To what extent does the mystical path necessitate a withdrawal from the world' Is there a contradiction between the demands of contemplation and those of an active, responsible life? Does the mystical path have to be antagonistic to the intellect? Can Sufism play a role in the modernisation of Muslim society? These are some of the issues examined in this essay, which uses the case study of a Shi‘i Muslim community – the Ismailis of rural Iran – whose ideas and actions question, at the very least, the notion that Islamic mysticism is necessarily passive and other-worldly.