Abderazziq, caliphate and secularism

Abderazziq, caliphate and secularism

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We often hear, and not only from non-Muslims, that in Islam temporal power and spiritual power are necessarily linked, at all times, and that this would partly explain a difficulty in secularizing Muslim countries and adapting citizens of Muslim religion or culture in so-called secular countries. Yet there are many thinkers who have reflected on these questions and have challenged received ideas. Among them, the Egyptian Ali Abdel Raziq, or Abderraziq (1888-1966).

A biography of Abdel Raziq

Abderraziq was born in Egypt in 1888 to a well-to-do rural family. His father is a landowner and especially founder of the Umma party in 1907, which defends the idea of ​​a modern national community. It is in the mainstream of liberal modernism in Egypt at the start of the 20th century, and soon after liberal-constitutionalists. Abderraziq's family is also close to the Salafi reformist Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), and Ali Abdel's older brother Mostafa received training at Al-Azhar University where he tried to impose Abduh's theses.

Abderazziq also followed his training at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, where he received the degree of ‘Power supply (singular of ulema) in 1911. Like his brother, he then tried to modernize the institution from within, particularly in the field of education. However, as early as 1912, like Abduh before him, he left for a trip to Europe to study economics and political science; unfortunately, the war forces him to return to Egypt before the end of his studies. He then resumed his career: taught Arabic literature, became cadi in Mansourah and begins to reflect on the Islamic justice system.

The political context is decisive in his thinking: Egyptian revolution in 1919, liberal constitution of 1923, and above all the abolition of the caliphate in 1924. He then published his major work, Islam and the foundations of power (1925), which immediately triggered a lively controversy. Under pressure from King Fouad, Abderazziq is attacked on trial by Al-Azhar's ulemas himself! His theses were severely condemned, he lost his rank of ‘Power supply, and he has to keep a low profile for many years. He resumed some functions at the end of the 1940s, was even knighted in 1946. But Nasser's revolution struck his family, and Abderazziq walled in silence, until his death in 1966.

Abdel Raziq's theses

Abderazziq's book, Islam and the foundations of power, mainly questions the status of the caliphate in Islam.

First he tackles theijma (consensus) which would have instituted the caliphate as a compulsory political authority for religious reasons; according to Abderazziq, there would be no serious basis in the texts (Koran and Sunnah) to validate what would in fact be an imposition of the caliphate by force by the successors of Muhammad; the latter would not have founded the first Muslim state in Medina, contrary to the historical vulgate, even if he would have had to resort to more or less political (and state) structures to manage the Muslim community.

Abderazziq then wishes to separate the prophetic dimension and the political dimension of the Prophet's action by historicizing the beginnings of Islam. The political leadership exercised by Muhammad in Medina would be inconceivable after him, which de facto delegitimizes the “successors” of the Prophet, the caliphs. rashidûn (well guided), and even more the following. The caliphate is in a way a construct to legitimize the control of a few over the umma.

Its text, which some think of more as an anti-monarchical pamphlet or against the traditional ulemas of Al-Azhar than as a philosophical text, therefore provokes a great controversy, by the substance of its subject, but also the status of its author. However, it is little followed up, in the context of an ebb of liberal ideas in Egypt. It remains, however, even today, a benchmark for some "modernist" Muslims, and for those who believe that Islam can be secularized, and even secularized.

In the 1920s, his thesis was therefore far from being the majority, already before him with Rachid Rida, but even more a few years after him with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood ...

Non-exhaustive bibliography

- A. Filali-Ansary, Is Islam hostile to secularism?, Sinbad, 2002.

- A. Abderazziq, Islam and the foundations of power, trad fr A. Filali-Ansary, La Découverte, 1994.

- N. Picaudou, Islam between religion and ideology (Essay on Muslim modernity), Gallimard, 2010.

- H. Laurens, The Arab Orient (Arabism and Islamism from 1798 to 1945), A. Colin, 2004.

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