Today, we live in a world where Jews and Muslims are divided over the State of Israel. Many of us would find it hard to believe there was ever a time that followers of the two faiths ever got along and worked together. But that is exactly the case. An example would be the relationship between Jewish and Sufi mystics, who shared ideas that helped give birth to Islamic mysticism and brought renewal to the Jewish faith. Let’s look at the Jewish contribution to Sufi mystical belief.
First, it should be pointed out that the Prophet Muhammad himself had considerable contact with Jews and was familiar with their faith. He saw himself as the latest in the line of prophets that extended back to ancient Israel.
Also, from the beginning of Islam, there were many Jews who converted to the new faith and brought with them stories of their ancestors known as Isra’il’iyat. These stories told of the Banu Isra’il, or pious men of ancient Israel.
Hasan al-Basri (died 728 AD) is considered the Patriarch of Muslim Mysticism and introduced many of these Isr’il’iyat legends into Muslim thought. They became representative of Islamic mystical ideas of piety. He also credited King David as originating many Sufi practices including the woolen clothing they were known for.
Malik Ibn Dinar is an important force in the formation of Sufism and quoted liberally from a variety of Jewish publications. He specifically borrowed ideas from the “Hasidim,” or pious ones of the Talmud.
Ibn Said, an eleventh century Sufi mystic from Toledo, Spain said the Jewish people had a special understanding of the Prophets and the Book of Genesis…”This people is the house of prophecy and the source of the prophetic message of mankind and the majority of the prophets…the blessings and peace of Allah be upon them.”
Ibn Arabi of the 13th Century borrowed mystical concepts of humanity’s relationship to God from the “Guide For The Perplexed” by Moses Maimonides. Even before the death of its author, Jewish scholars were teaching the Guide For The Perplexed to Muslim students in their madrassas!
Abu Ali Ibn Hud of Damascas, a 13th Century Sufi, spent his time teaching the Guide For The Perplexed to students of all religious backgrounds. He is said to have secretly worn a yamulke beneath his turban and when asked by a spiritual seeker for instruction replied “Upon which road: the Mosaic, or the Muslim?”
This sharing of spiritual concepts and knowledge between Jewish and Sufi mystics gives me hope that there can be a better future between our two peoples. This is but one example of where coexistence and a sharing for our mutual benefit has lead to the growth of both peoples and spiritual traditions. In this case, we explored Jewish contributions to Islamic Sufism. Next, we’ll take a look at how Sufism brought renewal to Judaism.
Samuel Griswold is the author of the new historical thriller, True Identity, about an Israeli Mossad agent that loses his memory while working undercover in Iraqi Kurdistan. Available now on Amazon.com.