He studied at Georgetown University. On leaving Egypt he went back to Germany and completed his Doctor of Philosophy in 1957, working with Berthold Spuler.
His family moved to the United States in 1947. 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.
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 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.