Steinfels on Sufism and Islamic Society

In Knowledge before Action (The University of South Carolina Press, 2012), Amina Steinfels, associate professor of religion, examines medieval Sufism and its place in Islamic society by telling the story of the life and career of Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, a fourteenth-century Sufi master who lived in what is now Pakistan.

Considered one of the most important Sufi masters of South Asia, Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, more popularly referred to as Makhdum-i Jahaniyan, is known for combining spirituality and scholarship in a formative period for Sufism. In her book, Steinfels assembles the details of Bukhari's life from records of his teachings, dynastic chronicles, and correspondence to discover how he achieved his status and laid the groundwork for a devotional cult that has lasted seven centuries. Steinfels also examines Bukhari's theories of the relationship between scholar and mystic. Bukhari's teachings provide windows into the underlying concerns and themes of medieval Sufism.

In this interview, Steinfels also provides a contemporary view of Sufism and describes common misunderstandings of its place in Islamic society.