A Reality without a Name: Early Sufis and the Formation of Tradition
Meena Sharify-Funk [+]
Wilfrid Laurier University
William Rory Dickson [+]
University of Winnipeg
In Chapter Six, we trace the formation of Sufism in the early period of Islam, from the 8th to the 10th centuries. Islamic spirituality, like law and theology, was being formulated during this period. It was hence subject to conflicts over the nature of God, the Qur’an, and the ideal Muslim self and society, conflicts that affected all aspects of the emergent Islamic civilization. Proto-Sufis emerge as exponents of the Qur’an’s hidden meaning, rejectors of the newfound wealth and worldly status of early Islamic empires, and proponents of relating to God not simply as a law-giver and lord, but also as an intimate friend and lover. Seminal figures of this era include Hasan al-Basri (d. 728) and Rabi‘a the great female Sufi and representative of the path of divine love. Sufis drew controversy for their claims of intimacy and unity with God, most notably culminating in the death of Sufism’s famous ‘martyr of love’ al-Hallaj. Also, in this period Sufism began to be understood as a distinctive science within Islam due in large part to the efforts of Sufi biographers like Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 1074) to document the principles and practices of Sufism. Sufis would further embrace the structure and themes of pre-Islamic poetry, using its imagery of loss, longing, and the journey to find the beloved, to represent the spiritual search for God.