Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sufi Influence on Kabbalah

Muslims and Jews further possess mystical customs -- Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah -- that are so close to one another that the presumption of mutual influence is inescapable.

Kabbalah; A medieval spiritual path is as central to Judaism as is Sufism to the practice of Islam. Like the Sufis and the Gnostics, Kabbalists emphasize seeking God through direct personal experience rather than through blind faith.What is virtually unknown, however, is how indebted is the Kabbalah to Sufism - and how the two systems are in fact intertwined at their roots. 

Starting with Abraham Maimonides, Sufism played a seminal role in the development of Jewish spirituality, strongly influencing the direction of the Kabbalah and, later on, the growth of Hasidism.

 As improbable as it sounds, the Sufi innovations in the Jewish religion begun by Abraham Maimonides were almost assuredly the single most important thing to happen to Jewish spirituality since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

There was a group of Jews in the 15th century the Middle East, while adhering completely to the laws of Judaism, began adapting and incorporating elements from within Sufism into their religious practices.Many Sufi teachers were pleased to disseminate their teachings among disciples outside the Muslim community. And in turn, many Jews were drawn to the philosophy, which did not necessarily put them in conflict with their Jewish heritage.

The medieval Kabbalah grew out of Jewish philosophers' study of Islamic mysticism, borrowing Sufi prayer methods, joyous forms of worship and even teaching stories from earlier Sufi antecedents. The means employed by the ecstatic Sufis and ecstatic Kabbalists are often identical: absorption in the repetition of the Names of God, accompanied by music and physical exertions.

Other practices included nightly vigils and fasting, the practice of solitude, solitary retreats and incubation, and “dikr of the heart”, that is, continuous remembrance of God. These last practices were nearly all transferred to Safedian Kabbalah which would rise from the dead a few centuries later Spain. 

These practices included, ablution of the hands and feet before prayer, prostration, kneeling, spreading of the hands (which can still be observed in Sephardic synagogues today), and weeping during synagogue prayers. Hasid practices still incorporate many sufic elements into them such as crying in the streets and attracting blame to one's self to starve the ego. 

In fact, to look for the provenance of this Jewish manner of ordering the world, a historian would have to plumb the teachings of philosophers with names such as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Masarra, al Ghazali and even the Prophet Muhammad, himself!

Yet the transmission of these spiritual doctrines and practices between them is still historically mysterious.

At certain points, there is evidence for the direct influence of Sufism on Jewish spirituality. 

Elsewhere, the path between the two is challenging to discern.Of course, the intermingling of these mystical streams has long since run underground, subterranean whispers from a time of mutual respect and mystical symbiosis between Islam and Judaism. But the stories of medieval Kabbalists, well known and unknown bear the mark of their work with the Sufis.

Al-Andalus;  where Jewish Kabbalah met Sufism and both were changed forever.
One place where this synthesis too place, in the most beautiful form, and two mysticism danced together and drew on each other was Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, developed an extraordinary culture of religious tolerance in medieval Spain that produced works of enduring spiritual and artistic genius.
Kabala its many practitioners knew…came alive from the grave …in medieval Spain. 

In another of his book, "Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah," Israeli writer Idel proposes the hypothesis that Jewish-Sufic tradition existed in the East, and likely also in Palestine. Kabala came to Spain through Jewish authors ,who developed a mystical trend under Sufic inspiration and was enriched by its encounter with Sufism. This contribution, ironically, was nurtured by Muslim mysticism.

This was the time when the Zohar, the seminal kabbalistic work, was compiled by Moses de Leon. It was also the period of Ibn ‘Arabi, the Sheik Al-Akbar, the greatest of Sufi teachers, while further north in Majorca the Christian philosopher, Ramon Llull, developed a form of wisdom that drew
from the deepest esoteric teachings of all three cultures

The central text of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, contains at least one reference to Sufi practice. It tells, with some measure of admiration, about the people of the east, the inhabitants of the mountains of light, who worship the pre-dawn light that shines before the appearance of the sun. They refer to this light as Allah of the shining pearls.

This expression is taken from the mystical terminology of the Sufis especially Sehrwardi, where the white pearl [al-durra-l-baida] refers to the highest emanation of divine intelligence through which power is channeled into our world: In the beginning, God created from his own precious soul a white pearl. Although the Zohar accuses those Easterners of directing their adoration to the light and not to the God who created it, it also acknowledges that it is based on an ancient tradition of authentic wisdom.

The earliest formulations of kabbalist ideology were Spanish Jewish mystics, often deeply impressed by Sufism and Sufi thought. 

1)  The first of these Jewish sufi Rabbi Bahya Ibn Paqudah in his Arabic treatise The Duties of the Heart:Bahya explicitly credited the tale to a Sufi source. Indeed, Bahya's central messages--that people waste too much time on the trivial details of daily life (which, for him, included a narrow focus on religious laws and rituals), and not enough on spiritual transformation --was very much in the Sufi spirit. ( for even a Muslim Sufi, it's a beautiful book to read)

2) Rabbi Isaac of Acre, active around the turn of the 13th century, provided a bridge between the eccentric, Sufi-inspired visions of earlier Jewish/Sufis and mainstream Kabbalistic thought. In his magnum opus  Sha'arei Zedek ,we find ideas borrowed from the Sufi concept of fana, or annihilation of the personal ego in that of God during divine union, expressing this mystical concept as a "moment of inversion, in which one's inner essence is seen as projected outside." Here,  he shows  his respect for his Muslim brethren by redacting almost verbatim a passage from Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi

3)The Israeli scholar Moshe Idel, in his 1988 volume "The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia," analyzed the biography of a Kabbalist born in Zaragoza in 1240, after it had been retaken by the Christians. Abulafia's methods for attaining ecstatic union with the divine had parallels in Sufism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and yoga. These included reciting the names of God in combination with "a complex technique involving such components as breathing, singing, and movements of the head, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the traditional commandments of Judaism," in Idel's words.Yet these procedures are widely known in Sufism. Abulafia's ecstatic Kabbalah -- a requirement for pronunciation of the divine names while breathing out, rather than taking in air -- and finds a parallel between this and Chishti Sufi discipline which is inspired by Hatha yoga. 

4) one of the most prominent Jewish mystics and theologian of the Judaism; Abraham Maimonides(1186-1237), who was arguably the most eminent exponent of the medieval Jewish-Sufi synthesis. Rabbi Abraham Maimonides' treatise Kifayat ul-'Abidin [the compendium for those who serve God] advocated an ideal of sublime piety based on a discipline of mystical communion.
According to Abraham, the Sufis were the bearers of a tradition which they copied from the early sages of Israel – this was through the legends of the Rabbis which circulated the Islamic world under the name of Isra’iliyyat. Thus, Abraham was in fact retrieving an ancient Jewish practice which was safeguarded by the Sufis of Islam.

You can read the detailed biographies of these Jewish sufi's at ; and 

The links between Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah deserve to be studied and celebrated, and efforts should be made to resolve the enigmatic history of their parallel and common pathways toward achieving the transformation of the ego.


  1. I have a great interest in ths topic. Should you come across more proof to establish the link between sufisim and early jewish kabbalah, can u pls email me at


  2. sufism is off shoot of kaballah,rather the other way around. nobody knows from where kabbalah started , rabbi shimon bar yochai is considered as central figure who was present in 1st century ce around 600 years before the islam came in this world

    1. It is a bit more complicated relationship. The Shim'on Bar Yokhay of the Zohar is an ingeniousely fabricated literary figure of the 13th century. But the his assumed creation, the Zohar, places far mor attention on Christianity than upon Islam, see studies by Yehudah Libes.

  3. Sufism is the off shoot of Kabbalah rather than other way around. Nobody knows the origin of Kabbalah, however rabbi shimon bar yochai is considered is considered a central figure present in 1st Century CE around 600 years before islam came in this world. i mean escatatic kabbalah when i consider sufism rather than practical kabbalah

  4. Historical kabbalist texts appear during 13th century Spain,as I mentioned in the blogpost.It is myopic to imply anything came out of something....your comment about sufism is istorically inaccurate and smells of prejudice.I do recommend more study.I never implied Kabblah originated from Sufism simply that both crossed paths and influenced eachother.

    1. It's all in the name.Kabbalah,Kaaba+Allah= Kabbalah. I am Muslim and I have the Zohar from Tishby and one that has the Ashlag commentary in a 15 vol set.

      It is hard to say where the traditions intersect but I have a hard time finding English translations of Sufi literature except Rumi and Ghazzali's Ihya which is 30+ volumes.

      But they definitely do intersect. I have a theory that proposes the reason Zionists hate Arabs is because the Sabbatean Messiah was forced to convert to Islam by the Turkish Sultan (?), that Zionists are closet Sabbateans who can't let go of a grudge.They waited generations but got revenge on the Czar.

  5. Great post! It is little a known fact that Moses Maimonides was forcibly converted to Islam before arriving in Cairo where he was able to resume his Torah practice. In addition, according to his ruling a Jew may theoretically worship in a Mosque, if no Synagogue is available, because Islam is not idolatry but Monotheism.

    Sufism is a beautiful tradition which as you have pointed out a number of Jewish sages admired. Today we have Shaik Kabir Helminski meeting with Rav Michael Laitman and showing respect for each other:

  6. Sufism is way older than Islam. In the Koran Mohammad mentions his admiration and respect for the Sufis of his day. Sufism can be understood as referring to middle eastern mysticism in general and would (under that definition) include Kabbalah as a tradition within it. In the 14th century there was a dedicated Kabbalistic Sufi path called Hurufism.

    1. That's interesting! any links or books for more details.

  7. What I believe all of these teachings were the same since the birth of Adam.. Even during the existence of the Jinns before Adam..Its just when later generations came.. The methods of teachings ("or Syariat/laws") are different which fits for the current generation at that particular time. What ever it is. The main purpose of the teachings is to have full submission towards the Almighty creator. That's why all the prophets are called "Muslim".. Not by the name of Islam as current definitions of today's society. but by the meaning of "Submission"to the Almighty.