Dissertation Defense: Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra, “A SALAFĪ (MOST) BECOMING: THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE LEGACY OF MUḤAMMAD SULṬĀN AL-MAʿṢŪMĪ AL-KHUJANDĪ (1880–1961)
Today, Muḥammad Sulṭān al-Maʿṣūmī al-Khujandī (1880-1961) is only barely remembered as the Saudi author of a popular Salafī tract that came to be known by the title Is a Muslim required to follow a particular madhhab from among the four madhhabs?, which had gained notoriety after receiving a book-length response in 1970 from the prominent Syrian neotraditionalist Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī (1929-2013) entitled Anti-madhhabism: the most dangerous innovation threatening the Islamic sharīʿa. Although the limited number of academic studies touching upon al-Khujandī’s text have acknowledged its importance, often citing it as a representative example of the Salafī approach to the critical issues of madhhabs and taqlīd, al-Khujandī himself remains practically unstudied. Furthermore, al-Khujandī’s legacy has been shaped by a small group of Salafīs who have been responsible for the republication of some of his works.
Closer inspection reveals al-Khujandī to be a figure who is nowhere to be seen and, yet, if searched for, is everywhere to be found. Straddling the era of high empire and that of the early formation of nation-states, this dissertation examines al-Khujandī’s life and works, unearthing important findings relevant to the study of Islam and reformist Islamic discourses in the early twentieth century in Central Asia under late Imperial Russia and the early Soviet Union, the late Ottoman domains, the early Saudi state, Republican China, and Japan. It offers two primary contributions. First, it establishes a critical and contextualised account of al-Khujandī’s biography and lifeworks based upon the analysis of primary and secondary sources, revealing him to be a more complex and multifaceted figure than his legacy would imply. Second, it examines the processes involved in the construction of al-Khujandī’s legacy by considering his autobiographical self-presentation and his reception and subsequent presentation by later Salafīs as a hagiographic ideal—a Salafī sage of old, most becoming of the title Salafī. The critical examination of the various acts of commission, omission, and overlooking involved in the construction of al-Khujandī’s legacy has implications for the study of contemporary Salafism, demonstrating the varied influences that have gone into its discursive formation and the internal contestations that give rise to its salient expressions.