entitled "Al-'Adalah wa laysa Dhukurat Wall al-Amr au Unuthatuhu, al-Majallah," 
March 29, 1997. 

55. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islamic Perspectives on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," 

56. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi praised the Iranian Islamic revolution which represented, in his words, 
"a genuine uprising against domestic injustice and foreign subservience." Al-Sadiq al- 
Mahdi, "Lessons from Modern Islamization Programmes," 8. To the fury of many Muslim 
rulers, he established cordial relations with the Iranian leaders, which qualilied him to try, 
with Ahmed Mukhtar Ambo, an ex-president of Unesco, to find a peaceful resolution to the 
American hostages' crisis of 1979. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam and the West, 11 September 
2001-8 February 2002," 11. 

57. In a number of articles, published in al-'Urwah al-Wuthqa, al- Afghani urged the then 
Ottoman Caliph and the Shah of Iran to reconcile the differences between the Sunnite and 
the Shi'ite, and to form a united Muslim front against European imperialism. 

58. Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, "Islam and Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa," 24. Earlier, 
on the apparent initiative of Shaykh Hasan al-Bana (d. 1949), an organization, called Dar 
al-Taqrib, was formed in Cairo to reconcile the different Islamic sects. It adopted Shaykh 
Rashid Rida's (d. 193 5) slogan "Let us cooperate on what we have agreed upon, and excuse 
each other on what we have disagreed on." 

59. Personal information from the then Sudanese ambassador in Iraq. 

60. This criticism had particularly been launched by the prominent, but diametrically oppo- 
site, Sudanese intellectuals Mansur Khalid and Mahdi Amin al-Toum. See, for example, the 
former's book. The Government They Deserve: The Role of the Elite in Sudan's Political Evolu- 
tion (London, 1990), 423-4, and the latter's message published in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 
January 14, 1993. 


Islamic Thought in 
Contemporary Pakistan 
The Legacy of 
'Allama Mawdudl 

Abdul Rashid Moten 

Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudl is a name to conjure with in contemporary Muslim thought 
and movement. He was a source of linowledge and inspiration, and even those who dif- 
fered with his method and the movement, do not question the value of his contribu- 
tion. Mawdudl's appeal and relevance are due primarily to his impact on the historical 
situation of which he was a part. He reflected and represented the value and impor- 
tance of Islam, and stimulated and summoned his fellow Muslims to its revivification 
and implication. The themes he dwelt upon like the importance of state, the legitimacy 
of political authority, the unbreakable link between faith and deeds, the need for com- 
mitment, integrity, and striving for Islamic revival are vital and relevant for all those 
who have joined the contemporary Islamic movement as well as for those who wish to 
understand the increasing momentum of the worldwide Muslim re-awakening. 
In South Asia, where Mawdudl's ideas took shape, his influence has been more 
pronounced. His ideas unquestionably dominate Islamic political thinking in the Indo- 
Pakistani subcontinent. This has become all the more evident as Pakistani secular 
nationalism has scored one failure after another, and thereby removed itself from the 
growing surge of Islamic political thought and action. This sociopolitical study enquires 
about the value and validity of the ideas of Mawlana Mawdiidl and assesses their 
relevance to contemporary Pakistan and the Muslim world. 

Muslim Identity Formation 

Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudl was born on September 25, 1903 into a respectable family 
of strong religious traditions at Aurangabad, Deccan, India. Mawdudl's education was 
short and unsystematic. He did not attend legendary institutions such as Al-Azhar 
In fact, he attained mastery of Islamic sciences outside the regular educational 


institutions and obtained certificates from three famous teachers of Madrasah Aliyah 
Arabiyyah Fatehpuri, Delhi. MawdudT produced 6 7 works, some of them monumental 
in length and depth, and edited two journals. He founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (the 
Islamic Party) in 1941 and led it until 1972. The Jamaat has embodied his ideology 
and has played a significant role in the history and politics of Pakistan, India, 
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the south Asian communities of the Persian Gulf, Great Britain, 
and North America. 

Sayyid MawdiidI started with the assumption that the Muslim world is faced with a 
profound need to assert its identity. Under the circumstances, as ever, a clear concep- 
tion of the human being, his purpose, and his destiny become of utmost significance. 
Interpreting Islam in progressive manner, MawdudT provided unambiguous answers to 
these questions. The human being is the vicegerent of Allah, the Creator, the Ruler, and 
the Sovereign of the universe. It is his duty, his responsibility, to transform the earth, 
which is his trust in accordance with the values enshrined in the Our'an and the 
Sunnah of the last Prophet of Islam. 

This designation of mankind as Allah's vicegerent ennobles and sanctifies man, 
his life, his activities, and his relationships with fellow human beings. Since all are 
vicegerents they are all equal, which leaves no scope for injustice and oppression, 
hatred, and greed. It is then the Muslim's duty to struggle hard for the victory of Islam. 
The goal being the elevation of one's humanity, the methods used to achieve that goal 
should, therefore, remain subordinate. Activities aimed at eradicating poverty, exploita- 
tion and injustice, and at improving the quality of life should be seen as a means and 
not an end in itself Clearly then, such a view of life has tremendous significance for the 
human being's relationship with his fellow beings, with the environment and with the 
inanimate objects around him. 

The concept of vicegerency has another implication. Being a vicegerent and a 
trustee, the Muslim is to serve Allah, a being bigger than himself, larger than mankind 
as a whole. The ultimate object of his loyalty is Allah, a transcendental power, a notion 
that helps to check human arrogance and to control human ego. It reminds man of his 
humble station in the totality of the cosmos. Given the fact that power in its various 
dimensions has always been at the very heart of the great conflicts in history, remind- 
ing man of his actual condition is of utmost significance and vital for the creation of a 
sane, rational society. 

The identity of man as a vicegerent and a slave of Allah at one and the same time 
are embodied in the revolutionary concept of tawhid, which is the foundation of 
Mawdudl's scheme of ideas. Through this concept, he reminded men that the spiritual 
and the material, this world and the hereafter, constitute a single continuum; that there 
are two fundamental forms of society in existence, one based upon tawMd and the other 
upon shirk (the assignments of partners to Allah) - the two being in perpetual conflict; 
and that man's duty as a vicegerent is to be active, to work for the glory of Islam in 
obedience to and for the sake of Allah. Mawdtidi's entire life was consumed in com- 
municating this idea and in helping man discover his humanity, which is his spiritual 

What MawdiidI said could have been said by those well versed in Islam - the ulama. 
But they were busy either with "amulets, intonations and prayer beads" and thereby 
sapping the vigor of the Muslim community or with questions concerning the detafls 


offlqh (religious jurisprudence) and distracted the Muslims off the foundations of Islam 
"until they forget what they were created for and ignored the sublime purposes for 
which Islam stands."^ MawdtidI therefore directed his scathing attack against these tra- 
ditional figures of authority accusing them of betraying the people and was, in turn, 
accused by traditional authorities as being the least qualified to provide an interpreta- 
tion of Islam. The ulama's critique of MawdtidI was, however, no more than a polemic 
usually with unsubstantiated accusations.' 

The problem with the general body of ulama was not that they did not understand 
Islam but that they evinced no recognition that the truth they so clearly saw needed 
restating in modern times. Their failure was their inability to relate Islam to modernity, 
to communicate it effectively and to make intelligible or accessible to modern man 
the inner reality of the faith. MawdudT represented this modern trend and carried it 
vigorously forward. His writings suggest that his primary concern was the modern 
man. His magnum opus, the Tafhim al-Our'an was written for the consumption of 
"middle-class educated Muslims" and therefore, using Urdu as his medium of expres- 
sion, he tried "to render the flawless Arabic of the original into flawless Urdu."^ 
Commanding a masterly prose style, Mawdudi is one of the most widely read Muslim 
authors of today. 

Mawdudi, unlike the majority of ulama, was alive to the problems of modernity as 
they confront the Muslim world. All his writings bear evidence of his acute awareness 
of the situation and problems of the present age. On innumerable occasions he cited in 
support of his arguments, recent researches in the fields of physics, medicine, archeol- 
ogy, economics, and the like. He covered an extremely wide spectrum of subjects, all 
vindicating the position of Islam by discussing the matter not merely from an ethical 
and spiritual viewpoint but also from an economic, political and sociological angle 
appropriate to the subject matter He clarified for the modern reader aspects of Islamic 
approach and explained how Islam furnishes man with definite guidance in political, 
social, economic and cultural matters. His success in explaining the relevance of Islam 
in modern tines may be debated and analytical depth of his understanding of modern 
sciences can be faulted but there is no doubt that he was aware of the importance of 
issues and problems confi:'onting the modern mind. Mawdudfs appeal has grown in 
geometric progression largely among those educated strata of society which are sup- 
posed to be modernized in the Western sense of the term. 

Mawdiidfs basic goal in "Muslim identity formation" was to make Islam the supreme 
organizing principle in the social and political fife of the Muslim ummah. The concept 
upon which he based this was iqamdt-i din, which literally means "the establishment of 
religion," According to this idea, all institutions of civil society and the state must be 
totally subordinated to the authority of divine law as revealed in the Qur'an and prac- 
ticed by Prophet Muhammad. Islam, which is a universal and comprehensive way of 
life, is a well-ordered system, a consistent whole with set answers to all problems. Its 
fundamental postulate is tawhid and its envisaged scheme of life is known as shari'ah 
and is established on the bedrock of faith. It is on that foundation that the edifice of 
moral, social, political, and economic system is created. The ideal Islamic society, to 
Mawdudi, consists of people who, through putting their faith in Islam, have liberated 
themselves from all allegiances except to Allah: such a society would be free and "theo- 
democratic" and its citizens would be as equal as the teeth of a comb,* 


Muslims, according to Mawdudl, belong to the ummah wasatah (just and balanced 
community), and, as such, are duty bound to enjoin what is right and forbid what is 
evil. The Our'an, he wrote, is not a book of abstract theories and religious enigmas to 
be unraveled in monasteries and universities: it is a book of movement and agitation 
revealed to invite the people to the one right way of Allah. Consequently, Islam is the 
religion of revolutionary struggle and utmost exertion {jihad) aimed at shattering the 
myth of the divinity of demi-gods and promoting the cause of Allah by establishing 
the Islamic political order Islam, therefore, is a dynamic force, a worldwide revolu- 
tionary movement bent upon transforming the world to be in accord with its tenets and 
principles to benefit mankind. "Jihad is but another name for the attempt to establish 
the Divine Order; the Our'an therefore declares it to be a touchstone of belief" In this 
struggle, there is no room for bystanders, spectators and backsliders, and the venture 
is so crucial that, neglecting it, "one has no means left to please Allah." To Mawdudl, 
jihad meant fighting oppression by pen and by involvement in public affairs. Undeterred 
by time and expediency, he dedicated his life to the cause of Islam. The persisting 
needling of the government in the renaissance movement he founded and led, and 
hardships and personal discomfiture he endured on a number of occasions in Pakistani 
prisons (October 4, 1948-May28, 1950; March 28, 1953-May25, 1955; January 6, 
1964-October 10, 1964; January 29, 1967-March 16, 1967) and once under the 
threat of a death sentence by the military tribunal (on May 9 , 1953) are perhaps indica- 
tive of the significance of the man and his ideas. 

Mawdudl's ideas and writings are nothing new and in that sense he was not an 
original thinker. He himself disclaimed that he had discovered any new principle or doc- 
trine; he was presenting only what the Our'an and the Sunnah have taught. He simply 
reminded his fellow Muslims of the most ancient covenant between the Creator and His 
creation and of what is termed in the Our'an, a "transaction of sale"; "Surely, Allah 
has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this that they shall have 
a paradise in exchange" (9;111). Mawdudl did not repudiate the past, he simply 
renewed it and made it relevant to the present and future. It is in this sense that 
Mawdudl emerges as the most systematic thinker of modern Islam. His major contri- 
bution, as aptly summarized by Khurshid Ahmad; 

[i]s that he has devoted himself to the socio-politico-cultural aspect of Islam and has dis- 
cussed those problems which the writers on Islam were avoiding for a long time in recent 
past. He has tried to meet the new intellectual challenge of the West and has presented 
Islam in the language of today. In political thought, his main contribution is that he has 
not only presented the teachings of Islam in a clear, precise, cogent and convincing way 
but has also interpreted them for our times and has tried to suggest the form which the 
Islamic tenets can take to crystallise in the world of twentieth century.'' 

Two-Nation Theories 

Mawdudl's political thought was conditioned by the sociopolitical and religious envi- 
ronment in which he lived and operated. The pre-independent Indian environment was 


dominated by three major political forces: the British Raj, the Indian National Congress, 
and the All-India Muslim League. While the British rule was steadily weakening in 
determination and effective powers, the Indian National Congress was concerned with 
uniting the Indians for independence. The British and the Congress were determined to 
preserve the unity of India (though for different reasons) while the All-India Muslim 
League was wedded to the concept of Muslim nationalism, seeking a homeland for the 
Muslims of the subcontinent. Indeed, the poet-philosopher of Islam, AUamah Muham- 
mad Iqbal (1876-1938), had made, in 1930, a proposal for a separate Muslim home- 
land. Iqbal had a federated India in mind with a consolidated Muslim state as its 
constituent unit. Ten years later Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), once hailed as 
the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity, took up Iqbal's notion of a separate Muslim 
homeland and enunciated what became known as the "two-nation" theory. He talked 
of Islam and Hinduism as two "different and distinct social orders" whose adherents 
can never evolve a "common nationality." He added, "Musalmans are a nation accord- 
ing to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory 
and their state. "^ Accordingly, the Muslim League in its annual session at Lahore 
adopted on March 23, 1940 a resolution, subsequently known as "the Pakistan Reso- 
lution." It called for the creation of independent Muslim states in the Northwestern and 
Eastern zones of the subcontinent where the Muslims constituted the majority of the 

Mawdtidl, however, argued that a national government based on secular or Muslim 
nationalism would not be qualitatively different from the imperial government of India. 
Nationalism was an alien concept imported by colonialism to break up the unity of the 
Muslim world. They likewise injected Western currencies, influence, thought, and all 
sorts of heresies into the Islamic way of life. Being a divisive phenomenon, a nation 
state cannot be helpful in bringing about the Islamic sociopolitical system. Mawdtidl, 
therefore, rejected the existence of Muslim nationalism as incompatible with Islam 
which is universal. His interest was in iqdmat-i dm establishing the Islamic way of life. 
The methodology for the establishment of Islam's ascendancy, Mawdudl argued, was 
not through the nationalist struggle. He argued that a national sh-uggle may produce 
a nation-state for the Indian Muslims, but definitely not an Islamic state. He also 
mounted scathing criticism against the Muslim League for having accepted the West's 
supremacy in the realm of knowledge, culture, and philosophy. Thus, the Jamaat-e- 
Islami and the All-India Muslim League were advocating solutions to the Muslim 
problem from two different perspectives: one passionately involved in a national strug- 
gle for independence and the establishment of a separate homeland for Muslims, and 
the other struggling for the domination of pristine Islam as a complete way of life. 

Mawdtidl, however, was vehemently opposed to the Congress that tried to mobilize 
Muslims in the ethos of secular democracy, and to wean them away from the Muslim 
League on strictly economic issues. The Congress called for Hindu-Muslim unity-based 
"composite nationalism," which Mawdudl felt was impossible to achieve. He argued 
that if the Muslims accept this type of nationalism and join the Congress, they would 
be annihilated and absorbed into the Hindu majority. "What was uppermost in my 
mind," wrote Mawdudl, "was to keep alive in the Muslims a sense of their separate 
entity and prevent their absorption into a non-Muslim Community"^ To Mawdtidl, 


Muslims constituted a "brotherhood" entrusted with a comprehensive system of life to 
offer the world. Were they to practice Islam faithfully, the matter of a national home- 
land would become "absolutely immaterial." He argued for the Muslim community to 
turn inward and revive the traditions that once brought it power, glory, and prosperity. 
In his voluminous writings, MawdudI argued that if India's Muslims were to survive as 
a community, they would have to treat Islam as their "way of life," not merely as a 
system of faith and worship. They must merge their personalities and existences into 
Islam. They subordinate all their roles to the one role of being Muslims. Mawdudl's 
greatest contribution of the time was that he made Muslims cognizant of their identity 
and raised in them fervor to organize their polity on the principles of Islam. While 
opposing Muslim nationalism, Mawdtidl was promoting the cause of "two-nation" 
theory. He even presented "two-nation" theories of his own. He proposed dividing India 
into two culturally autonomous democratic entities functioning either as a federation 
or as a loose confederation. The articles he wrote to that effect were collected and 
published in his three-volume Urdu book, Musalman awr Mawjudah Siyasi Kashmakash 
[Muslims and the Current Political Crisis). His writings provided the Muslim League with 
much needed intellectual ammunition to fight the nationalist movement. MawdudI is 
therefore recognized as an intellectual force behind the two-nation theory and a front 
against united Indian nationalism. According to I.H. Oureshi, "Mawdudl's rejoinder 
was . . . logical, authoritative, polite and devastating. ... It did not win him too many 
adherents and followers, but it did serve the purpose of turning sincere and intelligent 
Muslims away from the Congress who mostly swelled the ranks of the Muslim League 
as followers of the Quaid-e-Azam."'' Contrary to the prevailing view, MawdudI did not 
oppose Pakistan. He, however, opposed the Muslim League and its leadership. His 
concern then was Islam, and the ability of those who sought to represent it. The period 
between the founding of the Jamaat in 1941 and the advent of Pakistan in 1947 was 
spent in mobilizing public opinion for the propagation and adoption of an Islamic ide- 
ological concept with a view to transforming India into an abode of Islam. 

Islam in Pakistan 

Following the Partition of India in 1947, MawdudI, along with many party leaders, 
moved to Pakistan and established the headquarters of the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan 
in Lahore. The multiple reinforcing cleavages, elite incoherence, and tortuous and 
complicated political maneuverings during the formative phase of Pakistan, perhaps, 
influenced the Jamaat leaders to become active in Pakistani politics. 

The Jamaat, according to Israr Ahmad, adopted the following two-point program: 

1. To embark upon a comprehensive movement for the implementation of 
Islamic ideology in order to convert to Islam the newly established state of 

2. To bring about a revolutionary change in the political leadership of the 
country so that the resources of the state are harnessed in the service of 


Israr Ahmad blames MawdudI for restricting the scope of Jamaat's activities by its 
exclusive concern for the Muslims to the exclusion of non-Muslims and for transform- 
ing the Jamaat into a nationalist organization serving the cause of Islam in Pakistan/" 
Mawdudl's reasons for subscribing to an "Islam in Pakistan" thesis were twofold. First, 
for an ideology to be useful, it must have an empirical import and make reference to 
particular cases or examples because it is impossible to build a pattern of life merely in 
the abstract. Second, for an ideology to attract worldwide attention, it must demon- 
strate its worth by evolving a happy and successful system of life and must present its 
theories and fundamental principles in operation. Consequently, MawdudI thought it 
essential to have the Islamic state established in one country first so as to be emulated 
worldwide later. 

The Jamaat started an organized campaign to realize the first of the two objectives. 
On January 6 and February 19, 1948, MawdudI delivered two lectures at the Law 
College in Lahore in which he demanded the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to 
accept the following four demands: 

1. That the sovereignty belongs to Allah alone and that the state shall exercise 
its authority as His agent. 

2. That shari'ah will be the basic law of the land. 

3 . That the laws in conflict with shari'ah will gradually be repealed and that no 
such laws shall be enacted in future. 

4. That the state in exercising its powers shall not transgress the limits pre- 
scribed by Islam. 

The Lahore lectures were followed by a tour of Pakistan in April and May 1948, 
extensive lobbying with the members of the Constituent Assembly, and a concerted 
public campaign to press upon the leaders to incorporate the above points into the con- 
stitution of Pakistan. On March 7. 1949 the Constituent Assembly passed the Objec- 
tives Resolution embodying the four-point demand. With the passage of the Resolution, 
Pakistan, according to MawdudI, in principle took the shape of an Islamic state. It is 
not the Resolution per se but the fact of it being adopted by the government in response 
to the unanimous demand of the people to lead an Islamic way of life that made it an 
Islamic state. It would be an exaggeration to credit MawdudI and his organization exclu- 
sively for the success. However, the organized strength of the Jamaat under Mawdudl's 
leadership did play a major role. It may thus be construed as a triumph of MawdudI 
and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan. 

The Resolution, setting forth the ideals and values, acted as a guide for constitution 
makers in Pakistan in 1956, 1962, 1972, and 1973 in devising an Islamic order for 
the country. It was incorporated, with minor modifications, in all the constitutions of 
Pakistan. The Objectives Resolution was made a substantive part of the constitution by 
President General Ziyaul Haq through a constitutional amendment that was promul- 
gated on March 2, 198 5. 

The Objectives Resolution did not produce the desired result. Understandably, the 
institutionalization of Islam in Pakistan would have jeopardized the vested interests 
of the feudal and capitalist forces as well as that the of civil-military bureaucracy. 


The Jamaat consequently intensified its efforts through public meetings, contacting 
members of parliament, and mobilizing strong public pressure to make Pakistan a truly 
Islamic republic. Mawdtidl produced several treatises on Islamic political theory. Islamic 
law and constitution, Islamic judicial and legal structures and the modalities for ush- 
ering in the Islamic political system in Pakistan. It is to the credit of Mawdtidl that he 
introduced Islamic idioms and concepts into the unfolding national political discourse 
and launched a vigorous campaign for the Islamization of Pakistan. Mawdtidl coined 
or popularized concepts like "Islamic ideology," "Islamic politics," "Islamic constitu- 
tion," "iqdmat-i dm," "nizam-e-Mustafa," and "Islamic way of life." These concepts 
became key elements of Islamist discourse in Pakistan. 

Mawdudl's intensification of efforts for the Islamic system involved him in intense 
conflicts with authorities. The dispute took many forms: the 1953 riots against the 
minority Ahmadi community and the Report of the Court of Inquiry which followed, 
bringing into sharp focus the secularist view in polar opposition to the view of the pos- 
itive Islamic state, and debate over the constitution of 1956 preceded by the formula- 
tion of the basic principles of the Islamic state by 3 1 ulama. This was in response to the 
challenge thrown by the government to the ulama to produce a unanimous statement 
on the nature of the Islamic constitution. In the conference of the ulama gathered to 
produce an Islamic constitution, Mawdtidl took the lead and laid the basis for the pro- 
ductive cooperative effort. "Mawdtidl read his principles first, and these were supported 
with some additions by the members of the board. "^^ There was also heated debate over 
the constitution of 1962, which initially erased the word "Islamic" from the country's 
nomenclature but was reinserted later on to read Islamic Republic of Pakistan. "This 
was due largely to the advocacy of this idea by Mawdudi that the constitution was so 

Although the constitution of 1956 envisioned the law and administration of the 
state as "modern even broadly secular," it endorsed the concept of an Islamic state and 
designated Pakistan as an Islamic Republic. It required the Head of State to be a Muslim, 
contained the preamble based upon the Objectives Resolution and provided for nullifi- 
cation of law repugnant to the Our'an and the Sunnah. The constitution of 1962 con- 
tained somewhat similar provisions though it considerably watered down the Islamic 
character of the state. This is largely due to the high-handed method of Ayub Khan's 
military regime. 

The Islamic provisions of these constitutions, undeniably, were merely "high- 
sounding phrases" having no correspondence with the country's sociopolitical and 
legal set up. It is, however, difficult to ignore their importance as an index to the rele- 
vance of Islam as the framework of the state. They also provided evidence of the success 
of Mawdudi and his supporters "in getting Islam acknowledged as the basis of 
Pakistan's constitution. It is not possible for any government to reverse this decision."^ ^ 

Islam as Ideology 

In facing contemporary challenges it is not enough to preach sermons and invite people 
to adopt high moral standards. Rather, it is necessary to bring about fundamental 


rupture with conventional norms of life. MawdiidT argued relentlessly to think within 
the totality of the Islamic system and recognize its relevance to the contemporary sit- 
uation. Without moral values as internal to and constitutive of it, the system is bound 
to aberrate, as it did, and develop an ethic, which run counter to Islam. Consequently, 
government and political office became an instrument for self-gratification and the 
brute exercise of power. The present malaise could be corrected only if people are mobi- 
lized and a total transformation of society is actualized. This could be done not by bor- 
rowing alien ideologies but by the very tradition that other secular ideologies consider 
as the opium of the masses. But in order to achieve this, Islam has to be presented into 
the terms of modern reality. Mawdudi's greatness lay in accompfishing this Herculean 
task of explaining the real nature of the faith. 

MawdudI stated unequivocally that Islam is not a religion in the sense commonly 
understood by Western usage - that is no more than the sum of several beliefs, rituals 
and sentiments - but rather a system of life that deals with all aspects of man's exis- 
tence and performance. It is a belief system, a complete way of life, a message and a 
movement for the establishment of an Islamic order It is a "revolutionary ideology" con- 
sisting of the worship of Allah, belief in the Hereafter, and adherence to the practice of 
the Holy Prophet. It is comprehensive and total. In addition to its other-worldly dimen- 
sion, it has a strong this-worldly dimension. MawdudI showed righteous discontent and 
irritation with the partial vision of Islam which predominates the Muslim world. He 
scorned those who believe that Islam has nothing to do with the cultural, political, eco- 
nomic, legal, judicial and other matters pertaining to this world. The Our'an teaches not 
simply "to preach" Islam but "to act upon it, promote it, and actually enforce it." 

It is this emphasis on the sociopolitical aspect of the Islamic scheme for human life 
which distinguishes MawdiidI from others who looked down upon power, political 
authority, and action as something beneath them, in itself contemptible and hence to 
be eschewed. For MawdudI, the fusion of religion and politics is the dictate of Islam and 
cannot be disregarded. The choice between Creator and Caesar simply does not arise. 
For Islam, there is no Caesar, there is only Allah and His Messenger. The sharT'ah incor- 
porates the temporal within the spiritual. There is an added reason for Mawdudi's 
emphasis upon politics and authority. While there are ideological orientations and 
movements in all branches of scholarship and human thought, it is politics that gives 
ideology its social experience, its practical articulation and meaning. This is hardly sur- 
prising since ideology and politics are inextricably intertwined and coterminous such 
that politics has ideology as its operational framework that gives it its meaning while 
politics provides a mode by which ideology is translated into practical actions. This gives 
the ideas their practical relevance in the real world. 

According centrality to power and authority in human affairs is also an answer to 
the problems of inequality and oppression which have dominated all discussions about 
political and economic structures since the dawn of civilization. To MawdudI, 

Whenever corruption is let loose in the world, whatever injustice is done, whenever 
tyranny or oppression exists, whatever poison flows in the veins of human culture, eco- 
nomic life and politics, whatever misuse of resources and human knowledge for destruc- 
tion instead of welfare and enlightenment there may be, the reason is bad leadership.^' 


Power and authority are "the decisive factors in human affairs." Just as the train 
moves in the direction intended by the driver, human civilization travels in the direc- 
tion determined by those controlling the centers of power Right, pious leadership 
ensures good, healthy society. A society in the hands of rebels "drifts towards rebellion 
against Allah, towards man's exploitation by man and towards moral degeneration and 
cultural pollution."^' Human salvation therefore depends upon wresting control of 
power and authority and placing it in the hands of those who are righteous and com- 
mitted to following the Divine guidance. Power and authority is desired not for itself but 
to root out the evils afflicting humanity since, as MawdiidT said, "Corrupt rule is the 
root of all evils you find in the world." 

Mawdudl's motive in "politicizing" Islam has been misunderstood and misinter- 
preted by many and was specifically criticized by "traditional" scholars. MawdudI was 
accused of promoting "Mawdudiydt" teachings particular only to him, and of encour- 
aging heterodoxy within Islam. Many ulama also argued that MawdudI had sacrificed 
the intellectual foundations and the spiritual expressions of the Islamic faith, which 
had supported individualist tendencies in the past.^'' Far from reducing Islam into a 
political formula, MawdudI sought to sanctify politics by bringing it within the fold of 
Islam, such that man's political life is always situated within the larger frame of his 
religious and spiritual life. This is the most reliable defense against the corrupting 
influence of politics. Muslims have been enjoined by Allah to seek power or to get the 
support of a ruling authority, MawdudI explained: 

so that I may, with the force of the coercive powers of the state, establish virtue, eradicate 
evil, eliminate surging tide of corruption and vulgarity, set at right the disruption engulf- 
ing humanity and administer justice according to your revealed law.^^ 

Power thus tamed helps actualize the Islamic system, which is impossible by mere 
verbal invitation and sermon preaching. It is, therefore, incumbent upon every Muslim 
to define and apply the relevance of Islam to every single item in human living and 
create a universal order in which the totality of Islam can be operationalized. MawdudI 
understood and conveyed the very heart of the message of Islam and this is perhaps 
the reason for his importance and his success in influencing the thinking of Muslim 
intellectuals all over the world. 

Implied in Mawdudl's urging to action, to plunge into the exuberant task of creat- 
ing a humane world order is the recognition that there is inherent in the structure of 
this world a right socioeconomic and political shape, which is profoundly relevant to 
the quality of life within it, and that the meaning of dynamism lies in the degree to 
which these have been actualized. Nevertheless, there has been an apparent failure on 
the part of Muslims to generate an interpretation of Islam that could serve as a work- 
able theory of politics, economics, and society in the present situation. Breaking the 
impasse of Muslim quietude and creating an acceptable framework constitutes the most 
formidable challenge to Muslim intellectuals today. MawdiidI tried hard and produced 
a lucid blueprint of an Islamic order detailing the constitutional and legal features 
around the shari'ah of an Islamic state. He is more explicit than most of his contem- 
poraries in his stand for the principles of electiveness of rulers, their accountability 
to the ruled, their obligation to consult the elected representative of the people. 


and the right of ordinary citizens to criticize all those in power and authority. It must 
be pointed out that Mawdudl did not delve into the technical world of the specialist, 
but has expounded the essentials of Islamic approach in economics, political, cultural, 
and other fields of activity. The ultimate social, economic, and political goal of Islam 
is the establishment of justice and elimination of tyranny and oppression. It aims at 
individual freedom, social dignity, and universal equity, in short, promoting all that is 
good and proper and preventing all that is harmful and evil. 

Islam and the Economy 

Islam is not only organically related to politics but is also integral to the economic struc- 
ture of the state. Mawdudl mentioned private property, freedom of enterprise, laissez- 
faire etc., as the basic tenets of modern capitalism and recognized an element of truth 
in these principles for which he has been called "a Muslim Adam Smith" of Pakistan. ^^ 
He, however, found capitalism carrying these principles to the extreme by undue 
emphasis on self-interest and profit motive, and by legislating usury (riba), which 
caused widespread suffering and privation. The capitalist economy, he wrote, is domi- 
nated by an "inhuman evil," usury. Its trade cycle is in the hands of the usurious 
bankers, brokers, industrialists, and business magnates; unemployment is acute and 
there is poverty amidst plenty. The communist system, on the other hand, showed some 
achievements in the sphere of social welfare and state planning but this was achieved 
at a great cost in terms of human lives. Communism deprived people of their liberty 
and denied moral values. Corruption became rampant and a totalitarian regime 
came to be established, which took recourse in extreme repressive measures. Islam cuts 
the roots of capitalism but unlike communism preserves man's freedom and his 
link with God. Islam, in other words, is a golden mean between capitalism and 

Within certain limits. Islam accepts private property and makes no distinction 
between means of production and forces of production nor does it aim at equal distri- 
bution of wealth. The materialistic concept of economic equality, Mawdudl argued, is 
against nature and any artificial imposition of such equality would inevitably fail. 
Islam, therefore, calls for just and equitable distribution of wealth in the society. Islam 
ensures economic justice by providing equality of opportunity, which makes formation 
of static classes or groups impossible. Along with economic justice, Islam uses two 
methods which put an end to social imbalance and contradictions. First, it puts some 
restrictions on the earning and accumulation of wealth. For instance, in the means for 
the acquisition of wealth it makes a distinction between the permissible and the pro- 
hibited and imposes obligatory zakah, wealth tax, at varying rates. In addition, Islam 
gives general command of voluntary spending in the way of God and thus establishes 
the rights of the state and the entire community over an individual's wealth. Second, 
Islam guarantees social security for those who are unable to earn a livelihood. It is the 
duty of an Islamic state to arrange for employment, clothing, education, and the like 
for all citizens.^'' 

In the matter of economy, as in others, Mawdudl gave priority to the non-economic 
goals of safeguarding the freedom of the individual and his moral and ethical 


development. Social justice, equality of opportunity, and cooperation came next in 
his list of objectives of the Islamic economic system. One lacuna in Mawdudl's 
economic thinking is the omission of the role of absentee landlordism in curtailing 
people's freedom especially in Pakistan. While Mawdudl realized the menace of mone- 
tary riba and explained the rationale for its prohibition in Islam, he failed to understand 
that absentee landlordism is a disguised form of riba concerning agricultural land. 
This omission has resulted in the elimination of the much-needed revolutionary 
spirit from the Islamic movement in Pakistan. Mawdudl must have realized this 
and hence the Jamaat Manifesto for the 1970 elections in Pakistan opened with a cate- 
gorical statement opposing both landlordism and modern Western capitalism. 

In any case, the declared purpose of Islamic economics is to identify and establish 
an economic order that conforms to Islamic scripture and traditions. Its core positions 
took shape in the 1940s, and three decades later efforts were made to implement 
them in many countries. In Pakistan, Malaysia, and elsewhere, governments are now 
running centralized Islamic redistribution systems known as zakah. More than 70 
countries have Islamic banks that claim to offer a riba-bee alternative to conventional 
banking. Pakistan, Iran, and a few other countries have made every form of interest 
illegal. They have convinced all banks, including foreign subsidiaries, to adopt, at least 
formally. Islamic methods of deposit making and loan taking. Attempts are also 
under way to disseminate religious norms of price setting, bargaining, and wage 

Reform and Revolution 

Mawdudl realized that the prevailing iniquitous dehumanizing order cannot be 
replaced by a humane order unless there is a fundamental change in attitudes and 
values. Mawdudl did not think that it is possible or even desirable to bring about 
societal transformation overnight. Nor did he succumb to the illusion that the road to 
a new order could be paved merely with pious wishes and good intentions. It is useless 
to blame the adversary or bewail the times in which one's lot was cast. However heavy 
the odds, it was the duty of a faithful never to feel helpless. What he should do first is 
to make a beginning with himself by getting rid of selfishness from his heart. This sug- 
gests that change is dependent upon the moral strength of the changing agent. As he 
puts it boldly 

the human life is governed not by physical laws, but by moral laws . . . the fundamental 
cause of man's rise and decline and the greatest influence on his destiny is the extent and 
quality of his moral strength.^" 

To him, the moral being is the human being. Morality is the shield against corruption 
and temptations to abuse power. 

The conviction that the corrupting influence of power can be checked by adhering 
to moral precepts may seem Utopian, unlikely to work in practice. The successful 
demonstration of "humanity at its best" by some 400 companions of the last Prophet 


of Islam in running tlie state of Medina and MawdiidT's own success in producing a 
group of people characterized by personal integrity and unquestioned sacrificial vigor 
for the cause of Islam was enough to suggest that his method could work. In any case, 
for Mawdudl this was the only method. The problem of tyranny, exploitation and injus- 
tice had to be tackled at the root. The best way, Mawdudl argued, is to train all those 
who volunteer for service to Allah before allowing them to undertake jihad and estab- 
lish Allah's rule on earth. Mawdtidrs stress on the salutary effect produced by the 
morally upright is a pointer to the lack of these qualities in any existing state and a con- 
sequent drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. 

The social transformation advocated by Mawdudl presupposed changes in the minds 
and hearts of men. The French, Nazi, and Russian revolutions have erred in adopting 
the tools of hatred and violence and in trying to change men by bluntly reacting against 
status quo and its wholesale destruction. The need is to tackle the problem of change 
within man, in his thoughts, motives, and behavior pattern. Such changes cannot be 
produced overnight. They cannot be accelerated or even anticipated beyond a point. In 
society, as in the human organism, there is a safe rate of change. Voluntary and peace- 
ful changes may be slow, but they may be more enduring. Non-violent participatory 
change has occurred throughout history. As Erich Fromm points out, "the liberation of 
the working class from the status of objects of ruthless exploitation to that of the influ- 
ential economic partners in Western industrialized society is an example of non-violent 
change."-^ Such changes, however, have been the exception rather than the rule. But 
it is the exception that Mawdtidl aimed at. The Islamic revolution aiming at total trans- 
formation of society is to be brought about piece-meal beginning with the personal 
reformation of the individual. Mawdudl, who spent his life battling against social obscu- 
rantism, colonial domination, and national prejudice knew that great, lasting changes 
could not be ordained at will and at short notice. 

Violence and Revolution 

Thus, Mawdudl differed profoundly from the tradition that considers violence as a 
defining characteristic of revolution. His main point of divergence from that h-adition 
lay in his conception of the evolutionary process. He viewed revolution as involving 
more than the overthrow of a political regime. Revolution is a process of comprehen- 
sive and fundamental change in the system, which requires, first and foremost, chang- 
ing the man himself his outlook, his motivation and his personality. 

Mawdtidl insisted on the evolutionary approach for carrying out social change. He 
was opposed to all unlawful, unconstitutional, and subversive acts and distrusted 
political radicalism of any kind. Respect for law and order was indispensable to the 
civilized society and hence he cautioned the revolutionaries to resist the temptation of 
resorting to the methods and techniques of "secret movements and bloody revolu- 
tions." Mawdudl did not believe that anything positive could result from disrupting the 
social order Furthermore, creating disorder "is against the wish of Allah." Islamic 
movement is for the cause of Allah and it should be conducted openly and peacefully 
even at the risk of courting hardship and miseries. 


Whatever I have done, I have always done it openly within the boundaries of law and exist- 
ing constitution, so much that I have never violated even those laws which I have fought 
hard to oppose. I have tried to change them through lawful and constitutional means and 
never adopted the path of violation of the law."" 

Mawdudl justified his predilection for a non-violent approach on theoretical as well 
as practical grounds. Thus one argument was that it is against the natural order of 
things to force change: "We should not overlook the basic law of nature that all stable 
and far-reaching changes in the collective life of people come about gradually." From 
the practical point of view, if change was to be lasting it had to be carried out slowly: 
for "the more sudden a change, the more short-lived it generally turns out to be". A 
perusal of the Our'an and hadith reveals that the last Prophet of Islam had adopted a 
gradual but effective approach to translate Islamic ideals into reality. He did admit, 
however, that the Prophet Muhammad did resort to force but only to resist persecution, 
and yet no more than 1200 people were killed on both sides in the course of all the 
wars fought during the Prophet's time. Keeping in view the history of violent revolu- 
tion in the world, the prophetic revolution deserved to be called a "bloodless revolu- 
tion." While insisting on the revolutionary approach, Mawdudi did not rule out the 
possibility of resorting to force in exceptional cases. Force was to be used to resist ruth- 
less persecution, which makes the peaceful propagation of Islam impossible. Force is 
never used to compel anybody to embrace Islam against his will. Its purpose is only to 
establish conditions conducive to free propagation of Islam. 

Force also plays a role in creating an Islamic character in the people but it is to be 
used only as a last resort. The order of precedence in the Islamic movement would be, 
first, to reform people's minds through education and preaching. Second, to build their 
character along Islamic lines. Third, to take steps to prepare strong public opinion 
which fosters good and suppresses evil. Fourth, to establish such a social, economic, 
and political order that facilitates doing good deeds and shuns all evil practices. Should 
all these attempts fail, then force is to be used only "as a last resort" and should be used 
so openly and mercilessly that it deters all criminal tendencies. 

Mawdudl's evolutionary approach to societal transformation gave priority to a 
change in political leadership of the country so that the resources of the state are har- 
nessed in the service of Islam. The revolutionary movement. MawdtidI contended, has 
no choice but to capture state authority, for without it the pious order that Islam envis- 
ages can never be established. Additionally, it becomes impossible for the revolutionary 
party itself to act upon its own ideals under an alien state system. 

A man who believes in communism cannot order his life on the principles of communism 
while in England or America, for the capitalist state system will bear down on him with all 
its power and it will be quite impossible for him to escape the retribution of the ruling 
authority. Likewise, it is impossible for a Muslim to succeed in his intention of observing 
the Islamic pattern of life under the authority of a non-Islamic system of government."' 

However. Mawdudl declared that the capturing of the state power must be accom- 
plished through constitutional means, i.e., elections, since shan'ah forbids resorting to 


unconstitutional means for the transformation of the political system. Consequent 
upon this decision, the Jamaat took part in almost all elections and failed miserably 
to capture power Jamaat's participation in electoral politics had an adverse effect on 
the moral behavior of its members. The Jamaat degenerated from an ideal Islamic 
revolutionary party into a right-wing political party, along with the adoption of 
all the practices that may be objectionable from an Islamic point of view but which are 
perhaps unavoidable for running a purely partisan election campaign. Some of 
Mawdudl's followers, especially the student wing of the Jamaat, did resort to violence. 
This is interpreted as retaliatory measures occasioned by the use of ruffians and hooli- 
gans by secular political elite bent upon denying the Islamic forces a space for open 
political participation and competition. In general, however, the Jamaat and its sup- 
porters did not abandon the democratic method temporarily to attain power by violent 
means. In the 2002 elections, the Jamaat forged an alliance with Islam-based parties 
and succeeded in forming a government in the North West Frontier Province of 

Islam, Modernity, and Tradition 

MawdudI saw the need for enlightened Muslims if the Islamic revolution was to 
succeed. Unfortunately, the Muslims were in retreat. "Their minds and souls have 
passed under the sway of the West. Their thinking is being molded by Western ideas 
and their intellectual powers are developing in accordance with the principles of 
Western thought. . . ."^* This "dangerous situation" has given rise to two extreme reac- 
tions: the "static" and the "defeatist". The "static" Muslim literature opposing technol- 
ogy and scientific progress demonstrated the moral failure of the West and asserted the 
validity of the Muslim heritage as a whole. These were essentially a reaction against 
Western criticism rather than a confident statement of Islam. MawdudI reproached the 
"static" religious conservatives for rigorous formalism and for their unwillingness 
"to comprehend the principles and essential features of the new civilization of the West 
. . . and to fit these new instruments of progress, in keeping with the principles of Islam, 
into the educational system and social life of the Muslims."-' The "defeatist" reaction 
came from the modernist Muslims, the Westernized elite. They acknowledged superi- 
ority of Western culture and values and tried to mold Islam along Western lines. Over 
time, these two postures hardened, the former leading to dogmatism and the latter 
degenerating into the subordination of Islamic value systems to the abstract values of 
science and reason. Least concerned about the existing socioeconomic and political 
realities of the Muslims, they were rendered only marginally relevant to the welfare 
of the Muslim community and of the whole human race. The education system the 
modernists have adopted is an alien one and is causing incalculable damage to the 
Muslim ummah. This education system, MawdudI lamented, has produced "brown 
Englishmen," 'Anglo-Mohammedans," and 'Anglo-Indians."^'' Thus MawdudI argued 
that allowing such an indiscriminate welcome to ever3rthing modern was the great- 
est danger to the ummah, since it would subject the entire nation to psychological 


Many Muslim reformers in the past have tried to remedy this siclcness. Sir Syed 
Ahmad Khan (12 32-1 3 16 AH/181 7-1898 CE) and Muhammad 'Abduh (1260-1 323 
AH/1845-1905 CE), to name just two, have been most famous in this respect. They 
believed that what the system needed was the addition of Western sciences to our exist- 
ing curriculum of Islamic disciplines. Their view was based on the assumption that 
Western sciences were value neutral and that they would not do any harm to Islamic 
values. President Jamal Abd al-Nasser of Egypt put this idea into practice by changing 
the very character of al-Azhar, but without any fruitful results in the area of modern 
sciences and technology. Worse still, the traditional Islamic teachings, desperately in 
need of reform, remained as sterile as ever The Westernizing Muslim modernists, even 
if they meant well in their desire to defend Islam, in effect presented a truncated and 
deformed Islam. 

