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Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950$
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Marwa Elshakry

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226001302

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226001449.001.0001

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Materialism and Its Critics

Materialism and Its Critics

(p.99) Three Materialism and Its Critics
Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950

Marwa Elshakry

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines one of the earliest and most controversial Arab evolutionary materialists, Shibli Shumayil. A Syrian Protestant College graduate and close colleague of the Muqtataf group, Shumayyil wrote tirelessly in defence of materialism, an inherently ambiguous and multivalent term in Arabic that led him to pen his own neologism. His promotion of spontaneous generation (or abiogenesis in particular) as well as his frequent writings on the evolution of religion attracted sharp criticism from Arab Christians and Muslims. Indeed, his translation of Ludwig Büchner’s commentaries on Darwin (from a French translation of the original German) spawned dozens of refutations. Foremost among them were the writings of the Syrian Protestant College tutor, Ibrahim al-Hurani, who promoted an evangelical anti-evolutionary perspective under the auspices of the college. Yet far more effective was the refutation of materialism published by the pan-Islamist revolutionary, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. This was originally published in Urdu and inspired by the “naturalist” movement of the Indian theologian Sayyid Ahmad Khan. It was later translated into Arabic by Muhammad ‘Abduh, who clearly had Shumayyil in mind, and thanks to the popularity of its anti-materialist message, it helped cast a shadow on Arabic readings of evolution for generations to come.

Keywords:   Materialism, Naturalism, Heresy, Spontaneous generation, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Evolution of religion

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