Sufism: A Global History

Sufism: A Global History

Sufism: A Global History

Sufism: A Global History

Synopsis

Since their beginnings in the ninth century, the shrines, brotherhoods and doctrines of the Sufis held vast influence in almost every corner of the Muslim world. Offering the first truly global account of the history of Sufism, this illuminating book traces the gradual spread and influence of Sufi Islam through the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and ultimately into Europe and the United States.
  • An ideal introduction to Sufism, requiring no background knowledge of Islamic history or thought
  • Offers the first history of Sufism as a global phenomenon, exploring its movement and adaptation from the Middle East, through Asia and Africa, to Europe and the United States of America
  • Covers the entire historical period of Sufism, from its ninth century origins to the end of the twentieth century
  • Devotes equal coverage to the political, cultural, and social dimensions of Sufism as it does to its theology and ritual
  • Dismantles the stereotypes of Sufis as otherworldly 'mystics', by anchoring Sufi Muslims in the real lives of their communities
  • Features the most up-to-date research on Sufism available

Excerpt

Sufism has often been defined as Islamic “mysticism,” comprising a set of techniques by which Muslims have sought a direct personal encounter with the divine. While it is true that Sufism encompasses many mystical elements, the broad social reach that it acquired over centuries of expansion rendered it much more than the path of an esoteric elite. In recognition of this problem, in his highly influential introduction to Sufism the Cambridge orientalist A.J. Arberry recognized that Sufism comprised the religious way of both the popular Muslim masses and the smaller number of elevated mystics. For Arberry and for many later commentators, the tension in the model of a “mystical” and a “popular” Sufism was resolved through a narrative of decline: what had begun as a genuinely “mystical” movement of individuals seeking personal communion with God was corrupted in the medieval period into a cult of miracle-working saints which held nothing in common with “true” Sufi mysticism. “It was inevitable,” wrote Arberry in scornful tones, “as soon as legends of miracles became attached to the names of the great mystics, that the credulous masses should applaud imposture more than true devotion.” For Arberry as for many others writing in his wake, the consequence of this decline model was that from the later medieval period onwards Sufism was unworthy of study. This was if nothing else ironic, in that the medieval and early modern periods that saw Sufism reach its greatest influence and success were precisely those which were to be overlooked as the ages of post-classical decline.

Over the past thirty years, this model of classicism and decline has been thoroughly rejected, and more recent scholarship on Sufism has done much to overturn the grand narrative of Arberry and such later decline theorists as J.S. Trimingham. Even so, in many discussions of Sufism key aspects of the . . .

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