Book Review: The Search for Happiness: A Journey through Sufi Thought and the Secrets of Language.

البحث عن السعادة: رحلة في الفكر الصوفي وأسرار اللغة‬ (Arabic Edition) the Search for Happiness

Dr. Reem Bassiouney, acclaimed Egyptian writer, novelist, and professor of Applied Linguistics at the American University in Cairo, recently published a new book: The Search for Happiness: A Journey through Sufi Thought and the Secrets of Language. Before this, Dr. Bassiouney was widely known for her novels, which range from historical fiction and romance to Sufism. She has been awarded many prestigious literary prizes.

In her new book, Dr. Bassiouney explores a universal human emotion, happiness, by focusing on how it is interpreted and understood by the Sufi, a religious sect in Islamic society. She methodically sums up historical, sociological, and anthropological perspectives, presenting the thought-provoking visions of Sufi scholars since the dawn of Islam. She also shows how Islamic thought has been greatly affected by these Sufi visions, along with other influences such as language, philosophy, theology, and the scientific endeavors of Sufis scholars.

Through an intensive analysis, Dr. Bassiouney presents a fresh view of Sufi ideology, as opposed to the more common and stereotypical views about this mystical religious group. She guides the reader on a journey into the founding ideas of Sufism, including theological philosophies and schools of thought. Using discourse analysis, Dr. Bassiouney explains how to attain happiness, not just sensually but also spiritually following the precepts and guidance of Sufi forefathers. She meticulously describes the different outlooks and principles of Sufi practice and thought compared to traditional Islam. Sufism has long been represented as a simplified form of Islam associated with tolerance, peace of mind, contentment, and other non-violent activities known in Sufism as states. 

In the Sufi context, the Arabic term used for happiness, Sa’dah, suggests a variety of phenomena encompassing different elemental desires and religious beliefs, as well as natural species emanating from the Great Creator. Furthermore, the Sufi belief is that happiness can only be attained when certain practices and beliefs are properly exercised in pursuit of self-purification. Without this, man would indulge in blind materialism. The author takes us deep into the Sufi guidelines for reaching happiness through intense self-discipline, devotion, and succumbing completely to God’s will.

The book shows how the Sufis reach a peak of “happiness” through patience, steadfast worship, and renouncing worldly materialism, methods described in the huge Sufi legacy of books, manuscripts, rituals, and quotes. These methods are best demonstrated in the Sufi biographies of great philosophers, such as Ibn Arabi with his controversial theory of pantheism. Other great scholars include Ghazali and the rest of the Sufi masters from the various schools and sects.

Language has a substantial role in making Sufi communications effectively convey their messages. Mostly, Sufi is a complicated language due to word usage and their multiple interpretations. On the one hand, Sufi is not perceived as an ordinary language. On the other hand, it has different meanings buried in metaphors and alternate interpretations. Such differences have evolved from the interpretations of Holy texts. Dr. Bassiouney used her rich linguistic tools to deconstruct the Sufi language.

Revisiting such a complicated and sensitive religious realm as Sufism is not an easy task. Dr. Bassiouney adeptly discusses how the metaphysics of the universe are transformed into Sufi concepts. 

Ultimately, Dr. Bassiouney gives us a compelling work of encyclopedic research presenting an account of the most unintelligible phenomenon in the history of Islamic religious thought.

Nassir al-Sayeid al-Nour *Sudanese critic, translator, and author.

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