The best Sufism books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about Sufism and why they recommend each book.

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The Oblivion Seekers

By Isabelle Eberhardt,

Book cover of The Oblivion Seekers

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.


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.


I wrote...

Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

By Nick Hunt,

Book cover of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

What is my book about?

In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent's largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe's only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.

The Gift

By Hafiz, Daniel Ladinsky,

Book cover of The Gift

This book is based on Middle Eastern poems from the 1300s which cuddle up close to you and turn you around, such that the world will never be the same again. You find yourself illuminated in new ways with every poem. How amazing to be so intimate with a great being from so far in the past.


Who am I?

I've always been fascinated with the idea that humans have so many layers of consciousness, and reality is multi-faceted. I've studied Zen Buddhism, yoga, and for the past 43 years, Sufism. My experience of life has developed into a journey of changing difficult situations into exhilarating discoveries, finding hidden patterns in nature that delight me and tell me I’m not alone in the universe, and helping many people transform into beings of joy and gratitude. I’m beginning to see that our transformation delights and changes the Divine; we are not a passing phenomenon but contributors to new creation on a major scale.


I wrote...

Awakening as a Human*Divine Being

By Donald E Weiner PhD, Diane Weiner MS,

Book cover of Awakening as a Human*Divine Being

What is my book about?

Our spiritual research, which included reading the books mentioned here, and our transformation through years of spiritual disciplines inspired us to find ways to put into practice many of the concepts we learned from great teachers. In Awakening as a Human*Divine Being we describe how to use this wisdom in our daily lives. The dialogue which formed the body of our book was taken from actual classes we taught during the pandemic (see YouTube link below). There are step-by-step meditations that give hints on how to reinterpret problems into opportunities for realization. You will find ways to relate ancient concepts to metaphors from science and daily experiences of life. 

Memories of a Sufi Sage

By Sirkar van Stolk, Daphne Dunlop,

Book cover of Memories of a Sufi Sage: Hazrat Inayat Khan

This engrossing and inspiring book portrays the author’s wondrous encounters with Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Kahn, first as a beginning student and then as his assistant. He witnesses the experiences of this sage as he moves through the stages of illumination, dark night of the soul, and unitary consciousness. Interspersed throughout the book are the essential teachings of Sufism as taught by Inayat Khan, its message of love, harmony, and beauty, the Ten Sufi Thoughts, meditation, and the workings of the inner life. Memories of a Sufi Sage is a great introduction to Sufism and one of its great mystics. 


Who am I?

After my father died when I was eleven years old, I started asking those deeper spiritual questions. This started me on a journey both personally and academically to find needed answers to my queries. I became fascinated with mystical experiences and how seekers navigated their way through the vicissitudes of the spiritual journey. With this interest as a focal point, I received a doctorate in theology, attended retreats, and received guidance from Sufi, Buddhist, and Christian teachers. I taught mysticism and world religions at Ithaca College and co-founded Light on the Hill Retreat Center in 1991, where I still guide people of any or no faith on their spiritual journeys.


I wrote...

Dance of Light: Christian, Sufi and Zen Wisdom for Today’s Spiritual Seeker

By Alice McDowell,

Book cover of Dance of Light: Christian, Sufi and Zen Wisdom for Today’s Spiritual Seeker

What is my book about?

McDowell writes about the spiritual life as a captivating dance. In a clear and compelling voice, she guides the reader through the steps of the dance as indicated by mystics of ancient traditions, contemporary spiritual teachers, and her own experiences. Dance of Light offers practical wisdom for today’s seeker. Whether beginner or advanced, readers will receive guidance on the dynamics of the spiritual path, learn how to further develop their inner life, and find ways to move forward when unmotivated, stuck, or lost. The teachings of the mystics will inspire readers to stay true to their calling. Instructive tales and humorous stories from each tradition add lightness and insight to the teachings. 

The Garden of Truth

By Seyyed Hossein Nasr,

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

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.


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.  


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.

The Rumi Daybook

By Kabir Helminski (editor), Camille Helminski (editor),

Book cover of The Rumi Daybook: 365 Poems and Teachings from the Beloved Sufi Master

As I approach a book, I live in a world of separation. In each of Rumi’s poems, I fall first into a well-told tale and then am whirled into a mystery where you and God, humble gnat and whole universe are reflected in each other. My heart can’t help but be remade in the process.


Who am I?

I've always been fascinated with the idea that humans have so many layers of consciousness, and reality is multi-faceted. I've studied Zen Buddhism, yoga, and for the past 43 years, Sufism. My experience of life has developed into a journey of changing difficult situations into exhilarating discoveries, finding hidden patterns in nature that delight me and tell me I’m not alone in the universe, and helping many people transform into beings of joy and gratitude. I’m beginning to see that our transformation delights and changes the Divine; we are not a passing phenomenon but contributors to new creation on a major scale.


