Spiritual Healing: Perpetual Words

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People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research L'Arbi Ben M’hidi University - Oum El Bouaghi Faculty of Letters and Languages Department of English A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master in Anglo-American Studies By: HEBBOUDJI Nardjess Supervisor: Mr. FILALI Billel 2017-2018 Spiritual Healing: Perpetual Words

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Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research
L'Arbi Ben M’hidi University - Oum El Bouaghi
Faculty of Letters and Languages
Department of English
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree
of Master in Anglo-American Studies
By: HEBBOUDJI Nardjess Supervisor: Mr. FILALI Billel
I am profoundly grateful to my Brilliant supervisor Mr. FILALI Billel, who passed to me the
love of powerful words and spiritual depth, whose help and assistance to me have been of
inestimable value.
I am also indebted to the members of my family: starting by my dearest parents who were by
my side all over my life. Part of this success was due to the support offered by my beloved
sisters Celia and Zahra.
Finally, I wish to pay my tribute to my aunts Rima and Samia, my uncle Ali, and my cousins
Hamza, Ibtissem, Kamel, Karima, and Ouafa. Their encouragement constantly eased my path.
“Spiritual Healing: Perpetual Words” attempts to analyze and prove the possibility of the
cultural travel from eastern to western realms of the world through “mystic lexicon”. The
study also, attempts at assessing critically the notable similarities and differences between
Eastern Sufism and Western Mysticism, and examining major Islamic mystical ideologies.
Therefore, the research is aiming at studying and analyzing the way in which Sufism, with all
its aspects, was able to penetrate into the American society by covering major factors that
helped the enculturation of the phenomenon, and how religious and cultural groups facilitated
its existence in U.S. Moreover, it examines the impact of the Masnavi, a significant Parisian
work in the United States through different versions and translations. By doing so, it seeks to
unveil the real facets of Sufism and how it was perceived and welcomed by the Americans,
making oriental Rumi the best-selling poet in U.S.
Key Words: mystic lexicon, East, West, United Sates, Masnavi, Rumi, Sufism, mysticism.
La « Guérison Spirituelle: Mots Éternels» essaye d’analyser et de prouver la possibilité d’un
voyage culturel du monde oriental vers le monde occidental à travers un « lexique mystique ».
L’étude tente également à évaluer non seulement les ressemblances et les différences entre les
deux soufismes oriental et occidental, Mais aussi à étudier et analyser la manière qui a pu
pénétrer dans la société américaine en couvrant les principaux facteurs qui ont contribué à
cristalliser le phénomène, et comment les groupes religieux et culturels ont facilité leur
présence dans la société américaine. En outre, la recherche examine l’influence Mathnawi
dans le monde occidental, célèbre ouvrage iranien aux Etats- Unis, en mettent l’accent sur
certaines publications et traductions. L’étude donc cherche à révéler les vrais aspects du
soufisme du point de vue Américain, et comment Rumi l’oriental a pu gagner cette réputation
dans les Etats- Unis.
Mots Clés: lexique mystique, Orient, Occident, Etats unis, Masnavi, Rumi, Sufisme,

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General Introduction…………………………………………………………………………...1
Chapter I: Mysticism, Islamic Sufism and, Sufi Literature: a Brief Overview
Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………… 4
I - Western Mysticism vs Eastern Sufism: a Comparative Study ………………………..……5
II- Sufism……………………………………………………………………………………....8
VI- Sufi Literature………………………………………………………………………..…..16
1- Omar Khayyem .………………………………………………………………………....17
Conclusion ...…………………………………………………………………………………26
Chapter II: American Sufism: Turning to the Core of Spirituality
Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………..28
II- Oriental Sufism vs American Transcendentalism: a Comparative Study.………………..35
III- The Impact of Rumi in the Western World: Versions and Translations ………………..39
VI- Rumi Phenomenon in the United States ………………………………………………....42
Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………...……46
General Introduction
For many people, the mere mention of the word" Sufism" brings to minds ideas of:
people wearing woolen clothes, asceticism, and whirling dervishes. All of which are, indeed,
key icons of Sufism, however, before looking in details, at the various critical dimensions of
Islamic mysticism (Sufism). One should recognize that Sufism in its discourse is indefinite.
What is evident is that this system of corrected behaviors is inspired from the spiritual and
mystical philosophy of Islam, based on direct connection with God. Sufis dedicate themselves
to Allah through meditation, repetitive prayer, remembrance and non-violence. The doctrine
in its broad sense deals with both esoteric and exoteric meanings of Quranic verses, writing
poems, and reciting them in Zaouays.
Poetry that embodied the Sufi contexts is undoubtedly the key element that makes the
readers respond to such literature, especially the one of the thirteen Century which marked the
Golden Age of the greatest mystical art and literature. Prominent poets like: Attar, Sa'di, and
Hafiz had shaped this poetry. Many western writers and poets were influenced by its heritage
like: Edward Fitzgerald translation of Omar el Khayyam’s Quatrains, which made a fortune in
Victorian England and later on in United States. The Masnavi also achieved a great
commercial success, making Rumi the best-selling poet in USA.
The so called “Quran with Persian tongue” continued to be significant in recent years,
and it was translated into 23 languages. Its tremendous impact in western society was shown
through the appreciation of many poets such as: Robert Bly who advised Coleman Barks to
translate Rumi's book, suggesting that: “these poems need to be released from their cages”.
Indeed, the Masnavi was translated despite the growth of the anti-Islamic sentiment. Such
effort rendered the translation more original, making it a unique American spiritual poetry.
William Chittick, an eloquent figure in Islamic philosophy described Rumi as “the
greatest spiritual master of Islam”, and maintained that his works are “the most studied by
Western Orientalists”. Moreover, the UNESCO celebrated in 2007 an international year of
Rumi. Symbolically, Rumi is regarded as the appropriate representative of peace in the world.
Opponents in the other hand found the couplets of the Masnavi uneasy to comprehend;
western readerships left perplexed whenever reading its unordered anecdotes. For them,
Rumi’s narrative lyrics are difficult to follow. Although, the Masnavi received a deep
veneration even among non-Muslims especially Christians and Jews.
This research purports to study and analyze the way in which Sufism, with all its
aspects, was able to penetrate into the American society. It seeks to unveil the real facets of
Sufism, and how it was perceived and welcomed by the Americans. The study attempts also
to examine the reasons behind the engagement of Islamic mysticism in USA as a feature of
new cultural horizon.
Structurally, this research is divided into two main sections; a theoretical and a
practical. The theoretical part (chapter I) explores western mysticism and eastern Sufism from
theological point of view, highlighting its remarkable similarities and differences. Then, it
determines the etymology of Sufism as Islamic dimension and underlines the different Sufi
ideologies and principles. Finally, the chapter proceeds to analyze four major Sufi figures
with an attempt to trace their impact in both eastern and western spheres of the world.
The second section of the research (chapter II) encompasses a whole chapter that deals
with the Masnavi as a case of study in general and the Essential Rumi in particular,
considering the last as the English ramification of the original work. It covers a historical
survey over the factors behind the infiltration of Sufism in Europe and North America, the
academic intention to Sufism, and the different religious and cultural affiliations. The latter
made allowance for Transcendentalism to prosper as a literary movement. The last parts of the
chapter highlight the different versions and translation of the Masnavi. At the end, the chapter
is concluded with a demonstration of Rumi from American angle and a shared cultural
It is noteworthy to mention that the analysis of the case of the Masnavi cannot be
attained easily, since the accessibility of its sources was a hindrance for the researcher. In
addition to the unavailability of references related to the topic, the course of research
depended on translations from Arabic and French books. The step to put a title to the research
witnessed some difficulties too, because it is a multi-disciplinary approach that combines
between civilizational, literary, theological, and other angles that measure it from different
aspects of the society.
Importantly, some quotations from Quran in these data seemed less reliable if
compared with other authentic sources. So, some personal efforts are made in order to give
strength to the arguments of the research. Other sources with Persian language were totally
ignored because of the inability of mastering this language.
Methodologically, the research uses many methodological approaches such as the
comparative approach in the first part of the chapter dealing with eastern and western
mysticism, the historical, and the descriptive approaches in both chapters. While the analytical
approach; analyzed the case of study. Finally, the quantitative as well as the qualitative
approaches in analyzing, evaluating the facts and events using the given data (books, articles,
essays, dissertations…). All these approaches are pursued under the MLA 7th edition format.
