Skip to main content



The origins of Sufism (taawwuf in Arabic), or Islamic mysticism, appear clearly in the spiritual practise of the Prophet Muhammad in seventh-century Arabia (Massignon 1954, Lings 1993). Sufism's key contemplative discipline, remembrance of God (dhikr ), was practiced continually by the Prophet and is alluded to in fifteen verses of the Qur'ān. From this practise the Sufis developed an entire science of invocations and supplications (adhkār ) designed to cultivate the heart, refine the soul, and elevate ordinary human consciousness into awareness of the ever-immanent divinity (Chittick 1987). There are nonetheless a number of formative influences on early Sufism that are extraneous to early Qur'ānic spirituality. Michael Sells (1996) has demonstrated that the heritage of pre-Islamic poetry provided numerous subthemes (for example, drunkenness, love-madness, perpetual wandering, the secret shared between lover and beloved) for later Sufi literature and poetry. Scholars such as D. Miguel Asin Palacios, Tor Andrae, Duncan Macdonald, Louis Massignon, Henry Corbin and Luce López-Baralt have revealed how some of the ascetic and mystical tendencies in early Sufism bear close resemblances to Christian mysticism, a thesis adumbrated by Tor Andrea's In the Garden of Myrtles: Studies in Early Islamic Mysticism (1987).

Qur'Ānic Origins and Formative Influences from the Seventh to Tenth Century

The word ūfī as a technical term does not itself come into use before the end of the eighth century CE. The last of the following four possible etymologies of the word (there is no consensus) reflects the relation of the movement with Greek philosophy: from Ahl-i uffa, "the People of the Veranda," the Prophet's most intimate companions in seventh-century Medina; from safā, meaning purity; from ūf, meaning wool; and from the Greek sofos, that is, sagesse, a cognate of sophia ("wisdom"). In the context of the last-cited etymology, Sufism appears to be related to Islamic "philosophy" or falsafa in Arabic, faylasf (philosopher) being the Arabic transcription of the Greek philosophos. Although the terms Sufi and Sufism are historically applicable only to the type of mystic and mysticism developed within Islam, based upon pursuit of the Prophet's exemplary practice (sunna ), it is undeniable that many of the theosophical elements in Sufism, especially as the mystical tradition changed and developed over the course of later centuries, are largely derived from Greek thought.

Mystical teachings are usually ascribed to a number of the Companions (al-aāb ) of the Prophet and their "followers" (al-tabā'iyun ) (Ernst 1999), the first and foremost being the fourth Sunni Caliph ʿAlī ibn Abī ālib (d. 661) whose sermons, letters, poems, and maxims were compiled by Sharīf al-Raī (d. 1015) in the Nahj al-balāghah. ʾAlī features as the starting-point of all the esoteric initiatic chains of Sufism, whether Sunni or Shīʿite, and is recognized as the founder of two fundamental Sufi doctrines: renunciation of the world (zuhd ) and spiritual poverty (faqr ). His possession of gnostic insight and esoteric knowledge (ʿilm-i ladunī ) is acknowledged by all Muslim theologians, Sufi mystics, and philosophers.

asan al-Barī (d. 728), the principal founder of the early ascetic movement of Islam that later became known as Sufism, is listed as Imam ʿAlī's succeeding link in most Sufi initiatic chains among the "followers" of the Prophet's "Companions."

The next most significant figure in Sufi thought is the sixth Shīʿite Imam Abū Jaʿfar al-ādiq (d. 765), the author of the earliest mystical Qur'ān commentary, described as "the soundest of all the Shaykhs, upon whom all of them rely. He is the path-master of the people of love (pīshvā-yi ahl-i 'ishq ) (ʿAttār 1993, p. 12). In fact, the love mysticism of Sufism may be traced back to both al-ādiq and to his contemporary, Rābiʿa al-Adawiyya (d. 788792), the most famous female Sufi in all history, of whom Ibn ʿArabī commented, "She is the one who analyzes and classes the categories of love to the point of being the most famous interpreter of love."

It was in the ninth century, when Greek philosophy was being introduced into Islam and when all the technical vocabulary of philosophy and theology in the Arabic language was being fashioned, that most of the basic technical terms, concepts, and categories of Sufism were also elaborated. It was probably in response to the Neoplatonic philosophers of the "School of Baghdad" (revolving around Caliph al-Ma'mūn, who supported the translation of Greek works into Arabic and Syriac) that the Sufis of the ninth century first began to use the term mystical knowledge (or maʿrifat ) instead of rational knowledge (or ʿilm ) to refer to the type of experiential, gnostic knowledge they possessed, in order to distinguish it from the mental, purely theoretical knowledge of their contemporaries, the Neoplatonists. (Danner 1987, p. 254).

It is not mere historical coincidence that both of these celebrated Schools of Baghdadthat of the philosophers and that of the Sufisevolved at exactly the same time and place. From the early ninth century, Muslim Peripatetic philosophy and Sufi mysticism shared a common psychological vocabulary simultaneously fed by the two streams of Qur'ānic spirituality and Greek philosophical writings, which had been translated into Arabic. Although the intellectual contexts and applications of this vocabulary differed greatly, the lexicon of both was often identical; a huge stream of common terms flowed through both systems from the two sources. For instance, in psychology, both Sufi mystics and Peripateric philosophers shared a common terminology: for soul, nafs ; for spirit, rū; for heart, qalb, for phantasy, wahm ; for imagination, khiyāl; for reason, ʿaql. While all these terms also figure prominently in the Qur'ān, they were corralled and culled as suitable translations (as Harry Wolfson [1935] established in a seminal article) by Muslim thinkers such as al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Ghazālī.

In the ninth century three mystics were of primary importance for the development of Sufi esoteric and mystical terminology. The first two are vaunted for their role in the development of psychospiritual terminology of Sufism, whereas the third is famous for his unusual but highly influential mystical theology. All three affected the formulation of Sufi philosophy, if philosophia is understood in its literal sense as love of divine wisdom.

The first figure was al-arīth al-Muāsibi (d. 857), who lived and taught in Baghdad. From the standpoint of formulation of mystical doctrine, psychological examination of the spiritual life, and authorship of definitive textbooks on both subjects, he was indubitably the most illustrious Sufi of the ninth century. As "the real master of primitive Islamic mysticism," as Margaret Smith put it, most later elaboration and exposition of Sufi technical terminologysuch as self-examination (muāsaba ), contemplation (muraqaba ), fear (khawf ), hope (raja' ), patience (abr ), contentment (riā' )can be traced back to terminology that first appeared in his works.

The second figure, Dhū'l-Nūn al-Mirī (d. 861), "the founder of theosophical Súfiism," as Nicholson (1906) rightly calls him, played a formative role in the evolution of Sufi doctrine. He had been the first to provide a systematic teaching about the mystical states and spiritual stations (awāl u maqāmāt ) of Sufism and was also the first to discourse on mystical knowledge, or maʿrifat, and to distinguish it from academic knowledge, or ʿilm. He was also founder of the practice and theory of the "art of audition to music" and the first to describe in poetic detail the types of "ecstatic rapture" (samāʿ and wajd ), which ensued from this aesthetic tool of contemplative vision. He was the also the first mystic to use the imagery of the wine of love and cup of mystical of gnosis poured out for the lover (Smith 1991).

However, it was the third figure, Abū Yazīd (or Bāyazīd) Bisāmī (d. 848 or 875), who personified the Muslim mystic par excellence and who served as the real cornerstone of the free-spirited classical Sufism of later generations. He is the most frequently cited mystic in Sufi poetry. Bāyazīdian Sufism still represents the zenith of anticlerical thinking in Islam. His paradoxical utterances (he wrote nothing down), transmitted by word of mouth by disciples, soon became the subject of intricately argued prose commentaries and complicated Sufi metaphysical compositions in prose and verse. A century after his death, a separate Bāyazīdian school came into being; some two centuries later this school's contours became intellectually formalized in ʿAlī Hujwīrī's (d. 1071) Kashf al-majūb, a Persian manual of Sufi teachings and doctrine, in which Bāyazīd's followers are classified as comprising a separate school of thought known as the ayfūriyya and described as advocates of rapture (ghalabat ) and intoxication (sukr ) as opposed to Junayd's School of Sobriety (saw ). Of particular importance in Sufi philosophy is Bāyazīd's doctrine of fanāʾ, or annihilation, of the selfhood or individual ego identity in God's Self-identity, enabling the mystic to contemplate God directly through God's own eye (Rūzbihān 1966, p. 115).

