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The Love of Religion or the Religion of Love? Revisiting the Ġazal of Ibrāhīm ibn Sahl

  • Friedman, Rachel
Publication Date
Jul 05, 2022
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The Andalusi poet Ibrāhīm ibn Sahl (609/1212-649/1251), who converted from Judaism to Islam, wrote poems in the sub-genre of love poetry known as al-ġazal al-ʿuḏrī about objects of affection named Mūsà and, less frequently, Muḥammad. Scholarship on Ibn Sahl has typically focused on the question of whether the historical Ibn Sahl’s conversion to Islam was sincere or not, reading his poetry for clues about his true religious identity and beliefs. More specifically, readers have wondered whether his poems about Mūsà indicate a yearning for Judaism. This article problematizes this question with attention to what is known of the historical circumstances in which Ibn Sahl lived and through critical discussion of the phenomenon of conversion. It then redirects the conversation about Ibn Sahl’s poetry: rather than trying to understand the sincerity of Ibn Sahl’s conversion through his poetry, this article reads his poems as literary texts, with attention to their wordplay, imagery, and intertextuality. Analysis of Ibn Sahl’s poetry that pays close attention to this significant intertextuality illuminates the network of religious references in it and the ways in which they function within the poetry. The conclusion, following from close reading of select poems from Ibn Sahl’s dīwān, is that the merit of these poems, and the characteristics that have made them compelling to audiences, stems from the ways in which they maintain the possibility of different interpretations, thus continually stoking the audiences’ curiosity, as well as their marvel-inducing usage figurative language, intertextuality, and wordplay.

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