The Essence of Reality
A Defense of Philosophical Sufism
The Essence of Reality was written over the course of just three days in 514/1120, by a scholar who was just twenty-four. The text, like its author ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, is remarkable for many reasons, not least of which that it is in all likelihood the earliest philosophical exposition of mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition. This important work would go on to exert significant influence on both classical Islamic philosophy and philosophical mysticism.
Written in a terse yet beautiful style, The Essence of Reality consists of one hundred brief chapters interspersed with Qurʾanic verses, prophetic sayings, Sufi maxims, and poetry. In conversation with the work of the philosophers Avicenna and al-Ghazālī, the book takes readers on a philosophical journey, with lucid expositions of questions including the problem of the eternity of the world; the nature of God’s essence and attributes; the concepts of “before” and “after”; and the soul’s relationship to the body. All these discussions are seamlessly tied into ʿAyn al-Quḍāt’s foundational argument―that mystical knowledge lies beyond the realm of the intellect.