Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.


Putting Islam to Work

Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt

Gregory Starrett

Berkeley · Los Angeles · London
© 1998 The Regents of the University of California

For my parents

Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

For my parents


In the chapter on “character” in his classic Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, first published in 1836, Edward Lane included a note on “religious pride” as one of “the leading features of [Egyptian] character.” “I am credibly informed,” he wrote, “that children in Egypt are often taught, at school, a regular set of curses to denounce upon the persons and property of Christians, Jews, and all other unbelievers in the religion of Mohammad.” [1] Noting that these curses were recited daily in some of Cairo's government schools (but not those held in mosques), he quoted from an Arabic transcription given to him by his friend Richard Burton:

O God, destroy the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O God, make their children orphans, and defile their abodes, and cause their feet to slip, and give them and their families and their households and their women and their children and their relations by marriage and their brothers and their friends and their possessions and their race and their wealth and their lands as booty to the Muslims.[2]

Lane went to some trouble to deny that these maledictions represented a universal Egyptian sentiment toward Europeans. He implied instead that the Turkish overlords of the country bore responsibility for the reproduction of this traditional curse within the officially sanctioned arena of the school, which, as part of the governmental framework of the country, might be one of the factors that “altered, in a remarkable degree,” the innate characteristics of the Egyptians, “gradually lessen[ing] their mental energy,” and dulling the ready apprehension, wit, and memory that Egyptians possessed when young.[3]

A generation later in a radically altered political climate, another Englishman, Noel Temple Moore, wrote to Lord Dufferin, the British ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople and Her Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary to Egypt, with his observations on the public mood. The 1882 British bombardment of Alexandria had ended barely five months before, and the popular leader Colonel Ahmad ‘Urabi had been convicted for his leadership of a rebellion against the European powers who were assuming control over his country. ‘Urabi's death sentence had just been commuted to permanent exile, and Moore, asserting that the native population seemed grateful for this restraint of British policy, illustrated popular sentiment by writing that “A rhymed couplet is, I am informed, being sung by the children in the streets of Cairo, of which this is a translation:—`Oh, our Lord, Oh, Holy One/Grant success to the English.'” [4]

Whether or not either one of these contradictory reports was an accurate reflection of Egyptian character or opinion—Moore himself was unsure of the extent to which “a public opinion may be said to exist in an Oriental country” [5] —they do show that the content of children's minds has long interested ethnographers, officials, and visitors to Egypt. Perhaps this is because the outlook of children is thought to provide the clearest possible insight into a society's fundamental worldview, stripped of adult accretions of interest and calculation. In a way, this book is another attempt to approach the contents of the child's mind, but it does so from the opposite direction. Rather than asking first and foremost what children know or believe as a clue to some basic cultural knowledge, I have focused largely on what it is that adults want and expect children to know and believe; or, to add another complication, what adults want each other to think that children should know and believe.

The relevance of these questions for Americans is acute, as debates rage in our own country over the goal and content of schooling in a changing global economy, the importance of prayer and values education in public schools, and other issues. But the significance of this research reaches beyond school-based issues as well. It touches on historical changes in the nature of religion, on the relationship of Islam specifically to state bureaucracies and political interest groups, and the role of communications media in the construction of national identities and public spaces. It is not, strictly speaking, a school ethnography, and those who read it with the expectation of one will be disappointed. Instead of focusing attention on activities and interactions within a particular school or sample of schools, I have chosen instead to explore the way that education, and religious education in particular, has been used by Egyptians (and Europeans) as a way to talk about and to address fundamental political issues, and how formal schooling is related to a range of other cultural institutions.

In examining this question, I have used several kinds of information: historical, ethnographic, and textual. I have spent fifteen months in Egypt, mostly in Cairo, first in June and July of 1987, studying at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad; again from October through September, 1988–89, and most recently during July 1993. During the middle period of fieldwork I interviewed and observed Egyptian teachers and students in two schools; talked with civil servants, writers, journalists, and intellectuals representing many political perspectives; routinely monitored the Egyptian press and television; and scouted street stalls and bookstores in all parts of the city, collecting a substantial library of books, pamphlets, periodicals, and other materials on the subject of Islam—particularly children's books, works on Islamic education, Islam and medicine, and Islam and the family.

Interviews were conducted both in Arabic and in English. In all cases I took notes during the interview or immediately afterward, using these to reconstruct as nearly as possible the details of the conversation. Aside from isolated words and short phrases, I usually remembered and recorded the Arabic interviews in English. Most of the people with whom I spoke did not relish the thought of speaking into a tape recorder (I realized later that most of the journalists I interviewed had spent time in jail as political prisoners, and feared the thought of having their opinions paired with their voices). In only one case did I even try to tape-record an interview; it turned out to be one of the least satisfactory ones I did. Except for the names of government officials and those drawn from published accounts, all names of individuals have been changed, and other details of their lives have been altered slightly.

Most of the period between January and July 1990 was spent doing historical research at the library and archives of the Hoover Institution, taking advantage of the James Heyworth-Dunne collections; and at the Jonsson Government Documents Library at Stanford University, reading the reports and correspondence concerning Egypt that are contained in the Sessional Papers of the British House of Commons (referred to in citations as the Parliamentary Papers [Parl. Pap.]), from the late 1870s until 1922. I had not originally planned to make so much of the historical background of religious education in Egypt; I had merely wanted to find a basic summary of the development of the school system. Several such summaries already exist, but as I looked through the material in the parliamentary records, I began to realize what a rich source of information they were, and what a different light they shed on the subject than did most of the secondary sources that had used these documents previously. The result is that fully a third of the present work deals with the historical development of religious education in the Egyptian public schools. Although my summary covers, in part, the broad historical outline of previous work, it is largely different in emphasis and detail, and offers substantially new interpretations of the subject. It also constitutes an important part of the intellectual framework on which the rest of the book is based.

My preference has been to quote frequently and extensively from printed sources and from my interviews. In addition to providing the reader with some of the data on which discussion of the issues is based, I think this simply makes the work more interesting to read. When quoting interviews, I cite the date and the page from my fieldnotes on which the quotation appears.


1. Edward W. Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1860; rpt., J. W. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1963), p. 283.

2. Lane, Manners and Customs, p. 582.

3. Lane, Manners and Customs, p. 283.

4. House of Commons, “Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parliamentary Papers (hereafter Parl. Pap.), 1883, vol. 83, p. 26.

5. “Correspondence,” Parl. Pap., 1883, p. 26.

A Note on Transliteration

Transliterating Arabic words into English is made difficult both by the differences in orthography and phonology between the two languages, and because “Modern Standard” Arabic differs from Egyptian dialect. There are five pairs of consonants that pose a special problem, because although their Arabic forms are quite different, their pronunciation differs by only a slight raising or lowering of the tongue, or a difference in aspiration. I have chosen, despite the problems this causes, to use a simple transliteration that represents these with identical letters in English. I have retained double consonants, but not double (long) vowels, and have elided the final ta marbuta (word-final h) in words with the feminine ending, and word-final glottal stops. The symbol represents the glottal stop, which is to be distinguished from the symbol , representing the consonant ‘ayn, a voiced pharyngeal fricative. Commonly recognized words and proper nouns, including place names, are transliterated in their most recognized form; for example, Cairo rather than al-qaahirah, and Sayyida Zeinab rather than the more consistent Sayyida Zaynab. Formal Arabic is transliterated as it is written (without, for example, the assimilation of the l of the definite article to certain consonants). Since Egyptian Arabic is not usually written, I have transliterated Egyptian words as they sound, rather than as they might be written in Arabic.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Qur’an are from the translation by A. Yusuf ‘Ali, and other translations from Arabic and French are my own.


This book is based on doctoral research conducted at Stanford University. It has taken far too long to produce, and too many people have been too patient with me, for which they all deserve my deepest thanks. I want to thank Clifford Barnett, Joel Beinin, Joseph Greenberg, and Bernard Siegel, who agreed, probably against their better judgment, to be responsible for me, giving me their unfailing and generous support despite chronic confusion about what in the world I thought I was doing; the late Lawrence Berman for providing me with the intellectual tools to think comparatively about Islam; Dale Eickelman for providing invaluable advice, encouragement, and much-needed collegial support for a decade now. In Egypt, I benefited from the extraordinarily generous help of Drs. Wadi‘ and Yvonne Haddad, each of whom taught me more than I thought there was to know. Many others have carefully read, considered, and thoughtfully criticized the work in its various incarnations, including Michael Chamberlain, Denis Sullivan, Barbara Metcalf, Patricia Horvatich, Roslyn Mickelson, Adeeb Khalid, Dan Bradburd, Patrick Gaffney, John Bowen, and Steven Caton. I am grateful to all of them for helping improve the manuscript immeasurably, but apologize for not being able to meet all of the challenges they posed. The good stuff is largely theirs; the mediocre is entirely mine. Thanks also to Lynne Withey, Mark Chambers, and Juliane Brand at University of California Press, for shepherding the work through the editing and publication processes.

The institutions that aided me, financially and otherwise, are Stanford University and its Center for Research in International Studies, the Social Science Research Council's Committee for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies, the Binational Fulbright Commission in Egypt, the Center for Arabic Study Abroad, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers program. The marvelous staff at the Hoover Institution library at Stanford University, and at the Dartmouth College Library, made a number of difficult tasks much easier. I want to thank the Egyptian government for sponsoring my Fulbright research, and all of the people who spoke with me, particularly the teachers and staff at the Nasr Language School, and Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman and Layla al-Shamsi, who provided extraordinary models of devotion to Islam.

Finally, I will always be indebted to the many friends who supported me before, during, and after the research for this book. In Egypt, Paul and Arzetta Losensky, Regina Soos, and Jennifer Thayer; in the United States, Laura Leach-Palm, Maidie Golan, Eric Ramirez, and especially Barbara Bocek and Anna Laura Jones, who deserve all praise. Finally, for my parents, my lovely daughter Katherine Grace, and for my wife, Martha Louise Catt, who has supported, fed, and put up with me and without me for these many, many years, I am everlastingly grateful.


There are no secular states. All states are religious.

1. Creating an Object

Elementary education is one of the pillars of national security.

An Alexandria Quartet

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, 29 August 1989, agents of the Egyptian Bureau for National Security Investigation stormed four apartments in Alexandria, breaking down the doors to arrest twenty young men and take into custody eighty boys between the ages of four and ten. The men, among whom were two university and two law students, a private school teacher, a student of da‘wa (Islamic outreach) at al-Azhar University, and an employee of the Helwan Fertilizer Company, were accused of “enticing the children with religious slogans and planting extremist ideas in their minds in preparation for transforming them into an extremist religious group.” [2] After initial interrogations the arrestees were driven to bureau headquarters in their respective governorates to be questioned further and then remanded to the national security prosecutor, and the children were ordered by then Interior Minister Zaki Badr to be returned to their parents.

On 31 August the story was front-page news in the government press: al-Akhbar headlined the story, “Arrest of an Extremist Religious Organization Aimed at Luring in Children under the Guise of Religion.” Al- Jumhuriyya ran a photograph of six of the accused, standing with eighteen of the boys sitting on the floor before them. Six of the boys had their heads bowed and faces covered in shame, and the headline read, “Arrest of an Organization for Training Children in Extremism at Summer Camps in Alexandria.” The next day al-Akhbar ran another photograph showing Colonel Muhammad Rashid, chief of the Bureau, returning two of the boys to their father and “warning him not to neglect his sons at this age.” [3]

The incident had begun the previous week when children and parents in a number of governorates, particularly Minufiyya, Alexandria, and Giza, began to hear about free four-day trips being organized for children to see the sights of Alexandria starting on Saturday, 26 August. Parents outside Alexandria were approached in mosques and asked to contribute nominal subscription fees (of ten Egyptian pounds; about $4) for the trip. One boy from Alexandria itself heard about the opportunity from some boys he met at the beach; another from neighbor children he met near his local mosque; a third was invited by the principal of his elementary school. Some of the local children went along not knowing the duration of the trip, and began to worry when, at the end of the day, they were not returned home, but taken to one of the apartments instead.

After the arrests the children reported that during their stay in the Alexandria apartments they were awakened before the dawn prayer each day to learn lessons, then taken to the beach for a couple of hours before returning to one of the flats. There they would be fed, and the rest of the day would be divided between lessons, prayers, and sightseeing trips, including an excursion to the historic fort of Qaytbay. The lessons they learned included the principles of brotherhood and obedience, as well as more specific advice. One eleven-year-old boy reported to al-Akhbar that “the organizers of the trip accompanied him and the children to a number of mosques where they gave lectures to them along with other people, and they told them that watching television was forbidden [haram] and that men's socks have to reach to the knee, and he adds that he heard a lot of talk that he didn't understand.” [4]

The tone of the newspaper articles was strident, al-Ahram reporting that the “extremist organization” intended “to establish a new generation bearing their beliefs” and that children who disagreed with the daily lessons were deprived of food; al-Jumhuriyya, on the other hand wrote that the organizers of the trip showered the children with food “in order to win them over, offering them [all] kinds of sweets and beverages.” The latter paper claimed that the frequent prayer sessions were “all aimed at implanting blind obedience in their psyches, and they slipped the extremist ideas inside of them until within a few short hours of their being given their instructions, the child victims (al-atfal al-dahaya) would carry them out with obedience.” It pointed to leaders of an unnamed organization behind the accused, who allegedly put the young men up to the task of enticing the children's participation.[5]

Reaction to the arrests by Egypt's major Islamic opposition party was swift. Shortly afterward, Ma’mun al-Hudaybi, Mustafa al-Wardani, and Dr. ‘Asam al-‘Uryan, three leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement accusing the security forces of brutality during the arrests and calling on President Mubarak to step in and halt the irresponsible persecution of the detainees. The Brotherhood regularly organized recreational trips for the nation's children, the report said, removing them from the suffocation and heat of inner cities to the healthful climate of the seashore, where they learn Islamic adab (manners, etiquette, comportment, culture). Furthermore, parents had consented to the trips and “clearly expressed their hopes that this activity would protect their children from the diseases of society, such as [drug] addiction and moral corruption.” It accused the government press of merely reprinting a report distributed by the Ministry of the Interior the day after the arrests, and asked where in the entire episode was there any manifestation of extremism: “The trip to the sea, or visiting the sights in Alexandria? The diligence of prayer, or the continence of tongue and comportment? Or that these children constitute a danger to public security through their trip?” [6]

The arrests and subsequent publicity were intended to make a dramatic and frightening statement to Egyptians about the danger of parents entrusting their children to unregulated organizations and individuals, and to underscore the government's self-assumed role of protecting the spiritual and physical well-being of the nation's children. The dual weapons of state power—the deployment of force and the deployment of information—worked in tandem to frame the incident as a threat both to the family and to the government. Groups claiming independent authority to interpret Islamic scriptures and transmit Islamic culture undermine one of the basic foundations of the state's moral legitimacy: its protection of the Islamic heritage, including the responsibility to provide children and youths with trustworthy religious guidance. Islam, the official religion of the Egyptian state, is a matter of vital government interest.

These twin issues of religious legitimacy and political authority are at the heart of a dilemma faced today by Muslim states throughout the world. As international political credibility comes more and more to be measured by the extension of public services and the trappings of electoral democracy, the tensions between mass sentiment and incumbent power structures become acute, as the government of Algeria learned in early 1992 when it was dissolved by its own military in the face of a threatened electoral victory by the Islamic Salvation Front. Egypt could very well be next in line to experience a political and military crisis on the same order. An unusually gloomy prognosis of this sort recently found its way into the policy-oriented Middle East Journal, penned by a U.S. government official who would only be identified with the frightening byline “Cassandra.” [7] In the academic world, too, senior scholars are beginning to say publicly “that the future of the Muslim world lies with the Islamic political alternative.” [8]

Our tendency in the face of such drama is to perceive a civilizational crisis arising from a fundamental conflict between democracy and theocracy, or between tradition and modernity. But such an analysis, specious in the case of Algiers, is useless even superficially in the case of Alexandria. For it is precisely Egypt's integration into the modern—or postmodern—world system of economy, politics, and culture that has secured for Islam an integral part in the governance of the nation. In Egypt as elsewhere in the Muslim world, the connections between religion and national security descend deep into the infrastructure of the modern state. The consequences of this fact for the limits of public policy choices and for the production and manipulation of religious culture are to be our central concern.

In a narrow sense, this book is about one aspect of Egyptian religious culture as it has developed since just before the turn of the century: the use of a modern public school system to teach children about Islam and introduce them to the official public persona of God. In documenting the role of the contemporary school in teaching Islam, I hope to show how the expansion and transfer of religious socialization from private to newly created public sector institutions over the last century has led to a comprehensive revision of the way Egyptians treat Islam as a religious tradition, and consequently of Islam's role in Egyptian society. In the light of this revision, I will argue that the increasing hegemony of religious discourse in Egyptian public life since the 1970s is a straightforward result of the country's institutional transformation rather than—as is usually argued—an accidental by-product of its current economic and political difficulties. As part of this institutional transformation, programs of mass public instruction conceived in the nineteenth century as cost-efficient means of social control have instead helped generate the intellectual, political, and social challenges posed by the country's broad-based “Islamist” movement, the most significant political opposition to the current Egyptian government.

The Anthropology of Islam

These institutional transformations have implications far broader than the sociology of religious knowledge or political conflict in Egypt. The present study occupies a space where three distinct bodies of literature converge. Its conclusions reflect back into those literatures—that on the anthropology of Islam, that on cultural and social reproduction, and that on the intellectual history of the social sciences—in different directions. First, I hope to contribute to current discussions of the role of Islam as an organizing force in Muslim societies. Talal Asad, voicing his discontent with anthropological approaches that either essentialize or disintegrate “Islam” as an object of study, has held that scholars should treat Islam “neither [as] a distinctive social structure nor a heterogeneous collection of beliefs, artifacts, customs, and morals,” but as a tradition.[9] If anthropological studies of Islam are to avoid the pitfalls of treating religious phenomena either as wholly dependent (and therefore politically trivial) or entirely independent (and therefore incomprehensible) variables in the social life of Muslim nations, we need to recognize Islam as a discursive tradition that links past, present, and future in a variety of ways.[10] Seen in this light, the focus of study should be “the interplay between…everyday practices and discourses and the religious texts they invoke, the histories of which they are a part, and the political enterprises of which they partake.” [11]

Introducing this sense of the term tradition to anthropological discussion does more than merely translate the Arabic term al-turath, which is used by Muslims to designate the complex heritage they have inherited from the past and are bound to pass on to the future. It points not to a body of literature, but to culturally and historically specific systems of interactions between people, texts, and institutions. Asad points out that social distributions of “correct” knowledge mirror distributions of power. Regardless of how a Muslim society is organized, the definition of what is and is not “Islamic” is likely not to be about how closely society mirrors a known textual blueprint, but about how and by whom specific texts are used to underwrite specific practices and general notions of authority. Orthodoxy “is not a mere body of opinion but a distinctive relationship—a relationship of power. Wherever Muslims have the power to regulate, uphold, require or adjust correct practices, and to condemn, exclude, undermine, or replace incorrect ones, there is the domain of orthodoxy” [12]

Phrased in a different manner, its ear attuned specifically to the deep, pervading vibrations of power, this is basically the dialectic Clifford Geertz began to articulate a quarter-century ago in Islam Observed, between the content of religions and their careers, a dialectic that is currently becoming the focus of increasingly sophisticated anthropological analyses of the human mediation between images and institutions. From Morocco to Indonesia, anthropologists have documented the disputes that arise between Muslims who stand in different relationships to institutions of power and of formal socialization. Framed by recent anthropological research on religious education and politics in countries from Morocco to Oman and Iran, and on textual practices in Yemen, Indonesia, and the Philippines, this book seeks to advance our understanding of religious traditions in complex societies.[13] By focusing explicitly on state-supported mass education, one of the institutions that most powerfully shapes the interplay between written tradition and daily practice, the present research outlines some of the mechanisms by which Islam's universal message is consciously and strategically articulated to local social, political, and economic structures.

Similar social and political projects are underway across the Muslim world. Like Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia,[14] the Egyptian government has brought Islamic institutions increasingly under its control over the last century, a process that has accelerated during the last twenty years. All three of its twentieth-century constitutions have declared Islam Egypt's official religion, granting the state both the right and the duty to co-opt Islamic discourse for itself, a practice made particularly expedient in the face of mass movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been a political force in the country since 1928, as well as the more recent Islamist guerrilla movements of the seventies, eighties, and nineties.

But just as wild plants have to undergo systematic genetic alterations to make them useful as cultivated foods, so “Islam” has to be altered to make it useful as a political instrument. Two interrelated processes have been operating throughout the Muslim world thus to domesticate the tradition of Islam. First, there is the process of “objectification,” the growing consciousness on the part of Muslims that Islam is a coherent system of practices and beliefs, rather than merely an unexamined and unexaminable way of life. This is a pervasive process throughout the Muslim world. In Oman, a rural schoolteacher observes that “People here do not know Islam; they pray and sacrifice, but they do not know why.” [15] “Knowing” Islam means being able to articulate the religion as a defined set of beliefs such as those set down in textbook presentations.

At its most basic, the style of intellectual technology introduced by modern schooling constitutes a significant break with the earlier emphasis upon the written word, mediated by an oral tradition and oriented toward a mastery of accepted religious texts acquired through study under religious scholars recognized by the wider community. At least in formal terms, a curriculum of specifically delineated subjects and prescribed texts is taught by a changing array of teachers, and competence is measured by examination.…An unintended consequence of making Islam a part of the curriculum is to make it a subject which must be “explained” and “understood.” [16]

Since mass education has been available in Oman only since the 1970s, this change in the perception of Islam is striking, and matches changes that have been occurring in Egypt since the nineteenth century. In both countries official educational programs aimed at the general public purposely ignore differences among various sects and schools of legal interpretation in Islam, portraying the faith synoptically. A new plan for teaching religion in Egyptian universities, for example, stresses the application of dogma to life and to social conditions, “avoiding the legal school [madhhab] differences in the study of doctrine and Islamic law [shari‘a].” [17] As Brinkley Messick has shown with respect to Yemen, the codification of Islamic law for application in Western-style court systems induces a comparable series of changes in the way that politicians, scholars, jurists, and citizens relate to different sorts of sacred and derivative texts. The result is monovocal, reified “Islamic Law” that lacks the flexibility characteristic of older styles of jurisprudence.[18]

The second process through which the Islamic tradition is passing operates on several levels, and serves to make the newly synoptic and systematized “Islam” practically useful. I call this process functionalization. In general, functionalization refers to processes of translation in which intellectual objects from one discourse come to serve the strategic or utilitarian ends of another discourse. This translation not only places intellectual objects in new fields of significance, but radically shifts the meaning of their initial context. In the Egyptian case, a whole series of existing religious discourses have been reified, systematized in novel fashion, and set to work fulfilling the strategic and utilitarian ends of the modern and secular discourse of public policy. Traditions, customs, beliefs, institutions, and values that originally possessed their own evaluative criteria and their own rules of operation and mobilization become consciously subsumed by modern-educated elites to the evaluative criteria of social and political utility. On an institutional level, independent local religious study circles are brought under the control of central or district government bureaucracies to act as tools of mass socialization. On a logistical level, formal religious studies curricula are fashioned by educators, and formal testing patrols the borders of class mobility. On a philosophical level, ancient rituals and beliefs as well as the facts of history are reinterpreted to underscore political legitimacy, or are brought to bear on social concerns like public health, economic productivity, and crime. In all of these processes, existing discursive logics are altered and control is shifted to a central authority or entrusted to groups other than those who traditionally set the terms of religious discourse.

The functionalization of religion—putting it consciously to work for various types of social and political projects—appears to stand opposed to the modernization paradigm in which religion is viewed alternately as benignly irrational and as actively obstructionist. The ideals of Soviet- style state atheism and the American separation of church and state—as internally complex and unstable as both rhetorical complexes have been—are merely different expressions of the same philosophy of progress, the Comtean journey from Religion through Metaphysics to Science. But many Muslim states have followed a different course to modernity, insisting explicitly that progress requires a centrally administered emphasis upon moral as well as economic development.

Cultural Production and Social Reproduction

What significance do these processes have for understanding broader anthropological questions? In writing about Islamic higher education in Morocco, Dale Eickelman has remarked that “the study of education can be to complex societies what the study of religion has been to societies variously characterized by anthropologists as “simple,” “cold” or “elementary,” ”particularly insofar as this study can reveal some of the “culturally valued cognitive style[s]” implicit in these cultures.[19] But neither “cold” ritual nor “hot” education is merely a window onto thought and ideas. Summarizing one of Emile Durkheim's lesser-known works on education, Eickelman wrote that

changes in ideas of knowledge in complex societies and the means by which such ideas are transmitted result from continual struggles among competing groups within society, each of which seeks domination or influence.… Thus the forms of knowledge shaped and conveyed in educational systems …must be considered in relation to the social distribution of power.[20]

Explorations of the institutional intersections between knowledge and power have long motivated European social theory, from Marx's discussion of “ruling ideas” to Althusser on the ideological state apparatus, Gramsci on hegemony, Foucault on disciplinary formation, and Raymond Williams on the politics of culture. With respect to formal education, it is undoubtedly true that different interests are served—and created—by particular curricula and by different definitions and technologies of useful knowledge. But class-based models are inadequate to deal fully with the political and ideological implications of modern educational systems, because these systems continuously erase and redraw the boundaries between social groups and disrupt the association between them and the “ideas about knowledge” they seek to promote.[21] New modes of thought emerging from nascent classes and social institutions not only express new modes of consciousness, but contribute in turn to the formation of new structures of interest and conflict, perpetuating the struggles that gave them birth and subverting subsequent attempts unilaterally to control the course of debate. One of the central conclusions of this book is that elites can profit from the manipulation of power/knowledge only insofar as they create competitors possessing the tools of opposition. (Such problems are increasingly familiar, for example, to the U.S. military, whose development of computer and communications systems—intended to create strategic superiority over its superpower rivals—now puts it at risk from bright teenagers with home computers and Internet connections.) Educational systems thus have a direct political role in creating the intellectual and institutional technologies that generate distinctly new social groups, not just an indirect role diagnostic of a standing distribution of power. In Egypt, religious education is only one of the school-related issues around which political conflict has crystallized. But unlike debates over the institution of literacy programs, vocational training, or examination reform, controversies surrounding religious instruction have the unique power—as we saw in Alexandria—to provoke the activity of the state's security apparatus.

So if our starting point—the anthropology of Islam—is perhaps tangential to the main body of contemporary anthropological concerns, studying the role of educational institutions in cultural production and social reproduction is near the center. With the ever-growing oeuvre of Pierre Bourdieu, and the diffusion of Paul Willis's 1977 Learning to Labour outside the relatively small circle of educational sociology, questions of cultural production and social reproduction have moved toward the forefront of anthropological theory. Willis's study of the reproduction of class stratification among British working-class youth has been built on by many others, most recently Douglas Foley in Learning Capitalist Culture, an analysis of the reproduction of ethnicity and class in south Texas, and Dorothy Holland and Margaret Eisenhart in Educated in Romance, a devastating portrait of the reproduction of gender inequality among U.S. university women. Each of these works demonstrates that, contrary to top-down models of the imposition of unequal social relations, educational institutions are one of many social sites within which specific populations actively reproduce their own subordinate status. Status negotiations within and between peer groups, conscious and unconscious strategies of resistance to institutional authority, and the realistic perception of often limited employment opportunities after leaving school life, together channel the creative interactions of students themselves toward the reproduction of standing relations of power.

The trinity of ethnicity, class, and gender inequalities has consumed nearly all the attention of critical theorists of education. Systematic critical treatments of the reproduction of religious traditions are conspicuously absent.[22] This is partly, of course, because of the immediate and overriding gravity of ethnic, class, and gender inequalities in the U.S. and Western Europe, where most educational sociologists have worked. But it is also because the sense in which there is an intriguing “inequality” at stake in religious socialization—one that cannot entirely be subsumed under the rubric of socioeconomic class or gender—is less immediately clear.[23] Despite our growing interest in how they are invented and transformed,[24] anthropologists still tend to treat “traditions” (religious or otherwise) as bounded capsules of observed behavior and recorded belief, rather than as segments of larger-scale social relationships that are constantly in the process of being created, renewed and dissolved. But—to refine Asad's use of the word tradition—it is those unequal relationships of authority and compliance that are constructed around and through specific discourses that constitute the social core of religious traditions. How these relations are transformed in the process of their reproduction, and the ways they interact with other dimensions of social inequality are important questions. But relations of orthodoxy are a peculiar kind of property relation—a relation between people with regard to texts and intellectual technologies—that are potentially more fluid than other sorts of class relations. One interesting feature of the Alexandria police raids is precisely that they were not held against striking workers, marching peasants, or armed terrorists, but against individuals quietly and privately using the social and intellectual technologies of the modern state to create an alternative to it. Their other interesting feature is that the majority of individuals caught up in the raids themselves were children, actors we hardly ever consider politically significant. So it is precisely the processes of creating relationships of orthodoxy that are at stake here, rather than the finished product.

To understand these processes without assuming a simple mechanical reproduction of class relations, we need to address the cultural significance of the choices people make in creating their own social worlds. According to Paul Willis,

We might think of this process of reproduction [of the social group, its relation to other classes and the productive process] as having two basic “moments”. In the first place, outside structures and basic class relationships are taken in as symbolic and conceptual relations at the specifically cultural level.…Structural determinations act, not by direct mechanical effect, but by mediation through the cultural level where their own relationships become subject to forms of exposure and explanation. In the second “moment” of the process, structures which have now become sources of meaning, definition and identity provide the framework and basis for decisions and choices in life…which taken systematically and in the aggregate over large numbers actually helps to reproduce the main structures and functions of society.[25]

Granting some autonomy to the realm of culture, through which larger structural determinants have to pass in order to reproduce themselves, he points out nevertheless that this model, by “ignoring important forms and forces such as the state, ideology, and various institutions,” is an oversimplification.[26]

In order to recomplicate the picture, I would like to take a step back—at the risk of losing some of the fine resolution—to reincorporate the state, ideology, and social institutions into this model of reproduction. Doing so points us in two directions somewhat different from that taken by Willis and others, who question how and why subordinate populations aid in the reproduction of their own inequality. First, as outlined in the discussion of objectification and functionalization in the last section, we can ask what changes have occurred in the cultural level itself as it has mediated the creation and reproduction of social relationships. How has cultural production changed over the last century to accomodate new technologies as well as new economic and political forces?

And second, we can reverse the question of subordination, and ask why the political and educational strategies chosen by Egypt's ruling elites over the last century have resulted in the diminution rather than the augmentation of their ability to control the public discourse on Islam. How have socialization practices established explicitly in order to provide every citizen with a uniform appreciation for the state's legitimate religious authority resulted instead in the fragmentation of that authority and the proliferation of groups challenging the moral judgment and legitimacy of official religious institutions? Why, as we saw in Alexandria, is the state forced to resort to physical violence to retain its monopoly on religious socialization?

These are the issues we will be concerned with: changes in the cultural mediation of Islamic knowledge, and the problematic results of implementing mass education as a mechanism of social control. If it seems odd to us that the powerless act in ways that reinforce their subordination (even as they seek to resist it), it should seem equally odd that the powerful act in ways that diminish their dominance (even as they seek to increase it). Willis stresses “that there are deep disjunctions and desperate tensions within social and cultural reproduction. Social agents are not passive bearers of ideology, but active appropriators who reproduce existing structures only through struggle, contestation, and partial penetration of those structures.” [27] In his own case study, he finds that the working-class student's choice of manual labor as a means of making a living is experienced not as a surrender to social subordination, but as “an assertion of…freedom and of a specific kind of power in the world”;[28] it “is felt, subjectively, as a profound process of learning: it is the organisation of the self in relation to the future.” [29]

This structuring of experience and perception operates on the social and cultural elites who frame policy and produce school curricula and educational materials, as well as on the working classes and students who are their targets. The concept of hegemony, it is too often forgotten, refers to structures of thought, feeling, and practice that are as commonsensical to cultural elites as they are to subordinates.[30] Egypt's incorporation into the modern European imperial system was one of the experiential sources of a new hegemony that relied on the modern school for its force.[31] As we will see in chapters 2 and 3, European political and cultural domination during the latter half of the nineteenth century presented both British and Egyptian elites with ambiguous and often contradictory conceptual models of social structure, change, and hierarchy. The deep tensions within the imperial project resulted, on the cultural level, in conflicting experiences of cultural process that were rationalized as being a choice between the twin dichotomies of “religious” versus “secular” government, and “traditional” versus “modern” society. Choosing the secular and modern meant, among other things, embracing the notion that mass schooling would provide an inexpensive mechanism of centralized and nearly total control over the inner lives of Egyptians. The choice to provide the nation with schooling was experienced by elites and the nascent middle classes as a drive toward national emancipation that would take place through a new means of reinforcing their own position. That this project has resulted instead in new modes of political opposition, a renewed public attachment to religious values, and finally the forced resort to the tactics of the police state indicate that the culturally mediated choice between tradition and modernity rested on false premises.

History and Typology

The dichotomies of religion/secularism and tradition/modernity are cultural concepts derived initially from social philosophy and its offspring, the professionalized social sciences. Johannes Fabian has argued, in his celebrated essay on “How Anthropology Makes Its Object,” [32] that the discipline of anthropology (and Western science in general) systematically distorts its relationship to the cultures it studies by constructing cultural typologies—hot and cold, primitive and modern, developed and developing, peasant and industrial, rural and urban—that present cultural differences as differences of time. Historical sequence, in becoming the basis of a system of analytical categories, retains its chronological connotations, so that the “traditional” and the “modern” seem separated not only by spatial but by temporal distance. And in the process of implicitly denying the “coevalness” of anthropology and its “Other,” such typologies also deny the close relationships of influence, domination, and, in fact, the mutual constitution of contemporaneous societies. “When modern anthropology began to construct its Other,” Fabian writes, “in terms of topoi implying distance, difference, and opposition, its intent was above all…to construct ordered Space and time—a cosmos—for Western society to inhabit, rather than “understanding other cultures,” its ostensible vocation.” [33]

While he omits them from his own enumeration of false typological opposites, Fabian might well have mentioned religious and secular, a pair of terms that runs through the scholarly literature on Egypt from the very beginning of the modern European presence there. When a correspondent for Public Television's McNeil-Lehrer News Hour reported, shortly after the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, that Islamic radicals were attacking the government of Husni Mubarak because he was “trying to drive Egypt further down the secular road”; or when newspapers in the U.S. claim that radical Islamic movements are threatening to topple “Egypt's secular government,” they are not only engaging in a complex strategy of distancing (the secular West versus the religious East; the (necessarily) secular allied government versus the (fanatically) religious internal threat). They are also—as we will see throughout this book—constructing an astounding fiction: that Egypt's government is a secular one. Although this fiction is useful for purposes of political convenience and Western self-definition, it makes understanding of the current political tensions in Egypt impossible.

Just as typology is always part of a larger narrative that explains its form and origin, so theories of education are always derived not merely from theories of human psychology, but from theories of history. As I will argue in the conclusion, the ideas indigenous and foreign elites hold concerning Islam and education in modern society have been central elements in contemporary public policy formation, and the state's halting and ineffective strategies for counteracting its Islamic political opposition are built partially upon a central flaw in its conception of the social effects of the school. During the 1950s and 1960s intellectuals both in the West and in the Middle East were confident that “in the contemporary Arab world Islam has simply been bypassed…the relaxing of Islam's grip on Arab society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.…resulted in an inner collapse and a withering away of its position and effective power in social and political life.” [34] With respect to education, this confidence was founded upon the political marginalization of the traditional religious hierarchy, which “by the end of the First World War…had not only lost its position as the defender and interpreter of the Law in society, but also its function as the upholder and transmitter of Islamic learning and tradition.…” [35] Even the phenomenal growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s and 1940s served as the exception that proved the rule of modernization in Egyptian society:

The tremendous appeal which the movement exercised served to show the extent to which Islam could still move the masses of the people. But it came too late to stem the tide of secularism, and its fate was sealed with the triumph of Abdul Nasser's secular revolution. The Muslim Brothers may well be the last serious effort of traditional Islam to regain its position in Arab society.[36]

This passage encapsulates two fallacies of modernization theory that have found their way into more recent attempts to account for the rise of Islamism—or, the term I prefer, the Islamic Trend—in Egypt. First, there is the false assumption that movements like the Muslim Brothers or the radical Jihad and al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya groups represent “traditional Islam” reasserting itself. And second, there is the false assumption that, in the case of Egypt as in the case of historical development generally, secularism will replace religion in a global and irreversible evolutionary process. On such an assumption, scholarly concern with religious education in the public school would be a misplaced effort, since the role of the nation was assumed to have eclipsed that of God as the focal point of public veneration.[37]

Consequently, the richest evocations of religious education in the contemporary Muslim world confine their attention to the socialization of religious elites,[38] and their implications cannot fruitfully be extended to popular education. There has been a good deal of research on the traditional Qur’anic school (kuttab), particularly in Morocco,[39] and some very recent work on education in postrevolutionary Iran.[40] But aside from important historical work on Czarist Central Asia[41] and a single content analysis of religious textbooks used during the Nasser period,[42] scholars have remained relatively silent about the interaction of religion and mass instruction. As preparation for our entry into the case study, let us remind ourselves again why this is important. As intellectual technologies and political institutions from the West have penetrated the Islamic world, they have helped to create new ways of conceiving of, practicing, and passing on the Islamic tradition. This sort of outcome is a common feature of colonial and postcolonial life. In East Africa, the system of “customary law” itself was a creation of British colonialism.[43] In eighteenth-and nineteenth-century India, the British Asiatic society “initiated the integration of the vast collection of myths, beliefs, rituals, and laws into a coherent religion, and shaped an amorphous heritage into the faith now known as Hinduism,” [44] and in Morocco, French understandings of tribalism became the de facto basis for tribal organization, making “[the French] view of Moroccan society a significant component of social reality.” [45] In the same way, contemporary Islam in Egypt is as much the result of the European-style school as it is of “traditional” texts and intellectual institutions. In this as in so much else—and in a sense even more direct than Fabian's critique of categories—western scholarship has quite literally made the object it now purports to study.

The rest of the book falls into three parts. The next two chapters show how educational goals and philosophies invented in Europe to quell the social unrest of the Industrial Revolution were transplanted at an increasing pace into Egypt by the British after 1882. In appropriating the indigenous Qur’anic schools as the basis for a cheap system of mass instruction, the imperial administration altered the aims and methods of religious teaching to resemble those of Christian Britain. With the subsequent professionalization of teachers and the declining role of the traditional religious elite in formal socialization, religious instruction gained by the 1930s its current function as an explicit tool for social planning.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 describe the content and context of Islamic education in contemporary Egyptian primary and secondary schools. This will not take the form of a traditional school ethnography, but will instead focus on the way schooling is viewed by different populations as an Islamizing influence in conjunction with other social institutions. Based on interviews, classroom observation, and analysis of religious studies textbooks, it will explore the way that school-based religious education is thought to fulfill national goals, including the attempt of the national government to counteract the appeal of al-tatarruf, religious “extremism” among the country's youth. I will argue that, far from counteracting the appeal of private-sector religious forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the smaller Islamic splinter groups that call for revolt against the state, the religious studies curriculum in schools (and other programs for children and youth) both lays the government open to radical criticism and increases the hunger for religious resources that cannot be met solely by the public sector.

The resulting political challenge to the ruling party has evoked a range of responses ably summarized by the interior minister, who is in charge of domestic security. In a July 1993 speech to the official national union of journalists, he explained that “the newspapers defend democracy and the police work to secure that democracy…and because of this the relationship between the police and the newspapers is strong and profound.” [46] This dual strategy combining cultural and police operations informs chapters 7 and 8, which examine the complex ways in which the Islamic Trend has penetrated the public space created by the school, the media, and the market. On the one hand, a violent fringe of religious terrorists is used as a foil for representations of popular virtue and the masses' rejection of underground Islamist organizations. On the other hand, institutions as varied as the media themselves and the court system are turned to the service of the Islamist political opposition as civil society is penetrated by the discourses of religion. As the government simultaneously increases its investment in Islamic symbols and represses competing groups that deploy them as well, clear alternatives disappear, and the country is moved ever closer to political crisis. In the end, I bring together these tangled historical, textual, and ethnographic threads to show why educational idioms have become part of the language in which political conflict is expressed. Public discourse on the origin of the Islamic Trend is coming more and more to resemble the debates that took place during the British Occupation concerning the pernicious effects of educating the new Egyptian elites. I will argue that flawed applications of social and educational theory—by both Egyptian policymakers and Western scholars—have contributed to the consistent misunderstanding of contemporary political developments, dooming the state to weaken its own position in every attempt it makes to enhance it.


1. Al-Ahram, 31 July 1993, p. 10.

2. Al-Akhbar, 31 August 1989, p. 1.

3. Al-Akhbar, 1 September 1989, p. 9.

4. Al-Akhbar, 1 September 1989, p. 9.

5. Al-Ahram, 31 August 1989, p. 10; al-Jumhuriyya, 31 August 1989, p. 3.

6. Al-Wafd, 2 September 1989, pp. 1–2.

7. Cassandra, “The Impending Crisis in Egypt,” Middle East Journal 49, 1 (Winter 1995), pp. 9–27.

8. Richard Bulliet, Islam: The View from the Edge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 4.

9. Talal Asad, “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam,” Occasional Paper Series, Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, March 1986, p. 14; see also Lila Abu-Lughod, “Zones of Theory in the Anthropology of the Arab World,” Annual Review of Anthropology 18 (1989), pp. 267–306.

10. Asad, “Anthropology of Islam,” p. 14.

11. L. Abu-Lughod, “Zones of Theory,” p. 297.

12. Asad, “Anthropology of Islam,” p. 15.

13. See, for example, John Bowen, “Elaborating Scriptures: Cain and Abel in Gayo Society,” Man, n.s., 27, 3 (1992), pp. 495–516; and his Muslims Through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Dale F. Eickelman, Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), and his “Mass Higher Education and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary Arab Societies,” American Ethnologist 19, 4 (1992), pp. 643–55; Michael M. J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990); Patricia Horvatich, “Ways of Knowing Islam,” American Ethnologist 21, 4 (1994), pp. 811–26; Brinkley Messick, The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

14. For a recent review of the literature, see Gregory Starrett, “The Anthropology of Islam,” in Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook of Method and Theory, ed. Stephen Glazier (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997), pp. 279–303.

15. The notion of “objectification” is borrowed ultimately from Bernard Cohn, by way of Dale Eickelman, “Identité nationale et discours religieux en Oman,” in Intellectuels et militants de l'Islam contemporain, ed. Gilles Kepel and Yann Richard (Paris: Seuil, 1990), p. 121; see also his “Counting and Surveying an “Inner” Omani Community: Hamra al-‘Abriyin,” in Tribe and State: Essays in Honour of David Montgomery Hart, ed. E. G. H. Joffe and C. R. Pennell (Wisbech, England: MENAS Press, 1991), pp. 253–77. See William E. Shepard, “Islam as a “System” in the Later Writings of Sayyid Qutb,” Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1989), pp. 31–50.

16. Eickelman, “Mass Higher Education,” p. 650.

17. Al-Ahram, 17 February 1989, p. 13.

18. Messick, The Calligraphic State.

19. Dale Eickelman, “The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 20 (1978), p. 485.

20. Eickelman, “The Art of Memory,” p. 496. The work he is referring to is Durkheim's The Evolution of Educational Thought, trans. Peter Collins (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977).

21. Paul Willis, Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (Westmead, England: Saxon House, 1977), pp. 175–79.

22. Aside from efforts like Allan Peshkin's God's Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), and Melinda B. Wagner's God's Schools: Choice and Compromise in American Society (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990), which are fine school ethnographies prompted by the political rise of the U.S. Christian Right in the 1980s, and the attendant expansion of Christian alternatives to the public schools. Unfortunately, both works are curiously distant from important theoretical debates in the educational literature.

23. This work will say little explicitly about gender, in part because of the substantial body of quality work already being done on gender and Islam. See, for example, Fadwa el-Guindi, “Veiling Infitah with Muslim Ethic: Egypt's Contemporary Islamic Movement,” Social Problems 28 (1981), pp. 465–85; Arlene Elowe Macleod, Accommodating Protest: Working Women, the New Veiling, and Change in Cairo (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); Lila Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Carol Delaney, The Seed and the Soil: Gender and Cosmology in Turkish Village Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); or any of the articles on women in Muslim societies in Valentine Moghadam, ed., Identity Politics and Women: Cultural Reassertions and Feminisms in International Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994). For a more complete list of references, see L. Abu-Lughod, “Zones of Theory,” and Starrett, “Anthropology of Islam.”

24. I am referring, of course, to Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), and more recent developments on the theme such as Don Handelman's Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

25. Paul Willis, Learning to Labour, pp. 173–74.

26. Willis, Learning to Labour, p. 171.

27. Willis, Learning to Labour, p. 175.

28. Willis, Learning to Labour, p. 104.

29. Willis, Learning to Labour, p. 172.

30. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 110.

31. This is the main theme of Timothy Mitchell's Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

32. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

33. Fabian, Time and the Other, p. 111.

34. Hisham Sharabi, “Islam and Modernization in the Arab World,” in Modernization of the Arab World, ed. Jack H. Thompson and Robert D. Reischauer (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1966), p. 26.

35. Sharabi, “Islam and Modernization,” p. 29.

36. Sharabi, “Islam and Modernization,” p. 31.

37. Durkheim's Moral Education stands, of course, as the best representative of this view.

38. Dale Eickelman's Knowledge and Power in Morocco; Roy Mottahedeh's The Mantle of the Prophet (New York: Pantheon, 1985); Michael M. J. Fischer's Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980); and Fischer and Abedi's Debating Muslims.

39. For traditional education in Morocco, see Eickelman, “The Art of Memory,” pp. 485–516; Jennifer E. Spratt and Daniel A. Wagner, “The Making of a Fqih: The Transformation of Traditional Islamic Teachers in Modern Cultural Adaptation,” in The Cultural Transition: Human Experience and Social Transformation in the Third World and Japan, ed. Merry I. White and Susan Pollak (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 89–112; Daniel A. Wagner and Abdelhamid Lotfi, “Traditional Islamic Education in Morocco: Sociohistorical and Psychological Perspectives,” Comparative Education Review 24 (1980), pp. 238–51; and their “Learning to Read by “Rote,” ” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1983), pp. 111–21; Daniel A. Wagner and Jennifer E. Spratt, “Reading Acquisition in Morocco,” in Growth and Progress in Cross-Cultural Psychology, ed. C. Kagitcibasi (Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger B.V., 1987), pp. 346–55; and their “Cognitive Consequences of Contrasting Pedagogies: The Effects of Quranic Preschooling in Morocco,” Child Development 58 (1987), pp. 1207–19. For the longer treatment, see Daniel Wagner, Literacy, Culture, and Development: Becoming Literate in Morocco (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Jarmo Houtsonen, “Traditional Qur’anic Education in a Southern Moroccan Village,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26 (1994), pp. 489–500. For Java, see Sidney Jones, “Arabic Instruction and Literacy in Javanese Muslim Schools,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1983), pp. 83–94; for Yemen, see Brinkley Messick, “Legal Documents and the Concept of “Restricted Literacy” in a Traditional Society,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1983), pp. 41–52; for Iran, see Brian V. Street, Literacy in Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

40. Golnar Mehran, “Ideology and Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Compare 20 (1990), pp. 53–65; Bahram Mohsenpour, “Philosophy of Education in Postrevolutionary Iran,” Comparative Education Review 32 (1988), pp. 76–86; and M. Mobin Shorish, “The Islamic Revolution and Education in Iran,” Comparative Education Review 32 (1988), pp. 58–75.

41. Adeeb Khalid, “The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Tsarist Central Asia,” Ph.D. diss., Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993.

42. Olivier Carré, Enseignement islamique et idéal socialiste (Beirut: Dar el-Machreq Editeurs, 1974).

43. Sally Falk Moore, Social Facts and Fabrications: Customary Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

44. Javed Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mill's The History of British India and Orientalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 28, 36.

45. Dale Eickelman, Moroccan Islam (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), p. 21.

46. Hasan al-Alfi, quoted in al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 10.


“Fact, fact, fact!” said the [government officer]. And “Fact, fact, fact!” repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

“You are to be in all things regulated and governed,” said the gentleman, “by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must see,” said the gentleman, “for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.”

2. Education and the Management of Populations

No fallacy is more transparent or more monstrous than that which assumes that knowledge, or whatever training is got in schools, is a natural want, certain to assert itself like the want of food, or clothing, or shelter, and to create a demand. The fact is the very reverse of this assumption.…All statesmen who have wished to civilize and instruct a nation have to create this appetite.

Colonising Egypt, in the broad sense of the penetration of a new principle of order and technique of power, was never merely a question of introducing a new physical discipline or a new material order. In the first place, disciplinary powers were themselves to work by constructing their object as something twofold. They were to operate in terms of a distinction between the physical body that could be counted, policed, supervised and made industrious, and an inner mental space within which the corresponding habits of obedience and industry were to be instilled.

Schooling and the Colonial Project

Timothy Mitchell, in his fascinating book Colonising Egypt, has described schooling in nineteenth-century Egypt as the basis of “the new politics of the modern state,” [3] which took hold, after an extended infancy, in the late 1860s during the reign of Khedive Isma‘il. Even before formal European control was established over the country in 1876, Egyptian intellectuals educated abroad began to imagine schooling as a means of producing model citizens and a model society. “The power of working upon the individual offered by modern schooling,” Mitchell writes, “was to be the hallmark and method of politics itself,” a politics “modelled on the process of schooling,” [4] which would utilize the school's “precise methods of inspection, coordination and control” to “change the tastes and habits of an entire people…and by a new means of education make him or her into a modern political subject—frugal, innocent, and, above all, busy.” [5] Inspired by Foucault's reading of disciplinary formation in Europe, Mitchell portrays the sea change in Egyptian politics as a process of

replacing a power concentrated in personal command, and always liable to diminish, with powers that were systematically and uniformly diffused. The diffusion of control required mechanisms that were measured rather than excessive and continuous rather than sporadic, working by invigilation and the management of space.[6]

In a sense the present chapter can be read as a documentary supplement to Mitchell's description of the establishment of European-style schools in Egypt, focusing much more specifically on their use as arenas of religious instruction, and concentrating on the detailed strategies of imperial administrators. But at the same time, I will argue that we need to go considerably beyond Mitchell's reading of Egyptian history in order to understand the unique dynamic of the school. While the school may be a mechanism of diffuse and invisible power, it is also—as we saw in chapter 1—an engine of tension and contradiction. As sociologists of education have shown us, students are neither the passive pawns of educational organization and ideology, nor are educators their absolute masters. The belief held by cultural elites that “modern” education is the most effective machine of social pacification has acted to stunt their own recognition of its ambiguous and unpredictable influence.

Exoticizing the Classroom

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Europeans were still debating the appropriateness of state-sponsored education, although opposition was quickly fading. In 1876 Herbert Spencer, whom the Egyptian religious reformer Muhammad ‘Abduh described as “the chief of the philosophers on social questions,” [7] complained in his Principles of Sociology that the growing power of the state over the individual was contrary to the natural order of social evolution, a regression to an earlier form of political organization. Belittling government by “public analyzers” and “the tacit assumption that State- authority over citizens has no assignable limits,” Spencer contradicted the reigning progressivism of his day, which held that national interests could and did excuse public trespass across the natural boundaries of the family. Such interference disrupted the division between the “law of the family,” by which resources are bestowed upon helpless individuals without reservation, and the “law of society,” by which resources are distributed proportional to individual effort. When this happens, he warned, society “fails to hold its own in the struggle against other societies, which allow play to the natural law that prosperity shall vary as efficiency.” [8]

Legislation has of late further relaxed family bonds by relieving parents from the care of their children's minds, and replacing education under parental direction by education under governmental direction; and where the appointed authorities have found it needful partially to clothe neglected children before they could be taught, and even to whip children by police agency for not going to school, they have still further substituted national responsibility for the responsibility of parents. The recognition of the individual, rather than the family, as the social unit, has indeed now gone so far that by many the paternal duty of the state is assumed as self-evident.[9]

Spencer's discomfort with the practice of state paternalism in education led him to compose substantial essays on the subject both at the beginning and at the end of his career.[10] The tenacity of his beliefs went unrewarded, however, and he was forced to admit that, in this conviction as in others, “it became a usual experience with me to stand in a minority—often a small minority, approaching sometimes a minority of one.” [11]

This bristling rejection of state-led educational reform in late nineteenth-century Great Britain illuminates the school from an unusual angle, exoticizing practices we have long since come to perceive as normal. For despite the patriotic mythology surrounding the development of popular schooling in Europe and the United States, the rapid expansion of popular education during the mid-nineteenth century was motivated not as much by a humanistic longing to open children's minds to the glories of culture, civilization, and personal growth as by the desire of political elites to manage the outlook and behavior of the working classes through promoting and institutionalizing programs of mass socialization.[12] Fears of social disruption by the lower classes—through crime, vice, and popular rebellion—motivated the creation of prophylactic measures like popular schooling that would, in theory, produce disciplined, competent workers with little incentive to disturb the status quo. The advent of European control over Egypt during the last quarter of the nineteenth century transported these same fears and responses in a long southeastward arc across the Mediterranean and down through the Red Sea, completing finally the strategic geographical circuit between Great Britain and India.

In examining the political needs and cultural assumptions underlying the importation to Egypt of European-style mass schooling, we can view the consequent transformation of the individual Egyptian into a social unit over which the state wished to assume parental responsibility, the development Spencer so despised. This ideological change answered the colonial administration's need to justify its extension of influence across barriers of class and family, to reinforce the former and weaken the latter, and it took place in part through the appropriation of indigenous Qur’anic schools for public use. This is where we can see how the process of functionalization, first aimed at the physical institutions in which formal religious socialization occurred, began to transform people's ideas about the subject matter itself.

Furnishing Children for the Schools

In 1801, after the British had routed Napoleon Bonaparte's three-year army of occupation from Egypt, the Ottoman sultan Selim III sought to reestablish control of his territory by dispatching troops led by Albanian-born Muhammad ‘Ali, to the province. But within a few years Muhammad ‘Ali had consolidated power on his own behalf and established a dynasty that lasted nominally until Egypt's 1952 Revolution. It was his effort to consolidate control over Egypt and gain military parity with Europe that motivated the initial importation of the European-style school to Egypt.

Military parity with Europe—which comprised every feature of modern armies up to and including the indispensable regimental brass band—required industrial parity, which in turn presupposed technological parity, which finally demanded a system by which people could be recruited and trained in those techniques and manufactures that would sustain a new type of armed forces. By the 1820s, Muhammad ‘Ali had already begun to use Egypt's rural kuttabs (pl. katatib; small local institutions for the memorization of the Qur’an) as the recruiting grounds for his newly established preparatory and technical schools. Needing students with basic reading and writing skills, he requisitioned provincial commissioners for healthy and literate boys between the ages of ten and twenty to study at these new military facilities.[13] One of the unexpected consequences of this system of recruitment was that enrollment in kuttabs plummeted. Parents refused to send their children to study at local kuttabs, which, by making them literate, would now subject them to impression into distant technical schools that were little more than auxiliary branches of the military. “The antipathy that the Egyptian feels against military conscription,” wrote a future Egyptian minister of education, “extends to scholarly conscription.” [14]

Because of this, by 1833 the deterioration of the kuttabs was so advanced that the government was forced to establish several new state- run primary schools in the provinces of Girga and Asyut, and to extend control over a number of existing kuttabs to increase the number of boys eligible for recruitment. Students in these new schools received uniforms, rations, supplies, and stipends, and though the content and method of instruction were similar to indigenous madrasas (pl. madaris; institutions for more advanced study of classical Islamic texts), the students—drawn from poor families attracted by the financial support of their children—were subject to strict military discipline.[15]

The literate culture of both the kuttab and the madrasa depended on oral instruction and only secondarily on the use of writing, either the child's copying on slates or the more advanced scholar's perusal of manuscript copies of important works.[16] The first printed book used in Egypt's government schools was the Alfiyya of Ibn Malik (with a commentary by Ibn ‘Aqil), an eighth-century Muslim legal text distributed by Muhammad ‘Ali to the new provincial schools in December of 1834.[17] Unlike neighboring kuttabs in which children attended irregularly at the pleasure of their elders and masters, Muhammad ‘Ali's newly systematized primary schools were rigidly scheduled for up to nine hours a day. By 1835 an ideal syllabus for the primary school at Cairo outlined a three- year program of study that resembled that of the mosque-university al-Azhar in miniature, stressing Qur’an memorization and the use of classical theological texts for memory training and penmanship practice.[18] By the following decade some interest was shown in using more contemporary works, and the government's agent in London sent to Egypt books of stories, geographies, and arithmetic texts suitable for children. Though some of these works were translated and used in schools, the authorities failed to distribute notebooks in which the children could write, leaving them with the old slates which they had used to copy passages from their Islamic texts.[19]

With support from an expatriate community of French St. Simonist utopians, Muhammad ‘Ali developed further plans for expanding the system of government primary schools through the late 1830s, planning to scatter fifty throughout the country (four in Cairo, one in Alexandria, and the rest in the provinces), which together would enroll some five thousand students. The three- to four-year primary program, covering Arabic, arithmetic and religious studies, would feed students to the two four-year preparatory schools in Cairo and Alexandria, which would in turn send pupils to the higher technical institutes. The preparatory curriculum covered geometry, algebra, history, geography, drawing, calligraphy, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish; together these two schools could accommodate two thousand pupils.[20] Muhammad ‘Ali's schools, like his factories, were not only intended to supply military needs, but were supplied with students by the same system of conscription. The British diplomat John Bowring described in 1840 how the district shaykhs of Cairo “are charged with the collection of the Ferdeh–with furnishing children for the schools, and workpeople for the fabrics.” [21]

During the first four months of 1837 alone, nearly fifty new primary schools were opened, each staffed by principals and teachers recruited from the ranks of the mosque-university of al-Azhar. But the political considerations that had prompted the explosive expansion of schools soon changed. In mid-July 1841, Muhammad ‘Ali was forced by joint Ottoman and European pressure to end a long-running military incursion into the Ottoman province of Syria, and reduced his army from over a quarter-million troops to fewer than a tenth that number. Without the army's need for the same level of technical support the new school system collapsed. Even before the disengagement treaty had been signed, sixteen of the new primary schools closed. More than two dozen were shut down the following October, and five in November, leaving, according to James Heyworth-Dunne, only three government-sponsored primary schools left in the country, and plans afoot to cut the educational budget by a further 50 percent.[22] It was not until 1863, with the accession of Muhammad ‘Ali's son Isma‘il, that royal interest in education began to rebound, but even then the foundation of significant national education projects proved nearly impossible for financial and logistical reasons. Efforts in 1868, 1871, and 1880 to extend modern primary schools widely into the provinces and to integrate the rural kuttabs into a national system of schools failed to produce much result.[23] The five thousand or so local kuttabs that were estimated to exist in 1878 remained the country's only formal source of entrée into the literate tradition.[24] The number of kuttab students represented between 2 and 4 percent of children between the ages of five and fifteen in Egypt's approximately nine million population at that time.

Along with the remaining technical schools, there were also schools run by the indigenous Christian and Jewish communities, and by the many foreign communities in Egypt, although most students still attended indigenous religious schools, both elementary (the kuttab) and advanced (the mosque schools of al-Azhar in Cairo, al-Ahmadi in Tanta, and Ibrahim Pasha in Alexandria). Given Europe's accelerating interest in educational extension, reform, and centralization during the course of the century, the maintenance of such a complex and unregulated conglomeration of schools usually struck members of the foreign community as a hindrance to national progress, but inevitable given the “innate defects” of oriental character. M. Octave Sachot, for example, an officer of the Académie Française, visited Egypt in the late 1860s to report on the status of education there, and to make recommendations to Victor Duruy, the French minister of education. Commenting on Muhammad ‘Ali's effort to look toward “the social organization of the West, and in particular that of France” for his inspiration, Sachot wrote,

The task is arduous, for each people has its innate qualities and defects, the results of ancient and often inaccessible causes which cannot be modified overnight by the importation of foreign institutions. And in the same way that in architecture it is much easier to construct an assemblage of parts upon a bare terrain, than it is to graft a new style onto an existing monument, so it is with civilization: it is perhaps much easier to operate on the terrain of complete barbarism, than on a soil encumbered by a social state it has propped up for a long time, and upon the immutable doctrines of a religion hostile to the introduction of any new idea or custom.[25]

Lacking barren ground in which to set the foundations of a new civilization, the task before Egypt's foreign and domestic reformers was to build on the irregular foundations already in place. Meanwhile, a few model institutions like the Tawfiqiyya, Khidiwiyya, and Ra’s al-Tin secondary schools opened during Isma‘il's reign, and Victoria College in Alexandria (largely for the use of local elites and foreigners) would illustrate the advantages of European education.[26]

Education and British Colonial Policy, 1882–1922

The metaphoric spirit of the age, as evoked by the inventions of science, intercourse with European countries, and other invigorating influences have already done something to inspire the [peasant] with the rudiments of self-respect, and a dim conception of hitherto unimagined possibilities.

Fourteen years after Sachot's visit, and bound by the same notion of the civilizing mission, the British administration of Egypt set out to reshape and systematize existing educational institutions, using as models both its Indian experience and the lessons of rural popular education at home.[28] British attitudes toward education were conditioned by their belief that Egyptian society could be bettered (and the country's debt to European creditors liquidated) only through a carefully managed set of reforms aimed at increasing the country's agricultural productivity. Consequently their greatest fear was of a misdirection of effort toward a rapid industrial development that might divert resources from agriculture, threatening both the interests of the powerful local landowning class, and the supply of cotton to British textile mills.[29] Concern for the potential loss of the rural labor force was articulated as early as 1840 by Bowring, and in 1905 Lord Cromer, the British consul general, warned that “any education, technical or general, which tended to leave the fields untilled, or to lessen the fitness or disposition of the people for agricultural employment, would be a national evil.” [30]

Philosophically, the relationship between colonial economic and educational policy was based on Britain's Indian experience, which the historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay had articulated in his famous speech to the House of Commons in July of 1833, outlining for his colleagues “the most selfish view of the case”:

It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be…far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English Collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it a useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.[31]

In Egypt, educational effort was therefore to be split along class and geographical axes, reinforcing the barriers between country and city and maintaining an appropriate class hierarchy. The course of instruction in elementary schools or kuttabs—usually the only schools available outside the provincial capitals—did not allow successful students to continue on to European-language education in preparatory and technical schools, or to obtain the certificates that would allow them employment in the civil service. Instead the village schools were, from 1898, allowed to compete for financial support by a competitive system of grants-in-aid from the Ministry of Public Instruction, which entailed bringing themselves under that ministry's inspection. One of the criteria for eligibility was that all instruction be in Arabic. But since instruction in higher schools was at least partially in French or English until 1908,[32] this meant an automatic bar to social mobility for the poorest section of the population, who could not afford school fees in the higher primary schools. After this date, a ceiling placed on the potential salary of individuals without secondary certificates meant that, unless a family possessed sufficient resources to see their child through both paid primary and secondary education, even beginning the process would be pointless.

The British-controlled government articulated specific educational goals having to do with the staffing of the local civil service, the spread of basic literacy in the countryside, and later, the creation of a thrifty peasantry and an artisan class skilled in European manufactures.[33] They and their domestic allies pursued these objectives with different degrees of official energy and different degrees of success. But alongside these restricted official aims were the goals of affirming colonial authority and creating a new social order in Egypt. These latter ambitions, broad practical components of the colonial enterprise articulated as long-term cultural goals rather than as school policy, were: (1) the creation of a new moral consciousness in the population; (2) the maintenance of public order; (3) the Europeanization of the class structure; and (4) The Europeanization of the family, glossed as the liberation of Egyptian women. Examining each of these goals in turn, we can see how intellectual and political trends in Europe influenced the development of educational theory and practice in Egypt.

Moral Order: The Primitive Conception of the Teacher

In both Egypt and England, the development of rural education in the nineteenth century took place largely through the subvention of religion-based popular schools, and the tension between supporting a school's teaching of secular subjects (arithmetic, for instance) and consequent support of its religious programs, proved at times to be a political irritant. Just two decades prior to the Occupation of Egypt, the Revised Code of 1862 set a new course for the elementary schools of Great Britain, making the efficient teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic, rather than doctrinal matters, the acknowledged center of the curriculum and the subjects qualifying a school for government grants-in-aid.[34] Prior to this legislation, and the 1870 code following it that made elementary schooling compulsory in England, the purpose of elementary education for the masses had been—according to its proponents—to overcome the ruinous moral influences of the home environment.[35]

The kuttab and the British elementary school of the early nineteenth century both arose from the need for communally sanctioned religious instruction, the need to reproduce a sacred tradition of writing as well as the skills of reading and writing themselves. For its part, Victorian anthropological theory recognized that the social roles of priest and teacher could be traced to a common ancestor, for since the most precious knowledge is that which cannot be gathered through everyday experience, specialists in esoteric wisdom—those who know the ways of supernatural beings—are called upon to help others regulate their conduct in ways pleasing to the gods. “The primitive conception of the teacher,” wrote Spencer, “is the conception of one who gives instruction in sacred matters.” [36]

In 1839 the British home secretary wrote that the “four principal objects” of elementary schooling should be “religious instruction, general instruction, moral training, and habits of industry.” [37] Consider the following passages, the first from a Lancasterian teacher's manual of 1816, and the second from a speech delivered by the Evangelical Reverend Daniel Wilson three years later in support of a charity school in the center of England's silk-weaving region:

The cultivation of the mind bestowed in these elementary schools, opens and expands the faculties of the children, gives them clear notions of the moral and social duties, prepares them for the reception of religious instruction, forms them to habits of virtue, and habituates them to subordination and control.[38]

In every country, but especially in this free state, the mass of your Poor, like the base of the cone, if it be unsteady and insecure, will quickly endanger every superincumbent part. Religious education, then, is the spring of public tranquility. It not only cherishes the interior principle of conscience; but by infusing the higher sentiments of penitence and faith and gratitude and the love of God, communicates the elements of a cheerful and uniform subjection to all lawful authority.[39]

In the first case instruction as such is granted a social benefit through the symbiotic adjustment of the individual to society. Habituation to subordination and control develops simultaneously with the expansion of the child's faculties; in fact, these amount to one and the same thing. In the second case a metaphor combining schoolbook geometry and classical political economy is completed by the elegant stabilizing influence of religious instruction, which has the power and precision of a mathematical function. This emphasis was of long standing. In schools sponsored by churches and benevolent societies, teaching methodologies in the early 1800s did not differ substantially from those used centuries before: reading and writing (penmanship) were means for acquiring moral betterment through the Scriptures.[40] With this as a background, the halting development of secular instruction in Great Britain is not surprising. Each new bill brought before Parliament for the extension of fiscal support for education encountered critics on all sides, but particularly from clergy who feared that government schemes for subvention of private schools would favor one denomination—or bald secularism—over their own. Even attempts to avoid the appearance of favoritism encountered harsh opposition. The creation of board schools supported by local taxation set off a furious public debate about the substance of religious education for the masses, as the new schools restricted religious instruction to “mere” Bible-reading without sectarian content.

See-sawing Backwards and Forwards the Whole Time

In Egypt, Europeans perceived their Christian moral code and its cultural axioms pitted against the entrenched interests of an indigenous religious establishment they portrayed in their writing as both venal and reactionary.

