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The Origins and Development of the Office of the “Chief Sufi” in Egypt, 1173–1325

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In 969/1173, Saladin endowed a khānqāh in Cairo for the use of foreign Sufis arriving in that city. This khānqāh, known as the Saʿīd al-Suʿadāʾ, also included a stipendiary position for a “Chief Sufi” (shaykh al-shuyūkh), who would direct the day-to-day operations of the khānqāh and guide the Sufis who lived there. However, virtually nothing is known about the origins and development of this elite position. In this article I reconstruct the roster of individuals who held the office of Chief Sufi in Egypt between 969/1173 and 724/1325, when the office of Chief Sufi was moved to a new khānqāh outside Cairo. I trace the origins of the office in Seljuk Baghdad and its subsequent development in Syria and Egypt. These findings show that the Chief Sufi was almost always from the East, typically Iraq or Khurasan. He was nominally a Sufi, but was known primarily for being a jurist, having trained in Shāfiʿi jurisprudence and Ashʿari theology. Perhaps most interestingly, the position was ineluctably tied to the politics of the Ayyubid and Mamluk states. The position was thus often unstable and the object of fierce competition among other elites.

Affiliations: 1: University of MissouriUSA

10.1163/22105956-12341260
/content/journals/10.1163/22105956-12341260
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/content/journals/10.1163/22105956-12341260
2014-08-20
2018-06-22

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