Hasan al-Attar

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Shaykh Hasan al-Attar (Arabic: حسن العطار‎) (1766–1835) was an Islamic scholar, Grand Imam of al-Azhar from 1830 to 1835.[1] A "polymathic figure", he wrote on grammar, science, logic, medicine and history.[2] Hassan al-Attar was appointed Sheikh of al-Azhar in 1831. He was a forerunner of Egypt's national revival, and his legacy was a generation of Egyptian modernizers. He wrote prolifically in defence of logic and modern astronomy, and wrote the first modern history of Mohammed's tribe, the Quraish. He was to suffer greatly for his modernizing beliefs.

His first contact with foreign (non-Muslim) knowledge came during the French occupation of Egypt (1798–1801). Fearing for his safety after the French withdrawal, he left Cairo for Istanbul. There he studied and read voraciously, from 1802 through 1806, when he continued his studies in Alexandretta (today Iskenderum), Izmir and Damascus, returning to Egypt in 1815. He was the first director of the new medical college, defending the necessity of corpse dissection, which he had observed in the Cairo veterinary college, against the non-experimental, theoretical teachings of eleventh-century Avicenna, discarded centuries ago in Christian Europe. While he was a successful lecturer at al-Azhar University, his time there was marked by continual conflict with un-Westernized ulemas, leading him at times to conduct classes in his home. The tensions only became worse with his appointment as rector. He died within four years.[3]


  1. ^ Goldschmidt, Jr., Arthur (2000). Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-55587-229-8. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  2. ^ Peter Gran (2009). "Ḥasan al-ʻAṭṭār". In Roger M. A. Allen; Terri DeYoung (ed.). Essays in Arabic Literary Biography: 1350–1850. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 56–68. ISBN 978-3-447-05933-6. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  3. ^ Christopher de Bellaige, The Islamic Enlightenment. The Struggle between Faith and Reason: 1798 to Modern Times (New York, Liveright, 2017), ISBN 9780871403735, 26-33.

Further reading[edit]

  • F. De Jong, 'The itinerary of Hasan al-'Attar (1766-1835): a reconsideration and its implications', Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1983), pp. 99–128.

External links[edit]

  • Rediscovering Al-'Attar
  • Dunne, Bruce William. Sexuality and the 'Civilizing Process' in Modern Egypt'. ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1996.