Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'Abd al-Raziq, 'Ali

‘Abd al-Raziq, ‘Ali  (1888-1966) was an Egyptian shari‘a (law) judge, intellectual, and the author of Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm:  Ba‘th fi al-khilafah wa-al-hukumah fi al-Islam (“Islam and the Bases of Political Authority:  A Study of the Caliphate and Government in Islam”).  Published in Cairo in 1925, ‘Abd al-Raziq’s book challenged the notion that Islam legislated a specific type of political authority or, for that matter, that it legitimated any form of government at all.  In addition to creating a constitutional crisis in Egypt, ‘Abd al-Raziq’s ideas generated violent controversy throughout the Muslim world.  The Egyptian Higher Council of ‘Ulama’ brought ‘Abd al-Raziq to trial and expelled him from both their ranks and his position as a shari‘a judge.

‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq was a member of a famous and powerful landowning family from the village of Abu Girg (Jiri) in al-Minya Province.  A graduate of al-Azhar and Oxford universities, he rose to the position of judge in the al-Mansura shari‘a court.  In addition to writing Islam and the Bases of Political Authority, ‘Abd al-Raziq edited a study of the life and work of his brother, a rector of al-Azhar, entitled Min athar Mustafa ‘Abd al-Raziq (“From the Legacy of Mustafa ‘Abd al-Raziq,” Cairo, 1957) and Al-ijma‘ fi al-shari‘a al-Islamiyah (“Consensus in Islamic Law,” Cairo, 1947).  

Along with Taha Husayn’s 1926 volume, Fi al-shi‘r al-jahili (“On Jahiliyah Poetry”), ‘Abd al-Raziq’s work was seen by the ‘ulama’ and many Muslims as presenting a fundamental challenge to Islam’s legitimacy as a religion.  The specific event that precipitated ‘Abd al-Raziq’s study and gave it such significance was the abolition of the caliphate by the Turkish government of  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.  Following World War I, many Muslims felt particularly vulnerable to increased colonial penetration by Western powers, such as Great Britain and France, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  In their minds, the abolition of the caliphate was a prominent symbol that underlined their political weakness.

What angered many Muslims was ‘Abd al-Raziq’s assertion that the prophet Muhammad was sent by God only to preach a spiritual message and not to exercise political authority.  Although Muhammad did establish al-umma al-islamiyah  (an Islamic community), he never mentioned or promulgated a specific form of government.  For ‘Abd al-Raziq, the unity of the Islamic community did not constitute a unitary Islamic state.   For him, the Prophet’s leadership was religious and came as a result of his Message and nothing else.  For 'Abd al-Raziq, the Prophet's Message ended with his death as did his leadership role.

‘Abd al-Raziq’s thesis that the Islamic umma is purely spiritual and bears no relation to politics or forms of government effectively separated religion and politics in Islam.  Furthermore, it denied that the caliphate was an integral and necessary part of Islam or that it maintained any special religious status.  Rather than being a part of Islamic law, the caliphate was to ‘Abd al-Raziq simply a matter of custom.

To many Muslim thinkers, these arguments were anathemas, as they seemed to undermine the very essence of Islam.  Since such thinkers viewed a key part of Muhammad’s prophetic mission as implementing a system of laws, Islam was political by definition.  In denying the Prophet’s political role, ‘Abd al-Raziq implicitly called for a re-definition of Muhammad’s prophetic mission and, by extension, the very nature of Islam.

From one perspective, Islam and the Bases of Political Authority (Islam and the Foundations of Governance -- Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm) can be seen as part of the Islamic reform movement that began in Egypt during the nineteenth century.  Most strongly influenced by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905), this movement sought to revitalize Islam by emphasizing the role of human reason and by seeking to reconcile Islamic and Western notions of science and social organizations.  For many reformers and disciples of ‘Abduh, such as ‘Abd al-Raziq, reason, not revelation, determined the form of government that rules a particular community.

The overt dispute over ‘Abd al-Raziq’s book was cast in theological terms, but political considerations also motivated its publication.  As were many other native-born landowning families, the ‘Abd al-Raziq family was closely associated with the Hizb Ahrar al-Dusturiyin (Liberal Constitutional Party), which, in turn, was the successor to the secularly oriented and anti-monarchical Hizb al-Umma (People’s Party) founded in 1907.   With Turkey’s abolition of the caliphate, a number of Arab leaders, including King Fu’ad of Egypt, indicated a desire to wrest the title for themselves.  Many Liberal Constitutionalists opposed such a move.

