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The Salafiyya and Sufism: Muhammad ‘Abduh and his Risālat al-Wāridāt (Treatise on Mystical Inspirations)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2007

Oliver Scharbrodt
Western Kentucky University,


This article questions certain assumptions on the intellectual history of modern Islam and on one of the most influential modern reform movements, the Salafiyya. By looking at the Sufi origins of one of the main Salafī reformers, it relativizes the notion of an inherent anti-Sufism of this reform movement. The article examines how Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849–1905), the famous Egyptian reformer, converted to Sufism in his youth after experiencing a spiritual and intellectual crisis. The influence of his paternal great-uncle Shaykh Darwīsh al-Khādir and of Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1837–1897) on ‘Abduh's spiritual and intellectual formation will be investigated. In his youth, Sufism provided him with an alternative form of religiosity with which he could express his dissatisfaction with the representatives of mainstream Islam in his time. ‘Abduh's mystical inclinations found its literary expression in his first major work, the Risālat al-Wāridāt (Treatise on Mystical Inspirations), whose contents will be discussed in detail.

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2007

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I would like to thank Adil Khan for his comments on earlier drafts of the article and Yafa Shanneik for her help in translating and transliterating quoted passages from the original Arabic text.