Modernity without Society? Observations on the term mujtamaʿ in the Islamic Journal al-Manār (Cairo, 1898–1940)


In: Die Welt des Islams

It is characteristic of modernity that people conceive of their social affairs as ordered in and by society. While the evolution of the idea of society is well-researched in Europe, it remains an open question how this idea evolved within the Islamic context. This article analyzes the contemporary Arabic term for society, mujtamaʿ, as it was used in the mouthpiece of Islamic modernism, the journal al-Manār (Cairo, 1898–1940). I show that “society” was already the dominant meaning of mujtamaʿ in the first issue of al-Manār. However, few of the authors tackle mujtamaʿ as a central concept of their texts; and the journal’s editor, Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā, predominantly used mujtamaʿ to mean something other than society. These findings, combined with Riḍā’s interest in social questions, suggest that the idea of society was expressed from within the Islamic tradition in terms other than mujtamaʿ, most conspicuously umma.


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     Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

  • 14

     Adams, Islam and Modernism, 187.

  • 16

     Mahmoud Haddad, “The Manarists and Modernism: An Attempt to Fuse Society and Religion”, in Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic World: Transmission, Transformation, Communication, ed. Stéphane A. Dudoignon, Komatsu Hisao, and Kosugi Yasushi (London: Routledge, 2008), 55–73, here 57.

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  • 18

     See, for example, Juan R.I. Cole, “Rashid Rida on the Bahaʿi Faith: A Utilitarian Theory of the Spread of Religions”, Arab Studies Quarterly 5 (1983): 276–91.

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  • 19

     Richard van Leeuwen, “Islamic Reformism and the Secular: Rashid Ridâ’s Theory on Miracles”, in Religion and Its Other: Secular and Sacral Concepts and Practices in Interaction, ed. Heike Bock, Jörg Feuchter, and Michi Knecht (Frankfurt: Campus, 2008), 64–78, here 67.

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  • 20

     Richard van Leeuwen, “Islamic Reformism and the Secular: Rashid Ridâ’s Theory on Miracles”, in Religion and Its Other: Secular and Sacral Concepts and Practices in Interaction, ed. Heike Bock, Jörg Feuchter, and Michi Knecht (Frankfurt: Campus, 2008), 77.

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  • 23

     See Talal Asad, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam”, Occasional Paper Series, Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University (March 1986), esp. 14–17.

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  • 24

     See Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

  • 25

     Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 229.

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     Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 198 fn. 24.

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     Adi Ophir, “Concept”, Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon 1 (2011), (accessed 23 November 2012).

  • 54

     Phil Withington, Society in Early Modern England: The Vernacular Origins of Some Powerful Ideas (Cambridge/Malden: Polity, 2010), 12, 105.

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  • 58

     Alphonse Esquiros, L’Émile du dix-neuvième siècle (Paris: Librairie Internationale, 1869). Despite Esquiros’s 1841 imprisonment in France due to allegedly anti-religious views, Riḍā published a translation of Émile in a series of articles in vols. 2–9. Riḍā later published the entire translation as a book, al-Tarbiya al-istiqlāliyya aw Amīl al-qarn al-tāsiʿa ʿashar, trans. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Muḥammad (Cairo: Matbaʿat al-Manar, 1331h. [1913]). Both Riḍā and the translator, however, stressed in footnotes their disagreement with Esquiros whenever they perceived his text as too critical of religion.

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  • 62

     See Manfred Riedel, “Gesellschaft, Gemeinschaft”, in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland; Band 2 E-G, ed. Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (Stuttgart: Klett, 1975), 801–62, esp. 859.

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  • 63

     Amīr ʿAlī, “al-Marʾa qabl al-Islām wa-baʿdahu”, al-Manār 16 (1913): 933–41, here 936/18, 938/5, 939/4, 17, 25f.

  • 64

     ʿAlī, “al-Marʾa”, 933.

  • 73

     In 1898, Rafīq al-ʿAẓm warns of disturbing the order of the Eastern society (al-mujtamaʿ al-sharqī): [Rafīq al-ʿAẓm,] “Man al-masʾūl, al-ḥukūma am al-shaʿb”, al-Manār 1 (1899): 866–72, here 867/24.

  • 76

     Rashīd Riḍā, “al-ʿIzz wa-l-dhull”, al-Manār 2 (1899): 193–99, here 196/18.

  • 77

     Rashīd Riḍā, “al-Hayra wa-l-ghumma wa-manāshiʾuhumā fī l-umma”, al-Manār 2 (1900): 753–58, here 757/9.