At this moment there is no real justice in this country. What passes under that name is a mockery.…In ancient days the Cadi, an essentially religious functionary, took cognizance of all disputes and gave judgement according to his own lights, without reference to any procedure; though he occasionally invoked such a text from the Koran, or such a phrase from a commentator as appeared most applicable to the matter in hand. His real inspiration, however, was too often drawn from the money bags of one, or perhaps both parties to the case.[41]

The perceived venality of the ‘ulama (religious scholars)was just one manifestation of the pervading corruption of Egyptian officialdom. The mark distinguishing the “shaykh class” from other traditional elites was its possession of the qualities of “fanaticism and bigotry.” So powerful an effect did these qualities exercise, and so pervasive their influence on the population at large, that they formed a convenient hook on which to hang criticisms of the slow pace of Egyptian reforms and the occasional outbreaks of political or religious excitement. “The Egyptian,” recalled Alfred Milner, the former under secretary for finance in Egypt, “…is not by nature in the least fanatical. But he has been brought up in fanatical traditions, and he is greatly under the influence of religious teachers, who are fanatics by profession.” [42] To extirpate this imputed fanaticism and bigotry from the country therefore became essential, and reformers searched for their source like explorers seeking the headwaters of the Nile, finding it finally in the method and content of instruction in indigenous schools. Change these, and the conservatism of the Egyptian, as well as his incapacity for logical thought, would be replaced by those mental qualities necessary to national progress.[43]

Foreign visitors to kuttabs were struck by two things that distinguished them from the schools they knew at home: the single subject of instruction and the arrangements for its communication. (Some other features of the indigenous schools differed hardly at all from rural institutions in Britain.)[44] James Augustus St. John, writing of his 1832–33 journey in Egypt, gave a concise description of the “fanatic” Shaykh Ibrahim's kuttab in Alexandria:

In the appearance of the Medressy there was nothing remarkable, except that, instead of being seated on forms ranged regularly in the centre of the apartment, the boys were all squatted cross-legged upon a mat, with the pedagogue in the midst of them. In Egypt, Nubia, and, I believe, generally in Mohammedan countries, boys are taught to write upon a smooth thin tablet painted white, about the size of an ordinary ciphering-slate, with a handle at one end. From this the characters are easily effaced by washing. While studying, or rather learning to repeat, their lessons, each boy declaims his portion of the Koran aloud at the same time, rocking his body to and fro, in order, according to their theory, to assist the memory; and as every one seems desirous of drowning the voices of his companions, the din produced by so many shrill discordant notes reminds one of the “labourers of Babel.” [45]

The lack of furniture and the children's occasional involvement in economic pursuits (e.g., plaiting straw mats for the teacher's use, or for sale) during their lessons tended to upset foreign visitors, in whose mind education was a specialized task requiring its own set of equipment, trained professionals, and the full, uninterrupted attention of all parties.[46] Observers criticized the shabby appearance of kuttabs and, interpreting their physical organization as the result mainly of poverty, appealed for their provision with symbols of modern learning such as textbooks and blackboards. The European obsession with the physical setting and scheduling of formal socialization extended to discussions of Islamic higher education as well, where some descriptions of the system lapse into self-parody. Here is Amir Boktor, for example, an Armenian professor of education at the American University in Cairo, describing the traditional organization of instruction at al-Azhar:

Suffice it to say that it has remained as primitive as it was ten centuries ago. Imagine a group of student Sheikhs numbering from 11 to 15 thousand squatting on mats of the Azhar Mosque in small classes, each class listening to an old teacher Sheikh, sitting on a wooden form, with legs crossed in oriental fashion, swinging his head left and right, as he lectures on the controversial dogmas of religion and Arabic rhetoric.…Picture also hundreds of individual students scattered all over the place, noisily reciting their studies, with the inevitable constant swinging of the head, their shoes placed beside them. Some students attend the very early morning lectures soon after the morning prayers from 3:30 a.m. Others attend the evening lectures after the evening prayers. In other words, it is sort of a Platoon system starting from 3:30 a.m. and ending at 9:30 p.m., but with no blackboards, seats, equipment, swimming pool, or cafeteria.[47]

For Boktor (citing an 1872 Swiss evaluation of Egyptian schools as his authority), al-Azhar's lack of swimming pool and cafeteria discredited it as an educational institution just as the lack of “forms ranged regularly in the centre of the apartment” had discredited the kuttab. But the rocking behavior of student and teacher in the kuttab was more remarkable still, drawing comments from nearly all travelers. Bowring's description of a school in Qena told his readers that “the mode of instruction is the same as is adopted throughout the Ottoman empire. While the lesson is giving [sic], the master's head is in a state of perpetual vibration backwards and forwards, in which he is imitated by all the children.” [48] In Alexandria, Nightingale wrote of the children “learning the Koran (see-sawing backwards and forwards the whole time)”;[49] in al-Mahalla al-Kubra, Worsfold said that education “consisted, so far as the children were concerned, in the recital of passages from the Kuran, accompanied by a more or less energetic swaying of their bodies from the hips backwards and forwards.” [50] Sachot emphasized the movement's lasting influence on students and its identification with social class: “This sort of invariable sing-song, produced in a loud voice and accompanied by a rocking back and forth of the body, soon develops into a tic preserved in adulthood by most natives of the lower classes.” [51] And Milner, with characteristic venom, turned the practice into a reverse metaphor for the learning process itself:

…to sit on the ground swinging your body backwards and forwards, and continually repeating, in a monotonous chant, a quantity of matter which you are taught to regard with religious reverence, but never taught to understand, is, if anything, an anti-educational process. If the object of true education be intellectual gymnastic, if it be to exercise and render supple the joints of the mind, then this system is its very opposite, for it tends to stiffen them. It is not calculated to enlighten, but to obfuscate.[52]

Milner's polemic highlights two important features of the Victorian perception of the kuttab: that it violated reasonable standards of religious and moral instruction (“repeating…a quantity of matter which you are taught to regard with religious reverence, but never taught to understand”); and that it violated reasonable standards of instruction in general (“If the object of true education…be to exercise and render supple the joints of the mind, then this system is its very opposite”). The kuttab's exotic setting and the constant, disconcerting physical motion of its tenants marked it as something sensual and primitive. This perception found its intellectual charter in contemporary anthropological theory, which held that, while higher religions (like philosophy itself) were systems of pure thought, primitive religions had significant physical and sensual components. Durkheim, for example, while admitting that all religions were true after their own fashion, nevertheless held that some could be rated superior to others “in the sense that they call into play higher mental functions, that they are richer in ideas and sentiments, [and] that they contain more concepts with fewer sensations and images.” [53] And Oxford's R. R. Marett claimed even more plainly that “savage religion is something not so much thought out as danced out;…in other words, it develops under conditions, psychological and social, which favour emotional and motor processes, whereas ideation remains relatively in abeyance.” [54] On this classification, not only the physical rocking during lessons, but the ritual prostrations during Muslim worship itself, appeared as backward as the unreasoning dance of the savage or the mystical abandon “of dervishes during certain religious festivals.” [55] The civilized individual could accord such an undertaking no more respect than the serious adult could accord to children's play. Along with the reliance on memorization of an obscure text, the sensuality of study disqualified the indigenous system of learning as rational.[56]

Kuttab learning resulted ideally in the student's literal incorporation of the text of the Qur’an, and accordingly the practice of its inculcation “was ordered around the meaning and the power of words.” [57] Significantly, kuttab practice was primarily oral. The skills of reading and writing were always secondary to the acquisition of the skill of exactly reproducing the recited word of God. Through daily exposure to and repetition of sacred verse, a young boy could within the space of a few years gain the ability to repeat the text by himself (a skill often lost and then sometimes refreshed once he left the kuttab). Students who showed a talent for learning and continued to study at teaching mosques (madrasas) like al-Azhar would later be taught the meaning of the text they had memorized in the kuttab, along with the sciences of grammar and interpretation, which had historically resulted in particular readings. Throughout the Muslim world madrasa study was based on the memorization of a set corpus, but the particular texts as well as the style of learning and the attitude toward scholarly authority differed from one place to another. While Iranian madrasas, for example, featured lively talmudic-style interchanges between scholar and teacher, questioning of the corpus was actively discouraged in Morocco. A young man who had studied with a particular shaykh, and who acquired the ability to recite the texts and commentaries on which the latter was an authority, could earn a written declaration of competence to transmit those same texts to others. Creating and maintaining this genealogy of recitation, memorization, and transmission is what ensured the authority of “texts in the world of the Text,” the divine word of God.[58]

For the British, on the other hand, religious instruction meant the inculcation not of recited truth, but of behavioral guidelines, whether of a straightforwardly religious character or popular wisdom cloaked with post-hoc scriptural or patriotic authority.[59] Even after doctrinal formulations were shut out of the curriculum of publicly funded schools, to the chagrin of the clergy,[60] Bible reading was retained, forming part of “the rapid growth of an unsectarian religion, in which the moral element reigns supreme, and in which, if the dogmatic element is not wholly suppressed, it is at least regarded as doubtful, subordinate, and unimportant.” [61] Early in the century, Joseph Lancaster's popular school movement had brought literacy to hundreds of thousands of children as preparation for moral instruction. Lancaster, a Quaker, commented on the role of Scripture in the school by saying that

there is no important head under which the Scriptures can be arranged, but it is likely to point the mind to some virtue, to prevent some practical error, or arm it against some vice.…I do not approve of boys being required to learn whole chapters, or long portions of Scripture by rote, unless united with emulation; and then they should be concise, and connected with some subject that has been recently, or is intended to be introduced particularly to their notice.[62]

True moral instruction lay in the study and understanding of “lessons” drawn from Scripture. The text itself, aside from refining literary taste, was secondary to the conveyance of such lessons, and in any case the text had to be understood in order to be useful. Some Europeans hoped to encourage such “moral” study in the kuttab, replacing the memorization of text with the formulation and inculcation of abstract ethical guidelines. In this way “the Koran might be made, like the Bible, a means of imparting moral truth combined with instructive history. This is not done, the poor little children's nascent powers are warped and stunted, and the results appear when their higher education is attempted.” [63]

With a population so ethically stunted, moral enlightenment could hardly be expected in Egyptian institutes of higher study, either. Bowring commented upon “the most worthless character” of such teaching as it stood in Egypt in the 1830s, long before the doctrinal element in English Christianity had come to be “regarded as doubtful, subordinate, and unimportant.”

It turns principally upon the religious observances required by the Koran, and degenerates into extreme frivolity. Rarely is any lesson of morality given, and the passages of the Koran, which teach the cultivation of the virtues, are much less introduced and commented on than those which bear upon the ceremonials of the Mussulman faith. Inquiries as to the quantity of adulteration, which makes water improper for ablution—into the grammatical turn of the language of prayer—into the cases in which the obligations to fast may be modified—into the gestures in adoration most acceptable to Allah—into the comparative sanctity of different localities, and similar points—are the controversies which are deemed of the highest importance, and the settlement of which is supposed to confer a paramount reputation upon the Ulema.[64]

The differences Europeans saw between their own “moral” approach to religion and the merely “ritual” concern of Egyptians formed an important part both of European self-definition and of their strategic intervention in Egyptian religious socialization. Half a century after Bowring, Milner denounced such education as “a blight upon the religious and intellectual life of the country,” in which the “ideals…permeating the whole body…are narrow and perverted,” and the “ignorant population looks up with superstitious reverence…[to] the men most remarkable for the vehemence of their bigotry and of their immersion in antiquated formulae and barren traditions.” [65] But what, in a practical sense, would a new manner of moral education accomplish in Egypt? The answer lies on the long road from the rolling English countryside to the urban factory, the world of Adam Smith and the classical doctrines of political economy that popularized the notion that education was an ideal tool for crowd control.

Public Order: The Best Way of Keeping These People Quiet

Early in 1847, the House of Commons was preparing to request a grant from the Crown of one hundred thousand pounds for the support of public instruction, and Macaulay, whom we heard earlier outlining the purpose of education in India, defended the measure against its conservative detractors, delivering a passionate speech supporting popular education. Citing The Wealth of Nations, Macaulay called education for the poor one of the most urgent concerns of the commonwealth, for “just as the magistrate ought to interfere for the purpose of preventing the leprosy from spreading among the people, he ought to interfere for the purpose of stopping the progress of the moral distempers which are inseparable from ignorance.” [66]

“The most dreadful disorders,” he quoted Smith, would follow from the inflammation of religious animosities among the uninstructed masses, as they had in the “No Popery” riots of 1780, which had seen urban prisons emptied, Parliament besieged, dozens of fires set in London, and a shocking loss of life.[67] The cause of the incident, “a calamity which…ranks with the great plague and the great fire…was the ignorance of a population which had been suffered, in the neighbourhood of palaces, theatres, temples, to grow up as rude and stupid as any tribe of tattooed cannibals in New Zealand,…as any drove of beasts in Smithfield Market.” [68] Then naming half a dozen similar outrages against person and property committed by the malcontents of the Industrial Revolution, he came to the main argument for popular instruction:

Could such things have been done in a country in which the mind of the labourer had been opened by education, in which he had been taught to find pleasure in the exercise of his intellect, taught to revere his Maker, taught to respect legitimate authority, and taught at the same time to seek the redress of real wrongs by peaceful and constitutional means?

This then is my argument. It is the duty of Government to protect our persons and property from danger. The gross ignorance of the common people is a principal cause of danger to our persons and property. Therefore, it is the duty of the Government to take care that the common people shall not be grossly ignorant.[69]

The state, already remiss in its educational duties, had no choice but to resort to “the dread of the sword and the halter” in punishing those responsible for such breaches of public order, “since we had omitted to take the best way of keeping these people quiet.” [70]

The Regeneration of the Arab

The regeneration of the Arab is being accomplished in more ways than one. Apart from the direct processes, of which the school and the prison are instruments, other influences, less direct but still powerful, are ceaselessly at work to mould his character. These influences, which may be summed up as the environment of Western society, spread along the track of the railroad and the telegraph over the country at large.

Faith in the power of education to mold not only individual character, but the very fabric of society, had spread like Methodist revival during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and was brought actively to bear on the problems of rural and urban social control both domestically and in the far-flung regions of the Empire. As Foucault and Mitchell have shown, older forms of threat and punishment came to be considered not only cruel, but inefficient, and strategies based on discipline, organization, and moral intervention were tested as alternatives to brute force. In March of 1883, at the urging of Lord Dufferin, the Egyptian Khedive Tawfiq Pasha issued a decree to local notables and officers of his government abolishing the use of the courbash, a tough hippopotamus-hide whip, for the punishment of criminals, the extortion of confessions, or the collection of taxes in arrears. The abolition, dubbed by Cromer a “remarkable reform—if I may apply the word reform to what is really nothing less than a social and administrative revolution,” [72] was hailed as a triumph of humanitarian government even though the more immediate result was, in the words of the deputy-inspector of Alexandria, “that Mudirs [local Egyptian officials] and police officers are not now as much feared as they should be.” [73] The vice- consul of Damietta reported to Cairo that

the effect…is apparent in a steadily growing exhibition of a higher moral tone, and hopeful feeling, a feeling that they are being cared for, in a way they have hitherto been totally unaccustomed to; they are grateful…and there is every reason to hope that by a careful continuance of the efforts being made in their behalf they will become a prosperous, contented, and loyal people.[74]

But the majority of local administrators were less sanguine. In general, provincial officials replied to Cromer's queries about the abolition by saying that, as a result, “insolence and offences have increased, especially among the lower classes”; that it helps “lead them to shirk duty, and thus further aid to embarrass the present regime of the Government, and bring about the present deadlock in the public finances”; that the effect of the change “has been to increase crime and weaken authority.” [75] The British consul Spencer Carr wrote explaining the breakdown of authority and the uselessness of concurrent British reform of the prisons:

The summary suppression of the courbash has had a very bad effect on the population, as by this measure the Sheikhs of villages have been deprived of most of their power and authority, and the fellahs [peasants], having no fear of the whip, and being improvident and lazy by nature, it is a very difficult matter, under the present regime, to compel them to do their duty, especially as the reorganization of the prisons has rendered them so comfortable that the fellah has no longer any fear of imprisonment, and makes no secret of saying that he is better treated in prison than at home, and the only privation he has to put up with is the temporary separation from his harem.[76]

This paradoxical increase in the crime rate, which continued to rise throughout the Occupation, went along with an increasing prosperity that Cromer was certain had filtered to the countryside. By the early years of the twentieth century, the problem of “brigandage” that had plagued cultivated regions of Egypt in the past had disappeared with the creation of an effective standing army. The main trouble in rural areas now was property crime and acts of vengeance: the burning of neighbor's crops or houses, the poisoning of cattle, attempted murder, or false accusations. Noting that Britons were more likely to associate crime with poverty and alcohol than with rising living standards, the consul general attributed the problem to envy and to vengeance for personal quarrels. Referring in 1905 to “the special economic and moral phase through which Egypt and the Egyptians are now passing,” Cromer optimistically concluded that “improved education and the general spread of enlightenment…constitute the ultimate remedies” to the problem of rural crime.[77]

The expectation of an educational remedy for crime was not confined to Lord Cromer, who might be expected, like his fellow litterateur Macaulay, to attribute moral betterment to liberal study. When Horatio Herbert Kitchener, engineer, professional soldier, and war hero, took the consul generalcy from Sir Eldon Gorst in 1911, he complained bitterly of the police problems plaguing Asyut, the province with the highest crime rate in the country. Reporting that there were 297 murders or attempted murders in that province alone in 1911, Kitchener lamented,

Human life appears to be of little account, and the most trifling incidents result in homicide. Only recently a man who expostulated with his neighbor for crossing the end of his garden was murdered the same afternoon for no other or better reason. Such crimes, arising from sudden quarrels, family feuds, or revenge, have little connection with public security, and it is difficult to cope with them. They can only be finally checked by the spread of education and civilised ideas.[78]

Again in 1912 he illustrated Asyut's problems by citing the case of a woman murdered “for refusing to give a glass of water, a man for taking a handful of flour.” In Behera, Gharbia, and Girga, murders were committed for the stealing of single ears of corn, dates, an errant sheep eating a neighbor's clover. These offenses, incomprehensible to the European, “can only be finally eradicated by the spread of education and enlightenment.” [79] Changes in the rural economy during the nineteenth century, including the extension of year-round commercial cultivation to much of the delta, necessitated the movement of agricultural workers from regions of Upper Egypt, where slack periods in the agricultural cycle still created available labor. While such workers had long been forced to perform corvée labor both locally and in faraway regions like the Suez canal, this system was declining due to pressure from delta landowners to retain the labor of their own peasants year-round and not let them work elsewhere. This meant that workers from the south were increasingly contract laborers induced with wages and lacking the sort of supervision that accompanied the corvée. Landowners, complaining that such itinerant workers tended to criminal pursuits, thus looked kindly on efforts to extend mechanisms of socialization that promised to domesticate and render workers susceptible to efficient administrative controls rather than clumsy physical ones.[80]

Moreover, the peasant's abandonment of false ideas and primitive customs would have an invigorating effect on the maintenance of public security as well as on the progress of the economy. Lord Curzon, viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, linked ignorance and disorder in a 1901 speech in which he held that lack of knowledge was “the source of suspicion, superstition, outbreaks, crime—yes, and also of much of the agrarian discontent and suffering of the masses.” [81] Not confining their optimism to a merely theoretical expectation of enlightenment through mass education, the British imported two practical new institutions to Egypt using instruction as a specific remedy for crime. The first was the Boys' Reformatory, founded in Alexandria in 1895 and moved to Giza three years later. Under the supervision of the British director of prisons, the reformatory was established to remove “the evils, attendant on a system in which juveniles are mixed up with adult prisoners.” [82] John Scott, in a report to the consul general on the state of the reformatory, proposed that a strict age requirement be set for the inmates of the facility since experience had shown that “manhood with its qualities and defects arrives soon in southern climates, and permanent moral influences can only be obtained over boys of tender age.” [83]

The reformatory's young inmates cultivated its garden, cleaned the buildings and were drilled daily in gymnastics, attending school in the morning to learn the elements of reading and writing. Workshops taught carpentry and other manual trades so the boys could “have an honest means of livelihood when they go back to the world.” Some years after its founding, the good work of the reformatory “elicited the special commendation of a high British authority on educational matters,” [84] and a new, expanded reformatory was constructed in 1905.[85]

The other establishment for the direct educational amelioration of crime came after the First World War, when an “industrial farm school” was established in Khanka Province, built with surplus military supplies. Large enough for several dozen adolescent boys, the farm school was intended to house destitute urban children at risk of falling into lives of petty crime. Between November of 1918 and the November following, Sir Edmund Allenby noted, Cairo police had reported over nine hundred thefts by children between the ages of nine and fifteen, and estimated that “500 vagabond juveniles could be collected at any time off the Cairo streets.” In explaining the need for the school, he wrote,

The problem [of juvenile vagrancy] can only be solved by education and training in suitable schools…[where] the younger and more promising of the waifs and strays could be sent. Instruction would necessarily be of a very elementary character combined with the simplest of regimes under which cleanliness, decent living, the formation of good habits, and training for livelihood would be the chief aims. For girls, domestic work, with such simple manual trades as straw plaiting and basket work, and for boys, such trades as tailoring, boot and shoe making, carpentry and weaving would be the chief subjects of instruction.[86]

Wild Fanatics and Impostors

But a second police concern was far more serious than the commission of petty crimes by children, or even jealous murders in Egypt's isolated villages. This was the question of political uprisings, often associated with religious zealotry. The Mahdist rebellion in the Sudan in 1881, and Colonel Ahmed ‘Urabi's army revolt shortly afterward had sensitized the British to the ease with which Egyptians could be mobilized around a charismatic leader. A permanent solution to the possibility of revolt was clearly not to be found solely in an expensive increase of the British garrison, so foreign officials sought ways to immunize the masses against political or religious excitement. Writing to the earl of Granville in February 1883, Lord Dufferin noted that the villages of Egypt “have more than once been the birthplace of wild fanatics and impostors, who have passed themselves off upon the simple population as endowed with supernatural mission.” [87] Consistent with Adam Smith's charge, ignorance increased susceptibility to political enthusiasms. A year later, the earl of Northbrook expressed similar feelings to Granville, adding that “Mahomedans who are instructed in the tenets of their religion have always looked upon [the Mahdi] as an impostor; any feeling in his favour was confined to the lower classes.” [88] But even the landowning classes could not be trusted, in their natural state of ignorance, with the new representative institutions to be introduced to Egypt in place of the terror of the courbash and the scourge of arbitrary rule. Dufferin feared that a local body modeled on the House of Commons “would simply prove an uninstructed and unmanageable mob, with a very low level both of character and intelligence, incapable of discussing public business or of understanding finance, and to which it would be dangerous to accord anything but the most restricted privileges.” [89] Even were such classes to benefit from some sort of higher education, India had taught the British that an unregulated native intelligentsia was a potential political liability, and that higher education could essentially act as a system for manufacturing indigenous leaders (always referred to in contemporary records as “demagogues”) who would contest foreign influence.

By the mid-1890s officials were beginning to express unease that, “year by year, as higher education increases, the intellectual breach between the upper and lower classes of Egyptian society becomes wider.” [90] The political danger inherent in such a gap, together with the hope that the spread of basic education would hasten the success of economic development projects, created pressure for a rational program of popular schooling, “so that the people may be rendered accessible to ideas other than those sanctioned by tradition.” [91]

The time seems now to have come for the introduction of practical measures which would aim at bringing the great mass of the people within the range of the influence of the Public Instruction Department.…In particular, the little private schools (“kuttabs”) attached to almost all the mosques in Egypt, might, by means of the Grant-in-Aid system, be made instrumental in disseminating a sound education, however elementary, among the poorer classes.[92]

Noting the limited scope of the kuttabs and the lack of formal training and certification of their teachers, Cromer yet concluded that “it is more to the point to bear in mind that these little schools have proved their utility by their continuous survival in spite of the neglect, contempt, and other adverse circumstances to which they have for centuries been exposed.” [93] The grant-in-aid system, used both in England and in India for decades, would not provide financial aid for each school that applied, but would bring inspected schools into competition with each other for available money, and thus, it was assumed, improve their standards with the incentive of possible future reward. Through this program, the country's multitude of isolated kuttabs would be changed into “an organization of cheap but efficient elementary schools, in which is given an essential but limited amount of religious instruction, together with a course of secular instruction designed merely to equip the pupil with sufficient knowledge to take care of his own interests in his own station of life.” [94]

In April of 1895 the Department of Public Instruction began its experiment with the subvention of kuttabs, having forty-six of the schools transferred to its administration from the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and publishing, the following September, a set of regulations and a syllabus for study. Agreeing to open their schools to monthly inspection by the department, “fiqis” (fuqaha’, sing. fiqhi; literally “jurist/theologian,” but used popularly to refer to a Qur’an reciter and teacher) became eligible to receive small grants based on enrollment, provided that they concentrated on reading, writing, and arithmetic, and that no foreign language instruction was attempted.[95] Inspectors were to be drawn, “to command the confidence of the native community, and to be in full sympathy with the teachers,…from the class who have received at least part of their education in the El-Azhar or some other mosque school.” [96]

One of the more sensitive issues to confront the reformers of the kuttab was the question of what to do—or not to do—about the actual content of instruction. It was decided early on not to interfere with the primarily religious focus of the kuttab, the British assuming that to do so would “inflame public opinion.” “It is hardly necessary to point out,” Cromer wrote, “how much tact, prudence, and caution are called for in making any attempt to direct or encourage these indigenous schools. There must, of course, be an entire abstinence from interference with religious instruction.” [97] Fortunately, along with the systematization of the scattered rural institutions came the mania for regulation and record- keeping so characteristic of the British, and passed by them to the professional classes of their foreign territories. Consuls general soon found that they could use regulations and statistics as rhetorical weapons against any who might claim that the extension of ministerial control to the kuttabs undermined their original mission.

There cannot, in fact, be a doubt that, far from the introduction of any process of deterioration, religious instruction has shared in the general improvement which has taken place in the schools under Government control. I may mention that, in order to qualify for the post of head-teacher in a Mohamedan “kuttab,” a thorough knowledge of the Koran and of the principles of Islam is required.[98]

Three years later, in 1906, Cromer elaborated on the improvement, explaining that

a scheme of practical instruction in the principles and religious history of Islam has been introduced into these schools, and an endeavor has been made generally to improve and vitalize the religious instruction.…If we take as a test facility for repeating the Koran by heart—a point to which the Moslem inhabitants of this country attach great importance—the following figures speak for themselves. At the last annual inspection of the Kuttabs, no less than 4,531 of the pupils were able to recite the whole of the Koran from memory, 3,538 were able to recite more than three-quarters, 4,180 more than a half, and 6,212 more than a quarter. The remainder of the scholars, being of very tender years, were at the spelling stage, or were learning the earlier chapters of the Koran.[99]

Despite this happy state of affairs, there were those who criticized the continued predominance of religious instruction as a misdirection of effort for schools that were intended to draw the peasantry into modern—albeit still local—pursuits and practical states of mind. Less than a decade after the grant-in-aid program got under way, complaints were surfacing that the inspected kuttabs were failing in their new role as “useful village and district schools” to produce useful village and district citizens. In 1904, of the 124,486 pupils in inspected kuttabs, “81,000 had received no instruction in writing, 70,000 had not commenced to learn arithmetic, and 54,000 had not even begun to learn to read”;[100] at the following year's inspection these figures stood at 94,000, 87,000, and 68,000, respectively, out of 145,694 students, slightly worse on the whole than the previous year.[101]

At the same time, there was unease about the school's response to changes in the economy. With indigenous manufactures rapidly declining and the demand for European-style wares increasing, it became clear that some of the previously agricultural population would have to be shifted to other productive pursuits. Products of the kuttab, however, seemed not to be interested. Writing in the context of a new movement to bring simple industrial education into the rural kuttabs through a system of “supervised apprenticeship” (an idea championed by a former missionary and long-time advisor to the Ministry of Education), the consul general explained that the current system of kuttab education was being abused to the detriment both of its clients and the wider society.

The influence of the “Kuttabs” has hitherto tended to divert the children of the poor from their natural avocations in the fields, or in the family workshops, and to embark them upon a career generally lapsing into mendicancy. The children flock to the “Kuttabs,” not to receive instruction, which will fit them for their position in life, but to commit to memory the whole of the Koran, and thereby, as reputed “fikis,” to escape from liability to military conscription. And, in Egypt, a “fiki,” unless he be attached [as] a reader to a “Kuttab,” and, except for casual employment in reciting the Koran at funerals and festivals, is virtually a beggar.[102]

Despite appreciable gains, Egyptians seemed not to be utilizing their new intellectual resource for the intended purpose, and their persistence in having habits and ideas the British wished them not to, earned them repeated criticism for “credulity.” In 1909 Sir Eldon Gorst castigated the Cairene press for trying to “arouse the passions of the mass of the people, who are, and must remain for years to come, far too ignorant to appreciate the absurdities and the falseness of the diatribes which are read out to them daily in the villages.” [103] Clearly, voluntary education would not suffice for the eradication of a dangerous political innocence. More intensive measures were necessary. But it was not until near the end of the First World War that the Egyptian minister of education, Adly Yeghen (a member of the old Turco-Circassian political elite), charged a committee of experts with studying the systematic universal extension of elementary schooling throughout the country. The commission was appointed at the end of May 1917, and consisted of six Egyptians, functionaries in various ministries, educators, and provincial officials; and five Englishmen employed in the Egyptian civil service. It was under the presidency of Isma‘il Hassanein Pasha, the under secretary of state in the Ministry of Education.[104] In their preface outlining the need for universal elementary education, the authors quoted liberally from the works of contemporary reformers on the vital interest of new nations in the eradication of illiteracy and the spread of modern skills. But they also pointed out the political dangers inherent in allowing the continued ignorance of large populations, using examples from India, Russia, and America.

Inevitably, the commission relied heavily on Lord Cromer's experience in Egypt, as expressed in his memoir of the period, Modern Egypt. In discussing the political ramifications of educational policy, the committee selected a passage from Cromer that first referred approvingly to Macaulay's policy in India, and then explained,

If [higher education] is to be carried on without danger to the State, the ignorance of the masses should be tempered pari passu with the intellectual advance of those who are destined to be their leaders. It is neither wise nor just that the people should be left intellectually defenceless in the presence of the hare-brained and empirical projects which the political charlatan, himself but half-educated, will not fail to pour into their credulous ears. In this early part of the twentieth century, there is no possible general remedy against the demagogue except that which consists in educating those who are his natural prey to such an extent that they may, at all events, have some chance of discerning the imposture which but too often lurks beneath his perfervid eloquence and political quackery.[105]

The commission, writing in 1919, added ominously that “the recent history of Russia supplies a tragic illustration of this danger in actual operation.” The frequent identity of rural crime and political protest in Egypt was not recognized by the British administration.[106] But the connection between the “perfervid eloquence” of the demagogue and the mobilization of popular unrest certainly was. Paradoxically, their solution to the problem was not to quarantine the infectious enthusiasm of the “political quack,” but rather to inoculate the populace against his harangues. Through education, the public could not only be convinced of the value of order and stability, but could, through the inculcation of new skills and habits of thought, be drawn into a new set of social relationships that would give them a vested interest in the maintenance of a new system of class relations.

Work: The Observation of Facts

Macaulay was not alone in his confidence in the power of education to pacify the laboring beasts of the Smithfield market, and children were not alone in benefiting from learning. In fact, Macaulay's speech came late in the movement to reconcile England's laboring population to the necessities of the new industrial order. Beginning in 1823 with the foundation of the London Mechanic's Institute, worker self- help societies and employer-sponsored literacy and technical training programs began to serve England's urban work force; by 1860, two hundred thousand students were attending such institutes in England, with similar developments in France. In addition to service as a moral prophylactic, the supporters of the worker education movement extolled education's contribution to the development of manual dexterity, observation, and other skills that would increase industrial productivity.

Such concrete skills and scientific methods of thought were the very opposite of the wild surges of intemperance and violence to which the working classes, lacking self-control as well as self-respect, were assumed to be subject. In the early 1860s, while the French minister of education Victor Duruy was busy trying to increase the enrollment in French worker training courses, the Académie des sciences morales et politiques asserted that “it is from instruction that we must ask the appeasement of the passions, of which ignorance has always been and remains the first source.” [107] The discipline of study, observation of his surroundings, and meditation on his condition were to create in the worker a concern for the immediate, an appreciation for the proper management of resources and the natural consequences of improvidence. Contemporaries hoped education would not only reduce levels of drunkenness and crime, but “would bring the worker to respect property rights and to understand the inevitability of inequality in the world. Some [worker education] institutes offered courses in political economy in order to help workers revise their “erroneous views” on the nature of capitalism.” [108] The same benefits could accrue to residents in Britain's overseas possessions, but only after education broke down old social bonds and reconnected them in ways more conducive to a European outlook and the necessities of a presumably more rational political and economic system. In India, the directors of missionary schools wrote to their sponsors of the salutary effects of education in weakening traditional authority structures. As in England, some thought that the teaching of political economy might “contribute vitally to the undermining of “the all comprehending framework of superstition in this land” by challenging received views on marriage, employment, and labour.” [109]

Shortly before the First World War, Consul General Lord Kitchener derided Egyptian elementary education for still being excessively “bookish,” and held that schools should have pragmatic aims, such as encouraging the spread of savings banks in villages and teaching careful fiscal habits to keep the peasant out of debt “without inducing him to leave the land.” [110] The value of schooling lay in “the discipline which the character and the intellect undergo thereby.” Hearkening back to the worker education movement in Europe, he championed “manual exercises [that] train the eye to accuracy in observation, the hand to skill in execution, and the mind to a sense of the importance of truthfulness in work. They cultivate habits of diligence, neatness, and attention to detail, and quicken the general intelligence.” [111] In 1919 the Egyptian Commission on Elementary Education repeated that rural schools

should be modern and practical in their methods and aims. Government would clearly not be justified in eventually imposing compulsory attendance unless the education provided in the schools was such as would make the children better able to earn their livelihood in practical directions, in which all his faculties will be awakened and developed and he will be made capable of understanding and doing as well as of repeating from memory.[112]

Again citing the lessons of British India, the report quoted Mr. Orange, a former director general of education in India, that popular schools should first aim at forming good citizens, then at imparting “useful knowledge, not forgetting while doing so to train the eye and the hand so that the children when they leave school, whether for the field or the workshop, will have begun to learn the value of accurate observation and to feel the joy of intelligent and exact work.” [113] In thus encouraging instruction in manual skills, colonial education policy matched domestic policy. Merely by substituting an “external proletariat” of foreign subjects for the domestic working class, policymakers could transfer almost unchanged many of the techniques and philosophical foundations of European-style mass schooling from home to abroad and back again.[114] Observers even compared Egyptian schools favorably with their English counterparts when efforts had been made to match curriculum to local needs. Villiers Stuart, who had visited the country in 1883–84 as a member of Lord Dufferin's fact-finding mission, toured the country again in the 1890s, and saw the government primary schools at Esna and Zagazig, noting that the classrooms were

surrounded with large coloured cartoons on technical subjects, illustrating various trades, such as bread-making, cooking, weaving, tailoring, hat- making, laundry-work, printing &c…some knowledge of these arts is more likely to be useful to them and to interest them than the stock subjects with which village children are crammed at home, such as the precise position of Kamschatka or the distance of the moon.[115]

Education in the “village schools,” mostly kuttabs under inspection, and those few under the direct control of the Ministry of Education, now had a dual purpose: religious instruction, their original task, and a new one set for them by the new regime: “to equip the pupil with sufficient knowledge to take care of his own interests in his own station of life, as small land-owner, fellah, petty shop-keeper, handicraftsman, weaver, village headman, boatman, fisherman”; their curriculum could not be extended beyond these needs “without lifting the schools above the needs of the classes for whom they are primarily intended.” [116] The notion that “sufficient knowledge” to carry out any of these pursuits was best attained through schools testifies to a sweeping change in what it meant to be an Egyptian. No longer were traditional means of socialization into village life considered to be sufficient preparation. In assuming a parental role, appropriating to itself the definition of competency to take care of one's own interests, the state could now promulgate specific curricula satisfying the requirements of any “station in life” as defined on the national level. In the new rural social order, the peasant, the small shopkeeper, and the ‘umda (mayor, or village headman) were viewed as equivalent in terms of the type of training they needed. Seen from Cairo, their differences were swamped by the rise of an indigenous class of technocrats and clerks with primary and secondary school certificates.

This practical outlook on popular instruction, adapted to the limited needs and capacities of “the lower orders,” was reinforced late in the century by British historian William Lecky's two-volume Democracy and Liberty, which Cromer admired enough to quote both in his Annual Report for 1904, and later in Modern Egypt. “The great mistake in the education of the poor,” Lecky wrote,

has in general been that it has been too largely and too ambitiously literary. Primary education should…teach the poor to write well and to count well; but, for the rest, it should be much more technical and industrial than literary, and should be more concerned with the observation of facts than with any form of speculative reasoning or opinions. There is much evidence to support the conclusion that the kinds of popular education which have proved morally, as well as intellectually, the most beneficial have been those in which a very moderate amount of purely mental instruction has been combined with physical or industrial training.[117]

Lecky also drew the attention of the members of the postwar Egyptian Commission on Elementary Education, who cited a passage in which the author praised education for diverting individuals from vice and temptation, and for “cultivat[ing] the civic and industrial virtues.” [118] An empirical orientation to the world would produce a laboring class whose interests were local, without any use for “speculative reasoning or opinions,” whose passions were held in check and who exhibited such concern for thrift, temperance, and obedience as was required of useful members of society. The transformation of individual character went hand in hand with the transformation of the social order.

Creation of a well-functioning social machine in turn required the differentiation of parts: “Industrial conditions require to be adjusted to the new order of things,” wrote the consul general in 1904, “and among the needs for this adjustment is the creation of a numerous and well- trained artisan class, possessing an education of at least the “Kuttab” grade, and of a restricted but better educated and more highly qualified class, capable of acting as designers, foremen, and managers.” [119] An interest in maintaining the Egyptian class system, or, in fact, remodeling it after the British, in which the lower orders had become literate (and thus better able to serve their purpose), was one of the vital functions of the new school system. By drawing the population into a new division of labor, they would be made dependent not only on the new material goods and new criteria for status differentiation that the system brought with it, but on the new system of schooling that helped create it. But even ancient occupations and stations in life could be perfected through educational refinement. The value of literacy, defined by its contribution to morality, efficiency, and order, lay not in its provision of an avenue to individual emancipation, but in its ability to reinforce a comfortable hierarchy. In this connection W. Basil Worsfold penned near the end of the nineteenth century one of the most moving paeans on record to the lofty purposes of British educational policy in its overseas empire. Marking an increased Nubian interest in the study of English after the British victory at Omdurman, Worsfold rhapsodized,

The English language has become very popular in the primary schools of the towns, while within the last few years a commencement of a genuine system of national education has been made by the endeavor of the Education Ministry to utilize and regenerate the mosque schools—the Kuttabs—which form the sole resource of the small towns and villages. If the regeneration of the Kuttab brings with it the education of the hitherto neglected girls, a new era of moral and intellectual development will ensue, and one of the results of this development will be to provide a new and more reliable class of [domestic] servants.[120]

Women: An Educated and Enlightened Motherhood

Finally, having addressed the moral needs of the pupil, the ignorance of the criminal, the enthusiasm of the malcontent, and the diligence of the worker, the school was directed to a final group whose betterment represented perhaps the best hope for the reconstruction of the nation. In 1831–32, when the French expatriate Clot Bey established within his four-year-old School of Medicine a division for the training of midwives, he could find no females in Egypt willing to attend the institute. Fortunately, Egypt's social structure still allowed for the creative staffing of such experiments, and the problem was solved by the enrollment of “ten Abyssinian and Sudanese girls bought in the Cairo slave market, together with two eunuchs sent by Muhammad Ali from his palace.” [121] By the beginning of the twentieth century, the supporters of female education had, by their own estimation, made great strides. In 1905, for example, there were eight times more schools admitting girls, and six times more female students, than just five years before.[122] In order to encourage female participation in schools, government grants-in-aid (disbursed on the basis of enrollment) counted the attendance of one girl as equal to two boys.

Officials cited increasing demand by parents for facilities for the education of girls as one of the most surprising and heartening developments in the educational field, and strove to provide practical programs in “housewifery” or “domestic economy,” hygiene and child care in addition to basic training in reading, writing, and arithmetic. But they saw the provision of female education as more than an issue of equal access to public facilities, or even an issue of public health (the combating of high infant mortality through basic health education). Predictably, Victorians were both fascinated and repelled by “oriental” systems of marriage and family life, particularly by polygamy and the seclusion of women. When discussing outreach to Muslim lands, missionaries often made the degradation of women through polygyny—rather than doctrinal questions—the central justification for Christian proselytization. “Time would fail me to enter into the whole subject of the marriage relationship in the Mohammedan races,” declaimed the Reverend Robert Bruce at an 1888 London conference on Protestant missions,

and of the evils which spring from the immense difference between the glorious state which our Lord introduced into Christianity when He raised woman to her proper state in society, and on the other hand, the opposite effect in Mohammedanism, caused by Mohammed when he degraded women even lower than she had ever been before.[123]

His colleague, the Reverend G. E. Post, M.D., of the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut, articulated later that day the theoretical basis for missionary concern with women:

Women determine the social condition of any country and any race. No race has risen above the condition of its women, nor can it ever be so in the history of the world. The boy is father of the man, but the woman is mother of the boy, and she determines the whole social state, not only of her own generation, but of the generations that are to follow.[124]

The environment of the harem, “with its unpalatable gossip and frequent intrigue,” was felt to be psychologically damaging to young boys raised in its midst, to predispose young girls to idleness and mental deterioration, and to be harmful to social life in general.[125] “The element in [the Egyptian boy's] education which is lacking is that imparted by an educated, pure, and dignified motherhood,” who realizes “the important part she should play in her son's home education and moral training, from his infancy upwards.” [126] The work of regenerating Egypt, therefore, required a regenerated Egyptian woman who could take advantage of a state-sponsored education “aim[ed] at preparing them for the duties of home-life.” [127] This, in turn, called for an alteration of the family unit that would allow girls not only to attend school, but to stay in school, and to help filter new ideas and outlooks into the heart of the family. The challenge was to open up the family to the modern influences that were beginning to encompass the rest of the social order, to crack open the shell of secrecy and isolation past which reformers had not been able to see, and expose the family, the last remaining stronghold of native male authority, to the rule of law and progress. “It is not possible,” wrote Cromer, near the end of his tenure in Egypt,

neither perhaps is it desirable, that every feature of national character should undergo a complete transformation in a quarter of a century. In so rapid a process, the good is very liable to disappear with the bad. Nevertheless,… forces are now at work which have already modified, and must eventually still further modify, the Egyptian national character.…How far the movement now rapidly progressing in favour of female education will eventually modify the ideas, the character, and the position of the next generation of Egyptian women remains to be seen. Should any changes in their position take place, it is greatly to be hoped that they will be gradual.…In this case, hurry might produce a moral cataclysm. Nevertheless, it is…true that, until a gradual change is effected in the position of women in this country, the Egyptians, however much they may assimilate the outward forms, can never hope to imbibe the true spirit of European civilization in its best aspects.[128]

For missionaries, Leila Ahmed writes, the targeting of women with the Christian message would lay a trail of gunpowder into the heart of Islam and prepare the way for the conversion of future generations. For colonial administrators, this “Colonial feminism, or feminism as used against other cultures in the service of colonialism,” [129] complemented what might be called “colonial populism,” their expression of concern for the fate of the peasantry whom they wished to liberate from the grip of landowners and local officials in order more efficiently to extract their labor for production directed toward a world market. But in either case, whether for the Christianization or the rationalization of Egyptians, an emphasis on educating women as potential mothers was a strategy that promised revolutionary results. It endures today, as a vision of a back door to cultural change, in economic and social development schemes of many types, and has been articulated by colonizers of Muslim populations well into the 1980s. “[I]n the tradition that has evolved [in Central Asia],” wrote Soviet Islamic specialist Sergei Poliakov in 1989,

the woman is the chief shaper of the next generation. By depriving this educator of a public life, traditionalism also deprives her of new information; in fact, it deprives her of any information that is not controlled by the traditional institutions of the village. The subject of the major role women play in the material education of children has been overlooked by theory and practice alike, but it is precisely here that we may find the foundation of all our mistakes, failures, and powerlessness, in atheistic and other propaganda.[130]


At the beginning of this chapter I stated that Mitchell's Foucauldian analysis of Egyptian schools, focusing on the theoretical principles behind mass education and its disciplinary conventions, was inadequate to understand the school's ambiguous role in Egyptian society. While it is true both that increasing numbers of students were enrolled in public education projects during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and that the patrons and planners of such projects hoped they would thereby become useful, productive, and contented citizens, it does not follow from this that the latter goal was necessarily achieved. Nor does it follow that no other, unanticipated results were achieved by the institution of mass schooling. As Mitchell himself recognized, even though the colonial order penetrated local discourse “through its textbooks, school teachers, universities, newspapers, novels and magazines,” still

this colonising process never fully succeeded, for there always remained regions of resistance and voices of rejection. The schools, universities and the press, moreover, like the military barracks, were always liable to become centres of some kind of revolt, turning the colonisers' methods of instruction and discipline into the means of organized opposition. (Hence the rise after the First World War of disciplinary political movements opposed to European occupation, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose leaders were almost invariably school teachers.)[131]

As another example, the role of Egyptian schools as cradles of nationalist sentiment and the consequent participation of students in nationwide anti-British strikes and demonstrations in March and October of 1919 gave officials pause and indicates some discrepancy between theory and practice. The dilemma of “disciplinary spread” from the point of view of political and cultural elites is, as we saw in the introduction, a serious problem, and highlights the inability of policymakers and educators to reconcile reality to their theories about it. If schools, universities, the press, and the military barracks act as centers of revolt, it is because the spread of their unique disciplinary practices across the whole of society is accompanied by the spread of the distinctly new techniques and potentials for revolt associated with them. A new system of power uniformly diffused, serves, among other things, to surround dominant classes with new sources of anxiety and threat. One way of tracing the historical genesis of the Jihad group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 leads back to Sadat's own encouragement of Islamic student organizations on Egyptian university campuses in the early 1970s, which he intended to wipe out the leftist organizations who supported the policies of his predecessor, Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser.[132] Quickly losing control over the forces he had purposely unleashed, Sadat engaged throughout the decade in a series of repressions and rapprochements with Islamist and other opposition groups that resulted in the alienation of substantial portions of the country's intelligentsia and eventually in his death at the hands of members of his own military. Neither the barracks nor the school had done its job.

So society's elites as well as its working classes are caught up in the “self-damnation” (the image is Paul Willis's) of contradictory process of cultural and social reproduction. If the working classes help reproduce their own subordination, so cultural and political elites regularly make choices that threaten their own power in the very attempt to ensure its spread. By relying on techniques of power that are “slow, uninterrupted and without external manifestation,” [133] imperial and Egyptian elites began in the nineteenth century to relinquish the predictability of control they sought to gain, for as Raymond Williams has pointed out with respect to Europe, “There was no way to teach a man to read the Bible… which did not also enable him to read the radical press” [134] —precisely the problem about which Eldon Gorst complained in 1909.

And yet we continue to face the problem of historical narratives that describe Egypt's passage into “modern” politics and culture (either of the modernization or the Foucauldian brand) as a glacial transformation: homogenous, all-encompassing, and ineluctable. Before continuing with our own narrative of educational change in Egypt, it is worthwhile to pause momentarily and examine this tendency, for it will tell us something important about how scholarship, in creating the objects of its study, often acts to reproduce the very intellectual categories it argues explicitly against. Christopher Herbert, in his recent book Culture and Anomie, has argued—with respect to Williams himself—that “the presumption that history is logically coherent and intelligible, and therefore subject to extensive operations of summary and synthesis without serious distortion,” is mistaken. Instead, history (and its reflection in literature) “is bound to be an affair of paradoxes, dense textures of implication, logical disjunctions and circularities, ambiguities and illegibilities.” [135] While understanding the complexities of history would seem to require not only recognition of this fact, but a conscientious attempt to address it, much historical writing—including some of the most theoretically informed—serves to reproduce standing metanarratives of development with very old historical roots.

With respect to Egypt, this is accomplished in part by downplaying the failures of disciplinary projects that can be used as central examples or tropes of wide-ranging social changes. Mitchell, for example, uses the minute disciplinary conventions of the nineteenth-century Lancaster school—developed in India and Britain to provide cheap instruction for the working classes—as the type specimen of the new Egyptian government school, despite scant evidence that the Lancaster model reached beyond a single model institution in Cairo and the writings of several Egyptian intellectuals and civil servants who had trained in the Lancaster method abroad. Despite the method's enthusiasts, proposals to revive and propagate the model failed.[136] The “model villages” established on rectilinear plans by the French in mid-century, attempting to use army methods in the village “to achieve the new order of the barracks,” are also used as a metaphor for disciplinary encroachment, but in reality these soon broke down and left neither plans nor remains.[137] In fact, again and again the plans made by the new educated elites can be read as a history of spectacular failures rather than insidious successes. Egyptians studying abroad in Europe in the 1830s and hoping to school Egyptians in European philosophies of discipline and development had their proposals for school construction rejected,[138] and those who idealistically translated works on European educational philosophy later became nationalist leaders rejecting European domination.[139]

The developmental sequences read into Egyptian history by Mitchell (and into European history by Foucault), namely, that personal and physical power gives way to disciplinary power, are precisely the same as those read by nineteenth-century evolutionism and twentieth-century modernization theory (arbitrary power gives way to rational power), merely with a different moral evaluation. We need a way to reconcile the confident and commonsense writings and records left to us by history, with the anxious, ambiguous, and asymmetrical experiences those writings reflected and provoked within their lived context. Let me suggest—as a prelude to the textual analyses in the following chapters—that administrative memoirs and educational planning documents are neither descriptive nor strictly hortatory, but performative and hegemonic in Williams's sense, representing

a saturation of the whole process of living…to such a depth that the pressures and limits of what can ultimately be seen as a specific economic, political, and cultural system seem to most of us the pressures and limits of simple experience and common sense.…[Hegemony] is a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world. It is a lived system of meanings and values—constitutive and constituting—which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming.[140]

This hegemony, the cultural level through which Willis sees structural determinants being mediated, hides structural tensions and cultural contradictions both from subordinate and dominant classes. The articulate ideologies of educational theorists and colonial administrators are among the elite's tools of self-construction, tools they use to create for themselves consistent experiences of inconsistent social processes. But the creation and application of a plan, the attempt to transform reality into the facsimile of a specific text, is a complex process whose results do not simultaneously or efficiently serve all the interests of the dominant groups or classes in society. It is always historically contingent, problematic, and uncertain. Although colonial educational policies were in some ways relatively generic European blueprints for the imposition of social order, most policies were tailored by and for specific populations at specific times. In Egypt, popular schools were restricted to Arabic to prevent flight from the fields, and religion was retained as the primary focus of instruction in inspected kuttabs. In Morocco, on the other hand, French policy toward the education of Berber children made French the language of teaching and prohibited instruction in Arabic and in Islam to prevent alliance of the mountain tribes with the Arabic- speaking Muslims of the plains.[141] In the Arabian desert, education for bedouin children derides nomadic values and practices, stressing urban values and settled life-styles, but the results have not been the settlement of mobile populations, but the avoidance of too much schooling in favor of practical training in the military and a subsequent reinvestment in herding.[142] Each of these policies has had different and largely unforeseeable empirical effects. One of the interesting and significant questions to ask, then, is not about whether strategies of social control are implicit in educational systems (they always are), but how elites use such strategies as part of their self-definition with respect to specific subordinated populations, and how these latter populations appropriate educational systems for their own purposes.

During the course of the nineteenth century the Egyptian kuttab was made to take on new subjects (arithmetic, geography, etc.). It also continued to fulfill its original function, the transmission of religious culture, but in a different way, and with a different manner of articulation to the community and to the state. The development of new forms of teacher training and certification, the institution of “a scheme of practical instruction in the principles and religious history of Islam,” the spread of testing in specific subjects and of inspection and accountability to a distant bureaucracy, all served to alter the social and spiritual role of Islamic instruction. The fiqhi's responsibility to the men who sent their sons to learn from him was first joined, and later replaced, by his responsibility to the Ministry of Education or to the provincial council.

Likewise, these bureaucracies assumed the responsibility to provide for the spiritual and intellectual well-being of individuals in the communities where they aided or administered schools. Thus not only the kuttabs themselves, but the social relationships (between parent and fiqhi) that had constituted them, were functionalized, appropriated by outside forces for the satisfaction of outside ends. In order to effect this and other important transformations in the social and mental life of the Egyptians, schools would in principle have to overcome what Europeans viewed as the cumulative intellectual degradation that education had allegedly suffered through the centuries at the hand of the “barren tradition” of Islam. It is this effort to which we now turn.


1. Quoted in Edwin G. West, “The Benthamites as Educational Engineers: The Reputation and the Record,” History of Political Economy 24, 3 (1992), pp. 595–621.

2. Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 127).

3. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 64.

4. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, pp. 102, 104.

5. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, pp. 68, 74–75.

6. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 175.

7. Charles C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt (New York: Russell & Russell, 1968), p. 167.

8. Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1899), pp. 584–85. On the relationship between Social Darwinism and imperialism, see Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), ch. 2.

9. Spencer, Principles of Sociology, p. 717.

10. Herbert Spencer, “National Education,” in his Social Statics (1850; rpt., New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1892), pp. 156–87; and “State-Education,” in his Facts and Comments (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1902), pp. 82–93.

11. Spencer, “State-Education,” p. 82.

12. Neil J. Smelser, Social Paralysis and Social Change: British Working-Class Education in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

13. James Heyworth-Dunne, An Introduction to the History of Education in Modern Egypt (London: Luzac & Co., 1938), p. 153.

14. Yacoub Artin, quoted in Ibrahim Salama, L'Enseignement islamique en Egypte: Son evolution, son influence sur les programmes modernes (Cairo: Imprimerie Nationale, Boulaq, 1939), p. 207.

15. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, pp. 152–57.

16. For first-rate discussions of this system, see Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, and Messick, The Calligraphic State.

17. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, p. 157.

18. ‘Abd al-Karim, Tarikh al-ta‘lim fi ‘asr Muhammad ‘Ali (Cairo: Maktaba al-nahda al-Misriyya, 1938), pp. 176–80.

19. ‘Abd al-Karim, Tarikh al-ta‘lim, pp. 180–81.

20. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, pp. 195–97, 210–17.

21. John Bowring, “Report on Egypt and Candia,” Parl. Pap., 1840, vol. 21, p. 121.

22. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, pp. 223–33.

23. Fritz Steppat, “National Education Projects in Egypt Before the British Occupation,” in Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East: The Nineteenth Century, ed. William R. Polk and Richard L. Chambers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 289, 295.

24. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, p. 373.

25. Octave Sachot, “Rapport adresse a Son Excellence Monsieur Victor Duruy, Ministre de l'Instruction Publique, sur l'état des sciences, des lettres, et de l'instruction publique in Egypte dans la population indigène et dans la population Européenne” (Paris: n.p., 1868), p. 1. Translation mine.

26. And they operated with a foreign curriculum, as well. High school students learned little of local or Islamic history, instead studying “The Awakening of Learning in Europe,” “The Expansion and Spread of the Western Nations,” “The War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War,” etc. See Donald M. Ried, “Turn-of-the-Century Egyptian School Days,” Comparative Education Review 27 (1983), pp. 374–93.

27. “Further Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 88.

28. See Roger Owen, “The Influence of Lord Cromer's Indian Experience on British Policy in Egypt, 1883–1907,” in Middle Eastern Affairs, ed. Albert Hourani (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 109–39.

29. Bill Williamson, Education and Social Change in Egypt and Turkey (London: The Macmillan Press, 1987), p. 74.

30. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, vol. 137, p. 571.

31. Lord Macaulay, “On the Government of India,” a speech delivered in the House of Commons on 10 July 1833. In The Works of Lord Macaulay, Complete, vol. 8, ed. Lady Trevelyan (London: Longman, Green, & Co. 1866), p. 141.

32. This policy was changed during the tenure of Sa‘d Zaghlul—one of Egypt's most famous nationalist leaders—as minister of public instruction.

33. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1902, vol. 130, p. 744.

34. The switch to an emphasis on reading, writing, and arithmetic came at the behest of parents. As the Newcastle Commission reported in 1861,

The general principle upon which almost every one who for the last half century has endeavoured to promote popular education has proceeded, has been that a large portion of the poorer classes of the population were in a condition injurious to their own interests, and dangerous and discreditable to the rest of the community; that it was the duty and the interest of the nation at large to raise them to a higher level, and that religious education was the most powerful instrument for the promotion of this object. The parents, on the other hand, cannot be expected to entertain the same view of the moral and social condition of their own class, or to have its general elevation in view. They act individually for the advantage of their respective children; and though they wish them to be imbued with religious principles, and taught to behave well, they perhaps attach a higher importance than the promoters and managers of schools to the specific knowledge which will be profitable to the child in life. It is of some importance in estimating the conduct of the parents to keep this difference of sentiment in view. (Quoted in David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture: England, 1750–1914 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], p. 86)

35. Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, pp. 73–74.

36. Spencer, Principles of Sociology, vol. 3, p. 274. The image of the church and the school either as homologues or analogues has been often repeated, e.g., by Durkheim in Moral Education, p. 155; by more recent theorists like Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (London: Sage, 1977), p. 64; and Eric Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870–1914,” in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 271.

37. Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, p. 75.

38. Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, p. 76.

39. Quoted in Phillip McCann, “Popular Education, Socialization, and Social Control: Spitalfields, 1812–1824,” in Popular Education and Socialization in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Phillip McCann (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1977), p. 1.

40. Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, p. 76.

41. Lord Dufferin to the earl of Granville, “Further Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 96.

42. Alfred Milner, England in Egypt (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1892), p. 390. The perception of Islam as fanaticism and bigotry was not, of course, confined to Egypt. In Aden, the next geographical stepping-stone on the way from England to India, plans were made in 1856 to start a school to train Arab boys for the civil service and “to attach our bigoted neighbors to us by the community of feelings and interests which must follow in the wake of a sound education.” “If it were possible to give these boys a solid education in their language and ours,” wrote the concerned British official,

the influence for good they may exercise on the next generation is beyond calculation, by it we should instruct them in our system, and attach them by a link which would not be easily severed. Commerce would increase, we should hear no more of stoppage of the roads, and of the frequent paltry squabbles which having their origin in ignorance and bigotry, would cease with the spread of knowledge amongst the people. (Quoted in Z. H. Kour, The History of Aden, 1839–72 [London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., 1981], p. 101)

43. Cromer often commented on the incomprehensibility of the Eastern mind.

The ethnologist, the comparative philologist, and the sociologist would possibly be able to give explanations as regards many of the differences between the East and the West. As I am only a diplomatist and an administrator, whose proper study is also man, but from the point of view of governing him rather than from that of scientific research into how he comes to be what he is, I content myself with noting the fact that somehow or other the Oriental generally acts, speaks, and thinks in a manner exactly opposite to the European. (Modern Egypt, vol. 2 [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1908], p. 164)

44. The physical conditions of rural—and urban—popular schools in Egypt and in England were described by contemporaries in strikingly similar Dickensian detail. Compare, for example, Cromer in “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1896, vol. 97, p. 1010; with Macaulay in his speech on “Education,” delivered in the House of Commons on 19 April 1847. In The Works of Lord Macaulay, vol. 8, pp. 395–96.

45. James A. St. John, Egypt and Nubia (London: Chapman and Hall, 1845), pp. 31–32.

46. Viz., the educational theories of Jeremy Bentham, beloved of Foucauldian analysts. In Panopticon, Bentham effused of the possibilities of the Inspection-House as a school, in which “All play, all chattering—in short, all distraction of every kind, is effectually banished.” The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4, ed. John Bowring (1838–43; rpt., New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), p. 63.

47. Amir Boktor, School and Society in the Valley of the Nile (Cairo: Elias' Modern Press, 1936), p. 130.

48. Bowring, “Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 136.

49. Florence Nightingale, Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849–50, ed. Anthony Sattin (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1987), p. 26.

50. W. Basil Worsfold, The Redemption of Egypt (London: George Allen, 1899), p. 54.

51. Sachot, “Rapport,” p. 4. Translation by Anna Laura Jones.

52. Milner, England in Egypt, p. 366.

53. Emile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912; rpt., New York: Free Press, 1965), p. 15.

54. R. R. Marett, The Threshold of Religion (London: n.p., 1914), p. xxxi.

55. Salama, L'Enseignement islamique, p. 300.

56. For a fuller discussion of European attitudes toward the Egyptian body, see Gregory Starrett, “The Hexis of Interpretation: Islam and the Body in the Egyptian Popular School,” American Ethnologist 22, 4 (November 1995), pp. 953–69.

57. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 86.

58. Messick, The Calligraphic State, p. 17.

59. See Trygve R. Tholfsen, “Moral Education in the Victorian Sunday School,” History of Education Quarterly 20 (1980), pp. 77–99; and Thomas W. Laqueur, Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).

60. “I heartily rejoice that the life, the words, and works, and death of the Divine Saviour of the world should be read by children. But that is not the teaching of religion, unless the true meaning and the due intrinsic worth of all these things be taught. But this would perforce be doctrinal Christianity, prohibited by law.” Cardinal Archbishop Henry Edward, “Is the Education Act of 1870 a Just Law?” The Nineteenth Century 12 (December 1882), p. 960.

61. William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 2. (New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1896), p. 70.

62. Joseph Lancaster, Improvements in Education as It Respects the Industrious Classes of the Community, 3rd ed. (1805; rpt., Clifton, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, 1973), pp. 155–56.

63. H. Cunynghame, “The Present State of Education in Egypt,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s., 19 (1887), p. 232.

64. Bowring, “Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 137.

65. Milner, England in Egypt, p. 365.

66. Macaulay, “Education,” p. 387.

67. The quote from Adam Smith, “The more [the inferior ranks of people] are instructed, the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which, among ignorant nations, frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders,” is from the first chapter of book 5 of The Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, 1965), p. 740.

68. Macaulay, “Education,” p. 388.

69. Macaulay, “Education,” pp. 388–89.

70. Macaulay, “Education,” p. 390.

71. W. Basil Worsfold, The Redemption of Egypt (London: George Allen, 1899), p. 143. Apropos the association of schools and prisons, Lord Dufferin had written to the earl of Granville in February of 1883 noting that “the consensus of foreign opinion in this country” supported a statement by an Egyptian leader, “that order in Egypt can only continue to exist under the combined discipline of a couple of foreign schoolmasters and the domestic “courbash,” ”a view with which, it should be acknowledged, he disagreed personally. “Further Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 88.

72. Cromer, “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, vol. 89, p. 15.

73. Cromer, “Reports,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, p. 14.

74. Cromer, “Reports,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, p. 13.

75. Cromer, “Reports,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, p. 14.

76. Cromer, “Reports,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, p. 13.

77. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, p. 1137.

78. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 31.

79. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1913, vol. 81, p. 35.

80. See Nathan Brown, “Who Abolished Corvée Labour in Egypt and Why?” Past and Present, no. 144 (August 1994), pp. 116–37.

81. Quoted in Ministry of Education, Egypt, Report of the Elementary Education Commission and Draft Law to Make Better Provision for the Extension of Elementary Education (Cairo: Government Press, 1919), p. 7.

82. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1899, vol. 112, p. 961.

83. J. Scott's memorandum to Cromer, in “Report on the Finances, Administration, and Condition of Egypt and the Progress of Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1897, vol. 102, p. 536. This idea has had great longevity. As recently as 1943, H. E. Neguib el-Hilali Pasha, the Egyptian minister of education, wrote,

If we take into account the fact that compulsory education begins in England at the age of five and that bodily growth is quicker in Egypt owing to the climate, we see that it is only natural that the compulsory age [of schooling] should begin in this country one year earlier than it actually does, that is, at the end of the sixth year, and end at 13. (Report on Educational Reform in Egypt [Cairo: Government Press, Boulaq, 1943], p. 49)

84. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 87, p. 1014.

85. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, vol. 102, p. 1150.

86. Allenby, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1921, vol. 42, p. 74. See Margaret May, “Innocence and Experience: The Evolution of the Concept of Juvenile Delinquency in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Victorian Studies 18 (1973), pp. 7–30; for a contemporary view of the subject of reformatories, see Lord Norton's article, “Schools as Prisons and Prisons as Schools,” The Nineteenth Century 21 (January 1887), pp. 110–18. Statistics were reported annually on the utilization of the Giza Reformatory, including the number of boys and girls confined there, and the disciplinary measures invoked. A typical example (from Gorst's Annual Report for the year 1910): “During the year 3,631 juveniles were whipped (2,589 in 1909). The number of juveniles on the 31st December at the reformatory was 715 (726 in 1909), 647 being boys and 68 girls. The daily average throughout the year being 764.” Parl. Pap., 1911, vol. 103, p. 41.

87. “Further Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 89.

88. “Further Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, vol. 88, p. 230.

89. Lord Dufferin to the earl of Granville, “Further Correspondence Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 88, p. 93. It is of course instructive to contrast this view with that of Egypt's own educated elite. On 8 October 1866 Nubar Pasha, a future prime minister of the Egyptian government after the British Occupation, had written, “Our parliament is a school, by means of which the government, more advanced than the population, instructs and civilises the population.” Quoted in Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 75.

90. Cromer, “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1896, vol. 97, p. 1010.

91. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, vol. 103, p. 1165.

92. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, pp. 1010–11.

93. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, pp. 1010–11.

94. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, p. 1166.

95. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, p. 1166; also Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1899, vol. 112, p. 1007.

96. Cromer, “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1898, vol. 107, p. 665.

97. Cromer, “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1896, vol. 97, p. 1011.

98. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 87, p. 1009.

99. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 138, pp. 569–70. The following year, “4,432 pupils were able to recite from memory the whole of the Koran, 3,833 more than three-quarters, 4,594 more than one-half, and 7,362 more than one-quarter, whilst 52,893 pupils had reached various stages in the first quarter of the sacred text.” And this at a time when “the total number of children who had reached the age of 13 years was less than 3,000.” Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 100, p. 714. Of the 46,762 students who attended 1913's annual inspection of kuttabs under the control of the Provincial Councils, “1,193 of the pupils were able to recite the whole of the Koran by heart, and 1,212 others at least one-half of the sacred text.” Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1914, vol. 101, p. 44.

100. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, vol. 103, p. 1165.

101. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 570.

102. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, p. 74.

103. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1909, vol. 105, p. 3. Gorst was extremely sensitive to the political expediency of education. In the same report, he notes that “it is…wise to avoid measures which run counter to the wishes or prejudices of the people until they have been educated up to them” (p. 28), but that the change cannot be rushed, despite those in the country who “believed that, by means of a rapid extension of public instruction, deficiencies which are the inheritance of centuries of ignorance can be made good in a comparatively short time” (p. 38).

104. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission. The members of the commission were: His Excellency Ali Gamal el Din Pasha, mudir of Sharqiya; H. E. Mohammed Allam Pasha, mudir of Asyut; Mr. Patterson, director general of accounts, Ministry of Finance; Mr. Betts, director of the Municipalities and Local Commissions Department, Ministry of the Interior; Mr. McLean, chief engineer of the same department; Mr. Aldred Brown, controller of administrative service, and Mr. Robb, subcontroller of elementary education, both of the Ministry of Education; Mohammed Ali el Maghrabi Bey, the controller of elementary education in the ministry; Mohammed Aatef Barakat Bey, the principal of the Cadis' College; Sheikh Mohammed Cherif Selim, principal of the Nasria Training College, and Hussein Kamel Bey, director of administrative service of the Ministry of the Interior. Adly Yeghen himself was a long-time enthusiast of British causes, having been elected in 1903 as president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, an organization imported to Egypt in the 1890s. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 250.

105. Cromer, Modern Egypt, vol. 2, pp. 534–35. Quoted in the commission's Report on p. 5.

106. Nathan Brown, Peasant Politics in Modern Egypt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

107. Quoted in Carter Jefferson, “Worker Education in England and France, 1800–1914,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 4 (1964), p. 355.

108. Jefferson, “Worker Education,” p. 346. Vincent provides another example from a British educational manifesto of 1839:

The sole effectual means of preventing the tremendous evils with which the anarchical spirit of the manufacturing population threatens the country is, by giving the working people a good secular education, to enable them to understand the true causes which determine their physical condition and regulate the distribution of wealth among the several classes of society. (P. 83)

The notion that teaching political economy and social science to the masses was a remedy for labor unrest was current in the United States as late as the 1870s; see Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), p. 47.

109. Andrew Porter, “Scottish Missions and Education in Nineteenth-Century India: The Changing Face of Trusteeship,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 16 (1988), p. 44.

110. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 3. For the same idea in Britain, see Agnes Lambert, “Thrift among the Children,” The Nineteenth Century 19 (April 1886), p. 548.

111. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 4.

112. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 26.

113. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 26. Such training would complement the natural proclivities of the Egyptian student, who

is deficient in inventive capacity, acts from impulse, is wayward and changeable in mind, and…is stunted as to his reasoning faculties, [although]…not without other compensating advantages. He has a vivid imagination, quick perception, and a power of intuitively sympathizing with others. He is therefore by nature more or less of an artist. (Cunynghame, “The Present State of Education in Egypt,” p. 232)

114. On the interchangeability of the domestic worker and the colonial subject, and the consequent spread of “adapted education” projects throughout the empire, from Nigeria to New Zealand, see David Ruddell, “Class and Race: Neglected Determinants of Colonial “Adapted Education” Policies,” Comparative Education 18 (1982), pp. 293–303; and John M. Barrington, “Cultural Adaptation and Maori Educational Policy: The African Connection,” Comparative Education Review 20 (1976), pp. 1–10.

115. Villiers Stuart, “Reports…Respecting the Progress of Reorganization in Egypt since the British Occupation in 1882,” Parl. Pap., 1895, vol. 109, pp. 943, 961.

116. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 267. Quoted also in Williamson, Eduction and Social Change, pp. 81–82.

117. Quoted in Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 267; also in Modern Egypt, vol. 2, p. 535n. Lecky, though little-known today, was at the time a major figure in the minds of educated Britons; he was, for example, one of the most frequently cited authorities in Darwin's discussion of ethics and society in The Descent of Man. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (New York: Norton, 1962), p. 375.

118. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 7.

119. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 269.

120. Worsfold, The Redemption of Egypt, p. 195.

121. Heyworth-Dunne, Introduction to the History of Education, p. 132.

122. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 570.

123. The Rev. James Johnston, F. S. S., ed., Report of the Centenary Conference on the Protestant Missions of the World (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1889), p. 19.

124. Johnston, Report of the Centenary Conference, p. 23.

125. Alfred Cunningham, To-Day in Egypt (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1912), p. 221.

126. Cunningham, To-Day in Egypt, pp. 221–22.

127. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1914, vol. 101, p. 37.

128. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1905, vol. 103, pp. 1168–69.

129. Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 151.

130. Sergei P. Poliakov, Everyday Islam: Religion and Tradition in Central Asia, trans. Anthony Olcott (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), pp. 66–67.

131. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 171.

132. Ahmad Abdalla, The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt, 1923–1973 (London: Al-Saqi Books, 1985).

133. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 79.

134. Raymond Williams, The Sociology of Culture (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), p. 110.

135. Christopher Herbert, Culture and Anomie: Ethnographic Imagination in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 26.

136. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 74. For a detailed critique of Mitchell's portrayal of the model school's novelty and importance, see pp. 30–40 in my “Our Children and Our Youth: Religious Education and Political Authority in Mubarak's Egypt,” Ph.D. diss., Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, 1991.

137. Mitchell asserts, rather oddly, that “there is no need to recount in detail the way in which these practices failed, or the devastation they caused,” Colonising Egypt, p. 42.

138. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 107.

139. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, pp. 101–2.

140. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 110.

141. Wayne Shaefer, “The Responsibility of Berber School Policy for the Troubles of a Franco-Moroccan School,” The Maghreb Review 14 (1989), p. 188.

