Camille Adams Helminski is cofounder and codirector of the Threshold Society in Aptos, California, an educational foundation in the Mevlevi tradition based on the teachings of Rumi. She was the first woman to translate a substantial portion of the Qur'an into English in her book The Light of Dawn. Among her other translations are The Mevlevi Wird: The Prayers Recited Daily by Mevelvi Dervishes; Rumi Daylight and Jewels of Remembrance (with Kabir Helminski); and Awakening Dreams and Mevlevi Ayins (with Refik Algan).
Women of Sufism is a luminous anthology of writings and stories by those she calls the "hidden treasure" of this tradition over many centuries from members of the Prophet's family to the modern scholar Annemarie Schimmel. Helminski presents the innovative and inspiring ways these poets, saints, and scholars have expressed their devotion to God and bequeathed to others the fruits of their mystical teachings.
The author has been gathering these resources for over 18 years and the intensity and eclectic range of the material is impressive. She has a fine feel for colorful anecdotes and small details that contain hefty spiritual insights. The book has a devotional quality to it that testifies to her belief that the flow of internal prayer can be expressed in countless ways. Everything here is offered in response to the bounties given to us by the Beloved.
Helminski points out that the Qur'an stresses the equality of women and men in the eyes of God. The Prophet Muhammad had deep respect for the women around him, especially his wife Khadija, who helped him through many periods of struggle and difficulty. His daughter Fatima has been called the first Muslim mystic. A very touching story describes how Muhammad took his granddaughter Umayma into the mosque with him and put her on his shoulders during the ritual prayer. When the time for prostration arrived, he set her down beside him, and then when he rose again to standing witness, he lifted her back on his shoulders. What a wonderful example of the blending of love and devotion to the Most Generous Sustainer!
Women who practice the Way of Sufism, the mystical heart of Islam, have always acknowledged the importance of tears and of joy. They have much to teach us about the spiritual dimensions of emotional literacy. Helminski quotes Sha'wana, a Persian, who said, "The eyes which are prevented from beholding the Beloved, and yet are desirous of looking upon Him, cannot be fit for that Vision without weeping." She experienced closeness with the Friend, or God through the gift of tears. The spiritual practice of joy is equally commendable. Helminski quotes Fedha, who taught that "joy of heart should be happiness based on what we inwardly sense; therefore we should always strive to rejoice within our heart, till everyone around us also rejoices."
Sufi women have found countless outlets for their love of God. Helminski pays tribute to those who wove Sufi imagery into household and prayer carpets, and those who embroidered pillows and wall hangings with Qur'anic verses or sayings of the Prophet. She describes women who "often occupied their hands in prayer as well, edging scarves for prayer with delicate lace or beaded berries and flowers whose forms were full of meaning." The author revels in the role played by old women in Sufi legends; they are forceful and enlightened spiritual teachers whose prayers can stop armies or whose complaints can transform a ruler's mind.
Among the most interesting passages are the modern excerpts by Annemarie Schimmel on "My Soul Is a Woman"; Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan on "The Light of Womanhood"; Murshida Vera Corda on "Mother Love"; and Sayedeh Nahid Angha on "Principles of Sufism." Certainly the sayings and poems of the eighth century Sufi saint Rabi'a al-Adawaiyya stand out as well. One of our favorites is "I love God: I have no time left / In which to hate the devil."
Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure reveals the depth and breadth of spiritual riches within this mystical tradition.