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With the advent of the 20th century, Sufism found itself under increasing attack in many parts of the Muslim world. In previous centuries, mystical movements had played a prominent role in the struggle for the revival of Islam and occasionally, where governments were weak or nonexistent, also in actual resistance to European encroachment. In the wake of the increasing consolidation of the state and the spread of Western rationalism, however, Sufis came to be regarded as a major cause of the so-called decline of Islam and an obstacle to its adaptation. In the Arab world, this anti–Sufi feeling was generally associated with the Salafiyya trend. The Salafi call for a return to the example of the forefathers (al-salaf al-**sdotu**āli**hdotu**) amounted to a discrediting of latter-day tradition, which was described as cherishing mystical superstition as well as scholarly stagnation and political quietism. Under the burden of this critique, and as a response to the general expansion of education and literacy, Sufism has been forced to assimilate new ideas and to make room for a new form of organization; the populist Islamic association. These developments culminated in the establishment of the Society of the Muslim Brothers.

© 2005 Cambridge University Press

With the advent of the 20th century, Sufism found itself under increasing attack in many parts of the Muslim world. In previous centuries, mystical movements had played a prominent role in the struggle for the revival of Islam and occasionally, where governments were weak or nonexistent, also in actual resistance to European encroachment.1

On the role of Sufism in the 18th and 19th centuries, see J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders of Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 105–31; Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 193–211; John O. Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1982), 33–86. For a general introduction to the controversies surrounding it, see Elizabeth Sirriyeh, Sufis and Anti-Sufis: The Defence, Rethinking and Rejection of Sufism in the Modern World (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), 1–53.

In the wake of the increasing consolidation of the state and the spread of Western rationalism, however, Sufis came to be regarded as a major cause of the so-called decline of Islam and an obstacle to its adaptation. In the Arab world, this anti–Sufi feeling was generally associated with the Salafiyya trend. The Salafi call for a return to the example of the forefathers (al-salaf al-**sdotu**āli**hdotu**) amounted to a discrediting of latter-day tradition, which was described as cherishing mystical superstition as well as scholarly stagnation and political quietism.2

On the origins and teachings of the Salafiyya, see Henri Laoust, “Le Réformisme orthodoxe des ‘Salafiya’ et les caractères généraux de son orientation actuelle,” Revue des Études Islamiques 6 (1932): 175–224; Antonino Pellitteri, Il Riformismo Musulmano in Siria (1870–1920) (Naples: Instituto Universitario Orientale, 1987); David Dean Commins, Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

Under the burden of this critique, and as a response to the general expansion of education and literacy, Sufism has been forced to assimilate new ideas and to make room for a new form of organization; the populist Islamic association. These developments culminated in the establishment of the Society of the Muslim Brothers.

Scholarly research has paid considerable attention to the emergence of Islamic associations in the Arab world, most notably in Egypt and Syria, during the first half of the 20th century. It has also been observed that these associations appealed primarily to the common people in the poor quarters of the cities and in the towns.3

Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (London: Oxford University Press, 1969); Johannes Reissner, Ideologie und Politik der Muslimbrüder Syriens von den Wahlen 1947 bis zum Verbot unter Ad

b aš-šišakl

1952 (Freiburg: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1980), 86–96; Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 607–12; Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 103–10.

Yet owing to a basically dichotomous view of the Salafi–Sufi divide, scholars have failed to attach due importance to the fact that, despite their critique, Salafi thinkers themselves had roots in the revivalist Sufi tradition of the previous centuries.4

See my Taste of Modernity: Sufism, Salafiyya, and Arabism in Late Ottoman Damascus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2001).

Concomitantly, researchers have practically ignored the organizational continuities between the populist Islamic associations and the Sufi orders, the leading conveyers of popular religiosity in the pre-modern era. These failures reflected the tendency to focus on the metropolitan centers of Cairo and Damascus, where Western influence was relatively advanced, at the expense of smaller towns on their peripheries, in which traditional social and religious structures persisted longer.

This article seeks to advance our understanding of the socio-religious process of the “popularization” of modern Islamic discourse and organization by focusing on one such “peripheral” setting: the Syrian district town of Hamah. My aim is to illuminate through this case study the nature of the challenge that the Salafiyya imposed on the Sufi aspect of Islam in the late Ottoman period and to follow the course of the struggle between their main protagonists during the French Mandate up to its dissolution after independence within the framework of the Muslim Brothers. Throughout, the ideas and actions of these men of religion are examined in relation to the major urban centers with which they interacted, and against the background of the inner social evolution of the town, which was characterized by the integration of ever-widening sections of the population into the political process. I further argue that the new religious synthesis that emerged in Hamah after 1945 was facilitated through the intervention of the Naqshbandiyya, the most activist order in the Sufi revivalist tradition, and that the concomitant failure of the Muslim Brothers to effect a similar solution to the class conflict in the town, and in Syria at large, precipitated the rise of the rural-sectarian regime of the Ba


Situated in the central plains of Syria, Hamah served during Ottoman times as a stop-off point along the sultanic road connecting Anatolia with the holy places in the Hijaz and as an agricultural entrepôt that provided grain for the annual pilgrimage caravan organized from Damascus.5

For Hamah in the pre-modern period, see the following recently published studies: Dick Douwes, The Ottomans in Syria: A History of Justice and Oppression (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000); James A. Reilly, A Small Town in Syria: Ottoman Hama in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002).

Attached to the province of al-Sham in 1725, the town was more fully incorporated into the political and cultural life centered in Damascus after 1865, following the administrative reorganization of the late Tanzimat period (1856–76) that gave birth to the extended Province of Syria. At that time, its connections with Istanbul and Cairo were also enhanced owing to the improvement of communications, which was part of the integration of the Ottoman lands into the European-dominated world market.

As in other Syrian cities, political power in Hamah was concentrated in the hands of the heads of notable Sunni families that combined private ownership of large estates with bureaucratic or religious office.


Philip S. Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of Damascus 1860–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), esp. chap. 2.

In Hamah, this group was particularly small, consisting of merely four families: the

Azms and Kaylanis, who by the 18th century were already well established with influential branches in Damascus, and the Barazis and Tayfurs, who joined them in the early 19th century.


On the origins of the four leading families of Hamah, see Douwes, Ottomans in Syria, 66–84; Reilly, Small Town in Syria, 26–45, 112–15, 126–30. On their domination after 1860, see Khoury, Mandate, 65; Ministere des Affaires Étrangeres (MAE) (Nantes), Beyrouth 544, “Renseignement sur les villes de Homs et Hama et les régions qui en dépendent,” 10 July 1920. On the extension of the first two families into Damascus, see also Linda Schatkowski Schilcher, Families in Politics: Damascene Factions and Estates of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1985), 136–44, 194–96.

In the first years of the 20th century, the lesser notables of the town exploited the new opportunities for modern education offered by the provincial capital, particularly in law, medicine, and education, to form a professional middle class, which expressed itself through the new idiom of Arabism. With the expansion of the official education system to Hamah itself during the Mandate period, and the concomitant spread of the press, political awareness permeated the lower urban strata.8

Khoury, Mandate, 409–14; Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 212–17.

Greatly accelerated after the achievement of independence, this process of social mobilization was completed with the integration of the peasants in the largely heterodox countryside around the town, which was sealed after 1963 under the authoritarian-populist regime of the Ba'ath.9

Hanna Batatu, Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 124–30; Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba

thist Syria: Army, Party, and Peasant (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990), 57–71.


Among the four notable families of late Ottoman Hamah, it was the Kaylanis who held the paramount religious position in the town. The Kaylanis claimed descent from

Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, the eponym of the Qadiriyya Sufi order whose Arabized name they bore, and through him from the Prophet. On this basis, leading members of the family managed the several Qadiri lodges (sing., zāwiya) spread throughout Hamah, thereby posing as patrons of the local population. Others occupied the highest religious posts in the town—namely, those of qadi, Hanafi mufti, and naqīb al-ashrāf.


Zaim Khenchelaoui and Thierry Zarcone, “La Famille Jilānī de Hama—Syrie (Bayt al-Jilānī),” Journal of the History of Sufism 1–2 (2000): 61–66; Reilly, Small Town in Syria, 27–28. For entries on leading members of the Kaylani family during the last decades of Ottoman rule, see also Adham al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 2 vols. (Damascus: Matba

at Majallat Sawt Suriya, 1954–58), 2:38–39; Muhammad Adib Taqi al-Din al-Hisni, Muntakhabat al-tawarikh li-Dimashq, 2nd ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1979), 923–24. For the various Kaylani zāwiyas in Hamah, see also Muhammad Kurd

Ali, Khitat al-sham, 6 vols. (Damascus: n.p., 1925–28), 6:156.

