An important new article on Traditional Islam has just been published, and is easily available online. It is Kasper Mathiesen, "Anglo-American ‘Traditional Islam’ and Its Discourse of Orthodoxy," Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 13 (2013), pp. 191-219.
In this article, Mathiesen explores and explains the discourses of "Traditional Islam," which he distinguished from Traditionalism, despite its origins in Traditionalism and the ways in which it continues to parallel Traditionalism.
He suggests that Traditional Islam, with capital letters, "may be construed as a denomination within Sunni Islam." It is, he considers, "one of the main paradigms and most influential currents within contemporary Islam," but is predominantly Western: as a Google search confirms, al-islām al-taqlīdī ("Traditional Islam" in Arabic) barely exists.
Mathiesen traces the origins of Traditional Islam to Seyyed Hussein Nasr’s Traditional Islam in the Modern World (1987) which, he considers, "sets forth a holistic, inspiring and learned grand vision of the
Islamic past, of traditional Islam as it was, is, should and could be." Since 1987, he argues, Traditional Islam has developed into something more specific, more Sunni, and less perennialist--replacing, for example, the classic Traditionalist account of decline with one based soundly on Islamic hadith.
Above all, however, there has developed a distinctive discourse, mostly at the hands of Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Abdul Hakim Murad, which the bulk of Mathieson's article explains. The essentials of this mirror the classic trio of islam, iman and ihsan, and are the importance of the madhhabs in fiqh, an ʿaqīda that stresses complete Divine transcendence against the anthropomorphism of Ibn Taymiyya and his contemporary Wahhabi/Salafi followers, and "the revivification of Islamic Sufism," which for Mathiesen is the "real core issue" in Traditional Islam.
The article is valuable for giving a more thorough and precise picture of Traditional Islam than is available anywhere else, and for explaining its relationship to Traditionalism clearly and convincingly. Mathiesen is right that Traditional Islam today is something separate from Traditionalism, and yet its debt to Traditionalism is clear: it is after all quite possible to object to reformists and Salafis, to value the madhhabs and stress Divine transcendence, without ending up in Sufism. Traditional Islam in a sense simply reaches the same destination as Traditionalism proper by a different route.
Mathiesen notes in passing that he accepts Ron Geaves' classification of British Barelwis as "Traditional Islam." It would be interesting to see a fuller examination of the relationship between this and the Traditional Islam of Keller and Murad.
In closing, I must declare an interest: Mathiesen is a PhD student in the Islamic Cultures and Societies Research Unit at Aarhus University, where I teach.