Muḥammad ʿAbduh and His Interlocutors: Conceptualizing Religion in a Globalizing World

Conceptualizing Religion in a Globalizing World
  • Book Title:
 Conceptualizing Religion In A Globalizing
  • Book Author:
Ammeke Kateman
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  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Notes on Translation and Transliteration ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1
  • Questions and Concepts
  • Muḥammad ʿAbduh’s World 9
  • Global Intellectual Convergence 12
  • A Contested Historiography 17
  • Studying ʿAbduh in Context in a Time of Globalization 33
  • Studying Two Texts in Context on the Concept of ‘Religion’ 41
  • A Note on Sources 44
  • Conceptualizing ‘Religion’ 46
  • Studying Comparisons 54
  • Comparing Comparisons 56
  • Outline of This Study 65
  • Part 2
  • Muammad ʿAbduh’s Risālat al-Tawḥīd in context
  • Risālat al-Tawīd in Its Context of Conception: Beirut in the 1880s 69
    • Risālat al-Tawḥīd As it Came to Be Published 70
    • The Context of Conception: ʿAbduh in Beirut in the 1880s 74
  • Comparing Religions in Risālat al-Tawīd in the Context of Its Conception 97
  • orality? 97
  • How Do Religions Relate to ‘Reason’ (al-ʿAql)? 116
  • vi                                                                                                    Contents
  • Comparisons Compared: Reflecting and Producing a Concept of ‘Religion’ 127
    • ‘Religion’ (al-Dīn) and ‘the Religions’ (al-Adyān)    129
    • Reinterpreting Islam as a Religion 142
  • Part 3
  • Muammad ʿAbduh’s Reply to Hanotaux in Context
  • Hanotaux and ʿAbduh: A Layered Context of Discussion 163
  • Editions and Sources 164
  • Hanotaux and ʿAbduh: A Global Discussion Branching Out Locally 167
  • An Interplay of Global and Local Contexts 173
  • Comparing Islam and Christianity in Reply to Hanotaux 186
    • God, Man, and Action 186
    • “Leur patrie, à eux, c’est l’islam”    203
  • Comparisons Compared: A Play of Similarity and Difference 217
  • ‘Religion’ (al-Dīn) and ‘the Religions’ (al-Adyān)    217
  • Reconfiguring Islam as a Religion 227
  • In Conclusion 239
  • A World beyond Westernization 239
  • The Concept of Religion in a Globalizing World 248
  • And Further 253
  • ces and Literature 259
  • ndex 284

In the 1880s, the Egyptian Islamic reformist thinker Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849– 1905) lived in exile in Beirut, where he taught a variety of subjects at the local Sulṭāniyya School. His lectures on Islamic theology there stood at the basis of his famous treatise Risālat al-Tawīd (The Theology of Unity) a decade later. ʿAbduh was also the president of the Jamʿiyyat li-l-Taʾlīf wa-l-Taqrīb, or the So- ciety for Harmony and Conciliation, while in Beirut. This correspondence net- work aimed to further harmony between the three revealed religions and strove to disseminate knowledge about Islam amongst Europeans.

Its mem- bers were Muslim and Christian teachers, judges, diplomats, colonial officials and clerics from Iran, England, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire. The local, Bei- rut-based, newspaper Thamarāt al-Funūn (Yields of the liberal arts) published Arabic translations of articles written by two of the English members, on the usefulness of Islam in India as well as in Africa.3

These observations about ʿAbduh’s life in Beirut give an indication of the exceptional pluralism of the intellectual world in which he thought about reli gion and reinterpreted Islam.4 He interacted with Egyptian, British, French, and Ottoman contemporaries; people of various religious persuasions and backgrounds; conservatives, secularists and fellow Islamic reformists; religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ), journalists, (colonial) state officials; and many more – sometimes in cooperation or agreement, at other times in negotiation or fierce contestation.5

In his book Orientalists, Islamists and the Global Public Sphere, Dietrich Jung expresses the plurality of Muḥammad ʿAbduh’s intellectual uni- verse through comparing it to the dazzling colors and shapes seen through a kaleidoscope.6

Furthermore, ʿAbduh’s connections with the English, Persian, and Ottoman members of the Jamʿiyyat li-l-Taʾlīf wa-l-Taqrīb suggest that his intellectual world took on a global dimension in distinct ways. Crossing familiar geograph- ical, linguistic, religious and cultural boundaries, ʿAbduh’s interactions were part of a process of globalization that began in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the world became increasingly interconnected and people, goods and ideas circulated increasingly globally.

