4 Discussing the Sufism of the Early Modern Period: A New Historiographical Outlook on the Tariqa Muhammadiyya  104

In: Sufism East and West
Author: Rachida Chih

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The Muhammadan way (Tariqa Muhammadiyya) provides one of the central planks of the thesis of the Muslim thinker Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) on the Sufi revival in pre-modern Islam. This thesis dominated the study of pre-modern Sufism until it was rejected in the 1990s. The main argument of Rahman’s critics was that he didn’t have sufficient knowledge of the Sufi writings that he presented as reformist. This rejection provoked a complete re-evaluation of Islam and Sufism during the pre-modern period, but most particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many important Sufi figures who had been presented as reformers were re-examined in the light of their own writings. They confirmed that in matters of doctrine the beginning of the modern period did not coincide with a rupture either with medieval Sufism or with Ibn ʿArabi as was postulated by Rahman; on the contrary, these Sufi scholars were diffusing his ideas. However, the debate is not extinguished, because a strictly philological approach has its limits in the quest to understand the historical evolution of Sufism: the writings of the masters must also be put back into the historical context of their production. This context is better-known today thanks to the progress made in the study of the political and economic history of the great Muslim empires. Such progress has opened up new perspectives on research in the history of Sufism and it is this which the present chapter aims to explore through the case study of Ahmad al-Qushshashi (d. 1661) and the scholarly Sufi milieu of 17th century Medina.