This text presents the complicated story of how a poetic tradition evolved in a number of different languages over a period of twelvehundred years. It involves the history of Sufism, the tensions between mysticism and orthodoxy in Islamic thought and the problem of interpreting a poetic language which is both sensual and sacred. The first three chapters consider initially the development of mystical poetry in Arabic from the 9th century, including the work of Hallaj, and then move on to discuss Persian poetry in a similar manner, with particular focus on the work of Rumi. The diffusion of Arabic and Persian literary influence in the many other languages spoken in the vast area affected by Islam is the subject of the final two chapters, which cover firstly folk poetry and, subsequently, poetry in praise of the Prophet.
Annemarie Schimmel was until recently Professor Indo-Muslim studies at Harvard University. Regarded as the foremost expert in the fields of Islamic mysticism and poetry, she has published extensively in both English and German, and has lectured at universities all over the world.