The Essence of Reality

The Essence of Reality

A Defense of Philosophical Sufism

350 Pages

April 2022

ISBN: 9781479816590

PDF Download Free Arabic PDF




ʿAyn al-Quḍāt (d. 525/1131) was a philosopher, mystic, and judge who was born in the western Iranian city of Hamadān. He was the student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the famous Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111). A maverick figure, he was put to death by the Seljuqs at the age of thirty-four, ostensibly on charges of heresy.

Mohammed Rustom is Professor of Islamic Studies at Carleton University. An internationally recognized scholar whose works have been translated into over ten languages, he specializes in Sufism, Islamic philosophy, and Qurʾanic exegesis. He is author of The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mullā Ṣadrā and Inrushes of the Heart: The Sufi Philosophy of ʿAyn al-Quḍāt; co-editor of The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary; and translator of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s Condemnation of Pride and Self-Admiration.

A groundbreaking exposition of Islamic mysticism

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.

A bilingual Arabic-English edition.


  • "Rustom’s new book is a masterful translation, superb critical edition and comprehensive guide to the thought of one of the most prominent Muslim thinkers."

    Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations

  • "The Essence of Reality is a clear and fluent translation that successfully transfers the literary power of the original text into English."


  • "[Rustom’s] translation strikes a delicate balance between faithfulness to the Arabic original and readability for a wide audience… A historical classic brought back to life by Rustom’s able skills as translator and commentator."

    Marginalia (Los Angeles Review of Books)

  • "Like many readers of Arabic Sufi writings, I have always felt that translations of Sufi texts often miss the subtle beauty of the original Arabic. […] Reading The Essence of Reality, I now have a new standard of judgment. […] There is no doubt that The Essence of Reality represents a major feat in the field of Sufi studies."

    Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies