The book before you is a slightly altered version of my doctoral dissertation, which I wrote over the course of three years at Utrecht University and successfully defended on 27 November 2017. The last year that I worked on it was, in many ways, the most challenging. On 11 April 2017, after a particularly tough pregnancy, my wife, Chaimae, gave birth to our daughter, Eleonora. In the months that followed, it was a struggle to get through each day, as our dear ḥabība experienced much distress adjusting to the new world she had just entered. At the same time, I had to work harder than ever before to make the deadline I had set for myself. This I could not have done without the continuous support of my wife on every level imaginable. Although she has always been supportive of me, it is now clear to me that she had by then realized that these last months were crucial not merely for a deadline, but, above all, because it was high time I finished this project, which was beginning to take its toll on me. I am truly grateful for her patience and understanding, and for putting up with my grumpy moods whenever I felt progression was frustratingly slow. I cannot thank her enough for this. During the process of preparing this book for publication, our son Jacob was born. To me, this ties all my effort that went into it to the two greatest gifts in our lives: our children.
Next I want to thank my family and friends, all of whom have in some way played a role in the process of completing this work before you. My parents, Ton and Digna, have been a constant tower of strength throughout my life, as have my brother, Johan, and my sister, Meika. My in-laws have likewise been extremely supportive of me, for which I am very grateful; I have to make special mention of my brother-in-law Mohammed for all the moments of solidarity we shared whenever we’d work together!
It is befitting here to mention that I feel a sincere sense of guilt for my shortcomings towards my friends (Salahuddin, Pieter, Juan Ahmed, Léon Buskens, shaykh Abdur Rahman Fitzgerald, Soheib, Lieven, Ahmed, Younass, Berk, and all others I forgot to mention here!); especially in recent years, when the mixture of work and family life frequently made it difficult for me to give them their due. I am thankful for their understanding in that regard. A special word of appreciation is due to my dear friend Timothy Farid for all the beautiful maps he edited for this book.
I also want to thank all my former colleagues at Utrecht University for their role in my academic career. First and foremost, I must mention my PhD supervisor, Christian Lange, to whom I am particularly grateful for allowing me to switch from Ibn Taymiyya to al-Wāsiṭī, and for giving me the space and support to develop my own approach to the source material. My dear friend Pieter Coppens was, and ever remains, a source of valuable advice and inspiration. The atmosphere at the Islamic studies department was ever stimulating intellectually thanks to the presence of such people as Simon O’Meara, Joas Wagemakers, Nico Landman, Mehdi Sajid, Eric van Lit, Yunus Yaldiz, Sophie Spaan, Andrei Tirtan, Maxim Abdul Latif, and Hayat Ahlili. My friend and colleague (formerly in Utrecht and now in Leuven) Umar Ryad has been very supportive in the past year as I started my tenure track at KU Leuven, and often motivated me to finish this book and get it published, for which my thanks are due!
I also benefited greatly from meeting with my teachers and colleagues in Taymiyyan and Mamluk studies: Jon Hoover, his group of PhD candidates, Caterina Bori, Farid Suleiman, and Abdullah Sliti. Jon Hoover, Jo van Steenbergen, and two anonymous reviewers all read an earlier draft of this book and made many valuable suggestions for improvement. I am also grateful to Lisa Nielson for providing me with two rare manuscripts of works by al-Wāsiṭī, one of which turned out to be a crucial source in many ways. Two colleagues I never met, but without whom this book would never have come to fruition, are Muḥammad Abū al-Faḍl al-Qūnawī and Walīd b. Muḥammad al-ʿAlī, who devoted their precious time to editing the works of al-Wāsiṭī. I am greatly indebted to them both, as their editions were the cornerstone of my research. Sadly, it has come to my attention that Walīd b. Muḥammad al-ʿAlī was one of the innocent casualties of the terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 14 August 2017. I hope to honor his memory through the present study of al-Wāsiṭī. I also want to mention Gino Schallenbergh here, who passed away on 14 December 2017: I like to think he would have appreciated that I publish this book as a KU Leuven professor, thus continuing his legacy of studying the role of Sufism in Ibn Taymiyya’s circle.
It was my desire to not only describe the places al-Wāsiṭī visited, but also give a glimpse of what remains of them today – to, in a sense, really make the journey with him. I have been able to add beautiful pictures of several of the buildings that directly or indirectly played a role in the Ḥanbalī Sufi’s life thanks to Ross Burns, Ahmad Mahdi Salih (who drove all the way from Baghdad to Umm ʿUbayda to take pictures for me of shaykh al-Rifāʿī’s mosque!), Andrew Michael Chugg, ʿImād al-Armashī, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and the Fine Arts Library of Harvard University.
I have to express my sincere appreciation to the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek) for their generous grant, which has made this book possible. Thanks to their funding, I have been able to focus on a topic of my own choosing for four years. After finishing the final draft, Muhammad Ridwaan of Qalam Editing did a wonderful job copy-editing this book. Last but not least, a big thanks to the folks at Brill (especially Nienke Brienen-Moolenaar) and the editors of the Studies on Sufism series for wanting to publish my work and remaining patient with me. This journey has been a great privilege, for which I am ever grateful!
17 February 2020