The Reciprocal Influence Between Sufis And Kabbalists – Analysis


Religions and the conception of God

Religions do not have the same conception of God. The Christian triune God is not the God of the Qur’ân or the Torah, and the personal God of the three monotheistic religions is not Brahman, the impersonal Absolute of Hinduism, who coexists with thousands of gods from whom he emanates; while Buddhism is a religion without God, although it is rich in deities. (1)

These different perceptions of the divine and the religious traditions they have created have been conditioned by the history, culture, and language of the countries where they were born. But beyond these differences, all religions worship the same divine reality, but each in its own way. And there is a kinship between the paths of the Neoplatonist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Taoist, and Buddhist mystics. (2)

Representing the highest form of spirituality, mysticism is a personal quest for the hidden God who resides in the heart of each person through the practice of an asceticism aimed at detaching oneself from the world. For Plotinus (205-270 AD), a Neoplatonic mystical philosopher, man belongs to the illusory matter through his body but he is a fragment of the supreme intellect and the creative logos through his soul. Salvation for him can result only from the recognition of his true nature which is accessible only if one manages to rise above the sensitive condition until the ecstasy, meeting with the divine, source of all happiness towards which the soul melts after being purified. “I try to make go up the divine which is in us to the divine which is in the universe“, were his last words.

For the philosophical school of Vedanta, the self (atman) is of the same nature as Brahman, the ultimate undifferentiated reality. It advocates the theory of absolute oneness and the equivalence of all religions. Its greatest master, Ramakrishna, declared that he had reached the Absolute through each of the great mystical traditions, thus indicating that for him, all paths lead to the same unutterable reality. One of his paths is Zen Buddhism, which leads to enlightenment through sitting meditation in the Buddha posture. Taoism is a religious and mystical philosophical doctrine that conceives the Tao as a cosmological principle, and a suprasensible and ineffable absolute that can be accessed through techniques of breath control and concentration, the first step in a long process that includes increasingly demanding asceticism. (3)

In Judaism, the Kabbalah is an esoteric and mystical trend that aims to decipher the book of the creation of the world by the unknowable God. In the West, Christians were slower to develop a mystical tradition compared to the Byzantines and Muslims. Master Eckhart (1260- 1328) developed a metaphysical mysticism advocating a detachment from everything that is not God. For him, it is a question of allowing man to become by grace what God is by nature. The mystical and contemplative part of religion is greater in Orthodoxy than in Catholicism. Orthodox mysticism traces its origins in the experience of the Desert Fathers of the purification of the soul through the prayer of the heart allowing communion with God in solitude. A great figure of monastic spirituality, Saint John Climacus (579-649) formulates the doctrine of hesychasm: perpetual prayer of the soul devoted to contemplation, far from the world, in silence. From there, one can reach perfect indifference to the things of the earth, it is the ultimate degree before the union with God. (4)

Muslim mysticism, Sufism, is influenced by Christian monasticism, Persian enlightenment, Hindu ecstasy, and Jewish Kabbalah. “The spiritual state of baqâ’ (pure “subsistence” out of all form), to which Sufi contemplatives aspire, is the same as the state of moskha, the deliverance of which Hindu doctrines speak, as the extinction (al-fanâ) of individuality, which precedes “subsistence” is analogous to nirvana. Just as in Buddhism one rises by degrees to the highest points of the annihilation of individuality by following a path consisting of eight parts, the “noble path”, so Sufism also has its path, its tarîqa, with degrees of perfection. It aims to personally relive the spiritual truth of the Prophet’s message through the mystical path (tarîqa), beyond the literal data of the revelation (sharia). It represents the esoteric aspect of Islam, which is distinguished from exoteric Islam in the same way that the direct contemplation of spiritual – or divine – realities is distinguished from the observance of laws. Love is central to the teachings of Sufi masters, who consider the spiritual station associated with it to be one of the most distinguished.

Another element common to all Sufis is dhikr/zikr or “invocation,” which consists of remembering God, particularly by repeating his name in a rhythmic manner or in traditional formulas from the Qur’ân, such as the shahâda. Dhikr/zikr is considered a soul-cleansing practice, as the name of Allah is deemed to have a kind of theurgic value that is mystically ardent, Ibn Arabi (5) developed a metaphysical doctrine based on the absolute uniqueness of being “wahdat al-wujud” which is in line with Neoplatonic philosophical monism and the Hindu doctrine of non-duality between the Whole, the Brahman, and the individual expressed in the mantra “tat vam asi” (“this is you”).

Judaism and Islam: two parallel religions and cultures

Judaism and Islam have in common their attachment to the Law as an organizing framework, having recourse to canonical textual sources and to the interpretation of these texts as a foundation for practice. Among the commonalities is the existence of a special day of the week devoted to prayer, a highly spiritual and at the same time a highly codified rite, which emphasizes the proclamation of the Divine Oneness and the glorification of God. Fasting as a total abstention from food is a common requirement in Judaism and Islam. Of course, there are also differences: they turn to different places to pray, for example. It is also necessary to insist on the essential place of charity in Jewish and Muslim life. (6)

On the point of similarity between Islam and Judaism, David Steinberg writes: (7)

‘’As Islam developed it became, by far, the major religion closest to Judaism.  The most obvious common feature is the statement of the absolute unity of God which Muslims repeat five times each day, and Jews at least twice.  Judaism and Islam are unique in having systems of religious law based on oral tradition which can over-ride the written laws and which does not distinguish between holy and secular spheres.  In each, similar logical systems are used for deriving religious law, and in both cases a similar responsa literature developed in Iraq during the same period.  Both Judaism and Islam consider the study the study of religious law to be a form of worship and an end in itself, and both picture God as studying in heaven.  According to the Encyclopedia Judaica: ‘’The fundamental similarity of Judaism and Islam, both based on religious laws in principles, methods, and legislation, caused parallel developments in later centuries. ‘’ Probably the only major Islamic belief that Judaism would find unpalatable would be the recognition of Muhammad as the last and greatest of the prophets.’’

A specific Jewish culture has developed as a result of its integration in Muslim countries. (8) The synagogue is a good example of the originality and closeness of the Islamic civilization. It has thus gone from being a strictly interior and hidden place of worship, according to tradition, to an Israelite temple symbol of emancipation and integration into modern society. The synagogue of Toledo, called Santa Maria, for example, offers a real kinship with Almohad architecture, sumptuous inside and austere outside. Also, the Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain (711-1492), in Cordoba in the tenth century, seems to be the combined product of classical Arabic poetry and the language of the Bible for Masha Itzhaki. Andalusian music is another example, (9) as is Judeo-Persian literature. (10)

Muslim and Jewish philosophers played an essential and even crucial role in the transmission of its philosophy and knowledge to the Christian West. Their golden age in the Middle Ages is marked by Avicenna (980-1037), Averroes (1126-1198, commentator of Aristotle), or Maimonides (1138-1204). (11)

Several examples of mutual influences are finally developed: Karaites and Mu’tazilism, the reception of Greco-Arabic sciences in Hebrew from the 12th to the 15th century, or the relations between Shiism and Judaism.

Judaism and Islam have in common their attachment to the Law as a framework of the organization, having recourse to canonical textual sources and to the interpretation of these texts as a foundation of practice. Among the commonalities is the existence of a special day of the week devoted to prayer, a highly spiritual and at the same time highly codified rite, which emphasizes the proclamation of the Divine Oneness and the glorification of God. Fasting as a total abstention from food is a requirement common to Judaism and Islam. The essential place of charity in Jewish and Muslim life must also be emphasized. (12)

The Bible precedes the Qur’ân. Thus, any deviation from the earlier scriptures it refers to must be read as an intentional modification. The “We have sent down to you the reminder [the Qur’ân] that you may make clear to men what was sent down to them [the earlier scriptures] – perhaps they will reflect” (16:44):

‘’We raised the Messengers earlier with Clear Signs and Divine Books, and We have now sent down this Reminder upon you that you may elucidate to people the teaching that has been sent down for them, and that the people may themselves reflect.’’