Aside from these three key Sufis, there were a number of other significant mystics in the history of ninth-century Sufism, most notably akīm al-Tirmidhī (d. 908), from the Transoxanian town of Tirmirdh, one of the most interesting and prolific authors to write on themes such as sanctity and prophethood. His works became the subject of commentaries by later Sufis such as Ibn ʿArabī.

The main center for the development of Sufi doctrine in the ninth and tenth centuries was Khurāsān, in northern Iran, and the city of Nishāpūr, which, following the fall of Baghdad to the Buwayhids in 945, became the center of Sunni Islam for the next two centuries. Nishāpūr was the center of the antiascetic Sufi school of the Malāmatiyya (lovers of blame), whose masters enjoined their students to practice psychological introspection into the blemishes of the "lower soul" (nafs ), or ego, and to expose their personal faults in public. Its central teacher, Abū af addād (d. 874879), advocated opening oneself to public blame, concealing all one's own praiseworthy virtues from public scrutiny while accusing oneself of spiritual shortcomings. Its two other main representatives in Nishāpūr, Hamdūn al-Qaār (d. 884) and Abū 'Uthmān al-īrī (d. 910), were famous for nonconformist mysticism: Qaār criticized as egotistical those who overtly perform dhikr, and al-īrī reproached as hypocritically impious those who engaged in acts of devotion with any degree of awareness of self.

Three important developments in Sufisminstitutional, aesthetic and pedagogicaltook place in Nishāpūr at the end of the ninth century. Regarding the institutional developments, Margaret Malamud (1977) and Jacqueline Chabbi (1994) have shown that, in the early ninth century, some of the earliest Sufi khānaqāh s (meeting houses) were established in Nishāpūr. Abū Saʿīd Abī'l-Khayr (9671049) was the first person to formalize a program for institutional and communal living of disciples, codifying rules for novices in his Sufi khānaqāh. In mystical aesthetics, Abū Saʿīd is significant for having definitively integrated the practice of "audition to poetry with music" (al-samāʿ ) into the Sufi devotional life. He pioneered the expression of mystical ideas in Persian verse, using the quatrain form (rubāʿī ), in which he was the chief forerunner of Sanāʾī, ʿAār, and Rūmī (Graham 1999).

Fritz Meier (1999) has shown how a radical transformation in Sufism took place in Nishāpūr regarding the theory of pedagogy and practice of the master-disciple relationship from end of the late ninth century onwards. The spiritual master, who had formerly figured merely as an academic instructor of a group of students, now became the main fulcrum of the via mystica. He was transformed into a spiritual trainer of adepts, a saint in whom the studentnow discipleis obliged to confide with childlike trust his inmost thoughts and grant unquestioning obedience, considering him as the absolute authority and ultimate judge in all matters. By the eleventh century, this aristocratic Nishāpūrian model of the spirituality came to prevail throughout the Sufi tradition worldwide.

The leader and founder of the other important mystical school of Sufism, which was centred in Baghdad, was Abū'l-Qāsim Junayd (d. 910), who perfected Muāsibī's orthodox teachings and utilized his terminology. Junayd's translation of Bāyazīd's sayings from Persian into Arabic and commentary on them were preserved in Abū Nar Sarrāj al-usī's (d. 378/988) Illumination of Sufism (Kitāb al-luma' fī'l-taawwuf ), "the oldest surviving general account of Sufism" (Arberry 1950). Junayd elaborated Bāyazīd's doctrine of fanā' in depth and detail, careful to guard against the negative consequences of the doctrine, which, superficially considered, might be interpreted by Sufism's enemies as either a kind of an ontological nihilism or else a subjective interiorised pantheism; he thus rejected both the doctrine of ulūl ("incarnationism," whereby God infuses himself in man as one substance into another) and iiād ("unitive absorption" of the individual's finite selfhood in God). Junayd's sober integration of the theosophical teachings of Sufism with Islamic legalism constitutes the basis for the orthodox understanding of Sufism down to the present day.

Because of the century and city (Baghdad) in which he flourished, Junayd was highly influenced by the school of Islamic Neoplatonism that had been established there. The theory of Al-Fārābī (d. 950), known as the "second teacher" (al-muʿallim al-thānī ) after Aristotle, was that religions constitute elaborate symbol systems to be interpreted by an elite group of sages. This rationalist esotericism found a fit gnostic reprise in Junayd's use of mystical terminology that employed Sufi symbolic sayings couched in an enigmatic and hermetic writing style (ishārāt ). A comparison of Junayd's basic concepts (as Ali Hassan Abdel-Kader [1976] has shown) with those of Plotinusthe stages of the mystical path, the doctrine of the preexistence and postexistence of the soul, the theory of contemplation (mushāhada ), and the idea that mundane beauty stimulates the longing of the soul for its home Yonderreveals Junayd's intellectual fraternity with the great pagan philosopher of late antiquity.

Junayd's school of sobriety stands in contrast to the boldly unconventional mystical theology of his most celebrated contemporary, the great martyr of Sufism Manūr al-allāj (d. 922), to whose life and thought Louis Massignon consecrated a huge four-volume monograph, La Passion de Husayn Ibn Manūr allāj: martyr mystique de l'Islam (1982). As Massignon (1986) pointed out, allāj figures as a precursor of Ghazālī in his endeavor to bring dogma into harmony with Greek philosophy on the basis of mystic experience. allāj was a disciple of Sahl ibn 'Abd Allāh Tustarī (d. 896), famed for his esoteric Qur'ānic exegesis. Tustarī identified "the search for knowledge" (alab al-'ilm ) as incumbent upon all Muslims with mystical feeling and spiritual consciousness ('ilm al-l ). He defined this consciousness as the deep-felt realization that God is the witness (shahid ) of the devotee's thoughts, words, and deeds, which, with practice, can be transmuted into realized sapience or existential verification of knowledge (taqīq al-ʿilm ).

At least two key philosophical doctrines in Sufism are traceable to allāj: first, the idea of Love (ʿishq ) as "essential desire" (that is, human erotic aspiration as identical with the divine Essence), which allāj's follower Abū al-asan al-Daylamī (tenth century), was first to attribute to him in the Kitāb ʿaf al-alif al-maʾlūf ʿalāʾl-lām al-maʿūf (The book of the inclination of the familiar alif toward the inclined lam), the first book on mystical love in Islam which drew on Sufism, philosophy, and Arabic court culture (adab ). allāj's controversial usage of the Arabic ʿishq (passionate love) for the human-divine relationship has startling similarities to the objections raised by Christian theologians against the use of the Platonic eros and the Latin amor as equivalents to the Pauline agape. Ibn Sīnā's (Avicenna, d. 1037) philosophical conception of love (ʿishq ) as the universal principle of being, animate and inanimate; his view of God as the First Beloved (Maʿshūq-i awwal ) who is simultaneously loved, lover, and love, is connected with allāj's theory (Anwar 2003, Ernst 1994). Second, allāj's conception of divine union as embodying realization of the essential oneness or unification of the human spirit with God (ʿayn al-jamʿ ) was expressed notably in his shocking theopathic locution Anā al-aqq ("I am God"), for utterance of which he was martyred.

During the tenth century Persian mystics continued to compose manuals and systematic treatises on Sufism in Arabic: Abū Bakr Muammad al-Kalābādhī (1989) (d. 990, a native of Bukhara) wrote his pioneering Introduction to the Creed of the Sufis (Kitāb al-taʿarruf li-madhhab ahl al-taawwuf ), an important introduction toand integration of Islamic exotericism withSufism. In this work he prudently avoided any mention of allāj, still considered a heretic by the jurists. Another Sufi scholar, Abū Nar Sarrāj (d. 988) from Khurasan, wrote "the oldest surviving general account of Sufism" (Arberry 1950, p. 67). Illumination of Sufism (Kitāb al-luma' fi'l-taawwuf ). One of allāj's masters, Abū ālib al-Makkī (d. 996), composed the most celebrated Sufi textbook of the Baghdad School entitled The Food of Hearts (Qūt al-qulūb ), which anticipated the reconciliation of mystical and legalistic Islam that would later appear in Ghazālī's works.

AbŪ Āmid Al-GhazĀlĪ's Attack on Philosophy and the Renaissance of Sufism in the Twelfth Century

The birth of Islam's greatest mystical theologian, Abū āmid al-Ghazālī (in ūs in Khurasan in 1058) occurred at the peak of the arch of the development of Islamic mystical tradition in eleventh-century Khurasan, at the precise cusp where one half of the tangent of the Persian-Arabic mystical tradition, buttressed by the rise of Arabic mystical literature (mostly composed by Persian Sufis), faced the other half of the arch's tangent, the first beginnings of Sufi literature in Persian. The two pillars of this arch were, respectively, the malāmātī Sufism of Abū Saʿīd Abī'l-Khayr and the Hellenistic philosophy of Abū ʿAlī Sīnā (Avicenna)who, being affected and profoundly influenced the Sufism of his day, wrote a number of visionary works in Arabic (and the earliest philosophical work in Persian) that provided the speculative premises for the development of the love mysticism espoused by the later Persian Sufi poets.

