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Naguib Mahfouz’s Socialistic Sufism: An Intellectual Journey from the Wafd to Islamic Mysticism PDF Print E-mail

Yagi, Kumiko, Ph.D. Harvard University, 2001. 235 pages. Adviser: Graham, William A. Publication Number: AAT 3028463.

This study tries to clarify the major religio-political problem of modern Muslim intellectuals and suggest what sufism might offer them, by analyzing the thought of one prominent Muslim Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz (1911) as an intellectual who lives as a Muslim in the modern age. It focuses on the role that sufism plays in his intellectual and spiritual concerns. It is noteworthy that, not only in Egypt but also in other parts of the Islamic world, many Muslim thinkers who have reflected on the future of their societies typically have become interested in sufism at some period in their life. Mahfouz is a typical modernist intellectual in the sense that he addresses the major question that has haunted modernist intellectuals in Egypt: How can they bridge the gap between modernity and tradition? Can an idea of western origin take root in Egyptian soil? His final answer is “Socialistic Sufism” al-tasawwuf al-ishtirk, which he proposed in 1960. “Socialistic Sufism” is an ideology that maintains that the strong spirituality of individuals brings about and sustains a righteous society and offers the specific possibility that people of different religious traditions can live together as Egyptians, mutually respecting the right of “others” to differ in religion, while it recognizes that Egypt is a society where Islam is dominant.

Historically, attaching almost exclusive significance to the internals of religions, sufism has relativized the importance of the externals of religion. Sufism consequently enables Mahfouz to maintain a tolerant attitude toward matters apparently foreign to Islamic tradition in either religious or cultural terms. In other words, one of the major reasons why sufism is meaningful for Mahfouz is that it provides him with the place where a spiritual/intellectual search free from the yoke of external constraints is possible, while by taking sufism, he can be sure of being on the way to God.