The first links between Jews and Muslims from the 5th Sura onwards, which excludes any principled rejection of Judaism, since it recognizes the authenticity of the Jewish covenant and authorizes the conviviality of Muslims with the Jews.

Many parallels can be drawn between Hebrew and Arabic, two Semitic languages. For example, the consonant system in both languages is comparable and they share a considerable amount of common vocabulary. In view of their grammatical and lexical similarity, it is not surprising that phenomena of mutual linguistic contact and influence existed from the earliest days of classical Islam.  (13)

We also note the influence of Arabic linguistics on Hebrew linguistics, especially in the field of syntax.  Judeo-Arabic was spoken from the first centuries of our era, well before the advent of Islam. Moreover, the Jews of Iran spoke Judeo-Persian from the 8th to the 20th century. Finally, the linguistic concept of Semitism, developed by linguists, has been exploited by racist ideologies.

Mystical currents have always accompanied religions. Without recourse to mystics many of them would have, over the course of history, been transformed into inert rituals, if not dissolved. When the established religions (the three monotheisms) found themselves facing what they perceived as repeated failures of mystics emerged within them who sought to take “direct instructions from the source” and have the Way confirmed. Their mysticism is thus for religion a form of emergency procedure in times of crisis and a form of revitalization. (14)

The ways of operating will be different depending on whether the mystic is Jewish, Christian or Muslim because the strategies of these three monotheisms are different. But because the earthly torment of these three religions is identical – to pursue a world of justice and peace here below, for all – their mystics have been observed, copied, contradicted or constructed from reciprocal borrowings, without abandoning the objective that gave birth to them, to save their own Revelation. (15)

The convergence of Sufism and Kabbalism

The mystical currents naturally show profound divergences due to differences in religious references. Both Judaism and Islam give a central place to the Book sent by God. It is through a book (Torah, Qur’ân), that God makes himself known. The book – and the language that carries it – become not only a means of knowledge but also effective vectors of the divine force, and paths of encounter with the Most High. 

Thus, Jewish Kabbalah presents itself as a mysticism of the Word. The great works of the Kabbalah – the Sefer Yetsira or the Zohar, the teachings of Isaac Luria (16th century) – bear witness to this: the world – and therefore man – has the structure and even the consistency of a word. In Islam, similar currents were born; they culminated in the monumental work of Ibn al-‘Arabî (1165-1240), (16) based on the idea of a cosmic outpouring of the word / divine breath creating the totality of the worlds. But here again, if there is a rapprochement, there is no identity: the collective role of the Jewish people as the vector of the divine Word has no equivalent in Sufism. Islam is a religion of individual salvation. Therefore, the concern for cosmic redemption – which appears in Jewish mysticism as in Christian spirituality – is not expressed.

Sufism and Kabbalism are two mystical traditions that emerged in different cultural contexts. Sufism is a mystical tradition in Islam that focuses on the search for spiritual union with God. Kabbalism, on the other hand, is a mystical tradition of Judaism that explores the mysteries of creation and the universe. (17)

Although these two traditions have distinct differences, there are points of convergence between Sufism and Kabbalism. One of the common aspects between these two traditions is their approach to divinity as an absolute and transcendental reality, which can be experienced through mystical and spiritual practices. (18) Both traditions also recognize the importance of inner knowledge and spiritual enlightenment, which can be attained through practices such as meditation, prayer, mantra recitation, and contemplation.

Six Sufi masters, c.1760. Credit: Author unknown, Wikipedia Commons
Six Sufi masters, c.1760. Credit: Author unknown, Wikipedia Commons

In addition, both Sufism and Kabbalism have a deep understanding of the nature of time, space, and human existence. They recognize that the universe is a profound mystery, which can be understood in part through inner knowledge and direct experience of divine reality. (19)

There are also similarities between Sufi and Kabbalist teachings on the relationship between human beings and divinity. Both traditions affirm that humanity is created in the image of God and that the ultimate goal of the human being is to come closer to God and find unity with Him.

In this regard, Uthman Khan writes: (20)

‘’While today’s politicians are provoking hatred and desperately trying to drive each other into the Mediterranean Sea, it is important that Muslim and Jewish leaders realize the closeness of their faiths and vie towards practicing a shared version of their respective paths, at the least acknowledgement of the similarities within Judaism and Islam over Christianity. Knowing that the heart and souls of Islam and Judaism are so closely connected and originate from one source it is very odd that the two religions can be at war. To envision peace, the answer is to rebuild the golden age harmony when the Muslim and Jews lived together in agreement and respect; the time of the collaborative migration of the Jews and Muslims out of Spain in 1212; the welcoming of the Jews within the ottoman empire known though letters documenting the Rabbis telling the Jews to leave the European persecution and come to Ottoman Turkey; the help offered by the Muslims to save many Jews from the holocaust. Spirituality is just one path that has shown this harmony, but 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.’’

Finally, it is important to note that the convergence between Sufism and Kabbalism does not mean that the two traditions are identical or interchangeable. Each tradition has its own history, its own theology, and its own practice. However, the convergence between these two traditions can offer rich and varied perspectives on the nature of divine reality and the paths that lead to its direct experience. (21)

The story of two mystics (22)

One can observe common features in this monotheistic mystical experience, which differentiate it from oriental spiritualities (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism) or ancient spiritualities (Pythagoreanism, Neoplatonism). Indeed, the biblical and Qur’ânic God is interested in humans: He reveals Himself to them, for them, through a revelation. The believers read his intervention in their History. The mystic pushes the stakes of this relationship between the human person and the divine Presence to its extreme point. This encounter is often expressed in terms of reciprocal love between man and God, according to the analogy of human love. 

Jewish and Christian mysticism is inspired by biblical texts such as the Song of Songs; Muslim mysticism is expressed in a prodigious lyrical poetry in Arabic (Hallâj, d. 922 or Ibn al-Fârid, d. 1235), Persian (Roumi or Eraqi, d. 1289), Turkish (Yunus Emre, 14th century) etc. One will note here the proximity of the symbols in the three religious climates: the intoxication of the beauty of the loved one, the expectation of his presence, and the nostalgia of the separation.

The notion of “mysticism” differs from that of “religion” in that it does not designate a faith and a practice oriented towards the expectation of an afterlife, but the search for an experience of the divine lived in this life. Mysticism has historically manifested itself in the form of remarkable individual journeys of figures of sanctity: one must think, among thousands of others, of those of Baal Shem Tov (18th century) for Hasidism, of John of the Cross (16th century) in Catholicism, or of the Sufi Jalâl ad-Dîn ar-Rûmî (13th century) as an example; but it can also give rise to spiritual currents inspired by such models as: Hasidism, Carmelite spirituality, and the Mevlevian brotherhood, to take up again the cases mentioned. These currents have sometimes played a considerable role in the history of the three religions considered.

Jewish mysticism represents, according to Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), a Jewish historian and philosopher, a specialist in Jewish mysticism, an attempt to interpret the religious values of Judaism in a mystical way; It focuses on the idea of a living God who manifests himself in the acts of creation, revelation and redemption. But the attraction of a union with God is diffuse and rare. 

