Wilferd Madelung

Wilferd Madelung 1930-2023

It is with great sadness that we note the death of our friend and colleague, noted scholar Professor Wilferd Madelung.

During his academic career, spanning more than 65 years, Professor Madelung made major contributions to many aspects of early and medieval Muslim history and thought. With particular reference to religious schools and movements in early Islam, his studies, based on a vast array of primary sources, have enriched the discipline’s understanding of almost every major Muslim movement and community – not only early Imami Shi‘ism and the later developments of Twelver, Ismaili and Zaydi Islam but also the lesser known aspects of Sunni, Khariji and the Mu‘tazili schools of theology and philosophy.


“In terms of his knowledge of the sources and the meticulousness with which he handles the details, [Wilferd] Madelung’s scholarship in Islamic studies is unrivalled in modern times … It is no exaggeration to state that rarely has any contemporary Islamicist made as many original contributions as Madelung to such a diversity of areas within the field of Islamic studies.”      Dr Farhad Daftary, IIS Governor and Director Emeritus 


Born in Stuttgart in 1930, Wilferd Ferdinand Madelung accompanied his parents to the United States after World War II. He enrolled at Georgetown University before going to Egypt in 1951 to study Arabic Literature and Islamic History.

He obtained his PhD in Islamic History from the University of Hamburg in 1957 and held positions at leading universities across America including The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Chicago. Madelung’s initial publications, dealing with early Ismaili doctrines and relations between the Fatimids and the Qarmatis of Bahrayn, were based on his doctoral thesis.

Madelung was Professor of Islamic History at University of Oxford from 1969 until 1978 when he became the Laudian Professor of Arabic and a Fellow of St. John’s College. He held this most prestigious of Islamic chairs in Europe until his retirement from Oxford and its Institute of Oriental Studies in 1998. Since 1999, Professor Madelung was affiliated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies as a Senior Research Fellow.

In the course of his career, Madelung received numerous honours and has also taught as Visiting Professor at many academic institutions such as The American University in Beirut and the University of Toronto. His standing in the field received recognition in his election as Fellow of the British Academy in 1999.

The IIS pays tribute to this outstanding scholar who dedicated much of his life to the study of Muslim thought and societies, and by doing so made an original contribution to the field of Islamic Studies. He will be remembered for many years to come by his many colleagues and friends at The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Wilferd Madelung and a colleague at the Institute for Ismaili Studies