Patrick Scharfe

  • Fellowship Dates 2011-2012
  • Research Topic Islamic Clerics in a Modernizing State: Muhammad Ali and the Egyptian Ulama, 1805-48
  • Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Affiliation Pre-doctoral candidate Ohio State University
This research focuses on one of the most important social strata of late Ottoman Egypt: the ulama (Islamic scholars). Prior research examines their crucial role as mediators between the common people and the ruling military groups. This research focuses mainly on their special role in power politics and their social, economic and religious influence. The holdings of the leading ulama, whether in the form of waqfs (pious endowments) or iltizams (tax farms), marked them as integral members of the late Ottoman elite. This research examines the social and economic evolution of the Egyptian ulama, whose dispossession by Muhammad ‘Ali stands as a key example of how his autocratic rule displaced older elites.
In the shift of power from the Ottoman imperial center to the provinces, historians note that local notables’ control of tax collection fostered decentralization and nourished classes of local notables, a development that was formalized by the malikane (lifetime tax farm) throughout the empire in 1695. This institution was known as the iltizam in Egypt, and the religious notables of Egypt benefitted handsomely from this institution. Despite their position as “mediators,” the leading ulama were clearly a social category of urban notables whose interests were consonant with the broader ruling class of provincial tax farm (iltizam) holders, known as multazimin. This study explores the moment when Muhammad ‘Ali abolished the rich iltizams and waqfs of Lower Egypt, and the ulama received attenuated stipends in place of their previous holdings. It examines the social position of the ulama as well as their later relations with the regime of Muhammad ‘Ali. It aims to situate more exactly what the coming of modernity meant in the Ottoman Empire, as demonstrated by all the facets of the social place of the ulama, whether religious, political, economic, or otherwise social. In the process, the scholarly re-evaluation of the reign of Muhammad Ali will be advanced.

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