Synopses & Reviews
The famed reform debates at al-Azhar Madrasa in nineteenth-century Cairo -- one of the most influential centers of religious study in Sunni Islam -- were enormously influential for twentieth-century Islamic thought. In this book Indira Gesink argues that narratives of these debates overemphasize the roles of famous modernists like Muhammad ‘Abduh, obscuring important themes. By restoring conservative voices to the debate, she shows that conservative ‘ulama engaged many of the same issues as reformers and led committees that generated and implemented reforms; ultimately, conservative leaders at al-Azhar provided crucial legitimacy for the reforms to become rooted in public life. Drawing on obscure, but important, archival sources to illustrate the important contributions of conservative scholars to the evolutionof twentieth-century Sunni Islam, Islamic Reform and Conservatism is indispensable for all those interested in the modern Middle East, religious history, secularism, modernism and religious reform.
"Indira Gesinks deeply researched study on al-Azhar reform sheds new light on a major chapter in the history of modern Islam. Dispensing with conventional portrayals of entrenched conservatives resisting enlightened modernists, Gesink reveals a far more nuanced and complicated set of intellectual and political struggles over al-Azhars organization, curriculum and administration. The revisionist account of Muhammad Abduhs character and career is particularly compelling. Gesink rescues the reputations of conservative sheikhs from the slanted perspective that Orientalists uncritically adopted. In addition, she vividly illustrates the overlapping influences on al-Azhar of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, British colonial authorities, eminent sheikhs and rowdy religious pupils. Al-Azhars present influence in Egypt and the Muslim world owes much to this chapter in its history. Gesinks book most certainly deserves the attention of readers interested in modern Islamic institutions and thought along with specialists on Egypt."--David Commins, Professor of History, Dickinson College; author of The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (I.B.Tauris 2006)"Compelling revisionist historical study…a valuable contribution to both the modern history of Egypt and Sunni Islam...[It] sheds light on a largely neglected side of one of the most important debates in Islamic history...a required read for students of the Middle East and history of Islamic intellectual thought" -- Christopher Anzalone, The Muslim World Book Review
About the Author
Indira Falk Gesink is Associate Professor of History at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. She received her PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis in 2000, and lived in Egypt in 1995-1996 and 1998.
Table of Contents
* Introduction * Religion and the State: al-Azhar during Muhammad ‘Ali * Order and Disorder: The Evolving Critique of Madrasa Education (1834-1870) * Progress, Nationalism and the Negative Construction of al-Azhar ‘Ulama (1870-1882) * A Conservative Defense of Taqlid * Efficiency, Mission and the Meaning of ‘Ilm (1882-1899) * The Syrian Riwaq Cholera Riot * Muhammad ‘Abduh and Ijtihad * Who Reformed al-Azhar? * Conclusion * Notes * Selected Bibliography * Index *