Acquiring their posts through descent rather than scholarly merit, the Kaylani muftis had relied, since at least the second half of the 19th century, on the services of the Dabbagh family, whose members served as their assistants (amīn al-fatwā) and who were invariably described as the greatest scholars (shaykh al-

ulamā) of the town.


On the Dabbaghs, see Ahmad al-Sabuni, Ta

rikh Hamah (Hamah: al-Matba

a al-Ahliyya, 1332/1914), 157–58; Khalil Mardam, A‘yan al-qarn al-thalith ‘ashar fi-al-fikr wa-l-siyasa wa-l-ijtima

(Beirut: Lajnat al-Turath al-Arabi, 1971), 169–70; Hisni, Muntakhabat al-Tawarikh, 923.

However, responding to the diminishing status of the religious office following the introduction of formal education and secular law courts in Syria after 1860, members of the Kaylani family joined other leading ulema families in the country in pursuing more lucrative administrative and political careers in the expanding Ottoman provincial government.12

See Ruth Roded, “Tradition and Change in Syria During the Last Decades of Ottoman Rule: The Urban Elite of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, 1876–1918” (Ph.D. diss., University of Denver, 1984), 268–69.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the religious supremacy of the Kaylanis of Hamah was challenged by the Rifa

iyya order. Loath to accept the checks that the Western-inspired statesmen of the Tanzimat had imposed on the absolute authority of the sultan, Abdülhamid II (1876–1909) sought to reassert his prerogative by evoking the symbol of the caliphate and by using popular Sufi shaykhs, and conservative ulema in general, to rally his Muslim subjects behind it. These men of religion proved particularly important for him in the newly created Province of Syria, where an incipient middle class was developing a local patriotic feeling. The main instrument of the sultan in both aspects of his religious policy was Abu al-Huda al-Sayyadi, a Rifa

i adept from a small village near Hamah, whom Abdülhamid brought to Istanbul and made his close confidant.


Butrus Abu-Manneh, “Sultan Abdulhamid II and Shaikh Abulhuda al-Sayyadi,” Middle Eastern Studies, 15 (1979): 131–53.

The inter–Sufi rivalry in Hamah was indeed part of a larger controversy that Abu al-Huda sparked in the 1890s from Istanbul against the more urbane Qadiris, whose center was in Baghdad.14

L. Massignon, “La Dernière querelle entre Rifā

yīn et Qādiryīn,” Revue du Monde Musulman 6 (1908): 454–61.

Rashid Rida, the Salafi leader who dedicated a series of articles to the controversy in his journal al-Manar, claimed that the dispute erupted after Abu al-Huda intermarried with the Kaylani clan of Hamah, possibly one of its poorer branches, to the indignation of other Qadiri leaders.15

Rashid Rida, “al-Insaf min mazaya al-ashraf,” al-Manar 1 (1898): 641–42.

In the town itself, Muhammad al-Hariri (1856–1912), scion of an allegedly local Rifa

i family, set out for Istanbul, where he was ordained by Abu al-Huda as a deputy (khalīfa). On his return, al-Hariri took over his family's lodge and rose swiftly through the official religious ranks. First appointed a member of the local awqaf administration and then head of a delegation to the imam of Yemen, al-Hariri was nominated in 1892 as deputy naqīb al-ashrāf. Finally, in 1900, after composing a treatise in Abu al-Huda's style supporting Abdülhamid's claim to the caliphate, he assumed the most prestigious post of Hanafi mufti.


Abd al-Razzaq al-Bitar, Hilyat al-bashar fi ta

rikh al-qarn al-thalith ‘ashar, 3 vols. (Damascus: Matba

at al-Majma


Ilmi al-Arabi, 1380–83/1961–63), 1142–43, 1189–90; Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 2:44–45; Kurd

Ali, Khitat al-sham, 6:157.

The post was restored to the Kaylanis in 1908, after the Young Turk Revolution and the fall of Abu al-Huda.17

Al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 2:38.

The Naqshbandiyya, the third order of note in late Ottoman Hamah, failed to strike deep roots among the local population. A major element in the Sufi revivalist tradition of the previous centuries, especially through its Indian Mujaddidi offshoot, the Naqshbandiyya was reinforced in the Ottoman lands in the early 19th century through the efforts of Shaykh Khalid al-Shahrizuri. At the head of his own branch, Khalid supported the plans of Sultan Mahmud II (1808–39) for modernization in general, and his move against the moribund janissary corps in 1826 in particular.18

See Butrus Abu-Manneh, “The Naqshbandiyya–Mujaddidiyya in the Ottoman Lands in the Early 19th Century,” Die Welt des Islams 22 (1982): 1–36.

Khalid spent the last four years of his life, 1823–27, in Damascus, where he stimulated a considerable religious awakening. His principal Syrian deputy, Muhammad al-Khani, introduced this branch into Hamah through two local deputies, the last of whom lived to the mid-1860s.19

On Muhammad al-Khani, see

Abd al-Majid al-Khani, al-Hada'iq al-wardiyya fi-haqa'iq ajilla' al-Naqshbandiyya (Cairo: Dar al-Tiba

a al-Amira, 1308/1890), 262–72, 275.

During the Hamidian and Young Turk periods we encounter another local Naqshbandi shaykh, Mahmud al-Hamid (d. 1916), whose spiritual chain (silsila) went back to another deputy of Shaykh Khalid, Ahmad ibn Sulayman al-Urwadi of Tripoli. Hamid was a kuttāb teacher of modest means who led a small circle of disciples. When he died during World War I, he left neither an inheritance for the upkeep of his children nor, apparently, any deputy to perpetuate his order.20

Abd al-Hamid Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid al-Shaykh Muhammad al-Hamid (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1391/1971), 10–11, 20; Muhammad Muti

al-Hafiz and Nizar Abaza, Tarikh

ulama Dimashq fi-al-qarn al-rabi

ashar al-hijri, 3 vols. (Damascus: Dar al-Fiqr, 1986–91), 3:364.


As in other Syrian cities, the Salafi trend of Hamah emerged during the Hamidian period as a reaction to the strengthening of the popular form of Sufism and to the harnessing of the religious estate at large to the political ends of the sultan.


Itzchak Weismann, “Between Sufi Reformism and Modernist Rationalism—A Reappraisal of the Origins of the Salafiyya from the Damascene Angle,” Die Welt des Islams 41 (2001): 206–37.

Its leaders in Hamah were three colleagues from families of middling status who were born in the first half of the 1870s. The principal factor that united the three, and turned them against the new prominence of popular Sufism, was their call to purify Islam to meet the Western rationalist challenge. The oldest was Muhammad Sa

id al-Jabi (1872–1948), a descendant of a modest ulema family and a brother-in-law of the Naqshbandi Shaykh Mahmud al-Hamid.


Al-Sabuni, Ta

rikh Hamah, 160–61; Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid, 25.

Jabi had received a religious education, and possibly also Sufi training, in his hometown before spending some years in Istanbul, where he became acquainted with the ideas of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad

Abduh. Upon his return to Hamah, he worked as a preacher and a teacher of religion.


Ibrahim al-Sayyid

Isa al-Misri, al-Jawahir al-lu


iyya, 2 vols. (Damascus: Matba

at Ibn Zaydun, 1352/1933), 2:119–20; Mu

ayyad al-Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah (Damascus: Wizarat al-Thaqafa wa-l-Irshad al-Qawmi, 1964), 214.

In contrast, Hasan al-Rizq (1873–1912), who is regarded as one of the pioneers of the Syrian renaissance (nah**ddotu**a), supplemented his religious studies with a formal education in literature and science. He was best known as a poet.24

Khayr al-Din al-Zirikli, Al-A

lam—qamus tarajim li-ashhar al-rijal wa-l-nisa

min al-

Arab wa-l-musta

ribin wa-l-mustashriqin, 10 vols., 2nd ed. (Cairo: n.p., 1954–59), 2:204.

The youngest of the group and its mouthpiece was Ahmad al-Sabuni (1875–1916), son of a druggist who, perhaps in seeking exemption from military duty, joined the ulema's study circles. He later augmented his knowledge with extensive reading on his own.25

Al-Sabuni, Ta

rikh Hamah, 13–14 (introduction to 2nd ed. by

Abd al-Rahman Khalil); al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 2:46.

The initial program of the Hamah Salafis, according to a later biographer, was “to allay that darkness which surrounded the atmosphere of the ulema, isolating them from the people and [preventing them] from identifying with their sentiments and grievances.”


