Sufi Poetry

Dr. Jamal Elias
Department of Religion
Amherst College

This lecture discusses Sufi poetry as a form of mystical connection with God. The mystical exercise called dhikir was explained, which is the attempt to know God by immersing oneself in one of the names or qualities of God. The mantra like quality of dhikir recitation provides certain parallels with Buddhist practices.

Sufi poetry is considered a form of mystical prayer, both in its writing and in the hearing or reading of it. Poetry has been a pillar of Islamic culture from its inception. Sufi poetry uses love and drunkenness as central themes or analogies to mystical union, with the emphasis being usually on the pain of separation from the divine, not actually achieved union. Poetry also served as a vehicle for resistance against the religious establishment.

Erotic love is a common theme in Sufi poetry, and the master of Sufi poetry, Rumi, frequently used such metaphors. Rumi’s life evinces how all consuming the Sufi obsessions on love and God can become.