This article employs the methodology of conceptual history to contest two of the most common theoretical approaches dominating our understanding of modernity in the field of Middle Eastern studies. The first approach relies on the assumption of incompatibility between modernity and Islam and captures Arab modernity using concepts such as adoption. The second understands Arab modernity through concepts such as imitation, contending that it is a legacy of Western imperialism. This article challenges both theories by examining the genealogy of tamaddun (civilization, being civilized), a pivotal concept used in nineteenth-century Arabic to imagine modernity. The genealogy of tamaddun elucidates that medieval paradigms derived from the concept of madina (polity) were rediscovered, reimagined, and reused in the context of the rise of the nation-state and the challenge of Western imperialism. The article suggests understanding Arab modernity and its critique from within, rather than outside of, the temporality of the historical condition.
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- Arab modernity
- Islamic modernity