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HUSRI ABU KHALDUN SATI` AL- (18801968), leading ideologist and popularizer of Arab nationalism and Pan-Arabism. Born in 188o in San’a,Yemen, to Syrian Arab parents fromAleppo, young alHusri moved often as his father filled Ottoman judicial posts inYemen, Anatolia, andLibya. Since the family spoke Turkish at home, al-Husri learned Arabic late and spoke it with a heavy Turkish accent. Graduating in igoo from the Mulkiye Mektebi (CivilServiceCollege) inIstanbul, he spent eight years in the Balkan caldron of competing nationalisms, first as a schoolteacher and later as an Ottoman provincial official.

Although supporting the Committee of Union and Progress army officers who launched the Ottoman (“Young Turk”) Revolution of 19o8, he shied away from direct involvement in party politics throughout his life. His outspoken, even blunt manner often alienated his associates. Al-Husri moved toIstanbulafter the revolution. He directed theTeacherTrainingCollegeinIstanbulfrom 1909 to 1912, edited an Ottoman Turkish education journal, and won recognition as a leading educational reformer. Rejecting Islamism and Turkish and Arab nationalism, he remained a dedicated secular Ottomanist throughout World War I.

With the effective demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, al-Husri switched his allegiance to Arab nationalism and joined Faysal ibn Husayn’s regime inDamascusas director general, then minister, of education. FleeingSyria’s French conquerors in 1920, he moved toIraqwhen the British made Faysal king there in 1921. For twenty years inIraq-as director general of education, editor of an education magazine, head of the Teachers College, dean of theLawCollege, and director of antiquities-al-Husri promoted Arab nationalism at every opportunity. He was exiled whenBritainoverthrew Rashid ‘Ali’s nationalist regime in 1941 and moved toSyria, where he arabized the national education system (1944-1946) as the French mandate came to an end. The following decade he spent inCairoas cultural adviser to the Arab League and first director of its Intitute of Higher Arab Studies. He retired at the age of seventy-seven in 1957 and died inBaghdadin 1968.

In both the Ottoman and Arab phases of his career alHusri consistently worked for secular educational reform as a means of instilling patriotism in youth. Until 1919 he advocated secular Ottoman patriotism, with people of all religions, languages, and ethnic groups joining as equal citizens. He publicly clashed with Ziya Gdkalp, the leading advocate of Turkish nationalism. But hothouse Ottoman nationalism proved too fragile to resist the centrifugal forces of other nationalisms. [See the biography of Gdkalp.]

Al-Husrl’s belated conversion to Arab nationalism enabled him to admit the force of linguistic bonds, which he had earlier denied. Language and common history became the active ingredients of his theory of Arab nationalism. He believed that despite their fragmentation under Western colonial regimes, Arabic-speakers fromMoroccotoIraqand fromSyriato theSudanconstituted a single nation (ummah).

Al-Husri so admired the fourteenth-century writer Ibn Khaldun-interpreting his concept of `asabiyah (social solidarity) as a kind of national bond-that he named his son “Khaldun,” thereby adding “Abu (father of) Khaldun” to his own name. Otherwise, most of the sources of al-Husri’s thought were Western. He drew on the writings of French educators, scientific popularizers, and social thinkers, but after 19i9 German romantic nationalists best suited his Arab nationalist purpose. French nationalists had taken their state for granted, whereas German nationalists had believed themselves to be an organic nation long before achieving a unified state in 1871. Above all, Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, penned after the defeat ofPrussiaby Napoleon in 18o6, seemed to al-Husri to speak to a similarly divided and occupied Arab nation. Like post1806 German and post-1871 French educational reformers, he wanted the schools to emphasize patriotism, discipline, and self-sacrifice, not individual liberties.

Al-Husari’s emphasis on language and history led him to refute writers who made religion, race, will (as argued by Renan), economic circumstances, or geography the key determinants of national identity. Unlike his Iraqi contemporary Sam! Shawkat, al-Husri had no use for German racial theories. Roaming freely through modern history, he selected examples to prove his points.

Al-Husri denounced “regional” nationalisms centered on existing states-he was particularly keen to persuade Egyptians of their Arabism-and he considered PanIslamism an ineffective distraction. He took great pains to refute the westward-looking Egyptian nationalism of the liberal writer and reformer Taha Husayn. [See the biography of Uusayn.]

Al-Husri opposed British, American, and other educators who advocated practical and vocational education and autonomy for foreign or minority schools. While inIraqhe made no concessions to the particular needs of the Kurdish minority in the north or the neglected Shi’i majority in the south. He resisted proposals to use the various Arabic vernaculars in writing, working instead for standardized curricula and textbooks throughout the Arab world.

Al-Husri’s voluminous works were popular throughout the Arab world, leaving their mark on Ba’thists and Nasserists, among others. Unable to imagine Arab unity withoutEgypt, he backed Nasser in 1961 when Syrian Ba’thists and others tookSyriaout of theUnited Arab Republic. In 1979 the Iraqi Ba’thist regime honored him with a commemorative postage stamp, but his determined secularism makes him unpopular with those for whom religion is an essential element of political identity.

[See also Arab Nationalism; Education, article on Educational Reform; andIraq.]


Cleveland, William L. The Making of an Arab Nationalist: Ottomanism and Arabism in the Life and Thought of Sati` al-Husri.Princeton, 1971. Standard intellectual biography, with an annotated bibliography of al-Husri’s works.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939.London, 1962. See pages 311-316.

Husri, Abu Khaldun Sati` al-. The Day of Maysalum: A Page from the Modern History of the Arabs (1947). Translated by Sidney Glazer.Washington,D.C., 1966. Describes al-Husri’s failed attempt to mediate between Faysal’s government inDamascusand the approaching French army in 1920.

Husri, Abu Khaldun Sati` al-. Mudhakkirati ft al-`Iraq, 1921-1941 (My Memoirs in Iraq, 1921-1941). 2 vols.Beirut, 1967-1968. Kenny, L. M. “Sati` al-Husri’s View on Arab Nationalism.”Middle EastJournal 17 (1963): 231-256.

Simon, Reeva S. Iraq between the Two World Wars: The Creation and Implementation of a Nationalist Ideology.New York, 1986. Gives the context and content of al-Husri’s educational program forIraq. Tibi, Bassam. Arab Nationalism: A Critical Enquiry. Translated and edited by Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett. 2d ed.New York, 1990. About half the study is devoted to al-Husri, emphasizing his debt to the organic nationalism of the German romantics.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/husri-abu-khaldun-sati-al/

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