  • 82

     Shakīb Arslān, “Limādhā ta⁠ʾakhkhara l-muslimūn wa-limādhā taqaddama ghayruhum (3)”, al-Manār 31 (1930): 529–39, here 538/15, see also 534/18.

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  • 83

     Ḥasan al-Bannā, “al-Marʾa al-muslima (2)”, al-Manār 35 (1940): 765–73, here 767/7–8, 768/7–8. The fact that immediately after the second, slightly different occurrence of this definition, al-Bannā uses mujtamaʿ to mean gatherings or places of assembly testifies again to the term’s multiple layers of meaning.

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  • 86

     Ḥasan al-Bannā, “Mawqif al-ʿālam al-Islāmī l-siyāsī al-yawm”, al-Manār 35 (1940): 747–50, here 750/18.

  • 95

     Rashīd Riḍā, “al-Asʾila al-dīniyya wa-ajwibatuhā”, al-Manār 4 (1901): 221–25, here 224/4–6. Riḍā might not have all societies in mind here, as he goes on to speak of Islamic laws as more suitable “for our society” (li-mujtamaʿinā), 224/8.

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  • 97

     Ṭaha Ḥusayn, La philosophie sociale d’Ibn-Khaldoun (Paris: A. Pedone, 1917); idem, Falsafat Ibn Khaldūn al-ijtimāʿiyya: taḥlīl wa-naqd, trans. Muḥammad ʿAbdallāh ʿInān (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Iʿtimād, 1925).

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  • 100

     See Rebhan, Geschichte und Funktion, 24–35; Ayalon, Language and Change, 26ff.

  • 105

     Rashīd Riḍā, “Sayḥat ḥaqq”, al-Manār 1 (1898): 217–25, here 220/17; repeated in: idem, “Mashrūʿ sikkat ḥadīd bayna Būr Saʿīd wa-l-Baṣra”, al-Manār 1 (1898): 318–31, here 328/17–18.

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  • 110

     Rashīd Riḍā, “al-Asʾila wa-l-ajwiba”, al-Manār 6 (1904): 902–07, here 904/24.

  • 111

     Rashīd Riḍā, “al-Ḥayāt al-milliyya bi-l-tarbiya al-ijtimāʿiyya”, al-Manār 8 (1905): 811–19, here 813/21f.

  • 115

     Riḍā, al-Muslimūn, 61.

  • 118

     Riḍā, al-Muslimūn, 116. On the conference having to fulfill this role, see also pages 125, 131.

  • 120

     Esquiros, L’Émile, 418; idem, al-Tarbiya, 450; [idem, trans. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Muḥammad,] “Khātimat kitāb Amīl al-qarn al-tāsiʿa ʿashar”, al-Manār 9 (1906): 781–83, here 783. Some of the other fourteen translations of société as umma are: Esquiros, L’Émile, 272; idem, al-Tarbiya, 298; [idem, trans. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Muḥammad,] “al-Shadhra al-sābiʿa min jarīdat Amīl”, al-Manār 5 (1902): 349–54, here 353; Esquiros, L’Émile, 427; idem, al-Tarbiya, 427; [idem, trans. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Muḥammad,] “al-Maktūb al-sādis – al-tarbiya al-dīniyya wa-l-falsafiyya”, al-Manār 9 (1906): 455–61, here 459.

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  • 121

     For example: Esquiros, L’Émile, 264, 266; idem, al-Tarbiya, 290, 292; [idem, trans. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Muḥammad,] “al-Shadhra al-khāmis [wa-l-sādis] min jarīdat Amīl”, al-Manār 5 (1902): 269–72, here 271, 272.

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  • 123

     On him see Adams, Islamic Modernism, 213.

  • 124

     Edmond Demolins, A quoi tient la supériorité des Anglo-Saxons (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1897); idem, Sirr taqaddum al-Injlīz, trans. Aḥmad Fatḥī Zaghlūl (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Maʿārif, 1899). For reviews of this book in al-Manār, see Rashīd Riḍā, “al-Kitabān al-jalīlān”, al-Manār 2 (1899): 282–86; ʿA. Z., “Radd ʿalā bāḥith fī kitāb Sirr taqaddum al-Inklīz al-Saksiyūn”, al-Manār 2 (1899): 465–70; Rashīd Riḍā, “Athār ʿilmiyya adabiyya”, al-Manār 11 (1908): 528–39, here 537f.

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