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KAWAKIBI, `ABD AL-RAHMAN AL- (185419o2), Islamic revivalist and advocate of an Arab caliphate. Al-Kawakibi was born to a prominent family in Aleppo, Syria, and was educated thoroughly in religion, Ottoman administrative law, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi. He began his career in journalism and the law and from 1879 to 1896 held several senior public posts.


After suffering from the intrigues of Ottoman officials, in 1898 al-Kawakibi fled to Egypt where he remained until his death in 1902.

Al-Kawakibi is best known for his two books Umm al-qurd (The Mother of the Villages), one of the names of Mecca, and Taba’i` Al-istibdad (The Attributes of Tyranny). He published them in Cairo under the pen names of al-Sayyid al-Furati and Traveller K, respectively, to avoid the harassment of the Ottoman authorities. Published in 1899, Umm al-qurd is an account of the proceedings of a fictitious secret congress (The Congress of Islamic Revival) in Mecca attended by twentytwo Muslim delegates from Arab, Muslim, European, and Asian countries. The participants’ purpose was to discuss the causes of the decline of the Muslim peoples and design a reform program for their recovery.

Al-Kawakibi attributed this decline to religious, political, and moral factors. Influenced by the reform ideas of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad `Abduh, he advocated a return to the original purity of Islam, which had been distorted by alien concepts and currents such as mysticism, fatalism, sectarian divisions, and imitation. These distortions had led to ignorance among the Muslims and their submission to stagnant theologians and despotic rulers who suppressed freedoms, promoted false religion, and corrupted the moral, social, educational, and financial systems of the Muslim nation.

Al-Kawakibi proposed the formation of a society, with branches throughout the Muslim world, to educate Muslims and promote in them the aspiration for progress. Holding non-Arabs, namely the Turks, accountable for the degeneration of Islam, he called for an Arab caliphate, which would exercise religious and cultural leadership, not temporal authority, and become the basis for the revival of Islam and an Islamic federation. He stipulated that the caliph be from the tribe of Quraysh, have limited powers, and be subject to election every three years and accountable to an elected council. He viewed the true Islamic state as one based on political freedoms and government accountability.

Alluding to the autocratic rule of the Ottomans, Tabai al-istibdad is an outright attack on tyranny. AlKawakibi discussed the nature of despotism and its devastating effects on society as a whole. A despotic state conducts the affairs of its citizens without fear of accountability or punishment, suppresses their rights, and prevents their education and enlightenment. Its purpose is to keep the people acquiescent and inactive; consequently, it destroys their moral, religious, and national bonds. Al-Kawakibi advocated education and gradualism as the means to uproot tyranny.

Al-Kawakibi contributed greatly to the evolution of Arab nationalist thought. Unlike the proponents of PanIslam at the time, he drew a clear distinction between the Arab and non-Arab Muslims, exalted the former on the basis of their language, descent, and moral attributes, and explicitly called for an Arab state. His fictional congress in Umm al-qurd inspired many reformers who later adopted the idea and put it into practice. Thus, he gave an organizational form and a political content to the cause of reform and to the Arabs’ aspiration for independence from the Ottomans. Al-Kawakibi was far from being a secularist; in his endorsement of an Arab spiritual leadership and a restricted caliphate, however, he separated the temporal and spiritual, a division that represented a break from classical Islamic thought.

[See also Arab Nationalism; Caliphate.]


Amin, Ahmad. Zu’ama’ al-isldh ft al-`asr al-hadith (Reform Leaders in the Modern Time). Cairo, 1979. Chapter on al-Kawakibl is a thorough study of his two books.

`Aqqad, ‘Abbas M. al-. `Abd al-Rahman al-Kawdkibi: Al-Rahhalah Kdf (`Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibl: Traveler K). Beirut, 1969. Excellent analysis of al-Kawakibi’s background, thought, and contributions.

Haim, Sylvia G., “Alfieri and al-Kawakibi.” Oriente Moderno 34 (1954) 321-334. Haim suggests that al-Kawakibi’s ideas on despotism were influenced by the Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803).

Haim, Sylvia G. “Blunt and al-Kawakibi.” Oriente Moderno 35 (1955): 132-143. Haim unconvincingly claims that al-Kawakibi’s call for an Arab caliphate was inspired by the English poet Wilfred S. Blunt (1840-1922).

Haim, Sylvia G., ed. Arab Nationalism: An Anthology. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976. Haim’s introductory chapter, “Writers on Arab Nationalism,” is a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the ideology of Arab nationalism.

Husry, Khaldun S. Three Reformers: A Study in Modern Arab Political Thought. Beirut, 1966. Chapter on al-Kawakibi is a thorough and insightful study of his life and thought. Husry attempts to refute Haim’s thesis.

Kawakibi, `Abd al-Rahman al-. Al-a’mal al-kamilah li-`Abd alRahman al-Kawakibi (The Complete Works of `Abd al-Rahman alKawakibi). Edited by Muhammad `Imarah. Cairo, 1970. AlKawakibi’s works are prefaced by a detailed study of his life and thought.

Kramer, Martin. Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congresses. New York, 1986. Section dealing with al-Kawakibi (pp. 3035) is a significant study of his contribution to the idea of an Arab caliphate and Muslim congresses.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kawakibiabd-al-rahman-al/

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