An Educated Muslim: Shibli Numani in Istanbul, Beirut, and Cairo, 1892–94

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:40 AM
Room 305 (Hynes Convention Center)
Manan Ahmed , Institute of Islamic Studies, Freie Universitšt Berlin, Berlin, Germany
A central concern for the late 19th century Indian Muslim intellectuals was to enable and train a properly “modern” Muslim subject. Two dominant streams towards a secular, English-based education or a turn towards a traditional, madrasa education dominated the discourse then, and do so, in large parts, even to this day. In either formulation, Muslims remain an entity outside of modernity, confronting stark choices of embracing or rejecting it. While Aligarh University or Deobandi madrasas have received thorough and systematic attention, a potential "third" option remains open for further inquiry. In 1898 Muhammad Shibli Numani (1857-1914), a Professor of Arabic and a leading  historian of early Islam,  led the establishment of a deeni university (Dar ul Ulum) which sought to place itself in both camps English-based scientific studies as well as Arabic-focused Islamic studies. My paper focuses on a travelogue (Safrnama-i Rum o Misr o Sham) Numani wrote after visiting Turkey, Egypt and Syria in 1892-3. In his travels, Numani reports extensively on the curriculums and catalogs of universities and schools in Constantinople, Beirut, and Cairo. His compilation of courses and historical texts, as well his discussion of their relevance to Muslim students show the ways in which he conceived of a trans-national and trans-historical Muslim subjectivity even as he comments on the un-translatability of Muslim practices across cultural and geographical divides. These early remarks written before he embarked on guiding his university curriculum complicate the limited (and limiting) narratives of Secular/Religious that often dominate current historiography. Numani’s historical and administrative outputs lead us to think differently about the politics of communal self-ideation among Muslims of the early 20th century and their relationship with a collective past variously imagined. It further offers us a venue into thinking about the conceptual frameworks governing Islamic history from orientalists to nationalists to believers.
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