The most recommended Sufism books

Who picked these books? Meet our 27 experts.

27 authors created a book list connected to Sufism, and here are their favorite Sufism books.
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Book cover of The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Al-Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination

Alexander Knysh Author Of Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

From my list on teaching you how to be a Sufi.

Who am I?

My exploration of Sufism began in the unlikely environment of the Soviet Union where Sufism was considered a relic of the past to be replaced by the atheist, world-asserting ideology. The fact that my Muslim academic advisor assigned this topic to me, an active customs officer, was nothing short of a miracle. It was the beginning of a chain of miracles that punctuated my teaching and research career in the USSR, UK, US, EU, and the post-Soviet republics of Eurasia, especially Tatarstan and Kazakhstan. Having observed Sufism in various shapes and forms for over thirty years, my knowledge of its precepts and rituals is of great help to me in everyday life.  

Alexander's book list on teaching you how to be a Sufi

Alexander Knysh Why did Alexander love this book?

This book was a revelation for me when it came out, and I continue to use it as both reference and a source of new ideas and inspiration. The author felicitously combines a deeply personal perspective on Sufism’s greatest thinker Ibn ‘Arabi (1165–1240) with academic rigor and precision in translation. His comments on Ibn ‘Arabi’s teachings are unobtrusive and helpful in navigating the Sufi master’s breathtaking exploration of the universe that he presents, paradoxically, as a giant reflection of the [self-]image and imagination of the Divine Absolute. The subtle interaction of mundane and divine imaginations determines how we ourselves imagine the world. After reading this book, you will understand why Ibn ‘Arabi looms so large in Eastern and Western imaginings of Sufism and why he is compared to Plato in the Western intellectual tradition.    

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 Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age

Alexander Knysh Author Of Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

From my list on teaching you how to be a Sufi.

Who am I?

My exploration of Sufism began in the unlikely environment of the Soviet Union where Sufism was considered a relic of the past to be replaced by the atheist, world-asserting ideology. The fact that my Muslim academic advisor assigned this topic to me, an active customs officer, was nothing short of a miracle. It was the beginning of a chain of miracles that punctuated my teaching and research career in the USSR, UK, US, EU, and the post-Soviet republics of Eurasia, especially Tatarstan and Kazakhstan. Having observed Sufism in various shapes and forms for over thirty years, my knowledge of its precepts and rituals is of great help to me in everyday life.  

Alexander's book list on teaching you how to be a Sufi

Alexander Knysh Why did Alexander love this book?

While the author of my second recommended book sought Sufi wisdom in the “Muslim Orient,” this wisdom has become an integral part of intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life in “Occidental”  societies. A peculiar mixture of Neoplatonic emanationism, Sufi poetry, music and rituals, perennialism, pantheism, esotericism, and New Age religiosity, it has captivated the minds and souls of Western academics, anarchists, artists, architects, faith healers, physicians, and psychiatrists, who rearranged these diverse elements to create their own distinctive versions of Sufi spirituality and lifestyle. Lively and witty, the author’s narrative guides us through several “cultural transfers”—premodern, modern, and New Age—from the Muslim world to the West,  culminating in the emergence of “Western Sufism” represented by the major public figures, celebrities, and charismatic teachers.       

By Mark Sedgwick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Western Sufism is sometimes dismissed as a relatively recent "new age" phenomenon, but in this book, Mark Sedgwick argues that it actually has very deep roots, both in the Muslim world and in the West. In fact, although the first significant Western Sufi organization was not established until 1915, the first Western discussion of Sufism was printed in 1480, and Western interest in some of the ideas that are central to Sufi thought goes back to the thirteenth century.
Sedgwick starts with the earliest origins of Western Sufism in late antique Neoplatonism and early Arab philosophy, and traces later origins…


Book cover of First Among Sufis: The Life and Thought of Rabia al-Adawiyya, the Woman Saint of Basra

Steven Nightingale Author Of The Hot Climate of Promises and Grace: 64 Stories

From my list on by or about world-changing women.

Who am I?

The first person I ever trusted in the world was a high-school English teacher, a woman named Margaret Muth. She plucked me out of a trash-can, literally and figuratively. When I was seventeen years old, she told me: “Books will teach you. They will help you. Choose books the way you choose the risks you take in life: do it patiently, thoughtfully. Then give yourself to them with a whole heart. This is how you learn.” This is one sentence, from one teacher, given to a teenager of decidedly crude and primitive material—one sentence that changed his whole life for the better. Bless her. 

Steven's book list on by or about world-changing women

Steven Nightingale Why did Steven love this book?

A book about a saint of the eighth century, whose life and declarations offer an in-depth and clear portrait of the Sufi path. Her miracles were casual and instrumental, her encounters serve for all of us as material for reflection, and her sayings are beautiful and transformative of the mind. Two examples: “I will not serve God as a laborer, in expectation of my wages.” And “Lord, if I worship you from desire for Paradise, deny me Paradise; if I worship you from fear of Hell, cast me into Hell.”

