Al-Tahtawi's impact on Egyptian thought assessed
Egypt, People, 4/29/2002
Rifa'a Rafe' Al-Tahtawi was among the first scholars who left for Paris in 1826 on a study mission at the orders of Mohamed Ali Pasha.
Nominated as the group's imam to be consulted on religious matters, Al-Tahtawi threw himself into studying Western sciences. He made up his mind to become a pioneer of an enlightenment in the Arab world, and set an example for open-mindedness, thereby creating a blend of Eastern and Western cultures that would preserve Islamic heritage and yet push society on the road to progress.
To commemorate the bicentenary of Al-Tahtawi's birth, the Supreme Cultural Council (SCC) organised a symposium that was attended by 58 researchers from Egypt and European countries. Participants presented a series of papers on various aspects of Al-Tahtawi's ideals of and plans for the Arab Enlightenment.
Celebrating the memory of Al-Tahtawi is not an excuse to dwell on the past, but to allow ourselves to be inspired and our intellects to be stimulated by the example of the great man, SSC chairman Dr Gaber Asfour said.
"The courage of Al-Tahtawi, a sheikh of Al-Azhar, and the responsibility he bore are to be emulated by present and future generations," Dr Asfour said, adding that Al-Tahtawi learned his method of intellectual inquiry from Sheikh Hassan Al-Attar.
Unlike his fellow students, Al-Tahtawi was not dazzled by Western culture, nor did he allow himself to be swept up in the tide of Western mania. He formulated a middle way, based on reason, whereby he discerned the best that Europe had to offer for the advancement of the Arab world.
"His real talent lay in his positive response to new ideas at a time when Egypt felt ready to move out of the Dark Ages into an enlightened era," Dr Asfour noted.
Speaking on the negative aspects of Egyptian culture in Al-Tahtawi's day, researcher Khaled Abdul Mohsen Badr mentioned the inferior status of women. The limited freedoms that a woman enjoyed were at that time granted by her male relatives. Men dominated social life. Badr contrasted this with Al-Tahtawi's own liberal views on woman's place in society.
Researcher Sami Qatami was not receptive to the concept of a secular state, since it goes against Islamic principles that stipulate that Islam is both a religion and a system of government. In this, Al-Tahtawi differed from his successors, Lotfy Al-Sayed, Salama Moussa and Taha Hussein, who firmly believed that the Western model of the state is the only convenient model for development in the Arab world.
Another contributor to the symposium, Mahmoud El-Sherif, refuted the widely held belief that Al-Tahtawi's journey to enlightenment began in Paris. Rather, the man who left for the City of Light in 1826 was a product of an Arab revival that had emerged in Egypt two hundred years before the Napoleonic expedition in 1799, El-Sherif said.
Al-Tahtawi benefited fully from his sojourn in Paris because he had been receptive to new ideas before he left Egypt, he said.
Regarding political issues, Dr Beheiri Abdul Hafez said that Al-Tahtawi was puzzled by the concept of 'citizenship'.
Only after much reading and observation in Paris did Al-Tahtawi grasp the connotations of citizenship, which contrasted with the idea of 'subjects' who are ruled by oppression and despotism.
An experienced translator and a man with a daring intellect, Al-Tahtawi cautiously spoke of citizenship at the risk of angering his ruler and patron, Mohamed Ali Pasha, Dr Abdul Hafez said.
Dr Kamal Moghith said that Al-Tahtawi tried to present a comprehensive case for an Egyptian renaissance and liberation from the constraints of Middle East thinking.
Circumstances and prevailing ideas worked against Al-Tahtawi, Dr Moghith said. He went on to explain that a major factor in the initial failure was the absence of an influential social movement that was able to comprehend new ideas and force open the door of ijtihad (judgement based on reason) that the religious authorities had firmly closed.
The discussions at the symposium highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of an open-mindedness like Al-Tahtawi's, and their influence on Egyptian culture in the long term.
Top Egyptian scientist elected to NAE
Artist Attiat Sayed and inspiration
Literary circles mourn a prominent novelist
Please add a link on your webiste pointing to ArabicNews.com and bookmark ArabicNews.com & subscribe to our daily email news bulletin.
| Advertise on ArabicNews.com. MyFlowers.com sold more than $2700 of flowers in one month advertising on ArabicNews.com! Make your company, and products a success. Special rate for new and small business. Inquire!Advertising Info