Al-Sabuni, Ta

rikh Hamah.

At that time, they became acquainted with their counterparts in Damascus, following a visit by the celebrated Salafi leader Salim al-Bukhari to their town. Encouraged by Bukhari's ideas, Ahmad al-Sabuni and his colleagues began to frequent the provincial capital and associate with its reformists. They also drew nearer to Tawfiq al-Shishakli and Salih Qunbaz, the future Arab nationalist leaders of Hamah. Hailing from lesser landowning families, al-Shishakli and Qunbaz imbibed the new ideology while studying at Maktab

Anbar, the famous secondary school of late Ottoman Damascus, before graduating as physicians from the school of medicine.


For Tawfiq al-Shishakli and Salih Qunbaz, see al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 1:342–43, 1:345–46; Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah, 63–64. For the Shishaklis (Jijaklis), who were second in Hamah only to the four leading families, see also Douwes, Ottomans in Syria, 68–69; MAE (Nantes), Bey 544, “Renseignement sur les villes de Homs et Hama et les régions qui en dépendent,” 10 July 1920. On Maktab

Anbar, its curriculum, and student life, see Randi Deguilhem-Schoem, “Idées françaises et enseignement ottoman: L'école secondaire Maktab

Anbar à Damas,” Revue du Monde Musulman et de la Méditerranée 52/53 (1989): 199–206.

The first clash between the Salafis of Hamah and their conservative rivals took place in 1903. Our information about this incident is rather sketchy, its essence being that Hasan al-Rizq infuriated the established ulema, who retaliated by inciting the mob against him. The government was forced to intervene and al-Rizq was detained for two days to allow the situation to calm down, though the local population continued to ostracize him long after. That same year, an article published by al-Sabuni in a Beirut newspaper brought the wrath of the authorities down on him and compelled him to go into hiding until some friends interceded on his behalf. In the free atmosphere that prevailed in the Ottoman Empire in the first months following the Young Turk Revolution, Ahmad al-Sabuni founded his own journal, Lisan al-Sharq, in which he fought against religious deviation, demanded intensification of the study of Arabic, and called on the government to open schools and hospitals. Despite the opposition of the conservatives, he was also nominated to the district Councils of Education and the Awqaf,28

For the deplorable state of the awqaf in Hamah in al-Sabuni's eyes, see his article reproduced in Ta

rikh Hamah, 25–27.

as well as to a committee set up to collect donations for the army in the Balkans. In 1910, as the Committee for Union and Progress tightened its grip on the government, Lisan al-Sharq was suspended, although Hasan al-Rizq's more philosophical monthly al-Insaniyya was allowed to continue until his death in 1912. Al-Sabuni, too, succumbed to a fever in 1916, not before he witnessed the execution of many of his friends and colleagues by Jamal Pasha, the military governor of Syria during the Great War.29

Ibid., 8, 12–15; al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 2:46–48; Zirikli, al-A

lam, ibid.

In the last decade of his life, Ahmad al-Sabuni settled for an ambitious program of writing, covering various aspects of the reform that the Salafi trend in the Arab cities of the Ottoman Empire was by then calling for.


Compare particularly with the discussion of the ideas of Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, the mouthpiece of the Damascene Salafis, in Commins, Islamic Reform, chaps. 5 and 6; Weismann, Taste of Modernity, 291–98.

Employing simple language that contrasted with the conventional technicality of the ulema, his works were clearly aimed at the educated public. In addition to numerous articles, al-Sabuni's output included two histories, one concerning the Muslim world at large and the other, cited earlier, dedicated to his hometown of Hamah; an epistle of “tales of the prophets” cleansed of fanciful exaggerations and concluding with a discussion of Jewish and Christian beliefs; and an unfinished compendium of law.31

For a review of his various writings, see al-Sabuni, Ta

rikh Hamah, 16–20.

Through these works, al-Sabuni strove to inculcate in his readers a sense of pride in their Muslim past in general, and a sense of a local identity in particular; to familiarize them with the non-Muslim world; and to allow for a more transparent application of the shari


Most revealing for our purposes is the collection of lessons delivered by Ahmad al-Sabuni in Hamah's mosques in 1910 which, first published in Lisan al-Sharq, were edited and elucidated by a disciple a decade after his death.


Ahmad al-Sabuni, al-Durus al-jaliyya li-l-shubuhat al-khafiyya (Hamah: Matba

at al-Ikhlas, 1343/1925).

These lessons deal mostly with theological questions. In them al-Sabuni discusses, in the light of

Abduh's Islamic Modernism, the reality of essences, human inner perception, divine attributes, and man's actions, all pointing to the unity and omnipotence of God. Concomitantly, al-Sabuni attacks the medieval Islamic schools, which, he held, deviated from both the scriptures and the path of the salaf in these matters—especially the Qadariyya and its offshoot, the Mu

tazila, the proponents of the doctrine of free will, and the opposing school of Jabariyya, which espoused predestination. He invariably attributes their deviations to the work of converts who pretended to accept Islam to destroy it from within.

But a closer look at al-Durus al-jaliyya (The Open Lectures) shows that its preoccupation with theological issues derives not only from an interest in this field as such, but also from a concern about their appropriation by the Sufis. Ahmad al-Sabuni's attitude to Sufism, like that of most Salafis of his time,


Sirriyeh, Sufis and Anti-Sufis, 102–105.

was basically positive. He places the saints (**sdotu**āli**hdotu**un) above the ulema as people who renounce worldly pleasures and seek to purify themselves, and accepts the reality of their visions.34

Al-Sabuni, Al-Durus al-jaliyya, 18, 21–22.

Al-Sabuni refers to the “genuine Sufi” as belonging to the elect and as a model of good intention, integrity, and adherence to the sunna. Such Sufis were among the Companions of the Prophet and later included great teachers such as al-Junayd. These genuine Sufis are contrasted by al-Sabuni to the contemporary adherents of the multiple mystical orders who, he claims, are nothing but impostors. His categorical rejection of the **tdotu**arīqa is based on their following, in different respects, the two theological schools of the Jabariyya and the Mu

tazila. As a point of doctrine, al-Sabuni argues, these Sufis adopted predestination as a means to avoid working for their livelihood and to ignore the commandments. Behind this doctrine stands the desire for leadership and greed on the part of the shaykhs, and ignorance on the part of the people.


Ibid., 42–48.

Though rejecting the doctrine of free will, al-Sabuni maintains that the “**tdotu**arīqa Sufis” have nevertheless imitated the Mu

tazila in their mode of action. The description of the inquisition that this school instituted in alliance with the Abbasid government to impose its doctrines in the face of resistant ulema such as Ibn Hanbal also allows al-Sabuni to expound the evils of popular Sufism in general, and the trials that the Salafis of the late Ottoman period suffered at the hands of Abu al-Huda al-Sayyadi and his local supporters in particular:

As those who destroy the foundations of this religion could not find a way to mislead in view of the many correct refutations [of their doctrines], they entered through the door of sainthood (**sdotu**alā**hdotu** and walāya). They composed many books which appear as mercy but their content is sheer misguidance. They embellished false expressions and invented words to the confusion of the minds which the searcher would not understand and reason and tradition would not accept. They were not content with that but wrote down things that the Law rejects and true Islam defies. Furthermore, the intelligent man scrutinizing them will find that they are replete with forged hadiths and strange and abominable tales invented by people who acquired supporters and armies and drew near to the Sultans and Kings. They exaggerated in their ways to the point that the pillars of this religion were almost destroyed…. For quite a long time the ulema denounced them and composed secretly or openly useful works for the Muslims, but the power [of these people] continued to increase and their armies to grow despite the disclosure of the truth…. To this day the light of reason cannot transmit the word of truth. The circumstances do not help to respond to the sayings of these ignorant people and deter them with the sword of the purified shari



Ibid., 38–39; emphasis added.


With the successive deaths of Hasan al-Rizq and Ahmad al-Sabuni immediately prior to and during World War I, it could be expected that the Salafi trend of Hamah would lose its impetus. Elizabeth Thompson describes a general decline among the “elitist Salafi reformers,” relating it to the fall of the “Islamic governments” of the Ottomans and Faysal, though the decline was in fact due to their persecution by the Hamidian and especially the Young Turk regimes. Postwar conditions, she further maintains, opened the way to their opponents, “Islamic populists” who built a social movement in defense of what they saw as inviolable Islamic tradition.


Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 103.