142. William Lancaster, The Rwala Bedouin Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 102–3.

3. The Progressive Policy of the Government

Egyptian education presents no compelling philosophy like Fascism or Communism to warrant the perpetuation of such a centralized machine for indoctrination. In Egypt, the educational wheels of indoctrination are all set up, but there is no national ideology to be indoctrinated. The wheels grind on for their own sake.

The transformation of the Egyptian kuttab from a local circle for the inculcation of sacred text, into a local institution aimed at the cultivation of national political and social objectives, was a process spanning three or four generations after Muhammad ‘Ali initiated his programs. But although the ideological transformation of the kuttab's mission was accomplished by the first decade of the twentieth century, the practical changes were just beginning. This chapter traces Egypt's response to the professionalization of teaching and educational administration during the twentieth century, insofar as the expansion of schooling as a social institution, with its accompanying theoretical elaboration, affected ideas about the nature and transmission of Islamic religious culture. In essence, the functionalization of Egypt's religious tradition meant that the ideas, symbols, and behaviors constituting “true” Islam came to be judged not by their adherence to contemporary popular or high traditions, but by their utility in performing social work, either in furthering programs of social reform or in fulfilling the police functions that Europeans attributed to education as such.

For the new Egyptian elites created by the schools, educational institutions eventually became centers of nationalist resistance to imperial goals, as they struggled both with the British and with the traditional Turco-Circassian elite of the Palace for control over the benefits of schooling as an engine of agricultural productivity, a tool of social control, and later as a basis for mass mobilization. Rural Egyptian notables and landowners, as well as urban commercial elites and intellectuals, often found ways to turn new imported institutions in their favor rather than succumb to the radical potential of political forms being imposed by the European powers. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, for example, parliamentary elections were used successfully by rural notables to perpetuate their control over villages rather than engage in the democratic ideal of opening political participation to the mass of peasants.[2] In a very different vein, schoolteacher Hasan al-Banna began in 1928 to build the Muslim Brotherhood, a modern-style party organization using schools, youth groups, news media, national congresses, and social service provision to mobilize hundreds of thousands of active members around the anticolonial cause. It is not very surprising that the criticisms Europeans had leveled at the Islamic establishment in the nineteenth century—that it was “dry, dead, ritualistic, and irrelevant to the needs of living Muslims” [3] —were repeated in the twentieth century by the Muslim Brotherhood itself. The creation of an objectified and functionalized Islamic tradition served the political purposes of very different interest groups. Meanwhile, each side accused the other of “reactionary obscurantism,” the British aiming the charge at the Brotherhood, whom it perceived as a cynically antimodern force allied with the Palace of King Fu’ad; the Brotherhood aiming the charge at al-Azhar, whose version of Islam they denounced as being “supported and maintained by the imperialists.” [4] In terms of mass religious education, intellectuals of all political viewpoints began coming to the conclusion—particularly during the interwar years—that properly crafted and carefully targeted programs of “modern” Islamic instruction could be simultaneously socially stabilizing and economically progressive forces.

Reaction and Responsibility

Financial support for mass education was minimal through the Occupation—hence the strategy of partially subsidizing existing rural institutions instead of creating new ones. In 1905 a new movement for private funding of schools emerged in the provinces, a development viewed with some ambiguity from Cairo, which wanted above all to direct curricula in its favor. Voluntary societies funded by private subscriptions succeeded by the end of that year in completing over seven hundred new kuttabs, commencing construction on nearly two hundred, and repairing more than three hundred others.[5] As one local example, by 1907 in the northern delta province of Daqahliyya, £E 80,000 had been raised from wealthy landowners and local residents for the construction of 268 kuttabs. The mudir, Mustafa Maher Pasha, oversaw the reservation of over 300 feddans (a feddan is a little more than an acre) of land as waqfs (private, tax-exempt endowments for the support of pious institutions) to generate income in perpetuity for the maintenance of the new schools, enough to provide one-quarter to one-fifth of their annual operating expenses. Encouraged by a program of qualified government land-grants begun in 1905 for the construction of kuttabs, this private effort continued for half a decade in many provinces.[6] By 1909 over 1,200 feddans of agricultural land had been committed by private individuals for the support of local schools, bringing the expected annual revenue available for expenses to £E 9,000.[7]

The development of private interest in rural education both pleased and worried the national administration, which feared that overzealous local officials might use the collection of subscriptions as a “means of oppression,” that “the movement may be dominated by those who are out of sympathy with the progressive policy of the Government, and that it may thus be used in the direction of reaction,” and that locally funded projects might shut out non-Muslim students.[8] This last concern became especially prominent after legislative changes made the provincial councils responsible for funding elementary instruction. As of 1 January 1910, the new law gave provincial councils power to levy taxes to support public works, including a mandate to devote seventy percent of the educational tax receipts for “elementary vernacular instruction.” [9] The new British agent heartily approved the change, which he predicted

will not only have great educative value, but, being intrusted to bodies composed almost entirely of landowners and those engaged in the cultivation of the soil, will ensure the system of education in the rural districts being brought into harmony with the necessities of agriculture. A local Council, acquainted with local conditions, will be in a very advantageous position to devise for the children of the fellaheen a system of training which will fortify their preference for agricultural pursuits, and will not tempt them to drift into the towns.[10]

The Religious Difficulty

But local councils would, unlike privately funded voluntary associations, be fully accountable to all citizens of the province, Muslim and non-Muslim, and would therefore be responsible for turning the kuttabs already administered, and any new ones built, into truly national elementary schools. When the grant-in-aid system was first established a dozen years earlier, the government had pledged not only to refrain from interference with religious instruction in the schools, but to ignore the confessional affiliation of schools applying for grants, making them available equally “to schools professing the Mahommedan, Coptic, Jewish, or other faith.” [11] Now it faced a problem delicately labeled “the religious difficulty.”

Most kuttabs inspected by the government had also received funds from the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which defined them as Muslim schools in which the principles of Islam could be taught. If Coptic children happened to attend, they were separated from the other children while Qur’an lessons were given. In 1902 it was estimated that only 17 of Egypt's 500 Coptic kuttabs were under inspection, largely, officials guessed, because most Coptic schools wished not to be bound by the restriction on teaching European languages as a prerequisite to financial support.[12] By 1909 there were still only 28 Coptic kuttabs under inspection.[13] With only one substantial religious minority population to consider, educational planning in Egypt was often easier than in Britain itself, or in other dependencies like Iraq.[14] Yet by 1910 tensions had grown high enough that a Coptic congress was called for 6 March in Asyut. After several days of discussion, the five hundred conferees issued a list of demands including nondiscrimination in government employment and grants, the provision of an alternate day of rest for Copts employed in the government, representation in all new representative institutions, and the “Right of Copts to take advantage of the educational facilities provided by the new Provincial Councils.” [15] The unequal geographical distribution of Coptic communities meant that they would be contributing as little as 3 percent of the local tax receipts in some provinces, but over 30 percent in provinces like Asyut in Upper Egypt, making a uniform national policy difficult to achieve.[16]

In the end, most of the provincial councils decided that their primary schools would follow the system employed in government primary schools. They would be open to both Muslims and Christians, with specially trained Coptic teachers (or priests) giving Christian religious instruction at specified times if there were sufficient demand (this meant at least fifteen Christian pupils; it should be noted that religious instruction was mandatory for Muslim students, but optional for Copts). In order to train Coptic teachers in the delivery of religious instruction, Christian religion classes were formed for students of the Khedivial Training College in 1910, qualifying them to teach the subject in primary schools.[17] In the kuttabs, which would be open both to Muslim and Christian children, the Qur’an would be taught, and Christian children could be excused if they wished. If there were sufficient numerical support in neighboring communities, a Coptic kuttab could be established in which special religious instruction was delivered. Financial arrangements were being made in Asyut, Minya, Girgah, Qena, and Sohag for the sharing of tax revenues between Muslims and Copts. Although Copts had demanded that priests be allowed to tutor Christian children in the kuttabs while Muslim students learned the Qur’an, this was thought impracticable. “I fear,” wrote Gorst,

that the day has not yet arrived in Egypt, though I do not say that it never will, when the sheikh and the priest could safely be allowed to impart rival religious instruction to children of the lowest class simultaneously and in the restricted space of the Kuttab, which, in some cases, consists of not more than one or two rooms. Where the Coptic children are not sufficiently numerous to warrant the creation of a special Kuttab, they must be content, for the present, to receive their religious teaching at home.[18]

In 1919 the Elementary Education Commission reiterated this concern, noting that the provision of Coptic teachers for all of the needful kuttabs would be impossible, and that

apart from this, whilst mutual tolerance and goodwill can be guaranteed in a few Government schools which are under strict control, regrettable incidents would inevitably occur under this dual arrangement in some of the scattered thousands of elementary schools, under loose control, staffed by teachers of a lower level of education.[19]

The government was beginning to face the contradictions inherent in its choice to retain and even expand religious instruction in new tax- supported schools. The strategy of encouraging religious instruction as a political anaesthetic was joined with the fear of popular unrest if it were removed from the curriculum. Too little religion and the ignorant masses were left without moral compass; too much and the students felt themselves fitted only for employment as itinerant Qur’an reciters. The Coptic/Muslim difference only exacerbated the problem, since it was the political danger perceived in simultaneous sacred instruction for the different communities—not the integration of the schools themselves—that prompted administrative concerns about “regrettable incidents.” Even so, just as in Great Britain, where religious instruction in the form of Bible reading formed part of a growing nondenominational vision of moral instruction, so in Egypt leaders stressed the common morality of the nation. In a speech delivered in early October of 1908, future prime minister Sa‘d Zaghlul, then minister of education, repeated the rationale behind the continued expansion of elementary education:

The Government has found itself the means of developing general morality amongst the popular masses, in order to diminish the number of noxious and blameworthy acts due to the ignorance of true principles and of the exact rules of the religion; besides which it declares that the materials taught in the Kuttabs are to be none other than those notions indispensable to all men.[20]

“The Four R's”

The first paragraph of Article 1 of the Elementary Education Commission's 1919 Draft Law for the Better Provision of Elementary Education in Egypt set out the minimum curricular requirements of a projected program of mass education:

The term “Elementary School” means a school in which suitable education is provided exclusively in Arabic for Egyptian children between the ages of six to eleven years in accordance with a syllabus prescribed or approved by the Ministry of Education. This syllabus shall include, at least, instruction in religion, reading, writing and arithmetic, and such other subjects as the Ministry of Education may determine.[21]

These subjects, “the four R's,” were already the backbone of the Egyptian elementary school program for children between five and thirteen years of age, which the proposed Draft Law meant to extend and provide with public monies. Elementary schooling had been growing rapidly during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In 1905, for example, there were more than a hundred kuttabs administered directly by the Ministry of Education, with nearly seventy-five hundred pupils. Over twenty-five hundred schools and seventy-six thousand students were under inspection. By 1906 the number of inspected kuttabs had jumped 70 percent, and the number of students had more than doubled. Article 19 of the Egyptian Constitution of 1923 declared elementary education compulsory for all seven- to twelve-year-old children within two miles of an elementary school. And despite the vital role played by the Coptic community in the Egyptian nationalist movement, with its secular political ideology, the Constitution also formalized Islam as the religion of the Egyptian state, reinforcing its presence in the curriculum.[22] General subjects were added to the curriculum, as was physical education for boys, and “Home and Health Information” for girls (which took the place of half of their Qur’anic studies in the final three years of the elementary curriculum; see table 1).

1. Relative Time Devoted to Subjects—Elementary Schools
  1903 1933
Qur’an 31% 33%
Religion 11 7
Arabic 29 31
Arithmetic 14 19
Calligraphy 14
General 8
Physical Education 2

The growth of the school population was slower through the First World War, but picked up explosively in the 1920s. The largest increases by far were in the kuttabs administered directly by the government, effecting a centralization of authority. In 1922, one hundred forty-five administered schools served over twenty-three thousand students, but by 1930, thirteen times as many kuttabs served eleven times as many students. The number of schools under the provincial councils declined nearly 30 percent during that period, and fewer than five hundred schools remained under inspection.[23]

In the more prestigious primary schools, whose graduates—unlike those of the elementary schools—could continue on to higher education, the program of study looked quite different. The four-year program was identical for boys and girls, stressing Arabic, foreign language, and arithmetic, relegating religion to a tiny corner of the program. For the elite children paying to attend primary schools, the imperative of class control was absent, and even religious instruction was to be “secular,” forming a part of the cultural background of the cultivated individual, and nothing more. In a discussion of secularism in Egypt, Professor Ibrahim Salama of Dar al-‘Ulum (originally a teacher-training college) described the new attitude in 1939:

If one means by secularization the scientific study of reality as reality, setting aside every a priori idea and every religious idea, the Egyptian system—excepting al-Azhar, of course—can perhaps be regarded as secular. Religious education does figure in the programs of the State schools, it is true, but always in the form of moral precepts, no more no less. For the student in the current programs of the State primary schools, whether those of girls or boys, we are able to discover evidence of this sort of secularization. The goal of the Qur’anic recitation is before all else a linguistic goal. The Ministry of Public Instruction advises the masters to read without rocking, and in a very simple manner, paying attention to Arabic phonetics, whatever Qur’anic verses figure in the syllabus.[24]

As befitting a “modern” and middle-class habitus, the stigmatized rocking of kuttab children was eliminated, and in fact the Qur’an itself seems to have been disconnected almost completely from the idea of “religious” instruction, constituting instead a source of linguistic exercises.

But these middle-class primary school students, as important as they were for the construction of the modern state, were not the sole concern of the Ministry of Education. Reports and plans for educational reform throughout the 1930s still hinged upon the concept that “Egyptian prosperity depends in the last analysis upon the existence of a pre-eminently large class of industrious, contented and intelligent agricultural workers.” [25] Although British civil servants continued to fill important positions in a number of Egyptian ministries, and the British Ministry of Education continued to provide consultants to the Egyptian government, another trend in educational planning and administration concerned the growth of new interest groups based in the schools and universities themselves. Professional educators influenced by the work of John Dewey and other popular school reformers moved strongly against the highly centralized and test-driven school organization developed by the French and the British to feed the ranks of the colonial government. Far from heralding a new era of decentralized local control of educational institutions, though, they in fact solidified the international linkages now growing between professional educators in the developed and developing worlds, continually transferring the latest pedagogical theories into an area that was still working to adjust itself to the idea of mass schooling.[26]

Three of these reformers, whose writings on the Egyptian school system were particularly influential in framing Egypt as a case study of the failures and successes of educational policy in modernizing countries, were Amir Boktor and Russell Galt, of the American University in Cairo, and Abu al-Futouh Ahmad Radwan, who taught at Ibrahim Pasha University (now the University of ‘Ain Shams). All three studied at the Teachers' College at Columbia University, foreshadowing the growth of American influence in Egypt's development during the latter part of the century. Though they wrote in English, their academic standing gave their writings an air of disinterest—all three felt free to criticize colonial education policies—even though in many respects they perpetuated educational trends like “secularization” and the use of schooling as an instrument of social planning that were begun during the Occupation.

Continuing to characterize the content of the elementary curriculum as “exceedingly bookish and academic for a peasant people,” educators of the 1930s repeated the call for new teaching methods and more attention to sound thinking, rather than test-driven memorization of government-issue subject matter textbooks. In the elementary school,

the absence of games, play, activities, and physical education, the heart of the modern elementary school, is conspicuous. Even the printed outline reveals that almost the entire time of the child in the school is given to a bookish type of study, with from one-half to two-thirds of the program devoted to memorization of the Qur’an, religious instruction, and the study of the classical Arabic language.[27]

The result, Galt wrote, was “an emphasis on the acquisition of irrelevant knowledge, formal learning, discipline by punishments, reverence for tradition, and the acceptance of authority.” [28] These problems were not confined to the elementary schools, but spread in various degrees to the primary and higher schools in the “Europeanized” system as well. Mere literacy was no longer enough, particularly if restricted to “the sacredness of the printed word in the Ministry's books.” [29] It was only by challenging its own traditions that Egypt could move beyond “[t]he invariable outcome of Oriental education [which] is a social order which possesses stability, but lacks progressiveness.” [30] But even as they championed secular learning and criticized “outdated” worldviews, educators were unwilling to call for the elimination of religious study. Merely the method and goal of that study would change. The traditional study of the Qur’an, whose purpose had been to learn how to use the sacred word in appropriate contexts,[31] now became the study of Islam as a moral system, a study removed from its living context and placed on the same level as other secular categories of knowledge.

Such subjects as hygiene, civics, ethics, and religion should be definitely planned to develop habits, build attitudes, and such a frame of mind as will bring home to the child the practical ways of living ethically, religiously, and so forth. This should not prevent the school from requiring advanced students to memorize certain sections of the Koran in connection with the study of Arabic literature. Owing to the mervellous [sic] beauty of the Koranic style, students of all religions should be offered this opportunity.[32]

This was much closer to the goal of religious study in the British school system, which mined divine writ for lessons (which can be evaluated rationally, and ignored if modified or contradicted by new evidence, as opposed to the furud of Islamic law, requirements or duties which are, in theory, eternal and compelling). This new manner of presenting religious subjects pleased professional educational theorists, who saw their adversary in the type of learning fostered by al-Azhar.[33] The future lay in the creation of a new secular Egypt in which agriculturalists would devote increasing amounts of time to the study of nature, farming, and physical fitness in elementary schools, while the elite would study science, literature, and history in the primary schools. Religious instruction would remain for both, but for different reasons.

Landowners and some Egyptian educators feared the advent of universal instruction in rural areas without a corresponding boost for higher education, claiming that it might mobilize “a formidable army of half- educated, third-educated and fourth-educated citizens who see things not in the way they ought to be seen.” [34] But religious education seems partially to have escaped the stigma of misapplication to the rural masses. At least one large landowner wrote in an Egyptian newspaper that the fellahin (peasants), with their limited needs, were happier than other Egyptians, “and that the most urgent reform in the countryside was the diffusion of religious instruction,” [35] an echo of the Reverend Wilson's sentiments a century before. If technical education might tempt cultivators to leave the fields for more lucrative employment, an emphasis on more traditional forms of instruction might dissuade them from leaving the land, either through reinforcing older loyalties, or merely by depriving them of the skills necessary to acquire alternative occupations.

Even the violence of the Second World War only gave further impetus to the faith that inculcating “moral precepts” through the school would be the foundation of a postwar internationalism based on liberal democratic ideals. Not long after Rommel's defeat in the western desert, the Egyptian minister of education, His Excellency Neguib el-Hilali Pasha, wrote of the faith of “all free nations” that “intellectual development coupled with moral reinforcement are of greater import than material reconstruction…the education which strengthens faith and fortifies character is the most solid bulwark against the vicissitudes of life.” [36] Arguing in favor of extending the period of compulsory schooling and instituting continuing education requirements for graduates, the Muslim Egyptian minister cited—on the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury himself—the vital importance of educating children in late adolescence. If the age of compulsory school attendance was not raised, el-Hilali feared, “they are apt to forget all or most of what they have learnt at school and are exposed to moral, mental and physical decadence.” [37] By now entirely dependent on foreign models of schooling, el-Hilali even found himself incapable of justifying religious education in the Egyptian school without citing a British model:

The British Government has declared in both Houses of Parliament that it is its intention to pay more care to religious education. The White Paper… acknowledges the importance of this sort of education in school life and claims for it a more prominent place in the syllabus, together with religious practices. It behooves our country to follow this example and to give to religious teaching and practice their due place in the school curriculum. The Ministry of Education on its part promises to bear this in mind in its intended educational reform.[38]

Moral education in the new Egypt would operate along several lines, at once “arous[ing] in…pupils an interest in the responsibilities of citizens towards their own country and the world at large,” [39] and, in rural areas, avoiding the alienation of children from the land. Schools here would “link education with agriculture and…rural industries,” so that boys could “gain an enlightened insight into the defects and shortcomings of their homes and villages, and visualise the measures of reform to be introduced,” while at the same time preparing them “for village communal life in a way that makes the work that awaits them in their surroundings appeal to them.” [40] Even religious instruction “should be of a practical rather than of a theoretical nature,” dealing with rural or industrial subjects in village and urban schools, respectively, and including “domestic studies” for girls.[41]

Religious education was conceived explicitly as just one more part of a comprehensive system of social planning operating through the school, rather than the mastery of a body of spiritual literature. “All present or proposed post-war reforms lay great stress on religious teaching,” the minister explained:

Spiritual education and moral uplift are essential factors in education, and many of the calamities that beset the world at present are due to lack of spiritual education. But religious teaching should not be confined to the memorisation of religious precepts; it should rather take a practical trend. A service should be regularly held in school with an Imam leading the boys in prayer. Sermons should be preached on simple subjects bearing on everyday life, within the comprehension of the young. The ulemas or students of religion should inculcate into the boys the habits of cleanliness and the elements of co-operation of which every Egyptian village is in great need. In the sphere of physical culture village games and sports should take a prominent place.[42]

By placing “spiritual education and moral uplift” on the same level as habits of cleanliness and cooperation-enhancing village games, the functionalization of Egypt's Islamic heritage was completed, so that what counted as real religion could now be defined by its social utility. Practices outside the sphere of planning thus became “superstition,” targeted, like ophthalmia or bilharzia, for elimination through centralized programs of scientific modernization.

This ever-growing faith in the power of mass education came at the same time as a revolution in the theory of teaching methodology that was drawn from the writings of European and American educators and applied at first in two small Egyptian experimental primary schools beginning in 1932. Responding to criticisms of the bookishness of elementary education generally, theoretical education was to take a back seat to active participation in projects revolving around practical application of ideas and skills. This was not the same as technical training; in fact, specific marketable skills were not in question. Rather, children were to learn by investigating natural, material, and social phenomena in small groups. Studying the production of milk products, collecting butterflies (for which students constructed their own display boxes), beekeeping, firefighting, and printing were all included in the “project method,” as were projects in which children played employees of the post office, acted out a historical episode dressed up as ancient Egyptians, or pretended to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca.[43] Advocates of this manner of instruction argued that the school, after all, was merely a “miniature society” in which children “inevitably soak up the values and moral criteria that prevail in their practical lives, whatever the ideas and principles offered them theoretically in lessons.” [44]

If we want to give the school a spiritual mission, we need to work towards establishing its life and its various interpersonal relations on a high plane. More than this, we need to provide for the student the opportunity to experience social life in accordance with the values we wish them to apply in their future lives. In order to prepare the student for a democratic spiritual life, he should practice the modes of this life in the school. Some educational philosophers—like the great American philosopher John Dewey—have gone on to say that the student should discover social and moral values for himself experimentally within the milieu of the school, because these values will not have the desired effect in the direction of his life unless they are the outcome of experience and personal experiment.[45]

The experimental method never caught on widely in Egypt because of the high level of teacher training and small class size it demanded, although aspects of its underlying philosophy became part of everyday educational planning and curriculum design. The project method, in making the study of Islam into an activity like chemistry and nature study, removed it further than ever from its textual roots in the name of making it practical, easily accessible, and fun. The methodology of practicing or modeling religious duties was to rationalize religious study and bring it into line with the secular subjects.

But secularism, “the scientific study of reality,” and the cultivation of a modern mentality on a large scale proved to be more difficult to inculcate in Egypt than its new intellectual classes anticipated. Fees for the primary schools were eliminated entirely in 1949, effectively creating a unified school system at the primary level, with a single curriculum that could allow more and more Egyptians, even those not from the wealthiest and most Europeanized families, to enter higher stages of education. The changing class composition of the schools, in concert with the pervasive idea that Egypt was in the process of catching up with the developed world, meant that long after the Second World War, Egyptian educators would continue to complain that their countrymen still placed entirely too much emphasis on “antiquated traditions” in looking for the solution to social problems, rather than relying on “a frank examination of the consequences that follow from [their] various social practices.” [46]

Abd al-Futouh Ahmad Radwan's work at the Teacher's College at Columbia University had made him impatient with “the mode of thinking of the average Egyptian [which] is far removed from that pattern which we call scientific.” Belittling popular belief in the intercession of saints and the cult surrounding such shrines as Cairo's tomb of Imam al-Shafi‘i, Radwan wrote that

The conflict between the old and the new is quite apparent in those who engage in these superstitious practices. Many go to consult a modern trained doctor, but they also carry a charm in their pocket or on the aching spot in their bodies, and if they recover they do not know whether it was the doctor's prescription or the charm that brought about their recovery.… Some University students even visit the shrine of al-Husayn or Al-Sayida Zaynab before they undertake their examination in science. The new modes of thinking are gaining ground, but the strength of old beliefs persists and hinders the development of a scientific mentality.[47]

Schools were to be the primary weapons against “the problem of superstitions and harmful customs,” such as “whether a Dhikr [a technique for drawing the individual into mystical contact with God] is a real religious experience, or whether a visit to a shrine really helps a person to recover from sickness, or whether growing a vine in one's home actually causes misfortune”; and they should not just “take a negative attitude toward such issues or be content with casual reference to their false or harmful nature, but should take an explicit attitude against them and try to uproot them altogether from the minds of the young.” [48] In response to the experimental and progressive schools founded in the 1930s, Radwan called for a still more critical approach to the curriculum, asserting that merely encouraging active emulation of social patterns rather than theoretical study of them did not achieve the goal of helping children “to examine the social experiences behind these activities, so as to gain insights into social affairs.” He criticized the Pilgrimage project in particular, for not having students interview a pilgrim

in order to ask him what problems…he discusses with the Muslims from other lands when they meet in Mecca. Nor do they ask…why he gave the little saving he had to the rich steamship company instead of using it to buy a mechanical plow to improve his business. Nor are they led to see that an action of this sort is not in line with the original principles of the tradition of pilgrimage according to which it is supposed to be reserved for those who can afford to undertake such a costly journey.[49]

Radwan's view of education as a key to social progress, in which “the curriculum of schools should reflect [the] needs of the nation in both a qualitative and a quantitative sense,” [50] and in which religious scholars are seen as useful primarily insofar as they can issue rulings consonant with national advancement, underlines the sense that Egyptian educators were coming to share that religious instruction in public schools should serve primarily national political and economic ends rather than purely personal, spiritual, or communal ones.

What proved frustrating to intellectuals and administrators was precisely the stubbornly personal and local nature of popular concerns. Villagers were far more interested in religious specialists acting as “religious literates, not…spiritual guides,” [51] to the chagrin both of professional educators and private organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood (which had never been very successful in rural recruiting). If peasants were resigned—within limits—to the appropriation of their labor and their surplus production, they more actively resisted the appropriation of their loyalty or attention to national political projects except insofar as these had direct local impact.[52] In meetings with visiting ‘ulama from urban areas, rural Egyptians were primarily concerned with questions of

whether one lifts his hand up to his shoulder or up to his ears [during prayer], how one sits on after prostration, what one might say before and after prayers. Other questions that arose were queries about whether certain sayings or deeds were considered to be religiously approved or disapproved, how and to whom one would make a sacrifice oath, whether visiting saints' tombs is a good thing or not, and so forth.[53]

On the ground, in remote villages like Silwa in far southern Aswan Province, the changing educational landscape at the national level was marked physically by the simultaneous existence of kuttabs as well as an elementary and a primary school. Studied in the early 1950s by native son anthropologist Hamed Ammar, Silwa provided a concise portrait of the difficult process of adapting national pedagogical goals to local structures of expectation. The kuttab, which transmitted respect for the patriarchal village authority structure as well as the text of the Qur’an, “fulfill[ed] the task demanded of it by the people in maintaining the standards of Islamic learning in which the memorizing of the Koran comes first and foremost.” [54] The compulsory elementary school, on the other hand, stationed at the north end of the village along with the police station and post office, had been a failure since its founding in 1925, as it neither maintained a properly religious atmosphere nor provided for advancement into the civil service. Instead, along with reading and writing it taught arithmetic, drawing, singing, and “rhythmic movements,” subjects either of little practical use to villagers or which were assumed to be transmitted in the course of daily life itself. As a result, literacy skills learned in the school were quickly lost by graduates, and both parents and children ridiculed the school and took pains to avoid compulsory attendance, until a free lunch program was implemented in the late 1940s.

The primary school, on the other hand—built just as Ammar left the field in 1951—proved a huge success with its promise of wealth and prestige through possible government employment. Student comments on the school emphasized that “we shall become government officials when we pass our examinations,” and “we like the new school, as we wear [European] suits, which are much nicer than the gallabiahs we used to wear in the elementary school. The former is better than the latter in its lessons, order, and cleanliness.” [55] In fact, Ammar's presentation of the three schools fits them neatly into an evolutionary sequence that shows the village opening into a new national structure of incentive and prestige. The exotic and ambiguous elementary school, which did a poor job of preparing either religious literates who could serve local goals or potential bureaucrats who could serve national goals, occupied a space of transition. Unlike the alternately confident and jittery officials in Cairo, local parents knew their children did not need to attend school in order to fill their place in the rural social order. The economic rationality of a policy that sought to confine peasants to the fields seems partially to have given way to one that recognized the necessity of giving local communities an incentive for study in return for the promise of translocal loyalties.

The Nasser Years, 1952–1970

By the time Radwan and Ammar were entering the scene, on the eve of the 1952 revolution, religious instruction had been removed from the curriculum of the first two years of primary school, but in the remaining four, twenty lessons per week were reserved for religion. The revolution restored religious instruction to the first two years, although no textbooks were written for them until some time after 1958–59, the year that the program of study was revised and new religious textbooks were produced.[56] These books articulated an interpretation of Islamic history and doctrine for a society that was to be both religious and modern, both “integralist” and socialist.[57]

The postrevolutionary expansion of primary education was explosive, with the school population more than doubling in the decade after 1953. At the same time, the number of teachers enrolled in training institutes increased by barely half, and the number of school buildings by only 12 percent, leading to severe teacher shortages, a serious matter for a nation bent on developing its rural areas. Growth in the student population slowed somewhat during the 1960s, but school building projects still lagged behind, and the number of teachers being trained actually declined. Religious study in Nasser's primary schools altered the previous emphasis on manners like humility, time management, and good behavior, focusing instead on social values necessary to a popular reconstruction of society by the masses: sincerity, fulfilling obligations, forbearance, and the rights of the nation. Discussion of the value of jihad—personal struggle against temptation, injustice, or wrongdoing—was increased in line with the mobilization of this concept for ideological purposes against external enemies like the new state of Israel.[58] Teacher training manuals for students in teacher education institutes placed the study of religion on par with other types of education aimed at “spiritual development” (al-namw al-ruhi). Attempting a delicate balance between personal piety and mass mobilization, these manuals called for providing children with sound doctrine and the desire to perform religious rituals, while preparing them for working life in the local environment, instilling in the pupil “devotion to the milieu in which he lives, loving and having pride in it, and not looking down on it.” Teachers were charged with instilling pride in the greater Arab nation and preparing the child for life in “a cooperative, democratic, socialist society.” [59] These goals, as well as those of social, personal, intellectual, and physical development, formed part of the comprehensive goal of the elementary school, which the Supreme Council on Education had articulated in 1941, but which now took on a new political cast. Education was not merely for the amelioration of illiteracy, but the “enculturation of the children of the nation's masses” (tathqif abna’ al-sha‘b), “leading them to an appropriate national life.” [60] Molding students into happy rural citizens, and not merely stationary and productive peasants, became an explicit justification for educational extension.

Because of the revolution's new emphasis on formally articulated political ideology as part of a program of mass mobilization, schools encouraged identification with the regime and its goals in the form of ritualized appreciations of the revolutionary program, much as has been the case in Turkey, with a “major stress on memorization of texts… and on ritual and unison repetition of slogans and formulae, especially the sayings [of the leader].” [61] Whereas in Turkey students recited the sayings of Ataturk, in Egypt students repeated phrases from Nasser's speeches and memorized portions of the National Charter. Village schools whose teachers or headmasters were active in the new village committees set up under the auspices of Nasser's mass political party, the Arab Socialist Union, were particularly active in using schools for political indoctrination. But regardless of the personal connections of teachers, schools up and down the Nile Valley rang daily with the shouted chant “Nasser! Nasser! Nasser!” along with the repetition of revolutionary slogans. By the mid-1960s the occupational choice expressed by rural primary school students like those in Silwa had become elaborated into specific categories: “military officer,” “engineer,” and “schoolteacher” replaced the bare “government official” in the imaginations of children making their way through the apparatus of class mobility.[62]

According to Rif‘at Sayyid Ahmad, by the end of Nasser's rule, the curriculum consistently socialized its presentation of religion, highlighting the importance of the individual's cooperation in programs to raise the national standard of living, and instilling “the faith that reward and punishment are founded upon justice.” The conscious invention of public ceremonies became an important part of the state's mass mobilization program, and schools began to capitalize on public events like the Prophet's Birthday, Unity Day, and Mother's Day to clothe nationalist values like unity, cooperation and brotherhood with the appearance of important religious principles.[63] The functionalization of traditional celebrations like the Prophet's Birthday was accompanied by the functionalization of local religious personnel. Egypt's revolutionary regime took a pragmatic approach to religion, pressing village imams (prayer leaders) into national service as heads of local committees and as ideological intermediaries who could find scriptural justification for policies like family planning, savings, and village economic development. On their own initiative, some local imams also worked to “modernize” (read “discourage and eliminate”) local religious practices such as Sufism, which the regime itself had tolerated.[64]

Science and Faith: Sadat and After

Under Anwar Sadat's leadership (1970–81) the elementary student population continued to increase much as it had during the 1960s, and the Ministry of Education's school building program accelerated slightly to keep pace. But, emblematic of the new president's personal and political interest in strengthening al-Azhar and other governmental religious agencies (the Ministry of Religious Endowments and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs) as a counterweight to his predecessor's socialist institution-building, a far more impressive increase took place in another class of primary school, the al-Azhar primary institutes, whose enrollment jumped by 70 percent in the four years between 1976/77 and 1980/81. These institutes, staffed by Azhar graduates and feeding students into preparatory, secondary and university study at al-Azhar, rapidly became a fixture in poor urban and rural areas where the Ministry of Education could not keep up.

As part of Sadat's attempt to steer the nation from the Soviet into the American military and economic spheres, a renewed commitment to Islamic symbols became part of government policy. Scores of Islamic activists from the Muslim Brotherhood, imprisoned during the 1950s and 1960s, were released, and Islamic student organizations at universities were encouraged to vie for influence with leftist groups. The new Constitution, drafted at the order of the president in 1971, specifically mandated religious education in the schools, and specified that the Islamic shari‘a was to be a major source—later to become the major source—of legislation.[65] Sadat's motto “Science and Faith” came to symbolize the hope that Egypt could benefit from closer incorporation into the international market while at the same time retaining a unique cultural identity. And when that closer integration resulted in a disastrous multiplication of the country's foreign debt, and IMF-negotiated reductions in basic food subsidies led to nationwide food riots in January of 1977, enhanced religious education was one of the solutions the president called for to try to restore political stability. Speaking to a group of the nation's top religious leaders at a meeting he convened a little more than two weeks after the riots, Sadat told them that he wanted to talk about

the inner structure of the individual. What we suffer from today is not the difficult economic situation, because this shall be solved.…You may ask now, what is the real trouble? It is hatred and bitterness. It is the inner structure of the Egyptian man that was corrupted through 20 years [of Nasserism].…I called you today to discuss what we are going to do in order to protect our forthcoming generations from hatred, how are we going to build them up correctly and how are we to cure those who deviated?

Harkening back to another generation concerned with armies of malcontents “who see things not in the way they ought to be seen,” Sadat proposed his remedy for the moral crisis that seemed to have seized the nation:

At my meeting with the political leadership, I asked that religious knowledge should be a compulsory subject for a student to pass the academic year as of next year. Our brothers the Moslems and the Christians should be prepared for that with teachers and books written in a modern style. Let us face up to the age like every other country does. The old style is no good, not any more. We want a new style by which religion, values and faith would be part of our children's mentality from the start of their life.…Starting from the next academic year I want you to be ready with Moslem and Christian teachers capable of teaching religion in a new style by which we can protect our forthcoming generations and face up to the problems of today.…The most important matter is to restore faith, tolerance and love and to uproot the hatred that seems to still possess some souls.[66]

Sadat's curious allusion to a “new style” of instruction deserves some comment. Religious textbooks of the mid-1970s, for example, though slightly different in format from current ones, are nearly identical in style (see chapter 5), and as fully bound to the goal of nationalist character formation as ever. Sadat's comment appears to recognize that the hegemony of the government's functionalized religious instruction had been only partial, incapable of preventing violence in the streets. But such a conclusion, literally unthinkable to a modern leader habituated to think in terms of educational amelioration, could only be expressed as the implication that an obsolete “old style” of instruction still held sway, and that some elusive new style could be found that would meet the goals of social control. This case of sublimated rhetorical force is hardly unique. After a century of obsession with the issue, Egyptian educational planning documents still implore “curriculum change to emphasize critical, scientific thinking to replace rote learning and memorization,” [67] a call that echoes Milner in its assumption that old ways of thinking have kept Egypt back, and that new ways of thinking cannot by definition have taken hold as long as the country remains on the international periphery. If the power of positive thinking can rescue the country economically, an unspecified “new style” of religious instruction can yet be found to keep the populace quiet.

In fact, if we look at the relative class time devoted to religious study in curricula set near the end of Sadat's tenure by Law no. 139 of 1981, which was in force through the end of the decade, other subjects actually crowded out religious instruction.

As shown in table 1, the relative proportion of time assigned to religious studies for the lower classes in elementary schools remained stable between 1903 and 1933, rising only slightly from 31.4 percent to 33.3 percent. At the same time (1932), the curriculum of the primary school, intended for the children of the urban middle and upper classes, devoted slightly less than 6 percent of class time to religion (see table 2). In 1951–52, a unified primary curriculum assigned 8.5 percent of class time to religion, a figure that increased to 9.5 percent the following year.[68] The primary curriculum of 1963 assigned 10.6 percent of class time to the study of religion. Despite Sadat's apparent concern, Law no. 139 actually reduced the amount of time assigned for religious instruction by almost 30 percent relative to its position during the “twenty years of inner corruption” in Nasser's schools.

2. Relative Time Devoted to Subjects—Primary Schools
  1932 1963 1981
Religion 6% 11% 8%
Arabic 30 30 25
Arithmetic 15 16 16
Science 5 8 6
Social Studies 5 7 4
Physical Education 5 8 7
Music 4 4
Technical/Practical 13 16 8
Foreign Language 20 22

Religion in Postprimary Schools

Over the long run, the decline in the proportion of the week's classes devoted to religious study at the primary level has been compensated for both by an increase in the number of periods and by a gradual increase in the number of years of postprimary schooling during which religious instruction was mandated. Religion had been emphasized throughout the monarchy in the Institutes of Domestic Economy, and in normal schools for teachers in kuttabs (both male and female), emphasizing the special responsibility of future mothers and elementary teachers in the moral education of the nation,[69] but in 1930, only one class per week of religious instruction was required in the first two years of the secondary curriculum. The content of this curriculum shows clearly the functionalization of religious doctrine and strongly contrasts the ritual-centeredness of either Azhari instruction or of peasant concern. Instead, it foregrounds the psychological, behavioral, sociological, and historical implications of the Islamic tradition. In the first year of secondary school, students were to learn about:

  1. The influence of Islam on self-improvement (tahdhib al-nafs) and behavior; giving examples of the impress of the Islamic religion on the life of the Arabs [such as] their reunification, the refinement of their character and the extirpation of evil deeds that were spread among them.

  2. The Glorious Qur’an: how it descended, the revelation, its collection and recording; a concise summary of what it contains of cultural and personal status matters, with the citation of some verses.

  3. The student memorizes fifteen Qur’anic verses and ten Prophetic traditions on various topics, with an understanding of their meaning.

In the second year of secondary school, five more topics completed the formal contribution of state schools to the religious development of the Egyptian adolescent:

Having mastered elementary doctrine and ‘ibada (worship) in primary school, students at the secondary stage were to devote themselves to character formation, Islamic history, basic religious institutions, and the religious principles that underlay and justified the country's emerging liberal political organization. Particularly worth noting is the manner in which the Qur’an was treated for purposes of memorization. God's revelation was no longer to be taken to heart in its thirty traditional sections and their subdivisions, or even in chapters; rather, each individual verse was to be treated as an entity, and memorized because of its connection to a certain topic. The achievement of understanding the verse, once the subject of an entire science of interpretation in traditional Islamic education, was now implicit in the verse's very selection and use, a clear parallel to European practice. During the two decades preceding the revolution, the amount of time assigned to religious instruction in the post-primary curriculum rose slowly but steadily,[71] and the subject matter shifted toward “concern with religious associations, attention to the location of prayer and the doing of pious works, help for the poor, and other social/religious values that underline the connection between religion as a subject of study and the society in which the student lives.” [72] The political influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose support for the revolution was critical early on, manifested itself in the religious curriculum as a growing emphasis on personal piety and social responsibility.[73]

And the curriculum kept changing as new political realities emerged, new university entrance requirements were promulgated, and the demographics of the school system changed. The content of lessons followed that of the elementary schools in supporting socialist values. As Olivier Carré quotes from the preface of the 1958 ninth grade religious studies textbook:

Religious instruction is one of the most powerful factors in the preparation of a virtuous youth, who believes in his Lord and in his country, even as he works for the benefit of his society on the bases of socialism, democracy, and cooperation, all things called for and affirmed by religion.[74]

Religious instruction ensured “the values of loyalty to the nation and to its goals, which correspond to the goals of religion and its struggle in opposition to imperialism.” [75] It sought, as one part of a comprehensive system of public mobilization, to provide an ideological path leading from the filial values of the family unit to the nationalist and socialist values of the various mass organizations into which the Egyptian citizen would be ushered in his transition from the school and family to the workplace. The presence of religious instruction in preparatory and secondary schools beginning in the 1920s and 1930s indicates an important realization on the part of planners and politicians that the absolute distinction between the religious mentality of the Azharites and the modern mentality supposedly inculcated by the modern educationist was perhaps a false one; or at least that it was less important than the potential power of Islamic symbols to carry a number of different meanings, a feature too important to ignore in the age of the newspaper and the radio.

In the early years of the monarchy, too, Islamic culture took on a nationalist tint that it could not have possessed at the time when European-style education was introduced into the country a hundred years before. Its use in the higher schools at that time was at least in part a reaction against the Euro-centeredness of elite education during the later years of Cromer's agency, when “third and fourth-year Egyptian students were following a history and government syllabus that might have come from Eton or Harrow.” [76] By the end of the 1960s the function of Islamic instruction had shifted as the nature of the schools and the demographic characteristics of the students changed. No longer merely for the wealthy, higher schools became the last venue of centrally supervised socialization for large numbers of literate young people about to enter the work force, begin their own families, and become a political force either useful or dangerous to the state.

As the Egyptian educational system continues to expand physically, its supporters grow ever more convinced of its moral impact, as it “rais[es] successive generations of children and youth according to firm fundamentals of science and faith, implant[s] spiritual and religious values, principles and ideals and creat[es] advanced abilities and talents.” [77] The state's responsibility for the creation of individual values is paramount, since values and behavior are intimately linked to economic and social well-being. Egypt's Second Five-Year Plan for Socio-Economic Development described the relationship this way:

The individual is the main focus of any effort to build a society and the most important component of development. The state has devoted special attention to his spiritual and intellectual formation, taking care to place him on the right course to absorb the knowledge and technological achievements of the modern age. Education strengthens and increases the positive traits in an individual's personality and helps him discover and overcome any negative traits he may have.…The state works to integrate the functions of education by imbedding and developing religious values, responsible behavior, self-dignity and sense of individualism…promoting spiritual, behavioral and educational values in the young to provide a basis for future behavior, while implanting national values, loyalty and patriotism.[78]

In the following chapters the focus will shift from the historical transformation of religious instruction in the public school to the institutional context in which Islamic messages are constructed and delivered to the urban Egyptian child. Highlighting how the parental role of the state is expressed in various types of religious education programs, the next three chapters will show how religious instruction has become one of the strategic arenas in which political tensions and conflicts are fought out. Central to these conflicts is increased public discussion of the moral problems and prospects of Egyptian children (awlad) and youth (shabab), which have become, respectively, the primary symbols of the country's long-term aspirations, and of its current political and economic difficulties.


1. Russell Galt, The Effects of Centralization on Education in Modern Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo, Department of Education, 1936), p. 121.

2. Brown, Peasant Politics.

3. Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers. (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 213.

4. R. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, p. 213.

5. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 569.

6. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1907, vol. 100, pp. 714–15.

7. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1909, vol. 105, p. 42.

8. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 569.

9. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1911, vol. 103, p. 36.

10. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1909, vol. 105, p. 39. Kitchener stressed the same fear of migration three years later:

What seems most required for progress in this direction is to evolve the best type of rural school, adapted to the special practical needs of agricultural districts, and when this has been done we may confidently hope to see a considerable increase in the number of boys educated. It must not be forgotten that any hasty or unthought-out development of education in rural districts, unless it is carefully adapted to rural necessities, may imperil the agricultural interests on which the prosperity of the country so largely depends. A rural exodus in Egypt would be an economic and social disaster of considerable magnitude. (Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 4)

11. Cromer, “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1898, vol. 107, pp. 664–65.

12. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 87, p. 1009. The real problem arose in the primary system, in which the Qur’an was one of the required subjects, and yet Muslims formed less than 80 percent of the school population as a whole. Among the students who passed the primary certificate examination in 1903, there were 383 Muslims, 227 Copts, and 4 Jews. Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 266. The primary curriculum was rewritten in 1907 and, in addition to the beginning of a conversion of all instruction to Arabic from English and French, religion was moved to the last school period so that Coptic students could leave. If there were more than 15 Coptic students in a school, they could be provided with a religion course by an unpaid visiting teacher, or, later, by a paid Coptic teacher. In 1908, 875 Coptic students attended religious instruction by designated Coptic teachers (not priests) in fifteen of the government primary schools. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1909, vol. 105, p. 42.

13. Gorst, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1910, vol. 112, p. 42.

14. In Britain, Dissenters and Non-Conformists as well as Roman Catholics were substantial opponents of many educational schemes proffered by adherents of the official Church of England; in Iraq after the First World War, British colonial authorities had to consider the complex and often contrasting interests of Sunnis and Shi‘ites, Kurds, Jews, and various denominations of Christians, and how to deal with the looted remains of a small Europeanized educational system that heretofore had delivered instruction largely in Turkish. See Gertrude Bell, “Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia,” Parl. Pap., 1920, vol. 51, pp. 10–13, 56–57, 103–7. The Commission on Elementary Education in Egypt noted that government schools were strictly secular, in Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 19.

15. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1911, vol. 103, p. 7.

16. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1911, pp. 37–38.

17. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1911, p. 57.

18. Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1911, p. 38.

19. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 20.

20. Quoted in Salama, L'Enseignement islamique, p. 303.

21. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, appendix, p. 41.

22. Egyptian Constitution of 1923, Article 149: “The Religion of the State is Islam. Arabic is the official language.” In Nasser's 1964 Constitution, Article 5 reads, “Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic its official Language.”

23. Boktor, School and Society, p. 122.

24. Salama, L'Enseignement islamique, p. 316.

25. F. O. Mann, Report on Certain Aspects of Egyptian Education, Rendered to His Excellency, the Minister of Education at Cairo (Cairo: Government Press, 1932).

26. For a good example, see Isma‘il Mahmud al-Qabbani, Siyasa al-ta‘lim fi Misr (Cairo: Lajnah al-ta’lif wa al-tarjama wa al-nashr, 1944).

27. Galt, The Effects of Centralization, p. 16.

28. Galt, The Effects of Centralization, p. 120.

29. Boktor, School and Society, p. 203.

30. Galt, The Effects of Centralization, p. 120.

31. Eickelman, “The Art of Memory.”

32. Boktor, School and Society, p. 204.

33. Boktor, School and Society, p. 131.

34. From an article by “a prominent writer and educator” in al-Ahram, 8 March 1933, quoted in Boktor, School and Society, p. 154.

35. Quote from “a large landlord, perhaps the wealthiest in Egypt,” in Charles Issawi, Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 149.

36. Neguib el-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform in Egypt (Cairo: Government Press, Boulaq, 1943), pp. 1–2.

37. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, pp. 42–43, 49.

38. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 69.

39. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 75.

40. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 50.

41. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 52.

42. El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 52.

43. Al-Qabbani, Siyasa al-ta‘lim, pp. 25–28.

44. Al-Qabbani, Siyasa al-ta‘lim, p. 28. See also Durkheim, Moral Education, pp. 125, 148.

45. Al-Qabbani, Siyasa al-ta‘lim, pp. 28–9.

46. Abu Al-Futouh Ahmad Radwan, Old and New Forces in Egyptian Education (New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1951), p. 138.

47. Radwan, Old and New Forces, pp. 138–39.

48. Radwan, Old and New Forces, p. 159.

49. Radwan, Old and New Forces, pp. 128–29.

50. Radwan, Old and New Forces, p. 113.

51. A biographer of Hasan al-Banna, citing the latter's criticism of al-Azhar graduates; cited in R. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, p. 213.

52. Brown, Peasant Politics, pp. 42–43.

53. Hamed Ammar, Growing Up in an Egyptian Village (New York: Octagon Books), p. 78.

54. Ammar, Growing Up, p. 212.

55. Ammar, Growing Up, p. 220.

56. Carré, Enseignement islamique, pp. 8–9.

57. Carré, Enseignement islamique, p. 33.

58. Rif‘at Sayyid Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla wa al-thawra (Cairo: al-Dar al-sharqiyyah, 1989), pp. 269, 274.

59. Hasan al-Hariri, Muhammad Mustafa Zaydan, Alyas Barsum Matar, and Dr. Sayyid Khayr Allah, Al-Madrasa al-ibtida’iyya (Cairo: Maktaba al-nahda al-Misriyya, 1966), pp. 17–18.

60. Al-Hariri et al., Al-Madrasa al-ibtida’iyya, p. 3.

61. Richard Tapper and Nancy Tapper, “Religion, Education, and Continuity in a Provincial Town,” in Islam in Modern Turkey: Religion, Politics and Literature in a Secular State, ed. Richard Tapper (London: I. B. Tauris & Co., 1991), p. 73.

62. James Mayfield, Rural Politics in Nasser's Egypt: A Quest for Legitimacy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), pp. 152–53.

63. R. Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla, p. 271; Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions,” p. 271.

64. Ilya Harik, The Political Mobilization of Peasants (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974), pp. 180–83.

65. Article 19 states, “Al-Tarbiya al-diniyya madda asasiyya fi manahij al-ta‘lim al-‘amm” (Religious education is a basic subject in the general education curricula).

66. Anwar Sadat, “Meeting by President Mohamed Anwar el Sadat with the Moslem and Christian Religious Leaders, Cairo, February 8, 1977” (Cairo: Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Information, State Information Service), pp. 14–15.

67. Educational Planning Unit, Ministry of Education, Government of Egypt, “Reform of the Educational System of Egypt: A Sector Assessment,” draft, USAID Development Information Center, 8 January 1990, p. 18.

68. R. Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla, pp. 265–75.

69. Ahmad Hechmat Pacha, Questions d'education et d'enseignement (Cairo: 1914), pp. 148–265.

70. Wizara al-ma‘arif al-‘umumiyya, Manhaj al-ta‘lim al-thanawi lil-madaris al-banin wa al-banat (Cairo: al-Mutaba‘a al-amiriyya, 1930), p. 1.

71. Boktor, School and Society, p. 126; Galt, Effects of Centralization, p. 127; R. Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla, p. 269.

72. R. Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla, p. 270.

73. Carré, Enseignement islamique, p. 6.

74. Quoted in Carre, Enseignement islamique, p. 72.

75. R. Ahmad, Al-Din wa al-dawla, p. 272.

76. Ried, “Turn-of-the-Century Egyptian School Days,” p. 383.

77. Ronald G. Wolfe, trans., Egypt's Second Five-Year Plan for Socio-Economic Development (1987/88–1991/2), with Plan for Year One (1987/88) (Cairo: Professional Business Services Ltd.), p. 131.

78. Wolfe, trans., Egypt's Second Five-Year Plan, p. 142.


What matters is that lives do not serve as models; only stories do that. And it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmerings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all; they are what we must use to make…new narratives.

The spiritual and cultural reservations that the Oriental peoples may have toward our technology will avail them not at all. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without resistance.

4. Learning about God

Psychologically, God is not the creation of the child alone. God is found in the family. Most of the time he is offered by the parents to the child; he is found in everyday conversation, art, architecture, and social events. He is presented as invisible but nonetheless real. Finally, most children are officially introduced to the “house of God,” a place where God supposedly dwells one way or the other. That house is governed by rules very different from any others; the child is introduced to ritual, to the official behavior he is expected to exhibit there, and to other events in which the encounter with God is socially organized and prearranged.

Education is not, of course, confined to the classroom. The whole manufactured environment that humans create and in which we live is both a record of our ultimate concerns and a silent instructor in constant attendance. Egypt's public environment is swamped with the signifiers of religion: on signs, billboards, murals, advertisements, radio and television programs, public events, the covers of books and magazines for sale on every streetcorner, and in the style of public dress and grooming.[2] The ubiquity of religious messages is one result of a decades-long struggle between the state and the forces of the Islamic “revival,” whose more spectacular manifestations are splashed across the covers of international news magazines and scholarly journals alike under the heading of “fundamentalism,” “fanaticism,” and “extremism.” The rise of political opposition movements has contributed to this deepening hegemony of Islamic discourse and been attributed variously to a primitive mentality, to cynical political manipulations, to the frustration of youth, to the disillusionment of the middle-aged, or to poverty, anti- Western hysteria and the rage bred by political impotence or persecution. But to allow the Islamic Trend (al-tayyar al-islami),[3] in Egypt or elsewhere, to be defined by its most violent or exotic manifestations, is to allow the geopolitical security concerns triggered by the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 1992 Algerian coup to act as a conceptual filter for one's examination of the changing Egyptian religious landscape.

Doing so results in a serious misreading of reality. Sadat's 1981 assassination by the Jihad organization, a continuing series of attacks on government ministers, intellectuals and tourists in the capital, the recent guerrilla insurgency in Upper Egypt and its savage police response, have drawn an enormous amount of international attention. But these are not, arguably, either very typical events, or very important for understanding the Islamic Trend's social origins, manifestations, or long-range significance. Focusing solely on these events is as senseless as to construct a roadmap on which only freeway cloverleafs are drawn, unconnected and isolated from each other by wide blank spaces that mask the smaller but more important routes that bear the mundane commerce of everyday life. Given this, much of Euroamerican popular (and elite) perception of Islamic movements in the Middle East either confuses them for “Islam” itself, or denies that these movements could have arisen except for the operation of entirely pathological processes, as if the freeway cloverleaf were an anomalous knotted inflammation on a seamless plane rather than a regular intersection of rectilinear paths.

Egypt's Islamic Trend, far from being an essentially violent fringe political movement, is pervasive, persistent, and normal, an immense counterculture whose effects on individuals and society do not remain confined to the immediate adherents of specifically political movements and organizations.[4] Its most characteristic manifestations are not unpredictable outbreaks of sectarian violence, bombing conspiracies, or the angry denunciation of creative artists (whether Salman Rushdie or Neguib Mahfouz), but rather the manifold changes it has created in the way educated Egyptians practice, apprehend, and represent their religious heritage. Nevertheless, the Trend's signs are often striking, and even partially quantifiable. Between 1981 and 1987, for example, while the enrollment in arts and humanities faculties at Egyptian universities increased by a total of 8.2 percent overall, the number of students in the Faculty of Islamic Law at al-Azhar increased by 42 percent, and the enrollment at the Faculty of Theology increased by slightly more than 70 percent.[5] Between 1983 and 1986, the number of monthly public sector religious periodicals published in Egypt increased from four to five, but their circulation more than tripled, from 181,000 to 558,000.[6]

At the national universities, student attitudes reflect the extent to which religious questions have become living concerns for educated youth. Dr. Samia al-Khashab's 1988 survey of Cairo University students indicates that they perceive the official religious establishment to be derelict in its duties and ineffective in meeting the religious needs of young people, while being optimistic about the role of private sector religious organizations for fulfilling such needs. Over 80 percent of the 450 students she interviewed (randomly chosen from the university's several faculties) told her that they thought higab (modest dress in which the head and arms are covered) should be required of all Muslim women, and more than half (some estimates range as high as three-quarters) of Cairene women over the age of puberty actually dress this way.[7] More people are praying, more people are reading about Islam and listening to its preachers, more people are discovering consciously the salience of religious ideas and practices to their private and public lives, than did a generation ago.

If we are to make sense of these developments within the institutional context of Egyptian society, we cannot dismiss religious concerns as benighted survivals of earlier social stages, or merely “inflammations” symptomatic of social pathology and political strife.[8] Instead, we must see them as perennial questions that persist in an active manner, adapting and reproducing themselves within and between generations through increasingly complex interactions with institutions and communications media whose own advent was supposed to reduce rather than increase the influence of religious ideas in society. One of these institutions has been compulsory popular schooling. As we saw in the last chapter, the growth of the secular education system in Egypt has encouraged rather than discouraged attachment to Islamic culture, contrary to the expectations of educational theorists who encouraged schooling as a remedy to “traditional” mentalities. The Islamic content of mass schooling is just one aspect of the general process through which Islam and secularism have embraced one another. But it contributes to making that embrace a mutual choke hold that won't allow either to escape again unharmed. On the one hand, every one of the major political parties in the country has been scrambling for the support of the partisans of the religious awakening since it became apparent that catering to religious concerns delivers votes.[9] Once having committed themselves to Islamic rhetoric, it may be difficult for any of them to pull back from promoting an Islamic future for Egypt. On the other hand, the sacred tradition has also committed itself fully to the products and processes of secular life, a retreat from which might be even more threatening. The more firmly entrenched those ideas are in public space, the more difficult it is to dispose of them, and the more pervasive their influence. Islam makes full use of the communications revolution and the industrial economy to manifest itself in every conceivable medium, saturating the physical environment with messages, objects, structures, and signs whose power emerges from the “reciprocation of thought in worked matter, and of worked matter into thought.” [10] Objects and images that become the foci of human interaction evoke enormous social energy, which feeds back into their continued production and elaboration.

In fact, the shape and the sensory content of the public environment is central to the question of how social reproduction is culturally mediated. The Islamic messages in Egyptian public space, including those within the walls of the school, are not merely manifestations or examples of the hegemony of Islamic discourse in Egypt—they are one of the historical and psychological sources of that hegemony. They have created for themselves a public need, which Marx recognized as one of the processes through which goods and their manufacture transform the world:

Production…creates the consumer. Production not only supplies a material for the need, but it also supplies a need for the material.…The object of art—like every other product—creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys beauty.…Thus production produces consumption (1) by creating the material for it; (2) by determining the manner of consumption; and (3) by creating the products, initially posited by it as objects, in the form of a need felt by the consumer.[11]

More recent European sociology recognizes the same processes in family and institutional pedagogy, which “consecrat[e] religious or cultural goods of salvation as worthy of being pursued, and…produc[e] the need for these goods by the mere fact of imposing their consumption.” [12] In other words, education that is aimed at implanting specific beliefs in the minds of the young, such as religious indoctrination in schools, not only creates a specific ideology, but creates the very need for one.[13]

On a practical level, education and technological innovation both widen the influence of public religious messages, expanding the range of individuals who can enter the ideological trade either as producers or consumers. As a result of this, Eickelman has suggested, a “great transformation” is taking place in the way that religious authority is distributed in the Muslim world, as

socially recognized carriers of religious learning are no longer confined to those who have studied accepted texts in circumstances equivalent to those of the mosque-universities, with their bias toward favoring members of the elite.…The carriers of religious knowledge will increasingly be anyone who can claim a strong Islamic commitment, as is the case among many of the educated urban youth. Freed from mnemonic domination, religious knowledge can be delineated and interpreted in a more abstract and flexible fashion. A long apprenticeship under an established man of learning is no longer a necessary prerequisite to legitimizing one's own religious knowledge. Printed and mimeographed tracts and the clandestine dissemination of “lessons” on cassettes have begun to replace the mosque as the center for disseminating visions of Islam that challenge those offered by the state.[14]

Technological innovation helps make ideas that were formerly restricted to the literate directly available to the masses of the nonliterate as well (through audiotapes, television, radio, videotape), after being filtered through intermediaries who select, interpret, and comment upon the ideas that were previously the domain of the specialist. Participation in this mass-media culture is one of the nationalist rituals of the modern age, fulfilling both the communication functions and the group solidarity functions that anthropologists have attributed to ritual of other sorts (it was Hegel, Benedict Anderson informs us, who first identified newspaper reading as a substitute for morning prayers).[15] Particularly in the context of group- and party-sponsored media, the reading of a newspaper can act as a rite of communion as well as a public signal.

But despite the predictions of modernization theorists that the spread of media would hasten the development of a “modern” consciousness in the Middle East by “enlarg[ing] a person's view of the world (“opinion range”) by increasing his capacity to imagine himself in new and strange situations (“empathy”),” [16] it is clear that media exposure can and does act as a powerful tool of propaganda as well, restricting or confirming as easily as broadening one's perspective. The growth of book publishing in the Arab world resulted in, among other things, at least five different editions of the infamous European anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” being available for sale on the streets of Cairo in 1989.[17] The medium is not the only message.

Postmodern Knowledge

Communications media and educational institutions of all types are interactive, not only in the sense that they act together in creating an environment that helps shape us as individuals, but in the sense that each incessantly feeds on the imagery and discourses of the others. As we will see, Egyptian mothers talk about didactic moral stories they have heard on the radio and passed on to their children. School textbooks portray eager parents guiding their youngsters' moral development with the aid of Qur’anic quotations. Television programs interview young children at work memorizing the Qur’an in afterschool programs. Religious scholars trained in the “traditional” atmosphere of al-Azhar issue fatwas (nonbinding legal opinions) on the use of pre- recorded calls to prayer, through the venue of weekly newspaper advice columns.

New communications media and new technologies of intellectual production do not drive out old ones, but merely alter their use and significance, often bolstering older forms on which they depend (as computers depend on printed manuals to explain their function). Even in reinforcing and extending the role of written communication, electronic media also subtly alter the social significance of writing. Once the primary privileged technology of communication, because it requires specialized training for both the producer and the recipient, writing has been bypassed in terms of prestige and ease of control by broadcast (though not, significantly, audio- or videotaped) communication, because the latter requires large capital outlays and technical expertise, thus allowing relatively tight control on production. For the recipient, however, electronic media are far more democratic, obviating the special training needed for reading written or print communications. New media have not replaced old ones, but have merely “complicated everything endlessly.” [18]

Two of these complications are of potential interest. The first is the phenomenon of “secondary orality,” the use of oral communication fostered not by the absence of writing and print (as in societies without written languages), but by the advent of the electronically mediated voice.[19] As Brinkley Messick has shown in a series of works on the culture of writing in Yemen,[20] Islamic scholarship in the Middle East has historically been centered on the importance of authorial presence, meaning that the production of written documents (whether in scholarship or legal practice) has always been secondary to memory, recitation, and the reproduction of the authoritative presence of the human voice. Texts, considered unreliable and ambiguous without human interpreters or witnesses, were byproducts of legal and pedagogical practice rather than their focus. Teaching relied on the oral transmission from master to student of key texts and their commentaries. Writing was seen as an alienation of that relationship, and required living testimony for its validation. As the culture of print communications spread through the Middle East in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this unique relationship had largely been lost, as printed communication—through its status as the voice of the modern state—began to acquire its own unique authority. With the advent of radio, television, audio and video recording, and newer computer technologies, some of the dynamic of oral communication can be recaptured and “appear…to restore presence, which for the alternative advantages of record and durability writing systems had moved away from.” [21] The political effectiveness of taped copies of Ayatollah Khomeini's sermons in immediately prerevolutionary Iran testifies to the power—both logistical and motivational—of technologies that can capture some of the features of oral communication missing in print.[22]

On the eve of the Second World War British colonial officials took new oral media seriously enough to use them consciously—like all governments since—as instruments of rule. In the early days of radio broadcasting in Egypt they quickly recognized the special nature of the new technology, so that in 1939 His Majesty's Ambassador wrote, in a confidential memorandum on the B.B.C.'s Arabic broadcasts, that

I am…inclined to agree with the body of opinion which favours talks on Arab-Muslim history, literature and civilization generally.…The possibilities of educational broadcasts is…immense, but development of the programme on these lines should be cautious and tentative.…Owing to the struggle in the East between the new and the old, between the supporters of Western and Eastern cultures, the Egypto-Arab world is passing through phases of hesitation and complexity, and in this realm we must be cautious not to rush in where even Orientals fear to tread. For instance, it is not to Great Britain's interest to encourage the reactionary obscurantism of the Islamic movement in Egypt encouraged by the Palace and cynical Muslim clerics for obvious political reasons. This movement leads to increased xenophobia and has an adverse effect on Anglo-Egyptian cooperation. Too much pandering…to the Islamic theological and cultural past would be as dangerous as entirely to ignore the aspects of Arab-Muslim history and civilization which appeal strongly even to the “westerners” in the Egypto- Arab world today. In other words, attention should be paid to these aspects of Arab civilization which have a universal appeal and are not in contradiction to the modern Eastern movement towards Western civilization.[23]

Some things have changed little in fifty years. Today, Egyptian film and television producers generally ignore religious issues in most dramatic production, segregating them—with the partial exception of Ramadan programming—into a ghetto of religious chat shows, songs, and televised sermons. But the pedagogical outlook remains much the same. Egypt's director of television film and serial production told Lila Abu- Lughod in 1990 that

Egypt is one of the developing nations and we as a country are very concerned with the cultural education of our people.…Our most important goal in relation to the citizens is to help individuals become cultured. We must educate them, teach them the basics of morality and religious duty. The individual needs direction. He needs information and we need to inculcate the spirit of patriotism, morality, religion, courage, and enterprise. We have found that the best means to reach the individual is through drama. It works like magic.[24]

Part of the magic of this broadcast drama is its portability. Like us, Egyptians carry with them the transistorized machines that relay it, taking their radios to the beach, fixing them in their cars, placing television sets in positions of honor in their homes, offering them like sweets to visiting guests. Like the scattered village kuttabs of the nineteenth century, the infrastructure is in place wherever there are people. Bedouins in the Sinai draw on Saudi radio programs for folklore, news, and for the epic tribal poems they no longer memorize themselves. The same is true of the western desert, where Abu-Lughod's hosts explained, “If you don't tell the stories you forget them. Now that there are radios, we don't tell stories anymore.” [25] Instead, bedouins listen to taped and broadcast Qur’an recitations and Islamic lessons from Cairo or from Arabia, and are drawn—particularly the younger people, even over the opposition and the cynicism of their elders—to the “twin faces of modernity,” secular urban life and the Islamic Trend.[26]

The second complication of the new media is the fact that communications are commodities, and thus enter into the asymmetrical dynamics of market relations, state licensing and control, and popular taste.[27] In his outline of the character of “postmodern knowledge,” Jean-François Lyotard announced that

the relationship of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending…to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities they produce and consume—that is, the form of value. Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its “use-value.” [28]

Though the notion of an altogether devalued and commoditized information is seductive, we are not yet at the point—particularly given our interest in the functionalization of religious knowledge in the Egyptian school—where knowledge has entirely lost its rhetorical and persuasive function, its use value. Politics is not yet wholly subsumed by the market. But Lyotard's suggestion does point toward one of the mechanisms responsible for the dilemma faced by Egypt's political and cultural elites. The operation of a market in cultural goods, information, and knowledge triggers multiple conflicts between it and the state (and the state's “official reproductive institutions” like the school). In capitalist or state capitalist societies, politically sanctioned institutions of cultural reproduction have an interest both in the reproduction of market relations and also in constraining the specific content of cultural products that might threaten established institutions or populations of culture producers.[29] In Egypt, the authority of the ‘ulama, the “traditional” state- trained and subsidized religious scholars, is under threat by a new market-driven economy of religious commodities produced by private sector companies, secular intellectuals (psychologists, lawyers, physicians, and academics), and independent movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and the smaller Islamic groups, which are the political and military vanguard of the Islamic Trend. The state under Mubarak has responded to this new informational economy not by restraining it heavily, but by entering the fray with products carrying the invisible imprimatur of al-Azhar, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs, and subsidiary organizations.[30] Later we will examine some of the political repercussions of this strategy. But we will begin here at the beginning, by sketching the multiple social contexts in which parents and their growing children are treated to stories—verbal, written, or electronic—about Islam.

Religious education participates fully in the urban sprawl of the postmodern world, and thus one of its chief characteristics is its practical decenteredness. Socialization is a diffuse set of processes that has multiple sources, and whose outcomes are as various as the patterns of intersecting ripples in a pond, always moving and changing. This decenteredness is reflected here as a series of vignettes, each situated in a different social arena: the home, the school, the public agency, the holiday celebration, the pages of the newspaper. In presenting these vignettes, I wish less to claim that they are “typical” or representative than to show how they exemplify the rhetoric of moral instruction as developed by Egyptian educators over the last century. We will begin, as Egyptians do, with the family.

Just Like Getting Tall

About the time Egyptian Minister of Education Neguib el-Hilali Pasha was championing a new mode of moral instruction in Egyptian schools, Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman entered the first grade in a public school near her home in Alexandria. Graduating from high school in 1956, the year of the Suez crisis, she left Egypt for the first time to attend university in the United States, first at a large land-grant institution in Indiana, then moving east to take a master's degree at Boston University. Returning to Egypt, she began work as a journalist, then taught in one of the Gulf states for several years before coming back to Cairo to stay. She lives in a worn but comfortable apartment in Giza with her daughter, Nadia (fifteen in 1989), and writes on culture and the arts for various magazines.

