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This Day in History: Rifa’ah At-Tahtawy رفاعة الطهطاوي Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

Rifa’ah Rafi’ At-Tahtawy (1801 – 1873)

        Like today and on 27th May 1873, Rifa’ah At-Tahtawy passed away تُوفِى . Tahtawy was an Egyptian writer, teacher, translator, Egyptologist and renaissance thinker. He was among the first Egyptian scholars to write about Western cultures. In all his writings, he attempted to reach a common ground and an understanding between Islamic and European civilizations.

      Tahtawy, was born on 15th Oct. 1801 in Tahta – a small village in Upper Egypt – Sohag Governorate. That was the same year the French troops evacuated Egypt after Napoleon’s Campaign. Tahtawy’s family took good care of him and he memorized the Qua’an at young age. When he was sixteen years old, he joined Al-Azhar for six years where he studied Islamic and Arabic language sciences. At the age of twenty-one, he worked as a teacher in Al-Azhar.

      Mohammad Ali (the Founder of Modern Egypt) used to send missions of Egyptian students to Europe to study arts and sciences in European universities and acquire technical skills such as printing, ship-building and modern military techniques. The year 1826 was a turning point in Tahtawy’s life as he was recommended by his teacher and mentor (Hassan Al-Attar) to participate in one of these missions. Tahtawy was appointed as an Imam إمام (Prayers’ Leader) and Preacher واعِظ  to a group of students travelling to Paris. While in Paris, Tahtawy studied the French language and translated many French books into Arabic. He also studied ethics, social and political philosophy and mathematics and geometry. He read works by Condillac, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Besout and many others.

      In 1831, Tahtawy returned to Egypt to be part of the nation-wide effort to modernize the Egyptian infrastructure and education. He undertook a career of teaching, writing and translation. In 1835, he founded the School of Languages مدرسة الألسن which graduated the earliest modern intellectual elites who led the struggle against the British colonialism in Egypt. Three of his published books were works of political and moral philosophy. They introduced his Egyptian audience to enlightenment ideas such as secular authority and political rights and liberty. They also contained his ideas regarding what a modern civilized society ought to be like and his ideas on public interest and good. Tahtawy’s work was the first effort in what became an Egyptian renaissance نهضة /nahda/ that flourished in the years between 1860–1940

        Among his writings were: “A Paris profile” , “The Honest Guide for the Education of Girls and Boys” , “Towards a Simpler Arabic Grammar” , “Grammatical Sentences” , “Egyptian Patriotic Lyrics”.

      Among his translations were: “The Arabization of Trade Law” , “The Arabization of the French Civil Law” , “Metals and their Use” , “Ancient Philosophers” , “Principals of Engineering” , “Logic” , “General Geography” , ” The French Constitution” , “On Greek Mythology” .


  • Adapted and translated from Wikipedia.


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About the Author: Fisal

Well, I was born near the city of Rasheed or Rosetta, Egypt. Yes, the city where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It is a small city on the north of Egypt where the Nile meets the Mediterranean. I am a Teacher of EFL.