I wrote...

Awakening as a Human*Divine Being

By Donald E Weiner PhD, Diane Weiner MS,

Book cover of Awakening as a Human*Divine Being

What is my book about?

Our spiritual research, which included reading the books mentioned here, and our transformation through years of spiritual disciplines inspired us to find ways to put into practice many of the concepts we learned from great teachers. In Awakening as a Human*Divine Being we describe how to use this wisdom in our daily lives. The dialogue which formed the body of our book was taken from actual classes we taught during the pandemic (see YouTube link below). There are step-by-step meditations that give hints on how to reinterpret problems into opportunities for realization. You will find ways to relate ancient concepts to metaphors from science and daily experiences of life. 

Al-Qushayri's Epistle on Sufism - Al-Risala Al Qushayriyya Fi 'ilm Al-Tasawwuf

By Abu 'l-Qasim Al-Qushayri, Alexander D. Knysh (translator),

Book cover of Al-Qushayri's Epistle on Sufism - Al-Risala Al Qushayriyya Fi 'ilm Al-Tasawwuf

Written by the renowned Sunni scholar and Sufi teacher Abu ’l-Qasim al-Qushayri (986–1074) of Khorasan in Eastern Iran, this is probably the most popular Sufi training manual ever. It is still widely used by Sufis today, so you can begin your Sufi journey by reading it. It also serves as a window onto the life of “Sufi friends of God” or “saints,” whom the author depicts as uncrowned kings of this world. We see them in a variety of contexts: suffering from hunger and thirst in the desert during a pilgrimage to Mecca, participating ecstatically or quietly in spiritual concerts, reciting and interpreting the Qur’an, waging war against outward enemies (“infidels”) and their own demonic desires, earning livelihood, meditating in a retreat, praying, working miracles, interacting with the commoners, their family members and peers, dreaming, and dying.


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.  


I wrote...

Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

By Alexander Knysh,

Book cover of Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

What is my book about?

After centuries of flourishing as the principal ascetic-mystical stream of Islam practiced by millions of Muslims worldwide, Sufism saw a sharp decline in the twentieth century, only to experience explosive growth and revival in the twenty-first. I try to explain this surprising comeback of an age-old tradition pronounced dead or moribund just fifty years ago by such strange bedfellows as Muslim fundamentalists (Salafis and Wahhabis), modernists, and westernizers. While writing my book, I could not help admiring the richness, depth, and adaptability of Sufism—the features that have allowed it to survive and thrive against seemingly insurmountable odds. I was equally thrilled to find out how differently Sufism has been perceived by insiders, outsiders, advocates, and detractors since its inception until today. 

The Book of Strangers

By Ian Dallas,

Book cover of The Book of Strangers

This book offers a poignant personal view of Sufism by a Scottish-born actor and writer who became disillusioned with a world “where people teach but know nothing, where the sentences flow on endlessly but lead nowhere.” He seeks and finds wisdom and solace in the deserts of Sahara under the guidance of a Sufi master to whom he dedicates his short but powerful book. When I picked it up as a reading for my class on Sufism, I thought I would find a usual mushy account of Sufism by a starry-eyed neophyte. The book was anything but: it was eloquent, deeply personal, and felicitously free from platitudes. I was pleasantly surprised and so were my students. I recommend it to everyone interested in spiritual quests regardless of his or her background.    


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.  


I wrote...

Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

By Alexander Knysh,

Book cover of Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

What is my book about?

After centuries of flourishing as the principal ascetic-mystical stream of Islam practiced by millions of Muslims worldwide, Sufism saw a sharp decline in the twentieth century, only to experience explosive growth and revival in the twenty-first. I try to explain this surprising comeback of an age-old tradition pronounced dead or moribund just fifty years ago by such strange bedfellows as Muslim fundamentalists (Salafis and Wahhabis), modernists, and westernizers. While writing my book, I could not help admiring the richness, depth, and adaptability of Sufism—the features that have allowed it to survive and thrive against seemingly insurmountable odds. I was equally thrilled to find out how differently Sufism has been perceived by insiders, outsiders, advocates, and detractors since its inception until today. 

Sufi Institutions

By Alexandre Papas (editor),

Book cover of Sufi Institutions

Now that you know what Sufism is all about, it is time to find out what lies behind the romantic façade of Sufi love poetry, ecstatic outbursts, and exotic rituals. For this purpose, I cannot recommend a better guide than this collective monograph. Its authors explain the nuts and bolts of Sufi life past and present: how Sufis interact with the world that they are supposed to despise and reject, how they feed themselves and their families, how they create and sustain their fellowships and associations, how their shrines serve as centers of charity, education, and arbitration as well as objects of pilgrimages, both collective and individual. My greatest takeaway from this informative and richly illustrated volume is Sufism’s remarkable adaptability. It thrives in the countryside, urban spaces, and cyber environment, often against great odds. 


