Sufism in the Contemporary Arabic Novel
by Ziad Elmarsafy
Although Sufi characters – saints, dervishes, wanderers – occur regularly in modern Arabic literature, a select group of novelists seeks to interrogate Sufism as a system of thought and language. In the work of writers like Naguib Mahfouz, Gamal Al-Ghitany, Tahar Ouettar, Ibrahim Al-Koni, Mahmoud Al-Mas’adi and Tayeb Salih we see a strong intertextual relationship with the Sufi masters of the past, including Al-Hallaj, Ibn Arabi, Al-Niffari and Al-Suhrawardi. This relationship becomes a means of interrogating the limits of the creative self, individuality, rationality and the manifold possibilities offered by literature, seeking in a dialogue with the mystical heritage a way of preserving a self under siege from the overwhelming forces of oppression and reaction that have characterized the late 20th and early 21st centuries.