Title

The American Sufis: Self-Help, Sufism, and Metaphysical Religion in Postcolonial Egypt

Publication Date

10-3-2019

Document Type

Article

Department

Humanities

Publication Title

Comparative Studies in Society and History

Volume

61

Issue

4

DOI

10.1017/S001041751900029X

First Page

864

Last Page

893

Abstract

This article examines an Arabic commentary on the American self-help pioneer Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, written by a one-time leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Muḥammad al-Ghazālī. Ghazālī’s 1956 commentary was perhaps the earliest manifestation of an influential genre of literature within the Islamic world today: “Islamic self-help.” Although scholars treat Islamic self-help as an effect of neoliberalism, this article reorients the study of Islamic self-help beyond neoliberalism by showing first, that Ghazālī’s early version of it emerged through a critical engagement with several ideological forms that relate in complex ways to neoliberalism's antecedent, liberalism; and second, that his Islamic self-help is best understood in terms of an Islamic encounter with American metaphysical religion made possible by Carnegie's text. It argues that Ghazālī’s Islamic self-help constituted a radical reconfiguration of Western self-help, one that replaced the ethics of self-reliance and autonomy with Islamic ethical sensibilities clustered around the notions of human insufficiency and dependence upon God. In doing so, it highlights how scholars of contemporary Islam might fruitfully pose the question of how novel intellectual trends and cultural forms, like self-help, become Islamic, instead of limiting their analysis to how Islam is reshaped by modern Euro-American thought, institutions, and practices.

Keywords

self-help, metaphysical religion, Sufism, Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, neoliberalism, Islam, Dale Carnegie

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