The Mystics of Islam


by Reynold A. Nicholson

Routledge, Kegan Paul, London

The title of this book sufficiently explains why it is included in a Series 'exemplifying the adventures and labours of individual seekers or groups of seekers in quest of reality.' Sufism, the religious philosophy of Islam, is described in the oldest extant definition as 'the apprehension of divine realities,' and Muslim mystics are fond of calling themselves Ahl al-Haqq, 'the followers of the Real.' {Al-Haqq is the term generally used by Sufis when they refer to God.} In attempting to set forth their central doctrines from this point of view, I shall draw to some extent on materials which I have collected during the last twenty years for a general history of Islamic mysticism--a subject so vast and many-sided that several large volumes would be required to do it anything like justice.

 1. Introduction  2. The Path
 3. Illumination and Ecstacy  4. The Gnosis 
 5. Divine Love  6. Saints and Miracles
 7. The Unitive State  


Here I can only sketch in broad outline certain principles, methods, and characteristic features of the inner life as it has been lived by Moslems of every class and condition from the eighth century of our era to the present day. Difficult are the paths which they threaded, dark and bewildering the pathless heights beyond; but even if we may not hope to accompany the travellers to their journey's end, any information that we have gathered concerning their religious environment and spiritual history will help us to understand the strange experiences of which they write.





THOLUCK, F. A. G., Ssufismus sive Theosophia Persarum pantheistica (Berlin, 1821).

In Latin. Out of date in some respects, but still worth reading.


PALMER, E. H., Oriental Mysticism (Cambridge, 1867).

A treatise on Persian theosophy, based on a work by Nasafi.


VON KREMER, A., Geschichte der herrschenden Ideen des Islams

(Leipzig, 1868), pp. 52-121. A brilliant sketch of the origin and development of Sufism.


GOLDZIHER, I., Vorlesungen über den Islam (Heidelberg, 1910),

pp. 139-200. An account of Sufi asceticism and mysticism by the greatest living authority on Islam.


GOLDZIHER, I., Muhammedanische Studien (Halle, 1888-90),

Part ii., pp. 277-378. Gives full details concerning the worship of Moslem saints.


MACDONALD, D. B., The Religious Life and Attitude in Islam (Chicago, 1909).

A valuable introduction to the study of the moderate type of Sufism represented by


Ghazali. The chapters on psychology are particularly helpful.


IQBAL, SHAIKH MUHAMMAD, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia (London, 1908), pp. 96.


GIBB, E. J. W., History of Turkish Poetry (London, 1900-1909), vol. i. pp. 15-69.

Outlines of Persian philosophic mysticism.


BROWNE, E. G., Literary History of Persia (London, 1902), vol. i. pp. 416-444.


BROWN, J. P ., The Dervishes, or Oriental Spiritualism (London,1868).

Unscientific, but contains much interesting material.


DEPONT, O., and COPPOLANI, X., Les Confréries religieuses musulmanes (Algiers, 1897).

A standard work on the Dervish Orders.



HUJWIRI, Kashf al-Mahjub, translated by R. A. Nicholson (London,1911).

The oldest Persian treatise on Sufism.


‘ATTAR, Le Manticu ’ttair ou le Langage des Oiseax, translated, with an essay on the philosophical and religious poetry of Persia,

by Garcin de Tassy (Paris, 1864).


JALALUDDIN RUMI, Masnavi, abridged translation by E. H. Whinfield, 2nd ed. (London, 1898).

Masnavi, Book i., translated by Sir James Redhouse (London, 1881).

Masnavi, Book ii., translated with commentary by C. E. Wilson (London, 1910).


Selected Odes from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz, Persian text with English translation, introduction, and notes by R. A. Nicholson

(Cambridge, 1898).


MAHMUD SHABISTARI, Gulshani Raz, Persian text with English translation, introduction, and notes by E. H. Whinfield (London, 1880). A versified exposition of the chief Sufi doctrines. It should be read by everyone who is seriously interested in the subject.


JAMI, Lawa’ih, Persian text with translation by E. H. Whinfield and Mirza Muhammad Kazvini (London, 1906). A prose treatise on Sufi theosophy.

Yusuf and Zulaikha, translated into verse by R.. T. H. Griffith (London, 1882).

One of the most famous mystical love-romances in Persian literature.


IBN AL-‘ARABI, Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, a collection of mystical odes. Arabic text with translation and commentary by R. A.Nicholson

(London, 1911).



[Scanned, proofed, and formatted in HTML by Chris Weimer, December 2001; graciously donated to for publication. This text is in the public domain in the US. Original pagination has been retained; footnotes have been embedded into the text within braces and in a smaller font({i.e.}). Characters with diacritics have been mapped to the closest ASCII character (e.g. Sûfî is transliterated Sufi). Greek letters have also been eliminated, and (the two) words in Greek in the original are enclosed in French quotes («»). All references to the 'Koran' in the text have been linked to the Pickthall English Version of the Qur'an at this site. Many of the verse references given by Nicholson are one or two off from Pickthall and other translations; the hyperlinks have been adjusted but the original citation retained in these instances.]