There are two manifestations of the Jewish mysticism:

  1. Kabbale (in Hebrew Kabbalah, “tradition” or “reception of tradition”) is a philosophical and religious current focused on the search for the understanding of God and creation. The Zohar (“Book of splendor”), written in the 13th century by a Spanish rabbi, Moïse de León, is the most important book in the Kabbale. 
  2. Hassidism (in Hebrew Hassidout, “piety” or “integrity”) is a second current, founded in Podolia (region of Ukraine which, at that time, belonged to Poland) by the Rabbi Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) which, by its requirement of sincerity in piety, quickly spread to central and eastern Europe. It consists of two tendencies: one, popular, which opposes the intellectualism of rabbis and promotes joy in prayer, the other more elitist, which addresses “madmen” ready to let themselves be driven by a guide to heights of holiness. (23)

Islamic mysticism is embodied in Sufism. The Sufis are dedicated to God through asceticism, chanting, song, dance, and the rumination of the divine names (the dhikr). Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), a Persian Sufi wrote about Sufis: 

They are drowned in pure singularity. Their intellects are bewitched and it is as if they lost the floor. There is no more room left for the memory of something other than him, nor for the thought of themselves. There is only God left in them. It was then that they say the words by which they identify with God. But this union – in reality, this unity -, they discover is provisional.’’ 

Husayn Ibn Mansûr (Hallâj) (858-922), Ibn Arabi, but also the Persian Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi, founder of the Whirling Dervishes, are emblematic figures of Sufism. Hallâj ended up tortured and crucified in a public place in Baghdad in 922 for his paradoxical expressions of God’s desire for a union to Him.


It is interesting to highlight the reciprocal influence between Sufis and Jews in the history of Islam. According to chronological order, it was Judaism that first influenced Sufism during its formation. It goes without saying that after the Arab conquest, the metropolis of Baghdad was a fertile ground for the academies of the Geonim (6th-11th century). (24) In fact, they undoubtedly directed the Yeshivot of Babylonia, while trying to perfect and spread the teaching of the Talmud. Also, the Geonim shone throughout the Diaspora. It should be noted that in this era, the school of Baghdad (9th-10th century) had to exhibit a very rich milieu of spiritual personalities who, in truth, have given the taṣawwuf (Sufism) the quintessence of its experience.

Take, for example, al-Junayd (830-910) and al-Ḥallāj with whom the term taṣawwuf came to be used in the course of time. The latter roughly represents the spiritual and esoteric dimension of Sunni Islam, even the heart of Islam. In addition, Islamic mysticism has its source in the Qur’ân and in the Prophetic Tradition. It is worth recalling here that the virtue of Muslim mysticism is al-iḥsān (excellence). Yet there is still one particularly important element to consider: the points of convergence between Jewish mysticism and Muslim mysticism. Jewish mysticism represents the esoteric meaning of the Torah. (25)

In fact, many Jews lived entirely in rabbinic piety and were known as the ḥasīdūt which means “piety” or “integrity,” having as its root in the term “generosity.” In this light, the ḥasīdīm (26) are distinguished by their asceticism and sobriety, and, evidently, just like the early zuhhād of Islam (renouncers). These renounced earthly goods out of a desire for the joy of the Hereafter. One example is Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (641-728), who was a good example to follow in the renunciation of the world. In this, we note that the term zuhhâd consists of characterizing the spirituality of the first two centuries.

Moroccan Jewish Kabbalah document

It is quite clear that some ḥasīdīm, such as Abbā᾿ Ḥilqiyāh (1st century), and Pinḥās ibn Yā᾿īr (2nd century), considered themselves to be holy thaumaturgists that is, they were distinguished by karāmāt (supernatural favors). As a result, these traits were found in the early Muslim Sufis in the East. Jewish Baghdadi spirituality exerted a preponderant influence on Sufism. It goes without saying that Sufi hagiography preserves certain stories, for example, those of the “pious men of the Children of Israel.’’

On the influence of Sufism on the Jewish religion, Mireille Loubet writes in the Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem: (27)

‘’Defying the centuries of suspicion and persecution (eighth to eleventh centuries) inflicted on it by the defenders of Muslim orthodoxy, Sufism, the mystical expression of Islam, had been rehabilitated by the famous theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111)5 and spread throughout Egypt, giving rise to religious orders which quickly became powerful brotherhoods destined to endure, the tariqat. The predominance of this spiritual climate reinforced the aspirations of Egyptian Jews to revive the mystical current of Judaism which had already manifested itself in Baghdad, the cradle of Sufism, in the wake of the Arab conquest. It is indeed interesting to note that at that time a certain number of Jews in the Baghdad diaspora were fervent supporters of rabbinic piety, hasidut, and that some of them, known as hasidim, had turned to asceticism, and a way of life that emphasized humility, purity, and trust in God, in order to recover the original spirit of Judaism. The same dispositions also characterized the approach of the first Sufis reported in the Muslim milieu of Baghdad and with whom the “pious” Jews had contacts, as is suggested by some ancient texts reflecting the familiarity of the Jews with Sufism, by the indifferent use, in their writings, of the Arabic terms sufi-tasawwuf and Hebrew hasid-hasidut (Sufi-sufism, pious-pietism).’’

Kabbalah (28) is another way of looking at Man, the Bible, and the Universe. Kabbalah is a set of metaphysical speculations about God, the Universe, and Man. It has its roots in the esoteric Jewish traditions – the Judaism of Tradition. This definition does not bring out the universality of Kabbalah, the richness of its themes, and the multiple aspects that combine and unite metaphysical observation and reason with symbolism.

Kabbalah can be a tool to help understand the World, in the sense that it encourages one to modify his perception of this World (the “reality”) despite the subjectivity of his perception, which is complicated and increased by the sensitivity of the multiplicity of individuals. (29)

The Kabbalah is therefore a tool of analysis that helps to understand by providing the “seekers” with a synthetic diagram which includes The Tree of the Sephiroth, a key to reading multiple works, with a wealth of concepts, such as degrees of meaning, contractions, God, the Veils, Pleasure, Evil, the Golem, the Whole and finally the Restoration. (30)

In this way, sketches of answers to the essential questions of the origin of the Universe and the future of Man are derived. This makes the Kabbalah a real tool for working on oneself and a powerful means of apprehending and approaching other systems of thought, however diverse they may be.

The meaning of the word Kabbalah

All religions have a mystical or esoteric component – direct access to God without a priest and/or a constituted church – but the originality of the Kabbalah lies in its approach to genesis through the mystical path and the path of knowledge. (31)

According to the Brill Dictionary of Religion, the Kabbalah is a theosophical system that was widespread in medieval Judaism from the 10th century onwards, and which subsequently enjoyed great diffusion in the Christian world: (32)

‘’Kabbalah and Secrecy 1. ‘Kabbalah’ is the term employed by both practitioners and scholars to denote the esoteric lore and practice cultivated by elite rabbinic circles from the Middle Ages to the present. The word itself is derived from a root that means ‘to receive,’ and hence ‘Kabbalah’ signifies in its most basic sense → ‘tradition.’ Needless to say, Kabbalah is not monolithic in nature; on the contrary, it is better described as a collage of disparate doctrines and practices …’’

The word “kabbalah” comes from the Hebrew “qabbalah” which means “tradition”. It designates an esoteric and mystical component of Jewish culture, based on the study of the levels of Being between the human race and God, as well as on the mediations that link these various levels. It is based in particular on a method of interpretation of the Bible based on the numerical transcription of the Hebrew characters (sefira means “number” and has the same root as the Arabic sifr, which in French means “number” and “zero”): like the school of Pythagoras, the Kabbalah gives a mystical value to numbers. (33)

Kabbalah is a tool to help understand the world in the sense that it encourages to modify perception of the world (what is called “reality” despite the subjectivity of perception). To do this, the Kabbalah provides its followers with a synthetic diagram: The Tree of Life or Tree of the Sephiroth or Sephirotic Tree, and other reading keys for multiple works, as well as a wealth of concepts (degrees of meaning, contraction, etc.). (34)

The Tree of Life (Etz haHa’yim עץ – החייםin Hebrew) symbolically represents, in Kabbalah, the laws of the Universe (Some authors bring it closer to the Tree of Life mentioned by Genesis in 2:9) . (35) Its description is considered as the cosmogony of Kabbalistic mysticism. (36)

It proposes answers to the essential questions concerning the origin of the universe, the role of man and his future. It is both a tool for working on oneself and a means of apprehending other systems of thought. Kabbalah, as a phenomenon, is often understood as the mysticism of the merkabah. (37)

In the Hebrew Kabbalah, three meanings can be discovered in each sacred word. Hence three different interpretations or kabbals:

  • The first, called “gematria”, involves the analysis of the numerical or arithmetical value of the letters composing the word;
  • The second establishes the meaning of each letter considered separately; and
  • The third uses certain transpositions of letters. 

