EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 13 Jan 2021 | 17:00–18:30

The Loss of the Mufti: Muhammad ʿAbduh in Taha Hussein’s Days

Zahiye Kundos (EUME Fellow 2020/21), Chair: Islam Dayeh (Freie Universität Berlin)

In cooperation with the Seminar für Semitistik und Arabistik, Freie Universität Berlin

This talk is part of a recent project, which aims to follow Hussam R. Ahmed’s recently laid path (2018), to question and overcome what he calls the ‘grand narratives’ that Taha Hussein (1889-1973) has long been trapped in, between defenders and accusers. As a literary scholar, Zahiye Kundos will join Ahmed’s important attempts by going back to the conflicted literal textual zone. This is an invitation to revisit one of the most famous Arabic classics, the autobiographical trilogy al-Ayyām (The Days), written by Hussein. Slow, patient reading into Hussein’s trilogy as a literal unit enables remembering and linking together three influential events in his life: the tragic effects of the 1902 Cholera pandemic on his family, the deep sense of loss from the death of al-Ustadh al-Imam Muhammad ʿAbduh in 1905 (born 1849), and the new hopes connected to the establishment of the Egyptian University in 1908. In Egyptian Historiography and the modern collective memory that it produced, ʿAbduh is considered more than a religious reformer. His stature is seen as one of the fathers, or rather, one of the grandfathers of modern Egypt, who led its awakening. ʿAbduh’s life had faced multiple shifts due to the rapid changes of the socio-political conditions he experienced. In his last years, he also held the position of Egypt’s grand mufti. These two fathers or grandfathers of modern Arabic thought affected and shaped the political imaginaries and cultural directions of reform. Zahiyes Kundos argues that Hussein was emotionally and intellectually deeply connected to ‘Abduh – the guide, the pathfinder. Hussein was sixteen years old when ʿAbduh passed away and did not have the chance to be his first hand student. Yet, and despite emotional shifts in his religious affiliations, his memoirs reveal that he nonetheless saw himself as the mufti’s faithful student and true successor. In this talk, Zahiye Kundos argues that reworking al-Ayyām in this vain, referring to it as a literal, personal and historical document, could tell the story of that dramatic moment when ʿUlūm al-Dīn (religious sciences) separated from Adāb (humanities) through rapid disciplinary and institutional reorganizations in a context of personal rivalries, political interests and colonial conditions and practices. 

Zahiye Kundos is a literature scholar and cultural critic. Her academic project aims to contribute to a renewed relation of Culture and Religion, that may allow theologians and literature scholars in general, and those within the Muslim and Arab world in particular, to engage in conversation with each other beyond their particular “worlds” and recognize their shared histories, social needs and political duties. Zahiye Kundos is a EUME Fellow 2020/21. She is also a fellow at Minerva Humanities Center and a research fellow and lecturer at the Program for the Study of Arab-Jewish Cultures (Tel Aviv University). Her PhD dissertation, ‘The Firm Indissoluble Bond’: al-Afghānī and ʿAbduh on Modernist Islam as Critique of Modernity (2018, TAU), is currently under revision.


In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually via ZOOM. Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on SoundCloud.

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