The Comfort of the Mystics: A Manual and Anthology of Early Sufism.

Author:Nguyen, Martin
Position:Book review
 
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The Comfort of the Mystics: A Manual and Anthology of Early Sufism. Edited by Gerhard Bowering and Bilal Orfali. Islamic History and Civilization, vol. 98. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pp. ix + 34 + 686 (Arabic). $282.

This carefully edited critical edition of Salwat al-'ariftn wa-uns al-mushtaqin (The Comfort of Those Knowing God and the Intimacy of Those Longing for God) by Abu Khalaf al-Tabari (d. ca. 470/1077) is a welcome addition to the growing body of early Sufi literature presently available. Abu Khalaf is primarily remembered as a Shafi'i legal scholar, but as the present work indicates, he was familiar enough with the Sufi tradition to compose a substantial handbook. His presence in the region of Khurasan and the city of Nlshapur is not insignificant. The former places his Salwat al-carif!n in line with a number of earlier Sufi works also connected to the region, such as Kitab al-Ta'airruf li-madhhab ahl al-tasawwuf by Abu Bakr al-Kalabadh! (d. ca. 380/990) of Bukhara and Kitab al-Lumac fi al-tasawwuf by Abu Nasr al-Sarraj (d. 378/988) of Tus. The latter location places him alongside prominent Sufi writers of Nishapur, such as, specifically, Abu al-Sa'd al-Khargushi (d. 406 or 407/1015-16), who penned a Sufi handbook entitled Tahdhib al-asrar, the prolific Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 412/1021), and Abu l-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), who authored the famed Sufi handbook al-Risala.

This 700-page edition of Salwat al-'ariftn, however, is only the most recent publication to bring scholarly attention to overlooked or understudied mystical texts. In 2009 and 2010, the same editors, Bowering and Orfali, published with Dar el-Machreq two collections of short works by al-Sulami, Rasa'il sufiyya and Masa'il wa-ta'wilat sufiyya respectively. In 2011, Hassan Ansari and Sabine Schmidtke provided a preliminary study of a previously unexamined Vatican manuscript containing al-Khargushi's Kitab al-Lawami'. Then, in 2012, Orfali published with Nada Saab an Arabic edition of a Sufi treatise entitled Sufism, Black and White: A Critical Edition of Kitab al-Bayad wa-l-Sawad by Abu l-Hasan al-Sirjani (d. ca. 470/1077) (Brill). Abu Khalaf al-Tabari's handbook joins a widening array of sources available for a deeper understanding, and possibly a critical reevaluation, of the formative period of Sufism in the region.

Abu Khalaf was bom into the Iranian Salmi family of Tabaristan; as a result of his legal affiliation, his life is preserved in the major...

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