Mystical Dimensions of Islam

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Mystical Dimensions of Islam1
Mystical Dimensions of Islam1.jpg
AuthorAnnemarie Schimmel
PublisherMystical Dimensions of Islam1

The book Mystical Dimensions of Islam stands as the most valuable introduction to Sufism, the main form of Islamic mysticism. 

About the author [edit | edit source]

Annemarie Schimmel (1922—2003), formerly professor of Indo-Muslim studies at Harvard University. Among her many achievements, she earned two doctorates from German universities, the first from Berlin in Arabic and Islamic studies at the age of nineteen and the second, ten years later, from Marburg in the history of religion. Her work embraced many other languages of Islamic civilization besides Arabic, including Persian, Turkish, and Urdu, as well as other languages of South Asia. She authored over eighty books and countless articles on all aspects of Islamic culture, but clearly Sufism was her first love e. She produced autobiographical writings in both English and German,1 and two academic festschrifts have been dedicated to her scholarship.

About the book [edit | edit source]

This book published in The University of North Carolina Press; 35th Anniversary edition (August 8, 2011), has 544 pages and best sellers rank of 580,364 in Books. 

This book as a standard English-language handbook on the subject of Sufism, is Schimmel's historical treatment of the transnational phenomenon of Sufism, from its beginnings through the nineteenth century.

Abstract of chapters[edit | edit source]

Chapter 1: WHAT IS SUFISM?[edit | edit source]

The author believes that many books have been published on Sufism and the spiritual life in Islam and each of them has touched upon a different facet, for the phenomenon usually called Sufism is so broad and its appearance so protean that nobody can venture to describe it fully. Such is the case with Sufism, the generally accepted name for Islamic mysticism. To approach its partial meaning, she tries to examine, what mysticism means in this chapter. 

Chapter 2: HISTORICAL OUTLINES of CLASSICAL SUFISM[edit | edit source]

The author in this chapter examines the history of Sufism. She believes that Sufism traces its origin back to the Prophet himself, so she examines mystical tradition which includes some of Muhammad's companions among the spiritual ancestors of Sufism. Then follows the discussion by examining the aims of all the mystics which are essentially the same. At the end of the chapter the author reviews some lines from the verses of Sumnun to the sublime poems being written time by the most famous mystic of Baghdad and of the whole early period of Sufism, like Ghazzall's. 

Chapter 3: THE PATH[edit | edit source]

This chapter tries to explain the tariqa, the "path" on which the mystics walk. The author has been defined it as "the path which comes out of the shari’a, for the main road is called shari’a, the path, tariq." This derivation shows that the Sufis considered the path of mystical education a branch of that highway that consists of the God-given law, on which every Muslim is supposed to walk. In this section, the author examines the characteristics of the mystical path and believes that this long and difficult path requires constant obedience and struggle.

Chapter 4: MAN and HIS PERFECTION[edit | edit source]

The position of man in Islam, and especially in Sufism, has been a subject of controversy among Western scholars. Some of them have held that man, as "slave of God," has no importance whatsoever before the Almighty God; he almost disappears, loses his personality, and is nothing but an instrument of eternal fate. Others have sensed in the development of later Sufism an inherent danger that might result in an absolute subjectivism, because the human personality is, so to speak, "inflated" to such an extent that it is considered the microcosm, the perfect mirror of God. The author in this chapter examines the concept of "humanism" of which European culture is so proud and is, according to these scholars, basically alien to Islamic thought.  

Chapter 5: SUFI ORDERS and FRATERNITIES[edit | edit source]

"The faithful is the mirror of the faithful"

The practical application of this Prophetic tradition that the Sufis considered an excellent maxim for social intercourse, is clearly visible in the history of Sufism and leads to one of the most pleasing aspects of the movement, namely, to the fraternal love that first came into existence among the Sufis of one group and was then extended to include humanity in general.

Chapter 6: THEOSOPHICAL SUFISM[edit | edit source]

In this chapter the author examines the main current of moderate orthodox Sufism which had been systematized by Ghazzali. Ghazzali’s works contain views that were to develop in full in that stream of Islamic theosophy against which he had fought so relentlessly. His Mishkat al-anwar, "The Niche for Lights," is the book from which most of the later Sufis start. Then he gives another example for supporting his topic which is the clearest expression of the light mysticism, the mystical theories of Shihabuddin Suhrawardi summing up the main theories of mysticism. 

Chapter 7: THE ROSE and the NIGHTINGALE: Persian and Turkish Mystical Poetry[edit | edit source]

The author in this chapter examines this issue that whether Persian lyrical poetry should be interpreted as mystical or as erotic. As we see, the poetry provides almost unlimited possibilities for creating new relations between worldly and otherworldly images, between religious and profane ideas; the talented poet may reach a perfect interplay of both levels and make even the most profane poem bear a distinct "religious" flavor.

Chapter 8: SUFISM IN INDO-PAKISTAN[edit | edit source]

This chapter is about the Muslim pious of the western provinces of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent who were apparently interested mainly in the collection of hadith and in the transmission to the central Muslim countries of scientific information from India (mathematics, the "Arabic" numbers, astronomy and astrology, medicine), but their religious feelings may sometimes have reached the heights of mystical experience.

Chapter 9: EPILOGUE[edit | edit source]

In the course of this study, the author shows how much criticism was directed against Sufism from the early tenth century on. The complaint about the decay of mysticism becomes stronger from century to century. This may be one reason why the later forms of Sufism have attracted comparatively little interest on the part of the scholars. Another reason is certainly the indebtedness of the majority of later Sufis to the system of Ibn Arabi, which apparently left very little room for independent theological thought. Then he talks about Khwaja Mir Dard who is a typical example of later Sufi life and thought: poet and mystic, fundamentalist and follower of both Ibn Arabi and Ahmad Sirhindi, fighter against all kinds of innovation and lover of music and art, he is the complexio oppositorum. 

Source[edit | edit source]