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Reviewed by:
  • Introduction to Sufi Doctrine
  • Adam Asgarali
Titus Burckhardt. Introduction to Sufi Doctrine. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2008. Pp. ix + 118. ISBN: 9781933316505. US$17.95 (paper).

Translated into English in 1959 from the French original entitled Du Soufisme, World Wisdom's 2008 republication of Titus Burckhardt's Introduction to Sufi Doctrine provides a succinct yet penetrating look into the central ideas and doctrines of Islamic mysticism. This new edition is complemented with the inclusion of a foreword by William Chittick, a leading scholar in the field of Islamic thought. Here, Chittick notes Burckhardt's influence on his own scholarship and situates the present work within the field of contemporary Western literature on Sufism.

In the book's preface, Burckhardt states that his primary concern does not lie with modern methods of scholarship but, rather, in uncovering and exploring the unity underlying the plurality of spiritual traditions. For him, scientific approaches to mystical doctrine serve only to demarcate and define traditions in terms of their historical differences in space and time. Instead, what Burckhardt advocates in this study is the adoption of an interior perspective, an approach that he deems capable of "assimilating" (xiii) the universal meaning that lies at the heart of the diverse forms of religious thought and expression. In this way, Burckhardt aims to convey the unique perspective and expression of Sufism while simultaneously drawing parallels with other spiritual traditions. This method, he points out, does not undermine or challenge Sufism's own significance but, [End Page 114] rather, reflects the relative nature of the diverse ways in which the Sacred is revealed.

Paying particular attention to Ibn 'Arabī, Burckhardt divides the book into three sections, outlining the nature of Sufism, its doctrinal foundations, and aspects of spiritual realization. Nonetheless, he acknowledges the incompleteness of his work, briefly mentioning the various topics and subject areas that his book does not cover in detail, such as cosmology.

In the first section, Burckhardt explains the essential nature of Sufism, beginning with the notion of taṣawwuf, the Arabic word most frequently used to denote Sufism as a whole. He briefly explains this concept as the inner, esoteric (bāṭin) nature of Islam that lies beneath the outer manifestations of faith (ẓāhir). Whereas the exoteric following of religious injunctions is aimed at the ultimate goal of eschatological salvation, the aim of Sufism is to attain direct experiential knowledge of the Real, the result of which is "reintegration into the Divine Reality" (15) and liberation from the egoself, which Burckhardt describes as parallel to the Hindu conception of moksa. In this way, he identifies Sufism as the very essence of Islam, which simultaneously lies at the core of the tradition yet transcends the relative nature of external forms. Following this is a brief description of love for the Divine, identified by the author as an essential attitude within the Sufi path in no way counter to the contemplative aspect characterized by major Sufi figures, such as Ibn 'Arabī. Rather, he asserts that there is no fundamental division between both spiritual impulses. The section concludes with a discussion of the hermeneutical nature of Sufism, serving as an esoteric interpretation of the Quran.

After providing an overview of the nature of Sufism, Burckhardt proceeds to explain the central ideas of Sufi doctrine. He describes the Sufi notion of Unity (al-Aḥadīyah) vis-à-vis Ibn 'Arabī, namely, that all things in their essence are God, yet God is not any of these things: i.e., the basis of all things is the Divine, yet the Divinity itself is not encapsulated, bounded, or contained in any conceivable entity. Although all things are emanations from the Divine source, nothing serves to define, divide, or constitute the Divinity, which always remains ineffable and beyond all conception. Since all things derive their reality from God in this way, the universe is in effect the self-revelation of the Divine to Itself. As Burckhardt asserts, all relative things possess no existence of their own since there is no being except Being Itself. Following this, he explains the notion of the "immutable essences" (al-a'yān ath-thābitah), which he likens to the Platonic Ideas...


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