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Gatech Arabic Module 5

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The Maṣlaḥa of Film Production in Pre-Revolutionary Egypt, 1896–1952: A Sanctioning Apparatus or Covert Censorship? Author(s): Heba Arafa Abdelfattah Source: Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2 (November 2017), pp. 1-37 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 08-08-2018 10:07 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies This content downloaded from on Wed, 08 Aug 2018 10:07:22 UTC All use subject to The Maṣlaḥa of Film Production in Pre-Revolutionary Egypt, 1896–1952: A Sanctioning Apparatus or Covert Censorship? Heba Arafa Abdelfattah Abstract: At the turn of the twentieth century, the lawfulness of film, like other modern innovations, posed a challenge for many Muslim ‘ulamā’. The fact that the film camera was a foreign invention coming from colonialist Europe complicated the challenge. Focusing on the formative years of Egyptian cinema, I analyze Islamic public discourses and legal opinions on the lawfulness of photography and acting, the two principal components of cinema production. I argue that the use of the Islamic legal concept of “public interest” (maṣlaḥa) enabled reformist ‘ulamā’ to positively sanction photography and acting, thereby permitting the production of motion pictures. However, maṣlaḥa was also used as a covert form of censorship. This seeming contradiction resulted from the fact that maṣlaḥa was sometimes reduced to a utilitarian tool that accepted this new medium of communication as a means of promoting Islamic cultural hegemony but disregarded the innovative aspects of film as a domain for creativity and freedom of expression. Heba Arafa Abdelfattah is a visiting assistant professor of Arabic in the School of Modern Languages at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA. She received her Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies from Georgetown University in 2017. Her research interest falls in the interdisciplinary area of humanities with special focus on modernity, religion and popular culture. She works with literary texts, archival documents, films, and artistic production to understand discourses of modernity. She is especially interested in issues of cultural production in the context Islamic legal traditions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and global flows. She has conducted archival research on the reception of film by the colonial state, the nationalist elite and the Muslim clergy in twentieth century Egypt. Her publications include “Satire, and Nostalgia in a Time of Revolution – Bassem Youssef ’s Sendup on Egypt’s Golden Anthems,” Review of Middle East Studies (Cambridge Core Cambridge University Press, 2014) and “Mediating Discourse of Democratic Uprising in Egypt: Militarized Language and the ‘Battles’ of Abbasiyya and Maspero,” International Journal of Communication (USC Annenberg Press, 2014). She is currently working on a monograph tentatively titled, “Dreams of Alternative Modernities on the Nile.” Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 2.2, pp. 1–37 Copyright © 2017 North American Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies. doi:10.2979/jims.2.2.01 This content downloaded from on Wed, 08 Aug 2018 10:07:22 UTC All use subject to 2  Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 2.2 Introduction At the turn of the twentieth century, film emerged as a new medium of communication, quickly gaining worldwide popularity. However, film posed a challenge for Muslim ‘ulamā’, who sought to expand and adapt Islamic law to meet changing social conditions and to accommodate innovations while abiding by the Lawgiver’s will, as articulated in the textual sources of law.1 The fact that the film camera was invented in colonialist Europe further complicated this challenge. Simultaneously, the ‘ulamā’ sought to carve out a space for themselves in predominantly secularist efforts to modernize Egypt. They endeavored to show that Islamic law was not an obstacle to social reform; rather, it had a rational frame of reference that was compatible with modern reform projects and could accommodate modern inventions and technologies. To this end, the Islamic concept of “public interest” (maṣlaḥa) was used to derive legal opinions on two primary components of film: photography and acting. Maṣlaḥa, literally a source of good or benefit,2 functions in Islamic legal tradition as a means for finding solutions to unprecedented cases. The use of maṣlaḥa to derive legal opinions was primarily influenced by the debate on the purposes of the law (maqāṣid al-sharī‘a) shaped by Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (450– 505/1058–1111), who placed the purposes of the law under three categories of “interests” (maṣāliḥ): (a) necessities (al-ḍarūrāt), (b) needs (al-ḥājiyyāt) and (c) improvements (al-taḥsīnāt).3 He defined maṣlaḥa as the advancing of “benefit” (manfaʿa) and the averting of harm (maḍarra). He argued for the use of maṣlaḥa only in cases of necessity, in which there was an apodictic (qaṭ‘ī) ratio legis that applied to all believers universally. Furthermore, he excluded maṣlaḥa in cases involving need and improvement unless it was supported by textual source, consensus, or analogy.4 While later jurisprudents accepted al-Ghazālī’s definition of maṣlaḥa, they disagreed with him on the permissibility of maṣlaḥa in the absence of revealed texts and on limiting the use of maṣlaḥa to cases of “necessity” without cases of “need” or “improvement.” For instance, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (543–605/1149–1209), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (626–684/1228– 1285), Najm al-Dīn al-Ṭūfī (657–716/1276–1316), and Abū Isḥāq al-Shāṭibī (720–790/1320–1388) each developed a model of maṣlaḥa that diverged from that of al-Ghazālī.5 While al-Ghazālī’s model surpassed all others, legal opinions on photography and acting reveal that other models also continued to persist in twentieth-century Egypt. In this article, I translate maṣlaḥa as “public interest” in the sense of “the permissibility of the political authorities to issue rulings that concur with the public good within the sphere of [. . .] politics.”6 Felicitas Opwis distinguishes between maṣlaḥa as “public interest” and maṣlaḥa as “private interest.” She considers maṣlaḥa as “private interest” when a jurist gives a legal opinion on the grounds of maṣlaḥa in a single private case. The advent of print capitalism7 in This content downloaded from on Wed, 08 Aug 2018 10:07:22 UTC All use subject to Abdelfattah / The Maṣlaḥa of Film Production   3 the twentieth century blurred the distinction between “private” and “public” interpretations of maṣlaḥa. (When a jurist publishes a legal opinion based on maṣlaḥa in a private case, the circulation of the legal opinion in the press brings it into the public domain and frames it as a public interest.) Print capitalism also gave the ‘ulamā’ more voice,8 allowing them to show that Islamic law possessed a rational frame of reference that was compatible with modern reform projects and that could accommodate modern inventions. The authority of the ‘ulamā’ was thus increased as they became the guardians and transmitters of Islamic knowledge in both public and private domains.
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