Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt

Article excerpt

Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt, by Valerie J. Hoffman. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. xix + 377 pages. Notes to p. 418. Glossary to p. 425. Biog. Dictionary to p. 432. Select. Bibl. to p. 439. Index to p. 461. $49.95.

Reviewed by Gerhard Bowering

This book endeavors to be a comprehensive description of Sufism as it is practiced in Egypt today. It situates contemporary Egyptian Sufism in its relationship to the mystical tradition of Islam, to currents of Islamic modernism and fundamentalism, and to aspects of Coptic Christianity. The author did the fieldwork for this study in 1987-89 and was accepted into Sufi communities of Egypt while conducting her research. This afforded her an inside perspective of Sufism that is rarely accorded Western scholars. It also facilitated her combined anthropological and literary approach to Sufi life in theory and practice. The effort of uniting ethnographic themes with topics of medieval texts gives this voluminous book its particular character and distinction. By keeping Arabic nomenclature to a minimum the author has also made the book widely accessible to the non-expert reader.

The book includes 12 substantial chapters, copious notes, a glossary, a select bibliography and a helpful index. Chapter I situates Egyptian Sufis in the Sufi tradition, and Chapter 2 explains the fieldwork methods employed by the author. Chapters 3 and 4 deal with the ideas of prophethood and sainthood, respectively, focusing on the Prophet Muhammad and his family and interpreting the tradition of Sufi saints as a continuation of prophetic illumination in Islam. Chapters 5 and 6 describe the institution of the Sufi orders and discuss the principal foundations of Sufi life. …