Idries Shah on words for Sufis

This is a bit of a departure from my usual content, but only because my blog is still young. This beautiful and fascinating post hit a major sweet spot for me. I love precision of language and tracing shifts in usage. Persian culture and poetry were a big influence on my Dad’s work with Ottoman Turkish. Best of all, this revitalized my thirst to seek my God in moment-by-moment practice as one drunk with love.

Sentence first

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…

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