By Widad El Sakkakini, Nabil Safwat (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked First Among Sufis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in Basra in the 8th century of an impoverished family, orphaned and sold into slavery, Rabia al-Adawiyya, rose to become one of the greatest Sufi teachers. An extraordinary kaleidoscope of myth and reality, of imagination and fact... is it not of importance that a woman of such stature and independence of mind existed so early in the story of Islam, to show what women could be, and how they could be regarded?

Introduction by Doris Lessing


Book cover of Sufism: An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition of Islam

Juan R.I. Cole Author Of Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

From my list on Islam and Islamic history.

Who am I?

My interest in Islam was kindled when I lived in Eritrea, East Africa as a teenager, and in my youth fell in love with the mystical Sufi tradition. I went on to live in the Muslim world for over a decade, making many dear friends whose kindness overwhelmed me. I studied the Qur’an in Cairo and exploring various corners of Muslim civilization, including in India. I have taught Islam and Middle East History for nearly 40 years at the University of Michigan and devoted myself to writing several books and many essays on Islam. For geopolitical reasons, the subject often gets a bad rap these days, but it is an impressive religion that produced a beautiful, intricate civilization. I hope you enjoy these books about it.

Juan's book list on Islam and Islamic history

Juan R.I. Cole Why did Juan love this book?

Ernst writes about the Muslim Sufi tradition for the general public with passion and verve, making sometimes complex ideas intimately accessible and conveying the excitement and passion of male and female Muslim seekers after union with their divine beloved. He covers Sufi forms of worship, the role of saints and intercession, and ecstatic poetry, dance, and song. It is a fascinating exploration of a widespread and essential Muslim spiritual tradition that contrasts with the sober, puritanical Salafi strain with which many readers may be more familiar.

By Carl W. Ernst,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic introduction to the philosophies, practices, and history of Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam

The Sufis are as diverse as the countries in which they've flourished—from Morocco to India to China—and as varied as their distinctive forms of art, music, poetry, and dance. They are said to represent the mystical heart of Islam, yet the term Sufism is notoriously difficult to define, as it means different things to different people both within and outside the tradition.
 
With that fact in mind, Carl Ernst explores the broadest range of Sufi philosophies and practices to provide one of the most…


Book cover of Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City

Andrew Lawler Author Of Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World's Most Contested City

From my list on grasping the conflict over Jerusalem.

Who am I?

Exploring what is hidden beneath our feet has been a long-time obsession of mine, a passion has taken me into subterranean Syrian tombs, Kurdish caves, Thai grave pits, and buried Assyrian palaces. Since I break things, I let others do the digging and I do the writing. I'm particularly drawn to places that can help explain why humans became the urban species we are today. What did they believe, think, eat, drink, and dream about? And I'll take a dusty and nearly vanished mudbrick Sumerian sanctuary in a remote Iraqi desert to a crowded Egyptian stone temple any day.

Andrew's book list on grasping the conflict over Jerusalem

Andrew Lawler Why did Andrew love this book?

There are many sweeping histories of Jerusalem, but this book tells the intimate stories of people and places that often get short shrift.

Teller takes us into the Arab as well as Jewish worlds of the Old City, and he serves as a gentle guide in the passionate and fraught politics of a city that, as he writes, “wears its history like a teenager wears a school uniform – joyless.”

By Matthew Teller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nine Quarters of Jerusalem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Original and illuminating ... what a good book this is' Jonathan Dimbleby

'A love letter to the people of the Old City' Jerusalem Post

In Jerusalem, what you see and what is true are two different things. Maps divide the walled Old City into four quarters, yet that division doesn't reflect the reality of mixed and diverse neighbourhoods. Beyond the crush and frenzy of its major religious sites, much of the Old City remains little known to visitors, its people overlooked and their stories untold. Nine Quarters of Jerusalem lets the communities of the Old City speak for themselves. Ranging…


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

Mohammed Rustom Author Of The Essence of Reality: A Defense of Philosophical Sufism

From my list on Sufi philosophy.

Who am I?

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.  

Mohammed's book list on Sufi philosophy

Mohammed Rustom Why did Mohammed 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 Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

James M. Jasper Author Of The Emotions of Protest

From my list on what drives protestors.

Who am I?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

James' book list on what drives protestors

James M. Jasper Why did James love this book?

Since ancient times people have gathered outdoors to celebrate all sorts of things, generating joy through dancing, marching, singing, and feasting. In the past most had some religious aura, but in the present, many are political gatherings, deeply satisfying ways of expressing moral visions. In this romp through history Ehrenreich shows us the sheer fun of political (and other) gatherings, which modern elites have tried hard to suppress.

By Barbara Ehrenreich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancing in the Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian comes Barbara Ehrenreich's fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy

In the acclaimed Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich…


Book cover of City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

Haroon Khalid Author Of Walking with Nanak

From my list on merging genres and writing styles.

Who am I?

