Cyrus Ali Zargar

Aug 22, 2018

The Polished Mirror

Storytelling and the Pursuit of Virtue in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism

Oneworld 2017

purchase at Cyrus Ali Zargar, Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida, is the author of The Polished Mirror: Storytelling and the Pursuit of Virtue in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism (Oneworld, 2017). Zargar explores how the study of good character and the pursuit of perfection, or virtue ethics, was part of a broader discursive network that included Islamic jurisprudence, theology, philosophy and mysticism. Using the metaphor of the polished mirror and the tradition of storytelling shared by Islamic philosophers and Sufis, Zargar frames virtue ethics not as a fixed notion, but as part of a network that broadly engages ideal positive character traits. Each chapter of the book focuses on various philosophers or Sufis from the years 900 to 1300. Each of these figures variously framed ethics through sacred revelation (Qur’an) and prophetic tradition (hadith) all the while incorporating rationality or traditions of exemplary saintly figures. Despite their differing modes and methodologies, at times, their conclusions were similar. For instance, the philosophers, such as Avicenna and Ibn Tufayl, having gleaned from the ancient Greek traditions, amplified traits of friendship and love for the betterment of society. While for some Sufis, the quest for human perfection set them on a path that focused on the cultivation of internal qualities, as seen in the tales of Ansari, ‘Attar, and Rumi. The stories told here are provocative, humorous, and truly pedagogical. They help the reader transcend normative notions of ethics, especially as limited to Islamic jurisprudence and positive law, and highlights the complex ways in which philosophers and Sufis were intimately focused on being good and doing good as taught through storytelling. This book is a must for anyone working on Islamic philosophy and Sufism.
M. Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Queen’s University. Her research areas are on contemporary Sufism in North America and South Asia. She is the author of Sacred Spaces and Transnational Networks in American Sufism(Bloombsury Press, 2018) and a co-author of Contemporary Sufism: Piety, Politics, and Popular Culture (Routledge, 2017). More details about her research and scholarship may be found on here and here. She may be reached at

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M. Shobhana Xavier