Wednesday, March 29, 2023

ʿAbd al-Rahman ʿIllaysh


A contact in Egypt has found this photograph of ʿAbd al-Rahman ʿIllaysh (1840–1921), the Sufi and expert on Muhyiddin ibn ʿArabi who taught Ivan Aguéli much of what he knew about Sufism. Since Guénon took his initial understanding of Sufism, and probably also of the relationship between the esoteric and the exoteric, from Aguéli, the ultimate global impact of ʿAbd al-Rahman ʿIllaysh was considerable. Good to see what he looked like.

Friday, March 17, 2023

New light on Guénon's impact in Egypt

A recent PhD thesis defended at Aarhus University sheds new light on René Guénon’s reception in Egypt. This is Mattias Gori Olesen’s “The Future is Eastern: Muḥammad Luṭfī Jumʿa (1886-1953) and the Drang nach Osten in Interwar Egypt.”

Guénon’s first reception by an Egyptian was before he moved to Cairo, in the 1925 doctoral thesis on the Caliphate of the Egyptian lawyer (and later jurist and politician) ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Sanhūrī (1895-1971). The thesis argued for the re-establishment of a caliphate, and drew on Guénon to argue that an East-West rapprochement could be achieved partly by re-traditionalizing the West, and also argued that different Oriental forms all reflected one common tradition. Al-Sanhūrī presumably encountered Guénon in France while working on his thesis, and does not seem to have been much influenced by Guénon in his later work.

The second reception was after Guénon’s arrival in Cairo, and was in the journal al-Maʿrifa, edited not by Muṣṭafā ʿAbd al-Rāziq (1885-1947) as both Xavier Accart and I wrongly supposed, but by ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Islāmbūlī, about whom little is known. Al-Islāmbūlī was evidently himself a Traditionalist, not only publishing an article by Guénon in the first number of al-Maʿrifa, but also later arguing himself that Ibn ‘Arabī and Advaita Vedanta were one and the same. In this first article, Guénon explained the basics of Traditionalism, with “primordial tradition” rendered into Arabic as al-ʿilm al-qadīm (ancient knowledge).

This second reception soon ran into difficulties, however. First, in June 1931 al-Islāmbūlī arranged a public meeting that was attended by both Guénon and Valentine de Saint-Point. Guénon did not speak, but Saint-Point argued in Traditionalist fashion that education in Egypt should not be modernized to focus on exoteric knowledge, but should rather focus on the esoteric to equip Egyptians to resist modernity. This drew an angry response from Muḥammad Luṭfī Jumʿa, who believed that modern education was one way to strengthen the Eastern nations against the West—this was fundamental to the “Easternism” that he supported, and which is the main topic of Gori Olesen’s thesis.

Then, the next month, al-Maʿrifa published an exchange between Guénon and Muḥammad Farīd Wajdī (1875-1954) on the topic of spiritism. Wajdī wrote in favor of it, Guénon against. Wajdī rebutted, and Guénon rebutted the rebuttal, and never published again in al-Maʿrifa, or perhaps was never published again in al-Maʿrifa. Ironically, as Gori Olesen notes, in 1907 Wajdī had written in Ivan Aguéli’s Il Convito on “L’Islam, Religione Universale” (Islam, the Universal Religion). An Islamic universalism that had agreed with Aguéli, then, did not agree with Guénon.

Gori Olesen concludes:

Ultimately, Guénon and traditionalism were thus only of selective use to the Easternists. The perennialism and praise of the esoteric and spiritual that traditionalism represented were amenable to both Easternism’s political and cultural project and the way they conceived the problem and incipient solution at hand. But the anti-modernism was not… In Jumʿa’s case, the more direct inspiration for his perennial vision came from theosophic literature.