In time where the world suffers from a religious strife and the spiritual upheaval one
doubts his/ her identity, displacement, the meaning of life…and survives purposelessly. As
consequence, many chose to put an end to their lives, disregarding the penalties. Others stack
in state of madness trying to answer such questions. Both cases are in fact because of the
spiritual vacuum, the emptiness of society, and the institutionalization of materialism. For
these reasons, many sought to find a smooth way to satisfy their unhappy souls by moving
eastward and encountering the Sufi dogma, and gaining in return part of peace.
The chapter deals with Sufism from the side of its Islamic theosophy and cultural
aspect. It shows the way in which Sufism was successful in giving a brighter image to Islam
as a religion in western circles in general and the American society in particular. The chapter
sheds light on the remarkable similarities and differences between eastern Sufism and western
mysticism throughout determining the etymology of Islamic mysticism, and the various
opinions between opponents and proponents. It assesses its ideology and identifies some of its
principles. Lastly, it examines the influence of Sufi literature in the west, learning about some
towering figures and highlighting their main writings.
I-Eastern Sufism Vs Western Mysticism: A Comparative Study
The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language defines mysticism as: “A
spiritual discipline aiming at the union with the divine through deep meditation or trancelike
contemplation” (Shrader 3). Principally, it is based on intuition and senses. Though, it has its
sacred value. It is derived from Latin mysterium which came from the Greek term musterion
or secret rites. Undoubtedly, esotericism in its theoretical side survived form ancient times
and occurs in almost world religions. For example in Judaism, the well-known Maimonides of
the 12th Century wrote very significant mystical texts such as A Guide for the Perplexed. In
Christian Europe St. Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, and later on John of the Cross
pioneered Christian mysticism. Sa’di and Rumi paved the way for the Islamic one (Barret &
Griffiths 396).
These esoteric texts are often characterized by mystical experiences mostly expressed
on theological and philosophical literatures by pious men and prophets within religious
traditions (Barrett & Griffiths 395).
[Mystical experiences]: are those peculiar state of consciousness in which the
individual discovers himself to be one continuous progress with god, with the
universe, with the ground of being, or whatever name he may use by cultural
conditioning or personal preference for the ultimate and eternal reality. (qtn in
Barret & Griffiths 395)
According to Barrett and Griffiths, mystical experiences happen while shaping
religious and spiritual practices. Sometimes coincidently. It has two forms the extroversive;
the acknowledgment of monotheism whereby you find the oneness in the hearts of the inner
reality, and introversive which encompasses a total dissolution of the self-loss of egocentrism
and the loss of all borders (397).
Mysticism is often associated to many alternatives like: Sufism, Esotericism, and
spirituality. Though, the term spirituality is new perception in the western world, it appeared
lately during the 16th and 17th Century in France and then gradually moved to many European
vernacular languages. Nowadays, it is used to define religion. By contrast, early ages of Latin
Catholicism were familiar with the word “spiritus” which in fact has a very a definite
meaning; a cosmological and metaphysical prominence above the psyche. In the other hand,
spirituality “Ruhaniyyet” or “maanaviyyet” in the eastern side of the earth designates the
inner meaning of things, a term which was attained from Quran and was glorified because it is
from “the command of Lord” as suggested by Seyyed Hussein Nasr (209).
In the western world, mysticism has always been related to the union of deity. Yet, it
was neither mentioned in the Old Testament nor the modern one. Historically, the term was
linked to Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd Century; Clement tackled the aim behind the
spiritual practices and the unification with the divine. Another feature to consider is when
Origan of Alexandria established a theology based on mysticism that became institutionalized
by the 4th Century. But, it was only addressed to the monastic leaders and never regarded to as
an academic discipline (McGinn 51-52).
Contextually, by the 12th Century, new mysticism emerged by the Protestants which
was more opened if compared to the old one since it accepts all believers, including the
females who participated in these spiritual experiences. Quickly, the subject became less
interesting, because many mystics suggested that the main goal of contemplatives in the
unification with God is about vanishing the distinction between God and soul. Other mystics
employ the excessive language about the madness of love and the lascivious issues which
often discussed topics like the ecstasy. Furthermore, some mystics were judged by heresy of
“a free spirit” for disregarding the role of church and overemphasizing the deeper presence of
God (McGinn 51, 53).
Similar to western mysticism, eastern Sufism attempted to a direct liaison of man to
God, who is considered as a companion and beloved rather than a draconian powerful ruler of
mankind fates. In fact, Sufism seeks to know God by religious experience which is above all
intuitions and intellect (Ghosh & Mir 76). It is therefore worth to say that early Sufis were
affected by the Christian priests in Egypt and Syria who were renowned by deprivation and
other spiritual practices. Even prophet Muhammed (PBUH) had a good relation with a Syrian
monk called Bahira (Sergius).Yet; Muslim Sufis did not adopt all Christian traditions and
rejected some basics of western mysticism. However, asceticism remained prominent until
modern days (Cook 1-2).
Cook continued that some of the Sufi literatures have a Christian derivation. Some
Sufi passages are even extracted from the bible. Parallel to western mystics, the ascetic Sufis
share similar practices. To mention some, both admire the extra prayers at night, fasting, and
total rejection of sleeping. Additionally, many prefer to be accompanied by the fakirs (2). In
his book Bezels of Wisdom Ibn –al Arabi of the 12th Century wrote an influential chapter
about Jesus (Jae 1).
The Quranic Sufi interpretations of Jesus are different from the Christian ones.
According to Rezazadeh, “Jesus the spirit of God” is regarded as a major prophet in Islam and
has a great place in Islamic mysticism, eschatology, and morality. Though, this prophet is
always related to his mother whenever Quran mentions him “Isa ibn Maryam”, because the
holy book considers him as a human being not a divine as Christianity purports (47-48).
For Quranic verses, the death of Jesus is only a delusion of the Christian myth. God
ascended him, God said:
O Jesus! I will be One Who Gathers thee and One Who Elevates thee to Myself
and One Who Purifies thee from those who were ungrateful, and One Who
Makes those who followed thee above those who were ungrateful until the Day
of Resurrection. Again, you will return to Me. Then, I will give judgment
between you about what you had been at variance in it. (Sublime Qur'an, Al
Imran 3:55)
By this perspective one notes that Quran denies the crucifixion of Jesus (Reynolds 240).
According to eastern mystics, Jesus is a “proto Sufi” and a messenger from God.
Arguing against the western mystic point of view, Sufis had never considered Jesus as human
divine and “savior figure”. In the other hand, Jesus for Sufis like the Christians has always
been an icon of pureness, perfection, love, and remedy. The shared picture about Jesus is most
likely inspired from the common ecumenical perceptions between the Muslims and
Christians, as well as the tolerant Sufi point of view to the other religious affiliations (Milani
47- 48).
II- Sufism
There are various distinguished views over the etymology of the term “Sufism”. Some
scholars argued that the origin of the word “Sufism” derived from the Arabic word “Safaa”
which refers to the human’s pureness of souls, hearts, and behaviors. Other researchers
maintain that it came from the Greek expression “SiyuSoofia” which means divine
knowledge. Moreover, some scholars denote that the word signifies “Sufana” i.e., a kind of
plant. Others proclaim that Sufism designates “Soofa” that alludes to an old clan that their
members devoted themselves to the service of “Kaaba. Other researchers purports that it is
originated from the term “Soof” which means wool, generally symbolizes the asceticism from
life desires (Belqies 56). According to Khannam, “ahle suffa” are people who spent their lives
in worshiping and learning by heart Quranic verses and prophetic hadith, in the time of
prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (9).
Synonymous to Islam, Sufism is used as an alternative to the peaceful religion making
a profound impact in different parts of the world. Irrespective to Islamic theological divisions,
Sufism encompasses both branches of Islam, similar to orthodox Muslims; Sufis seek to reach
a perfect obedience. However, their affinity to be unified with God in this world permits them
to be “Proto Type Muslims” (Miller 1).
Related to Islam, Sufism is considered as the core of religion. Nicholson, Stoddert, et
al. pointed out that “There is no Sufism without Islam because Sufism is the spirituality or
mysticism of the religion of Islam” (qtd in Belqies 55). Supporting this argument, Anne Marie
Schimmel in her book Mystical Dimension of Islam argued that Quran is the “the unique
lexicon” for Muslims, since it bears exoteric and esoteric meanings (24). In parallel, Chittick
goes in the same line with Schimmel, and believed that Sufism is allied to Islam and is
accountable for the crystallization of Islamic spirituality and moral ideals (4).
As a matter of fact, the growth of Sufism has always been a debatable focus. Many
scholars claimed that it aroused from the cadavers of previous religions while others
maintained that it flourished duo to the conflicts that stirred after the death of the prophet.
Some historians argued that Muhammad (PBUH) was the first Sufi. According to Anuzsia,
Sufism emerged because of the disagreements between some Ulama (scholars) and the
breakdown over who should be the heir to the prophet (2).
As it was mentioned before, the rigorous era of the Umayyad dynasty pushed many to
be far away from the society and preferred the solitude in order to seek the peace of soul. In
fact, the period witnessed a shift from the prestigious secular life to a very sober one, whereby
people start to consecrate themselves to Allah. It is important to mention that at that period,
spirituality was used as an alternative to Islam as a religion; they considered both as one
(Gupta 12).
By the 9th C, sharia law was considered insufficient to reduce the distance between
man and God. For this reason, they began to assume certain additional spiritual practices.
Moreover, Sufism was institutionalized and many clerics established some orders that
facilitate the remembrance of god. Duo to these orders, Islam occupied the heartlands of Asia
and Indian subcontinents. However, these orders embraced their own rules that are far away
from sharia law (Gupta 12).
Gupta approved that Sufism became crystalized by the appearance of the Mu’tazilate
school, a group that intensified reason and rationality. From this perspective, the phenomenon
perceived a shift to Gnosticism and logic. Later on, during the rule of Mamoun the son of
Haroun A-Rashid, many religious dialogues have been advocated. The fruits subsequently,
developed Sufism and engaged it in new form of Gnosticism, theosophy, and monotheism
At the beginning of 20th Century, the majority of Muslims were influenced by Sufism.
However, opposition to Sufism gradually shaped both western and Muslims thoughts. For
example in 1950, A.J. Arrberry propelled a rigid sharp criticism on the later exhibition of
Sufism. The impression that Sufism gave about Islam was not very appreciated since it
misrepresented its sacred law (Sirriyeh 2).
Word that had not lived to see every demented madman help up his follows as “Pole”. Their ulama take refuge in him; indeed they have even adopted him as a Lord, instead of the Lord of the thrown, For they have forgotten God, saying, “so and provides deliverance from suffering from all mankind” When he dies, they make him the object of the pilgrimage and hasten to his
shrine, Arabs and foreigners alike: Some kiss his grave, and some threshold of his door, and the dust. Indeed, people at that time were visiting the regional graves of the so called ‘saints’ and ‘God’s friends’.
Thus, the image of saints was more exulted than God himself, and the mediocrity of
these “wallayas” was very common for the Sufis and the anti-Sufis. Not only Arberry who
claimed the illegitimacy of such traditions, but also the “Wahhabi sect” in which sheikh
Abdu Allah, the son of the initiator of the Wahhabis criticized the excessive meetings in these
graves and the decoration of their tombs with gold and silver, at the extent that it became
more significant than regular prayers in mosques. Hence, the recitation of Sufi poetry was
favored more than the psalmody of the Quran itself (Sirriyeh 2-3). Furthermore, Sufism was
also accused by liberals of being responsible for the technological tardiness and social
backward (Cook 9).
In the other hand, the fascination of Sufism and the mystical elements of Islam tainted
Jewish and Christian thoughts from early ages. For instance, the contact zones between
Christians and Muslims permitted more tolerant view to Islamic mysticism in Sicily. During
his reign, Fredrick II was deeply influenced by the Sufi traditions; his ability to master Arabic
engaged him to read a great deal of Sufi poetry, in spite of his crusading campaign in the East
(O'Leary 279). Moreover, Pugio Fidei adversum Mauros et Judaeos of Raymond Martini was
in fact influenced by al-Ghazali's Destruction of the Philosophers. It is also worthy to mention
that this Latin scholastic was significantly motivated by the doctrine of the First Intelligence
found by al-Ghazali and his Emanation of mystical Theory (O'Leary 288-289).
Jewish thoughts were also enthralled by Islamic mystic beliefs, especially after the
flourishment of Sufism. According to Pytlik, there was a mutual admiration between Jewish
and Sufi ideologies which history has seldom underlined. In fact, Judaism initially influenced
Sufism in its constructive step in Baghdad. Yet, with the growth of Sufism, Jewish mystics
started to indicate their immense appreciation to the Sufi tradition. It is the Maimonides son,
Abraham, who rotated his interest into a Sufi direction with Jewish mystic practices. The
latter, believed that Sufis followed Israeli prophets (8).
Even Islamic mysticism borrowed from “Isra’iliyyat”, which came from a Jewish
structure Pirkei Avot (Saying of the Fathers). When Sufism flourished, many Jews converted
to Islamic mysticism; they found its dogma very systematic and full of mystical approach. By
the 13th C, an important concern toward the nature of the letters in the Holy Scriptures has
been raised between Ibn al- Arabi and Jewish mystics in order to discuss topics about the
divine holiness and mystical veracities; they end up with a composition entitled Gematria in
which both traditions contributed to this work (Pytlik 9).
In addition to that, many European Catholics and Protestants of the 19th C sympathized
with Sufism like Louis Massignon1, his student Henri Corbin2, and later on Frithjof Schuon3.
All of whom presented Islamic mysticism in reliable style and great rationality. They had also
headed momentous Sufi schedules. In America, the spiritual teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan
and the Haqqani foundation made Sufism more popular, especially with the establishment of
the Sufi international movements and the contributions of western academic followers of Ibn
al –Arabi in the arena (Cook 10).
III- Sufism: its Ideologies and Principles
Unmistakably, Quran is the quintessence of Islamic mysticism; this can be deduced
from the literary, metaphysical, and the philosophical horizon. Apart from that, Quran can be
interpreted from its mystical side in which Sufis adopt certain ideologies to their path. First
1 Influential figure of the 20th C, Catholic French scholar who was deeply engaged in religious studies especially Islam. He represented the image of Islam in a positive way. 2 One of the 20th C scholar, thinker and theologian, skilled in Sufism. Well known for his great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi
and foremost, Man is considered as a spark from the light of God, all human kind belongs to
God’s light and each individual is separated from it, and attempts to meet again with the
divine spirit. Returning is of a high priority in the Sufi doctrine, it is often marked by devotion
and adoration which subsequently guide to God (Arian Ali 31).
Contextually, Sufis are interested in the inner reality, a reality that compromises both
the recognized and the anonymous worlds. In fact, they are more subject to the imaginary and
the non-existed rather than the ordinary world paying a little attention to the time, space, and
the fundamental aspects of the vital exterior world. Sufis had never been against the outer
world and the acknowledgement of the natural creation (Arian Ali 31).
The idea that God settles on a throne and commands from the highest heaven is not
really accurate. According to the Sufi ideology, God is everywhere and now_ “And We are
closer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Sublime Quran, Qaf 50:16), which makes them
initiative to a deep ecstasy within oneself. Nevertheless, they struggle outwardly towards
enhanced life, neglecting the decisive consequences. This struggle is indeed indispensable for
the inner purification and beatitude that help them to reach their goal (Arian Ali 31).
“Die before die” is among the prominent dogmas in Sufism. Seeking truth and Sufi
origin is their chief tasks that deserve riskiness including death. The latter is the cheerful fate
that no one can eliminate. Hence, death is the vehicle to God and the only bridge to be with
the divine without lamenting their destiny because it is honorable (Arian Ali 33).
A Sufi also possesses an eye to see. The eye in this context does not refer to the
ordinary eye of human body, but the one of heart that enables to see the veiled reality.
Correspondingly, a Sufi can see his beloved (God) through this eye. For example; in one of
the famous love stories of Arabic heritage “Leila and El-Majnoun”, Leila was always far
away from him. Yet, El-Majnoun could see her no matter where and when. Metaphorically,
for the amorousness of Lord, Leila was the beloved. And for this reason Sufis seek to
stimulate the eye of their hearts to uncover all veils (Arian Ali 33).
Furthermore, the doctrine seeks the excellence of man through continued stages of
Sufi illumination under different qualities. The perfect man, thus, is a miniature of God’s
perfection and he behaves typically according to the divine manifestation (Brown 76).
He is the pole (qutb) around which the universe revolves. In his essence, he is
the ruh called by various epithets such as Haqiqat-i- Muhamadi (first
intellectual) and Ruh- ul-Qudus (the pure soul). ( qtd in Brown77)
Among the controversial issues that the Sufi philosophy looks for is whether God is
male or female. Obviously, God is above gender differences or any duality, he is therefore
unlimited and absolute. However, it is frequently pronounced from feminine angle when
referring to “the beloved”, symbolically showing the qualities of mercy, beauty, and wisdom
(Brown 74).
However, the core of the Sufi beliefs that represent the pain of the everyday life can be
eradicated through salvation and returning to God. This philosophy affords an outline that
helps people to understand their relation with God that makes the human being moves from
his concrete situation to the final objective of human life. By contrast, society is always
attempting to neglect such kind of people because they alert the whole environment about its
falseness. The best example is embodied in the personality of al Hallaj Mansour who was
never tolerated about his thoughts and mainly the one that is “chosen by God” (Arian Ali 32,
Encompassed by different pillars of Sufism, one can state four major principles: first,
the oneness (tawhid), one of the obvious subjects of Sufism that exists in both traditionalist
and universal angles. The term is generally, referred to the divine unity of devotion in which
“there is no God but Allah”. It underlines the unity and the uniqueness of God as creator and
the upholder of the universe (Brown 73).
Steven Masood defines tawhid as the amalgamation with the Lord, an explanation that
is not recognized by all Muslims. Though, it may advocate the idea that the creator and the
creatures are integrated to each other. Supporting such argument, Hazrat Inayat Khan argued
that “God and man are not two; the Sufi does not consider God separated from him”. The idea
is all about the surrounding to God’s will and losing selfness in God’s presence. However,
being linked to God does not mean inclining godliness, but incorporating their individual
consciousness with the upholder (Brown 74).
The second principle is remembrance, which is exposed in the Quran more than forty
times. It designates the knowledge conveyed by the prophet as “dhikr” or “reminder”.
According to William Chittick, the only health-giving to Adam’s children inadvertency and
forgetfulness is remembrance that is generally yielded by the prophets, taking in consideration
the human response (63).
For the Sufis, the word also indicates the way of full awareness toward God. It can
therefore, refer to the mention of Lord. The word furthermore is discussed in many discourses
in a juxtaposition with “du’aa” or “supplication” which means calling upon God when you
need him. Generally, the latter takes the shape of request in formal way and not forcibly
repeated. While dhikr employs Arabic names usually extracted from Quran and the prophetic
hadiths but both are non-compulsory, and distinctive from the five daily prayers (Chittick 64).
At the end, Chittick maintained that the only way to understand the dhikr approach is
by answering the three questions: what is to be remembered? The aim of remembrance, (God
whose reality is acknowledged by Shahada), why should be God remembered, (Because he is
the dominator and only one responsible for the human beings faiths and the tranquility
requires remembrance), how it can be remembered? By following the prophet who is the best
example to be followed (65).
Beyond shadow of doubt, love is among the prominent themes of Sufi principles.
According to Brown, love and heart exceeded the gnosis in the Sufi context. In fact, Sufism is
generally entitled “the path of love” and “the religion of heart”. Love and hearts are multi-
discursive terms; it may refer to the core of human being or the source of enlightenment.
Hand in hand, Lings argued that the heart is “the spark of spirit” which has the qualities of
divinity. Thus, it is the one responsible for the transcendence (80-81).
From the 13th century onward, there was a shift from mysticism and asceticism of the
Sufi teaching to an emphasis to love and devotion. Sufism valued love since it is highlighted
in the Quran “he loves them and they love him” (5:54). Ultimately, God loves his creatures
first, and then they come to love him by following the model of the prophet (PBUH) where by
it permitted the refinement and the pureness of their souls. At the end, they become perfect
(Chittick 74, 77).
Affording forty days period of isolation and sitting alone are some of the common
manners of the Sufi meditation. Such seclusion is done for the purpose of purifying the inner
soul (batin), illuminating hearts, and reaching spiritual perfection. Apart from that, apparently
these traditions rooted back to some prophetic hadiths, even the prophet (PBUH) before his
revelation had the habit of going in the cave of Hira and spent forty days in ( Far & Bozorgi
A.J Arberry has frequently termed the olden times of Persian poetry as “the Golden
Era”; taking into account its mystical poets and the impact that they left upon the history of
literature. As a matter of fact, the Sufi poetry gained a particular recognition among several
authors including the British orientalist Reynold Nicholson. Other critics saw Sufi poetry as
“the mine of Persian literature”, while Costello honored it and described it as an impressive
diamond used in the structure of palaces in the air (Moghaddas & Boostani 76).
Sufi poetry took different forms. The major ones are: the quatrains; which came from
Arabic origin Robaai. Probably, Rudaki was the first to initiate this form of poems in which
there two couplets of lines are ordered within two internal rhymes. The qasidah generally
deals with sarcasm, compliment, and morality. Unlike the quatrains, the qasidah is longer and
mono-rhymed. In addition to that, the ghazel which is classically, characterized by the theme
of love. The mathnawi: narrative lyrical poems that enclose internal rhymes altered with each
line (Moghaddas & Boostani 77).
Considerable poets of the medieval period played an effective role in improving the
Sufi maturity in poetry. Such poets are usually viewed as the most eloquent authorities in the
Sufi heritage and helped to open a window on the Persian culture for others. This section
includes four poets who have a gigantic influence on the western world and facilitate to offer
masterpieces to other cultures.
1 - Omar Khayyam
Let’s begin with Abu’l Fath ibn Ibrahim Khayyam, branded most broadly by Omar
Khayyam (1048_1131), Neishapurian poet from Khorasan, raised in a middle class family.
“Khayyam” signifies “tent maker”, a title which has been innate from his father Ibrahim who
quickly discovered his son aptitude and the necessity to be skilled under prominent masters of
the time and finally finds Qadi Muhammed, the imam of the mosque under whom he received
his lessons. The latter uncovered how much the kid was talented and tried to improve his
skills (Green).
After grasping Quranic sciences, Arabic, grammar, literature, and other sciences,
Khayyam decided to be educated from other master, Khawaja Abu al Hassan Ambary with
whom he made efforts in different sections of mathematics, astronomy and, traditional
cosmological doctrines. Rapidly, Omar was ready to study with the famous Muwaffaq
Nishaburi, “who taught only the best of the best”. The one was responsible for the education
of gifted children and the aristocracy class. Lastly, he studied philosophy with Sheikh
Muhammed Mansur where he became aware with the texts of the great Avicenna (Aminrazavi
The factors that affected Khayyam knowledge were also the two journeys that he spent
far away from Neishapur. The first was an invitation from his children companion, Nezam Al
Mulk who became vizier and established a series of schools entitled Nizamiyeh in Baghdad,
Nishapur, and Isfahan where he accepted to be a teacher there. But, Om ar quickly returned
to his native land, because of the disputes with other scholars. Then, he came back after the
assassination of the king Alp Arslan. Though, his health declined, and he returned
immediately to Nishapur after the approval of the Sultan (Aminrazavi 27-28).
After his death, Khayyam left about 14 treatises that discuss scientific nature.
However, the treaties were introduced in such way that non experts cannot comprehend.
Among them, a Translation of Treatise on Avicenna Lucid Discourse: an Arabic
interpretation of Avicenna that labelled the difficulties in supposing his attitudes, and whether
they are unplanned or determined, emphasizing the link between time, gesture and God
(Aminrazavi 34).
On Existence is therefore, one of the significant works of Khayyam, originally written
in Arabic. It argues themes of existence and non-existence. In addition to the metaphysical
interpretation of God’s creation, highlighting a good example of the fire which yields light
without any intention (Aminrazavi 37).
Finally, the Quatrains: the most debatable part of Khayyam reviews. The Rubbaiyat,
in fact are combination of two classical languages Arabic and Persian; however, Persian
language has a great portion in increasing Khayyam particular reputation. Only 25 poems
belong to Arabic. The latter are written in two hemisected stanzas and well attributed.
Nevertheless, many doubt about their legitimacy and drop them from the customary studies of
Khayyam (Aminrazevi 39).
According to Araghi and Ramezanpoor, the Quatrains of Khayyam gained popularity
in the West decades before. He maintained that, the early appearance of Quatrains was in the
17th C in the writing of Thomas Hyde. The latter translated parts of the Quatrains in his work
Veterum Persarumet Parthorum et Medorum Religionis. However, the arrangement of the
whole Quatrains in the Western works was precisely during the 19th C, in England, and
America. These translations were directed in more planned method, while it was less formal
in France and Germany (111).
It is crucial to denote the famous translation of Edward FitzGerald’s Quatrains; this
American poet was able to demonstrate the Persian beliefs without mastering language, and
grasping the oriental wisdom in very appropriate manner (206). Fatefully, Khayyam became a
legendary in the west, thanks to his translation (Katouzian 2). In the other hand, Omar
Khayyam Club in America afforded to the arena of literature through several versions of the
translation, and end up by establishing a literary school, engaged in Khayyam aspects of
literature. Whose members gave themselves the title of “Omarians” (Aminrazavi S &ALM
2 – Saadi
Another poet of the classical Persian writers that headed the list was Sa’di. According
to Davie. M.D, Muslih - Adin was born at Shiraz, in Persia, on 1176 AD; the title Sa’di,
however was picked up from the king of Persia Saad Attabak. Sa’di bloodlines are possibly
from Ali the cousin of the prophet Muhammed. The position of his father in the government
permitted him to be close from the aristocracy, enjoying some advocacy and enthusiasm.
