Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • David H. Warren (a1)


This article contributes to an emerging scholarly debate over the support displayed by key Azhari ʿulamaʾ for the 3 July 2013 coup in Egypt and the subsequent massacres of anticoup protesters. I focus on the Islamic legal justifications articulated by the former grand mufti of Egypt ʿAli Jumʿa, which academics have contextualized primarily in relation to quietist precedents from late medieval Islamic political thought or his Sufi background. By contrast, I consider Jumʿa's justifications as representative of a nationalist discourse that has its historical origins in the protonationalism of Rifaʿa al-Tahtawi (d. 1873). My argument has wider implications for our conceptualization of the contemporary Islamic tradition. If, as scholars have argued, the Islamic tradition is a framework for inquiry rather than a set of doctrines, then in the 19th century a concern for the nation and its future became a key part of that framework. I contend that these additions came to redefine the worldview and politics of the ʿulamaʾ in terms of national progress and its horizon of expectations.



Hide All


Author's note: I am grateful to Muhammad Fadel and Carl Sharif El-Tobgui for sharing drafts of their own work on this topic with me. I also thank Tazeen M. Ali, Jeffrey Culang, and the anonymous IJMES reviewers for their helpful comments.

1 Human Rights Watch, “All According to Plan: The Rab'a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, 12 August 2014, accessed 2 March 2017,

2 Since stepping down from his post as grand mufti Jumʿa has retained a visible presence on social media through his personal website, Facebook, and Twitter (he has over 1,000,000 followers on both outlets). He is a regular commentator on Egyptian television and in print media. In September 2014 he was among the initial signatories of the “Open Letter to al-Baghdadi,” a scholarly rebuttal of ISIS's interpretation of Islamic legal texts by prominent ʿulamaʾ. Since 2013 Jumʿa has also been the target of multiple assassination attempts, most recently on 5 August 2016. “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi,” September 2014, accessed 2 March 2017, “Al-Dakhiliyya al-Misriyya: Najat Mufti al-Jumhuriyya al-Sabiq ʿAli Jumʿa min Muhawalat Ightiyal,” BBC Arabic, 5 August 2016, accessed 4 March 2017,

3 ʿAli Jumʿa, “Hadith al-Duktur ʿAli Jumʿa: ʿAdu Hayʾat Kibar al-ʿUlamaʾ bi-l-Azhar al-Sharif,” YouTube video, accessed 7 March 2017, This video includes a translation by Usaama al-Azami. My translations from this video generally follow those of al-Azami with some minor differences and additions. ʿAli Jumʿa, “Video Musarrab li-ʿAli Jumʿa li-l-Sisi fi Hudur al-Sisi Idrab fi al-Malyan,” YouTube video, accessed 7 March 2017,

4 Moosa, Ebrahim, “Political Theology in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: Returning to the Ethical,” in The African Renaissance and the Afro-Arab Spring: A Season of Rebirth?, ed. Villa-Vicencio, Charles, Doxtader, Erik, and Moosa, Ebrahim (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2015), 15 .

5 However, it would be wrong to characterize the ʿulamaʾ of al-Azhar as a monolithic bloc. Many supported the 2011 Revolution and Hasan al-Shafiʿi is probably the most well known of the ʿulamaʾ who in 2013 resigned their positions at al-Azhar and spoke out vociferously against the massacres perpetrated by the army after the coup. Hasan al-Shafiʿi, “Kalima Nariyya min al-Shaykh Hasan al-Shafiʿi didd Majazir al-Sisi al-Sufah,” YouTube video, accessed 7 March 2017,

6 Ebrahim Moosa draws attention to the pragmatism shown by the ʿulamaʾ establishment in the face of colonial and postcolonial regimes. He suggests that after the coup al-Azhar preferred to be loyal to the side that commanded overwhelming force, and therefore authority, a notion with roots in late medieval Islamic political thought. Amr Osman sees a historical context for the ʿulamaʾ’s division over the coup in the differing positions taken after the murder of ʿUthman and the revolt of Ibn al-Zubayr. Moosa, “Political,” 14–15; Osman, Amr, “Past Contradictions, Contemporary Dilemmas: Egypt's 2013 Coup and Early Islamic History,” Digest of Middle East Studies 24 (2015): 303–26.

