The quest for transcendence

Authored by: Aaron W. Hughes

The Routledge Handbook of Muslim–Jewish Relations

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415645164
eBook ISBN: 9781315675787
Adobe ISBN: 9781317383215


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Both Judaism and Islam possess ancient and articulate forms of mystical expression. The focus of this chapter is less on the history of these two movements than on how they intersected with one another since the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Within this context, focus will be on three particular instances of mutual cross-pollination. The first is a form of intellectual mysticism that culminates in a divine vision and is customarily associated with medieval Neoplatonism, the intellectual worldview that both Muslim and Jewish intellectuals shared. The second is the use of Sufi techniques of meditation and spiritual training by Jewish thinkers – especially the descendants of the great Maimonides (d. 1204) – in places such as Cairo. Such thinkers were inspired by Islamic mysticism to create a more pietistic and mystical understanding of the Torah and the divine commandments. The third and final example will be the controversial figure of Shabbetai Zevi (d. 1676) and his followers, the Dönme. Shabbetai was influenced by both Jewish and Islamic mystical traditions in Salonika, claimed to be the Messiah, and subsequently converted to Islam.

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