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The Making of a Muslim Reformer: Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917-1996) and Islam in Postcolonial Egypt, 1947-1967

Zárate, Arthur Shiwa

This is an intellectual biography of the classically trained Egyptian Muslim scholar, Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917-1996). A one-time leading intellectual of Egypt’s influential Islamic organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, Ghazālī was a popular author with a vast public following. Although his ideas have shaped the trajectories of various Islamic groups that emerged in Egypt during the 1970s “Islamic Revival,” he remains understudied. Through an analysis of his writings, this study presents a novel account on modern Islamic political thought, arguing that its sources extend well beyond what the secondary literature, as well as Muslims today, portray as the mainstays of the Islamic tradition—that is, the Qur’ān, the Sunna (Prophetic traditions), and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In contrast, it places Sufism and Islamic philosophy, or more specifically Islamic philosophical ethics, at the heart of Ghazālī’s modern-day political critiques. Additionally, it moves beyond the scholarly narrative that depicts contemporary Islamic political thought as simply Islamic reformulations of concepts and categories derived from modern Western social thought. By examining Ghazālī’s considerable interest in Euro-American self-help, spiritualism, and psychical research, it shows how his engagement with these new forms of religion was mediated by Islamic theological concepts, which he deployed to not only make sense of his interlocutors’ claims, but also correct and build upon their work. In highlighting the corrective and productive impulse behind his engagement with Euro-American thought, it demonstrates that Ghazālī was not merely an assimilator of Western ideas, but rather a contributor to a global project of rethinking the human potential.

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Academic Units
History
Thesis Advisors
Elshakry, Marwa
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
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