Azharite Clerics in Egypt : protection of their professional role in a changing religious and political environment, 1805-1968




Cumming, Willis Winfield

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This study seeks to investigate the relationship of the religious seminary, Azhar, in Egypt between the years of Muhammad Ali's reign (1805-1849), and the 1960s under Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970). It pays special attention to the relationship that developed as a result of the "Development of Azhar Law" that Nasser promulgated in 1961. While the change in politics and popular religious culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century initially created difficulties for the institution’s religious scholars in preserving their professional role in Egyptian society, Azhar gained a new political importance as a center for producing works of apology in favor of Nasser's post-colonial regime. This new relationship proved auspicious not only for the state who could rely on Azhar's support against written attacks against it by Islamists, but also for the institution itself which gained the security of state financial support and a vested interest of the state in keeping the seminary graduates employed and active in social and political life. This transformation, although giving the institution a new political relevance, compromised its independence from state control to the point where it incorporated pro-state propaganda into its religious message. Consideration of these historical phenomena lead us to wonder about resulting legacy of Azhar's religious message and the implications it has for popular religion and politics in Egypt.



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