Waleed Ziad, “Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints Beyond the Oxus and Indus” (Harvard UP, 2021)

Today, we speak with Waleed Ziad, about his book Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints beyond the Oxus and Indus, published in 2021 with Harvard University Press. Ziad is an assistant professor of Religion at UNC Chapel Hill and holds a PhD from Yale. In Hidden Caliphate, Ziad offers an incredibly rich, fascinating, and detailed study of Sufi networks. These are expansive networks that span a wide array of geography, from Afghanistan to China to Siberia. Challenging dominant and often simplistic narratives of the region, reduced to the story of the Great Game, the book centers on the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Sufi order, the hidden caliphate in Ziad’s title, who play instrumental roles in shaping the religious, social, political, and intellectual landscapes of Central and South Asia. Ziad shows that these networks stay alive well into the 20th century, in a period that other scholars have argued is one of decline, with their legacy and influence still alive today, embedded in everyday life and culture throughout the region. The book is a riveting telling of the mujaddidis’ impact on Muslim reformist movements and their responses to the decline of Muslim political power.

In our discussion today, we talk about Ziad’s arguments and contributions. Some of the specific themes we cover in this discussion are Islamic sovereignty and kingship, millenarian eschatology, Sufis as scholars and scholars as Sufis, intellectuals, and teachers, Sufism’s connection with orthodoxy, parallels between Sufi training and Tantric Buddhist esoterism, the woman question in the book, and colonialism and its impact on the Mujaddidis.

Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at haqqani_s@mercer.edu.

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