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The Rise and Fall of Muslim Civil Society


Abstract and Figures

Attempts to explain the rise of Islamic fundamentalism have ranged from works which emphasize the very nature of Islam to works which emphasize poverty and underdevelopment. In his attempt to explain the rise of this phenomenon, Imady pursues a novel approach; namely, one that emphasises organisational evolution. According to Imady, Islamic fundamentalism evolved from an earlier movement known as Islamic reform. The irony, as Imady illustrates, lies in the fact that this evolution was neither willed nor expected by the major proponents of Islamic reform. Rather, the institutions created by Muslim reformers took on a life of their own and were subsequently inflamed by a moral vision and a hostile government.
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Various scholarly explanations have been set forth regarding why Islamic
reform, a movement preoccupied with reviving Islamic civilization and resist-
ing Western colonialism through the creation of a Muslim civil society, was
superseded, in the mid-twentieth century, by Islamic fundamentalism, a move-
ment preoccupied with creating an ‘Islamic state’ by violence if necessary.1
Such explanations can be classified into two major categories: ‘traditional leg-
acy’, and ‘external dynamics’.
The ‘traditional legacy’ category includes works that explain Islamic funda-
mentalism as a product of the traditional legacy of Islam, which makes no sepa-
ration between religion and state and which promotes political violence through
the emphasis it places on jihad or morally ordained struggle/resistance.2 Mus-
lim religious scholars, however, strongly discouraged violent political descent.
Regarding the confrontation of government authority, Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328)
wrote: “What is well known regarding the position of Sunni3 religious scholars
is that they do not sanction rebellions against rulers”, and “Sixty years under an
oppressive ruler is better than one night of anarchy.”4
It is also true that political violence frequents Islamic history. Moral legiti-
macy for such violence, however, was provided by religious scholars belonging
to heretical Muslim sects known for their militant character (e.g. al-Hashashin,
or the Assassins, etc.). Not only did Sunni religious scholars highly discourage
violence against the government, but they also articulated a sophisticated and
complex approach to the use of violence, within the framework of jihad, that
barred targeting children, women, religious figures (regardless of the religion
they belonged to) and all those who are not directly engaged in the war effort
against Muslims. 5 Thus, to portray the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism
as an expression of Islam’s traditional legacy is to ignore centuries in which the
use of political violence was categorically rejected by Sunni religious scholars.
Recognizing the lack of a strong precedent within the Sunni traditional leg-
acy for political violence, studies in the category of ‘external dynamics’ have
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presented Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction against “the growth of the na-
tion state and the peculiar problems of the twentieth century.”6 Factors such as
the failure of secular and/or national regimes to bring about economic prosper-
ity, Israel’s major victories in 1948 and 1967, and Iran’s ‘Islamic revolution’ are
usually emphasized by such studies. Clearly severe economic conditions and
military defeats do tend to create an environment conducive to the rise of po-
liticized and often violent movements. There are numerous historical examples,
however, of such conducive climates that did not give birth to similar move-
ments (e.g. post WWII Germany and Japan). Further, while it is clear that Iran’s
revolution fueled the enthusiasm for Islamic fundamentalism, it is equally clear
that fundamentalist institutions existed long before Iran’s revolution was even
contemplated by its leaders.
A more accurate explanation of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism can
be arrived at by focusing on its institutional background, that is, the process
through which Western institutions were adopted by Muslim reformers during
the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. The adoption of the journal, the as-
sociation, the political party, and the paramilitary force by Muslim reformers,
as documented by subsequent chapters, reflected a frame of mind that regarded
institutions as non ideological objects which could be utilized by various types
of movements, irrespective of their principles and the setting within which they
were operating. It was only when the adopted institutions began to take on a life
of their own that Muslim reformers realized that certain institutions, (the politi-
cal party and the paramilitary force in particular) could not be appropriated to
their agenda. While the political party shifted the focus of the reform movement
from the community to the state, the paramilitary force shifted its focus from
colonial resistance to political violence. By then, however, it was too late. What
had been adopted from the West could no longer be returned.
Ironically, Islam had a similar institutional impact on the West during the
Middle Ages. In The Rise of Colleges, George Makdisi argues that the scholarly
system of the West has its roots in Islamic soil.7 Europe’s adoption of the Mus-
lim ijazat al-tadris (the license to teach) during the Middle Ages irreversibly
undermined its hierarchal system of learning which was previously monopo-
lized by the Church. A horizontal scholarly system emerged which endowed the
European scholar not only with the license to teach, but also with ijazat al-ifta’,
or the license to profess an authoritative opinion, an act which was previously
the exclusive right of ‘the college of bishops in union with the pope’. Likewise,
the use of the political party and the paramilitary force by Muslim reformers
irreversibly altered the way in which they understood their relationship to the
government and to the reform movement. In both cases, techniques belonging
to other cultures were treated as neutral and in both cases they undermined tra-
ditional perceptions and attitudes, and proved potentially explosive.8
This study aims at documenting the link between the rise of Islamic fun-
damentalism and a process of institutional change which was carried out by
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
four Muslim reformers: Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897), Muhammad Abduh
(d. 1905), Rashid Rida (d. 1935), and Hasan al-Banna (d. 1949). The process,
which involved the relinquishing of the institutions of traditional Muslim com-
munity, i.e. madrasah (religious college), tariqah (religious order), and ta’ifah
(artisan/merchant guild), aimed at creating a Muslim civil society that could
both revive Islamic civilization and resist Western colonialism. The dichotomy
between Western institutional form and the moral vision of Islamic reform, to-
gether with a consistently hostile government, are shown to have been the prin-
cipal factors behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
The historical context for this study is found in ‘Part I’ where (a) an over-
view of the forerunner for Muslim civil society, i.e. the traditional Muslim com-
munity, is presented; and (b) the introduction of the institutions of civil society
by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani to the religious scholars of Egypt is documented.
‘Part II’ covers the major institutions of Muslim civil society, i.e. the utiliza-
tion of the journal by Muslim reformers, the utilization of the association, the
utilization of the political party, and, finally, the utilization of the paramilitary
force. ‘Part III’ covers the fall of Muslim civil society by analyzing the primary
factors underlying the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
Omar Imady
Part I
The Rise of Muslim Civil Society
Omar Imady
Chapter 1
Muslim Traditional Community:
The Forerunner for Muslim Civil Society
The Severe Trial
During the ninth century, the Abbasid khalifah1 al-Mamun (r. 813-833) set
out to convert ahl al-sunnah, or the traditionalists who emphasized the author-
ity of the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions, to a theological doctrine held by
the Muctazilah, or the rationalists who emphasized the authority of reason and
philosophical principles.2 Traditionalist scholars were forced to recant their be-
lief in the non-created nature of the Qur’an in favor of the rationalist doctrine
which held that the Qur’an was a creation of God. Those who refused were
tortured and, at times, executed. In 848, fifteen years after the beginning of the
government sponsored inquisition, termed al-Mihnah, or the Severe Trial, by
Muslim historians, al-Mutawakkil (r. 847-861) ordered the end of all govern-
ment sponsored attempts to enforce the rationalist doctrine. Al-Mutawakkil’s
decision reflected his awareness that the inquisition had simply not succeeded
and that its continuation might well inspire a popular revolt.
Prior to the Severe Trial, religious learning among the traditionalists was
largely informal. In order to ensure that such a crisis would not reoccur, the
traditionalists: “formed themselves into guilds, created institutions of learn-
ing and clothed themselves with the protective mantle of legal perpetuity.”3
At the core of the madhahib (guilds of law) created by the traditionalists was
the madrasah (religious college).4 While traditionalist scholars constituted the
administrative force of the religious college, waqf (charitable religious trust)
constituted its financial base.5 In institutionalizing their victory, traditionalist
scholars ensured that the laws they derived from the Qur’an and Prophetic tra-
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ditions, including those regulating the religious college, would not be altered by
government authority. Furthermore, in presiding over the administration of the
religious college, traditionalist scholars ensured that heterodoxy, i.e. rational-
ism, would infiltrate neither its curriculum nor its faculty, at least not directly.
Finally, in basing the religious college on the charitable religious trust, tradi-
tionalists ensured that it would remain private, and thus autonomous, from the
state. Inspired by traditionalist scholars, shuyukh al-turuq al-sufiyyah (Masters
of the spiritual orders) created a parallel system, known as the tariqah (spiritual
order).6 As was the case with the religious college, the charitable religious trust
financed the zawaya (spiritual retreats/centers) of the spiritual orders, thereby
further ensuring their autonomy from the state. Contrary to their popular image,
the vast majority of spiritual centers were not in conflict with traditionalism.
As stipulated by the regulations of the charitable religious trust, many spiritual
centers taught law, the traditionalist science par excellence.7
With the emergence of the guilds of law and spiritual orders and the merger
of the latter with the futuwwah (chivalrous brotherhoods) and the tawa’if (the
guilds of merchants and artisans), the emergence of the institutions of tradition-
al Muslim community was completed. On the eve of the Mongols’ devastating
invasion of the central lands of Islam in the thirteenth century, these institutions
had matured to such an extent that they would not only survive the catastrophe,
but would also serve: “as the pattern on which the damaged tissues of Islamic
life were slowly reconstructed.”8
In the thirteenth century, however, the political appointment of a mufti
(Muslim jurist) in Damascus became an important development in the rela-
tionship between the government and the culama’, or religious scholars.9 The
subsequent regulations introduced by the Ottomans, particularly the creation
of a hierarchy of jurists led by Shaikh al-Islam (The Grand Mufti) of Istanbul,
significantly facilitated government control over religious scholars.10 The Otto-
man regulations created a system within which the strength of a fatwa (religious
legal verdict) was a function not of its own merits or popularity, but, rather, of
the status of its articulator in the hierarchy of jurists. Indeed, a religious legal
verdict from the Grand Mufti provided the Ottoman Sultan with all the religious
legitimacy he needed to implement a certain act, e.g. a declaration of war, legal
reform, etc..11
The Muslim Traditional Community: The Model of Cairo
Egypt’s significant autonomy from Ottoman control, which allowed it to
escape many of the Ottoman regulations which were imposed on traditional
institutions, along with the interdependent relationship of the Mamluk rulers
with the religious scholars, created a setting within which: intervention and control of the civil authorities
was limited in the judicial service; in all other branches
of learned activity and organization neither the authorities
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
at Istanbul nor the local officials, though preserving a
direct or indirect right of confirmation, interfered with
the traditional institutions or with their personnel and
Reflecting the nature of its traditional institutions, the urban organization
of Cairo was structured in such a way as to allow each entity to fulfill its own
functions within its distinct territory. The activities of religious scholars took
place primarily in the premier religious college, i.e. al-Azhar. Activities of the
members of the spiritual orders took place in spiritual centers located through-
out Cairo. The activities of members of the guilds of merchants and artisans
took place in al-suq (the market place).13 The self-governing tradition of each of
these institutions was deep rooted; so too was their separation from government
authority.14 That these institutions operated in distinct realms did not, however,
reflect disunity among them. During times of crises, the institutions of the tradi-
tional Muslim community acted in a highly coordinated manner. Upon a request
by the religious scholars, the Masters of the spiritual orders would mobilize
the heads of the guilds of merchants and artisans who, in turn, would mobilize
the rank and file members. To the inhabitants of Cairo, this network of institu-
tions mediated their interests with the ruling authorities, protected them from
coercion and helped to defend them against external threats. That the religious
scholars controlled the activation of this network indicates that they were the de
facto leaders of Cairo’s Muslim community.
Prior to the rise of Muhammad Ali in 1805, religious scholars asserted their
role as the protectors of the urban populace against the oppressive policies of
the Ottoman and Mamluk administrative and military leaders. Aware of the mo-
bilizing capacity of the religious scholars, embodied in the network of institu-
tions, Egypt’s rulers took seriously the intercession of the religious scholars on
behalf of members of the community. In cAja’ib al-Athar, the primary source on
late Ottoman Egypt, Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti highlights the type of situations
within which this network was activated by religious scholars. In his account,
for example, of how al-Sharqawi responded to the oppressive tax decrees of
Muhammad Bey al-Alfi, one of the major Mamluk figures of late Ottoman
Egypt, al-Jabarti wrote:
The peasants told al-Sharqawi that al-Alfi’s agents had
come to their village and treated them unjustly, asking
of them that which they cannot bear [i.e. high taxes]...
Al-Sharqawi was angered and went to al-Azhar. He
asked the other religious scholars to join him and they
closed the gates of the mosque. Then, they ordered
people to close the markets and shops. The next day, the
religious scholars met at the house of al-Sadat. People
surrounded the such a way so as to be seen by
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Ibrahim Bey [Ibrahim and Murad Bey were the two most
powerful Mamluk leaders at the time]. Ibrahim, who
had been informed before hand of their meeting, sent
Ayyoub Bey al-daftirdar [the principal financial officer
of the government] to them. So Ayyoub Bey went to
them and asked them about their demands. The religious
scholars replied: ‘We want justice and the termination of
oppression and moral transgression and the application
of religious law and the termination of the innovations
and the new taxes which you have introduced.’15
Al-Jabarti wrote that the religious scholars meeting with Yusuf Bey was
followed by a period of negotiations which ended “in that they [the Mamluk
leaders] repented and returned to God’s law and affirmed their commitment to
fulfill the conditions of the religious scholars.”16 Al-Jabarti’s account reveals
the process undertaken by religious scholars when facing a local crisis: A joint
meeting to agree on a plan of action, ordering the market and shops closed,
and demanding that large numbers of people gather in a specific area. Since no
less than sixty percent of Cairo’s civilian male population belonged to one of
the spiritual orders and guilds of merchants and artisans, the number of people
mobilized was significant.17
Far more drastic measures were also available to the religious scholars as
illustrated by eyewitness accounts of Cairo’s two uprisings against the French
occupation. Accounts of the way in which Cairo’s first uprising began, synthe-
sized and paraphrased below, are particularly instructive:
On Sunday, October 21, 1798, less than three months
after the French victory at the Battle of the Pyramids,
Cairo’s shops closed and its minarets proclaimed an
all out jihad, or a morally ordained struggle/resistance,
against the French forces. Large numbers of people
headed towards al-Azhar. Some carried weapons once
hidden from French authorities. A number of Azhar
students delivered speeches to rally those who had not
joined the crowd around al-Azhar. Women stood on the
roofs of houses, motivating the crowds with their loud
voices. The number of the people which finally gathered
around al-Azhar was approximately 15,000.18
During Cairo’s second uprising (March 20, 1800), al-Jabarti informs us
that Cairo’s artisans manufactured weapons and its merchants guaranteed food
supplies.19 Such were some of the methods available to the religious scholars
for popular uprising when deemed necessary. The French occupation severely
discredited both the Ottomans, for their failure to defeat the French army, and
the Mamluks, for their failure to protect Egypt from the French forces, their
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
flight to Upper Egypt, and their subsequent cooperation with the French com-
manding officers, especially during Cairo’s second revolt.20 In the struggle for
political power which ensued after the French withdrawal, Cairo was subjected
to revolt twice; in 1804 against the Mamluks (followed in 1811 by Muham-
mad Ali’s final destruction of their power in Egypt) and in 1805, against the
Ottoman governor, making him the last governor of Egypt to be sent from the
Sublime Porte. In both revolts, Cairo’s inhabitants were assisted by Muhammad
Ali and his troops. Muhammad Ali, an ambitious Ottoman army officer from
Macedonia, made a secret agreement with Cairo’s religious scholars in which
he pledged to rule in accordance with their will in return for their support for his
bid for power.21 The religious scholars lived up fully to their words. They de-
clared by religious decree the termination of the Ottoman governor’s authority
and mobilized all the segments of the population which they controlled through
the spiritual orders and the guilds of merchants and artisans to support Muham-
mad Ali’s troops.22
The Dismantling of The Muslim Traditional Community
Ironically, the new direct involvement of religious scholars in selecting
their political leaders, rather than formalizing their political power, marked the
beginning of their subordination to the state. Three years after coming to power,
Muhammad Ali began to issue decrees which began the process of altering the
role of all traditional institutions, transforming them from instruments of com-
munity power into instruments of government control. As documented by Afaf
Loutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, F. de Jong, and Gabriel Baer, the extension of gov-
ernment authority in Egypt over the guilds of law, the spiritual orders and the
guilds of merchants and artisans by Muhammad Ali was swift and categorical.23
Muhammad Ali first attacked the financial lifeline of traditional institutions. In
1812, a decree proclaimed the confiscation of all waqf lands (land designated
for the purpose of financing a religious charitable trust), a total of 600,000 fed-
dans (a feddan is equal to 1.039 acres).24 This was done in spite of the precepts
of traditionalist doctrine which held the religious charitable trust as “irrevo-
cable and constituted in perpetuity.”25 In so doing, religious scholars and Mas-
ters of the spiritual orders, along with their institutions, were now financially
dependent on the government.26 Muhammad Ali then proceeded to strike at the
spiritual orders directly. A decree in 1812 amounted to the creation of a new
position, Shaikh Mashaikh al-Turuq al-Sufiyyah (Master of all Masters of Spiri-
tual Orders) through which government control over the spiritual orders could
be applied.27 The decree clearly aimed at severing the link between the religious
scholars and the common individual. Thus, the “authority of turuq-based power
positions occupied by the culama’ was undermined and their power consequent-
ly reduced.”28 Subsequent laws proclaimed or sanctioned by Muhammad Ali’s
successors, i.e. the Regulation of Religious Orders of 1895, their Amendments
in 1903, and the Internal Regulations of 1905, further subordinated the spiritual
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orders to government control.29 Nor were the guilds of merchants and artisans
spared. Under the pressure of government actions and regulations, as well as
European competition, the guilds declined, and by World War I disappeared.30
It is, indeed, instructive to find that during the 1882 Urabi Revolt, the guilds (in
contrast to their role in 1805) served as mechanisms of government control over
the common members of the community. Indeed, it was through the guilds that
the government communicated its instructions to the urban populace against
public congregations and mistreatment of Europeans.31
The confiscation of the religious charitable trust and the regulation of spiri-
tual orders and the guilds of merchants and artisans which took place during
the nineteenth century left religious scholars without any effective institutional
base; and, as a direct result, left members of the community under the direct
authority of the state.
Muhammad Ali…closed the one channel of opposition
to tyranny that Egypt had known for centuries. The
traditional bridge between ruler and ruled had gone, and
there was nothing to replace it for many decades...32
In the 1870s, however, more than half a century after Muhammad Ali’s
decrees, Muslim reformers began to introduce Western institutions to Egypt’s
religious scholars. Rather than being content with their government salaries
and internal rivalry, as Muhammad Ali and his successors had hoped, Egypt’s
religious scholars, and subsequently those of other Muslim countries, adopted
these institutions and created, in the process, a Muslim civil society.
Chapter 2
Planting the seeds of Muslim Civil Society:
The Activist: Jamal al-Din al-Afghani
Although Iranian and Shici33 by birth, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897)
was known to most of his contemporaries as a Sunni34 Afghan.35 He described
himself as such out of purely practical considerations, namely, to avoid being
dismissed by religious scholars and political leaders of Sunni Muslim countries.
In actuality, however, al-Afghani was neither a Shici nor a Sunni. His world-
view, rather, was a synthesis of tasawwuf (an approach to Islam that empha-
sizes the spiritual experience, henceforth: sufism) and philosophy, combined
with an intense inclination towards political activism. Al-Afghani was trained
as a traditional scholar in Iraq and was, seemingly, self-taught in Western phi-
losophy and political institutions during his subsequent stay in India. After liv-
ing in Afghanistan (1866-1868), where he was involved in anti-British activity
and in Istanbul (1869-1871), where his ideas aroused the hostility of religious
scholars, al-Afghani moved to Egypt where he was destined to play a highly
significant role in the rise of the national movement known as the Urabi Revolt.
After being deported from Egypt in 1879, al-Afghani traveled to India and sub-
sequently to Paris where in 1884 he founded al-cUrwah al-Wuthqa (The Firm
Bond), the name given to both a political journal and a secret association. Al-
Afghani subsequently turned his attention to Iran where he eventually played
an important role in the Tobacco Uprising of 1891. His final years were spent in
Istanbul, plotting against the Shah of Iran, propagating the Pan-Islamic project
sponsored by the Ottoman Sultan and lecturing to a group of loyal students. In
1897, at the age of fifty nine, al-Afghani died, leaving behind a rich legacy of
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thought which remains a source of inspiration to Muslims of various tendencies
and affiliations.
