In This Article Mahmūd Muhammad Taha

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Studies and Criticisms

Islamic Studies Mahmūd Muhammad Taha
by
John O. Voll
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0158

Introduction

Mahmūd Muhammad Taha (b. 1909/1911?–d. 1985) was a Sudanese Muslim activist advocating a radical form of Islamic renewal. He developed an important conceptual framework for interpreting the Sharia that distinguished between the revelations made to Muhammad in Mecca during the early years of Islam and the revelations that came after the early group of believers migrated to Medina, where they established a socioreligious community. In Taha’s framework, the Medinian revelations represent the first application of the message of divine revelation to a particular community and are the First Message. However, the more general, primary texts are, in this conceptualization, the Meccan revelations and comprise the Second Message of Islam, which is to be implemented for all humanity. For Taha, the history of Sharia is the history of the evolution of human understanding of the primary message and how its implementation necessarily changes as historical conditions do. Taha received his university degree in engineering in Sudan and was active in the nationalist movement in the mid-20th century. He spent time in prison for opposition to British administrative rulings and helped to found the Republican Party, a small political organization that tried unsuccessfully to counter the domination of northern Sudanese politics by the leaders of large, old-style Muslim groups. His aims and message became more oriented to issues of faith and belief, and when political parties were outlawed by the then new military regime, the organization became the Republican Brotherhood, a small but visible group advocating major Islamic renewal. Taha opposed the 1983 decrees of the military regime of Jaʾfar Numayri, which imposed a harsh interpretation of Sharia on Sudan. In 1985 he was executed by the Numayri regime. Taha’s legacy is seen in the works of people who were part of his movement, the most important of whom is Abdullahi al-Naʾīm, an internationally known lawyer activist in the area of human rights.

General Overviews

General studies of Islam in the modern world and of modern Sudanese history devote some attention to Taha. Studies presenting broader descriptions of developments in the modern Muslim world note Taha in terms of specific themes. Kurzman 1998 places him in the framework of “liberal Islam,” and scholarly work such as Barlas 2002 identifies his approach to gender issues. Studies of modern Sudanese history, like Gallab 2008, juxtapose Taha with Sudanese Islamists such as Hasan Turabi, and other studies, like Warburg 2003, place him in the longer historical contexts. In more specific terms of Islamic law and gender issues in Sudan, Fluehr-Lobban 1987 notes his contributions in Sudanese debates about Sharia, and Hale 1996 looks at his movement in the context of gender issues.

  • Barlas, Asma. “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

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    An Islamic feminist analysis in which the references to Taha reflect the influence of his methodological approach.

  • Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. Islamic Law and Society in the Sudan. London: Frank Cass, 1987.

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    A broad study of the Islamic dimensions of Sudanese affairs, with a brief discussion of Taha that places him and his movement in the Sudanese context.

  • Gallab, Abdullah A. The First Islamist Republic: Development and Disintegration of Islamism in the Sudan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.

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    A general discussion of Islamist movements in Sudan, with an important, if short, discussion of how the Republican Brothers interacted with the Islamists.

  • Hale, Sondra. Gender Politics in Sudan: Islamism, Socialism, and the State. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996.

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    A distinctive study of gender issues in Sudanese politics and society, with emphasis on Islamist and leftist movements. Some discussion of the Republican Brotherhood provides an important perspective on Taha’s movement.

  • Kurzman, Charles, ed. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A valuable anthology of liberal Muslim reformist writings. The editor’s introduction describes Taha’s place in this part of the modern Islamic intellectual spectrum, and the anthology includes a translation of an important section from The Second Message of Islam and a selection by the Taha follower Abdullahi an-Na’īm.

  • Warburg, Gabriel. Islam, Sectarianism, and Politics in Sudan since the Mahdiyya. London: Hurst, 2003.

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    A comprehensive survey of religion and politics in Sudan that includes a short discussion of Taha’s place in that religio-political context.

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