 This seems just about right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Traditionalists blog passes 1 million page views

This blog has now received one million page views. Started in 2006, it passed 500,000 page views in 2017. Over this period, interest has come from all over (see map). 38% of visits have been from the US, 29% from a range of other countries (in order, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, and Spain), and 33% from elsewhere—or perhaps from countries that Google Analytics failed to identify.

Thanks to all concerned: the readers whose interest makes this blog worthwhile, the individuals who from time to time have written to me with information and suggestions, and also the various authors of guest posts over the years. And thanks also to Google, for making Blogger available, free, and user-friendly.

New study of the Alawiyya

Manuel Chabry has just published an excellent study of Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi (died 1934) and of the Alawiyya, the Algerian-based Sufi order that Frithjof Schuon brought to Europe and then developed into the Maryamiyya

The study is entitled Le Pôle - La confrérie soufie Alawiyya (1894-1952), and was written as an MA thesis at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), one of France’s leading research institutions for the social sciences and humanities. It is self-published, and available from Amazon for $22.65. 

Chabry’s study is exhaustive, and carefully based on primary sources, notably the Alawiyya’s own publications. It falls into three parts: a historical study of the Alawiyya before, under, and after Shaykh al-Alawi (pp. 13-247), an analysis of the Alawiyya’s positions and activities (pp. 249-441), and a selection of primary texts, translated into French (pp. 461-560).

The historical study documents the dramatic expansion of the Alawiyya, especially between 1923 and 1934. The analysis is especially interesting, with short chapters on sanctity, legitimacy, and the Alawiyya’s positions regarding Islamic reformism, modern natural science, modernity in general, and Christianity. This section ends with a chapter on the Alawiyya’s ambition to spread Islam in Europe and another chapter on the Alawiyya’s Western disciples. 

The Alawiyya’s central objective, argues Chabry, was “to lead the Sufi orders to play a role in the revival of Algerian Islam in an authentic form, and against the imported innovation of reformism, by emphasizing religious education instead of relying on tribal practices and the organizations of another age.” This involved taking modernity seriously. There is a lot more to it than that, as Chabry also shows, but that is the core of what was going on. 

The chapter on Western disciples mentions Schuon, but relatively little is said of him. His relations with the Alawiyya, Chabry thinks, deserve a separate study of their own, but little light is shed on them by the published sources on which Chabry’s study is based. Even so, that study will be of interest for those who are interested in Schuon’s Traditionalism, as it reveals the context of his attachment to Sufism: the Alawiyya in general, and its (often universalist) approach to Christianity and Westerners in particular. It reminds us that Arab Muslims, as well as Westerners, played active roles in shaping relations between Islam and the West. 

The study is also an important contribution to the whole question of the adaptation to modernity of Sufism in the Muslim world.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Forthcoming book on Traditionalist thought

One of the criticisms that have been made of my original Against the Modern World is that I did not pay enough attention to Traditionalist thought. I agree, and therefore a new book will come out in June 2022 focusing on ideas: Traditionalism: The Radical Project for Restoring Sacred Order. The book is a companion to Against the Modern World, not a replacement--it goes over different ground.

The publishers are Oxford University Press in the US (see cover without tree) at $29.95 (pre-order here) and Pelican in the UK (see cover with tree) at £22 or £9.99 on Kindle (pre-order here). Two very different covers, but the text is the same. 


The chapters are:

1. Traditionalism and the Traditionalists  
2. Historical perennialism  
3. Traditionalist perennialism   
4. Traditionalist history   
5. The Traditionalist critique of modernity   
6. Traditionalism, thought, and society    

7. Self-realization    
8. Religion    
9. Politics    

10. Art    
11. Gender    
12. Nature    
13. Dialogue  
14. The radical right   
15. Conclusion    

Monday, January 16, 2023

A new and independent branch of the Maryamiyya

A new and independent branch of the Maryamiyya, the "Washington-Baltimore Branch of the Maryamiyyah Tariqah," has been established, and has established an online presence. Some of the content on its main website,, is restricted to members, but some of it is generally available, including comments by its shaykh, Terry Moore (Shaykh al-Bashir, pictured left) about how the branch became established, which are also available on YouTube.

