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.[citation needed]

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 a 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]

Goldziher was denied a teaching post at Budapest University until he was 44, then becoming 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."

Sander Gilman, in commenting on this passage, writes that, 'the Islam he discovered becomes the model for a new spirit of Judaism at the close of the nineteenth century.’ [2] 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."[3]

Despite his love for Islam, Goldziher remained a devout Jew all his life. His affection for both religions led him to seek the cross pollination 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 ancestral faith did not allow him to abandon it.

Goldziher died in Budapest.

Goldziher's works have taken on a renewed importance in recent times owing to Edward Said's critical attacks in his book Orientalism.[citation needed] Said himself was to reprove his work's defect for failing to pay sufficient attention to scholars like Goldhizer.[4] Of five major German orientalists, he remarked that four of them, despite their profound erudition, were hostile to Islam. Goldziher's work was an exception in that he appreciated 'Islam's tolerance towards other religions', though this was undermined by his dislike of anthropomorphism in Mohammad's thought, and what Said calls 'Islam's too exterior theology and jurisprudence.[5] 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.


    Ignác Goldziher, Abū Ḥātim Sahl ibn Muḥammad Sijistānī (1896). Kitāb al-muʻammirīn. Volumes 1-2 of Abhandlungen zur arabischen Philologie. Buchhandlung und Druckerei vormals E.J. Brill. Retrieved 2011-07-06.

    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)