7 Fadel, Mohammad, “Islamic Law and Constitution-Making: The Authoritarian Temptation and the Arab Spring,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 53 (2016): 1823 ; Fadel, , “Modernist Islamic Political Thought and the Egyptian and Tunisian Revolutions of 2011,” Middle East Law and Governance 3 (2011): 511 . See also McLarney, Ellen A., “Freedom, Justice, and the Power of Adab ,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48 (2016): 2546 .

8 Fadel, “Islamic,” 3–4.

9 Ibid., 27.

10 This concept is used by Wael Hallaq. See Hallaq, , The Impossible State: Islam, Politics and Modernity's Moral Predicament (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 106 .

11 Anjum, Ovamir, Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 107–35.

12 Fadel, “Islamic,” 11–16. Khaled Abou El Fadl has shown that the characterization of the premodern ʿulamaʾ as uniformly quietist under unjust rule is an oversimplification. Fadel, Khaled Abou El, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

13 Fadel, “Islamic,” 35–36.

14 Fadel notes that al-Qaradawi also struggles to tolerate voices he considers to be beyond the pale of acceptable debate, while al-Azhar benefited from the postcolonial proliferation of authoritative Islamic voices because it led the Egyptian regime to invest in al-Azhar and provide it with the capacity to assert its voice in the public sphere. Ibid., 30.

15 This point is not a repetition of the Orientalist trope that the premodern Islamicate world existed in a state of stagnancy or retardation. Rather, I mean that the premodern emphasis on accessing truth through a reflective tradition was replaced by a refashioning of the world with man at its center. Gallois, William, “The Destruction of the Islamic State of Being, Its Replacement in the Being of the State: Algeria, 1830–1847,” Settler Colonial Studies (2017): 69, doi:10.1080/2201473X.2016.1273864 ; Gallois, , “The War for Time in Colonial Algeria,” in Breaking up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future, ed. Lorenz, Chris and Bevernage, Berber (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).

16 McLarney, “Freedom.”

17 Haj, Samira, Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009), 5 .

18 Jauss, Hans Robert and Benzinger, Elizabeth, “Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory,” New Literary History 2 (1970): 737 .

19 ʿAli Jumʿa, Qadiyyat Tajdid Usul al-Fiqh (Cairo: Dar al-Hidaya, 1993), 4.

20 While any detailed discussion of al-Qaradawi's arguments since the Arab Spring are beyond the scope of this article, I consider much of his reasoning during the 2011–13 period to be indebted to the same nationalist chain that links both him and Jumʿa to al-Tahtawi. Moreover, Uriya Shavit has pointed out that for long periods the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole has accepted that violent overthrow of a government would only be legitimate if it was certain that it would be swift and successful, and that it would avoid a long civil war. Shavit, Uriya, “The Muslim Brothers’ Conception of Armed Insurrection against an Unjust Regime,” Middle Eastern Studies 51 (2015): 600617 .

21 Tamimi, Azzam, “Islam and Democracy from Tahtawi and Ghannouchi,” Theory, Culture & Society 24 (2007): 3958 .

22 Zolondek, Leon, “al-Tahtawi and Political Freedom,” Muslim World 54 (1964): 9097 .

23 Cole, Juan, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt's ʿUrabi Movement (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999), 42 .

24 Anver Emon has highlighted the ideology that uses the analyses of the colonial codification of Islamic law to critique nation-states’ existence in general. Emon, Anver M., “Codification and Islamic Law: The Ideology behind a Tragic Narrative,” Middle East Law and Governance 8 (2016): 275309 .

25 Kenney, Jeffrey T., Muslim Rebels: Kharijites and the Politics of Extremism in Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). However, accusing a group of being khawārij would nevertheless be legible in terms of takfīr. The accusation of being khawārij has been used in this way by other contemporary ʿulamaʾ, such as the Syrian Muhammad al-Yaqoubi in his fatwa condemning ISIS as khawārij. al-Yaqoubi, Muhammad, Inqadh al-Umma: Fatwa Mufassila fi Ithbat an Daʿish Khawarij wa-Qitaluhum Wajib (Rabat: n.p., 2015).

26 Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 6984 .

