Words of Ecstasy in Sufism

By Carl W. Ernst

Paperback : 9780873959186, 196 pages, June 1985
Hardcover : 9780873959179, 196 pages, June 1985

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Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Transliteration of Persian and Arabic

Part I. Ecstatic Expression in Sufism
A. The Literature and Theory of Ecstatic Expressions
1. Classical Sufism up to Ruzbihan
2. Later Developments
B. Topics and Forms of Expression
1. Selfhood
2. Transcendence of the Created
3. Knowledge and Unknowing
4. Madness, Audacity, and Boasting
5. Testimony
C. Conclusions

Part II. Ecstatic Expressions on Faith and Infidelity
A. Faith and Infidelity in Early Islam, and the Sufi Concept of Faith
B. Hallaj
C. `Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani
D. Ruzbihan Baqli

Part III. The Spirit and the Letter
A. Three Sufi Trials
1. Nuri
2. Hallaj
3. `Ayn al-Qudat
B. Sufism, the Law, and the Question of Heresy
1. Libertinism and Incarnationism in Heresiography
2. Ecstatic Expressions and the Law
3. Sufi Responses: Martyrdom, Crime, Persecution
Conclusion: Comparisons and Interpretations

Appendix: Ruzbihan's Account of Bayazid's Vision
Selected Bibliography


This is the first in-depth study in English of the import and impact of ecstatic utterances (shathiyat) in classical Islamic mysticism. It makes available an important body of mystical aphorisms and reveals not only the significance of these sayings in the Sufi tradition, but also explains their controversial impact on Islamic law and society.

This study descrives the development and interpretation of shathiyat in classical Sufism and analyzes the principal themes and rhetorical styles of these sayings, using as a basis the authoritative Commentary on Ecstatic Sayings by Ruzbihan Baqli of Shiraz. The special topic of mystical faith and infidelity receives particular emphasis as a type of ecstatic expression that self-reflectively meditates on the inadequacy of language to describe mystical experience. The social impact of ecstatic sayings is clarified by an analysis of the political causes of Sufi heresy trials (Nuri, Hallaj, and 'Ayn al-Qudat) and the later elaboration of Sufi martyrologies. This study also examines the attitudes of Islamic legal scholars toward shathiyat, and concludes with a comparison of Sufi ecstatic expressions with other types of inspired speech.

Carl W. Ernst is Assistant Professor of Religion at Pomona College.


"An excellent survey of ecstatic sayings in Islamic mysticism. " — James E. Royster, Cleveland State University, in The Muslim World

"A serious and thoughtful study of one of the most fascinating dimensions of Sufi literature and mystical thought. " — William Chittick, State University of New York at Stony Brook, in Middle East Studies Association Bulletin

"A volume rooted in sound, careful scholarship which deserves a place not only on the bookshelf of every student of Sufism, but on the shelves of scholars of world religions generally. " — Ian Netton, University of Essex, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"A significant contribution to the study of Islam and mysticism. " — Th. Emil Homerin, Rochester University, in The Journal of Religion