The Independent Path of Shaykh al-Azhar ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm Maḥmūd


In: Die Welt des Islams
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  • 1 1Beer-Sheva
almosh@walla.com

  • 2 2Beer-Sheva
ymeital@bgu.ac.il


The present article calls into question the widely-held notion that the Islamic establishment in contemporary Egypt is subservient to the ruling class. We eschew the simplistic binary approach to interactions between the political and religious leadership, and claim that under the stewardship of Shaykh ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm Maḥmūd, al-Azhar maintained an autonomous agenda that diverged from the regime’s views on a fair share of public and political issues. By dint of a careful analysis of several major disagreements between Shaykh Maḥmūd and the ruling elite, we hope to shed new light on the complex dynamics that limited the regime’s ability to compel the religious establishment to toe the ‘party line’. Although al-Azhar indeed strengthened the regime and legitimized its overall policy, the institution also challenged the latter on crucial topics, such as the Personal Status Law, the sale of alcohol, and the integration of Islamic values into the education system’s curricula.


  • 1

    Yoram Meital, Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967–1977 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997), pp. 131–172.

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  • 4

    Malika Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt: The Ulema of al-Azhar, Radical Islam, and the State”, IJMES, vol. 3 (1999), pp. 378–395.

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  • 6

    Hatsuki Aishima and Armando Salvatore, “Doubt, Faith, and Knowledge: The Reconfiguration of the Intellectual Field in Post-Nasserist Cairo”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 15 (May 2009), p. 44.

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  • 12

    Gershoni and Jankowski, Redefining the Egyptian Nation, 1930–1945, p. 65.

  • 16

    Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 3–11, 144–151.

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  • 17

    Zeghal, “Religion and Politics in Egypt”, p. 383. See also: Tamir Moustafa, “The State and Religious Institution in Egypt”, IJMES, vol. 32 (2000), pp. 7–10. Moustafa shows convincingly how the regime tried to gain control over al-Azhar through the Ministry of Endow­ments and by legislation.

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  • 32

    Ibid., p. 437.

  • 37

    Maḥmūd, “Min al-ῑmām al-akbar ilā raʾīs majlis al-shaʿb wa-l-wuzarāʾ”, Majallat al-Azhar (August 1976), pp. 734–735.

  • 39

    Nathalie Bernard Maugiron, Judges and Political Reform in Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), pp. 175f., 233f.

  • 40

    John Esposito and Natana Delong-Bas, Women in Muslim Family Law (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2001), pp. 47–61; Nathan Brown, The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Gulf (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 195–202.

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  • 55

    Jamal J. Nasir, The Islamic Law of Personal Status (London: Graham and Trotman, 1990), 2nd edition, pp. 345f.

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