Thompson's categories are well suited to describe the new forms of religious action that were adopted by Syrian men of religion in the wake of the imposition of French colonial rule. She overlooks, however, the fact that the Salafis too adapted their message to incorporate the growing number of educated youths emerging from the official school system. In Hamah, a modified type of Salafism that combined a radicalized anti–Sufism with a more conservative social agenda was developed in the 1920s through the agitation and writings of Sa

id al-Jabi, the remaining leader of the late Ottoman group who had been exiled to Anatolia during the war.


On the life and works of Sa

id al-Jabi during the Mandate period, see al-Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah, 214; al-Misri, al-Jawahir al-lu


iyya, 120;

Abd al-Qadir

Ayyash, Mu

jam al-mu

allifiyin al-Suriyin fi-al-qarn al-

ishrin (Damascus: Dar al-Fiqr, 1985), 90. For his exile during War World I, see MAE (Nantes), Bey 960, Information no. 3277, 22 September 1934.

Al-Jabi served throughout the Mandate as a public instructor in Hamah's mosques and as a supervisor and teacher of religion in its preparatory and secondary schools. He also taught Arabic in Dar al-

Ilm wa-l-Tarbiya, the nationalist hotbed that had been opened by Shishakli and Qunbaz toward the end of Faysal's short-lived Arab government in 1920 under the auspices of the town's mufti at the time, Nawras al-Kaylani.


Al-Jundi, A

lam al-adab wa-l-fann, 1:346; MAE (Nantes), Bey 872, “Note sur l'école Dar el Ulm,” 9 November 1934.

Nothing concrete is recorded about Sa

id al-Jabi's activities during the French occupation and pacification of Syria in the first half of the 1920s. He is then claimed to have participated in the Hamah uprising at the onset of the Great Revolt of 1925–27,


Al-Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah, 214.

perhaps as part of the Hezbollah group of disaffected religious leaders who served as a link between the rebellious Captain Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the nationalists.41

For the role of men of religion in the Hamah uprising of 1925, see Ihsan al-Hindi, Kifah al-sha

b al-

Arabi al-Suri 1908–1948 (Damascus: Idarat al-Shu

un al-

Amma wa-l-Tawjih al-Ma

nawi, 1962), 91–92; Khoury, Mandate, 172; N. E. Bou-Nacklie, “Tumult in Syria's Hama in 1925: The Failure of a Revolt,” Journal of Contemporary History 33 (1998): 285. For an assessment of al-Qawuqji and his activities during the early Mandate, see Khayriyya al-Qasimiyya, ed., Mudhakkirat Fawzi al-Qawuqji, 1914–1932 (Beirut, 1975), 1:11–74.

Al-Jabi's position was far from unique among the religious leaders of early Mandatory Hamah, as most of them aligned themselves with the nationalist movement and showed hostility to the French. Their unified stand vis-à-vis the foreign-infidel rule was displayed in the aftermath of the abolition of the caliphate by Turkey in March 1924. Unanimously agreeing to support the candidacy of Sharif Husayn to the lofty office, the religious leaders announced his name in the following Friday sermons in all local mosques, despite the French prohibition. Almost the same level of unanimity was achieved in the provincial towns of Homs and Latakia, although only a few minor mosques in Damascus, and none at all in Aleppo, dared to entertain such a defiant attitude.42

MAE (Nantes), Bey 619, “Bulletin de Renseignments no. 570,” 22 March 1924, esp. 14. Bou-Nacklie, “Tumult,” 277–78.

Shortly thereafter, al-Jabi composed his first major polemical work, a virulent attack aimed at the Sufi order of the Naqshbandiyya.43

Muhammad Sa

id al-Jabi, Al-Naqd wa-l-tazyif, 2nd ed. (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1402/1982). The first edition appeared in Hamah in 1928.

Like the Salafiyya, the Naqshbandis of Hamah suffered a serious blow following the death of their master, Mahmud al-Hamid, during World War I. The order's activity in the town was also reinvigorated during the early Mandate, due to the efforts of its charismatic master in the sister town of Homs, Muhammad Abu al-Nasr Khalaf. A member of a notable family, Khalaf (1875–1949) belonged to yet another branch of the Khalidiyya whose silsila went back to Shaykh Khalid through his local deputy, Ahmad al-Tizkili. Following his predecessors' combination of scholarly erudition and mystic devotion, Khalaf nevertheless deviated from them by making a habit of traveling around the towns of northern Syria, as well as the villages of the plains, in an effort to reach out to sections of the population hitherto unattended to by his order. His influence thus came to encompass not only ulema, to whom he showed special respect in a genuine Khalidi spirit, but also the common people, who flocked to the dhikr ceremonies that he conducted wherever he went.


Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid, 194–201; Hisni, Muntanhabat al-tawarikh, 926; Muhammad ibn

Abdallah Al Rashid, Imdad al-fattah bi-asanid wa-muruyyat al-Shaykh

Abd al-Fattah (Riyadh, 1999), 297–301.

Another measure adopted by Khalaf was to encourage his adherents to prepare simplified expositions of the Naqshbandi path. Chief among these writers were

Isa al-Bayanuni, his deputy in Aleppo,


Isa al-Bayanuni, al-Arab fi-al-adab mukhtasar kitab abwab al-rahiq fi adab al-tariq (Aleppo: al-Matba

a al-

Ilmiyya, 1344/1926).

and Husayn al-Khatib, a disciple of Abu al-Nasr's father from Hamah.46

Husayn al-Khatib, Al-Durr al-latif (Tripoli: n.p., 1342/1924). For biographical details on the author, see Muhammad Ahmad Durayniqa, al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiyya wa-a

lamuha (n.p., 1987), 78.

It was as a response to al-Khatib's exposition, al-Durr al-latif (The Fine Pearl), that Sa

id al-Jabi formulated his detailed criticism of the Naqshbandiyya. Though the book was published in 1928, its core ideas were already mentioned in a poem that he had appended to the edited volume of al-Sabuni's lectures of 1925.


Al-Sabuni, Al-Durus al-jaliyya, 55–57.

Adopting sound hadith as his sole measuring rod, al-Jabi seemed to follow previous Salafi writers in depicting major Naqshbandi practices as mere deviation and idolatry. Such is the case with the rābi**tdotu**a—the concentration on the shaykh's image whether he is present or absent, the epitome of the Khalidi way, which had already come under Salafi attack in the 1880s. The Prophet, writes al-Jabi, did not say that a man should “join the Naqshbandi **tdotu**arīqa, envision his shaykh, raise his image in his imagination … direct himself to it [his person] rather than to God, and force the essence of his heart to see what God forbids.”48

Al-Jabi, al-Naqd wa-l-tazyif, 12. See also ibid., 70, 82, where the rābi**tdotu**a is defined as idolatrous innovation (bid

a wathaniyya).

The main themes that run throughout the book—the uncensored role of the shaykh among his disciples, the excesses of the dhikr, and the whole notion of intermediaries (wasā

i**tdotu**) between a man and his Lord—are all present in this initial denunciation of the rābi**tdotu**a.


See especially ibid., 14, 17–18, 20, 23–24, 30–31, 48–49, 59–60.


id al-Jabi's strictures clearly exceeded those of the early Salafis, with the major exception of his pre-war colleague from Homs,

Abd al-Hamid al-Zahrawi,


For Zahrawi and his book, see Commins, Islamic Reform, 55–59.

coming close to a complete rejection of the Sufi aspect of Islam. This is evident in al-Jabi's depiction of esoteric science (

ilm al-bā**tdotu**in) as falsified knowledge introduced into Islam by converts who conspired to corrupt it from within. Above all, it emerges from his attack on Ibn

Arabi's doctrine of the Unity of Being (wa**hdotu**dat al-wujūd), which he describes as nothing but sheer pantheism.


Al-Jabi, al-Naqd wa-l-tazyif, 34–45.

Al-Jabi also points out that the very concept of ta**sdotu**awwuf did not exist in the time of the Prophet or during the early generations of Islam.52

Ibid., 74.

The reason for this rejection of Sufism, as al-Jabi himself explicitly states in the introduction, ultimately lies not in its intrinsic evils but in the bad name it has given Islam among the educated young. He decries the estrangement of the Muslim graduates of the official Mandatory educational system from their religion, although he by no means rejects Western science as such. Al-Jabi claims that books such as al-Durr al-latif are “like water to irrigate what our enemies have planted in the hearts of our sons and an example that their leaders can show to their followers in order to alienate them from our religion.”53

Ibid., 3–5.

Sufi deviation has turned Islam into an object of ridicule for educated Muslim youth and for the Christians and Jews whom they imitate.54

Ibid., 92.

