The Polished Mirror

Pages: 352
Subject: Religion, Literature
Imprint: Oneworld Academic

The Polished Mirror

Storytelling and the Pursuit of Virtue in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism

Cyrus Ali Zargar

A rich, engaging and approachable work on understanding Islamic virtue ethics through philosophical, mystical and literary texts
9781786072016 (2 Nov 2017)
RRP £20.00 / US$30.00

The Book

Islamic philosophy and Sufism evolved as distinct yet interweaving strands of Islamic thought and practice. Despite differences, they have shared a concern with the perfection of the soul through the development of character. In The Polished Mirror, Cyrus Ali Zargar studies the ways in which, through teaching and storytelling, pre-modern Muslims lived, negotiated, and cultivated virtues. Examining the writings of philosophers, ascetics, poets, and saints, he locates virtue ethics within a dynamic moral tradition.

Innovative, engaging, and approachable, this work - the first in the English language to explore Islamic ethics in the fascinating context of narrative - will be a valuable resource for both students and scholars.

Additional Information

Subject Religion, Literature
Pages 352
Imprint Oneworld Academic


About the Author

Cyrus Ali Zargar is Associate Professor of Religion at Augustana College, in Rock Island, Illinois, where his primary research interest is the literature of medieval Sufism in Arabic and Persian.


The Polished Mirror is the perfect title for Zargar's erudite and eloquent book, for it reflects with superb analytical clarity the views of a wide range of thinkers on the subject of ethics. Justifiably going beyond writings that explicitly deal with the topic, he draws together various strands of Islamic tradition, clarifying both the links and similarities that join them and the distinctions that separate them. A major contribution to Islamic studies, from which both established scholars and those new to the field stand to gain significantly.'

- Hamid Algar, Professor Emeritus of Persian and Islamic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

‘Students of Islamic ethics have long felt the need for a more sustained and unified insight into the rich history of reflection on the virtues in the Islamic world. Ambitious in scope yet accessible throughout, this book explores the distinctive contributions of a number of key figures working across both sides of the permeable boundary between philosophy and Sufism. Anyone with an interest in how thinkers in the medieval Islamic world engaged with the "science of the states of the heart” - in its many permutations - will find a valuable companion in Cyrus Ali Zargar's book.'

- Sophia Vasalou, Fellow in Philosophical Theology, University of Birmingham

‘Comprehensive in its scope, and drawing on intellectual luminaries ranging from Muḥāsibī to Avicenna, Zargar's erudite study offers the first major analysis of virtue ethics in classical Islam. It will set the stage for future research in the field.'

- Atif Khalil, Associate Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge, and author of Repentance and the Return to God: Tawba in Early Sufism

‘This fine study, supported by careful analysis of primary texts, illustrates the congruence of Islamic philosophy and Sufism on the issue of achieving self-perfection, to which human beings are called both by prophetic wisdom and by rational acumen.' 

- William C. Chittick, Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies, Stony Brook University

‘Far too much of previous scholarship on Muslim ethics has obsessed over the question of its indebtedness to Greek (and Persian) antecedents. Cyrus Zargar's The Polished Mirror is a brilliant way of reframing the conversation about ethics in the spiritual and intellectual cosmos of Islamic thought. Zargar masterfully navigates the worlds of ethics, philosophy, mysticism, narrative, and poetry to offer us a rich tapestry. The result is far more than merely a groundbreaking way of rethinking ethics in Islam. It is a groundbreaking study of the interconnectedness of the Islamic spiritual, ethical, and intellectual universes through studying Ibn Sina, Rumi, Brethren of Purity, Ghazali, Suhrawardi, and others. Enthusiastically recommended for all students of Islamic studies, ethics, and mysticism.'

- Omid Safi, Director, Duke Islamic Studies Center

The Polished Mirror is an incredible, even paradigm-shifting work in Islamic Studies.'

- Mohammed Rustom, associate professor of Islamic studies, Carleton University, and author of Inrushes of the Spirit: The Mystical Theology of ʿAyn al-Quḍāt

Table of Contents



Part One Islamic Philosophy

Chapter One: The Humors (al-akhlāṭ) and Character Traits (al-akhlāq) According to the Brethren of Purity

Chapter Two: Virtue Ethics in Avicenna's Philosophical Allegories

Chapter Three: The Virtues, from Philosophy to Scripture: Refining Character Traits in Miskawayh and Ghazālī

Chapter Four: Reason, Revelation, and Discovering the Virtuous in Ibn Ṭufayl's Literary Thought Experiment

Chapter Five: From Humors to Pure Light: Knowledge and Virtue in the Allegories of Suhrawardī


Part Two Sufism

Chapter Six: The Soul's Constant Returning: Repentance (Tawba) in the Sufi Legacy of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq

Chapter Seven: Distancing Oneself from the Worldly: Renunciation (Zuhd) According to al-Muḥāsibī and al-Sarrāj

Chapter Eight: Self-Awareness that Leads to Self-Loss: Futuwwa as a Compound Virtue in the Legacy of Anṣārī

Chapter Nine: The Completion of Ethics: Self-Annihilation (Fanāʾ) Through the Lens of ʿAṭṭār

Chapter Ten: Virtue in the Narrative Poetry of Rūmī


Conclusion: A Brief Case for Relevance