Thursday, April 23, 2009 By Maryam
It's difficult to find a more meticulous introduction to Sufism than the Shambhala Guide. Professor of Islamic studies Carl W. Ernst shows us the many facets of Sufism, from the time of Mohammad to contemporary Sufic leaders. He introduces both the political sphere of Sufism--how the orders have played significant social roles and because of this are persecuted by modern fundamentalists--and the personal sphere--the relationship between master and disciple, the sacred texts, the mystical experience. Ernst also provides critical background information for poetry, music, and dance that is difficult to find in the many Sufi literary anthologies. Shambhala Publications may have gotten more scholarship than they expected from Ernst, but the occasional hairsplitting is welcome for its absence elsewhere in English Sufic literature.
The soaring voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the ecstatic dance of the Whirling Dervishes, the rapturous verse of Jalaluddin Rumi—all are expressions of Sufism, often regarded as the mystical tradition of Islam. Who are the Sufis? They are more than mystics; they are empowered by the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad. They are guided by saints and masters. They belong to orders ranging from North Africa and Turkey to India and Central Asia. In addition to prayer and fasting, they practice techniques of meditation. They recite poetry, delight in music, and perform dance, all towards one goal—union with God, the Divine Beloved. This comprehensive introduction clarifies the concept of Sufism and discusses its origin and development. In addition, the author discusses the important issues of Sufism's relationship with the larger Islamic world and its encounters with fundamentalism and modern secularism, along with the appropriation of Sufism by non-Muslims and the development of Sufi traditions in the West.