Samia calls herself a “committed Muslim,” and wears what is colloquially known as higab, modest dress, although she herself prefers to reserve that term for face-veiling, calling her dress “al-zayy al-islami,” Islamic dress. Like many of Egypt's journalists and intellectuals, she has spent time in prison, the last episode during Sadat's September 1981 roundup of suspected subversives. To this day, she bears gratitude toward the small militant group that assassinated Sadat on 6 October of that year, and still recounts to friends the dramatic story of how the joyous news reverberated down the concrete halls of the women's prison on that day. These days Samia struggles, like other middle-class Egyptians, with the difficult economic climate. She spends a lot of time on the phone with colleagues and editors, discussing meetings, conferences, story deadlines, payment. In the crowded sitting room of her fourth- story flat, she does her writing—by hand—and receives guests, to the sound of the buses rumbling down the street below. She will not shake hands with men but will converse, argue, query, and joke with them about topics as diverse as international politics, women's rights, and the Philips stereo system she just bought while at a conference in Denmark.

I asked Samia about how she herself experienced the history of the school in Egypt in the 1940s, a country still under British military occupation; a country less congested, quieter, but still in the process of making sense of its multiple identities as its foreign and domestic political elites, its indigenous bureaucracy and working classes, and its multinational commercial, technical, and professional establishments fought over the soul of the country. In the 1940s, the high point of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as of the vision of a secular postwar internationalism, was there such a thing as “Islamic education” taught in the schools? “Yes and no,” she replied.

You must understand that in my generation my country was trying to practice European education and European tarbiya [upbringing], thinking that this might be the better way to do it, what they called the modern way. There were some things then that were referred to as frangi or afrangi [foreign]. Like bathrooms, for example. In my house now I have two bathrooms, one afrangi, and one baladi, or local. And the baladi is really more sanitary, you know, because you clean off with water. Buildings that are built nowadays, though, only have afrangi bathrooms. But in my generation, if you did something according to the European way, it was called “à la frangi,” spelled the French way with the “à” and the “la” [i.e., rather than the Arabic ‘ala]. We would never wear very short dresses, of course, or anything without sleeves, but neither did we think of covering our faces or our hair; this was the time when women were taking off their higab, which really refers to the veil over the face, although they now call it niqab. In school we learned the Qur’an and Hadiths, and adab; that's what they called tarbiya islamiyya then. And also at that time, the teacher would tell us that we should cover our heads, but unfortunately nobody heeded her.

During my generation, Islamic education was something obvious. You did it because that was just the only way to raise children. I grew up in a house where I saw my parents fasting and praying, and I learned from that. My parents were raising me without having to say that it was Islamic education. Now, when I'm raising Nadia, I have to be sure that what I'm doing is Islamic. When I was a girl the only alternative was new, and was considered a shame, like wearing sleeveless dresses. My parents still talked about things being permitted [halal] and forbidden [haram]. We weren't allowed to have friendships between men and women. So when my brother's friends, my older brother's friends would come to the house, I would answer the door, because I was just a little girl, but then when we saw who it was I had to make sure that my older sisters had all gone to the back part of the house so they wouldn't be out with these boys. That was the only way.[31]

Her ambivalence about westernized Egyptian and authentic Islamic cultures was expressed in the most fundamental way, by referring to bodily function, disposition, and display. Gender segregation, clothing, hygiene, fasting and prostration are the outward and visible signs of a socially unobjectified Islam that was “the only way.” On one level, her story distinguishes sharply between the public domain of the school (“my country was trying to practice European education and European tarbiya, thinking this might be the better way to do it”) and the private domain of the home (“Islamic education was something obvious. You did it because it was the only way to raise children”). But on another level it invokes the Europeanization that has penetrated quite literally into the most intimate parts of the home. The ambiguity persists in that her own family's standards of dress were contradicted by her teacher, a public functionary who counseled modest dress despite her representing a “European tarbiya.” Changes and conflicts penetrate the public and private spheres indiscriminately and inconsistently.

But clearly the practical assimilation of everyday adab precedes the doctrinal formulations of religion both in the daily activities of the family and in the mind of the child, whose first exposure to life as a Muslim is within the family. Samia's story illustrates in both empirical and in ideal terms the primary importance of parental practices, and the child's imitation, taqlid, in religious socialization. When I asked, she denied that her own daughter Nadia ever asked her specific questions about Islam, because it was such a natural part of the home environment: “This development in her was so natural, it was just like getting tall. Everything was so normal to her, that I never remember discussing anything with her in order to convince her to do something.” [32]

Taqlid, Egyptians say, is the most important agent of religious education in the early years of childhood. Before the age of seven or so, they make little effort to teach children about religious duties or practices; children are portrayed as naturally taking on the habits of their parents.

And of course the children imitate, so that when they see the parents doing prayers, the child will put something over her head and join in naturally. And at the same time you'll be teaching the child right from wrong, and things that are allowed and things that are prohibited. Like sometimes in America you'll make a small pig, as a toy, for example, or have a little pig in a story. But here pigs are forbidden [haram], pigs are dirty, so to pigs you say “ixxs!” We say fil [elephant] instead. I remember once I was telling Nadia a story that I had heard on the radio when I was a child, about an elephant, a frog, and two pigeons. Now, the story goes that the elephant was very cruel, and was destroying the nest of the pigeons, and saying, Oh, I'm going to crush and destroy this nest and destroy you both! But the pigeons escaped, and along with the frog they planned to make revenge. The frog would distract the elephant, and then the two pigeons would come over and peck out both its eyes. But when I got to this part, Nadia screamed and said, “la! la! fil halal! fil halal!” [No, no! Elephants are OK!] So I had to change the end of the story so that the elephant apologized for destroying the pigeon's nest, and in the end the pigeons and the frog forgave him, and Nadia said to me, “ aywa, fil hilw!” [Yeah, elephants are sweet]. We say fil, or we say qutt [cat], because qutt is all right, but kalb [dog], we never use kalb because it's ixxs like the pig. When the child sees a dog in the street, then, they shy away, because they know the dog is haram. So all these things, like knowing what's haram and what's halal, and imitating and prayer, these things are just like learning to walk, it's all learning matter-of-fact, like learning to walk.[33]

“I remember during Ramadan,” another Egyptian writer recalls, “that I would try to fast, my sister and I, in imitation of the grownups, but the truth is that we couldn't hold out for long because we were so young at that time.” [34] Children begin to practice fasting in earnest beginning at age nine or ten, usually for a few days at first, then adding more each year until the age of twelve. For children whose parents also fast on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Sha‘ban and Ragab, the two months before Ramadan, there is extra practice, but “whether children fast at all depends on whether their parents do; some children just never learn to do it.” [35] One Egyptian communist told me that he was having to take care of his four children alone for the first time, during Ramadan 1409 (1989), since his wife was on the ‘umra in Saudi Arabia. He fretted that he was having to be extra careful around the kids now, since the oldest one, at age twelve, was fasting for the first time that year, and he didn't want the boy to know that his father didn't fast. “I think he knows anyway,” he added, shaking his head.[36]

Theoretically, parental influence operates through two separate channels, al-wiratha, “heredity,” and al-tarbiya, “upbringing.” With respect to the former, educated Egyptians believe that the child's inborn nature as a moral being has two sources. The first is its status as a human created by God.

Every child is born ‘ala fitra. There's a famous saying [hadith] of our Prophet—God's peace and blessings upon him—where he says that every child is born ‘ala fitra, with a certain nature, a certain essence, and that essence is Islam. Later, it's the parents that make it Jewish or Christian, or whatever. If the mother is well educated—Islamically, I mean, not in the university—then she's picking up the child and saying “In the name of God” [bismillah], and “thank God” [subhan allah], and when the child burps she'll say “praise be to God” [al-hamdu li-llah], and if it coughs, “I take refuge in God” [a‘uzu bi-llah]. And so the first words that the child hears are about Allah, and Allah is one of the first words the child learns to pronounce, along with mama and baba. And actually, you know that the first words that are supposed to be pronounced into the child's ear after it's born is the first part of the call to prayer [izan]: “God is great, God is great, there is no God but God!” [allahu akbar, allahu akbar, la ilaha illa-llah!]—but very softly, not loud! [“Not through a loudspeaker?” I asked jokingly. “No, not through a loudspeaker!” she laughed].[37]

The second innate source of children's moral character is the unique moral character of the parents, at least part of which is transmitted hereditarily to children.[38] This theme is a favorite of religious writers who encourage young people to select their mates on the basis of personal morality, manners, and knowledge of Islamic duties. The advice, according to these writers, is derived not from the science of genetics, but from the traditionally attested behavior (sunna) of the Prophet, which has been corroborated only recently by modern research in biology and psychology. The most widely cited hadith to this effect is the saying of the Prophet, “Choose for your sperm, for blood will tell.” [39]

This selection that the Messenger of Islam (God's peace and blessings upon him) addressed, numbers among the greatest scientific truths and educational theories of the modern age…for the science of heredity demonstrates that the child takes on the qualities of his parents, moral, physical, and intellectual, from birth.…And when sound hereditary factors are combined in the child with superior upbringing, the child attains the summit of religion and morals, and is exemplary in strength and virtue, well-behaved and noble.[40]

In addition to inherited factors, character is influenced by all the social practices that fall under the heading “ tarbiya.” The word tarbiya is derived from the causative form of the Arabic root rbw (to make or let grow, to raise, rear, bring up, teach, instruct, or breed). Tarbiya differs from ta‘lim because “ ta‘lim just means education, teaching people knowledge. But tarbiya includes upbringing, and raising people to have values and adab. Ta‘lim is included within the meaning of tarbiya.[41] Once the child is born, mothers and fathers bear different types of responsibility toward it, based largely on the child's age. Karim Shafik, a young father in his early thirties, worked in the creative department of an Islamic publishing house near Samia. When I asked him if he used any of the material his company produced in raising his own children, he told me,

My oldest child is only five years old. And I really believe in the division of the child's life into three stages. During the first seven years, the child needs to be free to explore, to look at things and try things without any restrictions. If I gave them things like this, they might be interested in them, and they might not be, but I wouldn't be able to force them on them. During the second seven years, though, that's the time when you start to teach the child right from wrong, and correct from incorrect, and to discipline them and start to get them to pray, and so on. It's really that during the first seven years, the child should be the child of his mother, and she should take care of him and develop an emotional attachment to him, and supervise him as he plays and explores. And that, of course, is why we use women to take care of children in the nursery schools. But during the second seven years the child needs to be the son of his father, and learn things from him in a structured and more serious way.[42]

This three-stage division of childhood derives from a saying of the Prophet, “Play with your son [for] seven [years], then discipline him [for] seven [years], then be his friend [for] seven [years], then give free rein to him.” [43] The hadith is widely quoted in literature on Islamic childrearing, and is recognized by educated people who, even if they don't cite the hadith itself, describe their own childrearing practices in its light. According to educational pundits the age from birth to seven years is “the stage of the cultivation of faith in the human psyche,” [44] before the child is required to master and perform the ‘ibadat (acts of worship). The mother's role in tarbiya is vital since she is the primary caregiver for younger children; it is the father's duty later to teach the child the Qur’an and, at age seven, begin to require him or her to do the daily prayers; this derives from another hadith, “Go through the prayers with your children [at] seven [years], then impose it upon them [at] ten, and separate them in their beds,” the latter referring to the segregation of male and female children before the onset of puberty.[45] “They should start [praying] by age seven,” an elementary school teacher told me, exemplifying this hadith,

That's when the parents should really teach the children—both boys and girls—to pray, and then after they're ten, they should do the prayers on their own, and if they don't, the parent can make them, compel them to do the prayers. But my own children, when they see me doing the prayers, they imitate me, and learn to do the same motions, at a much earlier age than seven, when they're just little. It's the parents' job to be a good model for their children, because then the children will learn by seeing with their eyes and doing the same thing.[46]

School as the House of God

But as we have seen, parental responsibility for the moral education of children is not exclusive, and has in many particulars been assumed by the state. The parents' or community's contribution to socialization has long been recognized as incomplete, as affirmed by the colonial conception of the school as a place designed “to equip the pupil with sufficient knowledge to take care of his own interests in his own station of life.” And since “the school-centered authority of the nation- state” [47] in Egypt revolves around a nucleus of ideas including that of Islamic legitimacy, the school becomes the first, and in some ways the primary, public institution “in which the encounter with God is socially organized and prearranged.”

When I asked an elementary school teacher why schools teach Islam, when that should be the parent's responsibility, she immediately repeated the reasoning of earlier educational theorists who equated religious study with hygiene and civics:

It's a basic subject, like science or English or anything else. Of course it's the responsibility of the parents to teach the kids the most basic things about Islam, like how to pray, and this is right, and this is wrong, and to do this, and not to do that. But beyond that, the school teaches them about it, because not all parents, not all families, can do this, or know enough themselves about the religion.[48]

Apart from the rather general aim of teaching children right from wrong, educational planners in Egypt have more specific political goals for religious study in primary schools, because “the Primary stage is the basic framework for the formation of the personality and ideas of young people [al-shabab], and we need more than anything else to strengthen this framework through true religious education which fortifies them against surges of extremism [al-tatarruf] and epidemic intellectual trends.” [49] As part of the continuing functionalization of the religious tradition, Islamic curricula from the primary level on up have been targeted, since the mid-1980s, at reducing young people's susceptibility to “political Islam,” another shorthand term for the oppositional aspect of the Islamic Trend.

It is here that matters become more complicated, for although there is, in theory, something like a unified curriculum (or at least a single set of approved textbooks), the country had, in the late 1980s, five different kinds of primary schools. Apart from the schools of the foreign communities (where a few Egyptian children attend along with the children of German, British, French, and American expatriates), all satisfy the curriculum requirements of the Ministry of Education, and lead to the conferral of the primary certificate after the fifth or sixth grade.[50] Three types of schools are administered by government agencies: general primary schools are administered by the Ministry of Education, as are the relatively new “experimental language schools,” which teach some subjects in Arabic and others (usually math and science) in a foreign language, generally English or French. Al-Azhar maintains its own system of primary, preparatory, and secondary schools, which feed students into al-Azhar University.[51] Experimental language schools enroll only a tiny number of Egyptian students: in 1986, fewer than twenty-four thousand at all educational levels from the primary through secondary grades. Significantly, the al-Azhar system has continued to expand more rapidly than the general primary system during President Husni Mubarak's tenure in office; the number of al-Azhar primary institutes increased by 85 percent, and the number of students by 125 percent, in the six years after Sadat's death.

Enrollment in primary education is extensive but not universal in Egypt. The Egyptian Fertility Survey, based on information collected between 1976 and 1979, indicated that 75 percent of Egyptian children (63 percent of girls and 88 percent of boys) of primary school age were actually enrolled in school. Between 1976 and 1986, the population between ages five and fourteen increased by almost a third, while the number of pupils enrolled in primary schools increased by nearly half due to an energetic program of school-building and promotion. Unfortunately, the rate of increase in the number of students has been nearly double the rate of increase in the number of schools and classrooms, leading to a steady increase in average class size and the institution of split shifts in schools around the country. The government has claimed, dubiously, that over 96 percent of eligible students are enrolled in primary school.[52] Most studies show wide disparities in enrollment between boys and girls, between urban and rural areas, and between Upper and Lower Egypt.

Finally, there are private schools. Unfortunately, statistics are not published regularly on Egypt's more than sixteen hundred private schools, which are under the nominal supervision of the Ministry of Education. Often criticized for their high costs and occasionally nontraditional curricula (some private schools offer subjects like horseback riding or Montessori-type programs),[53] private schools are popular with Egyptian families who can afford to pay for a higher quality of education than that available at most public schools. Property owners, businessmen, military officers, and government officials are particularly likely to enroll their children in private schools, and even minor public sector employees will make extra sacrifices to scrape together tuition money. Charging tuition ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds per year, private primary schools in Egypt are often language schools, offering part of their curricula exclusively in foreign languages, like the government's experimental language schools. Some of them also offer costly training that public institutions cannot afford, like computer literacy courses from very early grades. Though private schools follow the Ministry of Education's curriculum, administer standard tests, and are regularly inspected by governorate-level educational bureaucrats, they are exempt from the public school's requirement that they hire only members of the teacher's union, that is, people with degrees in education. Many private school teachers are only secondary school graduates, or have university degrees from science, arts, or commerce faculties.

The Nasr Language School

The history of the school represents a routinization of institutional charisma. Historically, and from the perspective of social planners, the school is a unique tool for the achievement of social equilibrium, political progress, and prosperity. But from the perspective of its clients, it is either an important status granting institution or an unremarkable and sometimes unavoidable staple of the life cycle. Because local ministerial oversight and the worldwide culture of schooling both limit the range of variation, the reestablishment of a tradition of private schooling has done little structurally to differentiate the public from the private school, either in Egypt or anywhere else. The differences between public and private sector institutions in Egypt lie primarily in funding level, while the differences between individual institutions depend upon the background, energy, and commitment of owners, principals, and staff. Their gatekeeping function ensures that a single accepted model of education characterizes both public and private schools. But private schools have a marginal advantage over public in preparing students for success on state examinations and in private sector hiring. In an ironic twist stemming from the fiscal and logistical problems of extending state primary education universally, private sector efforts have gained back the prestige that state schools once enjoyed over unstandardized, unlicensed kuttabs.

The Nasr Language School in the eastern suburb of Masr al-Gadida occupies a three-story 1940s-vintage villa at the intersection of two quiet, tree-lined streets, across from a tiny bookstore and a Mercedes-Benz repair shop. In 1988–89, Nasr was owned by Mme. Hala Sharif, the tall, elegant, chain-smoking wife of a senior official in the Ministry of Defense. She had inherited the property from her father but had never lived there, so when, in the mid-1970s, her husband began traveling outside of Egypt as a military attaché, she rented the villa on a long-term lease to a man she assumed was planning to live there himself. After returning to Egypt in 1986, she found that the renter had turned the building into a private primary school, and when the lease expired she faced the choice of buying the school from him, or moving him out entirely and facing the expense of reconverting the villa into a residence. Though she had never run a school, she did have some business experience, and decided to make a go of it.

Like the owner of a private company, the principal of an Egyptian private school is its absolute master, answerable only to the inspectors who visit from the Ministry of Education to check the books and year- end grade sheets. The teachers at Nasr, without degrees in education, and thus not eligible to join the national Teachers Union, were employed entirely at her discretion, a fact that was to cause a great deal of trouble some months after my first visit. Two weeks before the 1989–90 school year was to start, Mme. Hala, tired of being a school principal and contemplating a move overseas, sold the school to a pious electrical engineer, who summarily fired all of the teachers because the school was an English language school and none of the teachers had degrees in English. Though still collecting their pay—the younger teachers made between £E 70 and £E 150 ($28 to $60) a month—until new teachers could be hired, the former staff were eligible for none of the social security benefits available through membership in the Teachers Union, and feared that they would be without any employment for the coming year. The new owner himself had no previous school administration experience but was intensely interested in education and had spent the previous few years studying the subject in his spare time.

The facility he bought worked well enough. While Mme. Hala owned the school, sun porches and bedrooms had been converted into classroom space. The sitting room was now the principal's office and the wide hallway at the foot of the staircase provided display space for children's artwork. A former walled garden now served as a dusty playground and assembly yard where children began the school day with a civic ritual imported a century ago by the British: physical education in the form of military drill.[54] Each morning the age- and size-graded ranks of children marched in place while saluting the flag and singing a shrill version of the national anthem, “My Country,” followed by a pledge of allegiance and the rhythmic chanting of “Gum-huriyya—Masr al-Arabiyya! Gum-huriyya—Masr al-Arabiyya!” (A-rab Repub-lic of E—gypt!)

For most grades, religion was taught every other day, alternating with Arabic. Mme. Mona Hamdi taught the fifth, third, and second grade religion classes. In her mid-forties, she was one of the older Muslim teachers, and the only one who did not cover her hair, which she wore in a short permanent. Her small fifth grade class—thirteen girls and two boys—met in a tiny room built from a converted porch, with a green corrugated fiberglass roof. The space was separated from the large fourth grade class next door only by a row of rust-colored wooden shutters. There was room for ten low two-pupil desks arranged one behind the other on either side of an aisle only slightly more than a foot wide. Strips of wallpaper with drawings of wide-eyed children and posters made from newspaper clippings about the president shared the walls with Arabic translations of Disney comic books suspended by the crease over strings tacked into the plaster. Behind the teacher's desk a poster diagrammed the heart in red and blue magic marker; a section of wall between two sets of shutters bore a carefully hand-drawn map of Egypt in black, and some posters illustrating simple English sentences: “What is this for?” “It is for sugar.”

I first visited Nasr in Ramadan 1409 (April 1989), and the students were already familiar with the material. Some of the children had memorized their entire books in preparation for year-end examinations. Teachers spent class time going back over material that had been learned, having children read aloud, either alone or in unison, correcting their pronunciation, asking questions and expounding upon points raised in the lesson. Mme. Mona talked to the children about Ramadan. She followed the outline of the book, but added points, freestyle, as they occurred to her: Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an descended from heaven, but the Qur’an was written down only later, during the time of the Caliph ‘Uthman, although the number of daily prayers had been fixed by the Prophet Muhammad after his journey through the seven heavens.

“Who has to fast during Ramadan?” she asked suddenly. Students shot their hands up and clamored to answer. For some of them, this was the first year during which they themselves were fasting. A girl rose and replied that the sick do not need to fast, nor do travelers. Mme. Mona nodded, adding rapidly that pregnant women and the insane do not fast either, and asking the class, “What are the pillars of Islam?” After another student replied, she had the entire class repeat them again in unison. “Who can tell me about the zakat? ”Another girl stood and said that it is money paid by all Muslims for the support of the poor and the needy, the collectors of the alms themselves and for recent and potential converts to Islam, for the freeing of slaves, for aiding debtors and those who do good works for God and country, and for indigent travelers. Mme. Mona reminded students about the percentage due on different categories of property, and that the money was due before the celebration of the ‘Id al-Fitr, otherwise it is not considered zakat.

At the teacher's command, the class stood and read from the textbook Qur’anic sura 78, or “The good news,” forty beautifully rhyming verses on the structure of creation, earth, hell, and heaven; the afterlife's reward for the faithful and the horrible fate of those who do not fear God but instead argue vainly against the notion of an eventual resurrection and judgment. After the reading Mme. Mona talked about al-hisab (the accounting or reckoning of deeds) and al-jiza’ (God's recompense to humans based on their actions). Qur’an readings were performed without tajwid (rhythmic cantillation), consistent with the modern practice of “reading without the rocking, and in a very simple manner” (see p. 69). In the fourth grade class, two or three of the boys rocked slightly when reading the Qur’an, a skill acquired either at home or from extracurricular study at a mosque or kuttab.

During the next recitation, this one from the text itself, the students stood individually to read, the teacher stopping them every few words to explain a difficult vocabulary item, expound on the point being made, or recapitulate the text. Well-worn books had passages underlined and extra voweling marks added by the children themselves, although well over half the words were already at least partially voweled (written and printed Arabic consists of consonants only, with voweling diacritics above and below the letters customarily added only in Qur’anic and other texts where ambiguity cannot be allowed). Some students in the second grade class were using textbook editions from previous years, hand-me-downs from older brothers and sisters; this can make life difficult for the student who is told to turn to page 40 and read the story of Isma‘il, only to find that in his copy the story begins on page 54. (Students are not alone in recycling books; the government does the same, removing the covers for reuse—the cover of my copy of the seventh grade religious studies textbook was the inside-out cover of a 1984 vocational crafts workbook—and sending the texts themselves off for use in the Sudan.)

During readings, Mme. Mona corrected mistakes in voweling only. Although education in Egypt is supposedly conducted in fusha (Modern Standard Arabic, the formal descendant of the Qur’an's classical Arabic), there are few Egyptians, even adults, who can consistently avoid colloquial pronunciation when reading aloud. Even when reciting the Qur’an, for example, consonants retain their colloquial pronunciations when there are equivalent words in local dialect, so jism (body) is gism and dhanb (sin) is zanb. With the letter qaf in words such as Qur’an, qal (he said), iqra’ (recite) or khalaqa (he created), which are important and often repeated in the shorter suras that children learn early, pronunciation usually retains its classical value when the Qur’an is read or recited, but pronunciation is inconsistent otherwise, sometimes shifting to a glottal stop in reading from the textbook proper. Perhaps one student in ten uses the classical pronunciation most of the time when reading aloud. In general, girls are far more fluent readers than boys in the same class.

About halfway through the text, the squawk of a loudspeaker on a nearby building broke into the lesson with the noon call to prayer. The fifth grade classroom was generally quite noisy, both because of the large fourth grade class next door, muted only by the wooden shutters, and from the noise of the younger children from the kindergarten playing out in the yard on the other side. But the call to prayer disrupted work entirely, and the class sat quietly, waiting for it to end. Mme. Mona tapped her foot softly. One girl in the front row held her hands out close in front of her with palms upward just below the chin (as if cradling a small open book), in an attitude of prayer, but after a little while she looked about surreptitiously and, noticing that none of her classmates was doing likewise, put her hands back in her lap. The class endured the idhan with the same resigned patience of teachers and students waiting for the end to the principal's squawk-box announcements in an American homeroom. Mme. Mona made no attempt to encourage her students actually to heed the call to prayer, although all of them were old enough to be compelled. (She could not have led the prayers herself in any case, as, ironically, the male children in the room would have been entitled to that duty before her. At some schools, provision is made for daily prayer, with an interior courtyard doubling as a play yard—complete with basketball hoops—and as a misalla, an open place for prayer. One section of the inner wall might be lined with porcelain sinks and faucets for performing the ablution (wudu’), and used also by school custodians for water for mopping floors.)

The reading resumed shortly, and when it was done Mme. Mona instructed her class to turn to page 78 of their texts and read aloud the story of the prophet Joseph, which lasted until the end of the period. During this reading the teacher was getting tired. It was after noon during the first week of Ramadan, when people were still struggling to adjust to the new schedule. She took her seat after standing up for most of the class period, propping her left elbow on the scarred green desk and resting her cheek in the palm of her hand, looking bored. From this position she continued asking questions, instructing the readers when to switch, correcting pronunciation. By 12:15 the pupils were getting restless and impatient for the class to end. One of the girls at the desk in front of me kept checking the next page in the book to see when the story would be over.

Children in the lower grades were more boisterous, due in part to their age and to the larger size of the second, third, and fourth grade classes, and in part to the fact that some of the fifth-graders were tired from fasting for the first time. In Mme. Mona's second grade class, the children competed with each other for who could shout the Qur’an louder during collective readings, forcing a teacher from the adjoining room to come in and complain about the volume. Children jumped to their feet with their arms raised, yelling (in English), “Miss! Miss! Miss!” when she asked a question. The passing of notes earned one student a stern rebuke, “‘eeb!” (shame!); another got his ear twisted for laughing, and a third prompted the exasperated Mme. Mona to scold, “haza hissa-ddin!” (This is a religion class!) In the meantime, she quizzed them on the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad and they read the story of Isma‘il out loud.

Students are taught, in religion class as elsewhere, to memorize and to perform. As in American classrooms, the better students are keenly competitive when it comes to currying the teacher's favor and answering questions, and the poorer students try to avoid being chosen to read, recite, or answer. Ahmad, one of the brighter students in Mme. Fayza's large fourth grade class was particularly energetic; after he had shouted out the answers to three of the teacher's last four questions, she called on Hisham, the student sitting in the row behind him to answer the next one, about how many rak‘as (repetitions of the ritual cycle of body movement and recitation) occur in each of the five daily prayers. When Hisham hesitated and began stammering, Ahmad turned half-way around in his seat and crouched down with his face almost resting on Hisham's desk, whispering the answer insistently to his classmate (“the fajr has two, the dhuhr has four…”) and fidgeting in an effort to contain his frustration at not being able to continue displaying publicly his mastery of the material.

Islam Outside the Religion Class

The shape of the formal religion curriculum does not exhaust the religious content of the school day. Obviously the amount of religion to which students are exposed at school depends on the nature of the school and the personality of the teacher, who can encourage or discourage religious expression on the part of pupils. The first grade religion teacher at Nasr, for example, insisted that pupils begin all of their answers to questions with the basmallah, “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” a practice ignored by the other instructors (at some schools, pupils are taught to begin all written communication, even telephone messages, with the basmallah). On my second visit to Nasr, the arts and crafts teacher, Mme. Fatima, started talking to me about my studies, and we spent a little while talking about which mosques I had visited. Suddenly a dreamy look came across her face and she beckoned me to lean down toward her, whispering in my ear, “Sayyida Nefisa!” She closed her eyes and nodded. “When I'm not feeling well, I go to Sayyida Nefisa.” Then she asked if I had been to the mosque of al-Rifa‘i (a large, airy structure rebuilt near the beginning of this century, al-Rifa‘i is the final resting place of the founder of an important Sufi order and, coincidentally, of the late King Faruq and his family, and Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran). When I said I had, she put her left hand to her breast and drew in a deep breath to indicate the emotional power of the place. A muhaggaba (a woman who wears modest Islamic dress) in her early fifties, Mme. Fatima's piety emerged in the activities of her pupils. Religious themes often suffuse her students' art projects, which hang on bulletin boards in the first- floor hallway: a watercolor painting of six or seven men praying in a mosque; several paintings prominently featuring mosques and minarets (by themselves or in the context of other Egyptian landmarks); paintings of the ‘arusa al-mawlid—a kind of sugar doll that has for centuries been distributed to Egyptian children at the time of the Prophet's birthday—posted outside the front door of the school; a tiny weaving spelling “Allah” in light blue yarn on a background of yellow, red, and green; a sheet of paper with pistachio-nut shells glued to it to spell “Allahu akbar” (God is great); and another spelling just “Allah,” with shells individually wrapped in aluminum foil, surrounded by four leaf-shaped decorations from the same material. Posted high on the wall of the second grade classroom, an art-class poster depicted a sturdy tree with its five branches labeled for the “qawa‘id al-islam al-khamis” (the five foundations of Islam).[55]

Islam does not respect disciplinary boundaries. It enters the curriculum in areas entirely removed from questions of language or history. In primary school science texts, sections dealing with the animal kingdom treat the close fit between animals and their surroundings implicitly as the result of design rather than evolution. The authors place science both in a religious context, where scientific activity reveals and fulfills God's design (since He gave senses and reason to human beings), and in a nationalistic context in which science, as a force for economic and political progress, helps elevate the status of its Arab practitioners. The introduction to the 1988–89 sixth grade text Science, for experimental language schools (written in English by Egyptians for the Ministry of Education) reads in part,

We have also cared for a number of educational targets as to exel [sic]the role of the scientists in serving science and specifically the arab scientists. We also study how to take care of the organs of sensation and the nervous system, and how to keep the whole body healthy. Then we show that the progress, un [sic] man's life and in the discovery of the secrets of this universe, is a gift of God. This makes us praise and glorify the creator. Finally, the success of this programme in schools depends on the teacher's constructive role, and his sincere efforts to help this, and future generations, in their search for knowledge. May God grant success.

Other primary school materials, like reading books, have long contained Qur’anic verses and prophetic sayings. Under its current head, Husayn Kamal Baha’al-Din, the Ministry of Education has been seen as secularizing the curriculum by reviewing the religious content of general education textbooks. But such reviews are of long standing. In late March 1989, for example, press reports began to circulate that the Ministry of Education had ordered the omission of certain verses and traditions from reading books. The resulting outcry from some sectors of the religious and educational establishments, concerned that the connection between the Arabic language and its classical roots was being breached, forced Dr. Ahmad Fathy Surur, then minister of education,[56] to convene hastily a “High Islamic Commission” to consult on the inclusion of Islamic materials in reading texts at all levels. Led by Egypt's mufti, or chief religious official, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi,[57] along with the former minister of religious endowments, the general counsel of the Arabic Language Academy, the director of the Office for the Preservation of the Glorious Qur’an at al-Azhar, and others, this commission was to aid “students at all levels with the acquisition of linguistic proficiency, and the deepening of values and morals and sound perspectives based on the choice of verses and traditions that help plant commendable values without being tied to doctrines and rituals.” [58] After several weeks, the mufti and the minister of education appeared on television to explain and justify the proposal. The verses and traditions in question were merely to be moved to the religion books, explained the Mufti, leaving in the reading books only those “pointing to values shared by all religions, such as honesty, for example.” In reaction, the Islamic press linked the proposed changes to the mufti's acknowledged efforts to combat extremism in the schools through curriculum changes, and speculated about the source and timing of the decision to remove some Islamic material from reading texts:

We haven't heard that the doctrinal and ritual verses in the books under study—from the viewpoint of their safety—have led to grievous accidents or deaths or the spread of epidemics and diseases, or even factional strife. But it appears that [outside] agencies bent on interference [have chosen] this of all times to set this process in motion. It's obvious that these are the same agencies that fund and direct notions of educational procedure at the present time, and their domestic allies. A short time ago we heard a high official laud an American aid foundation which furnished the government in recent years with school buildings, opening a [new] school every day. This is the same foundation that funds elementary education programs and provides them with maps carrying the name of the Zionist Entity [Israel]. Perhaps they and other agencies have begun to disburse money for schoolbooks and curriculum preparation…having as a result that this foundation could specify conditions on the content of these books, and naturally these specifications wouldn't be Islamic.[59]

Continuing to criticize the government books, al-Sha‘b, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party, and one of the major outlets for the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, printed a photograph of one of the illustrations in the second grade reading textbook, showing a male schoolteacher acting as the imam of his class during prayer. Standing in the second position of the first rak‘a of prayer (in which the individual recites selections from the Qur’an, with head bowed and hands clasped at the waist), the imam and his class were depicted with their left hands covering their right, when in truth the right hands should be covering the left. The drawing thus inverted a gesture of prayer (probably the result of reversing one of the photographic negatives during the preparation of the books). Attributing the reversal to malice rather than mere incompetence, the paper charged that “the alleged curriculum development proclaimed by the Ministry of Education has turned into a mockery of legitimate doctrines and their violation; it's not development, but an organized plan to obliterate the Islamic nature of our society.” [60]

Incidents like this one demonstrate the extent to which the public school system is identified by Egyptians—including the Islamic opposition—as the primary public force in the reinforcement and transmission of Islamic culture. It eclipses all other institutions, programs, and facilities, including the mosque, the home, radio and television broadcasting, and print in the importance attributed to it as a publicly directed Islamizing force. There are two reasons for this. First, it is the only institution in which the participation of all citizens is compelled by law. Although the literacy rate in Egypt is below 50 percent and enrollment is by no means universal—in 1979, 28 percent of males and 61 percent of females between twenty and twenty-four years of age had never been enrolled in school at all—the school still represents the most widely utilized public service in the country, consuming an enormous portion of the government's annual budget. Having a captive audience, the school represents an ideal laboratory for social engineering, particularly if the knowledge imparted to children is taken home to their families.[61] But it also represents, in itself, the nation and the idea of national social, economic, and technical progress. Although the Ministry of Education operates with some independence from—and with some influence over—the religious ministries and the official religious elite, it is charged with a religious function and by that token is open to criticism and to political influence by groups who feel the focus of its religious curricula is inappropriate. Few would have the ministry relinquish its role as a purveyor of Islam. Its influence and its influenceability are too valuable.

Second, schooling is invested with great personal emotion by parents and students. As one of the primary rationers of social status, schools are sorting machines that separate individuals into socially validated status categories based on the type of school certificate earned. For those lower in the social scale, schooling represents a genuine and highly valued means of upward mobility. Umm Samira, the cleaning woman who worked in my apartment, was terribly anxious and preoccupied on the final day of her daughter's preparatory school exams because the subject was the one that she was dreading most: science. She told me how much she wanted Samira to get good marks on the tests so that she could get into general secondary school, because with a high school diploma she could “do anything, work in a bank, or an office, ” whereas with a diblum (preparatory certificate) only, the best she could hope for would be “shughl basit bi-murattab basit” (simple work for simple pay). If she passed the high school test after three years, her mother concluded, she could go on to university and become a doctor, a businessperson, or anything else: “That's the way up.” [62] In the end, Samira's scores were not high enough to qualify her for general secondary school, and since her family was unable to afford a private tutor (widely assumed to be indispensable for success on examinations), it was unlikely that she would be able to pass the tests on a second try. Her score was good enough, however, to enroll her in one of the commercial institutes that would teach typing, business arithmetic, and supplementary skills that would qualify Samira to work, for example, as a shop-girl at a salary of £E 50/month (about $20).

The motivation to acquire education as a mark of status, even independent of actual financial rewards, invests subjects with a visceral importance they would not otherwise have. It leads to constant reexamination and criticism of curricula from all sides, since everyone has an interest in the operation of status-conferring institutions. On the one hand, the religion curriculum is touted by the government as a “basic subject” that must be mastered by all in an attempt to preserve, if not raise, the general moral level of society. On the other hand, it is chided from all positions on the political spectrum as being incomplete, intentionally corrupting, or vacuous. Wafa’i Isma‘il, a recent American University in Cairo graduate whose family supports the Wafd, an opposition party associated historically with landowners and businessmen, dismissed the entire religion program in the schools as hollow.

They [religion classes] didn't affect me at all. Not one bit. It's just another subject that you learn for the test and then forget afterward. Besides, nobody listens to anything the government says. The NDP [National Democratic Party] has to make everybody think that it's so big and powerful and has so much support, but really it's nothing.…The books they give you in school, they don't say anything. It's like, who sends the light in the morning? It's God. Really nothing.

When I asked him why, if nobody listens to what the government says, they spend so much time and effort saying it, he waved his hand and sneered, “Because, I mean, they're aiming at people who don't know anything.” [63] This is, of course, precisely the point. Even for people who do “know something,” the most useful communication is that whose source is forgotten, so that it becomes something one feels one has always known, something it is pointless, trite, and annoying to restate. Far from being unaffected by the religious curricula of the schools he attended, Wafa’i absorbed an enormous amount from them, but regards the information either as false, as self-evident, or as misdirected. “Learning,” according to Bourdieu, “is an irreversible process…and the habitus acquired at school conditions the level of reception and degree of assimilation of the messages produced and diffused by the culture industry.” [64] The information and mental habits developed during the school career render students influenceable at subsequent stages in their lives, able to recognize and participate in the official discourses of Islam.

Reviving the Kuttab

The government's responsibility for religious education does not end at the back cover of the twelfth-grade religious studies textbook. Among other things, the Ministry of Education is charged by the Constitution and by Law no. 139 of 1981 with the inculcation of religion in Egypt's youth. In a country where Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic its official language, this means that some special attention must be devoted to the Qur’an, the source of both. Proclaiming that “religious education is a basic subject in all educational stages,” and specifying the passing score in religion examinations, Law no. 139 requires the Ministry of Education to “organize periodic competitions for recital of the Holy Qur’an; and winners are to be given awards and incentives according to the system to be established by the Higher Council of Education.” [65] Various schemes for encouraging Qur’an memorization and recitation outside the classroom have been proposed, including the notion of reviving kuttabs. But the Ministry of Education has not been eager to involve itself in the construction of new kuttabs, instead searching for other ways to encourage and facilitate Qur’an memorization. In September 1989, ‘Atif ‘Amir, an Islamic education expert at the ministry, submitted a proposal detailing a “new, evolved approach to the work of the kuttabs, which were widespread not so long ago, and had positive effects on the educational process.”

The project would use existing Ministry of Education facilities, which are “the appropriate place for the study and memorization of the Glorious Qur’an.” Recommending that Qur’an programs be run during summer vacation, with volunteer teachers and students receiving small monthly fees, ‘Amir pointed out that “there exists within the Ministry the technical apparatus for the pursuit and supervision of the project in an advanced, scientific manner, since it is fully provided with the modern equipment and media for the inculcation of the Qur’an and its public recitation by audio-visual means.” [66] In sharp contrast to the historical drive to secularize kuttabs because of the allegedly harmful cognitive effects of reliance on memorization, plans such as this seek to revive the subject matter while altering the venue or the methodology of inculcation. The use of modern technology to pursue a traditional goal would allow the ministry to cater to the desires of the pious while avoiding criticism that its teaching techniques are outmoded.[67] Other intellectuals ignore the methodology and focus instead on the psychological and social benefits of Qur’an memorization, linking it with the domains of personal success and international economics rather than technology. In a newspaper interview, Dr. Rushdie Fakkar, an Egyptian professor of psychology at Muhammad V University in Morocco, attributed his success at the Sorbonne to having learned the Qur’an as a child in the small village of Karnak in Upper Egypt, crediting the linguistic skills he learned in the kuttab with the subsequent ease with which he picked up European languages. “Egypt is in need of an educational revolution,” he said, “and it's necessary that a system of kuttabs for the memorization of the Holy Qur’an returns to her, for our real crisis has to do with the poverty of education, and it must restore principles and substance to the child's mind in order [for the child] to become an Egyptian person able to compete in the twenty-first century.” [68] Invoking competition, development, and the future, such language recalls the Egyptian Second Five- Year Plan's linkage of individual and social achievement (see p. 86). But it approaches the problem differently, implying that the state's interventions are powerless without the revival of an institution that is emphatically not one of the achievements of the modern age.

In fact, the establishment of pre-school and after-school kuttabs and youth organizations has been one of the primary strategies used by the Ministry of Religious Endowments to revive Qur’an study. During the official Ramadan speeches in 1989 that marked Laylat al-Qadr, the anniversary of the descent of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, President Mubarak announced at the al-Ahmadi mosque in Tanta that he was earmarking one million Egyptian pounds for Qur’an memorization and study, an activity which, according to Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, the minister of religious endowments, “is the guardian of Youth against deviance and extremism” (al-‘asim li al-shabab min al-inhiraf wa al-tatarruf).[69] This money was targeted for the construction of new kuttabs in Egypt's smaller villages and cities, beginning in the governorates of Qalyubiya, Daqahliya, and Minufiya, an effort to which the popular preacher Shaykh Muhammad Mutawalli Sha‘rawi later pledged a million pounds.[70]

Clubs and Contests

Just a few days after the celebration in Tanta, Mahgub announced that he had authorized “a plan to revive and popularize kuttabs in every Egyptian Governorate,” placing the project under the supervision of the ministry's counselor for Qur’anic affairs, who was already leading activities designed to strengthen Islamic culture among Egyptian children. As the president of the Muslim Family Association and the Little Muslim Club (nadi al-muslim al-saghir), the counselor, Mr. Marzuq Hilal, helped direct the religious education of the latter organization's six thousand members. Founded for “the Islamic preparation of the little Muslim from many angles, the cultural, the social, and the educational,” the club published a monthly illustrated magazine, The Little Muslim, with articles on science, nature, history, geography, and literature as well as religious topics (proper Qur’an recitation; stories of the prophets; a column of fatawa, the judgments of a religious scholar responding to children's letters). It organized field trips to historic Islamic sites, and had an Islamic theater troupe that performed scenes from the life of Muhammad and from Islamic history. But the club's main activity was encouraging study of the Qur’an and hadith, “especially those which teach the child Islamic conduct”; it organized an annual Qur’an recitation competition, the prize total for which reached twenty-two thousand Egyptian pounds ($8,800) in 1988, and whose winners could compete in the annual competition sponsored by the Ministry of Religious Endowments during Ramadan, or the annual World Competition in Mecca.[71]

Created to draw attention to the virtues of soup mixes and candy, the lure of cash and the creeping thrill of competition and chance has made such contests (musabqa or musab’a) increasingly popular devices for attracting public attention and participation. Quite substantial prizes and sums of money can be involved. In late May 1989, for example, the Supreme Council for Population and Family Planning sponsored a contest on family planning information, which it advertised in the religious weekly al-Liwa’ al-islami and other government newspapers. Ads invited readers to answer five simple questions—including one concerning the divine sanction for family planning—to qualify for cash prizes ranging from £E 15 to £E 1000 (up to $400, several times the monthly salary of most public sector employees).[72] In the Ministry of Religious Endowments's annual Qur’an competition, the 339 prizewinners were granted all-expenses-paid pilgrimages to Mecca for the hajj or ‘umra pilgrimages, and cash prizes ranging from £E 200 to £E 1000, depending on how much of the Qur’an they had committed to memory.[73] Local and regional contests are held throughout the year on the occasion of national holidays. The previous February a seven-year-old Nubian boy had been honored by the governor of Aswan for his memorization of the entire Qur’an. His prize was the deed to an apartment worth £E 18,000, donated by the Construction Bank of Aswan.[74]

Social Service Agencies and Charitable Organizations

If these competitions treat the internalization of the Qur’an as a rare feat of personal enrichment, an embellishment of manners and of personal refinement, other institutions treat it as part of the social safety net, to be provided along with pension checks and low-cost medical treatment. Public and semipublic social service agencies and private charitable organizations are proliferating in Egypt, which now has as many registered Private Voluntary Associations as all other Arab countries combined.[75] Some of Cairo's larger private mosques in well-to-do areas, such as Anas Ibn Malik and Mustafa Mahmud, both in Muhandisin, have large and well-established social service agencies administered and funded privately (some also receive grants from foreign governments, both Muslim and non-Muslim, for specific programs). These might include free medical clinics for the poor, equipped with expensive high-technology diagnostic and treatment devices, adult literacy training programs, Qur’an memorization and religious study groups, youth programs, kindergartens, and other social services such as counseling, charitable distribution, and so on. During clinic hours scores of people, many of whom have traveled for hours on buses, come to take advantage of the services provided. Organized religious study programs, which take place in the evenings, are offered at a number of levels.

Less impressive public social service centers are heavily utilized as well, offering the distribution of social security payments to the elderly and disabled, maternal and child welfare, care for the aged, vocational training and family planning. The number of such multiple-service “social care societies” increased by over a third in the early 1980s, to nearly three thousand. While the average multipurpose public center only provides two or three of the programs mentioned above, some offer all of them, and more than three-quarters offer “cultural, education and religious services,” the category including Qur’an memorization. Almost 40 percent of the nearly six thousand single-purpose public centers specialize in cultural and religious outreach.[76]

Like other government buildings, public and ruling party–sponsored social service centers are coated inside and out with the signifiers of benevolent authority, heightening the irony of the statement such facilities make about the depth of the country's economic malaise and bureaucratic inertia. Huge images of the president in bold billboard colors compete with immense green handpainted signs advertising Qur’an memorization, family planning, child care, vocational education, and sports programs for youth, sanctioned with the seal of their Ministry of Social Services registration numbers. Glossy presidential photographs usher clients past gray rooms full of sewing machines or ping-pong games popping in time to the car horns outside. At the ruling National Democratic Party-sponsored Gam‘iyya al-Rahman li-ri‘aya al-usra (The Rahman Society for Family Care), near the Presidential Palace complex in downtown Cairo, the assistant director outlined the center's mission.

This is a lower middle-class and lower-class neighborhood, with a lot of children, and the parents often need help with the care and education of the kids, as well as being in need of some of our services themselves. So we have a nursery for children from 3–6 years of age; not so many during the summer—we've got thirty or forty here now—but during the year we may get 80 or 90 kids every day, in four different sessions. We try to teach them the alphabet, and the names of animals, and things like this, and also, for example, simple words in English, like the numbers, and animal names, just so they have a sense of sounds outside their own language. For the older children who are already in school, we have some other things to supplement their education, because often after several years in school they still can't read or write, because there are just too many children in each room and some of them get lost or ignored, and don't learn anything.

As for the workshop, there are lessons in sewing, and operation of some kinds of sewing machines, so that when they grow up and go to work in a factory, they'll know how to do this kind of thing. There's a family planning program, too, but the flow in and out of there isn't steady. Sometimes the people there will sit all day with nobody coming in, and then suddenly there will be five or six women coming in saying that they want to stop having children—they're twenty-five and already have four or five kids.

Now, the reason we have the Qur’an memorization program, is because we want these people to know about both this world and the next [ad-dinya wal-’akhir], so we bring in responsible people from the universities to teach them about religion. If there are Christian kids, we find someone to teach them about Christianity, but most of the children are Muslim. In this program, the students are mostly very young: from four or so all the way up to, maybe, fifteen. It's very important, because the love of religion brings the whole world together.[77]

The society's Qur’an program in the mosque next door used one of the scores of earnest, emaciated student shaykhs that al-Azhar sends out each summer to teach at the city's social service agencies as part of the university's summer outreach campaign.[78] An hour before midday prayers the shaykh gathered his students in the mosque (built around 1910, the assistant director joked with me, it was “older than America”) and distributed copies of the Qur’an from a small table next to the mosque's library. The library was actually a glass-domed bookcase full of dusty volumes on sunna and hadith leaning on the wall a few feet from the mihrab that marked the direction of Mecca. Each day the students memorized ten verses or a short chapter, reading from the Qur’an while the teacher recited the verses out loud several times. Responsible for committing the verses to memory at home that night, they were quizzed the following day, reciting the assigned section without looking at the text. As in traditional kuttabs, and very unlike their experience in school, children learned here the elements of tajwid, the proper cantillation of the text and other rituals surrounding al-tilawa (the public reading of the Qur’an). (Teaching these skills is also a goal of organizations like the Little Muslim Club, whose magazine occasionally publishes short articles on these topics.[79])

Models and Media

The term usually used in Arabic for learning to recite the word of God is tahfidh al-Qur’an, tahfidh being a verbal noun derived from the causative form of the verbal root meaning “to preserve, protect, guard, commit to memory.” The phrase thus means “inculcation of the Qur’an” rather than “memorization.” It is spoken and written of in the causative, so one does not generally memorize the Qur’an on one's own, one has it inculcated in one by others, as Muhammad had it inculcated in him by the angel Gabriel. In theory, the primary force behind this activity is the family, particularly the father, who has the traditional duty to teach his sons the Qur’an, or to send them to competent masters who can. The ideal that the family is the center of social and religious life is constantly invoked in the media, in political speeches, and at public events. During Ramadan 1409, for example, at the ceremonies marking the Ministry of Religious Endowments' annual Laylat al-Qadr[80] Qur’an recitation contest, a family of six from an eastern delta village was singled out for media attention because each one of them had memorized the entire Qur’an. Mahmud Mahdi, marveling at this unusual feat of family devotion, wrote in al-Ahram that

this family began their journey with the Glorious Qur’an twelve years ago, as the father, ‘Abd al-Ghaffar ‘Abd al-Khaliq al-Zalbani (42 years old) told me. He added that after he memorized [hafadha] the Qur’an he undertook inculcating it in his wife [qama bi-tahfidhihi li-zawjatihi], then the two of them participated in inculcating it in their four children, two twin boys and two twin girls, all of whom are members of the Little Muslim Club, which they frequent every Friday, and to which belongs the credit for encouraging their children in the memorization [hifdh] of the Qur’an.[81]

In this media celebration of the family, the path of the sacred book runs initially along the family's internal lines of authority, from husband to wife and from husband and wife together to the children. But then the autonomy of the family is ruptured symbolically along generational lines by a state-sponsored organization claiming partial credit for the children's accomplishments. Even in the midst of showcasing the self-sufficiency of a model family, the protective envelope of the home is opened to admit the benevolence and support of public institutions. No family is an island, the story says.

And in fact, life is not divided between analytically discrete scenes or sources of religious socialization. Parents and relatives, the school, the mosque, the social service agency, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, programming on television and radio, government and private youth organizations, publications aimed at children; all of these shower religious language on the child like a cascade of boxes tumbling off the top shelf of an overcrowded closet. Once the door is open the avalanche is inescapable. Public representations of model families and model children whose accomplishments are to be admired and emulated by their peers are a central feature of the complex environment of textbook and media Islam. These models of everyday uprightness and piety update the stories of Islamic history by placing ordinary citizens in the role of model personalities. During my fieldwork, Channel Two on Egyptian television had a short weekly program in which young children memorizing the Qur’an were asked about why they love studying it, and given the opportunity to recite some of what they have learned. One of the parents of a student at the Nasr Language School, a military officer in his forties, told me a story about one of the children he had seen on this program, explaining that religious education comes

in many forms. This past week I saw on television a little girl, only four years old, and she had memorized three parts [out of thirty] of the Qur’an. Three parts! But she was from a family that was a bit religious [mutadayyina shwayya], and she heard this all day, and listened to [cassette] tapes and the television, broadcasts of the Qur’an.[82]

Before her introduction either to the mosque or to the school as the official house of God, this little girl was introduced by her family to electronic mediations of the voice of God, and listening, was quite literally drawn into them to become a public image of the ideal child. What she would encounter upon entering school—as we will see in the next chapter—would be a further series of idealizations purveyed by textbooks: idealizations of herself, her family, and her nation.


1. Ana-Maria Rizzuto, M.D., The Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 8.

2. See my “The Political Economy of Religious Commodities in Cairo,” American Anthropologist 97, 1 (March 1995), pp. 51–68; and “Signposts along the Road: Monumental Public Writing in Egypt,” Anthropology Today 11, 4 (1995), pp. 8–13.

3. This phenomenon is also referred to, by its participants, as “al-sahwa al-islamiyya” (the Islamic awakening), and by its critics as “al-islam al-siyasi” (political Islam), among other labels. I prefer “Islamic Trend” as a relatively neutral term that captures both the political sense of the recent “Islamism,” which emphasizes political ideology, as well as the quiet but deepening spiritual engagement of large parts of the Egyptian population.

4. See Andrea Rugh, “Reshaping Personal Relations in Egypt,” in Fundamentalisms and Society, vol. 2 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 151–80; also Gehad Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement in Egypt from the 1970s to the Early 1990s,” in Accounting for Fundamentalisms, vol. 4 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Marty and Appleby (1994), pp. 374–412.

5. Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Statistical Yearbook, Arab Republic of Egypt, 1988 (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1988), pp. 174–78.

6. CAPMAS, Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Idha‘a wal-sahafa 1983 (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1985), p. 28. I want to thank Sayyid Taha of CAPMAS for going out of his way to provide me with the unpublished information for 1986.

7. Samia Mustafa al-Khashab, Al-Shabab wa al-tayyar al-islami fi al-mujtama‘ al-Misri al-mu‘asir: Dirasa Ijtima‘iyya midaniyya (Cairo: Dar al-thaqafa al-‘arabiyya, 1988).

8. Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 22.

9. For example, in the 1984 elections to the Egyptian People's Assembly, candidates supported by the Muslim Brotherhood won seven seats in an alliance with the Wafd Party, an alliance that captured a total of 65 of the 455 places in the Assembly. In the 1987 elections, the Brotherhood broke its alliance with the Wafd and instead ran its candidates with two smaller parties, the Liberal and the Socialist Workers Parties; Brotherhood candidates captured 35 of the 60 seats won by that coalition. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Taqdim,” in Nemat Guenena's Tandhim al-jihad: Hal huwa al-badil al-islami fi Misr? (Cairo: Dar al-huriyya, 1988), p. 16. Considering the fact that Egyptian elections are always fixed in favor of the ruling National Democratic Party, these results probably underestimate the strength of political sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood and other representatives of the Islamic Trend.

10. Michael Taussig, The Nervous System (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 126.

11. Karl Marx, “The Grundrisse,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 230.

12. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 38.

13. Lambert Kelabora, “Assumptions Underlying Religious Instruction in Indonesia,” Comparative Education 15 (1979), p. 333.

14. Eickelman, Knowledge and Power in Morocco, p. 168

15. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983), p. 39.

16. Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society (New York: The Free Press, 1964), p. 96.

17. The “Protocols” are a famous series of anti-Semitic tracts with a tangled and horribly fascinating history; see Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide (Brown Judaic Studies 23) (Chico, Calif.: Scholar's Press, 1981).

18. Walter Ong, Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 90.

19. The concept is Walter Ong's, from his Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen, 1982), p. 135.

20. In addition to Messick's The Calligraphic State, see his “Legal Documents and the Concept of “Restricted Literacy” in a Traditional Society,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1974), pp. 41–52; and “The Mufti, the Text and the World: Legal Interpretation in Yemen,” Man, n.s., 21 (1986), pp. 102–19.

21. Williams, Sociology of Culture, p. 111.

22. Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi, Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

23. “Official reports on the Arabic broadcasts (Strictly Confidential),” item 7361, James Heyworth-Dunne Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University.

24. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam: Egyptian Television Serials and the National Interest,” Public Culture 5 (1993), p. 500.

25. Lila Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 183.

26. L. Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam,” p. 495; “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women,” American Ethnologist 17, 1 (1990), p. 52; Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 96, 169, 246, 295, 349, 350, 353.

27. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 99–100.

28. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 4–5.

29. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 102–3.

30. None of these institutions has an imprimatur in the sense that the Roman Catholic Church does, but their reputation stands as legitimation for products issued under their supervision. However, academics who collect clandestinely produced Islamic material in Egypt tell me that the way to tell whether it is “hot,” i.e., likely to get the author arrested, is to check the end pages for the registration number for Dar al-Kutub, the national library. If it's not registered, it's been judged by its producers too controversial to bring to the attention of the state.

31. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 26 July 1989, pp. 521–22.

32. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 26 July 1989, p. 525.

33. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1990, pp. 282–83.

34. Amina al-Sa‘id, al-Wafd, 7 April 1989, p. 6.

35. Umm Samira, interview, 27 April 1989, p. 363.

36. This conversation was particularly ironic as it took place in a bar on the last day of Ramadan, where he had had one of his Egyptian friends, a dual citizen with a Swiss passport, order an extra drink for him. Egyptians may not purchase alcohol during Ramadan, unless they can prove they're not Egyptian (p. 367).

37. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1989, pp. 281–82. Based on this hadith, some American Muslim converts “refer to themselves as reverts, arguing that every child is born a Muslim.” New York Times, 13 November 1990, p. A12.

38. Ahmad Rabi‘ al-Hamid Khalaq Allah, Al-Fikar al-tarbawiy wa tatbiqatihi laday jama‘at al-ikhwan al-muslimin (Cairo: Maktaba Wahba, 1983), pp. 133–34.

39. “Takhiru li-nutfikum, fa’inna al-‘araq dassas,” al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988, p. 17; ‘Abdallah Nasih ‘Alwan, Tarbiya al-awlad fi al-Islam (Cairo: Dar al-Islam, 1985), pp. 42–43.

40. ‘Alwan, Tarbiya al-awlad, p. 43. The author adds that marriage with close relatives is not recommended; exogamy protects the child from “infectious diseases [and] hereditary ailments, widening the circle of family familiarity, and developing social ties.” Citing two hadiths of the Prophet (for which, he notes, he is unable to find sources): “Don't marry a relative, or the child will be created scrawny,” and “Marry outside, and don't debilitate,” he reiterates the agreement of modern scientific findings with the ancient wisdom of Islam: “The science of heredity has proven as well that marriage with relatives makes weak progeny…and that the children inherit blameworthy moral qualities and disapproved social habits. This truth was established by the Messenger of Islam (God's peace and blessings upon him), fourteen centuries ago, before science could say the same thing and bring his truths to light for those who can see it” (p. 44).

41. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1989, p. 280.

42. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1990, pp. 570–71.

43. Quoted in the editorial of al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988; and by Dr. Ahmad Fu’ad al-Sharbini during a United Nations conference on the Rights of Children the previous week, in al-Ahram, 23 November 1988, p. 3.

44. Silwa Mashhur, in al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1990, p. 18.

45. Al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988, pp. 1, 17.

46. Interview, 12 June 1989, p. 447.

47. This phrase is Timothy Mitchell's, Colonising Egypt, p. 132.

48. Interview, 12 June 1989, p. 447.

49. Mahmoud Mahdi, al-Ahram, 24 March 1989, p. 13.

50. During the academic year 1988–89, the sixth grade was abolished in a reorganization mandated by the Ministry of Education, resulting in the combination of the sixth and seventh grades. In 1995, this resulted in a doubling of the entering class at the already overcrowded Cairo University. The ministry is considering reversing its decision.

51. In August of 1989, the Shaykh of al-Azhar, Jad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jad al-Haqq, agreed to submit to al-Azhar's High Council a Ministry of Education proposal that would bring the curriculum at al-Azhar primary institutes into line with the curricula of the Ministry of Education beginning the following academic year. The aim of the plan was the “raising [of] the practical educational level at al-Azhar and its adaptation to the spirit of the age, tying it to the solution of social problems.” Al-Jumhuriyya, 26 August 1989, p. 6.

52. Wolfe, trans., Egypt's Second Five-Year Plan, p. 143; Statistical Yearbook, 1977, p. 146; Statistical Yearbook, 1988, p. 158; Susan H. Cochrane, Kalpana Mehra, and Ibrahim Taha Osheba, “The Educational Participation of Egyptian Children,” World Bank Discussion Paper, December 1986.

53. The average Egyptian's image of proper education is very much tied to the “bookishness” derided by school reformers. Aisha Rafea, in an article on the Pyramids School in Giza, quotes a concerned mother:

“I am determined to transfer my son to another school by the beginning of the new school year,” said one mother who expressed great dissatisfaction with the fact that children are given no assignments at the Pyramids School, and are not taught the alphabet while children at their age at other schools start learning how to write at KG1 level. “Compared to his sister who is the same age but goes to the Ramses College, my son hardly knows how to write,” she added, saying that in her opinion the year at the Pyramids School was a total waste of time. Yet she admitted that her son loves his school and his sister doesn't. The reason for that, she thinks, is that “his school is like a club while hers is a real place of education.” (“The School of No Homework,” Cairo Today, February 1989, pp. 46–47)

54. Cromer wrote in his Report for 1903 that

the Egyptians, as a race, are somewhat inclined to sedentary pursuits, and until recent years the educational system confirmed, rather than corrected, this tendency. A few years ago, physical drill and English sports were introduced into the curriculum of the Government schools. The effect upon the physique and character of the pupils has been so manifestly beneficial that their advantages are now generally recognized, even in quarters where their introduction was at first opposed. (Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 267)

On the physical education movement in Europe, see J. S. Hurt, “Drill, Discipline and the Elementary School Ethos,” in Phillip McCann, ed., Popular Education and Socialization in the Nineteenth Century (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1977), pp. 167–92. In addition to tightening school discipline, the physical education movement was motivated by the fear of bodily degeneration associated with urbanization. For a contemporary view, see Lord Brabazon, “Decay of Bodily Strength in Towns,” The Nineteenth Century 21 (1887), pp. 673–76. Aside from obvious humanitarian motivations, physical education, hygiene, and nutritional programs were called for in Egypt for political and economic reasons. Egypt's minister of education wrote in 1943 of assertions “that the rising generation is weaker in body, possesses less fortitude, and is more impatient with life than the preceding generation. Landowners bitterly complain of the indifferent health of agricultural labourers and their physical debility which has adversely affected their productiveness to a marked extent.” El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 48.

55. This poster was inspired by a similar picture on page 5 of the first grade religion textbook.

56. Dr. Surur later became—as of 1994—Speaker of Egypt's People's Assembly.

57. As of March 1996, Tantawi is the new Shaykh of al-Azhar, replacing the recently deceased Jad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jad al-Haqq.

58. Labib al-Saba‘i, al-Ahram, 31 March 1989, p. 13.

59. Dr. Muhammad Yahya, al-Sha‘b, 23 May 1989, p. 7. On the subject of maps bearing the name of Israel, Dr. Ahmad Fathy Surur, minister of education, promised the Majlis al-sha‘b on 14 May 1989 that “all maps not bearing the name of Palestine would be burned.” Al-Wafd, 16 May 1989, p. 1.

60. Al-Sha‘b, 23 May 1989, p. 11.

61. Janet Abu-Lughod, “Rural Migration and Politics in Egypt,” in Rural Politics and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. Richard Antoun and Ilya Harik (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), p. 326.

62. Umm Samira, interview, 2 June 1989, pp. 415–16.

63. Wafa’i Isma‘il, interview, 7 August 1989, p. 554

64. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 44.

65. Article 6 in Qanun al-ta‘lim raqam 139 lil-sana 1981 (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘amma li-shu’un al-mutabi‘ al-amiriyya, 1986), p. 3.

66. Al-Jumhuriyya, 22 September 1989, p. 7.

67. Even given new techniques of inculcation, some Egyptian Christians argue that reliance on the Qur’an as a text has a negative effect on the Egyptian educational system in general. A recent graduate of ‘Ain Shams University told me, “The essays that people write [in school] are repetitive and unorganized, because the Qur’an is that way, and people are taught, even if indirectly, to mimic that style, held up as a model of the best there is. We have no multiple-choice tests here.” Jihan al-Manar, interview, 17 October 1988, pp. 81–82.

68. Interview conducted by Hamid ‘Izz al-Din, al-Akhbar, 18 August 1989, p. 4.

69. Al-Ahram, 3 May 1989, p. 6.

70. Al-Akhbar, 16 June 1989, p. 1; al-Ahram, 13 August 1989, p. 8.

71. Mahmud Mahdi, al-Ahram, 12 May 1989, p. 13.

72. Sometimes the financial incentives are not quite as compelling; the magazine al-Tasawwuf al-islami (Islamic Sufism), for example, sponsored a contest in which individuals qualified for prizes by answering a few questions about Sufism; the prizes ranged from £E 50 ($20) for first prize to a year's subscription to the magazine, for those placing thirteenth to twentieth.

73. Al-Ahram, 3 May 1989, p. 6.

74. Al-Ahram, 10 February 1989, p. 11.

75. Denis Sullivan provides a comprehensive analysis of these institutions in Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt: Islamic Development, Private Initiative, and State Control (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994).

76. CAPMAS, Statistical Yearbook, 1988, pp. 135, 137.

77. Samir Shawqi, interview, 5 August 1989, p. 541.

78. Al-Wafd, 20 July 1989, p. 6.

79. Al-Muslim al-saghir, September 1988, p. 32.

80. Laylat al-Qadr (The night of power) is the anniversary of the date during Ramadan when Muhammad first began to receive revelations from God through the angel Gabriel.

81. Al-Ahram, 12 May 1989, p. 13.

82. Interview, 16 August 1989, p. 585.

5. The Path of Clarification

All school culture is necessarily standardized and ritualized…by and for exercises of repetition and reconstitution which must be sufficiently stereotyped to be repeated ad infinitum under the direction of coaches…themselves as little irreplaceable as possible (e.g. manuals, summaries, synopses, religious or political breviaries and catechisms, glosses, commentaries, cribs, encyclopedias, corpuses, selections, past examination papers, model answers, compilations of dictums, apothegms, mnemonic verses, topics, etc.).

The Interpretation of Culture and the Culture of Interpretation

At the height of the Second World War, psychological anthropologist George Devereaux and his colleague Edwin Loeb, members of a generation of American scholars who found their civilization under the threat of an aggressive foreign military machine, wrote an article outlining the strategies a besieged culture might use to resist annihilation. One of these strategies, “antagonistic acculturation,” they described as the process of adopting lower-order practices and institutions from foreign cultures for the purpose of resisting adoption of their higher-order goals; essentially, adopting new cultural tactics to resist the adoption of new values.[2] The authors criticized the earlier trend of diffusionist scholarship by emphasizing the purposive nature of what they termed “autoplastic culture change,” and in an unusual literary conceit, they quoted from the Qur’an itself as the best possible summary of the human interest in setting boundaries: “And I shall not worship that which ye worship/Nor will ye worship that which I worship/Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (sura 109, al-Kafirun, 4–6).

The phrase “antagonistic acculturation” has not aged well, perhaps because of a vague semantic prejudice sparked by the alliterative terms, the latter recalling the stolid scientific neutralism of some colonial acculturation studies, and the former implying perhaps that indigenous resistance to “culture contact” was a matter of the stubborn native's impenetrable rejection of progressive change. But while the phrase has been all but forgotten by anthropologists, who now prefer the concept of resistance, the process it describes is a central feature of cultural flow in the colonial and post- or neocolonial world. As we saw in examining the development of European-style education in Egypt, this was the force behind the calculated military appropriation of schooling in the early nineteenth century. Since that time, the state's strategies for maintaining a Muslim identity while extending ideological influence over an increasingly urbanized and literate populace has included the transformation of Islamic institutions, beliefs, and values through altering the form and the context of their production and their inculcation. That context—the European-style school—works both through new principles of organizing interpersonal authority on a massive and centrally administered scale and through the use of new types of cultural production, particularly the imported form of the school textbook. This chapter addresses the specific mechanisms through which the textbook both furthers and expresses the functionalization of the Islamic tradition.

The process of altering cultural production to match, compete with, and fend off imported models, while simultaneously increasing its political usefulness, is obviously not confined to the Nile Valley. In his important book The Calligraphic State, Brinkley Messick has shown how Ottoman and Yemeni nationalist reformers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed the flexible and multivocal tradition of Islamic legal scholarship, the shari‘a, into a closed, self-contained, and relatively rigid set of “modern” legal codes. Ottoman reformers in the second half of the nineteenth century had likened the shari‘a to “an ocean without shores,” vast, difficult to access because of the specialized training required, and inappropriate for the times.[3] Criticizing its “lack of order” relative to European-style legal codes, they were concerned with making the law “known,” fixing it in structured form in numbered paragraphs, “making a portion of the shari‘a manageable and perusable,” and issuing works that contained “only the least contested and least controversial opinions and composed in a manner which would be sufficiently clear so that anyone could study it easily and act in conformity with it.” [4] At the same time that colonial translations of Muslim legal works were pulling together different versions to create authoritative Arabic texts, local elites as well as the colonial powers themselves endeavored to spread shari‘a consciousness to the hinterlands of Yemen, both because it was considered “ “tidier” and more predictable than custom” and because, according to contemporary sources, it “provides better political propaganda.” [5] With more recent reorganizations of Yemeni political life, responsibility for the production of a corpus of “Islamic law” has been removed from the hands of the ‘ulama and given over to public officials and parliaments.

The same sorts of processes have operated in Egypt through the production of both official textbooks and private sector childrens' literature. Textbooks are an offspring of print (as opposed to manuscript) culture, both because printing allows the creation of sufficient numbers of books to allow feasible mass instruction and also because of the uniformity of printed products. “With print,” Walter Ong writes,

for the first time, a teacher could stand before a class and say, “Everybody turn to page 48, fifth line from the top, third word from the left,” and everybody could find the word. In a manuscript culture the students might all have had manuscripts, but you would have had to pronounce the word and wait for them to locate it because it would be in a different position on a different page in virtually every manuscript.[6]

As we have seen in the classroom itself, the text recycling that springs from practical economic pressures means this is not always so, but the infinite standardization of the textbook does have the universal effect of flattening controversy and rigidifying current understandings of open questions as indisputable fact.