The Vision: Islamic Reform
Al-Afghani’s approach to Islam, the ummah (Global Community of Mus-
lims), and political authority, was destined to become the intellectual corner-
stone of the movement known as al-islah al-islami (Islamic reform). It may
be summarized as follows: Islam, in its ‘purest form’, is far removed from the
rigid legalism and trivial disputations which religious scholars, Sunni and Shici
alike, ascribe to it.36 Islam, he maintained, is a religion of reason and progress.
Further, Islam demands from its adherent’s unity and collective action. Reli-
gious scholars must, therefore, shed their differences and reform their religious
thought accordingly. Islam is also an egalitarian religion. Shura, or the principle
of mutual consultation among ahl al-hal wa-al-caqd, or the representatives of
Muslims, is the precept by which Islam declares the political equality of all be-
lievers. On the institutional level, al-Afghani believed that Muslim rulers must
reform their political structures and allow their subordinates to play a role in the
decision making process. More importantly, and in order to regain their once
prominent role as leaders and defenders of the Muslim community, religious
scholars, he felt, must relinquish the institutions of traditional Muslim com-
munity which have become instruments of Government control. The time had
come for the emergence of a Muslim civil society, sanctioned by the state and
protected by the law, where religious scholars, along with others, articulated
their views through journals and mobilized the masses through associations and
political parties.
Unlike the traditional Muslim community where traditional institutions had
primarily a religious nature and were, thus, confined to Muslims, civil institu-
tions have primarily a civic nature and are, thus, open to all citizens, Mus-
lims and non-Muslims alike. Furthermore, while traditional institutions derived
their legitimacy from religious precepts, civil institutions derive their legiti-
macy from a legal framework that, at least theoretically, cannot be superseded
or tampered with by the state. To what extent al-Afghani was aware of how the
concept of civil society had evolved from the works of Adam Ferguson (1723-
1816), to Thomas Paine (1737-1809), to Hegel (1770-1831), and, finally, to de
Tocqueville (1805-1859) is not clear. What is clear, however, is that al-Afghani
was active at a time (the late nineteenth century) when the concept of a civil
society, along with its institutions, in the West had matured to the extent of rec-
ognizing the need to protect and consistently renew a pluralistic, self-organiz-
ing civil society independent of the state.37
The Setting: Late 19th Century Egypt
During his stay in Egypt (1871-1879), al-Afghani’s construction of an in-
tricate network of journals and associations, despite its failure to achieve its
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
designated objectives, succeeded in introducing Western institutions to Egypt’s
religious scholars at a time when traditional parallel institutions had lost much
of their capacity to organize and rally the populace. Indeed, three types of insti-
tutions existed in late nineteenth century Egypt: the official, the traditional and
the imported. The official type included al-Waqa’ic al-Misriyyah (The Official
Gazette), founded in 1828, and Majlis al-Nuwwab (Assembly of Delegates or
Parliament), founded in 1866; both of which were under the strong control of
Khedive Ismail.38 While al-Waqa’ic al-Misriyyah was used to announce gov-
ernment decrees, the Assembly of Delegates was used to facilitate the collec-
tion of taxes. The traditional type included: religious colleges, spiritual centers
and guilds of merchants and artisans; all of which had come, as noted above,
under significant government control daring the early nineteenth century. The
imported type was represented by secret associations, including Freemasonry,
and political journals, which, until the early 1870’s, were directed towards the
European immigrant population and had only a symbolic relationship with the
local setting.39
Al-Afghani’s Egyptian experience coincided with significant political in-
stability not only in Egypt, but also in the Ottoman Empire as a whole. The
declaration of bankruptcy of 1875, and the loss of territory brought about by
the Serbo-Turkish war of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, sig-
nificantly weakened the empire’s status. In Egypt, the recent past had witnessed
the French occupation and the subsequent military and industrial failures which
took place during Muhammad Ali’s reign.40 Ismail (1863-1879), Muhammad
Ali’s fifth successor, had not only imposed heavy taxes to finance such ma-
jor projects as the Suez Canal and Cairo’s Opera House, but had also opened
the door to European intervention in Egypt’s affairs. His severe mismanage-
ment of the country’s finances resulted in national bankruptcy, the Commis-
sion of Inquiry of 1878 and Dual Control (i.e. of the Egyptian economy by
the government and European creditors).41 Further destabilizing the conditions
in Egypt were poor harvests caused by unusually low Nile floods, resentment
towards European and Levantine traders who controlled the buying and selling
of Egypt’s major crops, and the failure of Egyptian industry to compete with
European products.
The Cadre & the Plan
Almost immediately after his arrival in Cairo, al-Afghani began to propa-
gate his vision of reform. Forced to stop preaching at al-Azhar, after its faculty
accused him of preaching heretical views, al-Afghani resorted to lecturing in
his home to a small number of students.42 When his home was attacked by
Azhar instigated mobs, he moved his halaqah, or study group, to Cairo’s coffee
shops, a setting viewed with contempt by religious scholars in nineteenth cen-
tury Egypt.43 Surrounded by his students, al-Afghani lectured on various topics
including philosophy and astronomy, both of which had been excluded from
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the curriculum of the religious college since the traditionalists’ victory over the
rationalists in the ninth century.44 His discourse captivated his listeners by vir-
tue of its mystic orientation and its frequent references to Western philosophers
and discoveries.45
Al-Afghani worked out a plan of action which aimed at resisting West-
ern intervention in Egypt and the advancement of constitutional rule. The plan
consisted of three major stages: recruitment, preparation, and implementation.
First, al-Afghani selected and recruited to his cause a small number of individu-
als from among those who attended his lectures (see Table 1). These individu-
als were marked by their eagerness to become devout disciples of al-Afghani.
Second, al-Afghani trained the selected individuals in journalism and political
activism. Third, after approximately four years of such training, al-Afghani be-
gan to direct his students towards the actual application of their lessons.46 The
organized activity of al-Afghani and his students included (i) the establishment
of five journals and newspapers: Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’ (The Man With The
Blue Glasses), Jaridat Misr (Egypt), al-Tijarah (Commerce), Mir’at al-Sharq
(The Mirror of the Orient), and Misr al-Fatat (Young Egypt—the journal of
the association of the same name); (ii) joining secret associations, i.e. Mahfal
Kawkab al-Sharq (Lodge of the Orient Star); and (iii) the creation of associa-
tions, e.g. al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Benevolent
Association) and Misr al-Fatat (Young Egypt).
Articulating the Vision: Journals
During the French occupation (1798-1801), French officers printed a num-
ber of proclamations in Arabic to the local inhabitants and founded a French
newsletter, directed mainly towards the French soldiers.50 Twenty seven years
after the withdrawal of the French forces, Muhammad Ali founded al-Waqa’ic
al-Misriyyah (The Official Gazette). Al-Waqa’ic al-Misriyyah, which was print-
ed in both Arabic and Turkish twice a week and remained a unique publication
until 1866, when the biweekly Wadi al-Nil (The Nile Valley) was founded in
Cairo by Abd Allah al-Sucud.51 Wadi al-Nil, however, was subsidized by Khe-
dive Ismail and, thus, supportive of his policies.52 In 1869, Ibrahim al-Muway-
lihi and Uthman Jalal founded the weekly Nuzhat al-Akhbar (Stroll Through
the News) which, unlike its predecessor, was somewhat critical of government
policies. Two weeks after its appearance, it was banned.53
A more favorable climate for political journalism did not appear until
the mid 1870’s when Khedive Ismail, desiring to project a positive image to
blunt the increasing criticisms and demands of England and France, allowed
the founding of a number of journals which often contained criticism of his
policies. With the notable exception of the weekly al-Ahram (The Pyramids),
established by the Taqla brothers, almost every political journal founded in this
new climate was indebted to the inspiration, literary training, and, at times, the
legal and financial assistance of al-Afghani. As noted above, al-Afghani trained
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
his students in political journalism as part of his overall plan to resist Western
intervention and propagate constitutional rule. Although we do not have actual
transcripts of al-Afghani’s lectures on political journalism, a number of primary
accounts have emphasized al-Afghani’s role in teaching his disciples how to
write journalistic essays, a genre of writing with which many of his traditionally
educated disciples were unfamiliar.54 Other accounts have also emphasized his
role in acquiring licenses for a number of journals and even financial assistance
to purchase the necessary equipment for the establishment of a printing press.
The rise of political journals, inspired and assisted by al-Afghani, coincided
with the Turko-Russian War (1877-1878). Al-Afghani and his disciples, as Mu-
hammad Abduh would later write, took advantage of people’s desire to keep
up with the War’s progress, publishing journals which moved quickly from
the mere reporting of the war’s events to criticism of Khedive Ismail, Western
Table 1: Al-Afghani’s Students
*Abd Allah al-Nadim Egyptian Muslim Traditional
*Muhammad Abduh Egyptian Muslim Traditional
*Ibrahim al-Laqqani Egyptian Muslim Traditional
*Abd al-Salam al-
Muwaylihi Egyptian Muslim Traditional
*Ibrahim al-Muwaylihi Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Sacd Zaghlul Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Abd al-Karim Salman Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Ahmad Abu Khatwa Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Shaikh Daghir Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Ibrahim al-Hilbawi Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Muhammad Bakhit Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Abd al-Rahman Qaracah Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Abu al-Wafa al-Quni47 Egyptian Muslim Traditional
Yaqub Sannu48 Egyptian Jewish Modern
Adib Ishaq Syrian Christian Modern
Salim al-Naqqash Syrian Christian Modern
Salim al-Anhuri49 Syrian Christian Modern
(*) Students of al-Afghani who were chosen by him to be trained in journalism and
political activism.
Omar Imady
intervention, and the advocacy of constitutional reform.55 In March 1877, a sa-
tiric political newspaper in colloquial Arabic appeared in Cairo. This was Abu
Nazzarah Zarqa’, the first political journal inspired by al-Afghani to appear in
Egypt. Its founder was Yaqub Sannu, the talented Jewish Egyptian nationalist.56
After fifteen issues full of unprecedented criticism of government policies,
Khedive Ismail ordered it closed down. Sannu, however, traveled to France
where, in 1878, he resumed the publication of Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’ and copies
found their way back into Egypt. The following excerpt illustrates its style:
Abu Nazzarah proclaimed to you in the past: ‘Your end
will be as dark as tar...because you are the most oppressive
of all oppressors in our age. Put an end, oh Ismail, to your
transgressions so that old and young people may like
you’. But you did not listen, oh Ismail, to my words...57
Two months after Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’ was banned, another Afghani-in-
spired newspaper surfaced. Founded by Adib Ishaq in Cairo, Misr quickly be-
came not only the major mouthpiece of al-Afghani’s views, but also one of the
major Egyptian newspapers of its day.58 Having been helped by al-Afghani in
acquiring a permit, and in purchasing necessary equipment, Ishaq proceeded
to spread the views of his teacher. Subsequently, al-Afghani asked Ishaq to
transfer the location of Misr to Alexandria to facilitate the attainment of foreign
news. An article which was published in Misr in May 24, 1879, illustrates the
extent to which this newspaper was a mouthpiece of al-Afghani. The occasion
of the article was a lecture given by al-Afghani in Alexandria in the Zizinyah
auditorium. Ishaq writes:
...the Zizinyah auditorium was full of intelligent people
who, from their chairs and balconies, stared at the wise
and noble soul residing in the body of our master and
teacher. The ears opened, as it were, to capture the jewels
of his wise words...59
Al-Afghani also helped Salim al-Naqqash, whom he had asked to join Adib
Ishaq in Alexandria, to get a permit for al-Tijarah.60 Al-Tijarah made an agree-
ment with Reuters, the world news agency, and thereby became the first Egyp-
tian newspaper to have such a connection. After a two week suspension in 1879
for attacking the European cabinet of Nubar Pasha—Egypt’s Prime Minister
(August, 1878-Feburary, 1879)—al-Tijarah continued its highly critical tone
and was shut down, along with Misr, in November 1879. It is worth noting that
the nationalist tone of both Misr and al-Tijarah gradually intensified over the
years, reaching their peak shortly before their termination. This is most appar-
ent in the case of al-Tijarah since it began as an exclusively financial newspa-
per. In February 1879, al-Afghani helped Salim al-Anhuri acquire a permit for
Mir’at al-Sharq. Subsequently, al-Anhuri published Mir’at al-Sharq from his
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
own printing press, al-Iithad (The Union).61 In April 1879, al-Anhuri, fearful
of Egypt’s explosive climate, decided to return to Lebanon. Thus, Ibrahim al-
Laqqani, second only to Abduh in proximity to al-Afghani, took over the pub-
lication of Mir’at al-Sharq. Mir’at al-Sharq was shut down when al-Laqqani
objected to al-Afghani’s deportation, late in August 1879.
In addition to his involvement with Misr and al-Tijarah, Adib Ishaq was
also involved in editing Misr al-Fatat which was printed in Arabic and French.62
Misr al-Fatat appeared in Alexandria in 1879, shortly before the end of the
reign of Ismail. Claiming to represent Egypt’s youth, it proceeded to criticize
the policies of Khedive Ismail. Shortly after Khedive Tawfiq took over, Misr
al-Fatat published a proposal for constitutional reform. Tawfiq responded by
ordering it shut down.63 Though al-Ahram, as mentioned above, was not in-
spired by al-Afghani, it was, nevertheless infiltrated by Abduh who succeeded
in having a number of his essays published by its editorial board.64 Al-Afghani
is known to have also utilized a number of prestigious auditoriums, e.g. Zizin-
yah of Alexandria, to give lectures on various topics which were subsequently
summarized and published by one of his loyal journals.65 Apparently, an entry
fee would be charged by the auditorium, thereby assuring an elitist audience.
Activating the Vision: Freemasonry
Accounts vary in regard to how and when Freemasonry arrived in Egypt. It
seems very likely, however, that the first Masonic lodge, as Jurji Zaydan relates
in Tarikh al-Masuniyyah, was founded in Cairo in 1798 by a number of French
officers.66 The lodge, named Isis, was founded for political purposes, namely,
unifying local dignitaries into a single body to be manipulated by the French
authorities.67 Napoleon’s withdrawal from Egypt did not fully terminate the ac-
tivity of Freemasonry in Egypt, though it did cause its decline. Muhammad Ali’s
friendly attitude towards France seems to have allowed French Freemasons a
significant degree of freedom which they utilized to their advantage, as their
subsequent growth indicates.68 French Freemasonry was soon to be followed by
the more aggressive and politically motivated Italian Freemasonry which was
brought to Egypt during the 1830’s by a number of Italian Freemasons who had
left Italy after the failure of their revolutionary activity.69
The 1840’s witnessed important developments in the spread of Freemason-
ry in Egypt. In 1845, a French Chapter, al-Ahram (The Pyramids), was founded
in Alexandria which embraced a number of important Muslim figures, such as
Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, the well known Algerian resistance leader, and Prince
Halim Pasha, the youngest son of Muhammad Ali.70 In 1873 a number of Eu-
ropeans belonging to different lodges succeeded in uniting European Freema-
sonry in Egypt under the umbrella of the Grand Egyptian Orient.71
Sensing the importance and potential danger of this unified institution,
Khedive Ismail is reported to have granted an audience to S. F. Zola, its newly
chosen Master. In return for granting his protection to the Grand Egyptian Ori-
Omar Imady
ent, Khedive Ismail demanded that the new institution confine its activities to
philanthropy.72 Zola agreed, and by 1878, most chapters came under the juris-
diction of the Grand Egyptian Orient. The status of Freemasonry in Egypt dur-
ing the 1870s in relation to other existent institutions was highly significant. To
those Egyptians who were interested in advancing political objectives and who
had no access to other institutions, Freemasonry was an ideal alternative.73 Not
only did Freemasonry provide secrecy—indispensable when dealing with an
authoritative figure like Khedive Ismail—and a ready made institutional struc-
ture, but it also had the advantage of a special kind of security, embodied in the
protection which European members could provide local members in times of
need. Freemasonry was also reminiscent of the spiritual orders in that they both
utilized initiation and symbolic language.74
Four years after his arrival in Egypt, al-Afghani began his organized activ-
ity against Khedive Ismail’s policies and Western intervention by joining the
Freemasons. His application reads as follows:
I, Jamal al-Din al-Kabili [the one from Kabul] the
philosophy teacher residing in Egypt who is thirty seven
years old, request from Ikhwan al-Safa’ [The Brethren
of Purity] and call on the brothers of loyalty, by whom I
mean the leaders of this holy Masonic lodge, which is far
above falsehood and error, to be grateful toward me and
endow their favors upon me by accepting me in this pure
lodge and by allowing me to enter among those who have
entered in this prestigious club.
To you belongs gratitude.
Thursday, 23, Rabic al-Thani, 1292 [May 29, 1875] Jamal
al-Din al-Kabili.75
Al-Afghani’s application provides three important insights. First, al-Af-
ghani characterizes himself as ‘al-Kabili’ or the one from Kabul, rather than ‘al-
Afghani’, the one from Afghanistan. As attested by this and other documents,
name changing was a tactic which al-Afghani often used in his organized activ-
ity. Other known names used by al-Afghani, include ‘al-Istanbuli’, i.e. the one
from Istanbul, and ‘al-Husayni’ or descendent of Husain, the grandson of the
Second, al-Afghani characterizes himself as a philosophy teacher. If others
also referred to him as such, this would help explain at least some of al-Azhar’s
hostility to al-Afghani, since among the subjects not admitted to the religious
college, e.g. medicine, astronomy, etc., philosophy was the one viewed with the
most contempt by al-Azhar’s religious scholars. Third, by making an analogy to
Ikhwan al-Safa’ in his application, al-Afghani shows himself to have perceived
Freemasonry as an institution which had parallel with traditional Islamic as-
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
sociations. Like Freemasonry, Ikhwan al-Safa’ was a secret organization which
was responsible for producing a number of philosophical treatises.77 Though its
members are not known, they are suspected by scholars of having belonged to
Unfortunately, al-Afghani’s application does not specify the lodge he was
applying to. Nevertheless, other documents indicate that al-Afghani first be-
came involved with Italian lodges, a logical step given the highly politicized na-
ture of Italian Freemasonry.79 Though al-Afghani subsequently joined the more
prestigious English and French Masonic lodges, his relationship with Italian
Freemasonry, was maintained until his deportation from Egypt in 1879.80
Several documents make it clear that al-Afghani did join Kawkab al-Sharq,
No. 1355, which was founded in Cairo in 1871 and which was affiliated with
the United Grand Lodge of England. The first of these documents, dated Janu-
ary 24, 1877, contains an invitation to al-Afghani to attend a session at the
lodge.81 The second reveals the status which al-Afghani was able to reach with-
in a period of two years. The document, dated January 7, 1878, invites al-Af-
ghani to his confirmation as President of Kawkab al-Sharq for the year 1878.82
Further documents show al-Afghani to have maintained his relationship with
Kawkab al-Sharq until at least July 13, 1879.83 Additional documents show that
al-Afghani continued to reach out to Masonic lodges. He received an invitation,
dated March 5, 1877, to attend a session at the Grand Lodge of Egypt, two invi-
tations to al-Nil, affiliated to the National Grand Lodge of Egypt, dated May 2,
1878 and August 16, 1878 and an invitation to Grecia, affiliated to the United
Grand Lodge of England, dated February 3, 1879.84 Every thing else we know
regarding al-Afghani’s involvement with Freemasonry comes from the follow-
ing sources, Tarikh cAbduh, Khatirat al-Afghani, and Muhammad Sabry’s La
genese de I’esprit national egyptien (1863-1882)85 All sources agree, or at least
do not object to, a number of points: Al-Afghani entered into Freemasonry, he
led a lodge which included three hundred of Egypt’s most important figures,
including Crown Prince Tawfiq, Sharif Pasha, Butrus Pasha, Sulaiman Abaza
Pasha—all three high ranking government officials—and he withdrew from at
least one Masonic lodge. What the sources do not agree on is which lodge in
particular embraced the three hundred members. While La genese associates
the three hundred members with Kawkab al-Sharq, Muhammad al-Makhzumi
in Khatirat al-Afghani and Adib Ishaq and Salim al-Anhuri in Tarikh cAbduh
ascribe the three hundred members to a ‘national’ lodge.86
In attempting to solve this anomaly, Kudsi-Zadeh in his “Afghani and Free-
masonry” asserts that al-Afghani first became involved in Kawkab al-Sharq.87
On the basis of a passage in La genese, Kudsi-Zadeh relates the names of some
of the figures who were members of Kawkab al-Sharq along with al-Afghani.88
He does not, however, specify the number of persons who joined Kawkab al-
Sharq under al-Afghani’s patronage, though Sabry in La genese provides the
number (three hundred). Kudsi-Zadeh then relates, on the basis of Khatirat and
Omar Imady
essays reproduced in Tarikh cAbduh, that al-Afghani withdrew from Kawkab al-
Sharq and formed a ‘national’ lodge.89 At this point, Kudsi Zadeh refrains from
naming the important members who joined the ‘national’ lodge, though they are
provided by Khatirat and Tarikh cAbduh, describing it only as having embraced
three hundred members. In short, rather than address the fact that La genese
describes Kawkab al-Sharq in the exact same manner Khatirat and Tarikh cAb-
duh describe the ‘national’ lodge, Kudsi-Zadeh suppresses certain components
of La genese (the three hundred number) and certain components of Khatirat
and Tarikh cAbduh’s account (the names of some of the figures involved), that
he may present his own reading of events, namely, that two separate lodges
existed, as consistent with the information provided by the sources.
