Muhammad Abduh, Egyptian Freemasonry, and the British Mandate

A list of sources, and commentary:

I first heard rumors of Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Ridha, and their ideological father – Jamal al-din al-Afghani, having been high degree Freemasonic initiates about 16 years ago. Initially I dismissed the idea, it seemed to make little sense at the time, but I ran into this historical bugbear now and then more often and decided to dig deeper into it.

Well, lo and behold, Academica has actually beat this issue into the ground, it seems. There was, in the Fin-de-sicle Egyptian revolutionary millieu, an active presence of Freemasonry and the Lodge formed a common ground where middle and professional class Christian British, Egyptian Jews, and Egyptian Muslims, could meet and interact in a fraternal manner, and discuss in confidentiality issues concerning Egypt, Ottoman governance, and British Imperial Governance. It also gave a free and confidential podium in which radical and revolutionary ideas, even those contrary to official policy, were circulated, debated, and discussed.
In researching the friendship of Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, al-Afghani, The Lord Cromer Evelyn Baring of the Baring banking House and several other personages Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, I have found certain sources listed below to be useful and of interest. Some are directly related to this historical question, in my mind, whilst others are of ancillary interest as background information.

This theme is popular idea in Traditionalist Muslim circles, basically that the currently revolutionary ferment in many “Islamist” groups is not an artificat of normative Traditional Islam, but has more in common with ideological imports from the Western world, initially through Freemasonry and later through more modern Socialist and Communist streams of thought.

It is also popular in a few circles, the argument that Freemasonry and Socialism are fifth collumns deliberately introduced into the middle east to weaken the Islamic world. These sort of themes are speculative and many condemn them as paranoid.

There can be, however, discerned a certain degree of influence of certain thoughts, groups, and themes, in what appears to be an organic way. many people experiment with multiple ideologies in their youth, in particular if they are students and intellectuals in inclination. An active thinker may pass through many phases. Since struggles with colonialism and foreign domination loomed large in the early 20th century history of the middle east, it’s natural that secret societies and brotherhoods would attract individuals trying to formulate questions as to why and how an alien civilization has extended hegemony over his homelands.  In Masonic Lodges such students would have interacted with not only his compatriots but also colonial civil and military officers, and be able to debate issues of his homeland with foreign individual representing the government of the empires dominating his people.

The Traditionalist argument for fifth column subversion of Traditional Islam does feed from the fact that many current crop of Political Islamists seem focused first on Islam as an ideology and means of social justice first, and only marginally as a path of spiritual rectification and cultivation.

This does suggest a certain origin of ideas. Though from the literature you really can’t say much that is solid. Also the fact that many in the crop of islamists in the 80s were disillusioned former Socialists and Communists is not, in itself, an argument. but everyone is influenced by their origins, for example many have pointed to the Trotskivist origins of older neo-conservatives as a factor explaining their current quirks of behavior and policy.

Correlation is not causation. It is a mistake also to assume that similarity implies common origins.

Why is this relevant?

Need you even ask, turn on the evening news for God’s sake. The middle east and the western world are interlocked in a sets of crisis and conflicts that are profoundly affecting the histories and destinies of both spheres. There are some who frankly might be a bit too simple to see relevance in such themes, but the simple fact that you’ve read this far and have not yet given up out of boredom (yet) does strongly suggest that you are not among such people. Pat yourself on the back.

Such history is confusing, but when you dig into it, it becomes very interesting.
A. Albert Kudsi-Zadeh, “Afghani and Freemasonry in Egypt,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol.92, no.1, 1972. A. Albert examines the clandestine activities of Jamal al-din al-Afghani and how his presence in the Egyptian Freemasonic millieu affected his operations.

A. L. MacFie, British Intelligence and the Turkish National Movement, 1919-22. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.37, no.1 Jan., 2001

Karim Wissa, “Freemasonry in Egypt 1798-1921”. The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Bulletin, vol.16, no.2, 1989

Byron D. Cannon, “Nineteenth-Century Arabic Writings on Women and Society: The Interim Role of the Masonic Press in Cairo – al-Lataif, 1885-1895)”. International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.17, no.4 1985

Serif Arif Mardin, “Libertarian Movements in the Ottoman Empire 1878-1895” Middle East Journal, vol.16, no.2 Spring, 1962, pp. 169-182

Jacob M. Landau, “Prolegomena to a Study of Secret Societies in Modern Egypt”.Middle Eastern Studies, vol.1 no.2 1965

Jacob M. Landau, “The Dönmes: Crypto-Jews under Turkish Rule”. Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2007

Hamid Algar, “An Introduction to the History of Freemasonry in Iran”, in Journal Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.6 No.3 October 1970

Elie Kedourie, “Young Turks, Freemasons and Jews”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.7, no.1 Jan., 1971

Sephr Zabih, Reviewed work(s): The Political Elite of Iran by Marvin Zonis. The Journal of Developing Areas, vol.7, no.2 Jan., 1973

Nikki R. Keddie, “Intellectuals in the Modern Middle East: A Brief Historical Consideration” Daedalus, vol.101, no.3, Intellectuals and Change, Summer, 1972

Eliezer Tauber, “Secrecy in Early Arab Nationalist Organizations”, Middle Eastern Studies, vol.33, no.1 Jan., 1997

Erik J. Zurcher, “The Qttoman Legacy of the Turkish Republic: An Attempt at a New Periodization”. Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Bd. 32, Nr. 2 1992

Mehrdad Kia, “Pan-Islamism in Late Nineteenth-Century Iran”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.32, no.1 Jan., 1996

Nikki R. Keddie, “Iranian Politics 1900-05: Background to Revolution: III”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.5, no.3 Oct., 1969

Bernard Wasserstein, “Clipping the Claws of the Colonisers’: Arab Officials in the Government of Palestine. 1917-48”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.13, no.2 May, 1977

Donald M. Reid, “Political Assassination in Egypt, 1910-1954”. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol.15, no.4 1982


5 Comment

  1. […] Kamal S. – “Muhammad Abduh, Egyptian Freemasonry, and the British Mandate” […]

  2. Would love to learn more about your order how to joine. So mote it be!

  3. So mote it be.
    Can a brother spare a hand, to help a widow’s son?

  4. I have a standing principle, to borrow groucho marx, to avoid most organizations that would actually have me as a member.

  5. I myself wrestled with questions of Abduh’s legitimacy vis en vie being a Freemason. Your post has given me fresh insight on the topic. I’ll be sure to check out the book! Thank you!

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