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Madelung was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where he completed his early education at Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium. His family moved to the United States in 1947. He studied at Georgetown University. In 1952, he went to Egypt and stayed there for a year. During his stay, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, initiated by the Free Officers, occurred. He also met Ihsan Abbas, the famous scholar of Islamic history.
On leaving Egypt he went back to Germany and completed his Ph.D in 1957, working with Berthold Spuler. In 1958 he was sent to Iraq by the German government to work at its embassy there. Shortly after his arrival in Baghdad, Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim overthrew the regime in the bloody military coup known as the 14 July Revolution. Madelung stayed in Iraq two more years. Subsequently, he taught at the University of Chicago.
Madelung was Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1978 to 1998. He has written extensively on the early history of Islam, as well as on Islamic sects such as the Shi'a and the Ismailis.He has also written a lot of academic journals and lectures about Ibadism. He has served on the editorial boards of several academic journals including the Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies. He is currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for Ismaili Studies in London
- Madelung, W. (editor) - Arabic Texts Concerning The History of The Zaydi Imams of Tabaristan, Daylaman And Gilan, Franz Steiner, 1987
- Madelung, W. - Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran, 1988
- Madelung, W. - Religious and Ethnic Movements in Medieval Islam, 1992
- Madelung, W. - The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997
- Madelung, W. and Walker, P. - An Ismaili Heresiography, Leiden, 1998
- Madelung, W. and Walker, P. - The Advent of the Fatimids: A Contemporary Shi'i Witness, I.B. Tauris, 2000
- Madelung, W. - Der Imam al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim und die Glaubenslehre der Zaiditen, Walter De Gruyter Incorporated, 2002
- Madelung, W. - Religious school and sects in medieval Islam
- Madelung, W. (editor) - The Book of the Rank of the Sage. Rutbat al-Ḥakīm by Maslama al-Qurṭubī. Arabic Text edited with an English Introduction by Wilferd Madelung. Corpus Alchemicum Arabicum IV. Living Human Heritage Publications, Zurich 2016.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (1974) The origins of the controversy concerning the creation of the Koran. In: Barral (ed.) 1974, vol. 1, 504-525.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (1979) The Shiite and Khārijite contribution to pre-Ashcarite Kalām. In: Morewedge (ed.) 1979, 120-139.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (ed.) (1985) Aḥmad al-Nāṣir [li-Dīn Allāh]: Streitschrift des Zaiditenimams: wieder die ibaditische Prädestinationslehre. Wiesbaden: (Orient-Institut der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Beirut) in Kommission bei Steiner, 1985, (18 pp. German text, 351 pp. Ar. text; 25x18 cm.). ISBN 3-515-03189-8.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (1992) Abū ʿUbayda Maʿmar b. al-Muthannā as a historian. Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford), vol. 3 (1992), 47-56.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2004) ʿAbdallāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī. Al-Tasāmuḥ (Muscat), nr. 5 (Winter 1425/2004).
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2007) ʿAbdl. b. Ibāḍ and the origins of the Ibāḍiyya. In: Authority, privacy and public order in Islam: Proceedings of the 22nd congress of L'Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants, Cracow, 29 Sept.-4 Oct. 2004. Ed. by B. Michalak-Pikulska and A. Pikulski. Leuven: Peeters/David Brown Book Co., U.S.A., 2007, 51-58.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2008) The theology of ʿAbd Allāh al-Fazārī.A lecture given at the 24th Congress of the Union Européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants, University of Leipzig, 24-28 Sept. 2008.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2010) ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī's rebuttal of the teaching of Ibn ʿUmayyir.Lecture delivered at the Conference: Theological rationalism in medieval Islam: new sources and perspectives, Istanbul, 4–6 June 2010.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2011b) ʿAbdallāh b. Ibāḍ's “Second Letter to ʿAbd al-Malik”. In: Community, state, history and change: Festschrift for Prof. Ridwan al-Sayyid on his60th birthday. Beirut: al-Shabaka al-ʿArabiyya li'l-Abḥāth wa'l-Nashr, 2011, 7-17.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2012a) The authenticity of the letter of ʿAbd Allāh b. Ibāḍ to ʿAbd al- Malik. Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée (REMMM) (Lyon), vol. 132 (Dec. 2012), 37-43.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2012b) ʿĪsà b. ʿUmayr's Ibāḍī theology and Donatist Christian thought.In: Hansberger et al. (eds.) 2012, 99-103.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2012c) Ibāḍiyya and Muʿtazila in Early Islam. A lecture given at: International conference: Ibāḍī theology. Rereading sources and scholarly works (q.v.).
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2012d) The early Ibadiyya and Zaydiyya. A lecture delivered at: International conference: Ibadisme dans les sociétés islamiques médiévales(q.v.).
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2013) Aqwāl Qatāda, the Shuʿaybiyya and the Nukkār. A lecture delivered at: International conference: Ibāḍī Jurisprudence. Ibāḍī law in the post-Rustamid period (q.v.).
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2014b) ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Yazīd al-Fazārī on the abode of Islam. In: Ziaka (ed.) 2014a, 53-58.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2014c) ʿAbdl. b. ʿAbbās and the Muḥakkima of Basra. A lecture delivered at: International Conference: today's perspectives on Ibāḍī history and the historical sources (q.v.).
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2015a) Ibāḍiyya and Muʿtazila: two moderate opposition movements in early Islam. In Francesca (ed.) 2015b, 23-28.
- Madelung, Wilferd: (2015) A Quranic perspective on the Nahḍa in Islam. A lecture delivered at: International conference: Sixth conference on Ibadism and Oman (q.v.).
- Custers, Martin H. (2016). Al-Ibāḍiyya: A Bibliography. 3 (Second revised and enlarged ed.). Hildesheim-London-N.Y.: Olms Publishing. pp. 442–444. ISBN 9783487153544.
- Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Ismaili Studies in London