“Licked by Fire”: Sumnūn Ibn Ḥamza (d. 298/910-911)and Passionate Love in Third/Ninth-Century Ṣūfism

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This article presents a preliminary scholarly endeavour that aims at introducing Sumnūn Ibn Ḥamza (d. 298/910-911) to researchers working both on classical Arabic poetry and on Ṣūfism. He was a prominent personality whose passionate poetry and ecstatic statements revolved around the theology of love and left their imprint on early Ṣūfism; however, Sumnūn Ibn Ḥamza has not yet been the subject of comprehensive research. As a poet, his heritage has barely attracted any interest among scholars of classical Arabic poetry. The basic innovation of Sumnūn as a poet is his effort to turn poetry into a complementary part of his actual living reality. I argue that Ṣūfī Arabic poetry is not a mere literary work of belles-lettres, but rather a practical-reactive piece of writing designed to help the mystic progress on the Ṣūfī path in a similar way to samāʿ and dhikr. In light of this idea, I suggest using two methods to understand Sumnūn’s poetry. First, Sumnūn’s strophes should be dealt with as ad hoc love poems through which one can consider the specific themes, structures and metaphors. Second, his poetry should be seen as a snapshot of his life and Ṣūfī career. Therefore, the ideas embedded in his poetry need to be correlated with the few available texts through which his personality was understood by both his contemporaries and later Ṣūfīs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-242
Number of pages18
JournalAl-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Society for the Medieval Mediterranean.


  • Ghulām Khalīl
  • adversity (balāʾ)
  • al-Junayd
  • al-Sarrāj al-Ṭūsī
  • ecstatic states
  • love poetry
  • maḥabba
  • Ṣūfī poetics
  • “Ṣūfī erotic theology”

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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