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Thus Spake the Dervish

Sufism, Language, and the Religious Margins in Central Asia, 1400-1900


Alexandre Papas

Thus Spake the Dervish explores the unfamiliar history of marginal Sufis, known as dervishes, in early modern and modern Central Asia over a period of 500 years. It draws on various sources (Persian chronicles and treatises, Turkic literature, Russian and French ethnography, the author’s fieldwork) to examine five successive cases, each of which corresponds to a time period, a specific socially marginal space, and a particular use of mystical language. Including an extensive selection of writings by dervishes, this book demonstrates the diversity and tenacity of Central Asian Sufism over a long period. Here translated into a Western language for the first time, the extracts from primary texts by marginal Sufis allow a rare insight into their world.

Sufism East and West

Mystical Islam and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Modern World


Edited by Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh

In Sufism East and West, the contributors investigate the redirection and dynamics of Sufism in the modern era, specifically from the perspective of global cross-cultural exchange. Edited by Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh, the book explores the role of mystical Islam in the complex interchange and fluidity in the resonance spaces of “East” and “West.”
The volume challenges the enduring Orientalist binary coding of East-versus-West and argues instead for a more mutual process of cultural plaiting and shared tradition. By highlighting amendments, adaptations and expansions of Sufi semantics during the last centuries, it also questions the persistent perception of Sufism in its post-classical epoch as a corrupt imitation of the legacy of the great Sufis of the past.


Hamza Malik

In The Grey Falcon, Hamza Malik offers an account of the life and teaching of the twelfth century scholar and Sufi of Baghdad, and eponym of the Qadiri order, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (1077-1166). The question of whether Jīlānī was a Sufi, or simply a scholar appropriated by later Sufis as has been sometimes suggested, is tackled through an analysis of his three most popular works, the Ghunya li Ṭālibī Ṭarīq al-Ḥaqq, the Futūḥ al-Ghayb, and the Fatḥ al-Rabbānī. Malik identifies and presents Jīlānī’s Sufi thought and theological stance, and furthermore attempts to paint a picture of the character and personality of Jīlānī, as might be ascertained solely from the works analysed.

Mohammed Rustom


Modern scholars have been interested in the great Persian Sufi martyr ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī (d. 525/1131) for over six decades. Despite this fact, many aspects of his life and thought still remain terra incognita. Our knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his death is a case-in-point. Although we have a fairly good understanding of the factors which led to ʿAyn al-Quḍāt’s demise, there are other “causes” which simultaneously complement and problematize this understanding. Chief amongst these are the underlying reasons for ʿAyn al-Quḍāt’s critique of the Seljuk government, as well as something which ʿAyn al-Quḍāt saw as a more subtle cause for his death several years before his anticipated state execution.

Aydogan Kars


This article reevaluates Rūmī’s approach to divine union in the light of the larger institutional and normative context that orchestrates it. Via key terms “spiritual companionship” [ṣuḥba] and normative Sufi “conduct” [adab], I situate Rūmī within the Khurasanian Sufi milieu wherein divine union was perceived as a communicative and communal process whereby the existentiating divine mercy overflows to, and reflects from, embodied companions. Not only Rūmī’s, but also Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār’s approach to divine union can be better appreciated in this normative Sufi setting where the perfection of human soul, body, speech, and agency coincide with an apophatic communion of companions.

Journey in Sufism

Literal or Metaphorical?

Mansure Rahmani, Ahad Faramarz Gharamaleki and Hassan Arif


Journey (safar) is strongly relevant to Sufism and mysticism. It has been considered as a paradigm for the various stages of spiritual transition. The problem addressed in this study concerns different uses of the word for analysis of the process of its conversion into a mystical term, and the criticism of this process. Sufis used the term journey in its literal meaning because of its important role in achieving mystical goals, utilizing it as a metaphor for death, life and the transition of one’s states influenced by religious sources. Journey as a metaphor for transition of one’s states was considered literal by the method of the “metaphysicalization” of sensual concepts. This new literal use of journey came to be employed as a paradigm to order the process of the mystical path. As such, the method of the metaphysicalization of sensual concepts needs linguistic arguments, as it cannot be applied to all words.

Aiyub Palmer


The ring analogy is generally associated with Ibn ʿArabī and his Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam. However, al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī uses this same analogy as a way of expressing various aspects of walāya within his original and multi-layered doctrine of the concept. The present article’s understanding of Tirmidhī’s ring analogy and its relationship to his doctrine of walāya builds upon the work of Radtke and others who have sought to explain the major features of Tirmidhī’s doctrine. The use of the ring analogy by Tirmidhī and Ibn ʿArabī after him leads us to posit a shared mode of thought and expression that helps situate and elucidate Ibn ʿArabī’s esoteric doctrine of walāya within a framework developed by Tirmidhī.

Pieter Coppens


This article reflects on some methodological issues in the study of tafsīr, taking the dissemination of the ideas of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) on the non-perpetuity of the chastisement of Hell in Sufi tafsīr as a case study. I show that Ibn ʿArabī’s ideas on the issue were hardly adopted by later Sufi commentators on the Qurʾān. I investigate whether just as its exoteric counterpart, and despite the claim of Sufi tafsīr being rooted in ‘experience’ and thus being more ‘original’, Sufi tafsīr is ‘genealogical’ and is thus more conservative in its content. Although the Sufi genre of tafsīr generally seems more willing to include Sufi sayings and ideas from outside the boundaries of the genre, this does not make it adaptive of the non-mainstream ideas of Ibn ʿArabī on Hell proposed outside the genre. This brings up some considerations on the use and usability of tafsīr as a source of intellectual history.

Sufis and Coffee Consumption

Religio-Legal and Historical Aspects of a Controversy in the Late Mamluk and Early Ottoman Periods

Hatim Mahamid and Chaim Nissim


From the tenth/sixteenth century, coffee consumption spread from Yemen northwards, mainly via the Sufis and their disciples, who claimed that drinking coffee helped their ritual activity. This caused an extended debate among the ulama of different schools, who viewed the Sufis’ coffee drinking as a negative innovation opposed to the sharīʿa. The controversy first focused on whether coffee was permitted, or rather forbidden, like wine. However, as coffee became widespread, the lack of religious proofs for its prohibition and the religious and political authorities’ inability to forbid it moved the debate to the moral aspects. The supporters of forbidding coffee drinking were mainly ulama in official positions such as judges. These ulama needed the help of rulers to enforce the prohibition. Due to Sufis, by the eleventh–twelfth/seventeenth–eighteenth centuries, coffee consumption became a social phenomenon both in homes and in public spheres, as coffeehouses.

Weighing Knowledge

Humanity, Modernity, and Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh’s Mīzān al-maʿrifah

Robert Landau Ames


This article studies the influence of late Qajar cultures of politics and ethics upon a Sufi theory of knowledge. It argues that Mīrzā Ḥasan Iṣfahānī (known in Sufi circles as Ṣafī ʿAlī Shāh) performed the role of public intellectual in his treatise on knowledge and ethics Mīzān al-maʿrifah (The Scale of Knowledge). I propose that the text’s ethical directives actually serve to dictate the conditions under which a particularly modern subject can claim knowledge. Being someone who knows does not mean being someone who has access to data; it means being someone who can look, and act, as a knower should. Humanity is book’s titular “scale of knowledge,” but, in that text, to truly be human entails the cultivation of virtue and the correct performance of one’s role, as coded in norms of class, profession, and gender, norms conveyed within many of the text’s explanatory analogies.