Thursday, 24 September 2009
Sunday, 20 September 2009
With more than 3,000 entries and cross-references on the history, main figures, institutions, theory, and literary works associated with Islam's mystical tradition, Sufism, this dictionary brings together in one volume extensive historical information that helps put contemporary events into a historical context.
Monday, 20 April 2009
Conference of the Birds by Fariduddin Attar is one of the first classics I read about Sufis. It is a wonderful allegory of the Sufi journey and the difficulties and tests faced.
"Composed in the twelfth century in north-eastern Iran, Attar's great mystical poem is among the most significant of all works of Persian literature. A marvellous, allegorical rendering of the Islamic doctrine of Sufism an esoteric system concerned with the search for truth through God"
Many people who become interested in the Sufi path are looking for good reading material so they can find out more, so I thought I would put together a list of books that I have found helpful. The list includes books about Sufism by contemporary Sufis as well as translations of the classical Sufi masters. I have benefitted a great deal from reading many of these books and some of them bring their own barakah with them, but my motto is nevertheless, To read is good but to practice is better. Just click on any of the books to find more information.
"The Prayer is a drawing of the curtain, an invitation to a secret place that is discovered and explored. . . .
According to tradition and the testimony of Sufi mystics, The Prayer--or Salat--was first taught by the angels, who themselves practiced it in celestial adoration. The Prayer is God's gift to all humankind, and in this gorgeously illustrated volume, its simple, archetypal practice unfolds like a fragrant, many-petaled flower, joining words and movements into a single luminous event that engages our entire being."
Walking the Sufi path is about being a traveller (salik) on a journey that will break all your expectations, crush your egoistic desires, and according to your sincerity, will bring you to a land without borders where love abounds. The journey hurts, love is often painful, but the heart needs cleansing before the soul is liberated and flies to the Beloved.
Maryam Kabeer Faye set out on this journey, both in the inner sense but also in the outer sense as she travelled both spiritually and physically around the world. In this book she shares her adventures and her sense of the interconnectedness of all things.
"Born in a Jewish family, she was led to live in India and Nepal, and in monasteries in Europe, and then guided to embrace Islam at the hands of an ancient Sufi Master a few minutes away from the tomb of the Prophet Abraham. She then was guided to study intensively with Sufi Masters around the world. Her journey to the holy places and people of the earth, led her finally to Africa and the deep truth that all lives are totally interconnected and united with our own."
The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
Friday, 17 April 2009
This is the first edition of the Qur’an translated by an American woman. Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar has translated the original Arabic into clear English that emphasizes the universal message of the Qur’an. For example she translates ‘Allah’ as ‘God’ in the same way that ‘God’ would be translated as ‘Allah’ for Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Arabic speaking world. A customer review says the following:
“Encountering this translation represented a real personal breakthrough for me regarding Islam, or at least any kind of Islam one approaches through an English approximation of the Quran. The translator's internal consistency and attempted avoiding of subjective interpretation worked well for me: and as I read more and more, what normally strikes the English only reader as disjointed and theologically fragmented in translations of the Quran gave way to a kind of majesty, a kind of excitement (and unique sadness) I'd never encountered before in any other translation. I felt that at last I'd received a tiny glimpse of what the Quran means, or at least what it could mean, on a very personal, psychological level.”
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Bahya ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart by Diana LobelDuties of the Heart was written by Bahya Ibn Paquda in eleventh century Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain). In this study Diana Lobel examines the original Arabic to discover the close alignment of Paquda's work with the Sufi mystic path. The product description says the following of this study:
"Written in Judeo-Arabic in eleventh-century Muslim Spain but quickly translated into Hebrew, Bahya Ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart is a profound guidebook of Jewish spirituality that has enjoyed tremendous popularity and influence to the present day. Readers who know the book primarily in its Hebrew version have likely lost sight of the work's original Arabic context and its immersion in Islamic mystical literature. In A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue, Diana Lobel explores the full extent to which Duties of the Heart marks the flowering of the "Jewish-Arab symbiosis," the interpenetration of Islamic and Jewish civilizations.
Lobel reveals Bahya as a maverick who integrates abstract negative theology, devotion to the inner life, and an intimate relationship with a personal God. Bahya emerges from her analysis as a figure so steeped in Islamic traditions that an Arabic reader could easily think he was a Muslim, yet the traditional Jewish seeker has always looked to him as a fountainhead of Jewish devotion. Indeed, Bahya represents a genuine bridge between religious cultures. He brings together, as well, a rationalist, philosophical approach and a strain of Sufi mysticism, paving the way for the integration of philosophy and spirituality in the thought of Moses Maimonides."
Friday, 16 January 2009
Nizami gathered several versions of the folktale of Layla and Majnun before writing this beautiful version. Majnun's longing for his beloved Layla has also been seen as a metaphor of the Sufi longing for union with the divine Beloved. Click on the image or here to buy this book and to see similar ones.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Saturday, 3 January 2009
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Kimya, a Forgotten Mystic
This review was originally printed in Sufi, 69, Spring 2006. It is reprinted here (in the astore) with permission from Alireza Nurbakhsh, editor of Sufi.
Rumi's Daughter is both a delightful and informative novel. It comes to us from Muriel Maufroy, French-born author and ex-journalist for the BBC World Service who currently lives in London. Partly imagined and partly factual, it recounts the life of Kimya, the adopted daughter of Maulana Jalalud-Din Rumi (1207-1273) who is known today both for his mystical love poetry written to his beloved God and the Sufi Order of the Whirling Dervishes founded after his death. Nothing is really known about Kimya's origins, and we know very little about her life in Rumi's household. Yet through her enchanting depiction, Maufroy lovingly evokes the spirit of a vivacious and ingenuous young girl. She brings to life this child of seven in all her innocence and simplicity as the girl awakens to a world of wonder and embraces the life of a mystic, even before she meets Rumi and Shams. This book is especially unique, in that it offers a glimpse into Rumi's life from the women's point of view, something which had not been done before.
It seems plausible that Kimya was born in an Anatolian village near Konya, that as a child she went into trances when she would black out and enter another dimension losing all track of time, and that her love for God was all-consuming, shaping what she became. As a young child Kimya frequently wonders, "Why am I alive? Where was I before I was born?" She appears to have been where Rumi and Shams are long before she meets them. Following one of her reveries she tells her mother sobbing, "I was somewhere where I was so happy ... Then it was all over." Maufroy writes, "And for a second it seemed the child had been touched by a beam of light." In turn, Kimya's Greek Christian mother Evdokia wonders how Kimya happens to be her child, and her Turkish Muslim father Farokh jokes whether perhaps she might be a witch. Both parents feel she does not "belong" to them.
Through this cross-cultural family, Maufroy gives us a flavor of the times in Anatolia when the Seljuk Turks ruled (1077-1308) the land, gently weaving historical facts in between her delightfully inspired fiction. She infuses the pages of her book with images that instruct: Farokh talks of nearby cities, Konya and Laranda, where his cousins used to visit and would return to tell stories about houses carved out of stone and "people speaking strange languages and wearing even stranger dresses." Kimya's father tells his inquisitive daughter of his nomadic childhood herding goats and sheep, bartering and selling milk, cheese, wool, and rugs, while living in tents made of felt, looking up to shamans for spiritual guidance, worshipping idols, and making offerings to the gods. In contrast, they now live in a stone house, work the land, and attend the mosque. Thus we learn about the landscape, inhabitants, and living conditions in the Taurus Mountains in the thirteenth century. Incidentally, Maufroy has traveled to Turkey on numerous occasions and even lived in a Turkish village in the area.
We also discover Konya and its many preachers: "Not only the Christian monks who tried to stem the rise of Islam, or the Franks on their way to Palestine, but all those beggars in disguise who came from the East and made their living from swallowing swords, spitting fire, or pretending to read the future." Indeed, thirteenth-century Anatolia was a place where many faiths were intertwined: Hellenic, Gnostic, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Pagan. And the region was layered in many cultures: Greek, Roman, Persian, Turkish, and Arab. One could hear Venetian, Saxon, or Frank, Greek or Persian, Turkish or Arabic spoken in the streets. We meet characters like Ahmed, a Persian youth from Konya, his friend Theophanes, a young Greek boy, or Father Chrisostom, a Christian priest and a friend of Kimya's family. Young Kimya wisely comments on this miscellany of peoples saying, "Perhaps one day everybody will speak the same language."
As already indicated, Maufroy cleverly embeds her sensitively inspired tale within much historical fact. For example, through the ruminations of Father Chrisostom we learn that in the villages "Islam and the language of the Turkomans were slowly supplanting Christianity and the Greek language. How unsettling it was at times to live in this land of Anatolia and the Taurus, pulled between the Byzantine and Persian empires!" We also become aware of the tumultuous times in which Kimya lived, when the Mongol hordes were invading the country: "It was not only the individual who was threatened, but whole ways of life with their unique forms and richness. One heard of libraries disappearing in blazes, of illuminated manuscripts torn to pieces, of works of art reduced to rubble."
But what the author really wants and succeeds to impress on us is her belief that, in the eyes of God, religious and gender differences are of little importance. We learn about Jalalud-Din Rumi as a preacher who accepts people of all faiths, and "even women," as his disciples, which leads to much gossip about the propriety of his tolerance and his unorthodox views. In fact, Rumi's second wife Kerra, whom we meet in this novel, was Christian. In the story Rumi is revered as Maulana, Our Master. Most importantly, we hear his own words, expressing the heart of his teaching: "Love for the Creator is latent in all men." The Greek priest Chrisostom also voices sentiments similar to Rumi's: "People have their faiths and God hears each one of them. Who are we to tell them how to talk to Him?" Thus, real-life characters and fictional ones blend together.
Kimya's story begins in 1239 when she is seven. Rumi would have been thirty-two years old that year, a young scholar and spiritual figure gaining recognition and gathering a following. Their lives converge when Kimya's parents, after much heart-wrenching contemplation, take the precocious young girl to Konya, where she can be taught by nuns in a convent. Instead, it is Kimya's fate to cross paths with Rumi, who invites her to live in his home with his wife and children. By that point, Kimya has already learned about Rumi and his teaching from Ahmed, who teaches her the precious Persian word, doost, meaning "the Friend"--"the one I Love", "the One I Long For."
It is with the sensitivity and compassion of a true believer that Maufroy evokes the exchange that might have transpired between Rumi and Kimya when they meet physically for the first time: "We have already walked a long way together," remarks Rumi to Kimya. And through Kimya, who is not even ten yet, we see Rumi: "From his whole being emanated a feeling of warmth and kindness, though his eyes looked sharp and alert." What follows in the rest of the novel after that point is both intense and a delight, as the author shows us through the young girl's eyes what Rumi the man might have been like, what might have transpired in his household day to day, and how he might have talked and behaved in everyday life.
It is thus that we meet Rumi's second wife Kerra, his grown sons Sultan Walad and Alaud-Din, his six-month-old son Alim, his friends Sadruddin Qonavi, Namj al Razi, Salah ud din Zarkob, and finally, his doost Shams of Tabriz, "the confidant of [his] soul." Approximately the last two thirds of the book follows Kimya as she matures beyond her years both psychologically and spiritually in a very short time. This part of Kimya's tale is grounded in more familiar territory for readers who already know the historical facts of Shams and Rumi's relationship, Shams's wondrous entry into Rumi's life in 1244, the jealousy that ensued among Rumi's followers, and Shams's heartbreaking disappearance forever only four years later. Kimya is barely fifteen when she enters into a marriage with Shams, her senior by at least three decades, who evokes emotions that are both exhilarating and devastating for anyone, let alone a child her age. Shams neglects her most of the time, instead spending his time with Rumi, locked in a room, without even food, for days and nights on end, lost in mystical conversation.
The historical Kimya was much pitied for having been neglected and for dying of loneliness and despair. This is not how Maufroy sees it, though. And this is another important aspect of this curiously powerful book. All along, the author indicates that too often our perceptions distort what really happens. We do not see reality; we interpret it according to our conditioning. This is particularly noticeable in Kimya's relationship with Shams, which to Maufroy, is much more than an arranged marriage or one of convenience. The relationship is also one of teacher and disciple. We witness Kimya's burning and her mystical transformation, as Shams allows her "almost at will to enter the place where her heart [is] content." The discrepancy between perception and reality is equally demonstrated in the parallel relationship between Rumi and Shams, which clearly remains incomprehensible to the onlookers. But the main theme in the novel is first of all the Sufi theme of love and separation. Early in the book one of the characters proclaims: "Love's task is to take us beyond the realm of separation. It has nothing to do with happiness here"--a statement which actually foretells Kimya's, and later on Rumi's story itself, as well as the very foundation of his teaching.
As a whole, this is an insightful novel that does not only interweave historical facts with a creative account of a young girl's experiences growing up in Rumi's household, but is imbued with Sufi thought and knowledge: "God's knowledge is as free as a bird and so is your soul." "There is a knowledge the mind knows nothing of". Such statements subtly draw the reader into the Sufi mystic's world and its language. "When Kimya left," Maufroy writes, "the sky was softening into a rose-tinted gold, as tender as God's whisper". It is this whisper from God that this novel manages to make us hear.
Müge N. Galin, Ph.D., from the Department of English at The Ohio State University, has written Between East and West: Sufism in the Novels of Doris Lessing (State University of New York Press, 1997), Turkish Sampler (Indiana University, 1989), and Fatma Aliye Hanim (Isis Press).
Thursday, 21 August 2008
One way of describing author Tom Cheetham is as a spiritual ecologist. Meaning that he sees no real separation between the material and the spiritual for God is present everywhere and speaks to us through all forms. This gives human beings a great responsibility to care for the planet and all creation, and more than that, to listen to it speaking. By way of the imaginal, the realm of the soul, we can see all things as mirrors of the divine and work towards cleansing our hearts to reflect the Numen.
Green Man, Earth Angel (editorial review) explores the central role of imagination for understanding the place of humans in the cosmos. Tom Cheetham suggests that lives can only be completely whole if human beings come to recognize that the human and natural worlds are part of a vast living network and that the material and spiritual worlds are deeply interconnected. Central to this reimagining is an examination of the place of language in human life and art and in the worldview that the prophetic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--presuppose. If human language is experienced only as a subset of a vastly more-than-human whole, then it is not only humans who speak, but also God and the world with all its creatures. If humans' internal poetry and creative imaginations are part of a greater conversation, then language can have the vital power to transform the human soul, and the soul of the world itself.
The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism (Product description): The first book in English to synthesize the remarkable work of Henry Corbin, the great French philosopher, Christian theologian, and scholar of Islamic mysticism. Corbin, a colleague of Jung's at Eranos, was one of the seminal influences on the development of archetypal psychology, especially through the idea of the "imaginal world." His work bridges the gap between the philosophy and theology of the West and the mysticism of Islam and provides a radical and unified vision of the 3 great monotheistic religions based upon the Creative Imagination. This book will be of special interest to those seeking to understand Islamic spirituality and the relation between spirituality and ecology and will also inform current interpretations of the politics of terrorism.
After Prophecy: Imagination, Incarnation, and the Unity of the Prophetic Tradition (Studies in Archetypal Psychology) (Product description): This book explores the status of religion in the Post-Prophetic Age, especially as seen through the eyes of the French Islamic scholar Henry Corbin. In lucid and simple prose, Cheetham explores the creative role of the imagination in the formative ground of the three great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Corbin, engaging the soul of the world through the mediating power of the Imaginal is an act of love, a theme Cheetham expands through his analysis of such concepts as mystical poverty, contemplative knowledge, the luminosity of the earth, the theophanic vision, the Christ Angel, Incarnation, the divine sensorium, alchemical transformation, the spiritual humanism of Ivan Illich, Western iconoclasm, and the centrality of gnosis. This book offers a visionary alternative to the confusions of contemporary life. It speaks to believers and non-believers alike.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Welcome to a Treasure Trove of Sufi Books and Music
Welcome to the Sufi Book and Music Blog. Step in and look around the many sections here that all relate to an aspect of Sufism. There are also DVD's of music from master musicians. If you know of any books that are not here then you are welcome to write and let me know so I can add them. The idea of this site is to bring together in one place as many books on the subject of Sufism as possible so that it is easier for you to discover what is available without doing long searches. So take your time and browse as you would in any library or book store. As I speak of the books available in the store so it is also an opportunity to look at different aspects of the Sufi path and the many friends who have trodden this path in the past and in the present day.