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Al-Azhar Sufism in Post-Revolutionary Egypt*

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Abstract This article examines the intellectual Sufi voice of the late Shaykh al-Azhar, ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm Maḥmūd (1910–78). Maḥmūd was a devout Sufi and a major propagator of Salafi views in the Egyptian political and social spheres of the 1960s and 1970s. His ideas represented a reassertion of the importance of Islamic law as the basis for the quest for inner spiritual knowing, social activism in the cause of moral reform, and the search for mystical awareness with jurisprudential erudition. His aim was to integrate the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Islam in a way that would strengthen Islamic solidarity in post-revolutionary Egypt. His importance as the head of the religious, theological, and educational center of al-Azhar University and his employment of this post to advance Sufi ideas and beliefs in the public arena through his writings, speeches and fatwas, reveals a multifaceted religious leader who contradicted prevalent dichotomies of much popular writing on Islam and Sufism in the modern era. Maḥmūd’s spiritual belief and his understanding of Islamic jurisprudence complemented each other in a coherent intellectual theory. The combination of jurisprudential thought with a profound spiritual belief was in his eyes natural and necessary in order to promote and revive Islam in post-revolutionary Egypt. This article illuminates another important aspect of Islamic Sufism that challenges the dichotomous patterns that we use in order to interpret the convergence of alleged conflicting religious ideas. It also reveals an important aspect of Islamic Sufism that contributes to a more complex understanding of the institutionalized Islamic voice in post-revolutionary Egypt.

Affiliations: 1: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Israel


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