Distinguishing Companions: Mixed-Confession Education, Assimilation, and Islamic Thought

In: Sociology of Islam

In this paper, I consider controversies over the question of mixed-confession education in late-19th century Beirut and contrast the assumptions behind them with those that governed educational and mixed spaces in the premodern Muslim world. The paper has two parts. In part one, I examine how Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905), a scholar who wanted to inspire Muslims to engage a changing world with generous confidence, theorized mixed education. By contrast, Yūsuf al-Nabhānī (1849–1932), believed modernity and cross-confessional schooling threatened the distinctiveness of this community. In part two, I present a formative work on educational theory Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s (1058–1111) formative educational theory and a text by Taqī al-Dīn ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328) on that tells Muslims how to preserve their distinctiveness from non-Muslims. Ghazālī’s text describes how Muslims are to cultivate themselves and fellowship among Muslims, and Ibn Taymiyya’s instructs them how to preserve themselves and their community in a world of others. The premodern texts clearly delineate different kinds of spaces that are put together in modern education, in which the question of difference provokes considerable anxiety and instability. Throughout I draw on the work of Saba Mahmood, who troubles modern understandings of inclusion and exclusion, subjects and their worlds, and ethics and politics.

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