Moore joined the Maryamiyya in Lausanne in 1975, and separated from the main tariqa in 2017, along with Hasan Awan, who is now his khalifa (deputy), and the late James Cutsinger (1953-2020), who was a leading follower of Frithjof Schuon in a personal capacity, though never (as an Orthodox Christian) a formal member of the tariqa. 

The Washington-Baltimore Maryamiyya describes itself on its other website,, as “orthodox and universalist.” The orthodoxy is circumscribed: they "observe the Sunna as much as feasible in our circumstances, and follow the essential elements and spirit of the Shari’ah" [my emphasis]. The universalism is described in terms of “transcendent unity,” Frithjof Schuon’s major contribution to Traditionalist doctrine, and thus “We accept the uncorrupted forms of all the orthodox religions as true and do not regard any of them, in their essence, as superior.” [my emphasis] This, again, is a limitation on their claimed Islamic orthodoxy. Moore makes clear in his book Here, Now, One: A Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life (Salisbury, England: New Sarum Press, 2021) that his starting point is perennialism: “Unfortunately… we can’t practice perennialism, as it has no form. It is a smile without a cat… In order to be operative, it must be packaged in a form that allows practice. The package it comes in is orthodox religion.”

The Washington-Baltimore Maryamiyya acknowledges the teachings of René Guénon, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Its website says that it was “the Shaykh of the Washington, DC branch of our order,” i.e. Nasr, who “authorized our two leaders to establish an independent branch of the order.” So perhaps not an acrimonious split. But evidently not all are happy, as one comment on Facebook warns that the group “has departed to a vast extent from and is critical of much of the traditionalist-perennialist perspective and the spiritual heritage and… method broadly affirmed and transmitted by all other branches of the Tariqah Maryamiyyah” and is “varyingly modernist, postmodernist, and New Age/self-help.” This post alleges that Moore and Awan are excessively influenced by the Direct Path of the Indian guru Sri Atmananda (1883-1959).

The presentation of the tariqa stresses respect for all “regardless of gender, race, class, or previous religious affiliation,” and states that "faqirat" (female members) “participate in leadership and decision making within our community at all levels.” It adds: “We require our leaders to adhere to the highest moral standards, especially in their relationship with fuqara’ [male followers] and faqirat [female followers].” This seems to be an acknowledgement of some of the problems from which the main Maryamiyya suffered in earlier periods, and a determination not to repeat then.

It is unclear how large the branch is, but Moore’s YouTube channel, herenowone, has 117 subscribers.

Two other connected websites are and

Many thanks to the reader of this blog who draw my attention to all this. 






Sunday, January 15, 2023

Mary Schillito: correction

René Guénon first traveled to Cairo in 1930 in the company of Mary Schillito (image to right), who I identified in Against the Modern World as a convert to Islam on the basis that she had taken the first name Dina. In fact, Dina was the surname of her husband, Assan Dina, who was not Egyptian (as I had wrongly supposed) but rather the wealthy son of an Indian-Mauritian father and a French mother. 

Assan Dina died in Egypt in 1928 while traveling home through the Suez canal from India to the chateau that he and Mary had built at Cruseilles in the French department of Haute-Savoie, just south of Geneva. This chateau, the Château des Avenières, contained a remarkable chapel with mosaic wall panels from the tarot, which can be seen on this website. The chateau is now a hotel with a fine restaurant, and those with sufficient funds can book a stay or a table here (though at present it seems to be closed). 

Alternatively, those who are looking for somewhere to live in Cincinnati, Ohio, might consider The Lofts at Shillito Place (see here), once the massive department store built by Mary Schillito’s father John Schillito, whose career is described in the Northern Kentucky Tribune (see here). 

 My thanks to Davide Marino for correcting me regarding Assan DIna.