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Al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism Analysis

The book under consideration is called al-Qushayri’s Epistle on Sufism. It can be considered as an original textbook that served as a guide for generations of Sufi beginners (Al-Qushayri 10). It introduces readers to the everyday lives of Sufism proponents as well as to ethical and moral dilemmas they are encountering to strike the balance between difficulties of life in a society ruled by wealth, rank, and military power and their ascetic convictions. This work is considered to be a model of representation of Sufism being also the most authoritative and consistent in Sufi tradition.

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The book is composed of four major sections that are followed by an appendix. In the first section, the author briefly introduces readers to theological concepts. The second section consists of biographic narrations presented in chronological order. In the third section, the author offers definitions of Sufi terminology and, finally, the fourth part provides thematic chapters disclosing the theoretical and practical framework of Sufism. A structured organization of the book, thus, makes it easier for readers to explore the basics of Sufism through a skillful combination of experiences and concepts introduced.

The translated passages begin with the introduction of biography which connections the first biographies with the period of the prophet of Islam (Calder, Mojaddedi, and Rippin 243). All definitions of the terms are presented in a consistent manner where one term is logically linked to another.

In the Epistle, the author provides numerous anecdotes and parables revealing al-Qushayri’s fellow Sufi in different contexts. In particular, he describes them making a pilgrimage to Mecca, suffering from thirst and hunger in the desert, and participating in various spiritual rites. It is worth saying that the work contains notes of mysticism where the author provides the scenes of working miracles and praying. In the narrative, the Sufi, or “friends of God” are described as the true ‘kinds’ of the worlds who cannot be compared with worldly rules whose power is nourished by the commonly established beliefs (Al-Qushayri 12). However, Sufi’s privilege to work magic does provide them with the right to salvation, which is the prerogative of God who tends to check the moral loyalty and integrity of his supporters.

The book provides a more classical approach to portraying the adherents of Sufism. Presented in the epistolary form, the work is an expressive exposition of religious themes, emphasizing the fall of religion and calling for the revival of true faith (Holt, Lambton, and Lewis 614). While summarizing the Sufis, Al-Qushayri pays special attention to the doctrine of Unitarianism (tawhid) and enumerates the movement leaders. Further in the work, the author provides explanations for terms related to Sufism, including maqam (station), Waqt (mystical moment), hal (state), bast (expansion), and qabd (contraction). While identifying the terms, al-Qushayri was following in al-Sarraj’s footsteps. Distinguishing between state and stations enables the author to split the process of working magic into two parts. Hence, the station appears at the first stage that is headed by Tawba, or conversion. In such a way, al-Qushayri transfers from one station to another until a person comes to satisfaction, or ride. This stage is differently described in books, but the author makes a compromise by presenting this state as a transition between maqam and hal. It should be stressed that the book is closely intertwined with Qur’an while providing a parallel interpretation of Sufi terms. Additionally, it should be noted that the discussion of Rida is closely connected with the systematic method considered in the final section of the book. Though the sections are loosely connected, the author begins each chapter with relevant citations and quotes that connect it with previous sayings and assumptions.

In the books, the author presents an original approach to depicting the main concept of Sufism. Hence, this Epistle can be considered as a synthesis of orthodox theology and Sufism. In particular, the author provides the origins of Sufism philosophy whose supporters were striving to purify their minds and souls, to be isolated from routine, and to blur the boundaries between human races (Omri 110). At this point, al-Qushayri is closely connected with Christian visions of God.

A deep analysis of the structure and context of al-Qushayri’s work provides valuable and consistent information about the theory and practice of Sufism. Therefore, the book can be considered as a reliable and valid source for readers to consult the major terms and concepts. A special consideration deserves the authors’ unique approach to describing the main pillars of this science that provides links not only with Islam but with other world religions such as Christianity. At the same time, the author successfully manages to provide his unique outlook on science and the supporters of Sufism who are presented as the eternal bearer of divine virtues and loyal devotees to God. In this regard, the book will be of great value for those readers who want to cognate the basics of Islam religions that can be drawn from mystical narration about the life of Sufi masters.

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Works Cited

Al-Qushayri, Abu’L-Quasim. Al-Qushayri;s Epistle on Sufism: Al-risala Al-quashayriyya Fi ‘ilm Al-tasawwuf. Trans. Alexandr Knysh. US: Garnet Publishing, 2007.

Calder, Norman, Mojaddedi, Jawid Ahmad, Rippin, Andrew. Classical Islam: a sourcebook of religious literature. NJ: Routledge, 2003.

Holt, Peter Malcolm, Lambton, Ann, K. S. and Lewis, Bernard. The Cambridge History of Islam. US: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Omri, Mohammed Salah. Nationalism, Islam, and world literature: sites of confluence in the writing of Mahmud al-Mas’adi. US: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

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