So it is on the foundation of the Persian Sufi tradition that Ghazālī's theological achievement rests. Nearly all the major founders of Khurasani Sufism flourished during Ghazālī's era, having been born either in decades immediately before or after his birth. These included the likes of Abū 'Abd al-Ramān al-Sulamī (d. 1021), one of the main chroniclers of early Sufism, best known for his Arabic tract The Generations of Sufis (abaqāt as-ūfiyya ), a compendium of the biographies of Sufis of five earlier generations that is a fundamental source for early Sufi history. 'Abd Allāh Anārī (d. 1089) of Heart, the leading stylist of Persian rhyming prose, translated and adapted Sulamī's tract into a Khurasanian dialect of New Persian. Almost as important as Sulamī's abaqāt is the best compendium of early Sufi doctrine, namely the Treatise (Risāla ) on Sufism in Arabic by Abū'l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī (d. 1072) of Nishāpūr. All of these sources Ghazālī read and knew and often reproduced them verbatim in his works.

In his autobiography, Al-Munqidh min al-alāl, Ghazālī records how he investigated the truth claims and methods advanced by four different schools of thought: scholastic theology (Kalām ), Isma'ili pedagogy (taʿlīm ), philosophy (falsafa ), and Sufism (taawwuf ); he concluded that the Sufi way is the highest and most perfect of them. The distinguishing dimension of Sufi teaching, he asserted, was that "it was not apprehended by study, but only by immediate experience (dhawq,literally "tasting"), by ecstasy, and by a moral change. (Mā lā yumkin al-wuūl ilayih bā'l-taʿallum bul bā'l-dhawq wa'l-āl wa tabaddal al-afāt.) I apprehended that the Sufis were men who had real experiences, not men of words (arbāb al-awāl, lā aāb al-aqwāl )." The unstated implication of the Sufi experience was that it allowed the adept, without recourse to either theology or philosophy, to personally verify and partially access the experience of prophecy (Hodgson 1977). Ghazālī's approach to prophecy accorded with Avicenna's view of the faculty of intuition and imagination possessed by certain adept Sufis that enabled them to have access to illumination of the active intelligence (Griffel 2002). He believed that only the science of disclosure (ʿilm al-mukāshafa ) allowed one to "gain knowledge of the meaning of prophecy and the prophet, and of the meaning of revelation" (al-way ) (Heer 1999, p. 247 and Ghazālī 1962, p. 47), which led to the privileging of esoteric visionary thinking in later Islamic epistemology.

Ghazālī consecrated two works to the Neo-Platonic philosophers, al-Fārābī and Avicenna in particular. The first of these works was his Objectives of the Philosophers (Maqāid al-falāsifa ); written in Arabic, it closely followed Avicenna's Persian work Dānish-nāma 'Alālī, providing an overall account of the history of Muslim philosophy and a lucid exposition of the philosophical doctrines that he later means to criticize. The second work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-falāsifa ), was a decisive attack on the emanative metaphysics, causal theory, and the psychology of the philosophers (especially Avicenna); in this work he sets out to prove that the philosophers are unable to prove religious truths from a theoretical point of view.

Modern scholars disagree about Ghazālī's contribution to the development of later Islamic philosophy. Lenn Goodman (1992), Ahmed El-Ehwany (1995), and Fazlur Rahman (2000) view his emphasis on Sufism as fettering philosophic method and stifling the development of science in Islam, whereas M. Hodgson (1977), S. H. Nasr, and Henry Corbin (1996) perceive his contribution as having provided an excellent philosophical basis for the rise of later Islamic intellectual mysticism (ikmat and ʿirfān ). Although it is true that Ghazālī's Tahāfut put later Islamic philosophy on the defensive, his reinterpretion of falsafa made philosophical ideas more accessible in the Islamic intellectual milieu than they had previously been and provided a necessary niche for philosophy to flourish in orthodox Islamic theological thought. Because Sufi theories of knowledge took center stage in his epistemological thinking, from the post-Ghazālī period in Islam down to early modern times, esoteric modes of expression invariably came to enjoy great popularity. Ghazālī believed the sapience of the heart (dhawq ) to be superior to rational knowledge (ʿilm ) and thought that gnosis (maʿrifat ) could be obtained by means of the Sufi practices of remembrance of God and contemplation (al-dhikr wa'l-fikr ), visionary unveiling (kashf ) and abstaining from all but God Almighty. In this respect, his views are identical to those of Ibn ʿArabī a century later, whose writings on these subjects closely resemble Ghazālī's.

His most important composition was a monumental opus divided into forty books entitled Iyā' 'ulūm al-dīn (The Revivification of the Sciences of Religion ), which, in its day, was unique in its cosmopolitan scope and integration of technical terminology, ideas, and writings derived from diverse sources. The Iyā', a highly successful attempt to revive Islamic faith and piety on the basis of Sufism, had a profound impact on the later Islamic theological tradition. It began, in fact, what has been described as "the thirteenth-century revival of Sufism" (Danner 1988) and "the reorientation of the piety of Islam on the basis of Sufism." Because of men such as Ghazālī, Sufism became "acceptable to the 'ulama ' themselves," so that "gradually Sufism, from being one form of piety among others, and by no means the most accepted one either officially or popularly, came to dominate religious life not only within the Jama'i-Sunni fold, but to a lesser extent even among Shi'is" (Hodgson 1977, 2:203).

Mention here must be made of an equally important figure in the history of Sufism, namely Ghazālī's brother Amad Ghazālī (d. 1126), who was the foremost metaphysician of love in the Sufi tradition (Lombard 2003). His impact on the later Persian Sufi tradition was even more profound than that of his brother the theologian. Amad was the teacher of two important figures in particular: Abū'l-Najīb al-Suhrawardī (d. 1168) (Pourjavady 2001), who was in turn the master of his nephew Shihāb al-Dīn Abū af 'Umar Suhrawardī (d. 1234), the founder of the Suhrawardī order (famed as the "Mother of Sufi Orders"), who also authored the 'Awārif al-maʿārif, a manual of Sufism so fundamental and all-encompassing that it was translated and adapted into Persian several times and taught throughout madrasas and khānaqāh s in the Indian subcontinent for centuries afterward. Amad Ghazālī was also the master of the enigmatic mystical theologian and founder of Sufi speculative metaphysics: 'Ayn al-Quāt al-Hamadhānī (executed in 1132 by fanatical Muslim clerics for his uncompromising Sufi beliefs).

Illuminationism and the Rise of the Sufi Orders

In terms of Islamic philosophia, the most important figure following Ghazālī was Shihāb al-Dīn Yayā Suhrawardī (born in Suhraward, in northwest Persia, in 1154 and died in Aleppo in 1191), renowned as Shaykh al-Ishrāq, the "master of illuminationist theosophy" or the "sage of the theosophy of oriental lights." He was the most significant Platonic philosopher in the Eastern lands of medieval Islam. Described by Henry Corbin (1971, p. 340) as "an irregular Sufi of no formal affiliation," Suhrawardī traced his thought back to various sources: Islamicized Peripatetic philosophers (he followed Avicenna's metaphysics in many respects), the Hermetic tradition of Egypt (Hermes, Asclepius), the pre-Islamic Persians of Mazdean Iran (Kayomarth, Kaykhusraw and Zoroaster), and Greek thought (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle). His theosophy anticipated in Islam the universalistic philosophy of fifteenth-century Renaissance Platonists such as Gemistos Pletho and Marsilio Ficino. In the world of Islam, his writings were highly influential on the intellectual development of the Neoplatonist thinkers of seventeenth-century the School of Isfahan. Despite his Peripatetic roots, Suhrawardī featured Sufis in his works, considering them to be the true philosophers of Islam. In this context, he related a dream he had had of Aristotle in which the latter identified Bāyazīd Bisāmi, Sahl Tustarī, and allāj as the highest Muslim thinkers (Walbridge 2000).

