University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Islamic Studies Professor Carl W. Ernst has shared the beginning of the draft with TIRN. The entire draft can be accessed on his website.
by CARL W. ERNST (draft prepared for Duke University Arabic Halaqa on December 8, 2014):
(EXCERPT) The early Sufi movement arose in the society of the `Abbasid Empire, an environment that by the late ninth century was saturated with the culture of Arabic literature. Poetry had been enormously important for the pre-Islamic Arabs, and it continued to serve as a powerful means of communication both in the heartland of the caliphate and in the far-flung provinces from North Africa to central Asia. It is not surprising to find that the mystics resorted to the dense literary medium of poetry to convey both deep emotion and abstract insight. Poetry became a natural ancillary to the exposition of Sufi discourse on the soul and its experiences, and it was pervasive in Sufi discourse. As Sarraj related,
I heard al-Wajihi say, I heard al-Tayalasi al-Razi say, I visited Israfil, the teacher of Dhu al-Nun (may God have mercy on them both), and he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the ground, chanting something to himself. When he saw me, he said, “Can you recite something beautiful?” I said, “No.” He replied, “You have no heart.”
Arabic verses are sprinkled liberally in the collections of Sufi teachings that emerged in the late 10th-century works of Sulami, Sarraj, Kalabadhi, Khargushi, and Sirjani. The Baghdadian Sufi Ja`far al-Khuldi claimed that he knew by heart the collected poems of 130 Sufis. Many of the verses quoted in early Sufi writings, when they are not anonymous, are credited to the famous pioneers of Baghdadian Sufism, including Junayd, Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari, Sari al-Saqati, Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri, Sumnun al-Muhibb, and others. Surprisingly, this body of Arabic mystical poetry has received very little scholarly attention.
One of the problems in the study of early Sufi poetry is related to a widespread tendency to identify this mystical tradition primarily with its Iranian and Indian examples, in contrast to the supposedly inferior spiritual and intellectual capacities of the Semitic races, particularly the Arabs. This attitude was an example of the larger prejudice against Arabic poetry, which many Orientalist scholars considered to be extravagant and lacking in literary merit. In part this opinion could be charitably interpreted as a result of the widespread recent popularity of the Persian poetry Rumi, which tends to eclipse other figures in Sufi tradition. Continue reading