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‘ABD AL-RAZIQ, ‘ALI (1888-1966), Egyptian shari’ah (divine law) judge, controversial intellectual, and author of Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm:Bathft al-khilafah wa-al-hukumah ft al-Islam (Islam and the Bases of Political Authority: A Study of the Caliphate and Government in Islam). Published in Cairo in 1925, `Abd alRaziq’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 inEgypt, `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`ah judge.

‘Ali `Abd al-Raziq was a member of a famous and powerful landowning family from the village of Abu Girg(Jirj) inal-Minya Province. A graduate of al-Azhar and Oxford universities, he rose to the position of judge in the al-Mansura shari `ah 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 alRdziq (From the Legacy of Mustafa `Abd al-Raziq, Cairo, 1957) and Al-ijma` ft al-shari`ah 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 alRaziq’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-ummah 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. “The Prophet’s leadership . . . was religious and came as a result of his Message and nothing else. His Message ended with his death as did his leadership role” (`Abd al-Raziq, 1925, P. 90).

`Abd al-Raziq’s thesis that the Islamic ummah 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 part of Islamic law, the caliphate was to `Abd al-Raziq simply a matter of custom.

To many Muslim thinkers, these arguments were anathema, 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 redefinition of Muhammad’s prophetic mission and, by extension, the very nature of Islam.

From one perspective, Islam and the Bases of Political Authority can be seen as part of the Islamic reform movement that began inEgyptduring 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 organization. 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 nativeborn 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 antimonarchical Hizb al-Ummah (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 raises the distinct possibility that he purposely overstated his case for political reasons. It also 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 `All `Abd al-Raziq raised in 1925 still dominate Islamic discourse today.


`Abd al-Raziq, `Ali. Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm: Bath ft al-khildfah waal-hukumah ft al-Islam. Cairo, 1925.

`Alim, Mahmud Amin al-. “Thawrah fikriyah … wa-lakin: Hadith ma’a sahib Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm” (An Intellectual Revolution . . . with Qualifications: A Conversation with the Author of Islam and the Bases of Political Authority). Al-musawwar 2191 (7 October 1966): 32-33. Interview with `Abd al-Raziq shortly before his death that highlights the inspirational effect of his work on the secular Left inEgyptin its struggle against the Islamist movement both within and outside the country.

Berque, Jacques. Egypt: Imperialism and Revolution. New York, 1972. Insightful commentary on some of the sociopolitical motivations behind the publication of Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm.

Binder, Leonard. Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies. Chicago, 1988. Chapter 4 contains a comprehensive analysis of `Abd al-Raziq’s arguments and the major criticisms of them.

Haqqi, Mamduh. Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm: Bath ft al-khildfah waal-hukumah ft al-Islam: Naqd wa-ta`liq. Beirut, 1966. Contemporary critique of `Abd al-Raziq that argues for his faulty grasp of Islamic doctrine and corruption by the West.

Hourani, Albert. Arab Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. London, 1962. Offers an excellent summary of the main arguments of Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm and its relationship to `Abduh and the Islamic reform movement in Egypt (pp. 183-192).

Husayn, Muhammad al-Khidr. Naqd kitab al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm. Cairo, n. d. One of the main critiques of `Abd al-Raziq’s work by a contemporary.

`Imarah, Muhammad. Al-Islam wa-usul al-hukm li-`Ali `Abd al-Raziq. Beirut, 1972. Classic critique of `Abd al-Raziq’s work that faults the author for a lack of understanding of Islamic history and for having fallen under the influence of Western liberalism.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/abd-al-raziq-ali/

  • writerPosted On: October 5, 2012
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