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Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi pdf

Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi: Islamic Reform and Arab Revival

  • Book Title:
 Abd Al Rahman Al Kawakibi
  • Book Author:
Itzchak Weismann
  • Total Pages
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  • Politics and Society in Late Ottoman Aleppo 9 The Urban Religious Landscape 14
  • Family Background 19
  • Between Traditional and Modern Education 22
  • EXPERIMENTS IN JOURNALISM 27 Official and Private Editor 27
  • The Vocation of the Press 32
  • The Afflictions of the Ottoman System 34 New Hopes for Aleppo 36
  • Communal Troubles 38
  • Facing the Hamidian Regime 43 A Man of His Class 45
  • For the Sake of the People 51 Overtures toward a Middle Class 56 An Exile in Egypt 61
  • THE CRISIS OF THE MUSLIM WORLD 65 Kawakibi’s Oeuvre 65
  • An Islamic Conference in Mecca 67
  • The Degeneration of the Umma 72
  • Critic of the Religious Tradition 75 The Failings of the Tanzimat 78
  • A BLUEPRINT FOR REFORM 83 Modernist Salafi Reformation 83 The Model of the West 88
  • An Association for Muslim Edification 91 An Arab Caliphate 94
  • AGAINST TYRANNY 101 A Scientific Inquiry 101 Defining Tyranny 104
  • The Politico-Religious Nexus 105 Knowledge and Public Service 108 Socialism and Democracy 111 Toward Progress 114
  • IN THE EYES OF POSTERITY 119 A Middle-Class Family 119
  • A Mixed Legacy 121
  • A Final Assessment 127
  • Bibliography 129
  • Index 137


Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi (1855–1902) was one of the most brilliant and articulate representatives of the first generation of modern politico-religious reformers that sprang up in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

This group of new intellectuals helped generate the Arab renaissance (al-nahda) and would later become known as Modernist Salafis. Kawakibi’s reputation derives from his two major published works.

One is The Nature of Tyranny and the Injuries of Enslavement (Taba’i‘ al-istibdad wa-masari‘ al-isti‘bad), a forceful diatribe against Ottoman despotism; the other is The Mother of Cities (Umm al-Qura, an epithet of Mecca), which is framed as a protocol of an imaginary conference held at the holy city in the pilgrimage season of 1899 to examine the reasons for the decline of Islam and suggest ways for its revival. Kawakibi’s passionate defense of the merits of the Arabs in the appendix of this work earned him fame as an early precursor of Arab nationalism.

Scion of a lesser branch of a notable family of scholars and dignitaries from Aleppo in northern Syria, Kawakibi received his initial religious education within his family circle.

He augmented it by acquiring vast knowledge in the modern sciences then being introduced into the city and intense reading of the Turkish newspapers arriving from Istanbul. At age twenty, he was appointed editor of the official paper of the province.

Two years later, he founded the first independent newspaper in Aleppo, which published only a few issues before it was ordered to close. These marked the two seemingly contradictory paths of Kawakibi’s checkered career.

On the one hand, he held high posts in the expanding administration of the city under the Tanzimat reforms; on the other, he was responsible for various civil initiatives to protect the local population from arbitrary corrupt authorities.

Persecuted for his free spirit and defiant action, he was twice arrested and once sentenced to death. In 1898, Kawakibi ultimately fled to Cairo where, in the four years left to him, he socialized with Syrian and Egyptian reformist colleagues, published his books and articles, and travelled widely through the Muslim world.

Kawakibi has attracted considerable attention from successive generations of Arab and Muslim writers. In numerous admiring works, he has been described as a pioneer of Arab nationalism, an enlightened Islamic reformer, and the promoter of various commendable causes such as democracy, liberalism, socialism, and secularism.

Writing on Kawakibi and his teachings began early on, with the countless obituaries that appeared following his premature death in 1902. He was a constant subject of pride for the intellectuals of his hometown Aleppo, who mentioned him time and again in their books and journals.

 The interest in Kawakibi’s legacy became particularly strong in the heyday of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s with a series of studies on his life and especially his thought.

With the Islamic resurgence from the 1970s on, there was a marked shift toward the religious aspect of his legacy, often accompanied by a sharp denunciation of its secular dimension. Finally, since the 1990s, Kawakibi has been embraced as a paragon of democracy and enlightenment by Arab intellectuals opposed to oppressive Arab governments and violent Islamic radicalism alike.

In Western scholarship, by contrast, Kawakibi has often been relegated to a secondary place and paid relatively little attention. Several factors have contributed to this negligence. One is the general bias in the field of modern Middle Eastern studies toward Egypt, which overshadows other countries in the region.

Egypt gained virtual autonomy from the Ottoman Empire in the course of the nineteenth century and became a leading political and cultural center under British colonial rule after the 1880s. This made it more accessible and more attractive than the Arab prov- inces of Western Asia, which remained under direct Ottoman control until after World War I.

Indeed, like Kawakibi, many of the religious reformers and Arab activists from Lebanon and Syria escaped at the time to freer Egypt. As a result, our under- standing of intellectual life in nineteenth-century Cairo advanced tremendously, while we know less about Baghdad, Damascus, or Aleppo.

Related to this is the tendency in the field of Islamic studies to focus on a line of three consecutive figures in the formation of modern Arab Islamic reform: the international revolutionary Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839–97), his erstwhile Modernist dis- ciple Muhammad Abduh (1848–1905), and the latter’s younger collaborator Rashid Rida (1865–1935), who in the course of World War I became a sympathizer of the Wahhabi cause and began drifting to a more purist type of Salafism. Of the three, only Abduh was Egyptian, but Afghani’s career and fame were founded on his involvement in Egyptian politics and religion in the stormy decade of the 1870s, while Rida emigrated in 1897 from his native Tripoli in Syria to Egypt, where he spent the rest of his life as editor of the influential Islamic journal he had founded, al-Manar.

Still, the substantial contribution of each of these figures to the cause of Islamic reform should not blind us to other thinkers who worked outside Egypt, nor to their inter- action and mutual fertilization.

 At present, we have detailed biographies of Afghani and Abduh, the latter in this series of Makers of the Muslim World, but none on other, no less important, figures such as Nu‘man Khayr al-Din (1836–99) and Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi of Baghdad (1857–1924), Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi of Damascus (1866–1914), or Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi of Aleppo.

These general considerations are further compounded by the peculiar circumstances of Kawakibi’s life, which forced him to conceal much of his activity and publish anonymously. As we have seen, he eventually followed in the footsteps of his younger compatriot Rida, and many other Syrian intellectuals and jour- nalists of the day, who escaped from the formidable censorship of the Hamidian regime and thrived in the freer atmosphere of British Egypt.

Yet, though they emigrated from Syria only two years apart, Rida established himself in Cairo early in his career, while Kawakibi, who was ten years older, remained planted in his native Aleppo for much longer and decided to leave only after harassment by the authorities brought him to an impasse.

But then his integration into the Egyptian intellectual scene, and his friendship with Rida and other immigrant Syrians, were cut short by his sudden death four years after his arrival.

Other common misconceptions that have obstructed full appreciation of Kawakibi’s contribution to Islamic reform are………

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