To MawdudT, such educational reforms would prove to be unproductive, even coun- 
terproductive. What is needed, according to him, is to reorient the system and to 
Islamize the knowledge. To Islamize, to Mawdiidl, is "to critically analyze the Western 
humanities and sciences and to bring them into line with the teachings of Islam. "~^ It 
is a process of critical evaluation and appreciation as against blind imitation, and a 
process of sifting, filtering and reconstruction as against wholesale rejection of Western 
thought and destruction. The aim is to critically appreciate and reformulate social sci- 
ences within the framework of Islam. It is interesting to note that MawdtidT's definition 
of Islamization of knowledge and its characteristics, given in 19 36, is similar to that 
propounded in 1982 by the late Dr Ismail Rajial-Faruqi (1346-1406 AH/192 1-1986 
CE) in his epoch-making booklet, Islamization of Knowledge. According to al-Faruqi, "to 
recast knowledge as Islam relates to it is to Islamize it." This means: "to redefine data, 
to rethink the reasoning and relating of the data, to re-evaluate the conclusions, to re- 
project the goals and to do so in such a way as to make the disciplines enrich the vision 
and serve the cause of Islam. ""^ As conceived by Mawdudi. Islamization of Knowledge 
aims at ameliorating the crisis of the Muslim mind by addressing the problem of the 
body of Western knowledge and Islamic heritage and legacy. Its aim is to provide to the 
Muslim ummah a vision, and an ideologically oriented sound methodology to confront 
contemporary challenges and to reclaim its lost glory. 

Emphasizing science and reason, MawdudT urged critical evaluation and assessment 
of both the Muslim heritage and Western science. He urged that the Muslim heritage 
be analyzed against its historical background and if the legacy is found to be inade- 
quate or erring, the terms of the divine status of the Our'an and the normativeness of 
the Sunnah and their relevance to the problems of the present should be corrected. 
Attempts at molding the society along Islamic lines would be all the poorer if it did not 
take the legacy into account and did not benefit from the insights of the ancestors. 
Extremes of rejection or wholesale glorification is due either to the inaccessibility of 
the legacy to the modern mind or of the inability of the traditionally trained scholars 
to discover and establish the relevance of the heritage to the present-day problems. 
Mawdudl's call is to break this impasse to facilitate restructuring the world order. Like- 
wise, Western civilization should be subjected to critical analysis from the stand- 
point of Islam. Its methodology, foundational principles, historical development, and 
achievements should be surveyed and analyzed. Thereafter, healthy achievements of 


Western civilization in terms of its scientific and tecfinological progress, in so far as 
tliey are value-fi'ee and are in conformity with Islamic principles, should be 
appreciated, abstracted and assimilated into the Islamic scheme of life. These ideas 
enabled Muslim intellectuals like Ismail al-Faruqi and others whose "Islamization of 
Knowledge" project carried forward some of Mawdudl's key points. 

As conceptualized by MawdiidT, the process of Islamization of Knowledge must 
tackle the problem of education. He felt strongly that a genuine revival of the ummah 
is possible only if the education system is revamped and its faults corrected. What is 
actually required is for the system to be formed anew. To this end, MawdiidT proposed 
educational reforms for secondary, higher secondary, and university levels. His empha- 
sis, however, was on the university level for which he spelled out the modality for the 
implementation of his reforms. 

The "model university" envisaged by MawdudI found its practical manifestations in 
the 1980s in many parts of the Muslim world especially in the International Islamic 
University, Islamabad. It is also manifested by the well-managed International Islamic 
University in Malaysia (HUM). Established in 198 3, IIUM's philosophy is "the integra- 
tion of religious knowledge and worldly sciences, together with the vision of Islamiza- 
tion of human knowledge. ... As such the university is not limited to Islamic 
theological studies but is a comprehensive professional institution of higher learning 
in which the teaching of all fields of knowledge is infused with Islamic values and the 
Islamic philosophy of knowledge."-' This is a fully residential university open to stu- 
dents from all over the world. The conduct of students and teachers is subject to super- 
vision. They are expected to follow the Islamic way of life. At HUM, "all professional 
courses are taught in English, but students are required to reach the level of advanced 
Arabic proficiency. Students taking the shari'ah, Arabic, and Revealed Knowledge 
courses must, of course, take them in Arabic, but their minor courses are offered in 
English."^" It has a well-established "Research Centre" which promotes research of all 
kinds and encourages scholars to produce textbooks in all fields from an Islamic per- 
spective. Thus, the HUM can be considered a custodian of the knowledge that aims at 
producing ideologically sound Islamic leadership. Indeed, the university proclaims itself 
to be the "Garden of Knowledge and Virtue." 


Mawdtidl's primary concern has been the reinstatement of Islamic values through edu- 
cation, legislation, and reform and this is receiving a good deal of attention all over the 
Muslim world today. Pakistan, the homeland of MawdudI, has sporadically been 
reasserting Islamic values in all realms of society in accordance with the concept of 
nizam-e Mustafa. 

Equally discernible is the new trend in Muslim thinking on economic and legal 
issues. It should be remembered that MawdudI has not only written on economic prob- 
lems but has also inspired quite a number of writers who are now in the forefront of 
devising Islamic economic models. The core of the new economic thinking revolves 
around the issue of usury (riba) which, according to MawdudI, is completely forbidden 


in Islam. After a decade of discussions involving the distinction between usury and 
interest, Muslims are now unanimous in condemning interest as riba and have 
embarked upon experimentation with Islamic banking systems eschewing the use of 
interest and other kinds of transactions prohibited in Islam. Beginning with the Islamic 
Development Bank in 1975, some 97 Islamic banks have been established all over the 
world. Similarly, attempts are underway to modify existing civil, criminal, and personal 
laws with the help of provisions available in the shan'ah. Mawdiidrs method of return- 
ing to core principles in the Our' an and the Sunnah and reaching a studied opinion as 
to how the problems confronting the present age should be resolved in their light seems 
to be more and more acceptable. There are, nevertheless, varying degrees of constitu- 
tional espousal of Islamicity as well as differences in the degree to which values 
enshrined in the Our'an and the Sunnah have penetrated the interstices of the Muslim 
social fabric. The basing of legislation on the shan'ah will have no magical effect unless 
a total transformation of society takes place. This necessitates knowing the righteous 
path, understanding the present day reality and imposing the one upon the other This 
was the mission of Mawdtidl and this is the relevance of his thought for the contem- 
porary situation in the Muslim world. 

The ongoing Islamic reassertion is symptomatic of the crises confronting the world. 
It is an index, as well, of the fact that the malaise is still unresolved. It nevertheless sym- 
bolizes initiative, creativity and a sense of beginning. In the current drive to stress 
Islamic identity, Mawdudl's works have played a remarkable role. He succeeded in moti- 
vating a large part of the alienated Muslims to identification with Islam. He has laid 
down ideas and directions that can be followed in carrying forward his jihad. Mawdudi 
intended to stimulate thought and create an intellectual tradition where critical atti- 
tude is the norm. Mastery and assessment of the Muslim heritage, critical analysis of 
the Western civilization from the standpoint of Islam, and establishing the specific rel- 
evance of Islam to the world today is the legacy of Mawdudi and is essential for the bal- 
anced growth of a humane world order 

The Jamaat-e-Islami, based on the teachings of Mawdudi, is a more politically 
assertive group that tries to reach both lay Muslims and non-Muslims. Mawdudi spoke 
of a universal Islamic movement, inculcating Islamic precepts and praxis among 
Muslims. Implicit in this message is the need to create an Islamic society based on 
Our'anic egalitarian ideals wherever Muslims lived. An avowed intention of the Jamaat- 
e-Islami is to bring about a revolution in the political leadership of society, reorganize 
political and socioeconomic life along Islamic lines, and finally, to establish an Islamic 
state. When Pakistan was created, the Jamaat-e-Islami launched a public campaign to 
seek popular support for the implementation of the shan'ah and demanded an "Islamic 
Constitution" . Mawdudi pursued his evangelical goals through non-militant means. He 
advocated the use of constitutional and legal means to pursue the objectives of the 
movement. He also advocated training camps to imbibe his adherents with Islamic 
values. Some of his adherents did resort to violent means, which is attributable to the 
impatience of the secular elite and their resorting to violence in dealing with Islamic 

At the time of Mawdudl's death (September 22, 1979), Pakistan had already made 
sufficient progress in promoting the Islamic way of life. The conceptual basis of Islam 


has been partly realized, which no government in future would ignore. This is the major 
achievement of Pakistan's experiment in promoting an Islamic system. This is the 
legacy of Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudl. 


1. Abul A'la Mawdudl, Jihad fl Sahil Allah (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1962). 

2. Abu Athar Afaqi, Fitna-e-Mawdudiat per ek aw be lag tabsirah (Urdu) (lauharabad: Idara 
Adbastan, 19 76). 

3. Abul A'la Mawdudl, Tafliim Al-Our'an, Vol. I (Lahore; Idarah Tarjumanul Our'an, 1978), 
6-11. This monumental Urdu Tafliim is in six volumes and was written over a period of 3 
years from 1942 to its completion in 19 72. 

4. The term Mawdudl used to identify the Islamic state is "theo-democracy" which means 
"kingdom of Allah" administered not by a priestly class - of which Europe had a bitter expe- 
rience - but by the entire Muslim population in accordance with the shan'ah. 

5. Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdtidl, The Islamic Movement: Dynamics of Values, Power and Change. 
Khurram Murad (ed.), (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1984), 79, 

6. Abul A'la MawdiidT, Islamic Law and Constitution, Khurshid Ahmad (trans, and ed,), 
(Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1967), 34-5. 

7. JamU-ud-Din Ahmad (ed.), Some Recent Speeches and Writings of Mr Jinnah (Lahore: Moham- 
mad Ashraf. 19 74), Vol, I, 178, 180, 

8. Sayyid Abul A'la MawdiidT, Jamaat-e-Islami fee 29 Sal (29 Years of Jamaat-e-Islami) (Lahore: 
Jamaat-e-Islami, 19 76), 25, 

9. Ishtiaq Husain Oureshi, Ulama in Politics (Karachi: Ma'arif Limited, 1974), 339, 351, 

10. Israr Ahmad, Tehrik-e-Jama'at-e-Islami: Efe Tehqiqi Mutala'ah {The Jamaat-e-Islami Movement: 
A Criticd Stiidi;) (Lahore: Markazi Anjuman Khuddam al-Our'an, 1990), 118-21, 123-6, 

11. Leonard Binder, Religion and Politics in Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1963), 216, 

12. A.K. Brohi, "Mawlana Abul A'la Mawdtidl: The Man, the Scholar the Reformer" in Khur- 
shid Ahmad and Safar Ishaq Ansari, eds,, Islamic Perspectives: Studies in Honour of Mawlana 
Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudl (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1980), 301, 

13. S. Zakir Ijaz (trans.). Selected Speeches and Writings of Mawlana Mawdudl (Karachi: Interna- 
tional Islamic Publications, 1982), Vol, II, 285-6, 

14. Mawdudl, The Islamic Movement: Dynamics of Values, Power and Change. 71, 

15. Mawdudl, Tafliim Al-Our'an. Vol, II, 77. 

16. See Muhammad Zakaria, Fitnah-e-Maududiyat (Karachi: Kutub Khanah Mazhari, 1976). 

17. Mawdudl. Let us be Muslims. Khurram Murad (ed,), (Leicester: The I Islamic Foundation, 
1985), 286, 

18. Hafeez Malik, "The Spirit of Capitalism and Pakistani Islam," Contributions to Asian Studies. 
2 (July 19 71), 75, 

19. See Mawdudl, Islam awrjadidMa'ashiNazariyat (Islam and Modern Economic Systems) (Delhi: 
Markazi Maktabah Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, 1969) and Ma'ashiyat-e-Islam (Islamic Econom- 
ics) (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1969), 

20. Mawdudl. The Islamic Movement: Dynamics of Values, Power and Change. 94. 

21. Erich Fromm, May Men Prevnii (New York, Doubleday, 1964), 5, 

22. Nawa-e-Waqt. November 10, 1963 quoted in Maryam Jameelah, Islam in Theory and Prac- 
tice (Lahore: Mohammad Yusuf Khan & Sons, 19 78), 334, 


23. Abul A'la Mawdudi, Jihad in Islam (Malaysia: International Islamic Federation of Student 
Organization, 1981), 19. 

24. Abul Ala Mawdudi, The Sick Nations of the Modern Age (Lahore: Islamic Publications Ltd., 
1955), 10. This work first appeared as an article in the Tarjuman al-Our'an, Lahore, October 

25. Mawdudi, The Sick Nations of the Modern Age, 11. 
25. Ibid., 15. 

27. Ibid., 17-18. 

28. Ismail Raji al Faruqi, Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Work plans (Virginia: 
International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1402/1982), 15. 

29. M. Kemal Hassan, "International Islamic University at Kuala Lumpur," in John L. Esposito, 
ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1995), 211. M. Kemal Hassan was appointed the Rector of HUM in 1999. 

30. Ibid., 212. 


The Futuristic Thought of 
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad 
of Malaysia 

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 

This chapter discusses futuristic aspects in the messianic thought of Ustaz Ashaari 
Muhammad, who is well known among circles and observers of Southeast Asian Islam 
as the founder-leader of Darul Arqam, an Islamic movement banned in August 1994 
by the Malaysian authorities for allegedly embracing and spreading heterodox teach- 
ings. Ustaz Ashaari subscribes to a unique vision of Southeast Asia as the future center 
of Islamic civilization in the post-modern world. This essentially messianic vision has 
been procured via a rigorous study of hadith literature and empirical knowledge gained 
during overseas tours. Ustaz Ashaari's thought becomes particularly important against 
the background of global messianic expectations as the new millennium meets the 
early phase of the Islamic century. In addition, Ustaz Ashaari's method of relying on 
contemporary economic prowess belies the economic backwardness befalling Muslims 
worldwide and the economic downturn affecting Southeast Asia since 1997. 

Ustaz Ashaari strives to realize his vision through his establishment and leadership 
of movements that exhibit unconventional methods of managing economic and social 
development. Founded in 1968 as a small religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Darul 
Arqam had developed, by 1994, into a self-styled economic empire commanding huge 
influence among the national sociopolitical elite. In material terms, its tangible accom- 
plishments were phenomenal, certainly for a movement that professed to operate on a 
strictly Islamic basis. ^ Until its demise in 1994, Darul Arqam, albeit being Malaysian- 
based, acquired a heavily transnational orientation, revolving especially around South- 
east Asian countries. Convinced that an economically developed Islamic state and 
society would eventually come about in Southeast Asia, Ustaz Ashaari's followers 
throughout the region have continually sustained Islamic-oriented businesses and 
companies under various names, before gradually regrouping them under the aegis of 
Rufaqa' International Limited in 2002. In Malaysia, continuous retention under the 
Internal Security Act (ISA) of their leaders, consistent state monitoring, and the closing 
down of their communal villages have not prevented Ustaz Ashaari's followers from 
shifting ground towards erecting economically successful urban Islamic communities. 


Under the restriction order imposed on him, Ustaz Ashaari cannot move from his 
designated district of residence, viz, Gombalc (1994-2002) and since February 2002, 
Labuan island, off the Bornean coast of the state of Sabah. He has to remain indoors 
after 6 p.m,, and all visitors have to be screened by the specially allocated security offi- 
cers. He has to report to the nearest police station once a week. However, out-of-district 
breaks may be and have been given upon special requests made due to unforeseen cir- 
cumstances, such as family death and illnesses. Needless to say, such requirements have 
greatly hampered communication between him and his followers. 

In 199 7, Ustaz Ashaari registered a private limited company, Rufaqa' Corporation, 
based in Bandar Country Homes, Rawang, Selangor, without relying on assets and 
capital from the disbanded Darul Arqam. Beginning with herbal-based health products, 
Rufaqa' focused upon establishing small and medium enterprises based in "Islamic 
townships," which refer informally to Rufaqa"s conspicuous string of business premises 
dominating parts of industrial estates. Within a few years, and despite prevailing eco- 
nomic uncertainty, Rufaqa' quickly expanded to all states in Malaysia, Today, with its 
multiple business networks operating 40 different types of businesses, Rufaqa"s busi- 
ness enterprises arguably constitute the best among economic initiatives offered by 
Islamic movements in Malaysia." 

Despite stern denials, the state, still seeing Ustaz Ashaari as a threat to national secu- 
rity, has constantly leveled accusations that Rufaqa' was trying to revive Darul Arqam, 
and in February 2002, banished Ustaz Ashaari and his immediate family to Labuan, In 
Labuan, business opportunities for Rufaqa' have been blocked by the local authorities, 
but Rufaqa' has managed to outwit the state by conducting businesses using the 
licenses of local Chinese businessmen oblivious to Rufaqa"s alleged heterodoxy and 
willing to cooperate with Rufaqa', Muslims in Labuan have been persuaded by federal 
agents to desist from any communication and business links with Rufaqa', but through 
the non-Muslim business network, Rufaqa' now handles one bakery and five restau- 
rants in Labuan, Having brought with him part of Rufaqa"s physical and human 
capital, reports have emerged detailing Ustaz Ashaari's "luxurious" fifestyle and 
rapport with Labuan's grassroots communities.' 

Ustaz Ashaari has achieved economic success by strenuously maintaining a taqwa- 
based approach to business and development. Literally taken to mean "the fear of God", 
taqwa is stated in the Our'an as being the source of God's help, through which all of 
Muslims' triumphs are effected. For example, "If the people of the towns had but 
believed and feared Allah, We should indeed have opened out to them (all kinds of) bless- 
ings from heaven and earth. But they rejected (the truth) and we brought them to book 
for their misdeeds" (Al-A'raf 7: 96) and "And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares 
a way out, and He provides for him from (sources) he never could expect , . , And for 
those who fear Allah, He will make things easy for them" (At-Talaq 65: 2-4), Rufaqa"s 
business meetings were seen to focus primarily on the relationship between taqwa and 
"God's bank," by which is meant that through taqwa, God will shower bounties on busi- 
ness enterprises undertaken in the name of the struggle for God, 

Without going into the doctrinal controversies surrounding the proscription and 
eventual disbandment of Darul Arqam, the author now wishes to look at traits in the 
messianic worldview of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad differentiating his movements 


not only from contemporary resurgent Muslim trends, but also from previous 
messianic movements.* 

Messianism in Sunni Islam 

As a subject, the phenomena of messianism and millenarianism have never been short 
of controversy. At the popular level, they have been associated with the world of celes- 
tial happenings, ancient prophecies, and Doomsday cults, which have often ended trag- 
ically with mass suicides and other violent aftermaths. These appeared to have 
multiplied dramatically with the advent of the new millennium, occurring near in time 
to such heavenly events as the passing of comets Halley in 1986 and Hale-Bopp in 
March 1997: the conjunction of planets in May 2000, and the closest approach of 
Mars to the earth in August 2003. Most anthropologists would describe messianic 
movements as a universal manifestation of social protest, being religions of the 
oppressed, disappointed, marginalized, and desperate communities. Yearning for a swift 
crumbling of the present social order, such victims of capitalist-based modernization 
were prone to pin thefr Utopian hopes for a future golden age on a certain savior, whose 
miraculous coming and feats may have been foretold, if only vaguely, in medieval texts. 
Indeed, outbursts of millenarianism may be detected in all major religions and 

Islamic millenarian expectations have revolved around the figure of Imam al-Mahdi, 
the messiah whose advent near the end of time has been pronounced by many hadiths, 
i.e. sayings or actions of the Prophet Muhammad as reported by his companions or 
wives, and passed through successive Muslim generations until ultimately compiled.'' 
In fact, eschatological hadiths relate that, chronologically, the proclamation of al- 
Mahdi will be followed by specific events, viz. the appearance of the Dajjal, the descent 
of the Prophet Jesus who will kill the Dajjal, the appearance of the destructive tribes of 
Gog and Magog, and the rule of al-Mahdi over the world for five or seven or nine years 
and followed by that of the Prophet Jesus for 40 years, after a series of triumphant wars 
against the infidels. Ultimate peace will only prevail under the leadership of al-Mahdi 
and Jesus Christ, when Islam will reign supreme over the world. Following the passing 
away of al-Mahdi and Jesus Christ, Islam will decline again, until the moment when 
believers' lives are taken away by God, such that the Great Hour, i.e. the physical 
destruction of the planet earth, will be experienced only by unbelievers.'' 

In orthodox Sunni Islam, scholars have discussed the subject of al-Mahdi in con- 
junction with the famous hadith regarding the promised mujaddid (reformer), as nar- 
rated by Abu Hurayrah and found in the collection of Abu Dawud: 'Allah will raise, at 
the head of each century, such people for this ummah as will revive its Religion for it." 
This explains the fact that Mahdist expectations have been strongest during the begin- 
ning of every Islamic century* Mahdism has come to embody not only a theological 
belief in the coming of a final deliverer towards the end of time, but also a political belief 
in the destiny of the ummah to undergo regeneration under the Mahdist leadership of 
a centennial mujaddid. Hence for instance, the Umayyad caliph Umar Abd al-Aziz 
(d. 720), conventionally regarded as the mujaddid of the first Islamic century, was also 


referred to in respectable religious circles as al-Mahdi. Hopwood describes the Sunni 
version of al-Mahdi, vis-d-vis the Shi'ite view, as a "mujaddid (renewer). . . . who is not 
necessarily the harbinger of the Last Day but a more humble figure to guide the ummah 
back to the right path."'' 

Discussions revolving around the concept of al-Mahdi in Sunni Islam have exacted 
most interest from Sufis, who regard al-Mahdi as the last and spiritually greatest saint. 
Consequently, many Mahdist revivalist movements have had Sufi origins and inclina- 
tions. In fact, these movements were at the forefront of anti-colonial uprisings in the 
peripheral Muslim lands, whose societies had been severely disaffected by Western cap- 
italist intrusion and military domination. While retaining a spiritual orientation, such 
movements took up many aspects more conventionally identified with modernist 
reformism, such as flexibility in opening the gates of ijtihad (independent reasoning) 
and an uncompromising rejection of foreign innovations, which had infiltrated tradi- 
tional Sufi orders. Examples are the Diponegoro revolt in Dutch Java (1825-30), the 
Sanusiyyah agitations in late nineteenth-century Libya, and the anti-British Mahdist 
revolt in the Sudan (1881-5).^° 

In short, all messianic movements have up till now been proven in time to be not 
Mahdist in the scriptural sense. But this does not mean they were not Mahdist in ori- 
entation, in the sense of their having derived political inspiration from the apocalyptic 
belief in al-Mahdi. Therefore, the Mahdist doctrine wields not only theological signifi- 
cance, but is also valuable in generating reformist movements, particularly in times of 
economic and social discontent when the longing for a golden age becomes pervasive. 
The very idea that al-Mahdi's coming as a divine promise is assured raises collective 
social hopes of Muslims and motivates them to work for the betterment of the ummah, 
despite seemingly irreversible setbacks. In this sense, Mahdism encourages activism 
rather than a passive acceptance of the status quo. Very much a taboo to standard- 
bearers of official Islam, it has been and can still potentially be a powerful political 
weapon of Muslim revivalists. 

Nonetheless, in the past century, Sunni Islamic movements have evidently discarded 
Mahdism, deeming it as irrelevant, from their agenda of resurgence. Mahdism has been 
relegated to the realm of fringe Sufi groups, Shi'ites, and heterodox movements. Con- 
temporary revivalists have raised legitimate concern at the detrimental effects of past 
bogus claims by Mahdist aspirants, ^^ but the existence or even abundance of Mahdist 
pretenders does not necessarily mean Mahdism constitutes a deviation or represents a 
liability to Islamic resurgence. This is borne out by the social and economic activism of 
Darul Arqam and Rufaqa' Corporation in Malaysia. 

The Messianism of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad 

On August 5, 1994, the National Fatwa Council (NFC) of Malaysia unanimously ruled 
that Darul Arqam's teachings had deviated from Islam. Of the 10 charges of theolog- 
ical deviationism directed against Darul Arqam, two broad issues were of primary sig- 
nificance, viz. the theological validity of the Aurad Muhammadiah^- and the nature of 
Darul Arqam's belief in the messianic advent of al-Mahdi. These issues had consistently 


been the sources of contention between the official religious authorities and Darul 
Arqam, as revealed in public statements by representatives of the Islamic Affairs Divi- 
sion of the Prime Minister's Department (BAHEIS: Bahagian Hal Ehwal Islam Jabatan 
Perdana Menteri), and the heated exchanges that took place between both sides in the 
form of books, booklets and documents on the matter/^ 

Technically, Aurad Muhammadiah enjoins the recitation, individually after each daily 
prayer, of seven verses in the correct order, preceded by the first chapter of the Our'an. 
These verses, four and three of which are to be read 10 and 50 times respectively, are 
together a collection of Our'anic verses, the kalimah shahddah (the attestation of faith: 
"there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah") and a salawdt 
(salutation of peace upon the Prophet Muhammad). But controversy arose as to the 
belief that the Aurad Muhammadiah was taught directly by the deceased Prophet 
Muhammad to its founder, Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi, during a 
yaqazah - direct communication, in a state of consciousness, between two human 
beings, one or both of whom may have been deceased and therefore present in spiri- 
tual and not physical form. Two further allegedly deviant ritual practices of the Aurad 
Muhammadiah are its allegedly longer kalimah shahadah and the practice of tawassul as 
contained in its tahlil.'^* 

On the issue of messianism, three fundamental points distinguish Ustaz Ashaari's 
millenarian beliefs from past messianic trends. Firstly, his conditional belief that Shaykh 
Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi, whose grave is said to exist in Kelang, Malaysia, is 
in fact being "kept" alive in the spiritual world by God to prepare for his reappearance 
as al-Mahdi. Based on the prevailing chaos in the contemporary world and the predic- 
tion made by Jalal al-din al-Suyuti (d. 1505) that al-Mahdi would appear around 1407 
AH, Ustaz Ashaari believes that al-Mahdi is the anointed savior of the fifteenth Islamic 
century, and the last in the list of celebrated mujaddids.'^^ Ustaz Ashaari's postulation 
that the founder of the Aurad Muhammadiah is the most plausible candidate for the 
Mahdiship is based on arbitrary suggestions made by his grandson Mohd. Taha 
Suhaimi, upon circumstantial evidence tracing his ancestry to the Prophet Muham- 
mad through his daughter Fatimah, and on physical features and a name which 
accorded with the description of al-Mahdi in hadiths, as testified by those who met him 
in his lifetime. One of them, known as Kiyai Mahmud, was said to have personally heard 
Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi's prognosis that the resurgence of the Aurad 
Muhammadiah, after a brief decline following his occultation, would occur under the 
leadership of a man named 'Ashaari Muhammad. "^^ 

Ustaz Ashaari's belief in the Mahdiship of Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah al-Suhaimi 
apparently puts it on a similar terrain with the Twelver Shi'ites, who also believe in the 
occultation of al-Mahdi prior to his promised reappearance. From the Sunni perspec- 
tive, no scriptural justification exists to support the theory of al-Mahdi's occultation. In 
defense, Ustaz Ashaari cites the precedence of the Prophet Jesus and the People of the 
Cave, both of whom were thought to have died by their contemporaries but who in 
reality are being kept by God in an unknown world until the moment of their destined 
re-emergence.^^ Furthermore, al-Mahdi's antithesis, the Dajjal, is also arguably in 
occultation. This view is based on a lengthy hadith which tells how Tamim al-Dari, a 
Christian convert to Islam, was stranded during a voyage in a remote island where he 


met and spoke with a beast shackled in a monastery. The creature claimed to be the 
Dajjal, as was verified by the Prophet upon hearing Tamim's story. Some Sunni ulama 
and Sufls did share Ustaz Ashaari's view of al-Mahdi's occupation. Supporting evidence 
for this include a statement from Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) and the testimony of Shaykh 
Hasan al-Iraqi (d. 1525), whose personal encounter with Al-Mahdi was cited by Ustaz 

The second distinctive feature of Ustaz Ashaari's messianism relates to his placing 
unprecedented emphasis on the purported advent of a "youth of Bani Tamim," a mys- 
terious figure who has been described in hadiths as hailing from the East and serving 
as al-Mahdi's main vizier. Even though the appearance of this assistant of al-Mahdi has 
been foretold in hadiths, a historical examination of Messianism in Islam reveals a com- 
plete lack of attention given to such a figure, whom Ustaz Ashaari believes will estab- 
lish an Islamic state in the east as the foundation for al-Mahdi's leadership of the Second 
ummah. The advent of al-Mahdi, as a matter of principle, must be preceded by the 
success of the youth of Bani Tamim, who will eventually hand over political power to 
al-Mahdi. In other words, the youth of Bani Tamim is the lesser savior whose political 
triumph will usher in more significant victories at the hands of the principal savior, 
al-Mahdi. The youth of Bani Tamim's triumph in the East is therefore a necessary con- 
dition for the advent of al-Mahdi. Previous claims to the Mahdiship can be categori- 
cally repudiated by pointing to their lack of a revivalist predecessor from the tribe 
of Tamim. ^^ 

Perhaps due to the vagueness of the identity of the youth of Bani Tamim, whose 
pedigree and physical characteristics, unlike al-Mahdi's, are scarcely elaborated in 
hadiths, no messianic truth-seeker or power-seeking pretender has been eager to come 
forward and claim his rank. Furthermore, unlike al-Mahdi, who is described in hadiths 
as a caliph who magnanimously distributes money without counting it, the youth of 
Bani Tamim is not associated with power and wealth he can willfully dispense. In the 
manner of a tug boat which paves the way for larger vessels, the youth of Bani Tamim 
merely opens avenues for and introduces al-Mahdi to the ummah. His main accom- 
plishment, a state propped up by devoted followers known as the ikhwdn (brothers), is 
prepared for al-Mahdi, not for himself As such, staking a direct claim for the Mahdi- 
ship is misguided. Sincere revivalists should instead be healthily aspiring for the coveted 
position of the youth of Bani Tamim, as urged by Ustaz Ashaari: 

Based on hadiths, we are also informed that the revival of Islam in the East happens in the 
hands of a man from Bani Tamim (Ourayshy clan) [sic]: the man who will hand over the 
black banner to Imam Mahdi. This means the struggles of the man of Bani Tamim and of 
Imam Mahdi are closely related, connected and occur in succession. Perhaps the relation- 
ship between the prophets Aaron and Moses provide a fair comparison. I see both the man 
of Bani Tamim and Imam Mahdi as being concurrent mujaddids. [Any member of] the 
Muslim ummali should malie the effort to become the man of Bani Tamim as mentioned 
in hadiths so that the schedule of Allah happens in his hands. There is nothing wrong 
or extreme in competing to become the anointed man: this is the way it should be. But if 
we are not capable of accomplishing such high ambitions, we must search for another 
more able person. When such a person clearly exists, we must follow him and assist his 


struggle. There is no need to devise some other method. . . . Please feel welcome to grab 
this opportunity. The identity of the mujaddid or the man of Bani Tamim has not been fixed. 
This means that whosoever has the chance to qualify as the man of Bani Tamim. 

Based on his study, Ustaz Ashaari enumerates some characteristics of the youth of Bani 
Tamim and the ikhwdn: 

He is of Arab ancestry, hailing from the Ouraishy clan of Bani Tamim. But he has very few 
Arab features as a result of his lineage having been mixed with non-Arabs [via marriage]. 
. . . His female followers appear lUce black crows, while the men wear turbans and green 
robes. The sight of them moving together in groups is awe-inspiring. . . . The black banner 
which he carries in the East also flaps in Khurasan: a country behind a river {ma warm im 
nahar). This means he is the leader of the same movement in the East and in Khurasan. 
. . . The Eastern-born leader will approach a man waiting for him in the country behind 
the river, called al-Harith Harrath. As the outcome of his struggle, the man of Bani Tamim 
obtains the reins of government in one of the countries in the East. It is this ruling power 
that will be handed over to Imam Mahdi."" 

The third peculiarity of Ustaz Ashaari's messianism is his conviction that Southeast 
Asia plays a dominant role in determining the course of Islamic resurgence towards 
the end of time. Holding that the Malay-Indonesian world is the "East" referred to in 
hadiths and scholarly opinions, Ustaz Ashaari is thereby convinced of a Malaysian 
provenance of the youth of Bani Tamim. This belief is founded upon the hypothesis that 
many Sunni Arab families emigrated to the Far East to flee from persecution during the 
last century or so, such that a possibility arises that inter-marriages between Bani 
Tamim emigrants and Malays actually produced Bani Tamim generations with diluted 
Arab features. Added to this is circumstantial evidence obtained from personal encoun- 
ters and dialogues with foreign ulama who express the view that the level of Islamic 
consciousness among the masses in Malaysia is comparatively higher than anywhere 
else in the ummah. Logically, if the present constitutes a period near the end of time, 
the East mentioned as the provenance of the youth of Bani Tamim has to be one in 
which Islam is fertile at grassroots level. Best fitting the picture among Southeast Asian 
nation states, Malaysia's pivotal role and the position of Malays as its core ethnic group 
in the final resurgence of Islam are practically destined.'^ 

Is Ustaz Ashaari claiming the mantle of the youth of Bani Tamim for himself, and 
claiming his followers to be the ikhwan of the youth of Bani Tamim and thereby of 
al-Mahdi.? This was arguably insinuated in several statements, and most strongly in 
the employment since 1993 of a new personal title, viz. Abuya Shaykh Imam Ashaari 
Muhammad at-Tamimi; the surname "at-Tamimi" clearly suggesting Bani Tamim 
origins. Even if Ustaz Ashaari was suggesting that he is the youth of Bani Tamim who 
is destined to lead an Islamic state in the East, no scriptural justification exists to incrim- 
inate him theologically. Problems encountered with the authorities relate to the doc- 
trine's political implications, that Ustaz Ashaari is destined to lead Malaysia in the 
not too distant future. Yet, inner conviction does not necessarily lead to the adoption 
of organizational methods which can readily be transplanted from one structure to 
another; in Darul Arqam's case, from a Muslim-oriented movement structure to a 


multi-racial state structure. No evidence exists of tangible preparations made by Darul 
Arqam to wrest power via militant or electoral means. As far as Ustaz Ashaari is con- 
cerned, if he is destined to become Malaysia's leader one day. it will be through God's 
will, triggered by the taqwa of his followers.'' 

To Ustaz Ashaari, futuristic hadiths, on which his futuristic thought is based, are to 
be understood in the aspirational sense. Muslims are encouraged to aspire and exert 
themselves into realizing the qualities of figures touted to become history makers. It is 
not impossible that God grants them, due to their taqwa and efforts, the particular voca- 
tion which is open to Muslims. Even if it was proven in time that they are not the indi- 
viduals mentioned in the hadiths, both human and systemic reforms effected by them 
can still be benefited from. But the pursuit of such aspirations has to be realistic. Since 
al-Mahdi's name and physical characteristics have been specified by hadiths, it is unwise 
for Muslims lacking those traits to bear Mahdist aspirations. It will be more realistic doc- 
trinally to strive to become the youth of Bani Tamim whose traits and features have been 
shielded fi^om public knowledge. Or rather, in line with Ustaz Ashaari's interpretations, 
they have been purposely kept open for aspiring takers to endeavor to achieve the post. 
An example often quoted by Ustaz Ashaari is the hadith relating the downfall of Byzan- 
tine Constantinople to "a good King, a good army and good people," which was only 
realized at the hands of the Ottoman ruler, Muhammad al-Fatih, popularly known in 
the West as "Mehmet the Conqueror," in 1453. In the more than 800 years between 
the conquest and the Prophet Muhammad's death, his Companions and succeeding 
generations never stopped trying to accompfish God's promise on Constantinople. The 
most illustrious Companion, who was martyred during his vain attempt to conquer 
Constantinople, was Abu Ayytib al-Ansarl, whose fatal expedition was launched during 
the reign of the first Umayyad caliph, Mu'awiyah Abu Sufyan (d. 680).'^ 

Therefore, while Ustaz Ashaari refrains from categorically making exclusive claims 
for his followers as the "chosen people" of the ummah, he does explicitly mention Darul 
Arqam's endeavor to realize the steps needed to qualify them as the ikhwdn of the youth 
of Bani Tamim: 

We in Darul Arqam are striving to realize this promise. After striving for the resurgence in 
the East, we headed towards Khurasan in great numbers, just as Allah seized the area from 
the hands of the Communists. Khurasan is the place for the flapping of the black banner 
from the East where there is a man, al-Harith Harrath, as mentioned in the hadith. We 
want to be the first to meet him.'^ 

Ustaz Ashaari earnestly espouses the theory of the reverse flow of Islamic resur- 
gence: that the ultimate revival of the ummah will be generated from the periphery 
towards the Islamic heartlands of the Middle East. In Ustaz Ashaari's geographical map, 
the ikhwdn from Southeast Asia will bring Islam to asoibs - followers of al-Mahdi, but 
lower in rank to the ikhwdn, in Khurasan - an area interpreted as a long stretch of land 
encompassing most of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, parts of Iran and Pakistan, and 
extending until the region of Yunnan in China. While the numbers of ikhwdn reach 
a maximum of 500, asoibs may approach thousands in quantity. Not resWcted to 


Khurasan, asoibs may also be found in the East. Hence Southeast Asia and Khurasan 
function as the pulse and backbone respectively of the Islamic resurgence. The meeting 
between the youth of Bani Tamim and al-Harith Harrath - al-Mahdi's guide in his 
mission of returning Islam to Mecca, is regarded as portending an imminent coming 
of al-Mahdi. The widely publicized trips made by Darul Arqam to Uzbekistan and 
Yunnan in 1992-3 were part of exploratory expeditions into Khurasan in search of al- 
Harith Harrath and asoibs. In conjunction with the launching of its "Khurasan Oper- 
ation," Darul Arqam inaugurated its International Center in Islamabad, Pakistan in 
January 1992. The scenario above has been detailed out: 

From this base, Darul Arqam concocts plans and strategies to explore Khurasan further, 
especially Uzbekistan, since a lot of hadiths on the period near the end of time are related 
to Uzbekistan. For instance, the hadiths on the fortunate land of ma warm un nahar, asoibs, 
al-Harith Harrath, and the unfurling of the Black Banner, which signify the near coming 
of Imam Mahdi. Ma warm un naiiar - the land behind the river, according to the ulama is 
situated between Samarqand and Bukhara. More accurately, ma warm un naliar is situated 
in Termez, a small town at the side of the Amu Darya river [in Uzbekistan]. ... It is here 
that asoibs are being prepared. According to signs of hadith, asoibs in Uzbekistan will 
combine forces with Islamic strivers from the East especially, and also with Islamic activists 
from other parts of the world. Then they will move together to Syam [Greater Syria]. From 
there, they will proceed to Haramayn: the Forbidden Lands of Mecca and Medina. Imam 
Ashaari at-Tamimi is convinced that if the revival of Islam at the end of time can be por- 
trayed as a human body, the East is the pulse (life) while Khurasan is the backbone. In other 
words, the East acts as the initiator and leader of the resurgence, and Khurasan becomes 
its supporter and prime auxiliary. The East-Khurasan combination, or specifically, the 
joining of forces between asoibs from the East under al-Mansur (the man of Bani Tamim) 
and the chosen asoib (leader of asoibs) from Khurasan, viz. Al-Harith Harrath. . . . [is] the 
closest sign of the advent of the supreme leader. Imam Mahdi. With the fall of Russia and 
the weakening of America, Islam is gradually on the rise. Each step of decline of the infidel 
system is accompanied by a step of rise of Islam. . . . happening especially in Malaysia. This 
is exuberating news to be relished by the East, Khurasan and the entire world. Now it is 
the East's turn to lead the promised revival. This is what Imam Ashaari at-Tamimi and 
Darul Arqam have been trying to prove."' 

Needless to say, Ustaz Ashaari does openly aspire to become the youth of Bani 
Tamim, the precursor of al-Mahdi, and does encourage his followers, and Malay- 
Muslims in general, to accomplish the dignified status of the ikhwan, failing that, 
asoibs. In fact, he has taken action in what he understands would trigger events 
unleashing God's eschatological schedule which he calls 'Allah's schedule for Muslim 
ummah": the title of a bilingual tract published in 1993 in conjunction with Darul 
Arqam's Silver Jubilee celebrations. The millenarian activity of establishing the youth 
of Bani Tamim as Malaysia's political leader and al-Mahdi as the leader of the ummah 
has been checked temporarily by the confinement of Ustaz Ashaari and state repres- 
sion of his followers. As the "head" of the fifteenth Islamic century draws to a close, 
very little time is left for Ustaz Ashaari to realize his eschatological schedule. By Ustaz 


Ashaari's own count, the "head" of a century, during which a mujaddid is promised, 
comprises a period of 25 years.''' 

The Southeast Asian Connection 

Darul Arqam's influential presence in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia since 
embarking on its international era in the 1980s has been well documented. ^^ Ustaz 
Ashaari's protracted sojourn abroad (1988-94) resulted in the expansion of Darul 
Arqam's influence to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, particularly the United 
Kingdom and France. Large sections of Darul Arqam publications were increasingly 
devoted to colorful pieces of coverage of overseas visits by Darul Arqam leaders and 
their meetings with journalists, intellectuals, government officials, and political leaders 
from, among others, Thailand, fndonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Jordan, China, and 
Uzbekistan. Sizable Darul Arqam communities developed in these countries, but every- 
where, in line with Ustaz Ashaari's theory of Malay leadership of the ummah, leader- 
ship of the overseas bases and settlements remained in the hands of Malays, many of 
whom were students. Following among the non-Malay local populations was modest. 

