In an attempt to conceptualise the medieval attachment to the homeland in Egypt, Mustafa Abulhimal, an AKU-ISMC alumni recently published a paper in the International Journal of the Humanities entitled, The Medieval Egyptian Homeland and Inhabitants: The Intelligentsia Speak.
Abulhimal, a Research Fellow at the Quilliam Foundation, graduated from the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in 2010, having previously completed a BA from Al-Azhar University, Egypt.
His paper extends from his graduate dissertation entitled, The representations of Egyptian land and history in medieval Egyptian writing: Al-Idrisi (d. 649/1251) and al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1442) as case studies. Abdulhimal also presented his work at The 8th International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, which was held June 2012 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The abstract of Abdulhimal’s paper, The Medieval Egyptian Homeland and Inhabitants: The Intelligentsia Speak, is available below.
It is widely assumed that nationalism and nationalist movements are modern in nature. This approach has often perceived any pre-modern national belonging or literature as inconceivable, since the idea of belonging to a nation is associated with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Thus, it is argued that Arab or Egyptian nationalisms haves emerged out of encounters with Europe in the 19th century through colonialism (Ahmed: 1960). From this perspective, pre-modern history does not play a significant role, if any, in the development of nationalism in these countries; not only that, it does not qualify, so the dominant view goes, to be considered in the process of tracing the origins of any forms of national belonging, nationalism or nationalist movements (Hobsbawm and Ranger: 1983).
This paper aims to challenge this position and argues that medieval histories of Egypt by al-Maqrizi (al-khitat), Abu Hamid b. Zahira al-Qudsi (al-Fada il-Bahira) and Jamal al-Din al-Idrisi (Anwar Ulwiyy al-Ajram fi al-kashf ‘an Asrar al-Ahram) help uncover the pre-modern origins of Egyptian nationalism.
These works share, to a significant extent, the perception of the Egyptian land and its inhabitants as integral elements of one unit. The paper will discuss the conceptualisation of an Egyptian national pride in a pre-Westphalian sense with the focus on the history of the land and the people. It also challenges the standard view of nationalism to provide a reasonable and meaningful reading of these sources that precludes the element of national histories.
Mr Sohail Merchant
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations