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Dogs did not enjoy a particularly positive reputation in the medieval Islamic culture and few Muslims devoted much time and energy to discussing them in any detail. The primary exceptions to this situation are legal treatises that deal with, among a great many topics, the ritual status of dogs, zoological treatises that treat the animal kingdom more broadly, and a handful of idiosyncratic texts that discuss dogs explicitly. The limits of this small textual field are compounded by the supposedly widespread prohibition on pictorial representations of living beings rooted in this ḥadīth. While this prohibition is not so true for the Persianate and Turkic manuscript traditions, it is the case that images of animals and humans in medieval Arabic manuscripts are more rare. This is not to say that there are no pictures of dogs in Arabic manuscripts, but these are few and far between, typically limited to certain literary and zoological treatises. In general, then, representations of dogs from the medieval Arabophone world appear primarily in texts. One textual field that contains quite a large number of references to dogs is that of Sufi literature. Sufis, the so-called “mystics of Islam,” were particularly fond of using dogs in their texts to elucidate a variety of themes, doctrines, and praiseworthy characteristics. Specifically, they rhetorically exploited the ritual and social ambiguity of dogs in the Islamicate world to illustrate and amplify key Sufi concepts. This short essay offers a brief overview of the sources of this ambiguity in the Islamic tradition and discusses several examples of dog narratives from medieval Egyptian Sufi literature.

In: Our Dogs, Our Selves
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Abstract

Dogs did not enjoy a particularly positive reputation in the medieval Islamic culture and few Muslims devoted much time and energy to discussing them in any detail. The primary exceptions to this situation are legal treatises that deal with, among a great many topics, the ritual status of dogs, zoological treatises that treat the animal kingdom more broadly, and a handful of idiosyncratic texts that discuss dogs explicitly. The limits of this small textual field are compounded by the supposedly widespread prohibition on pictorial representations of living beings rooted in this ḥadīth. While this prohibition is not so true for the Persianate and Turkic manuscript traditions, it is the case that images of animals and humans in medieval Arabic manuscripts are more rare. This is not to say that there are no pictures of dogs in Arabic manuscripts, but these are few and far between, typically limited to certain literary and zoological treatises. In general, then, representations of dogs from the medieval Arabophone world appear primarily in texts. One textual field that contains quite a large number of references to dogs is that of Sufi literature. Sufis, the so-called “mystics of Islam,” were particularly fond of using dogs in their texts to elucidate a variety of themes, doctrines, and praiseworthy characteristics. Specifically, they rhetorically exploited the ritual and social ambiguity of dogs in the Islamicate world to illustrate and amplify key Sufi concepts. This short essay offers a brief overview of the sources of this ambiguity in the Islamic tradition and discusses several examples of dog narratives from medieval Egyptian Sufi literature.

In: Our Dogs, Our Selves
In: Ethics and Spirituality in Islam
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In this article, I take the theme of other people’s scriptures in a slightly different direction by highlighting a case in which an instance of scriptural engagement is characterized by a notable absence rather than explicit presence. I examine the work of David ben Joshua Maimonides, a medieval Jewish author who engaged with and quoted from Muslim Sufi texts. However, in the process of writing David systematically removed references to the Qurʾān and obscured the identity of his Sufi interlocutors, a process which scholars often describe as “judaization.” However, this descriptive use of judaization often functions to obscure the complicated negotiations between an author and his or her sources. In this case, I pose judaization as an analytical problem. I argue that David left his knowing readers clues in the text that hint at the Sufi provenance of many of his ideas. The removal of qurʾānic material and the obfuscation of his Sufi sources were actually part of a clear and deliberate rhetorical strategy meant both to subvert his Sufi texts and to bolster his claims about the relationship between Sufism, biblical Judaism, and the revivification of prophecy among the Jews.

In: Numen
In: Sufi Institutions
In: Sufi Institutions
In: Saintly Spheres and Islamic Landscapes
In: Journal of Sufi Studies
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Abstract

The Spanish kabbalist Abraham Abulafia (d. 1291) wrote three Hebrew commentaries on the Guide for the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (d. 1204). Abulafia’s third and final commentary, Sitrey Torah (The Mysteries of the Torah), is an uncovering and extended treatment of 36 “secrets” that he believed to be hidden within the text of the Guide. In this article I investigate the specificities of Abulafia’s mystical hermeneutic as he applies it to the Guide and how this mystical system is made to fit with Maimonides’ neoplatonic philosophy. I argue that Abulafia’s commentary is not actually a mystical text in and of itself. Rather, he intends the mystical text to be generated within the mind of the reader, who is meant to join experientially the text of the Guide with Abulafia’s commentary. The result is a paradoxical disclosure of secrets in which the linguistic mysteries must be disclosed discursively before they can become experiential mysteries to be disclosed mystically. Such a conception might offer scholars a new way of thinking about what constitutes a mystical text as well as problematizing the ways in which we categorize and analyze the “mystical.”

In: Numen