Even if one is to ignore Kudsi-Zadeh’s treatment of the sources, his read-
ing of events is still undermined by a very important problem. As indicated in
documents specified above, al-Afghani remained part of Kawkab al-Sharq until
at least July 13, 1879. We also know that al-Afghani was deported from Egypt
in late August 1879. Thus, how could he have formed, over a one-month pe-
riod, a ‘national’ lodge which boasted three hundred highly important figures?
Since Kudsi-Zadeh’s ‘two lodges’ theory cannot hold, one is tempted to dismiss
either Kawkab al-Sharq or the ‘national’ lodge as fictitious. Yet, as previously
stated, Kawkab al-Sharq is fully attested to by several documents. Further, the
‘national’ lodge is mentioned by a number of sources, the authors of which are
known to have had no contact with each other, i.e. Adib Ishaq and Muhammad
There is, however, another alternative, one that is in harmony with the
sources and, equally important, with the elusive character of al-Afghani’s po-
litical activity; specifically, that Kawkab al-Sharq and the ‘national’ lodge are
one and the same. The former is what might be termed the ‘outer lodge which
al-Afghani, along with his disciples, and many other important Egyptian figures
joined. The latter is the ‘inner lodge, embracing only al-Afghani and his dis-
ciples which was created in response to the objection of members of Kawkab
al-Sharq to al-Afghani’s politicization of their structure. In so doing, al-Af-
ghani enjoyed both the protection, derived from membership in a European
lodge and the power, embodied in controlling the ‘national’ lodge. As such, one
comes to understand why no name is ever provided by the sources, which refer
to a ‘national’ lodge. Kudsi-Zadeh himself writes: “The name of the latter [i.e.
the ‘national’ lodge] is yet to be determined.”90 More importantly, one comes to
understand why the descriptions of the ‘national’ lodge and Kawkab al-Sharq
are consistently identical. The ‘inner lodge’ appears to have also been a hidden
structure underlying a number of other lodges as well, including al-Nil, noted
above, which was affiliated with the Grand French Orient, the same affiliation
Ishaq and al-Makhzumi ascribe to the ‘national’ lodge.91 When members of the
‘outer lodge’ became suspicious about al-Afghani’s plans, he and his disciples
simply withdrew and affiliated themselves with another lodge, thereby giving
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
rise to a number of accounts on al-Afghani’s withdrawal from Freemasonry,
including Rida’s which dates al-Afghani’s withdrawal as early as 1876.92
Activating the Vision: Associations
Closely associated with Freemasonry, yet distinct, was the phenomenon of
associations.93 The term jamciyyah was perhaps first used to designate voluntary
groupings by Christian missionaries in Syria who, during the late seventeenth/
early eighteenth century, formed Jamciyyat al-Mukhallis (The Association of the
Savior). Subsequently, the term began to be utilized in the mid-19th century to
refer to various types of associations, including benevolent and learned, the lat-
ter usually having secret political aims hidden under an intellectual garb.94 Such
associations were unknown in Egypt prior to the French invasion.95 L’Institut
d’Egypt, founded by the French authorities in 1798 and terminated after their
withdrawal, had to wait until 1859 to be reincarnated as an Egyptian ‘national’
entity, taking the name of al-Machad al-cIlmi al-Misri (The Scientific Egyptian
Institute). By 1870, several learned associations had been founded in Egypt, all
reflecting a significant degree of Western involvement and sponsorship.
Al-Afghani did not become directly involved in open associations. Yet, by
encouraging his disciples to create such institutions, his involvement was none-
theless important. Misr al-Fatat, founded in Alexandria in 1879, embraced a
number of important disciples of al-Afghani, including Adib Ishaq, Salim al-
Naqqash, and Abd Allah Nadim.96 Its organ was a journal by the same name.
When the association published a reform program shortly after Khedive Tawfiq’s
accession, it was banned, having lasted less than a year.97 Abd Allah al-Nadim,
apparently uncomfortable with the large number of non-Muslims in Misr al-
Fatat, had left the association earlier and founded al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah
al-Islamiyyah in 1878, which, as a number of authorities have indicated, seems
to have been the first benevolent association in Egypt.98 It was responsible for
establishing a national school for boys and girls, and hosting various social
activities, including plays and speech festivals.
Additional Institutions
Al-Azhar never relinquished its deep hostility toward al-Afghani. It was not
successful, however, in fully preventing the advancement of al-Afghani’s views
within its own precincts. In spite of much opposition from some of his profes-
sors, Muhammad Abduh graduated from al-Azhar in 1876.99 Subsequently, he
began to teach at al-Azhar the much-disliked philosophy. Two years later, he
was made a teacher of history at Dar al-cUlum (Academy of Sciences) and of
Arabic sciences (i.e. grammar and rhetoric) at Madrasat al-Alsun al-Khiday-
wiyyah (The Khedive School of Languages). Through another disciple, Abd
al-Salam al-Muwaylihi, al-Afghani also utilized the Assembly of Delegates as
a forum within which his views would be articulated and defended. Begin-
ning in 1876, al-Muwaylihi became one of the most important defenders of
Omar Imady
the rights of the Assembly, sitting on almost all of its important committees.100
Al-Afghani is also credited with encouraging Yaqub Sannu, who had earlier
participated in founding the Egyptian theater, to utilize the medium of drama as
a method for political mobilization. Thus, Sannu began to produce social and
politically oriented plays, in response to which Ismail canceled a previously
pledged stipend to his dramatic works.101 The plays were performed in a theater
located in old Cairo which was owned by Sannu. Although information on the
actors who took part in these plays is scarce, we do know that Sannu himself at
times performed.102
Al-Afghani’s Institutional Network
The network of associations and journals inspired by al-Afghani was at the
heart of the nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century. The nucleus
of al-Afghani’s network was the Masonic ‘inner lodge’, imbedded in at least
two Masonic lodges—Kawkab al-Sharq and al-Nil—whose members were his
closest disciples, including Abduh, al-Laqqani, al-Nadim, Ibrahim and Abd al-
Salam al-Muwaylihi, Sannu, Ishaq and al-Naqqash. The ‘outer lodge’, on the
other hand, served to acquaint al-Afghani and his disciples with Egypt’s impor-
tant personalities and served as a protective layer for their activity. Through the
‘inner lodge’, the four previously cited journals, Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’, Misr,
al-Tijarah and Mir’at al-Sharq were published; and the two previously cited as-
sociations, Misr al-Fatat and al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah, were
created. While al-Azhar, Dar al-cUlum, and Madrasat al-Alsun al-Khidaywi-
yyah were infiltrated by Abduh, the Assembly of Delegates was infiltrated by
Abd al-Salam al-Muwaylihi. Further, a number of plays written by Sannu were
This was not all. Members of the ‘inner’ lodge were also involved in con-
tacting various government officials to help alleviate nationalist grievances.
Thus, the Minister of Defense was urged to replace Egyptian officers who had
been stationed for a long period in the Sudan with non-Egyptian officers as
the law required, and the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Financial Affairs,
and the Minister of Public Works and Royal Possessions were asked to treat
their Egyptian employees fairly.103 The various parts of the network were inter-
woven by the practice of cross-contributions by the ‘inner’ lodge’s members.
Al-Afghani, for example, contributed several articles to Misr, at times under a
pseudonym, Mazhar Ibn Waddah.104 Contributions to Misr and Misr al-Fatat
were also made by Sannu, Naqqash, Nadim and Laqqani.
Al-Afghani’s network rallied Egypt’s elite towards the national cause
through various Masonic lodges, propagated nationalist ideals among the urban
populace, through various journals, and even showed how some of these ideals
could be implemented by creating a school which emphasized love of country,
through al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah. Indeed, outside the realm
of the army, all organized nationalist activity that was of any significance in
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Egypt of the 1870s was initiated by al-Afghani and members of the ‘inner
lodge’.105 That is not to say that only al-Afghani and his disciples held nation-
alist sentiments. Azhar religious scholars who were, as indicated above, very
hostile toward al-Afghani were also strongly resentful of Western intervention.
Nevertheless, al-Afghani and his disciples did dominate in the expression of all
nationalist sentiments that were translated into institutional activity.
The most important project taken on by al-Afghani’s network was its sup-
port of Ismail’s abdication in favor of his son, Crown Prince Tawfiq. Al-Af-
ghani had come to know Tawfiq through Kawkab al-Sharq and had succeeded
in establishing a very close relationship with him. Tawfiq is reported to have
repeatedly stated to al-Afghani: “My hopes for Egypt lie in you.”106 A num-
ber of events reveal the extent to which al-Afghani was supportive of Tawfiq.
When, for example, al-Afghani heard that a number of Prince Abd al-Halim’s
supporters visited Tricou, the French Consul, and claimed that it was Abd al-
Halim, rather than Tawfiq, who was supported by the majority of the people,
al-Afghani quickly went to the French Counsel and emphasized the contrary.
Al-Afghani is also credited with playing a prominent role in convincing Sharif
Pasha to recommend to Ismail that he abdicate in favor of his son.107
Some studies have also suggested that al-Afghani even contemplated or-
chestrating an assassination of Khedive Ismail.108 The evidence for this propo-
sition, however, is derived exclusively from statements made by Wilfred S.
Blunt, an author who in spite of the numerous insights he has provided by
virtue of his personal relationships with both al-Afghani and Abduh, has been
shown to have made inaccurate remarks about the activity of al-Afghani.109
Al-Afghani has also been linked with the assassination of Shah Nasir al-Din,
(1848-1896).110 However, in both cases the evidence of al-Afghani’s complic-
ity is very slim and, most importantly, inconsistent with his writings, patterns
of behavior, and what was said about him by his disciples who knew him best.
Indeed, both Ismail and Nasir al-Din were regarded by al-Afghani as oppressive
rulers who had facilitated Western intervention in their countries. None of his
known lectures and writings, however, reflect a sanctioning of political vio-
lence. Nor did any of his closest disciples, e.g. Abduh, al-Nadim, Ibrahim and
Abd al-Salam al-Muwaylihi—whose activity, one assumes, was reflective of
their masters’ ideals—ever became involved in political violence. Thus, the ar-
guments against his advocacy of assassination as an instrument of policy heav-
ily outweigh contrary claims.
In June 1879, Ismail abdicated and Tawfiq became the new ruler of Egypt.
Less than three months later, Tawfiq ordered al-Afghani expelled from Egypt.
According to al-Afghani, Khedive Tawfiq’s decision to deport him was based
on rumors that he sought the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment
of a republic.111 Some of al-Afghani’s disciples, on the other hand, have por-
trayed the French and British consuls as the figures responsible for convincing
Omar Imady
Tawfiq of the need to deport al-Afghani.112 While such factors may have played
a role in Tawfiq’s decision, they would not have been sufficient if Tawfiq was
a sincere follower of al-Afghani, as was Abduh for example. Tawfiq, rather,
cynically used al-Afghani’s network in his bid for power. He had no intention of
living up to al-Afghani’s ideals of national sovereignty and constitutional rule.
As soon as he became the Khedive of Egypt, he moved against al-Afghani’s
network, just as his great grandfather, Muhammad Ali, had earlier done against
the network of traditional institutions which played a significant role in his bid
for power. After a harsh investigation by police, on August 30, 1879, al-Afghani
was put on a boat to India.113 With the exception of the refusal of Mir’at al-
Sharq to publish a government-circulated article condoning al-Afghani’s depor-
tation, Tawfiq’s decision was not protested.114 Why did al-Afghani’s network
fail to protect him?
A number of explanations are found in the two major authorities on al-Af-
ghani’s activity in Egypt: Keddie’s al-Afghani and Kudsi-Zadeh’s “Afghani and
Freemasonry.” Both emphasize, to different degrees, the fact that Riyad Pasha,
al-Afghani’s chief protector, was in Europe at the time.115 Further, al-Afghani
is said to have lacked a strong relationship with the army. As for the two mili-
tary officers which La genese describes as having been members of Kawkab
al-Sharq, i.e. Latif Salim, and Said Nasr, Keddie dismisses their membership
on account of not being mentioned by “earlier and more direct sources.”116 In
short, al-Afghani’s inability to defend against his deportation, according to
Keddie and Kudsi-Zadeh, was a result of his reliance on influential individuals
who, for various reasons, could not live up to his expectations, and his failure
to establish a strong relationship with army officers.
Keddie’s and Kudsi-Zadeh’s explanations, however, are not convincing. On
one hand, it does not seem likely that either Riyad Pasha nor Sharif Pasha could
have stopped a determined Khedive Tawfiq from deporting al-Afghani, espe-
cially if he was supported in his decision by the European consuls, as seems
to be the case, given their documented discomfort with al-Afghani’s ideas and
activity.117 In addition, although Keddie’s assertion, that sources earlier than
Sabry (1924) do not confirm the presence of army officers in Kawkab al-Sharq,
is contradicted by A. M. Broadly’s Arabi and His Friends (1884), it appears
highly improbable that supportive army officers at this early point could have
used force to prevent al-Afghani’s deportation.118
The more likely explanation is that al-Afghani’s network was grounded fore-
most in a small educated elite, rather than the urban masses. It was al-Afghani’s
realization of the limitations of his network that appears to have prompted him
to begin an intense campaign of public speeches after Tawfiq’s betrayal of the
nationalist cause became apparent. In a desperate move, al-Afghani hoped that
the urban masses would respond to his call for a mass revolution.119 The urban
masses, however, as yet unaffected by al-Afghani’s methods of mobilization,
remained unmoved and Tawfiq, using al-Afghani’s angry words as a pretext,
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
moved against him. After al-Afghani was deported, his network received a
number of blows which eventually resulted in its total collapse. Not only did
authoritarian rule survive, but Egypt ultimately fell under total British control.
Nevertheless, al-Afghani’s activity accomplished a profound, yet seeming-
ly unintended, achievement. In creating his network, al-Afghani reintroduced
to the Egyptian urban setting institutions which were significantly autonomous
from government control. Having lost their traditional institutions to govern-
ment authority, Egypt’s religious scholars encountered in al-Afghani’s network
an alternative long awaited. Yet, the decision to join al-Afghani’s network must
have been exceptionally difficult. Not only was al-Afghani’s network com-
prised of secular institutions, but also, joining al-Afghani’s network was syn-
onymous with acknowledging the impotence of al-Azhar when confronting the
state. Why else would associations and journals be employed by al-Afghani, if
not because of his perception that the capacity of al-Azhar to issue a religious
legal verdict against government actions, and its capacity to mobilize the popu-
lace, if necessary, to enforce the verdict had become significantly eroded.
Though al-Afghani’s unfamiliar discourse made it difficult for many re-
ligious scholars to follow him, it was the implications of his choice of West-
ern institutions that was particularly discomforting. One suspects that many
religious scholars simply did not want to acknowledge that al-Azhar, which
had resisted Napoleon and appointed Muhammad
Ali, was no longer capable of
playing an important and independent role in the community. Thus, one under-
stands why so many religious scholars opted to reject al-Afghani’s invitation to
reassert their role as leaders and defenders of their community in spite of their
strong nationalist aspirations. Other religious scholars, however, found al-Af-
ghani’s invitation far too attractive to be resisted. Within al-Afghani’s network,
they actively pursued what they believed to be the proper future for their coun-
try. Indeed, not since the French occupation and Muhammad Ali’s accession
to power, did Egypt’s urban centers witness religious scholars engaged in such
intense political activity. That they did so peacefully along with non-Muslims,
Christians and Jews, serves only to further highlight the magnitude of al-Af-
ghani’s achievement. Although al-Afghani’s deportation from Egypt succeeded
in causing the collapse of his network, it failed to erase from the memory of
his followers their powerful experience. As will be seen, journals and associa-
tions sponsored by religious scholars gradually reappeared in Egypt. All were
indebted to the institutional groundwork laid earlier by al-Afghani.
Part II
Omar Imady
Institutions of Muslim Civil Society
Chapter 3
Omar Imady
Until at least the 1920s, newspapers and journals occupied the presti-
gious status of “the focal point of politics, in both Western and non-Western
countries.”120 This was especially true in Egypt where by 1898, one hundred
and sixty nine newspapers and journals had been established. By 1913, the
number had increased to two hundred and eighty two.121 In this ‘era of journal-
ism’, Muslim reformers sponsored three major journalistic projects. The first
involved Egypt’s official newspaper, al-Waqa’ic al-Misriyyah (The Official Ga-
zette), the second involved a political newspaper published in Paris, al-cUrwah
al-Wuthqa (The Firm Bond), and the third involved a scholarly journal based in
Cairo, al-Manar (The Beacon). Various factors forced both al-Waqa’ic al-Mis-
riyyah and al-cUrwah al-Wuthqa to cease publication prior to achieving their
objectives. Al-Manar, on the other hand, enjoyed a long life during which it
succeeded in establishing a scholarly religious authority independent from that
of the religious college.
Al-Waqa’ic al-Misriyyah (The Official Gazette)122
Muhammad Abduh met al-Afghani while still a student at al-Azhar and
quickly became his most devout disciple.123 Unlike Yaqub Sannu, Adib Ishaq,
Salim al-Naqqash, and Ibrahim al-Laqqani, however, Abduh did not play a
prominent role in the journalistic activities sponsored by al-Afghani. Abduh’s
primary activity, rather, was the propagation of al-Afghani’s ideas through his
teaching positions at al-Azhar, Dar al-cUlum (The School of Sciences) and
Dar al-Alsun al-Khidaywiyyah (The Khedive Language Academy). After al-
Afghani was deported from Egypt in August 1879, Abduh was stripped of all
of his teaching positions and was confined to his village, Mahallat Nasr.124 Two
months later, Riyad Pasha returned to Egypt, having been named the new Prime
Minister by Khedive Tawfiq. Riyad Pasha—one of the influential figures whom
al-Afghani succeeded in befriending during his stay in Egypt—obtained a par-
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don for Abduh and, upon the recommendation of some of his advisors, Riyad
appointed him third editor of Waqa’ic.125
Riyad Pasha wanted Waqa’ic transformed from a biweekly newsletter of
new Government decrees and poems praising the Khedive into one of Egypt’s
popular daily newspapers.126 In response to a request by Riyad Pasha, Abduh
authored a reform program for Waqa’ic, proposing several changes. Govern-
ment agencies would be obliged to write reports to the editor-in-chief of Waqa’ic
informing him of their activities. Courts would also be obliged to write reports
informing the editor-in-chief of their decisions. All reports of government agen-
cies and courts were to be published in Waqa’ic. The editor-in-chief would have
the right to comment on the activities of official agencies. The editor-in-chief
would also have the authority to supervise all newspapers published in Egypt,
including those published in foreign languages; if a newspaper was found guilty
of persistently publishing erroneous information, the editor-in-chief would have
the right to suspend it temporarily or even permanently. Finally, essays written
by the editors of Waqa’ic would be published in a new section added for this
purpose. After a committee reviewed Abduh’s proposals, Riyad agreed to them
and appointed Abduh as editor-in-chief of Waqa’ic.127
On October 9, 1880, Abduh assumed his new position. Empowered with the
authority to appoint a new staff, Abduh appointed Abd al-Karim Salman, Sacd
Zaghlul—the founder of the Wafd (Egypt’s delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace
Conference which later developed into a political party) and future Prime Min-
ister, Ibrahim al-Hilbawi, and Sayyid Wafa, as co-editors of Waqa’ic; all were
Azhar graduates and disciples of al-Afghani.128 As editor in chief of Waqa’ic,
one would have expected Abduh to pursue al-Afghani’s strategy of mobilizing
the urban elite towards demanding the termination of Western intervention and
the affirmation of Egypt’s national sovereignty. Abduh, however, pursued a dif-
ferent course. He directed Waqa’ic towards instilling in its readers an apprecia-
tion of the principles of Islamic reform; that is, toward the construction of a ra’y
camm (an educated public opinion).129
In order to maintain his control of Waqa’ic within the politically charged
Egyptian setting of the early 1880’s, Abduh was willing to identify himself, by
virtue of his position as editor-in-chief of a government publication, with the
Khedive who was responsible for the deportation of al-Afghani, his beloved
master. He was further willing to remain loyal to Riyad Pasha, even after Riyad
became the archenemy of Egypt’s nationalist leaders. Finally, he would keep
Waqa’ic disengaged from the nationalist movement’s rise to power until short-
ly prior to the British bombardment of Alexandria. In return, Abduh expected
the Egyptian government to allow him to supervise Waqa’ic in the manner he
deemed appropriate. With the exception of marginal harassment by some of
Urabi’s followers, Abduh’s control of Waqa’ic remained unchallenged until the
arrival of British soldiers in Cairo in 1882.130
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Abduh essays in Waqa’ic constitute the earliest intellectual documents of
the Islamic reform movement in Egypt. Al-Afghani’s views, as published by
a number of journals during his stay in Egypt, were not couched in Qur’anic
and/or Prophetic reasoning. As noted above, he did not wish to alienate either
his Christian disciples or some of his hardly religious Muslim supporters. In-
deed, al-Afghani’s first explicit discussions of Islamic reform are found in the
articles of al-cUrwah al-Wuthqa, published more than five years after his ouster
from Egypt. Nevertheless, Abduh’s articles in Waqa’ic indicated that al-Af-
ghani had shared his vision of Islamic reform with him and, perhaps, with a few
other Muslim disciples (e.g. Ibrahim al-Laqqani, Abd al-Karim Salman, etc.).
