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Philosophers of  the Arabs

 Rafa'a Altahtawi
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Rafa'a Rafe'e Altahtawi (1801-1873) is one of the leaders of the scientific and cultural reformation in Egypt's Muhammad Ali. For most specialists he is viewed as the starting point of the modern Arabic, if not Islamic, efforts for modernization and renaissance.

His Life

In the age of sixteen he dwelled to Cairo in order to study Islamic traditional sciences in Alazhar, after five years of study he became an Islamic teacher (sheikh) in the same institute. During this period, his relation with the well known and enlightened religious reformist the Sheikh of Alazhar, Hassan Al'attar, has been strengthed. He continued teaching for two years, afterwards he was appointed as a religious minister (Emam) in the Army of Muhammad Ali, which was growing at that time as the Egyptian state was turning out into an Empire under his ambitious rule.

The major turn in his intellectual live started with his travel to France on 1826 as the "Emam" of the cultural mission sent by Mohammad Ali to study and transfer "Modern" sciences and systems of life. His teacher Hassan Alattar was the one who nominated him for this position. However, Altahtawi was not satisfied by this duty, but he decided to study as well. Hence, he studied French language and started to learn the science of translation. After five years of work he succeeded in the final exam and produced his famous book "تخليص الإبريز في تلخيص باريز", which represents an endeavor toward describing (or epitomizing) the main features of Paris as a symbol of European Modernity.

His Intellectual Project

Rafa'a came back from France filled with hope on 1831, he worked in the school of medicine in translating essential texts. Then he participated in a project of modernizing programs of study of natural sciences. On 1831 he opened the school of translation which afterward became the school of linguistics, and became its first dean, in addition to his work as a professor in it. In this period his intellectual project of renaissance became clear, a joint effort to modernize the Egyptian intellectual life and systems while at the same time reserving its origin and its specificity with respect of its Islamic legacy.

His efforts continued in diverse fields, he continued planning and supervision of the newly established modern education enterprise as well as the newly born journalism system. He opened new sections of translation for humanities, mathematics and natural science. Then he opened the school of accounting for the study of economics, and a school for the study of politics. He also pushed toward the decision of studying in these schools in Arabic, not in English or French, in addition to printing the only formal journal, the Egyptian facts (الوقائع المصرية) in Arabic in addition to its Turkish print.

His project was intermittently crippled by some of the rulers who followed Muhammad Ali, so that his school was closed and he was expelled to Sudan on 1850. In this period, around four years, he turned toward translation of literature. After coming back he resumed his efforts of modernization through publishing major books of the Arabic intellectual legacy in the famous Poulck (بولاق) print facility. He also continued supervision on the district of education and issued the first cultural magazine in Egypt's history known as 'the meadow of the schools" (روضة المدارس).


His Writings

Among his writings and translations:

       In history of contemporary Egypt, "the Success of the venerable in the news of Egypt and the documentation of the sons of Ismael".

       In Pedagogy, "the delighting of the Egyptian minds in the methods of contemporary literature".

       In the history of the prophet Mohammed, "the end of the abbreviation of the history of the resident in Alhejaz"