Tuesday 26 May 2020

An international Islamic Entrepreneur: Reassessing Rashid Rida (1865-1935)

Rashid Rida (1865-1935)
The latest book of historian of Islam Leor Halevi sheds new light on an Muslim intellectual, who is simultaneously considered as belonging to the triumvirate of 19th and 20th-century Islamic reformism (alongside Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh), and a would-be Wahhabi because of his support for Saudi Arabia in the final years of his life.

Modern  Things on  Trial: Islam's Global and  Material Reformation in the Age of Rida, 1865-1935 offers a critical rereading of that image and presents an alternative interpretation of Rashid Rida (1865-1935). The following excerpts are taken from Muhammad Addakhakhny's review for the Jadaliyya website.
Rida is no longer a sullen fundamentalist who betrayed his sheikh or a Machiavellian who compromised his religion, as we have been told. As a publisher, editor, self-appointed mufti, entrepreneur, Arabic teacher for nonnative speakers, unofficial diplomat, and political dreamer, he led a life of activity and continuous contemplation. For Halevi, the Syrian cleric should not be subsumed into any one stereotype, or viewed as a one-dimensional man, but rather as a multilayered figure. 
Halevi's book is an interesting mix of intellectual and material history-writing.

Modern Things on Trial draws fragments of the daily life of early twentieth-century Muslim subjects who lived a breathtaking and unprecedented entrance of “western” goods to their cities. In this work, we are exposed to a materialist reading of Salafism
Rashid Rida is presented as an 'international Islamic entrepreneur', advocating a kind of 'laissez-faire salafism'. At the same time, Rida's contributions to Islamic reformism are often presented:
as an odd moment in a history of a progressive strain of thinkers or, even, as a failed enlightener. He moved, the story goes, from moderation to extremism. In other words, if one were to exploit Althusserian terms, some kind of epistemological break happened in his project after World War I
His contributions to Islamic reformism have been downplayed on grounds of his associations with Saudi Wahhabism:
Yet there may be another explanation of this underestimation, namely, his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its founder, Hasan al-Banna (1906–49). [...] Various Brotherhood ideologues have expressed their appreciation of Rida’s work and depicted him and Banna as brothers in arms. 
Be that as it may, Islamists gave an exalted status to Rida and it is this exact status that has made him, to some extent, an ill-fated Muslim reformer. 
Click here to read the whole review.