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of the

Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society

Volume 51


Book Reviews

these ancient and medieval thinkers intended when speaking on the importance of education. Instead, education was to be a process of inner transformation, which in its completion not only brings about virtue and goodness in the individual, but also brings about these same qualities within communities. Chittick gives diverse examples of how this understanding of learning was applied historically; through these comparisons, he is able to indicate how these traditions of learning might remain relevant when applied to our own, ever-changing, and challenging context. The many studies offered here will be of exceptional benefit to students attempting to locate the unity that encompasses the many currents of Islamic discourse. Benefit will also be gained by specialists seeking to increase their knowledge pertaining to some of the most complex thinkers in the history of Sufism and Islamic Philosophy. Without hesitation, we can suggest that this edited volume of Chittick's most important articles is essential reading for all those interested in exploring the heart of Islamic thought.

Joel C. Richmond University of Toronto

Sufi Aesthetics: Beauty, Love, and the Human Form in the Writings of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi, by Cyrus Ali Zargar.

Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2011, xi + 235 pp.

Sufi Aesthetics is, as its title suggests, a major in-depth study of the aesthetics of vision and the envisioning of the divine in forms. In his introduction, Zargar stresses that although he is focusing on a particular 'school' of witnessing and love within Sufism, he is particularly concerned to respond 'to questions raised by those who have mishandled the Islamic tradition' (p.2), be they those who divorce the sacred from the profane or those who view the Quranic paradise literally as a place of meaningless sensual pleasure. The task he sets himself is a noble one: to study perception and beauty in the light of the writings

Book Reviews

of two great visionary writers, Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Arabi and Fakhr al-Din 'Iraqi, who studied under Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, and to explore the uniqueness of the medieval Islamic mystical tradition, 'a tradition in which human beauty is sacred, truly sacred, in a manner not at all metaphorical and justified by the most foundational religious sources' (p.10). In addition to the introduction, the book has six chapters, comparing and contrasting the approaches of Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi. In all cases he has given his own elegant translations of passages and poems from both authors. The final quarter of the book comprises excellent notes, selected bibliography and indexes (Quranic verses, hadith and general names and terms). The first two chapters deal with perception. In the first (which he calls a 'difficult chapter'!), Zargar has a detailed discussion in summary form of how the experience of divine beauty is described by Ibn 'Arabi: in particular, how witnessing (mushahada) means to know what is seen, what role imagina- tion plays, and how for a true lover He 'has blessed him with the capacity to contemplate God in the forms of things' (Fut. IV.260). In the second, Zargar considers the contribution of 'Iraqi, who was steeped in the Persian tradition of love-poetry, showing how the poems in 'Iraqi's Lamarat ('Flashes') reflect the same understanding as Ibn 'Arabi. As one poem puts it, 'once 'Iraqi was drowned, a life of remainingness he found; / The secrets of the Unseen in the World of Seen he sees' (p. 58). In the third chapter, entitled 'Beauty according to Ibn 'Arabi and 'Iraqi: that which causes love', Zargar delves more deeply into how forms, and more specifically the human form, arouse intense and profound love for the beauty they disclose. In this and the following chapters, which deal with our two authors' attitudes to human beauty, he discusses at some length the question of the human beloved being a medium for love as opposed to an object of love, and of the much-criticised culture of shahidbazi (admiring divine beauty in human forms, espe- cially young men). In chapter 6, on 'The Amorous Lyric as Mystical Language', Zargar turns his attention to the two authors' poetic forms (the Arabic nasib and the Persian ghazal), focusing in particular on



Ibn 'Arabi's Tarjuman al-ashwaq. He points out, through many examples, how Ibn 'Arabi's commentary, written sometime

after the actual poems, rather than being a superfluous 'meta- physical' interpretation of amorous love-poetry, stresses the unity of the sensual image and the supersensory meaning: 'the Tarjuman's commentary serves as an important inducer of tash-

bihlsimilitude for the gnostics' (p. 127). The poems are

mere allegory nor love-poems dressed in spiritual clothes, but an important way of conveying the unfathomable depth of love as it is known and experienced by the gnostics. In the final brief chapter, he concludes by pointing to various misunderstandings of Islamic culture which have pervaded the writings of many Western scholars and popular culture: 'Some sort of intimate visionary encounter with God is clearly not only part of the Islamic tradition, but also part of the Qur'an's depictions of sensual pleasures in the afterlife' (p. 153). The afterlife imagery of houris, wine etc. can only really be under- stood if taken as an intensely spiritual depiction of vision of the

Divine, something enjoyed by mystics already in this world. By clarifying the inherent aesthetic values of the Islamic mystical tradition, Zargar has done much to put the discus- sion of beauty and the unique perceptive experience of gnos- tics centre-stage. This is a useful, scholarly and clearly written book, bringing together many disparate texts (for example, Ibn 'Arabi's Futuhat, Fusus and Tarjuman al-ashwaq, 'Iraqi's Lama 'at, Jami's Nafahat al-uns)in a fresh translation, and it will certainly appeal to anyone interested in Ibn 'Arabi's teachings. Stephen Hirtenstein

Book Reviews