Rashīd Riḍā, Muḥammad

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RASHĪD RIĀ, MUAMMAD . (18651935), Arab Muslim theologian and journalist. Born in a village near Tripoli, Lebanon, Riā had a traditional religious education. The writings of the pan-Islamic thinker Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī and the Egyptian theologian Muammand ʿAbduh opened his mind to the need to reform Islam. In 1897 he settled in Cairo and from then until his death published a periodical, Al-manār (The Lighthouse), devoted to explaining the problems of Islam in the modern world.

His starting point was that of ʿAbduh, whom he regarded as his master: the need for Muslims to live virtuously in the light of a reformed understanding of Islam. That understanding involved drawing a distinction between the doctrines of Islam and its social morality. Doctrines and forms of worship were unchanging, laid down by the Qurʾān and the practice of the prophet Muammad and the first generation of his followers (the salaf, hence the name salafīyah, often used for this type of thought). He opposed what he regarded as innovations, in particular the beliefs and practice of later ūfīs, and in his later years drew close to the Wahhābī point of view.

Riā believed that, apart from some specific injunctions, the Qurʾān and the practice of the Prophet gave only general principles of social morality and law; their implications had to be drawn out by competent Muslims in the light of circumstances. Blind imitation of past teaching led to stagnation and weakness; the changed circumstances of the present age made a new interpretation necessary, and its guiding principle should be malaah (interest), a concept accepted in traditional legal theory but broadened by Riā so as to mean social utility. By using this principle, his aim was to create a body of modern Islamic law on which the different legal schools could agree; to this end he published a large number of rulings on hypothetical cases raising important questions of law.

Riā was much concerned with the question of political authority. He believed it should be delegated by the community to a combination of just rulers and men of religious learning, trained to deal with the problems of the modern world; there was a need for a caliph, not as universal temporal ruler but as the final and generally accepted authority on law. He emphasized the central position of the Arabs in the Muslim world; Arabic was the language of the Qurʾān and the religious sciences, and without the Arabs Islam could not be healthy. He played some part in the Arab nationalist movement, but the influence of Al-manār spread far beyond the Arab world, and some of its ideas were adopted by later movements aiming to restore Islam as the moral norm of modern society.


General summaries of Riā's ideas can be found in my work, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 17981939, 2d ed. (Cambridge, 1983), chaps. 9 and 11, and in Hamid Enayat's Modern Islamic Political Thought (London, 1982). A fuller treatment is that of Malcolm H. Kerr in his Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riā (Berkeley, 1966). Jacques Jomier's Le commentaire coranique du Manâr: Tendances modernes de l'exégèse coranique en Egypte (Paris, 1954) studies the commentary on the Qurʾān which ʿAbduh and Riā published jointly in Al-manār. Riā's treatise on the caliphate has been translated into French and annotated by Henri Laoust in Le califat dans la doctrine de Raīd Riā (Beirut, 1938). Of his other works, the biography of ʿAbduh, Taʾrīkh al-ustādh al-imām al-shaykh Muammad ʿAbduh, vol. 1 (Cairo, 1931), is full of information about the Islamic reformers. His legal rulings have been collected by alā al-Dīn al-Munajjid and Yūsuf Q. Khūrī in Fatāwā al-imām Muammad Rashīd Riā, 5 vols. (Beirut, 19701971).

New Sources

Dallal, Ahmad. "Appropriating the Past: Twentieth-Century Reconstruction of Pre-modern Islamic Thought." Islamic Law and Society 7 (October 2000): 325359.

Haddad, Mahmoud. "Arab Religious Nationalism in the Colonial Era: Rereading Rashid Rida's Ideas on the Caliphate." Journal of the American Oriental Society 117 (April-June 1997): 253278.

Sirriyeh, Elizabeth. "Rashid Rida's Autobiography of the Syrian Years, 18651897." Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures 3 (July 2000): 179195.

Albert Hourani (1987)

Revised Bibliography