Three cases of critical engagement of Sufis with modern Islamic trends

  • Francesco Alfonso Leccese University of Calabria


This article focuses on the topic of Sufi intellectual resistance through some emblematic case studies of Sufi authors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. First, it analyses Fitna al-Wahhabiyya, a treatise that was written by Aḥmad Zaynī Daḥlān (1817–1886) in 1878, which proved to be a seminal work for later Sufi authors, and shows that some of the issues addressed in this text are recurrent ones in anti-Wahhabi polemics. Indeed, the cultural resistance of Sufism from the 19th century to the present day has been primarily directed against the doctrines of Wahhabism, the first current of Islamic thought to be structurally anti-Sufi. The fact that Aḥmad Zaynī Daḥlān was the Mufti of Mecca and a recognised scholar shows that these polemics were fully integrated into the scholarly religious debate of official Islam, in which Sufism and its doctrines occupied a prominent position. Furthermore, some Sufi masters set themselves the goal of refuting the theories of materialism and rationalism that were in vogue in the Islamic world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The work of the Egyptian Sufi master Sīdī Salāma ar-Rāḍī (1866-1939) entitled al-Insāniyya, published in 1938, is a polemical treatise against materialism, atheism and spiritualism that probably reflects the influence of René Guénon. The third case study examined is that of the Sudanese master Muḥammad ʿUṯmān ʿAbduhu al-Burhānī (1904-1983). The latter is an exemplary case of Sufi resistance in the second half of the 20th century, both in the face of censorship and in the face of the attempt to bring Sufi brotherhoods under government control.


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Author Biography

Francesco Alfonso Leccese, University of Calabria

Francesco Alfonso Leccese, Ph.D. in Studies on the Near East and Maghreb from the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’ (2007), is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Calabria. He is a specialist in Islamic Studies with a focus on contemporary Sufism in the Arab world and in the West. He has written two monographs—Sufi Network. Le confraternite islamiche tra globalizzazione e tradizione (2017) and Il santo sufi della Valle del Nilo. Šayḫ Muḥammad ‘Uṯmān ‘Abduhu al-Burhānī (1904-1983) e la ṭarīqa Burhāniyya (2017)—as well as numerous articles in academic journals, including Oriente Moderno and Annali dell’Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”- Sezione Orientale, AION.

Francesco can be contacted at: