friends of allah (Aulia allah)
The Story Of Aulia
Wali, plural awliya,
is an arabic word meaning friend. Awliya Allah, therefore, means
Friends of Allah (swt).
Reference to the
Friends of Allah (swt) is found in the Quran, Hadith Qudsi &
Narrations of our Holy Prophet (saw).
We would, firstly,
like to bring you to the attention of the following authentic hadith
which has been narrated in Abu Daud that Our Holy Prophet (saw)
‘O people! Listen,
understand and know it well. Allah has servants who are neither
Prophets nor martyrs and whom the Prophets and martyrs yearn to be
like, due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allah....
Our Holy Prophet
(saw) then described these people and then read the following Ayah
in which Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an:
"Behold! Verily on
the Friends of Allah there is no fear nor shall they grieve"
Quran (Surah10: Verse 62)
Abu Huraira (r.a)
also reports a Hadith Qudsi in which our Holy Prophet (saw) informs
us that Allah (swt) said:
'Whosoever acts with
enmity towards a Friend of Mine, I will indeed declare war against
[Hadith Qudsi: Bukhari]
We can therefore
clearly conclude that the Friends of Allah (swt) are envied by, but
are neither, Prophets or martyrs, who have no fear or grief and are
loved & protected by Allah (swt).
In the sub menus to
this topic we aim to describe their characteristics & purpose and
provide you with enough information for you to be able to recognise
a Friend of Allah (swt), visit him with correct discipline &
understand some of the countless blessings entrusted to them.
Who knows, maybe one
day, InshAllah, you too will have a desire to strive and become a
Friend of Allah (swt)
Auliya Allah - Friends
of Allah (Azzo Jal)
Auliya (Friends, Protectors, Helpers, Supporters) According to
Quran and Sunnah:
"O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as
'Auliya' (friends, protectors, helpers etc.), they are but
'Auliya' to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as
'Auliya' then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not
those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers and
"O you who
believe! Take not My enemies and your enemies (i.e. disbelievers
and polytheists, etc.) as friends, showing affection towards
them, while they have disbelieved in what has come to you of the
truth (i.e. Islâmic Monotheism, this Qur'ân, and Muhammad ), and
have driven out the Messenger (Muhammad ) and yourselves (from
your homeland) because you believe in Allâh your Lord! If you
have come forth to strive in My Cause and to seek My Good
Pleasure, (then take not these disbelievers and polytheists,
etc., as your friends). You show friendship to them in secret,
while I am All-Aware of what you conceal and what you reveal.
And whosoever of you (Muslims) does that, then indeed he has
gone (far) astray, (away) from the Straight Path. 60, 1.
gain the upper hand over you, they would behave to you as
enemies, and stretch forth their hands and their tongues against
you with evil, and they desire that you should disbelieve". 60,
relatives nor your children will benefit you on the Day of
Resurrection (against Allâh). He will judge between you. And
Allâh is the All-Seer of what you do". 60, 3.
Indeed there has
been an excellent example for you in Ibrâhim (Abraham) and those
with him, when they said to their people: "Verily, we are free
from you and whatever you worship besides Allâh, we have
rejected you, and there has started between us and you,
hostility and hatred for ever, until you believe in Allâh
Alone," except the saying of Ibrâhim (Abraham) to his father:
"Verily, I will ask for forgiveness (from Allâh) for you, but I
have no power to do anything for you before Allâh ." Our Lord!
In You (Alone) we put our trust, and to You (Alone) we turn in
repentance, and to You (Alone) is (our) final Return, 60, 4.
Certainly, there has been in them an excellent example for you
to follow, for those who look forward to (the Meeting with)
Allâh (for the reward from Him) and the Last Day. And whosoever
turn away, then verily, Allâh is Rich (Free of all wants),
Worthy of all Praise. 60, 6.
will make friendship between you and those whom you hold as
enemies. And Allâh has power (over all things), and Allâh is
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. 60, 7.
Allâh does not
forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not
against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of
your homes. Verily, Allâh loves those who deal with equity. 60,
It is only as
regards those who fought against you on account of religion, and
have driven you out of your homes, and helped to drive you out,
that Allâh forbids you to befriend them. And whosoever will
befriend them, then such are the Zâlimûn (wrongdoers those who
disobey Allâh). 60,9
O you who
believe! Take not as friends the people who incurred the Wrath
of Allâh (i.e. the Jews). Surely, they have been in despair to
receive any good in the Hereafter, just as the disbelievers have
been in despair about those (buried) in graves (that they will
not be resurrected on the Day of Resurrection). 60, 13.
O you who believe! Take not for 'Auliya' (supporters and
helpers) your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief
to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the
Zalimun (wrongdoers, etc.) 9:23 Hypocrites.
Then what is the
matter with you that you are divided into two parties about the
hypocrites? Allah has cast them back (to disbelief) because of
what they have earned. Do you want to guide him whom Allah has
made to go astray? And he whom Allah has made to go astray, you
will never find for him any way (of guidance). They wish that
you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that
you all become equal (like one another). So take not 'Auliya'
(protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way
of Allah (to Muhammad ). But if they turn back (from Islam),
take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and
take neither 'Auliya' (protectors or friends) nor helpers from
Those who take
disbelievers for 'Auliya' (protectors or helpers or friends)
instead of believers, do they seek honour, power and glory with
them? Verily, then to Allah belongs all honour, power and glory.
O you who
believe! Take not for 'Auliya' (protectors or helpers or
friends) disbelievers instead of believers. Do you wish to offer
Allah a manifest proof against yourselves? 4:144
Awliya for Muslims
Muslims Behold! verily on the friends of Allah there is
no fear nor shall they grieve. 10.62; Those who believe and
(constantly) guard against evil. 10,63.
As to those who
turn (for friendship) to Allah His Apostle and the (fellowship
of) believers it is the fellowship of Allah that must certainly
triumph. 5, 56.
believed and adopted exile and fought for the faith with their
property and their persons in the cause of Allah as well as
those who gave (them) asylum and aid these are (all) friends and
protectors one of another. As to those who believed but came not
into exile ye owe no duty of protection to them until they seek
your aid in religion it is your duty to help them except against
a people with whom ye have a treaty of mutual alliance: and
(remember) Allah seeth all that ye do . 8, 72.
Let not the believers take for friends or helpers unbelievers
rather than believers; if any do that in nothing will there be
help from Allah; except by way of precaution that ye may guard
yourselves from. 3, 28.
Walî (Protector or Helper) is Allâh, His Messenger, and the
believers, - those who perform As-Salât (Iqâmat-as-Salât), and
give Zakât, and they bow down (submit themselves with obedience
to Allâh in prayer). 5:55 What hadith says about Awliya Allah
The Prophet (s) said, "'ulama ummati ka anbiya'i Bani Isra'il"
which means "the scholars of my Nation are like the prophets of
the Bani Isra'il." And the Prophet (s) said in another hadith
"al-'ulama warithat ul-anbiya," (Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi) which
means "the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets."
Therefore it is difficult to see a way in Islam which allows one
to discard scholars and scholarship.
narrated that Rasool Allah (saw) said (hadith Qudsi), " Whoever
harms any of my Deputies, I shall declare war on him. The
striving of my Servant to please Me does not receive a reward
greater than that of fulfilling what I have commanded him to do.
My servant volunteers in his perseverance, offering
supererogatory devotion to please Me and to earn my Love. Once I
cast My love upon him, I become his hearing with which he hears,
his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he exacts
justice, and his foot that carries him. Should my servant pray
for something, I will answer his prayers and should he seek
refuge in me, I will protect him. Indeed, there is nothing that
I have decreed, which I hesitate to do for the sake of a
believer except causing him to experience death. He dislikes it,
and I hate to displease him, but I have thus ordained."
Al-Khattaab once found Mu`adh ibn Jabal (ra) sitting and crying
near the Grave of RasuuluLLah (saw). He asked him, " Why are you
crying?" Mu`adh said, " I remember something RasuuluLLah said :
"The slightest ostentatiousness is Shirk, and whoever harms any
of Allah`s Deputies has surely earned Allah`s Wrath."
`Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (ra) said, " Some of Allah blessed
servants are neither Prophets nor Martyrs, they are special
People, who on the Day of Reckoning, the Prophets and the
Martyrs will envy them for their ranks and nearness to their
Lord. " Someone asked, " O RasuuluLLah , who are they, and what
kind of deeds do they perform so that we may love Them as well?"
RasuuluLLah said, " They are People who love one another in
Allah, even though they have no consanguineous ties, money to
exchange or worldly business to barter with. I swear by Allah on
the Reckoning, their faces will be effulgent lights and they
will be raised on Pulpits of Light. They will not be subject to
fear when the creation is seized by the awesomeness of the Day
of Resurrection, nor will they be subjected with sorrow when the
rest of creation will be seized by it." He then recited <<
Surely, Allah`s Deputies are not subject to fear nor shall they
grieve>> (Quran 10:62).
No Muslims in Town to be Friends With?
Or have they taken (for worship) Auliyâ' (guardians, supporters,
helpers, protectors, etc.) besides Him? But Allâh, He Alone is
the Walî (Protector, etc.). And it is He Who gives life to the
dead, and He is Able to do all things. 42:9 And whoever takes
Shaitân (Satan) as a Walî (protector or helper) instead of
Allâh, has surely suffered a manifest loss. 4:119
Ghaus Al-Azam Shaykh Abdul Qadir
Through the mists of legend surrounding the life of Shaikh 'Abd al-Qadir
al-Jilani, it is possible to discern the outlines of the following
A.H. 488, at the age of eighteen, he left his native province to become
a student in the great capital city of Baghdaad, the hub of political,
commercial and cultural activity, and the center of religious learning
in the world of Islaam. After studying traditional sciences under such
teachers as the prominent Hanbalii jurist [faqiih], Abuu Sa'd 'Alii al-Mukharrimii,
he encountered a more spiritually oriented instructor in the saintly
person of Abu'l-Khair Hammaad ad-Dabbaas.
instead of embarking on his own professorial career, he abandoned the
city and spent twenty-five years as a wanderer in the desert regions of
'Iraaq. He was over fifty years old by the time he returned to Baghdaad,
in A.H. 521/1127 C.E., and began to preach in public. His hearers were
profoundly affected by the style and content of his lectures, and his
reputation grew and spread through all sections of society. He moved
into the school [madrasa] belonging to his old teacher al-Mukharrimii,
but the premises eventually proved inadequate.
A.H. 528, pious donations were applied to the construction of a
residence and guesthouse [ribaat], capable of housing the Shaikh and his
large family, as well as providing accommodation for his pupils and
space for those who came from far and wide to attend his regular
lived to a ripe old age, and continued his work until his very last
breath, as we know from the accounts of his final moments recorded in
the Addendum to Revelations of the Unseen.
words of Shaikh Muzaffer Ozak Efendi: "The venerable 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani
passed on to the Realm of Divine Beauty in A.H. 561/1166 C.E., and his
blessed mausoleum in Baghdaad is still a place of pious visitation. He
is noted for his extraordinary spiritual experiences and exploits, as
well as his memorable sayings and wise teachings. It is rightly said of
him that 'he was born in love, grew in perfection, and met his Lord in
the perfection of love.' May the All-Glorious Lord bring us in contact
with his lofty spiritual influence!"
Hadhrat Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak
al-Rahman ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mobarak al-Hanzali al-Marwazi, born in
118 (736) of a Turkish father and a Persian mother, was a noted
authority on Traditions and a famous ascetic. He studied under many
teachers in Merv and elsewhere, and became erudite in many branches
of learning, including grammar and literature. A wealthy merchant
who distributed much in alms to the poor, he died at Hit on the
Euphrates in 181 (797). He composed many works on Traditions, and
one of these, on the theme of asceticism, has survived.
The conversion of Abdullah-e Mobarak
circumstances of Abdullah-e Mobarak’s conversion were as follows. He
became infatuated with a girl, so much so that he could not rest.
One night during the winter he stood beneath
wall of his beloved’s apartment until morning, waiting to catch a
glimpse of her. All night it snowed. When the call to prayer
sounded, he supposed that it was for the prayer before sleeping.
Seeing the daybreak, he realized that he had been absorbed all night
in his longing for his beloved.
“Shame on you, son of Mobarak!” he cried. “On such a blessed night
you stood on your feet till morning because of your private passion,
yet if the imam is over long in reciting a Sura during prayer you
are quite frantic.”
Anguish gripped his heart forthwith, and he repented and devoted
himself busily to worship. So complete was his devotion, that one
day his mother, entering the garden, saw him sleeping under a
rosebush whilst a snake with a narcissus in its mouth was driving
flies away from him.
that he set forth from Merv and stayed for a time in Baghdad,
associating with the Sufi masters there. Then he proceeded to Makkah
where he resided for a space, after which he returned to Merv. The
people of Merv welcomed him back warmly, and set up classes and
study-groups. At that time half of the people were followers of
Traditions and half devoted themselves to jurisprudence. So today
Abdullah is known as “the Approved of the Two Sects” because he was
in accord with each, and both claimed him as their own. Abdullah
founded two colleges in Merv, one for traditionists and the other
for jurisprudents. He then left for Hejaz, and took up residence in
alternate years he would perform the pilgrimage, and go out to the
wars, and a third year he would engage in commerce. The profits of
his trading he divided among his followers. He used to give dates to
the poor, and count the date-stones; whoever ate more dates, he
would offer a dirham for every stone.
scrupulous was he in his piety, that on one occasion he had alighted
at an inn. Now he had a valuable horse; he proceeded to prayer.
Meanwhile his horse wandered into a field of wheat. He abandoned his
horse there and proceeded on foot, saying, “He has devoured the crop
of the authorities.” On another occasion he made the journey all the
way from Merv to
Damascus to return a pen which he had borrowed and forgotten to give
day as he was passing through a certain place they informed a blind
man living there that Abdullah was coming. “Ask of him all that you
“Stop, Abdullah,” the blind man called. Abdullah halted.
to God to restore my sight,” the man begged.
Abdullah lowered his head and prayed. At once the man saw again.
Abdullah-e Mobarak and Ali ibn al-Mowaffaq
Abdullah was living at Makkah. One year, having completed the rites
of the pilgrimage, he fell asleep. In a dream he saw two angels
descend from heaven.
many have come this year?” one asked the other.
hundred thousand,” the other replied.
many have had their pilgrimage accepted?”
I heard this,” Abdullah reports, “I was filled with trembling.
‘What?’ I cried. ‘All these people have come from afar out of the
distant ends of the earth and with great pain and weariness from
every deep ravine, traversing wide deserts, and all their labour is
in vain?’ ‘There is a cobbler in Damascus called Ali ibn Mowaffaq,’
said the angel. ‘He has not come on the pilgrimage , but his
pilgrimage is accepted and all his sins have been forgiven.’
I heard this,” Abdullah continued, “I awoke saying, ‘I must go to
Damascus and visit that person.’ So I went to Damascus and looked
for where he lived. I shouted, and someone came out. ‘What is your
name?’ I asked. ‘Ali ibn Mowaffaq,’ he replied. ‘I wish to speak
with you,’ I said. ‘Say on,’ he replied. ‘What work do you do?’ ‘I
cobble.’ I then told him of my dream. ‘What is your name?’ he
enquired when I had done. ‘Abdullah-e Mobarak,’ I replied. He
uttered a cry and fell in a faint. When he recovered I said to him,
‘Tell me your story.’
man told me, ‘For thirty years now I have longed to make the
pilgrimage. I had saved up three hundred and fifty dirhams from my
cobbling. This year I had resolved to go to Makkah. One day the good
lady within becoming pregnant, she smelt the smell of food coming
from next door. “Go and fetch me a bit of that food,” she begged me.
I went and knocked on the neighbour’s door and explained the
situation. My neighbour burst into tears. “My children have eaten
nothing for three days together,” she said. “Today I saw a donkey
lying dead, so I hacked off a piece and cooked it. It would not be
lawful food for you.” My heart burned within me when I heard her
tale. I took out the three hundred and fifty dirhams and gave them
to her. “Spend these on the children,” I said. “This is my
angel spoke truly in my dream,” Abdullah declared, “and the Heavenly
King was true in His judgment.”
Abdullah-e Mobarak and his slave
Abdullah had a slave. A man told him, “That slave of yours plunders
the dead and gives you the proceeds.”
information distressed Abdullah. One night he followed on his
slave’s heels. He went to a cemetery and opened a grave. In the
grave was a prayer-niche, where the slave stood at prayer. Abdullah,
who had watched all this from a distance, crept nearer. He saw that
the slave was clothed in sackcloth and had put a collar round his
neck. Rubbing his face in the earth, he was wailing. Observing this,
Abdullah crept away weeping and sat apart in a corner.
slave remained in that place until dawn. Then he came up and covered
over the grave, and proceeded to the mosque and said his morning
God,” he cried, “day has returned. My temporal lord will ask me for
money. Thou art the riches of the bankrupt. Give Thou to me from
whence Thou knowest.”
Immediately a light shone out of the sky, and a silver dirham
dropped into the slave’s hand. Abdullah could not bear to watch any
more. He rose up and took the head of the slave into his bosom and
thousand lives be the ransom of such a slave!” he exclaimed. “You
were the master, not I.”
God,” cried the slave, perceiving what had happened, “now that my
veil has been stripped away and my secret is revealed, no more
repose remains for me in this world. I implore Thee by Thy might and
glory, suffer me not to be a cause of stumbling. Take away my soul.”
head was still lying in Abdullah’s bosom when he expired. Abdullah
laid him out and wrapped him in a winding-sheet, then he buried him
in that same sackcloth in the selfsame grave.
night Abdullah saw the Master of the World in a dream, and the
Friend of God Abraham with him, each come down riding a heavenly
“Abdullah,” they said, “why did you bury our friend in sackcloth?”
Abu Sa‘id Ahmad ibn
‘Isa al-Kharraz of Baghdad, a cobbler by trade, met Dho ‘l-Nun al-Misri
and associated with Beshr al-Hafi and Sari al-Saqati. To him is
attributed the formulation of the mystical doctrine of passing-away
(from human attributes) and continuance (in God). Author of several
books including some which have survived, the date of his death is
uncertain but probably occurred between Z79 (89z) and 286 (899).
The doctrine of Abu Sa‘id-e Kharraz
Abu Sa‘id-e Kharraz
was called “the Tongue of Sufism”. They gave him this nickname
because no one in this community possessed a tongue of mystic truth
such as he. He composed four hundred books on the theme of
disassociation and detachment, and was indeed a nonpareil.
Baghdad, Abu Sa‘id met Dho ‘l-Nun-e Misri and associated with Beshr
and Sari-e Saqati. He was the first to speak of the states of
“passing-away” and “continuance” in the mystical sense, summing up
his whole doctrine in these two terms. Certain of the theologians
who followed the exoteric school disapproved of the subtleties of
his teaching, and condemned him of blasphemy on account of certain
expressions which they found in his works. In particular they
criticized his Book of the Secret, especially a passage occurring in
it which they failed to understand properly. This is where Abu Sa‘id
states, “A servant of God who has returned to God and attached
himself to God and has come to dwell in propinquity to God, such a
man has completely forgotten himself and all other than God, so that
if you were to say to him, ‘Where are you from, and what do you
seek?’ he would have no other answer but simply ‘God’.”
Another passage in
Abu Sa‘id’s writings to which objection has been taken is where he
says, “If a certain one of these mystics is asked, ‘What do you
want?’ he replies ‘God’. If he is in such a state that all the parts
of his body become vocal, they all say ‘God’. For his members and
joints are fully bathed in the Light of God, so that he is drawn
into God. So far has he reached in propinquity to God, that in his
presence no one is able to say ‘God’; for whatever proceeds there
proceeds from Reality unto Reality and from God to God. Since here,
in the state of ordinary men, nothing has resulted from God, how can
anyone say ‘God’? Here all reason of reasoning men ends in
“All men,” Abu Sa‘id
once said, “have been given the choice between remoteness and
propinquity. I chose remoteness, because I could not support
propinquity. Similarly Lokman said, ‘I was given the choice between
wisdom and prophecy. I chose wisdom, because I could not support the
burden of prophecy.’ “
Abu Sa‘id related
the following dreams.
Once I dreamed that
two angels came down from Heaven and said to me, “What is
truthfulness?” I replied, “Fulfilling one’s covenants.” “You have
spoken the truth,” they said, then they both departed to Heaven.
Again I dreamed that
I saw the Prophet. He said to me, “Do you love me?” I replied,
“Excuse me. My love for God has preoccupied me from loving you.” The
Prophet said, “Whoso loves God loves me.”
On another occasion
in a dream I saw Iblis. I took a stick to beat him. I heard a
Heavenly voice say, “He is not afraid of a stick. He is afraid of
the light which is in your heart.” Then I said to Iblis, “Come!”
Iblis replied, “What can I do with you? You have cast out the thing
whereby I beguile men.” “What is that?” I asked. “The world,” he
answered. Then as he left me Iblis looked back and said, “There is a
little thing in you men by which I attain my purpose.” “What is
that?” I asked. “Sitting with boys,” Iblis replied.
When I was in
Damascus I again saw the Prophet in a dream. He approached me
leaning on Abu Bakr and Umar. I was reciting a verse of poetry,
tapping my breast with my hunger. The Prophet said, “The evil of
this is greater than its good.” He meant that one should not
Abu Sa‘id-e Kharraz
had two sons, one of whom predeceased him. One night he saw him in a
dream. “Son, what has God done with you?” Abu Sa‘id asked. “He
brought me close to Him and made much of
me,” his son
replied. “Son, make me testament,” Abu Sa‘id begged. “Father,” his
son answered, “do not entertain dark
thoughts of God.”
“Tell me more!” “Father, if I speak, you will not be able to bear
it.” “I ask God to assist me,” said Abu Sa‘id. “Father,” said the
son, “do not suffer a single shirt to
yourself and God.” It is said that in all the thirty years which Abu
Sa‘id lived after this dream he never wore a shirt again.
Abu Hafs ‘Amr ibn
Salama al-Haddad, a blacksmith of Nishapur, visited Baghdad and met
al-Junaid who admired his devotion; he also encountered al-Shibli
and other mystics of the Baghdad school. Returning to Nishapur, he
resumed his trade and died there in 265 (879).
How Abu Hafs-e Haddad was converted
As a young man Abu
Hafs-e Haddad fell in love with a serving wench so desperately that
he could not compose himself.
“There is a Jewish
magician living in the suburbs of Nishapur,” his friends told him.
“He will prescribe for you.”
Abu Hafs went and
described his situation to the Jew.
“You must not pray
for forty days, or obey God in any way, or do any good deed,” the
Jew advised him. “You should not mention God’s name on your tongue,
or form any good intentions whatsoever. Then I may devise something
by magic to procure you your goal.”
Abu Hafs conducted
himself accordingly for forty days. Then the Jew composed the
talisman, but without success.
“Without doubt some
good has come into being through you,” the Jew said. “Otherwise I am
certain that this object would have been achieved.”
“I have done
nothing,” Abu Hafs assured him. “The only thing I can think of is
that as I came here I kicked a stone out of the way so that no one
might trip over it.”
“Do not vex the
God,” said the Jew, “whose command you gainsay for forty days, and
who of His generosity suffered not to go to waste even this little
trouble you took.”
These words kindled
a fire within Abu Hafs’s heart. So strong was it, that he was
converted at the hands of the Jew.
He continued to
practise his trade as a blacksmith, concealing the miracle that had
happened to him. Every day he earned one dinar. At night he gave his
earnings to the poor, and dropped money into widows’ letter-boxes
surreptitiously. Then at the time of the prayer of sleep he would go
begging, and break his fast on that. Sometimes he would gather the
remains of leeks or the like which people had washed in the public
basin and make his meal of them.
So he continued for
a time. Then one day a blind man passed through the market reciting
this verse: “I take refuge with God from the accursed Satan. In the
Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Yet there would appear
to them from God that they never reckoned with.” This verse occupied
his heart, and something came upon him so that he lost
consciousness. In place of the tongs he put his hand in the furnace
and pulled out the red-hot iron. He laid it on the anvil, and the
apprentices set to hammering it. They then noticed he was turning
the iron with his hand.
“Master, what ever
is this?” they cried.
“Strike!” he shouted
at the apprentices.
“Master, where shall
we strike?” they asked. “The iron is clean.”
Thereupon Abu Hafs
came to his senses. He saw the red-hot iron in his hand and heard
the cry, “It is clean. Where shall we strike?” Flinging the iron
from his hand, he abandoned his shop for any to pillage.
“I desired so long
deliberately to give up this work, and failed, until this event came
upon me and forcibly wrested me from myself. Though I kept trying to
abandon this work, all was to no purpose until the work abandoned
And he applied
himself to severe self-discipline, and took up the life of solitude
Abu Hafs-e Haddad and Junaid
Abu Hafs resolved to
make the pilgrimage. Now he was an illiterate and did not understand
Arabic. When he came to Baghdad, the Sufi disciples whispered
“It is a great
disgrace that the Shaykh of Shaykhs of Khorasan should require an
interpreter to understand their language.”
Junaid sent his
disciples out to welcome him. Abu Hafs knew what “our companions”
were thinking, and at once he began to speak in Arabic so that the
people of Baghdad were amazed at the purity of his speech. A number
of the great scholars gathered before him and questioned him on
“You are able to
express yourselves. You say,” Abu Hafs replied.
“As I see it,” said
Junaid, “true self-sacrifice means that you should not regard
yourself as self-sacrificing, and that you should not attribute to
yourself whatever you may have done.”
commented Abu Hafs. “But as I see it, self sacrifice means acting
with justice towards others, and not seeking justice for oneself.”
“Act on that, our
companions,” said Junaid.
“To act rightly
requires more than words,” retorted Abu Hafs.
“Rise up, our
companions,” Junaid commanded when he heard this reply. “Abu Hafs
exceeds in self-sacrifice Adam and all his seed.”
Abu Hafs kept his
companions in great awe and discipline. No disciple dared to be
seated before him or to cast his glance on him. They always stood
before him, and would not sit without his command. He himself sat in
their midst like a sultan.
“You have taught
your companions the manners due to a sultan,” Junaid observed.
“You can only see
the superscription,” Abu Hafs replied. “But from the address it is
possible to indicate what is in the letter.’’
Then Abu Hafs said,
“Order them to make broth and halwa.”
Junaid directed one
of his disciples to make them. When he brought the dishes, Abu Hafs
“Call a porter and
put them on his head. Let him carry them until he is tired out.
Then, whatever house he has reached, let him call out, and whoever
comes to the door, let him give them to him.”
The porter obeyed
these instructions. He went on until he felt tired and could go no
farther. Setting the dishes down by the door of a house, he called
out. The owner of the house, an elder, replied.
“If you have brought
broth and halwa, I will open the door.”
“I have,” replied
“Bring them in,”
said the elder, opening the door.
“I was amazed,” the
porter related. “I asked the old man, ‘What is going on? How did you
know that I had brought broth and halwa?’ The old man answered,
‘Last night when I was at my prayers, the thought came into my mind
that my children had been begging me for them for a long time. I
know that my prayer has not been in vain.’ “
There was a disciple
who waited on Abu Hafs with great politeness. Junaid gazed at him
many times, for his conduct delighted him.
“How many years has
he been in your service?” he asked Abu Hafs.
“Ten years,” Abu
“He is perfect in
his manners and wonderfully dignified. An admirable young man,”
“Yes,” Abu Hafs
said. “Seventeen thousand dinars he has expended on our cause, and
borrowed another seventeen thousand and spent them as well. And yet
he dares not address one question to us.”
Abu Hafs then set
out into the desert. He gave the following account of what happened
to him there.
In the desert (he
said) I saw Abu Torab. I had not eaten for sixteen days. I
approached a pool to drink, and fell to meditating.
“What has halted you
here?” asked Abu Torab.
“I was waiting to
see as between knowledge and certainty, which would prevail, that I
might adopt the victor,” I replied. “If the victory went to
knowledge, I would drink; if certainty prevailed, I would continue
on my way.”
“You are certainly
advancing,” said Abu Torab.
When Abu Hafs
arrived in Makkah he saw a throng of poor and destitute pilgrims
there. He desired to bestow something on them, and became extremely
agitated. He was so overcome by his feelings that he picked up a
stone and cried,
“By Thy majesty, if
Thou dost not give me something I will break all the lamps in the
He then proceeded to
circle the Kaaba. Immediately a man came up to him and gave him a
purse of gold, which he spent on the poor.
Having completed the
pilgrimage, he returned to Baghdad. There Junaid’s companions went
out to welcome him.
“What present have
you brought us from your journey?” asked Junaid.
“Perhaps one of ‘our
companions’ is unable to live as he should,” replied Abu Hafs. “This
that I have to say can be my offering. If you observe in a brother a
lack of good manners, discover in yourself an excuse for him and
excuse him to yourself accordingly. If the dust of misunderstanding
does not rise as a result of that excuse, and you are in the right,
discover some better excuse and excuse him to yourself again. If
still the dust does not rise, go on inventing another excuse, even
to forty times. If still the dust does not rise, and you are in the
right, and those forty excuses do not measure up to the fault he has
committed, then sit down and say to yourself, ‘What a stubborn and
unenlightened soul you are! What an opinionated and unmannerly and
boorish fellow you are! Your brother offers forty excuses for his
offence, and you do not accept them and continue in the same course!
I have washed my hands of you. You know what you want; do as you
Junaid marvelled at
these words. “Who can have such strength?” he asked himself.
Abu Hafs and Shibli
hospitality to Abu Hafs for four months. Every day he produced a
different kind of dish and several sorts of sweetmeat.
When Abu Hafs came
to bid him farewell, he said, “Shibli, when you come to Nishapur I
will teach you true entertainment and generosity.”
“Why, what have I
done, Abu Hafs?” asked Shibli.
“You took too great
pains. Extravagance is not the same as generosity,” said Abu Hafs.
“One should treat a guest exactly as oneself. That way, his coming
will not be a burden to you, and his departure will not be an
occasion of gladness. When you go to extravagant lengths, his coming
is burdensome to you and his departure a relief. No man who feels
like that towards a guest is truly generous.”
When Shibli came to
Nishapur he stayed with Abu Hafs. Forty persons were in the party,
and at night Abu Hafs lit forty-one lamps.
“Did you not say one
should not act extravagantly?” remarked Shibli.
“Then get up and put
them out,” answered Abu Hafs.
Shibli got up, but
for all his efforts he could not extinguish more than one lamp.
“Shaykh, how is
this?” he asked.
“You were forty
persons, emissaries of God. For the guest is an emissary of God.
Naturally I lit a lamp in the name of each one, for the sake of God,
and one for myself. Those forty which I lit for God you were unable
to put out, but the one lit for myself you extinguished. All that
you did in Baghdad you did for my sake; I did what I did for God’s
sake. So the former was extravagance, the latter not.”
Abdullah ibn Khafif
One of the great
saints of Persia, Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Khafif ibn Esfakshad
was born in Shiraz in 270 (882), it is said of a princely family.
After a broad education he travelled to Baghdad, and there met al-Hallaj
and other Sufis of the capital. He made the pilgrimage to Makkah at
least six times, and is reported also to have visited Egypt, and
Asia Minor. Author of a number of books, he died in his native city
at a very advanced age in 371 (982).
The asceticism of Ibn Khafif
Ibn Khafif of Fars
was of royal descent. He was so called because he carried a light
burden, was light of spirit and will face a light reckoning. Every
night his meal on breaking his fast consisted of seven raisins, no
more. One night the servitor gave him eight. He did not realize, and
ate them. Finding no pleasure in his devotions, contrary to his
nightly experience, he summoned the servant and interrogated him.
“I gave you eight
raisins tonight,” the servant admitted.
“Why?” demanded Ibn
“I saw that you were
enfeebled, and it hurt my heart,” said the servant. “I said to
myself, if only you would get some strength.”
“So you were not my
friend but my enemy,” Ibn Khafif cried. “If you had been my friend
you would have given me six, not eight.”
And he dismissed him
from his service and appointed another servant.
Ibn Khafif recalled
At the beginning of
my career I wished to go on the pilgrimage. When I reached Baghdad,
my head was filled with so much conceit that I did not go to see
Junaid. As I travelled deep in the desert, carrying a rope and a
bucket, thirst overcame me. I espied a well from which a deer was
drinking. Just as I reached the edge of the well the water vanished
into its depths.
“God,” I cried, “is
Abdullah of less worth than this deer?”
“This deer did not
have a bucket and a rope,” I heard a voice say. “His reliance was on
Full of joy, I flung
away the bucket and rope and went on my way.
“Abdullah,” I heard
the voice again, “We were putting you to the test. Since you have
shown fortitude, return and drink.”
I returned to find
the water up to the brim of the well. I performed my ablutions and
drank. Then I set out once more, and all the way to Medina I had no
need of water again because of my ritual purity.
When I was back in
Baghdad, on Friday I went to mosque. Junaid there caught sight of me
and addressed me.
“Had you been truly
patient, the water would have gushed forth from beneath your feet.”
In my youth (Ibn
Khafif also related) a certain dervish came to call on me. Observing
in me the marks of hunger, he invited me to his house. Some meat had
been cooking, and the smell of it pervaded the house so that I was
repelled and could not eat. The dervish, noticing this disdain in
me, was filled with shame. I too was overcome by confusion. So I
left the table and set out with some companions.
Qadesiya we lost our way, and were out of provisions. We bore up for
some days, till we came to the brink of destruction. Things were so
bad that we bought a dog at a high price and roasted it. They gave
me a morsel. I was about to eat it when I remembered the episode of
the dervish and the food he had offered me.
“This,” I told
myself, “is in punishment for that day when the dervish was put to
shame before me.”
I repented, so that
the way was shown to us. When I returned home, I begged that
One day I heard of
an elder and a youth in Egypt who were engaged in perpetual
meditation. I went to Egypt, and there saw two persons with their
faces turned to Makkah. I greeted them thrice, but they did not
“God save you,” I
cried. `’Answer my greeting!”
“Ibn Khafif,” said
the youth lifting up his head, “this world is a little thing, and of
this little only a little remains. Of this little take a large
portion, Ibn Khafif! Perhaps you have time to spare to trouble to
So saying, he
lowered his head. Though hungry and thirsty, I forgot my hunger, so
completely did they entrance me. I waited, and performed the noon
and afternoon prayers with them. Then I spoke.
“Give me counsel.”
“Ibn Khafif, we are
men of affliction,” he replied. “We have not the tongue to offer
advice. Another is needed to counsel the afflicted.”
I remained there
three days without eating and sleeping.
“What can I say to
adjure them to counsel me?” I asked myself.
The youth lifted his
“Seek the company of
someone, the sight of whom will remind you of God and the awe of
whom will move your heart, someone who will counsel you with the
tongue of deeds, not words.”
One year I was
staying in Byzantium. One day I went out into the desert. They
brought along a monk wasted as a shadow, burned him, and smeared his
ashes on the eyes of the blind. By the omnipotent power of God they
recovered their sight. The sick also partook of his ashes and were
healed. I marvelled how this could be, seeing that they were
following a false faith. That night I saw the Prophet in a dream.
“Messenger of God,
what are you doing there?” I asked.
“I have come for
your sake,” the Prophet replied.
“Messenger of God,
what was this miracle?” I asked.
“It was the result
of sincerity and self-discipline in error,” the Prophet answered.
“If it had been in truth, how then would it have been!”
Ibn Khafif and his wives
One midnight Ibn
Khafif summoned his servant.
“Bring me a woman,”
he said. “I want one.”
“Where shall I go in
the middle of the night?” the servant replied. “But I have a
daughter. If the master gives me permission, I will fetch her.”
“Fetch her,” Ibn
The servant brought
his daughter, and Ibn Khafif married her on the spot. Seven months
later a child was born, but it died.
“Tell your daughter
to divorce me,” Ibn Khafif said to his servant. “Else if she wishes,
she may stay on.”
“Master, what is the
mystery in this?” the servant asked.
“The night of our
marriage,” Ibn Khafif explained, “I dreamed that it was the
resurrection. Many people were standing stupefied, up to their necks
in sweat. All at once a child came along, took its mother and father
by the hand and led them swift as the wind over the bridge between
Hell and Heaven. I too desired to have a child. When that child came
into the world and departed, my goal was attained.”
It is said that
thereafter Ibn Khafif contracted four hundred marriages. For being
of royal descent, when he repented and achieved perfect saintliness
he received proposals from all sides. He married two or three at a
time. One lady, the daughter of the vizier, was married to him for
His wives were once
asked how Ibn Khafif behaved with them privately.
“We know nothing
about his company,” they replied. “If anyone knows, it would be the
So they asked her.
“When I learned that
the Shaykh was coming that night to my apartment,” she said, “I
would prepare delicious dishes and adorn myself. When he arrived and
saw what I had done, he would send for me and look at me for a
while. Then he would contemplate the food for a while. Then one
night he took my hand and drew it into his sleeve and rubbed it over
his belly. I felt fifteen knots from his breast to his navel. ‘Girl,
ask me what these knots are,’ he said. ‘What are they?’ I asked.
‘All these,’ he replied, ‘are the violent flames of fortitude which
I fastened knot by knot, to withstand your offering of such beauty
and such delicious fare.’ He then left me. That was the only time I
was bold with him, so extreme was his self-disci-pline.”
Anecdotes of Ibn Khafif
Ibn Khafif had two
disciples, one called Ahmad the Older and the other Ahmad the
Younger. The Shaykh favoured Ahmad the Younger the more. His
companions were jealous, arguing that Ahmad the Older had performed
many tasks and endured much discipline. The Shaykh, learning of
this, desired to demonstrate to them that Ahmad the Younger was the
better of the two. Now a camel was sleeping at the door of the
“Ahmad the Older!”
Ibn Khafif cried out.
“Here am I,” Ahmad
the Older responded.
“Carry that camel up
to the roof of the convent,” Ibn Khafif ordered.
“Master,” Ahmad the
Older protested, “how is it possible to carry a camel on to the
“That is enough,”
Ibn Khafif said. “Ahmad the Younger!”
“Here am I,” replied
Ahmad the Younger.
“Carry that camel on
to the roof of the convent!”
Ahmad the Younger at
once girded his loins, rolled up his sleeves and ran out of the
convent. Putting his two hands under the camel, he tried with all
his might but could not lift the beast.
“Well done! Now we
know,” Ibn Khafif exclaimed. Then turning to his companions he
added, “Ahmad the Younger did his duty. He obeyed my command and
offered no objection. He had regard to my command, not to whether
the task could be carried out or no. Ahmad the Older was only
concerned to argue and dispute. From outward actions one can
perceive the inner intention.”
A traveller came to
visit Ibn Khafif wearing a black robe, a black shawl, black breeches
and a black shirt. The Shaykh felt inwardly a sense of jealousy.
When the traveller had performed two rak’as and spoken a greeting,
Ibn Khafif addressed him.
“Brother, why are
you dressed in black?”
“Because my gods are
dead.” (He meant the carnal soul and caprice.) “Hast thou seen him
who has taken his caprice to be his god?”
“Put him out!” cried
They drove him out
“Now bring him
They brought him
back. Forty times the same treatment was repeated. Then Ibn Khafif
arose and kissed his head and begged his pardon.
“You have every
right to wear black,” he said. “In all the forty times they insulted
you, you never lost your composure.”
Two Sufis came from
a far distance to visit Ibn Khafif. Not finding him in the convent,
they enquired where he might be.
“In the palace of
Azod al-Daula,” came the answer.
“What business has
the Shaykh with the palace of princes?” they demanded. “Alas for our
high opinion of him! “ Then they added, “Well, we will make a tour
of the city.”
They proceeded to
the bazaars, and made their way to a tailor’s shop to have a stitch
put in the front of their gown. The tailor’s scissors were missing.
“You took the
scissors!” the crowd shouted, and they handed them over to a
policeman. The two Sufis were hustled to the palace.
“Strike off their
hands!” ordered Azod al-Daula.
Ibn Khafif who was present in the court. “This is not their doing.”
So the two were set
“Good sirs,” Ibn
Khafif addressed them, “what you thought was perfectly just. But our
resorting to the palace of princes is precisely for such purposes.”
The Sufis thereupon
became his disciples.
Abu Bakr Mohammad
ibn ‘Ali ibn Ja’far al-Kattani, a native of Baghdad, belonged to the
circle of al-Junaid. He proceeded to Makkah on the pilgrimage, and
took up residence there until his death in 322 (934).
The piety of Abu Bakr-e Kattani
Abu Bakr-e Kattani
was called the Lamp of the Sanctuary. He was a resident in Makkah up
to the day of his death. He used to pray all the night through and
chant the entire Quran; in the course of circling the Kaaba he
completed twelve thousand recitations in all. For thirty years he
was seated in the sanctuary under the waterspout, and in all those
thirty years one ritual washing every twenty-four hours sufficed
him. Throughout the whole period he never slept.
At the beginning of
his career he sought permission from his mother to go on the
“When I was
proceeding into the desert,” he recalled, “a state overtook me
compelling me to wash for self-purification. I told myself that
perhaps I had not set out under the proper auspices; so I turned
back. I reached home to find my mother seated behind the door of the
house, waiting for me. ‘Mother,’ I said, ‘did you not give me
leave?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘But without you I could not bear to
look at the house. Since you departed I have been seated here. I
resolved that I would not rise up until you came back again.’ It was
not until my mother died that I ventured into the desert once more.”
Abu Bakr-e Kattani
tells the following story.
I was deep in the
desert when I caught sight of a dead man. He was smiling.
“What, are you dead
and still smiling?” I cried.
“Such is the love of
God,” he replied.
“I felt a little
resentment in my heart towards the Prince of the Faithful, Ali,” Abu
Bakr confessed. “That was for no other reason than because the
Prophet had said, ‘There is no true knight but Ali.’ It was a part
of that knightliness that, although Mo’awiya was in the wrong and he
was in the right, nevertheless Ali abdicated in Mo’awiya’s favour in
order that so much blood should not be spilled.
“Now I had a little
house between Marwa and Safa,” he continued. “There I saw the
Prophet in a dream, together with his blessed companions. He came up
to me and, taking me into his embrace, pointed to Abu Bakr and said,
‘Who is he?’ ‘Abu Bakr,’ I replied. Then he pointed to Umar. ‘Umar,’
I said. Then he pointed to Uthman. ‘Uthman,’ I said. Lastly he
pointed to Ali. I felt ashamed because of the resentment I
entertained. Then the Prophet gave me to Ali in brotherhood and we
embraced each other. After that they all departed, and only myself
and Ali remained. ‘Come,’ said Ali to me, ‘let us go to Mount Abu
Qobais.’ We climbed to the top of the mountain and looked down on
the Kaaba. When I awoke, I found myself on Mount Abu Qobais. Not a
trace of that resentment remained in my heart.
“I was once in the
company of a certain man,” he also related, “and his society bore
heavily on me. I made him a present, but still that heaviness did
not go away. I took him to my house and said to him, ‘Put your foot
on my face.’ He would not do so, but I insisted until finally he put
his foot on my face and kept it there so long that the heaviness
vanished and changed into love. Now I had received as a gift from a
lawful source two hundred dirhams. I fetched them and placed them on
the corner of his prayer rug. ‘Spend these on yourself,’ I told him.
Looking at me out of the corner of his eye he said, ‘I have
purchased this occasion at a cost of seventy thousand dinars. Do you
want to delude me with this?’ Then he rose up, shook out his prayer
rug and departed. I had never experienced anything like his dignity
and my humiliation as when I was picking up those dirhams.”
Abu Bakr-e Kattani
had a disciple who was in the agonies of death. He opened his eyes
and gazed upon the Kaaba. A camel came along at the moment and
kicked his face, gouging out his eye.
Immediately Abu Bakr
heard a voice saying within him, “In this state when authentic
revelations from the Unseen were coming to him, he gazed at the
Kaaba. So he was punished. It is not right in the presence of the
Lord of the House to gaze at the House.”
One day a luminous
elder majestically wrapped in a cloak entered by the Gate of the
Banu Shaiba and went up to Kattani, who was standing with head
“Why,” he asked
after the exchange of greetings, “do you not go to the Station of
Abraham? A great teacher has come and is relating noble traditions.
Come and listen to him.”
“On whose authority
is he relating, sir?” Kattani asked.
“On the authority of
Abdullah ibn Ma’mar, from Zohri, from Abu Horaira, from the
Prophet,” the elder replied.
“Master, you have
produced a long chain of authorities,” Kattani remarked. “Whatever
they are reporting there by authoritative chain of transmission, we
are hearing here without any chain.”
“From whom are you
hearing?” asked the elder. “My heart reported to me direct from my
Lord . . .” said Kattani. “Do you have any proof of your assertion?”
demanded the elder. “My proof,” replied Kattani, “is that my heart
is telling me that you are Khizr.”
“Till then,” Khizr
remarked, “I had always thought that there was no friend of God whom
I did not know. That was until I saw Abu Bakr-e Kattani. I did not
know him, but he knew me. Then I realized that God has friends who
know me but whom I do not know.”
Kattani also related
as follows. I saw in a dream an extremely handsome youth. “Who are
you?” I enquired. “Piety,” he replied. “Where do you dwell?” I
asked. “In the heart,” he answered, “of the sorrowful.” Then I saw a
most hideous, black woman. “Who are you?” I demanded. “Laughter and
gaiety and enjoyment,” she answered. “Where do you dwell?” “In the
hearts of the heedless and those who amuse themselves.”
When I awoke, I
resolved that I would never laugh again, except when I could not
Abu Bakr Dolaf ibn
Jahdar (Ja’far ibn Yunos) al-Shibli, of Khorasan by origin but born
in Baghdad or Samarra, son of a court official and himself promoted
in the imperial service, as Governor of Demavend was summoned to
Baghdad to be invested and there experienced conversion. Joining the
circle of al-Junaid, he became a leading figure in the stormy
history of al-Hallaj, notorious for his eccentric behaviour which
led to his committal to an asylum. He died in 334 (846) at the age
The calling of Shibli
Abu Bakr-e Shibli
was originally Governor of Demavend. A dispatch came to him from
Baghdad, and he set out with the Governor of Rayy and a retinue to
present himself before the caliph. Having been invested by the
caliph with robes of honour, they returned homewards. By chance the
Governor of Rayy suddenly sneezed. He wiped his mouth and nose in
his robe of honour. This being reported to the caliph, he commanded
that he should be stripped of his robe, soundly cuffed and dismissed
from his office of governor. This opened Shibli’s eyes.
“One who uses as a
handkerchief a robe conferred by a mortal being,” he mused, “is
accounted deserving to be deposed and slighted. He forfeits his robe
of office. What then of him who uses as a handkerchief the robe
conferred by the King of the world—what will be done to him?”
At once he went to
addressed the caliph, “you, a mortal being, do not approve that the
robe conferred by you should be treated disrespectfully, and it is
well known what your robe is worth. The King of the world has given
me a robe of honour, even the love and knowledge of Him. How shall
He ever approve my using it as a handkerchief in the service of a
And he left the
court and proceeded to the assembly of Khair-e Nassaj. There a
miracle happened to him, and Khair sent him to Junaid. So Shibli
came before Junaid.
“You are recommended
as an expert on pearls,” he said. “Either give me one, or sell one
“If I sell you one,
you will not have the price of it, and if I give you one, having so
easily come by it you will not realize its value,” Junaid replied.
“Do like me; plunge head first into this Sea, and if you wait
patiently you will obtain your pearl.”
“Now what shall I
do?” asked Shibli.
“Go and sell sulphur
for a year,” said Junaid.
Shibli did so. When
the year was up, Junaid gave him new instructions.
“This work brings
notoriety and commerce. Go and beg for a year, so that you be not
busied with aught else.”
For a whole year
Shibli wandered throughout Baghdad. No one gave him anything. He
returned and reported to Junaid.
“Now realize your
own worth, for you count for nothing in the eyes of your fellows,”
said Junaid. “Fasten not your heart on them, neither have any regard
of them. For some days you were a chamberlain and for some days you
acted as governor. Now repair to your former province and seek
quittance of the inhabitants there.”
Shibli returned to
Demavend and went from house to house, till only one victim of
oppression remained. That man he could not trace.
“With him in mind,”
Shibli recalled, “I distributed a hundred thousand dirhams, but
still my heart did not find rest.”
Four years went by
in this way. Then he returned to Junaid.
“Some fragment of
pomp and pride still lingers in you,” said Junaid. “Beg for another
“Every day I went
begging,” Shibli recalled. ‘I brought him all I got, and he would
give it to the poor. At night he kept me hungry. When a year had
gone by, he said to me, ‘Now I admit you to my companionship, but on
one condition, that you shall be the servant of my companions.’ So
for a year I served the companions. Then Junaid said to me, ‘Abu
Bakr, what is your view of yourself now?’ ‘I regard myself as the
least of God’s creatures,’ I replied. ‘Now,’ remarked Junaid, ‘your
faith is whole.”’
By then Shibli had
progressed to the point that he would fill his sleeve with sugar,
and every boy he saw he would put a piece in his mouth.
“Say Allah!” he
After that he filled
his sleeve with dirhams and dinars.
“Every one who says
Allah once, I will fill his mouth with gold.”
spirit of jealousy stirred in him, and he unsheathed a sword.
“Every one who
mentions the name of Allah, I will strike off his head with this
sword,” he cried.
said, “you used to give sugar and gold. Now you will strike off
“Then I supposed
that they pronounced His name out of true experience and knowledge,”
“Now I realize that
they speak it unheeding and merely out of habit. I cannot permit Him
to be name`1 by an impure tongue.”
After that on every
place he could find he inscribed the name of God. Suddenly a voice
“How long will you
go about the name? If you are truly a seeker, stride forth on the
quest of the Named!”
These words affected
him deeply. Peace and composure altogether deserted him. So powerful
was the love possessing him, so completely was he overwhelmed by
mystical tumult, that he went and flung himself into the Tigris. The
river surged and cast him up on the bank. Then he hurled himself
into the fire, but the flames affected him not. He sought a place
where hungry lions were gathered and cast himself before them; the
lions all fled away from him. He threw himself down from the summit
of a mountain; the wind picked him up and deposited him on the
ground. His disquiet increased a thousandfold.
“Woe to him,” he
cried, “whom neither water nor fire will accept, neither the wild
beasts nor the mountains!”
“He who is accepted
of God,” came a voice, “is accepted of no other.”
Then they loaded him
with chains and fetters and carried him to the asylum.
“This man is mad,”
“In your eyes I am
mad and you are sane,” he replied. “May God augment my madness and
your sanity, that by reason of that madness I may be admitted nearer
and nearer, and because of that sanity you may be driven farther and
The caliph sent one
to care for him. The attendants came and by force thrust the
medicine in his throat.
“Do not put yourself
to such pains,” Shibli cried. “This sickness is not such as will
yield to healing by medicine.”
Anecdotes of Shibli
When Shibli was
confined in chains a group of his companions one day went to visit
“Who are you?” he
“Your friends,” they
He at once began to
throw stones at them, and they all fled.
“Liars!” he shouted.
“Do friends run away from their friend because of a few stones? This
proves that you are friends of yourselves, not of me!”
Once Shibli was
observed running with a burning coal in his hand.
“Where are you
going?” they asked.
“I am running to set
fire to the Kaaba,” he answered, “so that men may henceforward care
only for the Lord of the Kaaba.”
On another occasion
he was holding in his hand a piece of wood alight at both ends.
“What are you going
to do?” he was asked.
“I am going to set
Hell on fire with one end and Paradise with the other,” he replied,
“so that men may concern themselves only with God.”
Shibli danced once
for several days and nights beneath a certain tree crying, “Hoo,
“What is all this?”
his friends demanded.
“This ringdove in
yonder tree is saying Coo Coo,” he explained. “I am accompanying it
with Hoo Hoo.”
It is said that the
ringdove did not stop cooing until Shibli ceased hooing.
It is said that when
Shibli first began his self-morti-fication, for many long years he
used to rub salt in his eyes so that he should not sleep. It is
stated that he put seven maunds of salt in his eyes in this way.
“Almighty God is
watching me,” he would say. “The man who sleeps is heedless,” he
added, “and the heedless man is veiled.”
One day Junaid
visited him to find him pulling up the skin of his eyebrows with
“Why are you doing
that?” he asked.
“Truth has become
manifest, and I cannot endure it,” Shibli answered. “I am pricking
myself that haply He may grant me one glance.”
Shibli had a grotto
where he used to go, carrying with him a bundle of sticks. Any time
his heart was invaded by inattention he would beat himself with
those sticks. Once it happened that he had broken all the sticks, so
he beat his hands and feet against the wall.
mystic ecstasy, Shibli began to preach, and proclaimed before the
people the secret. Junaid reproached him.
“We utter these
words in grottos,” he said. “Now you have come and declare them in
“I am speaking and I
am listening,” Shibli replied. “In both worlds who is there but I?
Nay rather, these are words proceeding from God to God, and Shibli
is not there at all.”
“If that is the
case, you have dispensation,” Junaid said.
One day Shibli was
repeatedly uttering the word God, God. An earnest young disciple
“Why do you not say,
There is no god but God?”
“I am afraid,” he
explained, “that if I say ‘no god’ my breath may be stopped before I
reach ‘but God’ and I shall be utterly desolated.”
These words made
such an impression on the youth that he trembled and expired. His
friends came and haled Shibli to the caliph’s palace. He, being
still in the throes of ecstasy, walked along like one drunk. They
accused him of murder,
“Shibli, what do you
say?” demanded the caliph.
“It was a soul
wholly consumed by the flame of the fire of love, in eager
expectancy of confronting the majesty of God,” Shibli replied. “It
was a soul severed from all connections, passed away from all carnal
corruption. It was a soul come to the end of its tether that could
endure no longer, visited successively inwardly by the importunate
envoys of the Presence Divine. A lightning-flash of the beauty of
the contemplation of this visitation leaped upon the very core of
his soul. His soul bird-like flew out of the cage of the body. What
was Shibli’s offence or crime in this?”
“Send Shibli home
immediately,” ordered the caliph. “His words have produced such a
state in me inwardly that there is danger that I may fall from this
Once Shibli was in
Baghdad. He said, “We require a thousand dirhams, to buy shoes for
the poor and despatch them on the pilgrimage.”
A Christian jumped
up and said, “I will give them, only on one condition, that you take
me with you.”
“Young sir, you are
not qualified for the pilgrimage,” said
“There is no mule in
your caravan,” the youth replied. “Take me along as your mule.”
The dervishes set
out, the Christian along with them loins girded to the trail.
“How are you faring,
young man?” asked Shibli.
‘I am so happy at
the thought of accompanying you that I cannot sleep,” he replied.
On the road the
Christian took a brush and at every halting place he swept the floor
for the pilgrims and plucked out the thorns. When the time came for
putting on the white robes, he saw what the rest were doing and
followed their example. At last the party arrived at the Kaaba.
“With your girdle I
cannot let you enter the Holy House,” Shibli told the Christian.
“O God,” the
Christian cried, laying his head on the threshold, “Shibli says he
will not allow me into Thy House.”
“Shibli,” came a
voice out of heaven, “We have brought him here from Baghdad.
Kindling the fire of love in his heart, We have dragged him to Our
House with the chains of loving kindness. Shibli, get out of the
way! You, friend, come in!”
entered the Holy House and performed the visitation. The rest of the
party then entered and in due course emerged, but the youth still
did not come out.
“Young man, come
out!” Shibli called.
“He will not let me
out,” the youth replied. “Every time I make for the door of the
House I find it shut. What will become of me?”
Once Junaid and
Shibli both fell sick. A Christian physician visited Shibli.
“What pains are you
feeling?” he asked.
“What do you say?”
the doctor repeated.
“I have no pain,”
Shibli told him.
The physician then
“What pains do you
have?” he enquired.
Junaid described his
symptoms in detail, enumerating each pain in turn. The Christian
treated him, and departed. Later the two friends came together.
“Why did you expose
all your pains to a Christian?” Shibli asked.
“So that he might
realize,” Junaid answered, “if His friend is treated so, what He
will do to His foe! And you,” he added, “why did you not describe
‘I was ashamed,”
Shibli replied, “to complain to an enemy of the Friend!”
One day as Shibli
was going along he encountered two boys quarrelling over a walnut
they had found. He took the walnut from them.
‘Be patient, till I
divide it between you!” he told them.
When he broke it
open, the nut proved to be empty. A voice proclaimed, “Go on, divide
it, if you are the Divider!”
quarrelling over an empty nut,” Shibli commented shamefaced. “And
all that pretension to be a divider over nothing!”
The death of Shibli
When the hour of his
death drew near, Shibli’s eyes were shrouded in darkness. He asked
for ashes and sprinkled them over his head, and was possessed of an
“Why all this
agitation?” his friends asked him.
“My soul is filled
with envy and jealousy of Iblis,” he answered. “Here I sit athirst,
and He gives of His own to another. Upon thee shall rest My curse
till the Day of Doom. I cannot bear to see that attribution of the
Divine curse to Iblis. I wish it to be mine; for even though it is a
curse, yet is it not His, and is it not of His attribution? What
does that accursed one know of its worth? Why did He not vouchsafe
to the princes of the Community to set their feet on the crown of
the Throne? The jeweller knows the value of the jewel. If a king
sets a glass bead or a crystal on his hand, it appears as a jewel;
but if a greengrocer makes a seal-ring of a jewel and puts it on his
finger, it appears as a bead of glass.”
was composed for a while. Then his agitation returned.
“What is it?” they
“Two winds are
blowing,” he answered. “One is the wind of loving kindness, the
other the wind of wrath. Upon whomsoever the wind of loving kindness
blows, he attains his goal; upon whomsoever the wind of wrath blows,
he is imprisoned in the veil. Upon whom shall that wind alight? If
the wind of loving kindness is to light on me, in that fond hope I
can endure all this hardship and suffering. If the wind of wrath is
to light on me, this my present suffering shall be naught in
comparison with what will then befalI me. Nothing,” he added,
“weighs more heavily on my heart than the one dirham of oppression I
have been guilty of, though I have given a thousand dirhams in
expiation thereof. My heart will not rest. Give me the water of
They brought him
water, but forgot to let it run through his beard till he reminded
All that night
Shibli recited these verses.
house Thou tak’st for thine
No lamp is needed there to shine.
Upon the day that men shall bring
Their proofs before the Judge and King,
Our proof shall be, in that dread place,
The longed-for beauty of Thy face.
A company then
gathered around him to say the funeral prayers. His end was come,
and he realized what was passing.
“How marvellous!” he
exclaimed. “A throng of dead men are come to pray over one living.”
“Say, There is no
god but God,” they said.
“Since there is no
other than He,” he replied, “how can I utter a negative?”
“There is no help.
Say the words of attestation,” they urged him.
“The King of Love
says, I will not accept a bribe,” Shibli retorted.
Then one present
raised his voice to prompt him.
“Here is a dead man
come, to awaken the living!” Shibli exclaimed.
A little while
passed. Then they said, “How are you?”
“I have rejoined the
Beloved,” he answered. Then he expired
Ahmad ibn Harb
al-Nisaburi was a noted ascetic of Nishapur and a reliable
traditionist. He visited Baghdad in the time of Ahmad ibn Hanbal
and taught there; he died in 234 (849) at the age of 85.
Ahmad-e Harb and the Zoroastrian
Ahmad-e Harb had
for neighbour a Zoroastrian named Bahram. Now this neighbour had
sent a partner out on a trading mission, and on the way thieves
had carried off all his goods.
“Rise up,” Ahmad
called to his disciples when he heard the news. “Such a thing
has happened to our neighbour. Let us go and condole with him.
Even though he is a Zoroastrian, yet he is a neighbour.”
reached the door of his house Bahram was kindling his
Zoroastrian fire. He ran forward and kissed his sleeve. Bahram,
thinking that perhaps they were hungry, though bread was scarce
made to lay the table.
“Do not trouble
yourself,” Ahmad said. “We have come to sympathize. I heard that
your goods had been stolen.”
“Yes, that is
so,” said Bahram. “But I have three reasons to be grateful to
God. First, because they stole from me and not from someone
else. Second, that they took only a half. Third, that even if my
worldly goods are gone, I still have my religion; and the world
comes and goes.”
down,” he told his disciples. “The odor of Islam issues from
these words.” Then he added, turning to Bahram, “Why do you
worship this fire?”
“So that it may
not burn me,” Bahram replied. “Secondly, as today I have given
it so much fuel, tomorrow it will not be untrue to me but will
convey me to God.”
“You have made a
great mistake,” commented Ahmad. “Fire is weak and ignorant and
faithless. All the calculations you have based on it are false.
If a child pours a little water on it, it will go out. A thing
so weak as that—how can it convey you to One so mighty? A thing
that has not the strength to repel from itself a little
earth—how can it convey you to God? Moreover, to prove it is
ignorant: if you sprinkle musk and filth upon it, it will burn
them both and not know that one is better than the other—that is
why it makes no distinction between filth and frankincense.
Again, it is now seventy years that you have been worshipping
it, and I have never worshipped it; come, let us both put a hand
in the fire, and you will see that it burns both our hands. It
will not be true to you.”
struck the Zoroastrian to the heart.
“I will ask you
four questions,” he said. “If you answer them all, I will accept
your Faith. Say: why did God create men? And having created
them, why did He provide for them? Why does He cause them to
die? And having caused them to die, why does He raise them up
“He created them
that they might be His servants,” Ahmad replied. “He provided
for them that they might know Him to be the All-provider. He
causes them to die that they may know His overwhelming Power. He
makes them to live again that they may know Him to be Omnipotent
As soon as Ahmad
had finished, Bahram recited the attestation.
“I bear witness
that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad
is the Apostle of God.”
cried aloud and fainted. Presently he recovered consciousness.
“Why did you
faint?” his disciples asked.
“The moment that
he raised his finger in attestation,” Ahmad replied, “a voice
called to me in my inmost heart. ‘Ahmad,’ the voice said,
‘Bahram was a Zoroastrian for seventy years, but at last he
You have spent
seventy years in the Faith; now at the end what will you have to
Ahmad-e Harb and Ahmad the Merchant
There lived in
Nishapur two men, one named Ahmade Harb and the other called
Ahmad the Merchant.
Ahmad-e Harb was
a man so wrapped up in the recollection of God, that when the
barber wished to trim his moustache he kept moving his lips.
“Keep still just
while I trim these hairs,” said the barber.
yourself with your own affairs,” answered Ahmad-e Harb.
And each time
the barber trimmed, some part of his lips was nicked.
On one occasion
he received a letter and for a long while intended to answer it
but did not find a spare moment. Then one day the muezzin was
chanting the call to prayer. Just while he was saying “It is
time” Ahmad called to a companion.
friend’s letter. Tell him not to write to me any more, because I
have not the leisure to reply. Write, ‘Be busy with God.
As for Ahmad the
Merchant, he was so wrapped up in love of worldly things that
one day he asked his maidservant for food. The maidservant
prepared a dish and brought it to him, but he went on with his
calculations until night fell, and he dropped off to sleep.
When he woke
next morning he called to the maid.
“You did not
make that food.”
“I did make it.
But you were so taken up with your calculations.”
She cooked a
dish a second time and laid it before her master, but again he
did not find the leisure to eat it. A third time the girl
prepared food for him, and still he found no opportunity. The
maid came and found him asleep, so she rubbed some of the food
on his lips. Ahmad the Merchant awoke.
basin,” he called, thinking that he had eaten.
Ahmad-e Harb and his son
Ahmad-e Harb had
a little son whom he was training to trust in God.
want food or anything,” he told him, “go to this window and say,
‘Lord God, I need bread.’ “
Each time the
child went to that place, the parents had so arranged to place
in the window what the child desired.
One day they
were out of the house when the child was overcome by the pangs
of hunger. As usual he came under the window and prayed.
“Lord God, I
was sent down to him by the window. The household returned to
find him sitting down and eating.
“Where did you
get this from?” they asked. “From the one who gives me every
day,” he replied. So they realized that he was well established
in this way.
Ahmad ibn Khazruya
Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn
Khazruya al-Balkhi, a prominent citizen of Balkh married to the
pious daughter of the governor of that city, associated with Hatem
al-Asamm and Baayazeed al-Bistaami. He visited Nishapur, and died in
240 (864) at the age of 95.
Ahmad-e Khazruya and his wife
Ahmad-e Khazruya had
a thousand disciples, every one of whom walked on the water and flew
in the air. Ahmad dressed himself in soldier’s uniform. Fatema, his
wife, was a portent in the Sufi way. She was a daughter of the
Prince of Balkh. Having repented, she sent a messenger to Ahmad.
“Ask my hand from my
Ahmad did not
respond. So she sent a second envoy.
“Ahmad, I thought
you were manlier than this. Be a guide, not a highwayman!”
Ahmad then sent an
emissary to ask her father for her hand. Her father, seeking God’s
blessing thereby, gave her to Ahmad. Fatema bade farewell to worldly
concerns and found repose dwelling in solitude with Ahmad.
continued, until one day Ahmad resolved to visit Baayazeed. Fatema
accompanied him, and when they entered Baayazeed’s presence she
lifted her veil from her face and engaged Baayazeed in conversation.
Ahmad was dismayed by this, jealousy overmastering his heart.
boldness was this you showed with Baayazeed?” he cried.
“You are intimate
with my natural self. Baayazeed is intimate with my spiritual way.
You rouse my passion, but he brings me to God,” Fatema replied. “The
proof of this is that he can dispense with my company, whereas you
Baayazeed was bold
with Fatema, until one day his eyes fell upon her hands and he
noticed that they were stained with henna.
“Fatema, why have
you put on henna?” he asked.
now you have never looked at my hands and noticed the henna,” Fatema
replied. “Hitherto I have been at ease with you. Now that your eyes
have fallen on my hands, it is unlawful for me to keep your
“I have petitioned
God,” said Baayazeed, “to make women in my eyes no more noticeable
than a wall, and so He has made them in my sight.”
After that Ahmad and
Fatema proceeded to Nishapur, where they were warmly received. When
Yahya-e Mo’adh-e Razi passed through Nishapur on his way to Balkh,
Ahmad wished to arrange a party for him. He consulted Fatema.
“What do we need for
a party for Yahya?” he asked her.
“So many oxen and
sheep,” she told him. “Accessories too—so many candles and so much
attar of roses. Besides all this, we need several asses.”
“Why, what is the
reason for killing asses?” asked Ahmad.
“When a nobleman
comes to dine,” explained Fatema, “the dogs of the quarter must get
a share of the feast.”
Such was the spirit
of true chivalry that imbued Fatema that Baayazeed declared, “If any
man desires to see a true man hidden in women’s clothes, let him
look at Fatema.”
Ahmad-e Khazruya wrestles with his soul
related the following.
For a long time I
had repressed my carnal soul. Then one day a party set out for the
wars, and a great desire to accompany them arose within me. My soul
reminded me of a number of Traditions concerning the rewards in
Heaven for fighting in the cause of God. I was amazed.
“My soul is not
always so eager to obey,” I said. “Perhaps this is because I always
keep my soul fasting. My soul cannot endure hunger any longer, and
wishes to break its fast.” So I said, “I do not break the fast on a
“I quite agree,”
replied my soul.
“Perhaps my soul
says that because I command it to pray by night. It wishes to go on
this journey so as to sleep at night and find rest.” So I said, “I
will keep you awake till dawn.”
“I quite agree,”
said my soul.
I was still more
amazed. Then I reflected that perhaps my soul said that because it
wanted to mix with people, being weary of solitude and hoping to
find solace in company. So I said, “Wherever I carry you, I will put
you down in a place apart and will not sit with other men.”
“I quite agree,” my
impotence, I had resort to humble petition to God, praying that He
might disclose to me the cunning machinations of my soul, or make my
soul confess. Then my soul spoke.
“Every day you slay
me a hundred times by opposing my desires, and other men are not
aware. There at least in the wars I shall be killed once and for all
and get deliverance, and the report will be noised through all the
world, ‘Bravo, Ahmad-e Khazruya! They killed him, and he achieved
the martyr’s crown.’”
“Glory be to Him,” I
cried, “who created a soul to be a hypocrite while alive, and a
hypocrite still after death. It will never be a true Muslim, either
in this world or the next. I thought that you were seeking to obey
God. I did not realize that you were tying the girdle.”
redoubled my struggle against my soul.
Anecdotes of Ahmad-e Khazruya
A thief broke into
Ahmad-e Khazruya’s house. He searched everywhere but could not find
anything. He was about to leave disappointed when Ahmad called out
“Young fellow, take
the bucket and draw water from the well and purify yourself, then
attend to your prayers. When something comes I will give it to you,
so that you shall not leave my house empty-handed.”
The youth did as
Ahmad bade him. When daylight returned, a gentleman brought a
hundred dinars and gave them to the shaikh.
“Take this as a
reward for your night of prayer,” he said to the thief.
The thief suddenly
trembled all over. He burst into tears.
“I had mistaken the
road,” he cried. “I worked for God just one night, and He has
favoured me so.”
returned to God. He refused to take the gold, and became one of
On one occasion
Ahmad came to a Sufi hospice wearing ragged clothes. In Sufi fashion
he devoted himself wholly to spiritual tasks. The brethren of that
hospice inwardly doubted his sincerity.
“He does not belong
to this hospice,” they whispered to their shaikh.
Then one day Ahmad
went to the well and his bucket fell in. The other Sufis upbraided
him. Ahmad came to the Superior.
“Recite the Fateba,
that the bucket may come up from the well,” he begged.
“What kind of demand
is this?” said the astounded shaikh.
“If you will not
recite it,” said Ahmad, “then give me permission to do so.”
The shaikh gave him
leave, and Ahmad recited the Fateba. The bucket immediately rose to
the surface. When the Superior saw this, he put his cap off his
“Young man, who are
you, that my threshing-floor is but chaff in comparison with your
grain?” he asked.
companions,” answered Ahmad, “to look on travellers with less
Once a man came to
Ahmad-e Khazruya and said, “I am sick and poor. Teach me a way
whereby I may be delivered out of this trial.”
“Write the name of
each trade there is on a piece of paper,” replied Ahmad. “Put the
papers in a pouch, and bring them to me.”
The man wrote down
all the trades and brought the papers to Ahmad. Ahmad thrust his
hand in the pouch and drew out one paper. The name “thief” was
written on it.
“You must become a
thief,” he told the man.
The man was
astounded. For all that he rose up and betook himself to a gang of
“I have a fancy for
this job,” he told them. “How do I do it?”
“There is one rule
governing this work,” they told him. “Whatever we order you to do,
you must do it.”
“I will do exactly
as you order,” he assured the thieves.
He was with them for
a number of days. Then one day a caravan arrived. The thieves
waylaid the caravan, and brought to their new colleague one of the
travellers who was a man of great wealth.
“Cut his throat,”
they told him.
The man hesitated.
“This prince of the
thieves has killed so many people. It is better,” he said to
himself, “that I should slay him rather than this merchant.”
“If you have come to
do a job, you must do as we order,” said the head of the gang.
“Otherwise, go and find other work.”
“If I must carry out
orders,” said the man, “I will carry out God’s orders, not this
Drawing his sword,
he let the merchant go and struck off the head of the prince of the
thieves. Seeing this, the other bandits fled. The goods remained
intact, and the merchant escaped with his life. He gave the man much
gold and silver, so that he became independent.
Once a dervish was
received by Ahmad in hospitality. Ahmad lit seventy candles.
“This is not
pleasing to me,” said the dervish. “Making a fuss bears no relation
“Go then,” said
Ahmad, “and extinguish every candle I have not lit for the sake of
All that night the
dervish was pouring water and earth, but could not extinguish even
one of the candles.
“Why so surprised?”
Ahmad addressed the dervish next morning. “Come with me, and you
will see things really to wonder at.”
They went off and
came to the door of a church. When the Christian deacons saw Ahmad
and his companions, the archdeacon invited them to enter. He laid a
table and bade Ahmad to eat.
“Friends do not eat
with foes,” Ahmad observed.
“Offer us Islam,”
said the archdeacon.
So Ahmad offered
them Islam, and seventy of his retinue accepted conversion. That
night Ahmad had a dream in which God spoke to him.
“Ahmad, you lit
seventy candles for Me. I have lit for you seventy hearts with the
light of the Faith.”
‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman al-Makki, a disciple of al-Junaid, visited
Esfahan and died in Baghdad in 291 (904) or 297 (9I0).
Amr ibn Uthman-e Makki and the Book of the Treasure
It is said that
one day Amr ibn Uthman-e Makki had written down on a sheet of
paper a translation of the Book of the Treasure. He had put it
under his prayer rug and gone to purify himself. While he was at
his ablutions report reached him, and he sent his servant to
recover the script. When the servant turned up the prayer rug he
could not find the paper. He told his master.
“They have taken
it and gone,” said Amr ibn Uthman. “The person who has taken
that Book of the Treasure,” he added, “will soon have his hands
and feet cut off. He will be put on the gibbet, and burned, and
his ashes will be scattered to the winds. He ought to have
arrived at the Treasure, whereas he has stolen the Book of the
Now these were
the contents of the Book of the Treasure.
In the time when
the spirit entered the bodily frame of Adam, God commanded all
the angels to prostrate themselves. All lowered their heads to
the ground. Iblis said, “I will not make prostration. I will
gamble my life away, and I will see the secret, even though it
may be that I shall be accursed and called rebel and sinner and
Iblis did not
make prostration. So he saw and knew the secret of Man.
Consequently none but Iblis is apprised of Man’s secret, and
none but Man knows the secret of Iblis. So Iblis became apprised
of the secret of Man because he did not prostrate himself, so
that he saw that he was preoccupied with beholding the secret.
Iblis was rejected by all, for they had exposed the Treasure to
“We committed a
Treasure to the earth,” they said. “The condition attached to
the Treasure is this, that one person will see it, but they will
cut off his head so that he may not betray it.”
“In this grant
me a respite,” cried Iblis. “Do not slay me. But I am the Man of
the Treasure. They exposed the Treasure to my eyes, and these
eyes will not escape.”
The Sword of I
Care Not declared, “Thou art among the ones that are respited.
We grant you respite, but We cause you to be held in suspicion.
So if We do not destroy you, you will be suspect and a liar, and
none will hold you to be a speaker of the truth. So they will
say, He was one of the jinn, and committed ungodliness against
his Lord’s command.”
He is Satan. How
should he speak the truth? Therefore he is accursed and rejected
and abandoned and ignored.
This was the
translation of the Book of the Treasure by Amr ibn Uthman.
Amr ibn ‘Uthman on Love
Amr ibn ‘Uthman
stated the following in his Book of Love.
created the hearts seven thousand years before the souls, and He
kept them in the Garden of Intimacy. He created the Secrets
seven thousand years before the hearts, and kept them in the
Degree of Union.
Every day God
caused the souls to receive three hundred and sixty glances of
Grace and to hear three hundred and sixty words of Love. Every
day He manifested to the hearts three hundred and sixty delights
of Intimacy. Every day He revealed Beauty three hundred and
sixty times to the Secrets.
So they beheld
every thing in the world of being, and saw none more precious
than themselves. A vainglory and conceit manifested amongst
put them to the trial. He imprisoned the Secret in the soul. He
confined the soul in the heart.
He detained the
heart in the body. Then He compounded in them reason.
God sent the
Prophets with commandments. Then every one of them set about
searching for his proper station. God commanded them to pray. So
the body went into prayer; the heart attained Love; the soul
achieved Propinquity; the Secret was at rest in Union.
Amr ibn Uthman writes to Junaid
When Amr ibn
Uthman was in Makkah, he wrote to Junaid, Jorairi, and Shebli in
Iraq. This was his letter.
“Know, you who
are the great ones and elders of Iraq, say to every man who
yearns after the land of Hejaz and the beauty of the Kaaba, You
would never reach it, excepting with great distress of spirit.
And say to every man who yearns after the Carpet of Propinquity
and the Court of Glory, You would never reach it, excepting with
great distress of soul.”
At the bottom of
the letter Amr wrote: “This is a missive from Amr ibn Uthman-e
Makki and these elders of Hejaz who are all with Him and in Him
and by Him. If there be any of you who entertains high
aspiration, say to him, Come upon this road wherein are two
thousand fiery mountains and two thousand stormy and perilous
seas. If you are not of this rank, make no false pretension, for
to false pretension nothing is given.”
When the letter
reached Junaid, he gathered the elders of Iraq together and read
it to them. Then he said, “Come, say what he meant by these
mountains,” they replied, “he meant naughting. Until a man is
naughted a thousand times and a thousand times revived, he does
not attain the Court of Glory.”
“Of these two
thousand fiery mountains,” Junaid remarked, “I have crossed only
“You are lucky
to have crossed one,” said Jorairi. “Up to now I have gone only
fortunate, Junaid, to have crossed one mountain,” he cried. “And
you are fortunate, Jorairi, to have gone three steps. Up to now
I have not even seen the dust from afar.”
Taifur ibn ‘Isa ibn Sorushan al-Bistaami was born in Bestam
in north-eastern Persia, the grandson of a Zoroastrian;
there he died in 261(874) or 264(877), and his mausoleum
still stands. The founder of the ecstatic (“drunken”) school
of Sufism, he is famous for the boldness of his expression
of the mystic’s complete absorption into the Godhead. In
particular his description of a journey into Heaven (in
imitation of the Prophet Muhammad’s “ascension”), greatly
elaborated by later writers, exercised a powerful influence
on the imagination of all who came after him.
Baayazeed-e Bistaami: birth and early years
grandfather of Baayazeed-e Bistaami was a Zoroastrian; his
father was one of the leading citizens of Bestam.
Baayazeed’s extraordinary career began from the time he was
in his mother’s womb.
I put a doubtful morsel in my mouth,” his mother would say,
“you stirred in my womb and would not keep still until I had
put it out of my mouth.”
statement is confirmed by words spoken by Baayazeed himself.
best for a man on this path?” he was asked. “Congenital
felicity,” he replied. “And if that is missing?” “A strong
body.” “And if that is lacking?” “An attentive ear.” “And
without that?” “A knowing heart.” “And without that?” “A
seeing eye.” “And without that?” “Sudden death.” In due
course his mother sent him to school. He learned the Quran,
and one day his master was explaining the meaning of the
verse in the Sura of Loqman, Be thankful to Me, and to thy
parents. These words moved the heart of Baayazeed.
said, laying down his tablet, “please give me permission to
go home and say something to my mother.”
gave him leave, and Baayazeed went home.
Taifur,” cried his mother, “why have you come home? Did they
give you a present, or is it some special occasion?”
Baayazeed replied. “I reached the verse where God commands
me to serve Him and you. I cannot be manager in two houses
at once. This verse stung me to the quick. Either you ask
for me from God, so that I may be yours entirely, or
apprentice me to God, so that I may dwell wholly with Him.”
“My son, I
resign you to God, and exempt you from your duty to me,”
said his mother. “Go and be God’s.”
“The task I
supposed to be the hindmost of all tasks proved to be the
foremost,” Baayazeed later recalled. “That was to please my
mother. In pleasing my mother, I attained all that I sought
in my many acts of self-discipline and service. It fell out
as follows. One night my mother asked me for water. I went
to fetch her some, but there was none in the jug. I fetched
the pitcher, but none was in it either. So I went down to
the river and filled the pitcher with water. When I returned
to the house, my mother had fallen asleep.
was cold. I kept the jug in my hand. When my mother awoke
from sleep she drank some water and blessed me. Then she
noticed that the jug was frozen to my hand. ‘Why did you not
lay the jug aside?’ she exclaimed. ‘I was afraid that you
might wake when I was not present,’ I answered. ‘Keep the
door half-open,’ my mother then said.
till near daybreak to make sure if the door was properly
half-open or not, and that I should not have disregarded her
command. At the hour of dawn, that which I had sought so
many times entered by the door.”
mother resigned him to God, Baayazeed left Bestam and for
thirty years wandered from land to land, disciplining
himself with continuous vigil and hunger. He attended one
hundred and thirteen spiritual preceptors and derived
benefit from them all. Amongst them was one called Sadiq. He
was sitting at his feet when the master suddenly said,
“Baayazeed, fetch me that book from the window.”
Which window?” asked Baayazeed.
the master, “you have been coming here all this time, and
you have not seen the window?”
replied Baayazeed. “What have I to do with the; window? When
I am before you, I close my eyes to everything else. I have
not come to stare about.”
is so,” said the teacher, “go back to Bestam. Your work is
hinted to Baayazeed that in a certain place a great teacher
was to be found. He came from afar to see him. As he
approached, he saw the reputed teacher spit in the direction
of Makkah. He at once retraced his steps.
“If he had
achieved anything at all in the way,” he remarked, “he would
never have been guilty of transgressing the Law.”‘
connection it is stated that his house was forty paces from
the mosque, and he never spat on the road out of respect for
Baayazeed a full twelve years to reach the Kaaba. This was
because at every oratory he passed he would throw down his
prayer rug and perform two rak’as.
“This is not
the portico of an earthly king,” he would say, “that one may
run thither all at once.”
So at last
he came to the Kaaba, but that year he did not got to
not be seemly to make that an appendage of this visitation,”
he explained. “I will put on pilgrim robes for Medina
Next year he
returned once more, donning the pilgrim garb separately at
the beginning of the desert. In one town he passed through
on the way a great throng became his followers, and as he
left a crowd went in his wake.
those men?” he demanded, looking back.
to keep you company,” came the answer.
Baayazeed cried, “I beg of Thee, veil not Thy creatures from
Thee through me!”
desiring to expel the love of him from their hearts and to
remove the obstacle of himself from their path, having
performed the dawn prayer he looked at
said, “Verily I am God; there is no god but I; therefore
“The man has
become mad!” they cried. And they left him and departed.
went on his way. He found on the road a skull on which was
written, Deaf, dumb, blind—they do not understand.
the skull with a cry, he kissed it.
to be the head,” he murmured, “of a Sufi annihilated in
God—he has no ear to hear the eternal voice, no eye to
behold the eternal beauty, no tongue to praise God’s
greatness, no reason to understand so much as a mote of the
true knowledge of God. This verse is about him.”
Baayazeed was going along the road with a camel on which he
had slung his provisions and saddle.
camel, what a heavy load it is carrying,” someone cried. “It
is really cruel.”
having heard him say these words over and over, at last
it is not the little camel that lifts the load.”
looked to see if the load was actually on the camel’s back.
He observed that it was a full span above its back, and that
the camel did not feel any weight at all.
“Glory be to
God, a wondrous deed!” the man exclaimed.
conceal from you the true facts about myself, you thrust out
the tongue of reproach,” said Baayazeed. “If I disclose them
to you, you cannot bear the facts. What is one to do with
Baayazeed had visited Medina, the order came to him to
return to care for his mother. He accordingly set out for
Bestam, accompanied by a throng. The news ran through the
city, and the people of Bestam came out to welcome him a
good way from the town. Baayazeed was likely to be so
preoccupied with their attentions that he would be detained
from God. As they approached him, he drew a loaf out of his
sleeve. Now it was Ramazan; yet he stood and ate the loaf.
As soon as the people of Bestam saw this, they turned away
“Did you not
see?” Baayazeed addressed his companions “I obeyed an
ordinance of the sacred Law, and all the people rejected
patiently until nightfall. At midnight he entered Bestam
and, coming to his mother’s house, he stood a while
listening. He heard sounds of his mother performing he
ablutions and praying.
care well for our exile. Incline the hearts of the Shaykhs
towards him, and vouchsafe him to do all things well.’
wept when he heard these words. Then he knocked on the door.
there?” cried his mother.
exile,” he replied.
mother opened the door. Her sight was dimmed.
she addressed her son, “do you know what has dimmed my
sight? It is because I have wept so much being parted from
you, and my back is bent double from the load of grief I
Ascension of Baayazeed
related as follows.
I gazed upon
God with the eye of certainty after that He had advanced me
to the degree of independence from all creatures and
illumined me with His light, revealing to me the wonders of
His secrets and manifesting to me the grandeur of His
God I gazed upon myself, and considered well the secrets and
attributes of my self. My light was darkness beside the
light of God; my grandeur shrank to very meanness beside
God’s grandeur; my glory beside God’s glory became but
vainglory. There all was purity, here all was foulness.
looked again, I saw my being by God’s light. I realized that
my glory was of His grandeur and glory. Whatsoever I did, I
was able to do through His omnipotence. Whatever the eye of
my physical body perceived, it perceived through Him. I
gazed with the eye of justice and reality; all my worship
proceeded from God, not from me, and I had supposed that it
was I who worshipped Him.
“Lord God, what is this?”
“All that I am, and none other than I.”
stitched up my eye, not to be the means of seeing and so
that I might not see, and He instructed the gaze of my eye
in the root of the matter, the He-ness of Himself. He
annihilated me from my own being, and made me to be
everlasting through His own everlastingness, and He
glorified me. He disclosed to me His own Selfhood, unjostled
by my own existence. So God, the one Truth, increased in me
reality. Through God I gazed on God, and I beheld God in
dwelt a while, and found repose. I stopped up the ear of
striving; I withdrew the tongue of yearning into the throat
of disappointment. I abandoned acquired knowledge, and
removed the interference of the soul that bids to evil. I
remained still for a space, without any instrument, and with
the hand of God’s grace I swept superfluities from the
pathway of root principles.
compassion on me. He granted me eternal knowledge, and put
into my throat a tongue of His goodness. He created for me
an eye out of His light, and I saw all creatures through
God. With the tongue of His goodness I communed with God,
and from the knowledge of God I acquired knowledge, and by
His light I gazed on Him.
He said, “O
thou all without all with all, without instrument with
“Lord God, let me not be deluded by this. Let me not become
self-satisfied with my own being, not to yearn for Thee.
Better it is that Thou shouldst be mine without me, than
that I should be my own without Thee. Better it is that I
should speak to Thee through Thee, than that I should speak
to myself without Thee.”
“Now give ear to the Law, and transgress not My commands and
forbiddings, that thy strivings may earn Our thanks.”
“Insomuch as I profess the faith and my heart firmly
believes, if Thou givest thanks, it is better that Thou
shouldst thank Thyself rather than Thy slave; and if Thou
blamest, Thou art pure of all fault.”
“From whom didst thou learn?”
I said, “He
who asks this question knows better than he who is asked;
for He is both the Desired and the Desirer, the Answered and
When He had
perceived the purity of my inmost soul, then my soul heard a
shout of God’s satisfaction; He sealed me with His good
pleasure. He illumined me, and delivered me out of the
darkness of the carnal soul and the foulnesses of the
fleshly nature. I knew that through Him I lived; and of His
bounty I spread the carpet of gladness in my heart.
“Ask whatsoever thou wilt.”
I said, “I
wish for Thee, for Thou art more excellent than bounty,
greater than generosity, and through Thee I have found
content in Thee. Since Thou art mine, I have rolled up the
scroll of bounty and generosity. Keep me not from Thee, and
proffer not before me that which is inferior to Thee.”
For a while
He did not answer me. Then, laying the crown of munificence
on my head, He spoke.
speakest, and reality thou seekest, in that thou hast seen
the truth and heard the truth.”
I said, “If
I have seen, through Thee I have seen, and if I have heard,
through Thee I have heard. First Thou heardest, then I
uttered many praises to Him. Consequently He gave me wings
of majesty, so that I flew in the arenas of His glory and
beheld the wonders of His handiwork. Perceiving my weakness
and recognizing my need, He strengthened me with His own
strength and arrayed me with His own adornment.
He laid the
crown of munificence on my head, and opened unto me the door
of the palace of Unity. When He perceived that my attributes
were annihilated in His attributes, He bestowed on me a name
of His own presence and addressed me with His own Selfhood.
Singleness became manifest; duality vanished.
“Our pleasure is that which is thy pleasure, and thy
pleasure is that which is Our pleasure. Thy speech admits no
defilement, and none takes thee to task on account of thy
Then He made
me to taste the stab of jealousy, and revived me anew. I
came forth pure from the furnace of testing. Then He spoke.
the Kingdom?” I said, “Thine.” He said, “Whose is the
Command?” I said, “Thine.” He said, “Whose is the Choice?” I
said, “Thine.” Since these words were the very same as He
heard at the
beginning of the transaction, He desired to demonstrate to
me that, had not His mercy preceded, creation would never
have found repose, and that but for Love, Omnipotence would
have wreaked destruction on all things. He gazed on me with
the eye of Overwhelming through the medium of Allcompelling,
and once more no trace of me was visible.
intoxication I flung myself into every valley. I melted my
body in every crucible in the fire of jealousy.
the steed of questing in the broad expanse of the
wilderness; no better game I saw than utter indigence,
nothing I discovered better than total incapacity. No lamp I
saw brighter than silence, no speech I heard better than
speechlessness. I became a dweller in the palace of silence;
I clothed myself in the stomacher of fortitude, till matters
reached their crux. He saw my outward and inward parts void
of the flaw of fleshly nature. He opened a fissure of relief
in my darkened breast, and gave me a tongue of divestiture
So now I
have a tongue of everlasting grace, a heart of light divine,
an eye of godly handiwork. By his succour I speak, with His
power I grasp. Since through Him I live, I shall never die.
Since I have
reached this stage, my token is eternal; my expression
everlasting; my tongue is the tongue of unity, my spirit is
the spirit of divestiture. Not of myself I speak, that I
should be mere narrator, neither through myself do I speak,
that I should be mere remembrancer. He moves my tongue
according as He wills, and in all this I am but an
interpreter. In reality the speaker is He, not I.
magnified me, He spoke again.
creatures desire to see thee.”
I said, “I
desire not to see them. If Thou likest to bring me forth
before the creatures, I will not oppose Thee. Array me in
Thy Unity, that when Thy creatures see me and gaze upon Thy
handiwork, they will have seen the Artificer, and I shall
not be there at all.”
He granted me; and He laid the crown of munificence on my
head, and caused me to surpass the station of my fleshly
said, “Come before My creatures.”
I took one
step out of the Presence. At the second step I fell
headlong. I heard a cry.
My beloved, for he cannot be without Me, neither knows he
any path save to Me.”
also related the following.
reached Unity—and that was the first moment that I gazed
upon Unity—for many years I ran in that valley on the feet
of understanding; till I became a bird whose body was of
Oneness, whose wings were of Everlastingness. I kept flying
in the firmament of Unconditionedness. When I had vanished
from the things created, I spoke.
reached the Creator.”
lifted up my head from the valley of Lordship. I quaffed a
cup, the thirst for which I never slaked in all eternity.
Then for thirty thousand years I flew in the expanse of His
Unity, and for thirty thousand years more I flew in
Divinity, and for thirty thousand years more I flew in
Singularity. When ninety thousand years had come to an end,
I saw Baayazeed, and all that I saw, all was I.
traversed four thousand wildernesses, and reached the end.
When I gazed, I saw myself at the beginning of the degree of
the prophets. Then for such a while I went on in that
infinity, that I said,
“No one has
ever reached higher than this. Loftier than this no station
looked well, I saw that my head was at the sole of the foot
of a prophet. Then I realized that the end of the state of
the saints is but the beginning of the states of the
prophets; to the end of the prophets there is no term.
spirit transcended the whole Dominion, and Heaven and Hell
were displayed to it; but it heeded naught Whatever came
before it, that it could not suffer. To the soul of no
prophet it reached, without it gave greeting. When it
reached the soul of God’s Chosen One, upon him be peace,
there it beheld a hundred thousand seas of fire without end,
and a thousand veils of light. Had I so much as dipped my
foot in the first of those seas, I would have been consumed
and given myself over to destruction. Therefore I became so
bewildered with awe and confusion, that naught remained of
me. However I desired to be able to see but the tent-peg of
the pavilion of Muhammad, God’s Messenger, I had not the
boldness. Though I had attained to God, I had not the
boldness to attain to Muhammad.
Baayazeed said, “O God, whatsoever thing I have seen, all
has been I. There is no way for me to Thee, so long as this
‘I’ remains; there is no transcending my selfhood for me
What must I do?”
came, “To be delivered out of thy thouness, follow after Our
beloved, the Arab Muhammad. Anoint thine eye with the dust
of his foot, and continue following after him.
Baayazeed and Yahya-e Mu'adh
Mu'adh wrote a letter to Baayazeed saying, “What do you say
of a man who has quaffed a cup of wine, and become
intoxicated from eternity to eternity?”
replied, “That I know not. What I do know is this, that here
is a man who in a single night and a day drains all the
oceans of eternity to eternity and then asks for more.”
Mu'adh wrote again, “I have a secret to tell you, but our
rendezvous is in Paradise. There under the shadow of Tuba I
will tell it you.” And he sent along with the letter a loaf
saying, “The Shaykh must avail himself of this, for I
kneaded it with water from the well of Zemzem.”
In his reply
Baayazeed referred to Yahya’s secret saying, “As for the
rendezvous you mention, with His remembrance, I enjoy even
now possession of Paradise and the shade of the tree Tuba.
So far as the loaf is concerned, however, that I cannot
avail myself of. You stated with what water you kneaded it,
but you did not mention what seed you sowed.”
Mu'adh conceived a great yearning to visit Baayazeed. He
arrived at the hour of the prayer before sleeping.
“I could not
disturb the Shaykh then,” Yahya recalled. “At the same time
I could not contain myself till morning. So I proceeded to
the place in the desert where they told me he was to be
found. I saw the Shaykh perform the prayer before sleeping,
then till the next day he stood on the tips of his toes. I
stood rooted in amazement, and heard him all night engaged
in prayer. When dawn came, he uttered the words, ‘I take
refuge with Thee from asking of Thee this station.’“
recovering himself greeted Baayazeed, and enquired of him
what had befallen him in the night.
twenty stations were enumerated to me,” Baayazeed told him.
“I desire not one of these, for they are all stations of
did you not ask God for gnosis, seeing that He is the King
of kings and has said, ‘Ask whatsoever you will?’“ demanded
Baayazeed cried. “I am jealous of myself to know Him, for I
desire none but He to know Him. Where His knowledge is, what
business have I to intervene? That indeed is His will,
Yahya, only He, and no other, shall know Him.”
majesty of God,” Yahya implored, “grant me some portion of
the gift you were vouchsafed last night.”
“If you were
given the election of Adam, the holiness of Gabriel, the
friendship of Abraham, the yearning of Moses, the purity of
Jesus, and the love of Muhammad,” Baayazeed replied, “still
you would not be satisfied. You would seek for more,
transcending all things. Keep your vision fixed on high, and
descend not; for whatever you descend into, by that you will
Baayazeed and his disciple
There was a
certain ascetic who was one of the great saints of Bestam.
He had his own followers and admirers, and at the same time
he was never absent from the circle of Baayazeed. He
listened to all his discourses, and sat with his companions.
One day he
remarked to Baayazeed, “Master, today is thirty years that I
have been keeping constant fast. By night too I pray, so
that I never sleep at all. Yet I discover no trace in myself
of this knowledge of which you speak. For all that I believe
in this knowledge, and I love this preaching.”
three hundred years,” said Baayazeed, “you fast by day and
pray by night, you will never realize one atom of this
are veiled by your own self,” Baayazeed replied.
“What is the
remedy for this?” the man asked.
never accept it,” answered Baayazeed.
“I will so,”
said the man. “Tell me, so that I may do as you prescribe.”
said Baayazeed. “This very hour go and shave your beard and
hair. Take off these clothes you are wearing, and tie a
loincloth of goat’s wool about your waist. Hang a bag of
nuts round your neck, then go to the marketplace. Collect
all the children you can, and tell them, ‘I will give a nut
to everyone who slaps me.’ Go round all the city in the same
way; especially go everywhere people know you. That is your
“Glory be to
God! There is no god but God,” cried the disciple on hearing
infidel uttered that formula, he would become a believer,”
remarked Baayazeed. “By uttering the same formula you have
become a polytheist.”
demanded the disciple.
counted yourself too grand to be able to do as I have said,”
replied Baayazeed. “So you have become a polytheist. You
used this formula to express your own importance, not to
cannot do,” the man protested. “Give me other directions.”
is what I have said,” Baayazeed declared.
“I cannot do
it,” the man repeated.
“Did I not
say that you would not do it, that you would never obey me?”
Anecdotes of Yazid
years,” said Baayazeed, “I was the blacksmith of my soul. I
thrust my soul into the furnace of discipline and made it
red hot in the flames of arduous endeavour, then I placed it
upon the anvil of reproach and hammered it with the hammer
of self-blame, till I had fashioned out of my soul a mirror.
For five years I was my own mirror, and I polished that
mirror with every manner of godly service and obedience.
After that I gazed upon my own reflection for a year, and I
saw about my waist an infidel girdle of delusion and
coquetry and self-regard, because I relied upon my own acts
of obedience and approved of my own conduct. For five years
further I laboured till that girdle was snapped and I was a
Muslim anew. I looked upon all creatures, and saw that they
were dead. I said four Allahu akbars over them, and
returning from their obsequies without the jostling of God’s
creatures by God’s succour I attained to God.”
Baayazeed arrived at the door of a mosque, he would stand a
while and weep.
“Why do you
do so?” he was asked.
myself to be as a menstruating woman who is ashamed to enter
the mosque and defile the mosque,” he replied.
occasion Baayazeed set out on the journey to Hejaz, but no
sooner had he gone forth when he returned.
never failed in your purpose before,” it was remarked. “Why
did you do so now?”
“I had just
turned my face to the road,” he replied, “when I saw a black
man standing with a drawn sword. ‘If you return, well and
good. If not, I will strike your head from your body. You
have left God in Bestam,’ he added, ‘and set out for the
encountered me on the road,” Baayazeed recalled.
you going?’ he demanded.
pilgrimage,’ I replied.
have you got?’
them to me,’ the man demanded. ‘I am a man with a family.
Circle round me seven times. That is your pilgrimage.’
“I did so,
and returned home.”
reports that when Baayazeed wished to go into seclusion, in
order to worship or to meditate, he would enter his
apartment and secure closely every aperture.
afraid,” he would say, “that some voice or some noise may
course was a pretext.
Bistaami reports, “I associated with the Shaykh for thirteen
years, and I never heard the Shaykh utter a single word.
Such was his habit; he would put his head on his knees.
Occasionally he would raise his head, utter a sigh, and then
return to his meditation.”
comments on the foregoing, that that was how Baayazeed
behaved when he was in that state of “contraction”;
otherwise, on days when he was in the state of “expansion”
everyone benefited greatly from his discourse.
occasion,” Sahlagi continues, “as he was in seclusion he
uttered the words, ‘Glory be to me! How great is my
dignity!’ When he was himself again, his disciples told him
that such words had proceeded from his tongue. ‘God is your
antagonist, and Baayazeed is your antagonist,’ he replied.
If I speak such words again, cut me in pieces.’
“And he gave
each of his disciples a knife, saying, ‘If such words come
to me again, slay me with these knives.’
transpired that he spoke the same words a second time. His
disciples made to kill him. The whole apartment was hlled
with Baayazeed. His companions pulled bricks out of the
walls and each struck at him with his knife. The knives were
as effective as if they were being struck at water; no blow
had the slightest effect. After a while that form shrank,
and Baayazeed appeared as small as a sparrow, sitting in the
prayer-niche. His companions entered and told him what had
passed. ‘This is Baayazeed whom you see now,’ he remarked.
‘That was not Baayazeed.’”
Baayazeed took a red apple into his hand and looked at it.
“This is a
beautiful apple,” he said.
spoke within him.
art thou not ashamed to apply My name to a fruit?”
days his heart was oblivious to the name of God.
taken an oath,” the Shaykh declared, “that I will never eat
the fruit of Bestam so long as I live.”
“One day I
was seated,” Baayazeed recalled, “when the thought entered
my mind, ‘I am the Shaykh of the time, the saint of the
age.’ As soon as this thought occurred to me, I knew that I
had been guilty of a great error. I rose up and proceeded on
the road to Khorasan. I halted in a hospice and swore that I
would not leave it until God sent me someone who should
reveal me again to myself.
and three nights I remained there. On the fourth day I saw a
one-eyed man approaching on a camel. Observing him closely,
I saw in him the marks of divine awareness. I signalled to
the camel to halt, and immediately it lowered its two
forelegs to the ground. The man gazed upon me.
me all this way,’ he said, ‘to open an eye that was closed,
to unlatch a door that was locked, and to drown the people
of Bestam along with Baayazeed?’
away. ‘Whence do you come?’ I asked. ‘Since the moment you
swore that oath, I have come three thousand leagues.’ Then
my visitor added, ‘Beware, Baayazeed! Keep watch over your
he turned his face from me and departed.”
sent Baayazeed a prayer rug. Baayazeed returned it to him.
“What use is
a prayer rug to me?” he demanded. “Send me a cushion to lean
my back against!” (He implied that he had passed beyond the
stage of prayer and had reached the goal.)
then sent him a good pillow. Baayazeed returned that too,
for by that time he had melted away and nothing was left of
him but skin and bones.
“He who has
for a cushion,” he said, “the goodness and loving kindness
of God, that man has no need of the pillow of one of God’s
passed a night in the desert,” Baayazeed recalled. “I
wrapped my head in my habit and fell asleep. Suddenly a
state came upon me (he meant nocturnal emission) that
required me to wash. Now the night was extremely cold, and
when I awoke my soul was sluggish about washing in cold
water. ‘Wait till the sun comes up, then attend to this
business,’ my soul said.
my soul’s sluggishness and indifference to the requirements
of religion, I arose and broke the ice with that selfsame
frock and washed myself, then remained with the frock around
me until I dropped and fainted. When I came to the frock had
often wandered about amongst the tombs. One night he was
returning from the cemetery when a young nobleman approached
playing a lute. “God save us,” Baayazeed exclaimed. The
youth lifted the lute and dashed it against Baayazeed’s
head, breaking both his head and the lute. The youth was
drunk, and did not realize whom he was striking.
returned to his convent and waited till morning. Then he
summoned one of his companions.
people give for a lute?” he asked him.
companion informed him. He wrapped the sum in a cloth, added
a piece of sweetmeat, and sent these to the youth.
young gentleman,” he said, “that Baayazeed asks his pardon.
Say to him, ‘Last night you struck me with that lute and it
broke. Accept this money in compensation, and buy another.
The sweetmeat is to remove from your heart the sorrow over
the lute’s being broken.’“
young nobleman realized what he had done, he came to
Baayazeed and apologized. He repented, and many young men
repented along with him.
Baayazeed was walking with a party of disciples. The road
narrowed, and just then a dog approached from the opposite
direction. Baayazeed retired, giving the dog right of way.
thought of disapproval occurred to one of the disciples.
“Almighty God honoured man above all other creatures.
Baayazeed is the ‘king of the gnostics’ yet with all this
dignity, and such a following of disciples, he makes way for
a dog. How can that be?”
Baayazeed replied, “this dog mutely appealed to me, ‘What
shortcoming was I guilty of in the dawn of time, and what
exceptional merit did you acquire, that I was clad in the
skin of a dog whereas you were robed in honour as king of
the gnostics?’ This was the thought that came into my head,
so I made way for the dog.”
Baayazeed was proceeding along the way when presently a dog
ran alongside of him. Baayazeed drew in his skirt.
“If I am
dry,” said the dog, “no damage has been done. If I am wet,
seven waters and earths will make peace between us. But if
you draw your skirt to yourself like a Pharisee, you will
not become clean, not though you bathe in seven oceans.”
unclean outwardly,” commented Baayazeed. “I am inwardly
unclean. Come, let us work together, that through our united
efforts we may both become clean.”
“You are not
fit to travel with me and be my partner,” the dog replied.
“For I am rejected of all men, whereas you are accepted of
men. Whoever encounters me throws a stone at me; whoever
encounters you greets you as King of the Gnostics. I never
store up a single bone for the morrow; you have a whole
barrel of wheat for the morrow.”
“I am not
fit to travel along with a dog,” said Baayazeed. “How then
shall I travel along with the Eternal and Everlasting One?
Glory be to that God, who educates the best of creatures by
means of the least of creatures!”
continued, “A sadness invaded me, and I despaired of being
an obedient servant of God. I said to myself, ‘I will go to
the market and buy a girdle [worn by some non- Muslims] to
tie round my middle, that my reputation may vanish from
among men.’ So I went searching for a girdle. I saw a shop
with a girdle hanging. ‘They will give me this for only one
dirham,’ I told myself. Then I said, ‘How much will you give
this for?’ ‘A thousand dinars,’ said the shopkeeper. I cast
my head down. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Did
you not realize that they will not give for less than a
thousand dinars a girdle for binding round the waist of such
a man as you?’ My heart rejoiced, for I then knew that God
cares for His servant.”
Baayazeed dreamed that the angels of the first heaven
they said to him, “let us commemorate God.”
“I have not
the tongue to commemorate Him,” he replied.
of the second heaven descended and said the same words, and
his answer was the same. So it continued till the angels of
the seventh heaven descended; to them he gave the same
will you have the tongue to commemorate God?” they asked.
inhabitants of Hell are fixed in Hell, and the inhabitants
of Paradise take their place in Paradise, and the
resurrection is past, then,” said he, “Baayazeed will go
around the throne of God and will cry Allah, Allah!”
Baayazeed’s neighbourhood there lived a Zoroastrian. He had
a child, and this child used to weep because they had no
lamp. Baayazeed with his own hand brought a lamp to their
house. The child was hushed at once.
Baayazeed’s light has entered,” they said, “it would be a
pity for us to continue in our own darkness.”
Baayazeed could find no joy in worship.
see if there is anything of value in the house,” he said.
disciples looked, and discovered half a bunch of grapes.
and give them away,” Baayazeed commanded. “My house is not a
rediscovered his composure.
One day a
man reported to Baayazeed, “In Tabarestan a certain man had
passed away. I saw you there with Khizr, peace be upon him;
he had laid his hand on your neck, and your hand rested on
his back. When the mourners returned from the funeral, I saw
you soar into the air.”
Baayazeed. “What you say is perfectly true.”
A man who
did not believe in Baayazeed came to him one day to put him
to the test.
me the answer to such-and-such a problem,” he said.
perceived the unbelief within him.
certain mountain there is a cave,” he told him. “In that
cave lives one of my friends. Ask him to reveal the answer
hastily proceeded to the cave. There he saw a huge and
terrible dragon. As soon as his eyes fell upon it he fainted
away, and fouled his clothes. When he recovered he flung
himself out of that place, leaving his shoes behind. So he
returned to Baayazeed. Falling at his feet, he repented.
“Glory be to
God!” Baayazeed exclaimed. “You cannot look after your shoes
out of fear for a creature. Being in awe of God, how can you
look after the ‘revelation’ which you came seeking in your
One day a
man entered and questioned Baayazeed on the topic of shame.
Baayazeed answered him, and the man turned to water. Another
entered just then and perceived a pool of pale water.
what is this?” he asked.
entered and questioned me about shame,” Baayazeed replied.
“I answered him. He could not endure what I said, and so
turned into water out of shame.”
Deaf said to his disciples, “Whosoever of you on the day of
resurrection does not intercede for the inhabitants of Hell,
he is not one of my disciples.”
statement was reported to Baayazeed.
declared Baayazeed, “that he is my disciple who stands on
the brink of Hell and takes by the hand every one being
conveyed to Hell and dispatches him to Heaven, and then
enters Hell in his place.”
army of Islam flagged in the war against Byzantium, and was
near to being defeated. Suddenly they heard a shout,
“Baayazeed, give help!” At once a he came from the direction
of Khorasan, so that fear fell upon the army of the infidels
and the army of Islam won the day.
was asked, “How did you attain to this degree and achieve
when I was a child,” he answered, “I came out from Bestam.
The moon was shining, and the world was at rest. I beheld a
Presence, besides which eighteen thousand worlds seemed but
a mote. A deep emotion possessed me and I was overmastered
by a mighty ecstasy. ‘Lord God,’ I cried, ‘so mighty a
palace, and so empty! Works so tremendous, and such
loneliness!’ A voice from heaven replied, ‘The palace is not
empty because none comes to it; it is empty because We do
not desire all and sundry to enter it.
unwashed of face is worthy to inhabit this palace.’
“I made the
resolve to pray for all creatures. Then the thought came to
me, ‘The station of intercession belongs to Muhammad, upon
him be peace.’ So I observed my manners I heard a voice
address me, ‘Because of this one observance of good manners
I have exalted your name, so that until the resurrection men
shall call you King of the Gnostics.’”
time I entered the Holy House,” stated Baayazeed, “I saw the
Holy House. The second time I entered it, I saw the Lord of
the House. The third time I saw neither the House nor the
Lord of the House.”
Baayazeed meant, “I became lost in God, so that I knew
nothing. Had I seen at all, I would have seen God.” Proof of
this interpretation is given by the following anecdote.
A man came
to the door of Baayazeed and called out.
you seeking?” asked Baayazeed.
replied the man.
wretch!” said Baayazeed. “I have been seeking Baayazeed for
thirty years, and cannot find any trace or token of him.”
was reported to Dho ‘l-Nun. He commented, “God have mercy on
my brother Baayazeed!
He is lost
with the company of those that are lost in God.”
was Baayazeed’s absorption in God, that every day when he
was called by a disciple who had been his inseparable
companion for twenty years, he would say, “My son, what is
the disciple said one day, “you ate mocking me. For twenty
years now I have been serving you, and every day you ask me
my name.” “My son,” replied Baayazeed, “I do not deride you.
But His name has entered my heart, and has expelled all
other names. As soon as I learn a new name, I promptly
God,” said Baayazeed, “admitted me to His presence in two
thousand stations, and in every station He offered me a
kingdom, but I declined it. God said to me, ‘Baayazeed, what
do you desire?’ I replied, ‘I desire not to desire.’”
“You walk on
the water!” they said.
“So does a
piece of wood,” Baayazeed replied.
“You fly in
“So does a
to the Kaaba in a single night!”
conjurer travels from India to Demavand in a single night.”
is the proper task of true men?” they asked. “The true man
attaches his heart to none but God,” he replied.
divorced the world,” said Baayazeed, “and alone proceeded to
the Alone. I stood before the Presence and cried, ‘Lord God,
I desire none but Thee. If I possess Thee, I possess all.’
recognized my sincerity, the first grace that He accorded me
was that he removed the chaff of the self from before me.”
“What is the
Throne?” Baayazeed was asked. “It is I,” he replied. “What
is the Footstool?” “I.” “What is the Tablet and the Pen?”
“I.” “God has servants the like of Abraham and Moses and
Jesus.” “All are I.” “God has servants the like of Gabriel
and Michael and Seraphiel.” “All are I.” The man was silent.
become effaced in God,” said Baayazeed, “and has attained
the Reality of all that is, all is God.”
related that Baayazeed seventy times attained propinquity to
the presence of the Almighty. Each time he returned, he
bound a girdle about him and then broke it.
life drew towards its close, he entered the prayer niche and
bound a girdle about him. He put on upside down his fur
jacket and his cap. Then he said, “O God, I do not vaunt of
the discipline of a whole lifetime. I do not parade my all
night prayers. I do not speak of my fasting all my life. I
do not enumerate the times I have recited the Quran. I do
not tell of my spiritual occasions and litanies and
proximities. Thou knowest that I do not look back on
anything, and that this of which I give account by my tongue
is not said in boasting, or because I rely thereon. I give
account of all this, because I am ashamed of all that I have
done. Thou hast invested me with the grace of seeing myself
so. All that is nothing; count it as naught. I am an old
Torkoman of seventy years whose hair has grown white in
pagandom. Now I come from the desert crying Tangri Tangri.
Only now I learn to say Allah Allah. Only now I break my
girdle. Only now I set foot in the circle of Islam. Only now
I make my tongue move with the attestation of the Faith. All
that Thou doest is without cause; Thou acceptest not on
account of obedience, and Thou rejectest not on account of
disobedience. All that I have done I reckon as but dust.
Whatsoever Thou hast seen of me not pleasing to Thy
presence, do Thou draw the line of pardon through it. And
wash the dust of disobedience from me; for I have myself
washed away the dust of the presumption that I have obeyed
The Shaykh was
born on the 4th of Muharram 708 Hijri at a place called
Qasr-i-Arifan near the city of Bukhara, and he was a saint from
birth. Karamats and visions were part of the Shaykh's life from
his childhood. One day, soon after the Shaykh had learned to
talk, he spoke to his mother regarding some cattle that were in
front of them, telling her that one of the cows had a calf in
her belly of such and such a colour, and with such and such
markings on its body. When the cow gave birth, its calf was just
as the Shaykh had described, and all the marks on its body were
exactly where he had said they were.
Shaykh acquired the knowledge of Tareeqah from Hadhrat Ameer
Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, but in reality the Shaykh was a
spiritual student of Hadhrat Khwajah Abd-ul-Khaliq Ghajdwani
rahmatullah alayhi, for the Shaykh attained guidance from his
Muhammad Baba Samasi rahmatullah alayhi related the excellence
of the Shaykh before he was even born, saying, "The time is
approaching when a great person will be born in these lands. I
can smell his fragrance. The world will be illuminated by his
presence and multitudes of people will attain fayz from him."
This is why the
Shaykh was taken to Hadhrat Khwajah Muhammad Baba rahmatullah
alayhi just three days after his birth, who immediately accepted
him as a son and addressed his honourable Khaleefah Hadhrat
Ameer Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, saying, "I place this child in
your care, and I shall never forgive you if there is any
deficiency in the spiritual upbringing of this child."
states, "One day I was sat all alone, when all of a sudden I
heard a voice saying, 'O Baha'uddin, do you not think that the
time has come for you to turn your face away from the world and
for you to devote yourself to Me?'" On hearing this voice, the
Shaykh was overcome with anxiety. He stood up and went out into
the darkness of the night. On reaching a wide stream, the Shaykh
washed his clothes, performed ghusl and prayed two rakats of
prayer. In later days, the Shaykh would say "So much time has
passed, yet I still live with the desire to experience a prayer
like that again."
relates, "In my youth I would live in a state of unrest,
wandering the streets at night, visiting the various shrines in
and around Bukhara. One night, I saw a lamp that was full of oil
but its light was flickering, sometimes bright and at other
times so dim as if it would disappear altogether. I noticed that
with a little adjustment, the lamp could become very bright.
When I reached the shrine of Hadhrat Khwajah Muhammad Wasi'
rahmatullah alayhi, I was instructed to go to the shrine of
Hadhrat Khwajah Mahmood Anjeer Faghnawi rahmatullah alayhi. When
I got there, two men approached me. They tied two swords to my
back and made me sit on a horse. They then turned the horse
around to face in the direction of the shrine of Khwajah Mazd
Afan. When I reached that shrine, I sat down facing the Qibla,
and all of a sudden the wall before me parted, and I saw a very
big throne in front of me. Then I saw that a saintly person had
sat on the throne, and that in front of him was a green curtain
and gathered around him was a group of saints. Someone began to
call out the names of these saints saying, 'This is Khwajah
Abdul Khaliq rahmatullah alayhi (and it was he who was sat on
the throne), this is Khwajah Ahmad Siddique rahmatullah alayhi,
this is Khwajah Awliya Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, this is Khwajah
Arif Reogari rahmatullah alayhi, Khwajah Mahmood Faghnawi
rahmatullah alayhi, Khwajah Ali Ramatini' and when it came to
Khwajah Muhammad Baba Samasi rahmatullah alayhi, the voice said,
'And this is your Shaykh.' I then requested that I be allowed to
convey salaam to Hadhrat Khwajah Abdul Khaliq rahmatullah
alayhi. The curtain before him was drawn to the side, and
Hadhrat Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi returned my greeting and then
taught me Sulook from beginning to end. He then addressed me,
saying, 'Be steadfast upon the Shari'ah under all circumstances,
and act upon the blessed Sunnah with devotion. Stay well clear
of innovations and refrain from a life in which you only fulfil
the minimum requirements of worship and no more. Always make the
Ahadeeth of Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam your
"Later I went
into the company of Hadhrat Ameer Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, who
taught me dhikr Nafi Athbaat Khafi (rejecting everything but
Allah through silent repetition of La ilaha illa'llah), which I
continued to perform with steadfastness for a long while; and in
accordance with the instruction of Hadhrat Khwajah Abdul Khaliq
Ghajdwani rahmatullah alayhi, I would not do Jahr (loud) dhikr.
When the companions of Hadhrat Khwajah Ameer Kalal rahmatullah
alayhi used to do loud dhikr, I would often get up and leave.
The other mureeds of the Shaykh did not like this, but their
doubts were finally put to rest when one day Hadhrat Khwajah
Ameer rahmatullah alayhi said, 'O People! You think ill of
Baha'uddin, but do you not know that a very special favour of
Allah is upon him?' Later, Hadhrat Khwajah rahmatullah spoke to
me saying, 'O Baha'uddin, I have completed your spiritual
upbringing in the manner that I had been instructed by Hadhrat
Baba Samasi rahmatullah alayhi.' After that, Hadhrat Shaykh
granted me khilafah.
"Once I had a
dream that I would attain something from a Turkish Shaykh, so I
was always on the look out for that Shaykh. Finally, one day I
met this Shaykh in one of the bazaars of Bukhara. I recognised
him and discovered that his name was Khalil. Later a messenger
came to me saying that I had been called to meet this Darwesh
called Khalil. I went to see him straight away and wanted to
tell him about my dream, but he said to me, 'I know what is in
your heart; there is no need to tell me.' I loved this person
and I had some amazing experiences in his company. A few days
later, he disappeared. I learned later that he was the King of
Mawralnahar, and he called me to his kingdom and offered me a
job. I served the king for six years and during that time saw
many remarkable things." Regarding this, the king used to say,
"The person who serves others for the sake of Allah alone has a
great status among creation."
relates another event thus: "During the time that I was in the
service of Hadhrat Ameer Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, I once saw
Hadhrat Khidr alayhi salaam. He was riding, wearing a kulla and
had a big stick in his hand. He spoke to me, saying, 'Have you
seen my horse?' and then he hit me with his stick. I did not say
anything in reply. Then he blocked my path a few times, and I
said to him, 'I know full well that you are Khidhr alayhi
salaam.' He followed me and said, "Stop!" but I did not listen
and carried on walking. When I arrived in the company of Hadhrat
Ameer Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, the Shaykh took one look at me
and said, 'You met with Hadhrat Khidr alayhi salaam why didn't
you pay him any attention?' I replied, 'Hadhrat, all my
attention at the time was on you.' Hadhrat Khwajah Ameer
rahmatullah alayhi then explained, "The spiritual well-spring of
the Khwajigan is linked to four sources; the first is Hadhrat
Khidhr alayhi salaam, the second is Junayd al-Baghdadi
rahmatullah alayhi, the third is Hadhrat Bayazeed Bistami
rahmatullah alayhi from the chain of authority that reached him
from Hadhrat Ali radhiallah anhu, and the fourth is the chain of
authority that reached him from Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddique
The Shaykh used
to say, "A person should not shut his eyes intentionally during
Wuqoof-e-Qalbi (stopping the worldly thoughts of the heart) as
that is nothing but Itlaai' Khalq (observing one's own being)."
The Shaykh also
stated, "Once, on seeing a person sitting with his neck bent
down and head bowed, Ameer-ul-Mu'mineen Hadhrat Umar radhiallah
anhu said, 'When a person is not alone and is amongst other
people, he should do dhikr in such a manner that no one notices
that he is in Allah's remembrance.'
The Shaykh used
to say, "Dhikr is the removal of neglect. When someone is no
longer neglectful, then he can be called a dhaakir." The Shaykh
further explained, "It is a saying of the saints that if a
person is neglectful for even the time it takes to blink, he
will never be able to comprehend how much he has lost in that
one moment." The Shaykh also stated, "Whoever remains busy in
Allah's dhikr in the morning and evening can never be among the
ghafil (neglectful). He is indeed a dhaakir."
related: "I was granted a vision of the the Maqam of Shaykh
Junayd, Shaykh Shibli, Shaykh Mansoor Hallaj and Hadhrat
Bayazeed Bistami rahmatullah alayhum, and I saw that whatever
stage they reached, I too reached. During this spiritual
journey, we arrived at the gates of one majestic station which I
realised was that of Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa
sallam. When Hadhrat Bayazeed Bistami rahmatullah alayhi reached
this station, he had a desire to view the Maqam, and due to
this, the hand of refusal hit his forehead. My response was very
different; I placed my head in utmost respect and reverence at
the gate of the station, with no desire to behold it."
In a similar
vein, the Shaykh stated, "One should seek steadfastness and
should never desire miracles. Allah subhana wa ta'ala seeks
steadfastness from his servants, whereas your Nafs seeks
miracles." He also said, "If a friend of Allah walks in a garden
and hears the trees speaking to him and sees spirits coming to
visit him, he should never set store by these things and should
always adopt a humble manner, continually striving to perfect
his way of life."
The Shaykh also
stated, "My Tareeqah is to follow the Sunnah of Allah's
Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam in the manner explained to
us by his blessed Sahaba radhiallahu anhum"; and he said, "In my
Silsilah, a little is worth a lot, but devotion and obedience is
a condition of this reward." He also stated, "Our Tareeqah is
one of Suhbat (company). Fame comes from solitude and in fame
there is destruction."
The Shaykh gave
the following advice about the friends of Allah: "When you go to
visit a friend of Allah, you should examine yourself and analyse
your state; if you see that your Deen has improved through this
company, then make it incumbent upon yourself to make this
company regular." The Shaykh further stated, "True self-analysis
is when a saalik continually assesses his own actions; he should
regret his shortcomings, thank Allah for his progress and always
work tirelessly to improve." He also said, "There is no friend
of Allah on this Earth who is not under the special gaze of
Allah subhana wa ta'ala. When you sit in the company of the
friend of Allah, the fayz (overflow of spiritual blessings) that
you receive is in fact a reflection of that special gaze."
Another point he made was that "The friends of Allah are endowed
with the knowledge of many secrets concerning the wonders of
creation, but those with this knowledge do not disclose it,
whereas those who have no idea talk a lot and pretend they know
stated, "If a mureed has any doubt regarding one of his Shaykh's
actions, he should be patient for it may well be that the reason
for the action will become very clear at a later stage." He also
said, "One should always try one's best to strive hard in
The Shaykh states, "Once, Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa
sallam and his Sahaba each put one piece of bread in a clay oven
to bake. All the pieces of bread got baked except for the bread
of Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. This was
because the Prophet's blessed hand had touched it, and therefore
the fire could not burn it." The Shaykh continued, "Through
attaining perfection in following the Sunnah, I too was once in
a similar situation; I too once placed a piece of bread in a
clay oven along with some of my companions, and all their pieces
got baked whereas mine was left untouched by the fire."
Once a person
came to the Shaykh and asked him to display a miracle. The
Shaykh replied, "Despite committing so many sins, I still walk
on the land and the earth does not devour me. Tell me, what can
be a bigger miracle than this?"
Once the Shaykh
enquired from Hadhrat Khwajah Ala'uddin Attar rahmatullah alayhi
whether or not the time for Zuhr Salaah had begun, and was
informed that it hadn't. The Shaykh then said, "Look up at the
sky." When they looked up at the sky, they noticed that the
veils of the heavens had been drawn aside and that the angels in
the heavens were performing the fardh prayer. The Shaykh then
said, "And you were telling me that it was not yet time."
rahmatullah alayhi had the opportunity to see the blessed House
of Allah and performed the Hajj. On the day of sacrifice, when
all the pilgrims were making Qurbani, the Shaykh said, "I too
shall make a sacrifice: there is a boy - I sacrifice him in Your
Path." Later the people discovered that on that very day of Eid,
the Shaykh's son had passed away in Bukhara.
Burhan-ud-din brought some pieces of bread and began to bake
them in a clay oven, when all of a sudden it began to rain
heavily. At this Hadhrat Khwajah said, "Tell the rain not to
come near us while we are here." The Ameer replied, "How can I
say such thing?" The Shaykh said, "Say what I have told you to
say." As soon as he did as he was told, it rained all around
them yet not one drop of rain landed on the small patch of land
where they were.
One of the
mureeds of Hadhrat Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi brought an apple
for the Shaykh. The Shaykh said, "Wait; do not eat this apple
right now because it is busy in tasbeeh." Those present heard
clearly the recitation of the apple.
Once, the Shaykh
was in the city of Sarkhas. A few envoys of King Hussain came to
see the Shaykh from Herat and they delivered a message from the
king, which said, "I have a strong desire to meet with the
friends of Allah." The Shaykh did not make a habit of visiting
Sultans, but on this occasion the Shaykh accepted the invitation
and went to see the king, where a huge reception was waiting for
The king spoke to Hadhrat Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi, saying,
"Your type of spiritual prowess is hereditary, is it not?" The
Shaykh replied, "No, and I have only come here in response to
the command of my enthusiasm." The King asked, "What is your
Tareeqah?" Hadhrat Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi replied, "It is a
saying of Khwajah Abd-ul-Khaliq Ghajdwani rahmatullah alayhi
that 'Khalwat dar anjuman.'" The King asked what this meant and
the Shaykh replied, "It is to be with the creation physically
and outwardly, but to be with the Haq subhana wa ta'ala
spiritually and inwardly."
After a while,
the King asked the Shaykh, "Some Masha'ikh have stated that
Wilayah (sainthood) is more virtuous than Nabuwwah
(Prophethood). What type of Wilayah are they referring to that
is more virtuous than Prophethood?" The Shaykh replied, "They
refer to the Wilayah of a Nabi, which is more virtuous than his
The Shaykh also
stated, "Although Salaah, fasting and extensive mujahidah
(striving) and nawaafil worship is the way to reach Haq subhana
wa ta'ala, according to us it is essential to negate one's Self
in the process, for that is the most virtuous achievement of the
One of the
scholars of Bukhara came to Hadhrat Khwajah and asked, "What
matter or action gives you the feeling of being in the presence
of your Lord when you pray Salaah?" Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi
replied, "Halal food that is consumed with care, understanding
stated, "The following has been stated by Allah's Nabi
sallallahu alayhi wa sallam: 'My Ummah will never reach a
consensus about a matter that is false.' This is because there
are people in the Ummah who are the Siddiqeen, and are known as
Ummat-e-Mataabi'at." He went on, "The Ummah falls into three
categories. The first is 'Ummat-e-Da'wat', and this includes
every person in the Ummah. The second is 'Ummat-e-Ajabat',
meaning those that have Iman. And the third is
'Ummat-e-Mataabi'at', who are those who follow the ways of
Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam after they have
been granted Iman."
stated, "Our Tareeqah is all Adab (etiquette). It is for this
reason that one of the conditions for seeking the Path is Adab.
One Adab is nisbat with Allah subhana wa ta'ala; one Adab is
nisbat with Allah's Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa sallam; and one
Adab is nisbat with the Masha'ikh of the Tareeqah. The Adab of
the nisbat that one has with Allah subhana wa ta'ala is that a
person obeys the commands of Allah subhana wa ta'ala both
internally and externally, and that his worship and all actions
are for Allah alone. The Adab of the nisbat one has with Allah's
Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa sallam is that a person must always be
obedient to Allah's Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam and to
try his utmost to live his life upon the Sunnah in all aspects,
considering Allah's Nabi sallallahu alayhi a sallam to be the
link between Allah and His creation and the sole channel through
which he can reach Allah. Finally, the Adab of the nisbat with
the Mashai'kh is that it is compulsory for the seekers to have
utmost respect and adab for their Shaykh, both in his presence
and in his absence."
The Shaykh also
stated, "In Qabdh (the state of spiritual constraint) one
witnesses the quality of Jalaal (Awesome Power), and in Bast
(the state of spiritual expansion) the quality of Jamaal
Once the Shaykh
said, "All the Masha'ikh have two faces to their 'mirror';
however there are seven faces to ours." Hadhrat Mujaddid Alf
Thani rahmatullah alayhi explained this statement, saying, "The
'mirror' refers to the heart of the Arif (one possessed of
direct spiritual insight), which is the link between the Rooh
and the Nafs, and its two faces relate to the Rooh and the Nafs
respectively. In the other Tareeqahs, both of these reflect onto
the heart, and the heart thereby receives spiritual knowledge
and blessing. In the Silsilah Aaliya Naqshbandia, knowledge
falls onto the mirror of the heart from six directions or
points, namely the Nafs, Qalb, Rooh, Sirr, Khafi and Akhfa. This
is why it has been stated that the other silsilahs engage in the
'exploration of the heart', whereas the Silsilah Aaliya
Naqshbandia engages in the 'exploration of the internal
orientation of the heart'; thus it is from those six lataa'if
(points of spiritual reception) that spiritual knowledge enters
karamat have been attributed to the blessed Shaykh, and if we
were to put them in writing, we would end up with several very
thick volumes. The biggest karamat of the Shaykh was that he
gave life to hundreds of thousands of dead hearts with the dhikr
of Allah, through bestowing such a mark (Naqsh-) on the hearts
of the believers that, once stamped, is indelible (-band) and
goes with them into the grave. To give life to a dead heart is
more virtuous than bringing a dead person back to life. This is
because if a dead person were to come alive, he could again
occupy himself in the deceptions of the Dunya, whereas the heart
that comes to life becomes nearer to Allah subhana wa ta'ala.
It was a custom
of the age to decorate clothes with beautiful patterns and
prints. The Shaykh, however, imprinted the remembrance of the
Haq onto the hearts in such a way that it could never be erased
or tampered with. It is for this reason that the name of this
Silsilah came to be known as Naqshbandia.
It has been
narrated that before the Shaykh passed away, he said, "When my
last moment comes upon me, I shall teach the people how to die."
So when the Shaykh reached the last moments of his life, he
raised his hands in du'a and supplicated for a lengthy time. No
sooner had he finished the du'a and wiped his hands over his
face, his soul went to meet his Lord. The Shaykh was
seventy-three years old when he passed away on Monday the 3rd of
Rabi-ul-Awwal 791 Hijri. He had given instruction for the people
not to recite the kalimah or the Qur'an aloud in front of his
funeral procession, since it could be disrespectful. The shrine
of the Shaykh is at a place called Qasr-e-Arifan, and is a
fountain of blessing for the seekers of the Haq.
The Shaykh is
Imam-ut-Tareeqah and it is from the nisbat of Hadhrat Shaykh
rahmatullah alyahi that the Silsilah gets its name. The Shaykh
reached the status of Ijtihaad in knowledge of Tareeqat. When
the Shaykh was given khilafah in the Tareeqah by his Murshid,
Hadhrat Ameer Kalal rahmatullah alayhi, he was already familiar
with the Mujahidaat and acts of devotion of all the various
Tareeqahs. In solitude, the Shaykh went into Sajdah
(prostration) and prayed to Allah subhana wa ta'ala, saying, "O
Allah, the people of the Ummah have become weak. They have no
strength, determination or ability to tolerate hardship; and the
blessed time and era of the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam,
that was so full of goodness and blessing, gets further away
from us as each day passes by. Through Your Mercy and Blessings,
please give me a Silsilah by which one can gain Your nearness
quickly and with ease." For fifteen consecutive days the Shaykh
remained in Sajdah, weeping and pleading before his Lord, only
leaving that position in order to pray fardh Salaah in
congregation or to attend the call of nature. On the fifteenth
day, from the oceans of the Mercy of Allah, the Shaykh received
Ilham (inspiration) from Allah in these words: "O Muhammad
Baha'uddin! We shall give you that Tareeqah which was that of
the Companions of My Habeeb sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, namely
Wuqoof-e-Qalbi (stopping the worldly thoughts of the heart) and
adherence to the Sunnah of Allah's Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa
sallam." The Shaykh expressed his gratitude to Allah subhana wa
ta'ala and then lifted his head from the ground. Subsequently
this Tareeqah spread across the world in the way that daylight
spreads over the land at sunrise.
rahmatullah alayhi used to say, "All the Tareeqahs are blessed,
full of light, and all of them lead to Allah. However the
Tareeqah that Allah subhana wa ta'ala has given me is full of
ease in comparison, and one reaches Allah very quickly." In
Dhikr-e-Qalbi (remembrance of the heart) there is
Jadhb-e-Rabbani (rapture in the Divine) and in Dhikr-e-Rabbani
(remembrance of the Divine) there is Sulook (the Path towards
Allah's nearness), and it is for this reason that Hadhrat
Khwajah rahmatullah alayhi stated, "Ma murad-a-neem, kamaa
fadhliy-a-neem", meaning "We are of those who are sought, and we
are of those upon whom there is fadhal."
Mawlana Jaami rahmatullaha alayhi states,
"Naqshbandia ajab qafila sa laaranand,
ke barandaaz rahe panhaan baharam qaafila raa",
Naqshbandia lead an extraordinary caravan,
for they take their students to the Haram via a secret, hidden
Shaykh Baqi Billah
The Shaykh was
born in Kabul in the year 971 Hijri. It was here that he spent
the first years of his life, and where he was raised by his
parents and nurtured by his father Qadhi Abd-us-Salam Khalji
Samarqandi Qurayshi rahmatullah alayhi, who was himself a pious
man of Allah.
the Shaykh possessed many saintly characteristics and would
spend a great deal of time in solitude. The Shaykh learnt his
formal Islamic knowledge from Maulana Muhammad Siddique Halwai
who was a famous scholar of the age, and he had barely completed
his studies when he set foot on the spiritual path of Allah.
This led him to sit in the company of many Shaykhs of the time,
and in some cases he even did Tawbah at their hand.
One day, while
the Shaykh was studying a book on Tasawwuf, he was suddenly
overcome by a spiritual state in which he was given dhikr by
Hadhrat Khwajah Baha'ud-deen Naqshband rahmatullah alayhi. After
this experience, the Shaykh lost touch with his senses, and it
seemed as if he was constantly lost in his own thoughts in the
manner of one overwhelmed with extreme worry or depression. The
Shaykh's mother was worried about her son's condition and prayed
to Allah, saying, "O Allah, I cannot bear to see my son in this
condition. Please relieve him of his pain and grant him his goal
or else take my life, for I do not have the strength to see my
son in this state." In later days, the Shaykh would say, "I am
where I am today due to the supplication of my mother."
desire led the Shaykh to visit many Masha'ikh in various places,
such as Balkh, Badakhshan, Lahore and Kashmir. But it was
finally in the company of Hadhrat Maulana Khwajigi Akangi
rahmatullah alayhi that the Shaykh found the freedom of the soul
for which he was searching. The Shaykh states: "I saw Hadhrat
Maulana Khwajigi Akangi rahmatullah alayhi in a dream, and he
addressed me, saying, 'My son, my sight is set in your
direction.'" At this, he went to Hadhrat Khwajah Akangi
rahmatullah alayhi, and for three days and nights he was granted
the sole company of the Shaykh and attained all the inner
Akangi rahmatullah alayhi said to him, "By the grace and
blessings of Allah, you now possess all the spiritual blessings
and stages that are required. Go from here to India, and through
you this Silsilah will be revived in that country." The Shaykh
states, "I felt at the time that this task was beyond me and I
was incapable of such a big task. I offered this as an excuse to
my Shaykh, who then gave me the Hukm of making Istikhara."
relates: "After making Istikhara, I had a dream in which I saw a
parrot sitting on the branch of a tree. The thought came to my
mind that if this parrot flew down and sat on my hand, it would
be a sign for me that my journey to India would be made easier.
And that is exactly what happened; the parrot flew over to me
and sat on my hand. I put some of my saliva in the beak of the
parrot, and in return the parrot put some sugar in my mouth. I
related this dream to my Shaykh, who replied, 'The parrot is a
bird of India; in India a man from amongst your companions will
arise to light the world with his presence, and you too will
benefit from him.'" This dream referred to Hadhrat Mujaddid Alf
Thani rahmatullah alayhi.
So on the
instruction of his Shaykh, the Shaykh travelled to Lahore and
stayed there for one year. The scholars and pious men of Lahore
developed great admiration and love for the Shaykh. After
staying in Lahore, he left for Delhi and settled at Qila Ferozi,
which was to be his home for the rest of his life.
The Shaykh was a
very humble, quiet man and was naturally reserved in his manner.
It often happened that when a person came to him with a request
to enter the Silsilah, the Shaykh would excuse himself from the
responsibility. One example of that concerns a person of
Khurasan, who used to stay at the blessed shrine of Hadhrat
Khwajah Bakhtiyar Kaki rahmatullah alayhi. This person was in
search of a true Shaykh and it was for this reason that he
stayed at the shrine, hoping that one day he would get some
spiritual guidance in this matter. When Hadhrat Khwajah
rahmatullah alayhi came to Delhi, this person had a vision in
which he saw Bakhtiyar Kaki rahmatullah alayhi saying to him, "A
Shaykh of the Naqshbandi Tareeqah has recently arrived in this
city; go and sit in his company."
with the instruction given to him, this person went into the
company of the Shaykh and related his vision, to which the
Shaykh replied, "You must be mistaken. I am not this worthy, so
the Shaykh you have been instructed to meet must be someone
else." On hearing this, the person left. On returning to the
shrine, the person had another dream, in which Hadhrat Bakhtiyar
Kaki rahmatullah alayhi once again spoke to him, saying, "That
was indeed the Shaykh that I instructed you to meet." The next
day, this person again made his way to the Shaykh and related
his dream. The Shaykh again humbly replied, "You are mistaken;
go and search for this Shaykh and when you find him, come and
tell me so that I too may visit him and obtain some blessings."
experience was that of Hadhrat Khwajah Hisam-ud-deen rahmatullah
alayhi who later became a great Khaleefah of the Shaykh. This
man also set out in search for the Shaykh and received the same
response as the man from Khurasan. In his despair, Hisam-ud-deen
walked the streets of Agra and heard someone reciting a couplet
of Hadhrat Sa'di rahmatullah alayhi, which made him understand
the situation. He immediately went back to Hadhrat Khwajah
rahmatullah alayhi and explained his insight into the matter. It
was only then that the Shaykh accepted Hadhrat Hisam-ud-deen
There was a
great amount of Jadhb (spiritual rapture) in the company of the
Shaykh. When the Shaykh looked at someone, they would lose
themselves. Once a person was coming to meet him, and as the
Shaykh was coming out of the Masjid, he looked at this person.
The person went straight into a state of Jadhb, lost control of
his senses and set out for the desert; and nobody knows what
happened to him thereafter. Some people became Majdhoob (in a
state of permanent spiritual rapture) and Maghloob (overcome)
just by looking at the blessed face of the Shaykh. It has been
related that once a speaker was delivering a sermon from the
pulpit when his gaze fell upon the Shaykh, and as soon as this
happened, he lost sense of his faculties and fell off the
It has also been
related that one night in Ramadhan, Hadhrat Mujaddid Alf Thani
rahmatullah alayhi sent a person with some Faloodah (a sweet
dish) for the Shaykh. The Shaykh came out to receive the
Faloodah and asked the courier his name. The man informed the
Shaykh of his name, to which the Shaykh replied, "You are a
khadim (servant-mureed) of my Ahmad; hence you are mine too."
When the man returned, he was overcome with Jadhb and Sakr
(intoxication) and went screaming to Hadhrat Mujaddid
rahmatullah alayhi. He told him about what happened, and said
that wherever he looked, whether it was the earth, the skies,
the trees or the stones, all he could see was light.
The Shaykh was a
very kind hearted and merciful man. One night, for instance,
when the Shaykh had prayed the tahajjud prayer, he returned to
his bed and found a cat sleeping there. Since he did not wish to
disturb the cat, the Shaykh remained sitting in the cold till
The Shaykh had
very little interest in the matters of the Dunya, and in his
gatherings he never spoke about worldly matters. If a rich
person arrived wanting to offer something to the poor, the
Shaykh would not accept it either for himself or for his
mureeds. The Shaykh always preferred to live in a state of
tawakkul (trust in Allah) and contentment. He would never, for
instance, ask for a new set of clothes when his clothes were
very weak and frail, the Shaykh was always busy in Allah's dhikr
and in abundant worship. When he felt weak, he would get up and
perform wudhu and then return to Muraqabah. He would often spend
the whole night like this. The Shaykh was extremely careful
regarding food, taking particular care to make sure that it did
not come from the wrong place. He would say, "If the food we eat
is from a source that is not good and we do not take due care, a
spiritual smoke from the food takes the form of a barrier that
prevents fayz from reaching us." All the actions of the Shaykh
were characterised by extreme care. There was never any singing
or loud worship in the gatherings of the Shaykh, to the extent
that once, when a Darwesh said "Allah!" out loud in the
gathering, the Shaykh said, "If you wish to attend our
gatherings, then please make sure that you abide by the adaab
(etiquette) that is required."
The Shaykh used
to say, "The Mashaa'ikh of the Silsilah Aaliya Naqshbandia have
stated that if a person is keen to tread this path, then after
making Tawbah, a person should spend all his time in Allah's
dhikr." He also stated, "The dhikr of this Tareeqah develops
Jadhb (rapture)." On another occasion he stated, "If a mureed
loves a Shaykh of this Sisilah to the extent that they see him
when they are not even in his presence, then that is what we
call 'Rabta' (connection). And bear in mind that it is essential
that you do not do anything that might make the Shaykh dislike
you, for this could result in your exclusion from his murads."
He also stated, "This Tareeqah is that of Hadhrat Abu Bakr
Siddique radhiallahu anhu, who had immense love and Ishq for
Rasoolullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and this was the means
by which he obtained the fayz. It is for this reason that the
most important type of nisbat with the Shaykh is that of love."
The Shaykh also
stated, "Regular Muraqabah is a great wealth, for it makes the
hearts fertile." He also mentioned that, "One can never rely on
'kashf qaboor', and in 'kashf sooria' one can easily be mistaken
and led astray"; and he stated, "The Awliya'allah are not free
from mistakes. If, on a very rare occasion, you should see them
make a mistake, then realise that this is a possibility."
Another saying of his is that, "Tawakkul is a great thing and is
not adopted without reason. A person should never engage in
earning a livelihood that has certain aspects to it which could
lead to a form of shirk. Not to work for a living is
disrespectful; one should always choose a suitable profession."
Innumerable karamaat have been attributed to the Shaykh, but
what greater karamat can there be than the fact that the Shaykh
preached for only three to four years, and in that time his fayz
reached all parts of the globe. Many Masha'ikh actually finished
teaching their mureeds altogether, and came to sit in the
company of the Shaykh in order to progress in the stages of
After the Shaykh
reached the age of forty, he used to take a deep breath and say,
"He has gone", every time he was informed of someone's death.
Once the Shaykh said to his wife, "A significant event will
happen when I reach the age of forty"; and one day he stated,
"Someone has said that the Qutub of the age has passed away."
During the middle of Jumada ath-thani, the Shaykh fell ill; and
from that same illness, with the words "Allah! Allah!" on his
tongue, the Shaykh passed away on Saturday the 25th of Jumada
al-akhir 1012 AH. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon. The
grave of the Shaykh is located at a place where the Shaykh had
once performed wudhu and some dust from the ground had come onto
his body. The Shaykh had stated, "The dust of this place will be
my companion. This place is close to the point where the Prophet
sallallahu alayhi wa sallam placed his feet."
The shrine of
the Shaykh is in an outer district of Delhi towards the Ajmeri
Gate, and in accordance with the Shaykh's instruction, there is
no dome on the blessed shrine. A high terrace or platform has
been built, however, and the karamat of the Shaykh is such that
despite the heat, the ground at this point does not feel hot
against one's feet. To conclude, how true was the following
saying of the Shaykh: "Those people who are always attentive
towards Allah do not need to have visions; and the visions of
this dunya are of no benefit. The essence of the matter is to
follow the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Allah's Messenger
sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. No kashf could ever compare to
Abu Nasr Beshr ibn
al-Hareth al-Hafi was born near Merv c. 150(767) and was converted
from a life of dissipation, studied Traditions in Baghdad, then
abandoned formal learning for the life of a mendicant, destitute,
starving and barefoot. He died in Baghdad in 227 (841). He was
admired by Ahmad ibn Hanbal and respected by the caliph al-Ma’mun.
The conversion of Beshr the Barefoot
Beshr the Barefoot
was born in Merv and settled at Baghdad. The beginning of his
conversion happened as follows. He had lived a life of dissipation,
and one day as he was staggering along the road drunk he found a
piece of paper on which was written, “In the Name of God, the
Merciful, the Compassionate.” He bought some attar of roses and
perfumed the paper with it, and deposited it reverently in his
house. That night a certain holy man had a dream in which he was
bidden to tell Beshr:
“Thou hast perfumed
my Name, so I have perfumed thee. Thou hast exalted my Name, so I
have exalted thee. Thou hast purified my Name, so I have purified
thee. By my Majesty, I will surely perfume thy name in this world
and the world to come.”
“He is a dissolute
fellow,” thought the saint. “Perhaps I am seeing erroneously.”
So he made ablution,
prayed and returned to sleep. He saw the selfsame dream a second and
a third time. In the morning he arose and went in search of Beshr.
“He is at a
wine-party,” he was told.
He went to the house
where Beshr was.
“Was Beshr here?” he
“He was,” they said.
“But he is drunk and incapable.”
“Tell him I have a
message for him,” said the saint.
“A message from
whom?” demanded Beshr when he was told.
“A message from
God,” replied the saint.
“Alas!” cried Beshr,
bursting into tears. “Is it a message of chiding or of chastisement?
Wait, till I tell my friends. Friends,” he addressed his
drinking-com-panions, “I have had a call. I am going. I bid you
farewell. You will never see me again at this business.”
And from that day
onward he lived so saintly, that none heard his name mentioned
without heavenly peace invaded his heart. He took to the way of
self-denial, and so overwhelmed was he by the vision of God that he
never put shoes on his feet. For that reason he was called Beshr the
“Why do you not wear
shoes?” he was asked.
“I was barefooted
the day when I made my peace with God,” he said, “and ever since I
am ashamed to wear shoes. Moreover God Almighty says, ‘I have made
the earth a carpet for you.’ It is not seemly to tread with shoes on
the carpet of kings.”
visited Beshr frequently, having a complete faith in him to such a
point that his pupils protested.
“Today you are
without rival as a scholar of Traditions, the law, theology and
every manner of science, yet every moment you go after a dissolute
fellow. Is that seemly?”
“Indeed, in all the
sciences you have enumerated I have better knowledge than he,”
Ahmad-e Hanbal replied. “But he knows God better than I.”
So he would pursue
Beshr, saying, “Tell me about my Lord.”
Anecdotes of Beshr
“Tonight Beshr will
be your guest.”
entered Beshr’s sister’s mind. She swept and watered her house, and
waited expectantly for Beshr to arrive. Suddenly Beshr came like one
“Sister, I am going
up to the roof,” he announced.
He planted his foot
on the stairs and climbed several steps, then remained standing like
that till the next day. When dawn broke, he descended. He went off
to pray in the mosque.
“What was the reason
you stood all night?” asked his sister when he returned.
“The thought entered
my mind,” Beshr replied, “that in Baghdad there are so many people
whose names are Beshr— one a Jew, one a Christian, one a Magian. My
name too is Beshr, and I have attained the great felicity of being a
What, I asked
myself, did the others do to be excluded, and what did I do to
attain such felicity? Bewildered by this thought, I remained rooted
to the spot.”
seven bookcases of volumes on Traditions. He buried them all in the
ground, and did not transmit them.
“The reason I do not
transmit Traditions,” he explained, “is that I perceive in myself a
lust to do so. If I perceive in my heart a lust to keep silence,
then I will transmit.”
For a space of forty
years Beshr longed for roast meat but had not the money to buy any.
For many years his heart yearned for beans, but he ate none. He
never drank water from streams dug out by the authorities.
One of the Saints
relates, “I was with Beshr once when the weather was extremely cold.
I saw him naked and trembling. ‘Abu Nasr’I said, ‘in such weather
people put on extra clothing. You have taken off your clothes.’
‘Yes,’ Beshr replied, ‘I remembered the poor. I had no money with
which to succour them, so I wanted to share with them physically.’”
Ahmad ibn Ibrahim
tells the following story.
“Tell Ma’ruf,” Beshr
said to me, “that I will call on him after I have said my prayer.”
I delivered the
message, and we waited together. We performed the midday prayer, and
Beshr did not come. We performed the afternoon prayer, and he did
not come. We performed the prayer before sleeping.
“Glory be to God,” I
said to myself, “does a man like Beshr break his word? This is
I kept on the
lookout, we being at the door of the mosque. Presently Beshr came
along with his prayer rug under his arm. When he reached the Tigris
he walked on the water and so came to us. He and Ma’ruf talked till
dawn, then he returned walking on the water again. Flinging myself
down from the roof, I hurried to him and kissed his hands and feet.
“Pray for me,” I
Beshr prayed. Then
he said, “Reveal what you have seen to no man.”
So long as he was
alive, I told no one.
A crowd was gathered
around Beshr, and he was preaching on the theme of satisfaction. One
of those present interrupted him.
“Abu Nasr, you
accept nothing from any creature in order to attain prominence. If
you are sincere in your self-denial and have truly turned your face
from this world, then take offerings from other men so that you may
lose your prominence in people’s eyes. Give to the poor what you
receive, but give in secret; then be unwavering in trusting in God,
and obtain your provision from the world unseen.”
These words made a
powerful impression on Beshr’s followers. Beshr answered as follows.
“Attend now! The
poor are divided into three classes. One class consists of those who
never ask for anything, and if they are given anything they yet
decline to accept it. These people are the spiritualists; for when
they ask aught from God, God gives them whatever they desire, and if
they adjure God their need is at once granted. The second class are
those who do not ask, but if they are given anything they accept it.
These are the middling folk; they are constant in their trust in
God, and they are those who shall sit at the table of Paradise. The
third class are those who sit with patience; as far as they can they
observe their moment, and repel outward enticements.”
“I am satisfied with
this statement,” the interrupter said. “May God be satisfied with
A throng of people came to Beshr.
“We have come from
Syria, and are going on the pilgrimage,” they said. “Do you feel
inclined to accompany us?”
conditions,” Beshr replied. “First, we will take nothing with us;
second, we will not ask for anything; third, if we are given
anything we will not accept it.”
“Not to ask for
anything and not to take anything with us— that we are able to
concede,” they answered. “But if an offering comes along, we cannot
not take it.”
“You have put your
faith not in God,” Beshr rebuked them, “but in your pilgrims’
A man once came to
consult Beshr’s advice.
“I have two thousand
dirhams lawfully acquired. I wish to go on the pilgrimage.”
“You want to walk
for your own amusement,” Beshr replied. “If you are really intent on
pleasing God, then go and pay someone’s debt, or give the money to
an orphan, or someone in poor circumstances. The ease thus given to
a Muslim’s heart is more acceptable to God than a hundred
“I put prior the
desire to make the pilgrimage,” the man said.
“That is because you
have obtained these moneys by means that are not good,” Beshr
commented. “You will never find rest until you have spent them in
Beshr related as
Once I saw the
Prophet in a dream. He said to me, “Beshr, do you not know why God
has chosen you from amongst your contemporaries and has raised you
up to high rank?”
“No, Messenger of
God,” I replied.
“It is because you
have followed my Sunna, and reverenced the righteous, and given good
counsel to your brethren, and loved me and the people of my
household,” the Prophet told me. “For this reason God has advanced
you to the station of the pious.”
Beshr also told the
One night I saw Ali
in a dream. I said, “Give me counsel.”
“How good a thing,”
said Ali, “is the compassion shown by the rich to the poor for the
sake of seeking the reward of the All-merciful. Better still is the
disdain shown by the poor towards the rich relying upon the
munificence of the Creator of the world.”
Beshr lay on his
deathbed. A man entered and complained of the tight-fistedness of
fate. Beshr gave him his shirt and put on a borrowed shirt, and in
that shirt set out into the world beyond.
It is recorded that
so long as Beshr was alive, no mule dropped its dung in the streets
of Baghdad out of reverence for him, because he walked barefooted.
One night a man with a mule observed his beast drop its dung in the
“Ah, Beshr the
Barefoot is no more,” he exclaimed.
Enquiry was made,
and so it proved. The man was asked how he knew.
“Because so long as
he was alive, on all the streets of Baghdad no mule-dung was to be
seen. I observed that the rule had been broken, and so knew that
Beshr was no more.”
Abu Nasr Beshr ibn al-Hareth al-Hafi
was born near Merv c. 150(767) and was converted from a life of
dissipation, studied Traditions in Baghdad, then abandoned
formal learning for the life of a mendicant, destitute, starving
and barefoot. He died in Baghdad in 227 (841). He was admired by
Ahmad ibn Hanbal and respected by the caliph al-Ma’mun.
conversion of Beshr the Barefoot
Beshr the Barefoot was born in
Merv and settled at Baghdad. The beginning of his conversion
happened as follows. He had lived a life of dissipation, and one
day as he was staggering along the road drunk he found a piece
of paper on which was written, “In the Name of God, the
Merciful, the Compassionate.” He bought some attar of roses and
perfumed the paper with it, and deposited it reverently in his
house. That night a certain holy man had a dream in which he was
bidden to tell Beshr:
“Thou hast perfumed my Name, so
I have perfumed thee. Thou hast exalted my Name, so I have
exalted thee. Thou hast purified my Name, so I have purified
thee. By my Majesty, I will surely perfume thy name in this
world and the world to come.”
“He is a dissolute fellow,”
thought the saint. “Perhaps I am seeing erroneously.”
So he made ablution, prayed and
returned to sleep. He saw the selfsame dream a second and a
third time. In the morning he arose and went in search of Beshr.
“He is at a wine-party,” he was
He went to the house where Beshr
“Was Beshr here?” he enquired.
“He was,” they said. “But he is
drunk and incapable.”
“Tell him I have a message for
him,” said the saint.
“A message from whom?” demanded
Beshr when he was told.
“A message from God,” replied
“Alas!” cried Beshr, bursting
into tears. “Is it a message of chiding or of chastisement?
Wait, till I tell my friends. Friends,” he addressed his
drinking-com-panions, “I have had a call. I am going. I bid you
farewell. You will never see me again at this business.”
And from that day onward he
lived so saintly, that none heard his name mentioned without
heavenly peace invaded his heart. He took to the way of
self-denial, and so overwhelmed was he by the vision of God that
he never put shoes on his feet. For that reason he was called
Beshr the Barefoot.
“Why do you not wear shoes?” he
“I was barefooted the day when I
made my peace with God,” he said, “and ever since I am ashamed
to wear shoes. Moreover God Almighty says, ‘I have made the
earth a carpet for you.’ It is not seemly to tread with shoes on
the carpet of kings.”
Ahmad-e Hanbal visited Beshr
frequently, having a complete faith in him to such a point that
his pupils protested.
“Today you are without rival as
a scholar of Traditions, the law, theology and every manner of
science, yet every moment you go after a dissolute fellow. Is
“Indeed, in all the sciences you
have enumerated I have better knowledge than he,” Ahmad-e Hanbal
replied. “But he knows God better than I.”
So he would pursue Beshr,
saying, “Tell me about my Lord.”
Anecdotes of Beshr
“Tonight Beshr will be your
This conviction entered Beshr’s
sister’s mind. She swept and watered her house, and waited
expectantly for Beshr to arrive. Suddenly Beshr came like one
“Sister, I am going up to the
roof,” he announced.
He planted his foot on the
stairs and climbed several steps, then remained standing like
that till the next day. When dawn broke, he descended. He went
off to pray in the mosque.
“What was the reason you stood
all night?” asked his sister when he returned.
“The thought entered my mind,”
Beshr replied, “that in Baghdad there are so many people whose
names are Beshr— one a Jew, one a Christian, one a Magian. My
name too is Beshr, and I have attained the great felicity of
being a Muslim.
What, I asked myself, did the
others do to be excluded, and what did I do to attain such
felicity? Bewildered by this thought, I remained rooted to the
Beshr possessed seven bookcases
of volumes on Traditions. He buried them all in the ground, and
did not transmit them.
“The reason I do not transmit
Traditions,” he explained, “is that I perceive in myself a lust
to do so. If I perceive in my heart a lust to keep silence, then
I will transmit.”
For a space of forty years Beshr
longed for roast meat but had not the money to buy any. For many
years his heart yearned for beans, but he ate none. He never
drank water from streams dug out by the authorities.
One of the Saints relates, “I
was with Beshr once when the weather was extremely cold. I saw
him naked and trembling. ‘Abu Nasr’I said, ‘in such weather
people put on extra clothing. You have taken off your clothes.’
‘Yes,’ Beshr replied, ‘I remembered the poor. I had no money
with which to succour them, so I wanted to share with them
Ahmad ibn Ibrahim tells the
“Tell Ma’ruf,” Beshr said to me,
“that I will call on him after I have said my prayer.”
I delivered the message, and we
waited together. We performed the midday prayer, and Beshr did
not come. We performed the afternoon prayer, and he did not
come. We performed the prayer before sleeping.
“Glory be to God,” I said to
myself, “does a man like Beshr break his word? This is
I kept on the lookout, we being
at the door of the mosque. Presently Beshr came along with his
prayer rug under his arm. When he reached the Tigris he walked
on the water and so came to us. He and Ma’ruf talked till dawn,
then he returned walking on the water again. Flinging myself
down from the roof, I hurried to him and kissed his hands and
“Pray for me,” I implored him.
Beshr prayed. Then he said,
“Reveal what you have seen to no man.”
So long as he was alive, I told
A crowd was gathered around
Beshr, and he was preaching on the theme of satisfaction. One of
those present interrupted him.
“Abu Nasr, you accept nothing
from any creature in order to attain prominence. If you are
sincere in your self-denial and have truly turned your face from
this world, then take offerings from other men so that you may
lose your prominence in people’s eyes. Give to the poor what you
receive, but give in secret; then be unwavering in trusting in
God, and obtain your provision from the world unseen.”
These words made a powerful
impression on Beshr’s followers. Beshr answered as follows.
“Attend now! The poor are
divided into three classes. One class consists of those who
never ask for anything, and if they are given anything they yet
decline to accept it. These people are the spiritualists; for
when they ask aught from God, God gives them whatever they
desire, and if they adjure God their need is at once granted.
The second class are those who do not ask, but if they are given
anything they accept it. These are the middling folk; they are
constant in their trust in God, and they are those who shall sit
at the table of Paradise. The third class are those who sit with
patience; as far as they can they observe their moment, and
repel outward enticements.”
“I am satisfied with this
statement,” the interrupter said. “May God be satisfied with
of people came to Beshr.
“We have come from Syria, and
are going on the pilgrimage,” they said. “Do you feel inclined
to accompany us?”
“On three conditions,” Beshr
replied. “First, we will take nothing with us; second, we will
not ask for anything; third, if we are given anything we will
not accept it.”
“Not to ask for anything and not
to take anything with us— that we are able to concede,” they
answered. “But if an offering comes along, we cannot not take
“You have put your faith not in
God,” Beshr rebuked them, “but in your pilgrims’ provisions.”
A man once came to consult
“I have two thousand dirhams
lawfully acquired. I wish to go on the pilgrimage.”
“You want to walk for your own
amusement,” Beshr replied. “If you are really intent on pleasing
God, then go and pay someone’s debt, or give the money to an
orphan, or someone in poor circumstances. The ease thus given to
a Muslim’s heart is more acceptable to God than a hundred
“I put prior the desire to make
the pilgrimage,” the man said.
“That is because you have
obtained these moneys by means that are not good,” Beshr
commented. “You will never find rest until you have spent them
in improper ways.”
Beshr related as follows.
Once I saw the Prophet in a
dream. He said to me, “Beshr, do you not know why God has chosen
you from amongst your contemporaries and has raised you up to
“No, Messenger of God,” I
“It is because you have followed
my Sunna, and reverenced the righteous, and given good counsel
to your brethren, and loved me and the people of my household,”
the Prophet told me. “For this reason God has advanced you to
the station of the pious.”
Beshr also told the following
One night I saw Ali in a dream.
I said, “Give me counsel.”
“How good a thing,” said Ali,
“is the compassion shown by the rich to the poor for the sake of
seeking the reward of the All-merciful. Better still is the
disdain shown by the poor towards the rich relying upon the
munificence of the Creator of the world.”
Beshr lay on his deathbed. A man
entered and complained of the tight-fistedness of fate. Beshr
gave him his shirt and put on a borrowed shirt, and in that
shirt set out into the world beyond.
It is recorded that so long as
Beshr was alive, no mule dropped its dung in the streets of
Baghdad out of reverence for him, because he walked barefooted.
One night a man with a mule observed his beast drop its dung in
“Ah, Beshr the Barefoot is no
more,” he exclaimed.
Enquiry was made, and so it
proved. The man was asked how he knew.
“Because so long as he was
alive, on all the streets of Baghdad no mule-dung was to be
seen. I observed that the rule had been broken, and so knew that
Beshr was no more.”
Fozail Ibn Iyaz
Abu ‘Ali al-Fozail
ibn ‘Iyaz al-Talaqani was born in Khorasan, and in the beginning of
his career he is said to have been a highwayman. After conversion he
went to Kufa and later to Makkah, where he resided for many years
and died in 187 (803). He achieved considerable repute as an
authority on Traditions, and his boldness in preaching before Harun
al-Rashid is widely reported.
Fozail the highwayman and how he repented
At the beginning of
his career, Fozail-e Iyaz pitched his tent in the heart of the
desert between Merv and Bavard. He wore sackcloth and a woollen cap,
and hung a rosary around his neck. He had many companions who were
all of them thieves and highwaymen. Night and day they robbed and
pillaged, and always brought the proceeds to Fozail since he was the
senior’ of them. He would divide the loot among the bandits, keeping
for himself what he fancied. He kept an inventory of everything, and
never absented himself from the meetings of the gang. Any apprentice
who failed to attend a meeting he expelled from the gang.
One day a great
caravan was passing that way, and Fozail’s confederates were on the
alert for it. A certain man was’ travelling in the convoy who had
heard rumour of the brigands. Sighting them, he took counsel with
himself how he might conceal his bag of gold.
“I will hide this
bag,” he said to himself. “Then if they waylay the caravan, I will
have this capital to fall back on.”
Going aside from the
road, he saw Fozail’s tent and Fozail himself close by it, an
ascetic by his looks and the clothes he wore. So he entrusted the
bag of gold to him.
“Go and put it in
the corner of the tent,” Fozail told him.
The man did as he
was bidden, and returned to the caravan halt, to find that it had
been pillaged. All the luggage had been carried out, and the
travellers bound hand and foot. The man released them, and
collecting the little that remained they took their departure. The
man returned to Fozail to recover his bag of gold. He saw him
squatting with the robbers, as they divided up the spoil.
“Ah, I gave my bag
of gold to a thief!” the man exclaimed.
Seeing him afar off,
Fozail hailed the man, who came to him.
“What do you want?”
“Take it from where
you deposited it,” Fozail bade him. “Then go.”
The man ran into the
tent, picked up his bag, and departed.
Fozail’s companions, “in the whole caravan we did not find so much
as one dirham in cash, and you give back ten thousand dirhams!”
“The man had a good
opinion of me, and I have always had a good opinion of God, that He
will grant me repentance,” Fozail replied. “I justified his good
opinion, so that God may justify my good opinion.”
One day later they
waylaid another caravan and carried off the baggage. As they sat
eating, a traveller from the caravan approached them.
“Who is your chief?”
“He is not with us,”
the brigands replied. “He is the other side of the tree by the river
“But it is not the
hour of prayer,” the man exclaimed.
“He is performing a
work of supererogation,” one of the thieves explained.
“And he is not
eating with you,” the man went on.
“He is fasting,” the
“But it is not
again,” the thief retorted.
the traveller drew near Fozail who was praying with great humility.
He waited until he had finished, then he remarked.
“Opposites do not
mingle, they say. How can one fast and rob, pray and at the same
time murder Muslims?”
“Do you know the
Quran?” Fozail asked the man. “I know it,” the man replied. “Well
then, does not Almighty God say And others have confessed their
sins; they have mixed a righteous deed with another evil?”
The man was
speechless with astonishment.
It is said that by
nature he was chivalrous and high-minded, so that if a woman was
travelling in a caravan he never took her goods; in the same way, he
would not pillage the property of anyone with slender capital. He
always left each victim with a due proportion of his belongings. All
his inclination was towards right doing.
At the beginning of
his exploits Fozail was passionately in love with a certain woman,
and he always brought her the proceeds of his brigandage. In season
and out of season he climbed walls in the infatuation of his passion
for the woman, weeping all the while.
One night a caravan
was passing, and in the midst of the caravan a man was recitting the
Quran. The following verse reached Fozail’s ears: Is it not time
that the hearts of those who believe should be humbled to the
remembrance of God? It was as though an arrow pierced his soul, as
though that verse had come out to challenge Fozail and say, “O
Fozail, how long will you waylay travellers? The time has come when
We shall waylay you!”
Fozail fell from the
wall, crying, “It is high time indeed, and past high time!”
shamefaced, he fled headlong to a ruin. There a party of travellers
was encamped. They said, “Let us go!” One of them interjected, “We
cannot go. Fozail is on the road.”
Fozail cried. “He has repented.”
With that he set out
and all day went on his way weeping, satisfying his adversaries.
Finally there remained only a Jew in Bavard. He sought quittance of
him, but the Jew would not be reconciled.
“Today we can make
light of these Muhammadans,” he chuckled to his fellows.
“If you want me to
grant you quittance,” he told Fozail, “clear this heap.”
He pointed to a
mound of sand, to remove which would tax all the strength of a man
except perhaps over a long period. The hapless Fozail shovelled away
the sand little by little, but how should the task ever be
completed? Then one morning, when Fozail was utterly exhausted, a
wind sprang up and blew the heap clean away. When the Jew saw what
had happened he was amazed.
“I have sworn,” he
told Fozail, “that until you give me money I will not grant you
quittance. Now put your hand under this rug and take up a fistful of
gold and give it to me. My oath will then be fulfilled, and I will
give you quittance.”
Fozail entered the
Jew’s house. Now the Jew had put some earth under the rug. Fozail
thrust his hand under, and brought forth a fistful of dinars which
he gave to the Jew.
“Offer me Islam!”
cried the latter.
Fozail offered him
Islam, and the Jew became a Muslim.
“Do you know why I
have become a Muslim?” he then said. “It is because until today I
was not certain which was the true religion. Today it has become
clear to me that Islam is the true 3 religion; for I have read in
the Torah that if any man repents sincerely and then places his hand
on earth, the earth turns to gold. I had put earth under the rug to
prove you. When you laid your hand on the earth and it turned to
gold, I knew for sure that your repentance was a reality and that
your religion is true.”
“For God’s sake,”
Fozail begged a man, “bind me hand and foot and bring me before the
Sultan, that he may exercise judgment against me for the many crimes
I have committed.”
The man did as he
requested. When the Sultan beheld Fozail, he observed in him the
marks of righteous folk.
“I cannot do this,”
he said. And he ordered him to be returned to his apartment with
honour. When he reached the door of the apartment he uttered a loud
“Hark at him
shouting!” people remarked. “Perchance he is being beaten.”
“Indeed, I have been
sorely beaten,” Fozail replied.
“In what part?” they
“In my soul,” he
Then he went in to
announced, ‘I would visit God’s House. If you wish, I will set you
“I will never go
apart from you,” his wife replied. “Wherever you may be, I will be
So they set out and
in due time came to Makkah, Almighty God making the road easy for
them. There he took up residence near the Kaaba, and met some of the
Saints. He companioned Imam Abu Hanifa for a while, and many stories
are told of his extreme discipline. In Makkah the gates of oratory
were opened to him, and the Makkahns thronged to hear him preach.
Soon all the world was talking about him, so that his family and
kinsmen set forth from Bavard and came to look upon him. They
knocked at his door, but he would not open it. They for their part
would not depart, so Fozail mounted the roof of his house.
“What idlers you
are!” he cried to them. “God give you employment!”
He spoke many such
words, till they all wept and were beside themselves. Finally,
despairing of enjoying his society, they went away. He still
remained on the roof and did not open the door.
Fozail and Harun al-Rashid
One night Harun
al-Rashid summoned Fazl the Barmecide, who was one of his favourite
“Take me to a man
this night who will reveal me to myself,” he bade him. “My heart is
grown weary of pomp and pride.”
Fazl brought Harun
to the door of the house of Sofyan-e Oyaina. They knocked at the
“Who is it?” Sofyan
“The Commander of
the Faithful,” Fazl replied.
“Why did he trouble
himself so?” Sofyan said. “I ought to have been informed, then I
could have come myself to him.”
“This is not the man
I am seeking,” Harun commented “He fawns upon me like the rest.”
Hearing of what had
happened, Sofyan said, “Fozail-e Iyaz is such a man as you are
seeking. You must go to him.” And he recited this verse: Or do those
who commit evil deeds think that We shall make them as those who
believe and do righteous deeds?
“If I am seeking
good counsel, this is sufficient,” remarked Harun.
They knocked at
“Who is it?” Fozail
“The Commander of
the Faithful,” Fazl replied.
“What business has
he with me, and what have I to do with him?” Fozail demanded.
“Is it not a duty to
obey those in authority?” countered Fazl.
“Do not disturb me,”
“Shall I enter with
an authority or a command?” said Fazl.
“There is no such
thing as authority,” replied Fozail. “If you enter by force, you
know what you are doing.”
Harun entered. As he
approached Fozail, the latter blew out the lamp so as not to see his
face. Harun stretched out his hand, and Fozail’s hand met it.
“How smooth and soft
this palm is, if only it could escape from Hell-fire!” Fozail
So saying, he arose
and stood in prayer. Harun was much affected and weeping overcame
“Say something to
me,” he begged. Fozail saluted him and then spoke.
“Your ancestor, the
Prophet’s uncle, once demanded of the Prophet, ‘Make me commander
over some people.’ The Prophet replied, ‘Uncle, for one moment I
have made you commander over yourself.’ By this he meant, ‘For you
to obey God for one moment is better than a thousand years of people
obeying you.’ The Prophet added, ‘Command shall be a cause of
regretting on the Day of Resurrection.’ “
“Say more,” Harun
“When Umar ibn Abd
al-Aziz was appointed caliph,” Fozail related, “he summoned Salem
ibn Abdullah, Raja’ ibn Hayat, and Muhammad ibn Ka’b. ‘I have been
afflicted with this trial,’ he told them. ‘What am I to do? For I
know this high office to be a trial, even though men count it for a
blessing.’ One of the three said, ‘If you wish tomorrow to escape
from God’s punishment, look upon aged Muslims as though each were
your father, and regard youthful Muslims as your brothers, Muslim
children as your own sons, treating them in all respects as one does
one’s father, brother, and son.’ “
“Say more,” Harun
“The lands of Islam
are as your own house, and their inhabitants your family,” Fozail
said. “Visit your father, honour your brother, and be good to your
son. I fear,” he added, “that your handsome face will be sorely
tried by the fire of Hell. Fear God, and obey His command. And be
watchful and prudent; for on the Resurrection Day God will question
you concerning every single Muslim, and He will exact justice from
you in respect of every one. If one night an old woman has gone to
sleep in a house without provisions, she will pluck your skirt on
that Day and will give evidence against you.”
Harun wept bitterly,
so that his consciousness was like to fail.
“Enough! You have
slain the Commander of the Faithful,” chided Fazl the vizier.
“Be silent, Haman,”
cried Fozail. “It is you and your creatures who are destroying him,
and then you tell me that I have killed him. Is this murder?”
At these words Harun
wept even more copiously.
“He calls you
Haman,” he said, turning to Fazl, “because he equates me with
Pharaoh.” Then, addressing Fozail, he asked,
“Have you a debt
Fozail. “A debt of obedience to God. If He takes me to task over
this, then woe is me!”
“I am speaking of
debts owed to men, Fozail,” said Harun.
“Thanks be to God,”
cried Fozail, “who has blessed me abundantly, so that I have no
complaint to make to His servants.”
Then Harun placed a
purse of a thousand dinars before him.
“This is lawful
coin, of my mother’s inheritance,” he said.
“Commander of the
Faithful,” said Fozail, “the counsels I have spoken to you have
yielded no profit.
Even now you have
recommenced wrongdoing and
“I call you to
salvation, and you cast me into temptation. This is wrongdoing
indeed,” said Fozail. “I tell you, give back what you possess to its
proper owner. You for your part give it to another to whom it should
not be given. It is useless for me to speak.”
So saying, he rose
up from the caliph’s presence and flung the gold out of the door.
“Ah, what a man he
is!” exclaimed Harun, leaving Fozail’s house. “Fozail is in truth a
king of men. His arrogance is extreme, and the world is very
contemptible in his eyes.”
Anecdotes of Fozail
One day Fozail was
holding in his lap a four-year-old child, and by chance placed his
mouth on its cheek as is the wont of fathers.
“Father, do you love
me?” asked the child.
“I do,” replied
“Do you love God?”
“How many hearts do
you have?” the child asked.
“Can you love two
with one heart?” demanded the child.
Fozail at once
realized that it was not the child speaking, but that in reality it
was a Divine instruction. Jealous for God, he began to beat his head
and repented. Severing his heart from the child, he gave it to God.
One day Fozail was
standing at Arafat. All the pilgrims there were weeping and wailing,
humbling themselves and making lowly petition.
“Glory be to God!”
cried Fozail. “If so many men were to go to a man at one time and
ask him for a silver penny, what do you say? Would that man
disappoint so many?”
“No,” came the
“Well,” said Fozail,
“surely it is easier for Almighty God to forgive them all, than for
that man to give a silver penny. For He is the most bountiful of the
bountiful, so there is good hope that He will pardon all.”
Once Fozail’s son
suffered an obstruction of urine. Fozail came and lifted up his
“O Lord,” he prayed,
“by my love for Thee deliver him out of this sickness.”
He had not yet risen
from his knees when the boy was healed.
Fozail would often
say in prayer: “Lord God, have mercy! For Thou knowest my
repentance; and do not punish me, for Thou hast all power over me.”
Then he would add, “O God, Thou keepest me hungry, and Thou keepest
my children hungry. Thou keepest me naked, and Thou keepest my
children naked. Thou givest not to me a lantern by night. All these
things Thou doest to Thy friends. By what spiritual station has
Fozail earned this felicity from Thee?”
For thirty years no
man saw Fozail smile, except on the day when his son died. Then he
“Master, what time
is this for smiling?” he was asked.
“I realized that God
was pleased that my son should die,” he answered. “I smiled to
accord with God’s good pleasure.”
Fozail had two
daughters. When his end approached, he laid a last charge upon his
“When I die, take
these girls and go to Mount Bu Qobais. There lift your face to
heaven and say, ‘Lord God, Fozail laid a charge upon me saying,
“Whilst I was alive, I protected these helpless ones as best I
could. When Thou madest me a prisoner in the fastness of the grave,
I gave them back to Thee.’”
When Fozail was
buried, his wife did as he had bidden her. She went out to the
mountaintop and conveyed her daughters there. Then she prayed with
much weeping and lamentation. At that very moment the Prince of
Yemen passed by there with his two sons. Seeing them weeping and
making moan, he enquired, “Whence are you come?”
explained the situation.
“I give these girls
to these my sons,” the prince announced. “I give each of them as a
dowry ten thousand dinars. Are you content with this?”
“I am,” their mother
At once the prince
furnished litters and carpets and brocades, and conveyed them to
Muhammad al-‘Ajami al-Basri, a Persian settled at Basra, was a
noted traditionist who transmitted from al-Hasan al-Basri, Ibn
Sirin, and other authorities. His conversion from a life of ease
and self-indulgence was brought about by al-Ha’an’s eloquence;
he was a frequent attendant at his lectures, and became one of
his closest associates.
The story of Habib the Persian
Habib to begin with was a
man of property and a usurer. He dwelt in Basra, and every day
he made the rounds to dun his clients. If he got no money, he
would demand payment for his shoe leather. In this manner he
covered his daily expenditure. One day he had gone to look for a
certain debtor. The man was not at home; so failing to find him,
he demanded shoe leather payment.
“My husband is not at
home,” the debtor’s wife told him. “I myself have nothing to
give you. We had killed a sheep, but only the neck is left. If
you like I will give you that.”
“That is something,” the
usurer replied, thinking that he might at least take the sheep’s
neck off her and carry it home. “Put a pot on the fire.”
“I have neither bread nor
fuel,” the woman answered.
“Very well,” the man
said. “I will go and fetch fuel and bread, and it can be charged
to shoe leather.”
So he went off and
fetched these things, and the woman set the pot. When the pot
was cooked the woman was about to pour its contents into a bowl
when a beggar knocked at the door.
“If we give you what we
have got,” Habib shouted at him, “you will not become rich, and
we will become poor ourselves.”
The beggar, despairing,
petitioned the woman to put something in the bowl. She lifted
the lid of the saucepan, and found that its contents had all
turned to black blood. Turning pale she hurried back and taking
Habib by the hand, led him towards the pot.
“Look what has happened
to us because of your cursed usury, and your shouting at the
beggar!” she cried. “What will become of us now in this world,
not to mention the next?”
On seeing this, Habib
felt a fire within him which never afterwards subsided.
“Woman,” he said, “I
repent of all I have done.”
Next day he went out to
look for his clients. It happened to be a Friday, and the
children were playing in the street. When they sighted Habib
they started to shout.
“Here comes Habib the
usurer. Run away, lest his dust settles on us and we become as
cursed as he!”
These words hurt Habib
very much. He took his way to the meeting hall, and there
certain phrases passed Hasan of Basra’s lips which struck Habib
straight to the heart, so that he fainted. Then he repented.
Realizing what had happened, Hasan of Basra took him by the hand
and calmed him.
As he returned from the
meeting he was spotted by one of his debtors, who made to run
“Do not run away,” Habib
called to him. “Till now it was for you to flee from me; now I
must run away from you.”
He passed on. The
children were still playing. When they sighted Habib they
“Here comes Habib the
penitent. Run away, lest our dust settles on him, for we are
sinners against God.”
“My God and Master!”
cried Habib. “Because of this one day that I have made my peace
with Thee, Thou hast beaten the drums of men’s hearts for me and
noised my name abroad for virtue.”
Then he issued a
“Whoever wants anything
from Habib, come and take it!”
The people gathered
together, and he gave away all his possessions so that he was
left penniless. Another man came with a demand. Having nothing
left, Habib gave him his wife’s chaddur. To another claimant he
gave his own shirt, and remained naked. He repaired to a
hermitage on the banks of the Euphrates, and there gave himself
up to the worship of God. Every night and day he studied under
Hasan, but he could not learn the Quran, for which reason he was
nicknamed the Barbarian.
Time passed, and he was
completely destitute. His wife asked him for housekeeping money
constantly. So Habib left his house and made for the hermitage
to resume his devotions. When night came he returned to his
“Where have you been
working, not to bring anything home?” his wife demanded.
“The one I have been
working for is extremely generous,” Habib replied. “He is so
generous that I am ashamed to ask him for anything. When the
proper time comes, he will give. For he says, ‘Every ten days I
pay the wages.’”
So Habib repaired daily
to the hermitage to worship, till ten days were up. On the tenth
day at the time of the midday prayer a thought entered his mind.
“What can I take home
tonight, and what am I to tell my wife?”
And he pondered this
deeply. Straightway Almighty God sent a porter to the door of
his house with an ass-load of flour, another with a skinned
sheep, and another with oil, honey, herbs, and seasonings. The
porters loaded up all this. A handsome young man accompanied
them with a purse of three hundred silver dirhams. Coming to
Habib’s house, he knocked on the door.
“What do you want?” asked
Habib’s wife, opening the door.
“The Master has sent all
this,” the handsome youth replied. “Tell Habib, ‘You increase
your output, and we will increase your wages.’”
So saying, he departed.
At nightfall Habib proceeded homeward, ashamed and sorrowful. As
he approached his house, the aroma of bread and cooking assailed
his nostrils. His wife ran to greet him and wiped his face and
was gentle with him as she had never been before.
“Husband,” she cried,
“the man you are working for is a very fine gentleman, generous
and full of loving kindness. See what he sent by the hand of a
handsome young man! And the young man said, ‘When Habib comes
home, tell him, You increase your output, and we will increase
Habib was amazed.
exclaimed. “I worked for ten days, and he did me all this
kindness. If I work harder, who knows what he will do?”
And he turned his face
wholly away from worldly things and gave himself up to God’s
The Miracles of Habib
One day an old woman came
to Habib and, falling at his feet, wept bitterly.
“I have a son who has
been absent from me a long time. I can no longer endure to be
parted from him. Say a prayer to God,” she begged Habib. “It may
be that by the blessing of your prayer God will send him back to
“Have you any money?”
Habib asked her. “Yes, two dirhams,” she replied. “Bring them,
and give them to the poor.” And Habib recited a prayer, then he
said to the old woman, “Be gone. Your son has returned to you.”
The old woman had not yet reached the door of her house, when
she beheld her son. “Why, here is my son!” she shouted, and she
brought him to Habib. “What happened?” Habib enquired of him. “I
was in Kerman,” the son replied. “My teacher had sent me to look
for some meat. I obtained the meat and was just returning to
him, when the wind seized hold of me. I heard a voice saying,
“‘Wind, carry him to his
own home, by the blessing of Habib’s prayer and the two dirhams
given in alms.’” One year on the eighth day of Dho l-Hejja,
Habib was seen in Basra and on the ninth day at Arafat.
Once a famine was raging
in Basra. Habib purchased many provisions on credit and gave
them away as alms. He fastened his purse and placed it under his
pillow. When the tradesmen came to demand payment, he would take
out his purse and it was full of dirhams, which he gave away as
Habib had a house in
Basra on the crossroads. He also had a fur coat which he wore
summer and winter. Once, needing to perform the ritual washing,
he arose and left his coat on the ground. Hasan of Basra,
happening on the scene, perceived the coat flung in the road.
“This ‘barbarian’ does
not know its value,” he commented. “This fur coat ought not to
be left here. It may get lost.”
So he stood there
watching over it. Presently Habib returned.
“Imam of the Muslims,” he
cried after saluting Hasan, “why are you standing here?”
“Do you not know,” Hasan
replied, “that this coat ought not to be left here? It may get
lost. Say, in whose charge did you leave it?”
“In His charge,” Habib
answered, “who appointed you to watch over it.”
One day Hasan came to
call on Habib. Habib placed two rounds of barley bread and a
little salt before Hasan. Hasan began to eat. A beggar came to
the door, and Habib gave the two rounds and the salt to him.
“Habib,” remarked the
astonished Hasan, “you are a worthy man. If only you had some
knowledge, it would be better. You took the bread from under the
nose of your guest and gave it all to the beggar. You ought to
have given a part to the beggar and a part to the guest.”
Habib said nothing.
Presently a slave entered with a tray on his head. A roast lamb
was on the tray, together with sweetmeat and fine bread, and
five hundred silver dirhams. He set the tray before Habib. Habib
gave the money to the poor, and placed the tray before Hasan.
“Master,” he said when
Hasan had eaten some of the roast, “you are a good man. If only
you had a little faith, it would be better. Knowledge must be
accompanied by faith.”
One day officers of
Hajjaj were searching for Hasan. He was hiding in Habib’s
“Have you seen Hasan
today?” the officers demanded of Habib.
“I have seen him,” he
“Where was he?”
“In this hermitage.”
The officers entered the
hermitage, but for all their searching they did not find Hasan.
(“Seven times they laid their hands on me,” Hasan afterwards
related, “but they did not see me.”)
“Habib,” Hasan remarked
on leaving the hermitage, “you did not observe your duty to your
master. You pointed me out.”
“Master,” Habib replied,
“it was because I told the truth that you escaped. If I had
lied, we would both have been arrested.”
“What did you recite,
that they did not see me?” Hasan asked.
I recited the
Throne-verse ten times,” Habib answered. “Ten times I recited
The Messenger believes, and ten times Say, He is God, One. Then
I said, ‘O God, I have committed Hasan to Thee. Watch over him.’
Hasan once wished to go
to a certain place. He came down to the bank of the Tigris, and
was pondering something to himself when Habib arrived on the
“Imam, why are you
standing here?” he asked.
“I wish to go to a
certain place. The boat is late,” Hasan replied.
“Master, what has
happened to you?” Habib demanded. “I learned all that I know
from you. Expel from your heart all envy of other men. Close
your heart against worldly things. Know that suffering is a
precious prize, and see that all affairs are of God. Then set
foot on the water and walk.”
With that Habib stepped
on to the water and departed. Hasan swooned. When he recovered,
the people asked him,
“Imam of the Muslims,
what happened to you?”
“My pupil Habib just now
reprimanded me,” he replied. “Then he stepped on the water and
departed, whilst I remained impotent. If tomorrow a voice cries,
‘Pass over the fiery pathway’—if I remain impotent like this,
what can I do?”
“Habib,” Hasan asked
later, “how did you discover this power?”
“Because I make my heart
white, whereas you make paper black,” Habib replied.
profited another, but it did not profit me,” Hasan commented.
Hadrat Sultan Bahu
Through the mists of legend surrounding the life of Shaikh 'Abd
al-Qadir al-Jilani, it is possible to discern the outlines of the
following biographical sketch:
A.H. 488, at the age of eighteen, he left his native province to
become a student in the great capital city of Baghdaad, the hub of
political, commercial and cultural activity, and the center of
religious learning in the world of Islaam. After studying
traditional sciences under such teachers as the prominent Hanbalii
jurist [faqiih], Abuu Sa'd 'Alii al-Mukharrimii, he encountered a
more spiritually oriented instructor in the saintly person of
Abu'l-Khair Hammaad ad-Dabbaas.
Then, instead of embarking on his own professorial career, he
abandoned the city and spent twenty-five years as a wanderer in the
desert regions of 'Iraaq. He was over fifty years old by the time
he returned to Baghdaad, in A.H. 521/1127 C.E., and began to preach
in public. His hearers were profoundly affected by the style and
content of his lectures, and his reputation grew and spread through
all sections of society. He moved into the school [madrasa]
belonging to his old teacher al-Mukharrimii, but the premises
eventually proved inadequate.
A.H. 528, pious donations were applied to the construction of a
residence and guesthouse [ribaat], capable of housing the Shaikh and
his large family, as well as providing accommodation for his pupils
and space for those who came from far and wide to attend his regular
lived to a ripe old age, and continued his work until his very last
breath, as we know from the accounts of his final moments recorded
in the Addendum to Revelations of the Unseen.
the words of Shaikh Muzaffer Ozak Efendi: "The venerable 'Abd
al-Qadir al-Jilani passed on to the Realm of Divine Beauty in A.H.
561/1166 C.E., and his blessed mausoleum in Baghdaad is still a
place of pious visitation. He is noted for his extraordinary
spiritual experiences and exploits, as well as his memorable sayings
and wise teachings. It is rightly said of him that 'he was born in
love, grew in perfection, and met his Lord in the perfection of
love.' May the All-Glorious Lord bring us in contact with his lofty
Sultan Bahu is one of the most
renowned sufi saints of the later Mughal Period in the history of
Indo Pakistan subcontinent. He is often called Sultanul Arifin ( the
Sultan of gnostics) in the Sufi circles. His ancestors belonging to
the tribe of Alvids called Awan and coming from Arabia via Hirat (
Afghanistan ) had settled in the soon Sakesar Valley of Khushab
District in Punjab. His Father, Sultan Bazid, had served in the army
of the Emperor Shah Jehan as a high ranking officer and so in
recognition to his services he had been awarded a jagir in the
shorkot area. The family migrated to the place and settled at Qalai
Shorkot, a settlement at the bank of River Chenab ( now in District
Jhang, Punjab). Hadrat Sultan Bahu was born there, probably in 1628
Even in the
early childhood, it was perceived by all those around him that a
strange light shone upon his face which compelled even the Hindus to
utter Kalima Tayyiba ( there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is
His messenger) in his presence. His father died when he was just a
child but his mother Bibi Rasti, remained alive till he was forty
supervised his education but it must have been irregular because he
was often found under the influence of ecstatic states. It seemed
that his education remained informal to the end. Whatever he
expressed or wrote after-words, it was in the light of his own
spiritual vision and Knowledge.
taught him the essential sufi exercises of dhikr ( invocation of
Allah and His Names ) and he probably needed no more guidance after
that. He was initiated to walk the path of Sufis intuitively. His
spiritual experiences and vision enriched his mind and spirit with
so much knowledge that he far excelled his contemporary Sufi masters
and sufi poets in Tasawwuf ( Sufism ) and Suluk ( all about the Sufi
Way and its stations and states). In a book he remarks: Though we
have little of formal learning, / Yet the spirit has been blessed
with holiness by esoteric knowledge. In fact he may be called a born
He got married
in his early youth and twice or thrice afterwards and had sons and
daughters but all this did not deter him from his dervish
wanderings, to visit the sacred places and look for the spiritual
company of his fellow sufis.
At the age of thirty he had an extraordinary vision in
which he saw Prophet Muhammad ( may peace be upon him ) through the
spiritual recommendations and support of Hadrat Ali and Hadrat
Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. The prophet himself took his bay'ah and
allowed him to pass on the Sufi teachings. He often mentions in his
books about his presence in the spiritual meetings presided by the
Prophet himself. However, in the treatise " Of the Spirit " he calls
Hadrat Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani his Murshid ( spiritual director ).
He is always lavish in the praise of Hadrat Shaikh and calls himself
Qadiri. In his eyes the teachings of the Qadiriya order were most
effective for the spiritual development of the disciples. But at the
same time it is evidently clear that by the Qadriya order he means
the one that he himself represented.
One of the
outstanding creative thinkers of Islamic mysticism, Abu
‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Hussain al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi
was driven out of his native town of Termedh and took refuge in
Nishapur, where he was preaching in 285 (898). His psychological
writings influenced al-Ghazali, whilst his startling theory of
sainthood was taken over and developed by Ibn ‘Arabi. A copious
author, many of his books, including an autobiographical sketch,
have been preserved and a number have been published.
The training of Hakim-e Tirmidhi
At the beginning
of his career, Muhammad ibn Ali-e Tirmidhi arranged with two
students to set out with them in quest of knowledge. When they
were just ready to leave, his mother became very sorrowful.
“Soul of your
mother,” she addressed her son, “I am a feeble woman, and have
no one in the world. You look after my affairs. To whom will you
leave me, alone and feeble as I am?”
Her words pained
Tirmidhi, and he abandoned his journey while his two friends
went off in quest of knowledge. Some time elapsed. Then one day
he was sitting in the cemetery, weeping bitterly.
“Here am I left
here, neglected and ignorant. My friends will come back,
perfectly trained scholars.”
appeared a luminous elder who addressed him.
“My son, why do
him his tale.
“Would you like
me to teach you a lesson daily, so that you will soon outstrip
them?” he asked.
recalled, “every day he taught me a lesson, till three years had
gone by. Then I realized that he was Khizr, and that I had
attained this felicity because I pleased my mother.”
Every Sunday (so
Abu Bakr-e Warraq reports) Khizr would visit Tirmidhi and they
would converse on every matter. One day he said to me, “Today I
will take you somewhere.”
knows best,” I replied.
I set out with
him, and within a little while I espied an arduous and harsh
desert, in the midst of which a golden throne was set under a
verdant tree by a spring of water. Someone apparelled in
beautiful raiment was seated on the throne. The Shaykh
approached him, whereupon this person rose up and set Tirmidhi
on the throne. In a little while a company gathered from all
directions, until forty persons were assembled. They made a
signal to heaven and food appeared, and they ate. The Shaykh
asked that person questions which he answered, but in such
language that I did not understand a single word. After a time
Tirmidhi begged leave to go, and took his departure.
“Go,” he said to
me. “You have been blessed.”
In a while we
were back in Termedh. I then questioned the Shaykh.
“What was all
that? What place was it, and who was that man?”
“It was the
wilderness of the Children of Israel,” Tirmidhi replied. “That
man was the Pole.”
“How was it that
we went and returned in such a short time?” I asked.
“O Abu Bakr,” he
answered, “when He conveys, one is able to arrive! What business
is it of yours to know the why and wherefore? To arrive is your
task, not to ask!”
“However hard I
strove to keep my carnal soul in subjection,” Tirmidhi related,
“I could not prevail over it. In my despair I said, ‘Haply
Almighty God has created this soul for Hell. Why nurture a
creature doomed to Hell?’ Proceeding to the banks of the Oxus, I
begged a man to bind me hand and foot. He left me thus, and I
rolled over and flung myself into the water, hoping to drown
myself. The impact of the water freed my hands; then a wave came
and cast me up on the bank. Despairing of myself, I cried,
‘Glory be to Thee, O God, who hast created a soul that is not
proper either for Heaven or Hell!’ In the very moment of my
self-despair, by the blessing of that cry my secret heart was
opened and I saw what was necessary for me. In that selfsame
hour I vanished from myself. So long as I have lived, I have
lived by the blessing of that hour.”
Warraq also relates the following.
One day Tirmidhi
handed over to me many volumes of his writings to cast into the
Oxus. I examined them and found they were replete with mystic
subtleties and truths. I could not bring myself to carry out his
instructions, and instead stored them in my room. I then told
him that I had thrown them in.
“What did you
see?” he asked.
“You did not
throw them in,” he concluded. “Go and do so.”
“I see two
problems,” I said to myself. “First, why does he want them flung
into the water? And second, what visible proof will there be?”
However, I went
back and threw the books into the Oxus. I saw the river open up,
and an open chest appeared; the volumes fell into it, then the
lid closed and the river subsided. I was astonished.
“Did you throw
them in this time?” Tirmidhi questioned me when I returned to
God’s glory,” I cried, “tell me the secret behind this.”
“I had composed
something on the science of the Sufis, the disclosing of the
verification of which was difficult for human minds to grasp,”
he replied. “My brother Khizr entreated me. The chest was
brought by a fish at his bidding, and Almighty God commanded the
waters to convey it to him.”
Anecdotes of Tirmidhi
time lived a great ascetic who was always criticizing him. Now
in all the world Tirmidhi possessed nothing but a cabin. When he
returned from his journey to Hejaz, a dog had whelped in that
cabin, which had no door. Tirmidhi did not wish to drive the dog
out, and he went and came eighty times in the hope that the dog
would have of its own free will carried its puppies out.
That same night
the ascetic saw the Prophet in a dream.
“Sirrah, you put
yourself up against a man who eighty times brought succour to a
dog,” the Prophet said. “If you desire eternal happiness, go,
bind up your loins and serve him.”
The ascetic, too
ashamed to answer Tirmidhi’s greetings, thereafter spent the
rest of his life in his service.
“When the master
is angry with you, do you know?” someone asked Tirmidhi’s
“We know,” they
replied. “Whenever he is vexed with us, that day he is even
kinder to us than usual. He takes neither bread nor water, and
weeps and supplicates, saying, ‘O God, in what did I vex Thee,
that Thou hast provoked them against me? O God, I repent;
restore them to rectitude.’ So we know, and repent, to deliver
the master out of his affliction.”
For a while
Tirmidhi did not see Khizr. Then one day a maidservant had
washed the baby’s clothes, filling a basin with the baby’s
excreta. Meanwhile the Shaykh, dressed in clean robes and with a
spotless turban, was proceeding to the mosque. The girl, flying
into a rage over some trifle, emptied the basin over the
Shaykh’s head. Tirmidhi said nothing, and swallowed his anger.
Immediately he rediscovered Khizr.
In his youth a
certain lovely woman invited Tirmidhi to take her, but he
refused. Then one day the woman, learning that he was in a
garden, arrayed herself and proceeded thither. As soon as the
Shaykh became aware of her approach, he fled. The woman ran
after him, screaming that he was after her blood. Tirmidhi took
no notice, but climbed a high wall and flung himself over.
One day in his
old age Tirmidhi was reviewing his acts and sayings, and
remembered that incident. The thought entered his mind, “What
would it have mattered if I had gratified that woman’s need?
After all, I was young, and I could afterwards have repented.”
When he perceived this thought in his mind, he was filled with
rebellious soul!” he exclaimed. “Forty years ago, in the first
flush of youth, this thought did not occur to you. Now in old
age, after so many struggles, whence has come this repining over
a sin not committed?”
for three days he sat in mourning for this thought. After three
days he saw the Prophet in a dream.
not grieve,” said the Prophet to him. “What happened was not due
to a lapse on your part. This thought occurred to you because
forty years more had passed since my death. The period of my
leaving the world had become that much longer, and I was
withdrawn further away. It is no sin of yours, no shortcoming in
your spiritual progress. What you experienced was due to the
long extension of the period of my departure from the world, not
to any deficiency in your character.”
Al-Hasan ibn Abi ‘l Hasan al-Basri
was born at Medina in 21 (642), the son of a slave captured
in Maisan who afterwards became a client of the Prophet
Muhammad’s secretary Zaid ibn Thabet. Brought up in Basra,
he met many Companions of the Prophet including, it is said,
seventy of those who fought at the Battle of Badr. He grew
up to become one of the most prominent figures of his
generation, being famous for his uncompromising piety and
outspoken condemnation of worldliness in high places. Whilst
the Mo’tazelite theologians claim him as the founder of
their movement (and ‘Amr ibn ‘Obaid and Wasel ibn ‘Ata’ are
counted amongst his pupils), in Sufi hagiography he is
revered as one of the greatest saints of early Islam. He
died at Basra in 110 (728). Many of his speeches—he was a
brilliant orator—and sayings are quoted by Arab authors and
not a few of his letters have been preserved.
The conversion of Hasan of Basra
The beginning of
Hasan of Basra’s conversion was as follows. He was a jewel
merchant and was called Hasan of the Pearls. He traded with
Byzantium, and had to do with the generals and ministers of
Caesar. On one occasion, going to Byzantium he called on the
prime minister and conversed with him a while.
“We will go to a
certain place,” the minister told him, “if you are agreeable.”
“It is for you
to say,” Hasan replied. “I agree.”
So the minister
commanded a horse to be brought for Hasan. He mounted with the
minister, and they set out. When they reached the desert Hasan
perceived a tent of Byzantine brocade, fastened with ropes of
silk and golden pegs, set firm in the ground. He stood to one
side. Then a mighty army, all accoutred in the panoply of war,
came out; they circled the tent, said a few words, and departed.
Philosophers and scholars to the number of nigh four hundred
arrived on the scene; they circled the tent, said a few words,
and departed. After that three hundred illumined elders with
white beards approached the tent, circled it, said a few words,
and departed. Thereafter more than two hundred moon-fair
maidens, each bearing a plate of gold and silver and precious
stones, circled the tent, said a few words, and departed.
that, astonished and filled with wonder, he asked himself what
this might be.
alighted,” he went on, “I asked the minister. He said that the
Caesar had a son of unsurpassable beauty, perfect in all the
branches of learning and unrivalled in the arena of manly
prowess. His father loved him with all his heart.”
Suddenly he fell
ill—so Hasan related on the authority of the minister. All the
skilled physicians proved powerless to cure him. Finally he
died, and was buried in that tent. Once every year people come
out to visit him. First an immense army circles the tent, and
they say: “O prince, if this circumstance that has befallen thee
had come about in war, we would have all sacrificed our lives
for thee, to ransom thee back. But the circumstance that has
befallen thee is at the hand of one against whom we cannot
fight, whom we cannot challenge.” This they say, and then
and the scholars come forward, and say: “This circumstance has
been brought about by one against whom we cannot do anything by
means of learning and philosophy, science and sophistry. For all
the philosophers of the world are powerless before him, and all
the learned are ignorant beside his knowledge. Otherwise we
would have contrived devices and spoken words which all in
creation could not have withstood.” This they say, and then
venerable elders advance, and say: “O prince, if this
circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by
the intercession of elders, he would all have interceded with
humble petitions, and would not have abandoned thee there. But
this circumstance has been brought upon thee by one against whom
no mortal man’s intercession profits anything.” This they say,
moon-fair maidens with their plates of gold and precious stones
advance, circle the tent, and say: “Son of Caesar, if this
circumstance that has befallen thee could have been set right by
wealth and beauty, we would have sacrificed ourselves and given
great moneys, and would not have abandoned thee. But this
circumstance has been brought upon thee by one on whom wealth
and beauty have no effect.” This they say, and return.
himself with his chief minister enters the tent, and says: “O
eye and lamp of thy father, O fruit of the heart of thy father,
O dearest beloved of thy father, what is in thy father’s hand to
perform? Thy father brought a mighty army, he brought
philosophers and scholars, intercessors and advisers, beautiful
maidens, wealth and all manner of luxuries; and he came himself.
If all this could have been of avail, thy father would have done
all that lay in his power. But this circumstance has been
brought about by one before whom thy father, with all this
apparatus, this army and retinue, this luxury and wealth and
treasure, is powerless. Peace be upon you, till next year!” This
he says, and returns.
These words of
the minister so affected Hasan that he was beside himself. At
once he made arrangements to return. Coming to Basra, he took an
oath never to laugh again in this world, till his ultimate
destiny became clear to him. He flung himself into all manner of
devotions and austerities, such that no man in his time could
exceed that discipline.
Hasan of Basra and Abu Amr
It is related
that Abu Amr, the leading authority on the reading of the Quran,
was teaching the Quran one day when suddenly a handsome boy
arrived to join his class. Abu Amr gazed at the child
improperly, and immediately he forgot the whole Quran, from the
p of “Praise” to the n of “jinn and men”. A fire possessed him,
and he lost all self-control. In this state he called on Hasan
of Basra and described to him his predicament.
wept bitterly, “such is the situation. I have forgotten the
Hasan was most
distressed to hear of his situation.
“Now is the
season of the pilgrimage,” he said. “Go and perform the
pilgrimage. When you have done that, repair to the mosque of
Khaif. There you will see an old man seated in the prayer-niche.
Do not spoil his time, but let him be until he is disengaged.
Then ask him to say a prayer for you.”
Abu Amr acted
accordingly. Seated in a corner of the mosque, he observed a
venerable elder and about him a circle of people seated. Some
time passed; then a man entered, clad in spotless white robes.
The people made way before him, greeted him, and conversed
together. When the hour of prayer arrived, the man departed and
the people departed with him, so that the elder remained alone.
Abu Amr then
approached and saluted him.
name, help me,” he cried.
And he described
his predicament. The elder, much concerned, raised his eyes to
“He had not yet
lowered his head,” Abu Amr recounted, “when the Quran came back
to me. I fell down before him for joy.”
me to you?” the elder asked.
Basra,” Abu Amr replied.
“Anyone who has
an imam like Hasan,” the old man commented, “what need has he of
another? Well, Hasan has exposed me. Now I will expose him. He
rent my veil, and I will rend his as well. That man,” he went
on, “in the white robes who entered after the afternoon prayer
and left before the rest, and the others did him reverence—that
man was Hasan. Every day he prays the afternoon prayer in Basra
and then comes here, converses with me, and returns to Basra for
the evening prayer. Anyone who has an imam like Hasan, why
should he ask me for a prayer?”
Hasan of Basra and the fire-worshipper
Hasan had a
neighbour named Simeon who was a fire-worshipper. Simeon fell
ill and was at death’s door. Friends begged Hasan to visit him;
he called, to find him in bed, blackened with fire and smoke.
