Egyptian Cultural Critique, Thought and Literature: Muslim Identities and the Predicament of Modernity
Habib, Maha Fawzi Said
Date: 14 March 2012
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
Islam has, throughout its history, played a pivotal role in the lives of its adherents. Islam’s significance for its adherents stems from and is informed by it as a doctrine, a system of discipline and ritual, and a system of social ethics and practices. Throughout Islamic history, Islam has undergone significant reformation efforts ...
Islam has, throughout its history, played a pivotal role in the lives of its adherents. Islam’s significance for its adherents stems from and is informed by it as a doctrine, a system of discipline and ritual, and a system of social ethics and practices. Throughout Islamic history, Islam has undergone significant reformation efforts as was socially and culturally perceived to be necessary from within its community. However, with the advent of colonialism, the introduction of the concept of the nation-state, and the ushering of the age of modernity, the form and structure of such reformation was much informed by the relationship of Islam and its adherents to the ‘other’ (the West) and its knowledge systems. Islam has since been confronted with the question of its own validity, from inside and outside the community of adherents. The struggle with the place of religion, the place of the sacred, has played out throughout the history of Islam within Egypt, at times expanding, at others withdrawing, as it dealt with political, social and cultural forces. This presented and presents its adherents with a dilemma of identity: a constant shifting, manipulating, rejecting, and reforming of religious symbols and meaning and further knowledge systems within Islam – an attempt to deal with the state of (post)coloniality, and the project of modernity. It is my contention that one can map the sacred within Egyptian writing: one that is associated with locations, with time, with human interactions, with social, cultural, historical and religious significance. Mapping such sacred spaces within (post)modern Egyptian writing presents deep insights into the struggle for individualism and representation. Egyptian writing is an expression of cultural contestation, and the struggle for self-definition, mirroring one that is pre-existing in Egyptian society. This is evidence of: a) social and cultural self-awareness; b) an engagement with and a response to ‘other’ narratives; c) an attempt to search for an ‘authentic’ self-sufficient discourse; and, d) an attempt to conjure up viable options for sustainability. This has not always led to self-certainty. In fact, it has led to epistemological uncertainty, ontological anxiety, and a threatened self-identity, to which Egyptian Muslims respond in a myriad of voices through these texts / narratives – tackling existential issues.
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