Dhu'l-Nun

2006
acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
40" x 30"
Unsold
3000
Dhu'l-Nun

Dhu'l-Nun al-Misri (796-861 C.E.) was born in Upper Egypt near Sudan, and is regarded by many as the founder of Sufism. He was imprisoned and persecuted by Mu'tazila on a charge of heresy, for his belief that the Qur'an was uncreated. Sent to Baghdad to prison, after examination he was released on the caliph's orders to return to Cairo. A legendary figure as alchemist and thaumaturge (wizard or magician), he was said to know the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. As a reputed founder of Sufism, he is credited with being the first to provide a systematic exposition of tasawwuf (spiritual development) and its doctrines.

Dhu'l Nun's words and ideas sifted into Jewish spirituality via a number of avenues. As Dhu influenced so many later Sufis, his ideas were rife in the medieval Jewish mystics that turned to Sufism to revivify the Jewish Religion. For instance, Bahya Ibn Pakuda (c. 1040, who wrote the seminal Jewish mystical treatise, Guide to the Duties of the Heart) quotes a Sufi sage in a short aphorism that ended up inspiring the title of Moses Maimonides' greatest philosophical tract, the Guide for the Perplexed. In Bahya's words: "One of the knowers (of God) said, 'The more one knows God, the more one is perplexed by Him.'" This "knower of God," however, was none other than the Sufi Dhu'l-Nun, as related in a quote by the 11th century Sufi al- Qushayri.

Dhu'l Nun influenced Jewish mysticism in other ways, reaching all the way to 18th century Hasidism with his ideas. For instance, Sufi Dhu al-Nun said, "Sama is the rapture of God that incites hearts towards God," Sama being the practice of inciting mystical awareness through music and dance. Nearly 1000 years later, Hasidic attitudes towards music and dance mirrored Dhu'l Nun's ideas. For the Baal Shem Tov and his minions, song and dance were viewed as a natural outgrowth and means of prayer. Replacing study as the means for bringing the Hasidic community together, music and dance became the tzaddik's strongest method of not only eliciting an ecstatic state, but also in binding his group of followers to each other and himself through this communal activity.