Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mahmud Sami al-Barudi: Reconfiguring Society and the Self by Terri DeYoung

"To explore the life of Mahmud Sami al-Barudi is to gain a nuanced perspective on the many facets—the perils and promises—of change in the rapidly modernizing Egypt of the nineteenth century. Al-Barudi, sole scion of a Turko-Circassian elite family that clung precariously to a legacy of position and power, turned his military education into a government career that ended with his elevation to the office of prime minister. He served briefly before the British invasion in 1882 put an end to Egypt’s independence for seventy years. 

As prime minister, al-Barudi focused on drafting and passing into law Egypt’s first constitution, an achievement that was summarily swept aside by the British occupation. Similarly, the prime minister’s efforts to modernize and improve the educational system were systematically undermined by the policies of colonial rule in the 1880s and 1890s. Although his reforms ultimately failed, al-Barudi was recognized among his contemporaries as the most consistent supporter of liberalism and eventually democratic representation and constitutionalism. For his boldness, he paid a price. He was exiled by the British to Ceylon for seventeen years and returned to Egypt in 1901 as a blind, prematurely aged, and broken man. 

Even before he made an impact as a political leader, al-Barudi had made a name for himself as the most original and adventurous poet of his generation. DeYoung charts the development of al-Barudi’s poetry through his youth, his career in government, his philosophical and elegiac reflections while in exile, and his return to Egypt at the beginning of a new century. Connecting the themes found in his more influential poems—among the more than 400 lyrics he composed—to the turbulent events of his political life and to his equally fierce desire to innovate artistically throughout his literary career, DeYoung offers a vivid portrait of one of the most influential pioneers of Arabic poetry."

The Anatomy of an Egyptian Intellectual: Yahya Haqqi by Miriam Cooke

"Several Egyptian writers are known to the English-speaking world: Tuha Husain, Taufiq al-Hakim, Najib Mahfuz, and Yusuf Idris enjoy a popularity that extends beyond Cairo or Beirut to the international book markets of London, New York, and Los Angeles. Yet the present study marks the first time that the contemporary writer, Yahya Haqqi, whose literary reputation among his countrymen is second to none, has been analyzed in a full-length monograph available to English readers who are not specialists in contemporary Arabic literature, yet are eager to learn more about it.

Haqqi’s oeuvre is eclectic, encompassing short stories, essays, literary criticism, and a novel. All facets of his literary output are systematically studied, with careful attention to the biographical aspects of his varied career which illumine the shape of particular writings as well as the overall tone of his production. What emerges is the Weltanschauung of an Egyptian intellectual struggling to come to terms with a society in transition. Haqqi’s hopes, anxieties, and prescriptions coalesce in an exquisite prose which sets him apart from his contemporaries. Beyond exploring the thematic issues raised by Haqqi, both directly and implicitly, the present study analyzes the quality of craftsmanship that is at once the most elusive and most satisfactory dimension of Haqqi’s work. The intellectual and the adlib, the Egyptian patriot and the sensitive universalist merge and reinforce one another in the fascinating complexity of this major yet comparatively unknown Arab writer."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Traditionalist Roots of Islamism (I)

“Debating Slavery in the Arab Middle East: Abolition between Muslim Reformers and Conservatives,” In Behnaz Mirzai Asl, Ismael M. Montana and Paul E. Lovejoy (eds.), Islam, Slavery and Diaspora (Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, 2009): 139-153.

This article analyzes a polemical defense of slavery made in refutation of the progressive reformist Muhammad Abduh (d.1905) by the Ottoman Shafiʿi judge and Sufi sheikh Yusuf al-Nabhani (1849-1932), grandfather of Taqiudeen (1909-77), the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Quote from the Hanafi traditionalist Mustafa Sabri (1869-1954) cited in The Inevitable Caliphate? by former Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist Reza Pankhurst

Quote from the traditional Maliki exegete al-Qurtubi (d.1273) cited in The Inevitable Caliphate? by former Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist Reza Pankhurst. Other premodern scholars used by Islamists include the Shafiʿi al-Mawardi, the Hanbali Abu Yaʿla, and others

Traditionalist Roots of Islamism (II)

Stamps from the Islamic Republic of Iran showing support for Egyptian Islamists

1984 stamp of literary critic turned Islamist ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966)

Stamp of Khalid Islambouli, assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group which under Ayman al-Zawahiri later merged with al-Qaeda

A street named after Islambouli in Tehran

In an interview with Mike Wallace aired on December 18, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini issued the following statement: "Sadat states he is a Muslim and we are not. He is not, for he compromises with the enemies of Islam. Sadat has united with our enemies. I demand that the Egyptian people try to overthrow him, just as we did with the Shah"

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Women-Led Prayer in Islam: Abu Thawr, Dawud al-Zahiri, al-Tabari and Ibn Arabi

Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers, "‘I Am One of the People’: A Survey and Analysis of Legal Arguments on Woman-Led Prayer in Islam," Journal of Law and Religion 26, no. 1 (January 01, 2010): 141-71.