The heavily transnational orientation in Darul Arqam's map enabled Ustaz Ashaari 
to elaborate his political principles and global ambitions without restraint, reaching a 
climax in 1994, and ultimately prompting the Malaysian political establishment to 
demand his extradition and detention under the ISA. Notwithstanding his extensively 
transcontinental travels, Southeast Asia's pivotal position in Ustaz Ashaari's geo- 
political thought and agenda was irreplaceable. Dividing the world into three zones, viz. 
the tropical areas such as Southeast Asia, the dry and rough areas such as the Middle 
East, and the four-season areas such as the West, he analyzed each zone in terms of its 
peoples' varied attitudes and cultures. Southeast Asians' gentleness, conditioned by the 
area's mild climate, made them receptive to truth even at a time when the Islamic 
empires had fallen. Ustaz Ashaari praised President Suharto of Indonesia for his latest 
tilt towards Islam, and interpreted such changes as indicative of his place in 'Allah's 
Schedule" as the forerunner to Ratu Adil (Just Prince), the popular Indonesian equiva- 
lent of al-Mahdi.^** 

As a measure of its success in Southeast Asian neighboring countries, the repres- 
sion of Darul Arqam was lamented by the countries' grassroots population, especially 
those who had benefited from its investments and social work. Cordial relations were 
cemented through mixed marriages between Darul Arqam's Malaysian and non- 
Malaysian nationals. At the national level, only the Brunei government followed the 
Malaysian government's line of declaring Darul Arqam an illegal entity. In Indonesia 
and Thailand, Ustaz Ashaari's followers freely continue their business and educational 
activities. Their publications continue to propagate messianic messages from Ustaz 
Ashaari, whose version of 'Allah's Schedule" remains the central theme in his overseas 
followers' transnational priorities. The coverage by these foreign-based publications 
shows that Ustaz Ashaari's political clout and stature overseas is significant. For 
example, Jakarta-based Kebenaran revealed the meeting between Abdurrahman Wahid 
and Ustaz Ashaari in the latter's home in Bandar Country Homes, Rawang, during 


which Abdurrahman consulted Ustaz Ashaari on the prudence of his candidacy in the 
1999 Indonesian presidential election. It is from Rufaqa' Indonesia, whose economic 
success has been phenomenal, that books pushing through Ustaz Ashaari's messianic 
thought are being produced and distributed to Malaysia.'*' 

In Labuan, Ustaz Ashaari continues to receive visitors from all walks of life and 
nationalities. Foreign scholars have included Dr. Abdussalam Harras from Morocco 
(May 2002), Shaykh Abdul Ghafur from Uzbekistan (October 2002) and Dr. Imaduddin 
Abdurrahim, an Indonesian modernist (April 200 3). The author's examination of notes 
taken from meetings between Ustaz Ashaari and his business directors reveal that the 
future roles of Southeast Asia in general and of Malaysia in particular remain impor- 
tant in his messianic thought. For example, among Rufaqa' members, the meeting 
between Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad and Shaykh Abdul Ghafur in Labuan has been 
touted as the historic encounter between the youth of Bani Tamim and al-Harith 
Harrath, signifying al Mahdi's imminence. 

Although messianism does not surpass taqwa as the priority in Ustaz Ashaari's strug- 
gle, it bolsters his followers' conviction, especially when contemporary events are linked 
to his prognostications. These include predictions of Anwar Ibrahim's entry into 
the ruling party and government, of the Soviet Union's downfall, of the decline of 
Khomeini's influence in Iran after 10 years, and of the persistence of the Iraq-US war 
Prior to Anwar Ibrahim's shocking dismissal as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998, Ustaz 
Ashaari had told Anwar that he would fail in his quest to become Prime Minister As 
to the recent global scenario, the terrorist threat to the USAs own soil, as exemplified 
by the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, 
has been taken to verify Ustaz Ashaari's prediction that 'America would be weakened 
from within." However, Dr Mahathir's resignation as Prime Minister and replacement 
by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2003 severely tested Ustaz Ashaari's followers' convic- 
tion, as Ustaz Ashaari was known to have held the belief that Ghafar Baba, the once 
Deputy Prime Minister (1987-93), would eventually become Prime Minister amidst 
internal political turmoil. ^° 


Ustaz Ashaari's thought represents a unique blend of Sufi traditionalism and progres- 
sive reformism characteristic of modernist Islamic thought. While devoted to the prac- 
tice of Aurad Muhammadiah, Ustaz Ashaari's Sufism was not a separate discipline to be 
pursued for innate spiritual values and mystical experiences. Instead, Sufism is the 
vehicle to transform individual selves towards perfection as members of the ummah 
actively implementing Islam as a comprehensive way of life. Ustaz Ashaari's messian- 
ism rejects a complacent attitude towards the future, as had been feared by the mod- 
ernists, but rather encourages economic activism as a preparation for the better times 
ahead promised by the advent of a mujaddid. Ustaz Ashaari's educational background 
and doctrinal standpoints are avowedly traditionalist, yet his views and actions 
in implementing them hardly subscribe to the traditionalist "closing of the door 
of iitihdd" doctrine. If we take two Indonesian organizations, Muhammadiyyah and 


Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), as extreme and opposing poles in a spectrum of Southeast Asian 
Islamic thought, Ustaz Ashaari lies somewhere in the middle. He is neither a modernist 
in the manner of Muhammadiyyah, nor a traditionalist in the style of NU. But veering 
closer towards traditionalism, he is best described as a neo-traditionalist, just as 
Abdurrahman Wahid of NU has been called a neo-modernist.^^ The cordial, if brief, 
meeting between Abdurrahman and Ustaz Ashaari in 1999, referred to above, adds 
substance to the existence of a confluence of ideas in contemporary Southeast Asian 
Islamic thought. The coming together of traditionalism and modernism may never 
have been closer than in the most recent times. 

Among Malaysian Islamic thinkers, Ustaz Ashaari distinguishes himself as being the 
most futuristic, in a peculiarly mostly Malaysian-oriented manner Admittedly, futuris- 
tic thought has been part of the cultures of nations which strive to be progressive. It is 
in the spirit of Islam to be forward-looking, as shown by the Our'an: "The Romans have 
been defeated, in a land close by, but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon 
be victorious. ..." (Ar Rtim 30: 2-3). This spirit is a far cry from the romanticism that 
has developed in Muslim reflections on the history of the ummah, contributing to its 
protracted decline. While this fact is accepted by Islamic scholars, hardly any have come 
forward with a critically futuristic perspective of the course of the ummah. Ustaz 
Ashaari arguably offers such a perspective. 

Notwithstanding the political controversy it has aroused, Ustaz Ashaari's futuristic 
thought should have been valued as an immense intellectual contribution to Islamic 
thought in general, and to Islamic eschatology in particular. Based on the huge body 
of eschatological hadiths, Ustaz Ashaari offers fresh interpretations which, in legal 
matters, would have amounted to the practice of ijtihdd. Very different from philoso- 
phers whose scholarly theories are left to successive generations to interpret and realize, 
Ustaz Ashaari himself mobilizes people towards the accomplishment of his messianic 
theories. In doing this, he is able to make sure that the principles of his thought are 
adhered to without misrepresentation. His followers have been taught to strive for the 
qualities as mentioned in the hadith: "There will always be a ta'ifah (community) from 
amongst my ummah, that will practice the way of truth, they will not be destroyed by 
their detractors, until the Day of Judgment."^" They are utterly convinced that theirs is 
the path of God. Combined together, futuristic thought and action by convinced devo- 
tees become potentially subversive, and find ready enemies within the existing political 

Ironically, since Ustaz Ashaari's prolonged detention, scholars have come forward 
with ideas similar to Ustaz Ashaari's theory of "Malay leadership of the ummah." For 
example, Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, an Indonesian formerly at Malaysia's International 
Islamic University (HUM), came up in 1994 with the book The Malay Ummah: The New 
World Power of the Twenty-First Century (Malay) , which asserted the potential of Malay- 
Muslims and outlined the planning required of them to lead the Islamic resurgence in 
the coming millennium. Professor Hashim Musa of the University of Malaya, in a Berita 
Harian (April 24, 2001) article, "Malays Should Bear the Duty of Preserving Islamic 
Civilization" (Malay), argued: "Malay-Muslims, almost half a billion in number, form 
the largest Muslim group in the East. In the history of Islamic civilization, the center 
constantly changes, from Arabia to Turkey, North Africa, Spain and Central Asia. Now 



signs show that the center has begun to shift to the East. Are we, the Malay-Muslims, 
as the biggest Muslim group in the East, prepared to bear the responsibility and trust 
in maintaining and contributing towards the rebuilding of an Islamic civilization of 
global standard in this third millennium?" Similar remarks concluded his paper, "The 
Empowerment of Malay Civilization as the Basis for Constructing a Malaysian Civiliza- 
tion" (Malay), presented at the Second International Malay Studies Conference in 
Beijing, China, in October 2002. 

Within the ummah, the feasibility of Ustaz Ashaari's theory can be deducted from 
the following recognition of Southeast Asian Muslims by Muhammad Nejatullah 
Siddiqi, an eminent Saudi Arabian-based economist: 

The Muslims of South East Asia - of Malaysia, Indonesia, and possibly the Muslim minori- 
ties in resurgent China - are better equipped to lead the process of regeneration than the 
rest of the Muslim world. They are uncommitted to any powers. They are unconstrained 
by promises to Iceep and debts to repay. Their approach to Islam is simple and elementary 
- something which besides its disadvantages also keeps them away from the strangulating 
hold of a scholarship unfit to lead in the modern world. They can learn. Many others can 
hardly so. And most important of all, they are already on the road to economic prosper- 

Figure 11.1 The reverse flow of Islamic Revival (Source: DarulArqam, 25 Years of Darul Arqam: The 
Struggle of Abuya Syeikh Imam Ashaari Muhammad At Tamimi (Kuala Lumpur: Penerbitan Abuya, 
1993), 176.) 


ity, security and strength - something which may elude other Muslim countries for a long 
time to come." 


Figure 11.1 describes Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad's theory of the reverse flow of Islamic 
resurgence. The shaded area is Khurasan. The arrows pointing rightwards were the 
paths by which Islam reached Malaysia. The arrows pointing leftwards are the routes 
through which Islam will return to its birthplace, Mecca. 


1. For details on Darul Arqam's material achievements, see Darul Arqam, 25 Years of Darul 
Arqam: The Struggle of Abuya Syeikh Imam Ashaari Muhammad at Tamimi (Kuala Lumpur: 
Penerbitan Abuya, 1993). chapter 1 3 ; Muhammad Syukri Salleh, "An Ethical Approach to 
Development: The Arqam Philosophy and Achievements," Humanomics. 10/1, 1994, 
25-60; 'Allah's Bounty: Al-Arqam sect draws strength from business empire," Far Eastern 
Economic Review, September 1, 1994, 

2. Rufaqa' Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (profile), Rawang. n,d,: "Former Al-Arqam redefines itself," 
New Sunday Times. April 30, 2000: "Banned Al-Arqam cult thriving under business 
umbrella," Straits Times, February 9, 2002; Muhammad Syukri Salleh, "The Businesses of 
Islamic Movements in Malaysia" (Malay), Pemikir, 31, 2003, 142-8, 

3 . Ustaz Ashaari's enforced expulsion to Labuan made headline news in Berita Harian, Feb- 
ruary 7, 2002. On his success in Labuan, see: 'Ashaari expands influence in Labuan" 
(Malay), Buletin Utama, April 21-24, 2002; "Residents plead that Asa'ari's placing be 
revised" (Malay), Berita Harian, September 5, 2002; 'Al-Arqam followers' lifestyles need to 
be monitored" (Malay), Berita Harian, November 28, 2002; "What is lost by Asyaari's pros- 
perity,'" (Malay), 510. 

4. For related issues, see Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "Political Dimensions of Religious Con- 
flict in Malaysia: State Response to an Islamic Movement," Indonesia and the Malay World 
28/80, 2000, 32-65; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "Sufl Undercurrents in Islamic Revival- 
ism: Traditional, Post-Traditional and Modern Images of Islamic Activism in Malaysia - 
Part 2," The Islamic Quarterly LXV/3, 2001, 177-98; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "Diverse 
Approaches to Rural Development in Malaysia: The FELDA and Darul Arqam Land Settle- 
ment Regimes," Islamic Culture, LXXV/2, 2001, 57-92. 

5. "Millenarianism" refers to the belief in an awaited Utopia on earth founded upon the pre- 
dicted coming of a messiah. In the Christian context, "millenarianism" refers to the belief 
in the 1000 years when Christ will reign on earth, as foretold in the Book of Revelation. 
See Mohamed Yusoff Ismail, "The Mahdist Phenomenon is Universal' " (Malay), Utusan 
Malaysia, luly 21, 2000; lustus M. van der Kroef, "The Messiah in Indonesia and Melane- 
sia," The Scientific Monthly, 75, 1952, 161-5; Vittorio Lanternari, The Religions of the 
Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1963); and Ed 
Dobson and Ed Hindson, 'Apocalypse Now.' What Fundamentalists Believe About the End 
of the World," Policy Review, 38, 1986, 16-22, For reports on Doomsday cults, see "Inside 
the Cult of Death," Time, April 7,1997, and "Nostradamus Predicted that the World Would 


End this Summer: Why are so Many Japanese Taking him Seriously," Time, July 5, 
5. Literally, "al-Mahdi" means "the rightly guided one" and is also referred to as Al-Mahdi 
al-Muntazar, i.e. the Expected Mahdi. See Wilfred Madelung, 'Al-Mahdi," in Charles E. 
Bosworth et al, eds.. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. V (Leiden: E.J. Brill), 1230-8; and Zeki 
Saritoprak, "The Mahdi Tradition in Islam: A Social-Cognitive Approach," Islamic Studies, 
41/4, 2002, 6 5 1 . For hadiths on al-Mahdi, see Ibn Kathir, The Signs Before the Day of Judge- 
ment (London: DarAlTaqwa, 1991), chapter 5: Abdullah ibn As-Siddiq, /esus, Al Mahdi and 
the Anti-Christ (New York: As-Siddiquyah Publishers, 1985): and Amin Muhammad 
Jamaluddin, The Armageddon War and the Advent of the Mahdi (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: 
Pustaka Syuhada, 2001), chapter 3. 

7. The Dajjal represents the Islamic version of the Antichrist: the epitome of evU who will 
tjrannically rule the world for 40 days before being slain by Jesus Christ. Unlike Christians, 
Muslims have never believed that Jesus was crucified. Instead, he was said to have been 
raised by God to the heavens at the same time that Judas, Jesus' betrayer, was made to 
assume Jesus' physical characteristics and ultimately died on the cross. The Dajjal will exert 
influence over the whole world, causing pandemonium for 40 days, entering every city 
except Mecca and Medina, tempting the world's population to follow the false religion by 
performing miracles akin to magic, and leading the Jews into war against al-Mahdi. During 
this fifth of al-Mahdi's wars, Jesus Christ will descend onto earth, join al-Mahdi in battle 
and eventually kiU the Dajjal. Death of theDajjal willbe the apogee of al-Mahdi's feat. After 
al-Mahdi's seven wars, Gog and Magog appear. Gog and Magog are two Turkic tribes cur- 
rently restrained behind a barrier built by Zulqarnain, the popular Islamic equivalent of 
Alexander the Great. Upon collapse of the barrier, Gog and Magog will disperse, spread cor- 
ruption, destroy plants, and commit atrocities. God, in response to prayers said by Jesus, 
kills them by sending a kind of worm in the napes of their necks. For a chronicle of these 
eschatological events, see As-Siddiq, op. cit., chapter 3: Ibn Kathir, op. cit., 41ff: and 
Jamaluddin, op. cit., chapter 4, 184-206. 

8. Sayyid Abul A'a Maududi, A Short History of the RevivaUst Movement in Islam (Lahore: 
Islamic Publications, fifth edition, 1981), 33-4: YohananFriedmann, Prop/im; Continuous: 
Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thouglit and its Medieval Background (Berkeley: University of Cal- 
ifornia Press, 1989), chapter 4. 

9. Derek Hopwood, 'A Pattern of Revival Movements in Islam.'," Islamic Quarterly, 15/4, 
19 71, 151. Beliefs concerning the Expected Mahdi never became an essential part of the 
Sunni creed, unlUre in the Shi'ite sect, whose historiography contains strong arguments 
and beliefs pertaining to various aspects of al-Mahdi. The subject matter on al-Mahdi is 
absent from the two most authentic hadith collections of Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 
875), such that medieval systematic theologians scrupulously avoided discussion on 
al-Mahdi. See H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: E.J. 
Brill, 1974), 310-11: Maududi, op. cit., 45-51; Madelung, op. cit., 1231, 1235: K.H. 
Sirajuddin Abbas, Tlie Sunni Creed (Malay) (Kota Bharu: Pustaka Aman Press, sixth edition, 
1991), 128: Saritoprak, op. cit., 673-4. 

10. On Sufl conceptions of al-Mahdi, see Muhammad Labib Ahmad, Who is Imam Mahdi.' 
(Malay) (Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 1980), 29-31; and Saritoprak, op. cit., 659-60. For 
accounts of anti-colonial movements in peripheral Muslim lands, see Justus M. van der 
Kroef, "Javanese Messianic Expectations: Their Origin and Cultural Context," Comparative 
Studies in Society and History, 1, 1959, 309: Lanternari, op. cit., 2 13-14; Edward Mortimer, 
Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), 73-9. On the arbi- 
trary division of Muslim lands into a center and periphery, see Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, 


"Islamic Resurgence: An Overview of Causal Factors, A Review of 'Ummahtic' Linkages," 
IKIM Journal 9/1, 2001, 30-8. 

11. Al-Maududi, op. cit., 43-4, 147-9; Muhammad Labib Ahmad, op. cit., 32-45. 

12. Aurad Muhammadiah refers to a tariqah (Sufi order) founded in Mecca in the early twenti- 
eth century by Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Suhaimi (b. 12 59 AH), a scholar of 
Javanese-Arabic descent who moved to Singapore and eventually settled down in Kelang, 
Malaya. See Mohd Taha Suhaimi, The History of Syeikh Muhammad Suhaimi's Life (Malay) 
(Singapore: Peripensis, 1990). Tariqah involves systematic chanting of dhikr (remembrances 
of God) as practiced by Sufis: practitioners of tasawwuf, i.e. the branch of knowledge in 
Islam enjoining the purification of the soul {tazkiyah al-nafs) in attaining the true meaning 
of God and the self. See Ashaari Muhammad, Aurad Muhammadiah: The Conviction of Darul 
Arqam (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: Penerangan Al-Arqam, 1986), 10. 

13. BAHEIS, An Explanation to the book 'Aurad Muhammadiah: The Conviction of Darul Arqam" 
(Malay) (Kuala Lumpur, 1986): BAHEIS, The Deviation of Darul Arqam's Theology (Malay) 
(Kuala Lumpur, 1993); Ashaari Muhammad 1986, op. cit.: Ashaari Muhammad, Be 
Careful in Making Allegations (Malay), (Kuala Lumpur: Penerangan Al-Arqam, 1989); Berita 
Harian. July 16, 1994; The Star, August 6, 1994. 

14. Sufis regard yaqazah with the late Prophet Muhammad as a karamah (miracle) accorded to 
the avffliya' (saints) (Ashaari Muhammad 1986, op.cit., chapter 6). In the Aurad Muham- 
madiah, the practitioner acknowledges, after the conventional kalimah shahadah, the addi- 
tional figures of the righteous caliphs viz. Abu Bakr (d. 635), Umar (d. 644), Uthman (d. 
656), and Ali (d, 651), and of the future al-Mahdi (ibid., chapter 9). Tawassul refers to the 
practice of invoking intermediaries, usually saints, when making do'a (supplication) to God. 
The issue of the permissibility of tawassul has long been a source of contention between 
Islamic traditionalists, who allow it, and Islamic modernists, who forbid it; see Sirajuddin 
Abbas, op. cit., 284-301, 316-26. TflWi/referstoreligiouschantings that testify that Allah 
is the One and Only God. The tahlil of Aurad Muhammadiah refers to speciSc chantings 
recited rhythmically in congregation by practitioners of the Aurad Muhammadiah on Thurs- 
day and Sunday nights, and include the controversial phrases: "0 Saints of God, do listen, 
help us for the sake of God, do listen" (Ashaari Muhammad 1986, op. cit., 119-2 7, 

1 5 . Ashaari Muhammad, Who is the Mujaddid of the Fifteenth Century.^ (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur; 
Penerangan Al-Arqam, 1987), 648-54: Ashaari Muhammad, My Contemplations (Malay) 
(Kuala Lumpur: Penerangan Al-Arqam, 1988), 257. 

16. Mohd. Taha Suhaimi. op. cit., 67, Ashaari Muhammad 1986, op. cit., 178: Ashaari 
Muhammad 1989, op. cit., 48-9, 84. 

17. Ashaari Muhammad 1986, op. cit.. 179-80; Ashaari Muhammad 1989, op. cit., 50-1. 
The People of the Cave refer to seven unitarian Christian youths who fled from the perse- 
cution of the Roman Emperor Decius (reigned 249-51 AD), ending up in a cave in Asia 
Minor where they were put to sleep for 3 09 years. Their story is told in the Our'an (Al-Kahf 
18; 9-25). In a hadith narrated by Ibnu Abbas, the People of the Cave are said to be the 
assistants of al-Mahdi, such that they must now be in occultation waiting for the realiza- 
tion of their eschatological role. On the contrasting Twelver Shi'ite view of al-Mahdi's 
occultation, see Sirajuddin Abbas, op. cit. 12 7-8. 

18. OnTamim al-Dari's encounter with the Dajjal, see IbnKathir, op. cit., 48-51, and David J. 
Halperin, "The Ibn Sayyad Traditions and the Legend of Al-Dajjal," Journal of the American 
Oriental Society, 96, 1975, 223. On Shaykh Hasan al-Iraqi's encounter with al-Mahdi, see 
Ashaari Muhammad 1985, op. cit., 171-3; and Madelung, op. cit., 1236-3 7. 


19. Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, The Malaysian State of the Youth of Bani Tamim: Secrets of the 
Glorious Ummah (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: AbukuHebat, 1999), 115; Ashaari Muhammad, 
Exploring the Islamic Administrative System (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: Penerbitan Hikmah, 
1993), 188,200. 

20. The previous two quotations are from Ashaari Muhammad, Allah's Schedule for the Muslim 
Ummah (Kuala Lumpur: Bahagian Pengeluaran Minda SyeUihul Arqam, 1993), 38-40. 

21. Ibid., 41-3; Darul Arqam, Message from the East, 18-20; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, The 
Malaysian State of the Youth of Bani Tamim, 124-6. In support, often quoted is the hadith, 
'A people will come out of the East who will pave the way for the Mahdi" (Ibn Kathir, op. 
cit., 22). 

22. Ashaari Muhammad, The Implementation of Hudud Law in Society (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur; 
Penerbitan Hikmah, 1992), 88-9 7; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, The Malaysian State of the 
Youth of Bani Tamim, chapter 4. 

23. Ashaari Muhammad, Thoughts to Change Attitudes (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: Penerangan 
Al-Arqam, 1990), 249-55; Ashaari Muhammad, Allah's Schedule, 30-1; Ashaari 
Muhammad, President Soeharto Follows the Schedule of Allah (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur; 
Penerbitan Abuya, 1993), 11-12. 

24. Ashaari Muhammad, Allah's Schedule, 42-3; cf. Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "The Malay- 
Islamic World in the Thought of Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad," in Abdullah Hassan, ed.. Pro- 
ceedings of The Second International Malay Studies Conference, Volume 1 (Malay) (Kuala 
Lumpur; DBP 2002), 10-12. 

25. Darul Arqam, 25 Years of Darul Arqam, 175-7. Overall, Ustaz Ashaari's theory concurs 
with the hadith, "Islam will return to its place of origin like a snake returning to its hole," 
as quoted in Darul Arqam 1992, op. cit., 4. 

25. Ashaari Muhammad 1987, op. cit., xiv, 43. 

2 7. Darul Arqam, Al-Arqam in the International Media (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur: Penerangan 
Al-Arqam, 1989). For details on Darul Arqam's expenditure, human capital, and 
assets in Southeast Asia, see Darul Arqam, 25 Years of Darul Arqam, 184, 186, 198; and 
Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1994, op. cit., 36, 44-5, 48-50. 

28. Ashaari Muhammad, Strides of the Struggle (Malay) (Kuala Lumpur; Jabatan Syeikhul 
Arqam, 1991), chapter 12; Ashaari Muhammad, Presiden Soeharto Follows Allah's 

29. On the Ustaz Ashaari-Abdurrahman Wahid meeting, see Kebenaran, 7/1 (1999), quoting 
from the magazines Tempo, October 24, 1999, and DR, ll/XXXI/25, October 1999. For 
Rufaqa' Indonesia's success stories, see the five-page report in the Jakarta-based magazine, 
Gatra, 2-3/10, December 2003 . Two Indonesian books promoting Ustaz Ashaari's thought 
are Abu Muhammad Atta', The Youth of Bani Tamim: The Precursor of Imam Al-Mahdi 
(Malay-Indonesian) (Jakarta: Penerbit Giliran Timur, 1998) and Abdurrahman R.Effendi 
and Gina Puspita, Abuya Syeikh Imam Ashaari Muhammad At Tamimi: Is He the Mujaddid of 
This Century.^ (Malay-Indonesian) (Jakarta: Penerbit Giliran Timur, 2003). 

30. Ustaz Ashaari believes that Ghafar Baba has a signilicant role to play in 'Allah's Schedule". 
See Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "Reforming PAS.?," Aliran Monthly 23/6, 2003, 13. On 
the USA's weakening from within, see Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid 2002, op. cit., 13. 
On Ustaz Ashaari's predictions pertaining to Anwar Ibrahim, see Shuib Sulaiman, PM 
Dr. Mahathir on the Brink of Downfall (Malay) (n.p.; Merbok Enterprise, 1994), 40, 70, 
84-92; and Zabidi Mohamed, Tersungkur di Pintu "Syurga": The Untold Truth and Inside Story 
of Al-Arqam and IS. A. (Detention Without Trial) (Kuala Lumpur: Zabidi Publication, 1998), 


31. Greg Barton, "Neo-Modernism: A Vital Synthesis of Traditionalist and Modernist Islamic 
Thought in Indonesia," Studia Islamika 2/3, 1995, 1-75; Greg Barton, "Indonesia's Nur- 
cholish Madjid and Abdurrahman Wahid as Intellectual ulama: The Meeting of Islamic Tra- 
ditionalism and Modernism in neo-Modernist Thought," Islam and Christian-Muslim 
Relations 8/3, 1997, 323-50. 

32. Quoted in Ashaari Muhammad 1987, op. cit., 3; and Ashaari Muhammad, Allah's Sched- 
ule. 31; cf. Saritoprak, op. cit., 559. 

3 3 . Muhammad Ne] atullah Siddiqi, "Towards Regeneration; Shifting Priorities in Islamic Move- 
ments," Encounters: Journal of Inter-Cultural Perspectives 111, 1995, 24. 


Religion, Society, and 
Culture in Malik Bennabi's 

Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi 


This chapter attempts to provide a condensed account of the philosophical and socio- 
logical thought of the twentieth-century eminent Algerian thinker Malik Bennabi 
(1905-73). It focuses on his views pertaining to religion, society, and culture. The 
present chapter consists of three main sections that are prefaced with a short bio- 
graphical sketch outlining the major stages of Bennabi's life and career. 

As will become clear in the pages that follow, Bennabi's works in general and his The 
Quranic Phenomenon in particular stand out as one of the most well-informed intellec- 
tual responses to, and engagement with, modern Western philosophical and scientific 
thought. A sense of the unity of human history, a critical and profound philosophical 
bent of mind, and a sharp awareness of the cross-cultural and intellectual currents 
at work in the West and the Muslim world: these are major traits of his treatment of 
various theological, moral, social, and cultural issues. These features are consolidated 
and given full scope by what can be seen as a visionary passion driving toward tran- 
scending the prevailing thought categories, not through shallow and haughty ideo- 
logical attitude, but through a conscious and creative intellectual commitment to 
analysis and systematic theorizing. This, it seems, is what enabled Bennabi to boldly 
question some of the fundamental intellectual premises of modern Western culture and 
civilization and to realize some of their grave epistemological and moral consequences, 
while at the same time appreciating the achievements and the benefits it has brought 
to mankind. 

Malik Bennabi: A Biograpliicai Si<etcli 

Without indulging in any critical considerations as to the insufficiency or non- 
verifiability of Bennabi's autobiography,^ there seems to be a general agreement 
between those who have written about him on the major events and stages of his life 


and career. In this sketch we shall provide those major events and stages without any 

• 1905: Born in January in Constantine, Malik Bennabi belonged to a family of 
established religious tradition. He received his primary Our'anic and French 
schooling at the small city of Tebessa (on the Tunisian-Algerian border) 
where his father worked as an officer in the Islamic judiciary. 

• 1921-5: Bennabi completed his secondary studies at the madrasah or 
Lycee Franco-Arabe of Constantine. During this period he came into contact 
with the nascent reformist current launched by Shaykh Abd al-Hamid ibn 

• 1925: First attempt to pursue his graduate studies in France, unsuccessful due 
to lack of financial means. 

• 192 7: Following many attempts to find a job, Bennabi was finally appointed 
as assistant officer to the shari'ah court of Aflou in the far western province of 
Or an. 

• 1928: He was transferred to the court of Chelghoum Laid (in the eastern 
region of the country) from which he resigned following a dispute with a 
French clerk of the civil court of the small town. 

• 1929: Bennabi embarked on an unsuccessful business enterprise. 

• 1930: The centenary of French occupation of Algeria. With his father's finan- 
cial support. Bennabi went to Paris to continue his studies. Following a polit- 
ically motivated rejection of his application to join the Institut des Langues 
Orientales de Paris, he joined a polytechnic school from which he graduated 
as an electrical engineer in 1935. 

• 193 1: He joined the Association des Jeunes Chretiens, a Christian youth society 
in search of spirituality and pious conduct. On the platform of this society, he 
gave his first public talk under the title "Pourquoi somes-nous musulmans.?" 
(Why are we Muslims.?) In the same year, he became the vice-president of the 
Muslim Students Association of North Africa. Under the pressure of difficult 
financial conditions as a result of unemployment and his family's worsening 
economic situation, Bennabi made unsuccessful attempts to migrate to the 
Hejaz, Egypt and Albania. 

• 19 38: An old fi:'iend from Tebessa put him in contact with an association of 
immigrant Algerian workers at the city of Marseille looking for a person who 
could conduct literacy tuition for them. Bennabi became the dfrector of the 
Centre Culturel du Congres Musulman Algerien founded by the Association. 
The success of the center attracted the attention of the French authorities, 
which soon closed it down after a few months of intense activity. 

• 1940: Following a call for competitive examination by the Japanese embassy 
in Paris, Bennabi submitted to the latter a study on Islam and Japan. 

• Bennabi's life conditions worsened due to World War Two and the total break- 
down of relations between Algeria and France after November 1942. He was 
compelled to accept a job in Germany. There he managed to write his first and 
seminal book Le Phenomene Coranique (The Our'anic Phenomenon) - the manu- 


script was subsequently destroyed during an air raid. Rewritten from memory, 
the book was first published in 1946 in Algiers. 

After the liberation of France and as a result of a cabal mounted by the mayor 
of Dreus where he was living, Bennabi and his wife, a French convert to Islam, 
were put under police custody. 

From 1946 Bennabi started his unbroken career as a writer 
1947: He published his only novel Lebbeik depicting the spiritual and geo- 
graphical journey of a poor Algerian pilgrim to Mecca and Medina. 
1948: Publication of his controversial Les Conditions de la Renaissance {The 
Conditions of Renaissance). 

1949-55: Bennabi committed himself to a sustained contribution to the 
major Muslim press in Algeria, especially La Republique Algerienne (of the 
Democratic Union led by Ferhat Abbas) and Le Jeune Musulman (of the Ulama 
Association led by Shaykh Muhammad Bashir al-Ibrahimi). 
1954: His fourth major book La Vocation de I'lslam was published in Paris by 
the renowned Editions du Seuil. 

1956: Bennabi was invited to India to present his book L'Afro-Asiatisme 
in which he set out the theoretical and cultural foundations of the non- 
alignment movement whose first seeds were sown during the Bandung 
Conference in 1955. He left France illegally and ended up in Cairo where he 
decided to settle down. 

On September 1, 1956 he requested the political leadership of the Algerian 
National Liberation Front (FLN) in Cairo to be employed as military male nurse 
with the fighting units of the National Liberation Army (ALN) inside Algeria 
so that he could write the internal history of the revolution. He received no 
reply to his request. 

June 1957: Bennabi published in Arabic, French, and German a booklet under 
the title SOS Algeria in which he denounced the atrocities and genocide com- 
mitted by the French army against the Algerian people. He then continued to 
promote the Algerian cause by his own means. 

1957-62: Bennabi organized a series of informal seminars of ideological edi- 
fication for Muslim students in Cairo. The publication of the French and Arabic 
versions of his book L'Afro-Asiatisme was made possible thanks to a sponsor- 
ship by the Egyptian government. During this period, he traveled regularly to 
Syria and Lebanon to deliver public talks and meet with intellectuals and 
thinkers. Besides the translation into Arabic of his earlier books, Bennabi's 
intellectual activity at this stage resulted in a number of important books, 
such as Mildd Mujtama' {On the Origins of Human Society), Fikrat Common- 
wealth Isldmi {The Idea of an Islamic Commonwealth) and al-Sird' al-Fikrifi'l-Bildd 
al-Musta'marah {The Ideological Struggle in the Colonized Countries). 
1963: After Algeria's independence he returned home where he was assigned 
by President Ahmad Ben Bella to establish a center for cultural orientation. 
Weary of the bureaucratic routine that delayed the approval of the project, 
Bennabi launched from his home a regular intellectual forum where he 
focused on the issues of culture and civilization. 


• 1964: Appointed as Director of Higher Education. Meanwhile he continued 
his intellectual activity and contributed regularly to the local press, especially 
the French journal Revolution Africaine in which he wrote almost weekly. 

• 1968-70: After resigning from his official post, Bennabi devoted himself to 
seminars and conferences both at home and abroad. During this period, he 
founded the annual Conference on Islamic Thought that lasted up to the 

• At this stage of his intellectual career, Bennabi published a number of other 
important books. They include, among others, his two-volume memoirs, 
Le Probleme des idees dans le monde musulman, al-Muslim Fi Alam al-Iqtimd, 
Perspectives Algeriennes, L'Islam et la democracie, I'Oeuvre des Orientalistes, etc. 

• October 31, 1973: After a tour that took him in 1971 and 1972 to a number 
of places from Makkah to Damascus and Beirut where he delivered talks about 
"the Muslim's role in the last third of the twentieth century", Bennabi 
breathed his last in Algiers where he was buried. 

Modernity and Beyond 

One major feature of the forces that unleashed the phenomenon of modernity was 
those forces' antagonism to tradition in all its forms. Tradition was mainly identified 
with religion. This meant that an utterly uncompromising crusade had to be waged 
against religion and the church - its formal and institutional embodiment - so that 
modernity's program to de-traditionalize society and culture could be implemented. 
Regardless of the multiple factors that were in play and that finally shaped the histor- 
ical destiny and cultural character of Europe from the seventeenth to the twentieth 
century, reason and science emerged as the crowned twins with whom ultimate author- 
ity should rest. The reason that was now claiming universality for its principles and 
dictates was one whose hetes noires - tradition, authority, emotion, example, etc. - had 
to be confronted and fiercely combated." As for science, it found its model in physics 
as philosophically conceptualized by Descartes and mathematically formulated by 
Newton in terms of his clock-like, self-sufficient universe. 

Accordingly, beliefs and values could only be sanctioned if they pass the test of 
reason and science. Reality and truth are only what can be vindicated by the canons of 
reason and measured by the yardstick of science. This is all well and fine, but it is not 
the actual problem. Indeed, throughout its age-long experience mankind has always 
resorted to reason and science, no matter how both reason and science might have been 
conceived in different civilizations and by different peoples. Humans throughout their 
long history have done so in order to vindicate their beliefs and values, to understand 
their position in the world, to comprehend reality and truth, to regulate the affairs of 
their life, and to deal with nature and the different realms of existence. 

What has really characterized reason and science within the context of Western 
modernity and constituted their problem at the same time, is their reductionist secular 
and materialistic orientation. Driven by a desire to free values from the parochialism 
that allegedly surrounded them in so-called pre-modern societies and cultures, the 


process of rationalization resulted in the deconsecration of values and desacralization 
of life. Due to a strong drive to demystify and control nature and attain certainty in 
knowing it, science ended up limiting nature to physical phenomena and equating the 
latter with the quantifiable that can and must ultimately be subsumed under precise 
mathematical equations. 

Thus, reason, with its universal canons and ontological principles as advocated by 
early philosophical theorists of modernity such as Descartes, was progressively reced- 
ing in favor of a conception of human rationality in which it was narrowly identified 
with science. The narrowing of human rationality and reason was based on "the enor- 
mous metaphysical assumption that the reality to which science has access is the whole 
of reality." This means that human beings "have no other source of knowledge nor any 
other means of reasoning." A doctrine or ideology of scientism thus emerged whose 
first victim was universal reason itself Likewise, human rationality had to be "sub- 
ordinated to contemporary science whatever it may happen to be saying." It followed 
from this that philosophy and rationality became "the handmaiden of science rather 
than its rational underpinning." This, indeed, was a major development of modernity 
towards reductionism in human knowledge and vision of the world. This reductionism 
sought to bring "everything down to the level of physical explanation."' By reducing 
rationality from a holistic outlook to a physicalist conception of the world and reality 
and by making reason a mere instrument of science as patterned after physics, moder- 
nity left the door wide open to relativism in the various aspects of thought and life. 

Perhaps one of the most devastating outcomes of these developments can be seen 
in the loss of meaning that has pervaded almost all aspects of human life. Even physi- 
cal objects, which in the beginning constituted the subject of study for the natural sci- 
ences, have been torn asunder and no more constitute an objective reality. This has 
been further consolidated and given more philosophical grounding by revolutionary 
developments in the physical and natural sciences. Quantum mechanics, in particular, 
"deprived matter of the solidity it was thought to possess"* and destructively affected 
"the program of modern philosophy,"' The subject-matter of scientific knowledge itself 
was now at stake. Actually, "the very notion of an objective nature of the world inde- 
pendent of our knowledge of it came under attack."*' Thus, "scientific knowledge is no 
longer knowledge of things as they are 'out there' in an objective world but only in rela- 
tion to an observer. In a sense, we see what we expect to see in accordance with our 
own mental patterns,"^ Under these circumstances, it is only natural to speak about 
the eclipse and end of reason, to bid farewell to it, or to announce the end of science, 
and, indeed, to herald the end of everything including modernity itself* 

This situation, a logical consequence of modernity's own fundamental premises, has 
been severely aggravated by post-modern trends. In modernity's project reason was 
assigned the position of authority and was therefore considered the reference for 
human thought and life, while science taught us that there was some rationality and 
hence a certain structure in the world. By contrast, post-modernity has almost done 
away with all that. As it pulled man out of his traditional worldviews and value systems, 
modernity promised him alternatives that would be based on reason and enlightened 
by science. It did not thus deprive him totally of a frame of reference and certain 
absolutes in which to ground himself and his experience. Post-modernism, on the 


contrary, is effecting a real dislocation of the human condition and experience. This dis- 
location is tied up with a number of assumptions about reality that go "far beyond 
mere relativism." One main feature of post-modernist thought with its new assump- 
tions is that "things and events do not have intrinsic meaning" and that there is "only 
continuous interpretation of the world."' Accordingly, reality, whether natural or 
social,^" has always to be invented and reconstructed time and again. Nothing has truth 
or meaning in itself. Everything is in permanent flux. The only absolute is total "fluid- 
ity" and permanent change. For post-modernist thinkers such as Jean Frangois Lyotard, 
the epistemological mark of "post-modernity is the loss of authoritative conceptual 
structures to serve as the "foundation" of rational knowledge. "^^ Regardless of the 
various brands of post-modernism that writers have tried to map out, one of them 
seems to hold sway over the others. It is a kind of post-modernism characterized by 
absolute relativism according to which "objective truth is intolerable and non-existent." 
In this brand of post-modernism, "not only is any transcendent center of reality dis- 
avowed, but the unrelieved flux that replaces it has no center."^' As many post- 
modernist philosophers tell us, humanity is at present experiencing the total collapse 
of all grand narratives (i.e., religion, philosophical systems, ideologies, etc.), which in 
the past underpinned and sustained human experience and consciousness. 

Thus, if modernity advocated a reductionist, materialist and secular view of the 
world, post-modernity is advocating a completely fragmented world in which there is 
no anchoring point for human consciousness and experience. Not only has the object 
fallen apart, but the subject himself has also vanished. Instead of modernity's subject, 
who of course implies the existence of an object, invention is being made of "a floating 
individual with no distinct reference points or parameters."^' 

In the wake of modernity's struggle against tradition and religion, man was left 
without heart and soul, but at least it was said that reason and its time-honored ally, 
science, would take care of him. Now post-modernity is cutting up his head and strip- 
ping him of his mind. What is then left is a soulless and mindless body that is being 
pampered by a sweeping culture of consumerism and nihflism. With the post-modern 
turn of mind, the problem has assumed alarmingly more dangerous dimensions. The 
evil-guided, power-thirsty, and business-oriented manipulations of genetic engineering 
are indeed precipitating humanity not only into the unknown, but also into the 
assuredly destructive. ^''Thus, it is no more a question of increasing dehumanization as 
Rene Dubos, for example, long ago complained.^' The problem now is not that we are 
facing the end of man in the philosophical and sociological sense that had appeared to 
Michel Foucault in his archeological critique of modern social sciences.^'' In what seems 
to be a reconsideration of his thesis on the end of history, Francis Fukuyama has actu- 
ally warned against what he considers the most significant threat from biotechnology 
consisting in the possibility of altering human nature and thereby moving the world 
into a "post-human" stage of history. Thus, we are informed that we are ushering 
towards man's end in a psychological, biological, and physical sense. ^^ 

It is, in my opinion, against this intellectual and historical background that 
Bennabi's severe criticism of Cartesian rationalism and his strong rejection of scien- 
tism in his book The Quranic Phenomenon can better be appreciated. With the foresight 
of a visionary, he was able to discern to what consequences Descartes' rationalism and 


the scientism whose philosophical foundations he was laying down could ultimately 
lead. In criticizing the Cartesian rationalist doctrine, Bennabi's concern was not in fact 
with Descartes' belief or disbelief, nor was he having any problem with reason and 
science as such. What was of the utmost concern for Bennabi was the conception of 
reason and science as utterly antithetical to religion and revelation. His argument in 
The Quranic Phenomenon and in other works too is unmistakably informed by a sharp 
awareness of what may be called modernity's self-negation, which included almost all 
its major 'isms, including even its most cherished notions of rationalism, humanism, 
and scientism.^* 

This self-negation can only be seen as a logical consequence of modernity's funda- 
mental inclination towards magnification. In other words, the magnification, for 
instance, of reason and science led to an absolutizing of the scientific worldview and 
to a belief in the absolute capability of human reason and power to control nature and 
history and to answer all the ultimate questions that have never ceased to be of serious 
concern for the human mind. Understandably, this magnification and absolutizing 
could only take place with the price of rejecting all supernatural or extra-human 
authority and negating all transcendent reality. By rejecting divine authority and 
negating metaphysical reality as expressed in Nietzsche's infamous announcement of 
the death of God, modernity, to put it in Bennabi's terms, had to fall into a process of 
deifying other entities, thereby absolutizing other authorities. But once it is realized that 
those absolutized authorities and deified entities cannot provide the promised panacea, 
the only alternative is to lose faith in them and to usher in the post-modern age with 
its absolute fluidity and continuous flux. 

Man, Religion and Science in Bennabi's Tliouglit 

That is why Bennabi strongly insists that modernity's antagonism towards religion 
should not be understood merely as a conflict between religion and science or reason. 
For him, it is question of a conflict between two basically different philosophical systems 
and visions of the world. It is a conflict "between theism and materialism, between the 
religion that has God as a basis and that which postulates matter as an absolute."^'' It 
is, in the final analysis, a battle for the ultimate meaning of life, the nature of man and 
the origin and destiny of the world, with all that this involves and necessitates at the 
psychological, sociological, philosophical, and cosmological levels.'" As mentioned pre- 
viously, the particular significance of Bennabi's work on the Our'an can be fully real- 
ized in the light of the far-reaching developments that have occurred in that context. 
It is a self-aware intellectual engagement with the secular premises and materialistic 
scientistic worldview of modernity. 

