Egypt -- the Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt by Patrick D. Gaffney

By Brown, Nathan | The Middle East Journal, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Egypt -- the Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt by Patrick D. Gaffney


Brown, Nathan, The Middle East Journal


The Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt, by Patrick D. Gaffney. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1994. viii + 268 pages. Appends. to p. 316. Notes to p. 341. Bibl. to p. 357. Index to p. 367. $50 cloth; $20 paper.

Patrick D. Gaffney's study of Muslim preachers is based on extensive field research carried out in al-Minya (the capital of a province by the same name located in Egypt's al-Sa'id, south of Cairo), beginning in the late 1970s. The choice of location was fortuitous. Gaffney had no way of knowing that the beginning of a radical Islamist challenge to the Egyptian political and social order was germinating in the city at the time. Given subsequent highly publicized political violence in the area between al-Minya and Asyut, The Prophet's Pulpit will doubtless be of interest to those who focus on politics in Egypt specifically, and the Muslim world more generally. Although he is very much aware of the political significance of his subject, Gaffney focuses more of his attention on the role of preachers and the content of their sermons.

Gaffney begins with a general consideration of the nature of the mosque and of the Friday sermon. The analysis is based partly on a comparative religious perspective, and Gaffney demonstrates both an unashamed reliance on older social science literature and an informed integration of more recent critical writings. The author examines different approaches to Islam and to preaching extant in al-Minya. He offers a typology of a traditional Azhari teacher, a Sufi holy man, and a "holy warrior." This discussion introduces a more complex, but also more subtle, framework than a simple division between official and unofficial Islam or between the Islam of the 'ulama' (religious scholars) and popular Islam. Gaffney also discusses extensively the political context of the sermons and the preachers under study. He analyzes the events surrounding the rise of a radical Islamist movement centered in the newly established university in al-Minya. This is followed by an examination of the themes and vocabulary of sermons. Gaffney selects for extended analysis the words "security" (amn) and "belief" (iman). He examines their meaning, their relationship, and the role that they play in sermons. The final section of the book consists of a detailed rhetorical analysis of three sermons (and their social and political context), the transcriptions of which are included as appendices.

While The Prophet's Pulpit does not break new ground in its analysis of the social and political nature of Islam in modern Egypt, it does offer extremely rich local detail. …

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