|Al-Kawakibi sought an end to Ottoman political
and cultural hegemony over the Arabs
Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi
Scholars are divided on whether Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi was a pioneer of Arab nationalism or modern Islamic political thought.
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Born in 1849 to a wealthy family in Aleppo, Syria, al-Kawakibi studied the Sharia (Islamic law) before working for the al-Furat newspaper in Aleppo and later his own al-Shahbaa’ as an exile in Cairo.
He was imprisoned several times before being exiled for suggesting that the Ottomans were corrupting the Islamic identity. He urged the Arabs to overthrow the Turks and seize control of the caliphate.
His career in journalism often meant that he raised the ire of Ottoman administrations and their Arab allies and was branded a traitor.
He believed Mecca, not Istanbul, should be the centre of Islamic power. His belief was reinforced as the power of the Ottomans began to wane and slide into often widespread corruption.
A European resurgence in the Middle East also pushed against Ottoman influence in the area.
Despite his imprisonment, al-Kawakibi continued to write of a need for a regional nationalism to counter Ottoman occupation which he blamed for the Arab’s startling illiteracy and backwardness. However, he did not rule out working with the Ottomans to usher in an Islamic renaissance.
In 1900, al-Kawakibi published Umm al-Qura (Mother of Towns) in which he called for a secret Islamic congress to be convened during the Hajj in Mecca every year. In this treatise, he called for an Arab caliphate and urged intellectuals to take up the cause against the Ottoman empire.
The Ottomans feared that this was a rallying call to end their influence in religious matters and pursued al-Kawakibi.
Al-Kawakibi died in 1902 and many of his family and supporters alleged that he had been poisoned by Turkish agents. However, this has never been proven.
A Land for a Stranger, a Syrian film directed by Samir Zikrah in 1998, followed the life and works of al-Kawakibi and his struggles for reform.
In 2002, Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, hosted a two-day conference which examined al-Kawakibi’s contribution to the Nahda.
Though al-Kawakibi has been largely ignored by western studies of Arab nationalism, there has recently been an effort to bring the significance of his works to the fore and recognise him as one of the leading proponents of the Nahda.