Pre-Eighteenth-Century Traditions of Revivalism: Damascus in the Thirteenth Century

Pre-Eighteenth-Century Traditions of Revivalism: Damascus in the Thirteenth Century

By Konrad Hirschler

Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol.68:2 (2005)

Damascus in 1886

Abstract: This article examines whether it is possible to trace eighteenth and nineteenth-century revivalist thought to earlier ‘medieval’ examples. The discussion is centred on the issue of ijtihad/taqlid, which featured prominently in revivalist thought. Taking the example of scholars in thirteenth-century Damascus, it firstly compares the respective readings of ijtihad/taqlid, by focusing on one individual, Abu Shama (d. 1267).

It secondly asks whether a scholar like Abu Shama who had adopted a reading similar to later revivalists, also took a critical and oppositional stand against large sections of his contemporary society, i.e. a revivalist posture. It is this article’s main contention that the example of Abu Shama shows the need to study in more detail possible revivalist traditions prior to the ‘grand’ movements. The combination of the history of ideas and social history might allow a deeper understanding of how and in what contexts calls for reform and opposition to the current state of affairs were expressed.

The revivalist movements in Islamic countries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are of special interest in the history of reform and opposition there. As increasing European penetration did not yet play a salient role, these revivalists acted largely within an endogenous system of reference. In contrast, nineteenth-century modernists, such as al-Afghamni (d. 1897) and Muhammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905) had to consider the degree to which they should emulate European models in such important matters as administration, education and law.

Revivalist movements have been increasingly subject to research within the framework of the general trend to study the hitherto neglected eighteenth century more intensively. Among the most important personalities in these movements were Shamh Wali Allamh (d. 1766) on the South Asian subcontinent, Muhammad b. [Abd al-Wahhamb (d. 1792) on the Arabian peninsula, Muhammad b. [Ali al-Shawkamni (d. 1834) in Yemen and Muhammad b. [Ali al-Sanumsi (d. 1859) in North Africa.

Click here to read this article from the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

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