Idries Shah on words for Sufis

January 3, 2015

Idries Shah’s 1964 book The Sufis, which I read over the holidays, has several interesting passages on language, a couple of which I quote below. The first excerpt concerns the history and use of the protean word Sufism and some of the various terms used to refer to Sufis:

Exactly how old is the word “Sufism”? There were Sufis at all times and in all countries, says the tradition. Sufis existed as such and under this name before Islam. But, if there was a name for the practitioner, there was no name for the practice. The English word “Sufism” is anglicized from the Latin, Sufismus; it was a Teutonic scholar who, as recently as 1821, coined the Latinization which is now almost naturalized into English. Before him there was the word tasawwuf – the state, practice or condition of being a Sufi. This may not seem an important point, but to the Sufis it is. It is one reason why there is no static term in use among Sufis for their cult. They call it a science, an art, a knowledge, a Way, a tribe – even by a tenth-century portmanteau term, perhaps translatable as psychoanthropology (nafsaniyyatalinsaniyyat) – but they do not call it Sufism.

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Treason’s Harbour (a book spine poem)

October 4, 2013

I’m a day late for National Poetry Day, so this post can serve to suggest its year-round continuation in practice – even for elliptical found poems assembled from book spines. Click to enlarge:


stan carey - book spine poem - treason's harbour


Treason’s Harbour

Explorations of the marvellous
Mazes and labyrinths by salt water:
Treason’s harbour.
Quarantine the sleepwalkers,
The Sufis, the inheritors,
Nothing happens in Carmincross.

Thanks to the authors and editors: Peter Nicholls, W. H. Matthews, Angela Bourke, Patrick O’Brian, Jim Crace, Arthur Koestler, Idries Shah, William Golding, and Benedict Kiely.

More book spine poems, aka bookmashes, in the archives. I see the Lakeside Theatre at University of Essex is having a bookmash contest for tickets to a radio writing workshop (it links to mine for illustration). Good luck to the entrants!