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Muhammad Rashid Rida

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Muhammad Rashid RidaMuhammad Rashid Rida - Muhammad Rida or Rashid Rida or Rasheed Rida (September 23, 1865,  August 22, 1935) was an Islamic reformer,  the most important disciple of Muhammad Abduh and of Jamal_al-Din Al-Afghani, an early radical Islamist, and the inspiration for Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, founder and leader, respectively, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Live of Muhammad Rashid Rida

Rida was born in in the small village of al-Qalamun about 5 KM from Tripoli, then in the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire and now in Lebanon. He was supposedly descended from a very pious family of outstanding Muslim Ulema, as well-versed in Islamic knowledge. Many of his family were called sheikhs.  

Rida started his education at a Kuttab (traditional Qur'anic School) in his village where he learned the Qur'an, Arabic writing, and elements of arithmetic. After graduating, he was sent to the Rushdiyya National Primary School in Tripoli. There he studied Arabic grammar, math, the basics of geography, Islamic Belief, Islamic rituals, and Turkish. He left the school after a year, because most of the teaching was in Turkish.  He then  studied at the National Islamic School (al-Madrasa al-Wataniyya al-Islamiyya)  in Tripoli, founded by Shaykh Husayn al-Jisr. There he was taught both traditional Muslim theology and at least some "secular" content such as European languages and mathematics and philosophy.  He was exposed to the writings of Muhammad Abduh and Jamal_al-Din Al-Afghani in the short-lived pan-Islamic anti-colonialist journal al-`Urwa al-wuthqa (the firmest bond) which Abduh and al-Afghani published in Paris in 1884. In 1894, Abduh visited Tripoli briefly and Rida was his constant companion.  In 1897 he moved to Cairo to work with Muhammad Abduh. In 1898, they launched al Manar, which may have been Rida's idea - a journal of Islamic reform.  Al Manar supposedly comprised "Quranic commentary" (Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World Thompson Gale (2004), p.597) but it also included political articles and propaganda that had no relation to religious subjects. Rida died in 1905 en route to Suez.

Ideology of Muhammad Rashid Rida

Rida's philosophy evidently represented a transition from the modernist, rational, liberal and reformist tradition represented by Muhammad Abduh and Jamal_al-Din Al-Afghani to the radical, violent, reactionary, racist and Muslim supremacist philosophy of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.

Following the death of 'Abduh's in 1905, Rida came to be regarded as the leading disciple of Abduh and exponent of Islamic reform, after he published an extensive biography of Abdu. He also continued the Tafsir (commentary) of the Quran begun by Abdu. Most of Rida's energies were focused on publication of  al-Manar. However, he also wrote at length, both in Al-Manar and various books.

Despite extensive actual departures from Abduh, Rida's ideas were viewed as a legitimate continuation of 'Abduh's thought, and a pathway for  reinvigorating Islam and demonstrating its compatibility with modernity.

In common with Abduh and Afghani, Rida blamed Muslim decline on the Ulema (Muslim authorities), excesses of some Sufi sects which were opposed to political involvement(apparently he joined the Naqshbandi Sufi) and taqlid (imitation of previous jurists), and abandonment of what he considered the original Islamic writ. Like them, he called himself a Salafi, in the sense that he wanted to return to "first principles" as he saw them, and reinterpret Islam according to reason and first principles. He was convinced that the "correct" Islam lay not in the pronouncements of the Ulema of al-Azar and other prestigious places, but rather in the rulings of village elders and notables such as his own family.

But Rida diverged from Abduh and Afghani in very significant ways. Rida was, or became a pan-Arab advocate as much or more than a pan-Islamic advocate and used al-Manar to promote pan-Arabism with an Islamist slant. During and following World War I, he opposed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire because he correctly foresaw that it would mean the end of the Caliphate, and he likewise opposed the British sponsored Pan-Arab movement of Feisal, especially when it was defeated in Damascus.(ref)

Rida's version of Ittihad - Islamic unity - called for a Caliphate as Maududi had. Rida was profoundly affected by the dissolution of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He believed that the abolition was part of a conspiracy by the west to sow disunity among Muslims and weaken them. He cited Lord Cromer as stating the unity of Muslims was a challenge and a source of resistance to the forces of the Christian countries and that it had to be watched carefully (Dawoody, Ahmad Mohsen al-, The Intellectual Repercussions of the Abolition of the Caliphate in Egypt, unpublished MA thesis submitted to Leiden University, 1999, p. 25.)

Rida's caliphate would be be a collection of states, with a supreme Mujtahid to rule as an expert on matters of religion, with the consensus of a Shura council (Zubaidi, 1989, p. 15). As Bassam Tibi points out, (Tibi, p. 153) and as others have pointed out (especially Raziq), there was no Caliphate in the time of Muhammad, and the Caliphate as such is not mentioned in the Quran (the word Khilafah appears, but in another context). Therefore there is a contradiction between the supposed return to "first principles" on the one hand, and the insistence on a Caliphate or Islamic rule on the other. 

