February 13, 2008
Each year we do a roundup of the best reads. Last year, there was a relative drought of captivating reads, but one book stands out. It is a book by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. An attempt at a review is given below. May I present Wardah’s pick for the best of 2007.
The Garden of Truth
The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
This breathtakingly well-written, erudite summary of Sufism, its cosmology, methodology, and above all, its relevance, is an absolute must-read for anyone with an interest in, or aspires to be a traveller towards God.
Thankfully, Nasr has published it with Harper, one of the largest international publishers, thus ensuring that this book will be available from every major book retail chain throughout the world. It is time, as Nasr hints at in his introduction, that people are introduced to Islam through the window of Sufism.
Nasr had set out to write a modern, classical treatise on Sufism—and has succeeded. This is a book which will be read and re-read by many. And I believe it will spark renewed interest in Sufism as well as Islamic metaphysics, poetry and sacred art. It is a summary, or rather a map of the Sufi cosmos and places each bit of information in its proper place, thus yielding an enlightened understanding of the whole. Reading this book is an experience unto itself; though a poem Nasr quotes several times in the book admonishes: “The Book of the Sufi is not black ink and words, It is none other that a pure heart, white like snow.”
The book is unique in that it is written for the modern reader whose Western education has created certain intractable habits of mind. Nasr obliges the reader by exploring various philosophical questions such as ‘Why is there evil?” and “Why does God judge us by our actions on Earth when it is our Souls that return to Him?”; each time giving a response from within the Sufi tradition. He obliges also by giving a historical account of the flowering of Sufism over the centuries—all the time reminding the reader that the reality of Sufism is metahistorical. That said, his account of the history of Sufism (actually an appendix of the book) is the best I have come across. He not only describes the various luminaries, schools and tariqah, but also demonstrates their inter-mixing and interactions that gave rise to the rich, mature tradition we observe today.
Appropriately, he ends his book with an invitation “to transform theoria into actual experience”. In our modern world, according to Nasr, we need, more than any time in human history, to integrate the contemplative life and the active life. The Sufi path is not so much a path of discovery, but a path of restoration and recovery. To become who we really are.
The Garden of Truth is available at Wardah