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NAHDAH. The Arabic word nahdah may be translated “rising,” “awakening,” “revival,” or “renaissance” and refers commonly to the revival, or renaissance, of Arabic literature and culture in the Levant and Egypt from about the middle of the nineteenth century to World War I. This revival began with the work of writers such as Nasif Yaziji (1800-1871) and Butrus al-Bustani (18191883) in Syria and Lebanon and Rifa’ah Raffal-Tahtawi (1801-1873) in Egypt, who sought to revive classical forms of Arabic, to develop the language in new ways appropriate to modern times, and to make their compatriots aware of the new ideas coming from Europe. These concerns are exemplified by two of al-Bustani’s main achievements, his Arabic dictionary Muhit al-muhit (Circumference of the Ocean) and his uncompleted Encyclopaedia. There was also a concern to develop a common patriotism that would transcend sectarian differences. Initially this was limited to Syria or Egypt, but in time it was to develop into a Pan-Arab sentiment.

The Nahdah expressed itself partly through cultural societies, the first of which was formed in Beirut in 1807, and later in political societies, of which the first was a secret society in Beirut in 1875 that called for the autonomy of Syria and Lebanon and the recognition of Arabic as the official language. Also important were newspapers and periodicals, beginning in 1870 with alBustani’s review, Al jinan (The Shield).

In later years activity shifted mainly to Cairo, where there was greater freedom of expression. A number of newspapers were published, largely by Syrians and Lebanese, including Al-mugtataf (The Selection, 1876), Alahram (The Pyramids, 1876) and Al-hilal (The Crescent, 1892), the last edited by Jurji Zaydan, an important author in his own right. Among the contributors to Al-mugtataf was Shibli Shumayyil (1850-1917), the preacher of Darwinism. Although the Nahdah had begun in Christian circles, and to a degree under the stimulus of Western missionaries, it was predominantly Muslim by the end of the century.

Although the Nahdah is commonly considered to have ended by World War I, it laid the basis for the Arab national movement to follow. The word may also refer to the Arab and/or Islamic revival of the whole modern period, and Abdallah Laroui speaks of a “second Nahdah” dating from the mid-1960s as Arab intellectuals have attempted to rethink their positions (1976, p. 92). In 1989 the Islamic Tendency Movement in Tunisia changed its name to the Renaissance Party (Hizb alNahdah), and Al-nahdah is the name of the journal of the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific (RISEAP). In all these uses the term implies a historical sequence of past greatness, recent decadence, and a current effort to revive greatness. It therefore encapsulates a picture of history and ideological presuppositions that are widely shared among both Arabs and other Muslims today.

[See also Arab Nationalism; Revival and Renewal.]


Amin, Samir. The Arab Nation: Nationalism and Class Struggle. Translated by Michael Pallis. London, 1978.

Antonius, George. The Arab Awakening. New York, 1965 (foreword dated 1938). Classic study of the period, though now dated in many ways.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. London, 1962 (reprinted with a new preface in 1983). The most important study of Arabic political and social thought for the period. Laroui, Abdallah. The Crisis of the Arab Intellectual: Traditionalism or Historicism? Translated by Diarmid Cammel. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976.

The Renaissance Party in Tunisia: The Quest for Freedom and Democracy. Washington, D.C., 1991. Collection of materials by party supporters. For the term nahdah, see especially the preamble to the constitution (pp. 181-183).


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/nahdah/

  • writerPosted On: November 8, 2016
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