Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'Abd al-Hamid Ibn Badis

 

'Abd al-Hamid Ibn Badis was the leader of the Islamic reformist movement in Algeria and founder of the Association des Ulema Musulmanes Algeriens (AUMA). He was born in 1889 in Constantine, where he also died in 1940. After receiving a traditional education in his hometown, Ibn Badis (locally referred to as Ben Badis) studied at the Islamic University of Zaytuna, in Tunis, from 1908 to 1912. In the following years he journeyed through the Middle East, par­ticularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where he came into contact with modernist and reformist currents of thought spreading within orthodox Sunni Islam.

Ibn Badis became the most prominent promoter of the Islamic reformist movement in Algeria, first through his preaching at the mosque of Sidi Lahdar in his hometown, and, after 1925, through his intensive journalistic activity. He founded a newspaper, Al-Muntaqid (The critic), which closed after a few months. Immediately afterwards, however, he began a new and successful newspaper, Al-Shihab (The me­teor), which soon became the platform of the reformist thinking in Algeria, until its closure in 1939. Through the pages of Al-Shihab, Ibn Badis spread the Salafiyya movement in Algeria, presented his Qur'anic exegesis, and argued the need for Islamic reform and a rebirth of religion and religious values within a society that, in his view, had been too influ­enced by French colonial rule. He further argued that the Algerian nation had to be founded on its Muslim culture and its Arab identity, and for this reason he is also considered a precursor of Algerian nationalism. He promoted the free teaching of Arabic language, which had been marginalized during the years of French rule, and the establishment of free schools for adults, where traditional Qur'anic studies could be taught.

In May 1931 he founded the AUMA (also Association of Algerian Muslim Ulema), which gathered the country's lead­ing Muslim thinkers, initially both reformist and conserva­tive, and subsequently only reformist, and served as its president until his death. Whereas the reformist programs promoted through Al-Shihab had managed to reach an audience limited to the elite educated class of the country, the AUMA became the tool for a nationwide campaign to revive Islam, Arabic, and religious studies, as well as a center for direct social and political action. Throughout the country he founded a net­work of Islamic cultural centers that provided the means for the educational initiatives he advocated and the establish­ment of Islamic youth groups. He also spearheaded a cam­paign against Sufi brotherhoods, accusing them of introducing blameworthy innovations to religious practice, and also of cooperating with the colonial administration. He played an important political role in the formation of the Algerian Muslim Congress in 1936, which arose in reaction to the victory of the Popular Front in France, and was active politically in the country until his premature death in 1940. Thanks to his activities as leader of the AUMA and to his writing in Al-Shihab, Ibn Badis is considered by some to be the most important figure of the Arab-Islamic cultural revival in Algeria during the 1930s.

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