Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Women Of Sufism A Hidden Treasure

Women Of Sufism A Hidden Treasure Cover

Book: Women Of Sufism A Hidden Treasure by Camille Adams Helminski

Helminski was the first woman to publish an English translation of the Qur'an and has built a career out of reprinting classic Sufi materials. This collection of primary sources casts a spotlight on the roles women have played in Sufi history: because Sufism sheds hierarchical and social distinctions in favor of a total consummation with the Beloved (Allah), women have always held an important position, says Helminski. The collection opens with early writings about Sufi women, most of which were written by men, and some of which have only recently been made available in English. Here we learn of Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, an eighth-century saint about whom many legends were composed, and the ninth-century healer Lady Nafisa, who was renowned for her Qur'anic knowledge and whose tomb is still a sacred destination for spiritual pilgrims of many religious traditions. Helminski goes on to offer writings by and about Sufi women up to the present day, including poetry (Rumi has some competition!), folklore, prayers, songs and journal entries. Helminski does a fine job of introducing each subject, placing each shaykha (female teacher) in her historical context and explaining why she should be remembered. Some of the contemporary women are particularly interesting, such as Russian-born Sufi author Irina Tweedie, who describes her gradual path toward Sufism. This collection of women's voices is a rich and varied resource for understanding women of "The Way."

Knowledgeably compiled by Camille Adams Helminski (the first woman to translate a substantial portion of the Qur'an into English and the cofounder and codirector of the Threshold Society in Aptos, California -- an educational foundation in the Mevlevi tradition based on the teachings of Rumi), Women Of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure is a unique anthology of writings and stories by mystic poets, scholars and Sufi saints. The works presented here embody the Sufi world view. Sufi is a the mystical path of Islam with an emphasis on hope and spiritual development. Writings from the time of the Prophet Muhammad down to the present day fill the pages of this powerful and emotional volume of faith and testimony. Women Of Sufism is a welcome and strongly recommended addition to personal and academic Islamic Studies collections in general, and Sufi Studies reading lists in particular.

The book contains many short, penetrating stories about Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, an eighth-century mystic. In the chapter A Doorkeeper of the Heart, one of my favourite tales illustrates how Rabi'a's saintliness did not depend on showiness: "One day Hasan of Basra saw Rabi'a down by the riverside. He came and sat beside her, spread his prayer-rug on the surface of the water, and said, 'Come sit with me and pray.' 'Do you really have to sell yourself in the market of this world to the consumers of the next?' said Rabi'a. Then she unrolled her own prayer-rug in thin air and sat on it. 'What you can do fish can do, Hasan, and what I did any fly can do. Our real work is beyond the work of fish and flies.'"

It is clear from the care people took to write down their dreams that they were important to the Sufis as instruments of the teachings. In this tradition, dreams are considered spiritual realities, often bearing glad tidings and providing a route through which God can communicate with devotees. The chapter Hidden Ways contains the dreams of at-Tirmidhi's wife, which he recorded in his autobiography. The inner link was so strong between husband and wife that she would dream teaching dreams for him.

In another chapter, modern-day scholar Michaela Ozelsel documents her experience of a traditional solitary retreat. Isolated in a small apartment in Istanbul with enough supplies to last forty days, she describes how inner peace unfolded and a "polishing of the heart" occurred.

Women of Sufism is a great resource for understanding women's ongoing search for the Divine. "It is becoming strongly clear that there will continue to be more and more stories of women of Spirit to shareas women in the current era rediscover their rightful role as equal partners on the spiritual path as well as in the world of daily human duties." It is very important that we open to the spiritual knowledge, intelligence and vision of the feminine at this time in history.

Find Camille Adams Helminski's book in amazon.com:
Women Of Sufism A Hidden Treasure

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