In developing his argument, Bennabi adopted an interdisciplinary approach, which 
can be said to be unprecedented in Our'anic and Islamic studies in general. Insights 
from various disciplines and branches of knowledge have been inteUigently cast 
together to develop a new method to the study of religion in general and the Our'an in 
particular This approach drew on philosophy, archeology, history, astronomy, sociol- 
ogy, philosophical anthropology, comparative religion, and psychology. Its purpose was 


to examine religion and prophethood as objective phenomena that transcend all his- 
torical contexts and socio-cultural configurations. Bennabi's objective was to overcome 
the inadequacies and shortcomings of the reductionist and subjectivist theories that 
have dominated modern studies of religion and religious phenomena across the differ- 
ent disciplines of social science. He starts from a basic observation agreed upon by so 
many scholars and thinkers of different backgrounds. It concerns the fact that religion 
"has been the condition for human life in all ages and climes.""^ However, unlike so 
many modern thinkers, he does not explain this fact away by relying on historicist, sub- 
jectivist or positivist interpretations."' Instead, he sees in the different manifestations of 
religion throughout human history, from "the simple dolmen to the most imposing 
temple," the clearest evidence as to the deep-rootedness of the religious and meta- 
physical preoccupation in human life and history. Although the presence of religion 
has been so manifest and permanent that it compelled sociologists to describe man as 
"a fundamentally religious animal," the real problem, according to Bennabi, does not 
lie at the level of this factual and true observation, nor can it be resolved by it. It rather 
lies at a more fundamental plane, that of the interpretation and understanding of the 
ultimate source and true significance of the religious phenomenon confirmed by such 
an observation. Thus, the question pertains to whether man is "a religious animal" in 
an innate way by virtue of an original disposition of his nature, or whether he has 
acquired this quality due to some initial cultural accident that has reverberated 
throughout human history.^ ^ 

In dealing with this issue, Bennabi points out that modern Western thought has been 
misguided by a scientistic and positivist bent of mind that looks at all phenomena in 
physical terms, while being totally oblivious to the very fundamental principles under- 
lying positive science itself. Driven by a Cartesian reflex, this thought "reduces every- 
thing to the earthly level" of existence. ■** In his view, the ideological thrust and passion 
for scientism and positivism are responsible for the blindness and failure of the domi- 
nant modern Western mind in realizing the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the 
various systems and theories it has evolved for the interpretation of the different phe- 
nomena, notably religion. For Bennabi, being inextricably linked to the realm of human 
thought and consciousness that cannot be understood in mere physical terms, religion 
can only find its true explanation at another level of reality that does not turn its back 
on scientific thought or ignore its discoveries, but realizes its limitations in relation to 
the vast phenomena standing beyond the material and phenomenological world. It is 
a level of reality where human understanding acknowledges science not as a goddess 
pitted against religion, but as a humble servant of human progress, while it still con- 
forms to the philosophical and logical requirements of the human mind. It is a ques- 
tion of thought in which the "metaphysical truth transcends but does not exclude the 
temporal truth. "^' 

Accordingly, religion can only be properly understood by linking it to the imperative 
order of the willful, conscious, and creative power that has given existence to all things, 
including man who embodies thinking matter par excellence. It is thus not a mere 
psychic and mental activity of the human being that can simply be reduced to some 
physical and biological factors. Rather, it is something inscribed in the order of the uni- 
verse as a law characteristic of the human spirit. In other words, religion springs from 


the primordial command of the Creator who has endowed the human species with a 
specific nature distinguishing it from all animal species no matter how close a physical 
affinity man might have with some of them, ft is likewise a cosmic fact and perennial 
reality that cannot be reduced to a mere cultural category acquired by human beings 
over history or relative to the early and primitive stages of human socio-cultural devel- 
opment,"'' as evolutionary theories have been relentlessly teaching. 

fn this connection, it is worth mentioning that this psycho-cosmological view of 
religion was expressed, albeit sometimes in indecisive terms, by a number of 
Western philosophers and scholars who seem to have attempted to emancipate them- 
selves from the yoke of materialism and positivism. As a leading figure in psycho- 
analysis who established his own brand of it (i.e. analytical psychology), Carl Jung's 
views (often referred to by Bennabi) deserve special attention here, fn an attempt to 
avoid the inaccuracies of the materialist conception of the psyche, Jung developed his 
famous "theory of archetypes" according to which the proper understanding of reli- 
gion can be achieved by relating it to a collective unconscious that constitutes a ''psychic 
reality shared by all humans."'^ In Jung's view, this "collective unconscious contains 
the whole spiritual heritage of mankind's evolution born anew in the brain structure 
of the individual.""* However, despite the importance of this notion of a common and 
universal "spiritual heritage" of mankind, the renowned scholar fell short of address- 
ing the compelling question as to the origin of the said "universal collective spiritual 
heritage." On the contrary, he explained it away by simply relating it to the evolution 
of mankind. A possible explanation of this is that, being philosophically inspired by the 
ICantian tradition"'' and imbued with the spirit of the dominating positivistic and 
scientistic mind of his age, Jung eschewed "from any metaphysical or philosophical 
considerations. " ^" 

Be that as it may. in considering religion's different expressions (such as totemism, 
polytheism, and monotheism), Bennabi's aim was to achieve two main objectives. The 
first objective was to establish the perennial nature of the religious phenomenon as a 
characteristic of human nature. Hence, man is described as a religious animal or homo 
religiosus.^^ The second objective was to establish the veracity of the Our'anic revela- 
tion and authenticity of Muhammad's prophetic call. This objective was pursued 
through an examination of both the Our' an and the Prophet's personality within the 
wider historical context of the monotheistic tradition and prophetic movement, which 
have characterized three major living religious traditions of the world, i.e., Judaism, 
Christianity, and Islam. For this, he proposed a method in which both phenomenology 
and psychological analysis should play a prominent role. Likewise, the particular case 
of Islam is linked to the religious phenomenon in general, while its messenger is 
regarded as the final link in the chain of the prophetic movement. Similarly, the 
Our'anic revelation is considered as the culmination of the stream of monotheistic 
thought. On the other hand, a comparative historical and psychological analysis is nec- 
essary to grasp the relationship between the prophets (messengers) and their messages 
and detect the common characteristics determining their personality and behavior 

To address the latter issue, Bennabi looked into the life and career of the fsraelite 
Prophet Jeremiah whose book and historical authenticity have been spared by modern 
Biblical criticism." fn contradistinction with his counterpart, the pseudo-prophet 


Hanania, the examination of the specific case of Jeremiah revealed to him the follow- 
ing features as distinctive characteristics of genuine prophethood. 

1. An absolute power eliminating the prophet's personal will and determining 
his final and permanent behavior with respect to his missionary career 

2. A unique and categorical judgment on the future course of events tran- 
scending all logic of history reasoned out by ordinary human beings. 

3 . The comparison between Jeremiah and other Biblical prophets such as Amos 
and the Second Isaiah revealed a third feature that consists of the similarity 
and continuity in the manifestation of the previous two features in all 

Equally manifested in the case of Prophet Muhammad, these features, according to 
Bennabi, can neither be explained as mere subjective traits of the prophet nor as a result 
of a disturbed mental state and unbalanced personality, as modern critics would have 
us believe. On the contrary, they indicate the impersonal character and external prove- 
nance of the prophetic call. This call is such that it imposes itself on the person of the 
prophet and subdues his will in an absolute way. The prophets' resistance to the 
prophetic call furnishes further evidence as to the impersonal and external character 
of prophethood. They all wished and, in practice, positively tried to avoid it altogether. 
This resistance is a clear indication of the opposition between their free will and the 
determinism that subordinates their will and subjugates their self 

After establishing the phenomenological characteristics of the prophetic movement, 
which spans so many centuries of human history since the Patriarch Abraham up to 
the last Our'anic revelations vouchsafed unto Muhammad, Bennabi then turned to 
examining the Our'an from both a phenomenological and a psychoanalytic perspec- 
tive. As he puts it, besides its thematic continuity with earlier Scriptures manifested in 
its essential message to mankind, especially its spiritual and moral teachings grounded 
on monotheism, the Our'an itself provides a very important clue underlining its belong- 
ing to the phenomenon of revelation which intimately accompanied the prophetic 
movement. Thus, the Our'an taught Muhammad, its recipient and conveyor, that he 
was "no innovator among the apostles" (Our'an, 46: 9). This means that he was not 
"preaching anything that was not already preached by all God's apostles" before him.^^ 
In other words, Muhammad was only a link, the last one as proclaimed by the Our'an 
itself (Our'an, 33: 40), in the long chain of prophets unto whom God had vouchsafed 
his messages. Accordingly, he was, like them, subject to the same laws. Hence, the char- 
acteristics of prophethood mentioned above were equally manifested in him. 

But apart from its phenomenological characteristic as belonging to the phenome- 
non of revelation and as being the culmination of religious monotheism, there is 
another important aspect by virtue of which the Our'an constitutes a phenomenon in 
itself Its revelation over almost 23 years makes it more than just an "event" as Bishop 
Cragg once wrote. ^^ If a phenomenon can be defined as an event that repeatedly occurs 
under the same conditions, then the sequence of the Our'anic revelations over more 
than two decades falls clearly under this definition. One aspect of the phenomenologi- 
cal manifestation of the Our'an concerns its recipient and carrier, the Prophet himself 


while the other concerns the mode of revelation. At the Prophet's level, the Our'anic 
revelations were always accompanied by certain psycho-physiological changes that 
could easily be seen by those present with him. As for the revelations themselves, they 
occurred according to definite measures and in varying time intervals in such a way 
that was clearly indifferent to the personal state of the person who was receiving them. 
In other words, those revelations were taking place irrespective of the Prophet's grief 
and sufferings or wishes and aspirations. 

For Bennabi, these phenomenological characteristics of the Our'an vividly indicate 
its impersonality and externality with regard to the Prophet's self This implies that the 
ideas and knowledge content of the Our'an supersede the Prophet's personal knowl- 
edge and transcend his consciousness. We might express this point in Cragg's beauti- 
ful words. The Our'an, said the Anglican bishop, "was never a personal ambition, an 
anticipated dignity, a private honour. Except as a divine mercy, it could not have been, " ^' 
However, an objection can be raised here. Admitting the impersonal and external char- 
acter of the Our'an vis-d-vis Muhammad's self, there is still room for supposing that it 
mirrored the knowledge and ideas - religious, literary, historical, and scientific - that 
were available in his environment and age. To this hypothesis, on which many Western 
scholars built their studies of Islam and its Prophet, Bennabi has devoted a great deal 
of analysis that actually runs throughout all the chapters of his book The Quranic Phe- 
nomenon. A psychological and intellectual portrait of the Prophet, before and after the 
prophetic call, has been carefully drawn to first establish the demarcation line between 
the Prophet's personal knowledge and ideas, on the one hand, and the content of the 
Our'an, on the other. Then, a comparative and historical examination of a wide range 
of Our'anic themes has been carried out to demonstrate that the true reality of the 
source of the Our'an can only be conceived on a transcendent, metaphysical plane, a 
metapsychism. far above the psychic reality of its recipient and the mentality and 
knowledge of his milieu and age. 

As pointed out earlier, Bennabi's book was a mature and well-thought effort to 
respond to the intellectual challenges of modern Western scientific thought and engage 
with its philosophical premises. In fact, it can be seen as an inauguration of a new kind 
of Islamic theological and philosophical thinking to explore Our'anic eternal truths and 
principles in new lights and from wider perspectives than was possible for classical 
Muslim scholars. Indeed, the approach Bennabi suggested and the methodology he 
applied in his study of the Our'an are challenging and worthy of serious consideration 
by those who seek to open new avenues for the revival of Islamic thought and recon- 
struction of Muslim society and civilization. His reformulation of the issue of Vjaz, or 
the inimitability and "matchlessness" of the Our'an, is worthy of special attention. 
Instead of the linguistic and literary considerations that constituted the main focus of 
most classical Muslim scholars and many authors in the modern era, he attempted to 
address the question of i'jdz within the wider philosophical and historical context of 
the religious phenomenon and prophetic movement by examining it in relation to the 
miracles of both Moses and Jesus and in relation to the themes reflecting the devel- 
opment of human religious consciousness. In doing so, Bennabi wanted to invite his 
readers to a different reading of human religious history and a different understand- 
ing of the human condition that goes far beyond the mere concerns of Muslims. This 


is because the Our'an, once again we borrow Cragg's words, "relates to the larger world 
on the outer side of [Muslim] experience wherever man, either in his religions or his 
secularity, is found."'*' 

Likewise, in developing his analytic and phenomenological approach to the Our'an, 
Bennabi's target is not simply the Muslim who is in need of a sound appreciation and 
understanding of the Our'an on which his personal faith and conviction should be 
based. He is also as much concerned about those who want to deal with the Islamic 
Scripture merely as a subject of academic inquiry. In other words, this approach is 
deemed to enable the non-Muslim to reach an equally adequate and just appreciation 
of the Our'an whose bearing is not restricted to the Muslim who has possessed it by 
faith and personal experience. Perhaps we can say, using the words of Kenneth Cragg, 
Bennabi's method in dealing with the Our'anic phenomenon "will allow the Our'an to 
be possessed from without - possessed, that is, not by the propagandist who wishes to 
decry or the dilettante who wills to sentimentalize - but by the seriously concerned who 
has at once both yearning and reservation, both attraction and misgiving."'^ 

As mentioned above, modernity's positivistic conception of reason and its scientis- 
tic ideology have had detrimental consequences for the meaning of reality that have 
been seriously aggravated by post-modernist thought. In the wake of the unfolding 
processes of globalization in almost all the spheres of human life, those consequences 
need not be overemphasized here. Bennabi's reflections and insights can rightly be seen 
as a consolidation of the efforts by many thinkers and scholars all over the world. Such 
thinkers and scholars are actually involved in a struggle not only against the reduc- 
tionist and nihilist trends that have pushed humanity into the abyss of secularization 
and the post-religious era, but also against the forces that are pushing her onto the 
precipice of a menacingly post-human age. 

Bennabi's The Quranic Phenomenon was not simply the beginning of his intellectual 
career as a visionary thinker and writer. When he ended it with the statement that reli- 
gion "appears to be inscribed in the order of the universe as a law characteristic of the 
human spirit,"'* he did not make an empty statement or play on words. In this book, 
he has in fact laid down the philosophical and methodological foundations of his sub- 
sequent works. It can safely be ascertained that those works were, literally speaking, an 
elaboration and substantiation of the central thesis developed here about man and reli- 
gion in terms of social and cultural theorizing.'' In other words, Bennabi's intellectual 
concern about religion and its place in human existence and life was not confined to 
the general philosophical level discussed above, as wfll be made clear in the course of 
the following pages. 

Society and Culture: Towards a New Paradigm 

One fundamental question arises whenever we attempt to study and understand sci- 
entifically human social life and try to understand the nature of society. Why do human 
beings associate and form groups and communities.? Is it because of a biological neces- 
sity inherent in the species? In other words, are human beings driven by their instincts 
to associate with one another and identify themselves with a certain form of collective 


life? Is it the inexorable external circumstances that objectively compel them to live in 
a community? Or, does that reason lie in a subjective will whereby human individuals 
deliberately choose to live collectively and form a society?*" 

Since very early in human history, it has been observed that man is a social or polit- 
ical (from the word polis meaning city) being. Likewise, he has formed different kinds 
of association, such as the family, the kinship group, the tribe and the nation.*^ 
]3owever, the statement that "man is a social being or animal" does not, by itself, provide 
any explanation that would account for the question of how and why humans live col- 
lectively. It simply pinpoints a fact. Such a question has been one of the everlasting 
central issues of human thought over which scholars and thinkers of all ages and cul- 
tures have not ceased to ponder and formulate different views and theories. According 
to some scholars, the reason for man's social character stems from the inherent weak- 
ness of his biological structure that makes it beyond each individual's capacity to fulfill 
his basic needs of food and security on his own. Human beings were therefore com- 
pelled to cooperate with each other in order to satisfy those needs, and this gave rise 
to the social organization of human life.''' In his now classic work on social psychology, 
McDougall expressed the view that the inclination of humans to group and communal 
life has its origin both in their instinctive and their biological make-up.*' Since it is not 
our aim to review the literature available on the subject, what has been mentioned 
would be sufficient to pave the way for our discussion of Bennabi's point of view on the 
issue at hand. 

Bennabi has devoted one of his most important works. On the Origins of Human 
Society ,*''' to this question. However, he has not limited his discussion thereof to this 
book alone. To begin with, he unequivocally states that the natural and instinctual drive 
of human beings to live together or, to use his own expression, the group instinct, is not 
the real cause or reason for the formation of society. It is simply a means, rather For 
him, society is an organism that involves more than the mere aggregate of individuals 
whose function is to satisfy the natural needs mentioned above. That is to say society 
consists of what he considers "constant fundamentals to which it owes its continuity 
more or less independently of its individual members".*' To explain the above state- 
ment, Bennabi argues that it might happen that under some historical circumstances 
a society disintegrates and subsequently disappears as an entity and order without, 
however, this affecting its individual members as such. On the contrary, they would still 
preserve the natural instinct and disposition to live as a group. In his view, this shows 
that the instinctive drive is only a factor that contributes in determining, but does 
not, on its own, determine man's quality as a social being. The fundamentals to which 
human society owes its existence and continuity consist of the following three things: 
(i) the historical source of the process of change; (ii) the elements susceptible to be 
transformed, through that process, from a pre-social to a social state; and (iii) the uni- 
versal laws and norms governing that process. 

To develop his solution to the fundamental question raised above, Bennabi starts by 
making a basic anthropological classification between different forms of human asso- 
ciation. According to that classification, there are two types of human communities or 
groups: the "ahistorical natural static groups" and the "historical dynamic groups." 
While the life of the first type has not undergone any serious transformation either in 


its content or its form, that of the second has undergone a deep and total transforma- 
tion in terms of its pattern, motives, and content. The first type is not, in Bennabi's view, 
of real interest to the enterprise of social science, especially sociology, since the human 
groups belonging to it are not different from some animal species living in conglomer- 
ations, in that they are subject to the laws of mere biological and instinctual life. The 
human groups belonging to this type do not carry out any historical mission (in terms 
of generating culture and building civilization), except the biological preservation of 
the species.'"' Therefore, they can be seen as merely representing "ethnographic mate- 
rial" that may be used by creative societies to build civilization.*^ On the contrary, it is 
the historical type that is of special interest to Bennabi. This is because it represents the 
dynamic society that has been subject to the laws of social and historical change, thus 
undergoing profound transformation both in its character and features according to a 
specific historical finality. 

The natural biological and instinctual structure of the human species provides what 
Bennabi calls "the vital energy" necessary for the society to carry out its collective 
concerted action and fulfill its function in history. Nevertheless, the process whereby 
history borrows from nature this "vital energy" is not as simple as it might at first 
appear The reason for this can be expounded as follows. If it does not undergo a process 
of conditioning and adaptation by being subordinated to a specific order inspired by a 
sublime ideal, this vital energy may destroy society itself It is the ideal that actually 
brings about the reorganization and reorientation of the vital energy and transforms it 
in such a way that it will not simply function for maintaining the survival of the species. 
Rather, it also functions in compliance with the social functions of the human being as 
a moral agent in the concerted civilizational action of society. Thus conceiving a com- 
plementary relationship between history (= society) and nature (= species), Bennabi 
admits that it is a natural fact that the human being must drink, eat, procreate, possess, 
and struggle for the preservation of the species. However, these primordial natural 
activities, he insists, have to be controlled and oriented in line with the goals conform- 
ing to the progress and development of the species. Hence, if we were to consider that 
human individuals associate and live in communities and groups for the purpose of sat- 
isfying their biological and instinctive needs in order to guarantee the survival of their 
species, this would not make any real difference between mankind and other animal 
species enjoying certain forms of collective life. Therefore, it is not simply for the preser- 
vation of the species that humans associate and form societies, he strongly emphasized. 
Rather, the reason why human beings conglomerate lies at another level, that of the 
cultural development and moral advancement of the species. This is, as he emphati- 
cally puts it, "the essential truth about human society. "''^ In other words, human beings 
engage in social life as psycho-temporal factors. LUcewise, they act not only in terms of 
their temporality, of their material needs, but also in terms of their psychism, of their 
spirituality. As he insists, it is here that the complete reality of man lies, "which must 
be taken into account for seizing it in its totality.""" 

To illustrate this point, he refers to marriage and the formation of the family as an 
elementary form of social life. If this activity is urged by the mere preservation of the 
species, free sexual intercourse between the male and female would be sufficient to 
satisfy that need. It would, on the one hand, accord with the biological laws governing 


the species and, on the other, increase the number of its individuals. Nevertheless, we 
find that the conjugal relationship has always taken place, in all societies, according to 
"a symbolic religious ceremony." Such a ceremony is usually meant to confer a special 
meaning and significance upon the union of the male and female as a contract that 
complies not only with the biological needs of the species but also with the moral objec- 
tives of society. Looking at this issue from an Islamic point of view, it can be stated that 
by sanctifying one particular form of sexual relationship, marriage "involves a vow, a 
public acknowledgement, and therefore cannot be reduced simply to legitimation of the 
sexual bond." Indeed, marriage constitutes "the act that gives a concrete form to the 
order of existence and gives sexuality a new significance" by surrounding "the sexual 
relationship with the maximum publicity."'" It thus appears clearly that Bennabi 
understands the concept of progress as the historical vocation of human society in a 
comprehensive sense encompassing the spiritual, moral, mental, and material levels. 
Even if "need" is accepted as being the reason underlying the association of human 
beings into communities and societies, it cannot, in Bennabi's view, account for human 
society's cultural dynamics and historical development, nor is it enough to explain the 
phenomenon of the civilization which is characteristic of historical societies. To him, 
this interpretation of the birth of human society may conform to what he considers as 
the amoebic stage of consciousness in human social and historical evolution.'^ 

Now that we turn to the interpretation of the birth of human society based on exter- 
nal factors, the main line of Bennabi's argument concerning the biological instinctual 
thesis outlined previously needs to be brought into more prominence. Stated in specific 
terms, his formulation of the relationship between nature and history or species and 
society has to be retained in mind for it is of great significance for the following dis- 
cussion, especially as regards the analysis of the constitution and dynamics of society. 
It has to be acknowledged in this connection that Bennabi has not addressed the ques- 
tion whether or not the origin of human society resides in the external circumstances 
separately. However, his position in this respect can be inferred from his discussion of 
the dialectical and historical materialist thesis expounded by Karl Marx and his fol- 
lowers and the challenge-response thesis advocated by Arnold Toynbee.'' 

In Marx's opinion, the relations into which the human beings engage in their social 
life are determined by the prevailing "material productive forces" and, hence, are "indis- 
pensable and independent of their [i.e. humans'] will". As he further argues, "[t]he 
mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life 
processes in general. [And] it is not the consciousness of men that determines their 
being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.'"^ 
Despite the fact that in the previous statement Marx is primarily concerned with the 
process of social change and the historical forces underlying it, we can deduce his posi- 
tion concerning the issue at hand from another passage in which he satirically criti- 
cized a group of eighteenth-century thinkers who had addressed this issue. For him, 
those thinkers had erred and therefore were worthy of scorn and contempt because 
they had tried to explain the origin of human social relations by a "so-called universal 
consent of mankind" or "a conventional origin.'"* As can be seen from these state- 
ments, Marx clearly adheres to an objectivist interpretation according to which the 
external factors stand at the root of the genesis of society and social phenomena. 


As for Toynbee's challenge-response thesis, its author has summarized as follows. 
"Our formula for the growth-progression would be", says Toynbee, "a challenge 
evoking a successful response generating a fresh challenge evoking another successful 
response and so on, pending a breakdown; our formula for the disintegration- 
progression would be a challenge evoking an unsuccessful response, generating 
another attempt, resulting in another failure and so on, pending dissolution."" 

To avoid talking in general theoretical terms, Bennabi points out that, under close 
scrutiny, the previous two interpretations of the rise of society and civilization are 
unable to account for innumerable cases in history. Taking the rise of Islamic society 
and civilization as a concrete example testifying to the profound spiritual and socio- 
historical transformation brought about by Islam, he observes the following. For so 
many centuries, the pre-Islamic Arabs had lived in the Arabian Peninsula and faced dif- 
ferent challenges of natural and historical character. However, history has not recorded 
any response on their part to those challenges resulting in any transformation of their 
life. Similarly, when we look at the economic conditions and the forces and relations of 
economic production, we find that they did not undergo any real change that would 
make us expect the rise of a new mode of life and a different type of social organiza- 
tion. Yet, with the advent of the Our'anic revelation and the inculcation of spiritual and 
moral values it brought, a different t3rpe of society and a new civilization came into 
being that cannot in any way be interpreted in terms of the conceptual categories sug- 
gested by Marx and Toynbee. Therefore, a different explanation is needed. 

A Spiritual interpretation of tlie Genesis of Human Society 

Before delving into an exposition of Bennabi's views in this regard, a few words are in 
order to shed more light on the notion of "historical societies" due to its conceptual 
importance in his sociological analysis. This can be further illustrated by the observa- 
tion that the function of the natural static type does not. according to him, transcend 
the mere preservation of the species through the satisfaction of the basic biological 
needs of its individuals. Such a function would accord with the biology-instinct based 
interpretation of human group formation. But since the function of the historical type 
is not confined to merely securing the survival of the species, this interpretation is not 
sufficient. Accordingly, the historical type rather consists in consciously transforming 
the human and natural environment by generating new forms of life and organization 
through thought and labor. Likewise, he maintains, if it is nature that provides the 
species, it is history that creates society. Put differently, the purpose of nature is to pre- 
serve the existence (and survival) of the species, whereas the purpose of history is to 
lead the course of evolution towards a higher form of life that we call civilization. 

In line with his main thesis according to which social life denotes historical change 
and the rise of culture and civilization, the meaning Bennabi assigns to the term "his- 
torical societies" clearly transcends the racial and geopolitical boundaries to embrace 
the cultural and spiritual foundations of human association. Thus, his concern is essen- 
tially focused on large human entities which enjoy relatively long historical durations, 
span over relatively vast geographical areas and espouse a certain ideal and set of moral 


values on the basis of which a specific pattern of conduct and a particular mode of life 
emerge. This clarification does not, it should be admitted here, flow immediately from 
the literal level of Bennabi's work. However, it is solidly supported by the fact that 
nowhere in his books does he speak of small human entities as societies, be that on 
racial or geopolitical grounds. Whenever such entities are treated in specific contexts, 
they are rather referred to as peoples such as the Algerian, the Egyptian, or the French 
people. Accordingly, we would frequently encounter the reference to such large cultural 
and civilizational entities as the Islamic, the Christian European (or Western), the 
Chinese (Buddhist and subsequently communist), or the Hindu society. Even when he 
mentions, for example, the Arab society, it is always qualified as Islamic, either explic- 
itly or tacitly depending on the context. 

In his reflection on the origins of human society, Bennabi introduces two important 
concepts. In his view, the personality of the human individual in historical societies 
consists of two fundamental identities, which he expresses by the term "equations." On 
the one hand, there is an inborn natural identity which is the outcome of the act of 
creation of God Who has fashioned "man in the best conformation" (Our'an 95:4) and 
"conferred dignity upon the children of Adam" (Our'an, 17: 70). On the basis of this 
identity, the human being is endowed with all the positive qualities, physical as well as 
mental and spiritual, corresponding to the functions that this particular creature is 
meant to perform. The fact that this created identity or dimension of the individual's 
personality is common to all the human species does not imply, Bennabi cautions, that 
all the individuals have the same "best conformation""' in respect of their physical and 
mental endowments. Rather, it simply means that irrespective of his natural advan- 
tages or disadvantages, each human being is endowed with the ability to make the best 
possible use of his inborn qualities and faculties and of the environment to which he 
is exposed.'^ The human being's given identity, Bennabi insists, is not subject to any 
kind of alteration or corruption under whatever circumstances, for it carries the orig- 
inal dignity conferred by God on mankind.'^ 

On the other hand, we have an acquired social dimension or identity that is the result 
of socio-cultural and historical processes. Unlike the first one, this identity varies from 
one society to another and, within one and the same society, from one generation to 
another according to the level of cultural and civilizational development. Thus, the per- 
sonality of the human individual is a complex entity composed of two identities: one 
that represents his essence and value as a human being created by God in the best con- 
formation, and one that represents his value as a social being molded by society. Only 
by taking these two identities into consideration can we achieve a sound understand- 
ing of the human social reality, he strongly insists.''' 

The question that arises here is the following: how do these two identities relate to 
the issue at hand, namely the origin of, or the reason underlying, human association 
and the genesis of society.? 

Since the birth of society in the sense specified by Bennabi is concomitant with the 
rise of culture and civilization, its advent is due to a fundamental idea that imparts to 
a static natural human group "the thrust that drives it onto the stage of history.'"'" In 
other words, the transformation of a human group from a stagnant, pre-civilizational 
and ahistorical status of life into a social, civilized and historical one, takes place when 


its members perceive a new meaning for ttieir existence in the universe. This means 
that the forces lying at the origin of any historical movement of cultural and social 
change are essentially of a spiritual and psychological nature. This understanding 
stems from the fact that the inborn natural dimension mentioned above is fashioned in 
such a manner that man "would look beyond his earthly horizon so as to discover in 
his own self the genius of earth as well as the sublime and transcendental value of 
things. "^^ Thus it is the mental equipment and spiritual and moral disposition of the 
human beings that underlie their association in societies in a continuous pursuit of "an 
ideal of moral perfection towards which civilization has never ceased to move as its ulti- 
mate end."" Conformably, Bennabi argues, a human group starts moving on the path 
of civilization as a society when a moral ideal enters the scene. This ideal attaches the 
individuals to a specific historical finality endowing their lives with meaning and value 
and orienting their vital energies towards the achievement of certain goals and the 
actualization of certain values. This brings into strong relief the reason why Bennabi 
repeatedly insists on considering human social organization as a stage in which human 
beings transcend "the inferior [needs] and laws inherited from the animal order ".""^ 
that is, the biological and instinctive impulses mankind shared with other animal 

Thus, Bennabi's sociological thought proceeds from his fundamental thesis accord- 
ing to which man's religiosity is an inborn quality that emanates from human spiritual 
and mental constitution and conforms to the laws of the cosmic order Accordingly, he 
considers that religion lies at the origin of all historical societies and that it has thus 
been the most inexhaustible source of moral ideals and values for human life. He 
maintains that the "extraordinary circumstance" to which thinkers and social scien- 
tists have always attempted to trace back the birth of human society is neither the 
mere challenge posed by the environment, nor the means and forces of material pro- 
duction. Nor does it lie in the mere biological-instinctual constitution of the human 
species. Rather, it is the advent of religion the seeds of which are sown very deep in the 
life and history of humankind. Religion thus provides the basis for an ethos that is 
developed and consolidated hand in hand with the social evolution and cultural devel- 
opment of the human group. It also functions as the main catalyst facilitating the 
essential synthesis of human society and civilization; that is to say, it brings about 
the bio-historical synthesis of man, soil, and time. Likewise, Bennabi further argues, 
the spiritual relationship between God and man that is regulated by religion is at the 
origin of the social relationship linking human beings with one another By linking the 
social relations to spiritual religious roots, he perceives human social existence as onto- 
logically grounded in the metaphysical order of things. Such perception derives, in our 
opinion, from the Our'anic account of the advent of mankind on earth. According 
to this account, God had informed the angels that He was "about to establish on earth 
one who shall inherit it" (Our'an, 1: 30). This notion of the human species entitled to 
the "inheritance" of the earth is expressed by such suggestive and all-encompassing 
terms like khilafah (vicegerency) and amdnah (trust) (Our'an, 1: 30; 6: 165; 3 3: 72). As 
Ibn Khaldun expressed it, it was "God's desire to settle the world with human beings 
and leave them as His representatives on earth." For the author of The Muaqaddimah, 


this "is the meaning of civilization" which constitutes the subject-matter of the "new 
science" he set out to establish.''* 

Likewise, religion, in Bennabi's opinion, is the ultimate source that gives birth to the 
social relationship in the form of a moral ideal and thus it "naturally inscribes itself in 
the origin of all human transformations."'" Furthermore, he contends that while the 
social and religious relationships represent, from the historical perspective, two con- 
comitant events, they mark, from the "cosmo-genetic" point of view, the advent of one 
and the same process of social change in which the social relationship stands as the 
effect of the religious one. In other words, the social relationship linking the individual 
to society constitutes the temporal manifestation of the spiritual relationship with God. 
In all accounts, he further argues, human beings organize themselves as a society that 
generates culture and establishes civilization. In both cases, he remarks, human beings 
either transcend their worldly life towards a metaphysical "ideal" specified by revela- 
tion or they, at least, transcend their present situation towards a future ideal that takes 
the form of a social project for which successive generations strive. Given its cosmic 
nature, religion, in Bennabi's view, is the only source that can provide the necessary 
and most efficient and enduring catalyst that brings about the essential synthesis of 
human civilization by integrating into a coherent, dynamic whole its primary factors, 
namely man, soil, and time. It thus imparts to everyone the will of civilization through 
transforming the human being's soul and endowing his/her existence with meaning 
and direction.'''' 

We have already seen that human social organization, for Bennabi, is as a stage in 
which human beings do not associate with each other according to the mere require- 
ments of nature, but according to some historical finality in terms of which they would 
produce culture and establish civilization. In his understanding, human social organi- 
zation is that stage in which the elementary activities and vital energies of the individ- 
uals are oriented in such a manner that they would function not simply in conformity 
with the survival of the species, but also, and more importantly, with its moral advance- 
ment and cultural progress, thus transcending the natural level of animal life. 

Relating this formulation of the relationship between nature and history (or species 
and society) to his central thesis that religion is at the origin of human social associa- 
tion once again brings to the fore the fundamental Islamic concepts of khilafah and 
amdnah mentioned previously. Being one of the essential concepts constitutive of the 
Islamic worldview, this idea of mankind being assigned the position of khilafah or 
vicegerency to God has been formulated by Bennabi in quite a unique fashion. As he 
puts it, by controlling and orienting his primordial activities in conformity with the 
advancement of the species, the human being actually participates in the divine 
scheme of action; and his participation is ultimately governed by his religious obliga- 
tion and accountability {taldif) in that he is subject to the law of moral progress. This 
means that the spiritual relationship between God and man creates and determines 
the social bonds that link every individual with his fellow humans. In other words, 
human beings' religious obligation and accountability is the determinant factor of the 
internal structure of the twofold power of the human being that makes the integrated 
activities of the individual's instincts and vital energy function in accordance with his 


social and historical vocation as a moral being. Accordingly, religion is at the basis 
of man's vertical bond with God and his horizontal relationship with fellow human 

Accordingly, Bennabi looks at human society within the framework of the Islamic 
worldview and in terms of the ethical function that human beings are supposed to fulfill 
in the temporal world. The spiritual forces, which, as we have seen, underlie human 
social action and historical existence, are, therefore, ethically motivated. As a homo reli- 
giosus and moral agent, the efficacy of the human being's action in the socio-historical 
realm is situated, according to Bennabi, between two limits: wa'id (warning) and wa'd 
(promise) as expounded by the Qur'an. In his view, warning represents the lowest level 
beneath which there is no room for any effective effort, while promise constitutes the 
highest level beyond which all human effort is impossible, for in such a situation the 
severity of the challenge overpowers the spiritual and moral strength with which man 
is endowed. Accordingly, human consciousness is placed under the most favorable con- 
ditions enabling it to respond to all challenges that are, in the final analysis, spiritual 
in nature. Within the two limits of warning and promise, he maintains, the spiritual 
strength of the individual is proportionate to the efficacious effort furnished by society 
as it acts according to the dictates of a mission, that is to say, according to the require- 
ments of its historical goals. 

It is quite obvious that the aforementioned argument concerning the dynamics and 
efficacy of the spiritual forces underlying human social and historical action is a refor- 
mulation of Toynbee's challenge-response thesis. In fact, Bennabi is quite clear regard- 
ing the necessity of such a reformulation as the said thesis cannot, in its initial form, 
lead us to a sound understanding of the origin and finality of the historical movement 
which gave rise, for example, to the Islamic society. 

Constitution of Human Society 

To start with, it would be both appropriate and helpful to put Bennabi's sociology in 
perspective and bring his methodology into focus. Taking the latter point first, it can be 
said that, stated in general terms, Bennabi's methodology works at two different, yet 
closely interrelated, levels. While the first level is that of analysis consisting in the dis- 
section of the phenomena at issue into their basic constituents with a view to discov- 
ering their structure, the second one is that of synthesis and consists in looking at the 
phenomena under consideration in the course of their movement and interaction so as 
to grasp their dynamics. 

These are necessary and complementary methodological steps without which any 
sound and comprehensive understanding of human social phenomena will remain 
beyond reach. It thus appears that Bennabi's methodological approach to the study 
of social phenomena aims at integrating the synchronic (or cross-sectional) and 
diachronic (or sequential) perspectives, with a clear emphasis placed, however, on the 
latter perspective. As seen earlier, he lays stronger stress on the dynamic aspects of 
human social existence as an ongoing multidimensional process of socio-historical and 
cultural change or, to put the same point differently, as a process of becoming. '^^ Accord- 


ingly, his methodology "is both analytic and constructive".''* It is in relation to this 
methodological awareness that Bennabi's early insistence upon the necessity of a "dif- 
ferent" or "new sociology" for the Third World in general and the Muslim world in par- 
ticular can be properly appreciated. The role of such sociology, he believed, should be 
both a liberating and a constructive one. As he understood it, the liberating dimension 
of that sociology should, in the main part, be critical. That is, it has to analyze and 
detect the social pathologies in Muslim lands that represent the burdening legacy of 
the post-Almohad''' age of civilizational decadence coupled with the distorting legacy 
of the colonial era. Thus, in its critical aspect this "new sociology" is perceived in 
terms of a socio-cultural science whose main task is to purge the Muslim life and envi- 
ronment of the long-seated germs of colonizabilitij 7" Its constructive role should consist 
of edifying a fundamental culture aimed at the radical transformation of Muslim 
"social being" and restoring and reconstructing the "social relations network" in the 
Muslim ummah. The ultimate purpose of this new sociology should be to realize anew 
the essential synthesis of the primary factors of civilization, namely man, soil and 

Let us now turn to the other point; that is, to put Bennabi's sociology in perspective. 
When dissected into its primary components, human society is revealed, according to 
Bennabi, as a compound of three essential categories, or realms, consisting of persons, 
ideas, and objects.^" To him, history as the cumulative human social action is basically 
the outcome of the interplay between these three realms impressed in the space-time 
continuum. It is thus woven out of the activities and ideas of the human beings as 
well as of the input and influences of material things and objects. Not operating in iso- 
lation from one another these social categories rather represent what Bennabi calls 
the parameters of the "concerted action" of human society in history. According to 
him, the pattern of this concerted action is determined by ideological models originat- 
ing in the realm of ideas and applied through means that are derived from the realm 
of objects in order to achieve ends and objectives set up by the realm of persons. As 
indicated by Bennabi, the idea of a concerted action carried out by the three social 
categories constituting human society necessarily implies the existence of a set of 
bonds whose function is to link together the components of each one of the three realms 
as well as the latter to one another such that they become an integrated harmonic 
whole. Consisting of the totality of the necessary social relations or what he calls 
the social relations network, this set of bonds constitutes a fourth, yet latent, realm in 

Thus, the social relations network stands for the structural patterns both within and 
between the realms of persons, ideas, and objects. In Bennabi's view, it is through such 
structure that the impact and activities of the three realms of persons, ideas and objects 
is connected and synthesized. Both in its direction and scope, this synthesis brings about 
the transformation of the features of human life or, to express it more accurately, 
unleashes the historical movement and development of society. For Bennabi, this rela- 
tional structure is so vital for the concerted action of human society that the first task 
a society would undertake at the very moment of its birth would be to establish its social 
relations network even before its three constituent realms reach maturity and take full 
shape. Indeed, he strongly argues, any subsequent development of a society after its 


birth depends fundamentally on that network. This is because human society, for him, 
is not a mere collection or juxtaposition of persons, ideas, and objects; it is rather the 
synthesis of these three realms into a coherent and dynamic whole. That is, broadly 
speaking, the analytic and conceptual framework of Bennabi's sociology. In fact, the 
greater part of his work can be seen as a reflection on, and elaboration of two major 
issues in this framework, namely: 

1. How are the above-mentioned realms of persons, ideas, and objects struc- 
tured, and how do they interact with one another.? 

2. What are the sociocultural and historical manifestations of that structuring 
and interaction.? 

By comprising the social actors, both as individual and collective agents, it is quite 
obvious that the realm of persons should occupy a more prominent place within the 
relational structure and network of society. This explains Bennabi's extensive treatment 
of this realm from a variety of perspectives in an attempt to understand and define both 
the factors and conditions that contribute to the shaping and determination of human 
social action. Since a more detailed account of the realm of persons is to be made later 
in this chapter it will be both convenient and illuminating now to have an overview of 
the other two realms. 

As we have already seen, in Bennabi's sociological analysis, society is a specific and 
dynamic form of human collective life and organization that comes into existence as 
the humans beings espouse a specific ideal and set of moral values. This understand- 
ing justifies his giving priority to the realm of ideas over that of objects. However, this 
does not mean that he overlooks or underestimates the latter realm. On the contrary, 
he strongly maintains that the realm of objects plays so vital a part that human social 
existence and action is inconceivable without it. Yet, compared to his extensive analy- 
sis of the place of the realms of both persons and ideas in the constitution and dynam- 
ics of human society, Bennabi's treatment of the realm of objects is markedly limited. 
This in fact presents us with a situation that stands in need of clarification lest his stand 
be erroneously understood. 

At the outset, there is a need to elucidate what the realm of objects represents in 
Bennabi's sociological thought. Upon closer examination of his usage of this term on 
different occasions, what appears most compatible with his analytic and conceptual 
framework is that the realm of objects refers to whatever material things (both natural 
or man-made) are used or may be used by the human beings to sustain their life. It thus 
concerns all the material aspects of human social life and existence. It can be argued 
from this that, since the human species is imbedded in the material realm of nature, 
the human beings would not therefore fail to pursue their material needs and evolve 
the proper means for their satisfaction as the long and accumulated experience of 
mankind has shown. Accordingly, his major concern is not to argue for the obvious 
importance of the realm of objects for human social existence on the biological and 
material plane. What matters most for him is to examine and comprehend its psycho- 
sociological and cultural significance and impact within the dynamic relational struc- 
ture of society throughout the different stages of its development. In other words, he is 


more preoccupied both with the analysis and conceptualization of the dialectical rela- 
tionship and interplay of the realms of persons and objects as it is, or should be, medi- 
ated through the realm of ideas. Moreover, Bennabi's sociological and cultural analysis 
is unmistakably informed by the Islamic view that nature, from which the realm of 
objects is derived either directly or indirectly through different manufacturing 
processes, stands in a position of subservience vis-d-vis the realm of persons. Hence, 
the latter realm is in a position of mastery over the realm of objects specifically by virtue 
of a Divine will to appoint mankind as God's vicegerent on earth, as we have already 

Thus, for Bennabi, there is no question of whether or not human beings as members 
of a society deal with the realm of material things and phenomena to extract the boun- 
ties of nature in order to satisfy their material needs and sustain their existence. This 
is something already guaranteed by what he considers the inferior laws of the animal 
order ^^ Rather what needs to be investigated pertains to the psycho-sociological and 
cultural conditions under which the realm of persons would interact with, and be 
involved in, the realm of objects. It is in the light of these considerations that one can 
appreciate Bennabi's view concerning the ultimate or real wealth of human society. As 
he puts it, the real wealth of a society does not actually consist of the objects it uses but 
rather of the ideas it possesses. Consequently, if for any adversities (e.g. wars, natural 
catastrophes) a society is partly or entirely deprived of its realm of objects, the harm 
affecting it because of that will not be so devastating. But the disaster will be much 
more harmful if such a society at the same time fails to maintain its realm of ideas. By 
the same token, when it succeeds in salvaging its ideas, it would actually have saved 
everything, since it would be able to reconstruct its realm of objects based on it. As will 
be seen in the next pages. Bennabi's analysis and conceptualization of human society 
and its dynamics is further deepened and elaborated in his treatment of the question of 
culture as one of the main themes of his thought. 

