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Another Road to Damascus

An Integrative Approach to 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri (1808-1883)

Winner of the BRAIS-Preis 2016

This text challenges existing writing on ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā'irī which divides his life into two juxtaposed phases separated by narratives of conversion: from Francophobia to Francophilia, from militarism to pacifism, from activism to quietism, from Islamism to pluralism, from politics to religion. This work's interdisciplinary approach demonstrates that these narratives cannot be sustained in light of the evidence. Rather, they can be shown to originate in specific historical, cultural, and methodological tendencies within western societies and academies. Drawing on primary materials including archival documents and selections from his own writing, it constructively critiques his reception in the literature while advancing a continuous and contextualised account of his life and ideas. These include the relating of his ethico-religious and jurisprudential concerns to his political decision-making, and a resituating of his mystical writings within a definite moral, epistemological, and political context. By problematising these interpretive issues, this thesis aims at opening new avenues for understanding even as it offers its own solutions. In so doing, this study contributes to discussions on Sufism, political Islam, and east-west relations.

Author Information

Tom Woerner-Powell, Lancaster, UK.


"The study throws new light on this character's intentions, ambitions, and limitations ... it offers a re-evaluation of his life that integrates the various facets and stages of his career, resulting in ' a more conventional, more conservative, more human figure' of the man."
Zahia Smail Salhi in: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2019), 684-685 (https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2019.1627049)

"Woerner-Powell ist eines der unverzichtbaren Referenzwerke, wenn es darum geht, etwas über ˁAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāˀirī zu schreiben."
Rüdiger Lohlker in: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 108 (2018), 459-460

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Audience: Scholars of religious studies, Islamic studies and history