M. K. Gandhi’s (d. 1948) impact on and interactions with Arabic-literati in Egypt and the Levant is well known in the historiographies of both South Asia and the Middle East. However, this topic has only been historicized through the lens of Arab nationalism or the Khilafat campaign (1919–24). Focusing on alternative readings of Gandhi in Arabic, this piece explores the debates Gandhi’s thought instigated among three intellectuals affiliated with the Cairo-based Islamic modernist journal al-Manar (1898–1935): the Syrian-born Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935), the Moroccan-born Taqi al-Din al-Hilali (d. 1987), and the Indian-born intellectual Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi (d. 1959). Although Gandhi’s circulation to al-Manar was contingent, reflecting Rida’s mode of accumulating knowledge via his personal contacts, Gandhi became a “quilting point” around whom a number of differing Salafi positions were articulated. Such positions included Rida’s insistence on the compatibility between Islam and the Enlightenment, Malihabadi’s appropriation of non-Muslim forms of thought to the repertoire of the Salafi principle of Tawhid (Unity of God), and al-Hilali’s call for Islamic conformity and literal interpretation of the Quran. As this article argues, these differing discourses point to an underappreciated Salafi capacity to go beyond the pure concerns of both anticolonial nationalism and Islamic orthodoxy.
Debating Gandhi in al-Manar during the 1920s and 1930s
Roy Bar Sadeh is a PhD student in the Columbia University Department of History and Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS). His dissertation project focuses on the idea of a Muslim minority during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and its intellectual and sociopolitical histories that link Islamic thinkers throughout South Asia, Eurasia, and the Indian Ocean.