Culture and Sociological Analysis^'* 

Culture was a central and recurrent theme in Bennabi's thought, for it never ceased to 
occupy his mind throughout his intellectual career. There is not one of his works in 
which he does not deal with this topic in one way or another, or at least refer to its 
importance. Yet, despite the growing interest in Bennabi's works during the last three 
decades of the twentieth century, his conceptualization and theorization of culture 
have not received sufficient scholarly attention. 

Bennabi's aim was not to discover new data or to provide hair-splitting descriptions 
of what might constitute culture. He also had no interest in merely reproducing what 
Clifford Geerts justly called the "conceptual morass" that had been developed around 
the subject of culture, as was the case with most Arab thinkers and academicians who 
wrote about it in his time. Bennabi's approach was totally different. He was in search 
of what constitutes the essence of culture,^' that essence which enables us to visualize 
it as a mode of living and a program of action, equipping human beings with the skill 
of living together meaningfully and in harmony with their environment. 


Chronologically speaking, Bennabi first expressed his views on culture in a chapter 
of his book Les Conditions de la Renaissance that was first published in 1 9 4 8 . In this book, 
he discussed what he called the idea of "cultural orientation" defined as soundness 
of foundations, harmony and resolution of movement and unity of purpose, hi that 
context, he defined culture as the mode of being and becoming of a people. This mode 
of being and becoming has an esthetic, ethical, pragmatic, and technical content. 
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, these preliminary views were on various occasions 
subjected to further reflection, elaboration, and deepening until they crystallized in 
what can be considered a truly Bennabic theory of culture. This theory took its final 
shape in his book The Question of Culture. 

A major concern motivating much of Bennabi's thought about culture is the quest 
for a way out of the impasse in which mankind has been stuck by the desire for power 
that is overwhelmingly prevalent in modern Western culture. The world, he insists, is 
in pressing need of an ecumenical humanism that will safeguard the human species 
from imminent destruction. The notion of humanism has been one of the foremost 
ideals preached by modern Western civilization. Nevertheless, Bennabi considers that 
this humanism has been plagued by formalism and shallowness and lacks any solid 
moral foundation owing to its origins within a culture that derived its roots from the 
Greco-Roman humanities. Modern Western humanism has found its most resounding 
formulation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, Bennabi argued, 
this humanism has amounted to no more than a mere artistic and literary work, as it 
is deprived of the metaphysical and transcendent basis of the original dignity invested 
in the humankind by its Creator,^'' 

According to Bennabi, every social reality is in its essence and origin an actualized 
cultural value that conditions both man's being and environment in a specific manner. 
It follows from this that the problem of culture in Muslim and Third World countries 
arises at a very fundamental level relating to the frame of reference according to which 
any civilizational change and transformation of society should take place. At this level, 
its function for civilization is similar to the function of blood for living organisms, ^^ This 
means that we need to look at culture as a process of becoming that is inextricably 
linked to the question of social reconstruction. From this perspective of socio- 
historical becoming, culture should have, according to Bennabi, a twofold definition 
that takes into consideration the problems of the present and the aspirations of the 
future. Accordingly, he argues that culture, far from being merely a simple close entity, 
has a rather complex and dynamic nature that can be thought of at two important 
levels. In his own words, "culture is first and foremost a certain ambience within which 
the human being moves; it [thus] nourishes his inspiration and conditions the efficacy 
of his [social] interactions. It is an atmosphere made up of colors, tunes, customs, 
shapes, rh3rthms, and motions which [all] impart to his life an orientation and [provides 
him with] a particular model that stimulates his imagination, inspires his genius and 
incites his creative faculties. "^^ 

Two concepts figuring in the above statement need to be underlined here: orientation 
and model. In fact, almost throughout all his works, Bennabi's major concern has been 
to answer two fundamentally interrelated questions. First, what is the historical voca- 
tion of the Muslim both at the individual and collective levels, and how can the Muslim 


world regain its place in the world scene as an active participant in the affairs of 
humankind? Second, according to what model should the Muslim conduct and activi- 
ties be patterned in order to fulfill the requirements of that vocation? Bennabi is of the 
view that culture has an important role to play in this regard. His severe criticism of 
both reformist and modernist movements in Muslim countries can best be appreciated 
in this light. In his opinion, those movements were so deficient that they conceived 
social and civilizational reconstruction as mere accumulation of objects or, at best, a 
syncretism of disparate elements that are heaped up haphazardly. Thus, they failed to 
comprehend it as a harmonious and integrated edifice of things and ideas that hold 
together in a logical and organic manner and fulfill definite functions for the sake of 
realizing a specific ideal of life.^'^ 

Bennabi's conception of culture as "becoming" implies that it has to be understood 
as a relationship between the individual and society. This relationship involves a process 
of interaction and mutual commitment between the two poles whereby the conduct of 
the individual contributes to the shaping of the general mode of life of society and is 
shaped by it. In this connection, he argues that all the differences pertaining to the 
definition of culture basically depend on how one understands the nature of this rela- 
tionship. Thus, if primacy is given to individual actors, emphasis will be placed on the 
psychological and ideational aspects of culture. If, on the contrary, primacy is given to 
society as a total entity, emphasis will rather be laid on the objective and structural 
aspects. To him, both stands are seriously flawed, for it is not a question of mutual exclu- 
sion between the two poles of human social life and, hence, between the two dimen- 
sions of culture. It is a matter of complementary duality rather than (mutually) 
exclusive dualism. 

Accordingly, the complex and dynamic nature of culture and its embodiment of the 
reciprocal relationship and mutual commitment between the individual and society 
require that any attempt at defining it should adopt the methodology used in the study 
of complex phenomena. This can be done by determining both its subjective psycho- 
logical and objective sociological components and establishing the necessary links 
between them within the framework of that mutual commitment in order to formulate 
a definition of culture in terms of a realizable educational program functional with the 
task of reconstruction. 

As a step in that direction, Bennabi advances the view that culture is "the environ- 
ment in which the individual psychic being is shaped just as the organic make-up of a 
person is conditioned by the [natural] physical environment surrounding him."*" In his 
opinion, this way of looking at the question of culture allows us to conceive its impact 
on human society by drawing an analogy between culture and blood. It is a scientific 
fact that blood consists of the red and white corpuscles (or the erythrocytes and leuko- 
cytes) floating in the plasma and maintaining the vitality and equilibrium of the living 
organism as well as constituting its self-defense mechanism. So too, culture can be con- 
ceived as a special kind of plasma that carries the popular ideas of the masses as well 
as the esoteric and scientific ideas of the elite. These two categories of ideas nourish the 
society's creative genius and civilizing elan and constitute its self-defense mechanism. 
As such, culture supplies both the elite and the lay people with unified orientations, 
common tastes, and shared dispositions.*^ 


Furthermore, this conception of culture involves an unconscious dimension since 
not all the members of a society assimilate culture and become integrated to it through 
conscious discursive processes, nor do they, at a certain age, consciously choose the way 
to that integration. Thus, it follows that there is no room for reducing culture to science 
or even equating it with knowledge in general. Confounding culture and science is, 
Bennabi insists, pernicious to any proper understanding of the import and function of 
either of them. Therefore, a clear line of demarcation has to be drawn between the two 
concepts in order to avoid the grave error of using them interchangeably. As he avers, 
"culture always generates science, but science does not always generate culture."^" 
Hence, culture is more general and encompassing than science. 

In his understanding, science tends to be impersonal in the sense that the man of 
science always stands as a subject observing things with a view to dominating and 
manipulating them. As he puts it, in science it is a question of the positivist mind 
"turned to the realm of phenomena," In contrast, culture, being something more com- 
prehensive than science, creates the observer himself and provides him with the mirror 
for observing those things and phenomena as well as for observing his own self ^^ Thus, 
while science enables human beings to exert their influence on the realm of material 
things and phenomena within their reach, culture is their way to achieve harmony 
between that realm and their inner selves as well as to establish their relations with one 
another In other words, culture is the source that provides human beings with the 
means of self-control and mastery over both nature and the products of their own 
genius. Put differently, science consists of those procedures and methods by means of 
which the human intellect applies itself to the realm of things and natural phenom- 
ena. By contrast, culture consists of the inter subjective wealth of symbols, values, 
ideas, traditions, and tastes that allows human beings to regulate and harmonize 
their relationships and interaction with one another, with their environment and with 
the universe at large. As such, culture provides the individual, through various psy- 
chological processes of assimilation, with the personal criteria by means of which he/she 
judges his/her conduct and action and accommodates them to the society's mode of 

This point can be expressed differently as follows. While culture embraces the inner 
dimensions of the human self's relationship with the different levels of existence thus 
giving primacy to subjectivity and transcendence in human life, science rather tends to 
concern itself with the external dimensions of things and phenomena of the natural 
world, including human beings themselves. It thus accords primacy to objectivity and 
externality in the human relationship with the different realms of existence. Yet, 
Bennabi is far from the subject-object dichotomy plaguing many a school of thought. 
His emphasis on the fact that science itself both as theories and procedures cannot be 
dissociated from the cultural universe within which it takes shape gives warrant to this 
understanding of his position. 

In addition to these clarifications made so as to trace the distinctive lines between 
culture and science with regard to both the nature and function of each, there is yet 
another kind of confusion against which Bennabi warns us. This time, we are sum- 
moned not to confuse culture with "culture products and by-products," The reason is 
that any confusion in this regard will dangerously misguide us on both the mechanisms 


and function of culture in the same way the confusion between industry and the 
manufactured products will terribly mislead us on the nature of the former. As Bennabi 
further maintains, human social life is fundamentally dependent upon two inevitably 
necessary spheres. On the one hand, there is the biosphere without which the physical 
and biological development of the human beings is inconceivable in this world. On the 
other hand, there is what he calls the noosphere^^ that makes the spiritual and mental 
development of the human species possible. Culture, in the last analysis, is but the man- 
ifest expression of this second sphere. One important idea that emerges from the fore- 
going discussion and that is emphasized throughout Bennabi's works is that culture is 
the source by means of which the members of a society construct their worldview and 
establish their relations with reality and with one another.^'' 

Not only human beings depend on culture for their social life and historical exis- 
tence. This too applies to material things and objects; they would remain obsolete, 
inanimate and valueless outside the framework of culture. To bring this point home, 
Bennabi invites us to imagine a man-made satellite landing in the midst of a suppos- 
edly "culture-less" group or one that has no communication at all with the culture in 
which the satellite has been produced. Such a device will have no meaning or value for 
such people except that it is a mass of matter. This is because it will be lacking the lan- 
guage and code by means of which it can convey its specific message. This means that 
not only does culture provide human beings with the means of communication and 
exchange with one another, but it also does so with respect to material things and 
objects, both natural and man-made. Moreover, according to Bennabi, even ideas 
and concepts are subject to the same inexorable law. This latter point will be examined 
in more detail later. 

Dynamics of Culture and Human Social Action 

In accordance with his view about the cultural essence of social reality, Bennabi main- 
tains that whatever substance exists in the one, necessarily exists in the other. "If we 
analyze a social reality, that is to say, a concrete social activity, we will discern in it, both 
in its instantaneous state and progressive course, four basic elements which we can 
express in pedagogic terms as an ethics, an esthetics, a technique and a practical 
logic."*' These basic components of social action determine, in his view, the charac- 
teristics and orientation of culture in accordance with their interconnectedness within 
the framework of that action. At any rate, no social action, he declares, can be imag- 
ined without certain ethical and social motivations, without (a) definite pattern(s) 
according to which it takes place, and without fulfilling some aesthetic criteria. All these 
elements, he carries on, represent sine qua non conditions for the efficacy of social 
action.'*'* Thus, if the ethical component determines the ethos of culture and if culture 
is, as seen above, a specific ambience, it is then evident that the esthetic component plays 
an equally significant role in it. For Bennabi, creativity is inextricably linked to the 
esthetic sensibility of the social actor, that is to say, the latter's efficacy is also subject 
to esthetic criteria. 


As he further explains, esthetic values contribute to creating a particular human 
type. Thanks to its esthetic affinities and tastes, this type would endow life with a spe- 
cific rhythm and gives history a particular orientation. This means that human social 
action depends, in its motivation, direction, and form, on ethical and esthetic factors. 
On the other hand, social action cannot yield its results unless it draws upon dynamic 
factors whose function is to facilitate the material development of human society. In 
Bennabi's view, it is technique and pragmatic logic that impart dynamism to social 
action and facilitate the actualization of its ethical and esthetic dimensions. The imper- 
ative nature of technique and practical logic is underscored by the fact that the modern 
experience of mankind has witnessed one of the greatest developments in human social 
life. That is, the advent of new, indeed unprecedented, scientific and technological forces 
that have drastically influenced the human condition in terms of greatly controlling 
and accelerating the course of history*' It has to be mentioned here that technique, in 
Bennabi's usage, seems to refer to science both in its theoretical and applied forms. For 
him, the role of science or technique is to provide human actors with the means 
through which they establish their relations with, and deal with, the realm of things 
and objects.'" 

As for practical logic, its function lies "in conditioning the form, style and rhythm of 
social action, that is aU its dynamic aspects."''^ The difference between technique and 
practical logic can further be explained in the following way. On the one hand, tech- 
nique refers to the power by means of which the humans exert their mastery over the 
material realm. On the other hand, practical logic consists of the "way action is con- 
nected with its means and objectives, in order to avoid estimating how easy or difficult 
things are without depending on criteria derived from the social environment and its 
potentials." In other words, practical logic means "to attain the utmost benefit from the 
available means."'" Likewise, the import of practical logic is to get, from the available 
means, the maximum results in the minimum span of time. In this respect, Bennabi 
observes that the root cause of the inefficacy of human social action lies in the absence 
of the criteria that would link such action to both its means and ends. Practical logic 
is thus intimately linked with the question of creativeness both at the individual and 
collective levels of society'^ 

An important aspect of Bennabi's thinking in this respect must be highlighted here. 
Despite his strong emphasis on the place of technique and practical logic in the shaping 
of human social action and in the composition and generation of culture, he does not 
consider these two factors to be the ultimate determinants of the characteristics of a 
society's culture. In his opinion, it is rather the dialogical relationship between ethics 
and esthetics that determines in an essential way a culture's characteristics and orien- 
tation, depending on whether primacy is given to one or the other factor. Accordingly, 
he argues that the historical experience of mankind has oscillated between two main 
types of culture: an ethically centered type and an esthetically oriented one.''' 

When it degenerates, an ethically centered culture, according to Bennabi, would 
mostly sink into mysticism, escapism, vagueness and mimesis. By contrast, an estheti- 
cally centered culture would degenerate into ponderousness, consumerism, material- 
ism and imperialism. Signalizing the wide gap alienating ethics and esthetics from one 
another in the modern Western culture that has dominated the globe, Bennabi believes 


that the modern mind is in great need for a cultural revolution in order to realize the 
genuine synthesis of the beautiful and the real. The problem, he insists, ought to be 
addressed from a universal perspective. In this connection, he maintains that Islam pro- 
vides "essential cultural elements just as it provides geopolitical elements of particular 
importance" for such an enterprise.''' More important than this, Islam has provided two 
fundamental principles in order to protect mankind against all forms of physical or spir- 
itual oppression. The first principle consists of putting in the Muslim conscience an 
essential limit to the will to power. Hence, the Our'an states without any ambiguity: 'As 
for that [happy] life in the hereafter, We grant it [only] to those who do not seek to exalt 
themselves, nor yet to spread corruption, for the future belongs to the God-conscious" 
(Our'an, 28: 83). The second principle consists of announcing and emphasizing the 
essential dignity of man that transcends all boundaries of color, race, nationality, and 
belief Thus, the Our'an brings to human dignity and value their solid metaphysical 
foundation, when it says: "Now, indeed. We have conferred dignity on the children of 
Adam" (Our'an, 17: 70).'"' 

As he has explained, the cultural universe is not a lifeless world. On the contrary, it 
has "a life and history of its own." It has "a becoming." Its internal dialectic depends 
upon the interaction of the parameters of social action, namely: "the persons, the 
objects and the ideas."''' As seen above, while the category of persons stands for the 
totality of the members of society, and while that of ideas represents the system of ideas 
and values espoused by the persons, the category of objects includes both the natural 
and manufactured objects, that is, the material sources of life.'^ Consequently, social 
action is exclusively the outcome of the phenomenal interaction between these three 
categories or realms, and depends, both in form and direction, on the historical rela- 
tionship linking them together and varying according to the socio-cultural age of 
society. Looked at from a different perspective, the realms of persons, ideas, and objects 
constitute the parameters of social action. This is because such action cannot be imag- 
ined without the existence of social agents, a material and institutional (i.e. structural) 
context in which and by means of which such agents would act. and an ideational 
frame of reference according to which the motivations, purposes and course of action 
are defined. Pointing out that the human "agential" and the material-structural 
aspects are the most easily realizable dimensions of social action owing to their con- 
crete and tangible nature, Bennabi notices that the ideational aspect is the least dis- 
cernible one though no action can actually be accomplished without it. For him, 
human action has thus to answer two fundamental questions: the "why" and "how," 
that is, the motivations and operational modalities determining that action. '' 

From this, Bennabi proceeds to another level in his analysis of human socio-cultural 
reality. It is a matter of fact that social action is inconceivable without the human actors 
who carry it out. Hence, it is quite natural that the realm of persons should occupy a 
central place in the cultural world. However, human beings cannot, Bennabi insists, be 
efficacious actors in the socio-historical scene susceptible of producing and receiving 
culture unless they are transformed into an integrated whole or coherent synthesis. 
Accordingly, the first and foremost condition for the rise of culture is the integration of 
individuals into a coherent whole. But what is the integrating force that makes human 
beings efficacious socio-historical agents.? 


The answer, according to Bennabi, is that this integrating force consists of moral 
ideals and values. He says, "the role of the moral ideal is precisely to construct the realm 
of persons without which neither the realm of ideas nor that of objects will have any 
raison d'etre."'^"" In this connection, he reminds us of the fundamental place and role of 
religion in human life. As the reader may well recall, Bennabi's view is that moral values 
are ontologically grounded in the metaphysical order of existence through the spiritual 
God-man relationship as instituted by religion. In accordance with that argument, he 
contends that the idea of religion being the source of integrative moral values has been 
clearly expounded by the Our'an as in the following Our'anic verses: 

He it is Who has strengthened you with His succor, and by giving you believing followers 
(53) whose hearts He has brought together: [for,] if you had expended all that is on earth, 
you could not have brought their hearts together [by yourself]: but God did bring them 
together. Verily, He is almighty, wise. (Our'an, 8: 52-3) 

These verses, he observes, underscore the notion of "binding and unifying" signified 
by the word "religion" in its Latin origins. Thus, he infers, moral ideals and 
values whose function is to unite human individuals and integrate them into one coher- 
ent whole are essentially of a religious nature dawning with Divine revelation. Accord- 
ingly, ethics constitute a fundamental component of culture in the absence of which 
the realm of persons is no more than isolated atoms. As he further explains, the iso- 
lated disintegrated human individual is totally unable both to receive and transmit 
culture, let alone to produce it. In order to appreciate this point, Bennabi invites us 
to reflect on the actual misfortune of the shipwrecked English sailor whose 
story inspired Daniel Defoe in his celebrated novel Robinson Crusoe as well as the many 
cases known in anthropological literature as Venfant sauvage, that is the wild infant 

In addition to its role as a binding force that integrates the members of society, the 
moral principle determines the historical vocation and orientation of human society by 
setting up the motivations and ends for human social action. For Bennabi. social action 
cannot be conceived as a conscious, purposive action unless it draws upon such ethical 
ends and motivations. The moral factor is both a matter of social and logical necessity. 
It determines in a great measure the efficacy of human social action. In other words, 
the efficacy of human societies increases or decreases depending on the strength or 
weakness of moral principles' impact on them.^°" 

As seen previously, esthetic considerations have a prominent place in human social 
action. Bennabi has formulated their relationship with the ethical considerations as 
follows. If the ends and motivations of action are determined, as we have just seen, by 
the moral ideal, its shape and form are to be determined by the esthetic factor, which 
at once determines another crucial aspect of human social efficacy. In his view, it is the 
esthetic factor that actually endows ethical and moral values with more acceptability 
and radiation and thus increases the efficacy of human social conduct and action. As 
he argues, when deprived of esthetic taste and affinity, the moral action and conduct 
of the human being may turn into an "arid and repulsive act."^°^ Likewise, there is a 
necessary and fundamental relationship between ethics and esthetics in the fabric of 


human social action. Ethics plays an important role in terms of setting up the model 
for human conduct and determining the motivations and ends of social action. Esthet- 
ics plays an equally important role by shaping the general lifestyle of society and giving 
human moral conduct and social action tasteful and acceptable forms and shape. This 
crucial link between ethics and esthetics is manifestly underlined in the Islamic frame- 
work, Bennabi affirms. In both the ways it inculcated moral values and the modes it 
prescribed for their implementation and actualization, Islam gave special regard to the 
esthetic aspect. Its aim is to cultivate a sense of finesse and esthetic sensibility that 
would endow human social life with beauty and attraction.^"* Beauty, he argues, is a 
major source of inspiration in human life that cannot be dissociated from the sense of 
what is ethically good and acceptable. It thus affects both the thought and behavior of 
the members of human society. Like ethics, Bennabi takes the esthetic factor in its broad 
sense so as to concern every aspect of human life, both at the individual and collective 

Clearly, Bennabi's reflection on the role of ethics in human life and society appears 
to depart from the common view of ethics as simply a set of rules and principles that 
govern, or should govern, human behavior His insistence that the moral ideal or prin- 
ciple, as he preferred to call it, determines both the ends and motivations of social 
action, seems to derive from a broad conception of ethics as ethos. In addition to the 
rules human conduct has to comply with, this conception includes the values human 
beings strive to actualize and the goals they struggle to achieve. Thus, Bennabi's analy- 
sis leads to the following important conclusion about human social life. The integra- 
tion of the realm of persons depends in an essential manner on ethics and esthetics 
as major components of culture. In other words, human social relations are embedded 
in, and nurtured by, what may be called, in line with his terminology, ethico-esthetic 

The above statement paves the way to the second constituent of the cultural world, 
namely the realm of ideas. Emphasizing the central place of this realm in human social 
existence, Bennabi held that there is a universal canvas for human social action accord- 
ing to which the latter cannot be brought about. Simultaneously with the visible ele- 
ments, this universal canvas encompasses an ideational element representing both its 
motivations and operational modalities. It should be mentioned at the outset of our 
examination of this realm that Bennabi's concern is not directed to the ontological and 
epistemological status of ideas. His foremost interest is rather to investigate the life and 
dynamics of ideas in human social existence, or what he often calls the career of ideas 
in human history. 

The function of ideas in human social existence, for him, is not merely figurative 
or decorative. They rather assume a fundamental role as integrating forces of human 
society to the course of history. In this respect, he draws our attention to one impor- 
tant aspect. The efficacy of ideas as forces of socio-historical change does not depend 
solely on their internal consistency, authenticity, or compatibility with reality. Even false 
and inconsistent ideas can be so efficacious that they may be at the origin of storming 
events in the history of mankind. Therefore, their relationships within a given cultural 
world and the prevailing psycho-sociological circumstances are determinant factors in 
the social efficacy and historical destiny of ideas. 


It should be pointed out here that Bennabi does not provide any further detail con- 
cerning the notion of "false and inconsistent ideas." Nevertheless, this notion can be 
understood in light of two examples used in his work. The first example belongs to the 
domain of science, whereas the second pertains to the realm of ideologies. As he put 
it, the "idea of the philosopher's stone" played an influential role in the development of 
scientific thought during the Middle Ages, although it has no scientific genuine value. 
Only after Lavoisier had made his discoveries in chemistry did such a false idea disap- 
pear from the realm of science. The second example concerns Marxism. In Bennabi's 
view, Marxist ideology suffered serious philosophical inconsistency and some of its 
basic assumptions are utterly incompatible with the nature of things. He even went as 
far as considering it a mere internal crisis of modern Western civilization. However, this 
did not prevent it from being at the origin of great historical events and socio-political 
revolutions of far-reaching impact in the twentieth century. According to him, this 
socio-historical efficacy of Marxism has to be understood from a psychological stand- 
point. In his opinion, Marxism had derived a great deal of its psychological ingredients 
and dynamism from the fertile ground provided by the very Christian culture against 
which it revolted. This endowed Marxism with the appeal of a motivating spiritual 
creed. What is worth noting here is the fact that, as early as the 1960s, Bennabi pre- 
dicted that the socio-political order based on the Marxist doctrines would, sooner or 
later, collapse as the "spiritual drive" supporting it fades away!^"' 

Accordingly, Bennabi theorizes, ideas have their "Archimedean moment," that is to 
say the historical moment in which they meet with the psycho-sociological and cul- 
tural conditions favorable for them to fulfill their function as forces of socio-historical 
change. This observation explains the fact why some ideas in human history have to 
"emigrate" from the place (i.e. the socio-cultural context) in which they first appear or 
"to remain in abeyance" for some generations until they meet with their Archimedean 
moment or grace. This "emigration" or "expatriation" of ideas as wefl as their "remain- 
ing in abeyance" occur, according to Bennabi, in two stages of the socio-historical evo- 
lution of human society. The first is when the human social environment in which such 
ideas come into being is so dynamic and developed that no psycho-sociological forces 
are left idle, thus ready to become carriers of those ideas.""' The second is when such 
human social environment has reached a state of senility and weariness correspond- 
ing to what Bennabi calls "the post-civilization stage." At this stage, society loses the 
sense of its vocation as well as genuine and creative rapport with the "matrices" of its 
original cultural world. As a result, it starts disintegrating in such a manner that its 
psycho-sociological forces become irresponsive to the call of ideas as forces of socio- 
historical change."'^ 

Thus, we are here presented with one of the fundamental laws in the sociology of 
ideas. By governing the life and dynamics of ideas in human social existence, this law 
applies not only to "single" scientific or technological ideas, but it also, more impor- 
tantly, applies to whole ideational and value systems such as religion and ideological 
systems."'* In this respect, another closely related aspect in the sociology of ideas is also 
signalized. According to Bennabi, to enter history as efficacious forces of change, ideas 
need always to acquire a sense of sacredness and sanctity in order to acquire legitimacy 


and mobilize the psycho-sociological and cultural forces of human society. Likewise, 
false ideas, he contends, have always been compelled to wear a mask of authenticity 
just like a burglar entering a house with a false key. Without this sense of sanctity and 
sacredness that was attached to the notions of science, progress and civilization, 
Europe, Bennabi argues, would not have been able to lay down "the foundations for the 
twentieth-century civilization internally and to establish its domination over the world 
internationally." Therefore, it can be inferred that a cultural order in its formative stage 
would "always seek support in sacred values" as a means of establishing its legitimacy 
in the psychology of the people.^"' 

These pertinent remarks on the conditions of the integration of ideas to the course 
of human history pave the way for the examination of the realm of ideas as one of the 
parameters of cultural life and social action. According to Bennabi, this realm consists 
of two principal categories of ideas: les idees imprimees and les idees exprimees, that is, 
the impressed and the expressed ideas. Comparing the realm of ideas to a disk, he main- 
tains that every historical society has its own disk whose fundamental notes are differ- 
ently imprinted in the subjectivity of its members. These fundamental notes, or 
impressed ideas, constitute the centers of polarization for the vital energies and psycho- 
sociological forces of that society, as we have seen above. The centrality and specific 
character in human social and cultural existence of this category of ideas is empha- 
sized by the use of such suggestive terms as master ideas {idees maitresses) , driving ideas 
{idees forces), driving forces, and archetypes. 

It appears from Bennabi's analysis that this category of ideas is limited in number 
and universal in scope. Due to their place in human society's existence as matrices 
of its cultural world, these archetypes consist of the core ideas and central values 
that constitute the fundamental components of the society's worldview. They 
provide its members with the prism through which they perceive their place in the uni- 
verse, understand their vocation in history, and establish their relationship with the dif- 
ferent realms of existence. Thus, they form the ultimate source of inspiration for the 
society's cultural genius and intellectual creativity as well as the forces of orientation 
for its vital and psycho-sociological energies. As indicated by Bennabi, insofar as 
the members of a society maintain a psychologically genuine and creative rapport 
with its archetypes, all its activities, including its produced ideas, will be molded 

Let us, before moving to another level of analysis, make the following clarification 
regarding Bennabi's use of the term "archet3rpe." Readers who are particularly famil- 
iar with Jungian anal3rtic psychology may rightly note unmistakable similarity of ter- 
minology between Malik Bennabi and Carl G. Jung. However, a careful examination of 
the conceptual framework of both thinkers reveals that this apparent similarity does 
not imply any essential concurrence, neither in the ontological meaning of the concept 
of "archetypes" nor in their content. However, this does not preclude a great possibil- 
ity of agreement between them in respect of the function such archetypes are supposed 
to fulfill in human socio-historical existence. 

Thus, Bennabi's archetypes stand for the core ideas and fundamental values around 
which a society's life revolves. On the other hand, Jung's archetypes are clearly remi- 


niscent of Plato's Forms or Ideas and refer to "the existence of definite forms in the 
psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere. "^^° In his opinion, these forms 
are the "primordial images" engraved in the collective unconscious of mankind and 
have an ever-recurrence in the psychic experiences of the individual/ ^^ 

For Bennabi, these archetypes might derive from a Divine revelation such as the 
Our' an, or from a humanly constructed system of ideas that have crystallized and 
acquired an enduring status. They provide human society with a worldview and a 
framework guiding its movement and anchoring its existence and providing it with a 
specific direction and orientation.^^" On the contrary, Jung's archetypes originate from 
the accumulated psychic experience that constitutes the collective unconscious of the 
human species. Thus containing "the whole spiritual heritage of mankind," Jung's 
archetypes "act like maps projected by the psyche onto the world, and out of them arise 
all the most powerful and perennial ideas in art, religion, philosophy and science. "^^^ 
Likewise, it is possible to identify Bennabi's archetypes in terms of both time and space, 
while such a task remains beyond reach as far as Jung's are concerned. 

Since our focus in this section is on the problem of culture dynamics in human social 
existence, we need to bear in mind Bennabi's argument concerning the role of ideas in 
terms of conditioning and orienting human society's vital energies in accordance with 
the requirements of moral and cultural development. Besides man, soil, and time, when 
society comes into existence, its real and permanent wealth consists of its archetypes 
or impressed ideas on the basis of which it progressively constructs its system or realm 
of ideas that, in turn, gradually takes root in distinctive cultural plasma. It is the rela- 
tion patterns of those archetypes with the other components of the cultural world that 
ultimately determine the characteristic features of a society's civilization and culture 
in contrast to other societies. 

The following question arises in this respect: How are the relations of a society's 
archetypes historically manifested within its cultural universe.' 

We saw at the beginning of our inquiry into the realm of ideas, that it comprises, 
besides the impressed ideas or archetypes of the society's cultural universe, another cat- 
egory, namely the expressed ideas. Now assuming that the foundational status of those 
archetypes would have become clear in light of the preceding discussion, our exami- 
nation of the expressed ideas is believed to supply an accurate answer to the question 
raised above. In Bennabi's conceptual framework, the expressed ideas stand for the 
entire range of theoretical, scientific, technical and operational ideas produced by a 
society and by means of which it conceptualizes, expresses, projects, and actualizes its 
archetypes in the course of its historical experience. This point attracts our attention 
to one important line of distinction between the two categories. While Bennabi con- 
siders that the impressed ideas pass down in an "intact" state from one generation to 
another, he admits that the expressed ideas have to undergo a process of accumulation, 
adaptation, and modification that would allow each generation to meet the necessities 
of its respective historical circumstances. This distinction underlines two crucial 
aspects of the realm of ideas. First, the archetypes or impressed ideas, owing to their 
universality and limit in number, seem to assume an absolute and transcendental 
status. Second, the expressed ideas are, on the contrary, bound with the vicissitudes of 
time and thus subject to the laws of historical growth and change. 


The viability, resiliency, and efficacy of the society's expressed ideas depend, in 
Bennabi's opinion, upon two essential criteria. First, their reflection of, and faithfulness 
to, its archetypes constitute the authenticity criterion without which such ideas 
have no roots and relevance in the society's cultural universe. Deriving from a 
special rapport stamped with "creative tension" that the members of the society 
would entertain with those archetypes, this authenticity criterion endows the expressed 
ideas with "a sacred note", thus increasing their socio-historical efficacy. For 
Bennabi, the "ethical and aesthetic sensitivity," which would grow out of the 
society's relationship with its archetypes, provides an important clue to the measure- 
ment of the incoherence within the realm of ideas as well as of social deterioration in 
general. In fact, the authenticity criterion can be understood in such a way that the 
category of expressed ideas may include whatever ideas and concepts that a society 
"borrows" from other civilizations and incorporates in its own cultural universe 
and realm of ideas through different processes of adjustment, adaptation, and 

The second criterion pertains to the ability of the expressed ideas to provide adequate 
responses and efficient solutions to the theoretical, cognitive, moral, and practical prob- 
lems confronting society in its historical evolution. It is worth noting, in this connec- 
tion, that Bennabi's understanding of culture dynamics does not exclude the possibility 
for a society to borrow and adopt ideas, concepts and solutions originating in a differ- 
ent cultural universe. For him, there is no weaker position, in human socio-cultural 
affairs, than rejecting enlightenment by the ideas and experiences of others or benefit 
from their achievements. Nevertheless, he is quite clear regarding the following 
point. Such "borrowings" and "adoptions," he insists, will be devoid of any value and 
may even be counterproductive and harmful if they are not submitted to a process of 
adjustment and adaptation in order to make them concord with the moral and spiri- 
tual foundations of the society borrowing them.''' Put differently, in order that such 
borrowings contribute positively to the civilizational development of the borrowing 
society, they must be such that they would enable it to achieve the goals and ends that 
actually derive from its original archetypes. Likewise, it is assumed that, through such 
a process of adjustment and adaptation, the "borrowings" can be incorporated in such 
a way that they would become an integral part of society's expressed ideas, thus 
echoing its archetypes and reflecting its spirit. This means that an expressed idea, 
whether internally produced (home-made) or borrowed from another civilization, 
would have an artificial existence that makes it historically irrelevant; hence it would 
lack any social significance or function as it is cut off from the moral and spfritual roots 
of society. 

Now that we proceed to examine the realm of objects constituting the thfrd para- 
meter of the cultural world, it should be mentioned that Bennabi did not conceive the 
role of objects in cultural processes in isolation from that of ideas. To him, both the idea 
and the object contribute to the production and dissemination of culture in an irrevo- 
cably connected manner. This situation raises, he acknowledges, a serious difficulty 
regarding the objective differentiation between the respective roles of each, especially 
when we study culture as an ongoing process in which all the culture components are 
fully integrated in a continuous dynamic movement. However, and in conformity with 


the central place he ascribes to ideas in human social existence, Bennabi suggests the 
following analogy to remove this difficulty. 

The relationship between the role of the idea and the object in cultural processes can 
be compared to the relationship, in mechanics, between the "arm and the "wheel" in 
those apparatuses that transform "translational" motion into a "rotational" one. As is 
established in mechanics, although the "arm" is the mover, it cannot overstep what is 
known as the "dead center" without the support of the "wheel" thanks to the energy 
encompassed by the latter. In his view, this analogy at once underlines the mutual 
dependency between the idea and the object and brings into prominence the primacy 
of the former by virtue of its "creative power" (point mort). Yet Bennabi observes that 
neither the idea nor the object is able to generate culture in the absence of what can be 
called a sense of transcendence at the level of the human being. Without such a sense of 
transcendence the realms of both ideas and objects are, historically and sociologically 
speaking, devoid of any cultural value and social efficacy. This sense of transcendence, 
he explains, can be understood in terms of a special bond linking the human being to 
the idea and the object. As that sense of transcendence fades away, this "bond" breaks 
down and the human being ultimately loses mastery over both ideas and objects. In 
such a situation, his/her relationship with them is so superficial and ephemeral that "it 
neither raises a question nor creates a problem"; hence, with such an ephemeral and 
superficial relationship, man's creative energies would literally remain idle,^^*" 

Although the point made here by Bennabi allows for further argument, especially in 
respect of the philosophical connotations that the idea of "transcendence" might imply, 
it is beyond the immediate concern of this study to embark on such an argument. 
However, we should not fail to stress the following point. There seems to be an attempt 
by Bennabi at overcoming the dichotomous conception of culture displayed in the work 
of some leading Western social scientists, such as the distinction between "adaptive" 
and "material" culture made by the American anthropologist William Ogbern and 
Pitirim Sorokin's typology of "ideational" and "sensate",^^^ 

From the above exposition, the reader could realize how broad and comprehensive 
Bennabi's conception of culture is. For him, culture is not simply customs that consist 
of the acquired patterns of behavior and belief transmitted in a society from one gen- 
eration to another, as professed by Ruth Benedict,^^^ Moreover, he does not look at it as 
merely a subjective aspect of human life that lies exclusively at the level of individual 
actors. He also does not see it as something that only concerns the objective side of the 
human experience by considering it as the product of total entities and overwhelming 
structures of society. More importantly, Bennabi does not conceive culture as an 
antithesis to, or negation of, nature. On the contrary, human beings, in his view, are 
always engaged in a dialogical relationship with two worlds. On the one hand, they are 
engaged in a continuous dialogue and exchange with the human and ideational realms 
that contribute to the shaping of their being and personality. On the other hand, they 
are engaged in another equally important dialogue with nature. The latter conveys its 
messages to them through "the language of colors, sound, smells, movements, shadow 
and light, forms and images," Human beings assimilate all these messages in the form 
of cultural elements that become integrated to their moral existence and fundamental 
being. According to Bennabi, when these cultural elements provided by nature are 


absorbed in our psychological and mental being, they grow "in our minds as 
scientific ideas that are translated into technical models and artistic expressions in the 
world of fashion and industry." They also might exalt, "thus inspiring the musician 
with a fascinating composition, the painter a wonderful painting, and the poet a mys- 
tical poem."^^'' In other words, far from being antithetical to nature, culture is rather 
regarded by Bennabi as entailing the human involvement in and cooperation with 
natural phenomena and processes and their reorientation in line with human purposes 
and concerns. 

The Question of Cultural Crisis 

In Bennabi's scheme of thought it is the relationship of a society with its archetypes 
that shapes the phenomenal interplay of its constituent realms of persons, ideas and 
objects and ultimately determines its fate in history. As a society ceases to have a cre- 
ative relationship with its original archetypes, it stops generating new efficacious ideas 
representative of those archetypes and capable of regulating its vital (instinctive) ener- 
gies and endowing its collective action with meaning and orientation. Then, it natu- 
rally and precipitously slides into a state of idolatry and polarization either around the 
"person" or the "object," that is to say personality cult and choseisme. Bennabi explains 
this situation as follows. When a society reaches the stage of civilization thanks to its 
archetypes or impressed ideas, cultural equilibrium between the major realms consti- 
tuting the human society (i.e. persons, ideas and objects) must be preserved if civiliza- 
tion and culture are to grow smoothly and creatively. In his view, a culture crisis starts 
when incoherence takes place between the society's impressed and expressed ideas. This 
incoherence is manifested in the fact that the latter category of ideas no longer reflects 
and represents the former category. Then, the crisis grows and reaches alarming, indeed 
destructive, scales, as the society's cultural world undergoes an imbalance and break- 
down in the relationships of its constitutive elements (i.e. the person, the idea, and the 
object). This imbalance and breakdown takes the form of what Bennabi calls despotism 
of the person or the thing. This gives rise to the two phenomena of personification and 
choseisme. If the equilibrium is not restored and the object or the person continues to 
supersede the idea, society will ultimately slide into the post-civilization stage. In this 
connection, Bennabi argues that the present state of the Muslim world is the outcome 
of its submergence into the post-civilization stage in which it is now facing choseisme 
together with all its psycho-sociological and political consequences. 

For Bennabi, the failure of a society to generate creative efficacious ideas that do not 
betray the original ideal that had given birth to it, is not a mere intellectual problem 
that concerns only an elite of scholars and specialists. For as soon as this happens, thus 
giving way to idolatry and polarization around the person or the object, another t3rpe 
of ideas will come into being as a substitute. These ersatz ideas, to use Bennabi's own 
term, will serve to camouflage the society's general apathy, to nurture atomism in the 
individuals' thinking, to justify sectarianism and egocentrism among its people, thus 
paving the way for its decline and colonizability . 


Put differently, this state of affairs comes about as the society's archetypes or 
impressed ideas "fade away from the disk of its civilization and its generated, or 
expressed, ideas, become mere whistling and crackles." This situation marks the 
society's historical betrayal of its origins, its atomization because of the lack of common 
motivations, the exhaustion of the moral and aesthetic tension at the level of its indi- 
vidual members, the lifelessness of its cultural world, and the general deterioration and 
apathy of its social fabric. Thus, Bennabi ascertains, ersatz ideas, whether advocated in 
the name of authenticity or borrowed from the cultural world of another civilization 
in the name of modernization, are no more than carriers of a specific genre of viruses 
that ultimately erode the very moral, cultural, and material foundations of a society. 
With its archetypes or impressed ideas betrayed and its expressed ideas dead and turned 
into virus carriers, society has only to undergo the nemesis of history aggravated by 
the deadly reaction of the borrowed ideas which have left their roots in the original cul- 
tural world from which they were borrowed. According to Bennabi's analysis, over no 
less than two centuries, the Muslim world has become the scene where "a dead idea 
attracts, indeed invites, a deadly idea." This is because the post-Almohad Muslim mind 
has been condemned in such a way that it is unable to discern and absorb "anything 
except what is futile, absurd and even deadly"^"" 

As a consequence of this, the Muslim world at present "undergoes the nemesis of 
the archetypes of its own cultural universe as well as the terrible revenge of the ideas 
it has been borrowing irom Europe without taking into consideration the conditions 
that would preserve their social value. This results in the depreciation of both the inher- 
ited and acquired ideas, thus generating the most pernicious harm to the moral and 
material development of the Muslim world. "^'^ This has resulted, according to Bennabi, 
from the fact that Muslims have, on the one hand, lost true and creative contact with 
the archetypes of their original cultural universe and, on the other, failed to establish 
genuine and fruitful contact with the cultural universe of Europe. Therefore, it is only 
to be expected that Muslim life now suffers from the effects of the implacable twofold 
revenge of both the inherited and the borrowed ideas. 

