The Shaykh and the Others - Sufi Perspectives on Jews and Christians in Late Ayyubid and Early Mamluk Egypt

Giuseppe Cecere


This paper focuses on Sufi attitudes towards Jews and Christians in Late
Ayyubid and Early Mamluk Egypt, as reflected in hagiographic literature of the time. This will
shed further light on interfaith relations in a society where Jews and Christians lived under
Islamic rule in the condition of ahl al-dhimma (lit. “protected people”), implying an overall
condition of social and juridical inferiority. With this in mind, works by four prominent Sufi
authors have been analyzed: al-Risāla by Shaykh Ṣafī l-Dīn ibn Abī l-Manṣūr (d. 1283), al-
Kitāb al-waḥīd by Shaykh Ibn Nūḥ al-Qūṣī (d. 1308), Laṭāʾif al-minan by Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh al-
Iskandarī (d. 1309), Durrat al-asrār by Ibn al-Ṣabbāgh (fl. 1320s). This first survey shows a
wide variety of attitudes towards Jews and Christians, ranging from interreligious violence
to dialogue for converting and also to mutual respect, while adhering to the principles
of dhimma and maintaining hierarchical relationships between Islam and other religions.


Sufism; Dhimma; representations of Otherness in medieval Islam; interfaith contact; Jewish-Muslim relationships; medieval Egypt

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