In Middle Eastern and Islamic intellectual history, there has long been an assumption of decline in the eighteenth century, right before the nineteenth century, when the nahda
or Arabic intellectual renaissance, began: intellectuals were caught in a period of stagnation and retrograde. Ahmad Dallal pushes back against this in Islam without Europe: Traditions of Reform in Eighteenth Century Islamic Thought
(University of North Carolina Press, 2018)
, bringing together an intricate matrix of ideas stemming from multiple fields of knowledge. He pins this all together with the notion of reform, all the while reminding us that reform is also about tradition. He starts with Wahhabism, carefully dissecting the thought of Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab, and then connects it to eighteenth century responses to Wahhabism. From there on, he draws in Hadith studies, Sufism, the concept of Ijtihad in legal reasoning, and legal theory to paint a tapestry of interlaced and dynamic ideas. Overwhelmingly, Dallal demonstrates that reform was tied to giving practicing Muslims increasing control over their own faith. Beyond that, Dallal talks to us about Islamic studies, Orientalism, and modernity, elucidating why we need to bring the 18th century back into the fold of Islamic and Middle Eastern intellectual history.
is the dean of Georgetown University in Qatar. He was professor of history (2009-2017) and was the provost at the American University in Beirut (AUB) from 2009 to 2015.
Nadirah Mansour is a graduate student at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies working on the global intellectual history of the Arabic-language press. She tweets @NAMansour26 and produces another Middle-East and North Africa-related podcast: Reintroducing.