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Mark Sedgwick's books

Saints and Sons: The Making and Remaking of the Rashidi Ahmadi Sufi Order, 1799-2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

This first history of the Rashidi Ahmadiyya argues for a new explanation of the great Sufi revival of the eighteenth century, and also defines a new paradigm of development and change in Sufi orders. In his study of one widespread Sufi order over two centuries and three continents, the author identifies a repeating cycle in which a section of an order rises under a great shaykh, splits, and stabilizes. Though each great shaykh seems to remake the order with little reference to what has gone before, there are in fact two constants through all cycles: the written literature of the order, and the limiting effect on even the greatest shaykhs of their followers' expectations.

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ISBN 90 04 14013 1
Cloth with dustjacket (xvi, 280 pp.)
List price: EUR 83.- / US$ 112.-

Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia, 97

Table of contents

  Part I: The Muhammadan Way
      1.   Ahmad ibn Idris
      2.   The tariqa Muhammadiyya
      3.   The Sanusiyya and the Khatmiyya
      4.   The Ahmadiyya under al-Rashid
  Part II: The First Remaking of the Rashidi Ahmadiyya
      5.   The Ahmadiyya after the death of al-Rashid
      6.   The Spread of the Dandarawi Ahmadiyya in the Arab World
      7.   The Spread of the Dandarawi Ahmadiyya in the Malay World
  Part III: Sons
      8.   Adulation in Egypt
      9.   Institutionalization in Negeri Sembilan
      10. Modernity in Singapore
      11. Modernity in Cairo and Beirut
      12. The Authority of Shaykhs



A major landmark ... should be a must in all courses on "Islam in Southeast Asia."

-Werner Kraus


What is called in English a 'Sufi order' is called in Arabic a tariqa , a 'path.' But is a tariqa really a 'religious order'? The phrase implies not just an institution, but also institutional continuity, and continuity and consistency of religious practice and doctrine. Researchers have often looked for these continuities and consistencies in Sufi orders, and have generally been disappointed.

Continuity is related to change, to development. Two paradigms might be applied to cast light on the development of Sufi orders--Weber's 'routinization of charisma,' and 'denominationalization.' The history of the Ahmadiyya does not conform to either paradigm. What is most striking is the periodic breaking of routine: a new eruption of charisma, or of scholarship, or of both, that remakes an order or a branch of an order.

A new paradigm is needed, and it is hoped that this comprehensive study of one Sufi order over two centuries and three continents will help to provide one, and so to answer the question of in what sense a tariqa is a 'religious order.'

Saints and Sons reveals a roughly cyclical process whereby an order rises under a great scholar or saint, then splits as it spreads, and stabilizes. There are then two main possibilities for each branch emerging from the split. Sometimes, stabilization turns into decline, usually through some form of denominationalization or at least of entropy, and usually under a son of the original great shaykh. Sometimes, however, a new great scholar or saint emerges to revive the order, and the cycle begins again. In the history of the Ahmadiyya over two centuries, such a cycle can be observed at least five times.

This cyclical paradigm is an institutional or sociological description of the Sufi order. A complementary intellectual or spiritual description is also required: what is the order teaching, what do its members get out of it? The answer that emerges in Saints and Sons is a surprising one. At first sight, practice and doctrine in each cycle of the Ahmadiyya's history has little to do with that in any of the other cycles. Each great shaykh seems to remake the order , with little reference to what has gone before.

There are, however, two constants through all the cycles, the written literature of the order and the limiting effect on even great shaykhs of their followers' expectations . Written literature is important, but in the case of the Ahmadiyya proves far less influential than might have been expected. Followers' expectations--of what constitutes sanctity, of what constitutes piety, of what the Sufi path is--prove more influential.

Saints and Sons suggests that the Sufi order is neither a continuous institution nor a consistent intellectual school or spiritual path. The Sufi order is more of a lineage than a 'religious order' in the Western sense. Change, in the form of remaking, is more important than continuity. Only lineage provides real continuity, and that may be deceptive.

This book takes the reader from Mecca at the close of the eighteenth century through Egypt, the Sudan, Syria and Lebanon to contemporary Malaysia and Singapore, with detours into Somalia, Thailand and Cambodia. The wide picture that emerges gives an unusual view of the Islamic world at a time of wrenching change ..

The importance of Ibn Idris was demonstrated by R. S. O'Fahey in his Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition (London: Hurst, 1990) and the problems with the previous consensus on "neo-Sufism" were demonstrated by O'Fahey and Bernd Radtke in their article "Neo-Sufism Reconsidered" ( Der Islam 70, 1993: 52-87). Since then several scholars have been working on the impact of Ibn Idris, as well as on various aspects of the phenomenon once called "neo-Sufism," a phenomenon which also includes the Tijaniyya and Sammaniyya orders, and to some extent the Khalwatiyya.
Ibn Idris gave rise to three groups of Sufi orders:
  1. the Sanusiyya, well covered by Knut S. Vikør in his Sufi and Scholar on the Desert Edge: Muhammad b. 'Ali al-Sanusi and his Brotherhood (London: Hurst, 1995).
  2. the Khatmiyya, covered in part by Ali Salih Karrar in his The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan (London: Hurst, 1992).
  3. the Rashidi Ahmadiyya.

Saints and Sons

  • completes the current stage of research on the impact of Ibn Idris by covering the Rashidi Ahmadiyya and its offshoots.
  • constructs a comprehensible narrative which explains what happened to Ibn Idris's movement.
  • suggests an alternative to the discredited concept of "neo-Sufism" by drawing together the work performed by other scholars on various aspects of pre-modern Sufism.
  • carries the study of the impact of Ibn Idris forward into the twentieth century.