Continuity and change in the concept of freedom through three generations of the modern Arab Renaissance (Nahda)
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This thesis traces the development of the concept of freedom through three generations of the Modern Arab Renaissance (Nahda). The first chapter challenges the claim that the concept of freedom, in the sense of a political right, was absent from Arab thought prior to the French occupation of Egypt (1798-1801). ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti’s (1754-1825/6) chronicle of the occupation reveals that he possessed the concept of freedom despite the lack of an Arabic word to identify it. Therefore, when Rifa’a Rafi’ al-Tahtawi (1801-73) translated the French term liberté into Arabic, through a semantic expansion of the word hurriyah, he was naming rather than introducing the concept. The second chapter turns to Syria and examines how Butrus al-Bustani’s (1819-83) advocacy of the freedom of conscience (hurriyat al-damir) as an individual right reflects the influence of his American missionary mentors. However, while the missionaries used this concept to defend their narrow sectarian interests, Bustani believed that the freedom of all citizens must be protected equally by a secular government. The third chapter follows two Syrian friends, Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935) and Farah Antun (1874-1922), who migrated to Egypt where their differing visions of reform brought them into conflict on the pages of their respective literary journals. While Antun argued that secularism provides the best guarantee of freedom, Rida contended that true freedom is only found in Islam. Despite this divide, they shared the same fundamental understanding of the value and meaning of freedom. This chapter shows that the concept of freedom is compatible with differing political ideologies while maintaining its core semantic field. Although there were some changes in how Arab intellectuals conceived of freedom during the nineteenth century, this study demonstrates that there was considerable continuity.