Ivan Aguéli (1869-1917), also known as Sheikh ‘Abd al-Hadi, was a Sufi anarchist and post-impressionist artist who moved from Stockholm to Paris in the 1890s.
He is significant for his working relationship with René Guénon, illustrating the overlap at the time between left-wing anti-imperialism and the anti-colonialist, anti-commercial Sufi traditionalism espoused by Guénon, now often wrongly assumed to be “reactionary”.
Along with his lover Marie Huot, described by Mark Sedgwick as “an anarchist, a vegetarian and an animal rights activist”, Aguéli achieved some kind of notoriety in the French capital and in 1900 shot and wounded a matador in a protest against the proposed introduction of Spanish-style bullfighting to France. (2)
In Paris, Aguéli was, says Sedgwick, “known for extravagant behavior. Quick tempered and given to making lengthy speeches on unpopular subjects such as the excellences of anarchism, he frequently wore a turban or Arab dress”. (3)
Robin Waterfield describes how Aguéli was “held in gaol for several months for harbouring an anarchist wanted by the police. During his time in prison he studied Hebrew and Arabic besides reading such writers as Fabre d’Olivet, Dionysius the Areopagite, Villiers, L’Isle Adam and, not surprisingly, his compatriot Swedenborg”. (4)
Aguéli also lived in Cairo for a while, where he became a Muslim and Sufi. Robin Waterfield writes: “Sheikh Abder Rahman Elish El-Kebir, who was Aguéli’s pir, or spiritual father, was the restorer of the Maliki rite, dominant in West Africa and the Sudan.
“He was the son of an even more famous spiritual leader of the same name who had been imprisoned by the British in Egypt at the time of the revolt of Arabi Pasha. The particular brand of Sufism that they taught was based on the teachings of one of the greatest of all Muslim Sufis, Ibn Arabi, who was born in Spain in 1165 and studied in Seville”. (5)
In Cairo he worked with another anarchist by the name of Enrico Insabato, with whom he produced an Italian-language magazine called Il Convito (The Banquet). This pro-Sufi journal took a strong stand against British colonialism in Egypt and it was closed down by the British administration in 1913. Furthermore, Aguéli was suspected of being an Ottaman spy and was expelled to Spain.
Aguéli had a direct influence on René Guénon, who was “initiated by Aguéli into the Sufi tariqeh, by receiving the barakah or blessing at his hands”. (6) Guénon and Aguéli went on to collaborate on a review called La Gnose and “Aguéli, in the issue for January 1911, wrote an important article on the doctrinal identity of Taoism and Islam”. (7)
There is an Aguéli museum in his home town of Sala in Sweden.
1. Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 60.
2. Sedgwick, p. 61.
3. Sedgwick, pp. 62-63.
4. Robin Waterfield, René Guénon and The Future of the West: The life and writings of a 20th-century metaphysician (Wellingborough: Crucible, 1987), p. 40.
5. Waterfield, p. 41.
7. Waterfield, p. 42.