The Hermetic Kabbalah applies to the books, texts, and documents of the esoteric sciences of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. It is a real language, and, as the great majority of the didactic treatises of ancient sciences are written in Hebrew, the reader cannot grasp anything if he does not possess at least the first elements of the secret idiom.

Kabbalah Tree of Life

This mysticism is presented as access, in an ascending and interior journey, to the very heart of the divine, to the garden of the science of the Book, to the Sod, the fourth term of Forgiveness. It is associated with all that is apocalyptic literature – the Jewish apocalypse. (38)

Kabbalah influenced Christians, especially in the Renaissance. But communication between the two cultures was blocked by the hardening of the church during the counter-reform, by the risks of persecution, and also by the fact that the Church has always tried to convert the Jews. (39)

Kabbalah, being a mysticism, was considered with suspicion by certain rabbis. But other rabbis have studied it and it has never been condemned by Jewish Orthodoxy. Kabbalah teaching is esoteric. It is in practice impossible for a person who is not of Jewish confession, or who does not know Hebrew, to receive this teaching. Esotericism, digital transcription of texts, and mysticism, that’s what arouses the distrust of rationalists. But any rationalist must know the limits of rationalism.

Cabbalists have a singular point of view on the world and history. They rank in the philosophical current of Neoplatonism but, while it places the material at the lowest level of the “procession of beings“, the cabbalists “hoist the material in the level of the burning intelligence“. Platonic idealism is thus overthrown, the material becoming the “source and primordial reservoir of forms and seeds of all reality“. This metaphysical option allows Judaism to escape idealism.

The doctrine of Sufism

From the point of view of ideas, Sufism is an esoteric and initiatory current, which professes a doctrine affirming that all reality has an apparent external aspect (exoteric) and a hidden internal aspect (esoteric). It is characterized by the search for a spiritual state that allows access to this hidden knowledge. This importance given to secrets has even led to the invention of artificial languages by the brotherhoods. (40)

The God that Sufis discover is a God of love and one reaches Him through Love: “Whoever knows God, loves Him; whoever knows the world, renounces it” and “If you want to be free, be a captive of Love“.

These are accents that the Christian mystics would not disavow. It is curious to note in this respect the convergences of Sufism with other philosophical or religious currents: at its origin, Sufism was influenced by Pythagorean thought and by the Zoroastrian religion of Persia. Sufi initiation, which allows for spiritual rebirth, is reminiscent of Christian baptism, and one could even find some Buddhist reminiscences in the Sufi formula “man is non-existent before God“.

On the definition of Sufism, Mubaraz Ahmed writes: (41)

‘’Sufism may be best described as Islamic mysticism or asceticism, which through belief and practice helps Muslims attain nearness to Allah by way of direct personal experience of God. While there are other suggested origins of the term Sufi, the word is largely believed to stem from the Arabic word suf, which refers to the wool that was traditionally worn by mystics and ascetics.

Belief in pursuing a path that leads to closeness with God, ultimately through encountering the divine in the hereafter, is a fundamental component of Islamic belief. However, in Sufi thought this proximity can be realised in this life.

Far from being a minority articulation, Sufi orders and Sufi-inspired organisations can be found throughout the Muslim world and beyond, from Marrakech to Manila, London to Lagos, and everywhere in-between.’’

The same diversity and the same imagination in the spiritual techniques of Sufism: the search for God through symbolism passes, for some Sufis, through music or dance which, they say, transcends thought; this is what Jalâl ad-Dîn ar-Rûmî (1207-1273), known as Mevlana, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes, (42) practiced. Among other Sufis, symbolism is an intellectual exercise in which one speculates, as do the Jews of the Kabbalah, on the numerical value of letters; sometimes, too, it is through the indefinite repetition of the invocation of the names of God that the Sufi seeks his union with Him.

Sufism thus brings to Islam a poetic and mystical dimension that one would look for in vain among the meticulous exegetes of the Qur’ânic text. This is why the Sufis are so keen on their practices, tracing them back to the Prophet himself. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have received, at the same time as the Qur’ân, esoteric revelations which he communicated only to some of his companions. Thus the Sufi masters all link their teaching to a long chain of predecessors that authenticates them. (43)

This legitimacy through reference to the Prophet does not, however, lead to the standardization of the Sufi movement: schools abound and each has its own style and practices. These brotherhoods have become, not an institution, but at least a way of living Islam so generally accepted that all sorts of movements, mystical or not, use the title of brotherhood to carry out their activities. One should not be surprised, therefore, to find sometimes brotherhoods that are not very mystical, with a rudimentary spirituality, far removed from the high speculations that have made Sufism one of the major components of universal spirituality.

The Zohar

Sufism, mysticism and esotericism

Sufism (Arabic: ٱلتَّصَوُّف, at-taṣawwuf) refers to the esoteric and mystical practices of Islam aiming at the “purification of the soul” with a view to “getting closer” to God. It is a way of spiritual elevation, an initiatory path of inner transformation. In opposition to the formalism of the fundamentalists, and other supporters of a rigorist Islam. It wants to be the “heart” of Islam. (44)

It is generally practiced through an initiation within a tarîqa, a term which designates, by extension, a brotherhood gathering the faithful around a spiritual master.

Sufism finds its foundations in the Qur’ânic revelation and in the example of the Prophet Muhammad. It can therefore be said that it has been present, since the origins of the prophetic revelation of Islam, in both the Sunni and Shiite branches, although it has taken different forms in both cases.

Sufism refers to the worship of God as if one were seeing him. That is to say, Sufism’s ultimate goal is to open the initiate’s “heart” to the beatific vision, to the supra-rational and unitive knowledge of the divine Principle. This differentiates it from the profane sciences, which are based on efforts of thought. The realized being obtains his science directly through unveiling and vision. (45)

From time immemorial, some ulema and scholars have spoken out against what they have called the “drifts” of Sufism. They criticized both the doctrine of certain brotherhoods and their practices. Nowadays, Salafism and Wahhabism are totally opposed to Sufi practices.

Sufism covers very different realities in Islam. Mysticism in the literal sense consists in living as closely as possible to God. The mystical life is open to all: it is about letting God, out of love, live in us. Mysticism is not the disappearance of the person who keeps his character, his history, his very genius, and everything that makes him unique and allows him to be loved.

Do all religions offer a mystique? Obviously, only those that have encountered God as a person and as the giver of life. In this sense, it is not impossible for Muslims to live mysticism, whether they are Sufis or not. It is certain that Sufism emphasizes this union with God. But is it always in conditions worthy of God and man? It is here that it is necessary to see the radical distinction between “mysticism” and “esotericism”. For esotericism really turns its back on mysticism.