Moreover, and most importantly, by propagating a synoptic vision of Islamic belief and practice, sanctioned either by the state or by groups of “experts” working in the private sector, mass education and its pedagogical materials effectively create a new Islamic tradition derived from, but not identical with, the historical tradition (just as Yemen's “Islamic” legal codes drew on the corpus of shari‘a scholarship, while the latter drew directly on the Qur’an and sunna.) Furthermore, these materials automatically draw new populations into the field of cultural reproduction: not only the new elites of the Ministry of Education and the corporate boardroom, but, importantly, the students themselves, who are supposed to derive from their classroom training the ability to produce “correct” Muslim behavior. This installation of habitus, however, is complicated by the fact that it is an explicit, verbal inculcation that couches Muslim behavior in functionalist terms, terms that actively encourage students to draw connections between the world of life and the world of texts. Once the possibility of this sort of interpretation is opened, the construction of additional, or alternate, readings of Muslim practice is inevitable.

Encountering the Word

As one of their functions, elementary schools introduce students not only to the psychological and physical skills of reading and writing, but to the proper social and political use of official texts, and to the way in which texts are deployed by authorities, whether as books, assignments, examinations, instructions, or forms. Contemporary educators—inspired by the historical insistence that religious education further “moral” and not merely “ritual” ends—transform the sacred texts of the Islamic tradition into systematic, socially and politically useful products for mass socialization. The historical processes of functionalization we viewed earlier—in which personal and institutional relationships and then the social ends of the Islamic tradition itself were altered to underwrite changing understandings of the utility of religion—will be augmented here by a close examination of mass-produced texts themselves. With respect to the school textbook, functionalization is a process of reading and explicating the physiological, social, and political function of Muslim practices in such a way that these practices appear uniquely effective tools for the conduct of modern life.

The practices of memorization and recitation, question and response are taught from the very beginning of the school career, even before children have mastered the art of writing. As we have seen, children spend much class time reading their textbooks aloud, in unison or individually, as the teacher corrects mistakes of pronunciation and then breaks to expound on obscure points or to quiz students on past material. The task of reading aloud and memorization for repetition is a central feature of everyday student activity, motivated by the structure of official examinations and the desire of students and their families to obtain scores high enough to continue to higher grades and perhaps, eventually, to gain admission to the most prestigious faculties in university.

This is not to say that all pedagogical practices aim always at a single, consistent goal, or that these goals necessarily change predictably in response to political and social needs, independent of the structural constraints of educational institutions themselves.[7] The latter always exert pressures on curriculum design and teaching technique in order to satisfy internal aims as well as external ones. As an example, when Anwar Sadat called in 1977 for “teaching religion in a new style by which we can protect our forthcoming generations and face up to the problems of today,” his intent was rhetorical, for a new style had already overtaken religious studies in Egyptian schools. Inculcating proper social behavior has been a prime pedagogical goal long before the mid-1970s. If anything, some textbooks have become less vivid and more traditional than they were. For example, in the sixth grade religious readers for both 1976 and 1981 we find sura 58, 6, from the Qur’an:

Hast thou not seen that God knows whatsoever is in the heavens, and whatsoever is in the earth? Three men conspire not secretly together, but He is the fourth of them, neither five men, but He is the sixth of them, neither fewer than that, neither more, but He is with them, wherever they may be; then He shall tell them what they have done, on the Day of Resurrection. Surely God has knowledge of everything.[8]

But while the 1976 edition stresses this verse in isolation and asks the student to memorize it as a reminder of “God's Surveillance of what is Secret and what is Open,” the 1981 edition includes the verse in the context of the rest of its sura. The earlier edition not only defines difficult vocabulary items but includes three and a half pages of tafsir, or “explanation,” followed by a full page of review questions. In 1981 the sura is presented without tafsir at all, accompanying the text merely with lists of difficult vocabulary items and their definitions. The more recent book requires the student to memorize the entire sura, and is closer in spirit to older practices than is the earlier version, which picks a single verse and emphasizes the moral lesson to be drawn from it.

Similarly, both editions contain the following hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad:

A person walks in the same path as his friend; so [a Muslim] pays attention whom he befriends.
The 1976 book placed the hadith within the context of a short story about the proper choice of friends and the relationships between parents, children, and the school:

Sa‘id's father was delighted. He saw his son Sa‘id advancing in his studies, and in his manners, and in his character, and in his behavior towards his playmates and teachers at school and his siblings at home. So his father said, “I am pleased with you, Sa‘id, for you've gotten much better than you used to be.”

Sa‘id said, “Yes, my father.”

“I notice that you changed your friends.”

“Yes, I left As‘ad and ‘Uthman and Ibrahim, because they didn't think about anything except playing, and weren't interested in their studies and didn't do their homework, and in thing after thing I became like them, and it seemed to me that I was lost, so I turned away from them and chose Ishraf and Hasan and Isma‘il, and I've learned from their earnestness and good manners and good taste.”

“Excellent choice.”

“Yes, and the school gets the credit for it.”

“How's that?”

“Father, I learned from it many things about friendship and friends. I learned that for each one of us there is treasure in friendship, because a friend talks to me and I to him, and I walk with him, and if I need anything I ask him for it, and if something hurt me, I complain to him about it. And He and I are like one person. I ask him things, and he asks me. I buy things for him, and he for me, and I know him by heart, and benefit from his knowledge and wisdom, and he benefits from me. And I learned that the person is changed by his friend. He is changed in his etiquette, and his behavior, and he takes on many of his characteristics; and I put this to the test myself, father. And I learned that one must proceed slowly in the choice of one's friends, and that their choice must be based on knowledge of their manners and habits, and not to take friends without checking them out.”

Sa‘id's father rejoiced, and his joy grew when he knew that [Sa‘id] applied the lessons of religion to [his] life, and that he memorized the following saying [of the Prophet] about the choosing of friends: “He said, may God bless and save him, “A person walks in the same path as his friend, so [a Muslim] pays attention whom he befriends.” ” [9]

The 1981 edition, on the other hand, merely cites the hadith, defines the difficult vocabulary, and summarizes its meaning thus:

From this hadith you learn:
Aside from eliminating the saccharin story format, the real change in the second version is the creation of an easy-to-memorize list of rules that can be repeated verbatim on an examination. In this case, logistical factors won out in the contest between embedding moral guidelines in a contemporary narrative that pictures their self-conscious application, or presenting them as objects of test-driven analysis and memorization. The same sorts of tensions continue to operate today.

Form and Content

The goals of contemporary religious education at the primary level are set out in the introduction to the first grade religion textbook, which reminds teachers that “religious education [al-tarbiya al-diniyya] is not material restricted to classrooms, but rather is a complete life curriculum, including the classroom milieu with all its activities and information and knowledge. It also includes the home environment, and society as a whole.” [11]

The classroom portion of this curriculum has several distinct goals: the planting (ghars) of Islamic morals and values in the psyche of the child, along with a grasp of the five pillars of Islam; the development of faith in God; acquainting the child with the biography of the Prophet; memorization of some verses and suras of the Qur’an; and knowledge and practice of the process of ablution and prayer. The authors explain that religion is related to other school subjects “like the Arabic language or science,” and that their selection of Qur’anic extracts “benefit[s] from the fact that the Qur’an can be understood at many levels.” They highlight a variety of instructional methods like the use of pictures and drawings, which help impart the meaning of abstract concepts and make the process of learning more enjoyable and attractive, “increasing [the pupil's] desire to learn.” [12] And finally, they draw attention to two developmental and social issues:

The importance of satisfying the needs of the pupil in this grade level for freedom in expressing his abilities and his reliance on what he touches and sees and hears at this stage of his life, and [his] proper response to life situations at home and in school and in society. [And] the importance of the social environment in which the pupil lives, in such a way that religious education has a role in the advancement and development of this milieu [tarqiyya tilka al-bi’a wa tanmiyyatiha].[13]

These themes are carried through in texts for the higher grades, which provide pupils with “Islamic religious information appropriate to their ages, springing forth from the glorious Qur’an and the noble traditions of the Prophet.” [14] These later books emphasize proper public recitation (tilawa) of Qur’anic extracts and urge teachers to have students memorize and explain designated passages, “extracti[ng]…the values and principles to which they point.” [15] Finally, they direct that children be taught diligence in their work, compassion for others and good manners in public places, for adab is part of “an integrated view of Islamic education that presents the meaning of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions…through life situations” familiar to the child.[16]

By the end of the fifth grade, the industrious Egyptian schoolchild will have read hundreds of pages about Islam in her textbooks, memorizing most of them for repetition on year-end examinations. Teachers and principals place a great deal of confidence in their students' ability to memorize, a fact I learned firsthand, with a great deal of embarrassment, at the Nasr School, when I asked if they had spare copies of the textbooks. Pulling all but the fifth grade book out of a storage cabinet, Mme. Hala told me they didn't seem to have an extra there, but she knew where to get one. Leaving the room, she returned with the book two minutes later. Unlike the others, this one was well-worn and covered inside with penciled notes. She had simply gone to the fifth grade room and asked who had finished memorizing their book already, choosing one student among the three that raised their hand. Horrified, I insisted that she return the book to the student, who would certainly need it to study. “No,” she replied, pointing at her head, “she's already knows the whole thing.” She refused to let me return it.

The religion textbooks contain five broad categories of content: Qur’an and hadith; qawa‘id al-islam (the pillars of Islam); usul al-din (theology); sira (biographies of the prophets and famous Muslims); and adab (rules for behavior in public and private). These are crosscut by different media of presentation. Texts make use of direct quotations from the Qur’an and hadith; tafsir (consisting of definitions, explanations and clarifications of Qur’anic or traditional material in the voice of the text's authors); durus (sing. dars; or lessons, narrative presentations of material in the voice of the text's authors); anashid (sing. nashid; poems, songs, or recitations to be repeated aloud in unison); munaqashat (questions or topics for discussion); tadribat (activities such as matching exercises); tamthilat (short plays or dialogues for students to read or act out); and finally, pictures and drawings.

Most lessons use more than one format, combining pictures with narratives, discussion questions and anashid, for example. Pictures are meant to stimulate discussion or to be used as part of an exercise, but occasionally serve merely an illustrative function. Qur’an and hadith are both subject matter and media because each book contains, in addition to verses cited to illustrate the point of a lesson or ground it in scripture, a section of Qur’an to be memorized by the student for its own sake.

Table 3 shows the proportion of space devoted to each of the five subject categories in the primary-level religion textbooks used during the 1988–89 school year.[17] While the space allotted to basic theology and Prophetic biography rises and falls unpredictably throughout the years, the remaining categories show more definite trends. That devoted to Qur’an, hadith, and adab increases fourfold between the first and the fifth grades, while the volume taken up by the pillars of Islam declines by more than 60 percent. Including longer passages from the Qur’an is a function of the child's growing capacity for recitation and memory work, while moving from basic elements of faith and worship to the application of Muslim values to life reflects the growing importance of explicit moral training as children enter their second seven years of life and begin facing responsibility for proper behavior and the performance of religious duties.

3. Content of Primary School Religion Texts
(Rounded to the nearest one percent)
Grade Level
  1 2 3 4 5
Qur’an/Hadith 5 10 17 16 20
Qawa‘id 42 30 20 13 16
Usul al-din 26 15 22 29 14
Sira 21 26 20 17 29
Adab 6 17 20 25 20

The Transformation of Texts

Since political elites and professional educators alike see religious education as an important applied subject, textbook authors strive in various ways to emphasize Islam's place in the child's daily life. Even sacred history is made immediate by linking events of long ago and far away to the child's own familiar world. One of the earliest lessons in the Ministry of Education's first grade religion textbook is the story of the Prophet Muhammad's early life, and the names and kinship ties of the relatives who raised and cared for him. Introducing children to the Islamic tradition with the simple, accessible vocabulary of kinship terms, the text draws pupils into an immediate relationship with the Prophet, while drawing the family itself into the universe of discourse of the school. Before dealing in some detail with the way textbooks treat family and school as sources of moral authority, let us first examine how functionalization—which we have already examined with respect to institutional transformations—operates on a textual level.

In examining the form of Egyptian religious studies textbooks, functionalization appears as one of four textual processes, along with consolidation, grading, and reinterpretation, which help transform the larger written corpus of Islamic tradition (and local custom) into socially and politically useful forms for use in the public school.[18] Consolidation, like grading, is an editorial process stemming from the need to systematize and simplify the Islamic heritage for mass consumption. One of the more mundane differences between sacred revelation and classroom instruction is that the Qur’an is notoriously repetitive and meandering by contemporary pedagogical standards. Verses concerning a single subject, even a single person, are scattered throughout the twenty-two years of the Prophet's recorded mission, sometimes repeating information, sometimes adding new insights or taking different points of view. For example, in the Qur’an, the twenty-eight-verse chapter called Nuh (Noah) does not contain the most comprehensive account of the title character's life and works. The richer account is given in twenty-four verses in sura 11, Hud (25–49), although there is supplementary information scattered throughout thirteen other chapters as well, in blocks of between one and seventeen verses. The synoptic tale of Noah that the fourth-grader reads is an amalgamation and paraphrase of the Qur’anic revelation illustrated with pictures and a simplified vocabulary.

As important as textual organization is the temporal allocation of knowledge, the very essence of school hierarchy. Grading doles out age- appropriate wisdom at the same time that it reinforces lessons learned in earlier years and builds a foundation for the future. As an example, Egyptian first-graders greet Ramadan officially with a simple nashid:

Come on, brothers, let's come on,
Let's rejoice in Ramadan
Month of fasting and of alms,
In you, goodness and Qur’an
Yours the honor, Ramadan[19]

Next, they find a list of Ramadan activities: the scheduling of meals, listening to the Qur’an, helping the poor and unfortunate. They are reminded that “you learn the fast with your father and your mother,” and boys learn that “you go to the mosque with your father.” An exercise and a color drawing of a neighborhood mosque round out the youngest student's lesson.[20] The following year, Ramadan becomes the subject of a dialogue between a father and his two children, Fatima and Ali, who have all gone to the market on the night of the first day of the sacred month. The children ask how and why Muslims fast, and learn that one must refrain from eating, but also from quarrelling, and they must increase the frequency of prayers. Their father (anonymous, like all textbook parents) explains that “God directed us to fast during Ramadan because it cleanses our minds and accustoms us to patience and compassion for the poor and unfortunate when we feel hunger like them. And so we may all be saved from God's punishment when we enter heaven.” [21] He ends his lesson by quoting from the Qur’an, sura 2, al- Baqara,185: “Ramadan is the month/In which was sent down/the Qur’an, as a guide/To mankind, also clear (signs)/For guidance and judgement (Between right and wrong)./So every one of you who is present during the month should spend it fasting.” In the third grade, Ramadan takes the form of a series of descriptive phrases. Again citing verse 185, the book tells pupils that fasting “benefits the body and makes it strong,” and teaches them the customs and prescriptions that validate or invalidate the ritual. The lesson is completed, as always, by a block of exercises:

The fourth grade text places Ramadan in the context of the Muslim ritual year, explaining in detail the conduct of the two Muslim feast days, ‘Id al-Fitr, commemorating the close of Ramadan, and ‘Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice during the month of Pilgrimage. The fifth grade book summarizes previous lessons and tells children who is required to fast. Reprising the theme of restraint, “because the fast is not simply a cessation of food and drink, but is indeed an act of worship that refines the character and brings the person to his lord through good works,” the book reminds students to eat the suhur meal (in effect, being moderate even in the fast itself), and to increase almsgiving, prayer, and study of the Qur’an. Then the primary school's treatment of Ramadan ends as it began, with a nashid—this one longer and far more complex—celebrating the growth of faith through contemplating the natural and celestial signs of God's existence and participating in the Ramadan fast.

In the early grades, the meaning and significance of Ramadan is expressed with the formal joy of classroom song and through the ritual fast's place in the life of the family. With time, students begin to learn more about the ritual details of the fast, personal restrictions that are balanced immediately by their beneficial effects on self and others. Next, fast and feast find their place in the yearly ritual cycle of Islam, their importance matched only by the celebration of sacrifice during the season of pilgrimage. And finally, as the child reaches the age of personal participation, learning about Ramadan becomes learning about individual and social responsibilities.

In contrast to the editorial processes of consolidation and grading, reinterpretation and functionalization are authorial processes, shaping the meaning of Islamic history and practice by interpreting them in fresh ways. Although the Qur’an contains its own explicit messages about God's intentions, the social and political use of the Qur’an can require that it bear additional semantic loads. In textbooks, the derivation of additional moral or political lessons from the Qur’an or sunna is accomplished in part through the transformation of sacred text into durus, or “lessons.” Retelling stories from the Qur’an in a straightforward narrative form allows textbook authors to make claims about reality in a way that insulates their own commentary from the sacred text itself. Their interpretations of the story are not tafsir in a strict sense, explanations that seek to illuminate the meaning of the Qur’anic verse in its context, but rather paraphrases and commentaries on the events and personalities that the verses describe.

Take, for example, the story of the prophet Joseph. The story of Joseph in the fifth grade textbook is a ten-page paraphrase of the 111-verse sura 12, Yusuf, in the Qur’an. Aside from shuttling introductory and concluding exhortations off into another section, the schoolbook version is a straightforward paraphrase of the Qur’anic story, with a simplified grammar and vocabulary. Because of his power as an interpreter of dreams and the favor he found with Pharaoh, Joseph was made minister of Egypt and saved the country from famine; even after being reunited with his father (Jacob/Israel) and brothers, he retained his mighty position in the country and instead of returning to Canaan invited his family to settle with him in Memphis. But at the end of the life story of Joseph in the Egyptian fifth grade book, the authors of the text have appended a short patriotic paragraph:

And thus Egypt has always been, and still is, a refuge for the prophets and the illustrious and outstanding people from the Arab nation and the Islamic world, who have been delighted to experience it, always sure of its welcome, and living within its family as beloved brothers.[23]

While Joseph was not an Arab, he was a Muslim, both as a prophet of God in his own right and as the great-grandson of Abraham, builder of the ka‘ba in Mecca (sura 12,101). With this brief paragraph the text's authors have effectively Islamized Egypt twenty-three centuries before Muhammad.[24]

While this reinterpretation constructs readings of history that legitimate the authority of policymakers, functionalization as a specific textual process harnesses divine intention to public policy itself, helping to bring religious instruction into the conscious service of independent social and political ends. To illustrate this process, we can look at the textbooks' use of science, technology, and medicine. On one level, the interdependence of Islam and science is stressed in order to avoid the pitfall of implying that secular knowledge is inseparable from secularism. On another level, though, the linkage is made to bless elements from the religious sphere with the elevated status of science's secular mystique. This interdependence of science and religion is a constant refrain in both public and private sector Islamic literature for all age levels, an important part of a technocratic approach to economic and social policy. It is handled in different ways for different purposes, depending on the nature of the audience, the medium, and the rhetorical goal of the author. But in general, there are three relatively well-defined techniques.

First, new technologies or techniques are used to help maintain the religious reference system. Using loudspeakers for the call to prayer, cassette tapes to record famous Qur’an reciters, or observatories to determine scientifically the exact times of dawn and dusk prayers are all pragmatic applications of science and technology to aid worship, education and da‘wa (Islamic outreach activities). Second, new technologies are legitimized by Islamic principles. This practice supports new medical technologies such as in vitro fertilization, plastic surgery, and birth control programs, which potentially threaten the integrity or function of God's creation. When properly bounded within certain limits, such practices can protect or further divine interests by correcting accidental errors or by satisfying other legitimate goals of the individual, the family, or the community.[25]

Finally, Islamic concepts and practices are corroborated by modern science. Scientific research, particularly from foreign countries or international agencies, is cited to show that secularists are finally discovering those truths that Muslims have known all along. This process is not limited to government-issued textbooks, but is a general feature of the production of contemporary genres of Islamic literature. Some of the best examples of the use of medical knowledge to further faith, in fact, are from the private sector, as in the following report in the July 1989 issue of Zamzam, the children's supplement to al-Mukhtar al-Islami (The Islamic Digest), a monthly magazine associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Presenting a picture of an EKG chart, the article begins,

If you look carefully at this picture, you will see that it repeatedly draws a specific word; scrutinizing the letters of every word, you will see that every word is made of the letters A L L H, written in the Arabic language in raq‘a script; indeed, it is the term of Majesty.…And this picture that you see was not drawn by a human hand, but by a machine, a medical instrument made by a man who didn't know Arabic. The machine was not intended to write this word or any other, but is used to show the beating of the heart (that is, its pulsations) and to turn it into a picture on paper.…Scientists didn't know at first that this drawing resembled a word in Arabic, but finally the great discovery was made that every beat says, in this drawing that an EKG makes of every human heart, every beat says in the testimony of this electrical device, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” [26]

God has literally written His name upon the hearts of His creation, an act revealed by the use of technology. This natural theology attempts systematically to read God's presence and characteristics from those of the natural world which He created, using the hidden rhythms of the body itself as a measurable record of His existence.[27]

The use of science or natural phenomena to reinforce faith finds its way into the official religious studies curriculum as it did in the science curriculum, by binding science and religion to national progress. In the fifth grade class discussed in the last chapter, the class reading that was interrupted by the noon call to prayer had come from the section of the text on “cleanliness:”

Cleanliness is next to Godliness [al-nidhafa min al-iman], and…distinguishes a Muslim person, because our Islamic religion…impels the Muslim to it, even making cleanliness of the body and clothing one of the basic rules of prayer. Cleanliness includes that of the body and the clothing, and of food and drink, and cleanliness of the home and school, and mosque, and street, and so on. And on top of that Islam makes us desirous of personal adornment and sweet fragrances and the choice of good clean clothes. God (may He be exalted) says in verse 31 of Sura al-A‘raf, “Oh Children of Adam! Wear your adornment at every place of worship.” And the Messenger, may God bless and save him, used to wear white scented garments on Fridays and the two feast days, and he loved sweet-smelling things. Cleanliness… is a token of advancement and civilization, strongly bound to the progress of peoples, for advanced peoples are cleaner in their attire than others, and in their food and drink, and their streets. Islam had preceded all advanced nations by ages—in its call for cleanliness—and it made “cleanliness next to Godliness” when the Messenger, may God bless and save him, says “God is pleasant [tayyib] and loves pleasant things.” Perhaps the wudu’[ritual ablution before prayer] clarifies best the scope of Islam's interest in cleanliness, since it is part of prayer…and—there's no doubt—it cleans man's body, and the modern physician has established that the wudu’ a number of times a day brings health and keeps away skin diseases, just as he has proved that the istinshaq [the inhalation of water through the nostrils during the wudu’] protects people from the various respiratory diseases, and just as in rinsing there is a cleaning of the teeth guaranteed to freshen the breath; this had been mentioned in the noble Hadith: “Not to burden my people, I ordered them to use the siwak [a short stick for cleaning the teeth] at every prayer.” And that because in the use of the siwak or the toothbrush there are clear effects in the cleaning of the teeth and their whiteness, and in killing the germs that cling to them due to the food that is found between the teeth if they are not cleaned well, which has caused teeth to fall out, creating horrible breath. And among the manifestations of Islam's concern with cleanliness: that it calls on us to bathe for prayer on Fridays and on the two feast days.… And the modern physician agrees with Islam in this, for doctors call on us to bathe at least once a week, guarding the body's cleanliness and freeing it from diseases.…The conclusion is that whoever wants to maintain the teachings of his religion looks after cleanliness. And whoever wants people to love and respect him is neat and clean, for Islam is a religion of cleanliness, and therefore it's a religion of advancement and civilization.[28]

The passage is striking in its equation of the ritual purity of the wudu’ with the physical purity of a secular bath, a hygienic practice within the domain of the physician rather than the theologian. The sacred requirement of ablution has been functionalized, implying that the reason for the prescription is its presumed effect on health and well-being, rather than to mark a separation between sacred and profane.[29] The passage then forges further linkages between cleanliness (e.g., of streets) and civilization, creating a hierarchy of peoples in which the Islamic community is historically the first, and placing the sunna of the Prophet in the domain of the urban planner and the public health official.[30]

The treatment of the wudu’ throughout primary school texts consistently stresses its hygienic aspects. A note to the teacher in the first grade text, for example, advises her to demonstrate the ablutions to her pupils and watch them perform it, explaining “the benefits of the wudu’ and the importance of its repetition to the maintenance of cleanliness, that this cleanliness induces health and vitality in the pupil, just as it produces pleasure in social intercourse with people, and not estrangement from them.” [31] In the second grade, pupils learn that “the wudu’ is cleanliness”; that it “protects you from illnesses” and “invigorates the body and protects it from diseases.” [32] In the fourth grade pupils are introduced to the istinja’, the cleansing of the excretory regions of the body: “Islam… calls on us always to bathe twice, or at least once a week.…The person must purify himself of remaining traces of urine or feces, and clean their outlets, until there isn't an unpleasant smell, and one doesn't run the risk of diseases.” [33] Praising soap and water, the lesson ends with a set of exercises including these two items:

Presenting moral lessons in the context of activities or hypothetical situations is intended to raise them above the level of mere memorization, phrasing rules in terms that the child can not only remember, but remember to apply in everyday situations. Significantly, this specific equation of moral and hygienic behavior is of long standing in Egypt; both are considered applied subjects in which the real test is the conduct of life rather than performance on written examinations.[35]

Logically, if not psychologically, this functionalization is a two-step process. First, social functions (increased health, cleanliness, order) are attributed to Islamic practices. Then these functions are interpreted not only as effects, but as the primary intent of given practices, and therefore divinely sanctioned themselves. Moreover, as in the case of ablutions, additional terms can be added to the formula. In stressing cleanliness both as a contributor to individual health and a token of social progress (‘unwan al-ruqiy wa al-hadara), the text closes the causal circle. Since advanced civilizations are noted for attention to cleanliness and the Islamic community is the first among peoples, then physical cleanliness must be the primary function of the ablution.

If reinterpretation is an anachronistic reading of historical events, functionalization is in part a recontextualized rendering of divine intention. These two methods help shape the content of classroom texts, while consolidation and grading affect their format. There is, finally, a fifth process at work in the composition and use of these texts. That is the process of ritualization, which does not figure in the transformation of scripture into lesson, but in the resacralization of the lesson itself. Structured recitation and memorization of the textbook in anticipation of examinations, periodic in-class quizzing, the regular appearance of activities and exercises for which determined responses are often expected, and the implied double audience (text for students, footnoted instructions for the instructor) build around the textbook a congregation engaged several times a week in its ritual appreciation. The textbook provides the liturgy for ritual dramatizations of the moral authority of the state.

Family and School as Sources of Moral Authority

This authority is clear in the textbook treatment of the family and the school as sources of moral knowledge.[36] The image of the family in the contemporary textbook is ambiguous, for although parents, siblings, and other relatives are portrayed as central foci of the child's own moral duties, they are hardly ever portrayed as sources of moral enlightenment. That place has been usurped by the public functionaries of the school itself. As we saw at the end of the last chapter, this symbolic confiscation of moral authority feeds back into the constant media representation of the ideal family, making the family the target of moral development rather than the source. For the textbook to be used as an authoritative source of knowledge, it must help to define its institutional context as authoritative. We have already seen that lessons have sometimes been altered in newer textbooks to move away from stories and plays, but this has not been the case universally. It is still an important pedagogical strategy not to set out moral precepts in isolation, but to nest them within an image of idealized life, whether within the family, on the streets, or elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, such images often include the school as one of the primary characters, as we saw in the story of Sa‘id and his father earlier in this chapter. In these images the school is not only one of the arenas of the child's day-to-day life, it is portrayed as the source of the child's most elementary articulable moral knowledge, a knowledge that the child proudly carries back to his or her grateful family. In primary school textbooks it is also the sole representative of the state. The very first lesson on adab in the second grade book provides a fine illustration of this technique. In the story, ‘Abir returns from school to find that her mother is preparing food for her father and some of his friends, whom he is bringing home after work. ‘Abir volunteers her help with food preparation and cleaning the reception room, and volunteers her brother Muhammad to go to the store and pick up some things. When the evening is over, their father sits with them and commends their behavior, thanking them for cleaning, preparing, and for serving the guests.

‘Abir said, “This is my duty towards my mother and my father, and we learned in school today a great lesson about loving one's parents and cooperating with them, and we memorized [part of] the glorious Qur’an and a noble tradition [of the Prophet], and I want you to hear them, father, and you, mother. [God] said, may he be exalted, “Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents” [sura 2, 36]. “A man came to the Prophet, may God bless and save him, and said, O Messenger of God: what person is most deserving of perfect friendship? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your father.” ” [37]

The story is followed by a drawing of ‘Abir and Muhammad helping their parents with the guests, and a short nashid about loving one's parents: “What pleases God except what pleases [your] parents/What is the beauty of life but the affection of [your] parents/Love your parents to live in happiness/And [if you] offer [your] spirit as a sacrifice to them, you will find good reward.” [38]

Given the importance invested in the child's duties toward the family, it might seem surprising that parents are only rarely depicted as founts of religious or moral counsel. Children are advised always to help and obey their parents even if they have differences of opinion with them, “because [your parents] both love you and wish only the best for you always, and never think of anything but your happiness.” [39] But children are sometimes portrayed as the wiser parties in moral quandaries. A story in the third grade book tells of how ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the companion of the Prophet and second caliph of the Muslim community, was wandering the streets of Medina before dawn one day when he heard a conversation between a mother and daughter. The mother instructs the daughter to water down the milk the girl has just brought, so they can sell it for a greater profit. The girl reminds her mother that Islam has prohibited such a practice, and what would the Commander of the Faithful say? The woman replies that neither the Commander of the Faithful nor anyone else can see what they are doing, but the girl counters that God can see them, and that they must please him both in secret and in public.


Do what I tell you, sweetheart.


Should I obey you and disobey God, dear mother? Certainly not.


If you don't mix the milk with water, we won't make any profit.


If we please God, he will bless us with profit and expand our subsistence.


God bless you, daughter. You are better than I, and have just taught me a great lesson.[40]

‘Umar is so pleased with the young girl that when he goes home to tell his sons the story, he asks which of them will marry her. His son ‘Asim volunteers, noting that ``such a girl will make a virtuous wife.'' The reward for virtuous behavior is material and immediate, as in the example below of telling the truth about a low mark at school.

Aside from the story about Ramadan discussed above, the only sustained example in this series of books of parents serving as a source of moral instruction occurs in the fourth grade. The story is an interesting one in that it combines several of the themes we have been discussing, and reminds us of the real-life story at the end of the last chapter, of the young girl's electronically mediated knowledge of the Qur’an. This story deals with Ahmad and his father.

Ahmad was used to turning on the [radio] broadcast of the Glorious Qur’an every morning upon waking up. For he loved always to begin his day by listening to some verses of the book of God (may He be exalted), and his father encouraged him in this good habit. A lot of times, Ahmad asked his parents, when the family gathered together over breakfast, about the meaning of some Qur’anic words and verses he had heard.[41]

This particular morning, Ahmad asks his father about verse 185 of the sura ’Al ‘Imran, “Every soul shall have a taste of death, and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense.” When will the Day of Judgment come, he asks, and what will happen then? His father explains what the Day of Judgment is, but says that only God knows when it will be. Ahmad, assiduously thanking his father for each answer, still doesn't understand the meaning of one of the terms his father has used, “yawm al-ba‘th,” the Day of Resurrection, but his father doesn't have time to explain it before school, so promises Ahmad he will give him a book about it later that day.

After school Ahmad flips eagerly through the book and realizes that it contains all the information he needs about the resurrection and judgment. He agrees to his father's suggestion that he divide the book into sections, reading just one part each day for a week, so as not to interfere with his schoolwork. At the end of the week, he delightedly gathers excerpts to share with his classmates at school by publishing them in the class newsletter “so they would benefit from the good religious information he had.” [42] This story brings together the father, the Qur’an, radio broadcasts, religious publications, and the school newsletter as sources of religious instruction. The lesson ends by quoting Ahmad's excerpts on death, resurrection, and judgment, but its didactic purpose is not defined merely by their presentation. Like the newspaper story about the virtuous village family memorizing the Qur’an in the last chapter, this fable provides an idealized model of the Muslim family in which parents and children cooperate to strengthen family piety with the help of social institutions responsible for publishing books and broadcasting the Qur’an. This strength and motivation is then transferred to the public domain of the school, just as in the example of ‘Abir and her brother, moral lessons from school were transferred to the home.[43]

In the fourth grade book the school reappears in the very next lesson about a schoolteacher teaching his students about proper Muslim forms of greeting after having them practice their ablutions in the school mosque,[44] and then again where a section on the names and occupations of the angels is framed by a story about the teacher leading his pupils together in the noon prayer:

And the teacher had been used, from time to time, after doing the prayer, to give each one of them a book from the library of the prayer area, to read for a little while, then he directed a little talk and discussion about the topics they wanted to investigate and understand, and to answer their questions, and point them to those things that were right and beneficial in this world and the next.[45]

But the textbooks portray school not just as a place to discover ancient moral truths. School is, in proper Deweyan fashion, a miniature moral universe where looking after one's classroom and one's books, and remembering one's lessons, is one way in which the child serves God.[46] School is like life, with the year-end test differentiating justly between the diligent and negligent students just as God's just accounting on the Day of Judgment will differentiate between people who do good and those who do evil.[47] A section on telling the truth uses a school example to show the child that lying only hurts the liar, and that the rewards for good behavior are immediate and material as well as deferred and spiritual:

For example, if you got a low score on one of your subjects, you have to tell your parents, without exaggerating or minimizing; and you know that truth will benefit you in this case, because when your father learns that your score is low in a subject, he'll help you until you're strong in it, and you will excel among your classmates; truth makes you a winner, and lying a loser.[48]

This passage reveals an interesting idealization of parental behavior keyed to the middle-class home (where, to be sure, the parents are just as likely to hire the pupil's teacher to give after-school lessons, as to help the child themselves). Going to school is the child's job, just as the peasant, the truck driver, and the parent all have their employment, without which society, imagined as an organism very much like the human body in the differentiation and interdependence of its parts, could not function.[49] Islam is the charter for the function of modern society and requires attentiveness to work and mutual cooperation. Even the Prophet, one story shows, worked hard to accomplish group tasks, and refused to eschew manual labor or to be marked with special privilege.[50]

Supplements to Public Sector Instructional Media

There are a number of public and private sector publishing companies in Egypt that develop and market religious material for children. Stories about the lives of the prophets are particularly popular, as are manuals for adults on Islamic upbringing. During my stay in Cairo bookstalls carried, in addition to numerous general works on Islamic childrearing, at least four different manuals on prayer. One of these was for adults newly interested in fulfilling their Islamic obligations, one was for older children who could already read, and two were illustrated guides for parents and families on how to teach children to pray properly. Some companies are moving into a more upscale market as well, selling their products to private schools and through selected bookstores. The Safir Publishing Company was established in 1982 to do advertising and publicity (they placed advertising for, among other periodicals, the Muslim Brotherhood's monthly al-I‘tisam). In 1986 they opened a new operation, the design and publication of Islamic instructional material for younger children.

These materials are designed by the Children's Culture Unit (Wahda Thaqafa al-Tifl) in the company's main office in Muhandisin, a modern and prestigious area in Giza that has been the beneficiary of much of the new wealth of Sadat's post-1974 Open Door policy, which substantially liberalized regulation of foreign investment in Egypt. The company has a well-planned and aggressive sales policy, with representatives in each Egyptian governorate marketing their material to local bookstores and private schools. They also sell their products in other countries, both Islamic and non-Islamic (in Britain and the United States, for example), taking advantage of national, regional, and international book fairs.

Karim Shafik, whom we met briefly in the last chapter, had helped found the Children's Culture Unit at Safir before moving on to another publisher. He explained to me that the company had perceived a need for books concentrating on the preschool level, because all of the available ones were too simple. The basic idea behind Safir products was to provide a supplement (idafa) or an aid (masa‘da) for parents and for teachers in private schools, to give children a strong foundation in basic skills. The other goal of the company was to “Islamize the curricula,” since the basis of all knowledge is religion (haqiqat il-‘ilm id-din).

The company felt, he said, that books specifically about Islam should operate through “bab al-idah,” the path of clarification, attending to the child's nature and relying on “tabsit mafahim al-islam,” the simplification of Islamic concepts, by involving children in activities, like games. “I saw children playing some of the games of the kind you have had in America,” Karim said, “and how they concentrated on them and learned from playing them. That was the beginning of games like Battles of the Prophet,” one of the board games the company produced. When the government produces religious books, one member of Safir's staff complained, all they care about is al-hukm (authority, governmental control) and cost; and although Safir tries to produce economical materials, “it's not a charitable institution.” [51]

The company's pedagogical strategy, according to Karim, was rooted in the idea that

the child's capacity for memorization is much greater than his capacity for understanding. The memorization of the Qur’an can do a lot of things. It can improve pronunciation and diction, it can provide a basis for adab. But one thing that the memorization of the Qur’an cannot do, is to change your behavior or your comportment by itself. Because even if it's memorized, it's not understood, and the explanation of the meaning of the Qur’an requires a lot of work, and what modern methods do is to explain the context of the Qur’an in simple terms by breaking it down into principles and dwelling on those. So by the use both of memorization—and I myself have never memorized the Qur’an—and modern methods, we can fulfil all the aims we seek.

For example, we see that in the United States there are all kinds of social problems stemming from sexual excess and perversions, which lead to things like the AIDS epidemic, and we want to avoid that kind of thing here, but how do you explain such things to a child? The answer is that you start out by building a strong foundation based on clear, basic principles. Tarbiya has to do with the sound upbringing of the child (tanshi’a wa salihat it-tifl), to make an individual who is useful to society. You can think of da‘wa as the delivery of information (tawsil al-mafahim), whereas tarbiya is the formation of the human personality.[52]

Aside from acquiring specifically moral skills, the company expects children to benefit in other ways from using such products. In the introduction to one of their coloring book series, the editors explain that, since childhood is the time when the basic features of the human personality are set in place and the faculties of the child develop quickly, it is important to pay close attention to these processes. The use of these coloring books will “improve the capabilities of the child” through helping him develop nervous and muscular coordination, an appreciation of beauty, “a sense for the harmony of spaces and sizes and colors,” and artistic ability. Furthermore, it “plants divine doctrine in the child's emotional life by tying together the whole universe with its Creator, who has command over everything he created.” The job of the teacher or parent is to demonstrate to the child “God's abilities and his wisdom in the creation of the various creatures presented in [the] book.” And finally, by coloring the pictures himself, the child learns self-confidence, and the importance of caring for his own property.[53]

These goals are pursued skillfully in a number of series of books and other materials. Unlike cheap public sector religious textbooks, Safir's materials are of the highest quality, using well-printed colored pictures on slick paper stock, clear line drawings, and calligraphy. In addition to board games, of which the company produces at least three, there are several series of coloring books, flash cards, paper models of Islamic monuments, illustrated stories, books on adab and on the principles of Islam, capsule summaries of famous Islamic books, and workbooks for different subjects, from religion to arithmetic and English. Safir also sells Islamic jigsaw puzzles and produces posters with Islamic themes, all printed in color on heavy card stock, and a line of Islamic greeting cards. Various outside consultants, including educators, psychologists, and religious scholars cooperate in the conception, design, and writing of the books and other materials.

By and large, the books are quite close thematically to the products of the Ministry of Education. Stories illustrate basic rules of faith and behavior: put your trust in God during times of adversity, keep the streets clean, obey your parents. Model social practices are described in stories of model—and not so model—children as well. In one story a young boy learns through a painful experience not to disobey his parents.[54] In another, a series of annotated cartoon panels shows us “A Day in the Life of a Muslim Child.” Like the government, private sector publishers functionalize Islamic teachings and practices, reading divine intention from the shape of the social and natural worlds. Just as the government books teach that daily prayers “invigorate the body,” and “accustom the Muslim to organization, and respect for appointed times,” [55] Safir produces materials like the illustrated story book al-Sufuf al-Munadhdhama (Orderly Lines), which emphasize that “al-nidham min al-iman,” orderliness proceeds from faith. The book's pictures and text compare alternate realities on facing pages. On one page, a clerk at a service window waits on patient men standing in a neat, quiet line, while on the facing page an employee in a different office serves a pushy, unruly, and ill-mannered crowd whose own behavior undermines his ability to attend to their requests. The first line proceeds in an orderly manner, each petitioner's papers being processed quickly and efficiently, while in the second scenario, men butt into the front of the line, fights break out, a wallet is stolen in the confusion of pushing and shouting. Soon the first employee has finished his work and can break for lunch, while no work at all has been completed in the second case.

In the final illustrations, the clerk in the first picture steps out of his office and begins to lecture to the assembly on the facing page. “If only you knew the lesson that we learned from prayer,” he says. “During collective prayer we must straighten the rows, just as in all our lives, we must have order, order…” In the ensuing conversation he informs the crowd that God will not look favorably at prayer rows that are crooked, because Islam is a religion of order and discipline (al-islam din al-nidham wa al-indibat). Order saves time and ensures fairness, and the men of the crowd finally realize that God teaches us through everything, and that the straight rows of prayer teach us that order and discipline will help tranquility and satisfaction to prevail in all human endeavor.[56]

The proposition that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” and that the straight rows of prayer are part of a divine pedagogy, contrasts sharply with the colonial perception of Muslim ritual behavior (whether prayer or the rhythmic rocking during kuttab study) as a primitive feature of a backward faith. It places Islamic rituals on a par with the disciplinary technologies of the school, as described by Foucault and Mitchell, borrowing a modern European conception of self and projecting it backward in time, so that the Muslim umma becomes, once again, the historical antecedent and type specimen of civilized community. One interpretation of this statement might take it seriously in a Bourdieuian sense, and posit that the straight lines of prayer are one manifestation of a pervasive but implicit habitus that causes Egyptians to experience spatial and kinesic regimentation as natural, simply by living it in their everyday lives.[57] The mental habits and the physical skills of prayer, taught implicitly at home and then explicitly in the religion class, and displayed publicly there in the form of recitation, response, and even on-demand display of proper prayer positions (rehearsed and mastered, at least in pantomime fashion, in the first grade), could be seen as part of the habitus.

But things are not as simple as this. While the practice of prayer might install the habitus of prayer, there is no reason to believe that this habitus becomes a generalized behavioral template, extended indefinitely to other realms of experience. The significant feature of this discourse of order and discipline is, instead, its framing of ritual behavior as a code that should be read rather than merely a habit that should be cultivated. In learning that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” through the example of the straight lines of prayer, the child is prompted to interpret aspects of social reality as having meanings beyond those that they proclaim or manifest directly. I would argue that contemporary pedagogy implicitly instills this habit of interpretation, this tafsir of the phenomenal world, in effect democratizing the creation of political ideologies, even if this means merely bringing implicit assumptions into the realm of the spoken.[58]

Through the school, students learn to derive ideologies from the observation of social practices or natural phenomena. Egyptians do not carry the hexis of orderly prayer into other areas of their lives. It is context-bound, and only the symbolic elaboration that has come with the functionalization of the religious tradition allows the reading of a portable “order and discipline” into it.[59] In fact, as John Bowen has shown in the case of Indonesia, the Muslim prayer ritual “cannot be “decoded” semantically because it is not designed according to a single symbolic or iconic code. In particular times and places Muslims have construed the salat as conveying iconic or semantic meanings, but as part of particular spiritual, social and political discourses.” [60]

In any ritual there are a number of features that can be made to signify. In Bowen's Indonesian example, local communities, governments and Islamic reform movements make specific aspects of prayer (e.g., its formality and periodicity, its communicative functions, its public nature) express ideal models of society, political divisions, theological notions, and community structure. Muslims elsewhere sometimes interpret the straight rows of prayer as battle lines arrayed against the forces of evil.[61] The ritual is a rich source of alternative meanings that can be foregrounded and mobilized by specific groups. But underlying those specific mobilizations is the explicitness of the interpretive framework encouraged by an educational discourse centered on the abstraction of “principles” from the turath, the Islamic heritage.

Two things should be emphasized here with respect to the Egyptian case. The first is that the preoccupation with function is a general cognitive framework for the interpretation of social objects and events, an intellectual practice that is applied publicly both in strategic educational planning and in the mundane communication of subject matter in the classroom. Again, to take the example of ritual ablutions, educators use the connection between cleanliness and the Islamic tradition to encourage hygienic behavior, advising students that hygiene is the primary intent of the ritual. In learning this lesson, children learn both the explicit message that Islam looks after the individual's health and the implicit message that Islamic practices are to be examined for their latent functions and their social effect. In essence, the intertextual structure of “traditional” Islamic scholarship, which linked primary texts with written commentaries and glosses, has been broken. For in schoolbook discourse, sacred texts are linked with the observable world, both natural and social, as both their referent and their best proof. The ordinary educated Muslim need not master a complex body of legal or philosophical material in order to participate in functionalist discourse; the physician, the engineer, and the bureaucrat are equally well-equipped to bring their experiences of social, mechanical, and natural order into the discussion of God's nature.

Second, this functionalization occurs without the desacralization of the material, so that the process Durkheim described early in this century as one of the goals of the modern educational system is subverted.[62] Naturalistic and materialistic explanations coexist with supernatural ones, for Muslims perceive the two as noncontradictory. The “real” reasons for religious practices do not strip off their theological cloaks. Since God is concerned with the welfare of the Muslim community, the prescriptions of Islam are not only beneficial, but manifestly rational. What is left is to see how these utilitarian ideologies are consolidated and maintained in public culture after the child leaves the elementary school's moral assembly line.


1. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, pp. 58–59.

2. George Devereaux and Edwin Loeb, “Antagonistic Acculturation,” American Sociological Review 8, 2 (April 1943), pp. 133–47.

3. Messick, The Calligraphic State, p. 54.

4. Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 55–56.

5. Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 65–66.

6. Ong, Interfaces of the Word, p. 88.

7. See, especially, Willis, Learning to Labour, pp. 171–76; also Williams, Sociology of Culture, p. 188.

8. A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1955), p. 264.

9. Yusuf al-Hamadi and Muhammad Shahhat Wahdan, Kitab al-tarbiya al-diniyya al-islamiyya, lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘amma li-shu’un al-mutabi‘ al-amiriyya, 1976), pp. 108–10.

10. Yusuf al-Hamadi, Muhammad Mukhtar Amin Mukram, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Maqsud Shalqami, Tarbiya al-Muslim, lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i (Cairo: al-Jihaz al-markazi lil-kutub al-jami‘iyya wa al-madrasiyya wa al-wasa’il al-ta‘limiyya, 1981), pp. 97–98.

11. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. v–vi.

12. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3.

13. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. v.

14. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3.

15. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3.

16. Third and fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3.

17. Table 3 summarizes an analysis of the proportion of the textbooks devoted to specific topics. The analysis was made easier by the fact that the texts are divided into sections with particular, labeled themes. Because of the way the text was organized, each page could usually be treated as a unit for the purpose of coding; i.e., there was not usually more than one kind of material covered on a single page. Where this was not the case, and a page had more than one category of material on it, an even fraction (one-quarter, one-third, one-half, etc.), was usually sufficient to express the proportion of space devoted to particular topics. Where material of one type was included in a section of text of another type (e.g., a story about the Prophet Muhammad in a section on the pillars of Islam), it was not coded differently from the section in which it was included; the authors' categorization of material is treated as primary.

18. I should emphasize that these processes are derived from my own examination of the texts, and do not necessarily correspond to the conscious intentions or productive processes of their creators.

19. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 65.

20. Illustrating the Ramadan sections in the first, second, and fifth grade textbooks are what appear to be three different drawings of the same mosque, a medium-size structure set against the background of some multistory dwellings that could exist in any but the very smallest towns in the country.

21. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 40.

22. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 37.

23. Fifth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 89. There is a matching question in the section of review questions following the story, “What is the role and status of Egypt in the Arab and Islamic world?” From an Islamic rather than a political perspective, this is an odd interpretation of the story of Joseph. A. Chris Eccel points out that he has “rarely seen the ‘ulama’ refer to ancient Egypt except as a symbol for paganism, as it is treated in the Kur’an.” Egypt, Islam, and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1984), p. 350.

24. This is an astounding feat, given that even the Pharaoh Akhenaton's monotheism was at that point still at least three hundred years in the future. Yusuf ‘Ali's commentary on the Qur’an places the story of Joseph “somewhere between the 19th and the 17th century B.C.” The Holy Qur’an (Brentwood, Md.: Amana Corporation, 1983), p. 406.

25. See, for example, discussions of plastic surgery (al-Liwa’ al-islami, 1 December 1988, p. 5), or conversations with the mufti on family planning (al-Ahram, 7 February 1989, p. 8).

26. Zamzam (July 1989), p. 22. The discovery is credited to Dr. ‘Abd al-Nasir Ibrahim Muhammad Harara.

27. One will occasionally find photographs in Muslim periodicals of honeycombs in which the bees have blocked off cells to spell the divine name, or “Allah” inscribed by natural blight on the surface of a leaf. In the summer of 1993 I found a particularly good example of this convention on the wall of a Cairo juice bar. The proprietor had taped up a double-page spread from a private sector religious periodical purporting to be a photograph of a grove of trees, the trunks of which had naturally grown into the shape of Arabic letters spelling the shahada: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger.” For similar understandings in Europe, see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1970), ch. 2.

28. Fifth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 73–75. “Al-nidafa min al-iman” is a common proverb in Egypt, appearing painted (ineffectually) on trash receptacles in some parts of Cairo. The siwak itself has become, in the rhetoric of the ‘ulama, a symbol of Islamic alternatives to Western practices (e.g., al-Liwa’ al-islami, 13 October 1988, p. 7).

29. See Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). “Even if some of Moses's dietary rules were hygienically beneficial,” she wrote, “it is a pity to treat him as an enlightened public health administrator, rather than as a spiritual leader” (p. 29). Max Weber attributed such “reinterpretation of the ritualistic commandments of purity as hygienic prescriptions,” to “modernization.” The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon, 1963), p. 93.

30. Concern with the health implications of ablution is relatively recent. A century ago, in his “Report on the Medical and Sanitary Administration of the Government of Egypt,” H. R. Greene, surgeon major and under director of the Services Sanitaires d'Egypte wrote,

Mosques in town and country are all provided with a basin for ablution, in which the water is seldom changed oftener than once in three months. Around this basin are placed a number of foul latrines communicating with a common drain, which, in most instances, runs into a tank or canal from where the drinking supply of the neighborhood is obtained. An examination of most of the principal mosque drains in Lower Egypt last year showed that 73 per cent. ended in the Nile or its branches and that 23 per cent. flowed into stagnant ponds of which the water was used for drinking purposes. In Egypt the Deity is invariably held to be the author of all disease, which should accordingly be submitted to with resignation; nor should any attempt be made by remedying defects to endeavor to controvert the will of the Almighty. (Enclosure in item no. 19 in “Egypt” no. 15 [1885], “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, vol. 89, p. 78)

Sanitary reforms have been treated briefly in Mitchell's Colonising Egypt, pp. 64–68; and extensively in LaVerne Kuhnke's Lives at Risk (University of California Press, 1990).

31. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 44n.

32. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 28.

33. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 35.

34. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 36.

35. F. O. Mann, who evaluated the Egyptian school system in 1929 at the request of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, complained that the

process [of examination and cramming] is objectionable in itself but most of all when applied to such subjects as hygiene and morals. Not only is examination in these subjects apt to confuse the essential issue but it attempts to test what obviously cannot be tested by the simplicities of question and answer. The dirtiest little boy ever born might easily get full marks in a written examination in hygiene, and the most doubtful juvenile ever conceived the first place in morality by sheer capacity for the reproduction of platitudes, in the one case physiological, in the other, ethical. (Report on Certain Aspects of Egyptian Education, Rendered to His Excellency, the Minister of Education at Cairo [Cairo: Government Press, 1932], p. 21)

36. The choice of this topic should be obvious from the theme of the book, but should not be interpreted to mean that this theme is “dominant” in the texts in the sense of the proportion of space allotted to it, or that it is singled out for attention by the authors. The discussion here is representative of all instances in the texts in which either the family or the school is recommended or shown to be a source of moral advice to the child.

37. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 73.

38. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 75.

39. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 54.

40. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 24.

41. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 13.

42. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 14–16.

43. The description of the trials and tribulations of ideal families was a central feature of the Victorian Sunday school textbook and the popular religious tract, a genre wonderfully parodied by Mark Twain in “The Story of the Bad Little Boy,” Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider (New York: Bantam, 1957), pp. 6–9. In Egypt, the rhetorical technique of depicting the school as one of the primary sources of moral and religious lessons matches alterations in the behavior of educated rural families, in which mothers tend to encourage their children to spend their time studying or playing by themselves, isolated from the feared “bad influences” of neighborhood children. Neither exposed to their local age-mates nor expected to care for younger siblings, such children are raised to be more ego-oriented and less concerned with family loyalties. Schoolbook lessons become increasingly more important as sources of social knowledge because notions of neighborliness and of filial piety, as well as of appropriately differentiated sex roles, differ substantially in educated families from those of the surrounding communities. Judy H. Brink, “Changing Child Rearing Patterns in an Egyptian Village,” paper presented at the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting, November 1990.

44. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 78–79.

45. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 27.

46. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 21.

47. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 20–21.

48. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 20.

49. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 43–45; fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 75–76.

50. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 46.

51. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1989, p. 568.

52. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1989, p. 569.

53. Al-Muslim al-saghir fi ‘alam al-talwin (Cairo: Safir, n.d.), p. 1.

54. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Latif and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh, Al-Udhun al-kabira (Cairo: Safir, n.d.).

55. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 29.

56. ‘Abd al-Tuwab Yusuf and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh, Al-Sufuf al-munadhdhama (Cairo: Safir, 1988), p. 14.

57. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 87–94; see also Starrett, “The Hexis of Interpretation.”

58. Bourdieu, Outline, pp. 167–69.

59. “Order,” as Sami Zubaida reminds us in his review of Mitchell's Colonising Egypt, “…is not given in a particular situation, but read into that situation.” “Exhibitions of Power,” Economy and Society 19 (1990), p. 364.

60. John Bowen, “ Salat in Indonesia: The Social Meanings of an Islamic Ritual,” Man, n.s., 24 (1989), p. 615.

61. Fischer and Abedi, Debating Muslims, p. 291.

62. Emile Durkheim, Moral Education (New York: Free Press, 1961).

6. Growing Up: Four Stories

The youth of every nation are the secret of its strength, and the pillars of its rebirth, and the sign of its advancement; indeed, the believing youngster spends the period of his youth preparing himself for a noble life, and directs his energy toward useful works in building his future and raising his moral and intellectual level.

The processes reviewed in the last chapter transform the Islamic tradition not merely by molding it into a novel format—one could just as easily spend class time memorizing condensed legal manuals—but specifically by folding the child's phenomenal experience of the everyday into his understanding of the sacred, coaxing illuminations of God's will from the humble intersection of personal habit and the image of public good. Coded by age grade and supervised by the mechanics of the examination, these books (as well as children's literature produced by the private sector) act as supplementary revelation and updated sunna in which archetypal modern characters mingle with the prophets of the Qur’an and the exemplary citizens of Medina depicted in hadiths. The textbooks' wise fictional parents and teachers are messengers who bridge the imperfections of reality and the perfection of the divine. In the same way, the discoveries of science display God's will in an EKG pattern as surely as do Qur’anic evocations of the movement of the stars. In using the phenomenal world—both natural and social—as a framework through which divine truth is to be understood and in which it is to be applied, these texts continually renew divinity's instantiations to match human experiences at particular times and places.

Functionalization, as a set of discursive and social practices that provides both for the interpretation and the application of these divine truths, constructs not so much a single reading of Islam, but a framework in which Islam is to be read. Diametrically opposed positions can be derived from the same assumptions or observations, and disagreements then acquire the spurious appearance of fundamental difference when in fact they reveal a common set of understandings. As an example, compare the following three passages:

1. The renaissance of Islamic society stands upon the faith of individuals, and on the effects of this faith on their behavior.…[The Muslim] balances the demands of religion and the world, and works for [this] world as he does for the next, is precise in his work, and increases production without delay or indifference, until he has achieved prosperity, advancement and economic development for society.[2]

2. Work is a fundamental in the life of the individual, because it provides him with what he needs, and maintains his dignity and sets up for him and his family a respectable level of living, just as it is a fundamental in the life of society, because the wealth of the umma is a result of the work of its individuals, and there is no way to increase production without work in various fields: agriculture, manufacturing, trade, construction, teaching, and other profitable areas.[3]

3. There is in the Mahomedan religion itself a great want of encouragement to art, science, or industry. It does not give honour to labour. The book and the sword are the only two objects which it presents as worthy of the ambition or the reverence of its votaries. The Imams, who sometimes preach with the Koran in one hand and a wooden scimitar in the other, are living emblems of the present state of the Mussulman world—for the sword is powerless, and the book speaks in vain. Agriculture has no praise in the Koran, nor has manufacture nor commerce: it is the book of the desert, addressed to the inhabitants of the wilderness.…The Koran was addressed to warriors—to the fighting men of the waste. The Mahometan cultivator seems to accept and resign himself to a recognised condition of humiliation and inferiority—for him there is little comfort in the holy book.[4]

Despite their surface differences, the first two passages are essentially identical to the last in their understanding of the nature of religion. (The shorter passages are drawn from the Egyptian government's 1988 eighth grade religious studies textbook; the third is from the report on Egypt and Cyprus that Bowring submitted to the British government a century and a half earlier.) The extent to which Bowring's superficially distinctive passage is an ethnocentric representation of difference, a libel against Islam, and an offensive stereotype of the “indolent Oriental” is beside the point. What is significant is its agreement with the first two excerpts in their construction of the social categories into which religion in general is thought to fit. In this case, religion as a system of belief and practice should have something to say about work. There is, of course, no a priori reason why religious systems should pay any attention at all to productive or commercial activity, whether encouraging or discouraging it (although Islamic law, specifically, does have a long tradition of concern for commerce). What statements of this type do is not merely construct specific content—whether Islam does or does not honor work—but construct Islam as a whole by defining its extension, by defining work as one of the things about which Islam has something to say.

This discourse of work, as well as those of personal respectability, intellectual humility, and social accountability, are important and recurrent themes. Having seen in the last two chapters how adults structure religious communication with youngsters, we can continue to explore these themes by entering the religious environment of the older Egyptian child struggling to create his own personality while parents, politicians, and educators continue to guide him along various paths to adulthood. The stories teachers and parents tell their children in the process of forming them into responsible family members and useful citizens are obviously only a part—and arguably a very small part—of the stories they hear, the stories they live, and the stories they make for themselves.

We have seen in Islamic theory that the child passes through three stages of social and spiritual development. But alongside this religious progression lie other sets of age labels. Like its American counterpart, the Egyptian periodization of aging is imprecise and context-dependent. In rural Egypt, as in Yemen and elsewhere, children are often referred to as juhhal (sing. jahil), meaning “ignorant.” They are socially unformed beings in whom proper adab has to be cultivated.[5] Among middle-class urbanites, the word often used is tifl (pl. atfal), which means “baby,” a word that can refer to young babies specifically, or to children in general anywhere from birth to age eighteen or so, as can walad (pl. awlad), which means “boy.” Either term essentially refers to “kids.” Sibbi, “child” or “youth,” is sometimes used by teachers and psychologists for children between the ages of six and sixteen. Other terms are murahiq, “teenager” or “adolescent,” a learned word that applies to the older end of the age range, and tali‘a, which means, literally, “vanguard,” and is usually used in the plural, tala’i‘. Like sibbi, these last two terms are more commonly used in writing than in speech. Far more common is the social and age category shabb (pl. shabab), which begins between the ages of thirteen to sixteen or eighteen, and extends through the late twenties or early thirties. The shabab are essentially marriageable (or sexually mature) but unmarried young people. The word is used in much the same way as the English word youth, referring to a collective, almost as if it were an organized and independent social force. When pundits refer to the children or youth of the nation, they speak of awladna or atfalna, “our children,” and al-shabab, “the youth,” or shababna, “our youth.” This primary contrast set directs our movement from looking at the religious discourse aimed at children toward looking at that aimed at youth.

There are four areas where state interests intersect with the life cycle of the shabab: sexual development and marriage; the awakening of political consciousness and the beginnings of economic activity; the development of attitudes toward official religious institutions; and the role of educational and public outreach programs in the moral guidance of youth as they cross the threshold to adulthood and find their place in the worlds of family and work irrevocably altered. The stories people tell about this transition coexist, merge, and contrast in various ways with the stories they find ready-made for them in the increasingly Islamicized public environment. As we continue to explore these stories told by the textbook, the newspaper, and the radio, the political implications of this “mediated” Islam will become clearer. What we will see is that a religious authority based on the creation and utilization of mass literacy destabilizes the relationship between traditional religious elites, secular professionals, and the public. In Egypt as elsewhere in the Muslim world, religious messages become increasingly hard to govern the more intensely they are deployed.

It's Not Haram, But They Might Not Understand It

Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman's daughter, Nadia, was in the ninth grade when I first met her in 1989. She resembled Samia both in appearance and in dress, since she had been a muhaggaba since puberty. “Girls biyithaggibu [don higab] when they first get their period,” Samia explained, naturalizing her daughter's experience despite the fact that most Egyptian women today have made that choice later in their lives. Just as in her younger days, when learning about Islam was just as natural as getting tall, Nadia had always remained a good girl, her mother said, who never had to be coaxed or prodded to do the right thing. “Except,” she remembered,

about six months ago, she said to me, I have friends who are boys, why don't I call them on the phone, or have them call me. At first I said, don't call them, and don't let them call you. It's not haram, but they might not understand it, and might think the wrong thing.

And she said to me, well, you have male friends, and you talk to them on the phone, and they come over here and talk to you, why can't I do the same? I told her that it was because I had chosen these friends, and I trusted them, and that I am mature enough and experienced enough to know how to handle the situation if something isn't correct. She said to me, but in Islam, there's halal and haram, and if it's not the one, you shouldn't do it.

We went on like that, and I said that if she called them, the family of the boy might not understand, and so on. She finally solved the problem herself, by saying, I will not speak to him anymore, and he will not speak to me, because I think I love him, but he's in love with another girl. Now, since she's a teenager, she's very anti-men. They're all dirty, she says, and they just don't deserve to be paid attention to. Now she makes my days black, because when my friends call, she says I shouldn't speak to them!

I'm very frank in dealing with Nadia. I tell her things directly, and don't approach things by indirect ways. So I told her, it's haram to kiss boys or let them kiss you. And she said, Mama! How can you talk about things like this? But you know, at her age, boys and girls are always touching and pulling at each other, and slapping, and so on. She does shake hands with men. But on the schoolbus that she takes, she has seen some girls sitting in the laps of the boys, and was shocked by that.[6]

Nadia, turning against her mother the adolescent's universal sensitivity to discrepancies between theory and its application, was practicing with a rhetorical power aimed at asserting her own status as an arbiter of culture and custom.[7] Manipulating and experimenting with the discourse of absolutes, she claimed a position of superiority when her life circumstances changed and a plausible interpretation of Islamic gender segregation made a virtue of her necessity. Such disputes and negotiations over the nature of rules (“it's not haram, but…”), where rules apply (“she does shake hands with men”) and—most importantly—who can apply them (“now, when my friends call, she says I shouldn't speak to them!”), are as common between age grades as they are between political, ethnic, gender, or class rivals.

As in the home, schools deal with the potentials and problems of young teens by continuing to present them with models of proper behavior. Sex is approached gingerly in the religion curriculum for students like Nadia. It is confined, in the preparatory schoolbooks, to a single dialogue in which a teacher condemns youths' harassing comments to young women on the street.[8] Deeper consideration of sex and marriage is postponed until the final year of secondary school, when the issues of engagement, marriage, and the rearing of children enter the religion curriculum. In Cairo the average age of marriage for both men and women is rising steadily as it takes longer and longer each year for struggling families to save or borrow the money to finance a marriage. Marriage expenses include not only payments by the groom and the bride's accumulation of a suitable trousseau, but the celebration itself and the acquisition of an apartment in an artificially tight housing market. As Diane Singerman has shown, the investments families make in the marriage of their children are often the largest capital outlays of their lives. The prolonged period between physical maturity and marriage, together with family pressures that discourage the free association between young men and women, is stressful for everyone, particularly because families count on their reputations for upright behavior to attract suitable marriage partners for their children when the time comes.[9]

Since the reproduction of the family is at the center of everyday political and economic activities for most Egyptians, as well as being in theory the primary basis for a true Muslim society, schoolbooks depict marriage as one of God's principal intentions for humankind. Books advise young people to select their companions for religious and moral values rather than superficial qualities like looks or wealth.[10] While textbooks do not delineate the precise extent of parental responsibility in the choice of spouses for their children, they do advise that men and women at least be able to see each other before the engagement, even if the sunna restricts this viewing to the girl's face and hands, with conversation conducted in the presence of a mahram (a male relative of the woman not eligible to marry her).[11] In fact, although restrictions are hardly ever quite so draconian, the interactions of young people both before and after their engagements are closely monitored by relatives and constitute a frequent trigger for family quarrels, gossip, and public comment.[12]

Textbook discussions of family life cover the legal conditions of engagement and marriage, the legal rituals involved in their completion, and the respective rights of husband and wife. As in much of Islamic political writing, the rights of marriage partners are expressed as duties owed to them by other parties, in this case, their mates. Thus, the husband's rights include the expectation that his wife will obey him, manage the household, raise the children properly, and support the family emotionally. She bears the responsibility neither to leave nor to invite people into her husband's house without his permission (either general or specific), a custom of wrenching significance for women moving some distance from their extended families. The rights of the wife include her husband's payment of brideprice, and his financial support for her and her children, along with a suitable residence, sexual intimacy, sympathy, care and cooperation, all after the model of the Prophet's marriages. For young people who cannot marry for reasons of health, disposition, or finance, the Ministry of Education offers the Prophet's advice that fasting helps overcome carnal desires by strengthening control over the conscience and helping one transcend appetites that might otherwise lead to the sin of an unlawful “natural relationship” (‘alaqa tabi‘iyya).[13]

According to Egyptian pundits, the moral confusion responsible for premarital sexual activity, as well as social problems like street violence and drug use, can be traced to a variety of insidious influences. These include not only a staggeringly uneven economy where unemployment and inflationary pressures strangle family income in the face of continually rising expectations, but also the impact of globalized popular culture. Critiques of Egyptian cultural policy, which mandates the centralized monitoring and censorship of radio, film, television, and print production, and the regulation of imported films, videos, and music, cluster around three perspectives. While some critics decry the tendency to look abroad for popular culture when it could be produced more authentically at home, others target sex and violence in entertainment media either as psychologically harmful in general, or specifically as corruptions emanating from “the West.”

Arguing on the basis of economic as much as cultural independence, some newspaper columnists have asked, Why do Egyptians not manufacture girls' dolls named ‘Aisha to compete with Barbie? Why do Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry usurp the rightful place of Kalila wa Dimna (a popular pair of Arabic folktale characters)?[14] While Egypt is a prolific producer of soap operas,[15] most local products are outshone both in production quality and in popularity by American serials like Dallas, Knot's Landing, and Falcon Crest. Heavily edited for Egyptian viewing, these shows nevertheless saturate the airwaves with images of the wealthy, the decadent, and the promiscuous (albeit wealthy, decadent and promiscuous extended families often living in joint households, which partially accounts for their fascination: it is the social world of the Egyptian family with both its economic resources and its values precisely reversed). These shows are a constant subject not only of friendly conversations, but of newspaper editorials and letters, like this one in al-Ahram, written by the superintendent of geography at a private secondary school in Alexandria:

Great throngs of viewers have developed a powerful infatuation with [Falcon Crest], the proof of which is the increase in the length of commercials preceding it! It's certain that this series is nothing but a summons destructive and ruinous to every standard. For it deals, with great charm and detail, with how to murder one's brothers, and how to carry out wife-swapping with ease, and how to hatch every kind of vile and base plot! [It shows] how forbidden affections are open and public and acceptable to everybody, and practiced by everybody!! All this without any obstacle from religion or human nature or conscience.

After extolling the show's lavish production values, acting, photography, and the wardrobe of the stars, which is provided by “some of the trendiest fashion houses in the world,” the author demands,

Is this series a devastating cultural assault intended to infiltrate without awareness the subconscious of our youth and our daughters and our wives? Or is it a hidden appeal for the disintegration of values and the decay of society? And where is the supervision of all this? Of course I don't have official censorship in mind, for that has allowed its presentation…on the contrary, I contemplate supervision by the conscience of the nation [damir al-’umma] as represented by venerable men of religion and social scientists and the greatest intellectuals and writers and critics.…In general I call on all the viewers of this series to delve deeply into its contents and to perceive for themselves its danger and its aim: that it is, as I believe myself, deadly poison covered in the sweetest wrapping![16]

This sort of cultural critique, familiar to Americans in the conservative post-Reagan era, is an important reflection of a growing worldwide debate about the social, psychological and moral effects of market-based cultural production. Another columnist reminds the public that “We owe it to our children not to leave their enculturation to chance and dim-sightedness, and then to complain that among them are young addicts and deviants from our values.” [17] Medical experts counsel the public that media images can disrupt the balance between good and evil within a person, potentially triggering outbursts of random violence, as demonstrated by a press report of a young Australian man who wounded two dozen people in Melbourne after a rampage induced by seeing the movie Rambo. According to Dr. Muhammad Sha‘lan, professor of psychiatry at al-Azhar,

Sometimes artistic works contradict what is within a certain person living in certain circumstances, and the two are thrown together and cause an explosion…this doesn't mean that the artistic works are responsible, but if the works gave admirable models in leading roles, this person would have imitated a good model rather than a bad model like Rambo; these days violence is getting the better of us; violence in art and violence in life. We used to watch “Cinderella,” and now karate films are what we watch.[18]

Other mental health professionals concur. Dr. Sayyid Subhi, a professor of mental health and therapy at ‘Ain Shams, and chair of the Psychology Department at the College of Education in Medina in Saudi Arabia, argues that the victory of self-centered values in modern society, a condition he refers to as “moral retardation” (al-i‘aqa al-khuluqiyya; or “absence of conscience,” ghiyab al-damir), results from noncommitment to religious morals. It manifests itself in, among other things, the spread of drug addiction among Egyptian youth.[19] This is not a discourse rejecting “the West,” but a discourse questioning the nature of “modern society” as such. Often it contrasts a culture anchored in religious values with a culture that has lost its spiritual moorings, a culture become coarse, uncivil, and obsessed by cultural products organized around images of undomesticated (unmarried) sex and (nonmilitary and thus unpatriotic) violence.