In his writings, ʿAbduh adopted and reconfigured globally circulating ideas and concepts, as did his interlocutors in their works. Within these processes of intellectual and concep- tual globalization, Europe held a dominant – yet never completely overpowering – position, mirroring its political and economic weight in the world.

Through his use of globally shared concepts, ʿAbduh also contributed to this process of intellectual and conceptual globalization, significantly impacting how scholars and Islamic thinkers in his time and in the twentieth century discussed and conceptualized Islam.7

At the same time, ʿAbduh’s intellectual world cannot be reduced to its global dimension.8 As said, a local journal from Beirut translated and printed the ar- ticles of the English members of the Jamʿiyyat li-l-Taʾlīf wa-l-Taqrīb, while it was simultaneously embedded in local educational politics. Similarly local, ʿAbduh formulated his ideas in the newspapers of Cairo, a school in Beirut, the classrooms and halls of the Azhar institute of higher Islamic education (ma- drasa) in Cairo.

His ideas responded to domestic politics, engaged with Islamic tradition, reflected his friendships and animosities – in addition to the ways they participated in global developments. Again, the metaphor of the kaleido- scope may be useful: each time a kaleidoscope rotates, there is a new configu- ration of the same set of beads; similarly, ʿAbduh reconfigured his ideas in relation to a number of contexts, both global and local. Moreover, his ideas bear the traces of the interplay between these contexts, which are ultimately inextricable from each other. His ideas, as well as those of his interlocutors around the world, exemplify that global ideas were always locally configured.

Additionally, the discussions and comparisons of ʿAbduh’s Jamʿiyyat li-l- Taʾlīf wa-l-Taqrīb about religion, and Islam and Christianity in particular, could be considered examples of the ways global ideas about ‘religion’ (or dīn in Ara- bic) were locally configured.9 The network’s diverse members indicate that the semantic field of thinking about ‘religion’ was, in a way, global.

The publication of Arabic translations of articles written by the network’s English members in the Beirut-based newspaper Thamarāt al-Funūn make clear that, despite this globality, conceptualizations of religion (or dīn in Arabic) were always also lo- cal. In Beirut of the late 1880s, Muḥammad ʿAbduh reinterpreted Islam, as a ‘religion’, in dialogue with his interlocutors from afar as well as with those at the local school at which he taught Islamic theology.

This study seeks to understand ʿAbduh’s conceptualization of Islam as a religion within historical processes of intellectual and conceptual globalization, focusing on transfers, entanglements, encounters, and translations, in a way that seeks to do justice to the particularity of his ideas, the multiplicity of the dimensions of his intellectual context and the diversity of his interlocutors. In short, this study seeks to write a ‘global history’ of ʿAbduh’s ideas and the concepts he uses.10

In doing so, it intends to steer away from a perspective of ‘West- ernization,’ or  ‘Western  impact,’  against  which  ʿAbduh’s  ideas  have  been measured time and again, as will be discussed more elaborately below.

To this aim, it presents a new approach that acknowledges the global aspect of ʿAbduh’s intellectual world without reducing him to a case of (failed) ‘West- ernization.’ The first chapter elaborates on this approach. It argues that the study of ʿAbduh’s ideas benefits from firmly locating them within their particu- lar and highly diverse historical milieus, of which the global was one relevant scale; it situates his ideas in specific conversations that he had with different interlocutors; and, it relates his ideas to the many contexts that his conversa- tions simultaneously responded to. Second, in studying ʿAbduh in interaction with his contemporaries from afar and nearby, it proposes to focus on the ques- tions he shared with his interlocutors, to which they gave different answers.

Specifically, this study tracks the questions ʿAbduh shared with his contem- poraries around the world in thinking and writing about ‘religion’ (or dīn in Arabic) – a focus that is further explained in the second chapter of this study.

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