Ibn al-Jawzī’s Critique of Sufism in Talbīs Iblīs: A Re-Examination

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Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

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Pascal Held

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Research Article

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Studia Islamica

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This study seeks to re-examine Ibn al-Jawzī’s (d. 597/1201) censure of Sufism in his Talbīs Iblīs, a widely-known and frequently cited, but rarely carefully considered work. The article finds that Talbīs Iblīs’ chapter devoted to Sufism does indeed constitute a scathing condemnation of the Sufi tradition, which is however by no means comprehensive and requires moreover certain specifications and clarifications. For example, is Ibn al-Jawzī’s criticism mostly limited to Sufi conduct and practice, especially in public, rather than their ideas and beliefs, and likewise does he use his criticism to highlight commendable forms of piety and mysticism, revealing that he held on to a notion of pristine ascetical and mystical piety himself, which should nonetheless not be mistaken for Sufism. In any case, whether and to what degree one is able to immerse oneself in such forms of piety is according to Talbīs Iblīs to a large extent determined by one’s natural circumstances.

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