The Principles of Sufism.

Author:Renard, John
Position:Book review

The Principles of Sufism. By 'A'ishah al-Ba'Uniyyah. Edited and translated by Th. Emil Homerin. Library of Arabic Literature. New York: New York University Press, 2014. Pp. xx + 197. $30.

Well known for his excellent work on the Sufi "Sultan of Lovers" and (say many) pinnacle of Arabic mystical poetry, the Egyptian Ibn al-Farid, Emil Homerin has recently been contributing very welcome additions to the still relatively meager but fast-growing reservoir of scholarship on important Sufi women. In 'A'isha al-Ba'uniyya (d. 1517), Homerin has discovered a remarkable individual whose literary legacy (more than a dozen works in prose and poetry) offers rare and privileged access to her inner life as well as to her role as a custodian and teacher in an already ancient genealogy of Sufi masters. Her father was a noted Shafi'i scholar and chief judge in Damascus and was affiliated with a branch of the Qadiriyya Sufi order. As was the case with many earlier Sufi women about whom we have very little primary source material, 'A'isha became well grounded in jurisprudence, albeit only toward the end of her life. She and her forbears lived during the latter decades of the Mamluk dynasty, and Homerin's studies of her life's work make a fine contribution to the larger picture of Sufism in Egypt and "greater Syria" under the Ayyubids (1171-1250) and Mamluks (1250-1517)--bookending, one could say, his extensive work on Ibn al-Farid (d. 1235). The Cairene mystic would no doubt have applauded wholeheartedly 'A'isha's eventual recognition--perhaps even more because his own father was an advocate for women in legal matters than because she so clearly reflects a familiarity with, and admiration for, his poetry in hers.

Homerin has developed a well-deserved reputation for his skill in translating difficult medieval literary and "mystical" Arabic texts. His compact, economical style produces a sense of elegant simplicity. Though the present text is essentially a work of prose, it does incorporate a number of verses by 'A'isha. Readers interested in a more detailed sense of her poetic skills will find Homerin's Emanations of Grace: Mystical Poems by 'A'ishah al-Bacuniyah (Fons Vitae, 2011) very rich. 'A'isha's "Principles of Sufism" (Homerin's loose translation of al-Muntakhab fi usul al-rutab fi'ilm al-tassawuf) is her contribution to the long tradition of classical "manuals" of mystical spirituality dating back to the ninth century, but perhaps best represented in...

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