Friday, April 21, 2017

R.I.P. John Freely (1926–2017)

"The beginning of Arabic philosophy in al-Andalus comes with the work of Ibn Hazm (994–1064), who was born and spent most of his life in Cordoba, where his father and grandfather had been functionaries in the Umayyad court. His best-known philosophical work is his Book on the Classification of the Sciences. Aside from his many philosophical works, he also wrote poetry and treatises on history, jurisprudence, ethics and theology. His most famous poetical work is entitled Tawq al-hamama, or The Dove’s Neck-Ring, a treatise on the art of love, which he says is ‘a serious illness’.

Love, may God honor you, is a serious illness, one whose treatment must be in proportion to the affliction. It’s a delicious disease, a welcome malady. Those who are free of it want not to be immune, and Those who are stricken by it want not to be cured.

Ibn Hazm was particularly qualified to write a book on the art of love, he writes, having been brought up to the age of fourteen in the harem, or women’s quarters, of his family home: ‘I have observed women at first hand and I am acquainted with their secrets to an extent that no one else could claim, for I was raised in their chambers and I grew up among them and knew no one but them.’ He goes on to say that ‘women taught me the Qu’ran, they recited to me much poetry, they trained me in calligraphy’.

The Islamic schools of the time in Cordoba employed several women copyists, as did the city’s book market, whereas more highly educated women worked as teachers and librarians, while a few even practised medicine and law.

Ibn Hazm believed in revelation, but he felt that ‘the first sources of all human knowledge are the soundly used senses and the intuition of reason, combined with the correct understanding of a language’. He said that the first Muslims had experienced divine revelation directly, whereas those of his own time were exposed to contrary beliefs and needed logic to preserve the pure teachings of Islam, so that they can know ‘the reality of things and…discern falsehood without a shred of doubt’.

Ibn Hazm also wrote a work on ethics entitled The Characters and Conduct Concerning the Medicine of Souls. There he describes the Socratic ideal of moderation in all things that governed his own way of life: ‘In this book I have gathered together many ideas which the Author of the light of reason inspired in me as the days of my life passed and the vicissitudes of my existence succeeded one another. God granted me the favour of being a man who has always been concerned with the vagaries of fortune.’"

John Freely, Light from the East: How the Science of Medieval Islam Helped to Shape the Western World (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015), pp. 128-9.

Music in Islam: Ibn Hazm, al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Qaisarani, Abdul-Ghani al-Nabulsi and Hassan al-‘Attar

Music in Islam: The mathematical origin of melodic tones

"A group of scholars comprehended the prohibition of music from the hadith of the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] in which he says: “There will be [at some future time] people from my Ummah [nation] who will seek to make lawful the following matters: fornication, the wearing of silk, alcohol drinking and the use of musical instruments” [included by Bukhari]

However, Ibn Hazm said that this does not mean the prohibition of musical instruments and that the Prophet was talking about the social features of the spread of corruption which may accompany some instrumentalists or artists . 

Fornication [Allah forbids], wearing silk, drinking alcohol, singing and musical instruments are the concomitant features of the licentious night. But this does not mean that all what the Prophet has mentioned is prohibited or an ingredient of prohibition.

The mere association between one matter and another is not an evidence that they both share the same legal ruling. Therefore, when the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] mentions something which is prohibited and associates another thing with it, it does not mean that the second matter is also prohibited. Same goes for mentioning an obligatory matter and associating another matter with it, this does not mean that the second matter is also obligatory. Allah the Almighty says: “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives”. Justice is an obligatory matter whereas good conduct and giving to relatives are recommended matters. Based on this, the obligatory matter is associated with the recommended matter and thus association between two matters does not indicate that both matters share the same legal ruling.

Therefore, the hadith which associates between fornication, drinking alcohol, wearing silk and using musical instruments does not indicate an obligatory association between all these matters but carries within its fold the potentiality of carrying out prohibited acts. The renowned scholars Abdul-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Qaisarani and Ibn Hazm stated that music is a sound if it is beautiful, it is good and if it is ugly, it is bad. 

Moreover, music is a natural disposition to which our souls are inclined. Therefore, it is good when the soul finds its comfort in and it is bad when it disturbs the human soul. Therefore for Muslim scholars, music is one of the mathematical sciences and we have seen the scholars’ opinions that its good is permitted and its bad is impermissible. Therefore, we have seen Muslims throughout history playing these instruments. 

To the extent that Sheikh al-Islam Hassan al-‘Attar has said in the first third of the 19th century that a person who listens to strings tone accompanied by water murmur and the view of trees without being affected is a donkey."