For the good of the nation: The new horizon of expectation in Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi's reading of the Islamic political tradition

David Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is an analysis of Rifaʿa al-Tahtawi’s (d. 1873) idea of Egyptian nationhood (al-umma al-miṣriyya) and key attendant concepts such as civilization (tamaddun), progress (taqaddum), homeland (waṭan), and citizen (waṭanī). I aim to move beyond the prevailing trends in the historiography of al-Tahtawi, which judge his political thought on its proximity to the work French Enlightenment authors whose work he studied in Paris. Instead, I foreground al-Tahtawi’s participation in the overlapping conversations that make up the Islamic tradition and use this article to make two main points. First, I argue that al-Tahtawi’s conceptualization of nationhood was an attempt to re-imagine a role for the Muslim community in political life, from which it had been excluded, and ground Muslim political theory and practice within the normative Islamic framework, rather than just a response to his encounters with French “modernity.” Second, I argue that al-Tahtawi’s contributions to both the conversations of his immediate and those of his tradition were underpinned by a shift in his generation’s horizon of expectations, or rather, the shared assumptions through which they read, or received, the conversations of their tradition. Underpinning this shift was the redefinition of time as progress, specifically the progress of the nation. This argument has wider implications for our understanding of the contemporary Islamic tradition. If we follow Samira Haj and conceptualize the Islamic tradition as a framework for inquiry rather than a set of doctrines, then we should recognize that al-Tahtawi and his peers’ new concern for the future, or more specifically the futurity, of the nation represented a key addition to this framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-55
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2017


  • nationalism
  • egypt
  • Islamic law
  • ulama
  • tahtawi


Dive into the research topics of 'For the good of the nation: The new horizon of expectation in Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi's reading of the Islamic political tradition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this