Al-Afghani’s influence may be seen in the way that three major principles of
Islamic reform, ‘the religious’, ‘the social’, and ‘the political’, were addressed
by Abduh’s articles in Waqa’ic.
The ‘purification’ of Islam from bidac, or innovations, is at the heart of
Islamic reform. A religious belief or practice is considered an innovation if it
can be shown to have less than adequate authentication from the Qur’an or
Prophetic traditions.131 Innovations are not part of ‘authentic Islam’ and, thus,
must be eliminated. The notion of bidac underlies the dichotomy between an
‘authentic Islam’ and a ‘historical Islam’, consistently invoked by the repre-
sentatives of Islamic reform, including Abduh.132 The strong emphasis on the
‘purification’ of Islam from bidac has been traced historically to Ibn Taymi-
yyah (1263-1328), responsible for a number of works, which vehemently at-
tacked religious practices popular during his age.133 Ibn Taymiyyah’s legacy
was revived by Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791) who, along with
his followers, forcibly converted the inhabitants of Najd, and later of Hijaz, to
his vision of ‘pure Islam’. Abduh and Rida expressed their admiration of Abd
al-Wahab’s movement, though they did distance themselves from its excessive
legalism and violent methods.134
As noted above, all government agencies, including courts, were obliged
to send the editor-in-chief of Waqa’ic notices of their activity. Under the guise
of ‘a mere commentator on events’, Abduh used reports and actions of certain
government agencies to propagate the religious principle of Islamic reform.
When he was informed during November 1880, for example, that a caretaker of
one of Cairo’s mosques had asked Nazarat al-Awqaf al-cUmumiyyah (Ministry
of Public Charitable Trusts) to take action against the practice of drum beating
by members of al-Tariqah al-Sacdiyyah (The Sacdi Order), Abduh published an
article in which he strongly spoke out against the practice.135 Another complaint
to Nazarat al-Awqaf al-cUmumiyyah, during February 1881, against a popular
practice known as al-dawsah, or the ‘trampling over event’, provided Abduh
with an opportunity to write a series of articles in Waqa’ic, which further ex-
plained the religious principle of Islamic reform.136 The practice of al-dawsah,
which involved a Master of a spiritual order riding a horse over a road covered
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by a number of men lying face down, was described by Abduh as “having no
identical or similar precedent in the noble Prophetic tradition.”137 To those ad-
vocating the practice, Abduh stated: “Do not the ignorant realize that Egypt,
and indeed other Muslim countries, have become so permeated with harmful
innovations that Islamic religious law has almost been destroyed as a result?”138
Abduh, then, concludes with a statement destined to become the argument par
excellence of Islamic reform: “crises have not fallen upon us and the hands of
betrayal and evil did not reach us until we turned our backs on the affairs of this
religion and became unconcerned with the truth of God’s law.”139
An additional principle of Islamic reform addressed by Abduh in Waqa’ic,
involved ‘purifying’ society of practices which could not be reconciled with Is-
lamic precepts. Practices associated with women and marriage were among the
major targets of Abduh. In a series of articles on marriage, Abduh attacked men
who had contracted polygamous marriages, accusing them of sexual motivation
and heedlessness of the Qur’anic emphasis on justice and equal treatment.140
Abduh portrayed polygamy as an institution that was made permissible to per-
form a positive function in an exceptional situation. In the vast majority of
cases, Abduh argued, polygamy causes pain and degradation to women. “How
can we then allow ourselves”, Abduh rhetorically asked, “to marry more than
one wife for no other reason then the fulfillment of a short lived desire and the
acquisition of temporal pleasure, without any concern for the harm which will
occur and the violation of Islamic religious law that will be involved?”141 Fur-
ther, in a separate article on practices associated with weddings, Abduh graphi-
cally described the extent to which women were abused in wedding festivals,
especially those which took place in rural areas, with specific reference to prac-
tices associated with verifying a bride’s virginity.142
In an article entitled “al-Shura wa al-Istibdad” (On Constitutionalism and
Authoritarianism), Abduh presented one of the earliest endorsements of con-
stitutional government on the basis of Islamic legal authority. Abduh empha-
sized that each Muslim is obliged to “observe the actions of rulers, demand of
them what is good and forbid them what is evil, and bring them back to true
Islamic law when they stray from it.”143 This obligation, known in Islamic law
as hisbah, is derived from a number of Qur’anic verses, Prophetic traditions and
scholarly views; of which, the following are quoted by Abduh:
“Let there be among you a group which enjoins good and
forbids evil.” [Qur’an, 3:104]144
“Religion is providing nasihah [good counsel]” was
repeated by the Prophet three times. He was asked
[by his companions] to whom [i.e. is nasihah to be
provided]? Upon which he replied: “To...those among
you in positions of authority.”145
The culama’ stated that providing nasihah [good counsel]
to rulers and those who have positions of authority
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
must be manifested in helping them carry out their
responsibilities, cautioning them when they are heedless,
guiding them when they are wrong, and teaching them
what they do not know...146
In Islamic cities the formal application of hisbah was the responsibility of
the muhtasib, a government employee charged with policing the market.147 As
for nasihah, there are certain instances in Islamic history in which religious
scholars acted as influential advisors to Muslim rulers. Nevertheless, their
status was largely informal and did not become institutionalized. To Abduh,
however, the traditional application of hisbah and nasihah was not relevant.
Abduh was concerned with legitimizing constitutional government and hisbah
and nasihah—with their strong emphasis on individual responsibility and ac-
tive participation in the affairs of the Muslim community—were very useful in
this regard. Abduh concluded his essay by attacking an article published in an
Egyptian newspaper which argued that Islam does not sanction constitutional
All this we have written so that we may refute the
implication of that newspaper’s article; namely, that
our religion obligates or even permits authoritarianism,
when, in fact, it is innocent of it. We wished further to
make clear that the status of constitutional government
with us Muslims is that of being an obligation, rather
than a prohibition.148
The principles of Islamic reform, addressed by Abduh in Waqa’ic were ar-
rived at through a methodology sanctioned and practiced by al-Azhar; that is,
the examination of Qur’anic verses, Prophetic traditions and positions held by
previous religious scholars (i.e. precedents, and case studies) in order to reach
a religious legal verdict on a particular issue.149 Abduh, in his capacity as an
Azhar graduate, employed this methodology to provide fatawa (plural of fatwa
or religious verdict) on a host of issues, including, as specified above, religious
practices, social relations, and forms of government. Indeed, by virtue of the
circulation of Waqa’ic, Abduh was propagating his religious legal verdicts in
every city of Egypt. Not even Abbasi al-Mahdi, Mufti al-Diyar al-Misriyyah
(the Grand Mufti of Egypt), had such a mechanism of communication at his
disposal.150 Therein lies the significance of Abduh’s strategy: The use of an
institution borrowed from the West, Waqa’ic, to perform the function of a tra-
ditional institution, al-Azhar, under the protective mantle of an official agency
of the government.
Though Abduh’s use of Waqa’ic was clearly motivated by ideological
concerns, Abduh, nevertheless, had an important literary impact not only on
Waqa’ic, but on other government agencies as well.151 Abduh demanded that
correct fusha (Classical Arabic) be used in all government reports sent for pub-
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lication in Waqa’ic, thereby forcing government agencies to rid their reports of
Turkish and cammiyyah (colloquial) expressions. Warnings were issued to gov-
ernment agencies which did not live up to Abduh’s literary standards.
Between 1879 and 1882, Waqa’ic experienced profound changes in both
its content and style. Perhaps the most important aspect of these changes was
the fact that they were advanced by Abduh, an Azhar graduate. In his Hadith
cIsa Ibn Hisham (The Discourse of cIsa Ibn Hisham), Muhammad al-Muwaylihi
(1844-1930)—a scholar, journalist and author who was a disciple of Abduh—
eloquently describes the attitude of the vast majority of Azhar graduates in the
late nineteenth/early twentieth century towards journals and newspapers:
Our scholars and sheikhs—may God forgive them—are
of all people the least likely to...pursue the journalistic
profession. They consider working in it to be heresy.
They have dubbed it inquisitiveness (which the sharica
forbids) and interference in matters of no concern to
anyone. So they ignore newspapers and often disagree as
to whether or not it is permissible to read them.152
Abduh’s use of Waqa’ic, however, was short lived. The Urabi Revolt culmi-
nating in the British bombardment of Alexandria and the subsequent British oc-
cupation of Egypt altered the situation drastically. As noted above, al-Afghani’s
network, which constituted the civilian branch of Egypt’s nationalist move-
ment, collapsed after al-Afghani’s deportation. The military branch, embodied
in Urabi and his fellow military officers, not only remained active, but became
significantly stronger during the first year of Khedive Tawfiq’s rule. Though
united in their hostility towards the government, important differences existed
between al-Afghani and Urabi. While al-Afghani, as noted, was primarily mo-
tivated by his desire to resist Western intervention and establish a constitutional
government in Egypt, Urabi was primarily motivated by his desire to improve
the status of Egyptian military officers in general, and that of his own in particu-
lar. Thus, one understands why Abduh perceived Urabi’s rising popularity with
contempt. Abduh judged Urabi’s victories as having little to do with the imple-
mentation of his master’s objectives. Indeed, as further explained below, Abduh
believed that Urabi and his fellow army officers were creating an explosive cli-
mate which not only obstructed his utilization of Waqa’ic for the advancement
of Islamic reform, but which was also conducive to Western intervention.
On February 1, 1881, a large number of troops stormed into the War Min-
istry, which was housed in Qasr al-Nil (Palace of the Nile Barracks), and res-
cued Urabi and two other officers. They had been imprisoned for demanding
the resignation of the minister of war, Uthman Rifqi, and the cessation of dis-
criminatory treatment against Egyptian officers.153 After the incident of Qasr
al-Nil, as it came to be known, Mahmud Sami al-Barudi, a supporter of Urabi,
was appointed minister of war and a number of laws were enacted in favor of
Egyptian soldiers, including a substantial pay raise.154 A week after the Qasr
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
al-Nil incident Abduh published an article in Waqa’ic, entitled “al-Quwah wa-
al-Qanun” (Power and Law) in which he denounced the use of force to attain
political objectives.
...let those who stray from the law and the path of order
because of a momentary arrogant assessment of their
increased power be merciful with themselves...155
On September 9, 1881, Urabi orchestrated Muzaharat cAbdin (the cAbdin
Palace Demonstration) to demand the resignation of Riyad Pasha, reinstitu-
tion of the parliament and an increased number of Egyptian officers in the
military.156 After a strong show of force by Urabi, Riyad Pasha, the Prime Min-
ister, resigned and left for Europe. Sharif Pasha, known for his constitutionalist
inclinations, became the new Prime Minister.157 It was after Muzaharat cAbdin
that Abduh wrote the previously cited articles in support of constitutional gov-
ernment. Although Abduh’s articles were theoretical in nature, they clearly re-
flected a change of attitude on his part towards the nationalist movement, since
only six months earlier he had characterized those who sought constitutional
government as lacking in wisdom. Abduh was responding to the new realities
of the political setting. Not only had Urabi become the de facto ruler of Egypt,
but the Assembly of Delegates had also acquired an unprecedented degree of
autonomy. Abduh’s full identification with the nationalist movement, however,
occurred only after France and England made their ‘Dual Proclamation’ on
May 25, 1882, in which they demanded Urabi’s deportation.158 Abduh’s sense
of national honor, as Rida would later relate, inspired him to put aside his previ-
ous reservations and fully join the battle against the French and British attempt
to impose their will on Egypt.159
Subsequently, Abduh became one of the most important figures of the na-
tionalist movement, monitoring all of its major conferences, and helping com-
pose the ‘Program of the Nationalist Party in Egypt’ which was translated by
Wilfred Blunt, a rich Englishman sympathetic to the Egyptian national cause,
and published in The Times of London in January 1882.160 One of the most im-
portant functions carried out by Abduh—and the one which was later used by
the post revolution tribunals to justify his deportation—was the administration
of oaths. Acting on the request of Mahmud Sami al-Barudi Pasha, who replaced
Sharif Pasha as Prime Minister on February 7, 1882, Abduh is said to have
administered oaths to high ranking Egyptian officers, swearing them to unity
and resistance to foreign intervention.161 In choosing Abduh over a member of
al-Azhar’s faculty, al-Barudi clearly demonstrated the significance of Abduh’s
position as editor-in-chief of Waqa’ic. The committee in charge of investigating
Abduh in the wake of the British invasion questioned him on this very point:
“You are the editor of al-Waqa’ic and this [i.e. the administration of oaths] is the
special responsibility of al-Azhar. Why were you, then, chosen to carry out this
task by Mahmud Sami [al-Barudi]?162
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Abduh responded: “Because we both were members in Diwan al-Macarif
(The Council of Education) and he knew that I am a man of knowledge and
ready to obey his orders.”163 Although Abduh’s reply was not inaccurate, it
failed to address the question’s central point, namely, by what authority was the
editor-in-chief of Waqa’ic administering such oaths?
True, Abduh was a graduate of al-Azhar and, thus, had the technical author-
ity to administer oaths. Nevertheless, as pointed out by the investigative com-
mittee, it would have made more sense for al-Barudi to ask one of al-Azhar’s
faculty to carry out this task. Unlike its role in resisting the French occupa-
tion and assisting Muhammad Ali, however, al-Azhar’s role in the Urabi re-
volt was not significant. Indeed, Muhammad al-Abbasi al-Mahdi (1827-1897),
the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Shaikh al-Azhar (leading religious scholar of
al-Azhar) from 1871 until December 1881, was strongly opposed to Urabi.164
While, his successor Muhammad al-Inbabi (1824-1896) sided with Urabi, he
did not actively support the revolt.165 It was Waqa’ic, rather, that assumed the
mobilizing role that al-Azhar traditionally played, calling on Egypt’s popula-
tion to resist the British army.166 Given these dynamics, it was not illogical for
al-Barudi to turn to the editor of Waqa’ic, rather than to the faculty of al-Azhar,
in his attempt to endow the unity of the army officers with moral strength. Ab-
duh was sentenced to exile for three years. As indicated by the aforementioned
investigative report, his primary transgression appears to have been the admin-
istration of illegal oaths.167 On December 24, 1882, a ship carrying Abduh and
many other Egyptian deportees left Port Said and headed for Beirut.
Al-cUrwah al-Wuthqah (The Firm Bond)168
During the same month that Abduh was transported to Beirut, al-Afghani
obtained permission from the British authorities to leave India, where he had
been detained since his ouster from Egypt.169 After brief stops in Port Said and
London, al-Afghani arrived in Paris on January 19, 1883, determined to under-
take an intense campaign against the British occupation of Egypt. Al-Afghani’s
decision to make Paris the base of his anti-British campaign was not arbitrary.
France was strongly against the British occupation of Egypt and, thus, will-
ing to tolerate al-Afghani’s activity on its soil. Making use of colonial rivalry
was one of al-Afghani’s frequently employed tactics, as is attested by accounts
documenting his interaction with officials from various European countries.170
Shortly after his arrival in Paris, al-Afghani applied for re-affiliation with
Freemasonry.171 In so doing, al-Afghani apparently hoped to meet important
Masons, on whose support he hoped to rely in times of crises. However, no
documents of al-Afghani’s involvement with Freemasonry during his stay in
France exist. Considering the volume of evidence documenting al-Afghani’s
involvement with Freemasonry in Egypt, it appears that the French Freemason
connection—if in fact he had been admitted—was not a significant component
of al-Afghani’s anti-British campaign.
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
More importantly, al-Afghani established contact with three newspapers
founded by Arab immigrants: The London-based al-Nahlah (The Bee), founded
by Louis Sabunji, and two Paris based journals, al-Basir (The Aware) estab-
lished by Khalil Ghanim, and Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’ (The Man With The Blue
Glasses) established by Yaqub Sannu.172 Al-Afghani used these contacts to get
a number of his anti-British articles published. Al-Nahlah published two of his
articles: “al-Siyasah al-Injliziyyah fi al-Mamalik al-Sharqiyyah” (English Poli-
cy in Eastern Countries) and “Asbab al-Harb fi Misr(The Reasons for the War
in Egypt); al-Basir published three articles: Al-Wifaq wa-Madar al-Shiqaq”
(Reconciliation and the Harm of Conflict), al-Haqq wa al-Batil aw Nata’ij
Siyasat al-Ingliz fi Misr” (Truth and Falsehood or the Consequences of British
Policy in Egypt), and al-Ingliz fi al-Hind wa Misr(The British in India and
Egypt); Abu Nazzarah Zarqa’ published two articles: “Nibdhah min Munazarah
Tarikhiyyah(An Excerpt of a Historical Debate) and al-Sharq wa-al-Shar-
qiyin(The East and the Easterners).173 Al-Afghani also succeeded in getting
some of his anti-British articles published in various European newspapers:
L’Intransigeant published a translation of al-Ingliz fi al-Hind wa Misrand
a translation of al-Haqq wa al-Batil aw Nata’ij Siyasat al-Ingliz fi Misr”.174
Further, al-Afghani published articles in European newspapers which did not
have an earlier Arabic version, including his famous “Réponse a Renan” (Re-
sponse to Renan), published in Journal des Debats, and three other articles in
Abduh reestablished contact with al-Afghani after his arrival in Beirut.176
Though there is no documentation of al-Afghani’s response, Abduh’s subse-
quent arrival in Paris, early in 1884, suggests that al-Afghani had, indeed, re-
sponded, inviting Abduh to join him in Paris. The expenses covering Abduh’s
trip seem to have been obtained by al-Afghani from the ex-Khedive Ismail.
