Wahhabis, Sufis and Salafis in Early Twentieth Century Damascus

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Guardians of Faith in Modern Times: 'Ulama' in the Middle East


For the past two centuries, observers of the Muslim world have frequently traced religious purification campaigns to Wahhabi influence. For instance, British authorities in nineteenth-century India perceived Wahhabi-tinged movements from Bengal to Punjab. Russian journalists presently use the term “Wahhabi” for just about any manifestation of religious assertion in nearby Muslim lands. Of course, the Arabian reformers have striven to export their doctrine, but there is little careful research on the local reception of Wahhabism in different parts of the Muslim world. This study examines how allegations of Wahhabi influence became a point of controversy between rival camps of religious scholars in early twentieth century Damascus. Thus the focus here is not on tracing Wahhabi influence but on what “Wahhabi” meant in that context and how it was used in the polemics contained in religious treatises published between 1900 and the early 1920s. From these works, it appears that the Wahhabi issue and local religious discourse evolved over time. A pair of essays published in 1900 and 1901 repeat the standard anti-Wahhabi arguments handed down since the eighteenth century, while essays published between 1909 and the early 1920s (spanning the Ottoman constitutional and early French mandate years) indicate significant shifts in discourse and context.


Published as:
Commins, David. “Wahhabis, Sufis and Salafis in Early Twentieth Century Damascus.” In Guardians of Faith in Modern Times: 'Ulama' in the Middle East, edited by Meir Hatina, 231-46. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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