In line with his argument that culture constitutes the basis for the reciprocal rela- 
tionship and interdependence between the individual and society, Malik Bennabi is of 
the view that culture crisis is in essence a breakdown of that interdependence rela- 
tionship. Correspondingly, culture crisis manifests itself in two interrelated ways: the 
ceasing or diminution of society's control over the individual's conduct and breakdown 
of social constraint, on the one hand, and the failure or inability of the individual to 
practice criticism and to protest against society, on the other In both instances, Bennabi 
insists, a culture crisis comes about whose ultimate outcome is the disintegration of 
civilization. As he indicates, social phenomena are not stagnant, nor do they take 
place in an enclosed field. It is rather closely connected to the complex processes of 
social life in a dialectical manner It is through such dialectical and interactive inter- 
connectedness that social phenomena grow and perpetuate their consequences. 
Accordingly, culture crisis as a social phenomenon would grow, together with its con- 
sequences, right irom the stages where it can be easily remedied up to the stage where 
no remedy is practically possible. Whatever the failures and setbacks befalling 


a society might be, they are at bottom the manifest expression of its cultural and civi- 
lizational crisis at a specific phase of its historical development, Bennabi strongly 
argues. As culture crisis reaches the point of no return, the only solution to overcome 
it is "a comprehensive cultural revolution, which is, in fact, a new start in social life." 
For Bennabi, the reaction to culture crisis is by no means identical. It varies from one 
society to another and, in the same society, from one historical stage to another, in 
accordance with the level of civilizational development.^"^ 


In the preceding pages, our main concern has been to unravel and explicate what can 
be deemed as the philosophical and theoretical foundations of Bennabi's thought. Our 
analysis of his views concerning religion, society, and culture has clearly shown to 
what extent these three major themes of his work are threaded together through a 
unified and integrated perspective deriving its underpinnings from the unitarian 
Our'anic worldview and Islamic universal vision of the human condition. From the 
methodological point of view, his treatment of those themes was carried out according 
to an interdisciplinary perspective. Based on this fundamental philosophical framework 
and consistently with it, Bennabi attempted his treatment of various practical, politi- 
cal, social, economic, cultural and educational issues that were pressing in his time, 
whether at the particular level of Muslim countries or at the global level of the world. 
In fact, Bennabi labored to develop a whole program in which such issues are tackled 
on various occasions and in numerous articles and speeches that need to be carefully 
studied in order to bring the components and features of that program into strong relief 
and assess them in light of his philosophical and theoretical system delineated here. 
Although we entertain a great desire to embark on such an undertaking, the nature 
and scope of the present chapter does not allow for it. We only hope that some future 
opportunity will make this project realizable. 


1. F. Bariun, Malik Bennabi: His Life and Theory of Civilization (Kuala Lumpur: Muslim Youth 
Movement of Malaysia, 1993), 69. In 1955, Bennabi published in French part one of his 
autobiography Memoires d'un temoin du siecle under the title "L'Enfant" (The Child) in 
Algiers and this was translated into Arabic by Marwan Oanawati. Originally written in 
French, part two was translated by the author and published in 19 70 in Beirut under the 
title "al-Talib" (The Student). The Arabic translation of both parts has been published in 
one single volume in Damascus by Dar al-FUcr under the title Mudhakkirat Shahid li '1-Oarn 
(Memoirs of a Witness of the Century). They cover the period from Bennabi's date of birth 
until September 1939. Some sources close to his family affirm the existence of a sequel to 
these two parts and that for one reason or another its publication is being purposely halted! 

2. Ernest Gellner, Reason and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 55-110. 


3. Roger Trigg, Rationality and Science: Can Science Explain Everything? (Oxford: Blackwell, 
1993), 60 and 81. 

4. Charles Le Gai Eaton, Remembering God: Reflections on Islam (Chicago: ABC International 
Group, 2000), 30. 

5. Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1990), 147. 

6. Lawrence Sklar. Philosophy of Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 7. 

7. Eaton, op. cit.. 30. 

8. See for example. Max Horkheimer, The Eclipse of Reason (New York: Continuum, 19 74 
[1947]); Paul Fayerbend, Farewell to Reason (London; Verso, 1987): Vattimo Gianni, The 
End of Modernity, Jon R. Snyder (trans.) (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988); John Horgan, 
The End of Science (London: Abacus, 1998 [1996]). 

9. David Dockery, "The Challenge of Postmodernism", in David Dockery, ed., The Challege 
of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker Books, 1995), 

10. I intentionally do not here talk about metaphysical or transcendental reality because it 
does not constitute part of the scheme of things of modernity and post-modernity. 

11. Toulmin, op. cit., 172. 

12. Carl F. H. Henry, "Post-modernism: The New Spectre", in David Dockery, op. cit., 38. 

13. Pauline Rosenau, Postmodernism and the Social Sciences (Princeton: Princeton University 
Press, 1992), 54. 

14. See for example Mae-Wan Ho, Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare, The Brave World 
of Bad Science and Big Business (Penang, Malaysia: TWN, 1998). The author is a British 
biologist and a fellow of the US National Genetics Foundation. 

15. Rene Dubos, So Human an Animal (New York; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), 3-9. 

16. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (London; 
Routledge, 1992). 

17. Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution 
(New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002). 

18. Lawrence E. Cahoone, The Dilemma of Modernity (New York: The State of University of 
New York Press, 1988), 17. 

19. Malik Bennabi. The Our'anic Phenomenon: An Essay of a Theory on the Our'an, Mohamed El- 
Tahir El-Mesawi (trans.), (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2004), 31. (Unless other- 
wise indicated, our exposition of Bennabi's views in this section on religion draws mainly 
on this book.) 

20. Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi, A Muslim Theory of Human Society: An Investigation into the 
Sociological Thought of Malik Bennabi (Kuala Lumpur; Thinker's Library, 1998), 11-18. 

21. Serge Mascovici; The Invention of Society (Cambridge; Polity Press, 1993), 33. 

22. For detailed expositions of different theories of religion, see the following works; 
BryanS.Turner, Religion and Social Theory (London: Sage Publications, 1983); Malcolm B. 
Hamilton. The Sociology of Religion (London: Routledge, 1995): Daniel L. Pals, Seven 
Theories of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). 

23. Malik Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi (trans.) 
(Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2002), 80; The Our'anic Phenomenon, op. cit., 30. 

24. M. Bennabi, The Our'anic Phenomenon, 41. 

25. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme: Conclusions sur la Conference de Bandoeng (Cairo: Imprimerie 
MisrS.A.E., 1956), 256. 

26. Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, al-Madrasah al-Our'aniyyah (Beirut: Dar al-Ta'aruf, 1981), 


27. Brian Morris, Anthropological Studies in Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
1987), 168. 

28. J. Campell (ed.). The Portable Jung (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 19 71), 45-6. 

29. J. J. Clarke, In Search of Jung (London: Routledge, 1992), 32. 

30. Carl Gustave Jung, Psychology and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 2. 
Cf. Clarke, op. cit., 35. 

31. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 80. 

32. Edouard Montet. Histoire de la Bible (Paris: Payot, 1924), 74. 

33. Fakhr al-Dan Muaammad ibn 'Umar al-Raza, al-Tafsdr al-Kabdr (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al- 
'Ilmiyyah, 1411/1990), vol. 14/28, 7: Nasir al-Din Abu Sa'ad Abd Allah al-Baydawa, 
Anwar al-Tamil wa Asrdr al-Ta'wil (Beirut: Dar al-Fila-, 1416/1996), vol. 5, 178. 

34. Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Our'an: Islam in its Scripture (Oxford: Oneworld, 1994 
[19 71]). Cragg's work is noteworthy in that he tried in it to bring into prominence 
the phenomenological aspects of the Our'an. However, his analysis tends to obliterate 
the concept of wahy by trying to explain it in terms of the human genius of the 

35. Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Our'an, 38-9. 

36. Ibid., 185. 
3 7. Ibid., 186. 

38. Bennabi, The Our'anic Phenomenon, 262. 

39. El-Mesawi, op. cit., 45-160. 

40. Ram Krishna Mukherjee, Society, Culture and Development (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 
1991), 11-12. 

41. Mukherjee, op. cit., 12; Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddimah, Franz Rosenthal (trans.) (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), vol. 1, 89; Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur: Usulal-Nizdm 
al-Ijtimd'i Fi'l -Islam, Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi (ed.) (Amman: Dar al-Nafais, 2001), 

42. Ibn Khaldun, op. cit., vol. 1, 98-101; Ibn 'Ashur, 171; Mukherjee, 13. 

43. William McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology (New Delhi; Atlantic Publishers 
and Distributors, 1994). 

44. Malik Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society: The Social Relations Network, Mohamed 
El-Tahir El-Mesawi (trans.) (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2002). (Since our exposi- 
tion of Bennabi's views on society draws mainly on this book, we will refer to it only in 
the case of direct quotations. Cross-references to his other works wUl, however, be made 
whenever relevant.) 

45. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 9. 

46. M. Bennabi, Ta'ammuldt (Damascus: Dar al-FUir, 1991), 157. 

47. Piotr Sztompka, The Sociology of Social Change (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 146. 

48. M. Bennabi, Tfl'flmmidnt, 158. 

49. M. Bennabi, Islam in History and Society, Asma Rashid (trans.) (Kuala Lumpur: Berita 
Publishing, 1991), 90. 

50. Abdelwahab Bouhdiba, Sexuality in Islam, Alan Shridan (trans.) (London: Routledge & 
Kegan Paul, 1985), 15. 

51. M. Bennabi, Islam in History and Society, 81. 

52. One main reason why Bennabi paid special attention to these two interpretations might 
be because they had gained quite a wide audience among Arab intellectuals and acade- 
micians during the 1950s and 1960s when he was developing his views. 

53. Karl Marx, 1859, quoted in Mukherjee, op. cit., 150-1. 

54. Karl Marx, Capital [1949], vol. 1, 64; quoted in Mukherjee, op. cit., 152. 


5 5 . Arnold Toynbee, Study of History , quoted by Mazheruddiii Siddiqi: The Our 'anic Concept of 
History (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 1984), 197. 

55. M. Bennabi, al-Muslim Fi 'Alam al-Iqtisad (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1987), 91-2; 
Ta'ammulat. 13 5. 

5 7. Muhammad Asad, The Message of theOur'an (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1984), 961; Razi, 
op. cit., vol. 11, 13-15; Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur, Tafsir al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir 
(Tunis: Maison Souhnoun, 199 7), vol. 15, 420-9; Muaammad Hussain Tabtaba'I, al- 
Mizan Fi Tafsir al-Ou'an (Beirut: Mua'assat al-A'lmi li'1-MaEebu'at, 1991), vol. 13, 152-7, 
and vol. 20, 355-6. 

58. M. Bennabi, Ta'ammulat, 27 and 135. 

59. M. Bennabi, al-Muslim Fi 'Alam al-Iqtisad, 91. 

50. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World, Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi 
(trans.) (Kuala Lumpur; Islamic Book Trust, 2003), 22. 

51. M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1987), 24-56. 

52. M.Bennahi, The Our'anic Phenomenon, 35. 

53 . M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah, 80. 

54. Ibn Khaldan, op. cit., vol. 1, 91. 

55. M. Bennabi, Islam in History and Society, 89. 
55. M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah, 55 and 55. 

57. M. Bennabi, The Question of Culture, Abdul Wahid Lu'lu'a (trans.) (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic 
Book Trust and International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2003), 9-40 and 48. 

58. Fawzia Bariun, "Malik Bennabi and the Intellectual Problems of the Muslim Ummah," The 
American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 9/3 (1992), 329. 

59 . Almohad (al-Muwahidun) dynasty, founded by Muhammad ibn Tumart in 1 13 3 CE, ruled 
over the entire Muslim West (i.e. North Africa and part of Muslim Spain) for more than 
a century and held a prominent, if not the foremost, rank in the contemporary world. 
To historians, this was an era that flourished in the field of thought and culture with 
scholars such as Ibn Tofayl, Ibn Rushd, al-Shatibi. With the death of the fifth Almohad 
ruler in the year 1293, the first sjmiptoms of decline became noticeable. This dynasty 
finally ended in the year 1259 with the death of its last ruler, 'Ula Idris al-Wathiq. Accord- 
ing to Malik Bennabi, the end of the Almohad dynasty marked the end of the second phase 
of the Islamic civilizational cycle. Thereafter, the Muslim world plunged into what he calls 
the post- Almohad age that coincides with the phase of decadence and disintegration, thus 
paving the way for colonizabUity and its coroUary, colonialism. 

70. ColonizabUity (Fr. colonisabilite), a term coined by Bennabi to denote the state of a society 
that is susceptible to be colonized and dominated by others. Accordingly, he considers that 
colonialism was a consequence, rather than a cause, of the internal conditions and struc- 
tures of Muslim and Third World societies. For more elaboration on this subject and its 
relationship with its correlate colonialism, see his book Shurut al-Nahdah, 149-50. 

71. M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah, 44-51; Pour Changer I'Algerie (Algiers: S.E.C., 1990), 9-15. 

72. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 2 7; The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World, 
Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi (trans.) (Kuala Lumpur; Islamic Book Trust, 2003), 13-16 
and 20-3; The Question of Culture, Abdul Wahid Lu'lu'a (trans.) (Kuala Lumpur; Islamic 
Book Trust, 2003), 21-45. 

73 . M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah, 80. 

74. In the remaining part of this chapter dealing with the issue of culture, our discussion will 
mainly draw on the foUowing two books of Bennabi; (i) The Question of Ideas in the Muslim 
World; and (ii) The Question of Culture. Therefore, only in cases of direct quotation will ref- 
erence be made to them. 


75. Clifford Geerts, The Interpretation of Cultures (London: Fontana Press, 1993), 4. 

76. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 293. 

77. Ibid., 161 and 165. 

78. Ibid., 163-4. 

79. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 87; Islam in History and Society, 23-40; Shurut al-Nahdah, 

80. M. Bennabi, al-Oadaya al-Kubra (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1992), 80. 

81. M. Bennabi, L'4f?-o-Asifltisme, 156. 

82. M. Bennabi, Pour Changer I'Algerie, 56-9. 

83. M. Bennabi, Ibid., 59-60; Ta'ammulat. 148-9. 

84. M. Bennabi, Pour Changer I'Algerie, 50; On the Origins of Human Society, 115. 

8 5 . The Question of Culture, 5 7 . It is interesting to point out that this notion of noosphere being 
the ideational realm for the spiritual and mental development of human beings has con- 
stituted a major field of philosophical and sociological investigation by the leading French 
phUosopher Edgar Morin. See volume 4 of his magnum opus La Methode entitled Les Idees. 
Leur habitat, leur vie, lew moeurs, lew organisation (Ideas: Their Habitat, Life, Habits and 
Organization (Paris: SeuU, 1991). 

86. F. Bariun, op. cit., 171. 

87. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 156. 

88. M. Bennabi, al-Oadaya al-Kubra, 88. 

89. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 173-4. 

90. M. Bennabi, Tn'fl/nmuffit, 151. 

91. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 174. 

92. M. Bennabi, The Question of Culture, 50. 

93. M. Bennabi, Tfl'ammutet, 151. 

94. M. Bennabi, Ta'ammulat, 151-2; al-Qadaya al-Kubra, 85-5. 

95. M. Bennabi, L'Afro-Asiatisme, 295-7. 

96. Ibid., 289-94. 

97. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 45. 

98. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 51-2 and 73; The Question of Culture, 42. 

99. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 10-11. 

100. M. Bennabi, Ta'ammulat, 148. 

101. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 11; The Question of Culture, 66. 

102. M. Bennabi, Ta'ammulat, 148. 

103. Ibid., 150-1. 

104. Ibid., 149-50. 

105. M. Bennabi, Shurut al-Nahdah, 60; al-Muslim Fi 'Alam al-Iqtisad, 44-5; The Question of 
Ideas, 111-12. 

105. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 67. 

107. M. Bennabi, al-Muslim Fi 'Alam al-Iqtisad, 15. 

108. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 67-8; The Question of Ideas. 25-5 and 58-9. 

109. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 69. 

110. Carl G.Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious {London: Routledge, 1991), 42. 

111. Carl G. Jung, Psychological Types, H. G. Ba3Ties (trans.) (London: Routledge, 1989), 
442-46; see also Clarke, op. cit., 116-2 7. 

112. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 34. 

113. Carl G. Jung, Complete Works, vol. 9, 99, cited by Clarke, op. cit., 117. 

114. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 43-4. 

115. M. Bennabi, On the Origins of Human Society, 122-3. 


116. M. Bennabi, The Question of Culture, 29-32. 

117. Sztompka, op. cit., 152. 

118. Cahoone, op. cit., 246. 

119. M. Bennabi, The Question of Culture, 39-40. 

120. M. Bennabi, The Question of Ideas, 102-4. 

121. Ibid., 109-10. 

122. M. Bennabi, The Question of Culture, 65. 


Hassan Hanafi on Salafism 
and Secularism 

Yudian Wahyudi 

This chapter deals with the efforts of the Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi (b. 193 5) 
to bridge the gap between Salafism and secularism, the two principal conflicting ide- 
ologies in his homeland, from the perspective of his reform project known as "Heritage 
and Reform" or "Islamic Left." His first step involves deconstructing the allegedly legit- 
imate Islamic tradition to the effect that the Muslim community would split into 73 
groups, all of whom would ultimately find themselves in Hell, with one exception, 
namely, the Ahl al-Sunnah (People of the Prophet's Tradition). The hadith of "the safe 
group" is, to begin with, weak by virtue of the fact that it contradicts a sound hadith 
stating that the Muslim community will not split over dalalah (going astray) and 
another hadith stating that disagreement in the community is a rahmah (blessing). The 
hadith of "the safe group," he insists, was in fact fabricated to condemn the opposition 
forces of the classical fslamic era (fCharijism, Shi'ism, and Mu'tazilism) while at the 
same time affirming the claims of the pro-establishment group (Ash'arism). The hadith 
of "the safe group" is in fact spurious, but many have since used it to promote their 
interests. It was in reaction to this view that Hanafi decided to try reconciling the 
various rival groups of his own day, in particular: (i) Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim 
Brotherhood) - which for him represents the Islamic community (Al-Jama'ah al- 
Islamiyyah) or the Islamic movement (Al-Harakah al-Islamiyyah) or Islamism in 
general; (ii) communism (Marxism); (iii) liberalism; and (iv) Nasserism (nationalism 
and socialism). It is worth noting, however, that to avoid any confusion, the term 
Salafism in this chapter will always designate the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas secu- 
larism stands for liberalism, Nasserism, and Marxism. This is how Hanafi sees the world, 
and it is this polarization that he sets out to resolve.^ 

The Moment of the Salafi-Secularist Encounter 

The opposition of Salafism and secularism, Hanafi reminds his readers, is a false 
dualism, just as are those of religion and state, religion and science, authenticity and 


contemporaneity, God and nature, God and man, soul and body, world and afterlife, and 
man and woman. The West had to face these superficial definitions in its journey to 
modernity because the more it promoted modernism, the more it found impossible the 
task of reconciling church and state, religion and reason, faith and science, Aristotle 
and nature. The West finally opted for the new, while leaving aside the old. The former, 
in Hanafi's estimation, included reason, science, nature, and man's capability of under- 
standing, analysis and criticism, whereas the old encompassed church, religion, faith, 
Aristotle, and Ptolemy. The tension became even stronger in the European conscious- 
ness because it based its entire system of education on these allegedly contradictory 
dualisms, and in turn spread them into Africa, Asia and Latin America through colo- 
nization and various media. Since the dawn of the Arab Renaissance in the eighteenth 
century, this enthusiasm for the new has grown in Arab culture. Yet instead of seeking 
to reconcile the seemingly contradictory sides, many Arab thinkers, Hanafi contends, 
adopted the logic of "either-or," resulting in a division of the Arab community into two 
mutually opposing groups. Thus the classical Arab heritage and the invasive new came 
into conflict following the Western model, especially over secular and scientific trends, 
as was the case with Shibli Shumayl, Farah Antun, Salama Musa, Ismail Mazhar, Zaki 
Najib Mahmud, and Fouad Zakariyya." 

This split, says Hanafi, took place at the lowest point in Arab culture. Creativity had 
ceased, while imitation dominated. When confronted by problems, many Arab thinkers 
preferred quoting classical authorities to undertaking iitihad (creative process) them- 
selves, resulting in the submergence of reality in their classical heritage. By preferring 
this method to any really fresh solution, these Arab thinkers disappointed many others, 
who in turn looked to the invasive West for their answers. These two artificial solutions 
overlapped each other at the expense of actually resolving any problems. Moreover, 
despite their respective claims, Hanafi argues, neither group contained true muitahids 
(creative thinkers). The Salafis transmitted from the traditionalists, and the secularists 
from the modernists. The inevitable tension between Salafism and secularism rose 
when the Arab national states were weak. And instead of joining forces to strengthen 
these states, both Salafism and secularism turned their differences into war and blood- 
shed, as they did in Egypt, Algeria, and Syria, with each wing positioning itself to take 
over on the demise of these nations. When, however, the states recovered and needed 
their help, Salafism and secularism renewed their rivalry, as Salafism did with secular- 
ism in Nasser's Egypt (1952-70), For their part, the secularists took revenge against 
the Salafis in Sadat's time (1970-81), whereas under the pretext of promoting Enlight- 
enment against Darkness, Salafism had its revenge on secularism in the third Egyptian 
Republic (under Mubarak). However, Hanafi criticizes most Arab observers for ignor- 
ing the fact that both Salafism and secularism have their negative and positive dimen- 
sions, which are intermingled in Arab culture.' 

The attack on secularism, Hanafi argues, was justified by reference to its perceived 
negative attributes, which he defines under two headings. First of all, its ancestor was 
Western material secularism, under the influence of which both capitalism and com- 
munism came into being. Atheism in turn followed materialism, leading to rejection of 
Allah, prophethood, and revelation, fn order to find greater acceptance, Hanafi argues, 
the secularists ought to have looked to Salafism, which promoted the perfect unity of 


religion and world, soul and body, and God's and man's rights. This unity is clear in the 
concept of maqdsid al- sharT'ah (aims of Islamic law). Indeed, even Salafis would be sur- 
prised at the extent to which Islamic law is secular, given its foundation in human life 
and reality, and its concern to protect the public interest. Therefore, the word secular 
(wad'i) is not a monopoly of the secularists, nor are the words intellect, science, nature, 
progress, man, rights, duties, and citizens. Second, the secularists, by imitating the 
West, lost all hope of winning support from the Salafis. The secularists, in the eyes of 
the Salafis, supported Westernization models, while calling for a disconnection from 
heritage. Through this, they became the representatives of Western civilization, and 
were identified with the powers that be. By contrast, Salaflsm was able to outdo secu- 
larism by taking over its traditional role of defending the weak against the powerful, 
supporting authenticity against Westernization, giving priority to "self" over "other," 
and defending the self against the dangers that might threaten it, as in the phase of lib- 
eration from colonialism. All national freedom movements in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, 
Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon, Hanafi assures us, were self-defensive. Their success was 
proof that the ancient always lived on in the Arab soul; nevertheless, it does not mean 
that Salafism was free from weaknesses.* 

Hanafi criticizes Salafism for being wholly dependent on religious heritage, for 
relying principally on the religious disciplines, whereas reality required worldly sci- 
ences. To solve this problem, he advises the Salafis to learn from the positive aspects of 
secularism, i.e., by applying the technologically based science to nature in order to 
understand its laws and solve its mysteries, by which they would truly return to the 
pristine teachings of Islam, as is their primary claim. Ritualism has always been a 
second drawback of Salafism. Modern reality demands ideologies, political strategies, 
national action, and social development plans - all of which, Hanafi notes, can easily 
be found by the Salafis in secularist principles. Salafism in fact shows itself to be un- 
Islamic by being conservative, by always giving priority to God's will over man's 
will and natural laws, by regarding transmission as the foundation of reason, and 
even by limiting leadership to Ourayshites. Secularism, on the other hand, can be 
seen as more Islamic for believing in progress as the essence of the cosmos and the law 
of life, and for holding the principle that "the present is better than the past." Finally, 
the backward-looking position of the Salafis equated it in the eyes of many with the 
out-of-date "yellow books," not to mention the antique cultures of shaykh vis-d-vis 
scholar, commoner vis-d-vis elite and religious vis-d-vis national universities. The 
Salafis should, Hanafi advises, incorporate the forward-looking ethos of secularism 
into their backward practice, as the Islamic reform movement attempted following 
the lead of al-Afghani, or as modern liberal thought has done since al-Tahtawi 
and Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi. Finally, the Salafis should replace their narrow Qurayshite- 
oriented leadership with secular openness, which bases its political philosophy on 
the social contract. In its Western incarnation, secularism had succeeded in trans- 
forming people from being subjects of the Church into inhabitants of a society, 
from slaves into masters of their own fate, or from feudal peasants into free citizens. 
Hanafi reminds the secularists, however, that it was Islam that started liberating people 
when slavery was the dominant socio-political system of the Roman and Persian 


Dialoging Method 

The conflict between Salafism and secularism, according to Hanafi's diagnosis, has 
something to do with their respective, logical methods. The Salafls deduce absolute 
reality from the literal meaning of a text and apply it to a particular fact, whereas, by 
contrast, the secularists base their analyses on observation, by quantitatively conclud- 
ing social laws from individual and social experiences. Therefore, the secularists do not 
share the Salafl belief in truth as a priori given, as an a priori written text, or as outside 
history, time and place, certain and not probable, but rather as a truth grounded in 
reality, to which a priori judgment - favored by the Salafis - is not an accurate approach. 
Their methodological differences in turn resulted in different ways of expression, since 
the Salafis used the language of rhetoric to argue their case and the secularists that of 
numbers - the latter of which for Hanafi is more communicative and more convincing. 
The Salafis arbitrarily transferred the success of early Muslims at using the deductive 
method to solve their current problems. In principle, deduction. Hanafi asserts, is valid, 
but in practice it needs additional detail, since truth cannot be deduced solely from a 
priori principles and sources, but also from its particularities. The Salafis should, there- 
fore, regard induction as supporting and perfecting deduction, since the former is the 
reverse of the latter The former, in Hanafi's classical Islamic terminology, is ta'wil (ver- 
ticalization), while the latter is tanzTl (horizontalization). The text itself, as the secular- 
ists correctly understood, is not a purely absolute source outside time, place, context or 
human understanding, since it had a socio-historical setting {asbdb al-nuzul). Hanafi 
also reminds his fellow Salafis that the text was a response to the problems that reality 
posed, and for which people had tried in vain to find answers. In this context, revela- 
tion came to confirm some of these after people had given their best effort to the task.*' 
Since text and reality are two sides of the same coin, text without reality (normal in 
Salafi practice) removes a potential solution, whereas reality without text, favored by 
the secularists, leaves one trapped in relativism.^ 

The Salafis have strangely misused the vertical method to undermine, avoid, reject 
and even replace reality (with something else), as Abu al-A'la al-Mawdudl and Sayyid 
Outb did. Despite their either-or logic, however, Islam never sees reality as pure evil, or 
as false and deceptive, since Islam also makes it a field for the expression of ^tra (human 
natural disposition). Hanafi offers the last verse of the Our'an (Q.5: 3) as proof that 
Islam, in its interaction with Judaism, Christianity, and Hanafism (the religion of 
Abraham) in the Arabian context, to a great extent improved and perfected reality. The 
Salafis, Hanafi continues, have selectively taken the text out of its context, resulting in 
partial and even contradictory understandings. While the text is part of a whole that 
should be understood in its totality, Salafis have tended to consider Islamic legal texts 
as the sum total of Islam. The truth, he counters, is that Islamic legal texts, including 
those on criminal law (HudUd), form only a small part of the literature of Islamic 
rulings. Therefore, the Salafis' definition of Islamic texts as those alone that command 
and prohibit gives the impression that Islam is a punishment-oriented religion, since 
the Salafis make no mention of those texts that encourage mercy, love, friendship, good 
interaction, and communications. Text, Hanafi reminds his fellow Salafis, is language. 


which needs understanding and interpretation. They should not generalize it, since it 
is not one single category, but can be classified into real and metaphor, exoteric and 
interpretable, unequivocal and equivocal, global and detailed, unconditional and con- 
ditional. Underlining the reader's role in understanding the Our'an, classical Muslim 
thinkers like the Mu'tazilites, philosophers, and Sufis went beyond the Our'an's literal 
meaning in order to understand its purpose. The spirit of the text, which they called 
fahwa al-khitab and lahn al-khitdb, is for them more indicative of meaning than the letter 
of the text that the Salafis defended.^ 

Inductive method, Hanafi reminds his Salafi fellows, can help explain their reality 
and change their rhetoric and slogans into quantitative truth. On the other hand, 
numbers, Hanafi reminds his secularist audience, are not immune to mistakes when 
calculation is less accurate. Statistics, like deduction, are always subject to inaccuracy, 
since they will never be able to calculate a totality, whereas rough fact does not repre- 
sent the totality. Similarly, although quantitative analysis should always be supported 
with qualitative reading, reading itself may mislead, as it can be mistaken and plural- 
istic. It is also insufficient to hope for description, analysis, understanding, and knowing 
without providing mechanisms for change and improvement in opposition to the 
Salafists, who began by orienting the text toward reality almost without interpreting 
the text or observing the contents of reality, as was the case with the transmission pat- 
terns of Islamic propagandists and reformists like Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. The 
two methods, both the Salafis and the secularists should know, are different but com- 
plementary because deduction is simply the reverse of induction, and vice versa. A 
unified method, Hanafi stipulates, is a condition for unity of thought, and a way of 
erasing hostility between the two mutually exclusive groups. Under the guidance of 
these complementary, and not contradictory, methods, both groups can work towards 
achieving one and the same goal: the general public interest.' 

This unity of method, according to Hanafi, had already been realized in classical 
Arabo-Islamic culture. Islamic legal theory {usid al-fiqh), for instance, accomplished 
this by combining root (asl) and branch [far'), a process he sees as a combination of 
deduction and induction, verticalization and horizontalization, and text and reality. 
Given that the root is the known text, i.e., ruling and case - it can only be known 
through the analysis of text in terms of language, its textually stated cause, and by the 
occasions of revelation, as well as by the abrogating and abrogated verses. On the other 
hand, the branch can only be known through experimentation with, observation and 
analysis of its effective, formative or correlative causes in the external word. Given that 
the cause is in the root and is known through deduction, the cause in the branch can 
be known through induction, because the branch takes the cause of the root. That is 
why Islamic legal philosophers (usuliyyun) called analogy {qiyds) the process of "extend- 
ing the legal value from the root to the branch due to their similarity in terms of cause." 
All knowledge, adds Hanafi, needs two principles: permanent elements and changing 
elements. Muslim legal philosophers disagree over what forms the permanent takes in 
different genres of text, but the element of change for them is always social reality, 
which he in turn identifies as colonialism, backwardness, oppression, division, corrup- 
tion, laziness, identity loss and mass indifference. Faced with these social realities, 
Salafis and secularists disagree only in terms of the method they would use to solve 


them. In such a context, Hanafi maintains, methodological pluralism is acceptable 
because the unity of goal and purpose allows for a pluralism of methods. Since con- 
fronting one method with another can, however, lead to national divisions (especially 
in the case of Egypt), both deduction and induction must be seen to complete each 
other Method, he reminds both sides in the conflict, is a means and not an end: dis- 
agreement over it should, therefore, lead not to enmity or killing, but to complemen- 
tary and pluralistic approaches to the same problem, as the Qur'an 5: 48 teaches.^" 

Dialoging Language 

The existence of a common language is necessary to solve the Salafi and secularist con- 
flict, as it can help minimize their respective, more extreme expressions. Although both 
groups use different terminologies, due to their origin in two different discourses sepa- 
rated by a time span of more than a millennium, their meanings are often similar The 
Salafis simply miscommunicate their ideas by using traditional words. Instead of mod- 
ernizing these centuries-old Islamic terms, they employ them as they were originally 
used in the formative period, and as a result find their audience limited to specialists 
like ulamas and shaykhs in Islamic universities and other institutions. To reach a non- 
traditional audience, Hanafi advises the Salafis to take the chance of using the secu- 
larist vocabulary. It is true that the secularists took their new idioms from modern 
Western culture, but their meaning does not differ to any significant degree from the 
classical Islamic terms the Salafis use. The Salafis will be able to see the similarities 
between their language and that of the Secularist meanings if they contextualize their 
renewed meanings and, thus, avoid misunderstanding. The Salafis, for example, take 
for granted the words iman (belief) and kufr (disbelief) as, respectively, positive and neg- 
ative - in the process categorically excluding Secularist interpretations of their content. 
However, this is not really the case, since the meanings of these Islamic terms can turn 
out to be the opposite: for instance, believing in other than Allah, for example, is 
rejected, whereas disbelieving in the taghiit (tyrant) is respected. In a slightly different 
sense, words like shirk and tawhid can be extended to the sense, in the case of shirk, of 
associating Allah with power, status, property, fame, and the temptations of life - all of 
which are condemned - while tawhid can mean unifying individuals, society and 
humanity, which is respected. The secularists, in his point of view, made a great con- 
tribution to these newly interpreted goals now in use among the Salafis. ^^ 

The secularist vocabularies, Hanafi reminds his fellow Salafis, are popular to the 
extent that they take as their model international language and culture, since they 
contain modern words pertaining to concepts such as evolution, development, plan- 
ning, change and reform. However, they are not strange to proponents of modern 
Islamic reform, which forms a bridge of sorts between Salafism and secularism. Modern 
Islamic reformists realize, unlike the Salafis, that theologically closed terminologies, like 
the words din and Islam, cannot simply be accepted without the use of reason, ques- 
tion, or discussion. People usually understand the word dm (religion) in contradistinc- 
tion to that of dunya (world). In this context, they see it as a concept that deals more 
with the hidden world than the physical one, resulting in a fatal reduction that excludes 


secularist interpretations. In fact, the word din in its true Islamic sense, Hanafi reminds 
his Salafi audience, encompasses the physical world, reality, society, people, public inter- 
est and all that the secularists speak about. The Salafis should, therefore, recast their 
ideas in modern terms as the secularists did in order to communicate their common 
concerns. Likewise, the word Islam, as it is commonly used, gives the impression that 
it is solely the religion that the last Prophet brought, due to which fact its followers are 
called Muslims. The pure traditional usage of this terminology by the Salafis has 
widened the gap between themselves and the secularists. In fact, the word Islam, for 
Hanafl, means comprehensive, rational, and natural religion. It is the religion of bara 'at 
al-asliyya (original innocence in opposition to original sin), the one and the same reli- 
gion practiced since the time of Adam down to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and 
Muhammad. Since it also encompasses everyone who believes in God and does good 
deeds, the concept of Islam includes other Eastern religions. The Salafis should, there- 
fore, clarify that by Islam they mean a religion of all human beings, a notion that the 
secularists, according to Hanafi, have already conceived.^" 

In diametrical contrast to the secularists' worldly orientation, the Salafis use meta- 
physical terms, which often deal more with the hidden world than with the apparent 
one, more with the afterlife (akhira) than with these worldly matters, more with human 
beings after death rather than the life before it. The Salafis' excessive discussion of jinn, 
angels, sirdt (bridge), mizdn (scale), and khawd (reservoir, lake), and paradise and hell- 
fire has diverted their attention from societal problems. They seem to live in a different 
world. It is thus quite natural for the secularists to question the usefulness of discussing 
such arcane concepts for solving the world crisis. In their own right, the secularists dis- 
regarded this wrong-headed discussion and turned their attention instead to talking 
about immediate and practical matters like injustice, justice, enmity, and struggle, even 
though all of these - Hanafi reminds his secularist interlocutors - can be found in some 
of the Salafi vocabularies and their afterlife symbols. It is only that the Salafis cannot 
bring themselves to express such matters in realistic and practical language, as the sec- 
ularists do. Were they able to, the Salafis could share their common concerns about 
such problems as poverty, drought and famine, hunger, oppression, exploitation, hope- 
lessness, marginalization, justice, income distribution, transportation and settlement 
with the secularists. If only they could recast these public interests, which are the foun- 
dation of Islamic legislation, in the worldly terms of the secularists, a major step would 
be taken towards rapprochement between the two factions.^' 

Another problem is that the Salafis often use legal and imperative terms that require 
absolute loyalty and application because they see themselves as being in charge of 
applying Islamic law for their communities. Considering every Islamic ruling as fard 
(obligation) and applying Hudud as unavoidable, the Salafis have mistakenly trans- 
formed their discourse into a means of subjugation and terror against state and society. 
Nevertheless, these terminologies, Hanafi warns the Salafis, do not ignore human 
freedom, free choice, and developing nature and its spontaneity. To communicate better 
their ideals, the Salafis can borrow the secularists' more spontaneous and natural 
terms, since the secularists, in the true spirit of Islam, use them to express the human 
desire for liberation. The secularist terminologies recognize human basic needs, but the 
Salafis should know this. Hanafl insists that they, to a great extent, express the very 


ideals oimaqdsid al-sharVah, i.e., preserving life, reason, religion, pride, and property. On 
the other hand. Islamic law, he reminds his secularist audience, is natural and secular. 
It even creates some of the legal maxims that serve these purposes just like "emergen- 
cies allow every body to do the prohibited," "no obligation beyond human capability" 
and "avoiding evils is given priority over taking benefits." The Salafis need to borrow 
the secularists' positive language, which calls people to struggle, ta'mir (emendation, 
restoration, civilization or prosperity of the country), work, production and investment, 
and this because they are often the meanings hidden in classical terms like jihad, 'amal 
(action), sa'y (effort), kadd (pain, labor, examination), and ijtihdd (intellectual endeavor). 
If the Salafis and the secularists are still reluctant to use their mutually exclusive terms, 
they can, Hanafi suggests, employ a third language, which is Salafi and secular at the 
same time. This would include such words as ard (land), sha'b (nation), qawm (people), 
fl'l wa 'amal (work and action), 'aql (reason), 'Urn (science), and tabVa wafttra (nature). 
These natural vocabularies, Hanafi argues, do not need to be the subject of dialogue 
because they are already (albeit unwittingly) shared by the Salafis and the secularists. 