The third critical response goes beyond encouraging cultural self- sufficiency or rejecting psychologically damaging entertainment, to foreground the specific cultural differences that distinguish an ideal Muslim society from the mores of Euroamerican society. Islamic critics, in particular, accuse the government of promulgating cultural and educational policies that are not only inconsistent, but positively harmful. While Islamic behavior is emphasized in religion textbooks and political speeches, it is obviously not a feature of Sylvester Stallone epics, nor, the critics say, is it even encouraged across the school curriculum. In a 1989 exposé in al-Nur, the weekly organ of Egypt's tiny Liberal Party, ‘Adil al-Ansari castigated the Ministry of Education and the administration of al-Azhar's secondary institutes for allowing the use of history books that delete mention of the great Muslim victories against the Mongols and Crusaders, and, even worse, the use of English language texts that portray “unveiling and the mixing of the sexes.” Al-Ansari reviewed several cases in which stories and dialogues present Egyptian and European women “unveiled and adorned”; parties and nights on the town in which men and women—both Egyptian and foreign—mix freely and stay out dancing “until three in the morning.” There were pictures of women at hairstylists, or sitting on the ground with hair and knees exposed, and in one instance a mosque in an illustration was complimented for its archaeological rather than its religious significance.

In a final example al-Ansari invoked a story told in the second-year secondary English textbook, in which an English businessman is invited to the apartment of Ibrahim, an Egyptian. Before coming to visit, the Englishman stops to buy flowers for the lady of the house, with her husband's full knowledge: “And when he goes to the home [of his friend], Layla the Egyptian opens [the door] to him and she is unveiled, and she greets this foreign man freely and he gives her the roses and she thanks him and brings him food amidst broad smiles.” [20] From the point of view of the religious activist, the breathless pornographic intent of these examples is clear. They are not merely descriptions of the interactions of English-speaking Egyptians and foreigners (some of the episodes take place abroad, in Lebanon and London, for example), but they are “a clear call to unveiling,” dancing, movie-going, and the mixing of the sexes. Description is perceived as exhortation. Critiques like this are commonplace in the popular press, arguing against the moral laxity of the elites who administer communications and schooling. In this particular case, the article referred to the use of these textbooks in al-Azhar secondary institutes, hinting that even the official religious elites do not have the nation's moral health at heart.

The discursive strategy of such critiques, and of much mainstream reporting as well, is what historian Laurence Moore has called “moral sensationalism,” [21] a strategy widespread in the nineteenth-century United States, where the growing market for written material stimulated publishers to attract wide audiences, and simultaneously drew a sharp response from Christian religious denominations who condemned the salacious content apparently demanded by the masses. In response, writers for mass audiences portrayed themselves as religious messengers and developed a hybrid style in which they could pander to public prurience by recounting in graphic detail the worst kinds of personal and social outrages (drunkenness, gambling, fornication, rape, and murder), for the purposes of criticizing lapses in public morality and the coarsening of public discussion. In both the Christian and Muslim traditions, this strategy has been one of the prime mechanisms moving public religious discourse from concern with doctrine and legal minutiae to concern with abstract moral questions.[22] No longer is religious writing expected to be purely exegesis, legal interpretation, or instruction in ritual performance. Now it can comment on political events, gender roles, or sensational crimes, and still bear a useful moral message. The economic imperatives of mass-produced print force a two-way syncretism in which religious themes benefit from the selling power of suggestiveness, while bawdy or violent themes are partly legitimized by their attendant religious critique. The market in cultural goods steadily alters the corpus of “Islamic” literature by predisposing some kinds of communications rather than others. Related to this transformation of journalistic style is the role university professors, physicians, and mental health specialists play in publicly and authoritatively encouraging religious adherence as a remedy for social and moral disintegration. Whereas in the last chapter we encountered the functionalization of religious practices in the context of teaching religion, here we find it in the context of explaining social and psychological problems. The same rhetorical process that lent medical legitimation to the wudu’ operates here as well: promotion of religion by disinterested secular professionals can be more compelling than the testimony of ‘ulama.

People Use Religion, Too

Because the child is not forever isolated within the family unit, and because of the complexity of modern society with its wealth of opportunities for distraction and corruption, children are exposed to influences that the pious family and the devout instructor can neither approve nor anticipate. Sometimes family standards even conflict with the moral vision of the school, but most busy parents, as concerned as they might be, lack the time to monitor the specifics of their children's school experience, trusting that their own models of adab will suffice, and that personal and family moral commitments will transcend the specific political biases of the state curriculum. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman told me,

I've never read any of [Nadia's] textbooks, but I do try to correct misunderstandings that she gets from them. Like she might come to me and say, Mama, is it true that the Ottoman empire, or the Mamluk period was bad? I would correct these impressions, saying that the authors were biased in favor of nationalism or secularism, or so on. These two periods of our history are a target of those who want to attack Islam, but instead of attacking the religion of Islam, the rule of the shari‘a and so on, they attack the Ottoman Empire for the mistakes that it made. But we defend it as a frame for Islamic government [al-hukm al-islami]. [Nadia] would hear things here, and she would read In the Shadow of the Qur’an,[23] and other things by Sayyid Qutb, and she was brought up with discussions of Islam and the Islamic Republic and its revolution, and so on.

She tried to teach Nadia to be a critical reader and to focus her thoughts on a career. In 1993 Nadia was studying English and journalism at Cairo University in order, her mother said, “to serve Islam through the medium of English, and through writing.”

Samia herself came late to Islam, having been a socialist and Arab nationalist throughout her marriage to Nadia's father, and discovering only during the 1970s the spiritual significance of religion. On a January 1972 pilgrimage to Mecca she “ higabed” (the Egyptian word is “ithaggab” ), and

felt that it was khisara [loss, waste, pity] to lose it, to take off the Islamic cover. During the Hajj there's something that works inside of you, developing you, making progress in your feelings, making you really aware of the real things in life. And so I decided that for God I should be more obedient. Nothing is worth disobeying Him. Before this I didn't realize that not wearing Islamic garb is disobedient.[24]

During the late 1970s as Iran struggled to find its way around the sterile Cold War choices of capitalism and communism, she discovered the political significance of Islam as well, joining many more prominent Egyptian leftist and secularist intellectuals who made this journey and accrued the label “turathiyun judud ” (new adherents to the Islamic heritage), for their apparent “return” to an acknowledgment of the unique qualities of “Eastern” values as against “Western” cultural imperialism.[25] Personal journeys, while in many ways patterned systematically by the intersections of gender, class, and historical change, can be enormously unpredictable. With respect to religious commitment, both the bland universal truisms of formal instruction and the deeply personal images of the divine developed in the heart of the family can form a personal image of the sacred, which, “if it loses its meaning…can be set aside without being forgotten,” [26] and then regain its salience at another point in life. During periods in life when religious stories have no hold, their meanings are very different.

Muhammad Sulayman, like Samia, is a writer constantly struggling to maintain his standard of living despite holding a full-time job. An assistant editor for a small leftist publishing house in downtown Cairo, he published his first book—a slim black-and-purple volume of modernist poetry—at age thirty-six. Married, but with no children (“they need so much money to raise them. It's just too much to be responsible for”), he is from a town in the delta, where his father was one of the leaders of the local Muslim Brotherhood.

I grew up in a town in Minufiyya with 160,000 people, where the climate [manakh] was very religious. I used to pray [he holds his hands up beside his face and leans forward slightly to indicate prostration], and fast, and all that. Then when I was fifteen or so, my friends and I would go to the theater, and I started reading the work of a playwright named [Bertolt] Brecht, who was a socialist. And it was then that I learned that socialism was not just a book, a monolithic thing with only one idea to it, like there's a God and that's that. Socialism was wide [wasi‘], and it talked about poverty and solutions for poverty and the causes of poverty. Poverty wasn't caused by God, but by people, and people use religion, too. Brecht was full of ideas; tough, difficult ideas.

I wanted to be a director, and I read all of Brecht's plays, and when I understood them I became a leftist. Before that—this was around 1972 or 1973, when I was twenty years old, I was very religious [mutadayyin], but then I just left it altogether. Now, my father taught us everything about religion. He made me memorize the Qur’an. And I've really benefitted from knowing the Qur’an, especially out in the streets.

I was embarrassed when my father found out about my socialism. He said it was forbidden (muharram), and as soon as he learned of it there was a big argument and he kicked me out of the house, just like that, because he was convinced I was an atheist. I saw him just once after that, when he came to visit me in prison in 1977. Just that one time, and then afterwards he died. I have one brother, but he's gone; moved to Canada. And one sister, who's 28 now. She used to be a socialist, but now she's a religious muhaggaba. She's married to a businessman with a lot of money, and is concentrated on her work and on raising her kids. She's an assistant professor at the college of engineering, and is also getting her Ph.D there. My sister, we talk on the phone about once a year, but otherwise have no contact. You know how it is, we have relations of love because we're brother and sister, but not relations of friendship. She had taken on higab during the time I was in prison, because she was living in the house of my father.

In prison I met all kinds of people, including the religious ones, but they all thought I was a heathen [kafir] so although we had lots of discussions of things all the time, in terms of personal relations things never went beyond greetings. It's the same with my religious friends from childhood. They don't like to talk to me, because there's a verse in the Qur’an [he recites the verse] that says you're not supposed to associate with the kuffar.[27]

Muhammad's depressing story of estrangement from family and friends illustrates the suspicion with which different portions of the religious and political spectra view each other both then and now, as well as the paranoid politics of Sadat's regime, which imprisoned at one time or another nearly every dissenting voice in the country. The year during which Muhammad was imprisoned, 1977, was the year in which Sadat issued his call for a renewal of religious education in response to the January food riots, a call that underscored the importance accorded to this activity as a foundation of social and political stability. In the religion curricula of preparatory and secondary schools, political and economic concerns play a substantial role. In particular, there is a sustained emphasis on the role Islamic values and conduct play in the solution of problems like those that drove Muhammad Sulayman to socialism: the causes and effects of poverty. More than one-third of the eleventh grade textbook, in fact, is devoted to the presentation of Islamic prescriptions on lawful and unlawful gain, interest, usury, business practices, and spending on righteous causes. (This is also where the excerpts on Islam and work, quoted at the beginning of the chapter, are to be found.)

Religious studies textbooks for the preparatory school (roughly an American junior high or middle school, grades seven through nine) and secondary school (equivalent to grades ten through twelve in high school) are far more consistent in a formal sense than those in the primary curriculum. Each section of text regularly consists of a selection of Qur’anic verses or a Prophetic saying, followed directly by definitions of difficult vocabulary, an exposition of the meaning and intent of the passage, and a set of questions for discussion. Gone are the hymns, pictures, and matching exercises of the earlier grades. In their place are logical and legal arguments, beginning with ontological and teleological proofs of God's existence and power, based on two carefully distinguished sorts of evidence: rational and traditional (al-‘aql wa al-naql).[28]

Consistently emphasizing natural theology, books elaborate themes introduced in earlier grades, developing logical proofs from natural models of the necessity for the division of labor and the orderliness of society. So just as communities of ants, bees, and humans have leaders, the cosmos must have a supreme authority in God.[29] Expanding on the theme of authority and discipline, the requirement of prayer is adduced as traditional evidence for the necessity of order in society. Prayer is incumbent upon Muslims not only because God ordered it as a link between the divine and the created, but

because in prayer there is rising and bowing and prostration, all actions that invigorate the body, and the Muslim devotes himself to work with zeal and energy, and increases production and spreads the good, and promotes [the progress of] the nation.…[P]rayer accustoms us to order, and the keeping of appointments, and the binding together of Muslims with cooperative ties and love and harmony.…[C]ollective prayer binds society with ties of brotherhood and equality, as it acquaints every Muslim with the condition of his brothers.[30]

Moral behavior is closely linked not only with public order, but with economic development. The Ramadan fast, the books explain, reduces friction between the rich and poor by letting the wealthy experience the hunger and privation of the needy, prompting generous alms. This produces serenity in the hearts of the poor so that “everybody applies themselves to their work, and production increases, society becomes happy, and its economy develops.” [31] The fast also works indirectly by giving Muslims practice in willpower, helping to free them of “ugly habits like smoking, which takes its evil toll on the person's health, and then he can't do his work, and it reduces his productivity and reduces family income and causes the country's economy to slump.” [32]

Although humans are responsible for cooperating with each other to build and reform society, the process is still guided by God, who can override human effort as he pleases. Children are taught that the fulfillment of their own desires is secondary to the good of the society of believers, which God's wisdom safeguards. In the eighth grade children read the story of Ahmad, who

had wanted, after taking the General Secondary examination, to enroll in the College of Medicine, but his scores didn't enable him to realize his hope, and he enrolled in the War College. Emerging an officer, he had the honor of participating in the 10th of Ramadan War, whose heroes became eligible to be decorated because of their participation. He was most happy for this honor, as were his father and his family. Ahmad had wanted, and his father had wanted, and his family had wanted, but God does what he wants, and it was to the greatest good what He decided and willed.[33]

Elementary and preparatory schooling, a fictive teacher explains, provide technical education for every Egyptian so that he will have a vocation that will help him in “satisfying his needs and gratifying his desires.” Love for Egypt and for Islam requires everyone to seek responsible employment, which will promote “the honor of the nation and its citizens,” [34] but those who avoid honest labor are “weeds that suck up their nutrients to destroy useful plants and living things.” [35] A hadith of the Prophet condemning the destruction of shade trees in the desert is extended to all kinds of contemporary public facilities: means of transport such as buses and trains; means of communication such as telegraph, telephone, and mail offices; and public services such as schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, gardens and public restrooms. Students are warned against vandalizing or interfering with them, promising “those who would destroy them of a painful punishment on the Day of Resurrection.” [36]

Such discussions of work show how far the functionalization of religion can go toward wholly transforming religion's symbolic import. In its simplest form, the connection between Islam and labor may be expressed in a phrase from one of Safir's coloring books: “al-islam din al-‘amal” (Islam is a religion of work). More than the concrete notion that “Islam is a religion of cleanliness,” or the abstract one that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” the idea that “Islam is a religion of work” brings the whole weight of the religious heritage down behind a political program. It not only marks labor with divine intent, but marks the religious system with sociopolitical intent, and in so doing changes that system into something new. Function is a self-fulfilling prophecy, for once religion is perceived as useful in achieving given ends, it becomes used in prosecuting those ends (whether or not it does in fact achieve them), and that imputed functionality becomes in turn one of its empirical features.

I Had Some Friends There

Despite the relatively tight social controls Egyptian families impose on their children, many urban shabab, like the restless young hittistes (“wall-leaners”) of Algeria,[37] find ample opportunity for social and ideological experimentation in Cairo's broad shopping avenues, its backstreet drug subculture, its movie houses, schoolyards, and mosques. The spreading demands of the school, the workshop, or the office require that many young people be away from their families for long periods each day, and for the millions of unemployed the negative freedom of time opens up all sorts of opportunities that worry parents, politicians, and intellectuals alike. The cultural experimentation of youth—sometimes fickle and transitory, sometimes life-changing—unites across as well as divides along class and geographical lines. Brecht finds his way to the provinces, and inspired provincial youth flock to university or employment in the capital. Bedouin boys grow Islamist beards and receive impossible teasing from relatives, while bedouin girls, inspired by their teachers, show off school-bred religious knowledge to their elders and yearn to wear the urbane Islamist veil, one of the symbols of sophisticated Nile Valley modernity.[38] On city buses bald civil servants hunch over tiny copies of the Qur’an while behind them smudged shabab in tattered galabiyyas squint and struggle with moving lips to read articles about official corruption in the Muslim Brotherhood's al-Sha‘b newspaper; middle-class young women hidden behind face-veils and gloves ride the Cairo subway clutching popular manuals on Islamic gender roles, while lower-class women sit in mosque courtyards before weekly religious classes, debating the meaning of traditional rituals, amulets, and scriptural passages.[39]

While this seemingly collective intellectual experimentation with religion sometimes seems to be an ineluctable and unidirectional process, there are always gaps, reversals, and complications. Sometimes people outgrow intellectual inspirations; sometimes they are frightened away from them; and sometimes their penumbra persists in altered form. Almost like a mirror image of the leftist Muhammad Sulayman, Wafa’i Isma‘il was in many ways a “typical” American University in Cairo graduate, whom I met through an American acquaintance he was dating. Handsome, bilingual, well-to-do, and worldly, he studied political science at AUC, and later worked for his father's small architectural consulting firm in Ma‘adi, a wealthy bedroom community south of Cairo. Once he asked me about my own research, and when I mentioned that I had just visited the mosque of Anas Ibn Malik in Giza, he broke into a wide, embarrassed grin. Looking down at the glass of water he was holding, he chuckled,

Yeah, I used to go to Anas all the time. They have a lot of things going on there. I used to go there with my friends all the time to pray; there and a couple of little mosques, just tiny ones like the one you saw in [the documentary videotape] “The Sword of Islam”. You wouldn't think looking at me now, but I used to be into these kinds of groups, with some friends.

Probably from the time I was sixteen until I was twenty I used to be really religious, praying, and having all these kinds of discussions and whatever. None of my family is religious at all, and my family was very concerned about me; my father used to send people to talk to me. But I used to get up every morning to go pray at the mosque; sometimes I had to go out the window, because my father was against it.

I don't know, it's kind of what one of my professors was saying, that when you don't believe in something, and then you go to a place like this, and there are people there so friendly and caring and concerned about you. And you're so smart, and your father is so stupid and everything, and he doesn't pray, and he drinks and whatever, and you start wondering about your real identity.

But you go to one of these places and they're telling you, oh, the world is really horrible, and you're like, yes, yes, and they say that people are robbing each other, and it's so terrible, and you're agreeing, and then at the end they ask you to join, and of course you say, “sure!”. But I had some friends there, and we would have all kinds of discussions about sunna, and qadar [predestination], and this kind of stuff; this was all before Sadat [was killed]; then I stopped going. Three or four of my friends were arrested in September 1981, and then I knew some people arrested afterwards. But they soon got out.

Also I saw a lot of the stuff going on at the University, and I used to be involved a little in that, calling for the prayers and clearing the areas and stuff. I was in Commerce [at Cairo University] just for a semester before going to AUC. That was in 1982.[40]

This surprising revelation (“You wouldn't think looking at me now…”) helped make sense of one of his ruling interests in 1989: applying to graduate school at Cairo University and also in the United States, where he wanted to earn a degree in Middle East Studies with research on the politics of Islamist movements. An intellectualized response to his own former involvement, this desire was coupled with an alienation from Egyptian life that led him to question me persistently about why Americans came to live in his country, when all he wanted to do was go abroad.

Youngsters beginning more and more to move within the circle of their peers and to separate themselves from the enveloping bonds of the family experience a growing awareness of social injustices, political affairs, alternate viewpoints and role models, which subject them to conflicts both at home and elsewhere. The ideological success of small private sector Islamic groups among Egyptian youth depends partly on this disaffection and the consequent search for social and intellectual alternatives. These groups seem to have the tacit support of an enormous proportion of shabab, even those who never consider joining them. According to Samia Mustafa al-Khashab's 1988 survey, three-quarters of Cairo University students felt that the official religious establishment centered around the al-Azhar mosque was either partially or wholly ineffective in meeting the religious needs of Egyptian youth. Most of these felt that the institution needed to increase its activity in grappling with social problems,[41] and improve the performance of Islamic da‘wa, or outreach.[42] Almost all students felt that mosques needed to become more active in society, holding meetings for the religious enlightenment of youth (87 percent), establishing schools for religious instruction (66 percent), creating classes to fight illiteracy (60 percent), and setting up popular clinics for those who came to prayer (58 percent).[43] Each of these activities is currently provided by high-profile private sector social service agencies, whom students suggest the government emulate.

Overwhelmingly, students taking part in the survey were hostile to Sufi orders, which are often perceived by the middle and upper classes as sha‘bi: low class, popular, primitive, and fundamentally mistaken about the requirements of a true Islam. Although almost 85 percent of the students expressed ignorance of the goals of Sufism, they felt that Sufi orders were unnecessary (66 percent), and without positive roles in the solution of social problems (75 percent), in the political sphere (84 percent), or in spreading Islamic da‘wa (60 percent).[44] All these sentiments are strongly encouraged by the rationalistic modernism of the Islamist groups (despite the fact that leaders of the movement like Hasan al-Banna—not to mention Iran's Khomeini—had Sufi roots themselves). By contrast, a large majority of these students knew some of the names and goals of the Islamist groups ( “Takfir wal-Hijra,” al-Jihad, etc.) that operated in Egypt during the 1970s and 1980s.[45] Almost three- quarters believed that these groups take the feelings and opinions of Egyptian youth into account, and thought that some or all of Egyptian youth are sympathetic to them. They did not think that these groups should be eliminated (82 percent), because they are trying to change society for the better, and because they have contributed to the Islamic Awakening (al-sahwa al-islamiyya).[46] These feelings may have changed somewhat over the past decade as the government has waged its ever more intensive propaganda campaign against the Islamists, changing its label for them from “extremists” to “terrorists” since the beginning of the violent 1992 insurgency based in southern Egypt.

But by the late 1980s the state was responding through its schools. The theme of the Islamic education curricula for shabab—students in preparatory and secondary schools—was “Islamic Society,” and lessons clustered around “the three tightly interwoven themes of Faith, Morals, and Social Solidarity.” [47] The competition between public and private sector religious organizations for status and authority in the eyes of Egypt's youth lent particular urgency to the government's religious education programs, particularly at the primary and preparatory levels, where, according to newspapers, the religious curricula were being adjusted to create study materials that “translate knowledge into practice” (yatatarjamu al-‘ilm ila al-‘amal).[48] This holds true of the secondary curriculum as well, where, along with the principles of faith and social solidarity, textbooks and syllabi emphasized the role of legitimate authority in the government of Islamic society and the enforcement of Islamic conduct.

A ninth grade commentary on three verses in the Qur’an's sura 3, ’Al ‘Imran (103–5), outlines the state's theory of religious authority. The verses remind the new Muslim community of the blessing of their unification and warn them against disputation and divisiveness, laying out the advantages of “security and fidelity and stability.” If, according to the textbook, every person adheres to the sunna and “knows the limits of his responsibility,” then society “will be a strong, solid, cohesive, loving, cooperative, active and productive one whose strength and solidity no artful plot can weaken or disturb, whose unity no malicious sedition can sunder.” [49] The lesson goes on to say that the limits of individual responsibility for the enforcement of Islamic conduct are set by the Qur’an itself: “Let there arise out of you/A band of people/Inviting to all that is good,/Enjoining what is right/And forbidding what is wrong:/They are the ones/To attain felicity” (sura 3, 104).

The word umma, translated in this verse by A. Yusuf ‘Ali as “band,” or “group,” usually denotes an entire community, such as the community of believers. (A. J. Arberry, for example, interprets the verse this way: “Let there be one nation of you, calling to good/And bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour;/Those are the prosperers.”) The textbook writers, however, have chosen to interpret umma in the phrase “wa l-takun minkum umma,” to mean “’ayy ta’ifa tad‘u ila al-khayr” (any group or class that calls [people] to what is right).[50] Glossed like this, the verse calls for one group of people within society, rather than the society as a whole, to bear responsibility for enjoining good and forbidding evil. “Calling [people] to the good lies in the domain of the teachings of the Qur’an and sunna, and no one can engage in this da‘wa except one who is an ‘alim of the book of God and the sunna of the Prophet. And the verse has conferred success upon this group, and their success is the success and righteousness of society.” [51]

Some of the discussion questions at the end of this lesson are essentially ideological tests that prompt teachers to gauge student feelings about religious unity and the specialized role of the da‘iya (the maker of da‘wa, or Islamic outreach). Questions ask students if they would like to be da‘iyas, and then enquire, “If your answer is yes, to what [objectives] would you call your classmates, the individuals in your family, and your neighbors?” Next the student confronts a hypothetical colleague whose ideas are not sanctioned by authoritative texts or persons:

On the other side of the equation, the Ministry of Education has recently begun requesting in its teacher-education exams, an essay on “The role of the teacher in combating terrorism,” the most recent gloss of the term extremism, which was used more commonly throughout the 1980s.[53] Such devices respond to the ideological competition of Islamist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose lay members often harshly criticize state policy, both within and outside of the religious sphere. Most of the prominent and intellectually important Islamic activists in twentieth-century Egypt (and elsewhere) have been trained in fields other than Islamic studies. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a graduate of Dar al-‘Ulum, in Arabic, and worked as a primary school teacher. Sayyid Qutb was trained as a literary critic and worked as a consultant to the Egyptian Ministry of Education. ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj, the ideological leader of the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat, was an electrician. The prolific writer and religious philanthropist Mustafa Mahmud was originally a physician.[54] Their movements and the institutions they built were the result not of an appeal to traditional forms of religious authority and discourse, but of mobilizing charisma and modern forms of organization, communication, and recruitment. By restricting the range of moral authority to the circle of scholars trained by the religious faculties of al-Azhar, on the other hand, the state hopes to limit the appeal of such groups, although there are many competent ‘ulama, like Muhammad al-Ghazali for the Muslim Brotherhood, and ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman for the smaller Islamic radical groups, who can lend legitimacy to the opposition.

The state's third-party “calls to order” (to borrow a concept from Bourdieu's writings on class) with respect to interpretive authority suffuse public culture. The minister of religious endowments, in an interview published in the Ramadan 1409 issue of Egypt's official Sufi magazine, confirmed forcefully the need to leave religious matters to specialists, saying that Egypt's youth are basically good, but that they lack “direction and guidance.” When asked about the difference between “religion” (al-din) and “religiousness” (al-tadayyun), the minister replied,

Religiousness is open to everyone, to all young people—[it is] even expected of every man, woman, youngster and old person. As for religion—as it is understood as theology, applied ethics, and dogma—we need to leave these… to specialists in them, because…among them are men of distinction and scholars who studied them and specialized in them from childhood.… It's enough [for the shabab] to know the general principles in religious matters.…The shame of our youth is that they want to make judgements on everything, and as a result of this there has been killing in the name of religion and splintering in the name of religion and destruction in the name of religion and fear and alarm in the name of religion, all of which happened because they are ignorant of the essential nature of religion.[55]

The nation's youth have a right to be enlightened and instructed and corrected by people with knowledge about Islam,

a religion of reason and order and gentleness and sympathy and tolerance… our youngsters need to know the essence and greatness of Islam, a religion of kindness, even to animals, even with enemies, and in war with the armies of the enemy. In summary, our youth need to know the truth of Islam and that the truth of the Islamic religion lives within the purview of the ‘ulama.…Changing the abomination by the hand falls under the responsibility of the ruler and the [public] guardian, and on the rest of the people falls the responsibility of advice and guidance by the tongue, or to despise the abomination in the heart.[56]

As a way to help them winnow reliable from unreliable advice, advanced students receive guidelines for approaching the mass media through which so many ideological battles are fought:

Modern science has extended the scope of the influence of the word, and people have begun to read them in newspapers and hear them in broadcasts and other means of communication on an immense scale. It is the duty of the Muslim to weigh his words, to measure his speech and not to aim at slander and calumny or insults, not to reveal a secret, and not to spread indecency and not to stir up animosity, but to speak noble words that please God and his Apostle.[57]

They are reminded that God ordered mankind, “But say not—for any false thing that your tongues may put forth—`This is lawful, and this is forbidden,' so as to ascribe false things to God” (sura 16, al-Nahl, 116), and that He forbade “sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning/Of partners to God, for which/He hath given no authority;/And saying things about God/Of which ye have no knowledge”(sura 7, al-’A‘raf, 33). Such practices are the primary source of distortion in corrupted religions,

so no one should forbid anything for religious reasons to any servant of God, or require anything of him, except by a true text of God and his Apostle, and whoever assails that has set himself up as an equal [sharik] to God, and whoever follows him in it has made him his Lord, and God has renounced anyone who attributes any allowance or prohibition to his religion without proof.[58]

Truly obeying God necessitates not just hearkening to His instructions, but understanding who may be trusted to know what His instructions are, so “we should stay within our limits and leave independent judgement in religion to the knowledgeable scholars [al-‘ulama’al-‘arifin], who bring together the motives and the means of independent judgement [ijtihad].” [59]

Likewise, the enforcement of Islamic conduct falls to specialists. Although Islam operates largely through cooperation and mutual advice (nasiha), between the government and the governed as well as between individuals, nasiha in religious matters is, according to the textbooks, a fard kifaya (a duty not incumbent upon all the individuals in the community, as long as some one person or group of persons attends to it), which applies to the ‘ulama alone.[60] The government and the governed “cooperate together in obeying God and defending His book and tradition and Prophet,” so that if someone refuses to obey God's law, there is a graduated series of appropriate responses. First, notifying the person that he is in error; second, admonishing him to behave correctly; third, reprimanding him for his misbehavior; and finally, if he still desists from proper conduct, forcible prevention. This last remedy, however, is also a fard kifaya, entrusted only to those whose job it is to enforce the rules of society (al-qa’imin bil-’amr).[61]

Islam's commitment to human rights, according to the texts, includes freedom of belief and opinion and requires a cordial attitude toward the members of other religious communities. Precisely because of its cautious apportionment of responsibility, Egypt's experience with the religion of the Seal of the Prophets has been a special one. This is how the Ministry of Education concludes its twelfth grade book:

Islam was Egypt's choice, and the environment of Egypt—through its religious culture since the time of the monotheist Akhenaton—was prepared for Islam, and absorbed it all: doctrine and law, science, culture and conduct. Since then, Egypt's features have differed from other Islamic countries. Islam in Egypt is Islam without fanaticism, Islam without extremism, and it is remarkable that Islamic Egypt alone, through fourteen centuries, has never been linked with excess or extremism in its religious conduct.… Indeed, the Egyptian personality is moderate in its religiosity and behavior, middle-of-the-road in its thought and practice, neither excessive nor negligent, and from here were the riches of civilization.[62]

As with the work ethic, the sections on religious authority consist of statements that are neither empirical claims nor exhortations. Instead, they are performative utterances, “rituals of social magic” whose very statement alters the world, for they become true by establishing a normative background against which reality is to be judged by those setting the terms.[63] These are not abstract matters of theory, but practical matters that—as we will see in the next chapter—frame legal prosecutions, political purges, and police roundups. Despite progressive expectations to the contrary, the creation and dissemination of instructive truths by the school has not so much replaced the use of physical force, as it has provided new opportunities on which to use it.

This Wonderful Girl Who Wore the Higab

The closest most Egyptian youth come to an organized rite of spiritual passage is the series of examinations that punctuates their school careers and finally grants them their certificates. Their families, who press them to study and who scrape together money for tutoring; their teachers, who sometimes earn several times their salaries by doing that tutoring; the state, which outlaws that tutoring altogether as a conflict of interest; and private companies that produce condensed study guides and summaries for the tests, are all involved as players in the summertime ritual that takes its most intense form in al-thanawiyya al- ‘amma, the general secondary exams.

The short-term pressures of nationwide testing are powerful motivators for the principal actors in this drama. Ordinary Egyptians respect education and use schooling as a means of status enhancement (particularly for girls, who, it is believed, are more attractive marriage partners if they have a certificate and can not only bring in income from outside employment, but save money by tutoring their own children[64]). But in part because teaching is the lowest-paid professional occupation in the country—the salary of a public sector secondary school teacher in the late 1980s was about thirty-five dollars a month; that in the private sector about twice that, but still not a living wage—it often attracts idealists who want to make a difference in the lives of young people. Particularly at private religious schools, committed community members join teachers to volunteer for tutoring work, help with bookkeeping, coach sports, and perform other tasks out of a sense that Islam is calling them to work with young Muslims.

Layla al-Shamsi was the head of the Literature Department at a private Islamic language school in Masr al-Gidida, the “New Cairo” northeast of the city center. The area—founded just after the turn of the century as a planned community for expatriates and well-to-do locals—is a modern and expansive area where military installations, airports, government agencies and factories are mixed with private mosques, villas, shopping centers and apartment blocks. In contrast to Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman's zayy islami, which consists of a long-sleeved dress and a designer scarf covering her hair and neck (called tarha), Layla wears khimar, which is one step more conservative. “I've been a muhaggaba for seven years now,” she said.

Before that I was really a Muslim in name only. I was educated in a Christian school—the English missions school. I consider myself that I was a non- Muslim then. I was an airline hostess for Saudia airlines, and travelled all over the world; to Europe, and Asia. I've spent a lot of time in England, and I was an English major [in college]. I don't have a teaching degree, or an advanced degree in anything, but I'm very good with children. I love working with children.

I'm 33 now. But seven years ago, when I was around 25, I began wearing higab. I had met this girl, this wonderful girl who wore the higab, and she began to tell me about Islam, and about being a real Muslim. And for a while I kind of felt both ways. While I was working, I really used to admire Western ways, and was very impressed with the West and their way of doing things, and thought, like a lot of you do, that women who wear the higab are oppressed by men, or retarded, socially or mentally retarded somehow. It wasn't a decision I made, really, it's not like there was some sudden inspiration from Allah or anything; but God always puts someone in our life, sets this person in our path to guide us, and for me it was this wonderful girl.

I started reading the Qur’an, but at first I did it with a critical eye, like you might, understanding it but not believing everything it said, trying to keep some kind of critical distance. And at the same time I was living in my old way—oh, I used to fast during Ramadan, and that kind of thing, but really I was a Muslim in name only—but I would go out with friends, even when I didn't drink anything, I would go to discos with people, where there was alcohol around, and I would try to sit there and have a good time, but started thinking that this really is a bad thing to be doing. I started feeling guilt. And believe me, I had never felt guilty about this kind of thing before! But I slowly began reading more and more, and deciding that I was living the wrong way. It took about a year between the time I met this girl, and the time I put on higab.

By 1989, Layla had taught at the school for four years, and was beginning her fifth. Strongly devoted to her students and to the institution, she told me that “when you work at this school, you're working for Islam. I have a lot of work here—when you're working for Islam you don't just say, “that's not my job”; you do a lot of different things for the good of the school.” [65] In her previous teaching job, which was not at an Islamic school, she says that the students were “very naughty,” but that here, they are well-behaved. “They've gone here, most of them, since they were in kindergarten, and they know that you should respect people, and be well-behaved. I really think that it's Islam that makes them so well-behaved. They know that for everything they do, they are accountable to God.” [66] She was quite sensitive to her own accountability, and worked inside and outside of class to lead her students down a different path than the one she herself had been made to travel.

I'm not married. I am too busy working with the children, and trying to plan things at the school, and have no plans to get married, because I have my own ideas about marriage and Muslim men. I love working with our children here, and that's the important thing to me. A Muslim woman keeps her own name, and her own economic resources, and keeps her own personality, her own individuality. I think that it's very important to work with children here, not to increase the number of Muslims in the world, but to work with the Muslims that are here already, to extend da‘wa to them and teach them how to be more than Muslims in name only. And I think it's very important to teach children about being Muslims so that they don't have to go through the kinds of things that we had to go through, not knowing about how to lead a good life. Because Islam isn't just the rituals; those are important, but Islam includes all aspects of life as well.[67]

I have small study groups, mostly with girls and women, but I've got one with some boys. Usually they say that men teachers should be teaching boys of this age, but since they were my pupils anyway.…But I picked these five boys out of one of my English classes to talk to them more about religious things, and about Islamic ways of life. Boys of this age are really very impressed by things they see in the movies or on television about the West, things they see in Knot's Landing and so on, and I try to teach them about the right alternatives. I really had no special criterion for choosing these five except I felt that they were closer to me, and we understood each other.[68]

On a visit to Egypt in 1993 I found these study groups had been discontinued because of Layla's marriage to an oil company executive who expected her to spend her time at home caring for their young son. When I tried to set up an interview appointment, she put me in touch with her husband, who, she assured me, could tell me anything I wanted to know. He explained that her new role is primarily to take care of the family and “to have things ready for me—whether it's food, or sex, or anything else.” While she still performed some administrative work at the school, she was trying very hard to restrict her interactions with people outside her family, particularly men. “She really doesn't mix with men,” her husband confided, “and it's not because of me, it's just the way she is.” Marriage appears to have shifted Layla's sense of accountability quite radically. Beginning her adulthood as an airline stewardess, the stereotypical specimen of female liberation and (literally) jet-setting mobility, she entered on a journey of slow but steady introspection and circumscription of activity. Accountability to herself, expressed as a love for travel and experience and pleasure, was superseded by concern for living right, and for being a Muslim in more than name only. So her sense of accountability—the acknowledgment that one is responsible for providing for the rights of others—shifted first to her students, whose right to their heritage she worked to protect, and then to her husband and child. But this shift was a difficult and unexpected one. Even draped in her long khimar in 1989 she expressed no desire to marry, but instead contravened even her own convictions about gender segregation by reaching out to young men to serve as a model, a habit that made her marriage and seclusion appear all the more dramatic.

In a sense, accountability to God and to the Islamic heritage is expressed as a complex series of accountabilities to other human beings. Sometimes the balance between accounts is a delicate negotiation, as when different sets of auditors—family, peers, the state—are in conflict, as they were for Muhammad Sulayman, Wafa’i Isma‘il, and Layla al- Shamsi. Layla lamented that parents send their children to her school “because they want their children to grow up as good Muslims,” but sadly, some parents “only stress the interior aspects” of Islam and let their daughters, for example, take off the uniform higab after school.[69] Inner piety without the strength to display proper public behavior is a serious flaw, because although God can monitor inner intentions, God's community cannot. Therefore displays of responsible behavior are vital, and the accountability of young people to their families, to their schools, and to their nation is ceaselessly reiterated in the press. Although youth have been receiving increasingly bad press in recent years, as concerns about their moral degradation and political dangerousness are aired, they are regularly redeemed through annual celebration of their struggle through high school exit exams.

Following Foucault (not to mention the lower-grade textbook that compares God's Day of Judgment with the school examination), we can highlight the sense in which the school imposes “a principle of compulsory visibility” [70] upon its students not only through a forced display of signifying dress and daily discipline, but through “highly ritualized” examinations in which “are combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth.” [71] The examination, at the critical point of the final secondary exam, is not, however, a closed and secretive ritual. It is, in some ways, a highly public drama. Every summer newspapers publish analyses and debates about testing policy, and page after page of numerical listings detail the results that qualify for entrance into university. The religious press, for its part, uses the occasion to represent Islamic values as the key to academic accomplishment. Parents of students who excel in the general secondary exam extol the role of the family in the student's success. One father allocated 80 percent of his son's achievement to a supportive home environment and 20 percent to what he learned in school.[72] Pious students attribute high scores to higher powers. Sahar Ahmad Fikry, who scored eighth in the nation in the literature section, told a newspaper that she “performed the prayers, and read what she could of the Qur’an every day before beginning her studying and after finishing it…prayer was for her the only escape, to achieve rest and serenity and self-confidence, and gave her the opportunity to organize her time in relation to her studying.” [73]

On 11 June 1989, on the second day of the general secondary examination, almost one-quarter of a million Egyptian students sat for one and a half hours to answer five questions about Islam, questions that would help determine whether or not they would be able to attend university, and which field they could enter. For the first time, “objective” (also known as “American style”) questions were to be used on the examination. As with almost every decision taken by the government, this change was criticized in the opposition press. In the fortnight preceding the examinations, professors of education complained about the new style of question, which they conceded might be appropriate for the sciences or engineering, but which, when applied to religion, would not allow the student “the opportunity to express his views,…to reveal and explain his perspective, and if he had read any other sources or not.” [74]

Reprising the educational discourse of a century before, pundits admitted that while the old method of essay testing might have contributed to “a culture of memory,…of accumulation and retrieval,” the new method, although it would reveal the student's ability to apply scientific methods of thought to theoretical information in the curriculum, would not reveal his “interpretation of values and morals, and the connection of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings to daily life.” [75] (In the end, the only question on the religion section of 1989's general secondary examination that actually included an objective portion was a question about sex: specifically, about the Prophet's advice for cooling the ardor of young celibates.)

Although students didn't find the exam particularly difficult,[76] some of them criticized the religious studies curriculum as weak in general, complaining that the subject, often occupying the last class of the school day, was easily skipped or ignored, and that it would be better taught by “specialized ‘ulama.” [77] For the following academic year, the Ministry of Education, jointly with the Ministry of Religious Endowments, had planned to place “religious visitors” in schools to organize religious meetings and discussions with students.[78] Criticisms of al-Azhar and other official religious institutions for dereliction of duty toward the country's youth—evident in al-Khashab's survey results—have led to public pleas by officials all the way up to the Shaykh of al-Azhar University, that religious scholars listen carefully to the concerns of the young and enter with them into constructive dialogue, so as to avoid the inevitable consequence of defection to alternate sources of inspiration.

Persuasion Beyond the Classroom

One way to engage in this dialogue and to reach citizens no longer in school is through public meetings and forums arranged through youth centers, universities, and summer camps. In recent years officials of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Office of the Mufti and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport have embarked each summer on an extensive spiritual chautauqua circuit referred to as “The Religious Awareness Caravan” (qawafil al-taw‘iyya al-diniyya). While the locations change, the themes remain largely the same, continuing the discourse of work, responsibility, humility, and accountability introduced in the school curriculum. During the second week of July 1989, for example, senior officials kicked off a new summer program at a youth camp at Abu Qir in Alexandria, answering questions late into the night and trying to “enlighten young people to the dangers that threaten them, like intellectual extremism that wears the cloak of religion, and [drug] addiction that leads to ruin.” [79] The Caravan planned to tour seven governorates in Lower Egypt and the Sinai. The minister of religious endowments announced that the purpose of the meetings was both to “alert youth to the dangers and temptations coming at us from without,” and to correct mistaken religious ideas (tashih al-mafahim al-diniyya al- khati’a). Explaining to an audience in Alexandria that acts of worship are not required by law in Egypt, because its people are “steadfast and religious by nature,” he summoned Egyptian youth to use the strength of religious conviction “for the sake of building and prosperity and increasing production.” [80]

Convention of official meetings and forums—sometimes televised—with groups of young people, professionals, workers, and students is not restricted to the summer months. In late March 1989, religious experts met for three days with students at the University of Sohag, answering questions about higab, the application of Islamic law in Egypt, the perceived gap between al-Azhar and popular concerns, and other matters.[81] The minister of religious endowments announced a program of public meetings to begin during the month of Ramadan, in which religious scholars and officials could “answer the inquiries of citizens and simplify religious matters for them.” [82] In April the minister met with students at the University of Minufiyya[83] and along with the mufti staged a week-long tour of the villages of Upper Egypt.[84] Later he counseled the youth of Damietta.[85] After the summer Caravan, public visits, meetings, and ceremonies continued as officials opened two mosques and answered the public's questions in the governorate of Behera.[86]

Aside from occasionally answering questions on the debt crisis or foreign affairs, officials return regularly to a set of common themes. The first theme is Islam's attitude toward work and production, with the mufti and the minister of religious endowments each warning audiences that “flight from the domains of work and production is a crime that the truth of Islam cannot forgive.” [87] At the same time, a Committee for Religious Affairs chaired by Dr. ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Nimr, a specialist in the religious and social problems of youth, announced the need for

deepening religious understanding among children and young people, since these understandings exalt the value of work in all its forms, and this is what we need in the coming stage, to shake mistaken social concepts that are firmly established, like the constant desire for [guaranteed] work with university certificates, and the avoidance of gainful [vocational] employment;…if Islamic values were deeply held, every citizen would honor any work, regardless of its nature.[88]

Almost two years later, under a new plan by President Mubarak to organize “meetings with various portions of the shabab in every workplace and production unit in the governorates, to clarify the view of Islam on the nature of mankind and the call to increased production in conformity with the summons of the Islamic religion,” the theme of work and production was maintained. “Egypt,” according to the minister of religious endowments, “is now living in a period of economic construction that demands the close cooperation of the efforts of the shabab, who hold fast to the true principles of their religion in order to pass through this economic crisis, and provide them with an appropriate life far from the extremism that leads to deviant behavior.” [89]

The second theme of the meetings is that of the dependence of Egyptian youth on the specialized knowledge of the ‘ulama. At the end of August 1989, students at Alexandria University heard the minister of religious endowments, Muhammad Ali Mahgub, warning them away from “merchants of religion who try to achieve their political goals in the name of religion, even if they turn Egypt into seas of blood.” Educated youth are to be makers of da‘wa only, not fuqaha’ (jurists) as well; “Don't mix up these subjects or confuse these practices,” Mahgub warned them. “And don't let the extremists slip into your ranks to achieve their political goals.” Knowledge should be obtained from the knowledgeable (yatalqa al-‘ilm min al-‘ulama), and not to do so is “the cause of violence and terrorism and extremism.” Firing a shot directly at the Muslim Brotherhood, the minister declared,

There's a pretty slogan, “Islam is the Solution” [al-islam huwa al-hall, the campaign slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood]. I say in all frankness: Yes, Islam is the solution to all political, economic, and social problems. But it demands calm, reflective planning, and is far from application until we have calmly, rationally ascertained the means we desire.[90]

A week later in Mansura, he reiterated that “there are things in religion that are not suitable to the comprehension of the shabab, and they need to leave debate about them and judgements on them to specialized scholars so as not to divide the umma or [threaten] its unity.” [91]

The third theme the public meetings share with the Ministry of Education's curricula is the rehearsal of Egypt's pacific heritage. Appeals are made “not to turn to the tools of violence and hatred, nor to the means of destruction and sabotage, and not to turn a stable and secure Egypt into a pit of struggle.” “For all its long history,” students in Alexandria were reminded, “Egypt has been a nation of tolerance and peace, and has never been a nation for extremist ideas, and the state and the shabab are one entity…the duty of the religious youth is to protect Islam's reputation and stay away from extremism; they should be religious in da‘wa only, and not in judging or commanding.” [92]

Throughout the religious campaign the statistical idiom pioneered by Cromer's contemporaries fixed social reality for public consumption. Port Said was assured in early August 1989 that all of the pillars of Islam are observed in Egypt, and that “ninety-five percent of the shari‘a of God…has been applied” as well.[93] Fewer than three weeks later, Alexandrians had to content themselves with the thought that only “ninety percent of the Islamic shari‘a is applied in Egypt,” [94] although a month earlier they had been assured “that moderate ideas now represent more than eighty percent among the shabab, and that the problem of extremist thinking has almost disappeared from Egypt through constructive dialogue.” [95] The Orwellian tint of such statistical formulations is striking, although in this case they do not mask a sinister truth, but merely clothe unverifiable pronouncements in the cloak of numerical certainty, a mode of discourse made possible only by the preparation afforded by the modern school. Even as estimates, the significance of such numbers lies not in their magnitude, but in the fact that the public is receptive to thinking about religious questions quantitatively, as if obedience to God were a variable that the state could measure and adjust like the production of electricity or the tonnage of fertilizer imported each year.


The ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers. Even now it is no longer composed of the traditional political class, but of a composite layer of corporate leaders, high-level administrators, and the heads of the major professional, labor, political, and religious organizations.

What becomes clear from the study of these themes is not only the tension between the country's youth and its official religious establishment, but a tension at the very heart of the state's effort to maintain the authority of that establishment. On the one hand, in order to be considered legitimate spokesmen of the Islamic tradition, the ‘ulama must maintain a distinctive identity through a specialized program of training and socialization with a long history of its own. But on the other hand, in order to make use of this legitimacy they must rely on other professionals—journalists, scientists, secular academics, educators, and government officials—to help frame that tradition in socially useful terms. The dilemma of the professional religious class is that the thinner the tradition spreads itself over social, political, and economic problems—the more useful the tradition is—the more control over it they have to concede to others.

At the other end of the authority relationship stand the students, who are expected to learn to exclude themselves from the practice of ijtihad, independent reasoning about religious questions. In the words of Bourdieu and Passeron, schooling becomes, on this expectation, “the imposition of recognition of the dominant culture as legitimate culture and… of the illegitimacy of the cultures of the dominated groups or classes.” [97] They go on to claim that

one of the least noticed effects of compulsory schooling is that it succeeds in obtaining from the dominated classes a recognition of legitimate knowledge and know-how (e.g. in law, medicine, technology, entertainment or art), entailing the devaluation of the knowledge and know-how they effectively command…and so providing a market for material and especially symbolic products of which the means of production (not least, higher education) are virtually monopolized by the dominant classes (e.g. clinical diagnosis, legal advice, the culture industry, etc.).[98]

The curious feature of the Egyptian case is that the path to cultural legitimacy is not sequential to compulsory schooling, but parallel to it. Within the sphere of religious legitimacy, the holders of authority have an entirely different training from those who do not hold authority. The exclusivity of “higher” education is therefore irrelevant, and in fact the religious programs at al-Azhar tend to attract students from lower socioeconomic strata than many secular university programs. In order for compulsory schooling to relay knowledge of “legitimate” religious culture sufficient to attain its goal of social control, it must use pedagogical techniques that work to undermine the authority of the holders of religious legitimacy by marginalizing the means of cultural production that they possess. But at the same time, religion has been reformulated to apply broadly to areas of social planning that are outside the competence of the religious specialist. One of the results of mass religious instruction is thus to prepare students just enough to question the authority of the keepers of the Muslim tradition, and to question their own exclusion from its manipulation.

This dilemma is a special case of a distinction Raymond Williams has drawn between restricted cultural production, intended for other culture producers, and large-scale cultural production, intended for the general public.[99] It is a special case because traditionally trained religious scholars are charged both with the maintenance of their legitimate and legitimizing Islamic discourse, and also with the production—through very different means—of belief for the general public. The complicating factor is that groups and institutions that are more effective at the latter—schools and the market—can outcompete the traditional scholars and overwhelm their production, based in part on new organizations of knowledge production (the committee, the Children's Culture Unit, the interdisciplinary team of experts). This kind of knowledge-produced- for-exchange is what Lyotard labels “postmodern”; it is knowledge whose claim to attention is its social efficiency and the speed with which it is produced, rather than its place in a metanarrative of progress or salvation.[100] The state-subsidized intellectual production techniques of the ‘ulama, protected from market forces, are made to represent a standard against which “innovation” is measured,[101] and is thus forced into an appearance of false uniformity and spurious completeness (it is “the Islam”).

Rather than benefiting from its patronage of the ‘ulama, the state has suffered from the public realization that there are, empirically, a number of alternatives available on the market, and that the state version hardly looks like the most disinterested. “One of the difficulties of orthodox defence against heretical transformations,” according to Bourdieu, “is the fact that polemics imply a form of recognition; adversaries whom one would prefer to destroy by ignoring them cannot be combatted without consecrating them.” [102] Claiming their own return to sacred sources, lay religious intellectuals combat the subsidized ‘ulama by capitalizing on their access to market-oriented organizations and technologies and working to create a new and enlivened tradition of religious literature.[103]


1. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 181.

2. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 140.

3. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, pp. 198–99.

4. Bowring, “Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 5.

5. For the Yemeni understanding of maturation, see Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 77–84; for rural Egypt, see Ammar, Growing Up in an Egyptian Village, pp. 125–26.

6. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 26 July 1989, pp. 521–26.

7. For an exemplary treatment of this theme, see Anna Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

8. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 166.

9. Diane Singerman, Avenues of Participation: Family Politics and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

10. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 44–45.

11. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 97. An explanation of the mahram had been provided in the ninth grade in the context of the Pilgrimage.

12. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, pp. 85–94.

13. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 51–55.

14. Dr. ‘Abd al-Subur Shahin, al-Akhbar, 1 July 1989, p. 8.

15. L. Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam.”

16. Wadi‘ Thaluth Luqa, al-Ahram, 17 October 1988, p. 7. Significantly, the writer is a Copt, not a Muslim, indicating how widespread is the horror—and the attraction—of these shows.

17. Al-Jumhuriyya, 13 September 1989, p. 5.

18. Al-Ahram, 6 February 1989, p. 3.

19. Al-Ahram, 9 June 1989, p. 13.

20. Al-Nur, 12 September 1989, p. 3.

21. The term is from R. Laurence Moore's analysis of religious publishing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America in his Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

22. Moore, Selling God, p. 22.

23. This Qur’an commentary was banned in Egypt.

24. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 24 July 1989, p. 522.

25. Alexander Flores, “Egypt: A New Secularism?” Middle East Report, no. 153 (July–August 1988), p. 27.

26. Rizzuto, Birth of the Living God, p. 202.

27. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 7 August 1989, pp. 559–60.

28. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 40.

29. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, pp. 40, 83, 87–88, 156.

30. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 158.

31. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 133.

32. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 133.

33. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 48.

34. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 205.

35. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 205.

36. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 188. For a similar example from another “new nation,” see Robert J. Foster, “Take Care of Public Telephones: Moral Education and Nation-State Formation in Papua New Guinea,” Public Culture 4 (1992), pp. 31–45.

37. Meriem Verges, “ “I Am Living in a Foreign Country Here”: A Conversation with an Algerian “Hittiste,” ” Middle East Report, no. 192 (January–February 1995), pp. 14–17.

38. L. Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds, pp. 236–37; “Finding a Place for Islam,” p. 495.

39. Evelyn A. Early, Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1993), pp. 46, 118, 121–25.

40. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 4 August 1989, 552–53.

41. Samia Mustafa al-Khashab, Al-Shabab wa al-tayyar al-islami fi al-mujtama‘ al-Misri al-mu‘asir: Dirasa ijtima‘iyya midaniyya (Cairo: Dar al-thaqafa al-‘arabiyya, 1988), p. 77.

42. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 136–37.

43. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, p. 80.

44. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 104–5.

45. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 116–17. Interestingly, most of their knowledge of these groups came from specialized religious books and general-interest newspapers and magazines: 16.9 percent had gotten their information on Islamic groups from classmates who were members; 28.2 percent from religious meetings; 59.6 percent from specialized religious books; and 52 percent from the press (p. 123).

46. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, p. 118.

47. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 3–4.

48. Al-Ahram, 2 April 1991, p. 5.

49. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 189.

50. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 188.

51. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 189.

52. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 191.

53. Al-Akhbar, 27 July 1993, p. 7.

54. For a good review of the social origins of prominent Muslim political activists, see Valerie Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists: Psychosocial Profiles,” in Fundamentalisms Comprehended, vol. 5 of The Fundamentalisms Project, ed. Marty and Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 199–230.

55. Al-Tasawwuf al-islami 11, 4 (Ramadan 1409 [April 1989]), pp. 18–19.

56. Al-Tasawwuf al-islami 11, 4 (Ramadan 1409 [April 1989]), pp. 18–19.

57. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 38.

58. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 83.

59. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 84.

60. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, p. 78.

61. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, p. 78.

62. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 130–31.

63. Pierre Bourdieu, “Authorized Language: The Social Conditions of the Effectiveness of Ritual Discourse,” in Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 109–11.

64. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, p. 164.

65. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 656.

66. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 658.

67. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 9 August 1989, pp. 574–77.

68. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 9 August 1989, pp. 574–77.

69. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 655.

70. In a literal as well as a figurative sense, it turns out. In May 1996 the Egyptian Constitutional Court upheld a 1994 decree by the minister of education banning girls from wearing the face-covering niqab to school.

71. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 186, 184.

72. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3.

73. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3.

74. Dr. Fathi Yusuf Mubarak, Professor of Curriculum and Teaching Methodology at the College of Education, ‘Ain Shams, quoted in al-Ahali, 23 May 1989, p. 10.

75. Dr. Hasan Shahata, assistant professor of education at the University of ‘Ain Shams, quoted in al-Ahali, 23 May 1989, p. 10.

76. Al-Akhbar, 12 June 1989, p. 1.

77. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3.

78. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1989, p. 8.

79. Al-Wafd, 10 July 1989, p. 2.

80. Al-Ahram, 10 July 1989, p. 8; 7 July 1989, p. 6.

81. Al-Wafd, 31 March 1989, p. 6.

82. Al-Ahram, 28 March 1989, p. 8.

83. Al-Ahram, 8 March 1989, p. 8.

84. Al-Ahram, 17 April 1989, p. 8.

85. Al-Ahram, 27 April 1989, p. 8.

86. Al-Jumhuriyya, 16 September 1989, p. 7.

87. Al-Akhbar, 31 July 1989, p. 6. “The Minister of Waqfs said that flight from the domains of work and production are destructive to society.” Al-Ahram, 2 September 1989, p. 8.

88. Al-Ahram, 22 July 1989, p. 9.

89. Al-Ahram, 2 April 1991, p. 5.

90. Al-Akhbar, 25 August 1989, p. 3.

91. Al-Ahram, 2 September 1989, p. 8.

92. Al-Ahram, 25 August 1989, p. 8.

93. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1989, p. 8.

94. Al-Akhbar, 25 August 1989, p. 3.

95. Al-Akhbar, 21 July 1989, p. 6.

96. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p. 14.

97. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 41.

98. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, pp. 41–42.

99. Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays in Art & Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 115.

100. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, pp. 52–53.

101. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 106–7.

102. Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production, p. 42.

103. Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production, pp. 83–84.


Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog's-eared creeds, the poor you will always have with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament; or, in the day of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn and make an end of you.

7. State of Emergency

And in the state of emergency which is not the exception but the rule, every possibility is a fact.

The struggle for ideological authority on the part of the state and its religious establishment is part of a broader political conflict. Since Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination Egypt has been ruled under an Emergency Law that allows for certain press restrictions, the banning of public political gatherings, and the detention without charge of people suspected of certain categories of crime, including subversion and political violence. Because the president was killed by members of an organization that preached that struggle against an unjust ruler is as important a part of Islam as prayer and fasting,[2] the state of emergency is generally associated with the government's fight against a range of Islamist opposition groups who vary widely in their size, their activities, and their strategies for changing Egyptian society. The Emergency Law, though, also shapes the political activities of liberal, leftist, feminist, human rights, and other groups as well. Repeated pleas to repeal them and return the country to a state of normality have been rejected on national security grounds, and some of the restrictions on the press have been tightened rather than relieved in the last several years.

The Islamic Trend, as I have labeled the wide range of cultural and social phenomena that include specifically political movements, is extremely complex. It ranges from the Islamization of the publishing industry and the increase in enrollment in Islamic studies programs, to the odious violence of terrorist organizations with scripture-based ideologies and the sophisticated legal maneuvering of Islamist lawyers within the court system. From the network of private businesses that are funded by and contribute to Islamic political and charitable activities to the quotidian spats and arguments that reveal just “how close religion is to the surface,” in the words of Andrea Rugh,[3] the Trend has moved beyond the level of a “movement” to become one of the most important contexts in which everyday life is lived. Along with its ubiquitous symbol of the veil, many aspects of the Trend have been described and analyzed in exhaustive detail over the past two decades, so no effort will be made here to sketch its historical roots or intellectual development.[4] Instead I shall examine a few small examples of the way the public economy of information—the part of culture most firmly grounded in the apprehensions and expectations generated by schooling—shapes representations of the political uses of Islam. The examples are chosen for what they reveal of the public (in its three senses—governmental, popular, and open) image of Islamicized political activity and the creation of what sociologist Armando Salvatore has recently called “Islamic publicness.”


Shortly before 8:00 on Sunday morning, 18 July 1993, residents of the Zeinhom District of Cairo, a working-class neighborhood south and east of the mosque of Sayyida Zeinab, were awakened by the sound of gunfire. The street was beginning to come to life on the first day of the workweek. Students were walking to summer trade school workshops, glass merchants and street peddlers were opening their shops, the guard at a charitable kindergarten was unlocking its front gate. The traffic of office minibuses and trucks and taxis was beginning to thicken. A dark taxi stopped in front of the Zeinhom morgue and half a dozen nervous shabab got out, pairing off into three groups in the street. They were dressed in new blue jeans and T-shirts with cheap rubber “kootchie” sandals, and each wore a black cloth band around his forehead. Underneath these clothes they wore polyester athletic warmup suits, or “trainings.” In their hands were automatic rifles and 9mm Helwan police-issue pistols with extra ammunition clips tucked in their pockets. Under their clothing at least two of them carried hand grenades, and one wore a dynamite belt.

According to one account they screamed “God is Great!” and cursed before opening fire on a police car pulling up in front of the morgue. Their shots hit the building, a number of cars and two bystanders leaving their homes for work. The confused and contradictory newspaper accounts that appeared the next day portray a bewildering set of subsequent events. Some eyewitnesses said the young men got back in their car and pursued the fleeing police car they had attacked. Others tell of them fleeing together on foot, chased by another patrol car, which exchanged fire with them and eventually wounded one of them before it was disabled. Some saw a Honda half-size pickup being used as a getaway car, others reported one of the young men loping down the street trying to convince bystanders he was a police officer in pursuit of terrorists, and that he needed to commandeer a taxi and give chase. During the course of their escape the young men continued to fire their weapons and threw or discarded at least four explosive devices, one toward the wall surrounding the kindergarten, and two at the Zeinhom Youth Center. These had not been armed, but one bomb exploded near the morgue, scattering fragments for fifty meters but fortunately injuring no one.

As the police entered the pursuit, so did the residents of the Zeinhom and Sayyida Zeinab neighborhoods. Drivers, painters, deliverymen, butchers, kiosk merchants, locksmiths, restaurant owners, private guards, mechanics, and auto-body repairmen followed the fleeing youth, armed with rocks, sticks, and butcher knives. One of the young fugitives, probably wounded by police fire, was hit by a passing car and fell behind a parked vehicle whence he shot at neighborhood residents surrounding him. When his gun jammed, the locals jumped on him and beat him nearly to death. When one of the other shabab ran out of ammunition he met a similar fate before he could reload. He was beaten unconscious with rocks and sticks, but when one of his colleagues wounded him in the process of firing on his captors, the crowd dragged the bleeding youth to safety behind the walls of the youth center so they could deliver him to the police.

Two of the young militants forced their way into a Fiat 128 taxicab and ordered the driver to head for a main highway that would whisk them behind Salah al-Din's twelfth-century Citadel and then northeastward out of the city. A butcher's meat delivery motorcycle and sidecar loaded with a dozen angry neighbors chased it for two and a half kilometers, until, a hundred meters before the onramp, the taxi crossed the path of a police patrol car. The taxi driver slowed the vehicle and rolled out of the door, yelling for help. When the patrol car stopped and the officers got out, the armed men turned their rifle fire from the escaping driver to the police captain and his sergeant, wounding both in the process of pumping thirty bullets into their vehicle. One of the young men escaped into the nearby Sayyida ‘Aisha Cemetery on foot, and the other ran under the highway overpass, where he unhooked his belt and desperately tried to remove his jeans in order to escape, disguised in the training suit he wore underneath. But another patrol car had arrived by this time, and while one officer laid down cover fire, wounding the young man, another ran behind and killed him with two bullets in the back.

In the end, the moving firefight between the police and the young men—the latter used almost two hundred fifty rounds of ammunition during the chase—resulted in the wounding of at least four civilians, including a middle-aged woman out buying bread for her daughters, a local merchant, a bus driver, and an office worker. A seventeen-year-old secondary school student was killed by a bullet shattering his spine, and a handful of police and military personnel were wounded, including police captain Ahmad al-Baltagi, who died that afternoon in Qasr al- ‘Aini Hospital of internal bleeding from the bullet that ruptured his left femoral artery. Of the two captured militants, one, Ragab ‘Abd al-Wakil, a thirty-one year old from Dayrut with a secondary school diploma in industrial sciences, died of his wounds after five hours in police custody. The other, twenty-one-year-old Mahmud Salah Fahmi, a secondary student from the village of al-Qawsiyya in Asyut Province, was immediately detained at the hospital and placed under interrogation by police detectives and security officials from the Office of the National Security Prosecutor. The young man shot to death under the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge was more of a mystery figure. He was carrying forged papers identifying him as a twenty-five-year-old from Sohag, attending the University of Asyut. But—like the accounts of the chase—different stories on different pages of even the same newspaper gave inconsistent information about his identity. The three government newspapers reported his name variously as Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil, Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil ‘Ali, Muhammad ‘Atif Sadiq, and Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil Mustafa. But the name that caused the most excitement was al-Akhbar's page one identification of the young man as twenty-three-year-old Mustafa ‘Awni Kamil, the holder of a diploma in agricultural sciences and a fugitive wanted for the assassination of a state security official in Asyut (a front- page photo caption in al-Ahram concurred with that identification).

A search of the corpse turned up a bomb detonator, four hundred fifty Egyptian pounds, and a wad of newspaper articles about the hanging of five Islamists convicted in the case of fourteen men known as “The Returnees from Afghanistan,” referring to Egyptian veterans of the anti-Soviet Muslim resistance forces of the 1980s. In January 1993 the group had launched a wave of attacks in Egypt, first against tourist buses at the Giza pyramids and then in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Later they placed a bomb under a police car, which killed a member of the Cairo bomb squad, and finally on 20 April they ambushed Dr. Safwa al-Sharif, Egypt's minister of information, as he returned to his home one afternoon, wounding him, his driver, and his bodyguard. Their nineteen-day trial—heard before a military rather than a civilian court, as has been the custom for recent cases of political violence—ended with a guilty verdict on 27 May. On 17 July, a day before the Zeinhom incident, the five were executed and their bodies were transferred from prison to the Zeinhom morgue for their families to retrieve.

Based on Mahmud Salah Fahmi's statements to security officials, the young men captured and killed at Zeinhom were members of the military wing of the Jihad organization based in the southern province of Asyut, and were staging a revenge attack on the police and the medical facility, wearing black headbands to signal their state of mourning for the executed “Returnees.” They had arrived from Upper Egypt two days previously and surveyed the neighborhood at least three times before their attack, the last time on Saturday night, when they cruised through the area in a Honda pickup. The newspaper articles in the mysterious corpse's pocket had been part of an antiterrorism media blitz carried out in Cairo newspapers beginning the day before the execution. Full-page photo spreads of the blood-soaked bodies of victims, wounded and orphaned children, screaming mothers, and burning automobiles, had appeared under enormous headlines announcing “This Is Terrorism: Their Bullets Target Everyone!” [5] On the morning of the Zeinhom incident details of the Returnees' crimes, and of the conviction and sentencing, were accompanied by mugshots of the five newly executed men. The patriotic and religious rhetoric are impossible to separate:

In an application of God's Law and Revelation, punishment was carried out against five enemies of the people. They conspired in killing and sabotage. They shed the blood of the innocent. They corrupted and spoiled the very earth that God has promised as a safe haven. They wanted to frighten and alarm society and the national economy by trying to strike at tourism. They allowed what God forbade, and the court applied to them the Divine Ordinance of God and the ruling of the law.[6]

This Is Not a Demonstration

By now, events and their descriptions were leapfrogging rapidly over one another. The attackers at Zeinhom, carrying newspaper stories on the execution of the five Afghan veterans, were themselves described the following day in stories blanketing the daily papers. Their clothing, the events of the chase, and praise for the heroism of their working-class captors were mixed with forensic details from the crime lab investigators: the number of bullets dug out of Captain al-Baltagi's patrol car; the chemical constituents of the unexploded bombs. Capping the stories like dim illuminated borders were photographs: the shot-out patrol car window; the taxi used as a getaway car; faces of neighbors and pursuers; the wailing relatives of the wounded and dead gathered at the hospital; a magnificent view of the Muhammad ‘Ali mosque atop the Citadel, as a backdrop to the Sayyida ‘Aisha overpass, below which the mysterious corpse is being examined by relaxed traffic officers and a plainclothes crime lab investigator. Inset are a police academy photograph of al-Baltagi, a photo of his wounded sergeant in the hospital, and a closeup of the blood-streaked face of Muhammad Salama al-Sayyid Muhammad, the student killed on his way to school.[7] Several photos show closeups of the dead militant displayed like a trophy of the security apparatus. In some he is covered with newspapers. In others they have been pulled away from his body to show his open eyes and mouth, his belt undone, his “trainings” pulled up to reveal the blood caked on his chest.

What the residents of Zeinhom had experienced on Sunday, the rest of Cairo learned from Monday's papers, simultaneously with the funerals of the two “martyrs,” the term used to describe the victims killed in the attack. Just after noon prayers Captain al-Baltagi was given a state funeral ceremony at the Omar Makram mosque across the street from the Mugamma‘, the main government administrative building on Tahrir Square. The area was under heavy security provided both by the thin and weary conscripts of the Central Security forces, and by grave and muscular plainclothes security men gripping pistols and stubby machine guns. They kept pedestrians from getting too close to the street, and searched the bags of passersby. Listening attentively to walkie-talkies, they scanned the ground and surrounding buildings for threats to the safety of the dozen dignitaries attending the ceremony. These included the mufti in a blinding white robe and fez, the suited and sunglassed ministers of education and the interior, the first deputy foreign minister, the governor of Cairo, a general representing the president, and top officials of the Ministry of the Interior, which operates the national police, security, and prisons services. Much of the city was on alert during that week, and armored personnel carriers were parked—quite unusually—outside the national radio and television building on the Nile Corniche.