The virulent attack that Sa

id al-Jabi mounted against the Naqshbandiyya from 1925 onward seems to have been well calculated. Through its radicalized anti–Sufism he could reaffirm the Salafi creed in a way with which the religious-minded youth in the state schools could identify. However, by targeting this relatively weak order in Hamah, rather than the established Qadiriyya and Rifa

iyya, he partly assuaged the animosity of these orders, and of the ulema who supported them in general. After all, both the Salafis and their opponents must have viewed with apprehension the populist methods adopted by Abu al-Nasr Khalaf, which threatened to diminish their already dwindling religious constituencies. In the name of common resistance to the secular tendencies of the age, al-Jabi was thus able to become a prominent Islamic figure in Hamah during the second half of the 1920s, with a substantial following among the educated young.


id al-Jabi distinguished himself in campaigns against two of the major issues that, for the religious class, came to epitomize the Western threat to Islam: women's emancipation and missionary activity. In a clear retreat from Muhammad

Abduh's liberal positions and more in line with those of Rashid Rida, we find al-Jabi among the first religionists in Syria to respond to the growing assertiveness of women, although he did not hesitate to defy convention and accept them in his classes.


Al-Misri, al-Jawahir al-lu


iyya, 120.

Infuriated at the appearance of al-Sufur wa-l-hijab, a 1928 legal-theological treatise in favor of removing the veil by Nazira Zayn al-Din, a young Druse woman from Beirut,56

For an analysis of the book and its repercussions, see Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 94–100, 127–40.

al-Jabi published a book-length reply a year later, which began by denying her authorship of the work. On the same bases of hadith criticism and reproach of Westernized youth, al-Jabi then proceeded to claim that women must wear the hijab, avoid associating with men, and stay away from men's jobs.57

Muhammad Sa

id al-Jabi, Kashf al-niqab

an asrar kitab “al-sufur wa-l-hijab” (Hamah: Matba

at al-Ikhlas, 1347/1929).

In 1931, when the campaign for the removal of the veil was brought to Hamah itself by the superintendent of the town's secondary school and his wife, it was al-Jabi who, though a teacher in the same institution, sharply denounced the new movement in the mosques and in his classes.58

MAE (Nantes), Bey 954, 13 April 1931.

Apparently, in those years he also composed his unpublished anti-missionary treatise, Kitab al-tabyin fi-al-radd

ala al-mubashshirin.


Al-Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah, 214.


As the feminist and missionary movements gained momentum in Hamah during the 1930s, the campaigns that Sa

id al-Jabi was conducting against them intensified, as well. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the decade his religious leadership had already come under serious challenge from a populist Islamic movement set up by his rivals. Philip Khoury describes the emergence of a plethora of independent religious organizations (sing., jam

iyya) in the Syrian cities at the time to address the social and psychological needs of the common people in the impoverished traditional quarters. Led by religious dignitaries and schoolteachers, the jam

iyyāt attracted especially shari

a students, as well as the religiously oriented class of small traders and artisans and in-migrants from the countryside around the towns, the sectors most adversely affected by the dislocations of the inter-war period.


Khoury, Mandate, 608–9. For the institution of the jam

iyya, see Reissner, Ideologie, 80–85.

Khoury's observations indicate that the religious associations of the 1930s appealed to much wider social strata than the Salafiyya had done during the preceding late Ottoman and early Mandate periods. Yet he does not explore the relationship between these voluntary associations and the Sufi orders, the major conduit of latter-day popular piety, which they now seemed to be superseding. A detailed analysis of the membership of the various populist Islamic associations in mandatory Syria is yet to be made. In Hamah, however, it is evident that they were closely related to the landowning–religious Kaylani family, and particularly to the reconciled local Qadiri and Rifa

i Sufi orders.

The populist orientation was first demonstrated among Syria's conservative men of religion in the wake of the deposition of Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1909, when they took to defending customary beliefs and practices in their own journal, al-Haqa



Commins, Islamic Reform, 104–107, 118–22.

This orientation intensified after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, as numerous ulema joined the militant popular committees that set themselves against Faysal's compromising policies toward the French in 1919–20.62

James L. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), chap. 2.

The first independent Islamic association in Hamah, Jam

iyyat A

mal al-Birr al-Islamiyya (Islamic Society of Benevolent Works), was founded five years later—soon after, and most likely on the example of, al-Jam

iyya al-Gharra

(the Noble Society) of Damascus.


Reissner, Ideologie, 86–88; Itzchak Weismann, “The Invention of a Populist Islamic Leader: Badr al-Din al-Hasani, the Religious Educational Movement and the Great Syrian Revolt,” Arabica, 50 (2004).

Both associations aimed to counter the emerging official French educational system by building religious schools, especially for boys and girls from poor backgrounds. The head of the Hamah society was the recently appointed mufti Sa

id al-Na

san, a teacher of modest means who had been a follower of Abu al-Huda al-Sayyadi. That he rather than a Kaylani was nominated reflects the general diminution in the prestige of the religious office in post-Ottoman Syria. In any case, Na

san worked under the aegis of his predecessor, Nawras al-Kaylani, who opted for a more lucrative position as governor of the Hamah district.


Al-Kaylani, Muhafazat Hamah, 154. On Sa

id al-Na

san, see MAE (Nantes), Bey 587, “Personnalités religieuses Musulmanes,” March and December 1929. Al Rashid, Imdad al-fattah, 368–69. His only printed work is a short standard epistle on the rites of pilgrimage that was published in preparation for his permanent appointment: see idem, Risala mukhtasara fi manasik al-hajj (Hamah: Matba

at al-Ikhlas, 1341/1922). The association continued its work in collaboration with the al-Kaylanis to the 1930s': see Ahmad Qadri al-Kaylani, Hamah madinat al-nawa

ir (Hamah: Jam

iyyat A

mal al-Birr al-Islamiyya, 1356/1937), front page.

It was only in the next decade, with the introduction of parliamentary politics in Syria and the deterioration of its economic situation following the onset of the world depression, that populist Islam made headway in Hamah. Significantly, the principal group was Jam

iyyat al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya (Islamic Guidance Society), a branch of a Damascene organization that counted among its leading members a wealthy landowner and a merchant.


Reissner, Ideologie, 88–89.

Founded in 1930–31, al-Hidaya was brought to Hamah by

Abd al-Qadir al-Kaylani, a religious-minded landowner of nationalist conviction who had recently resigned his post as minister of agriculture and commerce.


J. Gaulmier, “Note sur une épisode poétique de la rivalité séculaire entre Homs et Hama,” Bulletin d'Études Orientales 2 (1932): 85. On

Abd al-Qadir al-Kaylani, see Khoury, Mandate, 261, 329.

Subsequently, the society became associated with the local trade-union movement, which Nawras al-Kaylani had organized following his dismissal from the district governorship in 1925. Capitalizing on the traditionally strong links between Sufi orders and craft corporations, Nawras sought to transform the latter into a popular voluntary organization, not unlike the Islamic associations.67

On the importance of craft corporations in Ottoman Hamah and their affinity with the Sufi orders, see Reilly, Small Town in Syria, 61–62, 75–79.

Tawfiq al-Sabbagh, the acting head of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya, was closely connected to the Kaylanis, being the preacher of their major zāwiya,68

On the Shaykh Ibrahim mosque, see Khenchelaoui and Zarcone, “La Famille,” 66.

as well as headmaster of Hamah's Shar

iyya college since its inauguration in 1924.


Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid, 18–19.

Sabbagh's endeavors to inaugurate classes for adults were modeled on the trade unionists' example.70

J. Gaulmier, “Notes sur le movement syndicaliste a Hama,” Revue des Études Islamiques 6 (1932): 114.

Among Nawras al-Kaylani's close aides in the union movement was

Abd al-Hamid Qunbaz, brother of the pre-war nationalist leader Salih Qunbaz who had been killed during the Great Revolt. Another was the latter's colleague Tawfiq al-Shishakli, who in 1931 joined the National Bloc, the loose, nationwide coalition of politicians that had formed after the suppression of the revolt to negotiate a settlement for Syria.


Ibid., 99–100. Khoury, Mandate, 367–71.

Although both al-Shishakli and Qunbaz, and probably also al-Kaylani himself, were closer in their outlook to the Salafi ideology than to al-Hidaya, they seem to have realized the importance of populist religious organizations in the newly established politics of representation.

The initial activities of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya in both Damascus and Hamah were related to the wave of protests that swept the country in the wake of the reported severities perpetrated by the Italians in Libya.


Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon Under French Mandate (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1958), 190. MAE (Nantes), Bey 1560, 27 April 1931, “Information no. 1624,” and 4 May 1931, “Information no. 1721”; Bey 1983, “Bulletin d'information hebdomadaire no. 20,” 16 May 1931.

In the following years, the provincial organization became increasingly involved in the local campaigns against missionary schools and women's emancipation. In December 1932, a meeting was convened by Sabbagh under the auspices of the mufti to fight Muslim attendance at Christian schools. The message was conveyed by numerous preachers throughout the town.73

MAE (Nantes), Bey 607, “Information no. 3076,” 12 December 1932.

This campaign was preceded and followed by a series of demonstrations, to which

Abd al-Qadir and Nawras al-Kaylani contributed their share, as well as complaints that al-Hidaya lodged with the Foreign Ministry protesting the ban on speaking out against missionary institutions.


MAE (Nantes), Bey 607, “Requête des habitants de Hama,” 25 September 1932; Bey 1989, 17 March 1933; Bey 728, 31 August 1933; MAE (Paris), Syrie-Liban 509, 249-250, 13 December 1932.

In July 1934, members of the society played their part in the campaign against the introduction of women's matinees at the cinema in Hamah. After suffering a temporary reversal, in 1938–39 they finally managed, again with the backing of the mufti, al-Na

san, to prevail on the authorities to prohibit women from going to the cinema.


Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 206–207.

Despite their common educational and anti-feminist programs, the emergence of populist religious societies on Hamah's political scene was viewed with much alarm by Sa

id al-Jabi and his Salafi adherents. By late 1930, al-Jabi is reported to have quarreled with al-Na

san over his support of the Kaylani–dominated al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya.


MAE (Nantes), Bey 587, “Personnalités religieuses Musulmanes,” December 1930.

The sources do not specify the nature of the claims that he made against the populist societies, but the train of events in the following years makes it evident that he was most disturbed by their Sufi underpinnings. The conflict was compounded by its incorporation into the wider political struggle that was launched in Syria in the aftermath of the Great Revolt over the question of a treaty with France. Waged against the background of a deepening economic crisis, this struggle pitted the eminently Western-educated middle-class professionals and bureaucrats of the National Bloc, who refused to compromise Syria's independence and unity, against the more compliant party of large landowners and religious dignitaries. In the polarized setting of Hamah, Tawfiq al-Shishakli, who as a physician was now identified with the professional middle class, became the leading local representative of the National Bloc in Parliament following his victory in the elections of 1931–32.77

For an analysis by education, occupation, and class of the National Bloc leadership and the pro-French party, see Khoury, Mandate, 252; For the 1931–32 elections, see ibid., 365–74.

With the collapse of negotiations over the treaty and the nomination in March 1934 of a new government under the pro-French Taj al-Din al-Hasani, the big landowners of Hamah were able to reassert themselves under their new leaders, Husni al-Barazi and Farid al-



Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon, 195–97.

Between these redrawn lines, the Salafis solicited the support of al-Shishakli, while their Sufi-cum-populist rivals, now under the umbrella of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya, opted for the patronage of the big landowners.

The conflict between the two camps came out into the open as early as April 1934, during the preparations for a visit of new Prime Minister Taj al-Din to Hamah. It was sparked by the renewal of the Sufi Spring Festival in the town at the behest of Farid al-

Azm, who was seeking to mobilize popular support for the new government. The delegation that came to pay homage to him was headed by Mahmud al-Shuqfa, shaykh of the Rifa

iyya and a leading member of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya. Faced with the indignation of the nationalists for their reliance on the compliant landowners, members of the delegation expressed the people's disappointment in Nawras al-Kaylani, the trade-union leader, and Tawfiq al-Shishakli, whom they had helped win the elections.


MAE (Nantes), Bey 960, “Information no. 1346,” 13 April 1934; al-Kaylani, Hamah madinat al-nawa

ir, 3. For the connection of the festival with the mawlids of the saints in the area, see J. Gaulmier, “Pèlerinages populaires à Hama,” Bulletin d'Études Orientales 1 (1931): 137–38. A vivid description of the festival in Homs at the beginning of the century is given in Frederick Jones Bliss, The Religions of Modern Syria and Palestine (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 269–72. On Mahmud al-Shuqfa, see George Faris, Man huwa fi Suriya (Damascus: al-Matba

a al-Ahliyya, 1949), 233; Fred de Jong, “Les confréries mystiques musulmanes au Machreq arabe,” in Les Ordres mystiques dans l'Islam, ed. A. Popovic and G. Veinstein (Paris: Éditions de EHESS, 1985), 215.

Subsequently, when Husni al-Barazi, the landowners' leader and minister of education in Taj al-Din's government, arranged a ceremonial reception for the prime minister, he could count on the support not only of his followers but also of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya.80

MAE (Nantes), Bey 960, “Information no. 1507,” 27 April 1934.


id al-Jabi's response came two months later, following al-Shishakli's return from Saudi Arabia on a National Bloc mission.


Khoury, Mandate, 450.

Infuriated at the newly revealed connection between al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya and the Sufi orders, he used the professed Wahhabi rejection of Sufism as leverage for a counterattack. In a sense, there was nothing new in al-Jabi's aversion to Sufism, which had been demonstrated once again in mid-1933 in his fierce resistance to the introduction of the Mawlawi order in Hamah.82

MAE (Nantes), Bey 1989, “Bulletin d'information hebdomadaire no. 24,” 2 June 1933.

The attack that he launched in July 1934 against the Sufi orders and, through them, al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya was, however, of an altogether different magnitude. The French sources again do not specify the practices that al-Jabi chose to condemn, though they undoubtedly included those connected with the renewed Spring Festival. In any case, probably with the encouragement of al-Shishakli, al-Jabi's censures were articulated this time not merely through the locally marginal Naqshbandi or Mawlawi orders, as on former occasions, but directly at the Qadiriyya and Rifa


This reinvigorated propaganda campaign, which was backed by a petition of 2,000 signatories,


MAE (Nantes), Bey 607, “Information no. 2494,” 11 July 1934, and “Controverses religieuses à Hama,” 17 July 1934; Bey 960, “Information no. 3277,” 22 September 1934; MAE (Paris), Syrie-Liban 512, 33–34, 23 July 1934.

generated an uproar among the Sufi shaykhs of Hamah, who in their orations proved anxious to demonstrate the orthodoxy of their beliefs and practices. Yet it was above all Tawfiq al-Shishakli's realization that alienating the increasingly popular Islamic societies hampered the national cause that tipped the scales against the Salafis. For once, al-Jabi's attack threatened to create havoc within the nationalist camp as Najib al-Barazi, Husni's cousin who in the 1931–32 elections had joined the National Bloc list, used the opportunity to reassert his independence by taking up the offended shaykhs' cause. Alarmed at this development, al-Shishakli arranged a reconciliation in which he praised the contribution of the religious class in general to the struggle against the French.84

MAE (Nantes), Bey 926, 1 and 17 July 1934; Bey 607, 17 July 1934.

Even more significant, in their counter-attack the populists instigated the big landowners to hit at the very center of the nationalists' power base, the Dar al-

Ilm wa-l-Tarbiya school. Exploiting the death in May 1934 of its president, Nawras al-Kaylani, the governor of Hamah refused to recognize al-Shishakli, the foremost member of its administrative council, as successor and demanded that elections be held for a new board. With Husni al-Barazi as minister of education, the landowners had little difficulty in overruling the protests of the existing council.


MAE (Nantes), Bey 872, “Information no. 2844,” 13 August 1934, “Information no. 2865,” 17 August 1934, and “Pétition à la société des nations,” 9 November 1934.

They won the elections, held in September, and Farid al-

Azm, who had helped restore the Sufi Spring Festival a few months earlier, took over as the new president of Dar al-



MAE (Nantes), Bey 872, “Information no. 3314,” 27 September 1934.

Tawfiq al-Shishakli compensated himself for this reversal by tightening his grip on the Nationalist Youth of Hamah. He was careful not to become embroiled again in religious factionalism and remained a distinguished leader of the town until his death in 1940.


Khoury, Mandate, 426, 474.

For Sa

id al-Jabi, this turn of events meant the loss of his patron, a situation that his rivals were quick to exploit. As soon as the results of the elections in Dar al-

Ilm wa-l-Tarbiya became known, they formed another delegation, which appeared before Husni al-Barazi to complain about al-Jabi's “Wahhabism” and the dubious means that he had employed to obtain the signatures for his petition. The delegation included Hamah's naqīb al-ashrāf and its leading Sufi shaykhs. Later in the day, some of them traveled to Damascus to present a counter-petition signed by 300 religious dignitaries, big landowners, and influential merchants.


