May 31 2010

Book: Islamic Mystical Poetry

Published by at 9:18 am under Books

Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
Translated by Mahmood Jamal



I’m always hesitant when I find a collection of sacred poetry put out by a classics publisher like Penguin. They can be excellent references, but I expect their translations to be stiff and rather academic. So I was pleasantly surprised by Penguin’s Islamic Mystical Poetry — while some of Mahmood Jamal’s translations bring the mind to appreciative, stunned silence, most don’t read like masterpieces of the art. Even so, they have a direct, modern fluidity that is inviting to the tongue. His rhyme, in places, can sound too simple, occasionally evoking sing-song, rather than poetic revelation, but that’s a minor criticism, given how readable these poems are. These are not dusty translations only your great-grandfather could love.

Where this collection really shines is in the breadth of poets gathered together within its pages, those well-known in the West, and many less-well-known. Rabia, Hallaj, ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi, Iraqi, Shabistari, Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah, Umar ibn al-Farid, Yunus Emre, and many more. This is an excellent sampling of Sufi poetry from Africa to Afghanistan.

Other general collections of Sufi poetry, like The Drunken Universe and Love’s Alchemy might have more arresting translations, but Penguin’s Islamic Mystical Poetry is highly recommended for its broad range of Sufi poets, some hard to find in English translation, as well as for it’s approachable translations.

This one belongs on your bookshelf.


I witnessed my Maker with my heart’s eye.
I asked, ‘Who are You?’ He answered, ‘You!’

For You one cannot ask, Where?
Because where is Where for You?

You do not pass through the imagination
Or else we’ll know where You are.

You are He who is everywhere
Yet You are nowhere. Where are You?

In my annihilation is my annihilation’s annihilation
And You are found in my annihilation.

— Mansur al-Hallaj

Table of Contents

Rabia Basri
Mansur Hallaj
Abu Said ibn Abil-Khair
Sheikh Abdullah Ansari of Herat
Ahmad Jam
Sanai Ghasnavi
Nizami Ganjavi
Fariduddin Attar
Umar ibn al-Farid
Mohyuddin ibn ‘Arabi
Jalaluddin Rumi
Iraqi
Sa’di Shirazi
Mahmud Shabistari
Sultan Veled
Yunus Emre
Amir Khusrow Dehlavi
Ashiq Pasha
Haviz Shirazi
Maghribi
Shah Nimatullah
Qasimul Anwar
Kabir
Abdur Rahman Jami
Sarmad
Sultan Bahu
Baba Bulleh Shah
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai
Shah Niaz
Mian Muhammad Baksh

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Book: Islamic Mystical Poetry”

  1. Raven Garlandon 31 May 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thank you for posting this review Ivan. It looks like a good book. I especially like the poem that you chose to include.

  2. aparnaon 31 May 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Wow what a blessing you are Ivan….. and what a verse- “In my annihilation is my annihilation’s annihilation
    And You are found in my annihilation.”…. like kabir- Jab main tha tab Hari nahi‚ ab Hari hai main naahi– when ‘I’ was, He wasn’t, and now that HE is, ‘I’ am not….. My friend, philosopher, guide once wrote- When will i be free? When ‘I’ will cease to be!!!….. You’ve AGAIN given me so many answers this morning, mind reader Ivan!!! Bless you!

  3. Chaityon 02 Jun 2010 at 3:10 am

    what a blessing you are Ivan…In my annihilation is my annihilation’s annihilation
    And You are found in my annihilation.

    These words speak of an annihilation that words cannot contain…!

    kind regards

  4. elizabethon 10 Jun 2010 at 1:19 am

    Dear Ivan, do you know of any Sufi meetings in the Gloucester, Cheltnham area. Or womwn connected to sufism? In these areas?
    thankyou, kind regards

  5. Somaiyahon 16 Jul 2010 at 10:54 am

    I want to contribute a poem by Rahman baba.

    My Lord

    Look! My Lord is such a great doer of things,
    That my Lord commands full authority.
    Of great and virtuous people that one can name,
    My Lord is beyond them all.
    He is not dependent upon others for his needs.
    My Lord owes nothing to anyone.
    He created life from nothingness.
    My Lord is this kind of creator.
    He has fashioned all created things.
    My Lord hears all speech.
    Of which there is no similarity of likeness,
    My Lord is the maker of such scents.
    Of every structures in this world or the one to come,
    My Lord is mason of them all.
    He is the reader of unwritten scriptures,
    My Lord is the knower of all secrets.
    The overt, the covert and the part-known,
    My Lord knows them all.
    What is created, what is concealed, what is between,
    My Lord is aware of them all.
    He does not have any associate in his kingdom,
    My Lord is a king without a partner.
    His oneness is not due to weakness,
    For my Lord is infinite in one body.
    He needs friendship from no one,
    Whose friend is my Lord?
    I don’t need to look elsewhere,
    For my Lord is with me in my home.
    He is not transformed or changed O Rahman!
    My Lord is always constant.
    (courtesy:Rahman baba poetry.com)

  6. Apoorvaon 16 Jul 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Thts so wonderful, its a great spiral wind ,muvin round and round,bt enjoyin urself with this words and the content of the words with the heart.

    Awe it jst amazing, like caressin the heart in thy hands

  7. Baraanon 02 Sep 2010 at 9:19 am

    Fantastic!! Somaiyah Thanks a lot

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