Suhrawardī's epistemology was based on Sufi visionary experience, and in his major work, the Philosophy of Oriental Illumination (ikmat al-ishrāq ), he goes to considerable lengths of philosophical argument to prove the verity of mystical intuition (kashf ). He calls this intuition "knowledge by presence" (ʿilm-i uūrī ), according to which the self can know things directly by virtue of the very presence of itself (Yazdi 1992). The doctrine of knowledge by presence is one of Suhrawardī's distinctive contributions to philosophy, and his ishrāqī theosophy generated a philosophical school that still dominates traditional schools of Iranian thought today. His influence "was greater than that of Averroes, for while the latter was largely forgotten in the Islamic world, Suhrawardī has continually attracted Islamic readers, followers, and opponents up to our own day" (Walbridge 2000, p. 5).

The twelfth century was also graced by the presence of the founders of two of the most influential Sufi orders in later medieval Islam: Abū Yaʿqūb al-Hamadhānī (d. 1140), founder of the Naqshbandī order, and 'Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (d. 1166), founder of the Qādirī order. Two of the greatest poets of Persian literary history flourished in the same century. akīm ("the Sage") Sanā'ī of Ghazna (d. between 1131 and 1150) was a pioneer in the development of the gnostic ghazal and the first Persian Sufi poet to blend poetic imagery of the sacred and the profane into a refined philosophical lyricism. Sanā'ī's follower, Niāmī (d. 1202), wrote a series of unrivaled romantic epics and much mystical poetry. Another important figure is Rūzbihān Baqlī (d. 1210), whose writings constitute "a vast synthesis and rethinking of early Islamic religious thought from the perspective of pre-Mongol Sufism" (Ernst 1996), furnishing us with "a vital resource for understanding the experiential basis, not simply of Persian Sufi literature, but of Sufism and indeed mysticism in general" (Ernst 1996, p. 11). His monumental Commentary on the Paradoxes of the Sufis (Shar-i shaiyyāt ) is an indispensable source for the interpretation of the higher reaches of Sufi apophatic theology.

The most important Persian Sufi poet of the twelfth century was Farīd al-Dīn ʿAār (d. 1221), the prolific author of numerous epic Persian poetic works. His seminal masterpiece, The Conference of the Birds (Maniq al-ayr ), has been translated into most European languages. ʿAār's major prose work was the monumental compendium, in Persian, of biographies of the famous Sufis, Tadhkirat al-awliyā' (Memoirs of the Saints ).

ʿAār's contemporary was Najm al-Dīn Kubrā (d. 1221), another important figure in medieval Sufism. The founder of the Kubrawiyya, also known as the Central Asian school of Sufism, Kubrā was known for his theory of light apparitions that are beheld by the spiritual imagination in the imaginal realm (ʿālam al-mithāl ). These theories were elaborated by later Sufis of this order, who included some of the most important names of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their interpretation of these phenomena, especially when combined with their adherence to the theomonist doctrine and technical terminology of Ibn ʿArabī, constitute one of the most important chapters in the history of Islamic mysticism.

Perhaps the most famous Kubrawī mystic was Najm al-Dīn Rāzī (d. 1256), author of the Devotees' Highroad (Mirād al-ʿibād ), an important manual of Sufi methodology in which he elaborated the peculiarly Kubrawī notion of a series of subtle centers of perception (laā'if ) (Rāzī 1986 p. 299ff). He also explained the varieties of visionary contemplation (mushāhadāt-i anwār ) (Rāzī 1986) and continued an esoteric commentary on the Qur'ān that had been begun by Najm al-Dīn Kubrā and completed by another Kubrawī master, 'Alā' al-Dawla Simnānī (d. 1326), who elaborated his own theory of the scripture's seven esoteric levels of meaning, each of which, he said, corresponded to a subtle center of light (laīfa ) (Waley 1991, Elias 1995) and expressed the inner reality (aqīqa ) of one of the prophets.

The Kubrawī school also featured a number of other notable Sufis who flourished in Iran and Central Asia: Sa'd al-Dīn ammūya (d. 1253), author of the Al-Mibā fi'l-tasawwuf ; Sayf al-Din Bākhazī (d. 1260), author of the Waqāʾiʿ al-khalwa ; Abū'l-Mafākhir Yayā Bakhrazī (d. 13351336), the author of an important Sufi manual, Fuū al-ādāb ; and 'Azīz-i Nasafī (d. between 1282 and 1300), a Sufi philosopher from Uzbekistan who wrote a number of profoundly original works in Persian that still remain popular. In India, the Kubrawiyya played an important role down to fourteenth century. A disciple of Simnānī named Sayyid 'Alī Hamadānī (d. 1385) was the last great thinker of the order in Central Asia; he founded the Hamadānī line, and, according to legend, was responsible for the Islamization of Kashmir.

This order was also influential in China, where Sufism first established a foothold in the early fifteenth century. The writings of two Kubrawī masters, Rāzī and Nasafī, were among the first Islamic works that were translated into Chinese in the seventeenth century, thus forming the intellectual bedrock of the Chinese Islamic tradition. The development of Islam in China is inextricably connected with the translation of Sufi texts into Chinese. Prior to the twentieth century, only four Islamic books had been translated into Chinese, all of them Persian Sufi classics belonging to the Kubrawī and Ibn ʿArabī schools (Murata 1999). Sufism in China today remains dominated by the Naqshbandī and Qādirī orders (Gladney 1999).

RŪmĪ and ibn ʿArabĪ

The thirteenth century was the golden age of Sufism, when the most celebrated Persian poet in Islamic history, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273), appeared. He was the author of the most extensive collection of mystical poetry, with the widest pattern of meters yet seen in Persian poetry. His collection of mystical-erotic lyrics, the Dīvān-i Shams-i Tabrīz (compiled under the name of Shams-i Tabrīzī because the signature verse of nearly each poem bore the name "Shams," symbolic of the poet's absorption in his spiritual teacher of this name) totals some 35,000 verses. Each of these ghazal s (Arabic for "love-lyric") is between five and sixty lines long and expresses the mystery of their relationship, as well as the paradoxes and subtleties of the mystical theology of Sufism. Each poem was the product of an ecstatic experience realized by the poet under the influence of the Sufi music-and-dance (samāʿ ) ceremony, which came to be the hallmark of his order, called the Mevlevi in Turkey and later known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Mevlevi Order's (from Rūmī's sobriquet Mawlānā, "our teacher") exotic flowing skirts and hypnotic revolving dance became the most popular European tourist attraction east of Athens, prompting Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man to observe that "Eastern priests in giddy circles run, / And turn their heads to imitate the Sun."

During the last decade and a half of his life, Rūmī began to compose the Mathnawi-yī maʿnawī (Rhyming spiritual couplets), dictated to his disciples under the sway of rapture. Eventually comprising more than 26,000 couplets of didactic poetry, this mystical epic became Rūmī's chief literary monument. "Judged by modern standards," wrote R. A. Nicholson in 1925 in his introduction to his critical edition and translation of the poem, "the Mathnawī is a very long poem: it contains almost as many verses as the Iliad and Odyssey together and about twice as many as the Divina Commedia."

Islam's greatest mystical thinker, known as the Magister Magnus or Shaykh al-Akbar, Muyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī of Spain (d. 1240), generated a new era of writing in the field of Islamic gnosis with a string of Sufi commentators on his works and a whole school of theosophy still vital in Iran, India, Turkey, North Africa, Malaysia, and neighboring areas. Ibn ʿArabī was a very prolific author and, with the possible exception of Ghazālī, has been the most extensively studied thinker in the Islamic world (Morris 19861987). He composed some 850 works; 700 of these are extant, and at least 450 of them are genuine. His writings were responsible for formalizing and crystallizing the largely orally transmitted doctrines of the founders of the various Sufi Orders and thus fostered a common heritage for Sufism, which was then in the process of "creating new structures and attracting a wider flock of followers." (Chodkiewicz 1991, p. 51).

His major work, The Meccan Revelations (al-Futūāt al-makkiyya ), covers 2,580 pages of small Arabic script (in its new critical edition the work is projected to cover thirty-seven volumes of about 500 pages each). His most famous work, however, is a short work entitled Fuū al-ikam, made up of twenty-seven chapters, each of which is devoted to the divine wisdom revealed in a particular prophet and specific divine word. Each of these prophets represents a different mode of knowing. The title may be translated as "Bezels of Wisdom," implying that each prophet in his human setting is a kind of gemstone in which "each kind of wisdom is set, thus making of each prophet the signet or sign, by selection, of a particular aspect of God's wisdom" (Austin 1980, p. 16). The first chapter of the book concerns Adam and the last concerns Muammad, although the prophets discussed in between are not dealt with in chronological order. For nearly five hundred years it was the most frequently commented upon work in Sufi and theological circles in the Middle East, Central Asia, and India. In fact, the Fuū was the chief intellectual preoccupation of the Sufis in India, where commentaries were written on the book by Sayyid 'Alī Hamadānī in Kashmir, Shaykh 'Alī Mahaymī in Gujerat, and Muhammad Gisūdarāz in the Deccan (Ahmad 1963).