MAE (Nantes), Bey 960, “Information no. 3277,” 22 September 1934.

Among the first group, it was al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya's leaders, Tawfiq al-Sabbagh and Mahmud al-Shuqfa, who were to emerge in the following years as the leading men of religion in Hamah. The Qadiri-affiliated al-Sabbagh was elected head of Jam

iyyat al-


, the local professional association of religious men, while the Rifa

i shaykh, al-Shuqfa, was nominated president of the Awqaf Council.


Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid, 18; Faris, Man huwa fi Suriya, 233.

In contrast, the defeated al-Jabi was left to fend for himself. This state of affairs is evident in his treatise of 1937, Hidayat al-

asriyin ila mahasin al-din (Guiding the Moderns to the Merits of the Religion), which he dedicated to no other than Najib al-Barazi, al-Shishakli's rival in the National Bloc. In this treatise, Sa

id al-Jabi for the last time commits to writing his belief in the need to accommodate Western science to a reformist type of Islam, which lay behind his recurrent anti–Sufi campaigns.



id al-Jabi, Hidayat al-

asriyin ila mahasin al-din (Hamah: Matabi

Abi al-Fida

, n.d.).


The educational endeavors of Salafis and Islamic populists in the face of the official French system, and the growing political awareness of the young generation in general, led to the establishment in the mid-1930s of religious youth groups such as Shabab Muhammad and al-Shubban al-Muslimun in various cities of Syria. A visit by a delegation of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers Society about that time marked the beginning of its interest in, and influence on, similar organizations abroad. The Syrian groups were to be united under the same name in 1944–45 by Mustafa al-Siba

i, scion of an ulema family with Salafi inclinations from Homs who had become acquainted with the ideas of the mother society while studying at al-Azhar.


Ishaq Musa Husaini, The Moslem Brethren: The Greatest of Modern Islamic Movements (Beirut: Khayat's, 1956), 75–76; Reissner, Ideologie, 97–101; Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 277. Siba

i's Salafism was displayed for the first time in his struggle against the Sufi Spring Festival of Homs: see Mustafa al-Siba

i, “Rajul faqadnahu: Husni al-Siba

i,” Hadarat al-Islam 2, 5–6 (1961), 106.

In neighboring Hamah, the emergence of an indigenous Islamic youth group was somewhat delayed due to the tight grip of Tawfiq al-Shishakli on the young and, still more, to the acute rift between the Salafis and the Sufis-cum-populists. When such a group was finally established in the town in 1939, it was to be known from the outset as the Muslim Brothers, a name that—as in the case of the subsequent nationwide society—points to the role played by students returning from Egypt in its creation.

In his seminal study of the Society of the Muslim Brothers, Richard Mitchell refers to Hasan al-Banna's famous multi-faceted definition of his movement as, inter alia, a Salafi message, a Sufi truth, a political organization, and a cultural–educational union. The movement was to concern itself with organization, program, and action, and to avoid doctrinal disputes and factionalism.92

Mitchell, Society of the Muslim Brothers, 14.

Surveying al-Banna's early affiliation with Sufism in his hometown in the Delta and his subsequent association with the Salafis of Cairo, Mitchell explains that while adopting the Salafiyya's critique of both the Azharite ulema and the Sufi orders, the founder of the Muslim Brothers never lost faith in “pure” Sufism and chose to appeal directly to the people in a way consistent with his Sufi training.93

Ibid., 2–8, 214–16, 322–23.

The esteem for the leader notwithstanding, there was a widespread revulsion against Sufism among al-Banna's articulate urban followers in Egypt due to the prevalence of its popular forms in the country. In Syria, where the legacy of Sufi revivalist movements was still much alive, the Brothers had retained their respect for its “genuine” manifestations.94

Umar F. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1983), 95.

It was particularly in the provincial setting of Hamah, however, that a Salafi–Sufi synthesis was worked out in harmony with al-Banna's original spirit. This achievement was largely due to the work of a Naqshbandi adept, Muhammad al-Hamid (1910–69), in standing up to the new challenges of secularism and rural-sectarian awakening in post-independence Syria.95

Jabir Rizq, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun wa-l-mua


ala Suriya (Cairo: Dar al-I

tisam, 1980), 116–17; Sa

id Hawwa, al-Ijabat (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 1984), 97–99.

Al-Hamid's upbringing was closely interwoven into the stormy religious history of Mandatory Hamah.


The principal sources for the life and work of Muhammad al-Hamid are Tahmaz, al-

Allama al-mujahid, 9–49; and Hadarat al-Islam 10, 3 (1969), an issue dedicated to his memory. See also Itzchak Weismann, “Sa

id Hawwa: The Making of a Radical Muslim Thinker in Modern Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies 29 (1993), 607–11.

The orphaned son of the local Naqshbandi Shaykh Mahmud al-Hamid, he was raised by his elder brother, the nationalist poet Badr al-Din,97

On Badr al-Din al-Hamid, see Sami al-Kayyali, al-Adab al-

Arabi al-mu

asir fi Suriya, 1850–1950, 6th ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Ma

arif, 1968), 316–25; al-Jundi, A

lam al-Adab wa-l-fann 2:54–56.

and was strongly influenced by his maternal uncle, the Salafi leader Sa

id al-Jabi. With the latter's approval, al-Hamid enrolled in Hamah's Shar

iyya college immediately after its inauguration by Tawfiq al-Sabbagh, the future leader of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya, before moving in 1928 to the higher Khusrawiyya college in Aleppo. There he came under the spell of Abu al-Nasr Khalaf, the populist Naqshbandi shaykh from Homs, who initiated him into the order and encouraged him to pursue a religious career. Back in Hamah in 1935, al-Hamid's new conviction entangled him in a bitter struggle with his disappointed uncle and contributed to his decision three years later to go to Egypt to complete his studies at al-Azhar. In Cairo, Hamid, like his classmate Mustafa al-Siba

i, became associated with the Muslim Brothers and their leader Hasan al-Banna, whom he greatly admired for combining the merits of the Sufi, the scholar, the orator, and the political leader. It was probably during one of his summer vacations that al-Hamid joined in founding the Muslim Brothers' branch in Hamah.

Imbued with a new political awareness upon his return from Egypt in 1942, Muhammad al-Hamid immersed himself in the national struggle for independence. Following the outbreak of the Palestine war, he wanted to join Siba

i's volunteer force, although he ultimately agreed to stay behind and organize assistance for the refugees. Concerned about the growing alienation of the Syrian youth from their faith, al-Hamid felt compelled to follow Banna also in the purely religious sphere and devote his energy to Islamic education and propagation. He abandoned the cultivation of his own circle of disciples on the Naqshbandi path and forwent a post in the judicial administration for which his scholarly training at al-Azhar had qualified him. For the rest of his life, al-Hamid held the modest positions of teacher of religion in the Ibn Rushd Preparatory School and preacher in the Sultan Mosque. More learned than al-Banna, he supplemented these activities with extensive writing in matters of law, designed to elucidate the principles and precepts of the shari

a in face of the rising pressures of secularism.


See particularly Muhammad al-Hamid, Rudud

ala abatil wa-tamhisat li-haqa

iq diniyya (Damascus: Matba

at al-

Ilm, 1385/1965); idem, Majmu

at rasa

il (Hamah: al-Maktaba al-

Arabiyya, 1390/1970).

By the early 1950s, al-Hamid decided also to give up his actual membership in the Muslim Brothers. In line with the populist strategies of his Naqshbandi master, however, he became in the following years the father figure and spiritual guide of the society in Hamah. Many Brothers attended his study circles in the Sultan Mosque, and they were allowed to use them as a recruiting ground.


Abd-Allah, Islamic Struggle, 104.

Al-Hamid's contribution to the consolidation of the Muslim Brothers Society in post-independence Hamah, and to the new religious synthesis it brought about among its various religious trends, can be summed up in the vivid description by Sa

id Hawwa, the future ideologue of considered resistance to the Ba'ath, who never tired of acknowledging his profound debt to the master: Shaykh Muhammad al-Hamid

molded his town Hamah in such a way that he made it capable of every good. From here there emerged in Hamah a generation that is an example of how the people all over the Muslim world should be…. [H]e educated his brothers to adhere to the Scriptures, to respect the religious scholars and the jurists, and to follow the Sufis while adhering to the Scriptures and to the precepts of the Law. He educated his brothers to love Hasan al-Banna, to love the Muslim Brothers, and to love all the Muslims…. He believed that in order to stop the apostasy (ridda) the Muslims must join hands despite their many controversies. And although he was a Hanafi Sufi, he had always declared his readiness to put his hand in the hand of the fiercest Salafi to stop this apostasy. His chief preoccupations were dhikr,

ilm, and counsel.



id Hawwa, Hadhihi tajribati … wa-hadhihi shahadati (Cairo: Maktabat Wahba, 1987), 23, 30, 39; idem, al-Ijabat, 86, 97–98; emphasis added.

