Lagging Revival: Reform and Renewal in Modern Times

Different Trends and Experiences
26 January, 2021

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published Muhammad Helmy Abdel-Wahhab’s Lagging Revival: Reform and Renewal in Modern Times, Different Trends and Experiences, a book examining experiences of religion and state institutional reform and renewal, as well as fundamentalism, counter-fundamentalism and the associated issues of religious minorities and coexistence.

Reforming Institutions of the Religious Domain

The book (464 pp.) consists of three sections, the first encompassing three chapters. This section’s first chapter concerns the crisis of reform and revival brought on by the shocks of modernity and expands on the notion and manifestations of “the religious domain”. It concludes with a proposed approach to public affairs management in turbulent times, assessing the possibility of reform from within. The second chapter examines Muhammad Abdo’s prominent attempts at reform at al-Azhar University during the first half of the twentieth century, the impact of which extended beyond his death – to the thought of each of Sheikh Mustafa al-Maraghi, Shaykh Mustafa Abd al-Rizq, Dr. Muhammad Yusef Musa, Sheikh Amin Al-Khouli, and Sheikh Abdel-Muta’al al-Saidi. It then surveys al-Azhar educational curricula in jurisprudence and monotheism at the preparatory and secondary school levels. Chapter Three proceeds with a look at the mediating role between political parties that al-Azhar sought to play in the Arab Spring – to then become the leading standard and active factor in the production of public political and religious discourse. The discussion encompasses changes observed in the al-Azhar discourse, the dissemination criteria for its documentation, and the goals it sought to achieve.

Reform and Renewal in the Islamic world

The book’s second section also contains three chapters. Chapter Four examines Malek Bennabi’s notion of renaissance and the functional framework it establishes within his civilizational project, highlighting the centrality of godly and historical norms and legal traditions to change. In the fifth chapter, the author presents major nineteenth and twentieth century currents of reform in the Indian subcontinent, from Shah Wali Allah al-Dahlawi, to Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Abu al-A'la Mawdudi and Abi al-Hassan al-Nadwi. Chapter Six focuses on the debate between Muhammad Abdo and Farah Antoun on religion and science and on the civil character of authority in Islam.

Fundamentalism and Counter-Fundamentalism

The three chapters of the book’s third section begin with Chapter Seven on the jurisprudence of the school of Imam Muhammad Abdo and its inability to consolidate values of coexistence and religious - cultural pluralism in educational curricula, with a spotlight on the reality of the social life of the Copts. The author then takes up issues of coexistence as seen in religious texts, worldviews and historical experience as well as the issues of identity and belonging. The eighth chapter examines al-Azhar’s relationship with Shi’ism, analyzing the circumstances surrounding the emergence of the “Dar al-Taqreeb” (a center for bringing together the various Islamic schools of thought) and the ensuing split in the ranks of Al-Azhar scholars along lines of support and opposition. It also takes up the half century of controversies over the book al-murajaat (debates between Sunni and Shi’i scholars) and Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout’s fatwa regarding the permissibility of the Jaafari Shi’i school. The chapter closes with a discussion of jostling between al-Azhar and Shiite institutions in the wake of Egypt’s 25 January 2011 revolution. The author devotes Chapter Nine to changes in the discourse and practice of contemporary Egyptian Salafist currents with respect to the values of each of obedience, democracy, the civil state, political participation, citizenship and pluralism. It critically analyzes these in their relation to the situation of women and the Copts, through examining the texts and history of Salafi literature.

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