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.  


I wrote...

Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

By Alexander Knysh,

Book cover of Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

What is my book about?

After centuries of flourishing as the principal ascetic-mystical stream of Islam practiced by millions of Muslims worldwide, Sufism saw a sharp decline in the twentieth century, only to experience explosive growth and revival in the twenty-first. I try to explain this surprising comeback of an age-old tradition pronounced dead or moribund just fifty years ago by such strange bedfellows as Muslim fundamentalists (Salafis and Wahhabis), modernists, and westernizers. While writing my book, I could not help admiring the richness, depth, and adaptability of Sufism—the features that have allowed it to survive and thrive against seemingly insurmountable odds. I was equally thrilled to find out how differently Sufism has been perceived by insiders, outsiders, advocates, and detractors since its inception until today. 

Rumi

By Jalal Al-Din Rumi,

Book cover of Rumi: Poems

I am not suggesting any particular book of the poems of this famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic. There are dozens of translations. Read any. His ecstatic poetry, as well as reflective musings all, lead to deepening love, the center and meaning of a spiritual experience.


Who am I?

What a question. I’ve been asking it all my life. Publicly, I am known for writing and workshops about the spiritual search, intuition, the still, small voice of God, angels, and miraculous time-warped synchronicities that seem directed to our benefit. I have written about my own mystical illuminations in A Book of Angels, The Ecstatic Journey, The Path of Prayer, in novels, plays, stories, and poetry. My work is translated into some 25 languages (most recently Chinese). But underneath I’m an ordinary flawed, failed human being, stumbling, searching for meaning, struggling toward God, and trying to be of some small service before I go back home.


I wrote...

The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

By Sophy Burnham,

Book cover of The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

What is my book about?

How do you find hope in the midst of horror? From what aquifer springs blinding faith even when faced with being burnt alive? For two centuries the medieval Church worked to exterminate the vegetarian, pacifist “heretic” followers of Christ, known as Cathars or pure ones. Women were priests. Holy script was translated so everyone could read. Finally, 230 perfecti, trapped in the fortress of Montsegur in the south of France, lowered 2 perfecti and a guide on ropes down the sheer cliff face to escape and continue the Church of Love —before they were all burnt at the stake.

My novel begins when Jeanne, their guide, having lost the two, is looking for them. The Inquisition is looking for her. Everyone is looking for the immense Cathar treasure. What was the treasure of Montségur? 

The Conference of the Birds

By Farid Ud-Din Attar, Edward Fitzgerald (translator),

Book cover of The Conference of the Birds

A fascinating counterpoint to Dante’s otherworldly journey is this great Sufi poet’s down-to-earth account of a group of birds who are seeking a leader to put their chaotic lives in order. Attar’s twelfth-century verse novel combines spiritual quest with pointed social satire, as his bird-brained characters keep putting off their journey, held back by earthly attachments: to power, wealth, even to poetry itself. Finally they go, only to find that their wished-for savior is -- themselves. In Attar’s masterpiece, all history, all storytelling, the Holy Qur’an, and even the poem we’re reading become a hall of mirrors in which we see ourselves multiply refracted, guided by the poet who tells us that “he cooks his own heart into verse.”


Who am I?

I’m a preacher’s kid, and I’ve always had an evangelistic impulse to get other people to love the books I admire, through my teaching at Harvard, through my writing, and simply by pressing books into my friends’ hands. I grew up hearing about my parents’ early years in the Philippines, where my father was an Anglican missionary, and I was always drawn to tales of distant or imagined lands. My literary interests led me to study a dozen ancient and modern languages, and then to learn more about the places where my favorite authors came from, and to study their cultures and history.


I wrote...

Around the World in 80 Books

By David Damrosch,

Book cover of Around the World in 80 Books

What is my book about?

Inspired by Jules Verne’s globe-circling Phileas Fogg, I set out to counter the Covid pandemic’s lockdowns by traveling the world through eighty exceptional books. Following a literary itinerary from London to Venice, Egypt, and points beyond, and via authors from Virginia Woolf and Dante to Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, Mo Yan, and Olga Tokarczuk, I explore how these works have shaped our idea of the world, and the ways in which the world bleeds into literature.

Around the World in 80 Books is a memoir of a life of reading, and an invitation to look beyond ourselves and our surroundings. We can see our world in new ways through the eyes of characters who have undertaken remarkable imaginary journeys of their own.

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