Rida identified many defective Muslim traditions with "Israiliyyah" - traditions that were supposedly inserted into Islam by converted Jews, and that were therefore suspect. Both from his early life history, in which he abandoned a Turkish school for an Arabic language one, and from his writings, it is apparent that Rida advocated Arab supremacy within the Islamic world. In his Fatwa against the translation of the Quran, he argued that parts of the Quran were untranslatable, and that only Arabic speakers could fully comprehend it. Translations of portions of the Quran could be made for those who required it for ritual purposes. However, a translation would produce a variant meaning. He explained:

The Qur'an prohibited taqlid [imitative reasoning] in religion and denounced the imitators. Deriving [the rulings of] religion from the translation of the Qur'an is an imitation of its translator, so it is a deviation from the guidance of the Qur'an and is not in accordance with it.(Al-Munajjid and Khuri, Fatawa al-Imam Muhammad Rashid Rida, Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid, Beirut, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 642-650. Tr by Mohamed A. M. Abou Sheishaa ref)  

In theory, at least, Rida's philosophy was liberal. He pleaded for Ijtihad (innovation). He stressed that Islam is based on reason and claimed that the Islamic Sharia is founded on the basis of Ijtihad. Without Ijtihad, in his view, Islam could not adapt and could not be an an eternal religion. Thus, anyone who is opposed to Ijtihad is  undermining the basis of Islam and of Sharia. "What a heinous crime is being committed, then, by these ignorant persons who call themselves the Ulema of Islam," he wrote. (Tafsir al-Manar vol. IV Cairo, 1375 (1956)  p.240). The call for perpetual and free Ijtihad could hardly sit well with Sunni Ulema who believe that the gates of Ijtihad are closed, and especially not with traditional Salafi theologists.  

In apparent contradistinction to those who view Islam as prescribing a whole way of life to the smallest details, Muhammad Rashid Rida  claimed that Islam gave great liberty to order the affairs of every day life. Islam requires that issues should be settled by consultation, The restrictions on Ijtihad placed by the ulema are not warranted, according to him. (Tafsir al-Manar vol. V Cairo, 1374 (1955)  p.189).

Rida must have been among the first to become aware of Zionism and to warn of the dangers of Zionism as he saw them. In 1898, he wrote in Al Manar:

Apathetic people, lift up your heads and see what is happening. Consider what people and nations are doing...Does it please you that the newspapers around the globe are reporting that the impoverished of the most miserable people [the Jews] whom all governments are expelling from their countries, have so mastered knowledge and civilization that they can come to your country, colonize it and transform its masters into wage laborers and its affluent men into paupers... Ponder this problem [Zionism] and make it the subject of your conversations, to ascertain if it is just or unjust, true of false. If it is clear that you have neglected to defend the rights of your fatherland and the interests of your nation and your religious community, ponder and study, debate and examine the matter. It is a worthier subject for consideration than focusing on shortcomings, spreading slander and insulting the innocent. It is more worthy of discussion than ridiculing and accusing your [Muslim?] brothers. (Rida, Muhammad Rashid, Khabar wa itibar (News and Views) al-Manar (April 9, 1898), p 108)

Works by Muhammad Rashid Rida

Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Hakim known as Tafsir al-Manar (Continuation of the commentary on the Qur'an begun by 'Abduh. Rida continued up to surat Yusuf XII, verse 100)

Al-Tafsir al-Mukhtasar al-Mufid (Intended as a summary of the Tafsir, begun by Rida and published by Muhammad Ahmad Kan'an and Zuhayr al-Shawish as Muhktasar Tafsir al-Manar, 3 vols, Beirut-Damascus, 1984)

Al-Manar Journal (The first volume was published in 1315A.H. [1898], the second section of the last volume (volume 35) was published and distributed after his death on 29th Rabi' II, 1354/1935)

Tarikh al-Ustaz al-Imam al-Shaykh Muhammad 'Abduh (A biography of his teacher published in three volumes)

Nida' lil Jins al-Latif or Huquq al-Mar'ah fi al-Islam )"A Call to the Fair Sex" or "Women's Rights in Islam").

Al-Wahy al-Muhammadi (Rational and historical proofs that the Qur'an is a Divine Revelation).

Tarjamat al-Qur'an wa ma fiha min Mafasid wa Munafat al-Islam, Matba'at al-Manar, Cairo, 1344/1926.

al Naqd Dhikra al-Mawlid al-Nabawi (Summary of the Prophet's biography and the foundations of Islam al-Manar 20, 1336/1918).

Al-Wahda al-Islamiiyya ([Islamic Unity]. Most of this work was first published under the title Muhawarat al-Muslih wa al-Muqallid ["Debates between the Reformer and the Imitator"])

Yusr al-Islam wa Usul al-Tashri' al-'Amm ("The Accommodating Spirit of Islam and the Sources of General Jurisprudence" published in 1928.)

Al-Khilafa wa al-Imama al-'Uzma ("The Caliphate and the Greater Imamate" Cairo, Manar Press.)

Al-Sunna wa al-Shari'a ("The Prophetic Tradition and Islamic Law")

Al-Muslimun wa al-Qibt ("Muslims and the Copts")

Al-Wahhabiyyun wa al-Hijaz ("The Wahhabites and the Hijaz")

Al-Manar wa al-Azhar ("Al-Manar and al-Azhar"]+

Ami Isseroff

References and bibliography

Abou Sheishaa, Mohamed Ali Mohamed, A Study of the Fatwa by Rashid Rida on the Translation of the Qur'an,  Journal of the Society for Qur'anic Studies, No 1, Vol 1, October 2001.

Enayat, Hamid, Mottahedeh , Roy P. Modern Islamic Political Thought, London, I.B. Tauris, 2004.

Rizq,Yunan Labib Al Ahram: A Diwan of Contemporary Life(305): Looking toward the Levant, Al Ahram weekly, No 449, Sept. 30- Oct 6, 1999.

Tibi, Bassam, The Challenge of Fundamentalism, UCLA, Berkeley, 2002.

Zubaidi, Sami, Islam, the people and the state, London, Routledge, 1989.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Mohamad Rashid RIda, Muhammad Rasheed Rida

Further Information: Al-Banna, Hassan Muslim Brotherhood Qutb, Sayyid  History of Islam and the Arabs  Islamism Jihad Maududi, Abul ala  Abduh, Muhammad

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