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A New History of Islamic Mysticism
Alexander Knysh

Hardcover | October 2017 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691139098
392 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 10 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400887972 |
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A pathbreaking history of Sufism, from the earliest centuries of Islam to the present

After centuries as the most important ascetic-mystical strand of Islam, Sufism saw a sharp decline in the twentieth century, only to experience a stunning revival in recent decades. In this comprehensive new history of Sufism from the earliest centuries of Islam to today, Alexander Knysh, a leading expert on the subject, reveals the tradition in all its richness.

Knysh explores how Sufism has been viewed by both insiders and outsiders since its inception. He examines the key aspects of Sufism, from definitions and discourses to leadership, institutions, and practices. He devotes special attention to Sufi approaches to the Qur’an, drawing parallels with similar uses of scripture in Judaism and Christianity. He traces how Sufism grew from a set of simple moral-ethical precepts into a sophisticated tradition with professional Sufi masters (shaykhs) who became powerful players in Muslim public life but whose authority was challenged by those advocating the equality of all Muslims before God. Knysh also examines the roots of the ongoing conflict between the Sufis and their fundamentalist critics, the Salafis—a major fact of Muslim life today.

Based on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, Sufism is an indispensable account of a vital aspect of Islam.

Alexander Knysh is professor of Islamic studies at the University of Michigan. His many books include Islamic Mysticism: A Short History and Islam in Historical Perspective.


"This is the best study to date of how Sufism has been conceptualized and interpreted by a wide variety of insiders and outsiders down into modern times."--William Chittick, Stony Brook University

"Alexander Knysh provides an unprecedented account of the history of Sufi movements and the scholarship on Sufism. Western academics and Muslims, elites and masses, outsiders and insiders--all are brought together in this insightful survey of Sufi discourse, practice, community, institutions, and leadership. A tour de force, this should become the defining book on Sufism."--Bruce B. Lawrence, author of The "Koran" in English: A Biography

"This groundbreaking and beautifully written book by a towering scholar in Islamic studies is nuanced and convincing. A model of how to approach a world religion such as Islam from inside and outside, it will remain a reference on Sufism for years to come."--Bilal Orfali, American University of Beirut

"A thorough rethinking and reframing of one of Islam's central traditions, this is an important and highly original book from a scholar who really knows what he is talking about."--Mark Sedgwick, Aarhus University, Denmark

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Transliteration and Dates xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction 1
1 How and Why Sufism Came to Be 15
2 What’s in a Name? How Definitions of Sufism Have Become a Site of Polemical Partis-Pris 35
3 Discourses 62
4 Sufism in Comparison: The Common Ferment of Hellenism 124
5 Practices, Ethos, Communities, and Leaders 137
6 Sufism’s Recent Trajectories: What Lies behind the Sufi-Salafi Confrontation? 176
Conclusion 231
Abbreviations 235
Notes 237
Bibliography 341
Index 371

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    File created: 9/8/2017

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