Ibn ʿArabī's name is inextricably associated with the doctrine of the "Unity of Being," "Oneness of Existence," or "theomonism" (wadat al-wujūd ), which should not be confused with pantheism. In this view, God is identical to created beings in His manifestation but completely separate and distinguished from them in their essences, so there is no substantial continuity between God and creation. All living beings participate with God through the theophany of His divine Names (the Living, the Speaking, the Hearing, the Omniscient, and so on), for we are all manifestations of one Lightthe orifices of being through which His illumination is shone. Existence thus manifests itself by means of epiphany or theophany (tajallī ), of which there are two types: intellectual theophany (tajallī 'ilmī ), which is a manifestation of Being that is termed the "Most Holy Emanation" (fay al-aqdās ), and existential theophany (tajallī wujūdī ), which is termed the "Sacred Emanation" (fay al-muqaddas ). The first type of theophany belongs to the Divine Essence, appertaining to the World of Unity (ʿālam al-aadiyya ); the second type hails from the World of Unicity (ʿālam al-wada ). Unlike the Peripatetic philosophers and most Sunni theologians, Ibn ʿArabī believed nothing to be external to the divinity or outside the Absolute. Existential multiplicity is not a kind of divine action outside of Being in its Essence and Attributes. He considered "Being as an unconditional absolute (mawjūd-la-bi-shar ) beyond all duality or multiplicity. According to him, the multiplicity which we observe at the sensible or spiritual levels does not affect the Unity of Being in its creative act. It simply represents its various degrees and many states. The existential theophanies, therefore, only constitute a facet of the Absolute-God who is One in His existence and many in His manifestations" (Yahia 1991, p. 36).

Knowledge of both existence and God can only be grasped imaginatively, that is, by intuitive disclosure (kashf ) and contemplative insight (shuhūd ), not through reason (ʿaql ), because a likeness of God can be gained only by recourse to imagination, not reason. Ibn ʿArabī's doctrine of the metaphysical, transpersonal imagination (khiyāl munfail ), which possesses its own distinct independent ontological level (comparable to Jung's collective unconscious) lead him to espouse an epistemology that harmonizes reason and mystical insight (Chittick 1996, p. 666). God's self-manifestation (uhūr ) can thus be intuited through the theophany of His divine names, which are manifest to the visionary imagination of the mystic, who can thereby experience a supersensory reality (Izutsu 1994).

Ibn ʿArabī's writings, employing "all the tools of the theologians, philosophers, grammarians, and other specialists" (Chittick 1989, p. 289), generated "by far the most elaborate Islamic 'philosophy of religion' and religious life, a comprehensive metaphysics which offered an all-encompassing justification and explanation for the observed diversity of religions, philosophic, and spiritual 'paths' to Godwhether within the multiple sects and schools of later Islamic culture, or in the wider, even multi-confessional context of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mogul empires." (Morris 1998, p. 23) As. T. Izutsu (1995, p. 552) has pointed out, "Even today the metaphysics of Ibn ʿArabī together withor mingled withthat of Suhrawardī, the Master of Illumination (Shaykh al-Ishrāq ), form the basis of the philosophical-gnostic world-view of Iranian Muslim intellectuals. In fact, one of his surnames, Muyī al-Dīn, meaning literally 'revivifier of religion,' manifests its living force when it is seen in terms of the role his thought has played in the historical formation of Iranian Islam."

Many of the greatest names in the annals of Persian Islam have counted themselves as disciples or at least interpreters of his doctrines. These include the likes of Awād al-Dīn Kirmānī (d. 1238), adr al-Dīn Qūnawī (d. 1274), Fakhr al-Dīn 'Irāqī (d. 1289), Saʿīd al-Dīn al-Farghānī (d. 1299), 'Azīz al-Dīn Nasafī (d. circa 1300), Mu'ayyid al-Dīn Jandī (d. 1301), 'Abd al-Razzāq al-Kashānī (d. 1339), 'Alā al-Dawla Simnānī, Dāwūd Qayārī (d. 1350), Rukn al-Dīn (Bābā Ruknā) Masʿūd Shirāzī (d. 1367), Mamūd Shabistarī (d. after 1339), Muammad Shirin Maghribī (d. 1408), Khwāja Muammad Parsā (d. 1419), ā'īn al-Dīn Turkah Ifahānī (d. 1427), Shāh Nimatu'llāh Walī (d. 1431), and Shāh Dāʿī Shirāzī (d. 14641465).

Sufism in the School of Isfahan

Prior to the advent of the modern age, the most significant development in Islamic thought occurred in the philosophical collegium of Isfahan in Safavid Iran (15011722), a unique amalgam of Sufism, Shīʿism, Platonist Ishrāqī theosophy, and Islamic rationalism that was heavily grounded in the theosophical theories of classical Sufism. Although all its members exhibited a profound respect for the ethical, intellectual, and spiritual ideals of classical Persian Sufism, few of them seem to have openly accepted the requirement of following the arīqa discipline involving obedience to a living master (pīr, murshid ). The writings of its members are permeated with Shīʿite piety, imamology, and theology, and were intellectually inspired by the Illuminationist (Ishrāqī ) theosophy of Shaykh Yayā Suhrawardī, which mixed Peripatetic rationalism with Islamic Platonism. Its main thinker, Mullā adrā (d. 1650), drew heavily on other renowned Sufi authors such as Abū Nar Sarrāj, 'Ayn al-Quāt Hamadhānī, Abū āmid al-Ghazālī, and Ibn ʿArabī (Pourjavady 1999). In fact, as S. H. Nasr has noted, if viewed correctly in historical context, the entire later school of adrā's Transcendental Theosophy, both in Iran and India, might be better classified as a sort of "speculative Sufism" (taawwuf-i naārī ) (Nasr 1993, p. 124) rather than as simply a species of philosophical mysticism (ikmat ).

Hodgson (1977, 3:52) has noted how the Platonists of Isfahan may be compared at points with their contemporaries, the Cambridge Platonists of England in their ecumenical interests. Mīr Findiriskī (d. 16401641) was one of the major philosophers of the School of Isfahan and was committed to the transmission and translation of the Hindu holy books and scriptures into Persian; he composed a commentary on the Yoga-Vāshishtha of Vālmiki. The Muslimization of Hindu mystical thought that resulted from the efforts of such philosophers and translators both in Iran and India can be compared to Marsilio Ficino's Christianization of the Greek Neoplatonic classics in his translations of Plato and Plotinus into Latin.

Sufism in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Iran, and India from the Seventeenth Century to the Present

Since the late eighteenth century Muslim Sufi orders throughout the world have been in the throes of crisis and transformation because of the combined influences of modernism, Islamist reformism, nationalism, and European colonialism. A key to these upheavals has been the continuing impact of fundamentalist Islamism on Sufism throughout the Islamic world, a trend that began in the early twentieth century.

Throughout the Sunni world, Salafī s (puritans claiming to be followers of the "pious forbears" of the Prophet)particularly in Egypthave attacked Sufism as "inauthentic," a "Trojan horse for unwarranted innovations that owe their origins to non-Muslim civilizations such as Greece, Persia, and India" (Cornell 2004, p. 59). The same attacks have occurred in other Sunni-dominated countries of the Middle East. In Algeria and Syria, Sufis are beleaguered on the one hand by the all-encroaching influence of Western secularism, which endorses the Western modernist view of mysticism as an anachronistic superstition, and Wahhābī scriptural literalists on the other.

In Eastern Europe, Sufism has been a significant force since the early fifteenth century, especially in Bosnia, where a number of leading intellectuals, thinkers, and poets, mostly followers of the Mevlevīya and Naqshbandī Orders, penned influential mystical treatises and books and wrote glosses on classical tracts. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Albania became an important center of Sufism, with the majority of its inhabitants belonging to one or another Sufi order (Clayer 2001).

