University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group > Reading Across Confessional Lines: Jewish Readership of Muslim Sufi Poetry in Cairo, 1171-1250

Reading Across Confessional Lines: Jewish Readership of Muslim Sufi Poetry in Cairo, 1171-1250

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Arthur Dudney.

Significant research has been done on the ideological dimension of the Christian side of the Crusades in the Holy Land (the first through ninth Crusades, 1095-1291). In calling for the First Crusade, Urban II is reported to have called for the extermination of the non-Christian unbelievers as a means to ameliorate the internecine conflicts of twelfth-century Europe, offered remission of sins to Crusaders, and, presumably, hoped to shore up the authority of the papacy. Institutions resulting from the Crusades, such as the Knights Templar, reshaped the social landscape of Europe.

On the Islamic side, the advent of Saladin’s Ayyubid dynasty, which gained prominence after his reconquest of Jerusalem in 1187, is said to have marked a resurgence of a traditionalist militant Sunnism, marked, for example, by an increase in the Virtues of Jerusalem (Faḍāʾil al-Quds) hadith collections. Saladin also drew to a large extent on mystical Sufi figures for ideological support.

My talk examines an unpublished document that sheds light on a Sufi favoured by Saladin, the Egyptian poet Ibn al-Kīzānī (d. 1166). Several as-yet unpublished texts of Ibn al-Kīzānī are preserved in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic transcribed into Hebrew) in Cambridge’s undated Geniza document T-S AS 161 .50. Elsewhere, Ibn al-Kīzānī is reported to have held heterodox opinions, and to have had a ‘sect’ of lower-class followers in Egypt and the Levant. In presenting T-S AS 161 .50 in translation, I will discuss how this document sheds light on and complicates the image of resurgent Sunnism associated with Saladin. T-S AS 161 .50 unequivocally demonstrates that Ibn al-Kīzānī possessed a readership among Egypt’s Jewish community, and suggests that Saladin (a native speaker of Kurdish), drew on an eclectic mix of Arabic cultural elements in order to construct an image of himself as a legitimate Islamic leader. These elements were not limited to the works of traditional and ‘orthodox’ Islamic scholarship, as represented in the Virtues of Jerusalem texts, but included socially peripheral figures such as the charismatic Ibn al-Kīzānī, whose readership was inter-confessional and whose texts circulated outside of the scholarly milieu that produced most of the manuscripts shaping our view of the period.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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