The Essence of Reality: A Defense of Philosophical Sufism
Mohammed Rustom (translation)
Hardback, 350 pages
Bilingual Arabic-English edition
A groundbreaking exposition of Islamic mysticism
The Essence of Reality was written over the course of just three days in 514AH / 1120CE, by a scholar who was just twenty-four. The text, like its author ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, is remarkable for many reasons, not least of which that it is in all likelihood the earliest philosophical exposition of mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition. This important work would go on to exert significant influence on both classical Islamic philosophy and philosophical mysticism.
Written in a terse yet beautiful style, The Essence of Reality consists of one hundred brief chapters interspersed with Qurʾanic verses, prophetic sayings, Sufi maxims, and poetry. In conversation with the work of the philosophers Avicenna and al-Ghazālī, the book takes readers on a philosophical journey, with lucid expositions of questions including the problem of the eternity of the world; the nature of God’s essence and attributes; the concepts of “before” and “after”; and the soul’s relationship to the body. All these discussions are seamlessly tied into ʿAyn al-Quḍāt’s foundational argument—that mystical knowledge lies beyond the realm of the intellect.
ʿAyn al-Quḍāt (d. 525/1131) was a philosopher, mystic, and judge who was born in the western Iranian city of Hamadān. He was the student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the famous Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111). A maverick figure, he was put to death by the Seljuqs at the age of thirty-four, ostensibly on charges of heresy.
Mohammed Rustom is Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University. An internationally recognized scholar whose works have been translated into over ten languages, he specializes in Sufism, Islamic philosophy, and Qurʾanic exegesis.