SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East


Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

As the primary expression of Muslim mysticism and spirituality, Sufism is indispensable for any deeper understanding of Islam. This course introduces the salient features of the Sufi mystical tradition within Islam, including the historical background of the tradition, the foremost personalities who played a major role in its development, the primary concepts promoted in Sufism and their manifestation in both a religious and social context, as well as the classical works that present both Sufi theory and practice. The relevant issues are approached through a close reading of passages from such classical texts and form the basis for conceptual analysis and intensive discussion.


Enrolment on host programme

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course the students will have an advanced understanding of the teaching and practices of Sufism, and an ability to read the basic sources in Arabic.


This course is taught by two hours of lectures per week.

Scope and syllabus

This course charts the historical development of Sufism from its primordial beginnings in the post-prophetic era to the dichotomy of the "sober" and "intoxicated" schools of the medieval period. Similarly, the metaphysical theosophy that coloured later Sufism is examined, as well as its medium - that of mystical poetry. The rise of the Sufi "brotherhoods" is also discussed, as well as their social context and their significance in the current period. The major theoretical concepts of Sufism are identified and the way in which this presents itself as a specific praxis is considered. A major feature of the course is the debate surrounding Sufism's compatibility with the "orthodox" tradition of Islam, where answers to this question are posited.

Method of assessment

Assessment is by coursework and written examination: Assessed coursework: two essays, each of 2500-3000 words, to be submitted on Day 1 of Term 2 and Day 1 of Term 3 respectively (30% of total mark). Examination: three-hour written paper in May-June (70% of the total mark).

Suggested reading

Basic bibliography:
(a) In Arabic 
  • Al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad, Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din, edited by 'Abdullah al-Khalidi (5 vols., Beirut, Sharikat Dar al-Arqam Ibn Abi al-Arqam, 1998).
    • al-Munqidh min al-Dalal (2nd edition, Beirut, al-Maktabat al-Sharqiyya, 1969). 
  • Al-Hujwiri (d. between 465/1073 and 469/1077), 'Ali b. 'Uthman al-Jullabi, Kashf al-Mahjub (Beirut, Dar al-Nahda al-'Arabiyya, n.d.). Al-Kalabadhi (d. 380/990), Muhammad b. Ishaq, al-Ta'arruf li Madhhab Ahl al-Tasawwuf, ed. Ahmad Shams al-Din (Beirut, Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1993).
  • Al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), 'Abd al-Karim b. Hawazin [Abu al-Qasim], al-Risala al-Qushayriyya fi 'Ilm al-Tasawwuf, ed. Ma'ruf Mustafa Zurayq (Beirut, al-Maktaba al-'Ashriyya, 2001).
    • al-Risala al-Qushayriyya, translated as "Sufi Book of Spiritual Ascent" by Rabia Harris, edited by Laleh Bakhtiar (Chicago, ABC International Group Inc., 1997).
  • Al-Sarraj (d. 378/988), 'Abd Allah b. 'Ali al-Tusi, al-Luma' fi al-Tasawwuf, ed. R. A. Nicholson (Luzac & Co., London, 1914).
  • Zarruq, Ahmad b. Ahmad, Qawa'id al-Tasawwuf, ed. Muhammad Zuhri al-Najjar (Cairo, Maktabat al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya, 1967). 
(b) In English 
  • Abdel-Kader, Ali Hassan, The Life, Personality and Writings of al-Junayd (London, Luzac & Company ltd., 1976). 
  • Arberry, Arthur J., Sufism – An Account of the Mystics of Islam (London, Unwin Hyman Ltd., 1979). 
  • Attar, Farid al-Din, Tadhkirat al-Awliya, translated as "Muslim Saints and Mystics" by A. L. Arberry (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). 
  • Al-Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib, The Nature of Man and the Psychology of the Human Soul (Kuala Lumpur, The International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, 1993). 
  • Baldick, Julian, Mystical Islam (London, I. B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 1989).
  • Chittick, William C., Sufism - A Short Introduction (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2000). Ernst, Carl W., Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany, SUNY, 1985).
    • The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (Boston, Shambhala, 1997). 
  • Frager, Robert, Heart, Self, & Soul - the Sufi Psychology of Growth, Balance and Harmony (Wheaton, Illinois, Quest Books, 1999).
  • Heer, Nicholas and Honerkamp, Kenneth L., Three Early Sufi Texts: "A Treatise on the Heart", "The Stumblings of Those Aspiring" & "Two Texts on the Path of Blame" (Fons Vitae, 2003). 
  • Al-Hujwiri (d. between 465/1073 and 469/1077), Ali b. Uthman al-Jullabi, Kashf al-Mahjub, translated from the Persian by Reynold A. Nicholson (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1911). 
  • Jami, Abd al-Rahman b. Ahmad, al-Durra al-Fakhira, translated as "The Precious Pearl" by Nicholas Heer (Albany : State University of New York Press, 1979). 
  • Al-Kalabadhi (d. 380/990), Muhammad b. Ishaq, al-Ta'arruf li Madhhab Ahl al-Tasawwuf, translated as "Doctrine of the Sufis" by A. J. Arberry (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977). 
  • Knysh, Alexander D., Islamic Mysticism – A Short History (Leiden, Brill, 1999). Lewisohn, Leonard (ed.), The Heritage of Sufism (3 vols., Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 1999). 
  • Massignon, Louis, Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism, translated from the French by Benjamin Clark (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997). 
  • Nasr (ed.), Seyyid Hossein, Islamic Spirituality 1-Foundations / 2- Manifestations (London, SCM Press, 1989). 
  • Al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), Abd al-Karim b. Hawazin [Abu 'l-Qasim], al-Risala al-Qushayriyya, translated as "Sufi Book of Spiritual Ascent" by Rabia Harris, edited by Laleh Bakhtiar (Chicago, ABC International Group Inc., 1997). 
  • Schimmel, Annemarie, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, The University of Carolina Press, 1975). 
  • Sells, Michael, Early Islamic Mysticism (New York, Paulist Press, 1996). 
  • Smith, Margaret, An Early Mystic of Baghdad (New York, AMS Press, 1973). 
  • Stoddart, William, Sufism - the Mystical Doctrines and Methods in Islam (Wellingborough, Thorsons Publishers Ltd., 1976). 
(c) Note also: 


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