27 For example, in 1863 Khedive Ismaʿil placed al-Tahtawi in charge of organizing education throughout Egypt, in the forerunner to the Egyptian Ministry of Education. Asante, Molefi K., Culture and Customs of Egypt (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2002), 135 .

28 McLarney, “Freedom,” 1.

29 Cole, Colonialism, 42; Zolondek, “Tahtawi,” 6.

30 Abu-ʿUksa, Wael, Freedom in the Arab World: Concepts and Ideologies in Arabic Thought in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 5083 .

31 Hallaq, Impossible, 99.

32 Ibid., 105–6.

33 Hourani, Arabic; Benjamin Geer, “The Priesthood of Nationalism in Egypt: Duty, Authority, Autonomy” (PhD diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, 2011), 110.

34 Geer, “Priesthood,” 114–15.

35 Ibid.

36 Zolondek, “Tahtawi,” 6.

37 Cole, Colonialism, 42.

38 I elaborate more fully on my reading of al-Tahtawi's contribution to Islamic political thought in a forthcoming article, “For the Good of the Nation: The New Horizon of Expectations in Rifaʿa al-Tahtawi's Reading of the Islamic Political Tradition.”

39 Geer, “Priesthood,” 133.

40 al-Tahtawi, Rifaʿa, Manahij al-Albab al-Misriyya fi Mabahij al-Adab al-ʿAsriyya (Cairo: al-Majlis al-Aʿla li-l-Thaqafa, 2002), 368 .

41 Al-Tahtawi, Manahij, 369.

42 Delanoue, Gilbert, Moralistes et politiques musulmans dans l’Égypte du XIXe siècle (1798–1882) (Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 1982), 469–70. Quoted in Geer, “Priesthood,” 133–34.

43 Al-Tahtawi, Manahij, 348.

44 Ibid., 354.

45 Geer, “Priesthood,” 112–18, 128.

46 McLarney, “Freedom,” 2.

47 Al-Tahtawi, Manahij, 323.

48 See, for example, Cole, Colonialism, 39–40; Hourani, Arabic, 73; Zolondek, “Tahtawi”; and Geer, “Priesthood,” 132–35, 143–45.

49 Hallaq, Impossible, 24.

50 Schielke, Samuli, Egypt in the Future Tense: Hope, Frustration, and Ambivalence in Egypt Before and After 2011 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2015), 355 .

51 Grewal, Zareena, Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 191–99.

52 The International Institute of Islamic Thought was founded by the Palestinian intellectual Ismaʿil al-Faruqi (d. 1986) in 1981.

53 For more on the New Islamists, see Baker, Raymond W., Islam without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).

54 Jumʿa, Tajdid, 15–18.

55 Fadel, “Islamic,” 25.

56 In 2010 Jumʿa appeared to confirm his democratic sympathies, saying, “Muslims are free to choose whichever system of government they deem most appropriate for them, provided they respect and uphold basic principles of equality, freedom and human dignity.” ʿAli Jumʿa, “Islam and Modernity,” Contending Modernities, 22 November 2010, Quoted in Moosa, “Political,” 15.

57 See, for example, Jumʿa, ʿAli, Responding from the Tradition: One Hundred Contemporary Fatwas by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, trans. Elgawhary, Tarek and Friedlander, Nuri (Louisville, Ky.: Fons Vitae, 2011).

58 Jumʿa has had a cooperative relationship with Khalid, co-authoring a book with him. Jumʿa, ʿAli and Khalid, ʿAmr, al-Iman wa-l-ʿAsr: Ruʾya Jadida Faʿala li-Dawr al-Din fi al-Hayat (Cairo: Sama li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ, 2015).

59 Grewal, Islam, 193.

60 Ibid., 191–99; G. Willow Wilson, “The Show-Me Sheikh,” The Atlantic, August 2005, accessed 3 April 2017,

61 Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, “Fiqh Discourses and the July 2013 Military Coup in Egypt,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, Washington, D.C., 24 November 2014.

62 ʿAli Jumʿa, “al-Hiwar al-Kamil li-l-Shaykh ʿAli Jumʿa maʿa Khairi Ramadan,” YouTube video, accessed 7 March 2017,; Jumʿa, “Video”; Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

63 Jumʿa, “Hiwar.”

64 Fadel, “Islamic,” 10.

65 Jumʿa, “Hiwar.”

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

68 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

69 El Fadel, Khaled Abou, “Failure of a Revolution: The Military, Secular Intelligentsia and Religion in Egypt's Pseudo-Secular State,” in Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring: Rethinking Democratization, ed. Sadiki, Larbi (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014) 18 .

