The best books on Sufi philosophy

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Professor of Islamic Thought and Global Philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Perpetually drawn to ideas and concepts that seek to explain the underlying nature of things, I predictably read and write books on such topics as consciousness, self-awareness, mysticism, God, philosophy of religion, metaphysical poetry, and virtue ethics. The titles listed here are in my own area of expertise (Sufi philosophy). Intellectually rigorous and spiritually informed, they each represent perfect points of entry into Sufism, which is an ocean without a shore.  


I wrote...

The Essence of Reality: A Defense of Philosophical Sufism

By Ayn al-Quḍāt, Mohammed Rustom (translator),

Book cover of The Essence of Reality: A Defense of Philosophical Sufism

What is my book about?

The Essence of Reality was written over the course of just three days in 1120 by a scholar who was twenty-four years old. The text, like its author ‘Ayn al-Qudat, is remarkable for many reasons, not least of which is that it is the earliest philosophical exposition of mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition and by far one of the most cogently argued cases for mystical knowledge in world literature. In conversation with the work of the philosophers Avicenna and al-Ghazali, the book takes readers on a philosophical journey, with lucid expositions of the flux-like nature of existence, the meaning of divine presence, the spiritual path, and how the awakened Sufi philosopher transcends conventional ways of knowing and being.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition

Mohammed Rustom Why did I love this book?

Written for contemporary audiences by a living Sufi philosopher and world-renowned authority of comparative philosophy and mysticism, The Garden of Truth is a must-read for anyone who wants to have an understanding of, awaken to, and joyously live in the present moment. Unlike any book I’ve seen in English, this work explains how the Sufi path of liberation is all about realizing that one can only return to the present moment by proceeding from where we are in the here-and-now. Once we get There, we realize that Here is Now, since Now was always Here.

By Seyyed Hossein Nasr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Garden of Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sufism has made significant contributions to the spread of Islam and the development of various aspects of Islamic civilisation. Many conservative Muslims disagree with many popular Sufi practices, particularly saint worship, the visiting of tombs, and the incorporation of non-Islamic customs. Consequently, in recent centuries Sufism has been a target for Islamic reformist and modernist movements. Nasr is the preeminent Sufi scholar in the U.S., and in the tradition of Martin Buber's I and Thou, here provides the beliefs and vision of the mystical heart of Islam. A gentle anitdote to the extremist Muslim fundamentalists who capture the headlines and…


Book cover of The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Al-Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination

Mohammed Rustom Why did I love this book?

This book quite literally rocked my world when I read it in my early twenties, leaving me wondering where the great Sufi philosopher Ibn ‘Arabi had been all my life. In unparalleled fashion, master translator and interpreter of Sufi texts William Chittick takes readers into Ibn ‘Arabi’s universe by carefully outlining the Master’s teachings in his own words, and on his own terms. The only condition I would say one must fulfill before reading this book is to have the willingness to see with what Ibn ‘Arabi calls “two eyes”—the eye of reason and intelligence, and the eye of imagination and unveiling.  

By William C. Chittick,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Sufi Path of Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"For the first time in the history of Orientalism, a thorough study of Ibn al-'Arabi's thought is now available. William Chittick has given us a translation of numerous passages from the work of the Magister Magnus and placed them in their theological context, thus removing many misunderstandings that have prevailed both among Muslims and in the West when interpreting Ibn al-'Arabi's mystical worldview. Chittick has done this with admirable clarity, and his book will always remain a most important milestone in the study of Islamic mystical theology." -- Annemarie Schimmel, Harvard University

Ibn al-'Arabi is still known as "the Great…


Book cover of Creation and the Timeless Order of Things: Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy

Mohammed Rustom Why did I love this book?

Not suitable for the faint of heart, this title offers rare glimpses of insight into the Sufi philosophical worldview, taking in such key topics as the oneness of existence, the nature of light and consciousness, the interrelationship between thought and practice, and points of convergence between Sufism and Zen Buddhism. 

By Toshihiko Izutsu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creation and the Timeless Order of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy CREATION AND THE TIMELESS ORDER OF THINGS Essays in Islamic Mystical Philosophy Toshihiko Izutsu Creation and the Timeless Order of Things brings together Toshihiko Izutsu’s most important essays on Islamic mystical philosophy. Though primarily concerned with Iranian mystics and philosophers, it displays Izutsu’s unique insights in comparative philosophy by comparing and contrasting Islamic Sufism with Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Archetypal Psychology, and modern Existentialism. The studies in this volume explore the deep structures of mystical insight particularly as developed around the key concepts of the unity of existence, “creation” and “being” within Islamic mystical…


Book cover of The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought

Mohammed Rustom Why did I love this book?

This book is one of a kind. It draws upon an array of Sufi texts in translation in order to explain how the Sufi vision of reality is fundamentally rooted in a kind of yin/yang complementarity at every level of being—from the human, to the cosmic, to the divine. 

By Sachiko Murata,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tao of Islam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a genuine foundational work in Islamic studies, an open door into the very heart of Islamic civilization. It suggests the bases of important comparisons and insights for those interested in cognate areas in Western cultures. The Tao of Islam is a rich and diverse anthology of Islamic teachings on the nature of the relationships between God and the world, the world and the human being, and the human being and God. Focusing on gender symbolism, Sachiko Murata shows that Muslim authors frequently analyse the divine reality and its connection with the cosmic and human domains with a view…


Book cover of Translating Wisdom

Mohammed Rustom Why did I love this book?

The findings in this book have opened my eyes to a truly unique moment in the history of cross-cultural translation and non-Western philosophy by showing how pre-modern Indian metaphysical teachings in Sanskrit were refashioned by the Persian Sufi philosophical tradition in early modern South Asia. I particularly recommend Translating Wisdom because it clearly points to an alternative quest for wisdom for those who wish to escape the stranglehold of Anglo-American and European epistemic systems.

By Shankar Nair,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Translating Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A free open access ebook is available upon publication. Learn more at www.luminosoa.org.

During the height of Muslim power in Mughal South Asia, Hindu and Muslim scholars worked collaboratively to translate a large body of Hindu Sanskrit texts into the Persian language. Translating Wisdom reconstructs the intellectual processes and exchanges that underlay these translations. Using as a case study the 1597 Persian rendition of the Yoga-Vasistha-an influential Sanskrit philosophical tale whose popularity stretched across the subcontinent-Shankar Nair illustrates how these early modern Muslim and Hindu scholars drew upon their respective religious, philosophical, and literary traditions to forge a common vocabulary…


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American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…


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