Muhammad al-Hamid's Salafi–Sufi synthesis reflected a broader rapprochement between Syria's big landowners and its professional middle class, who following independence united in exploiting the new opportunities offered by the capitalist expansion of the economy. This synthesis had little appeal for the rapidly developing “new middle class,” which opted for the “socialist” ideology in its bid to outstrip the dominant classes.


Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power, 49–57.

It was under this banner that, in the 1950s and 1960s, the process of popular mobilization was carried to the furthest extremes of Syrian society—namely, the rural countryside and the non-Sunni minorities. This movement was first launched in the Hamah district, where Akram al-Hawrani was inciting the mostly Christian, Isma

ili, and

Alawi peasants against the big landowners of the town. On this foundation, al-Hawrani set out to build a strong base in the army, in which the sectarian and rural elements were over-represented. Finally, in 1953, he joined hands with the Damascene radical intellectuals Michel

Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Baytar to form the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party.


See esp. Jonathan P. Owen, “Akram al-Hourani: A Study of Syrian Politics, 1943–1954” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1992).

Taking the side of Hamah's old Sunni elite, Muhammad al-Hamid not only approved of his disciples' clashes with al-Hawrani's party, but he also urged them to enlist in the army, though admittedly to little avail.


Rizq, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, 127; Hawwa, Hadhihi tajribati, 27–28, 31.

He was even opposed to the tendency of the increasingly Salafi104

For al-Siba

i's inveighing toward the Salafi stand in his later years, see his anti-Sufi strictures in Mustafa al-Siba

i, “Hawla al-tasawwuf wa-l-Sufiyya,” Hadarat al-Islam 1 (1961): 72–73. This tendency was intensified under his successor,

Isam al-

Attar: see Abd-Allah, Islamic Struggle, 102–103.

nationwide leadership of the Syrian Muslim Brothers to incorporate socialist elements into its ideology. Al-Hamid's decision to give up his membership should be seen against the background of the society's reorganization in 1949 as the Islamic Socialist Front.105

Reissner, Ideologie, 301–302; J. Salt, “An Islamic Scholar-Activist: Mustafa al-Siba

i and the Islamic Movement in Syria 1945–1954,” Journal of Arabic, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies 3 (1996): 103–15.

He may also have been alienated from leading Brothers from Hamah such as the populist Mahmud al-Shuqfa, who now represented the front in Parliament,106

Faris, Man huwa fi-Suriya, 233.

or the promising philosophy and sociology student

Abd al-Karim

Uthman, who, while studying with Siba

i in Damascus, wrote a series of articles about Islamic social security.


See Muhammad Dib Salih, “Rajul faqadnahu:

Abd al-Karim

Uthman,” Hadarat al-Islam 13, 5–6 (1972): 117–19.

This internal division came to a head in 1963 when al-Hamid published a detailed refutation of Mustafa al-Siba

i's celebrated Ishtirakiyyat al-Islam in defense of the sanctity of private ownership.


See Muhammad al-Hamid, Nazarat fi kitab ishtirakiyyat al-Islam (Damascus: Matba

at al-

Ilm, 1382/1963). For an analysis of al-Siba

i's book and its importance, see especially Hamid Enayat, Modern Islamic Political Thought (London: Macmillan, 1982), 144–49.

Thus failing to incorporate the Sunni lower classes into his religious synthesis, al-Hamid's efforts in his last years under the Ba'ath were turned to containing the radical wing of the Islamic movement, which not only totally rejected Sufism but was also heading toward a disastrous showdown with the regime.


In the early decades of the 20th century, Hamah became the scene of recurrent religious strife between two opposing camps. On one side was the reformist Salafi trend, which had emerged in the late Ottoman period as a reaction to the strengthening of popular Sufism under the aegis of Sultan Abdülhamid II. The Salafiyya was motivated by a Western rationalist outlook, which it appropriated through an ideology of a return to an “invented” original Islam at the expense of a no less invented latter-day tradition of scholarly stagnation and Sufi superstition. On the other side were conservative men of religion who were eager to preserve the Sufi as well as scholarly Islamic heritage in face of the Western and Salafi challenges. Under the French Mandate, the Salafis' critique of Sufism was considerably sharpened, though their social attitudes became more conservative. Their opponents, for their part, reinforced their defense of what now came to pass for Islamic tradition through the innovative organizational form of the populist religious association.

During these decades there had been an intermittent negotiation between the two religious trends. Particularly during the Mandate, Sa

id al-Jabi, at the head of the Salafis, and the populists under the umbrella of al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya joined together in their resistance to French policies and devoted much effort to securing religious education for the young. They also cooperated in campaigns against missionary activity and women's emancipation. At a more fundamental level, the Salafis, who themselves had roots in the Sufi tradition, had recourse during such campaigns to populist strategies, while their rivals derived the very idea of religious associations from the Salafis, who had introduced it into Syria during the late Ottoman period. Such interaction was circumscribed, however, by the growing distaste of the Salafis for Sufism, which the populists vowed to defend.

Religious strife was resolved in Hamah after independence within the framework of the Muslim Brothers Society through the agency of the Naqshbandi Sufi revivalist tradition. Like the Salafis, the Naqshbandiyya—especially its Mujaddidi–Khalidi offshoot—regarded itself as strictly following the sunna of the Prophet and the Companions; however, its involvement in the affairs of state and society made it particularly susceptible to the new forms of mobilization that characterized the populist societies. By implanting the Naqshbandi legacy in Hamah, Muhammad al-Hamid was able to bridge the gap between the two opposing camps and thereby consolidate the local branch of the Muslim Brothers. His synthesis remained dominant until the rise of the radical Islamic trend under the Ba'ath.

Throughout the period, the course of Hamah's religious strife and its dissolution were determined by the interplay of two principal factors. One was the influence of parallel trends in the metropolitan centers with which the town interacted, primarily Damascus but also Istanbul, Aleppo, and Cairo. The other factor was the entry of growing sections of the population into the public arena as a result of the spread of education and the press. In the ensuing class conflict during the Mandate, the Salafi ideologues of Hamah appealed to the religious-minded segment of the middle strata, while the Islamic populists forged an alliance between the big landlords and the masses. The Salafi–Sufi synthesis of the post-independence era reflected a new alliance between the erstwhile rival landowning and professional classes, whose dominance was increasingly challenged by an emerging “new middle class” through the ideology of socialism. The mobilization of the largely heterodox countryside in this struggle culminated under the Ba'ath in the undoing of the enfeebled Sunni urban elite in its entirety.

The unprecedented assault on Sufism in the past century or so has received ample treatment in the scholarly literature.109

For a recent summary of the various challenges that Sufism has to face in the contemporary world, see Carl W. Ernst, Sufism: An Essential Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of the Mystical Tradition of Islam (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997), chap. 8.

Studies of specific Sufi and Sufi-related movements have also recorded various ways by which Sufis tried to adapt to the adverse modern realities of state intervention, fundamentalist upsurge, Westernization, and the print culture.110

See, for example, Michael Gilsenan, Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt: An Essay in the Sociology of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973); Serif Mardin, Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Arthur Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998); Donald B. Cruise O'Brien, The Mourides of Senegal: The Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

As the case of Hamah shows, such responses were by no means confined to the purely mystical sphere. Here Sufi orders were transformed into populist Islamic associations under the pressures of the late Ottoman and Mandate periods, while the Sufi revivalist tradition in particular was instrumental in the formation and operation of the Muslim Brothers after independence. In the centers of Cairo and Damascus the Sufi underpinnings of the Islamic associations tended to become obscured in the inter-war period, following their drift toward an increasingly anti–Sufi discourse, and even more so under the secular regimes of Nasser and the Ba'ath, with the rise of the radical brand of Islam that wholly rejected Sufism. The examination of less affected “peripheral” settings such as Hamah may not only help us recover this Sufi legacy but also prove that, through a variety of transformations, Sufism in general—and revivalist Sufism, in particular—has remained a vital component in the variegated modern Muslim experience.
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