On March 13, 1884, the first issue of cUrwah appeared. Information published
in cUrwah came from a large array of sources, including French and English
newspapers, and influential English government officials. French newspapers
utilized by cUrwah included, République Francaise, Matin, and Debat. Eng-
lish newspapers included, Daily News, Daily Telegraph, Morning Press, Pall
Mall Gazette, Post, Standard, and The Times.177 Information utilized from these
newspapers was translated by several paid interpreters.178 Mirza Muhammad
Baqir Bavanati and Yaqub Sannu also helped al-Afghani obtain information
from European newspapers.179 Further, Ibrahim al-Muwaylihi and his son Mu-
hammad seem to have played a role in the publication of cUrwah, though it is
not clear whether or not either one actually wrote any of its articles.180
cUrwah was sent free of charge to political leaders, religious scholars and
influential figures in various Muslim countries. A notebook, cataloged in Docu-
ments and preserved at the Library of Parliament in Teheran, contains detailed
information on the names of the figures cUrwah was sent to and the number of
issues each country received. (See Table 2)
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Al-Afghani seems to have also arranged for several articles of cUrwah to
be translated into Persian and published in Iranian newspapers, including Far-
hang, Akhbar-e cAm and ltlac. Further, a number of articles were translated into
Urdu and published in Indian newspapers, including Udah Akhbar and Bazar
Partarka, thereby bringing cUrwah’s message to a wider audience.186
In their totality, documents involving fund raising by al-Afghani and Abduh
until late in 1884, indicate that funds were sought and frequently obtained from
various influential and wealthy figures. Some contributors included, Prince Abd
al-Halim, the ex-Khedive Ismail, Husain Pasha, an associate of the Tunisian
reformer Khair al-Din al-Tunisi who had migrated to Italy after the establish-
ment of the French protectorate, Ahmad Pasha al-Minshawi, a rich Egyptian
nationalist, and Wilfred Blunt.187 Al-Afghani’s success in obtaining funds from
Total Number of Issues Sent to Egypt: (551)
Known Recipients:
The immediate entourage of the Khedive
Riyad Pasha
Sharif Pasha
Abd al-Salam al-Muwaylihi, a disciple of al-Afghani
Four unnamed Azhar professors
Publishers of the following journals: Mir’at al-Sharq, al-Bayan, and
Total Number of Issues Sent to Istanbul: (88)
Known Recipients:
Sultan Abd al-Hamid
Munif Pasha, an associate of al-Afghani in Istanbul
Khair al-Din Pasha, a Tunisian reformer
Abu al-Huda al-Sayyadi, the Sultan’s religious advisor
Mucin al-Mulk, the Iranian Ambassador in Istanbul
Ismail Jawdat, Cairo’s Chief of Police under Khedive Ismail
Publishers of the following journals: al-Jawa’ib and al-Ictidal
Total Number of Issues Sent to Beirut (114 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to Tripoli (11 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to Damascus (23 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to Baghdad (7 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to Mecca (5 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to Madinah (2 issues)
Total Number of Issues Sent to North Africa (20 issues)
Iran (?)182/ India (?)183/ Indonesia (?)184/ Ceylon (?)185
Table 2: cUrwah’s Circulation181
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
these figures was rooted in his capacity to turn their personal aspirations toward
his own advantage. Both Abd al-Halim and Ismail were very much interested in
destabilizing the British presence in Egypt. They seem to have reasoned that a
British withdrawal would discredit Tawfiq and, thus, force the European pow-
ers to designate a new Khedive. Husain, al-Minshawi and Blunt, on the other
hand, appear to have been motivated by a certain degree of genuine respect for
the views and activities of al-Afghani and Abduh. In October 1884, only seven
months after its first issue appeared, cUrwah’s publication terminated because
of lack of sufficient funds, owing to the decision of its major financiers to cease
their support.188 cUrwah’s highly politicized content appears to have alarmed Is-
mail and alienated Blunt. While, Ismail’s alarm is exhibited by his unexplained
refusal to continue his support, Blunt’s alienation is evident in the following
statement he allegedly made to al-Afghani: “It is impossible for me to finance
a newspaper hostile to my country.”189
The opening article of c
Urwah affirmed that a number of rational men
had responded to the Western challenge by creating cisabat, groupings or
associations.190 These associations are said to have been located in “many Mus-
lim countries, especially India and Egypt.”191 The article goes on to say that rep-
resentatives of these associations had met in Mecca and called for the founda-
tion of an Arabic newspaper in Paris, so that it could act as the vehicle through
which their views would be disseminated throughout the world. Jamal al-Din
al-Afghani, the article continues, was asked by these representatives to carry
out this task on their behalf. Al-Afghani accepted and asked, in turn, Muham-
mad Abduh to be the newspaper’s editor. The notion of cUrwah associations,
however, was little more than a means used by al-Afghani and Abduh to endow
cUrwah, the journal, with an aura of significance and, more importantly, facili-
tate fund-raising.
Two months after cUrwah’s last issue, Abduh traveled to Tunis in an at-
tempt to obtain funds which would allow the re-publication of cUrwah. On
December 24, 1884, he sent a letter from Tunis to al-Afghani in Paris describ-
ing the outcome of his visit. Abduh stated that he had informed the religious
scholars he had met that cUrwah was not only the name of a newspaper, but also
the name of an association which al-Afghani had founded in Hyderabad, India
which had branches in many Muslim countries. Abduh also reported that after
explaining to the Tunisian religious scholars the need to form a branch of the as-
sociation in Tunis, a branch was formed. Abduh noted that the persons he met in
Tunis were unaware of the termination of cUrwah’s publication and concluded
by stating that he had failed, as yet, to raise any funds.192 Rida includes in his
biography of Abduh two documents pertaining to al-cUqd al-Rabic Li-Jamci-
yyat al-cUrwah al-Wuthqah (The Fourth Branch of the Association of the Firm
Bond). While, the first contains an oath, seemingly based on a Masonic model,
which members of this branch had to swear upon joining, the second contains
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the regulations governing the activities of this branch. The latter document may
be paraphrased as follows:
(1) Three members are to be present at all sessions.
(2) Each session begins with a recitation of the oath formula.193
(3) Members are to seek answers on why Muslims have declined by
reflecting on themselves.
(4) Members are to reflect on resisting their invaders.
(5) Members are to reflect on the present conditions of Muslims.
(6) Ideas are to be discussed and solutions are to be proposed.
(7-8) Members are to utilize all types of methods to apply literary,
economic and military solutions.
(9-14) Intense recruitment of new members is to be pursued.
(15-17) Unless unable, each new member is required to pay at least 100
francs in dues. Members are to meet twice a week. At each meeting,
financial contributions are to be made.
(18-19) All funds are to be kept by the treasurer.
(20) Funds are to be used for the expenses of renting a place for the
branch’s sessions and recruitment. What remains of the funds is to be
sent to the main branch of the association in Paris.
(21) The branch is to have four types of records: membership, recruitment
offices, and expenses.
(22) If large funds are collected, members of the branch should try to
invest it properly.
(23) Records of the funds are to be kept by the branch.
(24) No funds are to be used without the agreement of the majority of the
branch’s members.
(25) Funds for urgent situations are to be collected as needed.
(26) All members should be committed to complete secrecy in regard to
their branch.
(27-28) Members are obliged to protect one another to their full capacity.
(29) New regulations must be sanctioned by the major branch.
(30) Regulations involving conduct during meetings are to be made by
members of the branch.194
Since no documentation exists of any ‘first’, ‘second’, or ‘third’ branch of
the cUrwah association, it appears that the above paraphrased regulations are
the very regulations of the branch created by Abduh in Tunis. That Rida found
these regulations, along with the oath of entry, among Abduh’s papers (and no-
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
where else) further documents their exclusive Tunisian link.195 As can be seen,
the bulk of the regulations (9-25) address financial concerns. Thus, it becomes
clear why Abduh created this singular real branch of his fictitious association,
namely, to recruit Tunisian religious scholars into an institution which obligated
them to pay not only membership fees but to make continuous other financial
contributions as well.
In c
Urwah, al-Afghani reproduced his Egyptian discourse in terms of
Qur’anic and Prophetic terminology and reasoning. It is therefore not surpris-
ing that Salim al-Anhuri, a Christian disciple of al-Afghani in Egypt, regarded
cUrwah as constituting a change of course by al-Afghani.196 As noted above,
al-Afghani’s arguments in Egypt were sensitive to his Christian and non-com-
mitted Muslim disciples. When al-Afghani sought to mobilize the Egyptians
against Khedive Ismail and Western intervention, he appealed to their Egyptian
national identity. In cUrwah, on the other hand, al-Afghani, like Abduh, consis-
tently invoked the ummah, or the Global Community of Muslims, revealing in
the process the ‘unity principle
of Islamic reform.
...unity and seeking victory, are strong pillars and
firm cornerstones of Islam. They are also categorical
The cUrwah experience confirmed the power embodied in the print media
Indeed, al-Afghani fully understood that mobilization was a function of the
availability of information. Thus, for example, we find him preoccupied with
informing Muslims in India of al-Mahdi’s victories over General Gordon in
Sudan.198 In one of cUrwah’s articles, he writes:
The British want to obstruct Muslims from going on
pilgrimage this year, and maybe even next year as well,
in order that they may prevent news of Muhammad
Ahmad [i.e. al-Mahdi| and the difficulties the British are
experiencing in fighting him from reaching the ears of
the Indians...199
Indeed, thanks to cUrwahs distribution in India, Indian Muslims did not
have to depend on the return of pilgrims to learn of events in Sudan.200
We have seen how information dissemination was one of the fundamen-
tal components of al-Azhar’s strategy in mobilizing resistance against Napo-
leon’s troops. Prior to Cairo’s first insurrection, news of the British defeat of
the French navy and of approaching Ottoman forces had been extensively cir-
culated by Azhar scholars through their connections with the spiritual orders,
despite French orders to the contrary.201 Likewise, al-Afghani paved the path
towards rebellion against the British by circulating information which encour-
aged the mass mobilization of anti-British opinion. Unlike al-Azhar, however,
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al-Afghani had no links to institutions like the spiritual orders which could have
been organized to act upon the information made available to them through cUr-
wah. Significantly, the sole rebellion against colonialism attributed to cUrwah
occurred in Tunisia, the only Muslim country where an actual cUrwah associa-
tion existed.202 The primary movers behind the Tunisian rebellion of April 2,
1885 against the French protectorate were members of the cUrwah ‘branch’
established by Abduh. The rebellion, however, failed to achieve its objectives
and was short-lived. After late 1885, the Tunisian cUrwah branch ceased to
Despite its failure to achieve its objectives, cUrwah was by no means a
fruitless project. It succeeded in converting a large number of religious schol-
ars to the Afghani/Abduh vision of Islamic reform, most notable of whom was
Rashid Rida. On his encounter with cUrwah, Rida wrote:
It, then, happened that I was browsing through the papers
of my father...when I came across two issues of al-
cUrwah al-Wuthqah. So I read them with eagerness and
joy...I searched for the remaining issues and found some
with my father and the rest with my teacher al-Shaikh
Husain al-Jisr al-Tarabulsi. I copied them all and read
them again and again and was carried, as a result, to a
new understanding of Islam.204
Shortly after Abduh returned to Paris from Tunisia, he was sent by al-Af-
ghani on another mission to establish contact with al-Mahdi.205 As indicated by
correspondence between Abduh and some of the Tunisian religious scholars,
Abduh, en route to Sudan, entered Egypt secretly, but the sudden death of al-
Mahdi in June 1885, aborted simultaneously al-Afghani’s plans and Abduh’s
mission. Abduh then traveled to Beirut, arriving late in 1885.
Al-Manar (The Beacon)
After receiving a pardon from Khedive Tawfiq in 1888, Abduh returned to
Egypt. There he was faced with two major questions, how to react to the British
occupation, and by what institutional means should he advance Islamic reform?
Abduh’s conceptual response to the British occupation is clearly articulated in
an article, dated April 1892, which he wrote for a London based Arabic journal
called Diya’ al-Khafiqayn (Light of The Two Hemispheres).206 Abduh wrote:
The fact of the matter is that the acquisition of the
freedom which we currently enjoy and the introduction
of reforms has not been realized, except through the
agency of the British and no one else...Were it not for the
British army our rulers would not have submitted to the
implementation of reforms.207
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Thus, Abduh concluded, the evacuation of the British forces must be post-
poned until “the appropriate time, since the achievement of all goals is depen-
dent on the arrival of the appropriate moment.”208 Abduh, in short, advocated
the use of the British occupation to advance internal reforms which the Khedive
and his government would have normally opposed.
In 1895, Abduh was appointed a member of al-Azhar’s administrative
council. Through this position of authority, he introduced several administrative
reforms, especially of finances, which he hoped would result in the restoration
of al-Azhars autonomy from government authority, thereby paving the way for
it to play a role in the advancement of Islamic reform.209 In the words of Rida,
Abduh’s objective was to “establish the legal and administrative autonomy of
al-Azhar’s culama’ in order to create a condition in which the government could
no longer control al-Azhar, and the Khedive could no longer play [games] with
it.”210 Abduh’s attempts at reforming al-Azhar, however, were consistently
aborted by both Khedive Tawfiq and his successor, Khedive Abbas Hilmi.211
Abduh’s resignation from al-Azhars administrative council shortly prior to his
death in 1905 reflected his deep frustration and failure to bring about significant
change in al-Azhar’s relationship with the government.212 At the same time,
Abduh’s resignation reflected a sense of confidence in the capacity of Manar,
a journal founded seven years earlier, to perform the task al-Azhar refused to
Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935) was born in Tripoli, Ottoman Syria,
into a religious Sunni family.214 At a young age, he was initiated into al-Tariqah
al-Naqshbandiyyah (The Naqshbandi Order), and became deeply involved in
sufism. He received a traditional education at al-Madrasah al-Islamiyyah (The
Islamic School), founded by Husain al-Jisr al-Tarabulsi and completed his stud-
ies in 1896. Although Rida never met al-Afghani, it was al-Afghani’s words,
as he encountered them in cUrwah, that transformed him into a firm believer
in the vision of Islamic reform. Eager to meet the man responsible for his new
convictions, Rida wrote to al-Afghani, pledging his loyalty and offering his
services. Al-Afghani at the time, however, was in Istanbul under the constant
surveillance of Abd al-Hamid’s spies. When Rida learned of al-Afghani’s death
in 1897, he decided to join Abduh whom he viewed as al-Afghani’s primary
disciple. Rida arrived in Cairo on January 18, 1898. After a month of constant
visits to Abduh’s house, Rida proposed the establishment of a newspaper to
advance the principles of Islamic reform.215 Abduh was initially hesitant, cit-
ing the large number of newspapers and journals already published in Egypt.216
At a subsequent meeting, Rida brought up the idea again, whereupon Abduh
expressed his skepticism about the effectiveness of the written word. Abduh,
according to Rida, said:
Oral discourse has a stronger impact on the soul than
does written discourse...the listener understands eighty
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percent of what the speaker wishes to convey, while the
reader understands only twenty percent of what the writer
wished to convey.217
Rida responded as follows:
Many figures in various countries are aware of the
character of this age and accurately understand Islam.
Most of these persons were not awakened [to this
understanding] except by al- cUrwah al-Wuthqah. Indeed,
I did not become enlightened about that of which I am
now aware of except through it [i.e. cUrwah].218
Recalling Abduh’s previous involvement in Waqa’ic and cUrwah, it is dif-
ficult to take seriously his emphasis on the superiority of oral discourse. Ab-
duh appears, rather, to have been testing Rida’s commitment to the newspaper
project. Indeed, Rida’s strong response succeeded in winning Abduh’s approval
and promise of cooperation. On March 15, 1898, the first edition of Manar,
Cairo’s first Islamic reform newspaper, appeared. Abduh used his contacts to
obtain a printing press.219 In regard to funding, the evidence indicates that Rida
initially depended on his own savings and, subsequently, on Manar’s subscrib-
ers, since, unlike cUrwah, Manar was not distributed free of cost.220 The only
documented occasion of external funding involves a loan from one of Abduh’s
associates, which Rida obtained in 1901 after Manar’s administrative office
was burglarized.221
Manar was initially published on a weekly basis in the format of a
newspaper.222 In its second year, it was changed into a monthly journal. Ac-
cording to Rida, the change was made in response to the request of some of
Manar’s subscribers who complained that their desire to bind Manar’s issues
was inhibited by its large pages; financial factors, however, may have also been
involved.223 Judging by its almost immediate appearance in India and Tunisia,
Abduh apparently provided Rida with cUrwahs mailing list. Fifteen hundred
copies of each issue were printed during the first year. Copies were sent to vari-
ous personalities in Egypt, Syria, and many other Muslim countries.224 While,
the vast majority of copies sent to Syria were intercepted and confiscated by the
Ottoman authorities, the majority of Egyptians, to whom Manar was sent with
the hope of gaining subscriptions, returned Manar to Rida.225 Though Rida does
not explain why Manar was initially turned down in Egypt, it appears that the
popularity of a journal in Egypt during the late nineteenth century was signifi-
cantly a function of its association with a known faction or personality. Rida,
however, was an unknown Syrian whose connection with Abduh was not yet
widely known.
Manar’s circulation experienced a dramatic increase during its fifth year
(1903).226 Abduh, who supported Manar from its inception, appears to have
been largely responsible for its increased popularity. According to Rida, Abduh
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
allowed, and at times encouraged, others to identify Manar as the purveyor of
his views, thereby, legitimizing its claim to be the literary expression of Islamic
reform.227 Further, Abduh’s frequent praise of Manar’s content endowed it with
“ acceptance and respect from the highest social classes in Egypt.”228 Manar’s
publication of essays by Abduh written in response to controversial articles by
Farah Antun in al-Jamicah, seems to have played an important ‘attention-cap-
turing’ role.229 Ironically, it was Abduh’s death which ultimately established
Manar as one of the most influential Arabic journals of its age.230 Manar, by
virtue of its consistent commitment to Abduh’s views, satisfied the thirst of
those who wanted to maintain some type of connection with Abduh after his
death. By its twelfth year, 1910, issues of Manar’s early years were being com-
piled and bound into volumes and sold for four times their original price.231
Table 3: Manar’s Circulation By Country, As Indicated By the National
Origins of Letters Requesting Religious Legal Verdicts* 232
Year Country
1903: Sudan, Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Serbia &
1904: Yemen, America, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Syria,
1905: Malaysia, India, Pakistan
1906: Singapore
1907: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan
1909: Iraq, Argentina, Indonesia
1910: Turkey, Ceylon
1912: Oman, South Africa
1913: United Kingdom, Iran
1914: Kuwait
1922: Tanzania
1927: Uganda
1928: Switzerland
1929: United Arab Emirates
1930: Thailand
1931: Brazil
1933: Germany233
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The extent of Manar’s circulation is indicated in its Fatawasection, discussed
further below. Letters sent to this section show Manar to have far exceeded
cUrwah’s breadth of circulation. (See Table 3)
Abduh’s willingness to identify himself with Manar had three major condi-
That we do not incline towards any of the existing political
factions [in Egypt]...
That we do not respond to the hostile remarks or criticism
of any journal.
That we do not serve the objectives of any influential
Abduh’s conditions shaped Manar’s strategy. The objective of these con-
ditions was to prevent the newly born journal from becoming a tool of one of
Egypt’s competing political factions, and to protect it from becoming part of
a conflict which would result in its termination. Having been assured, Abduh
proceeded to help Rida make of Manar the mouthpiece of Islamic reform.
Manar’s discourse was expressed in three major genres, Tafsir (Qur’anic
Exegeses), Fatawa (Religious Legal Rulings), and Tarbiyah’ (Moral Guid-
ance and Education). In his introduction to Tafsir al-Manar (Manar’s Qur’anic
Exegesis)—a twelve volume compilation of Manar’s sections on Qur’anic
exegeses—Rida recounts that even before he spoke to Abduh about the idea
of creating a journal, he proposed to him the writing of an entire exegesis of
the Qur’an.235 Abduh, however, was not convinced of the necessity of such a
project.236 In June 1900, approximately fifteen months after Manar’s first issue
appeared, Abduh agreed to a compromise proposal regarding Rida’s request,
namely, rather than writing a work of exegesis, Abduh would give lectures on
the Qur’an at al-Azhar.237 Manar began to publish Abduh’s lectures shortly af-
ter they began.238 Even after Abduh’s death in 1905, Rida continued, until May
15, 1912, to publish notes he had taken during Abduh’s lectures.239 Rida, sub-
sequently, proceeded to share his own Qur’anic exegesis which continued until
his death in 1935. While Abduh’s exegesis begins with ‘Sura I, Verse: 1’ and
ends at ‘Sura: IV, Verse: 126’, Rida’s begins at the point Abduh left off and ends
at ‘Sura: XII, Verse: 101’.240 Manar’s exegesis covered various principles of
Islamic reform, including those previously addressed by Waqa’ic and cUrwah.
One of its distinct themes, however, was its emphasis on the role of reason in
understanding the Qur’an, articulating, in the process, the ‘rational’ principle of
Islamic reform which gave the movement its modern tone.241 In speaking of the
Qur’anic stand on the utilization of reason, for example, one reads in Manor’s
Thus, the Qur’an took the position of strongly emphasizing
the use of reason and analytical reflection. Indeed, one
hardly reads any part of the Qur’an without having the
universe revealed, along with the commandment to reflect
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
upon it and unearth its secrets and identify the principles
underlying its constants and variables: ‘Reflect upon
what is in the heavens and the earth’ (10:101); ‘Travel in
the Earth and reflect upon how He began creation’…in
addition to many other verses.242
In articulating the ‘rational’ principle of Islamic reform, Abduh hoped to
achieve two major objectives. First, Abduh hoped to affirm the right of reli-
gious scholars to practice ijtihad; that is, the formulation of new religious legal
verdicts. Though Sunni Islam had no official religious body such as a synod
or council which could deny the religious scholar the right of ijtihad, a hostile
attitude towards ijtihad had been harbored by Sunni religious scholars from as
early as the twelfth century.243 Second, Abduh hoped to demonstrate that Islam
and reason were not opposing camps. On the contrary, Islam had the capacity to
embrace new scientific discoveries and technological developments.
