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Ignác (Yitzhaq Yehuda) Goldziher (June 22, 1850 – November 13, 1921), often credited as Ignaz Goldziher, was a Hungarian orientalist. Along with the German Theodore Noldeke and the Dutch Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, he is considered the founder of modern Islamic studies in Europe.



Born in Székesfehérvár of Jewish heritage, he was educated at the universities of Budapest, Berlin, Leipzig and Leiden with the support of József Eötvös, Hungarian minister of culture. He became privatdozent at Budapest in 1872. In the next year, under the auspices of the Hungarian government, he began a journey through Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and took the opportunity of attending lectures of Muslim sheiks in the mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo.

In 1890 he published Muhammedanische Studien in which he showed how Hadith reflected the legal and doctrinal controversies of the two centuries after the death of Muhammad rather than the words of Mohamed himself. He was strong believer in the view that Islamic law owes its origins to Roman Law but in the opinion of Patricia Crone his arguments here are "uncharacteristically weak".[1]

Owing to strident anti-Semitism in Hungary, Goldziher was denied a teaching post at Budapest University until he was 44. In doing so, he became the first Jewish scholar to accede to such a position. He represented the Hungarian government and the Academy of Sciences at numerous international congresses. He received the large gold medal at the Stockholm Oriental Congress in 1889. He became a member of several Hungarian and other learned societies, was appointed secretary of the Jewish community in Budapest. He was made Litt.D. of Cambridge (1904) and LL.D. of Aberdeen (1906).

His eminence in the sphere of scholarship was due primarily to his careful investigation of pre-Islamic and Islamic law, tradition, religion and poetry, in connection with which he published a large number of treatises, review articles and essays contributed to the collections of the Hungarian Academy. Most of his scholarly works are still considered relevant.

In addition to his scholarly works, Goldziher kept a relatively personal record of his reflections, travel records and daily records. This journal was later published in German as Tagebuch. The following quotation from Goldziher's published journal provides insight into his feelings about Islam.

Ich lebte mich denn auch während dieser Wochen so sehr in den mohammedanischen Geist ein, dass ich zuletzt innerlich überzeugt wurde, ich sei selbst Mohammedaner und klug herausfand, dass dies die einzige Religion sei, welche selbst in ihrer doktrinär-offiziellen Gestaltung und Formulirung philosophische Köpfe befriedigen könne. Mein Ideal war es, das Judenthum zu ähnlicher rationeller Stufe zu erheben. Der Islam, so lehrte mich meine Erfahrung, sei die einzige Religion, in welcher Aberglaube und heidnische Rudimente nicht durch den Rationalismus, sondern durch die orthodoxe Lehre verpönt werden. (p. 59)
i.e., "In those weeks, I truly entered into the spirit of Islam to such an extent that ultimately I became inwardly convinced that I myself was a Muslim, and judiciously discovered that this was the only religion which, even in its doctrinal and official formulation, can satisfy philosophic minds. My ideal was to elevate Judaism to a similar rational level. Islam, as my experience taught me, is the only religion, in which superstitious and heathen ingredients are not frowned upon by rationalism, but by orthodox doctrine."

In Cairo Goldziher even prayed as a Muslim: "In the midst of the thousands of the pious, I rubbed my forehead against the floor of the mosque. Never in my life was I more devout, more truly devout, than on that exalted Friday."[2]

Despite his love for Islam, Goldziher remained a devout Jew all his life. His affection for both religions led him to seek the cross polination of ideas between the faiths. Though denied a paid teaching position at the University owing to his faith, he refused to convert to Christianity. Such an act would have guaranteed him financial independence and professional success. But his deep seated affections for his ancestoral faith did not allow him to abandon it.

Goldziher's works have taken on a renewed importance in recent times owing to Edward Said's critical attacks in his book Orientalism. Said argued that the founders of Orientalism had not so much investigated the realities of the Orient as they did construct an image of it from their preconceived psychological beliefs. Among them were a static, never changing society that was inferior to a Christian Europe engaged in sexual perversion. Goldziher's work generally fails to show these characteristics, however. In his numerous books and articles, he sought to find the origins of Islamic doctrines and rituals in the practices of other cultures. In doing so, he posited that Islam continuously developed as a civilization, importing and exporting ideas. Moreover, his disdain for the Catholic Church and the dogmas, synods and councils arbitrarily imposed on believers led him to proclaim that Islamic tolerance of other religions and acceptance of non-orthodox ideas made it a far more superior religion and a model that all three monotheistic faiths should strive to emulate.


  • Tagebuch, edited by Alexander Scheiber (Leiden: Brill, 1978) ISBN 90-04-05449-9
  • zur Literaturgeschichte der Shi'a (1874)
  • Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachgelehrsamkeit bei den Arabern (Vienna, 1871-1873)
  • Der Mythos bei den Hebräern und seine geschichtliche Entwickelung (Leipzig, 1876; Eng. trans., R Martineau, London, 1877)
  • Muhammedanische Studien (Muslim Studies) (Halle, 1889-1890, 2 vols.) ISBN 0-202-30778-6
  • Abhandlungen zur arabischen Philologie (Leiden, 1896-1899, 2 vols.)
  • Buch v. Wesen d. Seele (ed. 1907)


  1. ^ Patricia Crone. Roman, Provincial and Islamic Law. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2002. ISBN 0521529492 p. 3
  2. ^ The Jewish Discovery of Islam by Martin Kramer

See also

External links

  • A review of the book on Goldziher of the major contemporary scholar of his oeuvre, Róbert Simon: [1]


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