Since the early sixteenth century Sufism has been firmly established in Turkey "as a fundamental element of Ottoman Islamic society, where in the urban context, the Mevlevīya played an important role in the education of Ottoman elites and in the cultivation of Sufi and Persian literatures" (Lapidus 1992, p. 29). In Ottoman society, Rūmī's Mevlevī order, to which most of the country's intellectual and artistic elite belonged, became the greatest preserver of musical creativity in a religious context. The Mevlevīya produced some of Turkey's finest musicians and calligraphers and the most sophisticated religious poet of early modern times, Ghālib Dede (1799), whose poem Beauty and Love is a supreme work of world literature (Holbrooke 1994, Winter 1994). Although, by the end of the nineteenth century, almost every city in the Ottoman Empire possessed its own Mevlevī center (Zarcone 2000), by the early twentieth century, because of the Kemalist laws against the Orders, many of the Sufi centers were closed down or destroyed (Raudvere 2002). The law of September 1925, which stated that "from this day forth, there are not tarikat s, or dervishes, and murid s belonging to them, within the boundaries of the Turkish Republic" (Algar 1994, p. 55) explicitly banned all dervish gatherings, practices, and teachings. The Naqshbandī Order was subject to particular governmental persecution and harassment. Since the 1950s there has been a relaxation of some of these restrictions because of the Turkish government's attempt to harness Sufism's spiritual potential to further its own secularist sociopolitical agenda. Because the agenda of the Kemalist secular state is to counter Islamist fundamentalism with Sufism's mystical and moral universalism (ignoring its institutional, contemplative, and practical aspects), there has been a consequent revival of Sufi activities such as Mevlevī dervish dancing, and renewed interest in the cultural heritage of Sufi architecture, poetry, literature and music.

In Egypt, hardline Islamist ideologues such as Muammad Rashīd Riā (d. 1935) and asan al-Banna (d. 1949), founder of the Muslim brotherhood, condemned Sufism wholesale as a repository of corrupting opinions and ideas in Islam. Another Egyptian fundamentalist thinker, Sayyid Qub (d. 1966), argued that Sufism represented a debilitating, antirational, antiprogressive force in the Islamic tradition (Abu-Rabi 1988). For more than a century, Sufism in Egypt has been controlled by an elaborate state apparatus. Since 1903 the leaders of the Orders have been governed and often appointed by a Supreme Council of the Sufi Orders. In the interests of religious and state conformism, most of the transcendentalist, illuminationist, ecstatic, and unitive aspects of the Sufi tradition are publicly denigrated and suppressed in favor of a sober, reformist mysticism focused on communal moral virtues and study of adīth and the Qur'ān. The doctrines of rapture and intoxication maintained by the great founders of Sufi theosophy such as allāj and Bāyazīd are frowned upon by the Sufi Council (Hoffman 1995).

In Saudi Arabia, Sufism is banned today by the adīth-driven scripturalism of the Wahhābī literalist theologians. The entire corpus of Sufi writings, philosophy, poetry, theosophy, and literaturewhether these be the more orthodox works of Ghazālī or the visionary meditations of Ibn ʿArabī, which were once accepted as a mainstay of traditional Islamic theology by a broad spectrum of believershave been anathematized by the Wahhābī hierarchy that controls the mosques, schools, and universities (Cornell 2004). Even the writings of great Sufi masters such as Amad Ibn Idrīs (d. 1837) (the renowned Sufi saint of Moroccan origin who lived in Arabia and defended Ibn ʿArabī's Sufi doctrines in face of Wahhābī persecution) remain anathema to the Saudi fundamentalist state (Radtke 2000).

In Algeria during the nineteenth century, the Sufi orders played a leading role, among other Muslim groups, in fighting French imperialism, and stood in the vanguard of opposition to France's cultural and political colonialism (Benaissa 1997). During the twentieth century all the Sufi orders suffered persecution by the Salafī reformists, who accused them of backwardness and deviance from orthodoxy (Andezian 1994). In recent decades terrorist organizations, inspired by these same Algerian Salafī s, have continued their attack on Sufism, whereas the modernist secularist elements equate Sufism with decadence and backwardness, so that today "for many if not most educated Algerians, Sufism is virtually synonymous with 'maraboutism'saint-worshipping idolatry, superstitious donning of amulets, snake-charming, etc." (Shah-Kazemi 1994, p. 171)

In Iran, most of the main nineteenth-century political reformers, such as Akhundzāda (d. 1878), Mīrzā Malkum Khān (d. 1908), and Mirzā Āqā Khān Kirmāni (d. 1896) attacked Sufism, castigating its alleged passivity and religious conformism (Lewisohn 19981999). Radical Iranian secular intellectuals of the early twentieth century, such as Amad Kasravī (d. 1946) widened this critique to sweepingly condemned Sufism as "one of the deep-rooted and greatly misguided beliefs to have appeared in Islam" (Kasravī 1990, p. 79). In the Islamic Republic in the early twenty-first century, mystical philosophy (ikmat ) is encouraged, and there has been a renaissance in the publication of works on classical taawwuf, with Sufis abounding in all major urban centers, but their activities and gatherings are often closely monitored by the fundamentalist state. Since 1978 the theocratic regime has tried to write Sufism out of the textbooks of Iranian history and to destroy the mausoleums of the masters and living institutions of the Orders which dot the country; nevertheless, both above and below ground the Sufi orders have managed to survive.

In Pakistan, there has been a renaissance in the publication of Sufi literature, much of it patronized by the state and nationalist interests, which underwrite editions and Urdu translations of prominent Sufi poets who composed verse in regional vernaculars. Works by the famous masters of the Chishtī, Suhrawardī, and Naqshbandī Orders from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries "are widely available for popular use through modern Urdu translations in India and Pakistan, and occasionally in other languages as well (Ernst 2000, p. 335). Pakistani modernists such as Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) have made use of classical figures such as Rūmī, allāj, and Junayd in their own writings to further their own personal philosophical agenda but have denounced khānaqāh-based Sufism and the master-disciple relationship; some have attacked as decadent the Sufi love mysticism of Persian poets such as āfī. Recently, Sufism has sometimes been press-ganged to support nationalismas in Z. A. Bhutto's claim that Sufi saints were forerunners of the modern Islamic state of Pakistan (Ernst 1997, pp. 79, 209).

From the tenth century onward, the Islamization of India "was achieved largely by the preaching of the dervishes, not by the word" (Schimmel 1975, p. 346). The two main Indian orders that dominated the cultural and religious life of the land were the Chishtiyya and Suhrawardīyya, which had been introduced into India with the foundation of the Sultanate of Dehli; within a short time thousands of their khānaqāhs and zāwiyahs had woven themselves into the complex religious culture of India, smoothing and softening relations between opposing religious identities. The rise of the Indian Bhakhti movements in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries took place in the background and under the direct influence of khānaqāh -based Sufism of the Suhrawardī and Chishtī Orders (Nizami 1957).

The school of Ibn ʿArabī in India was sustained by Sufis of all the major Orders. The renewer of the Chishtī Order in northern India, 'Abd al-Quddūs Gangūhī (d. 1437), who had mastered the famous Hatha Yoga treatise Amrit Kund and who wrote Hindi poetry influenced by Nathpanthi Yogic and Bhakti traditions, strongly defended the philosophy of the 'Unity of Being' in his treatises and correspondence (Farooqi 2004, pp. 46). Some of the great Chishtī Sufis were ardent supporters of Ibn ʿArabī's theomonism. Shaykh Muibb-Allāh Ilāhābādī (d. 1648), a vicar of the grandson of 'Abd al-Quddūs Gangūhī, was known as the "Supreme Master" (Shaykh-i Kabīr) for works that defended and commented on Ibn ʿArabī's Fuū al-ikam. (Farooqi 2004).

The rulers of the Mughal Empire, from Akbar the Great (d. 1604) down to Shāh Jahān (d. 1658), patronized Sufis of the Chishtī, Qādarī, and Naqshbandī Orders, and utilized Sufi ecumenical "unity of religions" theory to unite their Hindu and Muslim subjects. Many Sufis in India tried to bridge the differences between Hindu and Muslim mysticism; hence one important service that the Sufi Orders and Sufis in South Asia performed was the promotion of sectarian harmony and interfaith tolerance (Islam 2002, p. 447). Mystics such as Niām al-Dīn Awliyā' and Dārā Shikūh were known for their tolerance of religious diversity and their appreciation of Hindu spirituality. Dārā Shikūh (d. 1659), the eldest son of the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān, wrote a comparative study of Sufi and Vedantic technical terms (Conjunction of the two Oceans [Majma' al-barayn ]) and a Persian translation of fifty-two Upanishads (The Supreme Arcanum [Sirr-i akbar ]). This work was later translated into Latin by Anquetil-Duperron, inspiring Schopenhauer and a whole string of European and American philosophers after him throughout the nineteenth century. Sufis of the Chishtī and Qādirī Orders rendered the Bhagavadgītā into Persian three times during the Mughal period in the seventeenth century, with Ibn ʿArabī's theory of an underlying mystical unity of religions used by its translators to interpret Hinduism in the context of Islamic theomonism (Vassie 1999).

