Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel

Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel


Sufi characters -- saints, dervishes, wanderers -- occur regularly in modern Arabic literature. A select group of novelists interrogates Sufism as a system of thought and language. In the work of writers like Naguib Mahfouz, Gamal Al-Ghitany, Taher Ouettar, Ibrahim Al-Koni, Mahmud Al-Mas'adi and Tayeb Salih we see a strong intertextual relationship with the Sufi masters of the past, including Al-Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, Al-Niffari and Al-Suhrawardi.

This relationship interrogates the limits of the creative self, individuality, rationality and all the possibilities offered by literature. In this dialogue with the mystical heritage, these novelists seek a way of preserving a self under siege from the overwhelming forces of oppression and reaction that characterised the late 20th and early 21st centuries.


The following monograph aims at studying the deployment of Sufi themes and ideas in the Arabic novel during the second half of the twentieth century. the frequency with which Sufi characters - dervishes, wanderers, disciples, saints - and themes occur in the Arabic novel means that the authors studied here are illustrative rather than exhaustive. My argument will be that, during the second half of the twentieth century, a significant number of Arabic novelists used the language and thought of the Sufis as a way of tackling problems that were aesthetic first and foremost, as a way of interrogating the limits of the creating self and the creative act. Allusions and references to Sufism were not the only means to this end during the period under consideration, but the frequency with which such poets and mystics as Al-Ḥusayn b. Manṣūr Al-Ḥallāj (c. 857–922) and Muḥyi-l-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (1165–1240), or theologians like Abū-l-Qāsim Al-Qushayrī (986–1072), are mentioned in Arabic novels written in the second half of the twentieth century calls for a sustained critical meditation.

Although there is no lack of theories describing the ways in which art and literature are produced, one recent line of inquiry proves especially inspiring. Following Derrida, Derek Attridge proposes a lucid perspective on literature as the ‘creation of the other’, otherness being, ‘that which is, at a given moment, outside the horizon provided by the culture for thinking, understanding, imagining, feeling, perceiving’. Far from being a denial of authority or authorship, the idea that the literary work is the creation of the other

Indicates that the relation of the created work to conscious acts of creation is
not entirely one of effect to cause. the coming into being of the wholly new

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