I happened to be in Cairo that week. Having come downtown on some errands at midday, I ran accidentally across the funeral and, not knowing at that point what was going on, I asked one of the plainclothesmen what the demonstration (mudhahira) was. “It's not a demonstration,” he said curtly. “What is it?” “Someone died,” he replied, turning his back to me and facing the crowd again. “Who?” “An officer.” “The terrorists shot him?” “Yeah.” Ranged along the sidewalk across the street from the mosque, children and young people carried banners: “Yes to Social Tranquility! No to Terrorism! No to Terrorism!” After prayers and speeches inside the mosque were completed, the police marching band struck up a funeral dirge from Chopin and led forty rows of police officers goose-stepping down the street, three abreast, followed by the somber walking dignitaries and then the body, draped in green cloth with gold Qur’anic verses, carried on the shoulders of marchers. Finally the children with their banners and tiny Egyptian flags followed. The procession of several hundred was led in patriotic chants by a man on top of a firetruck, and the whole cortege was guided down the street by a human barrier formed by the black-clad Central Security forces, who held hands along the sidewalk to separate marchers from the spectators. Journalists snapped pictures and television cameras rolled.

I assumed the procession would continue south and east toward the cemeteries on the eastern side of the city, but instead it stopped suddenly after a couple of blocks and the students with their banners, the dignitaries with their escorts, and the marchers themselves wandered back down the street toward Omar Makram. The mufti passed two feet behind me on his way to a waiting car, and the students headed for the bridge to take them back across the river to the Gezira Youth Center that had sent them there. The body of Ahmad al-Baltagi[8] itself was put on a truck and taken off to the family cemetery in the delta town of Mansura. The crowd of spectators, drawn from the busy workday pedestrian traffic in Tahrir and Qasr al-Dubara Squares, dissolved.

The next day the funeral itself and its accompanying mudhahira sha‘ biyya (popular demonstration) was splashed across the newspapers, with photos of the march and interviews with spectators, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues of the martyred captain, along with statements of his police superiors and Interior Ministry officials. Al-Baltagi, it turned out, was a heroic figure both personally and professionally. His mother's sister was quoted as saying that

he was at the height of his youth, and he regularly prayed and fasted, read the Qur’an aloud and prayed the dawn prayer before going off to work. He had high morals and treated all people alike—he was humble and never arrogant—his only aspiration was to work and serve his country. His supervisors at work knew him for his good morals and achievement, and after he graduated from police academy he decided to marry his work!

A neighbor testified that “his heart was like a child; he didn't know malice or hatred,” and then demanded rhetorically, “You tell me one religion or one people who are allowed to shed the blood of our youth and our children??!” Another affirmed that “his love of goodness was above all else, and he was a devoted son to his parents, postponing his own marriage after the death of his father five years ago, so as not to leave his mother after his older brother ‘Umar went off to Saudi Arabia.” [9] More to the point, the first deputy minister of the interior affirmed that al-Baltagi showed “the utmost courage and bravery; he sacrificed with his soul and never thought for a moment about his own life, but thought about Egypt as a country that had to be made safe, and even though he was far away from the weapons fire, he turned there in his car as soon as he heard the sound of bullets.” [10] As for the neighbors who had pursued and caught the militants,

they acted as one man in the utmost boldness and decency, undeterred by the bullets. What was seen [that day] among the sons of Egypt is not found in any other country in the world; what happened is not new to Egyptians, what is new is the anomalous and temporary negativism that has reared its head.…I say that one martyr or a thousand martyrs, we will never alter our will or our plans to confront those who forsake the law, no matter who they are![11]

The Sons of Egypt

Who the principals in this drama were was still somewhat unsettled, as the papers reported the day after the funeral that the mysterious corpse under the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge was not Mustafa ‘Awni after all. While still officially unidentified, it was suspected to be Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Al, a student expelled from a military high school in Dayrut. Three others were still being sought in connection with the attack, all men in their twenties and thirties; two of them from Upper Egypt and all of them wanted on other charges. One of them, the fugitive Tal‘at Muhammad Yasin Hamam, already carried a death sentence in the case of the Returnees, which had triggered Zeinhom.

The images at play in this print record of the incident and its aftermath are quite clear, however, in their sketch of the cracks in the social order and of the tensions surrounding changing patterns of power and wealth, education and migration in Egypt today. Research from around the Middle East on the armed manifestations of the Islamic Trend emphasize that it is a phenomenon of young people. Moreover, they are getting younger all the time. The average age of young Islamists arrested in police sweeps declined from twenty-seven in the 1970s to twenty-one by 1990; as in Pakistan and elsewhere, Islamist groups are recruiting more and more among high school students.[12] More specifically, the young men who bomb and shoot tourist buses, government ministers, and police tend also to be modern educated, with degrees and diplomas in technical subjects. In Egypt, many of them are from the largely agricultural regions of the south. Like the overwhelming majority of Egyptian youth, these would-be members of the overstaffed technical and administrative classes are disturbed by the moral degradation of society and by its scarcity of economic and political opportunity, and believe that a new social framework based on Islamic law is the best solution.[13]

This being so, the rhetoric of age, class, and regional origin suffuses coverage of the Zeinhom incident in complex ways. Youths strange to the neighborhood are reported lurking at night. The attack and subsequent pursuit pit these rootless students not only against the police, but against a neighborhood of working-class family men—butchers, mechanics, and bus drivers—that forcefully resists. And their resistance succeeds, despite the clean-cut militants' attempts at disguise: the jeans and T-shirts hiding warmup suits that hide the invisible spectres of white skullcaps, galabiyyas and beards of the newspaper cartoon's stereotyped Islamist fanatic. Even discarding the black headbands that mark their mourning, the militants cannot blend entirely into the crowd. When one of the armed men tries to convince skeptical neighbors that he is a plainclothes policeman, he is given away by the hand grenade tucked under his clothes. In his pocket is a telephone credit card for making international calls, unmasking an outside campaign of subversion. (For weeks afterward, young people around the city were subjected to popular scrutiny. In early August the owner of a kiosk in Tahrir Square reported to the police that two suspicious young men—one carrying a large leather valise—were hanging around a group of tourist buses. They were immediately arrested but the interrogation showed that the suitcase held nothing but clothes and that the men—one from Alexandria and the other from Holland—had simply been processing some papers at the Mugamma‘ administration building.[14])

The young Jihadists pose, moreover, a comprehensive threat. They target police but wound civilians as well; they attack symbols of state violence but end up killing their own (one of the casualties was a high school student, and eyewitnesses claim that one of the escaped militants tried to kill his captured colleague after failing to free him from the crowd). The shabab are consuming themselves alive. Furthermore, they disrupt—actually and symbolically—the connection between responsible adulthood and the innocence and dependency of childhood. Two of the wounded civilians, a driver and a housewife, were rushed to hospital without their children and pleaded with reporters for information about what had happened to them. The slain police captain was praised for his role as son and for having the pious and innocent heart of a child, without malice. Newspaper stories playing on the grief of his mother report a barber approaching her at the funeral and consoling her, “Don't cry, my mother—your son the hero isn't dead—for he's in the vastness of God and he will stay eternally in the hearts of all Egyptians. Don't cry, my mother, for all Egyptians are your sons!” [15] As if to underscore this sense of family, the minister of education announced that summer that the medical bills of the victims of terrorism, and the cost of their children's schooling—public or private, domestic or foreign—would be paid by the state.

The rhetorical power of the newspaper coverage of the Zeinhom attack and al-Baltagi's funeral lies in the creation of interlinked stories that mold its principal players into archetypes, and which manipulate the scale of kinship and national solidarity by representing collectives as individuals and individuals as selfless servants of the collective. The captain, married to his work, thinks of Egypt's security rather than himself, and sacrifices his life for the greater good. Meanwhile his neighbors in chasing down the Jihadists have acted as a single person in confronting the threat to their lives and the security of the nation. When the officer is slain by the enemies of the people, his mother becomes their mother in turn, as they march down the street calling for vengeance, shouting, “To the Paradise of the Everlasting, O martyr!” and “With our soul, with our blood, may we be a sacrifice for you, O Egypt!” [16] This is the heroism of the ordinary, in which the duty of each citizen is set in its place: officer, mechanic, student, son. But it is also “the Spirit of October,” in the words of one of the Zeinhom residents (referring to the patriotic spirit of the 1973 war). Suddenly the pious textbooks have come alive, their models inscribed in another form, with photographs of real but everyday people substituting for generic line drawings of imagined moral models.

A Thousand Martyrs

Even before General ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nahhas's funeral promise to “make war on the terrorists even if a thousand martyrs fall,” state security forces had begun another roundup of suspected Islamist militants, arresting thirty on the day of the Zeinhom attack and thirteen more the day of the funeral. The afternoon of the attack a special force of state security agents flew to Asyut to carry out investigations and “tighten the noose around the criminals.” [17] The governorates of Minya, Asyut, and Sohag, some three hundred kilometers south of the capital, have been at the center of the latest round of antigovernment Islamist military activity, which is usually dated from the summer of 1992. The towns and villages of the area—Asyut itself, Mallawi, Dayrut, al-Qawsiyya, and others, appear repeatedly as the birthplaces and residences of arrested militants from the Jihad and al-Gama‘a (or al-Jama‘a) al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) organizations. The leaders of southern groups are commonly university students, while those based in Cairo and the delta tend to be military officers, engineers, doctors, and other professionals.[18]

Whatever the case, the state has given many residents of Upper Egypt—“Sa‘idis”—ample rationalization for political discontent. The region is largely ignored by private and government investment (the northern coastal city of Alexandria reportedly received several times the government investment of the equally populous southern province of Minya in 1994),[19] so much of the attention regional cities get is from the security forces that occasionally sweep their residences—arresting a hundred suspected Islamists here, a few dozen there—and bulldoze the houses of suspect's families after taking family members, including children, hostage in lieu of their quarry. (The same tactic is used in other low-income areas as well, like Cairo's Imbaba neighborhood.) Police have prohibited farmers from using some of their land for planting, since escaping militants have hidden in sugarcane stands along the roads after attacks (the interior minister is currently appealing for night-vision and other high-tech transportation and communications equipment for security forces searching the country's mountains and dense agricultural fields for Islamist forces).[20] And in some areas like the lucrative tourist sites in Luxor further south, broad-based economic development is purposely stifled in favor of dependence on tourist revenue. Villagers are prohibited from setting up factories or workshops, and must build in mud brick to keep the area looking appropriately ancient, while international consulting firms advise the Ministry of Tourism on how to channel the flow of tourist cash to a small fraction of the populace.[21] Under such conditions attacks on Nile tourist boats might be less a response to xenophobia (although the behavior of many Western tourists is fundamentally shocking and inappropriate) than they are an attempt to drive the business away, simultaneously creating a public relations crisis and an economic crisis that some militants hope will bring the government down. Local Christians are popular class and ethnic scapegoats, and are often the target of violence as well.

Because of their experience dealing with Islamists locally, Cairo has regularly named its recent interior ministers—including former Asyut governor Hasan al-Alfi and his two immediate predecessors—from the south. But the conflict, as we saw above, is not regionally confined. In December 1992 the security forces staged one of their largest operations ever, dispatching between ten and twelve thousand troops to Cairo's poor Imbaba suburb and arresting six hundred suspected al-Gama‘a al- islamiyya members in a three-week operation. Nine hundred were rounded up around the country in a single week in February 1994, and every week during the summer of 1993 newspapers carried reports of suspects falling into the hands of the authorities in the neighborhood of the capital as well as the south.[22] During the summer of 1995 relations between Egypt and the Islamist state of the Sudan hit new lows after Egyptian president Husni Mubarak accused his southern neighbor of complicity in the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya's latest attempt to assassinate him while on a visit to Ethiopia on 26 June. Altogether, over the last three years over nine hundred people have died in battles between Islamist militants and Egyptian security forces. That number includes police officers, tourists, legislators, government ministers, officials, and intellectuals shot; Islamists shot in the street, in domestic raids, and in police custody, or hanged in prison after conviction; and hapless civilians caught in the crossfire.

This is a low-level insurgency, to be sure; nothing compared to recent carnage in Bosnia or Chechnya, Algeria or Iraq, Rwanda or Guatemala. Certainly not even terribly significant compared with Egypt's annual infant mortality rate, or the instant fatalities from 1994's oil fire on the Nile or the 1992 Cairo earthquake, both of which claimed hundreds of lives through various combinations of natural disaster and human error. Yet threats to life are always more spectacular and memorable when they are phrased in terms of threats to the social order, and the insurgency's fetishized body count is regularly exploited by the local and international press as an easy index of the conflict, focusing attention away from other issues. Other numerical indices of the insurgency are somewhat less often reported: the outlawed Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reports that ten thousand Egyptians are in jail as suspected “Islamic militants” (other reported numbers go as high as twenty thousand).[23] Most are held without charge under the 1981 Emergency Law, and many endure threats to their families and regular torture, including beatings, scalding showers, psychological pressure, and electric shock. Thirty- eight have been shot while in custody, and in police attacks, civilians—like the eight men killed by police at prayer time in an Aswan mosque in the summer of 1993—are not necessarily spared.[24] In return for the state's increasing savagery, ordinary citizens in many areas have turned against the ruling party, and militant groups increase the frequency of their own attacks, executing police by the roadside, killing officers who try to keep them from posting political signs, robbing banks and jewelry stores, killing Christian businessmen and government imams, even firing on the police escorts ferrying high school examination questions from Asyut to surrounding towns (a small sample from the first seven months of 1995).

One Hundred Percent Under Control

Just a few months after al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya first began its attacks on the tourist industry in 1992, igniting its current war with the government, a senior security official said that they were obviously engaged in provocation, but “we will not be provoked. The problem is 100% under control.” [25] Several cultural strategies for combatting the Islamic Trend continue to be applied in tandem with police and military activities (although one appears no more efficient than the other). A day after the Zeinhom incident, as security forces flown in the day before were once again scouring Asyut for Islamist militants, the minister of religious endowments was meeting with a different group of shabab in the same city. He told them President Mubarak was doing everything in his power to provide them with job opportunities and a good life, and that most of the youth of the region reject terrorism and intellectual extremism out of hand. The governor of Asyut, seated near the minister, added that from now on youth centers, sporting clubs, and schools in all cities and villages in the governorate would distribute free sports clothing and equipment, as well as cultural and religious books and magazines, to young people.[26] The minister had been traveling that week with colleagues from al-Azhar and the Ministry of Youth and Sport, in the yearly summer Religious Awareness Caravan. In Minya on the day of the Zeinhom attack he told the audience that only ministry-certified preachers can deliver sermons in mosques, and plugged a new book prepared by the ministry that—with the input of al-Azhar—discussed the reasons why some young people held “mistaken and corrupted” religious ideas. Five million copies of the book Declaration to the People were to be distributed through youth centers throughout the nation, to occupy the minds of youth while the promised free sporting equipment occupied their bodies.

This well-publicized strategy of moderation, reason, and public dialogue is tempered both by the frequency of reports of mass arrests of suspected militants and also by reportage on public reactions to the violence. Press coverage of Captain al-Baltagi's funeral had quoted bystanders—from lawyers to barbers—calling for trials within twenty- four hours for arrested terrorists, and their public execution. Egyptians who had worked in Saudi Arabia said that public executions there kept the crime rate low. Reiterating General al-Nahhas's equation of Egypt and her people, one observer of the funeral demanded “the broadcast of executions on television screens, so that all the people and the servants of terrorism will know that in Egypt the state is strong and fears for the people and takes care of them and will never abandon them, and that the people will never abandon its leaders.” [27]

These calls for public execution communicate a real and widespread popular patriotism and a nearly universal Egyptian tough-on-crime attitude. But when set in the machinery of print they also speak as the voice of a political order declaring its own strength and announcing that any and all police action to deal with Islamist militancy is justifiable on the grounds of public assent. The state demonstrates its own restraint (largely for an external audience that perceives it as a “secular” entity rather than a Saudi-style Islamic government) by not holding public executions, despite the news that the funeral turned into “a shouting popular demonstration” calling for “execution in public squares [of]… the enemies of country and religion.” [28] News coverage of the funeral summarized the extent of this sentiment in a statistical idiom as fluid as it was familiar. Like the identity of al-Baltagi's dead assassin, the reported size of the funeral crowd mutated rapidly in published reports. My own head count—perhaps six hundred people in the procession and an equal number of observers—was confirmed by a photo caption in al-Wafd, the liberal opposition daily (“hundreds”). But the accompanying article counted five thousand people from every governorate in the country, with a thousand schoolchildren carrying banners.[29] Another paper reported two hundred students; a third, seven hundred.[30] The crowd as a whole swelled to “thousands,” [31] and then to “tens of thousands,” [32] with wide-angle photographs turning narrow streets into broad plazas, and low camera angles exaggerating the mass of bodies whose depth was invisible and therefore potentially endless. What was in fact a moderate sized and highly orchestrated event blossomed on paper into a massive and spontaneous eruption of popular will.

The Drop of a Gun

But Zeinhom's sequel, as it turned out, was to be even better than the original, reading like the script of an action movie ( “wa huna bada’at al-tafasil al-muthira” [and here the exciting details began… ], teased al-Ahram's police-blotter coverage).[33] Two weeks after the funeral, the real Mustafa ‘Awni Zaki—first thought to have been killed beneath the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge—was captured. He and a colleague, on their way to a meeting allegedly to plan another Cairo attack, got lost near a public park in the Amiriyya neighborhood on the northeast end of the city. They stopped to ask directions of Mahmud Ibrahim, a seventeen-year-old peddler, who became suspicious and tried to get rid of them when they pulled out a detailed street map of the neighborhood. But then a pistol unexpectedly dropped from the clothing of one of the fugitives onto the ground. The young peddler began shouting to the scores of people enjoying the park's cool evening weather, and suddenly a new neighborhood, primed by press coverage of terrorist incidents and alert to the power of Everyman, came alive with indignation as its blacksmiths, fruit vendors, and carpenters gave chase. The militants both ran, shooting into the crowd and wounding two people. They stopped a taxi and threatened the driver, but when he refused to let them in, the second militant shot him, and Mustafa ‘Awni jumped over the cab and rushed with his companion into a Suzuki pickup. The two quickly abandoned that vehicle, too, after ‘Awni shot and killed a civilian motorcyclist pursuing them. While his colleague escaped, he commandeered a bus, holding his gun to the driver's neck with an order to keep the doors closed. But the pursuing crowd grabbed onto the open window frames and began pulling themselves up, and when the gunman pointed his pistol at them the driver opened the door and men streamed onto the vehicle, grabbing ‘Awni and beating him badly. By the time he was handed to police and taken to the hospital his blood pressure had dropped so low he was put on intravenous fluids.

Celebratory newspaper photographs the day after showed ‘Awni dressed in jeans and a torn and bloody T-shirt with the word “SPORT” printed boldly across the front. He was blindfolded, his face smeared with blood. Another photograph displayed his impounded 9mm pistol and his forged identity papers. National security investigators fingered him as a leader of the Jihad's military wing and the “prime mover” behind the Zeinhom incident, wanted in addition for the deaths of eight police officers in Dayrut and a market sentry in a nearby village, and armed attacks on a tourist bus and the Nile Elite tourist steamer.[34] Six teams of security agents meanwhile combed the nearby ‘Ain Shams and Matariyya neighborhoods for the escaped militant. They arrested dozens of people, including the man ‘Awni identified as his arms dealer.

The same day ‘Awni was captured, a mentally unstable religious bookseller—upset that sewer workers showed up in front of his apartment to fix a backup—opened fire on neighbors and was wounded by police after a standoff. His neighbors broke through the police line and rushed up the stairs to the balcony where he fell, carrying his body through the streets before the police managed to get it back.[35] He reportedly sold books and collected donations at a mosque where members of ‘Awni's organization had been meeting, and then used the proceeds to buy guns for the market in Asyut.[36] Mosques, both public and private, have long been targets of Interior Ministry raids, since they offer convenient meeting places, fundraising platforms, and venues for discussion, mobilization, and instruction. The previous week, half a dozen mosques and apartments in the central delta province of Gharbiyya were raided by security forces looking for “extremist elements who infiltrated Ministry of Waqfs mosques with the intention of spreading their ideas among shabab…by holding lessons” after the evening prayers.[37] Police recovered dozens of weapons, including starting pistols modified to fire live ammunition, and arrested over a hundred people from three different underground organizations and eight different provinces.

They Need to Get Rid of Some People

One measure of Egypt's current political dilemma is that, while the Interior Ministry and the state security prosecutor process arrestees through interrogation rooms, prisons, special courts, and the gallows, other parts of the legal system actively aid the partisans of the Islamist opposition. Egypt's Constitution declares that the Islamic shari‘a is the nation's main source of legislation. It should not be very surprising, then, when the courts issue rulings that appear to advance an Islamist cultural agenda. On 14 June 1995, an appeals court ruled that a controversial literary analysis of the Qur’an written by Cairo University professor Nasr Abu Zayd, implicitly questioned the book's divine origins, and therefore made Abu Zayd an apostate who could not legally be married to a Muslim woman under Egyptian personal status law. The court—acting on a two-year-old suit brought by Islamist lawyers—ruled that Abu Zayd should be separated from his wife. But once it issued its ruling, in effect declaring Abu Zayd an apostate in the eyes of the Egyptian state, former Parliament member Shaykh Yusuf al-Badri called on the state not only to remove him from his wife, but to execute him. Conversion from Islam to other religions has been construed as illegal by the courts, and according to some Muslims, the penalty for apostasy should be death. This notion was made famous, of course, by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 opinion that Anglo-Pakistani author Salman Rushdie was liable to execution for his alleged insults to Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses, and later by the 1992 assassination of Egyptian writer Farag Foda. One team of human rights lawyers seeking to appeal the Abu Zayd ruling withdrew after a month when al-Badri and one of the lawyers who had brought the original suit threatened to have them declared apostates as well.[38] Abu Zayd's colleagues at Cairo University feel the intellectual chill, and have coined a new term for it: cultural terrorism. A meeting of faculty in July to organize a defense of Abu Zayd was broken up by the University Club president, and other faculty at the university have been told by their department chairs to alter sensitive parts of the curriculum to avoid criticism by Islamists.[39]

Two years before this, in April 1993, Abu Zayd had been denied promotion to full professor because ‘Abd al-Subur Shahin, a colleague in the Arabic Language and Literature Department, and a member of the university's academic review committee, objected to portions of his work. In interviews with reporters, Abu Zayd suggested that the conflict would have remained restricted to the university except that Shahin denounced him from a mosque pulpit on 2 April, and by the following Friday mosques “all over the country” were repeating his charges. In terms eerily reminiscent of Sir Eldon Gorst, Abu Zayd explained that

such a situation could only have arisen within a context that involves the hammering home of a message by constant repetition before an illiterate audience, be that a real or cultural illiteracy. I would have liked to have been treated like the repentant terrorist who was given an opportunity to appear on television and talk to the nation. I would have liked to have been able to debate my views with whomever on television. But television has contrived to ignore my case. Yet, of course, the broadcast media open their doors wide to the discourse of all those who have declared me an apostate.[40]

By this he does not mean the same people whom the state so assiduously hunts down in Upper Egyptian sugarcane fields—these are usually denied even mention on television and radio—but rather “moderates” like the Muslim Brotherhood and conservative sympathizers within and without the state's own religious establishment. In other interviews he has pointed out that while the state has been depending on “moderate” Islamists for support in marginalizing militant groups, it is precisely these moderates, who prefer to work for change through the courts and the Parliament, who opposed his promotion and sought to end his marriage, both tactics aimed at intimidating intellectuals in ways more subtle than that chosen by writer Farag Foda's assassins in 1992. “Silencing is at the heart of my case,” Abu Zayd told interviewers. “Expelling someone from the university is a way of silencing him. Taking someone away from his specialization is a way of silencing him. Killing someone is a way of silencing him. They need to get rid of some people.” [41]

Too Many Secrets

Whether the “they” refers to the government specifically or to Islamists in general is as unclear in the context of the interview as it is in the context of the intellectual politics the state is trying so desperately to control. Declaration to the People, the book Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub was publicizing the week Mustafa ‘Awni and his colleagues opened fire in Zeinhom, is only one of the literary projects the public sector has undertaken to wean Egyptians of intellectual dependence on freelance Islamist writers. The government and the ruling party have for more than a decade provided the marketplace with Islamic literature such as the NDP's weekly tabloid al-Liwa’ al-Islami (The Islamic Standard), al-Muslim al-Saghir (The Little Muslim), the children's monthly from the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and others.[42] Both these public sector productions emphasize the application of Islamic principles to daily life, and in an interesting reversal of standing broadcast policy—in which female television characters and newscasters are prohibited from covering their hair—such periodicals universally show women as muhaggabat in drawings and photographs. Each tries to outbid its private sector competitors with conservative cultural credentials while featuring the president and members of the religious establishment in the place of the private sector's glowing profiles of martyred Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Throughout the mid-1980s, the circulation figures for private sector religious periodicals in Egypt were fifty times those of public sector production, but their numbers remained relatively stable while the circulation of public sector religious titles increased by more than 300 percent. This has been part of a concentrated effort to adopt the language and tactics of the Islamist movement so as better to compete with them on their own ground.

But this policy, although well-coordinated through the NDP and across several ministries, is not monolithic. In a very different tactical move, the public sector General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO) began in 1993 a new series of reprints of classic Islamic modernist texts, called the Muwajaha (Confrontation) series. Each book bore on its back the strongly-worded declaration that

The conspiracy of extremism and terror in Egypt has reached unprecedented proportions in the last year.…Egypt is now experiencing a human, cultural and civilizational tragedy and an economic and political catastrophe. Therefore, it has become necessary for Egyptian intellectuals and the institutions of civil society to rise and confront extremism and terror, to surround and contain them in preparation for their complete uprooting.[43]

The series contains classic works by Egyptian authors Taha Hussein, Qasim Amin, Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, and more recent intellectuals, all of whom have explored the meaning of Islam in the modern age. Soon after its first appearance the series was denounced by officials at al-Azhar and other Islamic institutions for reissuing volumes by Muslim scholars like ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, who proposed in 1925 that Egypt should become a secular state like Turkey. When first published, the book was condemned by al-Azhar, and ‘Abd al-Raziq was denounced as unfit to hold public position.[44] Ironically, at the same time that the minister of religious endowments was plugging Declaration to the People during the summer 1993 Religious Awareness Caravan, Dr. ‘Abd al-Subur Marzuq, the general superintendent of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, told a Caravan audience of Alexandria University students in mid-July that the “Confrontation” series was merely “the latest campaign of communism and secularism in their war against Islam and its enlightened thought.…This collection contains ludicrous and perverted books, and it [isn't] necessary to start printing them again, or having the state budget pay for them.” [45] At that very same meeting, the minister announced that Dr. Marzuq and the mufti had been named to a three- man commission responsible for planning the process of development and composition for new religious studies books for public schools.[46] The third member of the commission was to be Shaykh Muhammad al- Ghazali.

Shaykh al-Ghazali—a popular conservative ‘alim and teacher who had written a weekly column for the Muslim Brotherhood's weekly outlet al-Sha‘b in the late 1980s, and gained international stature as a teacher and media personality in Algeria—was in the news for other reasons in the summer of 1993. In June he had been called as a witness for the defense at the trial of writer Farag Foda's assassins (several of whom were themselves Islamist lawyers). He testified that Muslims who object to the application of Islamic law are apostates, and that the killers of apostates are merely carrying out the punishment set in place by the shari‘a itself, which the Constitution purportedly takes as the main source of legislation.[47] Despite the rapprochement between the government and the Muslim Brothers, the embarrassed Shaykh of al-Azhar and the minister of religious endowments were forced to repeat publicly that only the ruler and his law enforcement officials could take upon themselves the responsibility to investigate and declare apostasy or to carry out the death sentence.[48] “Playing around in the political sphere is far from the holiness of religion,” Mahgub told audiences during the days immediately before and after the Zeinhom attack; no one except the ruler is entitled to administer divine ordinances or to claim that homicide is religiously permissible. Nothing, he said, can excuse people setting themselves up as legislators and judges and executioners.[49] In July the state called ‘Atiyya Saqr, the head of the fatwa committee at al-Azhar, to testify at the Foda assassination trial in response to al-Ghazali and to the similar testimony of another expert witness, Dr. Mahmud Mazru‘a. But once the prosecution had rested its case, one of the defense attorneys dared the court to criminalize the defendants' own legal justification for killing apostates, lest it be forced to try the prominent scholars al-Ghazali and Mazru‘a as well. When the prosecutor entered into evidence volumes from the “Confrontation” book series, one of the defendants asked his lawyer to call witnesses to respond to them, as well as to enter into evidence volumes of Islamic jurisprudence.

Suddenly the case seemed to be less about a criminal prosecution than it was about the right to interpret and apply the principles of divine law in a society whose leaders proclaim that “our constitution is Islam.” [50] The defense claimed that the trial was about the cultural effects of Foda's anti-Islamist writings, which represented “atheism's struggle to obliterate the knowledge of religion and to guide our children with principles that leave them with no connection to us.” [51] That this is essentially the same charge Dr. Marzuq leveled at the General Egyptian Book Organization reveals the difficulty of disentangling the twisted strands of state cultural policy.

Similar ambiguities and contradictions are easy to find. In 1994, after allowing the Nasserist magazine Ruz al-Yusuf to publish excerpts from works censored by al-Azhar, President Mubarak announced at the annual Cairo Book Fair that he was releasing some controversial works that had been seized at the fair the previous year. “I am convinced,” said Ruz al-Yusuf's editor, “that this government's trend is secular.” [52] But at its party convention two years previously the ruling NDP had reinforced its stand that Egypt is an Islamic state committed to the norms of Islam, and underlining support for comprehensive religious education in the schools.[53] Cultural policy is oddly split, along with the conscience of the nation. The same government that declares Islam the religion of the state produces public sector beer and wine (but then bans their sale in several southern provinces to quiet Islamist opposition). Like Saudi Arabia and Iran (and, for that matter, China), Egypt has recently moved to ban satellite dishes “to preserve and protect the values, morals and traditions of society,” and in early July 1995 a court sentenced a movie theater owner to a short prison sentence for displaying a 1973 movie poster showing a woman's cleavage (this suit as well was brought by Yusuf al-Badri, among others). No one seems to be able accurately to identify, characterize, or predict the direction government policy will take with respect to the Islamization of public life.

What is clear is that civil society is increasingly a self-consciously Islamic space. In September 1992 the Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate—essentially a public sector union of legal professionals—was taken over by Islamist candidates in the elections for its executive committee. This followed Muslim Brotherhood victories in the board elections of the Cairo University Faculty Club (1990) and the Pharmacists (1990), Physicians (1988), and Engineers (1987) Syndicates.[54] Thousands of these professionals, along with accountants, teachers, social workers, students, and others, volunteer their time providing social, educational, and health services for the poor through private voluntary organizations operating in centers associated with private mosques. Increasingly common during the 1980s, this has been a response both to the impotence of the government to provide the volume and quality of services required by the country's growing population, and to a sense that the fortunate in the Muslim community should devote time and their income to alleviating the misery of the poor, the sick, and the needy.

The same increasingly applies to the business community as well. In 1989 Muslim Brotherhood candidates won several seats on the board of the Commerce Graduate's Association, and Islamic banks and investment companies have become part of the financial scene. Despite new regulations on such companies in the late 1980s, and the prosecution and subsequent collapse of some of them for fraudulent practices (e.g., the enormous Rayan company, which owned everything from financial services companies to restaurants and parking lots), networks of Islamist businesses are spreading with the aid of heavy capital investment from Egyptian professionals working abroad, as well as direct investment by foreign individuals, corporations, and governments. Safir Publishing Company, for example, recently began issuing a discount card good at participating businesses such as gift stores, doctor's offices, and others, testimony to the strength of private business networks.

Such formal networks are matched by an extraordinarily extensive system of informal economic networks and associations as well. Despite the fact that many educated people crave secure guaranteed jobs in the public sector, the wait for such employment is long and the pay low, so the majority of Cairenes who work in the public sector, as well as those who do not, have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Untaxed and unrecorded economic transactions from informal activities probably account for between a third and a half of the country's reported GNP, and the vast majority of remittances from abroad are through illegal channels. Diane Singerman suggests that there might be developing, in addition to the parallel economy, a “parallel polis” (a term coined by Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel) similar to that in 1980s Eastern Europe, an economic basis for an alternative to the state system of production, distribution, and political mobilization. With a stagnant formal economy, widespread corruption, and a sense of the ineffectiveness of repressive violence, elites in Egypt might well be losing faith in the legitimacy of the government and looking for other ways out of the political and economic crisis.[55] Even in lower-middle-class working neighborhoods, ordinary people who do not see themselves as belonging to an “Islamic movement” still believe in many of the elements of the Islamist platform, such as ending corruption and applying Islamic law. Political organizations or movements promising such changes have a potential for wide popular political support, as well as an immense potential economic base.

Perceiving the power of this alternative, the government has recently broadened its anti-Islamist political and police actions to include the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with tens of thousands of members and perhaps a million supporters, which has for almost a generation enjoyed relatively little attention from security forces. Although it is an illegal organization, it has not been targeted like Jihad or al-Gama‘a al- islamiyya, which make strategic use of violence, or even some human rights and women's associations, which have seen their assets liquidated under the laws regulating private voluntary organizations.[56] Instead, it has fielded candidates for the People's Assembly through legal political parties; published and distributed books, magazines, and newspapers through the monopoly public sector distribution companies; set up youth, educational, social service, and medical service programs; and in general forged a rapprochement with the government and a symbiotic relationship with many sectors of civil society since the 1970s.

But in January 1995, and increasingly after the 26 June assassination attempt on President Mubarak in Addis Ababa, the Ministry of the Interior turned its attention anew to the Muslim Brotherhood. On 17 July it arrested seventeen Brotherhood leaders in sixteen different provinces, seizing computers, books, documents, and videotapes purportedly showing the organization in contact with the Sudanese National Islamic Front, which Egypt publicly implicated in the assassination try. Dozens of other Brotherhood members had been detained without charges since the beginning of the year, and the July arrestees included four former members of Parliament, the head of the information department at al- Azhar, teachers, bankers, civil servants, and local officials. Eight more were taken into custody the following week, and a few days after that another two hundred Brotherhood members were arrested in security sweeps of Alexandria and Minufiyya, most of them at what the government claimed were Brotherhood military training camps. The Brotherhood itself reported that they were in fact summer youth camps established by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The young men were arrested after having been observed practicing kung fu and karate, which has often been interpreted as terrorist training and resulted in arrests elsewhere in the country.[57]

At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood accused the NDP of using the Addis Ababa incident as an excuse for a crackdown in preparation for discrediting the organization before the scheduled People's Assembly elections in November. The prediction was apparently accurate, as arrests continued through the fall, including not only Islamists but leftist and other intellectuals as well. Journalists, including the editors of the liberal opposition daily al-Wafd, and the Brotherhood/Labor Party's al- Sha‘b, have been alternately harassed, arrested, detained, and beaten. Three days before the 29 November voting, between one hundred forty (the government figure) and six hundred (the Brotherhood figure) Brotherhood members were arrested, and shortly before that, fifty-four were convicted in court and sentenced to prison for holding secret meetings and preparing antigovernment leaflets. The elections themselves, criticized by both local and foreign organizations for ballot-box stuffing and physical intimidation of voters, resulted in an overwhelming NDP victory. Some intellectuals are comparing recent waves of arrests and political repression with the paranoid atmosphere of the months leading up to Sadat's assassination in 1981.

At the same time that confidence in the government erodes, the Islamist opposition is seen as ever more ubiquitous and effective. “I don't trust the government,” Layla al-Shamsi's husband told me in 1993,

they keep too many secrets. And the only thing I read in the government papers, the only thing they're completely honest about, is the sports. For anything else, you've got to look at the opposition papers, which are really quite good, and about seventy-five percent true. Like the incident over on Salah Salem [street, referring to the Zeinhom incident]; do you remember that? They shot an officer, the fanatics did, because of the move of the terrorist trials from civil to military courts. That's what they told the officer before killing him. But did that appear in the government papers? Of course not. They hid the reason for the killing. The fanatics know more about the government and what it does than any of the rest of us; they pay attention. Like with [recently dismissed Defense Minister] Abu Ghazala: when photographs were produced in court showing him, I don't know, kissing the foot of some belly dancer. Where did they get those photos? Like I say, [the fanatics] know about everything that goes on.[58]

There Is No Terrorism in Egypt

And so it goes, week after week after week, month after month. The situation “100% under control” turns instead into a web of subterranean connections between bearded radicals and young men in jeans and t-shirts, between north and south, between central Cairo and its suburbs, between Egypt and the outside. (Iran, the papers quote from a German magazine, spent 186 million dollars to train terrorists around the world, including the Sudan, but at the same time, Shaykh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, one of the leaders of the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, was a paid CIA informer.[59]) Money mediates the transformation of books into guns and vice versa (with Afghani heroin occasionally making a reported appearance in the equation as well).[60] Parks, youth centers, and kindergartens become arenas of violence, sporting equipment turns deadly, martial arts migrate from the movie screen to the summer camp, buses and taxis, delivery trucks and motorcycles facilitate the speedy exchange of gunfire. Even state-run mosques are infiltrated by unofficial voices. There seems no safe haven, no respite, and no way to decide whom or what to believe. In Egypt's fifteen-year-long state of emergency, every possibility becomes a fact.

The government's vacillating and ambiguous support for and reaction against the Islamic Trend in its many manifestations, along with fluctuating press restrictions, the harassment of journalists and intellectuals, mass arrests, unemployment and economic crisis, the sudden international realignment of the region following the Second Gulf War, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the surprising Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, make anything possible. “Now, the government and the religious groupings have a single set of interests,” said the leftist journalist and poet Muhammad Sulayman in 1989, “which is to stay in power.”

America is on the side of the mutadayyinin [the religious ones] as well, because they perceive that they have more in common with them, and both will do anything to keep the communists out of power. Under Nasser, during that period, Egypt benefitted greatly from the Soviet Union. We got the High Dam, and there was no inflation, and things were going well. But Sadat kicked the Soviet Union out at the instigation of the CIA. They would do anything to keep out socialism.


You mean Egypt isn't a socialist country? What about the huge public sector?


(Laughing.) They're capitalist!


So what's the difference between the public and the private sector?


The private sector is succeeding! They have America on their side. Do you know that sixty percent of the private sector is under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood? I'm very angry with America. Very angry. The CIA is a party in Egypt. Not just a few here and there, but a party.[61]

Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman swore to me that Egyptians, Sudanese, and Iranians had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist bombings that struck Cairo in 1993. She explained that they could not possibly have any interest in carrying out these atrocities, since it could only hurt the cause of Islam. Look instead for an Israeli connection, she said. The Israeli intelligence service Mossad must have been the culprit, as they have no respect at all for human life, and will do anything to hurt Muslims. Others apparently agreed with her. The leftist weekly al-Ahali reportedly told its readers in late June 1993 that

rumors that 30 Israeli Uzi submachine guns were discovered in the possession of arrested militants and that a number of Israel's national carrier El Al and Alexandria-based Israeli Cultural Center employees have been arrested further fueled…conspiracy theories. And the former Israeli academic center chief also made a surprise visit to Cairo last week. Both stories were attributed to an unnamed Egyptian security official quoted in the London- based al-Wasat.[62]

The paper also reported that American national security agents had entered the country in May to give weapons and money to the Gama‘a al- Islamiyya in retribution for Egypt's arrest of a missionary who had salted copies of the Qur’an with Bible verses. (This is a particularly interesting hypothesis in that it allies Egyptian leftist thinking with that of Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb, who viewed modern colonialism as a thinly disguised reprisal of the medieval Crusades to take back the Holy Land for Christianity. In 1989 a private sector Muslim periodical claimed that the Ministry of Religious Endowments had been working closely with the University of Chicago and the U.S. National Council of Churches, who had spent fifty million dollars over several years to meet with imams in Egypt and other Muslim countries “to steer [them] onto an unsound path.” [63]) After an August 1993 attempt on the life of the interior minister near the American University in Cairo, students began reporting that a bomb had been planted on campus at the same time, but that it was being hushed up by officials. Rumors circulated throughout 1992 and 1993 that (unidentified) Islamists were throwing acid on the exposed legs of (unspecified) women on the street (the version I heard), or more generally “at” (unspecified) unveiled women on the subway (the version that made it to some international press reports).[64]

Rumor upon rumor upon rumor in dizzying sequence crowd the information economy. Interior Minister Hasan al-Alfi's predecessor, it was said, was fired for counseling dialogue with the Islamist militants. His predecessor, Zaki Badr, was reportedly fired for counseling their extermination. Al-Alfi himself avoided the question by telling journalists that he leaves the talking to Waqfs and al-Azhar, and that he has different procedures for dealing with troublemakers.[65] The Mubarak government encourages religiousness, he said, and despite its bloody suppression of the Islamist groups in Upper Egypt, his ministry does not make war on Islam because “we are all Muslims.” [66] The Shaykh of al-Azhar publicly calls on religious scholars to listen without reservation to the concerns of young people and to respond to them as straightforwardly as possible, but the minister of religious endowments clarifies that there can be no dialogue with those who bear arms.[67] If the strategy for dealing with an Islamist threat to the ruling party is unclear, perhaps it is because the outline of the problem itself is in flux. The Shaykh of al-Azhar declared in the midst of the manhunt for Mustafa ‘Awni that “there is no terrorism in Egypt; what's happening is ordinary crime, and it needs to be approached with that understanding.” The minister of religious endowments agreed, declaring that “there is no battle between the extremists and the state, and there is not going to be a battle ever; the real battle is against killers and terrorists, in the protection of religious people.” [68]

Meanwhile, every publicized roundup of suspected Islamist militants, every story linking the Muslim Brotherhood with Sudan's NIF, every series of stories on the latest policeman killed by militants seems to be accompanied by the bright news of plans to establish new Islamic colleges and religion academies in the delta and Upper Egypt. Mosques are to become social and cultural centers, and soon every village in the country will boast a religious library and an institution for Qur’an memorization. Five thousand private mosques are to be drawn under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and soon all state children's services establishments will include religious instruction.[69]

Just as nineteenth-century Englishmen believed that if workingmen were instructed in the elements of political economy, they would understand the forces acting on them and become content thereby, so Egyptians—and, I think, Muslims more generally—believe that Islam is a more a matter of logic and of knowledge than of faith. Ideas have an inherent power to compel. The extremist, on the one hand, and the pervert, on the other, are simply ignorant, or in the possession of mistaken ideas. “When we improve a youth with enlightened Islamic ideas,” Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Adhim al-Mutany told a newspaper,

there cannot be an opportunity for any other ideas outside of them, or different from them, because the prophylactic mechanism [jihaz mana‘i] of the youth is strong and he can dismiss these ideas. If the youth's mind is empty of any Islamic culture then there is an atmosphere in which other ideas can proliferate. I think that extremism results from ignorance of religion. Its treatment is easy—directing [him] along the path of intellectual improvement with this culture and the correction of mistaken ideas.[70]

The more authentic Islamic culture there is in the public environment, the theory goes, the less likely it is that anyone can hold nonconformist ideas. But, as I hope I have been able to show, precisely the opposite is true: it is not the paucity of Islamic culture that accounts for the growth of the oppositional tendencies of the Islamic Trend, but rather its bounty. Each new attempt to correct mistaken ideas by furthering the penetration of Islamic discourse in public space creates an intensification of the conflict between parties seeking to control the discourse. In becoming hegemonic, Islam (like political economy, or evolutionary theory, or Marxism, or any of a half-dozen other comprehensive ideological systems) is forced by necessity not only to provoke limited counterlanguages, but to become itself the language in which cultural and political battles are fought by the vast majority of interested parties. That language, moreover, does not merely express social divisions, but by the logic of translation from its traditional technologies of reproduction to the technologies of the school (and, increasingly, the market), it creates new divisions, new complications and conflicts, new ambiguities. The economy of information, which is meant—like ritual—both to comfort and to induce directive anxiety in the population, instead produces an anxiety that is increasingly unfocused. Not knowing what is true, everything becomes true, every possibility becomes a fact. “There are so many contradictory messages these days, it's all a big confusion,” an Egyptian friend told me. “Even the terrorists just don't know whom to hate anymore.” [71]


1. Michael Taussig, The Nervous System (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 34.

2. Nemat Guenena, Tandhim al-jihad: Hal Huwa al-badil al-islami fi Misr? (Cairo: Dar al-hurriyya, 1988).

3. Andrea Rugh, “Reshaping Personal Relations in Egypt,” p. 152.

4. For the classic description of the Muslim Brotherhood, see Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969); also Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); Barbara Freyer Stowasser, The Islamic Impulse (Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1987); Arlene Elowe McLeod, Accommodating Protest; Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam; and volumes in Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby's The Fundamentalisms Project series from University of Chicago Press.

5. Al-Jumhuriyya, 16 July 1993, pp. 1, 3; 18 July 1993, p. 5. Al-Wafd, 18 July 1993, p. 3.

6. Al-Akhbar, 18 July 1993, p. 3.

7. Al-Ahram, 19 July 1993, p. 1; al-Akhbar, 19 July 1993, p. 3.

8. Newspapers consistently referred to the bodies of the dead martyrs as “mortal remains,” while the bodies of the dead or executed militants were referred to as “corpses” or “carcasses.”

9. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7.

10. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 August 1993, p. 5. Accounts of the incident the previous day made it clear that his encounter with the escaping militants was a matter of chance.

11. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1995, p. 5.

12. Cassandra, “The Impending Crisis in Egypt,” p. 20; Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, pp. 86–87.

13. Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists,” p. 220.

14. Al-Akhbar, 4 August 1993, p. 1.

15. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

16. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1993, p. 5.

17. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

18. Mamoun Fandy, “Egypt's Islamic Group: Regional Revenge?” Middle East Journal 48, 4 (1994), p. 609. Fandy claims that al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyya is essentially a regional separatist organization resisting the extension of northern state power and privilege to the central and southern regions of the country. Their use of violence against police targets may be in part the result of a strongly developed regional tradition of blood vengeance. In an area where police and political authority often run along family lines, the killing of a police officer might be “merely” the result of vengeance between kinship groups. According to Reuters, for example, in July 1995 a police major general in Asyut was killed along with five others when police tried to intervene in an interfamily dispute. The fact that one of the families was led by an ex-army officer who had been dismissed for Islamist sympathies initially made the incident seem part of the battle between the government and the Islamists, an explanation that was quickly dropped.

19. Karim el-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone: Gama‘at vs. Government in Upper Egypt,” Middle East Report, nos. 194–195 (May–June/July–August 1995), p. 51.

20. El-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone,” p. 51; al-Ahram, 20 May 1996, p. 18.

21. Timothy Mitchell, “Worlds Apart: An Egyptian Village and the International Tourism Industry,” Middle East Report, no. 196 (September–October 1995), p. 9.

22. See The Economist, 19 December 1992, p. 41; 19 February 1994, p. 45.

23. The Economist, 4 February 1995, p. 15.

24. Ahmed Abdalla, “Egypt's Islamists and the State: From Complicity to Confrontation,” Middle East Report, no. 183 (July–August 1993), p. 29.

25. An ex-general, ‘Abd al-Sattar Amin, who served as a military aide to the prime minister; quoted in The Economist, 31 October 1992, p. 42.

26. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 10.

27. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7; al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

28. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

29. Al-Wafd, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

30. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7; al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

31. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4; al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1993, p. 5.

32. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

33. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

34. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

35. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

36. Al-Wafd, 4 August 1993, p. 9.

37. Al-Wafd, 26 July 1993, p. 8.

38. Reuters, 18 July 1995.

39. Reuters, 17 July 1995.

40. Amira Howeidy, Mona al-Nahhas and Mona Anis, “The Persecution of Abu Zeid,” al-Ahram Weekly, 22–28 June 1995; rpt., World Press Review 45 (October 1995).

41. Ayman Bakr and Elliot Colla, “Silencing Is at the Heart of My Case,” interview with Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), p. 29.

42. CAPMAS, Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-idha‘a wa al-sahafa (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1983, 1988); see also Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Kutub wa al-maktabat (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1987).

43. Quoted in Joel Beinin, “The Egyptian Regime and the Left: Between Islamism and Secularism,” Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), p. 25.

44. Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 189. Nasr Abu Zayd claims that the GEBO removed a section from another book in the series—by Farah Anton—that called for a secular state in Egypt as well. Bakr and Colla, “Silencing,” p. 29.

45. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 7.

46. Al-Akhbar, 15 July 1993.

47. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1994), p. 1171.

48. Al-Akhbar, 9 July 1993, p. 1.

49. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 7; al-Wafd, 19 July 1993, p. 2; al-Akhbar, 19 July 1993, p. 6.

50. Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, minister of religious endowments, quoted in al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 2.

51. Al-Wafd, 2 August 1993, p. 8.

52. Quoted in The Economist, 19 February 1994, p. 45.

53. Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement,” p. 394.

54. Scott Mattoon, “Egypt: Islam by Profession,” The Middle East, no. 218 (December 1992). See also Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement,” p. 387.

55. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, pp. 149–50, 237, 243.

56. Denis Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations, p. 25.

57. Reuters, 18, 25, 29 July 1995. In August 1993 eight young men were arrested in Minya after having been observed receiving karate and kung fu lessons in the hills above the town. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1993, p. 1.

58. Interview, 24 July 1993, pp. 65–66.

59. Al-Ahram, 4 August 1993, p. 1; al-Wafd, 14 July 1993, p. 1.

60. Ruz al-Yusuf, 19 July 1993, p. 11.

61. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 8 August 1989, pp. 561–62.

62. Middle East Times—Egypt, 29 June–5 July 1993, p. 1. For a review of conspiracy theories, see Nabil Abdel-Fattah, “Cairo Bombings: The Plot Thickens,” al-Ahram Weekly, 8–14 July 1993, p. 9.

63. Liwa’ al-Islam, 3 August 1989, p. 49.

64. The Economist, 4 July 1992, p. 38.

65. Al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 1.

66. Faruq ‘Abd al-Majid, “The Police Guard the Application of the Law,” al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 10.

67. Al-Akhbar, 16 July 1993, p. 6; al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 2.

68. Shaykh Jad al-Haq ‘Ali Jad al-Haq, quoted in al-Wafd, 30 July 1993, p. 8; Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, quoted in al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 8.

69. Al-Wafd, 30 July 1993, p. 8; al-Wafd, 2 August 1993, p. 2; al-Ahram, 19 July 1993, p. 10.

70. Al-Jumhuriyya, 30 July 1993, p. 7.

71. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 29.

8. Broken Boundaries and the Politics of Fear

Why open the eyes of the people? They will only be more difficult to rule.

All transitions are dangerous; and the most dangerous is the transition from the restraint of the family circle to the non-restraint of the world.

We will end where we began, with the drama of summer camps in Alexandria being stormed by the Egyptian state security forces. The raids are significant for more than just their illustration of the conflict between public and private sector religious interests, or because of their titillation value for journalists and academics covering the battles between governments and “Islamic fundamentalism” in the Middle East and elsewhere. Their central importance lies in their specific message to the Egyptian public: the implication that children are at risk from “extremism.” This is a substantially new claim, representing a shift in emphasis from the reigning paradigm of recent years that attributes “Islamic extremism” to social and economic forces affecting young adults, the shabab. The fear that children can fall prey to unsanctioned religious ideas reflects a partial recognition of how deep are the cultural and institutional roots of the Islamic Trend. Recent news reports claim that groups like the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya have moved beyond the indoctrination of children in private kindergartens, to use women and young people as couriers, messengers, arms buyers, lookouts, and bomb placers.[3] A pointed recognition of this change is seen in one of the first scenes in Egyptian actor ‘Adel Imam's popular 1994 anti-Islamist movie The Terrorist, which shows an outdoor school in an Upper Egyptian village, where the fanatic Shaykh Sayf (Sword) is delivering a harangue to twenty young boys and youth, telling them that watching television or reading the newspapers of the “infidel government” are innovations and transgressions that will lead to hell, that they should never greet or shake hands with Christians, or let their mothers or sisters go out of the house without their faces covered (advice reminiscent of that given to the boys in Alexandria). Art does imitate life, whether in the northern urban flat or the palm-roofed rural southern classroom. The current minister of education, Husayn Kamal Baha’ al-Din, worries publicly that Islamists have for years recruited “operatives within educational establishments to undertake to destroy the minds of students.” [4] The recognition that normal processes of cultural transmission might be at play in the Islamization of public and political culture is important because it appears to move discussion of the Trend's social origins away from the notion of a class pathology onto more subtle ground.

Since the late 1970s the dominant explanation for the rise of militant Islamic groups, and for the general religious rebirth in Egypt, has been that the economic and political policies of Anwar Sadat's infitah, the Open Door policy initiated in 1974, have resulted in a widening disparity between the wealthy and the poor in Egypt, together with the downward mobility of educated middle classes no longer able to support lifestyles consistent with their background and aspirations. Inflation, the breakdown of public facilities and services in rapidly growing cities, the overcrowding of universities and schools, and the overburdened healthcare, transportation, housing, and sanitation systems have, on this theory, contributed to a consciousness on the part of the people that the government is not doing its part to provide the nation with the necessities of life. All of this on the tail of the political and military humiliation of the 1967 war with Israel has precipitated a crisis of legitimacy and forced secularizing Egyptians to reconsider the course of the nation. There emerged a widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling establishment as well as with the entire series of Western political ideologies that have formed the basis for Egyptian government since the 1920s. The end result of this dissatisfaction has been a return to Islam, the traditional root of Arab and Muslim greatness. Following the anti-imperialist lead of Hasan al-Banna in the 1930s, Muslim intellectuals like Sayyid Qutb had by the mid-1960s provided an explanation for the ills of the nation: Egyptian society, not ruled by the dictates of the Islamic shari‘a, is not Muslim at all, but rather, jahili, in a state of moral ignorance comparable to that of pre-Islamic Arabia (a notion borrowed from the Pakistani activist Mawlana Abul-A‘la Mawdudi). The only solution is to alter or overthrow the existing system and replace it with one based on the principles of Islam.

This is the way many Egyptian intellectuals and journalists explain the rise of activist Islam, and as a result this is the explanation most widespread among the nation's educated community who read such theories in the popular press, if not in scholarly journals and government reports, and deploy them in cocktail conversations, interviews, and public statements. I once mentioned to Muhammad Sulayman, who had found socialism through reading the plays of Bertolt Brecht, that I found it curious that there were two or three muhaggabat working in the office of his leftist publishing house.

“Oh, they're not religious,” he replied.

“How so?” I asked, surprised that this most obvious mark of religiosity might not be religious after all.

“They wear the higab for economic reasons [min bab iqtisadi], not religious reasons [mish bab at-tadayyun],” he explained.



“Are you sure?”


Some secularist intellectuals, not content to let political economy bear the entire burden, link the Islamic revival not only with economic and social stresses, but with darker psychological and social pathologies such as prostitution and mental illness. A prominent Egyptian intellectual, Hani Sharif Mahmud, explained the prevalence of the higab this way:

Now, part of it [the return to the veil] is economic: you don't have to wear makeup, or go to the coiffure, which is expensive, and you don't have to change your dress so often. And there's also an element of feeling protected, of gaining a respectability that might be more important now than other things. You know, it's a well-known fact that even prostitutes dress in these things, because it makes it easier to escape from the police. Really! So much so, that when a girl from a traditional quarter suddenly puts on the veil, people will say, oh, so now she's going to a brothel!…The new Islamic Trend is not really genuine, most of it, because it's generated from frustrations.…This is why you have the Islamists so active in a situation [of high inflation and widespread corruption] like this, stressing honesty and so forth, it's because they want their piece of the pie, and politics has been discredited. The Islamic movement is just another kind of extremism, and it just takes different forms…[Islamists and Marxists] take old authors and read them and use them as the basis on which to argue for different things. Sometimes they're the same arguments in a Marxist or an Islamic debate, just using different authors and a different language. Extremism is the expression of frustrations from one sphere in the activities of another.[5]

Other Egyptian leftists, shocked to find their daughters donning the higab, send them for psychiatric treatment,[6] and explain the defection of secularist intellectuals to the Islamic Trend as the result of “personal crisis.” In the movie The Terrorist, one of the characters, a worldly American University in Cairo student, explains to her family that extremists are “full of complexes, victims of repression,” a fine collegiate Freudianism that seems to accord with the title character's frustrated projection of lechery onto unveiled women, and to his subsequent reactionary violence. Diagnoses linking religion with personal trauma or mental illness appeared again when Hani Sharif Mahmud told me there had never been any religious activity in his own house when he was raising his two sons. His father, a landowner, had not been religious. “As for myself,” he said, “I was educated in a Lycée, a French secular school, and then received a Marxist education after that, so I learned very early the French tradition of “libre pensée.” I was very influenced, like my sons have been, by Bertrand Russell, and so on.” But then he paused and added quickly,

The only time there was anything religious with my sons was that for a time they were both having problems with manic depressive disorders, you know, and the one who had the manic stage, very suddenly took—this was at the time when his grandmother was dying—suddenly, without warning, became very religious, and took to reading from the Qur’an, just standing at the head of his grandmother's bed reading out of the Qur’an. But that was a very short time…a period of days, just days, then it was over.[7]

Religion and Social Class

These materialist explanations of the Islamic revival assume that beliefs and commitments are expressions either of psychopathology (William James's “medical materialism”) or of structural contradictions and the historical materialist dialectic that coaxes cognitive frameworks from the struggles between social classes. Religion is a translation of social dislocation, political conflict, and psychological trauma. Eric Davis, for example, has argued in one of the most sophisticated and convincing analyses of the Islamic Trend,

that ideology is a reflection of class interests in that Islamic radicals…come from a particular social class and…seek to acquire a greater share of society's material resources. Ideology can also be understood in terms of social strains as Islamic militants…seek refuge in Islam to soothe the alienation stemming from the status deprivation which they have experienced.[8]

Theoretically, this model relies both on the assumption that religion is a response to psychosocial stress, which it has the unique power to soothe, and that class background lends individuals certain cognitive predispositions more likely to be satisfied by one kind of ideological system than by another. The first idea derives of course from Marx, for whom religion was the spiritual aroma of an unjust social order, “an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.” [9] Real conflicts take imaginary form as religion, alienating human powers from the terrestrial to the cosmic plane. The second idea draws on Max Weber's subtle outline of the religious tendencies of the noble, peasant, bureaucratic, bourgeois, and intellectual classes in various world religions.[10] Davis writes, for example, that most members of radical groups “are recent immigrants to urban areas…[whose] occupations and educational backgrounds belie [sic] a traditional socialization in the countryside.” [11] Furthermore, these radicals, “whose contacts with Western culture are minimal at best,” [12] use Islam as “a way of reasserting the corporate unity of Egyptian society which [they] perceived to exist from the vantage point of their early socialization in the countryside.” Islamic ideology “does this using symbols which possess strong emotive power since they are the ones with which members of the lower middle class have been acquainted since early childhood and they evoke memories of a romanticized past in which life was integrated and devoid of conflict.” [13] Clearly the urban/rural dichotomy is being used as a master symbol of transition from tradition to modernity, with tradition and religion clustered in the remote Egyptian village, while the city represents an alienated West.

The difficulty with such an argument is that there is little evidence that the sociological makeup of Islamic political groups is different from that of other activist political organizations. The social profiles of members of Islamist groups is very similar to members of socialist and communist organizations, and such groups working on Egyptian university campuses in the 1970s competed for the allegiance of—and drew their membership from—precisely the same kinds of students (just as did their Iranian counterparts, where the competition could take the form of literal tugs-of-war over new Iranian arrivals at U.S. universities).[14] There appears to be no good reason to assume that Liberal, Marxist, and Nasserist symbols, unlike Islamic ones, “are equally inadequate in performing a cognitive function for the lower middle classes.” [15] In the case of Muhammad Sulayman, we have seen that socialist symbols can be extremely attractive to young mobile Egyptians, even those with extremely religious backgrounds. Wafa’i Isma‘il, on the other hand, was drawn to Islamic symbols precisely because of their broad appeal to youth of many backgrounds.

Other work linking migration with politicization in Egypt indicates that, “with the exception of Cairo and Alexandria [urban/rural contrasts] are always overstated.” [16] The migration hypothesis does not do a very good job explaining the strength of Islamist groups in smaller cities like Asyut and Minya, along with the dozen other regional towns and villages where security forces have focused their attention. Furthermore, this model assumes that there is something like a unitary traditional socialization process and a “traditional consciousness,” [17] which are unique parts of the rural and not the urban environment. We should remember, though, that the Egyptian public school system gives both urban and rural children the opportunity for a “traditional” upbringing, presenting to growing citizens models of personal virtue, social cohesion, and political triumph that tie traditional Islamic symbols in a systematic way to the complexities of modern life. Although immense disparities remain, schooling can in fact flatten out some of the differences between the experiences of different social classes in a way that Weber—working with historical examples long predating mass schooling—could not foresee. In any case, if rural migration is part of the etiology of the Islamic Trend, it is precisely those individuals who have made use of that educational system—agronomists; university, commerce, and industrial arts students; lawyers and physicians, rather than farmers and day laborers—who are doing the migration. Their school background itself constitutes extensive contact with Western institutions, whose encounter might very well be shocking, not because of its contrast with rural life, but rather because of its internal contradictions.[18]

On another front, Davis's clear-eyed political economy perspective faults earlier approaches to the study of Islamic revival for their “emphasis on seeing change in the realm of ideas. This leads to a concentration on the thought of major Islamic thinkers and hence to an elitist bias.” [19] But with the development of mass literacy—not to mention the secondary orality of electronically mediated Islamic cultural production—matters of philosophy can hardly be considered merely elitist without making the mistake of depriving non-elites of specifically cultural concerns. One of the manifestations of Egypt's growing interest in religion is an extraordinary proliferation of widely affordable religious literature. This includes the production of low-cost editions of classic Islamic thought and reference books, like the Sahih of Muslim, one of Sunni Islam's six major hadith collections. In the late 1980s this eight- volume work was being reissued by Dar al-Ghad al-‘Arabi, under the supervision of al-Azhar. Each volume had been divided into five sections of approximately 190 pages, and every month one section, printed on newsprint with cheap paper covers, was sold at popular newsstands around Cairo at a cost of between two and three Egyptian pounds. Purchasers were informed on the back cover of each section that, once they completed their collection, the publisher would bind them at a cost of two pounds (in 1989, about eighty cents) per volume. I saw similar products awaiting attention at independent book binderies as well. Making such works available cheaply, by obviating a large initial investment, broadens the audience for theological learning and debate among nonspecialists. This is not even to mention the hundreds of “new Islamic books” (the term coined by Yves Gonzales-Quijano) that flood street markets, bookstores, and the annual Cairo Book Fair. Covering topics ranging from Israeli conspiracies to dream interpretation to the world of the jinn, from adab manuals for men, women, and children to treatises on the afterlife and the lives of the prophets, these cheap volumes muster evidence from the Qur’an, the hadiths, as well as politics, current events, history, and the sciences, to illuminate matters of popular concern. They are not necessarily—or even very often—the work of Azhari- trained religious scholars, but of physicians, professors, businessmen, activists, and professional writers.

Education and Authority

Such books, the market in intellectual goods of which they are a part, and the educational institutions that prepare people for their use are important elements of the cultural context in which ordinary educated Egyptians perceive their religious duties and fashion personal commitments. As a context, intellectual goods are important not merely in proportion to the number of people who actually consume them, but insofar as they provide a subject for talk and an opportunity for the crystallization of viewpoints within a public discourse whose boundaries are set by the kinds of products available on the market. Some time before the First World War, Weber warned specifically against focusing on cultural production as a causal agent:

[A] religious renascence [cannot] be generated by the need of authors to compose books, or by the far more effective need of clever publishers to sell such books. No matter how much the appearance of a widespread religious interest might be simulated, no new religion has ever resulted from the needs of intellectuals or from their chatter. The whirligig of fashion will presently remove this subject of conversation and journalism, which fashion has made popular.[20]

But this confidence in the limited appeal of intellectual chatter made more sense in an era before radio and television broadcasts, before the political projects of decolonization and school-based nationalist mobilization, before the market-driven successes of Scientology, est, and the New Age in the West. It makes less sense now, particularly in the Egyptian context, where both the fact and its opposition increasingly participate in what Weber called “the struggle of priests against indifference… and against the danger that the zeal of the membership would stagnate,” [21] a struggle that reaches to the heart of both the school and the market. Since Islam is not a new religion but rather an elaborate set of contexts—political and economic, historical and institutional, intellectual, social and personal—in which new discourses are apprehended, evaluated, and employed, both “proletarian intellectualism” and “the need of literary, academic, [and] cafe-society intellectuals to include religious feelings…among their topics for discussion” [22] are in fact important sources and constituents of broad-based public religious interest and activity.[23]

The standard theory of social action, in which individuals and groups respond to social stress by taking refuge in religion, implies that, were the stress relieved, they would return to the status quo ante, rather like the mercury in a barometer responding to changes in atmospheric pressure (Davis and others, in fact, use terms like pressurized to describe the crisis of the petite bourgeoisie).[24] As part of the Egyptian government's own folk theory of the etiology of Islamism, this barometric metaphor results in an enormous volume of talk about job creation, family planning, housing construction, slum clearance, and recreational opportunities for bored and idle youth, in addition to police and educational strategies. If things get better, the theory runs, people will either accept official interpretations of Islamic law, abandoning their false and mistaken ideas, or they will cease to care about religion quite so much, relieved of the need to seek refuge in its symbols of comfort or of resistance.

But in thereby treating culture as a dependent variable, the barometric approach ignores the institutional frameworks and social processes through which culture is created and transmitted. Like other institutions, religious and educational ones fill not only a social need, but a social space. They take on a very real life of their own with interests, dynamics, and potentials that are only incompletely determined by the intersection of forces that brought them about. The development of educational facilities is a prime case in point. Popular schools were first established in Europe to foster basic skills and basic piety among the working classes. And while they still fulfill similar functions on a wider scale, they have now become traditional institutions whose presence is taken for granted. It is almost impossible, now, to think about childhood without thinking of the school. It is simply what children do, and at higher levels, as we have seen in Egypt, the school has come to play an indispensable role as a status-granting institution as well. Older marks of social status such as aristocratic standing or wealth become nearly irrelevant if not coupled with long-term schooling, and in fact to “be educated” is a prime constituent of status itself, regardless of the actual skills, dispositions, or material rewards it has fostered.

Important social movements like the crusade for popular schooling or the Islamic Trend do not leave either their participants or their observers unchanged, and never leave the social environment unchanged. They either succeed in transforming various aspects of social reality in which the next generation of actors must live, or merely strew it with the litter of bygone upheavals in the form of a literature that can be rediscovered later and reinterpreted in new contexts. The barometric theory of political action does not acknowledge that, after the mercury rises, a new equilibrium point is created such that relief of the initial pressure will not result in its return to its old starting point. History may repeat itself, but such repetition is not cyclical. Underlying the oscillation of the economy and the rise and fall of political movements is a cultural, social, and infrastructural background that is cumulative rather than substitutive. New generations of Egyptians confronting the choice between ideological allegiances will always perceive the choice differently, because of the specific historical point at which they enter the system. Therefore, the explanations that we offer for their choices must also change, taking into account the new conditions in which human beings live. This most basic conundrum of human life is of course the theoretical core of both sociology and anthropology: that, in Max Weber's words, society is “an immense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which presents itself to him…as an unalterable order of things in which he must live.” [25] Or, in the more powerful imagery of Marx, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” [26]

In Egypt, the religious environment of the 1920s or the 1950s was not the same as that of the 1970s, and neither is comparable to that of the 1990s. One of the reasons for this is that compulsory formal religious education reaches so many more people than it ever has before, and that Islamic publications, broadcasts, lectures, public meetings, and other institutions are becoming an inescapable part of public culture, generating their own controversies, reactions, and imitations. The spread of literacy together with the functionalization of the religious tradition has created a new Islam, one that is defined as a necessary instrument of public policy. The part the educational system plays in this creation lies not so much in any of the specific communications it makes about the locus of authority or the character of Islamic government—which can be and are ignored as propaganda—but in the creation of the need for religious information, the tendency to look toward religion for certain things, the creation of certain compartments in a conceptual order that can only be filled by something, regardless of its specific content, labeled “Islamic.” Just as advertising in capitalist societies works not so much by building loyalty to particular products, but by reinforcing the advantages of consumption in general, so religious messages in public space largely exert general rather than specific effects.[27] This is why the state is finding it so difficult to control the movements it helped set in motion. Like its own Islamist opposition groups or Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, it has participated in a relentless “establishment of Islamized spaces” [28] and created a need for which it cannot provide sole satisfaction.

Thus, while it true that at various historical moments, anticolonial sentiment, or rural-urban migration, or military humiliation, or the relative deprivation of the lower middle classes, have contributed to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (in the 1930s) and its derivative organizations (in the 1970s), viewing these same conditions as both necessary and sufficient for the formation of the contemporary Islamic Trend is unsatisfactory. For while motivations change from generation to generation, the common thread linking these generations—a long-term change in the social relations of Islamic cultural production—has to be considered central. As we have seen, the Islamization of Egyptian public culture is not just the effect of the Islamic Trend; it is one of its sources. This fact has an important practical implication. Given the continuity of a functionalized Islamic discourse in concert with the changing motivations of different generations for joining the Trend, no single political or economic strategy can disable it.

Habeas Corpus?

What distinguishes this new Islamic culture from that which Egyptians have experienced historically? Davis and many others have argued that “Islamic radicalism should not be understood in terms of the concept of revival or resurgence but rather as the politicization of Islam.” [29] Indeed, one of the more popular glosses of the phenomenon in both the Middle East and the West is “Political Islam,” a label that both identifies the Islamic Trend with conflicts about political power, and which tends to delegitimize it by implicitly contrasting it with something else (“Social Islam”? “Personal Islam”? “Spiritual Islam?” “Real, Genuine Islam”?). The difficulty with the label is that Islam—like Christianity—has always been available as a political discourse, and has been “politicized” for most of this century insofar as it has been appropriated for self-conscious use by institutions like the Ministry of Education for the purpose of furthering state goals, whether hygienic reform or social control. In fact, the Trend is partly a reaction against that politicization, or at least against the groups that claim exclusive, state-sanctioned authority to interpret Islamic scripture. It is, in Asad's terms, a new religious tradition.