The illusion of “knowing” prevents one from hearing God who reveals himself by speaking to those who are humble enough to desire to know him as he says himself. Thus, some people lock themselves up in a numerological theory, others in the different drawers of a deterministic characterology, some in horoscope headings, and others in meditation techniques.

While mysticism is the reception of God, of his revelation, and of his love, esotericism claims to give the power to acquire God, or even to become God by crossing, through one’s own efforts, degrees of “knowledge” reserved for “initiates” who reserve these powers for themselves.

It is probably not difficult to understand that if God really exists, he is even more of a “person” than Man. He therefore also has freedom. And if he is free to give himself, how could one get hold of him through “knowledge” and “initiations”? God can only be reached if he gives himself and if he is accepted.

The Zohar

Kabbalah is also a book, the famous Zohar (46) (which means enlightenment), or Book of Splendor. It is a mystical manual of the 13th century, attributed to the master Simeon bar Yo’haï שמעון בן יוחאי  (71-161), a rabbi from Palestine who lived in the 2nd century of our era, but more probably written by the Spanish mystic Moses Ben Schemtob de Léon (1250-1305), better known under the name of Moses de Léon, a Spanish Jew from Granada who put the book into circulation.

Written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, the book comprises 2400 dense pages and summarizes all known Kabbalistic traditions. It deals in particular with the hierarchy of evil, the so-called unclean spirits of the seven palaces of the devil. They are the opposite polarity to the ten divine “Sephiroth”, called “emanations” of God, which come from the unchanging divine unity and bring happiness and blessing to man. It is these ten degrees that the Kabbalah is primarily interested in.

The Zohar could therefore have been composed in Spain, at the end of the 13th century. But whatever the case, the work remains the most important of all Kabbalistic literature.

If one thinks it strange that an apocryphal book could have imposed itself on so many learned theologians, both of the Synagogue and of the Church, one must remember that for centuries there circulated a mass of more or less heretical texts in which the strict monotheism of the Hebrews was interpreted in the light of notions borrowed from the neo-Platonists and the neo-Pythagoreans. Some of these books go back to rather remote antiquity, and the Kabbalah, in spite of its relatively late systematization, is the heir of a whole Jewish gnosticism (47) of which the Essenes were already penetrated. (48)

Kabbalistic doctrine embraces the nature of the Divinity, the divine emanations or Sephiroth, the creation of angels and man, their future destiny, and the real character of the revealed Law. The theology is pantheistic: all things emanate from the unfathomable Divinity, the En Soph; all that we are, all that we see results from a grandiose process of expression of the Divinity by itself.

The Divinity has 10 attributes, the Sephiroth: Crown, Wisdom and Intelligence form the first triad; Love, Justice and Beauty the second; the third triad includes Firmness, Splendor and Foundation. The Kingdom surrounds the other nine, for it is the Che’hina or divine halo. (49)

The Sephiroth together form a strict Unity. They are the Divinity in manifestation. They are some masculine, others feminine: their union generated the universe. The universe is made up of four different worlds, in descending order of spirituality: the world of Action or Matter is the lowest; the highest is the world of Emanation which proceeded from the En Soph, and which is the celestial world or Archetype, the meeting of the ten Sephiroth forming the primordial Man.

Diagrams of a crowned naked man, with the 10 Sephiroth associated with the various parts of the body, played a role in the mystical, magical, and speculative studies of the Kabbalists. All the souls that are to be incarnated here on earth pre-exist in the world of the Emanations: each soul has ten “potentialities” grouped into triads, each of these souls, before entering this world, is formed of a masculine and a feminine part, united into one being. This is represented by several occult symbols such as the Yin and Yang or the hexagram: one triangle represents the male part and the other the female part.

Separated on earth, the two halves seek to discover each other in order to be able to reunite again: this is what happens in authentic marriage, but only if the soul is pure and if its conduct is pleasing to God: otherwise, it must return to incarnate here on earth in a human body, for one or two existences. If its body is still polluted by sin, another soul is sent to unite with it, in the hope that their combined effort will produce a pure and unblemished body. When all the waiting souls have completed their earthly pilgrimage and have inhabited human bodies, passed their test and returned to the infinite bosom of God from whence they came, the “Day of Jubilee” will begin: the Messiah will descend from the World of Souls to usher in an era of perfect happiness, free from sin and pain, a Sabbath that shall have no end.

Iraqi Arab Sufism

Kabbalists claimed that they found all these doctrines in the Hebrew Scriptures, and soon Christian theologians argued that the Kabbalah would provide proof of the divinity of Christ and other essential Christian doctrines; there were even a respectable number of Jews who embraced Christianity during the Renaissance as a result of these attempts at Christian esotericism.

Kabbalistic ideas remained until the 16th century, and the interest in these theosophical speculations has never disappeared completely if not in Judaism itself (where only Hassidists are still partisan), at least in the various occultist movements, especially those of “Christian” inspiration. (50) Then the kabbalah fell into discredit in Judaism, as the magic element tended to drive out real philosophy.

Kabbalah is the mysticism and the Gnosticism of the Jews, in which one finds:

  1. A mystical theology the bottom of which was the dogma of the divine emanation and an allegorical explanation of the Scriptures; and
  2. A theurgy (51) by which one claimed to subject the supernatural powers to human will by pronouncing certain words, and operating with their help all kinds of miracles.

Kabbalah, which means tradition or reception and designates the mystical doctrines of Judaism based on the symbolic exegesis of the Bible, is in a way the antithesis of rationalist philosophy: as much as it tends to reduce the part of the supernatural, as much one tends to exaggerate it, to scrutinize the depths and to introduce it everywhere, even in daily practice.

Kabbalah followers and popular superstition have made this science, more or less mysterious and secret, a divine, wonderful science, by which miracles are made, and which one brings up, by the known artifices of pseudepigraphy, (52) in Abraham, in Moses, and to the most famous doctors of Talmud (1st and 2nd centuries of the Christian era).

The esoteric teachings of Jewish Kabbalists in 13th century Spain, at the time of the rabbi Abraham Abulafia, show great similarities with the rituals of Muslim mystics. They include, for example, complex songs, breath control techniques and head movements – all practices that did not exist in the Kabbalah before the Middle Ages. Abulafia introduced the ecstatic forms of the Sufi rituals of dhikr into Judaism, in which the name of God is tirelessly repeated until reaching a state of trance.

The famous Kabbalists of the Safed school, in Galileo, also seem to have been influenced by Sufism. In the 16th century, while Isaac Luria (1534-1572) – considered the father of modern Kabbalah – was active. Safed was also a flourishing center of Muslim mysticism. The city boasted of hosting a Sufi center that the Turkish traveler Evliya Chelebi (1611-1682) mentions in his stories.

The parallels are striking: the Kabbalists organized spiritual concerts during which they sang mystical verses, like the dervishes. Spiritual congregations were also established around a saint, and there, too, was practiced solitary meditation and the repetition of the name of God.


The Brill Dictionary of Religion defines Sufism in the following terms: (53)

‘’Sufism and ‘Mysticism’ In traditional scholarship as well as in conventional usage, Sufism is commonly referred to as the ‘mystical tradition of Islam’ (→ Mysticism). This ascription is problematic for three reasons. First, it divides → Islam artificially into two traditions presumably separable from each other; secondly, not all manifestations of Sufism are ‘mystical’;1 and thirdly, the idea of a universally valid category of Mysticism manifesting itself in particular interpretations of different ‘world religions’ is itself increasingly disputed.’’

A majority of scholars believe that the word تصوف “tasawwuf” comes from the word صوف “suf“, which means wool. This assumption is based on a story told about why pious people in the first century of Islam wore woollen clothes in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and his sahâba (companions) who wore woollen clothes to indicate their detachment from the world and their simplicity of life.

