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The Mystics of al-Andalus by Yousef Casewit, assistant professor of Qur’anic
studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School, tells the story of an overlooked
mystical school of Andalusia, the Muʿtabirun (lit. “the contemplators”
or “the practicers of iʿtibār”). The Muʿtabirun, as Casewit demonstrates, formulated
a mystical teaching centered on contemplating God’s signs in creation
and the Book, and that self-consciously distinguished itself from the Sufis of the East. This book details the ways in which Ibn Barrajan (d. 536/1141), Ibn
al-ʿArif (d. 536/1141), and Ibn Qasi (d. 546/1151), the school’s main authors,
contributed to Andalusi mystical thought and provided a link between Ibn
Masarra (d. 319/931) and Ibn al-ʿArabi (d. 637/1240).
This book comprises eight chapters. The first two frame Casewit’s intervention
into the historiography of Islamic spirituality in al-Andalus.
Chapter 1, “The Beginnings of Mystical Discourse in al-Andalus,” provides
a concise history of mystical discourse and practices from the Umayyads
to the end of the Murabitun (the seventh to the twelfth century). The major
precursor of the Muʿtabirun was Ibn Masarra, whose Risālat al-Iʿtibār presents
an intellectual-cum-spiritual practice of contemplating God’s signs
(āyāt) in the book of nature in order to ascend the ladder of knowledge to
divine unity. Controversially, Ibn Masarra maintained that iʿtibār could
lead to the same truths as revelation. In 961, thirty years after his death, his
books were burned at the behest of the jurists and his followers were forced
to publicly disavow their master. His teachings, however, continued clandestinely ...