The Home-grown Secular: Religion, Education and Language in the Writings of Abdullah al-Nadim (1843-1896)
For almost two centuries, Muslim societies have been in a debate regarding their responses to modernity. Interwoven with this response is their reaction to secularism and the process of secularisation. This research focuses on the state of secularity and the process of secularization in Egypt in the last quarter of the 19th century as advocated and perceived in literary works of Abdullah al-Nadim (d. 1896). Nadim’s work represents an intellectual trend, with others such as Yaqub Sannu (d. 1912), where religion was not the central driving force behind progress. This trend goes beyond religious reformism as championed by Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905) and the type of secularism that is influenced by Christian Protestantism as obvious in the works of Yaqub Sarruf (d. 1927) and Faris Nimr (d. 1951). Nadim’s home-grown secularity did neither perceive the Egyptian society as essentially religious, nor European traditions as inherently progressive. This research challenges two types of essentialist approaches; the first is the one perceiving Egyptian society as solely religion-centred, and the second is the essentialist cognitive approach to revelation and its orthodox nature often confused with history and preached as an inevitable static identity of Muslim societies. Secularity, in this research, refers to different processes and aspects in different societies. It has an overarching meaning which is the equality between religious authority in worldly affairs and other authorities in a diverse society; a society which does not surrender to religious reasoning and establishment in intellectual, social and political.