On June 3, 1899, fifteen months after Manar was born, Abduh was ap-
pointed the Grand Mufti of Egypt. Since religious legal verdicts made by the
Grand Mufti were not made known to the community at large, but, rather, con-
fined to the works of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and government files, the
position was largely symbolic.244 Rida, however, seized the opportunity and
began to publish Abduh’s verdicts in Manar, thereby endowing them with un-
precedented influence.245 Beginning with October 10, 1904, a formal section
entitled ‘al-Fatawa’ was added to Manar.246 While Abduh was largely respon-
sible for providing the verdicts which appeared in this section until his death
(June 11, 1905), Rida—who, as previously noted, was also trained as a religious
scholar—was responsible for the verdicts which appeared subsequently; a total
of five hundred and ten.247 Manar’s verdicts dealt with numerous issues, includ-
ing the wearing of European hats, trust funds, perfumes containing alcohol, the
shape of the earth, and smoking during the recitation of the Qur’an.248
One year prior to his death, Rida wrote several essays in Manar which
he compiled and published under the heading al-Manar wa-al-Azhar (Manar
and al-Azhar). The work is clearly the most important document regarding the
journalistic activity of Islamic reform. Written at the height of Manars popular-
ity, al-Manar wa-al-Azhar constituted a declaration of the reform movement’s
victory in establishing a religious scholarly authority independent of that of the
religious college. The work portrays al-Azhar as an institution which ceased
to play an important role in the community after losing its financial and ad-
ministrative autonomy to government authority.249 Beginning with al-Afghani,
representatives of Islamic reform had tried to restore to al-Azhar its previous
independence from government influence.250 Its faculty, paid by the govern-
ment, resisted such attempts. Thus, Manar was founded to carry out the task
which al-Azhar rejected.251 Indeed, as pointed out by Rida, al-Azhar had lost
its administrative and financial autonomy to the government. Manar’s success-
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ful avoidance of the same fate, however, was due to British protection. It was
Abduh’s positive relationship with Cromer and, subsequently, Rida’s positive
relationship with Cromer’s successors, that protected Manar from a number of
documented attempts by the government to influence its content or suppress it
altogether.252 In his collected essays, Rida further related that in 1928, a loyal
student of Abduh, Muhammad Mustafa al-Maraghi (d. 1945), became Head
of al-Azhar.253 Even al-Maraghi’s attempts at reforming al-Azhar’s relation-
ship with the government were resisted, causing him to resign a year after he
assumed his position.254 Al-Maraghi was replaced by Muhammad Ahmadi al-
Zawahiri (d. 1944) who, in addition to being eager to please the government,
began an intense campaign against Islamic reform through Nur al-Islam (The
Light of Islam), a journal he founded for this purpose.255 Al-Manar wa-al-
Azhar, Rida emphasized, was not a response to Nur al-Islam. The work, rather,
as indicated by both its title and content, was a response by Manar to al-Azhar’s
anti-reform position. Rida clearly considered Nur al-Islam to be unworthy of
such a response.
Rida’s assessment of Manar was not exaggerated. Manar, after all, ad-
dressed the very religious sciences taught at al-Azhar. In a sense, subscribing to
Manar was much like enrolling in a virtual religious college which, as indicated
by the extent of its distribution, embraced students as far east as Indonesia and as
far west as America. Each time a verdict was sought from Rida, Manar’s claim
to an authority parallel with, indeed superior to, that of al-Azhar was endowed
with legitimacy. Even some of al-Azhar’s students were students of Manar.256
Under al-Zawahiri’s management of al-Azhar, however, support of Manar’s
views by faculty members or students was sufficient grounds for dismissal.257
It was no accident that Rida ended al-Manar wa-al-Azhar with ten pages full
of Qur’anic verses, Prophetic traditions, and scholarly statements prohibiting
befriending, and establishing close relationships with unjust rulers, especially
by religious scholars.258 The co-opting of al-Azhar’s faculty by government
authority was a major incentive for the creation of Manar, an institution which
belonged to the realm of Muslim civil society. Indeed, the seeds earlier planted
by al-Afghani vividly bloomed in Manar.
Chapter 4
The reform movement’s involvement with associations began during al-
Afghani’s stay in Egypt (1871-1879). The associations inspired by al-Afghani,
however, terminated following the British occupation in 1882. The cUrwah as-
sociation, as previously explained, existed only in Tunis and terminated shortly
after its inception. It was during Abduh’s stay in Beirut (1886) that the reform
movement’s serious involvement with associations would begin.
From 1886 and until the early twentieth century, a large number of be-
nevolent associations were inspired by Abduh and, later, Rida. From around
1907 and until the 1920s, Rida became involved with three major political as-
sociations; the first aimed at securing Arab autonomy within the framework
of the Ottoman empire, the second, aimed at achieving Arab independence
from the Ottoman empire, and the third, aimed at terminating the European
mandate over Syria and Lebanon. From 1927 and until the late 1930s, various
youth associations were inspired by Rida in Egypt and other Muslim countries
which aimed at recruiting the educated youth to the Islamic reform movement.
Though initially a synthesis between a benevolent and a youth association, al-
Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Muslim Brotherhood) emerged in 1939 as the reform
movement’s first political party in Egypt.259 By 1948, Ikhwan claimed over
one hundred thousand members and numerous branches throughout Egypt. Not
since the early nineteenth century had Islam and popular political activism been
so strongly intertwined in Egypt. Its subsequent sponsoring of a paramilitary
unit, however, proved to be a fatal flaw. Indeed, the political violence sponsored
by this paramilitary unit was destined to trigger the collapse of the civil society
that the Islamic reform movement strived so hard to create.
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Benevolent Associations
The benevolent association, as it emerged in late nineteenth century Egypt,
was an institution organized to enable a small group of individuals to provide
free charitable services to the community, usually involving education or re-
lief aid.260 The association relied on private fund raising to finance its projects.
Decisions regarding which projects would be sponsored by the association and
how collected funds will be invested were generally made by a committee of
Abduh was first introduced to benevolent associations by al-Afghani who,
during his stay in Egypt, inspired Abd Allah al-Nadim to found al-Jamciyyah
al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Benevolent Association) in 1878.261
Abduh was so impressed by the institution that he published an article in
Waqa’ic, praising the type of activity sponsored by the benevolent association
and thanking the Egyptian government for sanctioning the creation of such an
institution.262 During his stay in Beirut, Abduh was asked to teach at one of
the schools sponsored by Jamciyyat al-Maqasid al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Asso-
ciation of Noble Aspirations) founded in 1880 under the sponsorship of the
famous Ottoman reformer Midhat Pasha.263 Abduh accepted and, as indicated
by a number of accounts, successfully utilized his position to infuse the institu-
tion with reformist principles.264 Among Abduh’s students was Shakib Arslan, a
Druze notable who later became one of the reform movement’s most important
activists.265 In 1892, six years after he returned to Egypt, Abduh and a num-
ber of his supporters founded al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah (the
Islamic Benevolent Association).266 The institution was highly successful in
establishing schools for Muslim youth and raising funds to assist communities
which had experienced natural disasters.267 Schools sponsored by al-Jamciyyah
al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah stressed the ‘rational’ principle of Islamic reform;
that is, the compatibility of Islam with new scientific discoveries and techno-
logical developments.268
Al-Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah inspired imitations elsewhere in
the Muslim world. During his studies at al-Azhar, Shubli al-Numani, an Indian
religious scholar, met Abduh and became, as a result, a strong supporter of the
Islamic reform movement. After he returned to India in 1894, he proceeded to
infuse Nadwat al-cUlama’ (The Forum of Religious Scholars), an institution
founded for the purpose of introducing Western sciences to Muslim youth, with
reformist principles.269 In 1896, al-Jamciyyah al-Khalduniyyah (The Khalduni-
yyah Association) an institution similar to Nadwat al-cUlama’, was founded in
Tunisia under the patronage of French authorities who hoped to use it to advo-
cate Western thought and science among students of religious colleges. Tuni-
sian religious scholars who agreed to participate in the activity of al-Jamciyyah
al-Khalduniyyah were deeply committed to Abduh’s ideas and, thus, placed
much emphasis on his reformist principles.270
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Rida utilized Manar not only to advance reformist principles, but also to
advance reformist institutions. In an essay entitled Positive and Negative As-
pects Pertaining to the Presence of Europeans in the East, for example, Rida
...associations are the primary reason for every type of
superior development. It is by means of associations
that...governments in Europe were reformed and sciences
and arts were significantly developed...Now we see the
East is learning from the West how to create associations
and companies. While, the nation of Japan has succeeded
in this endeavor, the Ottoman nation and the Egyptians
remain in the stage of infancy as regards this communal
cooperative life...271
True to his words, Rida played an important role in the rise of a number of
benevolent associations. Thus, we find him touring Egypt to help open various
branches of Jamciyyat Shams al-Islam (The Association of the Sun of Islam),
founded by Abduh supporters in 1899. We further find Rida consistently prais-
ing in Manar the various benevolent activities sponsored by this association,
which included the creation of schools in Egyptian villages.272 In 1909, four
years after Abduh’s death, Rida created Jamciyyat al-Dacwah wa-al-Irshad (The
Association for the Propagation [i.e. of Islam] and Guidance) which was meant
to train a number of Muslim youth in Islamic missionary activity. The beginning
of World War I, however, caused a dramatic increase in prices, making Rida’s
attempt to sustain the activity of Jamciyyat al-Dacwah wa-al-Irshad in addition
to Manar very difficult. Thus, the activity of the association terminated late in
1914.273 Rida visited Ottoman Syria immediately after the coup engineered by
the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.) in 1908 and the reinstitution of
the constitution. There, he found no active benevolent associations. Both al-
Jamciyyah al-Khayriyyah al-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Benevolent Association)
of Damascus and the previously noted Jamciyyat al-Maqasid al-Khayriyyah of
Beirut which were founded during Midhat Pasha’s administration had been tak-
en over by Majlis al-Macarif (The Council of Education), a government agency,
as part of Abd al-Hamid’s anti-reformist policies.274 In his account of his trip,
published in Manar, Rida related the type of advice he shared with the religious
scholars of Damascus.
...and I would then proceed to make clear the necessity
of ensuring that schools are founded for spreading
private education among all classes of the community.
Indeed, such schools are dependent on the creation of
benevolent associations in every administrative unit of
each province...275
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Rida also related that during a lesson he gave in al-Jamic al-Umawi (the
Ummayyad Mosque) of Damascus, he addressed the necessity of establishing
private schools to integrate the sciences of Islam with Western sciences. He
again emphasized that “such schools can only be properly cared for by be-
nevolent associations.”276 Rida’s emphasis on private education, as he himself
once explained, was grounded, in his strong distrust of government sponsored
Indeed, guidance and education belong to a very important
realm that should be delegated to associations. It is not
appropriate to leave this activity to...governments. This
is so because...governments seek only workers who
resemble machines, having no will, no opinion and no
Rida’s efforts towards the creation of benevolent associations in Ottoman
Syria went beyond mere advice. Rida relates that he personally asked the Grand
Mufti of Tripoli, the city in which he was born and raised, to “create a benevo-
lent Islamic association like that of Egypt.”278 Rida adds that he pleaded with the
Grand Mufti to invite the notables of Tripoli that he may ask them to help create
such an institution. Though the Grand Mufti was not initially enthusiastic about
the idea, he eventually conceded. To an audience of more than twenty notables,
Rida delivered a speech on the merits of benevolent associations. Sensing the
positive reception of his words, Rida elicited financial pledges from the audi-
ence. Rida’s efforts laid the cornerstone of the benevolent association created in
Tripoli shortly after he returned to Egypt.279 In addition to his relationship with
Egyptian and Syrian benevolent associations, Rida also maintained close ties
with both al-Jamciyyah Khalduniyyah and Nadwat al-cUlama. In response to an
invitation from the latter, he visited India in 1913, and lectured in a number of
Indian cities.280
Abduh’s primary advice to reformist benevolent associations was that they
should concentrate on education and refrain from becoming involved in poli-
tics. In a letter addressed to an Algerian religious scholar, Abd al-Hamid Sa-
mayyah, Abduh wrote:
...I find it very necessary to explicitly warn you from
becoming preoccupied with addressing or discussing
your government’s policy, or any other government’s
policy for that matter. Indeed, this dangerous activity
may bring about harm quickly. People, rather, are in need
of the light of knowledge and of sincerity in action...281
Abduh’s advice to benevolent associations is better understood when placed
in the larger context of the overall intellectual development of the Islamic re-
form movement. Abduh’s separation from Afghani following the termination
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
of cUrwah’s publication, marked the beginning of a new conceptual approach
to Islamic reform. Twice Abduh had watched his master’s plans fail; in Egypt
where al-Afghani’s network was destroyed overnight, and in Paris, where cUr-
wah terminated without achieving any of its declared objectives. He emerged
from these experiences convinced that a more gradual, indirect, and community
oriented approach to Islamic reform must be pursued by Muslim reformers.282
Abduh’s advice against political involvement, however, addressed a particu-
lar manifestation of politics, namely, the direct confrontation of government
authority. Abduh was by no means condemning all types of political activity.
Indeed, Abduh’s very advice to benevolent associations was highly political
since it implied that the best strategy to overcome Western colonialism and au-
thoritarian governments was through infusing the new generation with the prin-
ciples of Islamic reform. Rida eloquently identifies the political implications of
Abduh’s approach to Islamic reform as follows: “[Abduh sought] the reform of
the government through the reform of the community.”283
Political Associations
The term ‘political association’ is used here to denote political institutions
which, unlike political parties, did not operate in a parliamentary climate, that
is, they had no access to popular elections. These institutions were marked by
the distinct character of their leaders, i.e. elitist, the restrictions they frequent-
ly imposed on who could join them, especially in the case of the institutions
treated below, and their reliance on mobilization, i.e. of Muslim rulers and/or
popular opinion, to realize their objectives.
Rida refrained from direct involvement in politics throughout Abduh’s life.
The various political events that took place after Abduh’s death, i.e. the decline
of Ottoman military strength, the outbreak of World War I, the Arab revolt and
its aftermath, made the temptation of political involvement simply too strong to
resist. Thus, we find him after the C.U.P. coup of 1909, expressing in Manar his
admiration of the accomplishments of political associations:
What do I say in regard to the strength of [political]
associations? It is they that destroyed the fortresses of
injustice and the temples of oppression and liberated
nations and people from slavery...284
Rida became involved with four political associations: Jamciyyat al-Shura
al-cUthmaniyyah (The Ottoman Consultative Association), Hizb al-Lamarkazi-
yyah al-cUthmani (The Ottoman Decentralization Party), Jamciyyat al-Jamicah
al-cArabiyyah (Association of the Arab League), and Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri
(Syrian Unity Party).
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Jamciyyat al-Shura al-cUthmaniyyah (Ottoman Consultative Association)
From its inception, Manar was banned from Ottoman Syria.285 Manar was
so treated not because it was hostile to the Ottoman state; indeed, Manar fre-
quently spoke highly of Sultan Abd al-Hamid and his policies.286 The reason
lay, rather, in Manar’s close identification with al-Afghani and the Islamic re-
form movement, as was made evident in a letter to Rida from Abu a1-Huda al-
Sayyadi (Sultan Abd al-Hamid’s closest religious confidant). Manar, he wrote,
was guilty of echoing “the stray ideas of he who was disguised as an Afghan,
Jamal al-Din. You have even described him to have been a Husayni [i.e. a de-
scendant of the Prophet], when in fact government records show him to have
been an Iranian from among the most debased of the Shicah.”287 Abd al-Ha-
mid’s government harassed Rida’s family in Tripoli because of Rida’s refusal
to change Manar’s reformist course. When Rida’s father visited Cairo to try to
persuade his son to make peace with al-Sayyadi, Rida wrote al-Sayyadi a let-
ter of reconciliation and asked Abduh to write a similar letter, to which Abduh
agreed. Along with his letter, Abduh sent an autographed copy of his Risalat aI-
Tawhid (Treatise on Monotheism).288 Though al-Sayyadi accepted the gesture
and wrote a letter to Abduh, thanking him for his gift, Manar remained banned
in Ottoman Syria. Approximately two years after Abduh’s death, Rida became
involved in Jamciyyat al-Shura al-cUthmaniyyah. In explaining how this came
about, Rida wrote:
We used to receive some news of [Ottoman] oppression...
And after the death of the teacher and leader [Abduh],
we began to spend our leisure time, previously occupied
by gatherings with him [Abduh], in gatherings with our
Ottoman brothers who were residing in Cairo. Through
them, we came to know more about how severe the
situation was in the empire and how dangerous the
future seemed. Thus we founded Jamciyyat al-Shura
al-cUthmaniyyah for the purpose of convincing other
Ottomans of the need to replace the government of
oppression with a government of mutual consultation
[i.e. parliamentary representation]. We did so knowing
that Jamciyyat al-Ittihad wa-al-Taraqqi [C.U.P.] was
comprised of Muslims in particular. Ottomans, however,
will remain weak and their oppressors will remain strong
as long as they are disunited...Thus, we founded our
association from Muslims...and Christians...Further, we
asked Jews to join...289
According to Rida, Jamciyyat al-Shura al-cUthmaniyyah had a secret pub-
lication which it distributed throughout the empire to advocate its principles.290
Rida further related that Ahmet Riza (no relation), a representative of the C.U.P.
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
before it seized power, contacted Jamciyyat al-Shura al-cUthmaniyyah while on
a visit to Egypt and proposed its merger with the C.U.P.291 This, however, was
refused by the association’s founders since they believed that contrary to their
association, the C.U.P. was confined in membership to Muslims.292 Since its
primary objective was the restoration of the constitution, Jamciyyat al-Shura
al-cUthmaniyyah lost its raison d’etre after the restoration of the constitution in
1908. As Rida related, the association’s demise quickly followed.293
Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUthmani (Ottoman Decentralization Party)
After the C.U.P. coup, Rida traveled to Istanbul to examine closely the new
political climate and to try to raise funds for the previously noted Jamciyyat al-
Dacwah wa-al-Irshad. The official response to Rida’s fund raising project was
highly reflective of the attitude of the new Ottoman leadership. Rida was told
the institution must be named “anjuman ilm va-irshad [a Turkish translation of
the institution’s name]”, and must be placed under the supervision of the Grand
Mufti in Istanbul.294 The insistence on giving the institution a Turkish name
reflected the C.U.P.’s strong Turkish nationalist attitude and the Turkification
policy of Enver Pasha, the principal figure in the C.U.P.’s triumvirate. The de-
mand that the association be placed under the supervision of the Grand Mufti,
on the other hand, reflected the C.U.P.’s vision of a strong centralized empire.295
Rida politely refused the conditions and returned to Cairo where he proceeded,
not only to found al-Dacwah wa-al-Irshad, but also to participate in the creation
of Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUthmani.296
Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUthmani was an open political association.297
Its objective was to decentralize the Ottoman empire. Nevertheless, it laid much
emphasis on maintaining the territorial integrity of the Ottoman state.298 This
stand appears to have been rooted in the following factors. First, the Ottoman
empire, despite its weakened status, still represented to many intellectuals, in-
cluding Rida, one of the few remaining Muslim states not yet colonized by
Europe. Second, members of Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUthmani feared that
in the event that the Ottoman empire was broken up, its Arab regions would be
vulnerable to European colonial ambitions. Finally, members of Hizb al-La-
markaziyyah al-cUthmani must have also wanted to be cautious regarding how
their association would be perceived in Istanbul and, thus, emphasized Ottoman
unity and integrity to ensure that the authorities in Istanbul would not consider
their association an enemy of the state.
