In the books Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy, Volume 1 and The Surest Path by Naguib Mahfouz and Khayr-al-Din respectively, the authors embark on a comprehensive analysis of the main factors that cause the backwardness or progress of nations or states. This is done through the combination of empirical evidence from both Islamic and European history. The books both set in Islamic setting present almost similar political ideologies and clearly elaborate of the inevitable clashes that usually arise between religion and politics.
The Surest path was written in 1867 by Khayr-al-Din, a former Circassian Slave who arrived in Tunis from Turkey as a teenager. Al-Din spent his childhood in Turkey but was shipped to Africa to work as a slave in the house of Ahmed Bey. It was here that his political journey started. He enrolled at local military academy where he learnt among other things how to hold conversations in the Arabic language. His abilities were quickly recognized by Ahmed Bey, the head of the house who accorded and entrusted him with a host of responsibilities including sending him out on several diplomatic missions.
His first public position was as a marine minister, a position he acquired in 1857. He quickly rose up the Tunisian political ranks to eventually become Tunis Chief Minister and finally the Ottoman Chief Minister in 1879, a position he held for one year.
Al-Din wrote The Surest Path after an intensive observation and analysis on various global political institutions. He was particularly very intrigued by the European ideologies. The West political system captivated him deeply and he had a deep wish to assimilate the same system in his country. Seeing that most of the West political ideologies had a basis on freedom and justice, both of which were elemental sources in the Islamic Sharia law, he believed that it was possible to assimilate such a system into his country.
In the Surest path, al-Din argues that the general Islamic population was more powerful when it was characterized by the complete implementation of the Islamic law. This means that the Islamic nation experienced much progress in the civilization, science and general knowledge fields when the Islamic Sharia law was in full effect.
Al-Din expresses a deep desire to restore the strength and independence of the Muslim global community, (Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi 273). Like his fellow young and revolutionary Ottomans, Al-Din viewed the adoption of the West’s political systems and ideologies as a desirable aspect, not only to itself but also in accordance with the initial Islamic laws and traditions. This is clearly expressed in The Surest Path. Al- Din states that this is indeed an enormous step towards the regaining an Islamic world transcendence.
Al-Din goes further in The Surest Path to show how the Sharia law dictates the terms of power of any ruler. He expresses that the freedom and justice aspects incorporated into the law together with general public interest place huge restrictions on the powers of any ruler(Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi 87).
According to Al-Din, public interests are only served and satisfied when both the rulers and the subjects work together. This will then facilitate the proper administration of the Sharia law in such a way that mutual benefits will be accrued. He uses an analogy of the West general progress in agriculture, industries and sciences to further support his argument. He argues that this development stems from the establishment of a consensus between the ruler and his subjects. This is derived from state laws that provides basic rights to all citizens and upholds general liberty in the state (Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi 101). Al-Din equates this kind of constitutional democracy to the Islamic consultation exercise (termed as shukra) which is again an essential component of the Sharia law. Thus, he stipulates that this kind of democracy can be applied in general public issues or in executive acts of the administration.
Al-Din basically believed that the adoption of this agenda would inadvertently lead to an improvement in the political and social systems of Tunisia.
Just like The Surest Path, Palace Walk presents a liberal approach or agenda towards the political institution, particularly in the Islamic world. This is presented through the eyes of a conservative Islamic household living Egypt. The book was written by Naguib Mahfouz was first published in 1957.
It mainly focuses on a Muslim family that lived in the transitional period between the First World War end and the Egyptian revolution of 1919. This was time when the Egyptian nation which is predominantly made of Muslims experienced drastic changes in very many sectors. The family head figure is the tyrannous al-Sayyid Ahmad who rules his household with an iron fist. He makes sure that the family completely abides to the Islamic laws (Mahfouz 34).
The irony lies in the fact that as much as his family fears him, they deeply revere him and are constantly working hard to ensure that they do not disappoint him. Outside the confines his household however, he is a gregarious and a generous fellow and who is a member of the vibrant merchant fraternity of Cairo (Mahfouz 21). The description of the al-Sayyid Ahmad household is essentially an image of the political and social climate of the Egyptian nation at that time.
Through the various family intrigues displayed in the novel, the author clearly expresses his political agenda. He shows an entire’s nation and generation complete awakening to the political and social that characterized the 19th and 20th centuries. Just like the Surest Path, the author tries to drive forward the point that one’s Islamic faith and ideologies are subject to continuous evolvement. This is so as to accommodate Western ideologies that will in the long run prove to be beneficial. This does not however mean that the Islamic doctrines should be completely discarded. A consensus between Islamic and Western doctrines should be formulated so that the generation or the population in focus will not be overwhelmed by each other and thus lead to a clash of interests.
Mahfouz is able to provide universal appeal to all the characters in the novel and this goes a long way in the demystification of Western reader’s opinions and views about the Islamic nations.
In conclusion, it is clear to see the relationship between the political ideas presented in The Surest Path and Palace Walk. The authors of the two books take that reader on an extensive political journey that explores very many aspects. This journey to a huge part centers on the relationship between politics and faith, particularly the Islamic faith. The authors present political ideas that are consequences of a compromise between faith and Western ideologies. In Palace Walk particularly, the author clearly shows the consequences that can result when a compromise is not reached between these two vices. It is therefore paramount that modern political leaders or rulers engage in a comprehensive and extensive process of harmonizing faith and politics which will lead to a rise or improvement in the political, economic and social aspects of a nation.
Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi. Surest Path: The Political Treatise of a Nineteenth-Century Muslim Statesman, translated by Leon Carl Brown. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Mahfouz, Naguib .Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy I. New York: Anchor Books, 2011. Print