Sufism in the Contemporary West

Up until the late eighteenth century, the cultural and intellectual influence of the Sufi tradition upon Western Europe had been marginal (Chodkiewicz 1994), although certain Sufi thinkers such as Ghazālī did have a formative influence upon certain Christian philosophers such as Raymond Llull (Urvoy 2004). In the nineteenth century, Persian Sufi theosophy and poetry entered the course of Western European thought through key representatives of the German Idealist and American Transcendentalist movements, particularly in the figures of Goethe in Germany and Emerson in North America, both of whom were profoundly influenced by translations of Persian Sufi mystical literature (Jahanpour 1999). During the twentieth century, the traditionalist school founded by the French metaphysician René Guénon (d. 1951)who converted to Islam and spent the last twenty years of his life in Cairo as a Sufi shaykh of the North African Shadhili Orderhave constituted the avant-garde of Sufi teaching in the West. Sufi Muslims among Guénon's followers included Frithjof Schuon, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, and S. H. Nasr, whose writings endeavor to revive Muslim orthodox traditional Sufi teachings in the light of the Sophia perennis, aiming to address both Islamic orthodoxy and the ecumenical concerns of comparative religion. Other advocates of the Sophia perennis and followers of the traditionalist school who were deeply influenced by Sufism are Ananda Coomaraswamy and Aldous Huxley.

The renowned Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff (d. 1949), who was steeped in Sufi theosophy, spread his teachings during the 1930s and 1940s throughout Europe and the United States through a wide circle of followers, such as P. D. Oupensky (d. 1947), P. L. Travers, René Daumal, and Maurice Nicoll. Many of Gurdjieff's followers articulated his esoteric teachings as being a kind of Sufism divorced from traditional Islam. During the same period, the so-called "Sufi Order of the West," founded by Ināyāt Khān (d. 1927), an Indian musician of the Chishtī Order, preached Sufism in Europe and North America as a sort of woolly universal mysticism that could be detached from its Islamic roots. Idries Shah (d. 1996), a prolific author of more than twenty-five books on Sufism, did much to introduce Sufism to the educated middle classes in the West, particularly artists and intellectuals, teaching that Sufism lies at the heart of all religion, although his interpretation of Sufism was primarily a malāmatī rather than an orthodox Muslim one.

Over the past few decades, under the leadership of Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, the Iranian Niʿmatuʾllāhī order has become a major publisher of Sufi works in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Italian. This order lays little emphasis on the Islamic dimension of Sufism, stressing its universalism and ethnic Persian origins. Since the 1980s, there has also been a renaissance of scholarship on classical Sufi texts in French, English, and German, and the publication of critical studies and editions of the works of the great Sufi saints in all the major European languages has blossomed. Rūmī has become the best-selling poet in the history of American poetry publishing.

There are today at least fifty different Sufi movements in North America, the literary output of which, as Marcia Hermansen (2000, p. 158) observes, "is by now so vast that it would require a volume rather than an essay to adequately discuss the history and doctrines of each of the groups in detail." Sufism and its Orders are today found throughout all the major countries of Europe; in Britain alone, there are at least twenty-five active orders whose followers' ethnic origins can be traced back to Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Iran, and West Africa (Geaves 2000).

See also al-Fārābī; al-Ghazālī, Amad; al-Ghazālī, Muammad; Aristotle; Averroes; Avicenna; Corbin, Henry; Ficino, Marsilio; Galen; Ibn al-ʿArabī; Islamic Philosophy; Lull, Ramón; Mullā adrā; Mysticism, History of; Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Neoplatonism; Plato; Pletho, Giorgius Gemistus; Plotinus; Pope, Alexander; Socrates; Suhrawardī, Shihāb al-Dīn Yayā; Zoroastrianism.


Abdel Kader, A. H. The Life, Personality and Writings of al-Junayd. London: Luzac & Co., 1976.

Abu-Rabi, Ibrahim M. "Al-Azhar Sufism in Modern Egypt: The Sufi Thought." Islamic Quarterly 32 (4) (1988): 207235.

Ahmad, Aziz. "The Sufi and the Sultan in Pre-Mughal India." Der Islam 38 (1963): 142153.

Algar, Hamid. "The Naqshbandi Order in Republican Turkey." Islam World Report: Turkey: The Pendulum Swings Back 1 (3) (1994): 5167.

Andezian, Sossie. "Sufi Brotherhoods in Contemporary Algeria." Islam World Report: Algeria: A Revolution Revisited 1 (1) (1997): 114127.

Andrea, Tor. In the Garden of Myrtles: Studies in Early Islamic Mysticism. Translated by B. Sharpe. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

Anwar, Etin. "Ibn Sina's Philosophical Theology of Love: A Study of Risalah fi al-ʿishq." Islamic Studies 62 (2) (2003): 331345.

Arberry, A. J. Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam. London: Allen & Unwin, 1950.

ʿAār, Farīd al-Dīn. Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ, edited by Muammad Istiʿlām. Tehran: Zawwār, 1993.

Benaissa, Omar. "Algerian Sufism in the Colonial Period." In Islam World Report: Algeria: A Revolution Revisited, edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi 1(1)(1997): 4768.

Chabbi, Jacqueline. "Sufi Organizations and Structures of Authority in Medieval Nishāpūr." International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 26 (3) (1994): 427442.

Chittick, W. C. "Dhikr." In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by M. Eliade, Vol. 4, 341342. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Chittick, W. C. "Ebn al-ʿArabī." Encyclopædia Iranica 7 (1996): 664670.

Chittick, W. C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-ʿArabī's Metaphysics of Imagination. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. "The Diffusion of Ibn ʿArabī's Doctrine." The Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī Society (JMIAS) 9 (1991): 3657.

Chodkiewicz, Michel. "La réception du soufisme par l'occident: conjectures et certitudes." In The Introduction of Arabic Philosophy into Europe, edited by C. Butterworth and Blake Kessel, 136149. Leiden: Brill, 1994.

Clayer, Nathalie. "asawwuf, Music and Social Change in the Balkans since the Beginning of the Twentieth Century with Special Consideration of Albania." In Sufism, Music, and Society in Turkey and the Middle East, edited by Anderes Hammarlund, Tord Olsson, and Elisabeth Ozdalga, 137146. Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 2001.

Corbin, Henry. History of Islamic Philosophy. Translated by L. Sherrard and P. Sherrard. London: KPI and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1996.

Cornell, Vincent. "Practical Sufism: An Akbarian Foundation for a Liberal Theology of Difference." JMIAS 36 (2004): 5984.

Danner, Victor. "The Early Development of Sufism." In Islamic Spirituality, Vol. 1: Foundations, edited by S. H. Nasr, 239264. New York: Crossroad, 1987.

Danner, Victor. The Islamic Tradition. New York: Amity House, 1988.

El-Ehwany, Ahmed. "Ibn Rushd. E. The Way to Science." In A History of Muslim Philosophy, edited by M. M. Sharif, 540564. Dehli: D.K. Publications, 1995.

Elias, Jamal. The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of 'Alā' ad-Dawla as-Simnani. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Ernst, Carl. Rūzbihān Baqlī: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism. London: Curzon Press, 1996.

Ernst, Carl. "Rūzbihān Baqlī on Love as 'Essential Desire'." In God Is Beautiful and He Loves Beauty: Festschrift in Honour of Annemarie Schimmel, edited by A. Geise and J. C. Bürgel, 181189. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1994.

Ernst, Carl. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala, 1997.

Ernst, Carl. "Taawwuf." Sec. 7 in "Muslim India." In The Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 10, 334337. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Ernst, Carl, tr. Teachings of Sufism. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

Farooqi, N. R. "The Resurgence of the Chishtīs: A Survey of the Expansion and Fulfillment of a Sufi Order in Mughal India." Islamic Culture 78 (1) (2004): 126.

Geaves, Ron. The Sufis of Britain: An Exploration of Muslim Identity. Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press, 2000.

Ghazālī, Abū āmid. The Book of Knowledge, Being a Translation with Notes of the Kitāb al-ʿIlm of al-Ghazzālī's Iyāʾ 'Ulūm al-Dīn. Translated by N. A. Faris. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1962.

Gladney, Dru C. "Central Asia and China." In The Oxford History of Islam, edited by J. Esposito, 448457. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Goodman, Lenn. Avicenna. London: Routledge, 1992.

Graham, Terry. "Abū Saʿīd ibn Abīʾl-Khayr and the School of Khurāsān." In The Heritage of Sufism, edited by L. Lewisohn, Vol. 1, 116126. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Griffel, Frank. "The Introduction of Avicennean Psychology into Muslim Theological Discourse." Transcendent Philosophy 4 (4) (2002): 359370.

Hammarlund, Anders, Tord Olsson, and Elisabeth Ozdalga, eds. Sufism, Music and Society in Turkey and the Middle East. Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 2001.

