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Full Access "Modernity", "Tradition", and the Battleground of Gender in Early 20th-Century Damascus

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"Modernity", "Tradition", and the Battleground of Gender in Early 20th-Century Damascus

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In early 20th-century Damascus, a group of religious scholars who called themselves mutadayyinūn (the "very pious") and who claimed to represent an Islamic "orthodoxy" launched a journal, al-Haqā'iq, to expose the crimes of the mutafarnijūn (the "overly Frankified") and to agitate for a return to "true Islam". According to the mutadayyinūn, the mutafarnijūn were introducing into the Ottoman Empire practices borrowed from the West and were thus abetting a Western conspiracy against the empire and Islam. Among the practices the mutadayyinūn found particularly irksome were those that threatened "traditional" and "scripturally-dictated" customs relating to gender, such as veiling and the seclusion of women. What becomes clear through an analysis of the debate, the reasons for its prominence on the pages of al-Haqā'iq, and the method and style of argumentation adopted by the mutadayyinūn, however, is that despite their claim to be the upholders of tradition, the mutadayyinūn relied on the same epistemic assumptions as those they castigated. Thus, unbeknownst to them, they were engaged in the process of inventing a religio-political synthesis coherent with contemporary social and political structures and institutions. The traces of this religio-political synthesis, later adopted or reinvented by others, remains embedded within the structures and institutions of the contemporary Syrian state.

Affiliations: 1: Los Angeles


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