Classical Sufi Texts

Advanced—Fall

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, an impressive body of literature emerged from the religious movement that came to be known as Sufism. These writings describe spiritual disciplines, moral guidelines, and metaphysical thought—sometimes in highly appealing stories and poetry and sometimes in dense but very rich prose. In this course, we will explore excerpts in English translation from the classics of three of the most influential of the mystics from this time period. Qushayri, Rumi, and Ibn ‘Arabi are among the most widely read and studied Sufis. Their remarkable intellectual and literary talents have given their works longevity, especially among those who continue to mine them for spiritual wisdom and guidance. All three were intensely committed to Muslim practices, which they sought to understand in profound and expansive ways. This meant thoughtful attention to the details of the legalistic norms of Shari‘a even as they articulated a more refined system of ethics based on their readings of the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. For these Sufis, the subtler virtues to which humans aspire are inextricably linked to views of reality and the human self that are radically different from common notions. Spiritual practice is as much about discipline as it is about understanding things “as they really are.” The works to be studied will include long passages from Qushayri’s Risala, Rumi’s Mathnawi, and Ibn ‘Arabi’s Futuhat al-makkiyya. Previous coursework or knowledge in Islamic Studies, Sufism, or another mystical tradition is desirable. Permission of the instructor is required.