Sooner, the father died, leaving Sa’di and his mother in cruel estate which forced them to go
to Saracen (’).
Quickly, Sa’di learned religious education and attained the title of Sheikh. To continue
his learning, he went to Baghdad where he became less known being foreigner and
moneyless. When he was 21 years old, he joined the Nizamiyyeh School where he improved
his capacities, and persisted at Baghdad till 64 years old, having great position as poet.
However, the instability of the situation during the reign of Mutasim Billah, the son of
Haroun- AR Rashid, caused him to run away from Baghdad (M.D xvi).
In spite of the fact that he married twice, Sa’di did not refer to the gentle sex heavily
in his writings, especially that he had not very cheerful life with his second spouse, after being
caught by the crusades. Sa’di had a son and a daughter. Unfortunately, the son died in his
infancy, while the girl later on married the well-known Hafiz. (M.D xvii- xviii).
Unlike Khayyam, Sa’di was laureate poet especially that the king Saad Atabak helped in his
learning career. In return, Sa’di revealed his thankfulness through compliment of the emperor.
By 1291, Sa’di reached the winter of his life, but his spiritual presence remained for many
Muslims, to the extent that they established a tomb of Sadiya in Shiraz, which was the
destination of numerous travelers (M.D xviii).
Bustan and Golestan are the most prominent works of Sa’di. The ones bear moralistic
qualities. Sa’di who mastered both prose and poetry finished his book Bustan in 1257. The
book was known by his reasonable and idealistic aspects. Borrowing a little of the mystical
experiences within it. The Persians saw it as “a unique volume in the whole canon of Persian
literature”. The latter consists of ten chapters written in the form of tales and anecdotes. It was
dedicated to the people of Shiraz. Regarding its impact, many authors tried to reproduce a
copy of the original work; yet, no one could achieve this realization as Sa’di did (Katouzian
Golestan the most delightful of Saadi’s works has been defined as “practical wisdom”
if compared with the book of Bustan. Golestan is much enlarged and it is written with the first
person singular for some of the time. The book is transcribed with “mossaj” style, the most
embellished form of prose with occasional meters, rhymes, and semi rhymes. This style
cannot be acquired easily. The introduction of the book narrated how Sa’di wrote it in which
he was very depressed, and was aided by one of his friends. The element that gave the poet a
specific impression to finish it in a short time (an approximate of 6 months). However, many
critics claimed that the plot was a fiction ( Katouzian 29-33).
Dealing with the boundaries between English and Persian literatures, Persian literature
crossed it easily. Evidently, this is often seen in the various translations to English and other
European languages. For example, Golestan was the first masterpiece which was translated to
Germany by Gulistan. The one is considered as guide book to European pupils. Then, the
translation induced the attention of Adam Oliaryos to translate Bustan. Years later, the
influence moved toward Emerson. Nevertheless, Sa’di lost his prestige with the coming of
Hafiz (Roozbeh 285).
3 - Hafiz
Shams eddin Mohammad, identified most frequently as Hafiz. Hafiz was born in 1315,
in the province of Shiraz, where he mastered the Quranic verses. In fact, he acquired the title
of Hafiz, because he memorized the Quran in early stage of his life. ‘The tongue of hidden’
and ‘interpreter of secrets’ are among the epithets that designate Hafiz. The collaboration of
theology with the mystical aspects of Sufism made his poetry of certain uniqueness (Salami
Being instructed under Sheikh Attar, allowed Hafiz further fortunes if compared with
his colleagues, since his teacher was emphasizing on both the body and mental capacities. A
point worthy to be mentioned is that, Hafiz had never been austere in his opinion, when
judging the dervish habit. He surely learned this flexibility from his instructor (Abdul Majid
Hafiz delivered his lifetime under the sponsorship of different leaders to whom he
availed as poet in his all career. Starting by Shah Ishak, a governor of Shiraz, who was
arrested by Moberezuddien Mohammed Mozzafar, and executed away from the town. After
his death, the patronage was prolonged by Shah Suja, Mozzafar’s son. Though, there were
occasional disparagements with Hafiz about poetical concerns. Later on, the master charged
him with heresy (Bell 10-11).
Unlike the previous masters, Kawamuddin, the vizier engaged Hafiz in school to teach
his disciples lessons in Quran. In parallel, Sultan Ahmed Ilkhani suggested him to be his court
poet; he refused, but many lines of his ghazel valorize him, entitling him” Khan the son of
khan “or “emperor the son of emperor”. Hafiz was renowned beyond his native land, his
reputation extended to the kingdoms of Bengal and Deccan. Many argued that he was invited
by the king Ghyasuddin Purbi, but Hafiz expressed his regret (Bell 12-13).
Socially speaking, Hafiz married Saadi’s daughter and had a son. Remarkably, Hafiz
was close to his wife as well as his son. This is very evident in his elegiac poems after their
death. Hafiz died during the 14th C, there is no exact day of his death, but on his shrine, it is
marked 1388 where he was buried at the garden of Mossala near Shiraz (Bell 15, 18).
According to Avery and Heath-Stubbs, the poems of Hafiz were viva voce; his
heritage was passed from one generation to another by reciting it orally (2)Many
historiographers maintained that Hafiz did not have much time to gather his poems in a divan.
Though, his disciple Syed Kasim -al -Anwar was responsible for assembling the whole divan
(Abdul Majid 23-24).
Hafiz bridged the distance between the “East” and the “West”, centuries before. The
Romans pioneered the translation of the poems of Hafiz in 1680. In 1771, the influence
moved to the British Sir William Jones, this translation achieved a great impact later on.
Then, several translations under the Latin influence were published like the one of J.
Richardson in 1774. Indeed, the poems of Hafiz were targeted by many western poets,
especially of the Romantic era in which it attracted the attention of Byron, Swinburne, and
others (Behbahani 2-3).
The fame of Hafiz extended to the Victorian era, at that time, more than eighty
translations were made. The celebrity of Hafiz moved beyond Europe and reached America.
The well- known Ralph W Emerson was influenced by the German version of Goethe and
published his own translation in 1838. Moreover, extra translations of his Ghazels were added
to his works (Behbahani 3).
It is worthy to shed some lights on the German poet, Goethe who was already
influenced by the translation of Josef Von Hammer of Hafiz poems. Goethe produced his own
translation, and in the same time reduced the distance between the two Abrahamic religions
(Christianity and Islam). The translations served as a vehicle to the oriental world, involving a
depiction of Jesus face. Regarding the Germanic history of literature, one can notice how Sufi
literature infiltrated into the German one by the intermediation of Hafiz, especially in West
Ostlisher Divan where he renowned him as “a seeker of truth spiritual on spiritual level”, and
described him as “his twin” in one of his poems (Mahdavi & Sajjadi 2234-2235).
4 - Rumi: A Short Biography
Rumi is also along the greatest poets of Sufi literature, if not the one who headed the
list in both eastern and western world. According to Boostni and Moghddas, Rumi was born
on September 30, 1207 in Balkh, a city of Khorasan, particularly in Bakhsh (Tajikistan now).
Baha -al –Din, Rumi’s father was a cleric, judge, and dutiful mystic (77). However, they flee
Balkh, because of the attacks of Mongol armies; they did not stabilize in one place: they went
to Samarkand, Damascus, and finally in Konya; the heart land of Anatolia (Barks xxi)
After his death, Baha-al Din left his Ma’arif text to Rumi, the latter analyzed it with
Burhan-al Din Mahaqqiq; a student of Baha before, along with other writings of Attar and
Sanai. Being influenced by such mystic poets, Rumi tried to achieve chillas; fasting in an
isolated place during 40 day. This made Rumi ready for his first mystical conversation with
Shams of Tabriz. The thrilling event that unified Shams with Rumi was exceptional, because
it influenced later on Rumi’s writings. Shams existence with Rumi did not last for so long,
and he left in unusual circumstances. Because of Shams absence, Rumi felt sad for his mate
soul and fluently delivered the poetry without any preparation (Barks xxi-xxii).
Rumi married Ghowhar Khatun, and got two sons Sultan Valad and Aladdin.
Unfortunately, Ghowhar died early. Then, he remarried Kira Khatun, and had a son Mozzafar
and a daughter Maleke from her. After the rupture of Shams, Rumi found another friend
Houssem Chalabi who helped him in writing the Masnavi. Finally, Rumi died in December
13, 1273(Barks xxii-xxiii).
Rumi Literary and Moral Heritage
Four main works should be highlighted among Rumi’s writings. First of all, Divan
Shams or Divan I Kabir which is a group of poems named after his soul mate Shams. Divan
Shams is a composition of 4000 couplets that took the second position among Rumi’s works.
Second, Fihi Ma Fihi [“In It Is What It Is”]: gathered by Rumi’s students and includes Rumi’s
dialogues and discourses. Then, “The Letters”: a series of letters from Rumi to his
countrymen, family, and friends gathered in book entitled Makatib. Lastly, Masnavi the most
eminent work of Rumi, it consists of 26000 couplets divided in six sections. All of whom
discuss the lower sensual aspiration, knowledge, and the elimination of the ego, in order to
recognize God’s presence (Karimnia et.al 8536).
Rumi’s poems are circulating everywhere and every when, his couplets bear both a
literary aesthetic verses as well as a moralistic legacy. In fact, Rumi’s works seek to renovate
the ordinary creatures to Godlike humans. It attempts to look for the perfection of human
beings through a high devoutness, values, and loyalty. By doing so, it stimulates in the
individuals the skill to respect one another, love each other, and acting properly (Valerievna)
According to Ghabool view, Peace is prominent in Rumi‘s considerations. The term
indicates a co- existence between all religions, and more tolerance in the interfaith dialogues.
The core of this dogma is based undoubtedly on God determination, love, and justice (703).
Love is vital in Rumi’s poems, it is used in different contexts, but generally it designates “a
constellation of emotions and experiences related to a sense of strong affection or profound
oneness”. In Rumi teaching, love represents the close union between the divine and human
being in which it is regarded frequently as the reason behind creation (699).
Rumi’s impact infiltrated western lands too, the British orientalists had always
considered his works as pillar to their own, as a result, the western writers started to translate
his works. For example, Joseph Von Hammer and Rückert are among the earliest translators
of Rumi’s works. Reedhouse who mastered the Turkish language was the first to initiate a
translation of Masnavi in English. Later, Nicholson with his analytical interpretation of
Masnavi made it the most accurate translation. In addition to Colman Barks who achieved a
great commercial success in America with his version of the Masnavi (Karimnia et.al 8536-
All in all, it is evident that Sufism has been influenced by other religions and cultures.
Indeed, its first period was under the effect of Christian mysticism, but lately it was directed
by Quranic verses and prophetic hadiths. Many Orientalists like Nicholson, Corbin, and
Massignon confirmed that Islam was the source of Sufism, though one cannot deny the
contribution of other civilizations in its flourishment. In other words, Islamic mysticism can
be defined as the sum total of all religious mysticism, and is therefore a multiplicity within
Despite the fact that Christian mysticism has its brighter side vis-à-vis the unification
of God, and claiming his centralization, it goes beyond all beliefs, since it has its pagan
element considering Jesus as divine. Yet, the notion seems to be more adequate by reason of
“all paths lead to his presence”.
The universal aspects of Sufism are generally crystalized regarding its spiritual
wisdom, while it exists some principles of local Sufi orders that give a negative impression to
the path. These principles deviated from the main doctrine, and should be omitted to avoid
any stereotypes that provide a bad vision to Sufism. However, Godlike quality of men is not
considered as a heresy, but it indicates the one who seeks perfection and serves as a typical
model when desiring the right path to God.
Unfortunately, nowadays the west is able to understand the Sufi concepts more than
the oriental realm do. This is remarkably noticed in the various translations from Persian to
other European languages. Obviously, such respect of the oriental culture is shown in the
works and interests of the postmodernist Goethe. Hence, the idea that appreciating a work in
his native language seems old fashioned, because many works especially the Sufi poetry
gained in translations.
Sufi literature in general offered a great deal to the philosophical and mystical texts in
the Islamic civilization. Thus, it discussed interesting topics that bridge the distance between
the universe and eternity, mainly because of the spiritual vacuum and the increase of the
materialistic life. As result, Sufi literature played the role of morality and idealism in which it
payed little attention to race and gender.
Sufism in the west becomes a hotly debated topic. Generally, the so-called Sufism is
always used as synonymous to Islam, since it goes hand in hand with it: whenever Islam
reached a community in the world, Sufi movements are omnipresent. Hence, Sufism is
considered as a momentous vehicle to the spread of Islam along other mercantile activities in
the past.
Historically, Sufism was the crux of the Moorish culture in Spain. This fact is very
evident in the writings of the Andalusian philosopher and poet Ibn- al Arabi who was
probably, the first to put the imprint of Sufism in the west. According to Llewellyn Vaughan –
Lee, courtly love that embodied European romantic literature was extracted from the
troubadours that were influenced by Sufi Arabic poetry.
After the collapse of Andalusia, Llewellyn Vaughan –Lee stated that Sufism stagnated
until the flourishment of the Ottoman Empire where it extended heavily in many parts of
eastern European communities, especially the Balkans. Though, the coming of the Bosnian
war and its aftermath caused damaging loses; a large number of Sufis were killed at that era.
This chapter sheds light on the way whereby Sufism with its philosophical and literary
aspects was able to penetrate into the western lands in general, and Uncle Sam boundaries in
I- Sufism in Europe and North America
The tendency toward Sufism in the west remains of a great significance. In fact, in
addition to the believers who are generally attracted by the Sufi ideology, a score of studies
are conducted over the subject. Oriental studies of the mid-18th century affirmed that
European awareness of some Sufi figures of the medieval period seemed insufficient for the
colonial power to be acquainted with the atmosphere of the third world countries.These
orientalists were pioneers to investigate the origins of Sufism. Though, there were those who
claimed its relation to Islam such as Nicholson and Massignion.Others affirmed the
incompatibility between the two such as Tholuck and Palmer. Scholars like Lt James William
Graham suggested a clear closeness between Judaism and Christianity Vs Islam and Sufism in
the sense that Sufism is continuity to the existence of Islam i.e. “Sufism was the new
Testament of Islam” (Khalil & Sheikh 355, 357).
Historically, the colonial persecution pressed native inhabitants to quite their
motherlands. Many Arabs fled theirs countries and went to the west. In their journey, they
brought with them their religion that was often cohesive to Sufism. As a result, “Euro Sufism”
and the emphasis in this dimension of Islam became of particular status; scholars like René
Guenon and Frithjof Schuon inclined to be ‘‘a Sufi Perennialists” (Westerlund 4).
Among the factors that led to the infiltration of Sufism in United States is the nature of
its policy. According to Hermansen, the American Dream helped in the domestication of this
concept. Contextually, one can add the increase of the feelings of individuality and the
tentative modes of spiritualty. Moreover, the freedom of religion in the U.S. and the Bill of
Rights allowed an easy penetration of Sufism within the U.S society (Westerlund 4).
Another reason behind the enculturation of Sufism in America’s main lands, as
Hermansen suggested is the nature of the U.S as a multi religious, multi ethnics, and multi-
cultural society, mainly immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. However, these Sufis
did not represent a remarkable intellectual degree. Nevertheless, European Sufis denote a
well-educated level in its scholarship. Hermansen acknowledged the process of globalization
whereby all people are unified in a single society, among its sides the monopolization of
English language that permitted the communication in the entire world. For instance, the
production of great deal of Sufi works in English becomes very fashionable. Together with
the mass media and social networks which endorsed a speedy access to these Sufi groups.
Finally, Hermansen argued that above sexism, Sufism was successful in living into the core of
the American social life when advocating the idea of the equality between man and women
(Westerlund 7, 10).
Early in history, Sufism reached the extreme southern parts of Europe including
Bosnia, Albania and southern parts of Russia. Nowadays, the number of Sufis in Europe
dramatically increased as a result of the immigration from Islamic countries and the need of
jobs, especially North Africans in France and southern Asians in Britain. Nevertheless, the
majority of refugees were born in Europe. In terms of conversions, Sufism attracted many
Europeans who were in fact Islamicists. However, a few converted to Islam “Sufism”. In spite
of their few numbers, those Europeans are mindful of this esoteric background and are
generally, considered as delegates of Sufism in Europe (Westerlund 13-14).
As it was pointed out before, the existence of Sufism in Europe was the result of the
establishment of different types of Islam there. On this basis, one can distinguish three
“forms” of Islam. First of all, those secularized persons who kept their superficial religious
identity just for social motives, mainly the Iranians who fled the Khomeinian Republic of
Islam. There are also those Islamists who belong to very sensitive sect. Yet, they ceased to be
extremists, even though they kept exploring the importance of Islam as accurate canon of life
or as governmental organism (Leonard 185-186).
With respects to these two forms, the Muslims mainstream are indeed the
overwhelming majority in Europe, they are generally guided by the different behaviors of
their motherlands, and are not much influenced by the secularization of Europe. All these
forms can indeed bear Sufi ideology within, since Sufism embraces both branches of Islam;
however, Sufis are generally classified in Muslim Mainstream form (Leonard 187-188).
According to Westerlund, the role of Sufis becomes of great significance in European
social life in recent years. For example, in the medical milieu, the sheikhs of different Sufi
orders are working in cooperation with health centers and clinics in order to achieve spiritual
therapy. Furthermore, those sheikhs play an important educative function in instructing
teenagers of different levels, especially concerning ethical and moral issues (16, 18).
During the beginning of the 20th C, an interesting intellectual discipline was reputed in
Europe. Towering figures who were greatly influenced by the Sufi ideologies built the
primary principles of the school. The school was well known by the “Perennial Philosophy”
or “Sophia Perennis”. The expression was coined decades before in several contexts. This
section spots some of the light on the perennialist school of thought that found by René
Guénon. Moreover, it tackles the significance and the impact of this school on the image of
Sufism in the western world (Fabbri).
Like the word spirituality, Perennial Philosophy is a newly adopted word to the
western world. According to Nasr view, Perennial Philosophy appeared for the first time in a
dialogue with Leibniz, during the Renaissance where they required him about the philosophy
he is following, he answered “the Perennial philosophy”, later facts proved that he himself
had took the expression from the Italian Agustinus Stenchius of the 16th C (Markwith 43).
In one of his discussions that are related to the subject, Oldeadow maintained that the
adjective perennial refers to an element that existed before and still existing, an element that is
perpetual for all times. In fact, “the perennial wisdom concerns all that is most profound and
common to all great religions. That truth, all that truths that lie at the heart of all religions and
which have always and always will lie at the heart of all religions” Lings completed.
As a matter of fact, Suhrawardi and other Persian philosophers were in the picture
centuries ago dealing with the subject of perennial philosophy. Later, the expression was
translated into Latin literally as “Prudentia Priscus” (Nasr). Yet, it was not put in practice until
the reawakening of the school by many French scholars like René Guenon who is considered
as the founding father of the philosophy in modern era along with Ananda Coomaraswany,
Frithjof Schuon and others (Fabbri). Nasr stated that England was involved gradually into the
perspective, especially with the publications of Aldous Huxley where he emphasized the
resemblances between the almost religions, gathering quotations from their sacred texts to
demonstrate its analogous construction.
In the United States, Sufism took different forms. Statistics affirmed that the number
of Sufis in America is increasing if compared to Europe. More than that, the seeming of
having a large amount of Sufis in America more than in Europe is correct; after all,
Americans are fascinated with Sufism due to its traditions of love and peace which are often
embodied in American art and literature. Therefore, the International Seminars on Sufi
Courses of Prose in Philadelphia, California, and New York helped in crystalizing the
phenomenon profoundly. The whirling dervishes and the Sama dance appeal by tourists as
well as spiritual seekers (Acim 66).
Dealing with the spiritual seekers, the period following the WW II in U.S. was
opulent. Regarding the Roosevelt’s policy, a relaxed economic and social situation marked
the period, mainly with the technological advancements that prospered during the 1950’s and
1960’s. TV and other electric equipment were in vogue at that time. What has been happening
in America during the 1929-1960 was in fact unique in the sense that the nation became a
superpower with immense capacities in the production of vehicles, steel, fabrics, and electric
machines (Farber & Bailey 5).
It is also important to emphasize the unusual birth of the “baby boomers” after the
WW II which later became very intellective, and hold decision-making positions. More, it is
worth to say that this generation was a mixture of various ethnic and racial groups.
Consequently, different multi ethic and multicultural groups personified the scene as Rachel
Prunchno pointed out (149, 151). Obviously, many cultural and religious movements emerged
such as the Beat movement and the Hippies. These movements were deeply influenced by the
eastern philosophy and poetry (Hart 63).
According to Hart’s view, the unrestricted privileges given to the Americans at that
time, the rebellious movements of segregation, and feminist voices permitted to change the
social customs of the nation. All helped in more engagement of eastern religions in American
culture. Therefore, the religious reforms of the era allowed its arrangement: Americans started
to be less interested in the prejudices of eastern faiths and culture. Another critical aspect to
consider is the restriction of the Quota Act of 1965, migration affected the American belief,
especially with the coming of spiritual leaders whom Americans start to adopt mystical
philosophies (64, 66).
In reality, Zen Buddhists, Hindu disciples, and Sufi clerics were the concerns of many
Beats first and the Hippies in the sixties. Transcendentalism and early literary romantic
movements were also influenced by these mystical norms. As such, American literature
contains significant norms of eastern cultures. In fact, poets like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Whiteman were recognized as the Persians of Cambridge (Hart 66- 67).
The impressiveness of these cultural movements toward love and wisdom allowed
more tolerant communication with other religions. Spiritual experiences were frequent among
their practices and rituals. Hence, the New Age generation is often known as the generation of
spiritual seekers (Waston & Beck 264).
…bring with it an expanded consciousness, an acute awareness of psychic
realm and a deeper understanding of the purpose of living …it is awakening
people of sufficient development to the reality of one world, one creator, one
Universal Truth_ the eternal truth that there is no death and that love is the
unifying force of cosmic world. (qtd. in Waston & Beck 264 )
Islamic scholar ships quickly returned into a serious arena of study in America. Unlike
the European studies, the American studies of Islam tend to compare the different norms of
religion as well as Islamic mysticism, most notably after the upturn of Muslims in American
lands with the establishment of Committee on the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies in
1986. Not only Muslims were interested in such field, many Africans were converted to Islam
and adopted the Sufi beliefs (Hermansen 28, 32).
Influenced by the traditionalist school, American Perennialism also contributed to the
approach. It is Sayyad Hussein Nasr who symbolizes the propensity of Sufism with particular
analysis of the phenomena in this school of thought, Nasr’s interpretation seemed very
adequate for the Americans; however, it was weakened by some uncertainties within the
Islamic context. Emphasizing the divine unity of religion, Nasr and his followers like Morris,
Chittick, and Murata played a significant role in the arena along non-Muslim but Islamicists
intellectuals like Huston Smith and Victor Danner who was converted to Islam later on
(Hermansen 34- 35).
A huge literature was written about the way in which oriental thoughts were
fascinating the American literature decades ago. The first chapter highlighted the last effects
of Persian poetry and prose on western writers. Not only their way of writings, but also their
private life and its impact. For instance, the modernist Ezra Pound named his son Omar Pound
after Omar Khayyam as well as the great Khayyamian occurrence in U.S. This section
investigates common aspects between Sufism and Transcendentalism.
Beyond the shadow of doubt, Transcendentalism is not only a literary movement that
became visible in the late 18th C. In fact, it is also related to the way people think coupled
with religious effort that stimulated in New England, such complex shift contains indeed
mystical ideas mixed with metaphysical thoughts, even Thoreau claimed its arduousness of
understanding in his entry of journal in March 1853
The secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Science requests me… to fill the blank against certain questions, among which the most important one was what branch of science I was specially instead in….I felt that it would be to make myself laughing-stock of the scientific community to describe them that branch of science which specially interests me, inasmuch as they do not believe in a science which deals with higher law. So I was obliged to speak to their condition and describe to them that poor part of me which alone can understand. The fact is a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot. Now that I think of it, I should have told them at once that I was a transcendentalist. That would have been the shortest way of telling them what they would not understand my explanations. (Wilson 2)
Likewise, the so called “transcendentalists” were not structured in such manner they
depicted a literary movement or demonstrating a formal beliefs. Instead, they worked
autonomously asserting on some notions of ‘‘man’s place in the world”. In fact, at the very
beginning, Transcendentalism started to shape the form of fresh religion based on Platonian
and other prehistoric philosophies. Then, the introduction of Emerson’s essay the Nature
revolved it into more rational framework (Wilson 2-3).
The social developments of the time allowed more freedoms to the citizens, and
involved radical changes. Women’s suffrage movement and anti-slavery movement enhanced
social equality, and negated gender differences. The fact that led many to appreciate the
religious affiliation of Transcendentalism, especially that those transcendentalists opposed the
pro-slavery legislations in different manners, and many supported such abolitionist groups
(Manzari 1973).
Historically, American Transcendentalism witnessed social, political, and religious
developments that influenced its way of thinking. Religious activities and the tendency toward
eastern culture permitted less tolerance to many secularized groups that affect negatively the
society, mainly those people with lower income. Additional groups like Temperance
movement, which protested against “the body as Temple”, and corrupted deeds were among
the transcendentalists interests (Manzari 1974).
American Transcendentalism was, in effect, a ramification of European Romanticism
whereby they shared the same concerns in sensations and spirituality. Not only this, but also
guarantying an esteem for humankind, valorizing the human being, mainly after the Darwinist
Theory of the time. Actually, the movement flourished as a response to the materialistic life of
the late 18th, early 19th C and the promotion of spiritual emptiness (Wilson 7).
One might clearly notice the remarkable tenets between American transcendentalism
and oriental Sufism that can be summarized in different points:
Man: an Outlet to the Divine
According to Golkhosravi, mysticism; the core of both transcendental and Sufi
ideologies, tends to treat the divine and the human being as one. Unlike many religions that
detach the two, considering them as separate entities. In fact, this union is recognized through
an imaginary concept within the soul, by the evaporation of man in order to seek God, and
attaining self-recognition. Moreover, the representation of the Divine is incarnated within the
human sensations of mercy, friendliness, and gentleness. The two ideologies argue that “Man
is no longer a slave of God”, since their relationship is based on love. Therefore, God is
always referred as “the Divine Beloved” or “the Great Camerado”, mainly in the texts of
Rumi and Whitman as two giant figures representing the two given ideologies.
The Spiritual Journey
Among the frequent themes discussed in transcendentalist and Sufi texts, travel,
especially the emblematic one in which writers lay emphasis on the inward pilgrimage that
one can reach regardless to the geographical boundaries. In his journal (march21, 1840),
Thoreau highlighted the idea of traveling spiritually “Let us migrate interiorly without
intermission; and pitch our tent each day nearer the western horizon.” For instance, a trip
needs a vehicle to circulate far away from the actual locations, while the travel of mind
requires a sincere intention to be displaced into new locus (Wilson 144).
Simple Life vs Materialism
Taking into consideration the prosperity that America witnessed during the early 19th
C, many transcendentalists decided to live a humble life and escape the materialistic fortune.
Such themes are often characterized in Thoreau writings, whereby he tried to run over his
desires and necessities. In his first chapter of Walden “Economy”, Thoreau claimed that
“Most of luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but
positive hindrances to the evaluation of human kind”( Wilson 182).
Asceticism in the other hand is of great importance in the Sufi circles. According to
Far and Bozorgi, prophetic hadiths and Quranic verses often discussed these ascetics who
ignore the comfortable life. This passage is from Nahj al-Balaghah depicting austere men:
The God fearing in this world are the people of distinction. Their speech is to the point, their dress moderate and their gait is humble… The greatness of the Creator is seated in their hearts, and so, everything else appears small in their eyes… Their bodies are thin, their needs are scanty, and their souls are chaste… The world aimed at them, but they did not aim at it… He passes the night in fear and rises in the morning in joy… You will see his simple hopes, his shortcomings few, his heart fearing; his spirit contended, his meal small and simple, his religion safe, hi desires dead and his anger suppressed. (Nahj al- Balaghah 108- 109)
According to Fehm’s view, death in the Islamic mystic tradition is a salvation. This
redemption is painful, and destined upon everybody (11). In most Sufi texts, death indicates
the one which will take the human into the “Abode of Light” as Rumi advocates. In her book I
am Wind, You Are Fire, Schimmel itemized that death helps in the elimination of all immoral
conducts that deprave the heart (12).
Die before you die, for every act of shedding off a quality is a small death ; every
sacrifice for the sake of others is another small death whereby the individual gains new
spiritual value; thus; in a series of deaths, the soul rises to immortality or to a level of
spiritualization that it has never dreamed of. (Schimmel 157-158)
Similar to Sufi ideology, transcendentalists clash with the idea that death is the
termination of life. According to them, death is an aspect of a regular process that helps in
change of nature and the transcendence of the soul to the eternity. Hence, their texts often
discussed themes of the generation after death (Wilson 170).
III- The Impact of Rumi in Western World: Versions and Translations
The previous sections examine how Sufism was enculturated into the western shores,
and the way its ideology shaped the exclusive American intellectual movement of the time,
from the historical and ideological point of views. The left sections analyze the impact of
Masnavi, the most influential Sufi heritage in America through its vast translations and
versions from a literary point of view.
The pseudo of Rumi of 13th C had and still mingling around the world; his six volumes
book of the Masnavi remained of grand significance until modern days. According to
Karimnia, Ebrahimezade, and Jafari, Sir William Jones was the first to introduce former
couplets of the Masnavi in English during a sermon in one of the Asiatic Associations (1791).
Later attempts to translate it in French by Jack Fan Walenburg rapidly failed (8536).
Years later, German orientalists became fascinated by the Persian poetry, particularly
the works of Hafiz and Rumi. Joseph Van Hammer Purgstall, and his student, Friedrish
Rückert tried to personify Rumi’s soul in a German physique, as a result their translations
gained certain fame and many poets were eager to write similar works. Not only poets but
clerics and thinkers like Karl Marx, Hegel and William Hastie were also attracted by Rückert
translation. In his “Encyclopedie der Philosphischen Wissenschaften dim Grundrisse”, Hegel
quoted about twenty one poems of Rumi and denoted him as “the excellent Jalal-ud din
Rumi” (Schimmel 310).
Redhouse, Nicholson, Whinfield, and Gupta’s translations are attempts to duplicate
the spiritual couplets of Rumi to the English audience. However, Redhouse translation
covered only one volume, and has frequently keen to criticism since it did not reflect Rumi’s
accurate meanings. Until the 1920’s, Whinfield’s work “Masnavi i Manavi, the spiritual
couplets of Mawlalna Jalalu‘d – Din Muhaammed I Rumi” was regarded as the preeminent
translation ever made. Yet, Nicholson efforts were more acknowledged. In fact, this British
orientalist had translated the whole work successfully. Though, his six book collections have
been judged for its word for word translation, and his inability to interpret Persian idioms (El-
Zein 73).
In the other hand, Gupta succeeded in understanding the Persian background, his
translation was rephrased and accompanied with some comments. Further efforts were made
in order to reproduce this masterpiece; however, most of the attempts were linked to
Nicholson’s translation, and generally are only seen as passages and selections from the entire
work (Karimnia, Ebrahimzade, and Jafari 8538).
According to El- Zein, academic translations of the Masnavi attracted other scholars.
In 1968, Arthur Arberry in the footsteps of his teacher Nicholson translated selections from
Rumi entitled Divan Rumi. However, his work was not published until his death in 1979
(73).Anne Marie Schimmel’s attraction to Islamic literature and Sufism pushed her to include
some of her personal passages in her book The Triumph Sun from the Masnavii. Regarding
Rumi’s impact on this German scholar, Schimmel wrote also her This is Love, a booklet that
contains extracts from the Masnavi. Later on, Chittick published a book entitled Sufi Path of
Love: Spiritual Teaching of Rumi which is in fact a mixture of his Divan Rumi and Mathnawi
Based on Nicholson’s translation, Kabir along with Camille Helminisky rephrased the
Masnavi with aesthetic language. Karminia maintained that the work of Helminisky was
separated into many selections. For instance, “Rumi: daylight” from the two first volumes,
while “Jewels of Remembrance” selections were picked out from the third and fourth books
In an attempt to interpret Rumi’s poetry and introduce it to the public, Coleman Barks
and John Moyne with the help of Arberry’s translation tried to bring to light selections from
the Mathnawi. It is important to note that this work is a unique version. Undeniably, the
Esssential Rumi gave to the oriental mystic of the 13th century extra fame, considering him as
the most favorable poet in the United States (El- Zein 75).
According to Azedibougar and Patton, Barks was able to translate considerable
selections from Rumi’s greatest work in seven years, however its publications were separated
into four books: Delicious Laughter (1989), One – hand Basket Weaving (1991) accompanied
with the Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion, months later. Finally, his best- selling book in 1995
the Essential Rumi (173).
Observing the Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks explained:
John Moyne and I try to be faithful to the images, the tone as we hear it, and
the spiritual information coming through. We have not tried to reproduce any
of the dense musicality of the Persian originals. It has seemed appropriate to
place Rumi in the strong tradition of American free verse. (qtd in El-Zein 75)
Ironically, his unfamiliarity with Persian culture and language did not prevent him
from introducing the “Rumi spirit” to the American society, in