70 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

71 Jumʿa has since denied that he called the anticoup protesters khawārij, saying that he was talking about militants in Sinai. However, though Jumʿa does refer to militancy in the Sinai region during his lecture, in my opinion his denial is not credible. “ʿAli Jumʿa: Lam Asif al-Ikhwan bi-l-Khawarij,” Masrawy, 24 October 2013, accessed 7 March 2017,

72 Jumʿa, “Hiwar”; Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

73 For more on the early history of the concept of khawārij, see Kenney, Muslim, 21–26.

74 Ibid., 116.

75 Ibid., 19–54.

76 Ibid., 47.

77 Ibid., 116.

78 Ibid., 71.

79 Ibid., 104–8.

80 Falk, Richard, Revolutionaries and Functionaries: The Dual Face of Terrorism (New York: Dutton, 1988), 27 . Quoted in Kenney, Muslim, 103.

81 Hallaq, Impossible, 48–52.

82 Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (New York: Random House, 1990), 134–38.

83 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

84 Foucault, History, 1:138.

85 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

86 Patrick Kingsley, “At Least 51 Protesters Killed in Egypt as Army Opens Fire ‘Like Pouring Rain,’” The Guardian, 8 July 2013, accessed 3 April 2017,

87 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

88 Bauman, Zygmunt, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), 18, 144.

89 Skovgaard-Petersen, Jakob, “Egypt's ʿUlama in the State, in Politics and in the Islamist Vision,” in The Rule of Law, Islam, and Constitutional Politics in Egypt and Iran, ed. Arjomand, Said and Brown, Nathan (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2013), 279302 .

90 Fitzgerald, Timothy, “Encompassing Religion, Privatized Religions and the Invention of Modern Politics,” in Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations, ed. Fitzgerald, Timothy (London: Acumen, 2007), 211–40.

91 Agrama, Hussein, Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

92 Fadel, “Islamic,” 38.

93 Ibid., 36.

94 Agrama, Questioning, 42–68. Agrama refers to states’ increasing “capacity” to control religious and social life, in contrast to actual control. Focusing on the capacity to control rather than tangible control, he collapses the analytical distinction between liberal and authoritarian states. As far as Agrama's level of analysis is concerned, a liberal state such as the United States is increasing its capacity to regulate citizens’ lives under the auspices of national security on the same terms as an authoritarian state such as Egypt.

95 Jumʿa, “Hadith.”

96 ʿAli Jumʿa, “Fawdat al-Khitab al-Dini,” al-Ahram, 28 February 2013, accessed 3 April 2017, Quoted in Fadel, “Islamic,” 28.

97 Jumʿa, “Fawda.”

98 Fadel, “Islamic,” 27–30.

99 McLarney, “Freedom,” 36.

100 Al-Tahtawi, al-Murshid, 129–30.

101 Geer, “Priesthood,” 141.

102 Jumʿa, “Fawda.”

103 Fadel, “Islamic,” 28.

104 Al-Tahtawi, al-Murshid, 127–29.

105 Fadel, “Islamic,” 27–29.

106 Ibid., 31.

107 Ahmed Morsi and Nathan Brown, “Egypt's al-Azhar Steps Forward,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7 November 2013, accessed 3 April 2017,

108 Fadel, “Islamic.”

109 Hallaq, Impossible.

110 See Nakissa, Aria, “The Fiqh of Revolution and the Arab Spring: Secondary Segmentation as a Trend in Islamic Legal Doctrine,” Muslim World 105 (2015): 298321 ; al-Atawneh, Muhammad, “ Khurūj in Contemporary Islamic Thought: The Case of the ‘Arab Spring,’” Ilahiyat Studies 7 (2016): 2752 ; Warren, David H., “The ʿUlamāʾ and the Arab Uprisings 2011–13: Considering Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the ‘Global Mufti,’ between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Legal Tradition, and Qatari Foreign Policy,” New Middle Eastern Studies 4 (2014): 133 .

111 Haj, Reconfiguring, 7–8.



  • David H. Warren (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed