Sir Richard Burton – The Sufi

Idries Shah who was recognised as a leading writer and exponent of Sufism, devoted a chapter of his important work on the Sufi tradition, The Sufis, to The Kasidah and Sir Richard Burton. The chapter is entitled ‘The Higher Law’ and describes the poem as ‘one of the most interesting productions of Western Sufi literature’ and identifies Burton as a Sufi.

Shah notes Burton’s acquaintance with Omar Khayyam before Edward Fitzgerald produced his version of The Rubaiyat and gives the following summary of Burton’s achievement:

What Burton has done has been to comment in verse upon Western methods of thought, modern theories and philosophies, from the Sufi point of view. More, he has (like Khayyam) taken it upon himself to ask questions to which he does not supply fixed answers. This is the technique of the teaching Sufi who poses questions and waits to see whether his hearers will seek the explanations or not. The Sufi message had something for Western thinkers, and was even recognized as the essence of Burton’s life. Burton’s Life was described thus by one enthusiast: “to me its great raison d’etre is that ‘Tinkling of the Camel Bell’. It is hard to judge of a thing in the first heat of admiration  but it seems to me worthy to stand level with the greatest poems of the Earth and in front of most”. (W.D Scull)