A century after the emergence of Islam, the Arabs, mainly desert peoples, conquered great empires such as Persia and Egypt. These conquering Arabs surrounded themselves with luxuries previously unknown to them in their Spartan desert life. The most pious individuals in the Muslim community feared that the message of Islam would be completely lost because of the decadent example of these Arab conquerors who professed to spread the words of the Prophet and the universal message of the Qur’ân.

Remembering the great simplicity of early Islam and recalling the pious Muslims of Medina, the believers decided to dress in rough wool as a protest against the extreme profligacy of their rulers. Protecting themselves from the temptations of luxury, they distinguished themselves from the lower material life. They practiced fasting, mortification and deprived themselves as much as possible of the pleasures of material life. The wearing of wool was thus part of the discipline of Sufism. But even if the Sufis wore Sûf, wool, from the beginning of Islam, the word “Sufism”, according to Arabic grammar, is not a derivative of the word Sûf, and whoever wears it is not a Sufi.

One can, also, trace the origins of tasawwûf to the heart of Islam at the time of the Prophet, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be called Ahl al-ssufa (أَهلُ الصُّفَّةِ [ahl aṣ-ṣuffa]), “the people of the bench.” They had taken to sitting at the entrance of the Prophet’s mosque in Yathrib, Medina. There, they would engage in discussions about the reality of being, about finding the inner path, in addition to devoting themselves to spiritual purification and meditation.

Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, is a distinct tradition within Islam that aims to cultivate the inner spiritual life of the believer. Sufism has changed its focus and nature over the centuries as Islam has developed and expanded.

Jewish mysticism

Initially subject to the notion of the fear of God, Sufism eventually adopted a doctrine of affirming love, and then later shifted to the concept of the individual’s spiritual journey to God. Sufism has certainly attracted many followers emotionally and Sufi masters and sheiks have, in turn, attracted many followers from around the world. The Sufi Brotherhood of Boutchichiya (54) in Morocco has millions of members, thousands of whom are from Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

Sufism is a religious domain specific to divine love. Since its genesis, the followers of the brotherhoods follow a specific itinerary. In Morocco, the followers of the brotherhoods are numerous but they share the same principle. In this mystical domain, one must follow to the letter the commandments of the Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the brotherhood. Sufism was and will remain a profound spiritual education that has made Morocco a country of religious influence between Africa and Europe. This religious facet has a direct impact on the cultural workings in the daily life of Moroccans. Thus, one will find a religious mosaic that makes this ancestral country a place of living together par excellence.

The Islamic world has undergone several changes since the death of the Prophet. Many sects were created by religious leaders in different Islamic countries. Khiari Bariza highlights the term Sufism. She says at this point: (55)

“Many contemporary writings, sometimes ill-intentioned, address Islam but few mention Sufism, so that this path is known only to specialists or to the general public through famous manifestations, such as those of the whirling dervishes. The etymological detour is of interest here: according to a first hypothesis, the term Sufism comes from the Arabic safâ which means crystalline purity. Sufism would thus be a purified vision, full of clarity, of Islam. According to a second hypothesis, the term comes from the expression ahl al-saff, “the people of the bench”, those of the first ranks, the most blessed of the community. This term refers to the early days of Islam, in reference to the Sûfiyya who lived in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.’’

The search for truth is a quest for a particular goal, a quest that is pursued no matter what path is taken – and for the most important truths, the path can be long and arduous. Tasawwuf, or Sufism, is the esoteric school of Islam, based on the search for spiritual truth as a specific goal to be achieved: the truth of understanding reality as it really is, as knowledge, and thereby the realization of ma’arifa, cognition. (56)

In tasawwuf, when one speaks of understanding or cognition, one refers to this perfect understanding of oneself leading to the understanding of the Divine. This very logical principle is based on a generally succinct statement of the Prophet Muhammad: “Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord“.

The principles of Sufism are all based on the rules and teachings of the Qur’ân and the instructions of the Prophet and his conduct and actions. For a Sufi, there is no chasm of separation between the whole being, its creator, and its creations. The fact that the multitude cannot perceive this fundamental unity is the result of the impurity of the nafs (consciousness), the blurring of the rûh (soul), and the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses.

If man were freed from the limitations of matter, he would certainly witness this immense and eternal unity of being with his creator. However, there is a chance for mankind to reach such a level of understanding, a path that can be followed through purification and meditation for the realization of its fulfilment. When the heart is purified, the manifestations of the Divine are reflected in the mirror of the heart. Only then can a man move from the level of his animal nature to the level of a true human being.

To the question: what path does Sufism use for revelation? Adonis writes: (57)

‘’The answer lies in the fact that Sufism distinguishes, at the cognitive level, between reason and the heart. The former serves to know the external world, the world of phenomena, and the latter for knowledge of the interior, of the real world. It distinguishes, therefore, between the world of religious law and the world of truth. Reason has its own method: analysis, argumentation. And the heart also has its own method: intuition, illumination and taste. Therefore, Sufism rejects rationalist methodology. But not only rejects its methodology, but also the system of life founded on its values, with the intention of better inserting itself in the undelimitable and infinite.

Sufism, as an attitude, upsets the order of the exterior world and its instruments of knowledge and, as expression, alters the usual order of language. This means that the Sufi does not establish rational relations between himself, nature and the things of nature, as he considers it as a set of symbols, images and allusions, and the relations he strikes up with all of this are cordial (of the heart), in the Sufi sense of the term.’’


The word “kabbalah” which derives from Hebrew Qabbalah, designates doctrines received by tradition. True Kabbalah is a system of mystical philosophy and metaphysics. Its originality lies in its approach to Genesis by the mystical path and the way of knowledge. It is a very old wisdom that reveals the functioning of life and the universe.

Kabbalah grants, like the Pythagoras school, a mystical value to numbers. Three senses can be discovered in each sacred word. Hence three different interpretations or kabbals. Despite its relatively late systematization, the Kabbalah is the heiress of a whole Jewish Gnosticism whose Essenes were already penetrated.

Kabbalah is like an introduction to the holy life and the love of God. But the Kabbalah is also a book: the famous Zohar (which means illumination), or Book of Splendor. Kabbalah is the path of Hebrew esotericism. It is even the specifically Hebrew form of the primordial tradition, as Sufism is its Muslim form, and Christian esotericism is the specifically Christian form. The Christian Cabal is sometimes called the “philosophical cabal” or “Renaissance cabal”. It is a Christian philosophical current inaugurated by Pic de la Mirandole (1463- 1494) in the 15th century.

As for Sufism, it is the mysticism of Islam, an ontological and religious quest in Islam. It covers very different realities in this religion. It emphasizes union with God. It is an inner way that appeared with the prophetic revelation of Islam, a momentum of the soul far from the orthodox theism of this religion. Its speech is contemplative and its verbal aesthetics is poetic.

The message of Sufism is that of the miracle of union between the individual soul and the absolute divine nature. Man receives revelation and can deploy his soul. This deployment is done in ecstasy, the dissolution of the ego and the self. Then directly touching all being and everything, the soul of the individual becomes divine consciousness. 

Sufism requires that the soul strips the limitations of man, its habits, and its prejudices which had become a “second nature” and is covered with the characteristics of the primordial nature of man, it is to say purity, sincerity, generosity, etc.

Sufism like Freemasonry has grades and initiation degrees: the apprentice “tâlib” who, following a long and difficult initiatory journey, will become an aspirant “murîd“. This will go through “maqâmat“, that is to say stages of successive initiations, and will access the dignity of “murshid“, spiritual director, guide of disciples, collaborator of the master, guardian of the rules and rites. When the time comes, all the overtones overcome, the master will authorize the “murshid” to become a “sheikh”, i.e. a master having the “baraka” (grace) and the secret of divine science “al-ma’rifa“. 