The Purpose of Dialogue 

The Salafl-secularist conflict can be solved if both sides minimize their respective 
absolute purposes. The Salafis, Hanafi urges, have to shift their discourse from center- 
ing on and defending God to man, society, and history-oriented secularist ideals. On the 
other hand, the secularists should "Salafize" their human-centered concept of religion 
as not an end in itself as the Salafis claim, but merely a way of ensuring that people 
remain content while realizing their self-interest. For not only is religion always alive 
in traditional societies like that of Egypt (a very significant sociological fact that the sec- 
ularists should not overlook), but it is also capable of materializing the general purposes 
of Islamic law, which are defined as public interests in the secularist discourse. For this 
reason the secularists must be willing to share their humanist claims with their Salafi 
competitors, who in turn should relinquish their arbitrary pretension to be the spokes- 
men of God. This suggestion, in Hanafi's view, entails that the Salafis shift their posi- 
tion from speaking from the center of power (which is God, since they keep insisting 
that no power is stronger than His), to declaring His rights to be for, and not against, 
human beings' reality and history. When they stop seeing criticism as posing a threat 
to God or as an indication of lack of belief, and start considering alternate interpreta- 
tion as ijtihdd rather than as blasphemy (which they would arbitrarily punish with the 
hadd al-riddah (death sentence)), the Salafis will be able to accommodate the secular- 
ists, who consider themselves proponents of international human rights and as citi- 
zens. For their part, the secularists, whose starting point is the "real" world, are equally 
called upon to transfer their stance from defending human rights on their own behalf 
to defending them in the name of God and sometimes the state. Predictably, they will 
be attracted to the call to ijtihdd, which promises to give them one reward if their effort 
is wrong and two if right, because many of them are Muslim by faith. ^' 

The Salafis should, for their part, lift their embargo on dialogue by re-evaluating their 
absolute dualism. Instead of confronting God with nature, this world with the next 


world, life with death, belief with disbelief, as the secularists did when blindly transfer- 
ring Western secular concepts to the Arab world in the eighteenth century, the Salafis 
should return to Islamic duality by integrating both positive and negative into undi- 
vided elements of existence, as the secularists did in their practical usage of one- 
dimensional discourse, which involved using terms like constitution, society, citizen, 
moral, and politics. Another drawback of the Salafis, in his view, can be seen in 
their assumption of the "good" side in their unfair dualist vision of the world. This 
unilateral claim naturally places the secularists on the "bad" side. Marginalized in 
this way, the secularists would, of course, feel alienated. To ease tensions, the Salafis 
should no longer defend this paradigm and at the same time should redefine the 
secularist status from being the Salafis' chief target to being an equal partner in 
dialogue. This, Hanafi says, means bringing their theological perspective down to earth 
by taking a case-by-case approach. They ought to start taking man as man without 
dividing him into soul vis-a-vis body, reality as it is without dividing it into right and 
wrong, and behavior as it is without dividing it into lawful and unlawful. If the Salafis 
adopt this stance, they will be able to abandon their dominant pyramidal worldview, 
which contrasts the top with the bottom or the best with the worst. The abolition of 
their hierarchical vision of the universe, which divides society into such diametrical 
opposites as the ruling vis-d-vis the ruled and master vis-a-vis slave, will draw the 
secularists to their side, since these latter reject the pyramidal worldview and place 
all phenomena at the same level of analysis in terms of religion, society, politics, and 

On the other hand, Hanafi urges the secularists to rethink their purpose in the 
context of the Arab classical heritage in order to appease the Salafis, since human 
beings have always been at the center of the Arab-Islamic tradition. The Salafis should 
have been able to satisfy their secularist counterparts by stressing the principle of 
Islamic theology that Allah not only expresses Himself in human language, but also 
identifies Himself with their attributes like knowledge, power, life, hearing, sight, 
speech, and will - the implication being that Allah highly respects human beings. The 
only difference - and here he asks his Salafi audience not to misunderstand him - is 
that these attributes are absolutely applied to the Divine Essence, but made relative to 
human beings in order that He may be intelligible to them. Moreover, all of His 99 
attributes, he reassures the secularists, are general human ideals on justice, mercy, 
glory, and generosity and not simply pure theological notions as the Salafis tend to 
understand them. The secularists will be further satisfied if they look at the position of 
human beings in the concept of maqdsid al-shari'ah, since in contrast to the Salafis' 
literal and God-oriented interpretation, the concept in its classical sense is directed 
towards preserving life, intellect, religion, pride and poverty almost entirely through 
secular ways. Islamic legal maxims ('ilm al-qawd'id al-flqhiyyah) were even established 
to regulate human life as the highest purpose of shari'ah. To strengthen his argument. 
Hanafi quotes some of these: "la darara wala dirdr (neither harming nor counter- 
harming), adam jawaz taklTf mala yutdq (not obliging someone to do something 

beyond his capability)," "raf al-hara) (the elimination of hardship from Islamic obliga- 
tions)," "dar' al-mafasid muqaddam 'ala jalb al-masalih (avoiding [real] dangers is 
given priority over taking [imaginary] benefits)," and "dar' al-hudiid bi al-shubuhdt 


(preventing the application of Islamic criminal law by [invoking] the principle of 

Despite their claims, the Salafis, Hanafi admits, tend to ignore their own classical 
Islamic heritage. For in contrast to the tendency of the Salafis to jump from a fact to 
literal expressions of the Our'an and the Sunnah, classical Islamic legal philosophers 
explained human actions in terms of sabab (cause), shart (condition), and manV 
(barrier) in order to judge them fairly. For example, a thief's hand cannot be amputated 
if he has been forced to steal due to hunger, joblessness or poverty, since the condition 
for the prescribed hadd punishment is self-sufficiency, full justice, steady employment 
and the fulfillment of all basic human needs (by the state), which are conditions rarely 
present in such cases. The Salafis, moreover, oddly assign priority to flqh al-'ibdddt (ritual 
affairs) over flqh al-mu'dmaldt (social affairs), even though the latter are more signifi- 
cant than the former, since the end of Islamic law is social law, which is perfectly 
represented in the horizontal dimension of the mu'dmaldt. The secularists would, in 
Hanafi's eyes, come ideologically closer to the Salafis if the latter were to change their 
focus from 'ibdddt to mu'dmaldt. On the other hand, the secularists should (in his eval- 
uation) re-analyze their own human discourse, for it is hard for the Salafis to see man 
in terms of a changing, individual being, a real person with all his faults and virtues, 
and not as a universal man transcending state, national or ethnic boundaries. The sec- 
ularists are thus spiritually obliged to adjust their Sophist Pythagorean slogan "man is 
the measure of everything" to the more Egyptian or Arab perspective, since in its orig- 
inal existence secularism gave rise to nihilism - acceptance of which by the Salafis 
would be tantamount to abandoning their very foundation of Islam. The secularists not 
only need to jettison the slogan, which contributed to colonialism and even World War 
Two, but also correct their own dry understanding of man, by incorporating Sufi 
humanism into it. The theories of Perfect Man and Human Love, within which Divine 
Love manifests itself, have the potential to bridge secularist-Salafi tensions. Divinity 
without humanism, Hanafi reminds the Salafis, can descend into oppression, but 
humanism without divinity, he warns the secularists, can get trapped in relativism. ^^ 

Power Sharing 

Power sharing is the most sensitive intersection of the Salafi and secularist conflict in 
the Egyptian political arena because both are politically oriented movements. They 
must, for this reason, back away from their respective ideological positions. Instead of 
simply rejecting existing governments as man-made political systems, the Salafis should 
first anchor their slogan "Sovereignty Belongs to Allah" in classical Islamic legal theory. 
Both the Salafis and the classical Islamic legal theorists, Hanafi notes, are in agreement 
that God rules through His law. They differ only in terms of who will represent Him to 
execute His law. To bridge this gap between themselves and the secularists, the Salafis 
are required to adapt to the classical Islamic legal theorists' stance that Allah rules 
through legitimate representatives (ahl al-hall wa al-'aqd). Since leadership according to 
this interpretation is based on election, contract and oath of allegiance, a Muslim leader 
is by definition more a representative of the people than of Allah. It will also make it 


easier for the Salafis to deconstruct their absolute acceptance of Ibn Taymiyya's jhfwfl 
(legal opinion), if they first understand the Our'anic verses "Those who do not judge 
based on what Allah has sent are kafirun (infidel), /asiqOn (vicious) and zalimun (injust)" 
within the holistic framework of the Our'an, which gives human beings as His vice- 
regents on earth the right to interpret the Scripture in many different ways. As the 
product of politically motivated ijtihdd, fbn Taymiyya's/atwa, which ruled out the legit- 
imacy of the Muslim Tatar government for not grounding its rule on (the literal 
meaning of) Allah's shari'ah, binds nobody. And since the fatwa is nothing more than 
a relative and contextual moral advice, the Salafis should not arbitrarily impose it on 
their contemporaries. On the other hand, Hanafi urges the secularists to avoid giving 
their support to atheistic secularism, but instead incorporate into their slogans words 
like "Freedom," "Democracy," and "Free Election."^' 

The Salafis and the secularists will, in Hanafi's estimation, be able to put an end to 
the contradiction between theocracy and democracy, originally inherited from the 
West, if they open their political will to the above mutual understanding. The secular- 
ists should begin sharing the power they have monopolized since the fall of the 
caliphate in 1924, a political domination that had led the Salafis to coin their slogans 
"Islam is the solution" or "Islam is the alternative." Since these slogans emerged to 
replace the failure of Arab secular ideologies like liberalism, Arab nationalism, social- 
ism, and Marxism in modernizing Arab countries, the secularists, Hanafi demands, 
should accommodate Salafi interests by treating them on an equal footing instead of 
assassinating their leaders as the liberal and socialist-Nasserist Governments did. What 
is more, instead of oppressing the Salafi-oriented opposition forces in the name of the 
law and constitution, the secularist ruling parties should give the opposition the chance 
to exercise their constitutional rights. The secularists can significantly reduce Salafi 
resentment if they, as the ruling elite, start filling the gap between the rich and the poor, 
on the former of which the Salafis usually focused their struggle. The appeal for the sec- 
ularists was to erase illiteracy, to stabilize prices, to provide settlement, transportation 
and jobs, and to reduce Egypt's dependence on imports while empowering the domes- 
tic economic sector. In short, the secularists can solve Egypt's problems as a developing 
country only by involving the Salafis as their equal partners. ~° 

On the other hand, the Salafis, Hanafi reminds the secularists, wish to use their third 
slogan 'Apply Islamic Law!" as a means of escaping the system that predominates at 
the moment. The Salafis consider the secularists as jeopardizing people's interests by 
issuing unfair regulations on labor, salary, settlement, tax, export, import, publication, 
education, and health. These laws, he reminds the secularists, did in fact contradict 
each other for being constantly changed in accordance with the desires of the secular- 
ist ruling elite, as well interest and pressure groups. Following this unhealthy practice, 
ordinary people put their interests above the law by adjusting it to their immediate 
goals. In this context, the slogan 'Apply Islamic Law!" was used to materialize, espe- 
cially as they strongly believed that, unlUce the dominant man-made laws, God's laws 
will do justice and rule out injustice. However, Hanafi disagrees with the Salafi plan of 
applying HudUd (Islamic criminal laws), since Islamic law is an undivided unity, within 
which the Hudud form only a small part. The Salafis thus promote a misguided Islamiza- 
tion by demanding that people fulfill their duties before receiving their rights. This 


stance, Hanafi assures the secularists, is in diametrical opposition to the priority of 
Islamic law, which first gives people their rights before demanding their duties. The state 
should first satisfy the rights of its citizens, which include their natural entitlements to 
food, clothes, education, health, transportation and settlement. If they, for example, 
steal after the state has fulfilled all these obligations, it may be possible to apply the spec- 
ified punishment to him, but only under such circumstances, seeing as the Hudiid come 
at the end, and not at the beginning, of the spectrum of duties vis-d-vis rights. There- 
fore, the Salafis need to reverse their priorities by promoting the fulfillment of human 
basic needs, as the secularists did, in order to show their mercy to people instead of 
frightening them with threats of harsh punishment."^ 

Both the Salafis and the secularists should finally strengthen and protect their 
respective national states because improving what has existed, Hanafi argues, is better 
than destroying and rebuilding it in the name of alternate solutions. The Salafis 
had, for example, gained power in Sudan, but they were unable to satisfy their own 
people for lack of socio-economic plans and managerial skills, a failure that the 
Egyptian Salafis should not repeat. The second characteristic of the state that both 
the Salafis and the secularists should strengthen and protect is that of economic 
and political independence, so that it can avoid pawning its national will in the name 
of bread, corn, aid or in the name of security, military, and political temptation. 
This state should be able to defend its foundations from within, by accommodating the 
Salafi strengths, and not from outside, by putting aside the secularist weaknesses. The 
state should be truly democratic, by allowing Egyptians to freely elect their representa- 
tives. To smooth the expression of this actual political power, the secularists will have 
to share the power with the Salafis by abolishing state-sponsored political parties. The 
state, Hanafi further stipulates, should be able to undertake dialogue with the existing 
Egyptian schools of thought and political powers, as it is a manifestation of Egyptian 
social contract. Since it is based on pluralism, this state will be unifying. In this way, 
the Salafis are called to express their elected popular power through national ipnd' 
(consensus) hand in hand with the secularists. Finally, both the Salafis and the secu- 
larists should not forget that their conflicting trends originated in one and the same 
Egyptian modern school of thought. The Egyptian nationalism, as first manifested in 
the Orabi Movement of 1882, was Jamal al-DTn al- Afghani's interpretation of Salafism 
in the Egyptian need for liberation from foreign occupation. Without practicing this 
united front, both the Salafis and the secularists, Hanafi reasons, will scatter their 


1. Hassan Hanafi, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar (Cairo: Al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-Amma li al-Kitab, 
1993), 6-7; idem. Min al-'Aqidah ila al-Thawrah (Cairo: Madbuli, 1988), 393-407: idem. 
Dirasat Falsaflyya (Cairo: The Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, 1987), 121-2: idem. Al-Din wa al- 
Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah (Cairo: Dar Oiba', 1998), 213; idem. Al-Din wa al-Thawrah fl Misr 
1952-1981 (Cairo: Madbuh, 1988), 6, 6-7; and idem, Al-Harakaal-Islamiyijafl Misr {Cairo: 
Al-Mu'assasah al-Islamiyyah li al-Nashr, 1986), 10-11. 


2. Haiiafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah. 238 and 2 5 7-8; idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya 
flMisr, 36; idem, Al-Da'walial-Hiwar, 26 and 69; idem, Oadaya Mu'asira, 3rd edition (Cairo; 
Dar al-Fikr al-'Arabi, 1987), 2, 16-17 and 32-3; andidem, Islam in the Modern World (Cairo: 
The Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, 1995), 2, 46. 

3. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 258-9; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 46; idem. 
Humum al-Fikr wa al-Watan al-Arabi (Cairo; Dar Oiba', 1998), 2, 180-6; and idem, Oadaya 
Mu'asira, 2, 16-17. 

4. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 259; idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi Misr. 
19-23 and 30; idem, Al-Din wa al-Thawrahfi Misr, 6, 15-17; idem, Dirasat Falsafiyya. 52-3; 
and idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 30-3. 

5. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 260-1; idem. Dirasat Falsafiyya, 547-8; idem, 
Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 9-11 and 33-46; idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi Misr, 19; and idem, 
Al-Din wa al-Thawrahfi Misr, 6, 15. 

6. It is not surprising that Umar's opinions, Hanafl says, were often justified by revelation, 
since the Our'anic method is that question came from reality and revelation answered it. 
In this way, a number of Our'anic verses begin with the phrase "They ask you about" 
alcohol, gambling, and spirit. This is one of the greatnesses of Islamic revelation, which 
was revealed gradually in order that people read it slowly. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa 
al-Siyasah, 289-90 

7. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 289-90; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 9-11; idem, 
Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi Misr, 19; and idein, Al-Din wa al-Thawrahfi Misr, 6, 15. 

8. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 73, 290-1; idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyyafi Misr, 
46; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 9-11; idem, Hiwar al-Ajyal (Cairo; Dar Oiba', 1998), 502; 
idem, Humum al-Fikr wa al-Watan al-'Arabi (Dar Oiba', 1998), 1, 17; and idem, Oadaya 
Mu'asira (Beirut; Dar al-Tanwir, 1981), 1, 185. 

9. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 291-2 and 396; idem, Humum al-Fikr wa al- 
Watan al-'Arabi, 2, 192-4; idem, Dirasat Falsafiyya, 147; and idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 

10. Hanafi, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 292-3 and 396; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 
9-11, 13-14, 51 and 112-16; idem, Humum al-Fikr wa al-Watan al-'Arabi, 2, 173-7; idem, 
Al-Turath wa al-Tajdid: Mawqifuna min al-Turath al-Oadim, 4th edition (Cairo; Al-Mu'assa al- 
Jami'iyya li al-Dtrasat wa al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi', 1992), 160 and 172-5; idem, Al-Haraka 
al-Islamiyyafi Misr, 13; and idem, Oadaya Mu'asira, 1, 183. 

11. Hanafi. Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 83 and 294-5; idem, Humum al-Fikr wa al- 
Watan al-'Arabi, 2: 196-202; idem, Al-Turath wa al-Tajdid. 112-15; idem. Dirasat Falsafiyya. 
27 and 547-8; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 7-9 and 42; and idem, Oadaya Mu'asira, 1, 63. 

12. Hanafi. Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 295-6; idem, Al-Turath wa al-Tajdid. 116-23; 
idem. Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar. 7-9: and idem. Religious Dialogue and Revolution: Essays on 
Judaism, Christianity & Islam (Cairo; Anglo Egyptian Bookshop, 1977), 231-7. 

13. Hanafi. Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 29 7-8; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 7-9. 

14. Hanafi. Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah. 298; and idem. Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar. 7-9. 

15. Hanafi, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah. 300-1; idem. Dirasat Falsafiyya, 21-2, 2 7 and 
149-50; and idem. Al-Da'wa h al-Hiwar. 11-12 and 46. 

16. Hanafi, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah. 3 00-2 ; and idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyyafi Misr, 

1 7. Hanafi, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah. 298; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 7-9; and idem, 
Islam in the Modern World, 2, 167-8. 

18. Hanafi, A/-Di)i wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 304-5; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 58-9; and 
idem, Islam in the Modern World, 2, 167-8. 


19. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 260-1; idem, Islam in the Modern World, 2, 
157-8; idem, Al-Din waal-ThawrahflMisr, 6: 15; idem, Al-Da'walial-Hiwar. 9-11; and idem, 
Oadaya Mu'asira, 1, 183. 

20. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 83 and 313-14; idem, Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya 
fl Misr, 62-3; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwdr, 45; idem, Al-Din wa al-Thawrahfl Misr, 6: 362-9; 
and Islam in the Modern World, 2: 9-14. 

21. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 316-18; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 46; and 
idem, Islam in the Modern World, 2. 167-8. 

22. Hanafl, Al-Din wa al-Thaqafah wa al-Siyasah, 241-2 and 316-17; idem, Al-Haraka al- 
Islamiyya fi Misr, 23-4; idem, Dirasat Falsafiyya, 76; idem, Al-Da'wa li al-Hiwar, 64-5 and 
689-721; and idem, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani: Al-MVawiyya al-Ula (1897-1997) (Cairo: Dar 
Oiba', 1998), 11-19. 


Towards a New Historical 
Discourse in Islam' 

Ali Mabrook 

Perhaps no one will argue that currently the ummah (Muslim collective) is being pul- 
verized. There is an intense pressure, seemingly inescapable, and a pervading sense of 
decline, there are setbacks on every front. Failure appears as the destiny of every 
reform, and collapse is the end of every awakening. To this extent, all attempts at reform 
and progress still remain in the sphere of dreams, desires, even illusions, despite almost 
two centuries of striving and enterprise. 

Naturally, many have mobilized to lift this gloom off the shoulders of the ummah. 
Many have engaged - especially after the numerous catastrophes that have befallen the 
ummah - in a process of critique and revision of the thought and theses that have come 
to be known as the 'Arab awakening discourse" {Khitdb al-Nahdah al-'Arabi). Despite the 
tremendous fertility of this critical movement, it includes a very apparent shortcom- 
ing, represented by a reading of the causes of decline of discourse not within the dis- 
course itself but outside." 

An analysis from within the discourse enters into a relationship with the regimes of 
thought that arise by circumstance, dealing with these as absolute structures outside 
of time. The result is completely isolated from any historical or civilization contexts pro- 
duced by them. This implies that its image of these regimes of thought is ahistorical. 
This is the most important impasse of the discourse - in all its diverse trends. Undoubt- 
edly, this ahistoricity is not the illness of these regimes of thought in as much as it is 
the illness of the discourse itself Some point out that the impasse of the discourse lies 
in its disregard of history and simply surpassing it. And further, that "some of the 
reasons for the crippling of our contemporary awakening, which we have initiated in 
the last century, is that we have not as yet discovered historical consciousness."^ It 
seems as if a prerequisite for transcending this impasse is for the discourse to crystal- 
lize and complete its historical consciousness. 

In truth, the ahistoricity of this discourse does not in any way mean the absence of 
any notion of "history," but rather the absence of history as a framework of human 
action and progress and a form of human consciousness of the world; or history as a 


creative process coming forth from forms of existence that are more developed and 
effective. Therefore, what remains is a conception of history that dominates the dis- 
course and which inculcates "ahistoricity." Naturally, it is a conception of history as a 
process of failure and decline that cannot be lifted except by leaping from this location 
to a point outside. Not even the Arab liberalist, reformist, or even secularist, knows how 
to transcend the collapse of his reality except by leaping to a point outside, which he 
borrows and transmits from the Other. 

In spite of the importance of the awareness of this fact, clinging on to it cannot tran- 
scend the impasse within the discourse. For this reason, it remains that this fact is no 
more than a point of departure for moving towards an awareness of what establishes 
it. This is because an analysis of the discourse cannot lead to something that is beyond 
the awareness of its ahistoricity. This awareness of what establishes ahistoricity cannot 
be accomplished except from outside of the discourse; I mean from outside the Islamic 
tradition in which this discourse is so deeply rooted. In truth, the presence of the legacy 
in contemporary Arab discourse goes beyond simply its restoration and employment in 
numerous trends within contemporary discourse, to the establishment of its underly- 
ing deep structure. Therefore, it is necessary to examine how the legacy of the discourse 
establishes its ahistoricity. 

It must be said that there is no absolute absence of history in our classical legacy;* 
it is inherently present, specifically in the Science of Dogma ('Ilm al-'Aqd'id), which is 
central to the construction of contemporary consciousness. This is confirmed by real- 
izing that the conception of history that regulates the contemporary awakening dis- 
course {Khitab al-Nahdah al-Mu'asir) is completely rooted in a notion that came to be 
dominant and hegemonic in the Science of Dogma; what is being referred to in this 
instance, is the Ash'arite conception of history as a process of failure and decline from 
an idealistic transcendental moment to regressive moments that follow it. This is a 
decline that cannot be lifted from within this history, but from outside, since it is impos- 
sible except by leaping to that transcendental moment, repeating it, and unifying with 
it. It therefore seems that there are other conceptions of history that are different and 
even contradictory, which are contained within the Science of Dogma. The displace- 
ment and removal that they have been exposed to - together with the dogmatic systems 
that they naturally contain - prevented these concepts from impacting upon this con- 
sciousness in any way. In this way the effectiveness of the Ash'arite conception of 
history in shaping and formulating the structure of the awakening discourse is bound 
to the hegemony of Ash'arism, not only as a system of belief but also as a collective 
psychological memory among people, which directs their behavior and determines 
their systems of value and crystallizes - which is most important - their ways of think- 
ing and their worldviews. 

It now seems that the various conceptions of history that are contained in the 
Science of Dogma were formulated in very close connection with the issue of imamate, 
(leadership established on the basis of religious dictates). As such, the connection 
between imamate and history is made manifest. 

"Imamate," or politics, involves thinking about various principles and rules that 
govern a specific social context at a certain moment. As such, the starting point for 
whoever thinks about imamate is the present, from which he may move towards the 


past seeking that which may be used to establish the present, fix it, disturb it, or even 
destroy it. 

"History," on the other hand, is a statement about the past' that intends to admon- 
ish or to make one talce heed in most instances, but it seems that all thinking about the 
past is also thinking about the present. This is because it inevitably seeks either to fix 
the present or to disturb it. As such, the starting point here is the past, from which the 
historian departs, to the present, intending either to fix or to disturb. 

As such, imamate is thinking in the present, which in most cases considers the past, 
while history is always thinking in the past with an eye on the present. The future is a 
dimension that is absent in both "imamate" and "history." In spite of their opposing 
points of departure, the present seems to be their common objective, either to fix or to 
disturb. There is no doubt that the link between them is crystallized in their common 
objective, which means that the one is established by the other and in turn establishes 
the other as well. History finds in imamate its meaning and foundation, and similarly, 
imamate finds in history its significance and meaning. If there were historians who 
wrote on imamate and polities'" then it should be possible for theologians to write about 
imamate and history. Because no theologian has written such a book this matter has 
not been researched by anyone seeking to explore the relationship and the link between 
the two. This has resulted in the impoverishment of both imamate and history. 

The many studies on imamate have not resulted in transcending the few peripheral 
issues surrounding it, or tracing its development in a specific time period or doctrinal 
school, going on to consider a more comprehensive significance. There are no studies 
that have given imamate a specific import that transcends the boundaries that regard 
it as legislation for guiding the practice of politics, transforming it into a frame for con- 
structing perceptions and crystallizing concepts. History, in most cases, is also engaged 
simply as practice, in spite of the many studies on it, where all efforts are halted at the 
point of grasping its principles, tracing its tools, subject-matter, and methods, without 
going on to consider it as an epistemological and theoretical discourse that includes this 
practice and directs it. Thus, imamate and history are predominantly dealt with as 
spheres for political and historiographical practices, and not as epistemological dis- 
courses. In spite of the importance of this type of interaction with them, it remains 
impoverished and limited. Perhaps the link between them is what conveys them from 
the sphere of practice to the world of discourse. This is because this link exposes the 
substratum relationship between them,^ which forces the one to transcend its external 
surface to reach that which is contained within its depths. 

Despite the starting point for both history and imamate being the past and the 
present, as has been stated earlier, the link between them - paradoxically - is exposed 
through the future in a fundamental way. In truth, the foundational role played by 
imamate in history becomes essentially apparent from that which is contained in 
history concerning perceptions of the future. It becomes apparent that the position of 
the dissenters around imamate was formulated around appraising the dispute on the 
imamate of the first four caliphs and the consequences thereof. The Ash'arites in 
general argued that what had transpired was the best in all aspects. Others, to the con- 
trary (like the Shi'ites), argued that that which would have been the best did not tran- 
spire at all. A third group (the Mu'tazilites) went beyond the context of choosing the 



best outcome in this matter, and looked into what had transpired and was said and 
done, analyzing and striking a balance, before passing judgment on what was the best 
in this issue. In contrast, others (like the Shi'ites) argued that that which would have 
been the best did not transpire at all. A third group (the Mu'tazilites) went beyond the 
context of choosing the best outcome in this matter, looked into what had transpired 
and was said and done, and thereafter analyzed and struck a balance before passing 
judgment on what was best. According to this dispute history appeared to degenerate 
from the ideal past (already fulfilled) to an unachieved ideal (to be fulfilled in the future). 
The third position supported neither degeneration nor ascension to an absolute model 
outside of history but analysis and equilibrium in which history is a realistic course 
determined by human consciousness and action. This without doubt implies a deep 
dispute over the "future." Is it degeneration and collapse, or ascension and transcen- 
dence, or an open horizon determined by human consciousness and action.? 

There is as such a shift from politics as a support, or as an antagonist, or as a means 
of dislodging, to history as the fulfillment of what is best, or as its unfulfiUment, or 
history as analysis and equilibrium. The future, accordingly, is either collapse, ascen- 
sion, or an open horizon. It is possible to express this relationship with the following 

Politics " Supportive "-Antagonistic ^ Dislodgement 

History Fulfillment UnfulfiUment Analysis and equilibrium 

of the best 

The future 



Open horizon 

In this way, history emerges out of imamate, and the perception of the future is spec- 
ified, starting from the link between them. This leads to that which is being alluded to 
in this study, not that which is explored by imamate or by history, as they are under- 
stood currently. It is their link that makes them uncover an internal and implicit content 
richer than that which they explore on the surface. Therefore, a methodological system 
that is appropriate for this objective is required, naturally departing from the fact that 
the nature of the subject determines the system of the methodology and defines it. 

The problem of methodology is raised very pointedly for the researcher in the field 
of Islamic studies. It seems in most cases as if the methodology was formulated within 
epistemological and civilization contexts different from the specific context of the 
subject under study. In this instance, "the subject" is generally reduced to merely an 
arena in which the researcher exhibits his knowledge of the methodology. As such, the 
subject comes into being only for the sake of the methodology, especially if the method- 
ology - which is the case in many instances - is a part of the embellishments of moder- 
nity, under whose influence many are swayed. It must be noted that this "sacrifice" of 


the subject results in - paradoxically - the fading away of the methodology and its dis- 
appearance, since the real aim of any methodology is to produce exact knowledge of a 
certain subject. If the methodology fails in achieving this aim it will be transformed 
from being a methodology for studying a subject to be itself a subject for study. This 
means that it loses its essence as a methodology. As such, the dominance of the method- 
ology over the subject does not only result in the marginalizing of the subject, but also 
the marginalizing of the quintessence of the methodology. However, this should not 
lead to the counterpoint dominance of the subject over the methodology, so that the 
methodology vanishes under the dominance of the subject. This counterpoint domi- 
nance would lead to the incapacity of the researcher to produce true knowledge of the 
subject, resulting in boring repetition. This repetition impoverishes the subject and 
leads to its disappearance, since the subject is unable to unfold everything it encom- 
passes. It even prevents revealing its truest import in the context of a comprehensive 
structure that includes it with other subjects. It therefore seems essential to start with 
the issue of methodology from a point outside the domination of the subject over the 
methodology, or vice versa. 

If it seems that the substance of the relationship between methodology and subject 
comes from the ability of the methodology to produce true knowledge of the subject, 
then this should be a ruling principle of the relationship between them, i.e., the ability 
to produce knowledge that was not possible before. This does not apply to the produc- 
tion of knowledge of the subject only, but also to the methodology. The relationship 
between the two is determined, on the one hand, by the ability of the methodology to 
unlock closed aspects of the subject and to pave the way to expressing what is implicit 
in it, and on the other hand, by the ability of the subject to respond to the discipline of 
the methodology and to benefit from it in expressing that which is unsaid. Also, the 
revealing of the potentialities of the methodology has not been realized before. This 
could possibly mean that the relationship between the two is determined by the one 
benefiting from the other in revealing its potentialities and possibilities. Hence, the 
methodology will not be a set of solid rules that falls upon the subject like a predeter- 
mined fate, but an open horizon in which the subject develops and unfolds. In this way, 
the subject also transforms into an open horizon in which the methodology develops 
and fulfills its potential. This perhaps suggests that the methodology is not a fully formed 
entity that does not accept any development, but it achieves - according to the nature 
of the subject, of course - growth and evolution through dialogue and interaction with 
other methodological systems. Hopefully, raising the question of methodology in this 
way represents an attempt to transcend a specific problem in Islamic studies, i.e., the 
alienation of methodology irom subject. 

Beginning from the principle that it is the subject that determines and specifies the 
methodology, it is necessary to firstly define the subject and to gain familiarity with it, 
so that it is thereafter possible to determine the methodology and to specify its elements. 

Indeed, "the subject" is a part of the legacy; but why must this legacy be investigated 
and researched? It seems that - and contemporary Arab thought bears this out - it is 
impossible to initiate any awakening from a starting point outside of the legacy. This is 
because in this case (if at all possible, of course) it will be a distorted clone of the other, 
in which the essence of the subject fades away and disappears. On the other hand, the 


awakening cannot be effected by ruminating over the legacy and re-consuming it. In 
this case it will be no more than repetition, in which the essence of awakening disap- 
pears. This requires that "the legacy" be made the subject of an epistemological posi- 
tion in which it will be the cornerstone of the awakening, but not by repetition, of 
course. Hence, if the legacy is "the subject," then the methodology is the "reading" of 
the legacy. 

Reading means striving to produce knowledge of the legacy that goes beyond simply 
repeating it. From this perspective, all of the atavistic approaches towards the legacy 
can never be representative of a reading of it because they only repeat the legacy 
without the slightest impact upon it by the reader/subject. In this case the reader is 
merely a part of the legacy and is incorporated and encompassed by it (i.e. the reader 
is negated by the legacy), while the legacy does not represent a part of the reader (i.e. 
it is not incorporated or encompassed by the reader) and the reader does not dominate 
over it. Therefore, reading requires a double presence, i.e., of that which is being read 
(the legacy) and of the reader (the subject). The absence of either does not produce a 
reading. The presence of that which is being read only produces a repetition not a 
reading, and the presence of the reader only produces a projection, not a reading. If 
repetition, then, is the disease of the atavistic reading (if such an expression is permis- 
sible), then projection is the disease of the ideological reading through which the legacy 
simply becomes an arena from which many project their ideological delusions. The ide- 
ological reading is any reading that takes its starting point from ideologies outside of 
the legacy (which are modern ideologies, of course), and then proceeds to formulate an 
interpretation of the legacy that justifies this ideology and supports, through this inter- 
pretation, attempts to impose the ideology upon reality. A plurality of ideologies 
directed to this type of reading does not result in a plurality of readings, rather it only 
means that a single reading mechanism diversifies and changes its orientations. As 
such, there is no difference between the liberal reading of the legacy according to Zaki 
Najib Mahmud^ from one perspective, and the historical materialist reading of Hussain 
Murruwa and Tayyib Tizini' from the other. Both readings submit to a single factor in 
which the legacy seems compelled to speak [in the terms] of the ideology imposed upon 
it from outside, sometimes through "selection" (Zaki Najib Mahmud), and at other 
times through "compulsion," which seems in its framing reluctant to speak in the terms 
of historical materialism. 

This exaggeration of the role of the reader at the expense of the reading matter can 
also be critically applied to the phenomenological reading of the legacy by Hassan 
Hanafi:^" "Every reading begins with some awareness, firstly, awareness of what the 
reader needs, what does he want to read in the text, what he wants the text to say to 
him; it is the reader who reads the text and who gives it its significance."^^ For Hanafi, 
the traditional text is simply a fi'amework within which he places his own ideas. '^^ In 
this way, the issue of "legacy and renewal" transforms, in this reading, into a "re- 
interpretation of the legacy according to the dictates of the time ... (so that) the legacy 
is the means and renewal is the objective (fe/os)."^^ Or, the legacy is the footnote and 
renewal is the body of the text suspended upon it. In truth, the legacy is actually not 
required for itself but for the contemporary needs of the collective subject. However, to 
give it existence for the sake of this subject requires that it be dominated over, which 


cannot be achieved except through producing scholarly knowledge with it that does 
not ignore it being a phenomenon that has an objective existence in some way, with its 
own specific rules. Perhaps, this production of scholarly knowledge with the legacy 
cannot be achieved except by tracing it back to its epistemological, historical, and ide- 
ological contexts in which it arose and developed. This is what the phenomenological 
reading is unable to do because it does not know anything other than referring to the 
intuitive context of the reader. 

If it seems that there is another type of epistemological reading of the legacy that 
has been formulated recently, seeking to transcend the impasse of its ideological 
reading, ideology again represents an impasse for this epistemological reading itself. 
This is because this ideology represents a hidden agenda that directs this reading in a 
way that is no longer submissive to its specific internal logic. ^^ In spite of the fact that 
this reading adopts the mechanisms of epistemological analysis attempting to attain 
constants and profound systems that regulate the production of knowledge within the 
legacy as well as productive mechanisms for it, the destiny of this reading and its con- 
sequences - for instance, in the work of al-Jabiri^' - exposes an intensive and hidden 
presence of an ideology that impairs and disables the possibilities of his reading. The 
ideology dominating al-Jabiri's reading that is referred to is an ideology of interruption 
and differentiation between the Mashriq (Arab-East) and the Maghrib (Arab-West), 
which has resulted in several stereotypes that place the Mu'tazilites together with the 
Ash'arites under a single epistemological system. A judicious, unbiased analysis uncov- 
ers a disparity between the Mu'tazilites and the Ash'arites, not only at the level of ide- 
ological bases - but more importantly - at the level of epistemological constants which 
regulates their knowledge production. It may be noted here as well that Ibn Khaldun 
was compelled to abandon his affiliation to the discursive Ash'arite epistemological 
system and to associate with a different epistemological system that represents a com- 
plete break with the discursive Ash'arite epistemological system. The truth is that 
al-Jabiri was compelled to make this amalgamation and separation in submission to 
the ideology dominating over him. The forced epistemological amalgamation of the 
Mu'tazilites with the Ash'arite epistemological system represents an attempt to negate 
any differentiation within the Mashriqi circle. The Mashriqi structure is discursive, 
gnostic, and illuminist in its essence, meaning that it is empty of any rationalist and 
critical presence. 

Therefore, introducing the Mu'tazilite rationalist and critical sense will undoubtedly 
shatter the Mashriqi structure. It is thus necessary to reluctantly amalgamate the 
Mu'tazilites within this structure while ignoring their critical rationalism and empha- 
sizing their discursivity, which is absolutely no different from that of the Ash'arites. The 
same applies to Ibn Khaldun, where it was necessary to ignore his Ash'arite discursiv- 
ity, to facilitate his amalgamation with other Andalusian and Maghribi thinkers from 
a different epistemological system. This is once again a projection produced by the ide- 
ology of interruption that occupies al-Jabiri's consciousness, or even subconsciousness. 
However, it is a hidden and evasive projection this time, which comes from the fact that 
the concept of interruption represents, in several contexts, a performative epistemo- 
logical instrument that al-Jabiri turns into an ideology rather than leaving as a concept. 
This means that ideology is veiled by him in the robe of neutrality and is as such evasive. 


In spite of these readings remaining prominent landmarks ruled over by the preva- 
lent epistemological horizon of the time, and by the historical context that regulates 
them, in a lengthy procession moving towards the renewal of the legacy and the pro- 
duction of scholarly knowledge with it, they seem possessed by various kinds of sub- 
jective obstacles that proscribe their effectiveness entirely. It is therefore necessary to be 
aware of the limits of these readings, seeking to go beyond their subjective obstacles. 
Any reading that wishes to interconnect with these previous readings must insist upon 
an epistemological and scholarly approach to the legacy (transcending projection and 
crude subjectivity) and must be emancipated from any ideological bias, or rather be 
aware of it and dominate over it, at the very least. The requirement of emancipation 
from ideological bias or dominating over it seems related to the production of scholarly 
knowledge with the legacy and is dependent upon it, i.e., the epistemological aware- 
ness of the legacy is what emancipates the reader from the authority of prior ideolog- 
ical bias. The ideological bias alludes to a defect in the reader's methodological 
procedure, or in its application. The declared procedures of any reading are usually 
expressed very accurately and pointedly, but in practical application during reading 
they lose their accuracy and pointedness, for many reasons. These could include the 
nature of the subject being read, or the uncontrollable bias of the reader It is thus nec- 
essary for the reader of the legacy not only to qualify his methodological procedures 
and instruments, but also to examine the effectiveness of these procedures and instru- 
ments after applying them to his reading. 

In this study the interaction and dialogue between several methodological systems 
will dominate over analysis, since this interaction and dialogue seems more capable of 
producing knowledge that may be regarded to be more precise. Perhaps the most effec- 
tive methodological system in this instance is the "structuralist system," which aims to 
capture the deeply imbedded structure of a text, or a group of texts (by a particular 
author, school, or orientation) and to strive to explain all of the diversions and conver- 
sions within it through a single axis that is capable of encompassing all of the shifts 
within the text in a way that any particular idea in these texts finds its justification and 
logic within this fixed structure. The value of this methodology is derived from its ability 
to free the reader from all bias and prejudices, so that he or she may begin by reading 
and analyzing the text itself seeking to extract the embedded structures within it only 
through the reading. It may perhaps be said here that the matter rests upon the bound- 
aries of "understanding and explanation" only. In truth, understanding and explana- 
tion alone are not able to produce knowledge of texts, and it is therefore necessary to 
complement this step with interpretation. In this regard, the historical methodology is 
of value and importance because it examines the extent of historical veracity of the 
structural constants uncovered through reading, in addition to tracing the contexts of 
the emergence of structures through it as well, and the way in which it transforms in 
a particular phase to a system that is specific to mechanisms of development that are 
separate from the context of history itself The truth is that this separation from history 
is realized in history and by virtue of it, not in spite of it. In a word, this methodology 
represents a move from the "text" to the "world," since the confinement of the reader 
within the text leads to the production of closed knowledge that is not explainable in 
any way. The limitations of this knowledge are perhaps derived from the fact that the 


text is not created in a private space, but is a product conditioned (epistemologically) 
by various texts prevalent at the time of writing, and (historically) by various problems 
and inquiries raised by reality. In spite of being conscious of the fact that the historical 
and epistemological limitations of the text are not direct or vulgar, but rather 
complex and discreet, this awareness is not reason enough to ignore these limitations 
and to conceive of the text as separate from them, as it would transform - in this 
instance - into a fragile structure located in a vacuum. In spite of this, it is necessary 
to be aware of the fact that it is not possible to reduce the text to these historical and 
epistemological conditions outside of it since the text naturally strives to transcend 
these conditions and to flee from them ... as such, its perennial presence. 

Hence, historicity, in this instance, does not mean "looking into historical and social 
events in juxtaposition and arranging, reporting, and acknowledging them as a spe- 
cific theoretical phenomenon. . . ". In a subject like theology, for example, some prefer 
to narrate historical facts as if theology is only a part of general history. So, when the 
Mu'tazilites are mentioned, the incident between Wasil ibn 'Ata' and al-Hasan al-Basri 
and the emergence of the Mu'tazilites as a result of the former's withdrawal from the 
latter's circle is mentioned; when the issue of the creation of the Our'an is mentioned, 
the inquisition of Ibn Hanbal in the periods of al-Ma'munn, al-Mu'tasim, and al- 
Mutawakkil is mentioned;^'' when the Shi'ites are mentioned, the names of the imams 
and prominent figures are mentioned." History, in this case, seems to be a purely extra- 
neous factor that impoverishes and fragmentizes thought, ignoring any internal mech- 
anisms for development and growth encompassed in it. Historicity would thus refer to 
the deep, internal determinants of thought without which we are unable to visualize 
or explain this thought. Regarding the emergence of Mu'tazilism for example, it may 
be noticed that historicity does not allude to the poor external cause concerning the 
withdrawal of Wasil from al-Hassan's circle, but rather to the various epistemological 
and historical considerations prevalent in society and which do not relate to an inci- 
dent that can be pointed out and referred to, but which have, however, made the emer- 
gence of Mu'tazilism necessary. This historicity transcends the event under which 
Mu'taziUsm emerged and extends to its significance and meaning at the time of its 

Holding that it is possible to distinguish between sets of rules and steps (while fully 
cognisant of its arbitrary nature) the distinction may be expressed in the following 

Placing every conception, thought, or pre-judgment upon a text, author, 
or doctrinal school between brackets, thereby initiating reading without 
any bias and leaving the text to reveal its internal system. As such, there 
would be no consideration given to Ash'arism as the median between 
Mu'tazilism and Jabriyyah with regard to the issue of human actions {khalq 
al-Af'dl), and in the same way, no consideration is given to the opinion 
that emphasizes the extremism of the Mu'tazilites pertaining to issues of 
theology {'Ilm al-'Aqd'id), in addition to other views and pre-judgments that 
hinder the production of scholarly knowledge of the texts of these doctrinal 


2. The reading of a text not as a group of particular ideas in proximity to each 
other, but rather as a web within which these ideas are woven, so that empha- 
sis is directed to uncovering the comprehensive constant (Thabitan Kulliyan) 
that regulates these particular ideas and explains them, giving them 
meaning and credibility. Undoubtedly uncovering this constant is the aim 
and objective of the reading. 

3. Focusing upon this constant in the reading implies the minimization of the 
differences that may be apparent within a group of texts by the same author, 
or from the same doctrinal school. What is of significance in this case is that 
there is a comprehensive constant that regulates these texts and is capable of 
explaining and rendering credible such differences, and not only the simi- 
larities between texts. 

4. If the text (in theology, naturally) incorporates a comprehensive structure 
that regulates its specific subject-matter and channels effort to uncover this 
structure, then the specific subject-matter incorporates structural systems, 
which in turn verify the comprehensive structure and are verified by it in the 
process. It is thus possible to speak with regard to the Ash'arite pattern, for 
example, about a comprehensive structure that regulates the pattern in its 
entirety, and specific structures pertaining to issues like prophecy {al- 
Nubuwwa), human actions (Khalqal-Af'dl), preference (al-tafdiT), and attrib- 
utes {al-Sifdt), etc., which are structures that acquire their specificity from the 
specificity of the particular issues that arise from them. Just as much as it is 
an examination of the structure of the particular issue by the comprehen- 
sive structure of the pattern verifying this particular structure, it verifies the 
comprehensive structure of the pattern as well. This examination is founded 
upon the continuous oscillation between the comprehensive and specific 

5. In truth, this examination of the structures seems limited because it is con- 
fined within its own limits, and as such it is necessary to examine them - in 
the final step - beyond these limits, that is, in history and reality. Here too, 
the examination is founded upon the continuous oscillation between these 
structures and history and reality. Through this continuous oscillation the 
interaction and integration of their components is confirmed. This oscilla- 
tion alludes to the fact that it is not only the structure that is explained and 
confirmed by history, but the structure explains history and bestows upon it 
discipline and logic. 

In this manner the steps of analysis are integrated, verifying the mechanisms of 
"understanding" and "interpretation," which together, are the aim and final goal of the 

If it is thus apparent that the effectiveness of the reading requires consciousness of 
the context of that which is being read, then it is equally apparent that in order to 
perfect this effectiveness, consciousness of the context of the reader is also required. 
This is because the reader - like that which is being read - does not exist in a vacuum 
but in a web of prevalent relationships at a specific moment; i.e. , he is a reader in history. 


of history, and for history. As such, he engages in reading possessing certain historical 
and epistemological limitations that play a role in his understanding and assimilation 
of the reading matter, and its reshaping. The reader is not a neutral consciousness, or 
in a state of original purity, but imbedded within problems that limit and frame him, 
problems of both contemporary Arab thought and reality. The social problems include 
backwardness, dependency, defeatism, fragmentation, inequality, injustice, etc., while 
the major theoretical shortcoming of contemporary Arab thought seems to be its inca- 
pacity to produce relevant knowledge that is capable of emancipating the current 
reality from its crisis. These are the problems that limit and frame the context of the 
reader Because consciousness of these problems is absolutely essential for the sake of 
a reading that is more productive and effective, it should be the point of departure for 
any analysis of the turath. 


1. Tliis is tlie introductory cliapter of: Ali Mabruli, 'An al-Imama wa al-Siyasah wa al-Khitah al- 
Tarikhi fl "Urn al-Aqa'id [Imamate. Politics and Historical Discourse in the Science of Dogma) 
(Cairo: Marlcaz al-Oatiira li Dirasat Huquq al-Insan, 2002) translated by Aslam Farouk-Alli. 
Tlie Englisli translation was edited and revised by Shatliley 0. 

2. In tlie opinion of some, tlie decline of tlie discourse is linlced to the context and circum- 
stances for the rise of the bourgeoisie and the Arab elite who were in possession of the reigns 
of the Nahdah in the transformation era of the European bourgeoisie from the liberal stage 
to the imperialist stage. This imposed upon it a dependent nature, which basically resulted 
in the accommodation of its own personal interests with those of the dominant European 
bourgeoisie so that its entire project was dominated by this concern, and no other. The 
Marxists - who are more radical and accomplished in their critique - adopted this analy- 
sis, while the liberal wing continued speaking about the despotic and opportunistic nature 
of the ruling regimes as a reason for the decline. The arena of discourse, in all cases, seemed 
to be free of any blame, and only the other remained in the guilty dock. 

3. Hassan Hanafi, "Limadha Ghaba Mabhath al-Tarikh fi Turathina al-Oadim," in Dirasat 
Islamiyyah (Cairo: al-Anjla al-Misriyyah, 1981), 416. 

4. Perhaps the absence that was mentioned by Hassan Hanafl in the reference before is an 
absence of history as a progressive process from the Ash'arite legacy, which came to dom- 
inate the structure of consciousness. This is an absence that is not contested. The Ash'arite 
legacy is either bereft of any conception of history, or there are other conceptions of history 
within the legacy, generally, that have been marginalized or displaced. None of this has been 
dealt with in Hanafl's research. 

5. As was stated by al-Maqrizi: "To report what happened in the world in the past," quoted 
from Franz Rosenthal, 'Ilm al-Tarikh inda al-Muslimin. trans., Salih Ahmad al-Ali (Beirut: 
Mu'assasat al-Risalah, 1983), 2nd edn., 26. 

6. A book with the same title, al-Imamah wa'l Siyassah. has been ascribed to the classical 
scholar, Ibn Outayba. 

7. Even if it were supposed that it is an absolutely external link, it still remains a link between 
imamate and history as well . . . this is because history has emerged, even in its earliest nar- 
rative forms, as one of the requirements of the nascent (Islamic) state, which implies that 


it is always stuck to politics, cf. Abdallah al-'Arwi, al-'Arab wa al-Fikr al-Tarikhi (Beirut: Dar 
al-Haqiqah, 1973), 2ndedn., 85. 

8. Zaki Najib Mahmud, Tajdid al-Fikr al-Ambi (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, n.d.). 

9. Hussain Murruwa, al-Naza 'at al-Madiyyahfl'l Falsafah al-'Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah (Beirut: 
Dar al-Farabi, 1981); Tayyab Tizini, Min al-Turath ila al-Thawrah (Beirut: Darlbii Khaldun, 
19 76), Istedn., vol. 1. 

10. Hassan Hanafl. Min al-'Aqidah ila'l Thawrah (Cairo: Madbuli, n.d.). 

11. Hassan Hanafl, "Oira'at al-Nass," Dirasat Falsaflyyah (Cairo: al-Anjlaw al-Misriyyah, 
1987), 546. 

12. In his latest writings lUce Min al-Aqidah ila'l Thawrah, Hanafl adopts the practice of attach- 
ing his ideas to the traditional text and expressing these in the body of his own text, thereby 
relegating the traditional text completely to the footnotes. This is not merely a formality, 
but an expression of his methodology. 

13. Hassan Hanafl, al-Turath wa al-Tajdid (Cairo: al-Anjlaw al-Misriyyah, 1987), 2nd edn. 11. 

14. This does not mean that it is possible for a reading to be free of any ideological presence. 
This is obviously impossible, because the absence of an ideology is a kind of ideology itself. 
Therefore, the issue is solely concerned with a reading that does not adopt an ideology as 
its starting point (because it turns the reading into an abusive, stereotypical activity) and 
with a reading in which ideology is beyond the control of one's consciousness of it. 

15. Muhammad Abid al-Jabiri, Takwin al-Aql al-Arahi (Beirut: Dar al-Tah'ah, 1984), 1st edn.; 
Bunyat al-Aql al-Arabi (Beirut: Markaz Dirasat al-Wihdah al-Arabiyyah, 1986). 

16. Hasan Hanafl, al-Turath wa al-Tajdid. 


Secularism, Modernity, 
and Globalization in 
Contemporary Islamic 

1 5 The Second Coming of the Theocratic Age? Islamic Discourse after 
Modernity and Postmodernity 285 
Aslam Farouk-Alli 

16 Europe Against Islam: Islam in Europe 302 
Talal Asad 

1 7 Ummah and Empire: Global Formations after Nation 313 
Mucahit Bilici 

1 8 Between Slumber and Awakening 328 
Erol Giingor (Translated by §ahin Filiz and Tahir Ulug) 

1 9 Islam and Secularism 338 
Asghar Ali Engineer 

20 A "Democratic-Conservative" Government by Pious People: 

The Justice and Development Party in Turkey 345 

Metin Heper 

2 1 Secularism and Democracy in Contemporary India: 

An Islamic Perspective 362 

Syed Shahabuddin 


The Second Coming of the 
Theocratic Age? Islamic 
Discourse after Modernity 
and Postmodernity 

Aslam Farouk-AUi 

No serious scholar of Islam can deny the impact that modernity and postmodernity 
have had upon contemporary Islamic thought. In this chapter I will outline how 
current Islamic thought has been impacted upon by these intellectual discourses. I will 
proceed from the inception of modernity and go on to discuss developments in the post- 
modern period. In my final analysis I will discuss contemporary Islamic thought and 
the discontents of modernity and postmodernity. By taking recourse to the work of 
current-day Islamist thinkers who are responding to the intellectual challenges of 
modernity and postmodernity, we are able to gauge the deep introspection that these 
two very important paradigms have effected upon contemporary Islamic discourse. 
From this perspective then, the impact of modernity and postmodernity upon Islamic 
discourse can hardly be construed negatively. The secular/Islamist polemic is an essen- 
tial contributing factor to the emergence of a clearer conception of Islamic identity in 
current times. 

While the issue of identity will not be addressed in significant detail, the critique of 
modernity and postmodernity that is offered is certainly compelling evidence suggest- 
ing the emergence of a far more articulate and clearer Islamic self-image. The task of 
exploring the conception of an authentic Islamic self-image is beyond the scope of this 
chapter, but interrogating the philosophical discourses of modernity and postmoder- 
nity is an absolutely essential preliminary step that lays the necessary groundwork for 
such a venture. 

Islamic Thought and Modernity 

Before considering the relationship between Islamic thought and modernity, it is impor- 
tant to briefly survey the background that gave rise to modernity. This should place us 
in a position to satisfactorily appreciate the aspirations and disappointments invoked by 
this important paradigm of thought. 


It is generally contended that the roots of modernity as a philosophical discourse 
can be traced back to the period of the Enlightenment. In the Middle Ages, prior to the 
Enlightenment, Europe was gripped in the clutches of an intense struggle between 
science and religion. The discoveries of great figures like Kepler, Copernicus, Gilbert, 
and Galileo provided a basis on which to challenge traditional religious worldviews 
concerning the nature of the universe. The price paid for challenging religious cos- 
mological doctrines was very high. Galileo, for example, faced persecution for positing 
scientific theories that ran contrary to the religious dogma of the Catholic Church. 
However, the changing tides ensured that the tyrannical rule of the Church did not last 
much longer 

The Enlightenment marked a decisive epistemological break from the thought 
paradigm of the Middle Ages. The Christian Church's hegemony over institutions of 
knowledge and its power to determine the very nature of knowledge was now being 
challenged. The central role of religious ideas in politics was also brought into ques- 
tion. Within the broader spectrum of world history these changes were as significant 
as the classical Graeco-Roman outlook (which flourished up to the fourth century AD) 
and the triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The emergent Christian world- 
view replaced the Graeco-Roman outlook and proceeded to dominate Europe until the 
seventeenth century.^ 

With the onset of the eighteenth century modern ideas and arguments that came 
to the fore shifted the focus of the looking glass. Philosophers now began to openly scru- 
tinize the worldview of the Church. The Enlightenment also became known as the age 
of reason because the philosophy of that time emphasized reason and rationality over 
the speculative theology of the Church. Rationalism and empiricism were now core ele- 
ments of epistemology. displacing speculative and theological metaphysics. Concepts 
like reason, empiricism, science, universalism, progress, individualism, tolerance, 
freedom, uniformity of human nature, and secularism, resonate throughout this 
period. These major themes form the very core of philosophical modernity and are still 
invoked today. 

Thus, the Enlightenment removed religion as principle and base of identity and 
replaced it with reason. Human worth was now measured in terms of ethics and utility 
rather than creed and piety." In return for a compromise on faith, modernity was able 
to rekindle the imagination and instill confidence in the ability of the subjective-self 
Modernity rewarded humankind's spiritual loss with material gain. The scientific 
advances made in the last four centuries surpassed the collective efforts of every epoch 
preceding them. In spite of the material success of the Enlightenment, the philosophy 
that it had conceived would exact an extremely costly toll on humanity later on in 
history. The darker side of modernity shadowed a culture of suffering and genocide. 

Developments in the Muslim world were by no means as drastic. Foremost, there was 
no fundamental epistemological shift from a hegemonic religious paradigm to a mili- 
tantly rationalist one. Science, reason, and religion coexisted in a relatively peaceful 
relationship. As early as the twelfth century the great philosopher of Islam, Abu Hamid 
al-Ghazali, advocated the view that the best of sciences were those that combined trans- 
mitted (religious) knowledge with rational knowledge and where revelation is accom- 
panied by opinion. In terms of scientific discovery the Dark Ages of Europe were a time 


of illumination in the Muslim world. Philosophy as well as the natural sciences were 
pursued with vigor 

Although the advances that were made in the Muslim world in this period served as 
an important foundation for the European Enlightenment, there was no sharp turn 
upward toward great breakthroughs. Consequently, the later advances and discoveries 
in Europe enabled the West to transcend its geographic confines and reverberations 
were soon felt throughout the world. Famous centers of learning in the Islamic world 
were surpassed by their Western counterparts. With the onset of modernity history wit- 
nessed the emergence of the West as a new world power. 

European scientific advances granted the West dominance second to none. Along 
with material superiority came power, followed by a tremendous thirst for conquest. 
The military force of the West easily satiated its territorial appetite and in a relatively 
short period of time two-thirds of the world was colonized. Military colonization was 
inevitably accompanied by cultural invasion that proved to be far more exacting. The 
intellectual and cultural heritage of Islam - along with that of other civilizations - was 
forced into dormancy. 

While scholars have argued that the world had been disenchanted - freed from 
superstitious, mythical beliefs - by Western modernity, one can say with certainty that 
the West was simultaneously enchanting the rest of the world. By the late eigh- 
teenth/early nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire awakened to the changing world 
realities and embarked upon a systematic and comprehensive program of moderniza- 
tion. The bitter reality was that the newly emerging world was not that of the ulama; 
its languages were French, Italian and English, and its logic, idioms and methods were 
all equally foreign to Muslims.^ Such desperate attempts at modernization only served 
to emphasize the superiority of the West over the Muslim world. Not only did Muslims 
imitate the West in its methods of governance but it also began imbibing its very phi- 
losophy of living. 

The fact that Western modernity was a product of a very specific and unique expe- 
rience is lost to such attempts at imitation. The impact of these imitative attempts is 
what is still being grappled with today. Islamic thought is now permeated with a phi- 
losophy that has entered from without. It may be argued that this is not unique in any 
way and that no philosophy remains untouched by syncretism. However, the failure or 
success of such conflations depends entirely on whether any common ground exists 
between what are indeed very distinct paradigms. Tensions are bound to arise in any 
endeavor that hopes to mix the unmixable. In spite of these tensions, there are always 
those who are willing to attempt such a rapprochement. Thus, the relationship between 
contemporary Islamic discourse and modernity must now be considered so as to gauge 
the impact of such attempts. 

In the nineteenth century the West advocated and firmly believed in the inevitability 
of progress and the power of human reason. The Western mindset made a clear break 
with the past and maintained a strong forward-looking orientation. Ideas of God and 
transcendence slowly became fading memories. 

The attraction of modernity invoked varying responses from Muslim intellectuals. 
The Muslim mindset, in contrast, was strongly attached to a glorious past and could 
not easily break away from its roots. It still maintained an undeniably atavistic posture. 


Upon reflection, one is able to empathize with such a position. For Muslim intellec- 
tuals of the early twentieth century Islam still had much to offer in terms of its 
philosophical orientation and depth. Even though modernity had given the West the 
upper hand in terms of material progress, this was by no means reason enough to 
dismiss the Islamic worldview altogether. 

This sentiment finds full expression in the thought of Jamal al-Din al-Afghanl. For 
al-AfghanI, Islam was foremost a belief in the transcendence of God and in reason. At 
a very early stage, al-AfghanI had realized that reason alone was not sufficient for 
humankind's prosperity. Although he enjoined embracing modernity, he remained 
weary of the strains it placed upon religion. His disciple Muhammad Abduh followed 
a similar trajectory. Abduh asked how the gap between Islam and modernity could be 
bridged and answered that Muslims had to accept the need for change based on the 
principles of Islam. This tradition of engaging modernity was continued by the likes of 
Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Outb. More recent scholars like the late Muhammad al- 
Ghazali contended that certain elements of the modern West had to be accepted, but 
there are certain philosophical standpoints that are unacceptable to Islam. 

All the above intellectuals represent an engagement with modernity that is more or 
less critical. Such expressions were inevitably labeled fundamentalist and enjoyed little 
credibility among those that strongly upheld and embraced modernity. As will be seen 
later, in view of the broader scope of social discourse, voices of resurgent Islam were 
seen as no more than intellectual aberrations by the proponents of modernity who 
appropriated the dominant Western discourse that still preached the doctrine of 
modernity with full confidence. This would not continue indefinitely and the rise 
of postmodernity gave legitimacy to many divergent voices, including that of Islam. 
However, it is imperative that we consider modernist trends within the Islamic tradition 
before moving on to discuss postmodernity and the rise of critical alternatives to 

As suggested, many Muslim scholars were willing to embrace modernity far more 
warmly. In most cases this involved making substantial adjustments to traditionally 
held views. I wiU consider the case of one such scholar, Bassam Tibi, in order to repre- 
sent this position. There are naturally as many opinions on the project of modernity as 
there are scholars engaged in its study. It would be naive as such to treat the entire spec- 
trum of discourse as homogeneous and static. However, there are certain trends that 
can be assumed to be representative of a mainstream position. Tibi's discourse conse- 
quently emerges as a good general reflection on modernity because he assumes an 
overtly apologetic posture toward it. He is therefore well placed for the expressed 
purpose of drawing out the contrast between Islam and modernity. 

Tibi has published several works related to Islam and modernity^ For him, the 
European project of modernity is normative in terms of determining what constitutes 
knowledge. He not only affirms the aims of the Enlightenment project but also regards 
them as necessary for progress and development. I will outline some of the philoso- 
phical implications of modernity and link them to Tibi's thought before going into a 
detailed exposition of his views. I will thereafter consider criticisms of this position. This 
should lead us to a general critique of modernity. 


For Tibi, modernity is a cultural project that triggered off a man-centered secular 
worldview and as such an insight into the capability of man to know and to change his 
social environment autonomously, regardless of supernatural forces such as God's 
will.' On this basis he asserts that modernity, as an epistemology, is a French achieve- 
ment inspired by Rene Descartes. This epistemology entrenches the principle of sub- 
jectivity, which - in philosophical terms - refers to individual freedom. In its form of 
self-consciousness, subjectivity determines all aspects of modern culture, in particular, 
modern knowledge. 

Descartes' epistemology impacted profoundly upon the course of knowledge. As 
Richard Harland explains: "The Cartesian philosophy of the cogito proclaimed the 
private T think' as the only possible source for truth and explanation after the external 
phenomena of the world had all been 'doubted' away'"' He further asserts that the "I" 
philosophy tradition of Descartes, Kant, and Husserl is the primary and self-sufficient 
base upon which knowledge is to be founded - primary and self-sufficient not in the 
way of objective things, but in the way of an undetermined creative source. As a result, 
all of these philosophers make a space for individual free will in their philosophies. In 
this regard, Tibi is careful to point out that this is not an atheistic position. He argues 
that even Descartes acknowledges that God creates man but that man is able to create 
knowledge on his own, by his own means. 

Therefore modernity, as described by Tibi, results in what Parvez Manzoor has 
described as a "de-divinised public order." A natural consequence of this development 
is that ultimate values in such a social structure are political and existential as opposed 
to religious and trans-existential, which is the normative ideal in Muslim communities.^ 
In epistemological terms this represents a shift from metaphysics to positivism. Practi- 
cally, this is manifested in replacing belief in the presence of absolute knowledge that 
resides beyond human capacity with the pursuit of partial knowledge that could be 
gathered and verified through scientific methods. Stated differently, this is a shift from 
belief in an absolute truth that controlled human life to belief in partial scientific h-uths 
that could be used by humans to control nature.* 

As a result of this shift, an increasing number of social scientists consider meta- 
physics a fading religious pastime and hold that it should have been driven away from 
the human mental endeavor a long time ago. Tibi is no different and develops this 
orientation further, arguing that the only viable approach to Islam in the modern 
world is the sociological one. 

Considering Tibi's emphatic and wholehearted endorsement of modernity, it comes 
as no surprise that he considers resurgent voices of Islam as being fundamentalist - in 
the full pejorative sense. He as such asserts that contemporary Muslim fundamen- 
talists contest the secular knowledge based on the cultural project of modernity, as well 
as the worldview related to it. He bases this on his conception of modernity, which he 
regards as being composed of an institutional dimension - an idea he borrows from 
Anthony Giddens - as well as a cultural project, as held by Habermas. For Tibi these 
two concepts are inextricable. Any society wishing to make a successful transition to a 
modern social system needs both. The problem is that while the institutional dimen- 
sion of modernity has been globalized, the cultural project has not, even though this 


possibility was not dismissed in the early post-colonial period. Later, however, cultural 
reassertion advocated the rejection of alien knowledge, which meant banishing cul- 
tural modernity. Tibi finds it paradoxical that in the case of Islam the adoption of alien 
instruments, i.e. modern science and technology was endorsed. He as such refers to this 
phenomenon as "the Islamic dream of semi-modernity," which indicates "Muslim 
fundamentalist ambivalence vis-a-vis modernity and its tendency to split it into two 

For him the basic dilemma of contemporary Muslims with regard to their attitudes 
toward modern knowledge is that they simultaneously envisage adopting the instru- 
ments of modernity while rejecting its cultural underpinnings. In so doing, Tibi con- 
tends that they separate the achievements of modernity from the very knowledge that 
led to it and first made it possible. 

He argues that the essence of cultural modernity is the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, i.e. 
that knowledge of man stems from the doubt out of which certain human knowledge 
of the objective world grows. For him fundamentalism submits man to Allah's will 
whereas Cartesianism helps man to recognize himself as res cogitans - a thinking 
subject. In epistemological terms this translates as a shift from a religious worldview to 
a modern worldview. In rather prejudicial fashion Tibi thus concludes that any project 
- whether religious, postmodern, or fundamentalist - that questions this worldview 
results in irrationalism.^° 

Tibi would thus have us believe that the root problem with any alternative world- 
view lies in its conception of knowledge. Only modern Western knowledge is normative 
and the expression of any alternative that seeks to embark "on the de-Westernization 
of knowledge" is simply not epistemologically grounded. This is also the major objec- 
tion that Tibi raises against Islam. 

Islam and all other de-Westernized sciences are not founded on the modernist prin- 
ciple of abstract subjectivity, which is the view that man is able to establish human 
knowledge of the objective world and to subject these discoveries to the pursuit of 
satisfying human needs. Tibi argues that Islamized sciences - though not traditional - 
are subordinated to religious traditions and as such do not permit the reflective posture 
of the Westernized sciences. By his estimation these attitudes toward modern science 
and technology do not contribute to the accommodation of modern knowledge that 
Muslim people urgently need for the development of their societies. He further holds 
that such attitudes reflect the beginnings of a new counter-scientific trend in Arab 
culture. His biggest fear is that the politics of the Islamization of knowledge could result 
in "a new era of flat-earthism."^^ 

Tibi further contends that the twentieth century is the age of global confrontation 
between secular cultural modernity and religious culture. He raises several questions 
that explicitly indicate his commitment to the secular vision of modernity. He asks why 
it is that Muslims are unable to share this view; why do they always use the fact of colo- 
nial rule to dismiss cultural modernity; and why do they involve the belief in Allah to 
disregard the ability of man. His explanation for afl of this is that Muslim fundamen- 
talist efforts to de-Westernize knowledge seek to reverse the "disenchantment of the 
world" and thus to subject man to supernatural powers. Tibi's implication is glaringly 
obvious: any reassertion of Islam runs the risk of taking us back to the Dark Ages. 


What is most striking about his entire argument is its complete endorsement of 
classical modernity. He seems to see very distinct similarities between the European 
Enlightenment and the current need for Islam to modernize. Just as Europe had freed 
itself from the shackles of Christianity, so too must the Arab/Muslim world be emanci- 
pated from the stifling teachings of Islam. This obviously suggests that he sees fit to 
parallel the Christian paradigm of the Middle Ages with that of Islam. At the very least, 
such an extrapolation is glaringly naive. 

Critics have pointed out several other problems with Tibi's discourse. These will very 
briefly be considered before discussing the more general critiques of the modernist 
project he so passionately endorses. Pieterse points out that Tibi's work presents a 
rather severe case of dichotomic thinking which caricatures both the West and Islam. 
He argues that Tibi equates the West with modernity, which in turn is neatly lined up 
with Cartesianism. In a similar way Islam is homogenized under the heading of 
"Islamic fundamentalism. "^~ Parvez Manzoor's far more fiery response criticizes Tibi for 
exhausting all his energies only to produce a one-sided indictment of "Muslim funda- 
mentalism" and offering an ill-conceived and ineptly executed apology of modernity. 
He goes even further, arguing that Tibi's vision of modernism is intellectually dated, 
philosophically shallow, and ideologically docile.^ ' Even though this last criticism seems 
fully justified, it does not spare the task of responding to the claims that Tibi makes. The 
fact that Tibi chooses to subject Islam to a modernist critique justifies an exploration of 
the critiques of modernity. It is thus necessary to consider both the philosophical and 
ideological critiques raised in response to modernity. 

Criticisms of Modernity 

By now it should be clear that modernity has been defined in terms of beliefs and values 
identified with Enlightenment thought, relentless pursuit of progress, and control of 
nature for the well-being of humanity. These beliefs and values have been conceptualized 
by way of promises and ideals held to be lofty and true, in the most absolute sense. As 
such, the failure of these promises and the discontent of these ideals would naturally 
lead to crisis. The aspirations of the modernist vision of society have been expressed by 
many contemporary scholars, of which Tibi is just one example. In what follows some 
of the shortcomings of this vision will be explored. This should lead back to the philo- 
sophical underpinnings of modernity, which will then be critiqued. The counter-wave 
against modernity gave rise to postmodernity, which will be considered hereafter. 

The American scholar John Esposito eloquently pronounces that "the world at the 
dawn of the twenty-first century challenges the 'wisdom' and expectations of the 
prophets of modernity"^'* Current skepticism toward modernization and development 
theory challenges the longstanding claim that the development of modern states and 
societies requires Westernization and secularization. Although Westernization has 
indeed developed and advanced the bureaucratic mechanisms of modern society, it has 
not been nearly as successful at eradicating the predicaments of humanity. In this 
regard Parvez Manzoor contends that the expression "crisis of modernity" needs to be 
understood in terms of modernity's inability to redeem its promise of delivering a model 


of perfect historical order. Explaining further, he emphasizes that modern societies are 
not helpless at facing the inner challenges of governance and economy, which are 
primary determinants of the human condition in terms of the modernist vision, nor 
are modern polities vulnerable to any threats by external enemies. Rather, upholders 
of the modernist vision are perplexed by the realization that their global city is not a 
city of humanity,^' 

Ali Bulag, a Turkish Islamist scholar, lends his support to this criticism by focusing 
on the plight of the environment as well as the individual. He claims that although 
modernism had promised paradise on earth, it has instead turned the entire planet into 
a living hell. He goes further, adding that along with pollution of the environment 
modernism has also succeeded in polluting the soul.^'' While many have equated the 
Western discourse of modernity with secularism, not much attention has been focused 
on the above description of modernity as a dual pollutant, which encompasses more 
than just a philosophy that advocates the separation of Church and state, Abdelwahab 
Elmessiri is one of the few scholars to have elaborated on this in some detail. 

Elmessiri contends that the identity of Western modernity is more in keeping with 
what he refers to as comprehensive secularism. The separation of Church and state is 
a worldview that cannot claim any comprehensiveness and he thus refers to it as partial 
secularism. He argues that such a worldview confines itself to the realm of politics and 
perhaps economics, but maintains complete silence on absolute or permanent values, 
be they moral, religious or otherwise. It also does not address itself to ultimate things 
like the origin of humanity, human destiny, the purpose of life, and other matters. 

By contrast, he points out that comprehensive secularism is a completely different 
outlook that does not merely aim at the separation of Church and state and some 
aspects of public life; it aims at the separation of all values - religious, moral, or human 
- not only from the state but also from public and private life and from the world at 
large, ^^ For him, it is in this comprehensive regard that Western modernity and secu- 
larism are almost synonymous. In referring to one the other is also tacitly implied. As 
such, Elmessiri defines Western modernity as the adoption of value-free science as the 
basis of humanity's world outlook and as a source of values and norms. This outlook 
reorients the individual to follow value-free laws instead of modifying the world to fit 
human needs and aspirations. History itself stands witness against and testifies to the 
disastrous consequences of this worldview. However, in order to manifest this more 
clearly there has to be a move toward a more holistic reading of history, more specifi- 
cally, a more holistic reading of the history of secularism itself 

Elmessiri argues that in the Western world the paradigmatic sequence of imma- 
nentization (i.e. the shift from a transcendental worldview to a material one), and there- 
fore secularization, modernization, and naturalization, began sometime in the Middle 
Ages, This occurred when some economic enclaves "freed" themselves from Christian 
values or concepts such as "fair price," He goes on to explain that only strictly economic 
criteria now applied to economic activity and success and failure were stripped of any 
moral or human considerations. He thus asserts that the economic sphere was 
immanantized, becoming value-free, referring only to itself its criteria and standards 
being immanent in it. This development established a pattern that repeated itself in all 
other spheres of human activity^^ 


Another significant example of this pattern alluded to by Elmessiri is that of the poli- 
tical sphere. He draws our attention to the birth of the theory of the modern state 
during the Renaissance. The state, in this instance, became value-free, justifying itself 
by the mison d'etat rather than seeking legitimacy on a religious or moral basis. As a 
result the realm of politics freed itself from any values external to it, and was judged by 
criteria immanent to it. In similar vein, all spheres of human life, including science, 
were freed from religious and moral values and considerations, becoming self-sufficient, 
self-regulating, self- transforming, and self-explanatory. 

Elmessiri bemoans the fact that this emergent secular worldview was never clearly 
articulated because the history of secularism was monitored by the Western social 
sciences in a piecemeal and diachronic fashion. This history was fragmented into 
various bits, first humanism and/or the Reformation, the Enlightenment, rationalism, 
and utilitarianism; then the counter-Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Darwinism; 
then positivism, existentialism, phenomenology; and finally the end of history and post- 
modernism. This piecemeal approach concealed many of the more appalling aspects of 
the Western modernist worldview. Elmessiri argues that this resulted in some of the 
most shameful ideologies of the recent past like racism, imperialism, and Nazism being 
seen as mere aberrations, having a history of their own, distinct from the history of 
secularism and modernity. When the Western modernist worldview is approached 
holistically it becomes apparent that these so-called aberrations are in fact part and 
parcel of the Western civilizational model. 

His central contention is that by grasping this overall unity and articulating it into 
a comprehensive paradigm - thereby developing a uniform and complex paradigm of 
secularism - we are able to unmask the relationship between the Enlightenment and 
deconstruction; between modernization, modernism, and postmodernism; between 
Nietzcheanism and Hitler, pragmatism and Eichmann; between rationalism, imperia- 
lism, and the Holocaust. From the vantage-point of this novel paradigm it becomes 
much easier to expose the moral and sociopolitical trappings of the modernist vision. 

Elmessiri points out that in light of the above it is not plausible to regard oppressive 
ideologies of the past and the present - like Nazism and Zionism - as exceptional cases 
because modernist discourse reflects a general pattern of extermination that began in 
the West from the time of the Renaissance in countries like North America, right up to 
the present in countries like Vietnam, Chechnya, and Bosnia.^'' 

On the basis of this analysis, his contention that there is a direct link between 
Western civilization and genocide is quite compelling. He supports this position on 
several grounds. First, he points out that Western civilization is a technological civi- 
lization that elevates progress at any price, even to the detriment of humanity. The 
resultant hardship and suffering, both physically and spiritually, are not of much sig- 
nificance in a culture that supports the principle of the survival of the fittest and ignores 
traditional values like being charitable to the weak and lending assistance to those in 
need. By this logic the Nazis were able to legitimate the extermination of the Jews 
because they were viewed as non-productive or useless. This was admittedly an extreme 
solution but Elmessiri argues that other Western countries like America and Poland 
bear a certain degree of culpability because they refused to give asylum to this "useless" 
ethnic grouping. 


A second trend that justifies drawing parallels between genocide and Western 
culture is that the "solution" to the Jewish problem adopted by the Nazis shares many 
similarities with solutions adopted by other Western imperialist countries. The geno- 
cide of the Red Indians of America is an appropriate example. Elmessiri points out that 
Nazism and imperialism share the common belief of the superiority of the Arian race. 

Finally, he points out that a central trait of Western civilization - and a phenome- 
non common to both Zionism and Nazism - is the rationality of its procedures and 
methods and the irrationality of its objectives and goals. He notes that this is a char- 
acteristic of Western civilization that has also been discussed in the writings of Max 
Weber, the famous sociologist. Perhaps the best examples of this antinomy between 
objective and method are the Nazi death camps and the systematic expulsion of 
Palestinians from their homeland, hi both these cases horrendous atrocities are 
afflicted upon a target population with the utmost precision and planning. 

Distinguished Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor raises similar criticisms of 
modernity. He identifies three malaises of modernity that challenge blissful human exis- 
tence. These are individualism, the primacy of instrumental reason, and the loss of 
freedom resulting from the preceding two. In his words: "The first fear is about what 
we might call a loss of meaning, the fading of moral horizons. The second concerns the 
eclipse of ends, in face of rampant instrumental reason. And the third is about a loss 
of freedom.""" 

Taylor equates individualism with a loss of purpose. Its darker side involves a cen- 
tering on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives making them poorer in 
meaning and less concerned with others or society. These results are manifested 
in expressions such as "permissive society," "me generation," or the prevalence of 

He explains the second malaise of modernity - instrumental reason - as a kind of 
rationality that we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of 
means to a given end. In this scheme of things maximum efficiency and the best 
cost-output ratio is the measure of success. 

Bringing the two together, he argues that on the political level individualism and 
instrumental reason have frightening consequences. He points out that giving weight 
to instrumental reason, in serious moral deliberation, may be highly destructive. 
Elmessiri has aptly demonstrated this earlier Taylor thus concludes that any society 
structured around instrumental reason imposes a great loss of freedom on both indi- 
viduals and the group because it is not only our social decisions that are shaped by these 
forces. He rightfully contends that an individual lifestyle is hard to sustain against the 
grain. In other words, yielding to the pressure of conformity is no less a loss of freedom 
then submitting to the dictates of instrumental reason. 

Although the modernist vision was inspired by the potential of the individual at its 
inception, history has clearly shown that this has not always been to the advantage of 
either the individual or society. As has been argued above, humanity - as a collective - 
has had to suffer the consequences of what has only recently been recognized as a 
warped vision. Modernity, as a philosophy, did indeed aspire toward moral and sociopo- 
litical uplift and therefore its failure can only be atteibuted to an inherent weakness in 
its vision. 


Parvez Manzoor, a trenchant critic of modernity, provides an apt and concise 
summary of the main contentions raised against it and it is worth quoting him at 
length. In his unique style, Parvez Manzoor points out: 

• that the truth claims of Enlightenment reason are based on circular logic; 

• that the notion of a sovereign, transcendent and ahistorical subject whose 
reason is the touchstone of all knowledge is extremely "problematic"; 

• that the doctrine of progress is "paradoxical"; 

• that the cult of freedom which renders all "taboos" illegitimate and unneces- 
sary is inimical to the preservation of any kind of moral, and by extension, 
social and political order; 

• that the charter of the modern political community, nay any political com- 
munity, is always parochial and exclusive; 

• that the universality of justice and rights is a metaphysical claim that cannot 
be redeemed within a sociopolitical context; 

• indeed, that the jurisdiction of both reason and meaning extends far beyond 
the cosmopolis of modernity.'^ 

Hindsight sometimes casts harsh glances upon the past and it therefore has to be 
remembered that time alone can tell whether visions of the future are to meet with 
success or not. Bearing this in mind, Parvez Manzoor indicates that the delegitimation 
of modernity is important because it not only opens up a new intellectual space, but 
also creates a different agenda for a dialogue between modernists and others. Most 
scholars now reject the claims made by modernity as rather tenuous. This marked the 
shift, once again, from one paradigm of thought to another. Loss of faith in the project 
of modernity was accompanied by the onset of postmodernity. 

From the Discontents of Modernity to Postmodernity 

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a prominent contemporary Islamic scholar, remarks that until 
Descartes the various levels of reality that determined human existence were under- 
stood in relation to God. Then, with the onset of Cartesian rationalism, individual 
human existence became the criterion of reality and truth. In the mainstream of 
Western thought, ontology gave way to epistemology, epistemology to logic, and finally 
logic was confronted by the antirational "philosophies" so prevalent today^^ 

Abdelwahab Elmessiri is once again helpful in charting out the course that saw the 
shift from modernity and its discontents to postmodernity.'^ As mentioned earlier, he 
argues that modernity - and therefore comprehensive secularism - is a form of imma- 
nence, implying that rising levels of secularization meant rising levels of immanenti- 
zation. This naturally leads to the virtual disappearance of God as the transcendental 
organizing power in the universe; 

We can view the whole process of immanentization/modernization/secularization 
in terms of the death of God discourse. God first became incarnate not in man but in 


humanity as a whole, and not temporarily but permanently. This led to the rise of human- 
ism and the solipsistic subject. This humanism became racism when God is incarnate in 
one people; it becomes fascism when God is incarnate in the leader. . . . But the process 
went on inexorably, and immanentization (secularization/modernization) went deeper. 
The center kept on shifting and the incarnations became too many, until we were faced 
with multiple centers. Nature itself was fragmented and atomized. Losing its stability, 
coherence, and self-referentiality, it could no longer serve as a stable center.^* 

We now have to turn our attention to postmodernism in order to make sense of the 
shift from a fixed center - as in the case of modernity - to the rise of multiple centers, 
multiple alternatives, and a multiplicity of truths. 

The Postmodern Worldview 

Many scholars express the view that postmodernity is no more than a continuation or 
a further unfolding of modernity. Elmessiri describes postmodernity as a move from 
"the solid logocentric stage of modernity to its liquid stage, the stage of materialist 
irrationalism and antiheroism and a centerless world.""' Whereas modernity 
had renounced the authority of religion - displacing metaphysics in favor of reason - 
postmodernity no longer asserts anything positive or substantive. Postmodern theory 
renounces even reason as a foundational theory of norms: 

Modernist consciousness, which progressively shifted its gaze from "reason" to "nature" 
to "history", now proclaims that there exists no Archemedian point, no foundational text, 
that may guide our humanity towards any desirable or conceivable goal. Rather, the admis- 
sion is that reason is unable to overcome the antinomy of norm and history, that the "is" 
of world-history does not lead to any "ought" of the human existence."'^ 

So, while postmodernity does indeed proceed on the same continuum as modernity, 
it can be more accurately described as "the rejection of modernist ideology in a modern 
world. "^^ Modernist ideology had previously dictated that reason alone can prevail and 
that only through reason can human beings conquer and control nature. At the very 
least, modernist ideology sought to cast a firm and absolute foundation that served as 
the basis of reality. Postmodernity. by contrast, argues that there are multiple realities 
that are not necessarily related. '^ The postmodern condition is one that transcends the 
arguments and battles of which view of reality was true to the position that none are 
true.^' This skeptical posture is a true reflection of the fundamental axiomatic princi- 
ple of postmodernist thought: suspicion and rejection of all "grand narratives." 

Postmodernists refer to any legitimating discourse as a "grand narrative" or a "meta- 
narrative." Meta-narratives or grand narratives are referred to as such because they 
claim to be able to account for, explain, and subordinate all lesser narratives. Religious 
ideologies like Islam and Christianity and political ideologies like Marxism are also 
examples of grand narratives in that they provide the ethos or worldview according to 
which the individual - and ultimately society - fashions his/her very existence. 


Reason - as a concept that informs truth and acts as the criterion for determining 
what constitutes Icnowledge - is another paradigm example of a grand narrative. It 
gained ascendancy in the eighteenth century when it was applied to every area of life 
like religion, morality, politics, and social life. Reason served as the foundational norm 
that was used to justify everything, just as religion before it. 

[Postmodernism] rejects tlie pursuit of "grand narratives" and denies tlie possibility of 
acquiring comprehensive l^nowledge tlirough "scientific" metliods. For postmodernism, 
reason cannot be a reliable source of knowledge because reason itself is a hegemonic 
project. Ultimate truth is impossible to attain because everyone has his/her own 

It should now be manifestly clear that the postmodern response to the crisis of 
modernity - the failure of its grand narratives - has been to relativize all truth claims. 
Whereas modernists sought to find meaning in totality, later scholars pointed out that 
the only secure thing about modernity is its insecurity; it is in a perpetual state of flux 
and it is this flux that defines the main nature of postmodernity,'^ Whereas progress 
had been the distinguishing feature of modernity, nihilism or the loss of any spiritual 
center is what distinguishes postmodernity. While modernity sought to establish a foun- 
dational text - a foundational norm or grand narrative - that legitimated and explained 
its project, postmodernity vociferously rejected any kind of foundational text. In spite 
of this rejection, critics have argued that postmodern discourse is in itself nothing more 
then another grand narrative. It is as such imperative to consider this, as well as other 
criticisms of postmodernism, 

Powell makes the point that the notion that people have stopped believing in grand 
narratives because such narratives marginalize minorities inadvertently makes the 
assumption that all people universally believe in justice, which is in itself another grand 
narrative. '' Therefore, postmodernism is as guilty as modernism for perpetuating grand 
narratives. In denying any fixed or stable center, postmodernism entrenches a center- 
less world in a constant state of flux as the norm or only reality. Such relativism is not 
arbitrary and in fact engenders a unique philosophy of its own. For example, Elmessiri 
points out that postmodernism even has its own metaphysics despite its frantic attempt 
to deny any metaphysical stance." He is of the view that while postmodernism denies 
transcendence, totality, permanence, and duality, its very denial has shown its true 
philosophical identity as an expression of the metaphysics of immanence. This is a point 
that has been alluded to earlier. 

While most critics concede that postmodernism has indeed proven to be effective as 
a critique of modernity, they also point out that it does not constitute an alternative 
social and political project due to its inherent cynicism and nihilism. However, post- 
modernist discourse has won favor with almost every marginalized ideology because of 
its inherent pluralistic nature. While it is not emphatic in endorsing any given position, 
it is by no means categorical in dismissing any given view either This has created plenty 
of space for groups previously rejected by mainstream, hegemonic ideologies like 
modernity, A pertinent example is the re-emergence of religion and spirituality. The 
case of Islam will now be stressed to emphasize and explore this rebirth. 


From Postmodernism to Islamism 

Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' contends that the resurgence of religion in both industrial and 
peasant societies is one of the most significant features of transcending postmo- 
dernism. '* One may even argue that it is a resurgence borne out of the exasperation 
of treading on shaky ground. While postmodernism is to be fully acknowledged for 
creating the space that made such a resurgence possible, it has failed dismally - as a 
philosophy - to provide a firm foundation for an alternative worldview. As a result, 
people have increasingly begun turning back to religion. 

Islamism, or the influence of an Islamic worldview in the sociopolitical sphere, is a 
specific example of this resurgence, Islamism is viewed as a product of the frustration 
of the promises of Western modernization and, more specifically, represents a critique 
of modernism that displays remarkable similarities with postmodernism.^' These 
similarities include a rejection of the determinism, rationalism, and positivism of the 
modernist paradigm, ^"^ However, there are fundamental differences between Islamism 
and postmodernism that ultimately make them incompatible. Bulag explains that 
Islam is ultimately a "total doctrine" that rejects the universalism and relativism of 
postmodernism. ^ '' 

In spite of the fundamental differences, it is quite enlightening to explore the fasci- 
nation that postmodernism holds for Islamists, Mustafa Armagan, another Islamist 
thinker, is helpful in this regard. He explains that: 

[, , .] postmodernism is attractive to Islamists because: (1) it shows tlie failures and limi- 
tations of modernism; (2) given the exhaustion of modernism, the postmodernist search 
for alternatives opens up an opportunity for Islam: ( 3) in their rejection of the secular uni- 
formity of modernism, postmodernists freely borrow from tradition and religion which 
Islamists advocate; (4) the postmodernist emphasis on diversity and (5) the announcement 
of the death of "meta-narratives" strengthens the hand of Islam in its struggle against 
modern "isms" such as socialism, positivism, or Darwinism.'* 

Returning to the critique of postmodernism, Armagan argues that postmodernist 
"playfulness" results in the rejection of a unitary point of reference for truth and 
thereby endorses the acceptance of multiple perspectives as equally valid. He therefore 
holds that this constitutes a second wave of secularization. Explaining further, he 
argues that in the first phase of secularization, undertaken by modernism, the self 
recreated the outside world (society, state, nature, art, religion, etc) by using reason. 

In the current phase of secularization, the self has begun to reflect on the outside world, 
which the self created through reflection in the first place. Modernists, although secu- 
larized, still retained the traditional notion of a distinction between form and essence. For 
the postmodernists, however, form is everything - style constitutes content and rhetoric 
makes up reality," 

Because of this, he regards postmodernism as a commercial paganism that turns 
religions into playthings and cannot as such be an ally to Islam, The stage is therefore 


now set for deep and critical introspection that should produce compelling solutions to 
the exigencies of everyday life. As is clearly apparent, such solutions are now being 
sought from Islam's very own unique tradition. 


By now it should be quite apparent that Islamic discourse did not readily surrender to 
the charms of the dominant discourses of modernity and postmodernity. There is no 
denying that certain scholars made strong cases in favor of modernist or postmodernist 
orientations, but these attempts only served to enhance the dissent of those who chose 
to speak in favor of an authentic Islamic alternative, in addition to embellishing their 
discourse with an added sophistication. What these unfolding developments clearly 
stress is that the discourses of modernity and postmodernity were by no means com- 
pelling enough to prompt a wholesale abandonment of the intellectual project of 
authentic Islam. 

It is in this light that we need to appreciate the rekindling of an authentic Islamic 
ideal or foundational text as an alternative to modernity and postmodernity. Condem- 
nation of modernity's grand-narrative solutions reaches near climax so it seems odd 
that Muslims should be arguing for the re-establishment of the foundational text - 
albeit on their own terms. Added to this is the skeptical voice of postmodernism still 
cautioning against the adoption of any grand narrative whatsoever 

What is precisely established from the above exposition is that any Second Coming 
of the theocratic age does not necessarily imply simplistic atavistic posturing by Muslim 
intellectuals. Now more than ever. Islamic authenticity is being expressed in terms of 
moral existential imperatives. How one may aptly define Islamic authenticity or deter- 
mine what the sources of these moral existential imperatives are must be the task of 
another inquiry. But for now it is enough to assert that Islamic discourse after moder- 
nity and postmodernity holds much more promise than unfounded fears of a return to 
an era of "flat-earthism." 


1. Huston Smith, Beyond the Post-Modern Mind (New Yoric: Crossroad. 1982), 5. 

2. Isma'U Raji al-Faruqi, "Meta-Religion: Towards a Critical World Theology," The American 
Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 3/1, 1986, 17. 

3. Basheer M. Nafi, The Rise and Decline of th