Many of the principal figures who took part in founding Hizb al-Lamarkazi-
yyah al-cUthmani late in 1912, were previously involved in Jamciyyat al-Shura
al-cUthmaniyyah.299 Their decision to establish Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUth-
mani reflected their disillusionment with the C.U.P. and its policies.300 George
Antonius specifies among the founders of Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUthmani
the following persons: Rafiq Azm, Rashid Rida, Iskandar Ammun, Fuad al-
Khatib, Salim Abd al-Hadi, Hafiz al-Said, Naif Tillu, and Ali al-Nashashibi.301
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Muhammad Izzat Darwazah adds Muhibb al-Din al-Khatib, Shubli Shumayl,
Numan Abu Shair, Dawud Barakat, and Sami al-Jaridini. He also informs us of
the association’s four highest officers: Rafiq Azm, ‘president’, Iskandar Ammun,
‘vice-president’, Rafiq Azm, ‘secretary’, and Fuad Khatib, ‘vice-secretary’.302
It is only Amin Said who identifies Rida as the spokesman of Hizb al-Lamarka-
ziyyah al-cUthmani.303
Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah (Association of the Arab League)
At the same time that Rida was active in Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah al-cUth-
mani, he was also involved with Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah. Almost
everything we know about Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah comes from
Amin Said’s al-Thawrah al-cArabiyyah al-Kubra (The Great Arab Revolt).304
Darwazah suggests that Said’s account of Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah
is based on pamphlets which were secretly circulated in Syria prior to World
War I.305 Since none of these pamphlets are extant, much of Said’s account can-
not be verified. Nevertheless, Rida’s involvement with Jamciyyat al-Jamicah
al-cArabiyyah, is confirmed by a number of statements made by Rida in Manar,
more than fifteen years after the association had ceased to exist.306 Said’s short
account related that Rida created Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah around
1912 with the aim of secretly warning Arab leaders of the dangers arising out
of the C.U.P.’s nationalist and centralizing policies and the overall weakness
of the Ottoman military forces.307 Rida corresponded with a number of Arab
leaders, including al-Imam Yahya Ibn Hamid al-Din of Yemen, al-Imam Abd
al-Aziz Ibn Sucud of Najd, and Muhammad Ali al-Idrisi of Asir, all of whom are
reported by Said to have responded favorably to Rida’s ideas.308 Only one po-
litical leader, however, appears to have actually joined Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-
cArabiyyah: al-Amir Abd Allah Ibn Husain of Hijaz who subsequently became
the first ruler of modern Jordan.309 According to Said, Rida also propagated the
principles of Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah in the Persian Gulf region on
his way back to Egypt from a trip to India which he undertook in 1913.310 In
particular, Rida appears to have contacted Sultan Faisal of Oman, and Mubarak
Ibn al-Sabah of Kuwait.311 Later, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1916, he
appears to have distributed a pamphlet containing the principles of Jamciyyat
al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah.312
Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri (Syrian Unity Party)
World War I and its aftermath shattered the objectives of Hizb al-Lamarka-
ziyyah al-cUthmani and Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah. During the initial
years of the French and British mandate, however, new political associations
emerged, intent on terminating the French mandates imposed on modern Syria
and Lebanon and the British mandates over modern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine.
Among these associations was Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri, created in Cairo in 1921
by Rida, along with a number of Syrian nationalists.313 Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
called for the termination of the French mandate over Syria, and the preservation
of Syrian administrative unity.314 Michel Lutf Allah, a Christian from Lebanon,
was elected president of Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri and Rida was elected its vice
president.315 The principal activity undertaken by Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri was
sponsoring a conference (June 1921) in Geneva known as al-Mu’tamar al-Suri
al-Filastini (The Syrian Palestinian Congress), in which all political associa-
tions created in response to the imposition of mandates over Syria, Lebanon and
Palestine participated.316 On September 21, 1921, the associations represented
at the conference issued a statement calling on the League of Nations to:
(1) Recognize the independence and national sovereignty of Syria,
Lebanon, and Palestine.
(2) Recognize the right of these countries to unite.
(3) Terminate the mandates immediately.
(4) Order the withdrawal of French and British troops.
(5) Terminate the Balfour Declaration...317
With the subsequent solidification of the French mandate and Prince Faisal’s
expulsion from Syria, however, the activity of Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri ceased.
None of the political associations Rida became involved with were directed
against the British occupation of Egypt. In fact, Rida maintained a positive rela-
tionship with British officials in Egypt, to the extent of agreeing to provide them
with some services. In particular, prior to the inception of World War I, Rida
agreed to send emissaries to a number of Arab rulers to determine their position
on an anti-Ottoman Arab revolt.318 Further, at no point did Rida utilize Manar
to call on Egyptians to actively resist British occupation. Rida seems to have
reasoned that he could not afford to risk his base of operation, especially when
few other Muslim countries would have allowed him the freedom he enjoyed
in Egypt. It was perhaps this political stance of Rida that prompted Muhammad
Kurd Ali (d. 1953), a Syrian thinker who is well known for his Arab national-
ist ideas, to write: “he [i.e. Rida] was not well grounded nor trained in politics.
He was not taught politics, nor did he know how to practice it.”319 While, Kurd
Ali could accuse Rida of political naiveté, he could not accuse him of treason.
Such an accusation could simply not be reconciled with Rida’s overall political
record. Rida’s involvement with the political associations, noted above, despite
their failure to realize their objectives, endowed him with a mantle of credibility
which protected him, both in his life and after his death, from being dismissed
as an agent of colonialism.
As regards the internal dynamics of political associations, Rida applied a
lesson he undoubtedly learned from al-Afghani. He not only agreed to partici-
pate with non-Muslims in the creation of political associations as al-Afghani
earlier did in Egypt, but, as noted, he even refused to participate in the C.U.P.
on grounds that it did not include Christians or Jews. In so doing, Rida was car-
Omar Imady
rying out a basic policy principle of Islamic reform which was to work jointly
with non-Muslims towards resisting Western colonialism and authoritarian
governments. Granted, Jamciyyat al-Shura al-cUthmaniyyah, Hizb al-Lamarka-
ziyyah al-cUthmani, and Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri were not the only associations
in which Muslims and Christians cooperated. What makes Rida’s cooperation
with Christians and Jews particularly significant, however, is the fact that he
represented Islamic reform, a religious movement which had significant moral
authority over its supporters. Rida demonstrated that a strong commitment to
Islam is not only compatible with strong Muslim-Christian-Jewish cooperation,
but that it was also compatible with Muslim involvement in institutions led by
non-Muslims, as was the case in Hizb al-Ittihad al-Suri, provided their objec-
tives were the same.
Youth Associations
Rida used political associations to engage in the struggle to reform the Ot-
toman empire, to create an independent Arab state, and, finally, to terminate
the French mandate over Syria. Having been defeated in all three struggles,
Rida proceeded to direct the Islamic reform movement in yet another direction:
‘cultural resistance’ to Western colonialism and authoritarian governments. In
the late 1920s, almost every Muslim country was dominated by some type of
Western colonialism. While, in some Muslim countries traditional institutions
had still enough vigor to inspire an anti-colonial resistance, e.g. al-Tariqah al-
Sanusiyyah (The Sanusi Order) in Libya, the vast majority of traditional institu-
tions, having fallen under government control, had lost much of their capacity
to mobilize the populace. Rida’s challenge, hence, was to create an institution
that had strong links not to the political elite but, rather, to the common indi-
Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin (Young Men’s Muslim Association)
Rida understood ‘cultural resistance’ as the attempt to ensure that the reli-
gious and linguistic identity of the Muslim world would survive the experience
of Western colonialism. Thus, it is not surprising that the founding of Jamciyyat
al-Shubban al-Masihiyin (The Young Men’s Christian Association) in Cairo,
immediately prior to World War I, as well as the intensification of Christian
missionary activity in Egypt after the end of the war would alarm him. He wrote
in 1927, regarding the desirability of creating a youth association: mind was for a long time preoccupied with how
Muslims are in need of such an association...I remained
for years researching its history and its development...I,
then, asked Tawfiq Diyab, the famous orator, during the
Great War [World War I] to investigate the matter and
find whether we could create an association for Muslims
like that of Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Masihiyin [the
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Association of Christian Youth], which would abide by the
apolitical character associated with such an association,
or whether the military authority would object. Then I
learned from him and others that it would not be possible
to create such an association at that time.320
Rida’s efforts towards the creation of a youth association were realized in
1927, when the Cairo based Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin (Association
of Muslim Youth) was founded.321 Rida, who was one of the major founders
of Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin, wrote in Manar. “Of all the associations
I took part in creating—with the exception of Jamciyyat al-Dacwah wa-al-Ir-
shad—no association brought me a stronger sense of satisfaction than this did
[i.e. Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin].”322 In addition to Rida, several reli-
gious scholars played a role in the creation of Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Musli-
min, including Abd al-Aziz Jawish, Abd al-Hamid Sacd, and Muhibb al-Din al-
Khatib.323 A number of Western educated figures joined the association shortly
after its creation, including Muhammad Ahmad al-Ghamrawi, who had studied
in England, Yahya Ahmad al-Dardiri, who had studied in Switzerland, and Ali
Mazhar, who had studied in Austria.324
Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin declared as its objectives: (i) To teach
Islamic morals and ethics; (ii) To disseminate knowledge in a manner that is
compatible with the spirit of the age; (iii) To work towards ending dissensions
and abuses among Muslim sects and groups; (iv) To make use of the best of
what Eastern and Western civilizations have to offer and to reject all that is bad
in them.325 Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin’s activity fell into two categories.
On the one hand, it sponsored lectures by religious scholars from various Mus-
lim countries and also by Western scholars, and published a journal, al-Nashrah
(The Publication), in which articles by its members and other contributors were
On the other hand, in spite of article two of its constitution which affirmed
its apolitical character, Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin sponsored a number
of political activities aimed against European colonial practices in the region,
and against the activities of Christian missionaries.327 Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-
Muslimin sent telegrams to the League of Nations, the British Foreign Office
and the High Commissioner in Jerusalem affirming the rights of Palestinians.328
When news of a ‘French plan’ to convert the Berbers surfaced, Jamciyyat al-
Shubban al-Muslimin called on “ the Islamic associations throughout the world”
to confront French colonial policy in North Africa.329 Jamciyyat al-Shubban
al-Muslimin also issued strong letters addressed to the Egyptian Minister of
Interior and to Shaikh al-Azhar, protesting the activity of Christian missionar-
ies, and it published pamphlets which responded to attacks on Islamic beliefs,
allegedly written by Christian missionaries.330
Omar Imady
The rise of reformist youth associations was not confined to Egypt. In a
consistent pattern, supporters of the Islamic reform movement created such in-
stitutions in Syria, North Africa, India, and other Muslim countries. In many
cases, the founders of these institutions were religious scholars who described
themselves as disciples of Abduh or Rida. In 1938, Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ (As-
sociation of Religious Scholars) was founded in Damascus by Muhammad Ka-
mil al-Qassab, a close associate of Rida who had participated in the activity of
Jamciyyat al-Jamicah al-cArabiyyah (the Association of the Arab League).331
Like Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin, Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ described itself
as an apolitical institution, and, like Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin, it too
was deeply involved in politics. Perhaps the most important political stance
taken by Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ was its strong warning to the government of
Prime Minister Jamil Mardam not to sign the Qanun al-Tawa’if (Law of Re-
ligious Sects) proposed by the French, which gave religious minorities equal
status with the Sunni Muslim majority. Though Mardam did sign the law, the
subsequent public outcry which Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ helped to fuel, forced
him to resign.332
In 1931, Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ al-Muslimin (Association of Muslim Reli-
gious Scholars) was founded in Algeria by Ibn Badis (d. 1940), considered to
be the founder of the Algerian Islamic reform movement. Jamciyyat al-Shubban
al-Muslimin (Association of Muslim Youth) was also founded in 1935 in Tuni-
sia by Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur (d. 1973), destined to become one of the
major figures of the Tunisian Islamic reform movement.333 Both Ibn Badis and
Ibn Ashur were strong supporters of Rida and, like him, identified themselves
as disciples of Abduh.334 A similar institution, Jamciyyat al-cUlama’ bi-al-Hind
(The Association of Religious Scholars in India) was created at an even earlier
date than Egypt’s Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin (1919).335 Among those
who participated in its creation were members of the aforementioned benevo-
lent association, Nadwat al-cUlama’.
After World War I, the Islamic reform movement sought to break away
from the elitism which had characterized its earlier benevolent and political
associations. While in 1899, an article in Manar regarding the sponsorship of
associations stated: “Such institutions require conditions which cannot be ful-
filled except by the Muslim community’s notables and great figures”, twenty
eight years later, an article in Manar described university students as “the most
qualified for undertaking its [the youth association’s] creation.”336 The activi-
ties of reformist youth associations were highly successful in attracting the at-
tention of educated Muslim youth.337 Once involved, however, their activity
was not confined to the literary realm. As previously noted, members of youth
associations engaged in very political actions.
The primary significance of youth associations lies not so much in what
they achieved in themselves, but, rather, in what they facilitated, that is, the rise
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
of the political parties of Islamic reform. In Egypt, as attested by Hasan al-Ban-
na, the rise of Ikhwan was significantly facilitated by Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-
Muslimin.338 Johannes Reissner in Muslimbruder, has shown how benevolent
and youth associations created by Syrian supporters of Islamic reform in the
first third of the twentieth century, served as the prototype for the subsequent
rise of the Syrian branch of Ikhwan (1944).339 Further, Abu al-Ala al-Mawdudi,
the creator of Jamacat-i Islami (The Islamic Group) of India, and subsequently
of Pakistan, was the editor-in-chief of the publication issued by Jamciyyat al-
cUlama’ bi al-Hind, the youth association noted above.340
Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Muslim Brotherhood) – Association Stage
Hasan al-Banna, the founder of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, was born in 1906
in the Egyptian village of al-Mahmudiyyah into a religious family.341 Al-Banna
encountered members of al-Tariqah al-Hisafiyyah (The Hisafi Order) at the
young age of twelve and was initiated into the order by Abd al-Wahhab al-
Hisafi, the order’s Master, at the age of sixteen.342 It is indeed significant that
in addressing his involvement with al-Tariqah al-Hisafiyyah, al-Banna empha-
sized that his attraction to the institution was based not only on his thirst for a
spiritual experience, but also on his admiration of its founder’s “firm commit-
ment to demanding that which is good and forbidding what is immoral,” even
when the application of this commitment involved confronting the power of the
state.343 To further illustrate this distinct characteristic of the order’s founder,
al-Banna related a number of examples, including the following:
And he [Abd al-Wahhab], along with a number of other
religious scholars entered into a gathering attended by
Khedive Tawfiq. He offered his greeting in a loud voice.
The Khedive, however, answered only with a signal from
his hand. So he stated strongly and firmly: “The reply to
a greeting is to be made either with a greeting identical
to it or by one better than it. Thus, you should say: ‘And
on you be God’s peace and blessings.’ It is not proper to
respond by a mere hand gesture.” The Khedive had no
alternative but to comply and praise the Master’s words
as a testimony to his religious commitment.344
The accounts related by al-Banna, irrespective of their historical accuracy,
reflect al-Tariqah al-Hisafiyyah’s inclination towards ‘moral activism’, that is,
manifesting one’s spirituality through community reform, rather than through
meditation and prayers alone.
A certain Mrs. White, president of a Christian missionary association, was
very active in al-Banna’s village.345 As was the case with many other Muslim
reformers, al-Banna seems to have admired Mrs. White for her religious dedi-
cation, exhibited by her willingness to live in the very difficult conditions of
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rural Egypt, though his admiration was more implicit than explicit.346 What
al-Banna was very definite about was his sense of alarm and strong desire to
protect the Islamicity of his village from the Christian mission.347 The mission
of Mrs. White was the primary inspiration for al-Banna’s creation, in 1922,
of al-Jamciyyah al-Hisafiyyah al-Khayriyyah (The Hisafi Benevolent Associa-
tion). The association, which was located in al-Mahmudiyyah, is described by
al-Banna as a jamciyyah islahiyyah [reformist association]”348 The primary
objective of the association, in addition to the propagation of Islamic morals,
was “confronting the activities of the Evangelical missions [of Christians, or
specifically Mrs. White].”349
Much has been said on the impact of the West on the intellectual develop-
ment of Islamic reform.350 Al-Jamciyyah al-Hisafiyyah al-Khayriyyah exhibits
some of the institutional influences of the West on the Islamic reform move-
ment. Al-Banna perceived al-Tariqah al-Hisafiyyah as inadequately prepared
to confront the Christian mission which had arrived in his village. Thus, he
decided to rise to the challenge and confront the ‘Western transplant’ on its own
terms. He organized his fellow members of al-Tariqah al-Hisafiyyah into an
association, an institution which was not bound by the religious order’s focus
on moral training. Al-Banna does not elaborate on the activities carried out by
al-Jamciyyah al-Hisafiyyah al-Khayriyyah, nor about the extent to which it was
successful in ‘protecting’ his village from the Christian mission. Nevertheless,
his account of its creation remains significant in that it documents his early
involvement with Western institutions.
Al-Banna was one of the many Muslims attracted to Manar. He writes in
his memoirs that he was a frequent reader of Manar at the age of sixteen, and
that after migrating to Cairo he often visited gatherings in which Rida was the
primary speaker.351 Commenting on Rida’s death in 1935, al-Banna wrote in
his memoirs:
On the evening of Thursday, Jamada al-’Ula 23, 1354,
which corresponds to August 22, 1935, al-Sayyid
Muhammad Rashid Rida, founder of the Islamic Manar
died, after it had entered into its thirty fifth year. Two
editions of its thirty fifth volume were published. Its
publication thus terminated after it had functioned
throughout this period as a school which inspired many
of the representatives of the contemporary Islamic
The termination of Manars publication was so disturbing to al-Banna that
he even sought permission from Rida’s family to allow Ikhwan to take over the
journal.353 Though he succeeded in acquiring their permission and proceeded to
publish a number of issues under the sponsorship of Ikhwan, Manar’s license
was canceled by the government of Husain Sirri Pasha on July 18, 1939, bring-
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
ing to a halt al-Banna’s attempt to perpetuate its publication.354After complet-
ing his preparatory schooling in Damanhur’s Junior Teachers’ School, al-Banna
migrated along with his family to Cairo and enrolled in Dar al-cUlum (now part
of the University of Cairo). Al-Banna graduated in 1927 and was subsequently
appointed as a government school teacher in the canal town of al-Ismailiyyah.
In his memoirs, al-Banna recollected that shortly after he was stationed in al-
Ismailiyyah, Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin was created.355 Since the as-
sociation was tied to many figures whom al-Banna had come to know and re-
spect during his studies at Cairo, i.e. Rida, Muhibb al-Din al-Khatib, and Abd
al-Hamid Sacd, he received the news of its creation with much enthusiasm.356
Al-Banna further informs us that he became a member of Jamciyyat al-Shubban
al-Muslimin and gave a lecture at its center while on a visit to Cairo.357
Ikhwan was founded by al-Banna in March 1928.358 His decision to create
Ikhwan so shortly after the inception of Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin, ap-
pears to have been based on his perception that Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Musli-
min was overly involved in intellectual activity and, more importantly, as gen-
erally distant from the popular segment of the community.359 Al-Banna writes
in Mudhakkarat that he decided against creating a spiritual order, because (a) he
did not want to be perceived by other spiritual orders active in al-Ismailiyyah as
trying to compete with them, and (b) he did not want to become involved in an
institution devoted primarily to moral training.360 Al-Banna’s choice of the as-
sociation, rather than the spiritual order, as the institutional structure of Ikhwan,
however, did not protect him from the hostility of spiritual orders. Immediately
after he created Ikhwan, al-Banna was ousted from the Hisafi order.361 Abd al-
Wahhab al-Hisafi, the order’s Master, viewed al-Banna’s creation of Ikhwan
as incompatible with his membership in the Hisafi order.362 Indeed, given the
intense political activities in which Ikhwan was destined to become involved
during the 1940s, al-Hisafi’s stand was not all together inaccurate, at least not
in the long run.
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Chapter 5
Political Parties
In 1933, after five years of organizing Ikhwan in al-Ismailiyyah and its
neighboring villages, al-Banna was transferred by the Ministry of Education to
Cairo.363 Cairo of the 1930s was a highly politicized city. As previously noted,
a parliament had been established in Egypt in 1923. Hizb al-Wafd (The Delega-
tion party) was the only political party which had wide popular support. It was
led by Sacd Zaghlul until his death in 1927 and later by Mustafa al-Nahas Pa-
sha. Other important parties, though generally limited in membership to small
influential groups, were al-Hizb al-Watani (The National Party), Hizb al-Ah-
rar al-Dusturiyyin (The Liberal Constitutional Party), and Hizb al-Shacb (The
People’s Party), and Hizb al-Ittihad (The Union Party).364
Undermining Egypt’s parliamentary system was the fact that the constitution
granted the King the right to appoint prime ministers who were not members of
the majority party in parliament. Hence, success in parliament did not necessar-
ily translate into control of the government. The King, rather, appointed a prime
minister from one of the minority parties which generally supported his inter-
ests. Because of this situation, one of the most important concerns of Egyptians
during the 1920s and 1930s, i.e. the presence of British forces in Egypt, could
not be satisfactorily addressed. While the attempt of a minority-led government
to negotiate a treaty with the British was undermined by al-Wafd, the attempt of
a majority-led government to negotiate a treaty was undermined by the King.
