What is Sufism?

A Guide to the History, Teachings and Debates of Islamic Spirituality

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What is Sufism? How did Sufism originate, how did it evolve, and what role did it play in diverse societies throughout Islamic history? Why is there so much controversy around Sufism’s teachings and practices? What role does Sufism continue to play in contemporary Muslim life?

In this course What is Sufism? A guide to the history, teachings, and debates of Islamic spirituality Dr Mariam Sheibani offers answers to these important questions. The course will explore the historical origins and development of Sufism. It will chart the evolution of Islamic spirituality from its beginnings as personal ascetic devotion to the establishment of Sufism as a distinct mode of piety expounded as a religious science, to the founding of spiritual orders (ṭarīqas) in which a large portion of medieval Muslim society participated. Along the way, the course will critically examine the debates concerning specific Sufi practices and doctrines. The course ends with a discussion of how Sufism was impacted by colonialism and reform in the modern period and its enduring significance in the Muslim world and in Muslim minority communities in the West.

Course Overview

Watch this course overview from course tutor Dr Mariam Sheibani

Your Instructor

Mariam Sheibani
Mariam Sheibani

Dr Mariam Sheibani is Associate Academic Director at Cambridge Muslim College. She received her PhD in Islamic Thought from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and postdoctoral training at Harvard Law School. Dr Sheibani was previously Assistant Professor in History at The University of Toronto and Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. Her research interests are in Islamic intellectual and cultural history, with a focus on the theory and practice of Islamic law, ethics, and Sufism. She has studied with Muslim scholars and conducted research in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, North America, the UK, and West Africa. Learn more about her work at www.mariamsheibani.com


  Module 1: Course Introduction
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  Module 8: Course Conclusion
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  Further Reading
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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this Online Course for?
This course is for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the foundations and diverse manifestations of Islamic spiritual practice throughout Muslim history.
Are there any prerequisites?
No. A general familiarity with Islam is sufficient.
Is there a reading list?
Yes, a further reading list of select sources and translations is shared on the course website for further study of topics covered in the course.
Can I contact the tutor?
The tutor may hold a seminar in early 2023 to answer questions in a live forum.
Are there any exercises?

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