In Knowledge before Action, Amina M. Steinfels examines medieval Sufism and its place in Islamic society by telling the story of the life and career of Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, a revered figure in Pakistan. Considered one of the most important Sufi masters of South Asia, Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, more popularly referred to as Makhdum-i Jahaniyan, is known for combining spirituality and scholarship in a formative period for Sufism. Steinfels assembles the details of Bukhari's life from records of his teachings, dynastic chronicles, and correspondence to discover how he achieved his status and laid the groundwork for a devotional cult that has lasted seven centuries. Steinfels also examines Bukhari's theories of the relationship between scholar and mystic. Bukhari's teachings provide windows into the underlying concerns and themes of medieval Sufism.
Knowledge before Action describes Bukhari's training as a scholar and a Sufi, his exercise of religious authority over his disciples, and his theories of the relationships between saint and shaykh. Knowledge before Action discusses ritual and contemplative practices, the economic bases of Sufi institutions, and the interconnectedness between Sufi masters, the 'ulama, and the political authorities by telling the story of Bukhari.