A number of factors point to the political dimensions of Islam and the Bases of Political Authority.  Certainly ‘Abd al-Raziq himself was aware that even many of his supporters believed that he had exaggerated his arguments.  This raised the distinct possibility that he purposely overstated his case for political reasons.  Some scholars assert that it seems highly doubtful that the Misr Printing Company, a Bank Misr company under the tight control of Muhammad Tal ‘at Harb, a devout Muslim, would have published a text consciously intended to undermine Islam. Without denying the sincerity of his arguments, it seems highly plausible that ‘Abd al-Raziq’s treatise was intended less as a major contribution to Islamic thought than as an effort to deny King Fu’ad the ability to appropriate the title of caliph.

Without detracting from its intellectual stature, ‘Abd al-Raziq’s book should also be seen as part of a patchwork of efforts by reformist elements within an increasingly assertive native-born Egyptian bourgeoisie to bring about significant changes in Egypt’s political and cultural identity.  This stratum sought to assert its power against the monarchy and its supporters among the ‘ulama’.  ‘Abd al-Raziq’s treatise, however, did not represent an overt conspiracy among the Liberal Constitutionalists and their wealthy supporters, as many within the party opposed it.  Rather, ‘Abd al-Raziq’s work was one of many thrusts and parries by members of the indigenous bourgeoisie intended to circumscribe the powers of the king.  The Egyptian bourgeoisie sought to hasten the transformation of Egypt’s cultural identity from one that had been dominated by a Turco-Egyptian elite and an emphasis on Pan-Islamism to one that was dominated by an Egyptian- and, to a lesser extent, Arab–centered nationalism.

On yet another level, the fierce opposition to ‘Abd al-Raziq’s book reflected the pervasive fear among many social strata of further fragmentation of both the Muslim world and Egyptian society.  For many Muslims, the book represented another effort by the West (in this instance at the hands of a westernized Muslim) to fragment the Muslim world, so as to facilitate its subjugation to colonialism, by undermining Islam’s traditional value structure from within.  The fact that Islam and the Bases of Political Authority continues to stimulate debate indicates the extent to which the issues that ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq raised in 1925 still dominate Islamic discourse today.  

'Ali 'Abd al-Raziq (Ali Abdel Raziq) was born in 1888 to a well off family. His father Hassan Abdel Raziq was a large farm-owner and was, in 1907, among the founders of the Umma Party. His brother Mustafa Abdul Raziq --  a well known philosopher -- studied at Al-Azhar University under the famous reformer Muhammmad Abduh. 'Ali later received his "Alim" degree at Al-Azhar in 1911. In 1912, he traveled to Oxford University to study Economics and Political Science, but returned to Cairo at the outbreak of the First World War. Back at Al-Azhar in 1915, he also became qadi (religious judge) at Mansoura.  'Ali became famous for his book Islam and the Foundations of Governance (Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm) published in 1925, and Consensus and Islamic Law (Al-Ijma´ Fi Ash-Shari´ah Al-Islamiyyah) in 1947. Following the popular debate around his 1925 book, Al-Azhar stripped him of his office, though he was re-instituted in the 1940s. 'Ali, his father, and his brother remained close to the Liberal Constitutional Party. 'Ali eventually became a government minister and lost his position as scholar and jurist at al-Azhar. He twice served as Minister of Endowments, one of the three highest positions in religious administration beside the Rector of Al-Azhar and the Grand Mufti. He died in December 1966.

The argument of 'Abd al-Raziq's 1925 book has been summarized as "...Islam does not advocate a specific form of government...", focusing his criticism both at those who use religious law as contemporary political proscription and at the history of rulers claiming legitimacy though the Caliphate. The focus of this debate was Mustafa Kemal's abolition of the caliphate in 1924, and the response of some Arab Muslim scholars that it was incumbent upon Arabs in particular to re-institute the caliphate in Arab lands. 'Abd al-Raziq wrote that past rulers spread the notion of religious justification for the caliphate "so that they could use religion as a shield protecting their thrones against the attacks of rebels." The journalistic and academic debate 'Abd al-Raziq's 1925 book set off projected him into fame.
;Abd al-Raziq remains controversial as much for the implication of his writing, while his specific arguments are part of a longer tradition jurisprudence and scripture. His work has since been both praised and condemned as a precursor of secularist philosophy in Muslim societies, and has been criticized as having drawn on the works of western writers.

Alternative names include:

'Abd al-Raziq
'Abd al-Raziq, 'Ali
Abdel Raziq
Abdel Raziq, Ali
Abdul Raziq
Abdul Raziq, Ali
Al-Raziq, 'Abd 
Al-Raziq, 'Ali 'Abd
'Ali 'Abd al-Raziq
Ali Abdel Raziq
Ali Abdul Raziq
Raziq, Abdel
Raziq, Abdul
Raziq, 'Ali Abdel
Raziq, 'Ali Abdul

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