Recommend to your Librarian

Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Ziad Elmarsafy


Studies the use of Sufi ideas, language and themes in Arabic fiction from 1945 to the present

Although Sufi characters—saints, dervishes, wanderers—occur regularly in modern Arabic literature, a select group of novelists seeks to employ Sufism as a system of thought and language for literary ends. In the work of writers like Naguib Mahfouz, Gamal Al-Ghitany, Tahar Ouettar, Ibrahim Al-Koni, Mahmud Al-Mas’adi and Tayeb Salih we see a strong intertextual relationship with the Sufi masters of the past, including Al-Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, Al-Niffari and Al-Suhrawardi.

This relationship becomes a means of interrogating the limits of the creative self, individuality, rationality and the manifold possibilities offered by literature, seeking in a dialogue with the mystical heritage a way of preserving a self under siege from the overwhelming forces of oppression and reaction that have characterized the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Key Features

  • Covers a broad range of modern Arabic novelists including Naguib Mahfouz and Tayeb Salih
  • Focuses on Sufism in fiction rather than in poetry (where it is most often discussed)
  • Studies authors such as Al-Koni and Ouettar who have received little critical attention in English


Introduction: Ouverture
Chapter One: Naguib Mahfouz: (En)chanting Justice
Chapter Two: Tayeb Salih: The Returns of the Saint
Chapter Three: Al-Masʿadī: Witnessing Immortality
Chapter Four: The Survival of Gamal Al-Ghitany
Chapter Five: Ibrahim Al-Koni: Writing and Sacrifice
Chapter Six: Tahar Ouettar: The Saint and the Nightmare of History
Epilogue: Bahaa Taher, Solidarity and Idealism

About the Author

Ziad Elmarsafy is Professor in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. In the past he taught at the University of California, Riverside, Wellesley College and New York University. He is the author of The Enlightenment Qur'an: The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam (Oneworld, 2009), and co-editor, with Anna Bernard and David Attwell, of Debating Orientalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).


Readers interested in how a particular work fits into the broader arabophone literary scene will appreciate Elmarsafy’s thorough indexing, while those familiar with Arabic will also appreciate lengthy quotations from the original works in over 60 pages of endnotes. The volume has a helpful bibliography including plentiful French-language scholarship on Arabic literature, fiction, and literary theory more generally. Elmarsafy is to be commended on the ambitious project to encompass a large geographic expanse, and his selections are meant to be illustrative rather than encyclopedic. The work is meticulously detailed; hence, a reader new to the field would necessarily read this work alongside a more introductory survey of trends in modern Arabic fiction.

- Celene Ayat Lizzio, Brandeis University, Journal of Postcolonial Writing

Elmarsafy brings together an illustrative spectrum of seminal Arab authors, and ably illuminates the persistence of Sufi idioms and voices in contemporary literary texts. He argues convincingly that these appropriations are intricately linked not only to questions of besieged national identities and ideological bankruptcy, but perhaps more pressingly to aspects of the journey of the self, the limits of the language and form of the novel, and ultimately, the very habitability of the world of the writer.

- Samia Mehrez, Professor of Arabic Literature, American University in Cairo

Inspection Copy

You must log in or register to request an inspection copy.

Also in this series