In this sense, Islamic activist groups are similar to the Christian Protestant movements of sixteenth-century Europe.[30] The central feature of both movements is that they “transferred religious authority away from officially sanctioned individuals who interpret texts to ordinary citizens.” [31] According to Ellis Goldberg,

Both early Protestantism and the Islamist movement seek to force believers to confront directly the authority of the basic texts of revelation and to read them directly, rather than through the intervening medium of received authority. Both believe that Scripture is a transparent medium for anyone who cares to confront it.[32]

As the imprisoned leader of one Islamist group argued at his 1977 trial (on charges of kidnapping and murdering a former minister of religious endowments), the Qur’an was delivered, in its own words, in clear Arabic, and therefore anyone wishing to discover its meaning need only consult a good dictionary. One need not have been trained as a religious scholar for this, and thus, “In terms of power the issue of ijtihad [the authority to reach independent conclusions about religious questions] has to do…with the kind of education needed to make valid judgements on Islamic law.” [33] The Islamic Trend results not from differential class responses to the penetration of capitalism, as a Marxist or Weberian analysis might hold, but from the building of a modern state and the consequent competition between alternative modes of socialization.[34]

Universal popular schooling simplifies, systematizes, and packages religious traditions as it does other aspects of the known world. The proclamations of the minister of religious endowments about what percentage of the shari‘a is applied in Egypt, or what portion of the nation's youth hold “moderate” opinions are only comprehensible within the cognitive framework bestowed by a “modern” education, in which Islam is considered a tangible, measurable object, a durable good in circulation amongst the populace. What is happening, in effect, is that the ‘ulama, as the nation's sole legitimate arbiters of religious judgment, are being forced by the state into a position both more powerful and more precarious than before. Their monopoly on access to sacred texts, once guaranteed by mass illiteracy, has been broken by the extension of education and the growth of publishing. While they were once the sole possessors of written knowledge, they are now referred to in a modern idiom as “specialists” in their field. Just as prestige based on exclusivity gives way to prestige based on authenticity, once formerly rare luxury commodities become widespread within a market, so religious specialists in Egypt are now having to find ways to convince the public that their versions of the truth are qualitatively superior to the look-alikes flooding public space.[35] While the ‘ulama's knowledge of Islam is open to the qualified exercise of ijtihad, it expects the public to rely on the simplified, bounded, and established version learned in school, which is meant to remain stable until altered from above.

But instead of stability, what we have witnessed throughout the Muslim world in the twentieth century is the emergence of what Olivier Roy has dubbed “the new Islamist intellectual,” and his audience, the broad “lumpenintelligentsia” of school graduates. Their books and pamphlets, cassettes and videos, represent a collage of information drawn from numerous disciplines—from biology to Prophetic biography—and united not by the transmitted tradition of a single disciplinary methodology, but by the notion that all knowledge is contained in the Qur’an. Freed from traditional processes of knowledge acquisition—apprenticeship to a man of learning—these new autodidact intellectuals stand outside of traditional authorizing institutions, instead authorizing themselves in the process of knowledge production and dissemination. A new field of knowledge is thereby generated in which “the corpus is no longer defined by a place and a specific process of acquisition: anything printed or even “said” (cassettes) is the corpus.” [36]

This genre of Islamic knowledge is neither as new nor as haphazard as Roy claims, since the very model for the integration of modern science with the Qur’an—the public school religion textbook—is such a long- established part of the educational experience. Even if the methodology behind its construction is not part of the socialization process in the religion classroom, the textbook's functionalization of the Islamic tradition stands as a model product that lay intellectuals can thereafter attempt to emulate. “Resolutely rationalist” in style, as Roy writes of Islamist productions, the official textbook and the Religious Awareness Caravan are both, just as much as the Islamist tract, instruments of mobilization in which “the corpus [of sacred literature] becomes a mere point of departure, even just a reference, ever susceptible to being transformed into rhetoric, proverbs, epigraphs, and interpolations—in short, into a reservoir of quotes.” [37]

This combination of religion and modern education has proved dangerous to the religious establishment and the government that relies on it for legitimacy, because in the world of mass literacy, mass marketing, and mass (not to mention international) communication, the exclusive interpretive authority of local, state-based ‘ulama has been permanently broken. Authority is now more a characteristic of products themselves (sermons, lessons, advice, books, magazines, cassette tapes, computer software) than productive processes (apprenticeship, certification, jurisprudential skill). Who the producer is—when that can be determined—is less important than the marketability of what he has to say.

This being the case, shutting off the specifically political threat posed by Islamists (whether through force or through reform) will not restore the power of state-subsidized religious intellectuals. Like government economists in Europe and the United States, agencies can use them to advise and justify policy decisions, but cannot force private specialists or the public at large to listen to or agree with them. In the real world, ordinary people use their own rules of thumb, practical understandings, political rhetoric, snippets of advice and learned principles skimmed from the radio, the newspaper, and that all-but-forgotten high school course to make sense of the world of religion, just as they do in the world of commerce. Attempts to enforce an orthodoxy shaped by the intersecting interests of legitimate culture producers and power elites have always been futile without the exercise of physical power through police raids, inquisitions and censorship, all of which undermine the goals of education's enlightened liberal utopia.[38]

The Realization of Distant Consequences

We are left, then, with one persistent question: Why does the Egyptian government persist in using educational tactics in its battle with the Islamic Trend, if education is one of the contributing factors to the climate of religious activism in the first place? It has been mentioned elsewhere that the government's consistent utilization of Islam for gathering mass political support “has been a crucial factor in sustaining and deepening the influence of Islam as the hard core of politics and most convenient terms of reference…[as well as in] the creation of a convenient climate for breeding Muslim fundamentalist movements.” [39] So how is a renewed and enhanced emphasis on religious education supposed to dampen popular religious activism?

The answer lies in a set of ideas that form the core of the Egyptian elite's conception of itself, a conception born in the mid-nineteenth century and nurtured through the next hundred years in a form so stable that it has seldom been seriously examined. It is a conception that Egyptians share with elites—and ordinary citizens—in America, Europe, and elsewhere, which identifies the state of “being educated” not only with the standing of particular classes within particular societies, but with the standing of whole civilizations relative to one another. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, in their research on American perceptions of cultural Others, have shown that one of the primary explanations ordinary Americans give for the existence of cultural and economic difference around the world is one of schooling, such that “lack of education must also imply a less adequate form of society or culture.” [40] The idea of education is deployed within an evolutionary narrative that associates it with wealth, with power, with worldliness, and, above all, with modernity, the fact of living in a present state contemporaneous with and similar to the most advanced nations.

The new Egyptian elite, which began to define itself during the late nineteenth century around the idea of education on the European model saw itself as “an elite of superior men” [41] who would jolt the country out of its second-class standing on the world stage. Their consciousness of themselves as a class was woven in part from a set of interlocking positivist dichotomies drawn from nineteenth-century social theory, of which tradition and modernity, ignorance and enlightenment, and religion and secularism, were central. Indeed, these pairs of evolutionary opposites have run like twin strands through research and public policy discussions in Egypt for more than a hundred years, acting like high- voltage cables that generation after generation have used to power their worldview. Enlightenment, secularism, and modernity form a tightly bundled conceptual package opposed to that of religion and its companions, superstition and blind adherence to tradition. In the era of postmodernity, though, with its purported incredulity toward metanarratives, such bundling is increasingly hard to maintain, and the twin ideological power lines are so brittle and frayed that the theoretical circuit they sustain has all but burned out. It is no longer possible in theory, any more than it ever has been in fact, to distinguish between well- marked poles of religious and secular endeavor. If we trace these two ideological strands to their point of origin and back again, we will find that the discourse of education as the road to progress, so central to the self-image of modernity, in fact relies on precisely the same foundations as the religious discourse of salvation. This being the case, then, the institution of schooling can no more face interrogation as a possible source of social discord than could church attendance be suspected as a source of moral failure.

Considering Herbert Spencer's deep suspicion of nineteenth-century national education projects reminded us of the contingency of historical developments, the sense in which institutional trajectories are never inevitable but remain open until finally pushed in one direction or another by changing intersections of power, interest, and circumstance. In the same way, a rereading of the works of mass education's early proponents helps us see how suspicions and fears of another sort were set aside, unresolved, in the face of seemingly more pressing needs, resulting in the image of education as a political panacea. The fear of peasant mobility, both geographical and social, that so concerned the British administration of Egypt, was founded on the perception of two complementary threats. First, a rural exodus inspired by faulty educational policies would threaten the economic stability of the entire country by depriving Egypt of its most valuable export commodity, cheap cotton that was produced by a large and predictable workforce.[42] And second, this exodus would result in a crowding of the cities with rural immigrants either lacking the skills to find urban employment or lacking job opportunities suitable to their educational level. The latter possibility was more immediately frightening than the former, since the effect of a large class of educated but unemployed malcontents posed a more practical short-term political threat to the occupying power. While some education was necessary in order to prevent specific social evils, it nonetheless had the potential to create an entire class of Egyptians who could neither find employment in the civil service nor initiate enterprises of their own. This dangerously “half-educated” and unemployed potential mob elicited a great deal of soul-searching by British intellectuals and imperial bureaucrats.

William Lecky, the popular political theorist who influenced Cromer's ideas on vocational training, had identified in England the same problem administrators faced in India and Egypt. Education, he wrote,

produces desires which it cannot always sate, and it affects very considerably the disposition and relations of classes. One common result is the strong preference for town to country life. A marked and unhappy characteristic of the present age in England is the constant depletion of the country districts by the migration of multitudes of its old, healthy population to the debilitating, and often depraving, atmosphere of the great towns.[43]

Citing the “bitterly falsified” hopes and ambitions of such urban migrants whose sights had been set too high, Lecky detailed the political effects of the consequent “restlessness and discontent”:

Education nearly always promotes peaceful tastes and orderly habits in the community, but in other respects its political value is often greatly overrated. The more dangerous forms of animosity and dissension are usually undiminished, and are often stimulated by [education's] influence. An immense proportion of those who have learnt to read, never read anything but a party newspaper—very probably a newspaper specially intended to inflame or to mislead them—and the half-educated mind is peculiarly open to political Utopias and fanaticisms. Very few such men can realise distant consequences, or even consequences which are distant but one remove from the primary or direct one.[44]

In Egypt, education had similarly “awakened ambitions which were formerly dormant,” according to Cromer, such that “it can be no matter for surprise that the educated youth should begin to clamour for a greater share than heretofore in the government and administration of the country.” [45] The danger of disaffection was treated by limiting the number of individuals who could receive access to higher primary education, to prevent the creation of “déclassés” who felt they were above engaging in manual trades.[46] If frustrated in their ambitions, such men posed a threat to stability. “[I]n my opinion,” the director of the School of Medicine wrote to the consul general, exemplifying this fear, “it is hardly possible to set loose on the country a more dangerous element than the needy medical man.” [47]

The Disturbed Surface of the Public Mind

And yet, as we have seen, this fear of overeducation coexisted with a matching fear of undereducation. The 1919 report of the Egyptian Elementary Educational Commission concluded with a number of inspiring quotations among which was a line from a 10 August 1918 article in the Times of London: “If education is allowed to wait, children do not wait for it: they grow up uneducated; and if we have learned one thing from the war, it is that the uneducated are a danger to the State.” [48] It was this latter threat that was eventually to triumph, and to permanently foreclose the possibility of scaling back educational institutions. The question instead became, not whether to educate the masses, but how best to do so? The term half-educated, so often used to refer to those whose education resulted in political inconvenience, requires an image of what a complete and sufficient education should accomplish. The tension between the perceived danger and promise of schooling reveals deeper tensions both between the imperatives of economic development and those of social control, and between the intellectual categories in which Europeans, and later Egyptians, thought about the relationship between their societies. A traditional, superstitious society could be transformed into a modern, rational one, but such a transformation would take untold amounts of time. Expressing the long-term nature of such changes, Cromer resorted to the gradualist idiom of Spencer and Darwin when he wrote of the introduction of democratic processes into Egypt. By the careful cultivation of preexisting parliamentary principles, he wrote, “we may succeed in creating a vitalized and self-existent organism, instinct with evolutionary force.” [49] And such change, as Anna Tsing points out with respect to the global narrative of development, “appears as a category which, by default, brings us toward what we know.” [50]

The problem was that neither the British nor the Egyptians possessed a good model for what the transitional stages between tradition and modernity would look like. When they saw what was happening in fact, they found the results grotesque, upsetting, confounding of normal categories of thought, and counter to all predictions: it appeared that the little-educated refused to turn to manual labor even to escape poverty; while the much-educated were irrational fanatics. One writer expressed this confusion with respect to India (although it might just as well have been written of Egypt):

The English in India…sow secular education broadcast among the most religious races in the world; and they invite all kinds of free criticism, by classes totally unaccustomed to such privileges, upon the acts of a bureaucratic government. The confusion of ideas that is sometimes generated by this confounding of heterogeneous elements, by the inexperience of the people and the candour of their rulers, is hard to describe; but very curious instances can be observed every day in the native newspapers, which reflect the disturbed surface of the public mind, without representing the deeper currents of native opinion and prepossessions. The press often appeals in the same breath to the primitive prejudices of Indian religion, and to the latest notions of European civilization.[51]

This profound anxiety and sense of danger stems from the confusion of categories that occurs whenever cultural boundaries are shattered and unlikely elements come to coexist.[52] Transitional states that fall between conceptual categories occasion a sense of dread, just as “people living in the interstices of the power structure [are] felt to be a threat to those with better defined status.” [53] This is the real shortcoming of theoretical systems that contrast the initial and final states of societies moving from one to another ideal type: they cannot deal fruitfully with the transition itself, which is never entirely thorough, predictable, or bounded in time.

The passage quoted above, on the English in India, is from an 1884 article in the Edinburgh Review, by Sir Alfred Lyall, an Indian administrator who was friend and intellectual mentor to Egypt's Lord Cromer.[54] Both worked under the influence of their colleague Sir Henry Maine's trendsetting 1861 book Ancient Law, one of the first works to capitalize on Comte's comparative method as a means of tracing evolutionary sequences in society. For Maine, ancient societies as exemplified by contemporary India were collective, patriarchal despotisms in which the family was the basic unit of organization. Evolutionary change in Europe had long ago altered the very foundation of that society, so that “starting, as from one terminus of history, from a condition of society in which all the relations of Persons are summed up in the relations of Family, we seem to have steadily moved towards a phase of social order in which all these relations arise from the free agreement of Individuals.” [55] For his part, Lyall believed that the British arrival in India would free that country from its “arrested development” and set it on a similar evolutionary course. This conservative position assumed that social change would be a gradual process of organic development, with the indigenous religious system an important part of the engine driving that evolution. (Lyall's predecessor, Sir William Jones, had composed devotional poetry to the Hindu gods promising that the British would undermine a “priest-ridden Hinduism,” [56] and Lyall himself believed that Hinduism might move up the evolutionary scale of religion from “naturalism” to “supernaturalism,” in which religious concern turned inward and otherworldly. He feared, however, that higher education for Indians would lead to atheism among the Western-educated elite.[57]) In Egypt, Cromer cautioned his own Ministry of the Interior in 1895 that there was no ministry in which “the zeal of the earnest reformer is more to be deprecated. The habits and customs of an oriental people must not be trifled with lightly.” [58] Religion and culture had to remain unmolested not only to avoid popular reaction, but to allow beliefs and institutions to take their own evolutionary course.

It is hard to overstate how different this view was from that of the other European philosophical camp, that of the Utilitarian radicals led by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. For the Utilitarians, who deprecated both “customary” (e.g., indigenous Indian) law, and British Common Law as unsystematic and therefore barbarous, real social change could only take root with a revolutionary revision in legal practice, a revision that would not hesitate to trifle with the customs and habits of indigenous peoples. While common and customary legal practices exhibited a “superstitious respect for antiquity,” according to Bentham, modern legislation and the creation of written codes could prompt immediate social change in a rationally anticipated direction.[59] “Give me the words of the Koran,” Bentham boasted,

give me the ideas that belong to them; I ask no more: out of them, and them alone, I undertake to produce you a code, which shall contain a hundred times the useful matter there is in that, without any of those absurdities, the existence of which, upon comparison with the ideas of utility we have at present, you cannot but acknowledge.[60]

Although the Bentham/Mill model of social change preceded that of the conservatives, it was not discarded with the development of evolutionary social theory by Maine, Spencer, and others. Its survival into the later part of the century contributed to a subtle duel at the heart of Victorian social theory. Along with competing theories of social change, competing theories of social structure and function stumbled over each other in the pages of learned periodicals and even cohabited uneasily within the pages of single monographs. One particularly prominent tension was that between a machine model of social organization, which seemed to imply the ability freely to engineer, tinker, and reconstruct, and the organic model of the evolutionists, later bequeathed to French and British functionalism, which appeared to favor caution and patience.

Cromer himself used the machine analogy with abandon in Modern Egypt, likening both society itself and the institutions of governance to mechanical devices (although in concert with his understanding of Egyptian society as an organism “instinct with evolutionary force,” this should be enough to wean us of the idea that there is a necessary correspondence between models of structure and change, or that there is much consistency either in individual thought or in the intellectual field as a whole).[61] But while Mitchell sees a transformation of Egyptian social imagery in the 1890s, where “the body as a harmony of interacting parts has been replaced with the body as an apparatus,” in fact the two models of social order and social transformation engaged in a desultory battle for European and Egyptian minds for most of the century. Not only was there no clear winner, but the normative image of either the social machine or the evolving social body is deeply ambiguous (viz., Durkheim's use of “mechanical” for primitive, and “organic” for advanced principles of social organization, a delightful jab at German Romantic scholars who privileged the authentic simplicity of village and field over the cold alienation of city and factory). Both the machine and the evolutionary metaphors for society had as many detractors as they had proponents. And to complicate matters still further, those detractors often recognized the applicability of social models only to denounce their effects.[62]

What is significant for our purposes is this: that politicians, administrators, and intellectuals concerned with the imperial interface between Europe and the East, regardless of the social model they favored, were able to convince themselves that the creation or re-creation of social order in the colonies was less for the purposes of control for its own sake than it was for the purpose of jolting the stalled and backward societies of India and Egypt out of their evolutionary torpor. Cromer's “vitalized and self-existent organism” would regulate itself with emergent structural properties once it was set in motion. Victorian understandings of the relationship between structure and evolution, then, need to be explored further, for they show us, finally, why the distinction between the religious and the secular is such a fragile one.

The British notion that Indians, Egyptians, and the English working classes were in need of an education consisting of restraint and discipline owes its power to cultural roots far deeper than the nascent labor requirements of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, as Christopher Herbert shows in his important book Culture and Anomie, the secular Victorian theory that “natural” human indiscipline necessitated specific disciplinary training grew initially from the religious climate of Christian evangelicalism and “the Wesleyan…story of human nature as a bundle of unruly drives needing to be severely repressed.” [63] Sin, understood as a surrender to unlimited human desire, changed over the course of the nineteenth century into the secular social doctrine of “instinct,” against which all civilization was thought to be a struggle.[64]

But how does civilization restrain us and keep us from acting on our inner nature? “From the point of departure of a text like Ancient Law,” Herbert writes,

a crucial move toward the ethnographic culture concept occurs…when the theory of social control comes to frame itself chiefly not in terms of external agencies of enforcement (patriarchs, sovereigns, laws) but of internalized, unconscious controls which one does not so much obey as simply exhibit—a move rendering the concept of “control,” like that of “freedom,” philosophically ambiguous ever after.[65]

It is clear, then, that Mitchell's characterization of the historical change in Egypt as one “replacing a power concentrated in personal command, and always liable to diminish, with powers that were systematically and uniformly diffused” [66] is in fact little different in one sense from Maine's progression from status to contract, and in another sense, from the general movement in social theory itself from that which understood society as a system of external constraints to that which saw control operating through internal sanctions gained through socialization. As an advance over existing nineteenth-century theories of social dynamics, therefore, this approach, like Foucault's, is ultimately somewhat limited. Where we need to look instead is at the way the contradictions and ambiguities in these theories made education appear as the key to progress.

Accompanying the change in Europe's recipe for social control was an alteration in its evaluation of non-Western societies. In the early part of the nineteenth century, non-Western peoples were thought to suffer from an “anarchical and selfish restlessness” [67] stemming from a lack of behavioral controls that kept them from effectively structuring their wants and achieving social progress. But in mid- to late-century, this vision changes, and the European notion of “civilization” takes on an anomalous cast:

for on the one hand, “civilization” is identified…in the conventional way with a system of fixed restraints upon human drives, and is identified almost in the same breath with fluidity and progressive, expansive movement as against the stultifying fixity of “savage” society. It was apparently in order to resolve the dilemma posed by this highly unstable configuration of ideas that nineteenth-century writers initiated a long campaign to refute the myth of unbridled primitive desire, and…to replace it with something like its very opposite.…What we see…is a broad reversal of assumptions in which “savage” society is transformed from a void of institutional control where desire is rampant to a spectacle of controls exerted systematically upon the smallest details of daily life [through taboo and tradition].[68]

Of course European understandings of the primitive were partly mirror images of their self-understanding.[69] Herbert traces the change itself to the economic depression of the 1870s and the growing subversion of Victorian ideals of discipline. As the notion of institutional discipline, policing, surveillance and control began to draw public criticism,

it became a natural operation now to discover it in its most oppressive forms in primitive society, much as the previous generation of sensibility steeped in Evangelical thinking had constructed its own didactic image of primitives as figures of crazily uncontrolled passion. In contrast to the ethic of emancipated critical thought…tribal societies…were now disparagingly seen as “fettered,” “bound,” “chained down” by mindless conventionality.… Savages' exhorbitant devotion to custom and discipline…is precisely the reason for their (manifest) inferiority to progressive, developing European societies.[70]

Both of these stereotypes are prominent in writings about Egypt, which was considered implicitly primitive despite its objective status as a “high” civilization in its own right.[71] By the second quarter of the twentieth century, Egyptian educators came to believe that their country's political position was due to the chains of custom rather than to unbridled passion, but for the four decades between the British Occupation and Egypt's nominal independence in 1923, both theories coexisted in the worldview of foreign and indigenous elites. And this is precisely why, despite its recognized dangers, education was chosen as a tool of the state's expansion: because it promised simultaneously to constrain and control the irrational impulses of the populace that kept them from advancement, and also to free them of traditional social, behavioral, and intellectual constraints that kept them from advancement. In promising change, progress, and the amelioration of social problems from two opposite philosophical stances—promising all things simultaneously to all people—the school was immune to changes in the philosophy of public policy.

Schooling retains this aura in contemporary educational planning documents that speak of inculcating values representing “the Egyptian character, which has been forged in the country's history and traditions,” and at the same time of developing “the skills that are required to produce a scientifically and technologically sound individual.” [72] The school's ambiguous promises result in the bifurcation of its human product into a stabilizing repository of values, on the one hand, and a skilled engine of change and progress, on the other. In contemporary public policy discourse, the language of national security and the language of economic development, though they appear to be about different aspects of the world, in fact refer to the same thing. This highlights the fact that religious and secular political theories are of a piece, having grown together from the same roots and maintaining, with different vocabularies, the same unstable dialectics of moral responsibility and free will, of imperfection and progress. I would venture to disagree with Lecky, and suggest that the educated, far from being immune to “political Utopias and fanaticisms,” in fact bear as their central sacred image the unborn utopia to be shaped by the school, anticipated always, in nearly millennial terms, as the New Jerusalem just beyond the horizon.

The Past in the Present

Fear of the “déclassés,” and of other liminal states and individuals, is being revived in contemporary Egypt through the recapitulation of colonial population management theories in the current literature on Islamic resurgence. The image of Muslim militants as being “from [the] lower middle class of recent migrants to urban areas” [73] depicts the safe boundaries of the city being transgressed by invaders from another place and time.[74] Some Egyptian intellectuals suggest that the Islamic Trend, far from being the result of the frustration of a downwardly mobile middle class, is due instead to the growing power of upwardly mobile rural classes who take advantage of new educational opportunities by infiltrating various sectors of public culture, including the media, “allowing them to spread their habits of thought and patterns of behavior to the whole society.” [75] Radicals are denounced as “the new Kharijites” or “the new Bedouin” engaged in the latest round of a centuries-old conflict between urban civilization and the forces of social fragmentation pressing in from the countryside.[76] Political, geographical, and moral boundaries blend into one another as the contrast between countryside and city is used to symbolize a threatening relationship with a past that might overcome the modernist narrative of progress.[77]

As in the summer camp raids in Alexandria, shabab are portrayed as threats to the normal order in which the family and the state share responsibility for moral instruction. Young men who have left the confines of their own families are exiled into the wasteland of drugs, unemployment, and extremism. The “déclassés” exist in a liminal state, bright and educated but unemployed, sexually mature but unmarried, raised in the country but living in the city. And increasingly, they not only represent threats to themselves and to the adult establishment, but threaten, through their participation in Islamist institution-building, to carry the country's children along with them. The solution is to provide Egyptian youth with internal restraints that will compensate for their rootlessness once they make the transition into “the non-restraint of the world.” Just as the earl of Northbrook had claimed that “Mahomedans who are instructed in the tenets of their religion have always looked upon [the Mahdi] as an impostor,” and that religious enthusiasm was a lower-class phenomenon, so secular Egyptian intellectuals prescribe education as a cure for radicalism. Egyptians need to be taught the difference between truth and error, including a knowledge of past sects and heresies.

[It] is vital for the government to open widely the subject of the Shari‘a, to explain to the people the various forms it can take, i.e., which is Shi‘a, which is Wahhabi, Kharijite, etc. Because religious education has deteriorated and has been limited to teaching children enough of the Qur’an to perform rituals, most people in the country are not really aware that there are such differences.[78]

Traditional modes of home and mosque-based socialization are stereotyped as ignorant and backward, contributing to “the spread of extremist thinking among young people, who are ill-equipped to resist brainwashing.” [79] Cromer's desire to use education as a defense against “the hare-brained…projects…[of] the political charlatan, himself but half-educated,” is felt by a new generation that perceives the ideological positions of Islamic radicals not merely as errors, but as ancient errors that have already been refuted. Egyptians who see the Islamic Trend as a return to the past, a regression to the oppressive theocracies of ancient times, find the solution in the quintessential modernizing force of education. True culture becomes, according to Charles Hirschkind, “the realization of state power in the individual,” providing a shield against propaganda and generating enlightenment in the form of assent to moderate, modern opinions.[80] Ironically, as part of its slow reworking of religious life, the functionalization of Islam has provided a quasi back door to Sufism as an alternative notion of individual spiritual development. Assimilated to the imperative of social control, the modern ideal of spiritual growth replaces the Sufi's mystical communion with God, with Everyman's incorporation of statist ideology into his very being through the process of socialization.[81]

Religion as a Politically Constituted Defense Mechanism[82]

The overlapping series of dichotomies used to express the differences between tradition and modernity in Egypt—religion versus secular politics, memorization versus thought, rural versus urban, ignorance versus enlightenment—are primarily ideological rather than analytical devices. They are used by indigenous intellectuals and by outside analysts to imply that “tradition” (and therefore religion) is an imperfect realization of human potential. Remember how Hani Sharif Mahmud dismissed the Islamic Trend as “not genuine, most of it, because it's generated from frustrations.” [83] Religious ideas and commitments have no independent cognitive force, no power and no attraction aside from the socioeconomic correlates that predispose particular groups to adopt them. The language of secular modernity cannot consider religious ideas, by themselves, compelling. Women adopt modest dress for economic reasons, for fashion considerations, or to escape the police. Even when ennobled as “resistance” rather than explained away as a symptom of pathology or poverty, practices like veiling are often denied religious import. Valerie Hoffman's and Arlene MacLeod's insightful analyses of recent religious change in Egypt agree that “only a very small percentage of these veiling women seem to be actually turning to religion in a genuine way,” [84] and that women themselves claimed they “were not more religious after wearing the hijab than they had been before wearing it. They had simply become better educated.” [85] Resort to the language of “genuineness” is as significant here as it was when Victorians mistook the kuttab student's rocking as a sign of intellectual stultification and spiritual aridity. A century after William Robertson Smith, it would certainly be an odd anthropological interpretation of “religiousness” that required a transformation of inner state (how, after all, can we tell?) rather than public performance of a religiously meaningful action. The act of veiling, whatever its individual motivation and spiritual consequences, is a ritual act that contributes de facto to the Islamization of public space, altering the social and cultural universe in which subsequent perceptions arise and subsequent choices are made.

Similarly, government efforts at public education, such as the National Democratic Party's weekly al-Liwa’ al-islami (The Islamic Standard) are dismissed by secularist Egyptians like Hani Sharif Mahmud as

just a fake. I know the people who write it. It's more the Minister of the Interior speaking than it is the Minister of Religious Endowments. They're merely reacting to the stronger radical trends by taking the subject of religion, about which there's so much concern, and bending it around to come from their perspective. It's not a positive, genuine thing, just a reaction to outside forces.[86]

Coming from a self-described atheist, this ability to distinguish between “genuine” and “fake” religion is quite remarkable. To him, “genuine” religion is “religion that stays in the background, as it always has in Egypt.” Genuine religion is that of the masses, a religion he was able to escape through an education that brought to light the true causes of religious behavior and allowed him, like Bertrand Russell, to formulate an alternative belief system. Only the insidious effects of personal trauma and mental illness could strip that system away and force the members of his family to resort to the primitive solaces of religion. This discourse is redolent with a dated evolutionism linking together the superstitions of savages and the working classes as representatives of primitive thought. As the higher mental functions of the cultivated individual fail, the residue reverts to religion, which lies just below the surface of the rational mind like a Comtean religious phase of history lies beneath the layer of modernity, always ready to erupt if the smooth surface of progress is subjected to sufficient stress. Religion, it seems, is the human default setting.

But when it becomes more than this and spreads rapidly through the whole of public space, it appears to stand as a fundamental threat, a metastasizing cancer requiring a diagnosis and a cure. Particularly when lay intellectuals begin to intrude on the territory of traditionally sanctioned religious elites, both those elites and the corps of secularist intellectuals become caught up in a cycle of reaction. Each tries to discredit the Islamist's abilities and intentions, the former by challenging his lack of training (he is uncertified and therefore incompetent), the latter by challenging his rationality (he is either an opportunist or mad). In either case, he is neutered because his religious thought is neither true religion nor true thought. He is not worth listening to.

Critiques of Islamism that frame it in this way as a defense mechanism for the maladjusted and the relatively deprived, rather than a “genuine” religious exercise, can function themselves as politically constituted defense mechanisms for those who offer them. These explanations comfort the powerful, the fortunate, and the wise that the Islamic Trend is an incoherent movement destined to failure if treated with the right combination of economic prosperity, political reform, and the fine-tuning of the apparatus of socialization (cf. the very title of Roy's The Failure of Political Islam). That this was precisely Cromer's prescription for treating the inconvenient political proclivities of the natives should give us pause and lead us to reflect on the continuity between his worldview and our own. If we treat Islamism as a pathology, the result of the faulty operation of modern institutions rather than of the potentials and contradictions inherent within them, we can continue to believe that our own personal, religious and political convictions are, by contrast, consistent, coherent, and grounded in truth and reason, rather than desperate practical refuges always on the verge of crisis and change. And in so doing we abandon the potential relevance of the Egyptian case for understanding the role of religion and politics in our own society, believing that the wolf knocking at the palace door in Cairo is hungrier than the wolf at our own. From a liberal American president's public assurance that “religion is too important to our history and heritage to keep it out of our schools,” [87] to the growing vehemence and violence of the debate over abortion, to the more acute eruptions of barbarism in our own midst (the fatal 1993 government siege of a religious commune in Waco, Texas; the 1995 terrorist bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City; and the rash of financial crimes committed by the suddenly discovered antigovernment “militia” and “patriot” movements), our own society is facing political questions comparable to those faced by Muslims around the world.[88] Such incidents raise fundamental questions about the limits of freedom, the rationality of political ideologies, the relevance of religion in public life, and the character of the state. How, we ask, are we to deal with people who do not believe what we want them to believe?

Just as average Americans are increasingly concerned with ideologically loaded issues like abortion and school prayer, the battle between genuine and spurious, or authentic and erroneous Islam, is being joined today by more and more Egyptians from different positions in society. But the internal debates that have been conducted in many forms since the time of the Prophet are now augmented by the rhetorical strategies and research results of the modern educational and scientific establishments. This augmentation does not make the debates any more or less genuinely “about” religion, nor do the social control aspects of the religion curricula in the public schools necessarily make that teaching any more or less authentically Islamic, at least from an anthropological perspective.

What this augmentation does do is create a special danger when we attempt to interpret the forms Islam takes in the modern (some would say postmodern) world, a special responsibility not to mistake secularism for rationality, or method for authenticity. What I have written about the teaching of Islam in the modern public school should not be read as an indictment of the Egyptian government for using that teaching for its own political purposes. Nor should it be read as agreement with them that their interpretations of Islamic legitimacy are the only ones possible. The opinions of Muslims who share the prejudices of the anthropologist should not override the opinions of those who do not. For the social scientist, especially the non-Muslim one, Islam is what Muslims do (which includes, of course, the characteristic human behaviors of speaking and writing). What we need to do increasingly is not only explore the continuity between rational and symbolic processes within the constantly changing institutional constellations of complex societies,[89] but interrogate the very categories of reason and religion themselves. Linking “fundamentalism” with regression or antimodernity not only misrepresents the lives of Muslims who experience such approaches to Islam as the pinnacle of civilization, but embraces an oddly skewed vision of history. “The rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” in the words of Victoria Bernal, “is not a reaction against change, but change itself.” [90] Moreover, it is part of a process of change without end.


1. Quoted in James Williams, Education in Egypt Before British Control (Birmingham, n.p., 1939), p. 79.

2. Spencer, “Moral Education,” pp. 112–13.

3. El-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone,” p. 50; al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 7.

4. Al-Ahram, 31 July 1993, p. 10.

5. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, pp. 342–44.

6. Joel Beinin, personal communication, 1989.

7. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 9 June 1989, pp. 339–40.

8. Eric Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism in Modern Egypt,” in From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, ed. Said Amir Arjomand (London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1984), pp. 139–40.

9. Karl Marx, in the introduction to his “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 54.

10. The section on religion in Economy and Society is published in English as The Sociology of Religion, trans. Ephraim Fischoff (1922; rpt., Boston: Beacon, 1963). Curiously, Davis does not cite Weber.

11. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 141.

12. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 147.

13. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 146.

14. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12 (1980), pp. 423–53; Ahmad Abdalla, The Student Movement; Fischer and Abedi, Debating Muslims, p. 86.

15. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 147.

16. Janet Abu-Lughod, “Rural Migration and Politics in Egypt,” p. 324.

17. “The emphasis on a unitary, holistic Islam is very compatible with the overall world-view of the rural petite-bourgeoisie. It has been argued that there is no contradiction between the fact that such a large percentage of Islamic militants have been educated in the natural sciences and still subscribe to radical interpretations of Islam. Since the natural sciences stress an absolute approach to knowledge (either something is right or it is wrong), it is erroneous to assume that a “modern” education will necessarily erode a traditional consciousness which likewise emphasizes absolute categories of thought.” Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 146. It is worth noting here that the Egyptian educational system has long been criticized for teaching all subjects as if there were an absolute quality to knowledge. The difference between the teaching of literature and of engineering is thus not necessarily very great. It is also worth noting that Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, and Layla al-Shamsi were all trained in literature rather than the sciences.

18. The weakness of class analysis in this case becomes manifest in the conceptual effort it takes to squeeze together the various occupations that Davis discusses into a single class category (“bourgeoisie,” or, oxymoronically, “rural petite-bourgeoisie”) that can experience socioeconomic pressures in a consistent way. Inferring the cognitive needs or social networks of ill-defined classes is a troublesome undertaking. Even when restricted to single occupations, theoretical statements about political susceptibility are always underdetermined. For example, Davis points to the large number of high school teachers involved in the Muslim Brotherhood in rural areas, interpreting their apparent overrepresentation as an indication of kinship relations between urban radicals and rural teachers, concluding with the non sequitur that “Secondary school teacher-training entails considerable religious education which is an indicator of the traditional origin of religious radicals.” But there are simpler ways to explain the apparent abundance of teachers in these groups and movements. If data on the representation of teachers in Islamic movements is in fact correct, there are other reasonable explanations of their participation that have to do with personal and organizational strategies rather than with inferences from class background and kinship networks. The first is that Islamist organizations target teachers for recruitment because of their influence over children—and adults—in rural communities (in smaller communities, secondary school teachers are more likely than the general population to be literate and politically aware in the first place). The second is that individuals attracted to the Islamic Trend will tend to select high school teaching as a profession because of its positive social effects. As we saw in the last chapter, Layla al-Shamsi exemplifies this type of linkage, which is likely to be particularly strong in private schools. In the Islamic school where she taught, volunteers from the Islamic activist community played an active part in teaching and administration (one of the volunteers I met was a young man with an Islamic beard, a junior member of the Engineering faculty from Cairo University).

19. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 136.

20. Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, p. 137.

21. Weber, Sociology of Religion, p. 71.

22. Weber, Sociology of Religion, pp. 125, 137.

23. Engels reacted to early vulgarizations of Marxist theory by criticizing

the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent historical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction. These gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once a historic element has been brought into the world by other, ultimately economic causes, it reacts, can react on its environment and even on the causes that have given rise to it. (Friedrich Engels to Franz Mehring, 14 July 1893, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. Robert Tucker [New York: Norton, 1978], p. 767)

24. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 143.

25. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), p. 54.

26. Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 595.

27. Michael Schudson, Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion (New York: Basic books, 1984).

28. Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, p. 79. See also Hannah Davis's interview with Rabia Bekkar, “Taking up Space in Tlemcen: The Islamist Occupation of Urban Algeria,” Middle East Report, no. 179 (November–December 1992), pp. 11–15; and Kate Zebiri, “Islamic Revival in Algeria: An Overview,” The Muslim World 83, 3–4 (July–October 1993), pp. 203–26.

29. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 140.

30. Ellis Goldberg, “Smashing Idols and the State: The Protestant Ethic and Egyptian Sunni Radicalism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1991), pp. 3–35.

31. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 3.

32. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 4.

33. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 28; see also Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt, p. 79.

34. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” pp. 34–35.

35. Brian Spooner, “Weavers and Dealers: The Authenticity of an Oriental Carpet,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 195–235.

36. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, pp. 94–95.

37. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, p. 103.

38. See Carlos Ginsburg, The Cheese and the Worms (New York: Penguin, 1980).

39. Raouf Abbas Hamed, “Factors Behind the Political Islamic Movement in Egypt,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, San Antonio, Texas, 24–26 November 1990, p. 10. Dr. Hamed also notes that the summer camps set up by the government to train young people in proper Islam have been prime recruiting grounds for Islamic radical groups.

40. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, Reading National Geographic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 233.

41. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 124.

42. “What seems to be most required for progress…is to evolve the best type of rural school, adapted to the special practical needs of agricultural districts, and when this has been done we may confidently hope to see a considerable increase in the number of boys educated. It must not be forgotten that any hasty or unthought-out development of education in rural districts, unless it is carefully adapted to rural necessities, may imperil the agricultural interests on which the prosperity of the country so largely depends. A rural exodus in Egypt would be an economic and social disaster of considerable magnitude.” Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 4.

43. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 1, p. 319. “It is by no means desirable,” he wrote one page earlier, “that the flower of the working class, or their children, should learn to despise manual labour and the simple, inexpensive habits of their parents, in order to become very commonplace doctors, attorneys, clerks, or newspaper writers.” Perhaps the flower of the working class were listening to the contemporary equivalent of Willie Nelson's sage advice, “Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” in which medicine and law are compared favorably to the simple, inexpensive habits of playing guitar and riding around in old pickup trucks.

44. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 1, pp. 319–20.

45. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1907, vol. 100, p. 630.

46. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 87, p. 1011; Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 566. Cf. Bowring,

No sooner has a boy learned to read and to write, than he is unwilling to pursue any trade, whatever prospects it may offer of reputation, usefulness, or even wealth. The boy will rather be a scribe with small, than an artisan with large, emoluments. To obtain the name of effendi is an object of higher ambition than to lay the foundation even of opulence. This defect pervades the whole of Oriental society, and is an impassable barrier to the advance of the general prosperity. (“Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 137)

47. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, pp. 720–21.

48. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 40.

49. “Further Correspondences Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 47.

50. Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen, p. 87.

51. “Government of the Indian Empire,” Edinburgh Review 159 (January–April 1884), pp. 11–12.

52. “[I]deas about separating, purifying, demarcating…have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.” Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 4.

53. Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 96, 104.

54. Roger Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration: Sir Alfred Lyall and the Official Use of Theories of Social Change Developed in India after 1857,” in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, ed. Talal Asad (London: Ithaca Press), pp. 241–42.

55. Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law (n.p.: Dorset Press, 1986 [1861]), p. 140.

56. Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 23.

57. Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration,” p. 230.

58. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1895, vol. 109, p. 12. Quoted in Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration,” p. 242.

59. Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 148.

60. Jeremy Bentham, “Of the Influence of Time and Place in Matters of Legislation,” in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed John Bowring, p. 191. See Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 183; for Ottoman understandings of legal reform during the Tanzimat period, see Messick, The Calligraphic State, p. 64.

61. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, pp. 156–60.

62. One interesting, almost parenthetical, result of schooling's growing importance to the Egyptian economy was a new way of describing educated individuals that matched them to their function. After European training, the native was transformed metaphorically from an untamed beast into a handy tool, a commodity that could be traded on the open market. In the Annual Report of 1903 (Parl. Pap., vol. 87, p. 1034), Cromer quoted Mr. Currie, the director general of education for the Sudan, on his “heartfelt pity” for the beleaguered local administrators who had to rely on Egyptian help:

Their clerical staff is beyond description bad. Add to this the fact that it is proportionately expensive and absolutely unacclimatized, and I think the need for higher primary schools, as a matter of urgency, is made out.

In a couple of years, even without the institution of any beginning of secondary education, these schools will turn out a product infinitely better than is often found here at present, and, it is important to remember, a product at once acclimatized and comparatively cheap.

Though the mechanical analogy was not restricted to official usage, neither was it universally praised. Florence Nightingale, writing to her mother after an 1850 visit to a convent school in Alexandria, recalled with distaste “the patent improved-man-making principle at home—the machine warranted to turn out children wholesale, like pins, with patent heads,—I did not wonder at the small success of our education.” Nightingale, Letters, p. 204.

As early as 1829 Thomas Carlyle characterized his times as The Mechanical Age, both because of the booming metallic din of factory machinery and because of “the deep, almost exclusive faith we have in Mechanism…in the Politics of this time.…We term it indeed, in ordinary language, the Machine of Society, and talk of it as the grand working wheel from which all private machines must derive, or to which they must adapt, their movements.” “Signs of the Times,” in his Selected Writings, ed. Alan Shelston (New York: Penguin, 1971), p. 70.

63. I owe this and part of the succeeding discussion to Christopher Herbert's Culture and Anomie.

64. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 36–8.

65. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 39–40.

66. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 175.

67. W. Cooke Taylor, ca. 1840, quoted in Herbert, Culture and Anomie, p. 62.

68. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 64–65.

69. In addition to Fabian's Time and the Other, see Adam Kuper, The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion (London: Routledge, 1988).

70. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 65–66.

71. In 1988 an international conference in Cairo actually contained a discussion between Arab intellectuals about whether peasants did or did not have “culture,” so such perspectives have hardly disappeared from the intellectual landscape.

72. Educational Planning Unit, Ministry of Education, Government of Egypt, “Reform of the Educational System of Egypt: A Sector Assessment,” draft, USAID Development Information Center, 8 January 1990, pp. 14, 106. See also Dr. Ahmed Fathy Surour, Towards Education Reform in Egypt: A Strategy for Reform and Examples of Implementation, 1987–1990 (Cairo: Al-Ahram Commercial Presses, 1991).

73. Hamed, “Factors Behind the Political Islamic Movement,” p. 1.

74. Saadek Samaan, an Egyptian educator writing in the early years of the Nasser period, wrote that reactionaries like Hasan al-Banna “are advocating a strong theocracy modeled after that of the ninth-century society of Arabia,” Value Reconstruction and Egyptian Education (New York: Bureau of Publications, Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1955), p. 19.

75. Galal Amin, “Migration, Inflation and Social Mobility: A Sociological Interpretation of Egypt's Current Economic and Political Crisis,” in Egypt Under Mubarak, ed. Charles Tripp and Roger Owen (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 118.

76. ‘Abd Allah Imam, “Al-Khawarij al-judud!” Ruz al-Yusuf, 17 April 1989, pp. 30–33; Muhammad Sa‘id al-‘Ashmawi, “Al-Sira‘ al-hadari fi al-Islam,” al-Azmina, January–February 1989, pp. 18–27. Talal Asad has pointed out that this representation of Islamic society as composed of “protagonists engaged in a dramatic struggle” is widespread in the anthropology and historiography of Islam; “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam.” Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Occasional Papers Series, Georgetown University, 1986, p. 8.

77. Even the unconscious motivations that scholars like Davis impute to modern-day radicals match quite precisely the idiom of recapturing the past that Raymond Williams has traced through British “pastoral” literature in The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 290–304.

78. Amira el-Azhary Sonbol, “Egypt,” in The Politics of Islamic Revivalism, ed. Shireen Hunter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 35. Her faulty perception of Islamic instruction in Egypt is due in part to misunderstanding the reason why different kinds of Islam are not discussed. For pedagogical purposes, there is only one kind of Islam.

79. An editorial in al-Ahram, quoted in Charles Hirschkind, “Culture and Counterterrorism: Notes on Contemporary Public Discourse in Egypt,” paper presented at the 1993 meetings of the Middle East Studies Association, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

80. Charles Hirschkind, personal communication. For an outstanding survey of media depictions of education as a modernizing force, see Walter Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). James P. Young has pointed out, after Jacques Ellul, that not only is education no prophylactic against propaganda, but it “makes propaganda possible, helps propaganda accomplish its ends, and is in many ways itself a form of propaganda.” “Intimate Allies in Migration: Education and Propaganda in a Philippine Village,” Comparative Education Review 26 (1982), p. 218.

81. Olivier Roy sees the resurrection of the Sufi ideal of the insan kamil, or “ideal man,” as a feature of Islamist thought, but in fact its resurrection can be traced to the work of modern educational elites generally; see his Failure of Political Islam, p. 101.

82. With apologies to Melford Spiro, on whose paper title, “Religious Systems as Culturally Constituted Defense Mechanisms” (in Context and Meaning in Anthropology, ed. Melford Spiro [New York: The Free Press, 1965], pp. 100–13), this phrase is modeled.

83. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, p. 342.

84. MacLeod, Accommodating Protest, p. 110.

85. Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists: Psychosocial Profiles,” p. 221.

86. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, p. 342.

87. John Aloysius Farrel, “Clinton Calls for Religion in Schools,” Boston Globe, 13 July 1995, p. 1.

88. For a discussion of the sources of the American government's understanding of the category “religion,” see James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

89. Michael Herzfeld, The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy (New York: Berg, 1992).

90. Victoria Bernal, “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic “Tradition” in a Sudanese Village,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36 (1994), p. 42.


Religious Studies Textbooks in Arabic

The following religious studies textbooks were used during the 1988–89 and 1989–90 school years in Egypt. They are ordered here, and referred to in the notes, by grade level (e.g., “fourth grade religious studies textbook”). All are published in Cairo by the Central Agency for School and University Books and Instructional Materials (al-Jihaz al-markazi lil-kutub al-jami‘iyya wa al-madrasiyya wa al-wasa’il al-ta‘limiyya).

Yunis, Dr. Fathi ‘Ali, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Lil-saff al-awwal min al-ta‘lim al-asasi [first grade religious studies textbook], 1988–89.

al-Naqa, Dr. Mahmud Kamil, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-halqa al-awwal min al-ta‘lim al-asasi, al-saff al-thani [second grade religious studies textbook], 1988–89.

Shahhat, Dr. ‘Abd Allah Mahmud, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-halqa al-awwal min al-ta‘lim al-asasi, al-saff al-thalith [third grade religious studies textbook], 1988–89.

Yunis, Dr. Fathi ‘Ali, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-halqa al-ibtida’iyya min al-ta‘lim al-asasi, al-saff al-rabi‘ [fourth grade religious studies textbook], 1987.

—————————. Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-halqa al-ibtida’iyya min al-ta‘lim al-asasi, al-saff al-khamis [fifth grade religious studies textbook], 1987–88.

al-Dawwah, Mahmud al-Sayyid, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-saff al-sabi‘ min al-halqa al-thaniya min al-ta‘lim al-asasi [seventh grade religious studies textbook], 1986–87.

—————————. Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-saff al-thamin min al-halqa al-thaniya min al-ta‘lim al-asasi [eighth grade religious studies textbook], 1987–88.

‘Alish, Muhammad Sayf al-Din, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Al-saff al-tasi‘ min al-halqa al-thaniya min al-ta‘lim al-asasi [ninth grade religious studies textbook], 1988–89.

Shahata, Dr. ‘Abd Allah Mahmud, et al.Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Lil-saff al-awwal al-thanawi [tenth grade religious studies textbook], 1986–87.

Fawzi, Dr. Rif‘at. Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Lil-saff al-thani al-thanawi [eleventh grade religious studies textbook], 1986–87.

——————. Al-Tarbiya al-islamiyya. Lil-saff al-thalith al-thanawi [twelfth grade religious studies textbook], 1989–90.

Other Works in Arabic

‘Abd al-Karim, Ahmad ‘Izzat. Tarikh al-ta‘lim fi ‘asr Muhammad ‘Ali. Cairo: Maktaba al-nahda al-Misriyya, 1938.

‘Abd al-Latif, Muhammad, and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh. Al-’Udhun al-kabira. Cairo: Safir, n.d.

Ahmad, Dr. Rif‘at Sayyid. Al-Din wa al-dawla wa al-thawra. Cairo: al-Dar al-sharqiyya, 1989.

‘Alwan, ‘Abdallah Nasih. Tarbiya al-awlad fi al-Islam. Cairo: Dar al-Islam, 1985.

‘Ashmawi, Muhammad Sa‘id. “Al-Sira‘ al-hadari fi al-islam” . Al-Azmina, January–February 1989, pp. 18–27.

Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) [al-Jihaz al-markazi li-ta‘bi’a al-‘amma wa al-ihsa’]. Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Idha‘a wa al-sahafa. Cairo: CAPMAS, 1983, 1985, 1987.

——————. Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Kutub wa al-maktabat. Cairo: CAPMAS, 1987.

Guenena, Nemat [Na‘ma Allah Junayna]. Tandhim al-jihad: Hal huwa al-badil al-islami fi Misr? Cairo: Dar al-hurriyya, 1988.

al-Hamadi, Yusuf, Muhammad Mukhtar Amin Mukram, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Maqsud Shalqami. Tarbiya al-Muslim. Lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i. Cairo: al-Jihaz al-markazi lil-kutub al-jami‘iyya wa al-madrasiyya wa al-wasa’il al-ta‘limiyya, 1981.

al-Hamadi, Yusuf, and Muhammad Shahhat Wahdan. Kitab al-tarbiya al-diniyya al-islamiyya. Lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i. Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘amma li-shu’un al-mutabi‘ al-amiriyya, 1976.

al-Hariri, Hasan, Muhammad Mustafa Zaydan, Alyas Barsum Matar, and Dr. Sayyid Khayr Allah. Al-Madrasa al-ibtida’iyya. Cairo: Maktaba al-nahda al-Misriyya, 1966.

Imam, ‘Abd Allah. “Al-Khawarij al-judud!” Ruz al-Yusuf, 17 April 1989, pp. 30–33.

Khalaq Allah, Ahmad Rabi‘ al-Hamid. Al-Fikar al-tarbawi wa tatbiqatihi laday jama’a al-ikhwan al-muslimin. Cairo: Maktaba Wahba, 1983.

al-Khashab, Samia Mustafa. Al-Shabab wa al-tayyar al-islami fi al-mujtama‘ al-Misri al-mu‘asir: Dirasa ijtima‘iyya midaniyya. Cairo: Dar al-thaqafa al-‘arabiyya, 1988.

Al-Muslim al-saghir fi ‘alam al-talwin. Cairo: Safir, n.d.

al-Qabbani, Isma‘il Mahmud. Siyasa al-ta‘lim fi Misr. Cairo: Lajna al-ta’lif wa al-tarjama wa al-nashr, 1944.

Wahda thaqafa al-tifl, and Ahmad ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Kitab al-muslim al-saghir 2. Cairo: Safir, 1987.

Wizara al-ma‘arif al-‘umumiyya. Manhaj al-ta‘lim al-thanawi lil-madaris al-banin wa al-banat. Cairo: al-Mutaba‘a al-’amiriyya, 1930.

Yusuf, ‘Abd al-Tuwab, and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh. Al-Sufuf al-munadhdhama. Cairo: Safir, 1988.

Works in English and French

Abdalla, Ahmed. The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt, 1923–1973. London: Al Saqi Books, 1985.

——————. “Egypt's Islamists and the State: From Complicity to Confrontation” . Middle East Report, no. 183 (July–August 1993), pp. 2–3.

Abu-Lughod, Janet. “Rural Migration and Politics in Egypt” . In Rural Politics and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. Richard Antoun and Ilya Harik. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Zones of Theory in the Anthropology of the Arab World” . Annual Review of Anthropology, no. 18 (1989), pp. 267–306.

——————. “Finding a Place for Islam: Egyptian Television Serials and the National Interest” . Public Culture 5 (1993), pp. 493–513.

——————. Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Adams, Charles C.Islam and Modernism in Egypt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.

Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

‘Ali, A. Yusuf. The Holy Qur’an. Brentwood, Md.: Amana Corporation, 1983.

Amin, Galal. “Migration, Inflation, and Social Mobility: A Sociological Interpretation of Egypt's Current Economic and Political Crisis” . In Egypt under Mubarak, ed. Charles Tripp and Roger Owen, pp. 103–20. London: Routledge, 1989.

Ammar, Hamed. Growing Up in an Egyptian Village. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1954.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

Appadurai, Arjun. “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value” . In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai, pp. 3–63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Arberry, A. J.The Koran Interpreted. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

Armbrust, Walter.Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Asad, Talal. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Occasional Papers Series. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 1986.

Auda, Gehad. “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement in Egypt from the 1970s to the Early 1990s” . In Accounting for Fundamentalisms. Vol. 4 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 374–412. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Badran, Adnan, ed. At the Crossroads: Education in the Middle East. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Bakr, Ayman, and Elliot Colla. “Silencing Is at the Heart of My Case” . Interview with Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd. Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), pp. 27–29.

Barrington, John M. “Cultural Adaptation and Maori Educational Policy: the African Connection” . Comparative Education Review 20 (1976), pp. 1–10.

Beinin, Joel. “The Egyptian Regime and the Left: Between Islamism and Secularism” . Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), pp. 25–26.

Bentham, Jeremy. The Works of Jeremy Bentham. Ed. John Bowring. 1838–43. Rpt., New York: Russell & Russell, 1962.

Berger, Peter. “Some Second Thoughts on Substantive Versus Functional Definitions of Religion” . Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13 (1974), pp. 125–33.

Bernal, Victoria. “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic “Tradition” in a Sudanese Village” . Comparative Studies in Society and History 36 (1994), pp. 36–67.

Boktor, Amir. School and Society in the Valley of the Nile. Cairo: Elias' Modern Press, 1936.

——————. The Development and Expansion of Education in the U.A.R. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1963.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

——————. “Authorized Language: The Social Conditions of the Effectiveness of Ritual Discourse” . In Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.

——————. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays in Art and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude Passeron. Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture. London: Sage, 1977.

Bowen, John. “Salat in Indonesia: The Social Meanings of an Islamic Ritual” . Man, n.s., 24 (1989), pp. 600–619.

——————. “Elaborating Scriptures: Cain and Abel in Gayo Society” . Man, n.s., 27, 3 (1992), pp. 495–516.

——————. Muslims Through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Bowring, John. “Report on Egypt and Candia” . In House of Commons, Parliamentary Papers, 1840, vol. 21.

Brabazon, Lord. “Decay of Bodily Strength in Towns” . The Nineteenth Century 21 (1887), pp. 673–76.

Brink, Judy H.Changing Child Rearing Patterns in an Egyptian Village. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, San Antonio, Texas, 23–26 November 1990.

Brown, Nathan. Peasant Politics in Modern Egypt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

——————. “Who Abolished Corvée Labor in Egypt and Why?” Past and Present, no. 144 (1994), pp. 116–37.

Bulliet, Richard. Islam: The View from the Edge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Carré, Olivier. Enseignement islamique et idéal socialiste. Beirut: Dar el-Machreq Editeurs, 1974.

Cassandra. “The Impending Crisis in Egypt” . Middle East Journal 49 (1995), pp. 9–27.

Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics [CAPMAS]. Statistical Yearbook, Arab Republic of Eqypt, 1988. Cairo: CAPMAS, 1988.

Cochran, Judith. Education in Egypt. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

Cohn, Norman. Warrant for Genocide. Brown Judaic Studies 23. Chico, Calif.: Scholar's Press, 1981.

Cromer, Lord [Sir Evelyn Baring]. Modern Egypt. 2 vols. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1908.

——————. Ancient and Modern Imperialism. London: John Murray, 1910.

Cunningham, Alfred. To-Day in Egypt. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1912.

Cunynghame, H. “The Present State of Education in Egypt” . Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, n.s., 19 (1887), pp. 223–237.

Davis, Eric. “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism in Modern Egypt” . In From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, ed. Said Amir Arjomand, pp. 134–57. London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1984.

Delaney, Carol. The Seed and the Soil: Gender and Cosmology in Turkish Village Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. 1854. Rpt., New York: Bantam, 1981.

Dor, V. Edouard. L'Instruction publique en Egypte. Paris: A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven et cie., Editeurs, 1872.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966.

Durkheim, Emile. Education and Sociology. Trans. Sherwood D. Fox. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1956.

——————. Moral Education. Trans. Everett K. Wilson and Herman Schnurer. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

——————. The Evolution of Educational Thought. Trans. Peter Collins. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977.

Early, Evelyn. Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 1993.

Eccel, A. Chris. Egypt, Islam, and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1984.

Educational Planning Unit, Ministry of Education, Government of Egypt. Reform of the Educational System of Egypt: A Sector Assessment. Draft, USAID Development Information Center, Cairo, 8 January 1990.

Edward, Cardinal Archbishop Henry. “Is the Education Act of 1870 a Just Law?” The Nineteenth Century 12 (December 1882), pp. 958–68.

Eickelman, Dale. Moroccan Islam: Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

——————. “The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction” . Comparative Studies in Society and History 20 (1978), pp. 485–516.

——————. Knowledge and Power in Morocco. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

——————. “Identité nationale et discours religieux en Oman” . In Intellectuels et militants de l'Islam contemporain, ed. Gilles Kepel and Yann Richard, pp. 103–28. Paris: Seuil, 1990.

——————. “Counting and Surveying an “Inner” Omani Community: Hamra al-‘Abriyin” . In Tribe and State: Essays in Honour of David Montgomery Hart, ed. E. G. G. Joffe and C. R. Pennel, pp. 253–77. Wisbeck, England: MENAS Press, 1991.

——————. “Mass Higher Education and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary Arab Societies” . American Ethnologist 19 (1992), pp. 643–54.

Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Faksh, Mahmud A. “The Consequences of the Introduction and Spread of Modern Education: Education and National Integration in Egypt” . In Modern Egypt: Studies in Politics and Society, ed. Elie Kedourie and Sylvia G. Haim, pp. 42–55. London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., 1980.

Fandy, Mamoun. “Egypt's Islamic Group: Regional Revenge?” Middle East Journal 48 (1994), 607–625.

Fischer, Michael M. J.Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Fischer, Michael M. J., and Mehdi Abedi. Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Flores, Alexander. “Egypt: A New Secularism?” Middle East Report, no. 153 (July–August 1988), 27–29.

Foley, Douglas. Learning Capitalist Culture: Deep in the Heart of Tejas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Foster, Robert J. “Take Care of Public Telephones: Moral Education and Nation-State Formation in Papua New Guinea” . Public Culture 4 (1992), pp. 31–45.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1970.

——————. Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon, 1977.

——————. Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977–1984. Ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Gaffney, Patrick. The Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Galt, Russell. The Effects of Centralization on Education in Modern Egypt. Cairo: American University in Cairo, Department of Education, 1936.

el-Gawhary, Karim. “Report from a War Zone: Gama‘at vs. Government in Upper Egypt” . Middle East Report, no. 194–95 (May–June/July–August 1995), pp. 49–51.

Geertz, Clifford. Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

Ginsburg, Carlos. The Cheese and the Worms. New York: Penguin, 1980.

Goldberg, Ellis. “Smashing Idols and the State: The Protestant Ethic and Egyptian Sunni Radicalism” . Comparative Studies in Society and History 33 (1991), pp. 3–35.

Gonzalez-Quijano, Yves. Les Gens du livre: Champ intellectuel et édition dans l'Egypte républicaine (1952–1993). Thèse de doctorat de l'Institut d'études politiques de Paris, Mention Science Politiques, 1994.

el-Guindi, Fadwa. “Veiling Infitah with Muslim Ethic: Egypt's Contemporary Islamic Movement” . Social Problems 28 (1981), pp. 465–85.

Hamed, Raouf Abbas. Factors Behind the Political Islamic Movement in Egypt. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, San Antonio, Texas, 23–26 November 1990.

Handelman, Don. Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Hannerz, Ulf. Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Harik, Ilya. The Political Mobilization of Peasants. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Hechmat, Ahmad Pacha. Questions d'education et d'enseignement. Cairo: n.p., 1914.

Heggoy, Alf Andrew. “Education in French Algeria: An Essay on Cultural Conflict” . Comparative Education Review 17 (1973), pp. 180–97.

Heilbrun, Carolyn G.Writing a Woman's Life. New York: Ballantine, 1988.

Herbert, Christopher. Culture and Anomie: Ethnographic Imagination in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Herzfeld, Michael. The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy. New York: Berg, 1992.

Heyworth-Dunne, James. An Introduction to the History of Education in Modern Egypt. London: Luzac & Co., 1938.

el-Hilali, Neguib. Report on Educational Reform in Egypt. Cairo: Government Press, Boulaq, 1943.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. New York: Norton, 1962.

Hirschkind, Charles. Culture and Counterterrorism: Notes on Contemporary Public Discourse in Egypt. Paper presented at the 1993 meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Hobsbawm, Eric. “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870–1914” . In The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, pp. 263–307. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Hoffman, Valerie. “Muslim Fundamentalists: Psychosocial Profiles” . In Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Vol. 5 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, pp. 199–230. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955.

Holland, Dorothy, and Margaret A. Eisenhart. Educated in Romance: Women, Achievement, and College Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Horvatich, Patricia. “Ways of Knowing Islam” . American Ethnologist 21, 4 (1994), pp. 811–826.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Houtsonen, Jarmo. “Traditional Qur’anic Education in a Southern Moroccan Village” . International Journal of Middle East Studies 26 (1994), pp. 489–500.

Howeidy, Amira, Mona al-Nahhas, and Mona Anis. “The Persecution of Abu Zeid” . Al-Ahram Weekly, 22–28 June 1995. Reprinted in World Press Review 45 (October 1995).

Humes, Walter. “Evolution and Educational Theory in the Nineteenth Century” . In The Wider Domain of Evolutionary Thought, ed. D. Oldroyd and I. Lanham, pp. 27–56. N.p.: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1983.

Hurt, J. S. “Drill, Discipline, and the Elementary School Ethos” . In Popular Education and Socialization in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Phillip McCann, pp. 167–92. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1977.

Hyde, Georgie D. M.. Education in Modern Egypt: Ideals and Realities. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.

Ibrahim, Saad Eddin. “Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings” . International Journal of Middle East Studies 12 (1980), pp. 423–53.

Issawi, Charles. Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis. London: Oxford University Press, 1947.

Jefferson, Carter. “Worker Education in England and France, 1800–1914” . Comparative Studies in Society and History 4 (1964), pp. 345–66.

Johnston, Rev. James, F.S.S., ed. Report of the Centenary Conference on the Protestant Missions of the World. London: James Nisbet & Co., 1889.

Jones, Sidney. “Arabic Instruction and Literacy in Javanese Muslim Schools” . International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1983), pp. 83–94.

Kabbaj, Mohammed Mostafa. “Traditional Child Socialization and the Incursion of Mass Communication in Morocco” . International Social Science Journal 31 (1979), pp. 429–43.

Katz, Michael B.The Irony of Early School Reform. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Kelabora, Lambert. “Assumptions Underlying Religious Instruction in Indonesia” . Comparative Education 15 (1979), pp. 325–39.

Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Khalid, Adeeb. The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Tsarist Central Asia. Ph.D. diss., Department of History, University of Wisconsin at Madison, 1993.

Kinsey, David C. “Efforts for Educational Synthesis under Colonial Rule: Egypt and Tunisia” . Comparative Education Review 15 (1971), pp. 172–87.

Kour, Z. H.The History of Aden, 1839–72. London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., 1981.

Kuhnke, LaVerne. Lives at Risk. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Kuper, Adam. The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion. London: Routledge, 1988.

Lambert, Agnes. “Thrift among the Children” . The Nineteenth Century 19 (April 1886), pp. 539–60.

Lancaster, Joseph. Improvements in Education as It Respects the Industrious Classes of the Community. 3rd ed. 1805. Rpt., Clifton, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, 1973.

Lancaster, William. The Rwala Bedouin Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Lane, Edward W.Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. 1860. Rpt., London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1963.

Laqueur, Thomas Walter. Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Lavie, Smadar. The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeini Allegories of Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Leathers, Charles G., and J. Patrick Raines. “Adam Smith on Competitive Religious Markets” . History of Political Economy 24, 2 (1992), pp. 499–513.

Lecky, William. Democracy and Liberty. 2 vols. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1896.

Lerner, Daniel. The Passing of Traditional Society. New York: Free Press, 1964.

Lutz, Catherine, and Jane Collins. Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Lyall, Alfred. “Government of the Indian Empire” . Edinburgh Review 159 (January–April 1884).

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 (1979).

——————. The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982–1985. Trans. Don Barry et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. The Works of Lord Macaulay, Complete. Ed. Lady Trevelyan. Vol. 8. London: Longman, Green, & Co., 1866.

MacLeod, Arlene Elowe. Accommodating Protest: Working Women, the New Veiling, and Change in Cairo. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1989.

Maine, Sir Henry Sumner. Ancient Law. 1861. Rpt., n.p.: Dorset Press, 1986.

Majeed, Javed. Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mill's The History of British India and Orientalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Mann, F. O.Report on Certain Aspects of Egyptian Education, Rendered to His Excellency, the Minister of Education at Cairo. Cairo: Government Press, 1932.

Marett, R. R.The Threshold of Religion. London: n.p., 1914.

Martin, Luther H., Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton, eds. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

Marx, Karl. “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” . In The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 1978.

——————. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” . In The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 594–617.

——————. “The Grundrisse” . In The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 221–93.

Massialas, Byron G., and Amir Ahmed Jarrar. Education in the Arab World. New York: Praeger, 1983.

Matthews, Roderic D., and Matta Akrawi. Education in Arab Countries of the Near East. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1949.

Mattoon, Scott. “Egypt: Islam by Profession” . The Middle East, no. 218 (December 1992).

May, Margaret. “Innocence and Experience: The Evolution of the Concept of Juvenile Delinquency in the Mid-Nineteenth Century” . Victorian Studies 18 (1973), pp. 7–30.

Mayfield, James. Rural Politics in Nasser's Egypt: A Quest for Legitimacy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

McCann, Phillip, ed. Popular Education and Socialization in the Nineteenth Century. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1977.

McLuhan, H. Marshall. “The Medium Is the Message” . In Mass Media and Society. 2nd ed. Ed. Alan Wells. Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield, 1975.

Mehran, Golnar. “Ideology and Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran” . Compare 20 (1990), pp. 53–65.

Messick, Brinkley. “Legal Documents and the Concept of “Restricted Literacy” in a Traditional Society” . International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1983), pp. 41–52.

——————. The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Milner, Alfred. England in Egypt. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1892.

Ministry of Education, Egypt. Report of the Elementary Education Commission and Draft Law to Make Better Provision for the Extension of Elementary Education. Cairo: Government Press, 1919.

Mitchell, Richard. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Mitchell, Timothy. Colonising Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

——————. “The Invention and Reinvention of the Egyptian Peasant” . International Journal of Middle East Studies 22 (1990), pp. 129–50.

——————. “Worlds Apart: An Egyptian Village and the International Tourism Industry” . Middle East Report, no. 196 (September–October 1995), pp. 8–11.

Moghadam, Valentine. Identity Politics and Women: Cultural Reassertions and Feminisms in International Perspective. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994.

Mohsenpour, Bahram. “Philosophy of Education in Post-revolutionary Iran” . Comparative Education Review 32 (1988), pp. 76–86.

Moore, R. Laurence. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Moore, Sally Falk. Social Facts and Fabrications: Customary Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morgan, Lewis Henry. Ancient Society. 1877. Rpt., Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985.

Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York: Pantheon, 1985.

Nagata, Judith. “Islamic Revival and the Problem of Legitimacy among Rural Religious Elites in Malaysia” . Man, n.s., 17 (1982), pp. 42–57.

Nightingale, Florence. Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849–50. Ed. Anthony Sattin. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1987.

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Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.