In 1930, a minority government led by Ismail Sidqi suspended the 1923
constitution. Until 1936, al-Wafd boycotted elections and channeled popular
frustration, which was at its height, into large demonstrations and strikes. Final-
ly in 1936, elections on the basis of the 1923 constitution were held and al-Wafd
won a large majority. King Fuad appointed al-Nahas Pasha, al-Wafd’s leader,
Prime Minister. He began at once to negotiate a treaty with England intended to
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result in the evacuation of its forces from Egypt. A treaty agreement was indeed
reached, though it fell short of fully satisfying nationalist aspirations. Egypt
was recognized as an independent sovereign state, but 10,000 British forces
were allowed to be stationed in the Canal Zone. Roads and barracks built for
these troops were to be financed by Egypt, and, in wartime, all restrictions on
the British military presence were to be suspended. Further, the treaty left the
question of Sudan’s relationship with Egypt unresolved.365
Al-Wafd continued to enjoy wide support after the 1936 treaty. Neverthe-
less, the continuing presence of British forces, mounting agricultural and eco-
nomic problems, and, later, Zionist activity in Palestine, all served to create a
vacuum of moral leadership which various political parties competed to fill. By
all accounts, it was Ikhwan that best succeeded in achieving this goal.
Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Muslim Brotherhood) –
Political Party Stage
Al-Banna’s strong positions on the necessity of total British withdrawal
from Egypt, and on aiding Arabs in Palestine (at a time when most Egyptian
politicians paid no attention to events in other Arab countries) explain why
large segments of the nationalist movement were attracted to Ikhwan through-
out the 1930s and the 1940s. Further, al-Banna, as attested by friend and foe
alike, was very eloquent, capable of conveying his views with both clarity and
a deep sense of sincerity. In a speech delivered in Alexandria, al-Banna sum-
marized the vision of Ikhwan, as follows:
Now, I can see within you the legacy of our great Prophet.
I would like to know to what extent Alexandria is ready
to protect this legacy before I begin to describe its major
components [loud cries can be heard promising to protect
the legacy]...this legacy can be summarized in three major
concepts: ‘a model to emulate’, ‘a mission’, and ‘a state’.
As for the model to emulate, it is the perfect physical
and moral characteristics of the Messenger of God...As
for the mission, it can be described in three words: faith,
a loving upright life, and brotherhood...And as for the
state, it rests on three cornerstones: justice, freedom, and
Al-Banna’s vision of a state which reflected Islamic values constituted an
operational version of the ‘political principle’ of Islamic reform. While Abduh
was concerned with identifying the character of an Islamic government, al-
Banna was concerned with creating it:
It may be permissible for Muslim reformers to be satisfied
with preaching and guiding if it were the case that those
in charge listened to God’s commandments and obeyed
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
them...With the situation as it is now—that is, Islamic
law is in one valley and actual legislation is in another—
it is a severe crime for Muslim reformers to shy away
from seeking to govern...367
Al-Banna presented the necessity of creating an Islamic state as being to-
tally harmonious with the reformist principles articulated by Abduh and Rida.
In an editorial published in al-Nadhir (The Warner) in 1938, al-Banna wrote:
Islam is worship and leadership, a religion and a state;
spirituality and action; prayer and struggle; obedience
and governing; a Qur’an and a sword; all of these are
inseparable from one another...368
By 1936, Ikhwan synthesized the benevolent/youth associations. While the
‘benevolent’ component was manifested by the creation of schools for both chil-
dren and illiterate adults, as well as medical clinics, and mosques, the ‘youth’
component was manifested in the sponsorship of lectures, letters protesting the
activity of Christian missionaries and colonial policies, and the publication of
various journals and newspapers, e.g. Risalat al-Murshid al-cAmm (The Mes-
sage of the General Guide), Majallat al-lkhwan al-Muslimin al-Usbuciyyah
(The Muslim Brotherhood Weekly Journal), and Majallat al-Nadhir (Journal of
the Warner).369 Further, Ikhwan had a clear popular dimension manifested in the
significant number of workers, small scale merchants and artisans which it suc-
ceeded in attracting.370 In its Fifth General Conference, held in 1939, Ikhwan
was described by al-Banna, among other attributes, as a hay’ah siyasiyyah
[political institution],” signifying the willingness of Ikhwan to participate in
parliamentary elections.371
The outbreak of World War II shortly after this conference, however, cre-
ated a tense political environment in which many regulations against politi-
cal activity were imposed by the government. Thus, throughout the war years
Ikhwan was provided with only two opportunities to participate in parliamen-
tary elections. The first opportunity came in February 1942, when al-Nahas
Pasha, who was asked by the King to form a new government, dissolved the
parliament and called for new elections. Al-Banna announced that he would
run as a candidate for al-Ismailiyyah’s district.372 Al-Nahas, however, fearing
that al-Banna’s nomination would alarm the British authorities, asked al-Banna
to withdraw.373 Al-Banna agreed, providing that Ikhwan would be allowed to
resume its full activities (which had been suspended by the previous govern-
ment after the outbreak of World War II) and that the government would take
action against prostitution and the sale of alcoholic beverages.374 Shortly after
al-Banna’s withdrawal, Ikhwan was allowed to resume some of its operations,
and restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages as well as the closing down
of a number of brothels took place.
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The second opportunity came in October, 1944 after a new government was
formed by Ahmad Mahir Pasha, leader of the Sacdi Party. When preparations
began for new parliamentary elections, to be held in January 1945, al-Banna
and some of the leading figures of Ikhwan announced their candidacies.375 All
of the candidates of Ikhwan, however, were defeated.376 Many observers agreed
that the defeat of Ikhwans candidates was engineered by extensive government
distortions of the election results; it was the last time until 1984 that Ikhwan
would participate in parliamentary elections.377
Ironically, al-Banna never spoke of Ikhwan as a political party. In fact, he
emphatically denied that Ikhwan had anything to do with such an institution:
al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun is not one of the political parties.”378 During the very
period he was leading Ikhwan into full participation in parliamentary elections
he called for the elimination of all political parties.379 Al-Banna, rather, pre-
ferred to identify Ikhwan in terms of abstract concepts: “a new spirit spreading
in the heart of this Muslim Nation,” “an Islamic Muhammadan message,” “a
path based on the Prophetic tradition” and “ a mystic truth.”380
Al-Banna’s peculiar characterizations of Ikhwan are better understood
when placed in the context of how political parties were increasingly perceived
in Egypt, especially after the 1936 treaty. As noted, the failure of al-Wafd to
deliver the complete withdrawal of British forces, together with the identifica-
tion of the vast majority of political parties with corruption and/or loyalty to the
King, made the ‘political party’ a highly discredited institution. Al-Banna, thus,
aimed at presenting Ikhwan as an attractive ‘clean’ institutional alternative to
the political party which was ready to embrace persons who were disillusioned
but still supporters of other political parties. The success of al-Banna’s strategy
was confirmed by the fact that until the late 1930s, members of al-Wafd did not
regard it as politically inconsistent to be members of Ikhwan as well.381
To some members of Ikhwan, however, it was both amply clear and highly
disturbing that their institution was sponsoring activities that were not consis-
tent with its declared moral character. This is documented by various accounts,
including one related by al-Banna himself. He wrote in Mudhakkarat:
Ali Mahir Pasha [Egypt’s Prime Minister at the time]
attended, along with Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha
[Head of the Arab League], the Conference on Palestine
in London...And after he [Ali Mahir] returned to Egypt, a
delegation from among the brothers [i.e. Ikhwan], headed
by Ahmad al-Sukkari [the Secretary General] went to the
train station to receive him. So he [al-Sukkari] called out:
Long live Ali Mahir and ordered the brothers to do so
also. So some did and some refrained and returned very
angry. They sent to me a strong letter of protest in which
they mentioned that the brothers are not of those who call
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
out in praise of people and that they will not do so, but,
rather, they will praise God alone...382
The members responsible for the letter of protest which al-Banna received
were clearly among those who had joined Ikhwan because they did not consider
it to be a political party and because they believed involvement with political
parties to be synonymous with moral contamination. Yet, to the vast majority
of members of Ikhwan, it was what al-Banna said, rather than what their insti-
tution did, that was to be taken seriously. So seriously was Ikhwan’s concern
with moral authority taken by its members, that one finds them debating very
peculiar questions, such as: “Are the brothers [i.e. members of Ikhwan] the en-
tire Global Community of Muslims [which would make membership of Ikhwan
synonymous with being a Muslim], or a community among the Muslims?”383
Although Rida frequently attacked the practices of religious orders, Manar
was foremost opposed by al-Azhar. This, as earlier explained, was due to the
fact that Manar usurped al-Azhars authority. Likewise, it is not surprising that
spiritual orders would strongly oppose Ikhwan. Indeed, Ikhwan was the first in-
stitution in Egypt to challenge the religious orders’ monopoly over recruiting the
popular segments of the community to an institution which claimed moral au-
thority. The hostility between Ikhwan and the spiritual orders reached its height
in 1953, four years after al-Banna’s death. Al-Banna’s successor, Hasan al-Hu-
daybi, declared his support for a government proposal to ban religious orders in
Egypt.384 Ironically, it was Ikhwan which would eventually be banned by Abd
al-Nasir, and the spiritual orders which would become the object of government
affection and assistance.385 Government favors, however, are not without price
and, in this case, it was providing moral legitimacy for the 1954 crackdown on
Ikhwan. The orders lived up to Nasir’s expectations, branding Ikhwan a modern
manifestation of al-Khawarij [a heretical Muslim sect known for its militant
character] and expressing their “disgust” with its “criminal acts.”386
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Chapter 6
Paramilitary Forces
The rise of paramilitary forces in Egypt was clearly inspired by Euro-
pean Fascist models. This is true of al-Qumsan al-Khudr (The Green Shirts),
founded in 1933 by Ahmad Husain, the leader of Misr al-Fatat (Young Egypt),
al-Qumsan al-Zurq (The Blue Shirts), founded in 1935 by Muhammad Bilal,
a member of al-Wafd, and al-Jawwalah (Rover Troops), founded in 1935 by
Hasan al-Banna.387 However, while paramilitary forces owed their inspiration
to European models, they owed their creation to Egypt’s charged political cli-
mate in the 1930s:
It was not perhaps mere coincidence that the first
appearance of paramilitary groups—the Wafds ‘Blue
Shirts’ and the ‘Green Shirts’ of Misr al-Fatat—coincided
with extra legal manipulation of the constitutional
processes by the palace in the early 1930s.388
Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (The Muslim Brotherhood) –
Paramilitary Force Stage
Al-Banna undoubtedly shared the frustrations and fears of al-Wafd and Misr
al-Fatat. His creation of al-Jawwalah was not, however, merely motivated by
his concern with Ikhwan’s security. Al-Banna, rather, perceived al-Jawwalah
as an instrument through which the ‘jihad principle’ of Islamic reform could be
implemented. In Islamic history, jihad was understood in various ways, includ-
ing a spiritual struggle against one’s desires, a social struggle against ignorance
and a military struggle against Islam’s enemies.389 As the activities of al-Jaw-
walah vividly illustrated, al-Banna’s conception of jihad was at once spiritual,
social and militaristic. During its first ten years, al-Jawwalah sponsored athletic
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exercises and scouting activities, i.e. hiking and camping, community services,
e.g. aiding the government in its battle against malaria, and various security
measures, such as the maintenance of order during demonstrations sponsored
by Ikhwan.390 The British military presence in Egypt and the rising hostili-
ties between the Zionists and Arabs in Palestine in the 1940s, however, shifed
al-Banna’s conception of jihad towards the militaristic dimension. Al-Banna
Allah has obligated jihad on every Muslim; a firm and
binding obligation from which there is no swaying nor
Every land in which the statement ‘There is no god but the
One God and Muhammad is His Messenger’ is proclaimed
is part of our land: it has its sanctity and holiness and is
entitled to our sincerity and to our jihad...392
…the Muslim community aware of what
constitutes a dignified death, is endowed by God with a
dignified life...393
Although al-Banna’s emphasis on armed resistance to Western colonialism
appears to contradict Abduh’s and Rida’s emphasis on ‘cultural resistance’, in
actuality it does not. It was the realization that Muslims were not prepared to re-
sist the West militarily that had prompted Abduh and Rida to commit themselves
to ‘cultural resistance’, that is, ‘cultural resistance’ was a policy of pragmatism,
and not of ideology. Rida, after all, encouraged military resistance against the
French in North Africa. Such positions, however, are not to be confused with an
endorsement of indiscriminate violence. Nothing in the documented legacy of
al-Afghani, Abduh or Rida implies they would have approved of such behavior.
Likewise, al-Banna was also strongly against the use of indiscriminate violence
to advance political objectives: “Criminal violence can never be accepted as an
instrument of attaining freedom.”394 Yet, as documented below, the “criminal
violence” that eventually emerged was directly linked to some of the institu-
tional choices which were made by al-Banna.
Late in 1942, al-Banna created al-Jihaz al-Khass (The Special Unit) as a
secret branch of al-Jawwalah.395 Important differences existed between al-Jaw-
walah and al-Jihaz al-Khass. While the former was an open association which
sponsored athletic activity and community services, the latter was secret and
focused on violent actions. In spite of these differences, however, it was al-
Jawwalah that provided al-Jihaz al-Khass with its members. In their confes-
sions to the government, many of al-Jawwalah’s members acknowledged that
their induction into al-Jihaz al-Khass was treated by their superiors as normal
procedure.396 In a sense, the athletic activity of al-Jawwalah had an influence
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
similar to the literary activity of Jamciyyat al-Shubban al-Muslimin, namely at-
tracting individuals who would otherwise refrain from belonging to a reformist
institution. Once attracted, it was highly likely that a member of al-Jawwalah
would eventually find himself part of a group attacking a British establishment
in the Suez Canal, fighting in a battalion in Palestine, or even carrying out acts
of violence against members of his own community. Thus, despite the non vio-
lent activity sponsored by al-Jawwalah, its subordination to al-Jihaz al-Khass
allows for describing both institutions as constituting one cohesive paramilitary
The initial task of al-Jihaz al-Khass was to train selected members of al-
Jawwalah in military missions. By the end of World War II, the troops trained
by al-Jihaz al-Khass were ready for their first mission, attacking the British
presence in the Suez Canal.397 In 1946 and much of 1947, Ikhwan undertook
a significant number of attacks on British military establishments in the Canal
Zone.398 Though, little is known about the details of these attacks, it is clear that
they at times caused damage to property and injury to British personnel.399 The
U.N. resolution dividing Palestine into an Arab and Israeli state in November
1947, however, shifted al-Banna’s focus away from the Suez Canal. Al-Banna
spoke very strongly in favor of aiding Arabs in Palestine. In a letter addressed to
Prime Minister Ali Mahir Pasha, al-Banna once wrote: “The trials, aspirations,
and rights of Palestine, Your Excellency, will not be forgotten by Muslims in
Egypt and elsewhere.”400 The first documented high level contact between Ikh-
wan and Arabs in Palestine took place in 1935, when al-Banna’s brother, Abd
al-Rahman, visited Jerusalem and met its Grand Mufti, Amin al-Husayni.401 In
1936, Ikhwan took part in collecting funds to assist the Arab strike in Palestine
and carried out an extensive propaganda campaign in support of the demands
of the organizers of the strike.402 In 1944, Ikhwan also played an active role in
pressuring the government to grant political asylum for Amin al-Husayni who
had been deported by British authorities.403
None of these actions, however, came close in magnitude to what Ikhwan
would begin to sponsor in 1947. The head of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman
Azzam Pasha, was a personal friend of al-Banna. Al-Banna used this relation-
ship to work out an agreement with al-Nuqrashi Pasha, Egypt’s Prime Minister
at the time, which allowed Ikhwan to collect funds, purchase weapons and train
volunteers, for the purpose of creating kata’ib (battalions) to fight against the
Zionists in Palestine.404 Nuqrashi’s only condition was that army officers would
be responsible for the training of volunteers.405 Late in 1947, Ikhwan had cre-
ated its first battalion, comprised of 10,000 fighters, most of whom were mem-
bers of al-Jawwalah.406 Before the war officially began, the battalion had al-
ready been stationed in al-Arish.407 Egyptian army officers would later recollect
that members of Ikhwan played an admirable role in the war, and that they were
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particularly helpful in assisting Egyptian soldiers (including Abd al-Nasir) who
were besieged in the Falujah pocket in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army.408
Even before the war in Palestine had ended, al-Jihaz al-Khass began to
carry out acts against Egyptians that had little to do with al-Banna’s conception
of jihad and much to do with terrorism. It was not accidental that the move to-
wards terrorism by al-Jihaz al-Khass coincided with a change in its leadership.
The change was necessitated by al-Banna’s decision, in November 27, 1947, to
dismiss Ahmad al-Sukkari, the Secretary General of Ikhwan.409 Salih Ashmawi,
the figure al-Banna had previously charged with the creation of al-Jihaz al-
Khass was appointed the new Secretary General of Ikhwan and Abd al-Rahman
al-Sandi (who had been active in al-Jihaz al-Khass ever since its inception in
1942) was made its new leader.
Al-Sandi was destined to acquire a very peculiar reputation in the historical
account of Ikhwan, namely, that of being the figure responsible for confusing
and then severing the lines of communication between al-Jihaz al-Khass and
al-Banna; inhibiting, and eventually terminating, al-Banna’s ability to control
its activity. Al-Sandi’s responsibility for the course which al-Jihaz al-Khass
began to pursue in 1948 is attested to not only by the events that followed his
appointment, related below, but also by the fact that Ikhwan was consistently
cleared of involvement from the many acts of violence that occurred in Cairo
prior to his appointment as leader of al-Jihaz al-Khass, e.g. the bombing at-
tack on a cinema in May 1946, and the bombing attack on a cinema in May
1947, both of which were undertaken by Rabitat al-Shabab (The Association of
Youth), a terrorist association founded by members of al-Wafd.410
On March 22, 1948, an Egyptian judge, Ahmad al-Khazindar, was assassi-
nated while on his way to work by two young men who later confessed to being
members of al-Jihaz al-Khass.411 The assassination was undertaken because
the judge had ordered the imprisonment of a man who had attacked a Brit-
ish establishment.412 According to many reports, al-Banna was extremely dis-
turbed by the assassination.413 Throughout July, August and September, 1948,
the Jewish community of Cairo was victim to a host of attacks which not only
caused physical damage to property but which were also responsible for many
deaths and injuries as well.414 The role of al-Jihaz al-Khass in these acts was
discovered after a significant number of documents relating to the activity of
al-Jihaz al-Khass were seized by mere chance in November 1947.415 The docu-
ments identified the names of some important members who were all promptly
On December, 8, 1948, the government announced its decision to dissolve
Ikhwan and confiscate its wealth and property.417 The decision was presented
as a response to a plan by Ikhwan to overthrow the government which had
manifested itself in a significant number of violent acts undertaken by Ikhwan
over the previous three years.418 After the decision was made public, over 4000
members of Ikhwan were arrested.419 Al-Banna was the only leading figure of
The Rise & Fall of Muslim Civil Society
Ikhwan who was spared arrest; an act which he predicted was a prelude to his
Following the dissolution of Ikhwan, al-Banna is reported to have made
many attempts to strike a deal with the government which would allow at least
some members of Ikhwan to be set free; he was, however, consistently turned
down by the Prime Minister, al-Nuqrashi Pasha.421 Only twenty days after al-
Nuqrashi ordered the dissolution of Ikhwan, he was assassinated by a young
man who later acknowledged that he was a member of al-Jihaz al-Khass.422
A new government was formed by a close friend of al-Nuqrashi, Ibrahim Abd
al-Hadi.423 Al-Banna still tried, however, to make peace with the government.
Early in 1949, al-Banna wrote a pamphlet entitled Bayan Li-al-Nas (A Proc-
lamation for the People) in which he strongly condemned the assassination of
al-Nuqrashi.424 So disturbed was al-Banna by the actions of al-Jihaz al-Khass
that he is even reported to have acknowledged the necessity of the dissolution
of Ikhwan, or, according to another account, to have at least regretted its in-
volvement in politics.425 Yet, the violence of al-Jihaz al-Khass continued. After
a failed attempt by one of its members to bomb the courthouse in which im-
portant documents relating to al-Jihaz al-Khass were stored, al-Banna wrote
in a public letter to the Ministry of Interior in regard to the culprits: “They are
neither brothers nor Muslims.”426 On February 12, 1949, al-Banna himself was
assassinated; numerous investigations confirmed that the assassins were agents
of Abd al-Hadi’s government.427
It is hardly an exaggeration to affirm that no institution was more dam-
aging to the Islamic reform movement than that of the paramilitary force. Its
role in the events of 1949 was subsequently repeated in 1954, and in 1966. In
1954, despite all the attempts carried out by al-Hudaybi, al-Banna’s successor,
to terminate the existence of al-Jihaz al-Khass and his strong prohibition of the
use of violence against Abd al-Nasir’s government, members of al-Jihaz al-