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The Formative Period

Ahmet T. Karamustafa

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This book is a comprehensive historical overview of the formative period of Sufism, the major mystical tradition in Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth century CE. Based on a fresh reading of the primary sources and integrating the findings of recent scholarship on the subject, the author presents a unified narrative of Sufism's historical development within an innovative analytical framework. Karamustafa gives a new account of the emergence of mystical currents in Islam during the ninth century and traces the rapid spread of Iraq-based Sufism to other regions of the Islamic world and its fusion with indigenous mystical movements elsewhere, most notably the Mal?matiyya of northeastern Iran. He analyses extensively the formation of Sufi communities, the imbrication of Sufi sainthood with popular saints' cults as well as nonconformist dimensions of Sufism and fully explicates the reasons for the increasing social prominence of the Sufi mode of piety during this early period in Islamic history.

Key Features

  • Strikes a balance between social and intellectual history
  • Identifies and articulates questions of interest to scholars, students and general readers
  • Consistently locates Sufism within its broader social and intellectual context


1. The Sufis of Baghdad
Renunciants, the inward turn and the term

About the Author

Ahmet T. Karamustafa is Associate Professor of History and Religous Studies at Washington University, St Louis. Author of God's Unruly Friends: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Later Middle Period, 1200-1550 (University of Utah Press, 1994) and editor of Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies (University of Chicago Press, 1992).


Ahmet Karamustafa's Sufism: The Formative Period is an absorbing and persuasive presentation of the development of Sufism, based on a thorough mastery of the original sources and epitomizing the discoveries of modern scholarship. Students of Sufism and religious studies will welcome this important contribution to Islamic studies.
- Carl W. Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Leaving behind the more speculative approaches to Sufism and Islam of an earlier generation, and based on a comprehensive review of the most recent results of international scholarship in the field, including the author’s own original research work, this book provides a highly informative and objective historical overview of the main mystical movements that contributed significantly to the shaping of medieval Muslim society. Elegantly written, it is a must for all those concerned.
- Dr. Hermann Landolt, McGill University, Montreal and Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Concisely and efficiently, Ahmet Karamustafa presents us with a survey of the early development of Sufism that is at once analytic and informative, and fully attentive to social and intellectual as well as purely religious concerns. It supersedes all previous overviews of the formative period of Sufi thought and institutions.
- Hamid Algar, University of California, Berkeley

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