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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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Darwin and the Mufti

Darwin and the Mufti

(p.161) Five Darwin and the Mufti
Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950

Marwa Elshakry

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the career of one of the best-known Muslim intellectuals of colonial Egypt, Muhammad ‘Abduh. It looks in particular at his efforts at the curricular reform of al-Azhar. Following his discussion of the need to revitalize the Muslim sciences, it explores his understanding of “new subjects” of study or the “new sciences” (al-‘ulum al-haditha). For much of his life, ‘Abduh was at odds with the Azhari rank and file: his reformism was one reason why he was often denounced as a “Wahhabi.” His lectures on scriptural hermeneutics, or tafsir also gathered much criticism at the time; yet in other circles, these helped him acquire the label of one of the founding “Islamic modernists.” It was in these lectures that ‘Abduh would make passing references to evolution and to Darwin. An avid fan of Herbert Spencer, ‘Abduh’s engagement with contemporary evolutionary thought was nowhere as extensive as al-Jisr’s. Nevertheless, it provided further fodder for his critics who were as wary of ‘Abduh’s reform efforts as they were of his close relations with British advocates in Egypt. This chapter thus explores the politics of evolution alongside educational and religious reform through the experience of Egypt’s Grand Mufti.

Keywords:   Scriptural hermeneutics, Tafsir, Qur’an, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Azhar, Pedagogy, Reform, “Islamic modernism”

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