This is a list of the most popular books introducing Sufism to the spiritual reader.
Let me start with The Essential Rumi the Rumi translation by Coleman Barks that warmed the heart of many, and created his reputation as THE Rumi interpreter of our time.
As the famous author on religion Huston Smith says :
“If Rumi is the most-read poet in America today, Coleman Barks is in good part responsible. His ear for the truly divine madness in Rumi’s potrey is truly remarkable.” — Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions
The second book on my list is famous for another reason: it’s by one of the pioneers of Western Sufism – that is: Idries Shah introduced Sufism to the West with this book. The Sufis His psychological approach will help you gain in self knowledge if you’re open to it.
More Idries Shah.
Living from the Heart: Heart Rhythm Meditation for Energy, Clarity, Peace, Joy, and Inner Power – an introduction into Sufi meditation as a way to manage stress.
Alone with the Alone by Henry Corbin is a biography of the man who single handedly transformed the face of both Sufism and Islam for ever. Today his teachings are used to both support Sufism and judge it.
Or as Amazon says:
Ibn ‘Arabi (1165-1240) was one of the great mystics of all time. Through the richness of his personal experience and the constructive power of his intellect, he made a unique contribution to Shi’ite Sufism. In this book, which features a powerful new preface by Harold Bloom, Henry Corbin brings us to the very core of this movement with a penetrating analysis of Ibn ‘Arabi’s life and doctrines.
Corbin begins with a kind of spiritual topography of the twelfth century, emphasizing the differences between exoteric and esoteric forms of Islam. He also relates Islamic mysticism to mystical thought in the West. The remainder of the book is devoted to two complementary essays: on “Sympathy and Theosophy” and “Creative Imagination and Creative Prayer.” A section of notes and appendices includes original translations of numerous Su fi treatises.
The Conference of the Birds (Penguin Classics) by Attar, expertly translated by Afkham Darbandi.
Like Rumi and Hafiz, the name Attar conjures up images of passionate attraction to the divine. Attar was a Persian Sufi of the 12th century and his masterpiece is The Conference of the Birds, an epic allegory of the seeker’s journey to God. When all the birds of the world convene and determine that they lack a king, one bird steps forward and offers to lead them to a great and mighty monarch. Initially excited, each bird falters in turn, whereupon the leader admonishes them with well-targeted parables. These pithy tales are the delight of this 4,500-line poem, translated deftly into rhymed couplets. What is your excuse for not seeking God? Your life is fine already? You prefer material pleasure? You are holy enough? You have pride, lack courage, or are burdened with responsibility? Attar has an answer to encourage you on the path to the promised land. And when you get there, the king may not be what you’d expect, but you must make the journey to see. –Brian Bruya
Another Idries Shah classic: Tales of the Dervishes (Compass). Personally I’m a great fan of Sufi stories and this book will definitely help you understand why. Especially as Idries Shaw tells them they’re full of wisdom and humor. What better combination is there?
As a reader says on Amazon:
Stories that will shake your assumptions and strict belief in the established, conventional, trusted and safe relationship between cause and effect. These stories, if nothing else, open your mind to a different way of thinking. By doing that, it awakens parts of your brain that normally stay dormant. A fresh look at everyday occurrences, unquestioned practices and established thought-processes. It has an invigorating value. You don’t have to ‘believe’ anything the author says: he is not selling anything, not even ideas. Just read and observe what happens to yourself, since these stories are about you.
I had to make room on my list by not featuring every popular book by Idries Shah, so this is the last one. Another book with inspiring sufi stories: The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin (Compass)
The first (and last) woman on our list: Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master by Irina Tweedie. Like many Western Sufis of her generation she started her spiritual path as a theosophist. When she travelled to India she met a Sufi teacher: she lived with him for 5 years before returning to the West to share the wisdom she’d aquired.
Islam is not known, these days, for it’s tolerant position on women. However from the 19th century onwards exceptions to this rule have been common enough as Irina’s story shows abundantly.
One of the inspiring traits of Islam is that the Divine (aka God, or Allah) is known by 99 names. In The Sufi Book of Life: 99 Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish Neil Douglas-Klotz takes these 99 names as 99 spiritual pathways. This may sound a bit liberal, but really does fit the symbolic tradition of Sufism rather well.
Part meditation book, part oracle, and part collection of Sufi lore, poetry, and stories, The Sufi Book of Life offers a fresh interpretation of the fundamental spiritual practice found in all ancient and modern Sufi schools—the meditations on the 99 Qualities of Unity. Unlike most books on Sufism, which are primarily collections of translated Sufi texts, this accessible guide is a handbook that explains how to apply Sufi principles to modern life. With inspirational commentary that connects each quality with contemporary concerns such as love, work, and success, as well as timeless wisdom from Sufi masters, both ancient and modern, such as Rumi, Hafiz, Shabistari, Rabia, Inayat Khan, Indries Shah, Irina Tweedie, Bawa Muhaiyadden, and more, The Sufi Book of Life is a dervish guide to life and love for the twenty-first century.