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.
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
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).
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
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"