Sufi Narratives of Intimacy

Ibn 'Arabī, Gender, and Sexuality

By Sa'diyya Shaikh

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 1 figure, appends., notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in Southern Africa or South Asia

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1890-6
    Published: August 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6986-4
    Published: March 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8078-9
    Published: March 2012

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

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Awards & distinctions

2015 University of Cape Town Book Award

Thirteenth-century Sufi poet, mystic, and legal scholar Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi gave deep and sustained attention to gender as integral to questions of human existence and moral personhood. Reading his works through a critical feminist lens, Sa'diyya Shaikh opens fertile spaces in which new and creative encounters with gender justice in Islam can take place. Grounding her work in Islamic epistemology, Shaikh attends to the ways in which Sufi metaphysics and theology might allow for fundamental shifts in Islamic gender ethics and legal formulations, addressing wide-ranging contemporary challenges including questions of women's rights in marriage and divorce, the politics of veiling, and women's leadership of ritual prayer.

Shaikh deftly deconstructs traditional binaries between the spiritual and the political, private conceptions of spiritual development and public notions of social justice, and the realms of inner refinement and those of communal virtue. Drawing on the treasured works of Sufism, Shaikh raises a number of critical questions about the nature of selfhood, subjectivity, spirituality, and society to contribute richly to the prospects of Islamic feminism as well as feminist ethics more broadly.

About the Author

Sa'diyya Shaikh is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Cape Town.
For more information about Sa'diyya Shaikh, visit the Author Page.


“Elegant in its prose and complex in its arguments, this book is a very significant, thoughtful contribution to an emerging tradition of engaged and self-reflective Muslim scholarship on pre-modern texts in conversation with questions, approaches, and concerns of contemporary Muslim societies. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers.”--Choice

"[A] pioneering study. . . [that] begins to open new vistas in the study of this complex and difficult author."--Times Literary Supplement

"Innovative and unique. . . A groundbreaking feminist study. . . rich, original, and illuminating."--Religion and Gender

"The most theoretically informed and conceptually innovative approach to this fascinating material to date."--Journal of Sufi Studies

“Through an attentive reading of references to women and gender across Ibn ‘Arabi’s corpus, Shaikh uses the monumental Sufi thinker’s work to argue for a comprehensive rethinking of the gendered theological anthropology that is foundational to various systems of Muslim ethics.”--Journal of Religious Ethics

“Shaikh’s groundbreaking Sufi Narratives of Intimacy not only makes a significant contribution to the growing body of scholarship on issues of gender and Islam, but also serves as an eloquent and accessible introduction to the life and work of Muhyi al-Din ibn Arabi, unquestionably one of the most important voices in the Islamic tradition.”--American Journal of Islamic Sciences

Multimedia & Links

Listen: Author interview with the New Books Network's Kristian Petersen for the New Books in Islamic Studies podcast series.