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Jews and Judaism in Classical Sufi Literature

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This paper addresses a paradox at the heart of the classical Sufi tradition. On the one hand, key Sufi writers express a radical universalism or ‘transconfessionalism’ in their mystical verse. This has led a variety of modern scholars to identify Sufism as an ecumenical and non-dogmatic tradition. On the other hand, in other writings the selfsame authors conduct a vigorous literary polemic and celebrate missionary efforts against unbelievers of all stripes, yet with a notable emphasis on Jewish unbelievers. This article examines the image of Jews and Judaism in key Sufi texts in both Arabic and Persian between the tenth and thirteenth centuries through a variety of motifs, including the construction of the Jew as embodiment of the demonic and as archetypal unbeliever. These images become critical to the literary function of the Jew in classical Sufi texts with little connection to their historical role in Near Eastern societies.

Affiliations: 1: New York UniversityUSA


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