I love reading history that is told in an experimental, interesting manner – history merged with travel, fiction, magical realism, etc. I began my writing career as a travel writer, bringing together history with travel but increasingly I have begun to experiment more. My book Walking with Nanak brings together 4 genres. One intellectual question that I have pursued through my writing is challenging modern notions of national, religious, and ethnic identities. I see my writing style as an extension of that pursuit, breaking away from the neat compartmentalization of genres. 

Haroon's book list on merging genres and writing styles

Haroon Khalid Why did Haroon love this book?

This book introduced a whole new way of travel and history writing for me. It beautifully merges the experiences of the author, his interactions with people, and the history of the city he is engaged with. I loved how he used everyday conversations and experiences to link it back to historical moments and told a chronological story of an amazing city. The book is important to me because it also taught me that travel writing can happen within one’s home and one’s own city. One doesn’t need to travel hundreds of miles, in a foreign country, to engage in travel writing. It helped me conceptualize travel writing in a new way.

By William Dalrymple,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Indraprastha is the Hindu name for the first, mythical Delhi. In this book the author peels back the successive encrusting layers of Delhi's history, using both the material and the human remains of each period as a touchstone with the present. With each of the six cities of Delhi being revealed in respective chapters, the climax, the final chapter, tells of the mythical first city, whose beginnings, told in the Mahamarata, form the principle Hindu creation myth. This book is a portrait of Delhi, the mother of all cities. Its dry plains are the fertile meeting point of all the…


Book cover of The Oblivion Seekers

Nick Hunt Author Of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

From my list on edeserts that capture their beauty and loneliness.

Who am I?

Nick Hunt is a walker and writer about the landscapes and cultures of Europe. He is the author of Walking the Woods and the Water, Where the Wild Winds Are (both finalists for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year), and a work of gonzo ornithology, The Parakeeting of London. His latest book, Outlandish, is an exploration of four of the continent’s strangest and most unlikely landscapes: arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland and Belarus, Europe’s only true desert in Spain, and the grassland steppes of Hungary.

Nick's book list on edeserts that capture their beauty and loneliness

Nick Hunt Why did Nick love this book?

With vivid, dream-like lucidity, these vignettes, stories and fragments describe the life and adventures of a truly extraordinary traveller: the daughter of Russian nihilists who moved to North Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, dressed and lived as a man, drank and smoked kif to excess, had numerous affairs, converted to Islam, was initiated into a Sufi sect, survived an assassination attempt and died in a freak flash flood at the age of only twenty-seven. The writing that survives is as fierce and as gloriously intense as the desert itself.

By Isabelle Eberhardt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Stories and journal notes by an extraordinary young woman-adventurer and traveler, Arabic scholar, Sufi mystic and adept of the Djillala cult.

"Not long before her death Isabelle Eberhardt wrote: "No one ever lived more from day to day or was more dependent upon chance. It is the inescapable chain of events that has brought me to this point, rather than I who have caused these things to happen." Her life seems haphazard, at the mercy of caprice, but her writings prove otherwise. She did not make decisions; she was impelled to take action. Her nature combined an extraordinary singlness of…


Book cover of Llewellyn's Complete Book of Chakras

Susan Corso Author Of Energy Integrity Rose Thymus Chakra: How to Own & Use the Power of Your Personal Energy

From my list on the chakra curious.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by—and working with—the chakra system for more than 40 years. Because of my practice as a metaphysician, I have long sought the meanings behind what we experience as reality. Meaning is what makes reality worth living. The chakra system is a vital key to creating a life past surviving to thriving. Over the years, I’ve seen detective work in the chakra system unravel issues from the past, present, and future gently and for keeps. Every single one of us should know our chakras as a matter of basic health, and my 40 years of experience with clients proves it!

Susan's book list on the chakra curious

Susan Corso Why did Susan love this book?

Cyndi Dale is perhaps the doyenne of the chakra experts. I’ve read a lot of her books, and she’s quite knowledgeable. However, I completely disagree with much of her chakra system. It’s too complicated for my taste, but then I am most interested in the whole population knowing how to work with their own chakras in an everyday way just like we brush our teeth. She’s training experts. Her work is valuable to know what others have discovered, and… her section on the history of the chakra system as well as how it has been a part of health and healing in cultures from the Incas to the Taoists to the Hindus to the Sufis to the Maori and more throughout time is quite simply the best. 

By Cyndi Dale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Llewellyn's Complete Book of Chakras as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Powerful centres of subtle energy, the chakras have fascinated humanity for thousands of years. Llewellyn's Complete Book of Chakras is a unique and empowering resource that provides comprehensive insights into these foundational sources of vitality and strength. Discover what chakras are and how they work. Explore how to work with chakras for personal growth and healing. Examine the ways our understanding of chakras has transformed through history and across cultures. Lively and accessible, this definitive reference explores the science, history, practices, and structures of subtle energy systems. With an abundance of illustrations and a wealth of practical exercises, Llewellyn's Complete…