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KHALAFALLAH, MUHAMMAD AHMAD (1916- 1991), contemporary Islamic modernist thinker. Born in Sharqiyah Province in Lower Egypt, he attended traditional Islamic schools, a government school, and then Dar al-`Ulum, followed by the Faculty of Arts at the Egyptian (later Cairo) University, from which he graduated in 1939 He completed his M.A. in 1942 with a thesis on “Al-jadal fi al-Qur’an” (Polemic in the Qur’an), later published as Muhammad wa-al-quwd almudaddah (Muhammad and the Forces of Opposition), and then joined the university faculty as a tutor. In 1947 he presented a doctoral dissertation on the Qur’an to the Faculty of Arts which stirred up considerable controversy and was not sustained, so he resigned from his university position in 1948. This dissertation was published after revision in 1951 under the title Al faun alqisasi fi al-Qur’an al-karim (The Art of Narrative in the Qur’an) and has been reprinted several times since. He gained his doctorate in 1954 with a thesis on Abu alFaraj al-Isbahani. He worked for many years in the Ministry of Culture, becoming undersecretary for planning in this ministry. Since retirement he has been active in the Egyptian Committee for Asian-African Solidarity and has been vice president of the National Progressive Unionist (Tajammu`) party. He is chief editor of the magazine Al yaqzah al-`Arabiyah (Arab Awakening), has written many articles on the Qur’an and Islam for popular periodicals, such as Ruz al -yusuf, and has written a large number of books, including works on modern reformers such as `Abd Allah Nadim and `Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi and works on Islamic topics, such as Al-Qur’an wa-mushkilat hayatina almu`asirah (The Qur’dn and Our Contemporary Problems), Al-Qur’an wa-al-dawlah (The Qur’an and the State), and Al-Islam wa-al-`urubah (Islam and Arabism).

Khalafallah’s doctoral dissertation on Qur’anic narrative caused controversy, because he argued that the Qur’anic narratives concerning previous prophets and other past events do not aim at providing precise historical information but are literary and artistic stories designed to sway the hearts of their hearers. Hence, one is free to reject the accounts as strict history, if led to do so on rational grounds. Although the work was published, it has been the subject of rebuttals. Khalafallah’s experience, reminiscent of that of Taha Husayn (18891971) earlier, shows the limits of tolerance on this sensitive issue.


In his writings on political and social matters, Khalafallah calls for a very broad interpretation of the Qur’an and argues that Arab socialism is consistent with Islam. Fixed prohibitions and commands can be established only by a very clear text of the Qur’an and in social matters maslahah (the welfare of Muslims) generally takes precedence over nass (text). He has been prominent among those opposed to the kind of link between religion and state demanded by the Muslim Brotherhood. In his writings he has sought to show a continuity between his thinking and that of earlier modernists, such as Muhammad `Abduh, as well as more classical writers.


Haddad, Yvonne Y. Contemporary Islam and the Challenge of History. Albany, N.Y., 1982. Chapter 4 provides a brief but good treatment of Khalafallah’s views on the Qur’Anic narratives and the controversy surrounding them. Jomier and Wielandt (below) provide longer treatments.

Jomier, Jacques. “Quelques positions actuelles de l’exegese coranique en Egypte revelees par une polemique recente, 1947-1951.” Melanges de l’Institut Dominicain d’Etudes Orientales du Caire 1 (1954): 39-72.

Khalafallah, Muhammad Ahmad. “The Constitution for the Return to Islamic Legislation.” In Islamic Law and Change in Arab Society, pp. 79-81. CEMAM Reports, vol. 4. Beirut, 1978.

Wielandt, Rotraud. Offenbarung and Geschichte im Den Muslime. Wiesbaden, 1971. See chapter 6.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khalafallah-muhammad-ahmad/

  • writerPosted On: July 23, 2014
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