At this stage, it is said that the master knows how to distinguish man (his past master) from his teaching. (59)

For Michael Laitman: (60) 

[‘’Sufism is not contrary to the wisdom of the Kabbalah. They talk about the same thing. But Sufism does not explain the technique of creating creation, the creation system and its behavior. It is more suitable for the masses, because he talks about the solution to human and spiritual problems, but in our world.

Sufism does not explain the structure of the upper world in the precise form that is explained in the wisdom of the Kabbalah: Sefirot, Partsoufim, Olamot, Ohr, Nrnhy, KHB Zon, Tsimtsoum, Massakh, Ohr Hozer and all the rest of the concepts. Only the wisdom of the Kabbalah gives a description of the “celestial mechanics.’’]

‘’Le soufisme n’est pas contraire à la sagesse de la Kabbale. Ils parlent de la même chose. Mais le soufisme n’explique pas la technique de la construction de la création, le système de la création et son comportement. Il est plus adapté pour les masses, car il parle de la solution aux problèmes humains et spirituels, mais au niveau de notre monde.

Le Soufisme n’explique pas la structure du monde supérieur dans la forme précise qui est expliquée dans la sagesse de la Kabbale : Sefirot, Partsoufim, Olamot, Ohr, NRNHY, KHB ZON, Tsimtsoum, Massakh, Ohr Hozer et tout le reste des concepts. Seule la sagesse de la Kabbale donne une description de la ‘’mécanique céleste.’’’’

The image of the restless human being who walks the paths in search of the Most High, driven by an insatiable thirst for the Absolute and animated by the desire to meet the One, evokes the Muslim mystic. The Sufi is in short a pilgrim who has made the search for God the ultimate goal of his life.

Asceticism, in fact, was an essentially practical attitude, characterized by fasts, penances, vigils, and prolonged prayers, which aimed at perfecting the soul with a view to the hereafter, and, as such, never an object of contention. Sufism, on the other hand, aspired to realize the divine presence in man from this life on earth.

The realization of the divine Unity would have its archetype in the mystical experience of certain prophets, among them Moses, who was called to the Mountain to speak with God, and Muhammad, who in the Celestial Ascension saw God. Another fundamental difference is that, unlike the early ascetics, the Sufis, especially in the early centuries, were initiated by a master, with whom they made a pact in memory of the one the Prophet had made with his Companions, according to the Sura of Victory (48:10):

‘’Those who swore fealty to you, (O Prophet),1 in fact swore fealty to Allah. The Hand of Allah is above their hands.1 So whoever breaks his covenant breaks it to his own hurt; and whoever fulfils the covenant that he made with Allah,1 He will bestow on him a great reward.’’

اِنَّالَّذِيۡنَيُبَايِعُوۡنَكَاِنَّمَايُبَايِعُوۡنَاللّٰهَ ؕيَدُاللّٰهِفَوۡقَاَيۡدِيۡهِمۡ ۚفَمَنۡنَّكَثَفَاِنَّمَايَنۡكُثُعَلٰىنَفۡسِهٖۚوَمَنۡاَوۡفٰىبِمَاعٰهَدَعَلَيۡهُاللّٰهَفَسَيُؤۡتِيۡهِاَجۡرًاعَظِيۡمًا‏ 

It is important to note, first of all, that the term hitbodedut  comes from the Muslim Sufi rites, which are translated into khalwa (spiritual retreat) in Arabic. The hitbodedut means the spiritual isolation by which the initiate withdraws to a cell or cave in order to concentrate essentially on God. Here a very important remark, namely that this religious practice has characteristics that come from Islam. 

The pietists consider hitbodedut as a religious tradition that was inspired in the thirteenth century from Muslim renunciants. The Kabbalist Abraham Abū l-‘Afiya אברהם אבולעפיה (1240-1291) considered this religious practice as that of independent piety, and this at the end of the thirteenth century.

From this perspective, one notes that the ideas marked out by Abraham Abū l-‘Afiya in this religious rite are similar to those of Muslim mysticism. This is due to his friendly contacts with the Muslim Sufis as well as his initiatory wanderings in the East.

There is a concordance between the advice of Abraham Abū l-‘Afiya in his manual on the hitbodedut and those of Shaykh Ibn ‘Aṭā᾿ Allāh al-Isakandarī (1259-1309). The latter recommended spiritual retreat in his treatise by saying:

If you are the one who is performing khalwa (seclusion), then perform your ablutions, and purify your clothes. You should also get closer to your Lord. It is advisable that you go on the path of khalwa (seclusion) in secret, so that no one will know of your seclusion.’’

One can observe from the two manuals that there is a reciprocal influence between the Sufis and the Kabbalists. In fact, both treatises emphasize cleanliness of clothing and purification of the body. In addition, it is necessary to conceal one’s khalwa, which is intended to achieve the humility through which the initiate can become attached to God.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou onTwitter: @Ayurinu

End notes:

  1.  Hestevold, H. Scott. “The Concept of Religion.” Public Affairs Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 2, 1991, pp. 149–62. JSTOR,
  2.  Waardenburg, Jacques. “Religion between Reality and Idea: A Century of Phenomenology of Religion in the Netherlands.” Numen, vol. 19, no. 2/3, 1972, pp. 128–203. JSTOR,
  3.  Merkur, Dan. ‘’Mysticism’’, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), 2015, pp. 168-171.
  4.  Pak, Pyong-Gwan. “The relevance of mystical spirituality in the context of today’s ‘spirituality phenomenon’.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, vol. 15, no. 3, summer 2012, pp. 109+. Gale Academic OneFile,
  5.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’
  6.  Schwartz, Stephen. ‘’Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah: Shining a Light on Their Hidden History’’, Huffpost Religion, December 5, 2011.
  7.  Steinberg, David. ‘’Islam and Judiasm: Influences Contrasts and Parallels’’, House of David.
  8.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’ The Shared Beliefs of Muslims and Jews in Morocco – Analysis’’, Eurasia Review,
  9.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Jewish Music and Singing in Morocco’’, Eurasia Review, September 1, 2022.
  10.  Cole, Peter. The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492. Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press, 2007. JSTOR,
  11.  Mcgaha, Michael. ‘’The Sefer Ha-Bahir and Andalusian Sufism’’, Medieval Encounters, Volume 3. Issue 1, 1997. BRILL.
  12.  December 29, 2022.
  13.  Larsen, Mille. ‘’Arabic VS Hebrew – How Similar Are The Two Semitic Languages?’’, Auto Lingual,
  14.  Wasserstrom, Steven M. ‘’Sefer Yesira and Early Islam: A Reappraisal’’, Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 3 (1), pp. 1-30, 1994.
  15. Ibid.
  16.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Ibn ‘Arabi and the Search for humilty and purity’’,,
  17.  Laato, Antii & Pekka Lindqvist (eds.). Encounters of the Children of Abraham from Ancient to Modern Times. Series: Studies on the Children of Abraham, Volume: 1. Leiden, Brill, 2010.
  18.  Fenton, Paul B. “Judaism and Sufism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, ed. Daniel H. Frank & Oliver Leaman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 201. 
  19.  Huss, B. ‘’“A Remarkable Resemblance:” Comparative Mysticism and the Study of Sufism and Kabbalah’’, in: Sedgwick, M., Piraino, F. (eds.) Esoteric Transfers and Constructions. Palgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.
  20.  Khan, Uthman. ‘’The Influence of Islamic Sufism on Jewish Kabbalah’’, Mathaba.
  21.  Block, Tom. ‘’Abraham Maimonides: A Jewish Sufi’’, Sufi Magazine, London, England, Winter 2001.
  22.  En-Nougaoui, Abdellatif. De la kabbale et du soufisme : pour une approche comparative. Thèse de doctorat en Langue, Littérature et Civilisation Juives. Sous la direction de Ephraïm Riveline. Soutenue en 1993 à Paris 8.
  23.  Loubet, Mireille. “Une mystique particulière”, Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem, 7, 2000, pp. 11-17.
  24.  Geonim (plural of   גאון Gaon) (Hebrew: גאונים meaning “Excellency”[1]) were the presidents of the two great rabbinical colleges of Sura and Pumbedita, located in ancient Babylonia. They were the accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world-wide in the early medieval era. The Geonim played a prominent role in the transmission and teaching of the Torah and Jewish law. As the heads of Judaism‘s two most important academies of the time, the Geonim decided on issues on which no ruling had been rendered during the earlier period of the Sevora’im. The authority of the Geonim began in 589 C.E. (Hebrew date: 4349) and ended in 1038 C.E. (Hebrew date: 4798) covering a period of nearly 450 years. Maimonides sometimes used the term “Geonim” in an extended sense, to mean “leading authorities,” regardless of the country in which they lived. (
  25.  Sedgwick, Mark. Western SufismFrom the Abbasids to the New Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, p. 56.
  26.  Berger, Joseph. The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014.
  27.  Loubet, Mireille. “Une mystique particulière”, Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem, op. cit.
  28.  Halevi, Z’ev ben Shimon. La cabbale. Tradition de connaissance cachée. Paris: Editions du Seuil,1980.
  29.  Schaya, Léo. L’homme et l’absolu selon la kabbale. Paris : Editions Dervy, 1995.
  30.  Dan, Joseph. “Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in Early Kabbalah”, AJS Review, vol. 5, 1980.
  31.  Grad A. – D. Pour comprendre la kabbale. Paris: Editions Dervy, 1999.
  32.  Brill Dictionary of Religions.
  33.  Pedaya, Haviva. Vision and SpeechModels of Prophecy in Jewish Mysticism. Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2002, pp. 171–200 [Hebrew]; Fenton, Paul. “Solitary Meditation in Jewish and Islamic Mysticism in Light of Recent Archeological Discovery,” Medieval Encounters 1, no. 2, 1995, p. 285 & Idel, Moshe. “Ecstatic Kabbalah and the land of Israel,” in Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988, p. 93.
  34.  Sibony, Daniel. Lectures bibliques : Premières approches. Paris : Odile Jacob, 2005, p. 339.
  36.  The Tree of Life (Etz haHa’yim עץ החים in Hebrew) symbolically represents, in Kabbalah, the laws of the Universe (some authors bring it closer to the tree of life mentioned by Genesis in 2:9). Its description is considered to be the cosmogony of Kabbalistic mysticism.
  37.  The merkabah (or merkavah) is a Hebrew term meaning chariot (from the root R – K – B meaning to ride). It is one of the oldest themes of Jewish mysticism. For the mystic, it is a question of reaching the contemplation of God’s heavenly throne.
  38.  Reynolds, Benjamin E. & Loren T. Stuckenbruck, (eds.). The Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition and the Shaping of New Testament Thought. 1517 Media, 2017. JSTOR,
  39.  Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava. ‘’Kabbalah: A Medieval Tradition and Its Contemporary Appeal’’, History Kompass, volume 6, issue 2, March 2008, pp. 552-587.
  40.  Fenton, Paul B. « Les judéo-soufis de Lausanne. Un point de rencontre dans la mouvance guénonienne », Pierre Gisel éd., Réceptions de la cabale. Paris : Éditions de l’Éclat, 2007, pp. 283-313.
  41.  Ahmed, Mubaraz. ‘’ What Is Sufism?’’, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, December 1, 2017.
  42.   MacDonald, D.B. “Darwish (Darwesh).” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P.B. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel & W.P. Heinrichs. Leiden: Brill, 2009.
  43.  Palmer, Edward H. Oriental MysticismA Treatise on Sufistic and Unitarian Theosophy of the Persians. London: Frank Cass, 1969.
  44.  Guenon, René. Aperçus sur l’ésotérisme islamique et le taoïsme. Paris : Gallimard, coll. « Les essais », vol. 182, 1973, p. 18.
  45.  Bonaud, Christian. Le Soufisme : al-tasawwuf et la spiritualité islamique. Paris : Maisonneuve & Larose, 2002.
  46.  Scholem, Gershom. Le Zohar, Le Livre de la Splendeur. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1980.
  47. The doctrines of various religious sects flourishing especially in the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad in the Near East, teaching that the material world is the imperfect creation of a subordinate power or powers rather than of the perfect and unknowable Divine Being, and that the soul can transcend material existence by means of esoteric knowledge. The Mandaean religion preserves one system of Gnostic belief.
  48.  Zafrani, Haïm. Kabbale, vie mystique et magie : judaïsme d’Occident musulman. Paris : Maisonneuve et Larose, 1996.
  49.  The Tree of the Sephiroth may be considered an invaluable compendium of the secret philosophy which originally was the spirit and soul of Chasidism. The Qabbalah is the priceless heritage of Israel, but each year those who comprehend its true principles become fewer in number. The Jew of today, if he lacks a realization of the profundity of his people’s doctrines, is usually permeated with that most dangerous form of ignorance, modernism, and is prone to regard the Qabbalah either as an evil to be shunned like the plague or as a ridiculous superstition which has survived the black magic of the Dark Ages. Yet without the key which the Qabbalah supplies, the spiritual mysteries of both the Old and the New Testament must remain unsolved by Jew and Gentile alike. The Sephirothic Tree consists of ten globes of luminous splendor arranged in three vertical columns and connected by 22 channels or paths. The ten globes are called the Sephiroth and to them are assigned the numbers 1 to 10. The three columns are called Mercy (on the right), Severity (on the left), and, between them, Mildness, as the reconciling power. The columns may also be said to represent WisdomStrength, and Beauty, which form the triune support of the universe, for it is written that the foundation of all things is the Three. The 22 channels are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and to them are assigned the major trumps of the Tarot deck of symbolic cards.
  50.  François, Secret. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance. Paris: Dunod, 1964.
  51.  Theurgy, is a form of magic, which would allow man to communicate with the “good spirits” and to invoke supernatural powers for the praiseworthy purpose of reaching God.
  52.  Pseudepigrapha refers to a work whose author’s name or title has been falsely attributed. A pseudepigrapha is the name given to biblical books that bear false titles, false names.
  53.  The Brill Dictionary of Religion.
  54.  Mejdoubi, Sara. « À quoi sert le nous islamiste dans le discours ? », Cahiers de praxématique, 77, 2022,. http://
  55.  Khiari, Bariza. Le soufisme : spiritualité et citoyenneté, in série ‘’Valeurs D’Islam 4’’, 2015,
  56.  Harvat, Arvan. ‘’Sufi Cosmology’’, KHEPER, 2004.
  58.  Ambrosio o.p., Alberto F. « À la rencontre du soufisme. Les mystiques en héritage », Études, vol. 415, no. 10, 2011, pp. 351-360.
  59.  Bisson, David. « Soufisme et Tradition », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 140, octobre – décembre 2007. ; DOI :
  60.  Laitman, Michael. ‘’La Kabbale et le Soufisme’’, Laitman, 8 janvier 2014.
  61.  Hitbodedut (Hebrew: התבודדות, Withdrawal) refers to a meditated, unstructured, spontaneous and individualized prayer that Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (1772–1810) taught.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *