A broad portrait of early Islamic mysticism is fairly well-know. However, there are only a few key figures that have been explored in great detail and their activities shape how we understand this early history of Sufism. Laury Silvers, Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto, makes a significant contribution to the early development of Sufism by focusing on an influential but lesser-known figure, Abu Bakr al-Wasiti (d. ca. 320 AH/932 CE), the “soaring minaret.” In her new book, A Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism (SUNY Press, 2010), she situates Wasiti and his contributions within the broader historical developments in the formative period of Sufism. By doing so she deepens our knowledge of the development and spread of Baghdadi Ahl al-Hadith culture East to Khurasan, the consolidation of Baghdadi Sufism and the internalization of Khurasani traditions during the formative period.
Silvers’ approach is refreshing and useful as she details the historical context as well as the intellectual history of early mystics. Wasiti was one of the first students of the influential teachers Junayd and Nuri, the first to travel east and promote the Baghdadi Sufi tradition in Khurasan, and one of the first mystics to compose a Quran commentary. We are also presented with a detailed analysis of his theological perspective on the divine reality. Silvers thoroughly outlines Wasiti’s understanding of God’s Essence, His Attributes, and His Acts in a readable and accessible manner. Overall, Silvers offers us a comprehensive and comprehensible presentation of the intellectual development of Islamic mysticism and metaphysics within the context of the historical development and spread of Sufism. This new book is highly enjoyable and should be useful for the lay reader and academic, the student and the teacher.