Heer, Nicholas. "Abū āmid al-Ghazālī's Esoteric Exegesis of the Koran." In The Heritage of Sufism. Vol. 1: Classical Persian Sufism: From Its Origins to Rumi, edited by Leonard Lewisohn, 235257. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Hermansen, Marcia. "Hybrid Identity Formations in Muslim America: The Case of American Sufi Movements." Muslim World 90 (2000): 158178.

Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Hoffman, Valerie. Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

Holbrooke, Victoria. The Unreadable Shore of Love. Austin: University of Texas, 1994.

Ibn al-ʿArabī. The Bezels of Wisdom. Translated by R. J. W. Austin. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.

Islam, Riazul. Sufism in South Asia: Impact on Fourteenth Century Muslim Society. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Izutsu, Toshiko. "An Analysis of Wahdat al-Wujúd : Towards a Metaphilosophy of Oriental Philosophies." In his Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy, 6697. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1994.

Izutsu, Toshiko. "The Basic Structure of Metaphysical Thinking in Islam." In his Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy, 137. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1994.

Izutsu, Toshiko. "Ibn al-ʿArabī." In Encyclopædia of Religion, edited by M. Eliade. Vol. 6, 552557. New York: Macmillan, 1995.

Jahanpour, Farhang. "Western Encounters with Persian Sufi Literature." In The Heritage of Sufism. Vol. 3: Late Classical Persianate Sufism (15011750), edited by L. Lewisohn and David Morgan, 2859. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Kalābādhī. Al-Taʿarruf li-madhhab ahl al-taawwuf. Translated by A. J. Arberry as The Doctrine of the Sufis. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kasravi, Ahmad. On Islam and Shiʿism. Translated by M. R. Ghanoonparvar. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 1990.

Lapidus, Ira. "Sufism and Ottoman Islamic Society." In The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey, edited by Raymond Lifchez, 1532. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Lewisohn, Leonard, ed. The Heritage of Sufism. Vol. 1: Classical Persian Sufism from its Origins to Rumi 7001300 ; Vol. 2: The Legacy of Mediæval Persian Sufism 11501500 ; Vol. 3: Late Classical Persianate Sufism 15011750. Edited by L. Lewisohn and David Morgan. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Lewisohn, Leonard. "An Introduction to the History of Modern Persian Sufism." A 2-part study in The Bulletin of the School of Oriental & African Studies 61, pt. 3 (October 1998): 437464; 62, pt. 1 (February 1999): 3659.

Lewisohn, Leonard. "Sufism and the School of Isfahan: Taawwuf and ʿIrfān in Late Safavid Iran (ʿAbd al-Razzāq Lahījī and Fayd-i Kashani on the Relation of Taawwuf, ikmat and ʿIrfān." In The Heritage of Sufism, Vol. III: Late Classical Persianate Sufism: the Safavid and Mughal Period, edited by L. Lewisohn and David Morgan, 63134. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Lifchez, Raymond, ed. The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Lings, Martin. "The Koranic Origins of Sufism." Sufi 18 (1993): 59.

Lombard, Joseph. "Amad al-Ghazālī and the Metaphysics of Love." PhD diss. Yale University, 2003.

Malamud, Margaret. "Remarques sur le développement historique des mouvements ascétiques et mystiques au Khurasan." Studia Islamica 46 (1977): 572.

Massignon, Louis. "Al-allādj." In Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 3, 99104. Leiden: Brill, 1986.

Massignon, Louis. Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane, nouvelle édition. Paris: J. Vrin, 1954. Translated by Benjamin Clark as Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.

Massignon, Louis. La passion de usayn Ibn Mansūr allāj: martyr mystique de l'Islam. Paris: Gallimard, 1975. Translated by H. Mason as The Passion of allāj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam. 4 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Meier, Fritz. "Khurāsān and the End of Classical Sufism." In Essays on Islamic Piety and Mysticism, translated by John O'Kane, 189219. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Morris, James. "Except His Face: The Political and Aesthetic Dimensions of Ibn ʿArabī's Legacy." Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī Society 23 (1998): 1931.

Morris, James. "Ibn ʿArabī and His Interpreters." Journal of the American Oriental Society 106107 (1986): I: 539551; II: 732756; (1987) II conclusion: 101119.

Murata, Sachiko. "Sufi Texts in Chinese." In The Heritage of Sufism, edited by L. Lewisohn. Vol. 3, 376388. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Nasr, S. H. "'Irfān-i naārī u sayr u sulūk dar taawwuf." Iran Nameh 11 (1) (1993): 121128.

Nasr, S. H., ed. Islamic Spirituality. Vol. I: Foundations ; Islamic Spirituality. Vol. II: Manifestations. New York: Crossroad, 1987 and 1991.

Nasr, S. H. "The Place of the School of Isfahan in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism." In The Heritage of Sufism. Vol. 3: Late Classical Persianate Sufism (15011750), edited by L. Lewisohn and David Morgan, 315. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Nicholson, R. A. "A Historical Enquiry concerning the Origin and Development of Sufism, with a List of Definitions of the Terms ūfi and Taawwuf, Arranged Chronologically." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Part I (1906): 303353.

Nizami, K. H. "Some Aspects of Khanqah Life in Medieval India." Studia Islamica 8 (1957): 5269.

Pourjavady, Nasrollah. "allāj va Bāyazīd Bisāmī az naār-i Mullā adrā." Nashr-i Danish 16 (3) (1999): 1424.

Radtke, Bernd, John O'Kane, Knut S. Vikor, and R. S. O'Fahey. The Exoteric Ahmad Ibn Idris: A Sufi's Critique of the Madhāhib and the Wahhābīs. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Rahman, Fazlur. Revival and Reform: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.

Raudvere, Catharina. The Book and the Roses: Sufi Women, Visibility and Zakir in Contemporary Istanbul. Sweden: Bjärnums Tryckeri AB, 2002.

Rāzī, Najm al-Dīn. Mirād al-ʿibād min al-mabdā' ilā'l-maʿād. 2nd ed., edited by Muhammad Amin Riyai. Tehran: Intishārāt-i 'Ilmī u farhangī, 1986.

Rūzbihān Baqlī Shīrāzī. Shar-i shaiyyāt, edited by H. Corbin. Bibliothéque Iranienne 12. Tehran: Departement d'iranologie de l'Institut Franco-iranien, 1966.

Abū Nar Sarrāj al-ūsī. Kitāb al-Lumaʿ, edited by R. A. Nicholson. Translated into Persian by M. Maabbati. Tehran: Intishārāt-i Asāīr, 2003.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Sells, Michael, ed. Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur'an, Mi'raj, Poetic and Theological Writings. New York: Paulist Press, 1996.

Shah-Kazemi, Reza. "From Sufism to Terrorism: The Distortion of Islam in the Political Culture of Algeria." Islam World Report: Algeria: A Revolution Revisited #1 (1) (1997): 160192.

Smith, Margaret. "Dhū'l-Nūn." Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 2, 242. Leiden: Brill, 1991.

Trimingham. J. S. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Urvoy, Dominique. "Soufisme et Dialogue Islamo-Chrétien." Islamochristiana 30 (2004): 5564.

Vassie, Roger. "ʿAbd al-Ramān Chishtī and the Bhagavadgita: 'Unity of Religion' Theory in Practice." In The Heritage of Sufism. Vol. 2: The Legacy of Mediæval Persian Sufism (11501500), edited by L. Lewisohn, 367377. Oxford: Oneworld, 1999.

Walbridge, John, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardī and the Heritage of the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Waley, Muhammad Isa. "Najm al-Dīn Kubrā and the Central Asian School of Sufism the Kubrawiyyah." In Islamic Spirituality. Vol. 2: Manifestations, edited by S. H. Nasr, 80104. New York: Crossroad, 1991.

Winter, T. J. "Spiritual Life in Ottoman Turkey." In Islam World Report: Turkey: The Pendulum Swings Back, edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi, 1 (1) (1994): 3241.

Wolfson, Harry. "The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew Philosophic Texts." Harvard Theological Review 28 (2) (1935): 69133.

Yahia, Osman. "Theophanies and Lights in the Thought of Ibn ʿArabī." JMIAS 10 (1991): 3544.

Yazdi, Mahdi Ha'iri. The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy: Knowledge by Presence. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Zarcone, Th. "arīa, 5. In the Turkish Lands, from Anatolia to Eastern Turkestan." Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Vol. 10, 250253. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Leonard Lewisohn (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sufism." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . 15 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Sufism." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . (August 15, 2018).

"Sufism." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved August 15, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.