Hasan counselled him. “You have passed all your life amid fire
and smoke. Accept Islam, that God may have mercy on you.”
hold me back from becoming a Muslim,” the fire-worshipper
replied. “The first is, that you speak ill of the world, yet
night and day you pursue worldly things. Secondly, you say that
death is a fact to be faced, yet you make no preparation for
death. In the third place, you say that God’s face shall be
seen, yet today you do everything contrary to His good
“This is the
token of those who know truly,” Hasan commented. “Now if
believers act as you describe, what have you to say? They
acknowledge the unity of God; whereas you have spent your life
in the worship of fire. You who have worshipped fire for seventy
years, and I who have never worshipped fire—we are both carried
off to Hell. Hell will consume you and me. God will pay no
regard to you; but if God so wills, the fire will not dare so
much as to burn one hair of my body. For fire is a thing created
by God; and the creature is subject to the Creator’s command.
Come now, you who have worshipped fire for seventy years; let us
both put our hands into the fire, then you will see with your
own eyes the impotence of fire and the omnipotence of God.”
So saying, Hasan
thrust his hand into the fire and held it there. Not a particle
of his body was affected or burnt. When Simeon saw this he was
amazed. The dawn of true knowledge began to break.
years I have worshipped fire,” he groaned. “Now only a breath or
two remains to me. What am I to do?”
Muslim,” was Hasan’s reply.
“If you give it
me in writing that God will not punish me,” said Simeon, “then I
will believe. But until I have it in writing, I will not
Hasan wrote it
“Now order just
witnesses of Basra to append their testimony.”
endorsed the document. Then Simeon wept many tears and
proclaimed the faith. He spoke his last testament to Hasan.
“When I die, bid
them wash me, then commit me to the earth with your own hands,
and place this document in my hand. This document will be my
Hasan thus, he spoke the attestation of faith and died. They
washed his body, said the prayer over him, and buried him with
the document in his hand. That night Hasan went to sleep
pondering what he had done.
“How could I
help a drowning man, seeing that I am drowning myself? Since I
have no control over my own fate, why did I venture to prescribe
how God should act?”
thought he fell asleep. He saw Simeon in a dream glowing like a
candle; on his head a crown, robed in fine raiment, he was
walking with a smile in the garden of Paradise.
“How are you,
Simeon?” Hasan enquired.
“Why do you ask?
You can see for yourself,” Simeon answered. “God Almighty of His
bounty brought me nigh His presence and graciously showed me His
face. The favours He showered upon me surpass all description.
You have honoured your guarantee; so take your document. I have
no further need of it.”
awoke, he saw that parchment in his hand.“Lord God,” he cried,
“I know well that what Thou doest is without cause, save of Thy
bounty. Who shall suffer loss at Thy door? Thou grantest a
Guebre of seventy years to come into Thy near presence because
of a single utterance. How then wilt Thou exclude a believer of
Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman
Hatem ibn ‘Onwan al-Asamm (“the Deaf”), a native of Balkh, was a
pupil of Shaqiq al-Balkhi. He visited Baghdad, and died at
Washjard near Termedh in 237 (852).
Anecdotes of Hatem the Deaf
Hatem the Deaf’s
charity was so great that when a woman came to him one day to
ask him a question and at that moment she broke wind, he said to
her, “Speak louder. I am hard of hearing.” This he said in order
that the woman should not be put to shame. She raised her voice,
and he answered her problem. So long as that old woman was
alive, for close on fifteen years Hatem made out that he was
deaf, so that no one should tell the old woman that he was not
so. After her death he gave his answers readily. Until then, he
would say to everyone who spoke to him, “Speak louder.” That was
why he was called Hatem the Deaf.
One day Hatem
was preaching in Balkh.
“O God,” he
prayed, “whoever in this congregation today is the greatest and
boldest sinner and has the blackest record, do Thou forgive
Now there was
present in that congregation a man who robbed the dead. He had
opened many tombs and stolen the winding-sheets. That night he
went about his usual business of robbing the dead. He had
actually removed the earth from a grave when he heard a voice
proceeding out of the tomb.
“Are you not
ashamed? This morning you were pardoned at Hatem’s gathering,
and tonight you are at your old business again?”
jumped out of the tomb, and ran to Hatem. He told him what had
happened, and repented.
Muhammad al-Razi reports the following.
For many years I
was a disciple of Hatem, and in all that time I only once saw
him angry. He had gone to the market, and there he saw a man who
had seized hold of one of his apprentices and was shouting.
“Many times he
has taken my goods and eaten them, and does not pay me the price
“Good sir, be
charitable,” Hatem interposed.
“I know nothing
of charity. I want my money,” the man retorted.
pleading was without effect. Growing angry, he took his cloak
from his shoulders and flung it to the ground there in the midst
of the bazaar. It was filled with gold, all true coin.
“Come, take what
is owing to you, and no more, or your hand will be withered,” he
said to the tradesman.
The man set
about picking up the gold until he had taken his due. He could
not contain himself, and stretched out the hand again to pick up
more. His hand immediately became withered.
One day a man
came to Hatem and said, “I possess much wealth, and I wish to
give some of this wealth to you and your companions. Will you
“I am afraid,”
Hatem answered, “that when you die I shall have to say,
‘Heavenly Provider, my earthly provider is dead.’”
“When I went out to the wars a Turk seized me and flung me to
the ground to kill me. My heart was not concerned or afraid. I
just waited to see what he would do. He was feeling for his
sword, when suddenly an arrow pierced him and he fell from me.
‘Did you kill me, or did I kill you?’ I exclaimed.”
When Hatem came
to Baghdad the caliph was told, “The ascetic of Khorasan has
arrived.” The caliph promptly sent for him.
“O caliph the
ascetic,” Hatem addressed the caliph as he entered.
“I am not an
ascetic,” replied the caliph. “The whole world is under my
command. You are the ascetic.”
“No, you are the
ascetic,” Hatem retorted. “God says, Say, the enjoyment of this
world is little. You are contented with a little. You are the
ascetic, not I. I will not submit to this world or the next; how
then am I an ascetic?”
Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Nuri, a native of Baghdad of a family from
Khorasan, was a pupil of Sari al-Saqati and a faithful companion
of al-Junaid. A leading figure of the Baghdad circle, he
composed some fine mystical poetry. He died in 295 (908).
The self-discipline of Abu ‘l-Hussain-e Nuri
who followed the same rules of conduct as Junaid, was called
Nuri (“the Man of Light”) because whenever he spoke and the
night was dark, a light would issue from his mouth so that the
whole house became bright. Another explanation of his nickname
is that he declared inmost secrets by the light of intuition.
Yet a third version is that he had a retreat in the desert where
he used to worship all the night through. People would go out to
watch, and would see a light mounting from his cell and gleaming
through the night.
When he first
embarked on his mystical career, every morning early he would
set out from his house for the shop, and pick up a few loaves.
These he would distribute as alms, afterwards proceeding to
mosque where he worshipped till the noon prayers, only then
going on to his shop. His household imagined that he had eaten
something in the shop, whilst the people in the shop supposed
that he had eaten at home. He continued this practice for twenty
years without anyone being aware of the true facts of his case.
Nuri gave the
following account of himself.
For years I
struggled, restraining myself in prison and turning my back on
other men. Despite all my austerities, the way did not become
open to me.
“I must do
something to mend my affairs,” I said to myself. “Otherwise let
me die and escape from this carnal soul.”
“Body,” I then
said, “for many years you have followed your own lust and
desire, eating and seeing and hearing, going and taking,
sleeping and enjoying yourself and gratifying your passion. All
this has been most harmful to you. Now enter the chamber, that I
may fetter you and put as a collar round your neck all your dues
to God. If you remain steadfast so, you will attain felicity; if
not, at least you will die on the path of God!”
So I acted on
the path of God. Now I had heard that the hearts of the mystics
were delicate organs, knowing the secret of whatever they saw
and heard. Not finding this in myself, I said, “The
pronouncements of the prophets and the saints are true. Perhaps
I have played the hypocrite in my striving, and the defect is
due to myself. Here there is no room for difference of opinion.
Now,” I went on, “I will go around myself and see what it is.”
I gazed into
myself, and the fault was this, that my carnal soul and my heart
were united. When the carnal soul is one with the heart, that is
disastrous; for whatever shines upon the heart, the carnal soul
seizes its portion of it. So I realized that this was the cause
of my dilemma; all that entered my heart from the Court of God,
my carnal soul seized its part of it.
whatever gratified my carnal soul, that I went not about, but
clutched something other. For instance, if prayer or fasting or
almsgiving was agreeable to my carnal soul, or solitude or
associating with my fellows, I proceeded to do the contrary,
till I had cast out all those things and all gratification had
been cut away. Then mystic secrets began to manifest in me.
“Who are you?” I
“I am the pearl
of the mine of undesire,” came the answer. “Now tell the
disciples, My mine is the mine of undesire, and my pearl is the
pearl of the mine of unpurpose.”
Then I walked
down to the Tigris and stood between two skiffs.
“I will not go,”
I said, “until a fish falls into my net.”
At last a fish
fell into my net. When I drew it up I cried, “Praise be to God
that my affairs have turned out well!”
I went to Junaid
and told him, “A grace has been vouchsafed to me!”
‘l-Hussain,” Junaid replied, “if it had been a snake and not a
fish that fell into your net, that would truly have been a sign
of grace. But since you yourself intervened, it is a deception,
not a grace. For the mark of a grace is that you cease to be
there at all.”
Nuri before the caliph
Khalil declared hostilities against the Sufis, he went to the
caliph and denounced them.
“A group have
appeared on the scene,” he announced, “who sing songs and dance
and utter blasphemies. They parade about all day, and hide
themselves in catacombs, and preach. These men are heretics. If
the Prince of the Believers will issue the command for them to
be slain, the doctrine of heresy will be exterminated, for they
are the chief of the heretics. If this thing is done by the hand
of the Prince of the Believers, I guarantee him an ample
immediately ordered that they—Abu Hamza, Raqqam, Shibli, Nuri,
and Junaid—should be brought before him. This done, he commanded
them to be slain. The executioner first made to slay Raqqam;
Nuri sprang up and thrust himself forward fearlessly and took
“First kill me,
laughing for joy,” he cried.
“Sir, this is
not your time yet,” the executioner said to him. “The sword is
not a thing wielded in haste.”
“My way is based
upon preference,” Nuri explained. “I prefer my comrades above
myself. The most precious thing in this world is life. I wish to
devote these few remaining moments to serving my brethren, that
I may have sacrificed life itself. This I do, albeit to my view
one moment in this world is dearer than a thousand years in the
next. For this world is an abode of service, and the other world
is an abode of propinquity; and propinquity for me is in
these words of Nuri’s to the caliph, who marvelled at his
sincerity and equitableness. He ordered the execution to be
stayed and referred their case to the cadi to examine.
“They cannot be
proscribed without proof,” said the cadi. Now he knew that
Junaid was supreme in many sciences and had heard Nuri speak. So
he said, referring to Shibli, “I will question this madman on a
point of law which he will never be able to answer.”
“How much is to
be paid in poor-tax on twenty dinars?” he asked.
“Twenty and a
half dinars,” Shibli replied.
instituted that kind of poor-tax?” demanded the cadi.
“Abu Bakr the
Great,” Shibli answered. “He gave forty thousand dinars and kept
“Yes, but what
is this half-dinar you spoke about?”
“That is a
fine,” replied Shibli. “The man kept the twenty dinars to
himself, so he must pay half a dinar in addition.”
The cadi then
questioned Nuri on a point of law. Nuri replied instantly, and
the cadi was reduced to confusion. Nuri then spoke.
“Cadi, you have
asked all these questions, and you have asked nothing at all
relevant. For God has servants who stand through Him, and move
and rest through Him, who live all through Him and abide in
contemplation of Him. If for a single instant they held back
from contemplating Him, their souls would go out of them.
Through Him they sleep, through Him they eat, through Him they
take, through Him they go, through Him they see, through Him
they hear and through Him they are. This is the true science,
not that on which you put questions.”
cadi sent a message to the caliph.
“If these men
are atheists and heretics, than I give judgment that on the
whole face of the earth not one unitarian exists.”
summoned the prisoners.
anything you want?” he asked them.
replied. “We want you to forget us. We want you neither to
honour us with your approval nor to banish us with your
rejection. For us your rejection is the same as your approval,
your approval as your rejection.”
The caliph wept
bitterly and dismissed them with all honour.
Anecdotes of Nuri
One day Nuri saw
a man twirling his moustaches while at prayer.
“Take your hand
away from the moustaches of God,” he cried.
These words were
reported to the caliph. The lawyers declared unanimously that by
uttering them Nuri had lapsed into infidelity. He was haled
before the caliph.
“Did you speak
those words?” the caliph demanded.
“Why did you say
them?” asked the caliph.
“To whom does
the servant of God belong?” countered Nuri.
answered the caliph.
“And to whom did
the moustaches belong?” Nuri pursued.
“To Him to whom
the servant belonged,” concluded the caliph. “Praise be to God,
who preserved me from slaying him,” he afterwards added.
“I saw a light
gleaming in the Unseen,” said Nuri. “I gazed at it continually,
until the time came when I had wholly become that light.”
One day Junaid
went to visit Nuri. Nuri fell to the ground before Junaid
complaining of injustice.
“My battle has
waxed fierce, and I have no more strength to fight,” he said.
“For thirty years, whenever He has appeared I have vanished, and
whenever I appear He is absent. His presence is in my absence.
For all that I supplicate Him, His answer is ‘Either I am to be,
or you.’ “
“Look upon a
man,” said Junaid to his companions, “who has been sorely tried
and bewildered by God. Such must be the state of affairs,” he
added, turning to Nuri, “that whether He is veiled by you or
revealed through you, you shall no more be you, and all shall be
A party of men
went to Junaid and said, “For a number of days and nights now
Nuri has been going around with a brick in his hand, saying
‘God, God.’ He eats nothing and drinks nothing and does not
sleep. Yet he performs the prayers at the proper times and
observes all the ritual of the prayers.”
“He is sober. He
is not in a state of having passed away,” Junaid’s companions
said. “That is proved by the fact that he observes the times of
prayer and knows to perform the ritual. That is a mark of
conscious effort, not of passing away. One who has passed away
is aware of nothing.”
“That is not the
case,” replied Junaid. “What you say is not true. Men in ecstasy
are ‘preserved’; God watches over them, lest they be excluded
from service at the time of service.”
Junaid then went
to call on Nuri.
‘l-Hussain,” he addressed him, “if you know that shouting is of
profit with Him, tell me and I will also shout. If you know that
satisfaction with Him is better, then practise resignation, that
your heart may be at rest.’
Nuri ceased his
excellent teacher you are for us!” he exclaimed.
preaching, and Nuri entered the hall and stood on one side.
“Peace be upon
you, Abu Bakr,” he called out.
“And upon you be
peace, Prince of the Hearts,” Shibli replied.
Nuri went on, “would not be well pleased with a man of learning
imparting his learning when he does not put it into practice. If
you practice what you preach, keep your high station. If not,
then come down!”
considered, and finding himself not true to his preaching he
came down. For four months he kept to his house and did not
venture out. Then a crowd of men came and brought him out and
put him in the pulpit. Nuri heard of this and came to the hall.
“Abu Bakr,” he
cried, “you concealed the truth from them, so of course they set
you in the pulpit. I counselled them sincerely, and they drove
me away with stones and flung me on the dunghill.”
“Prince of the
Hearts, what was your good counselling, and what was my
concealing?” asked Shibli.
counselling,” Nuri replied, “was that I let men go to their God.
Your concealing was that you became a veil between God and men.
Who are you, to be an intermediary between God and men? In my
view, you are irrelevant.”
Nuri and another
were seated together, both weeping bitterly. When the other
departed, Nuri turned to his companions.
“Did you know
who that was?” he asked them.
Iblis,” he told them. “He was relating the services he had
performed and was telling the tale of his life, bewailing the
agony of separation. As you saw, he was weeping. I too was
relates the following.
Nuri was praying
in seclusion, and I was listening to what he would say.
“Lord God,” he
said, “Thou punishest the denizens of Hell. They are all Thy
creation, by virtue of Thy omniscience and omnipotence and
pre-eternal will. If Thou wilt assuredly fill Hell with men,
Thou hast the power to fill Hell with men and to transport them
I was amazed at
his words. Then I saw in a dream one who came to me and said,
“God has said, Tell Abu ‘l-Hussain, I have honoured and had
compassion on thee for that prayer.”
Nuri recalled, “I found the area about the Kaaba empty and
proceeded to circumambulate. Each time I reached the Black Stone
I prayed and said, ‘O God, accord to me a state and an attribute
from which I shall not change.’ One day I heard a voice
proceeding from the midst of the Kaaba and saying, ‘Abu
‘l-Hussain, you would make yourself equal to Me. I change not
from My attribute, but I keep My servants turning about and
changing. This I do, in order that Lordship may become clear
from servanthood. It is I who continue in one attribute; man’s
I visited Nuri and saw him seated in meditation, not a hair of
his body moving.
“From whom did
you learn such excellent meditation?” I asked.
“From a cat
crouching over a mouse-hole,” he replied. “He was much stiller
than I am.”
One night report
was brought to the people of Qadesiya.
“A friend of God
has confined himself in the Valley of Lions. Go and recover
All the people
went out to the Valley of Lions. There they found that Nuri had
dug a grave and was sitting there, surrounded by crouching
lions. They interceded with him, and conducted him back to
Qadesiya, where they asked him his story.
“For a while I
had eaten nothing,” he told them. “I was traversing this desert
when I espied a date-tree. I had a longing for fresh dates. Then
I said, ‘There is still room left for desire. I will go down
into this valley, that the lions may rend you, my appetite, then
you will no longer desire dates.’”
“One day,” Nuri
recalled, “I was washing myself in a pool when a thief came and
stole my clothes. I had not yet emerged from the water when he
brought them back, and his hand had become withered. I cried, ‘O
God, since he has brought back my clothes, give him back his
hand!’ At once his hand was healed.”
Fire broke out
in the Bazaar of Slavers in Baghdad, and many people were burnt
to death. In one shop were two young Greek slaves, very handsome
youths; the flames were lapping round them.
“Anyone who will
fetch them out,” cried their owner, “I will give a thousand gold
No one dared to
attempt the rescue. All at once Nuri arrived on the scene. He
saw the two young slaves, shouting for help.
“In the Name of
God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” So saying, he plunged in
and brought them both to safety. The owner of the slaves offered
Nuri the thousand gold dinars.
gold,” Nuri told him. “And give thanks to God. For this dignity
that has been conferred on me has been conferred because of not
accepting gold, exchanging this world for the next.”
One day a blind
man was crying, “God, God!” Nuri went up to him and said, “What
do you know of Him? And if you know, yet you still live?”
So saying, he
lost his senses, and was so filled with mystic yearning that he
went out into the desert, to freshly-harvested reedbeds. The
reeds pierced his feet and sides, and the blood gushed forth.
Every drop that fell, the words “God, God” appeared.
Sarraj states that when they brought him from that place to his
home, they said to him, “Say, There is no god but God.”
“Why, I am on my
way There,” he replied. And thereupon he died.
Ibrahim ibn Adham
Abu Eshaq Ibrahim
ibn Adham, born in Balkh of pure Arab descent, is described in Sufi
legend as a prince who renounced his kingdom (somewhat after the
fashion of the Buddha) and wandered westwards to live a life of
complete asceticism, earning his bread in Syria by honest manual
toil until his death in c. 165 (782). Some accounts state that he
was killed on a naval expedition against Byzantium. The story of his
conversion is a classic of Muslim hagiography.
The legend of Ibrahim ibn Adham
Ibrahim ibn Adham’s
saintly career began in the following manner. He was king of Balkh,
and a whole world was under his command; forty gold swords and forty
gold maces were carried before and behind him. One night he was
asleep on his royal couch. At midnight the roof of the apartment
vibrated, as if someone was walking on the roof.
“Who is there?” he
“A friend,” came the
reply. “I have lost a camel, and am searching for it on this roof.”
“Fool, do you look
for the camel on the roof?” cried Ibrahim.
answered the voice, “do you seek for God in silken clothes, asleep
on a golden couch?”
These words filled
his heart with terror. A fire blazed within him, and he could not
sleep any more. When day came he returned to the dais and sat on his
throne, thoughtful, bewildered and full of care. The ministers of
state stood each in his place; his slaves were drawn up in serried
ranks. General audience was proclaimed.
Suddenly a man with
aweful mien entered the chamber, so terrible to look upon that none
of the royal retinue and servants dared ask him his name; the
tongues of all clove to their throats. He advanced solemnly till he
stood before the throne.
“What do you want?”
“I have just
alighted at this caravanserai,” said the man. “This is not a
caravanserai. This is my palace. You are mad,” shouted Ibrahim.
“Who owned this
palace before you?” asked the man.
“My father,” Ibrahim
“And before him?”
“And before him?”
“And before him?”
“The father of
“Where have they all
departed?” asked the man.
“They have gone.
They are dead,” Ibrahim replied.
“Then is this not a
caravanserai which one man enters and another leaves?”
With these words the
stranger vanished. He was Khizr, upon whom be peace. The fire blazed
more fiercely still in Ibrahim’s soul, and the anguish within him
augmented momently. Visions by day followed the hearing of voices by
night, equally mysterious and incomprehensible.
“Saddle my horse,”
Ibrahim cried at last. “I will go to the hunt. I know not what this
thing is that has come upon me today. Lord God, how will this affair
His horse was
saddled and he proceeded to the chase. Headlong he galloped across
the desert; it was as if he knew not 9 what he was doing. In that
state of bewilderment he became separated from his troops. On the
way he suddenly heard a voice.
He pretended not to
have heard, and rode on. A second time the voice came, but he heeded
it not. A third time he heard the same, and hurled himself farther
away. Then the voice sounded a fourth time.
“Awake, before you
are stricken awake!”
He now lost all
self-control. At that instant a deer started up, and Ibrahim
prepared to give chase. The deer spoke to him.
“I have been sent to
hunt you. You cannot catch me. Was it for this that you were
created, or is this what you were commanded?”
“Ah, what is this
that has come upon me?” Ibrahim cried.
And he turned his
face from the deer. He thereupon heard the same words issuing from
the pommel of his saddle. Terror and fear possessed him. The
revelation became clearer yet, for Almighty God willed to complete
the transaction. A third time the selfsame voice proceeded from the
collar of his cloak. The revelation was thus consummated, and the
heavens were opened unto him.
Sure faith was now
established in him. He dismounted; all his garments, and the horse
itself, were dripping with his tears. He made true and sincere
repentance. Turning aside from the road, he saw a shepherd wearing
felt clothes and a hat of felt, driving his sheep before him.
Looking closely, he saw that he was a slave of his. He bestowed on
him his gold-embroidered cloak and bejewelled cap, together with the
sheep, and took from him his clothes and hat of felt. These he
donned himself. All the angelic hosts stood gazing on Ibrahim.
“What a kingdom has
come to the son of Adham,” they cried. “He has cast away the filthy
garments of the world, and has donned the glorious robes of
Even so he proceeded
on foot to wander over mountains and endless deserts, lamenting over
his sins, until he came to Merv. There he saw a man who had fallen
from the bridge and was about to perish, swept away by the river.
Ibrahim shouted from afar.
“O God, preserve
The man remained
suspended in the air until helpers arrived and drew him up. They
were astonished at Ibrahim.
“What man is this?”
from that place, and marched on to Nishapur. There he searched for a
desolate corner where he might busy himself with obedience to God.
In the end he hit upon the famous cave where he dwelt for nine
years, three years in each apartment. Who knows what occupied him
there through the nights and days? For it needed a mighty man of
uncommon substance to be able to be there alone by night.
Every Thursday he
would climb above the cavern and collect a bundle of firewood. Next
morning he would set out, for Nishapur and there sell the brushwood.
Having performed the Friday prayers, he would buy bread with the
money he had gained, give half to a beggar and use half himself to
break his fast. So he did every week.
One winter’s night
he was in that apartment. It was extremely cold, and he had to break
the ice to wash. All night he shivered, praying through till dawn.
By dawn he was in danger of perishing from the cold. By chance the
thought ` of a fire entered his mind. He saw a fur on the ground.
Wrapping himself up in the fur, he fell asleep. When he awoke it was
-broad daylight, and he had become warm. He looked, and saw that the
fur was a dragon, its eyes saucers of blood. A mighty terror came
“Lord God,” he
cried, “Thou didst send this thing unto me in a shape of gentleness.
Now I see it in a dreadful form. I cannot endure it.”
dragon moved away, twice or thrice rubbed its face in the ground
before him, and vanished.
Ibrahim ibn Adham goes to Makkah
When the fame of
Ibrahim ibn Adham’s doings spread abroad amongst men, he fled from
the cave and set out towards Makkah. In the desert he encountered
one of the great men of the Faith, who taught him the Greatest Name
of God and then took his departure. Ibrahim called upon God by that
Name, and immediately he beheld Khizr, upon whom be peace.
Khizr, “that was my brother David who taught you the Greatest Name.”
Then many words
passed between Khizr and Ibrahim. Khizr was the first who drew
Ibrahim out, by the leave of God. Ibrahim relates as follows
concerning the next stage of his pilgrimage.
“On reaching Dhat
al-‘Erq I saw seventy men wearing the patchwork frock lying dead
there, the blood gushing out of their noses and ears. Circling them,
I found one who still had a spark of life in him.
“‘Young man,’ I
cried, ‘what has happened here?’
“‘Son of Adham,’ he
answered me, ‘keep to the water and the prayer-niche. Go not far
away, lest you be banished; and come not too near, lest you be
anguished. Let no man be overbold in the presence of Sultan. Have a
lively fear of the Friend who slays pilgrims as if they were Greek
infidels, and wages war upon pilgrims. We were a Sufi community who
had set out into the desert trusting in God, resolved not to utter
one word, to think of naught but God, to move and be still only with
God in view and to heed none but Him. When we had crossed the desert
and were come to the place where pilgrims robe themselves in white,
Khizr, upon whom be peace, came to us. We greeted him, and he
returned our salute, and we were very happy, saying, “Praise be to
God, the journey was blessed, the quester has reached his quest, for
such a holy person came out to meet us.” Forthwith a voice cried
within us, “You liars and pretenders, such were your words and
covenant! You forgot Me, and busied yourselves with another. Depart!
I will not make peace with you until I snatch away your souls in
recompense and shed your blood with the sword of jealous wrath.”
These brave men whom you see lying here are all victims of this
retaliation. Beware, Ibrahim! You too have the same ambition. Halt,
or depart far away!’
“‘Why did they spare
you, then?’ I asked, deeply perplexed by his words.
“‘They told me,
“They are ripe, you are still raw. Live on a few moments yet, and
you too will be ripe. When you are ripe, you too will come in their
wake.”’ So saying, he gave up the ghost.”
Ibrahim was fourteen
years crossing the desert, praying and humbling himself all the way.
When he drew near to Makkah, the elders of the Haram hearing of his
approach came out to meet him. He thrust himself ahead of the
caravan so that no one might recognize him. The servants preceded
the elders, and they saw Ibrahim going ahead of the caravan; but not
having seen him before, they did not recognize him. Coming up to
him, they cried, “Ibrahim ibn Adham is near at hand. The elders of
the Haram have come out to meet him.”
“What do you want of
that heretic?” Ibrahim demanded.
Straightway they set
upon him and beat him up.
“The elders of
Makkah go out to meet him, and you call him a heretic?” they
‘I say he is a
heretic,” Ibrahim repeated.
When they left him,
Ibrahim turned to himself.
“Ha!” he cried. “You
wanted the elders to come out to meet you. Well, you have collected
a few punches. Praise be to God that I have seen you get your wish!”
Ibrahim then took up
residence in Makkah. A circle of companions formed around him, and
he earned his bread by the labour of his hands, working as a
Ibrahim at Makkah is visited by his son
When Ibrahim ibn
Adham quitted Balkh he left behind him a suckling child. The latter,
by now grown up, asked his mother one day about his father.
“Your father is
lost,” she replied.
The son thereupon
made proclamation that all who desired to perform the pilgrimage
should assemble. Four thousand presented themselves. He gave them
all their expenses to cover provisions and camels and led the party
Makkahwards, hoping that God might grant him sight of his father.
Reaching Makkah, they encountered by the door of the Holy Mosque a
party of patch-work-frocked Sufis.
“Do you know Ibrahim
ibn Adham?” the son enquired.
“He is a friend of
ours,” they told him. “He is entertaining us, and has gone to hunt
The son asked them
to direct him, and he went in his track. The party emerging in the
lower quarter of Makkah, he saw his father unshod and bareheaded
coming along with a load of firewood. Tears sprang to his eyes, but
he controlled himself and followed in his father’s wake to the
market. There his father began to shout.
“Who will buy goodly
things for goodly things?”
A baker called to
him and took the firewood in exchange for bread. Ibrahim brought the
bread and laid it before his companions.
“If I say who I am,”
the son feared, “he will run away.”
So he went to take
counsel with his mother as to the best way of recovering his father.
His mother advised patience.
“Be patient until we
make the pilgrimage.”
When the boy
departed, Ibrahim sat down with his associates.
“Today there are
women and children on this pilgrimage. Mind your eyes,” he charged
All accepted his
counsel. When the pilgrims entered Makkah and made the
circumambulation of the Kaaba, Ibrahim with his companions also
circled the Holy House. A handsome boy approached him, and Ibrahim
looked at him keenly. His friends noticed this and were astonished,
but waited until they had finished the circumambulation.
“God have mercy on
you!” they then said to Ibrahim. “You bade us not to glance at any
woman or child, and then you yourself gazed at a handsome lad.”
“Did you see?”
“We saw,” they
“When I left Balkh,”
Ibrahim told them, “I abandoned there a suckling son. I know that
the lad is that son.”
Next day one of the
companions went out before Ibrahim to look for the caravan from
Balkh. Coming upon it, he observed in the midst of the caravan a
tent pitched all of brocade. In the tent a throne was set, and the
boy was seated on the throne, reciting the Quran and weeping.
Ibrahim’s friend asked if he might enter.
“Where do you come
from?” he enquired.
“From Balkh,” the
“Whose son are you?”
The boy put his hand
to his face and began to weep.
“I have never seen
my father, “he said, laying aside the Quran. “Not until yesterday—I
do not know whether it was he or not. I am afraid that if I speak he
will run away, as he ran away from us before. My father is Ibrahim-e
Adham the King of Balkh.”
The man seized him
to bring him to Ibrahim. His mother rose and went along with him.
Ibrahim, as they approached him, was seated with his companions
before the Yemeni Corner. He espied from afar his friend with the
boy and his mother. As soon as the woman saw him she cried aloud and
could control herself no longer.
“This is your
tumult arose. All the bystanders and friends of Ibrahim burst into
tears. As soon as the boy recovered himself he saluted his father.
Ibrahim returned his greeting and took him to his breast.
“What religion do
you follow?” he asked.
“The religion of
Islam,” answered his son.
“Praise be to God,”
cried Ibrahim. “Do you know the Quran?”
“Praise be to God.
Have you studied the faith?”
Then Ibrahim would
have departed, but the boy would not let go of him. His mother
wailed aloud. Turning his face to heaven, Ibrahim cried, “O God,
The boy immediately
expired in his embrace.
Ibrahim?” his companions cried out.
`’When I took him to
my breast,” Ibrahim explained, “love for him stirred in my heart. A
voice spoke to me, ‘Ibrahim, you claim to love Me, and you love
another along with Me. You charge your companions not to look upon
any strange woman or child, and you have attached your heart to that
woman and child.’ When I heard this call, I prayed, ‘Lord of Glory,
come to my succour! He will so occupy my heart that I shall forget
to love Thee. Either take away his life or mine.’ His death was the
answer to my prayer.”
Anecdotes of Ibrahim
One day Ibrahim ibn
Adham was asked, “What befell you, that you quit your kingdom?”
“I was seated on my
throne one day,” he recalled. “A mirror was held up before me; I
looked into that mirror and saw that my lodging was the tomb and
therein was no familiar friend. I saw a long journey ahead of me,
and I had no provision. I saw a just judge, and I had no defence. I
became disgusted of my kingship.’,
“Why did you flee
from Khorasan?” they asked.
“I heard much talk
there of the true friend,” he replied.
“Why do you not seek
a wife?” he was asked.
“Does any woman take
a husband for him to keep her hungry and naked?” he countered.
“No,” they replied.
“That is why I do
not marry,” he explained. “Any woman whom I married would remain
hungry and naked. If I only could, I would divorce myself. How can I
bind another to my saddle?”
Then turning to a
beggar who was present, he asked him “Do you have a wife?”
“No,” the beggar
“Do you have a
excellent,” Ibrahim exclaimed.
“Why do you say
that?” asked the beggar.
“The beggar who
marries embarks on a ship. When the children come, he is drowned.”
One day Ibrahim saw
a beggar bewailing his lot.
“I guess you bought
beggary gratis,” he remarked.
“Why, is beggary for
sale?” the beggar asked in astonishment.
replied. “I bought it with the kingdom of Balkh. I got a bargain.”
A man once brought
Ibrahim a thousand dinars.
“Take,” he said.
“I do not accept
anything from beggars,” Ibrahim replied “But I am wealthy,” the man
“Do you want more
than you own already?” Ibrahim asked
“Indeed,” the man
“Then take it back,”
said Ibrahim. “You are the chief of the beggars. Indeed, this is not
beggary. This is plain penury.”
Ibrahim was told of
an ecstatic youth who had extraordinary experiences and disciplined
“Bring me to him so
that I may see him,” he said.
They took him to the
“Be my guest for
three days,” the youth invited him.
Ibrahim stayed there
and observed the youth’s state attentively. It surpassed even what
his friends had said. All night he was sleepless and restless, not
reposing or slumbering for a single moment. Ibrahim felt a certain
“I am so frigid, and
he is sleepless and unresting the whole night through. Come, let us
investigate his case,” he said to himself. “Let us discover if
anything from Satan has invaded his state, or whether it is wholly
pure and in all respects as it should be. I must examine the
foundation of the matter. The foundation and root of the matter is
what a man eats.”
So he investigated
what the youth was eating, and discovered that it came from
“God is most great.
It is Satanic,” Ibrahim exclaimed.
“I have been your
guest for three days,” he said to the youth. “Now you come and be my
guest for forty days.”
The youth accepted.
Now the food Ibrahim ate was earned by the labour of his own hands.
He took the youth to his home and gave him of his own food.
Immediately his ecstasy vanished. All his ardour and passion
disappeared. That restlessness and sleeplessness and weeping of his
“What have you done
to me?” he cried.
answered. “Your food was unhallowed. Satan was all the time going
and coming in you. As soon as you swallowed lawful food, the
manifestations he had been contriving in you became revealed for
what they were, the Devil’s work.”
Sahl ibn Ibrahim
tells the following story. `
I was making a
journey with Ibrahim-e Adham, and on the way I fell sick. He sold
all that he possessed and spent it on me. I begged him for
something, and he sold his ass and spent the proceeds on me.
“Where is the ass?”
I enquired when I recovered.
“I sold it,” he
“What shall I sit
on?” I demanded.
answered, “come, sit on my back.”
And he lifted me on
his back and carried me for three stages.
Every day Ibrahim
went out to work for hire and laboured till night. All his earnings
he expended on behalf of his companions. But by the time he had
performed the evening prayer and bought something and had returned
to his friends the night was far gone.
One night his
companions said, “He is late in coming. Come, let us eat some bread
and go to sleep. That will be a hint for him to return earlier in
future. He will not keep us waiting so long.”
So they did. When
Ibrahim returned he saw that they were asleep. Supposing that they
had not eaten anything and had gone to sleep hungry, he at once lit
a fire. He had brought a little flour back with him, so he made
dough to give them something to eat when they woke, then they would
be able to keep fast next day. His companions awoke to see him with
his beard on the floor, blowing on the fire; tears were streaming
from his eyes, and he was surrounded by smoke.
“What are you
doing?” they asked.
“I saw you were
asleep,” Ibrahim replied. “I said to myself, perhaps you could not
find anything and went to sleep hungry. So I am making something for
you to eat when you awake.”
“See how he thought
about us, and how we thought about him,” they exclaimed.
“Since you entered
on this path, have you ever experienced happiness?” Ibrahim was
“Several times,” he
replied. “Once I was on board ship and the captain did not know me.
I was wearing ragged clothes my hair was untrimmed, and I was in a
spiritual ecstasy of which all on board were unaware. They laughed
at me and ridiculed me. There was a joker on the ship, and every now
and then he would come and grab me by the hair and pluck it out and
slap me on the neck. In those moments I felt that I had attained my
desire, and was very happy to be so humiliated.
“Suddenly a great
wave arose, and all feared that they would perish. ‘We must throw
one of these fellows overboard,’ cried the helmsman. ‘Then the ship
will be lighter.’ They seized me to throw me into the sea. The wave
subsided, and the ship resumed an even keel. That moment when they
took me by the ear to throw me into the water, I felt that I had
attained my desire, and was happy.
“On another occasion
I went to a mosque to sleep there. They would not let me be, and I
was so weak and exhausted that I could not get up. So they seized me
by the foot and dragged me out. Now the mosque had three steps; my
head struck against each step in turn, and the blood flowed forth. I
felt that I had attained my desire. On each step that they dropped
me, the mystery of a whole clime became revealed to me. I said,
‘Would that the mosque had more steps, to increase my felicity!’
“On another occasion
I was rapt in a state of ecstasy. A joker came and urinated on me.
Then too I was happy.
“On yet another
occasion I was wrapped in a fur jacket infested by fleas which
devoured me unmercifully. Suddenly I remembered the fine clothes
which I had deposited in the treasury. My soul cried within me,
‘Why, what pain is this?’ Then too I felt that I had attained my
related, “I was journeying in the desert putting my trust in God.
For some days I found nothing to eat. I remembered a friend of mine,
but I said to myself, ‘If I go to him, my trust in God will become
void.’ I entered a mosque with the words on my lips, ‘I have put my
trust in the Living One who dies not. There is no God but He.’ A
voice out of heaven cried, ‘Glory be to that God who has emptied the
face of the earth of those who trust in Him.’ I said, ‘Why these
words?’ The voice replied, ‘How should that man be truly trusting in
God who undertakes a long journey for the sake o a morsel that a
profane friend may give him, and then declare “I have put my trust
in the Living One who dies not”? You have given the name of trust in
God to a lie!’”
“Once I bought a
slave,” Ibrahim recalled. “‘What is your name?’ I asked. “‘What you
call me,’ he answered. “‘What do you eat?’ “‘What you give me.’
“‘What do you wear?’ “‘What you clothe me withal.’ “‘What do you
do?’ “‘What you command.’ “‘What do you desire?’ I asked. “‘What has
a servant to do with desire?’ he replied. “‘Wretch that you are,’ I
said to myself, ‘all your life
you have been a
servant of God. Well, now learn what it means to be a servant!’ “And
I wept so long that I swooned away.”
No one had ever seen
Ibrahim sitting crosslegged. “Why do you not sit crosslegged?” he
was asked. “I did sit that way one day,” he replied. “I heard a
voice from the air
saying, ‘Son of Adham, do servants sit so in the presence of their
lords?’ I at once sat upright and repented.
“Once I was
travelling in the desert trusting in God, Ibrahim related. “For
three days I found nothing to eat. The Devil came to me.
“‘Did you abandon
your kingdom and so much luxury in order to go on the pilgrimage
hungry?’ the Devil taunted me. ‘You can also make the pilgrimage in
style and not suffer so.
“Hearing this speech
of the Devil, I lifted my head on high.
“‘O God,’ I cried,
‘dost Thou appoint Thy enemy over Thy friend to torture me? Come to
my succour! For I cannot cross this desert without Thy aid.’
“‘Ibrahim,’ a voice
came to me, ‘cast out what thou hast in thy pocket, that We may
bring forth that which is in the Unseen.’
“I put my hand in my
pocket. Four silver pennies were there which I had forgotten. As
soon as I flung them away the Devil fled from me, and aliment
materialized out of the Unseen.”
recalled, “I was appointed to look after an orchard. The owner of
the orchard came and said to me, ‘Bring me some sweet pomegranates.’
I brought some, but they were sour.
“‘Bring me sweet
ones,’ the owner repeated. I brought another dishful, but they were
“‘Glory be to God!’
the owner cried. ‘You have spent so long in an orchard, and you do
not know ripe pomegranates?’
“‘I look after your
orchard, but I do not know what pomegranates taste like because I
have never sampled any,’ I replied
self-denial, I suspect you are Ibrahim-e Adham,’ the owner said.
“When I heard these
words, I departed from that place.”
“One night,” Ibrahim
related, ‘I saw Gabriel in a dream come down to earth out of heaven
with a scroll in his hand.
“‘What do you want?’
“‘I am writing down
the names of the friends of God,’ Gabriel replied.
“‘Write down my
name,’ I said.
“‘You are not of
them,’ Gabriel answered.
“‘I am a friend of
the friends of God,’ I rejoined.
for a while. Then he said,
“‘The command has
come. Inscribe Ibrahim’s name the first of all. For on this Path
hope materializes out of despair.’”
travelling in the desert one day when he was accosted by a soldier.
“What are you?” the
“A servant,” replied
“Which is the way to
habitation?” asked the soldier.
Ibrahim pointed to
“You are making fun
of me,” shouted the soldier, lashing out at Ibrahim’s head. His head
was broken, and the blood gushed forth.
The soldier put a
rope round Ibrahim’s neck and dragged him along. People from the
nearby town coming that way stopped at the spectacle.
“Ignoramus, this is
Ibrahim-e Adham, the friend of God,” they cried.
The soldier fell at
Ibrahim’s feet and implored him to pardon him and acquit him of the
wrong he had done him.
“You told me you
were a servant,” he pleaded.
“Who is there who is
not a servant?” Ibrahim replied.
“I broke your head,
and you prayed for me,” said the soldier.
“I prayed that you
might be blessed for the way you treated me,” was Ibrahim’s answer.
“My reward for the way you treated me was Paradise, and I did not
wish that your reward should be Hell.”
“Why did you direct
me to the cemetery when I asked the way to habitation?” the soldier
“Because every day
the graveyard becomes more thronged, and the city more deserted,”
Once Ibrahim passed
by a drunkard. His mouth was foul, so he fetched water and washed
the drunkard’s mouth.
“Do you leave foul
the mouth that has mouthed the name of God? That is irreverence!”
Ibrahim said to himself.
“The ascetic of
Khorasan washed your mouth,” they told the man when he woke.
“I too now repent,”
the man declared.
After that Ibrahim
heard in a dream, “Thou didst wash a mouth for My sake. I have
washed thy heart.”
I was once on
shipboard with Ibrahim (relates Raja) when suddenly a wind sprang up
and the world grew dark.
“Alas, the ship is
sinking!” I cried.
“Fear not that the
ship will sink,” came a voice from the air. “Ibrahim-e Adham is with
Immediately the wind
subsided, and the darkened world became bright.
Ibrahim wished to
embark on a ship, but he had no money.
“Every one must pay
a dinar,” came the announcement.
Ibrahim prayed two
rak’as, and said, “O God, they are demanding money from me and I
Forthwith the whole
sea was turned to gold. Ibrahim gathered a handful and gave it to
One day Ibrahim was
seated on the bank of the Tigris stitching his threadbare robe. His
needle fell into the river.
“You gave up such a
mighty kingdom. What did you get in return?” someone asked him.
“Give back my
needle,” cried Ibrahim, pointing to the river.
A thousand fishes
put up their heads from the water, each with a golden needle in its
“I want my own
needle,” said Ibrahim.
A feeble little fish
held up Ibrahim’s needle in its mouth.
“This is the least
thing I have gotten by abandoning the kingdom of Balkh,” said
Ibrahim. “The rest you know nothing of.”
One day Ibrahim came
to a well. He let down the bucket, and it came up full of gold. He
emptied it and let it down again, and it came up full of pearls. In
merry mood he emptied it once more.
“O God,” he cried,
“Thou art offering me a treasury. I know that Thou art all-powerful,
and Thou knowest that I shall not be deluded by this. Give me water,
that I may make my ablution.”
Once Ibrahim was
going on the pilgrimage in company.
“Not one of us has a
camel or any provisions,” said his fellow-pilgrims.
“Rely on God to
provide for you,” Ibrahim told them.
Then he added, “Look
at those trees! If it is gold that you desire, they will be turned
All the acacias had
turned to gold by the Power of Almighty God.
One day Ibrahim was
travelling with a party when they came to a fort. Before the fort
was much brushwood.
“We will pass the
night here,” they said. “There is plenty of brushwood, so we can
make a fire.”
They kindled a fire
and sat in the light of the flames. All ate dry bread, whilst
Ibrahim stood in prayer.
“If only we had some
hallowed meat to roast on this fire,” said one.
Ibrahim finished his
prayer. Then he said, “God is certainly able to give you hallowed
Saying this, he
stood once more in prayer. Immediately came the roar of a lion. They
watched as a lion approached dragging a wild ass. They took the ass,
roasted it and ate it, whilst the lion crouched there watching them.
Ibrahim ibn Ahmad al-Khauwas of Samarra, a companion of al-Junaid,
is famous for his long journeys in the desert. He died at Rayy
in 291 (904).
Ibrahim-e Khauwas in the desert
Khauwas, a contemporary of Junaid and Nuri, was known as the
Chief of the Trustful. So complete was his trust in God, that he
would cross the desert on the scent of an apple. For all that he
was unique in his trustfulness, he was never without a needle, a
thread, a flask and a pair of scissors. Asked why he carried
these, he answered, “That much does not impair trust.” He told
the following stories of the marvels he had seen on his
I was once
travelling through the desert when I espied a maiden in the
throes of ecstasy, wandering distraught with her head uncovered.
your head,” I cried.
your eyes!” she retorted.
“I am in love,”
I said, “and the lover does not cover his eyes. But my eyes
involuntarily fell upon you.”
intoxicated,” she answered, “and the drunkard does not cover his
“At which tavern
did you become intoxicated?” I asked.
“Have a care,
Khauwas,” she cried. “You are impeding me. Is there any in the
two abodes but God?”
you have my company?” I asked.
“You are callow,
Khauwas,” she answered. “I am not the sort that is looking for a
Once I beheld
Khizr in the desert in the form of a flying bird. When I espied
him so, I lowered my head that my trust might not become void.
Immediately he approached me and said, ‘If you had looked at me,
I would not have descended on you.” I did not greet him, lest my
trust should be impaired.
One day in the
desert I came upon a tree where there was water. I beheld a huge
lion making for me, and committed myself to God. When he came
near I noticed that he was limping. He laid down before me and
groaned. I looked and saw that his paw was swollen and
gangrenous. So I look a stick and cut open the paw, till all the
pus was drained; then I bandaged the paw with a rag. The lion
arose and went away. Presently the lion returned bringing his
cub. They circled around me wagging their tails, and brought a
round bread and laid it before me.
Once I had lost
my way in the desert. I pushed on some distance, but could not
find the way. For several days I went on like that, till at last
I heard a cock crowing. I rejoiced, and hastened in that
direction. I sighted a person who promptly ran up and struck me
on the neck. The blow hurt, and I cried out.
“O God, that is
how they treat one who puts his trust in Thee!”
“So long as you
put your trust in Me,” I heard a voice say, “you were precious
in My sight. Now that you have put your trust in a cockcrow, you
have been beaten in consequence.”
Still in pain, I
continued on my way. Then I heard a voice which said, “Khauwas,
that pained you. Now look yonder!”
I looked, and
saw lying before me the head of the man who had struck me.
I had made a vow
that I would cross the desert without provisions and mount. As I
entered the desert a young man came after me and hailed me.
“Peace be upon
you, O Shaykh!”
I halted and
answered his greeting. Then I saw that the youth was a
“Do you allow me
to accompany you?” he asked.
“Where I am
going you may not come, so what advantage will you gain in my
company?” I replied.
“All the same I
will come,” he answered. “It may bring a blessing.”
For a week we
journeyed together. On the eighth day my companion said, “Good
Hanifite ascetic, be bold with your God, for I am hungry. Ask
“My God,” I
prayed, “by the merits of Muhammad, peace be upon him, do not
put me to shame before this stranger, but manifest something out
of the Unseen.”
beheld a dish appear filled with bread and roast fish and dates,
and a jug of water. We both sat down and applied ourselves to
We pushed on for
another week. Then on the eighth day I said to my companion,
“Monk, now display your power too. I am hungry.”
Leaning on his
staff, the young man moved his lips. Two tables appeared covered
with halwa, fish and dates, and two jugs of water. I was amazed.
the Christian cried.
I was too
shamefaced to eat anything.
repeated, “then I will give you some good news.”
“I will not eat
until you tell me your good news,” I replied.
“The first piece
of good news is this, that I am cutting my girdle.”
With that he cut
“I testify that
there is no god but God, and I testify that Muhammad is the
Messenger of God,” he said. “The other piece of good news is
this, that I said, ‘O God, by the merits of this elder who is of
value in Thy sight and whose religion is true, send Thou food
that I may not be put to shame before him.’ This too was by your
So we ate, and
proceeded on our way till we came to Makkah. There he resided in
the Holy Territory till his term drew nigh.
I was passing
one day through the parts of Syria when I espied some
pomegranate-trees. My appetite was whetted, but I controlled
myself and did not eat any because the pomegranates were sour,
and I wanted sweet ones. Presently I entered a valley where I
saw a man lying exhausted and helpless. The worms had fallen on
him, and hornets buzzed around him stinging him. My compassion
was moved by his pitiful condition.
“Would you like
me to pray,” I said when I reached him, “that haply you may be
delivered out of this affliction?”
“Why not?” I
is what I would choose, and affliction is what He chooses,” he
answered. “I do not prefer my choice above His choice.”
“At least let me
drive these hornets away from you,” I said.
answered, “drive away from yourself that hankering for sweet
pomegranates. Why do you trouble me? Pray for your own heart’s
healing. Why do you pray that my body may be made whole?”
“How did you
know that I am Khauwas?” I asked.
Him,” he replied, “from him nothing remains hidden.”
“How do you feel
with these hornets?” I enquired.
“So long as
these hornets sting me and the worms devour me,” he answered, “I
Once I heard
that in Byzantium there was a monk who had been living for
seventy years in a monastery in the state of celibacy.
exclaimed. “Forty years is the qualification for being a monk.”
So I set forth
to call on him. When I came near he opened a little wicket.
have you come?” he enquired. “I am not seated here as a
celibate. I have a dog which falls upon people. Now I am seated
here keeping watch over the dog and preventing it from doing
mischief to people. But for that, I am not what you supposed.”
“O God,” I
exclaimed on hearing this answer, “Thou art able to guide Thy
servant aright even when he is in very error!”
monk said to me, “how long will you search for men? Search for
yourself, and when you have found yourself, sit in watch over
yourself. For every day this wayward desire puts on three
hundred and sixty various guises of divinity and invites a man
Shaykh Ahmad al-Farooqi Sirhindi
Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Saani(rah)
Shaykh Ahmad al-Farooqi
Sirhindi son of Makhdoom Sheikh Abdul Ahad, scholar as well an
activist of the Farouqi Chistia Order, decedent of Umar Farouqi,
Second Caliph, with twenty eight links in the chain, was born on the
day of 'Ashura, the 10th of Muharram in the year 971 H., in the
village of Sirhind near the city of Lahore in present-day India.
Sirhindi's shrine is located in Sirhind, India and is referred to as
"Rauza Sharif".. It is said that the territory of Sirhind was a
dense forest abound with lions so named as Sher-e-Hind which when
mutilated became Sirhind.
He received his knowledge and education through his father and
through many shaikhs in his time. He made progress in three tariqats:
Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya, and Chistiyya. He was given permission to
train followers in all three tariqats at the age of 17 years. He was
busy in spreading the teachings of these tariqats and in guiding his
followers, yet he felt that something was missing in himself and he
was continuously searching for it. He felt an interest in the
Naqshbandi Sufi Order, because he could see by means of the secrets
of the other three tariqats that it was the best and highest. His
spiritual progress eventually brought him to the presence of the
Ghawth and Qutb of his time, ash-Shaikh Muhammad al-Baqi, who had
been sent from Samarqand to India by the order of his shaikh,
Muhammad al-Amkanaki. He took the Naqshbandi Order from the shaikh
and stayed with him for two months and some days, until Sayyidina
Muhammad al-Baqi opened to his heart the secret of this tariqat and
gave him authorization to train his murids in the Order.
With the intention of proceeding on the Haj pilgrimage, he set out
from Sirhind to Delhi and stayed with Maulana Hasan Kashmiri and
from him heard of the virtues of Khawaja Baqi Billah. This aroused
in him an intense wish to see him. When he saw, he was delighted,
gave up the idea of the pilgrimage and engaged in spiritual training
under the guidance of Khawaja Baqi Billah for three months. Hazrat
Khawaja Baqi - Billah was so much impressed with the spiritual
powers of the Mujaddid that he also awarded him the robe of his
On his return from Delhi to Sirhind he drew a detailed and extensive
programme for the moral and spiritual awakening of the people along
with introduced teaching and sermonizing. Not much time had elapsed
that he was again called to Delhi and received two letters one after
the other at short intervals. He went there. Hazrat Khawaja made him
guardian of his children. This was their last meeting. After this
the Mujaddid returned to Sirhind. Hazrat Baqi-Billah passed away in
the meantime. The Mujaddid was in Lahore. When news reached him, he
set out to Delhi immediately, paid homage to him at his grave and
stayed for a short period of time.
During the reign of Akbar, in the tenth century Hijri, Islam was
passing through a lean period; was under seige of blasphemy,
atheism, and irreligious. Akbar was providing state patronage to
Deen-e-Ilahi and was practicing un-Islamic rites. Fire, trees, and
water were worshipped. At this juncture. Islam needed a fearless
believer to defend it against the onslaught. He did not permit the
opportunist scholars and the misguided emperor to garner strength
and kept the torch of truth burning in such trying times.
Sirhindi's World view
Sirhindi's worldview focused on the idea that ontologically, the
prophethood is far greater than closeness with Allah. He believed
that Sufi ideas which centered around spiritual growth beyond the
material world, while exhibiting key concepts, fell short of
encompassing Islam as a whole. Sirhindi, still accepting and using
these ideas of walayat, or closeness with Allah, focused on a much
more human understanding and reality by focusing on following the
sunnah of Muhammad (SAWS) and his companions. His influence went so
far as implementing jurisprudence in the Islamic world by
emphasizing the Shariah and fiqh, integrating both into Indian
Muslim government and society. This was accomplished through his 536
letters collectively entitled Collected Letters or Maktubat, to the
Mughal rulers conveying his ideas.
Abu Dawud related an authentic hadith that the Prophet, upon whom be
Allah peace and blessings, said, 'Allah will send at the beginning
of every century someone by whom the religion will be revived,' but
there is a difference between the Reviver of the Century and the
Reviver of the Millennium. It is like the difference between one
hundred and one thousand." In a vision, the Prophet gave me good
tidings: 'You are going to be a spiritual inheritor and Allah is
going to give you the authority to intercede on behalf of hundreds
of thousands on the Day of Judgment.' He bestowed on me with his
holy hand the authority to guide people, and he said to me, 'Never
before have I given that authority to guide people.' Allah unveiled
to me the Secrets of the Unique Oneness and He poured into my heart
all kinds of Spiritual Knowledge and its refinement. He unveiled to
me the Secrets of the ayats of Qur'an so that I found beneath every
letter of the Qur'an an ocean of knowledge all pointing to the High
Essence of Allah Almighty and Exalted. If I were to reveal one word
of the meaning of it they would cut off my head, as they did to
Hallaj and to Ibn 'Arabi. This is the meaning of the hadith of the
Prophet , in Bukhari, narrated by Abu Huraira (r), "The Prophet
poured into my heart two kinds of knowledge, one of which I have
revealed and another which if I were to reveal they would cut my
His works are his letters written to many of his contemporaries
known as Maktubaat.
"Moving to Allah is a vertical movement from the lower stations to
the higher stations; until the movement surpasses time and space and
all the states dissolve into what is called the Necessary Knowledge
(cilm ul-wajib) of Allah. This is also called Annihilation (fana').
"Moving in Allah is the stage in which the seeker moves from the
station of Names and Attributes to a state which neither word nor
sign can describe. This is the State of Existence in Allah called
"Moving from Allah is the stage in which the seeker returns from the
heavenly world to the world of cause and effect, descending from the
highest station of knowledge to the lowest. Here he forgets Allah by
Allah, and he knows Allah with Allah, and he returns from Allah to
Allah. This is called the State of the Farthest and the Nearest.
"Moving in things is a movement within creation. This involves
knowing intimately all elements and states in this world after
having vanished in Annihilation. Here the seeker can achieve the
State of Guidance, which is the state of the prophets and the people
following the footsteps of the Prophet . It brings the Divine
Knowledge into the world of creation in order to establish
Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Sa'ani was a great writer but his letter proved
more popular than his books. These letters translated in Urdu, not
only express his opinion on various issues but are also fine pieces
of language and style. Besides them following are some of the titles
of his books:
Sharah Rubaeyat-e-Hazrat Khawaja Baqi-Billah.
One day a man told him that his relative was grievously ill and
requested to pray for him. He hesitated a little and said it was not
proper to pray for health to the deceased. Hearing this he went out
crying and when he reached his village he found his relative dead
and the people were crying.
He died on 9 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1079 Hijri.
Abo ‘l-Qasem al-Junaid
ibn Muhammad al-Khazzaz al-Nehawandi, son of a glass-merchant and
nephew of Sari al-Saqati, close associate of al-Mohasebi, was the
greatest exponent of the ‘sober’ school of Sufism and elaborated a
theosophical doctrine which determined the whole course of orthodox
mysticism in Islam. He expounded his theories in his teachings, and
in a series of letters written to various contemporaries which have
survived. The head of a large and influential school, he died in
Baghdad in 298 (910).
The early years of Junaid-e Baghdadi
Junaid was given to spiritual sorrow, and was an earnest seeker
after God, well disciplined, thoughtful and quick of understanding
and of a penetrating intuition.
One day he returned
home from school to find his father in tears.
“What happened?” he
“I took something by
way of alms to your uncle Sari,” his father told him. “He would not
accept it. I am weeping because I have given my whole life to save
these five dirhams, and then this offering is not meet for one of
the friends of God to receive.”
“Give me the money,
and I will give it to him. That way he may take it,” said Junaid.
His father gave him
the dirhams, and Junaid went off. Coming to his uncle’s house, he
knocked at the door.
“Who is that?” came
the boy. “Open the door and take this due offering of alms.”
“I will not take
it,” cried Sari.
“I beg you to take
it, by the God who has dealt so graciously with you and so justly
with my father,” cried Junaid.
“Junaid, how did God
deal graciously with me and justly with him?” demanded Sari.
“God was gracious to
you,” Junaid replied, “in vouchsafing you poverty. To my father God
was just in occupying him with worldly affairs. You are at liberty
to accept or reject as you please. He, whether he likes it or not,
must convey the due alms on his possessions to the one deserving of
This answer pleased
“Child, before I
accept these alms, I have accepted you.”
So saying, Sari
opened the door and took the alms. He assigned to Junaid a special
place in his heart.
Junaid was only
seven years old when Sari took him on the pilgrimage. In the Mosque
of the Sanctuary the question of thankfulness was being discussed by
four hundred Shaykhs. Each Shaykh expounded his own view.
“You also say
something,” Sari prompted Junaid.
Junaid, “means that you should not disobey God by means of the
favour which He has bestowed on you, nor make of His favour a source
“Well said, O
consolation of true believers,” cried the four hundred. They were
unanimous that a better definition could not be devised.
“Boy,” said Sari,
“it will soon come to pass that your special gift from God will be
Junaid wept when he
heard his uncle say this.
“Where did you
acquire this?” Sari demanded.
“From sitting with
you,” Junaid replied.
Junaid then returned
to Baghdad, and took up selling glasses. Every day he would go to
the shop and draw down the blind and perform four hundred rak’as.
After a time he abandoned the shop and withdrew to a room in the
porch of Sari’s house, where he busied himself with the guardianship
of his heart. He unrolled the prayer rug of meticulous watchfulness,
that no thought of anything but God should pass through his mind.
Junaid put to the proof
For forty years
Junaid persevered in his mystic course. For thirty years he would
perform the prayer before sleeping, then stand on his feet repeating
“Allah” until dawn, saying the dawn prayer with the ablution he had
made the previous night.
“After forty years
had gone by,” he said, “the conceit arose in me that I had attained
my goal. Immediately a voice out of Heaven spoke to me. ‘Junaid,’
the voice cried, ‘the time has come for Me to show you the loop of
your Magian girdle.’ When I heard these words I exclaimed, ‘O God,
what sin has Junaid committed?’ ‘Do you look for a more grievous sin
than this,’ the voice replied, ‘that you exist?’ “
Junaid sighed and
lowered his head.
“He who is not
worthy of union,” he murmured, “all his good works are but sins.”
He continued to sit
in his room, crying “Allah, Allah” all night. The long tongues of
slander were shot out against him, and his conduct was reported to
“He cannot be
inhibited without any proof,” said the caliph.
“Many people are
being seduced by his words,” they stated.
Now the caliph
possessed a handmaiden of unrivalled beauty. He had purchased her
for three thousand dinars, and loved her dearly. The caliph
commanded that she should be arrayed in fine raiment and precious
“Go to such a
place,” she was instructed. “Stand before Junaid and unveil your
face, and display your jewels and raiment to him. Say to him, ‘I am
possessed of much wealth, and my heart has grown weary of worldly
affairs. I have come so that you may propose to me, that in your
society I may devote myself to the service of God. My heart finds
repose in no one but you.’ Display yourself to him. Unveil, and
strive your utmost to persuade him.”
She was despatched
to Junaid with a servant. The handmaiden came before Junaid and
carried out her instructions to the letter and more. Involuntarily
Junaid’s glance fell upon her. He remained silent and made no
answer. She repeated her story. Junaid hung his head; then he raised
“Ah,” he exclaimed,
and breathed on the girl. The girl immediately fell to the ground
The servant who had
accompanied returned to the caliph and reported what had transpired.
Fire fell upon the caliph’s soul, and he repented of what he had
“He who acts towards
others as he should not, sees what he ought not to see,” he
Rising up, he
proceeded to call on Junaid.
“Such a man one
cannot summon to attend on oneself,” he commented. “O master, how
did your heart allow it,” asked the caliph, “to consume so fair a
“Prince of the
Believers,” Junaid replied, “your compassion for the faithful was so
great, that you desired to cast to the winds my forty years of
discipline, of keeping vigil and self mortification. Yet who am I in
all this? Do not, that you may not be done to!”
After that Junaid’s
affairs prospered. His fame reached to all parts of the world.
However much he was persecuted, his repute increased a thousandfold.
He began to preach. As he explained once, “I did not preach to the
public until thirty of the great saints indicated to me that it was
proper for me to call men to God.”
“For thirty years I
sat watching over my heart,” he said. “Then for ten years my heart
watched over me. Now it is twenty years that I know nothing of my
heart and my heart knows nothing of me.”
“For thirty years,”
he said again, “God has spoken with Junaid by the tongue of Junaid,
Junaid not being there at all, and men were not aware.”
When Junaid’s tongue
was loosened to utter great words, Sari-e Saqati urged him that it
was his duty to preach in public. Junaid was hesitant, not desiring
to do so.
“While the master is
there, it is not seemly for the disciple to preach,” he demurred.
Then one night
Junaid saw the Prophet in a dream.
Next morning he
arose to go and report to Sari, but he found Sari standing at the
told him, “you were inhibited, waiting for others to tell you to
preach. Now you must speak, because your words have been made the
means of a whole world’s salvation. You would not speak when the
disciples asked you to. You did not speak when the Shaykhs of
Baghdad interceded with you. You did not speak at my urging. Now
that the Prophet has commanded you, you must speak.”
“God forgive me,”
Junaid replied. “How did you know that I saw the Prophet in a
“I saw God in a
dream,” Sari explained. “God said, ‘I have sent the Messenger to
tell Junaid to preach from the pulpit.’ “
“I will preach
then,” consented Junaid. “Only on one condition, that it be to no
more than forty persons.”
One day Junaid was
preaching, and forty persons were present. Of these eighteen
expired, and twenty-two fell to the ground unconscious. They were
lifted up and carried to their homes.
Another day Junaid
was preaching in the cathedral. In the congregation there was a
Christian lad, but no one knew that he was a Christian. He
approached Junaid and said, “According to the Prophet’s saying,
‘Beware of the insight of the believer, for he sees by the light of
is,” replied Junaid, “that you should become a Muslim and cut your
Christian girdle, for this is the time of Muslimdom.”
The boy immediately
became a Muslim.
After Junaid had
preached a number of times, the people cried out against him. He
gave up preaching, and retired to his room. For all that he was
urged to resume, he would not do so.
“I am content,” he
replied. ‘I cannot contrive my own destruction.”
Some time later he
mounted the pulpit and began to preach without any prompting.
“What was the inner
wisdom in this?” he was asked.
“I came upon a
Tradition,” he replied, “according to which the Prophet said, ‘In
the last days the spokesman of the people will be he that is the
worst of them. He will preach to them.’ I know that I am the worst
of the people. I am preaching because of what the Prophet said, so
that I may not oppose his words.”
Anecdotes of Junaid
Once Junaid’s eye
pained him, and he sent for the doctor.
“If your eye is
throbbing, do not let any water get to it,” the doctor advised.
When he had gone,
Junaid performed his ablutions and prayed, and then went to sleep.
When he awoke, his eye was well again. He heard a voice saying,
“Junaid forsook his eye to gain Our good pleasure. If with the same
intention he had begged of Us all the inhabitants of Hell, his
petition would have been granted.”
The physician called
and saw that his eye was healed.
“What did you do?”
“I performed the
ablutions for prayer,” Junaid answered.
physician, who was a Christian, declared his conversion.
“This is the
Creator’s cure, not the creature’s,” he commented. ‘It was my eye
that was sick, not yours. You were the physician, not I.”
“Once,” said Junaid,
“I desired to see Iblis. I was standing at the mosque door, when I
espied an old man approaching from afar. As I looked at him, a
horror rose within me.
“Who are you?” I
“Your desire,” he
“Accursed one,” I
cried, “what thing held you back from prostrating to Adam?”
“How do you imagine,
Junaid,” Iblis replied, “that I would prostrate to any but Him?”
Junaid described his
sense of bewilderment, hearing the Devil say these words.
“A voice addressed
me in my secret heart,” he recalled. “The voice said, ‘Say, You are
a liar. If you had been a true servant, you would have obeyed His
command. You would never have disregarded it and flirted with
When Iblis heard
this speech, he uttered a loud cry. “By Allah, Junaid, you have
destroyed me!” And he vanished.
“In these days
brothers in the faith have become few and far to find,” a man said
in Junaid’s presence.
“If you are looking
for someone to bear your burden, such men are indeed few and far to
find,” Junaid countered. “But if you are seeking to carry somebody’s
load, such brothers are to be found in plenty with me.”
spoke on the Divine Unity, every time he began with a different
expression which no one could understand. One day Shebli was in
Junaid’s audience and uttered the word Allah.
If God is absent, to
mention the absent One is a sign of absence, and absence is a thing
proscribed,” Junaid said. “If God is present, to mention His name
while contemplating Him present is a mark of irreverence.”
A man brought five
hundred dinars and offered them to Junaid.
“Do you possess
anything besides this?” Junaid asked him.
“Yes, a lot,” the
“Do you need more?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then take it away,”
Junaid said. “You have a better right to it. I possess nothing, and
I need nothing.”
A man rose up where
Junaid was preaching and began to beg.
“This man is
perfectly healthy,” thought Junaid. “He can earn his living. Why
does he beg, and impose on himself this humiliation?”
That night Junaid
dreamed that a covered dish was set before him.
“Eat,” he was
When he lifted the
lid, he saw the man who had begged lying dead on the dish.
“I do not eat the
flesh of men,” he protested.
“Then why did you do
so in mosque yesterday?” he was asked.
Junaid realized that
he had been guilty of slander in his heart, and that he was being
taken to task for an evil thought.
“I woke in terror,”
Junaid recollected. “I purified myself and said two rak’as, then I
went out to search for the beggar. I saw him on the bank of the
Tigris, picking out of the water scraps of vegetables people had
washed there and eating them. Raising his head, he saw me
approaching and addressed me. ‘Junaid,’ he said, ‘have you repented
of the thoughts you had concerning me?’ ‘I have,’ I replied. ‘Then
go. It is He Who accepts repentance from His servants. This time
keep a watch over your thoughts.’”
“I learned sincere
belief from a barber,” Junaid recalled, and he told the following
Once when I was in
Makkah, a barber was trimming a gentleman’s hair. I said to him,
“For the sake of God, can you shave my hair?”
“I can,” he said.
His eyes filling with tears, he left the gentleman still unfinished.
“Get up,” he said.
“When God’s name is spoken, everything else must wait.”
He seated me and
kissed my head, and shaved off my hair. Then he gave me a screw of
paper with a few small coins in it.
“Spend this on your
needs,” he said.
I thereupon resolved
that the first present that came my way I would give him in charity.
Not long afterwards a bag of gold arrived from Basra. I took it to
“What is this?” he
“I made up my mind,”
I explained, “that the first present that came my way I must give to
you. This has just arrived.”
“Man,” he exclaimed,
“have you no shame before God? You said to me, ‘For the sake of God,
shave my hair.’ Then you give me a present. Have you ever known of
anyone doing a deed for the sake of God and taking payment for it?”
A thief had been
hanged in Baghdad. Junaid went and kissed his feet.
“Why did you do
that?” he was asked.
compassions be upon him!” he replied. “He proved himself a true man
at his trade. He did his work so perfectly, that he gave his life
One night a thief
entered Junaid’s room. Finding nothing there but a shirt, he took
that and fled. Next day Junaid was passing through the bazaars when
he saw his shirt in the hands of a broker who was selling it to a
“I require an
acquaintance who will testify that it is your property, before I buy
it,” the prospective purchaser said.
“I am ready to
testify that it belongs to him,” said Junaid, stepping forward.
The man then bought
An old woman came to
Junaid and said, “My son is missing. Say a prayer that he may
“Be patient,” Junaid
The woman waited
patiently for several days. Then she returned.
“Be patient,” Junaid
several times. At last the old woman came and announced, “My
patience is exhausted. Pray to God.”
“If you speak the
truth,” said Junaid, “your son has returned. God says, He who
answers the constrained, when he calls unto Him.”
Junaid then offered
up a prayer. When the woman returned to her house, her son had come.
A disciple formed
the notion that he had attained the degree of perfection.
“It is better for me
to be alone,” he thought.
So he withdrew into
a corner and sat there for a space. It so fell out that every night
he was brought a camel and told, “We will convey you to Paradise.”
He would sit on the camel and ride until he arrived at a pleasant
and cheerful spot thronged with handsome folk and abounding in
choice dishes and running water. There he would remain till dawn;
then he would fall asleep, and awake to find himself in his cell. He
now became proud and very conceited.
“Every night I am
taken to Paradise,” he would boast.
His words came to
Junaid’s ears. He at once arose and proceeded to his cell, where he
found him putting on the greatest airs. He asked him what had
happened, and he told the whole story to the Shaykh.
“Tonight when you
are taken there,” Junaid told him, “say thrice, ‘There is no
strength nor power save with God, the Sublime, the Almighty.’ “
That night the
disciple was transported as usual. He disbelieved in his heart what
the Shaykh had told him, nevertheless, when he reached that place he
uttered as an experiment, “There is no strength nor power.” The
company all screamed and fled, and he found himself on a dunghill
with bones lying before him. Realizing his error, he repented and
repaired to Junaid’s circle. He had learned that for a disciple to
dwell alone is mortal poison.
A disciple of
Junaid’s was dwelling in seclusion in Basra. One night a sinful
thought entered his mind. He looked in a mirror and saw that his
face had turned black. Stupefied, he tried every device he could
think of, but in vain. He was so ashamed that he showed his face to
no one. Three days went by, then the blackness gradually grew less.
Unexpectedly a knock
came on his door.
“Who is it?” the
‘] have come with a
letter from Junaid,” said the caller.
The disciple read
“Why do you not
conduct yourself becomingly in the presence of Glory? For three days
and nights I have had to work as a fuller, to change your face from
black to white.”
There was a certain
disciple of Junaid’s who was taken to task one day over a small
matter. Shamefaced, he fled and came no more to the convent. Several
days later Junaid was passing through the market with his companions
when he suddenly espied that disciple. The disciple in shame took to
“A bird of ours has
flown from the snare,” said Junaid, turning back his companions, and
following on the disciple’s heels.
Looking back, the
disciple saw the Shaykh coming, so he quickened his pace. Presently
he reached a place where there was no exit, and in shame he turned
his face to the wall. Presently the Shaykh appeared on the scene.
“Where are you
making for, master?” the disciple asked.
“When a disciple is
up against the wall, there the Shaykh can be of use,” replied
He then led the
disciple back to the convent. The disciple fell at his feet and
begged God’s forgiveness. Those who witnessed the spectacle were
deeply moved, and many repented.
The Shaykh Junaid
had a disciple whom he loved above all the others. The other
disciples were moved to jealousy, a fact which the Shaykh realized
by his mystic intuition.
“He is superior to
you in manners and understanding,” he told them. “That is what I had
in view; let us make an experiment, so that you may also realize
twenty birds to be brought to him.
“Each of you take
one,” he told his disciples. “In a place where no one can see you
kill it, then bring it back.”
All the disciples
went off and killed and brought back the birds—all, that is, except
that favourite disciple. He brought his bird back alive.
“Why did you not
kill it?” Junaid asked him.
“Because the master
said it must be done in a place where no one can see,” the disciple
answered. “Wherever I went, God saw.”
“You see the measure
of his understanding!” Junaid exclaimed. “Compare that with that of
All the other
disciples begged God’s forgiveness.
Junaid had eight
special disciples who carried out his every thought. One day the
notion occurred to them that they must go to the holy war. Next
morning Junaid ordered his servant to make all preparations for the
wars. He then set out to fight together with those eight disciples.
When the lines of
battle were drawn up, a champion stepped forth from the ranks of the
infidels and martyred all eight.
“I looked up to
heaven,” said Junaid, “and I saw nine litters standing by. As each
of the eight was martyred his spirit was lifted up on a litter,
until one remained over empty. ‘That one must be meant for me,’ I
thought, and I joined the battle-ranks once more. Then the champion
who had slain my eight companions came up and addressed me.
‘Abo’l-Qasem, that ninth litter is for me. You return to Baghdad,
and be the Shaykh of the community. Offer me Islam.’
“So he became a
Muslim. With the same sword with which he had slain the eight
disciples, he slew a like number of infidels. Then he achieved
martyrdom himself. His soul,” Junaid concluded, “was also placed in
that litter, and all vanished.”
There was a sayyid
called Naseri who was on the pilgrimage intent. When he reached
Baghdad he went to visit Junaid.
“Whence comes the
sayyid?” Junaid enquired when greetings had been said.
“From Gilan,” he
“Of whose sons are
you?” asked Junaid.
“I am descended from
Ali the Prince of the Believers, God be well pleased with him,” the
wielded two swords,” said Junaid. “One against the unbelievers, the
other against himself. Now, sayyid, you who are his son, which of
these two do you employ?”
The sayyid wept
bitterly when he heard these words and grovelled before Junaid.
pilgrimage is here,” he exclaimed. “Show me the way to God.”
“Your breast is the
private sanctuary of God,” said Junaid. “So far as you are able,
admit naught unsanctified into the private sanctuary.”
“That is all I want
to know,” said the sayyid.
The death of Junaid
When death was near
at hand Junaid bade them to lay the table and to set out a meal.
“I wish to give up
the ghost whilst my companions are eating a bowl of soup.”
The first agony
“Give me the water
of ablution,” he said.
By chance they
forgot to let the water run between his fingers. At his behest this
slip was made good, and he then proceeded to the prostration,
“Chief of the
Order,” his disciples protested, “with all the service and obedience
to God which you have sent ahead of you what time is this for
“Never was Junaid
more in need than now,” he replied.
Straightway he began
to recite the Quran, and went on reciting.
“What, you recite
the Quran?” asked a disciple.
“Who has the better
right to than I, seeing that this hour the scroll of my life will be
rolled up, and I shall see my seventy years’ obedience and service
suspended in the air by a single thread? Then a wind will come and
swing it to and fro, so that I shall not know whether it is a wind
bringing separation or union. On one side of me will stretch the
causeway between Heaven and Hell and on the other side the Angel of
Death. The Judge whose attribute is justice will be there awaiting
me, unwavering in perfect equity.” Junaid continued, “A road has
been laid before me, and I know not by which road I shall be taken.”
He completed the
whole Quran, then he recited seventy verses of the Sura of the Cow.
The second agony seized him.
“Say Allah,” they
“I have not
forgotten,” he replied. He grasped the rosary until four of his
fingers were crooked about it, and one let it go.
“In the Name of God,
the Merciful, the Compassionate,” he cried.
And he closed his
eyes and yielded up the ghost.
When the time for
washing his body came, the one performing the rite wished to bathe
his eyes in water. A voice cried from Heaven, “Withhold your hand
from the eyes of My friend. His eyes were closed upon My Name, and
shall not be opened save at the meeting with Me.” He then tried to
open Junaid’s fingers. The voice cried, “The finger that has been
crooked upon My Name shall not be opened save by My command.”
When they lifted up
his body on the bier, a white dove perched upon a corner of the
bier. For all that they sought to drive it away, it would not go. At
last the dove cried, “Trouble not yourselves and me. My claws have
been fastened to the corner of the bier by the nail of Love. That is
why I am perched here. Do not trouble yourselves; today his body
passes to the care of the cherubim. Were it not for your clamour,
his body would have flown with us in the sky like a white falcon.
Mohammad ibn Esma’il (Khair ibn ‘Abdullah) al-Nassaj of Samarra, a
pupil of Sari al-Saqati and a member of al-Junaid’s circle, was
taken as a slave in Basra but afterwards proceeded to Makkah. He is
said to have lived to the age of 120, dying in 322 (924).
The story of Khair-e Nassaj
Khair-e Nassaj was
the chief master of his time. A pupil of I Sari-e Saqati, he
influenced Shibli and Ibrahim-e Khauwas | and was greatly admired by
Junaid. The following was the reason why he was called Khair-e
Nassaj. Leaving his native I town Samarra bound for the pilgrimage,
on the way he passed | through Kufa. He arrived at the gates of Kufa
clad in a patchwork robe, he himself being black of complexion, so
that all who beheld him would cry, “The man appears a fool!” There a
certain man espied him.
“I will employ him
for a few days,” he said to himself. Then he approached him.
“Are you a slave?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Have you run away
from your master?”
“I will take charge
of you until I can restore you to your master,” the man said.
“That is what I am
seeking myself,” said Khair. “All my life I have been longing to
find someone who will restore me to my Master.”
The man took him to
“Your name is
Khair,” he said.
Khair did not
gainsay him, believing firmly in the saying that “a believer does
not lie”. He went along with him and served him. The man taught
Khair the craft of weaving. For years he worked for the man.
Whenever he called out, “Khair!” he would reply “Here am I!” At last
the man repented, having seen his sincerity, perfect behaviour and
intuitive powers, and having witnessed the constancy of his
“I made a mistake,”
he announced. “You are not my slave. Go wherever you wish.”
Khair then departed
for Makkah, where he attained such a high degree of saintliness that
Junaid himself declared, “Khair is the best of us.” He preferred
people to call him Khair.
“It would not be
right,” he would say, “for a brother Muslim to give me a name and
for me to change it.”
From time to time he
practised weaving. Sometimes he used to go down to the Tigris and
the fishes would make advances to him and bring him various things.
One day he was weaving muslin for an old woman.
The old woman said,
“If I bring a dirham and do not find you here, to whom shall I give
“Throw it in the
river,” Khair replied.
The old woman
brought the dirham, and Khair not being there she threw it into the
Tigris. When Khair returned to the bank the fishes brought that
dirham to him.
It is said that
Khair lived to the age of I20. When his death drew near, it was the
time of the evening prayer. Azrael cast his shadow, and Khair raised
his head from the pillow.
“God preserve you!”
he cried. “Wait a little. You are a slave under orders, and I am a
slave under orders. You have been told to collect my soul. I have
been told, ‘When the time for prayer comes, pray.’ That time has now
come. You will have plenty of opportunity to carry out your orders.
For me it is now or never. Please be patient until I have performed
the evening prayer.”
Khair then washed
himself and performed the prayer. Immediately afterwards he died.
Malik ibn Dinar
al-Sami was the son of a Persian slave from Sejestan (or Kabol) and
became a disciple of Hasan of Basra. He is mentioned as a reliable
traditionist, transmitting from such early authorities as Anas ibn
Malik and Ibn Sirin. A noted early calligrapher of the Quran, he
died c. 130 (748).
How Malik-e Dinar
came to be so named, and the story of his repentance
When Malik was born
his father was a slave; yet though he was a slave’s son, he was free
from bondage to both worlds.
Some say that Malik-e
Dinar once embarked in a ship. When the ship was far out to sea the
“Produce your fare!”
“I do not have it,” he answered.
They beat him till
he was senseless. When he recovered, they shouted again.
“Produce your fare!”
“I do not have it,”
They beat him
unconscious a second time. When he came to, they demanded a third
“Produce your fare!”
“I do not have it.”
“Let us seize him by
the feet and throw him overboard,” the sailors shouted.
All the fish in the
water at that moment put up their heads. Each one held two golden
dinars in its mouth. Malik reached down his hand and, taking two
dinars from one of the fish, gave it to them. Seeing this, the crew
fell at his feet. He walked on the face of the waters and vanished.
That is why he was
called Malik-e Dinar.
Now his conversion
came about as follows. He was a very handsome man and fond of
worldly things, and he possessed great wealth. He lived in Damascus,
where Mo’awiya had built the cathedral mosque, endowing it
liberally. Malik was very eager to be appointed in charge of that
mosque. So he went and threw his prayer rug down in the corner of
the mosque, and there for a whole year continued in devotion, hoping
that whoever saw him would find him at prayer.
“What a hypocrite
for you!” he would say to himself.
A year passed in
this way. By night he would leave the mosque and take his amusement.
One night he was enjoying music, and all his companions had fallen
asleep. Suddenly a voice came from the lute he was playing.
“Malik, what ails
thee that thou repentest not?”
Hearing these words,
Malik dropped the instrument and ran to the mosque in great
“For a whole year I
have worshipped God hypocritically,” he communed with himself. “Is
it not better that I should worship God in sincerity? Yet I am
ashamed. What am I to do? Even if they offer me this appointment, I
will not accept it.”
So he resolved, and
he put his conscience right with God.
That night he
worshipped with a truthful heart. Next day people assembled as usual
before the mosque.
“Why, there are
cracks in the mosque,” they exclaimed. “A superintendent ought to be
appointed to keep it in order.”
They reached the
unanimous view that no one was better fitted for the post than
Malik. So they came to him. He was at -e prayer, so they waited
patiently until he was finished.
“We have come to
plead with you to accept this appointment,” they said.
“O God,” cried
Malik, “I served Thee hypocritically for a whole year, and no one
looked at me. Now that I have given my heart to Thee and firmly
resolved that I do not want the appointment, Thou hast sent twenty
men to me to place this task on my neck. By Thy glory, I do not want
And he ran out of
the mosque and applied himself to the Lord’s work, taking up the
life of austerity and discipline. So 18 respected did he become, and
of such excellence of life, that l when a certain wealthy citizen of
Basra died, leaving behind a lovely daughter, the latter approached
“I wish to become
the wife of Malik,” she announced, “so that he may help me in the
labour of obedience to God.” Thabet informed Malik.
“I have divorced the
world,” Malik replied. “This woman belongs to the world I have
divorced. I cannot marry her.”
Malik and his licentious neighbour
There was a certain
youth living in Malik’s neighbourhood who was extremely depraved and
dissolute in his ways. Malik e was constantly pained on account of
his bad behaviour, but he endured patiently waiting for someone else
to speak. To be brief, in due course others came forward to complain
about the young man. Malik then arose and went to him to bid him
mend his ways. The youth reacted in a very headstrong and
“I am the Sultan’s
favourite,” he told Malik. “No one has the power to check me or
restrain me from doing as I please.”
“I will talk to the
Sultan,” Malik threatened.
“The Sultan will
never swerve from his approval of me,” the youth retorted. “Whatever
I do, he will approve.”
“Well, if the Sultan
cannot do anything,” Malik proceeded, “I will tell the
And he pointed to
“Ha,” the youth
replied. “He is too generous to take me to task.”
This floored Malik,
and he left him. Some days went by, and the youth’s depravity
surpassed all bounds. People came again to complain. Malik rose up
to rebuke him; but on the way he heard a voice.
“Keep your hands off
Amazed, Malik went
in to the youth.
“What has happened,”
the youth demanded on seeing him, “that you have come a second
“I have not come
this time to chide you,” Malik answered. “I have come simply to
inform you that I heard such a voice.”
“Ah,” the youth
exclaimed. “Since things are like that, I dedicate my palace wholly
to His service. I care nothing for all my possessions.”
So saying, he cast
everything aside and set out to wander the world.
Malik relates that
after a certain time he saw the youth in Makkah, utterly destitute
and at his last breath.
“He is my friend,”
he gasped. “I went to see my friend.” And with that he expired.
Malik and his abstinence
Years passed without
anything sour or sweet passing Malik’s lips. Every night he would
repair to the baker’s and buy two round loaves on which he broke his
fast. From time to time it happened that the bread was warm; he
found consolation in that, taking it as an appetizer.
Once he fell sick,
and a craving for meat entered his heart. For ten days he controlled
himself; then, unable to restrain himself any longer, he went to a
delicatessen and bought two or three sheep’s trotters and put them
in his sleeve. The shopkeeper sent his apprentice after him to see
what he would do. After a little while the boy returned in tears.
“From here he went
to a desolate spot,” he reported. “There he took the trotters out of
his sleeve, kissed them twice or thrice, then he said, ‘My soul,
more than this is not meet for you.’ Then he gave the bread and
trotters to a beggar, saying, ‘Weak body of mine, do not think that
all this pain I impose on you is out of enmity. It is so that on the
resurrection morn you may not burn in Hell. Be patient for a few
days, and it may be that this trial will come to an end, and you
will fall into bliss that shall never pass away.’”
Once Malik said, “I
do not know the meaning of the statement that if a man does not eat
meat for forty days, his intelligence is diminished. I have not
eaten meat for twenty years, and my intelligence increases every
For forty years he
lived in Basra and never ate fresh dates. When the season of ripe
dates came round he would say, “People of Basra, behold, my belly
has not shrunk from not eating them, and you who eat them daily—your
bellies have not become any larger.”
After forty years he
was assailed by a mood of restlessness. However hard he tried, he
could not withstand the craving for fresh dates. Finally after some
days, during which the desire daily increased whilst he constantly
denied his appetite, he could resist no more the importunity of his
“I will not eat
fresh dates,” he protested. “Either kill me, or die!”
That night a
heavenly voice spoke.
“You must eat some
dates. Free your carnal soul from bondage.”
At this response his
carnal soul, finding the opportunity, began to shout.
“If you want dates,”
Malik said, “fast for a week without breakfasting once, and pray all
night. Then I will give you some.”
This contented his
carnal soul. For a whole week he prayed all night and fasted all
day. Then he went to the market and bought some dates, and betook
himself to the mosque to eat them. A boy shouted from the rooftop.
“Father! A Jew has
bought dates and is going to the mosque to eat them.”
“What business has a
Jew in the mosque?” the man exclaimed. And he ran to see who the Jew
might be. Beholding Malik, he fell at his feet.
“What were those
words the boy uttered?” Malik demanded.
master,” the boy’s father pleaded. “He is only a child, and does not
understand. In our quarter many Jews live. We are constantly
fasting, and our children see the Jews eating by day. So they
suppose that everyone who eats anything by day is a Jew. What he
said he said in ignorance. Forgive him!”
When Malik heard
this, a fire consumed his soul. He realized that the child was
inspired to speak as he had.
“Lord God,” he
cried, “I had not eaten any dates, and Thou didst call me a Jew by
the tongue of an innocent child. If I eat the dates, Thou wilt
proclaim me an unbeliever. By Thy glory, if I ever eat any dates!”
controversial figure in the history of Islamic mysticism, Abu
‘l-Moghith al-Hussain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was born C. 244 (858)
near al-Baiza’ in the province of Fars. He travelled very widely,
first to Tostar and Baghdad, then to Makkah, and afterwards to
Khuzestan, Khorasan, Transoxiana, Sistan, India and Turkestan.
Eventually he returned to Baghdad, where his bold preaching of union
with God caused him to be arrested on a charge of incarnationism. He
was condemned to death and cruelly executed on 29 Dhu ‘l-Qa’da 309
(28 March 9I3). Author of a number of books and a considerable
volume of poetry, he passed into Muslim legend as the prototype of
the intoxicated lover of God.
The wanderings of Hallaj
called Hallaj (“the Woolcarder”) first came to Tostar, where he
served Sahl ibn Abdullah for two years; then he set out for Baghdad.
He made his first journey at the age of eighteen.
Thereafter he went
to Basra and joined Amr ibn Uthman, passing eighteen months in his
company. Ya’qub-e Aqta’ gave him his daughter in marriage, after
which Amr ibn Uthman became displeased with him. So he left Basra
and came to Baghdad where he called on Junaid. Junaid prescribed for
him silence and solitude. He endured Junaid’s company for a while,
then he made for Hejaz. He took up residence in Makkah for one year,
after which he returned to Baghdad. With a group of Sufis he
attended on Junaid and put a number of questions to him to which
Junaid gave no reply.
“The time will soon
come,” Junaid told him, “when you will incarnadine a piece of wood.”
“The day when I
incarnadine that piece of wood,” Hallaj replied, “you will be
wearing the garb of the formalists.”
So it turned out. On
the day when the leading scholars pronounced the verdict that Hallaj
must be executed, Junaid was wearing the Sufi robe and did not sign
the warrant. The caliph said that Junaid’s signature was necessary.
So Junaid put on the academic turban and gown, went to the madrasa
and endorsed the warrant. “We judge according to externals,” he
wrote. “As for the inward truth, that God alone knows.”
When Junaid declined
to answer his questions, Hallaj was vexed and without asking leave
departed to Tostar. There he remained for a year, widely acclaimed.
But because he attached no weight to the prevailing doctrine, the
theologians turned envious against him.
Meanwhile Amr ibn
Uthman wrote letters regarding him to the people of Khuzestan,
blackening him in their eyes. He too had grown weary of that place.
Casting aside the Sufi garb, he donned tunic and passed his time in
the company of worldly folk. That made no difference to him,
however, and for five years he vanished. Part of that period he
spent in Khorasan and Transoxiana, part in Sistan.
Hallaj then returned
to Ahwaz, where his preaching won the approval of the elite and the
public alike. He would speak of men’s secrets, so that he was dubbed
“Hallaj of the Secrets”. After that he dressed himself in the ragged
dervish robes and set out for the Sacred Territory, accompanied by
many in like attire. When he reached Makkah, Ya’qub-e Nahrajuri
denounced him as a magician. So he returned to Basra, then to Ahwaz.
“Now I am going to
the lands of polytheism, to call men to God,” he announced.
So he went to India,
then to Transoxiana, then to China, calling men to God and composing
works for them. When he returned from the distant parts of the
world, the peoples of those regions wrote him letters. The Indians
addressed him as Abu ‘l-Moghith, the Chinese as Abo ‘l-Mo’in, the
Khorasanians as Abu ‘l-Mohr, the Farsis as Abu ‘Abdullah, the
Khuzestanis as Hallaj of the Secrets. In Baghdad he was called
Mostalem, in Basra Mokhabbar.
The passion of Hallaj
After that many
tales about Hallaj began to circulate. So he set out for Makkah
where he resided for two years. On his return, his circumstances
were much changed. He was a different man, calling people to the
“truth” in terms which no one understood. It is said that he was
expelled from fifty cities.
bewilderment the people were divided concerning him. His detractors
were countless, his supporters innumerable. They witnessed many
wonders performed by him. Tongues wagged, and his words were carried
to the caliph. Finally all were united in the view that he should be
put to death because of his saying, “I am the Truth.”
“Say, He is the
Truth,” they cried out to him.
“Yes. He is All,” he
replied. “You say that He is lost. On the contrary, it is Hussain
that is lost. The Ocean does not vanish or grow less.”
“These words which
Hallaj speaks have an esoteric meaning,” they told Junaid.
“Let him be killed,”
he answered. “This is not the time for esoteric meanings.”
Then a group of the
theologians made common cause against Hallaj and carried a garbled
version of his words to Mo’tasem; they also turned his vizier Ali
ibn ’Isa against him. The caliph ordered that he should be thrown
into prison. There he was held for a year. But people would come and
consult him on their problems. So then they were prevented from
visiting him, and for five months no one came near him, except Ibn
‘Ata once and Ibn Khafif once. On one occasion Ibn ‘Ata sent him a
“Master, ask pardon
for the words you have spoken, that you may be set free.”
“Tell him who said
this to ask pardon,” Hallaj replied.
Ibn ‘Ata wept when
he heard this answer.
“We are not even a
fraction of Hallaj,” he said.
It is said that on
the first night of his imprisonment the gaolers came to his cell but
could not find him in the prison. They searched through all the
prison, but could not discover a soul. On the second night they
found neither him nor the prison, for all their hunting. On the
third night they discovered him in the prison.
“Where were you on
the first night, and where were you and the prison on the second
night?” they demanded. “Now you have both reappeared. What
phenomenon is this?”
“On the first
night,” he replied, “I was in the Presence, therefore I was not
here. On the second night the Presence was here, so that both of us
were absent. On the third night 1 was sent back, that the Law might
be preserved. Come and do your work!”
When Hallaj was
first confined there were three hundred souls in the prison. That
night he addressed them.
“Prisoners, shall I
set you free?”
“Why do you not free
yourself?” they replied.
“I am God’s captive.
I am the sentinel of salvation,” he answered. “If I so wish, with
one signal I can loose all bonds.”
Hallaj made a sign
with his finger, and all their bonds burst asunder.
“Now where are we to
go?” the prisoners demanded. “The gate of the prison is locked.”
again, and cracks appeared in the walls.
“Now go on your
way,” he cried.
“Are you not coming
too?” they asked.
“No,” he replied. “I
have a secret with Him which cannot be told save on the gallows.”
“Where have the
prisoners gone?” the warders asked him next morning.
“I set them free,”
“Why did you not
go?” they enquired.
“God has cause to
chide me, so I did not go,” he replied.
This story was
carried to the caliph.
“There will be a
riot,” he cried. “Kill him, or beat him with sticks until he
They beat him with
sticks three hundred times. At every blow a clear voice was heard to
say, “Fear not, son of Mansur! “
Then they led him
out to be crucified.
Loaded with thirteen
heavy chains, Hallaj strode out proudly along the way waving his
arms like a very vagabond.
“Why do you strut so
proudly?” they asked him. “Because I am going to the
slaughterhouse,” he replied. And he recited in clear tones,
not to be Accused of mean inequity. He made me drink like him the
best, As does the generous host his guest; And when the round was
quite complete He called for sword and winding-sheet. Such is his
fate, who drinks past reason With Draco in the summer season.
When they brought
him to the base of the gallows at Bab al-Taq, he kissed the wood and
set his foot upon the ladder.
“How do you feel?”
they taunted him. “The ascension of true men is the top of the
gallows,” he answered.
He was wearing a
loincloth about his middle and a mantle on his shoulders. Turning
towards Makkah, he lifted up his hands and communed with God.
“What He knows, no
man knows,” he said. Then he climbed the gibbet.
“What do you say,”
asked a group of his followers, “concerning us who are your
disciples, and these who condemn you and would stone you?”
“They have a double
reward, and you a single,” he answered. “You merely think well of
me. They are moved by the strength of their belief in One God to
maintain the rigour of the Law.”
Shibli came and
stood facing him.
“Have we not
forbidden thee all beings?” he cried. Then he asked, “What is
“The least part of
it is this that you see,” Hallaj replied.
“What is the loftier
part?” asked Shibli.
“That you cannot
reach,” Hallaj answered.
Then all the
spectators began to throw stones. Shibli, to conform, cast a clod.
“You did not sigh
when struck by all these stones. Why did you sigh because of a
clod?” they asked.
“Because those who
cast stones do not know what they are doing. They have an excuse.
From him it comes hard to me, for he knows that he ought not to
fling at me.”
Then they cut off
his hands. He laughed.
“Why do you laugh?”
“It is an easy
matter to strike off the hands of a man who is bound,” he answered.
“He is a true man, who cuts off the hands of attributes which remove
the crown of aspiration from the brow of the Throne.”
They hacked off his
feet. He smiled.
“With these feet I
made an earthly journey,” he said. “Other feet I have, which even
now are journeying through both the worlds. If you are able, hack
off those feet!”
Then he rubbed his
bloody, amputated hands over his face, so that both his arms and his
face were stained with blood.
“Why did you do
that?” they enquired.
“Much blood has gone
out of me,” he replied. “I realize that my face will have grown
pale. You suppose that my pallor is because I am afraid. I rubbed
blood over my face so that I might appear rose-cheeked in your eyes.
The cosmetic of heroes is their blood.”
“Even if you
bloodied your face, why did you stain your arms?”
“I was making
“When one prays two
rak’as in love,” Hallaj replied, “the ablution is not perfect unless
performed with blood.”
Next they plucked
out his eyes. A roar went up from the crowd. Some wept, some flung
stones. Then they made to cut out his tongue.
“Be patient a
little, give me time to speak one word,” he entreated. “O God,” he
cried, lifting his face to heaven, “do not exclude them for the
suffering they are bringing on me for Thy sake, neither deprive them
of this felicity. Praise be to God, for that they have cut off my
feet as I trod Thy way. And if they strike off my head from my body,
they have raised me up to the head of the gallows, contemplating Thy
Then they cut off
his ears and nose. An old woman carrying a pitcher happened along.
Seeing Hallaj, she cried, “Strike, and strike hard and true. What
business has this pretty little Woolcarder to speak of God?”
The last words
Hallaj spoke were these. “Love of the One is isolation of the One.”
Then he chanted this verse: “Those that believe not therein seek to
hasten it; but those who believe in it go in fear of it, knowing
that it is the truth.”
This was his final
utterance. They then cut out his tongue. It was the time of the
evening prayer when they cut off his head. Even as they were cutting
off his head, Hallaj smiled. Then he gave up the ghost.
A great cry went up
from the people. Hallaj had carried the ball of destiny to the
boundary of the field of resignation. From each one of his members
came the declaration, “I am the Truth.”
Next day they
declared, “This scandal will be even greater than while he was
alive.” So they burned his limbs. From his ashes came the cry, “I am
the Truth,” even as in the time of his slaying every drop of blood
as it trickled formed the word Allah. Dumbfounded, they cast his
ashes into the Tigris. As they floated on the surface of the water,
they continued to cry, “I am the Truth.”
Now Hallaj had said,
“When they cast my ashes into the Tigris, Baghdad will be in peril
of drowning under the water. Lay my robe in front of the water, or
Baghdad will be destroyed.” His servant, when he saw what had
happened, brought the master’s robe and laid it on the bank of the
Tigris. The waters subsided, and his ashes became silent. Then they
gathered his ashes and buried them.
Ma'ruf al Karkhi
Abu Mahfuz Ma‘ruf
ibn Firuz al-Karkhi is said to have been born of Christian parents.
A prominent mystic of the Baghdad school, he died in 200 (815).
How Ma‘ruf-e Karkhi chose Islam
mother and father were both Christians. When they sent him to
school, his master said to him, “Say, God is the third of three.”
Ma‘ruf. “On the contrary, He is God, the One.”
The teacher beat
him, but to no avail. One day the schoolmaster beat him severely,
and Ma‘ruf ran away and could not be found.
“If only he would
come back,” his mother and father said. “Whichever religion he
wished to follow, we would agree with him.”
Ma‘ruf came to an
Imam and accepted Islam at his hands. Some time passed. Then one day
he made his way home and knocked at the door of his father’s house.
“Who is there?” they
“What faith have you
“The religion of
Muhammad, the Messenger of God.”
His mother and
father immediately became Muslims.
After that Ma‘ruf
fell in with Dawud-e Ta’i and underwent a severe discipline. He
proved himself so devout and practised such austerities that the
fame of his steadfastness was noised abroad.
Muhammad ibn Mansur
al-Tusi relates that he encountered Ma‘ruf in Baghdad.
“I observed a scar
on his face. I said to him, ‘I was with you yesterday and did not
notice this mark then. What is it?’ ‘Do not ask about things that do
not concern you,’ he replied. ‘Ask only about matters that are
profitable to you.’ ‘By the right of Him we worship,’ I pleaded,
“Then he said, ‘Last
night I was praying, and I wished that I might go to Makkah and
circumambulate the Kaaba. I approached the well of Zemzem to take a
drink of water. My foot slipped, and my face struck the well. That
was how I got this scar.’”
Once Ma‘ruf went
down to the Tigris to make his ablutions, leaving his Quran and
prayer rug in the mosque. An old woman stole in and took them, and
went off with them. Ma‘ruf ran after her. When he caught up with her
he addressed her, lowering his head so that his eyes might not fall
“Have you a son who
can chant the Quran?”
“No,” she replied.
“Then give me back
the Quran. You can have the prayer rug.”
The woman was amazed
at his clemency, and set down both the Quran and the prayer rug.
“No, take the prayer
rug,” repeated Ma‘ruf. “It is lawfully yours.”
The woman hastened
away in shame and confusion.
Anecdotes of Ma‘ruf
One day Ma‘ruf was
walking along with a group of his followers when a gang of youths
came that way. They behaved outrageously all the way to the Tigris.
companions entreated him, “pray to Almighty God to drown them all,
that the world may be rid of their foul presence.”
“Lift up your
hands,” Ma‘ruf bade them. Then he prayed.
“O God, as Thou hast
given them a happy life in this world, even so grant them a happy
life in the world to come.”
“Master, we know not
the secret of this prayer,” said his companions in astonishment.
“He with whom I am
speaking knows the secret,” Ma‘ruf replied. “Wait a moment. Even now
this secret will be revealed.”
When the youths
beheld the Shaykh, they broke their lutes and poured away the wine
they were drinking. Trembling overcame them, and they fell before
the Shaykh and repented.
“You see,” Ma‘ruf
remarked to his companions. “Your desire has been fulfilled
completely, without drowning and without anyone suffering.”
relates the following story.
One festival day I
saw Ma‘ruf picking date stones.
“What are you
doing?” I asked him.
“I saw this child
weeping,” he told me. “I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ He told me, ‘I
am an orphan. I have no father and no mother. The other children
have new clothes, and I have none. They have nuts, and I have none.’
So I am gathering these stones to sell them and buy him nuts, then
he may run along and play.”
“Let me attend to
this and spare you the care,” I said.
Sari went on, “I
took the child and clothed him, and bought him nuts, and made him
happy. Immediately I saw a great light shine in my heart, and I was
Ma‘ruf had an uncle
who was governor of the city. One day he was passing some wasteland
when he observed Ma‘ruf sitting there eating bread. Before him there
was a dog, and Ma‘ruf was putting one morsel in his own mouth and
then one in the dog’s.
“Are you not ashamed
to eat bread with a dog?” cried his uncle.
“It is out of shame
that I am giving bread to the poor,” replied Ma‘ruf.
Then he raised his
head and called to a bird in the air. The bird flew down and perched
on his hand, covering his head and eyes with his wings.
ashamed before God,” said Ma‘ruf, “every thing is ashamed before
At once his uncle
was filled with confusion.
One day Ma‘ruf broke
his ritual purity. Immediately he made ablution in sand.
“Why look,” they
said to him. “Here is the Tigris. Why are you making ablution in the
“It can be,” he
replied, “that I may be no more by the time I reach it.”
A crowd of Shi’ites
were jostling one day at the door of Reza, and they broke Ma‘ruf-e
Karkhi’s ribs, so that he fell seriously ill.
Sari-e Saqati said
to him, “Give me your last testament.”
“When I die,” said
Ma‘ruf, “take my shirt and give it in alms. I desire to go out of
this world naked, even as I came naked from my mother’s womb.”
When he died, so
great was the fame of his humanity and humility that men of all
religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, claimed him as one of
His servant reported
that Ma‘ruf had said, “Whoever is able to lift my bier from the
ground, I am of that people.”
The Christians were
unable. The Jews were likewise unable to lift it. Then the Muslims
came and lifted it. They prayed over him, and in that very place
they committed him to the ground.
Sari reported the
After Ma‘ruf died I
saw him in a dream. He was standing beneath the Throne with his eyes
wide open, like one stupefied and distraught. A cry came from God to
“Who is this?”
“Lord God, Thou
knowest best,” the angels answered.
“It is Ma‘ruf,” came
the Command. “He has become dazzled and stupefied by reason of Our
love. Only by seeing Us will he come to his senses. Only by meeting
Us will he rediscover himself.”
Abu ‘l-Faiz Thauban
ibn Ibrahim al-Misri, called Dho ‘l-Nun, was born at Ekhmim in Upper
Egypt c. 180 (796), studied under various teachers and travelled
extensively in Arabia and Syria. In 214 (829) he was arrested on a
charge of heresy and sent to Baghdad to prison, but after
examination he was released on the caliph’s orders to return to
Cairo, where he died in 246 (861); his tombstone has been preserved.
A legendary figure as alchemist and thaumaturge, he is supposed to
have known the secret of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. A number of poems
and short treatises are attributed to him, but these are for the
most part apocryphal.
Dho ‘I-Nun the Egyptian and how he was converted
Dho ‘l-Nun the
Egyptian told the following story of his conversion.
I was informed that
in a certain place an ascetic was living. I set forth to visit him,
and found him suspending himself from a tree.
“O body,” he was
saying, “assist me to obey God, else I will keep you hanging like
this until you die of hunger.”
A fit of weeping
overcame me. The devotee heard me crying.
“Who is this,” he
called, “who has compassion upon one whose shame is little and whose
crimes are many?”
I approached him and
gave him greeting.
“What is this state
of affairs?” I asked.
“This body of mine
gives me no peace to obey God,” he replied. “It wants to mingle with
I supposed that he
must have shed a Muslim’s blood, or committed some other deadly sin.
“Did you not
realize,” the ascetic said to me, “that once you mingle with other
men, everything else follows?”
“What a tremendous
ascetic you are!” I cried.
“Would you like to
see someone more ascetic than I?” he said
“I would,” I said.
“Go into yonder
mountain,” he said. “There you will see.’
I proceeded thither,
and saw a young man squatting in a hermitage; one foot had been
amputated and flung out of the cell, and the worms were devouring
it. I approached him and saluted him, then I enquired after his
“One day,” he told
me, “I was seated in this hermitage when a woman happened to pass
by. My heart inclined towards her and my body demanded of me to go
after her. I put one foot out of the cell, then I heard a voice
saying, “Are you not ashamed, after serving and obeying God for
thirty years, an now you obey Satan and chase a loose woman?” So I
cut off the foot that I had set outside the hermitage, and now I sit
here waiting for what will transpire and what they will do with me.
What business has brought you to such sinners? If you desire to see
a man of God, proceed to the top of this mountain.”
The mountain was too
high for me to reach the top, so I enquired about this man.
“Yes,” I was told.
“It is a long time now that a man has been serving God in that cell.
One day a man came along and disputed with him, saying that daily
bread was meant for earning. The devotee vowed that he would eat
nothing that involved the acquisition of material possessions. For
many days he ate nothing. Then Almighty God sent a cloud of bees to
hover around him and give him honey.”
The things I had
seen and the words I had heard caused a mighty pain to clutch my
heart. I realized that whoever puts his trust in God, God cares for
him and suffers not his anguish to be in vain. As I went on my way,
I saw a blind little bird perched in a tree. It fluttered down from
“Where will this
helpless creature get food and water?” I cried.
The bird dug the
earth with its beak and two saucers appeared, one of gold containing
grain and the other of silver full of rosewater. The bird ate its
fill, then it flew up into the tree and the saucers vanished.
Dho ‘l-Nun thenceforward put his trust in God completely, and was
truly converted. He pushed on several stages, and when night fell he
came to a desert. In that desert he sighted a jar of gold and
jewels, and on the top of the jar a tablet on which was written the
name of God. His companions divided the gold and the jewels between
“Give me the tablet
on which is written the name of my Friend,” Dho ‘l-Nun cried.
And he took the
tablet. He kissed the tablet all through the day and night, till by
the blessing of the tablet he so progressed that one night he
dreamed a voice said to him, “All the rest chose the gold and
jewels, for they are precious. You chose what was loftier than that,
my Name. Therefore I have opened to you the door of knowledge and
Dho ‘l-Nun then
returned to the city. His story continues.
I was walking one
day when I reached the margin of a river. By the water I saw a
pavilion. I proceeded to make my ablutions, and when I had finished
my eye suddenly fell on the roof of the pavilion. On the balcony I
saw a very beautiful girl standing. Wanting to prove her, I said,
“Maiden, to whom do you belong?”
replied she, “when you appeared from afar I supposed you were a
madman. When you came nearer, I supposed you were a scholar. When
you came still nearer, I supposed you were a mystic. Now I see you
are neither mad, nor a scholar, nor a mystic.”
“Why do you say
that?” I demanded.
“If you had been a
madman,” she replied, “you would not have made your ablutions. If
you had been a scholar, you would not have gazed at that which is
prohibited you. If you had been a mystic, your eye would have fallen
upon naught but God. “
So saying, she
vanished. I then realized that she was not a mortal creature, but
had been sent as a warning. A fire invaded my soul, and I flung
myself in the direction of the sea.
When I reached the
seashore, I saw a company of men embarked in a ship. I also embarked
in that ship. After some days had passed, by chance a jewel
belonging to a merchant was lost on board. One by one the passengers
were taken and searched. Finally they reached the unanimous
conclusion that the jewel was on me. They set about belabouring me
and treated me with great disrespect, whilst I remained silent. At
last I could endure no more.
“O Creator, Thou
knowest,” I cried.
Thousands of fishes
thereupon put their heads out of the water, each with a jewel in its
Dho ‘l-Nun took one
of the jewels and gave it to the merchant. All on board when they
saw this fell at his feet and begged his pardon. So highly was he
considered in the eyes of men. That was why he was called Dho ‘l-Nun
(“The Man of the Fish”).
Dho ‘I-Nun is
arrested and taken to Baghdad
When Dho ‘l-Nun had
already attained a high degree, no one recognized his true
greatness. The people of Egypt denounced him unanimously as a
heretic, and informed the caliph Motawakkel of his activities.
Motawakkel sent officers to convey him to Baghdad in fetters. When
he entered the caliph’s court he declared, “This very hour I have
learned true Islam from an old woman, and true chivalry from a
“How is that?” he
“When I reached the
caliph’s palace,” he replied, “and beheld that court in all its
magnificence, with the chamberlains and attendants thronging its
passages, I wished that some change might take place in my
appearance. A woman with a stick in her hand came up and, looking
straight at me, addressed me.
“‘Do not be afraid
of the body before whom they are taking you, for he and you are both
servants of one Almighty Lord. Unless God wills it, they can do
nothing to His servant.’
“Then on the road I
saw a water-carrier. He gave me a draught of pure water. I made a
sign to one who was with me to give the man a dinar. He refused to
“‘You are a prisoner
and in bonds,’ he said. ‘It would not be true chivalry to take
anything from such a prisoner, a stranger in bonds.’ “
After that it was
ordered that he should be put in prison. Forty days and nights he
remained in gaol, and every day the sister of Beshr the Barefoot
brought him a loaf, the earnings of her spindle. The day when he
came out of prison, the forty loaves remained intact, not one having
been eaten. When Beshr’s sister heard of this, she became very sad.
“You know that those
loaves were lawful food and unsolicited. Why did you not eat them?”
“Because the plate
was not clean,” Dho ‘l-Nun replied, meaning that it had been handled
by the gaoler.
As Dho ‘l-Nun came
out of the prison he stumbled and cut his forehead. It is related
that much blood flowed, but not one drop fell on his face, his hair
or his clothes, and all the blood that fell on the ground vanished
at once, by the command of Almighty God.
Then they brought
him before the caliph, and he was ordered to answer the charges
preferred against him.
He explained his
doctrine in such a manner that Motawakkel burst into tears, and all
his ministers stood in wonder at his eloquence. So the caliph became
his disciple, and accorded him high honour.
Dho ‘I-Nan and the pious disciple
There was a disciple
of Dho ‘l-Nun who had forty times observed the forty days’
seclusion, forty times he had stood at Arafat, and for forty years
he had kept vigil by night. Forty long years he had sat sentinel
over the chamber of his heart. One day he came to Dho ‘l-Nun.
‘`I have done all
this,” he said. “For all that I have suffered, the Friend speaks not
one word to me nor favours me with a single glance. He takes no
account of me, and reveals nothing to me from the unseen world. All
this I say not in order to praise myself. I am simply stating the
facts. I have performed all that was in the power of me, poor
wretch, to do. I make no complaint against God. I simply state the
facts, that I devote my whole heart and soul to His service. But I
am telling the story of the sadness of my evil luck, the tale of my
misfortune. I do not say this because my heart has grown weary of
obedience. Only I fear that if further life remains ahead of me, it
will be the same. For a whole lifetime I have knocked in hope, but I
have heard no response. Now it is grown hard for me to endure this
any longer. Since you are the physician of the afflicted and the
sovereign prescriber of the sages, minister now to my wretchedness.”
“Go and eat your
fill tonight,” advised Dho ‘l-Nun. “Omit the prayer before sleep,
and slumber the whole night through. So it may be that if the Friend
will not show Himself kindly, He will at least show Himself
reproachful; if He will not look on you with compassion, He will
look on you with sternness.”
The dervish departed
and ate his fill. His heart would not permit him to forgo the prayer
before sleep, and so he prayed the prayer and fell asleep. That
night he saw the Prophet in a dream.
“Your Friend greets
you,” the Prophet said. “He says, ‘An effeminate wretch and no true
man is he who comes to My court and is quickly sated. The root of
the matter is uprightness of life, and no reproaches. God Almighty
declares, I have given your heart its desire of forty years, and I
grant you to attain all that you hope for, and fulfill all your
desire. But convey My greetings to that bandit and pretender Dho
‘I-Nun. Say then to him, Pretender and liar, if I do not expose your
shame before all the city, then I am not your Lord. See that you no
more beguile the hapless lovers of My court and scare them not away
from My court.’ “
The disciple awoke,
and was overcome by weeping. He went and told Dho ‘l-Nun what he had
seen and heard. When Dho ‘l-Nun heard the words, “God sends you
greeting and declares you a pretender and a liar”, he rolled over
and over with joy and wept ecstatically.
Anecdotes of Dho ‘l-Nan
Dho ‘l-Nun relates
I was wandering in
the mountains when I observed a party of afflicted folk gathered
“What befell you?” I
“There is a devotee
living in a cell here,” they answered. “Once every year he comes out
and breathes on these people and they are all healed. Then he
returns to his cell, and does not emerge again until the following
I waited patiently
until he came out. I beheld a man pale of cheek, wasted and with
sunken eyes. The awe of him caused me to tremble. He looked on the
multitude with compassion. Then he raised his eyes to heaven, and
breathed several times over the afflicted ones. All were healed.
As he was about to
retire to his cell, I seized his skirt.
“For the love of
God,” I cried. “You have healed the outward sickness; pray heal the
“Dho ‘l-Nun,” he
said, gazing at me, “take your hand from me. The Friend is watching
from the zenith of might and majesty. If He sees you clutching at
another than He, He will abandon you to that person, and that person
to you, and you will perish each at the other’s hand.”
So saying, he
withdrew into his cell.
One day Dho ‘l-Nun’s
companions came to him and found him weeping.
“Why are you
weeping?” they asked.
“Last night when I
was prostrating in prayer,” he replied, “my eyes closed in sleep. I
saw the Lord, and He said to me, ‘O Abu ‘l-Faiz, I created all
creatures and they separated into ten parts. I offered the material
world to them; nine of those ten parts turned their faces to the
material world. One part remained over. That one part divided also
into ten parts. I offered Paradise to them; nine parts turned their
faces to Paradise. One part remained over. That one part split
likewise into ten parts. I brought Hell before them; all fled and
were scattered for fear of Hell. Only one part remained over, those
who had not been lured by the material world, nor inclined after
Paradise, neither were afraid of Hell. I said to them, “My servants,
you looked not upon the material world, you inclined not after
Paradise, you were not afraid of Hell. What do you seek?” All raised
their heads and cried, “Thou knowest best what we desire.”
One day a boy
approached Dho ‘l-Nun and said, “I have a hundred thousand dinars. I
want to spend them in your service. I wish to use that gold on your
“Are you of age?”
Dho ‘l-Nun asked him.
“No,” he replied.
“Then you are not
entitled to expend,” Dho ‘l-Nun told him. “Wait with patience until
you are of age.”
When the boy came of
age he returned to Dho ‘l-Nun and repented at his hands. Then he
gave all that gold to the dervishes, until nothing remained of the
hundred thousand dinars.
One day an emergency
arose, and nothing remained to the dervishes, for they had spent all
“What a pity there
is not another hundred thousand, so that I could spend it on these
fine men,” said the benefactor.
When Dho ‘l-Nun
heard him speak these words, he realized that he had not yet
penetrated to the inner truth of the mystic life, for worldly things
still seemed important to him. He summoned the young man.
“Go to the shop of
such-and-such a druggist,” he instructed him. “Tell him from me to
give you three dirhams’ worth of such-and-such a medicine.”
The youth went to
the druggist’s, and presently returned.
“Put the stuff in
the mortar and pound it up small,” Dho ‘l-Nun ordered him. “Then
pour on top of it a little oil, until it becomes a paste. Make three
pellets of it, and pierce each with a needle. Then bring them to
The youth carried
out these instructions, and brought the pellets. Dho ‘l-Nun rubbed
them in his hands and breathed on them, and they turned into three
rubies the like of which was never seen.
“Now take these to
the market and have them valued,” ordered Dho ‘l-Nun. “But do not
The youth took the
rubies to the market and displayed them. Each one was priced at a
thousand dinars. He returned and told Dho ‘l-Nun.
“Now put them in the
mortar and pound them, and throw them into water,” the latter
The youth did as
instructed, and threw the powder into water.
“My child,” said Dho
‘l-Nun, “these dervishes are not hungry for lack of bread. This is
their free choice.”
The youth repented,
and his soul awoke. The world had no longer any worth in his eyes.
Dho ‘l-Nun related
For thirty years I
called men to repent, but only one person came to the court of God
in due obedience. The circumstances were these.
One day a prince
with his retinue passed by me by the door of the mosque. I spoke
“No one is more
foolish than the weakling who tangles with the strong.”
“What words are
these?” demanded the prince.
“Man is a weakling,
yet he tangles with God who is strong,” I said.
The young prince
grew pale. He arose and departed. Next day he returned.
“What is the way to
God?” he asked.
“There is a little
way, and there is a greater way,” I answered. “Which of the two do
you want? If you desire the little way, abandon the world and the
lusts of the flesh and give up sinning. If you want the great way,
abandon everything but God, and empty your heart of all things.”
“By Allah, I will
choose only the greater way,” said the prince.
The next day he put
on the woollen robe, and entered the mystic way. In due course he
became a saint.
The following story
was told by Abu Ja’far the One-eyed.
I was with Dho
‘l-Nun when a group of his followers were present. They were telling
stories of inanimate things obeying commands. Now there was a sofa
in the room.
“An example,” said
Dho ‘l-Nun, “of inanimate things obeying saints’ commands would be
if I were to say to that sofa there, ‘Waltz around the house’ and it
started to move.”
No sooner had Dho
‘l-Nun spoken these words than the sofa started to circle round the
house, then it returned to its place. A youth present burst into
tears at the sight, and gave up the ghost. They washed his body on
that very sofa, and buried him.
Once a man came up
to Dho ‘l-Nun and said, “I have a debt, and I have no means of
Dho ‘l-Nun picked up
a stone from the ground and gave it to him. The man took the stone
to the bazaar. It had turned into an emerald. He sold it for four
hundred dirhams and paid his debt.
A certain youth was
always speaking against Sufis. One day Dho ‘l-Nun took the ring off
his finger and handed it to him.
“Take this to market
and pawn it for a dinar,” he said.
The young man took
the ring to market, but they would not take it for more than one
dirham. The youth returned with the news.
“Now take it to the
jewellers, and see what they value it at,” Dho ‘l-Nun told him.
The jewellers priced
the ring at a thousand dinars.
“You know as much
about Sufis,” Dho ‘l-Nun said to the youth when he returned, “as
those stallholders in the market know about this ring.”
The youth repented,
and disbelieved in the Sufis no more.
Dho ‘l-Nun had been
longing for sekbaj for ten years, but he never gratified that
longing. Now it was the eve of festival, and his soul said within
him, “How would it be if tomorrow you gave us a mouthful of sekbaj
as a festival treat?”
“Soul,” answered Dho
‘l-Nun, “if you want me to do that, then consent with me tonight in
chanting the whole Quran in the course of two rak’as.”
His soul consented.
The next day Dho ‘l-Nun prepared sekbaj and set it before his soul.
He washed his fingers and stood in prayer.
“What happened?” he
“Just now,” Dho
‘l-Nun replied, “my soul said to me, ‘At last after ten years I have
attained my desire.’ ‘By God,’ I answered, ‘you shall not attain
that desire.’ “
The relater of this
story states that Dho ‘l-Nun had just spoken these words when a man
entered and set a bowl of sekbaj before him.
“Master,” he said,
“I did not come on my own. I was sent. Let me explain. I earn my
living as a porter, and I have children. For some time now they have
been asking for sekbaj, and I have been saving up. Last night I made
this sekbaj for the festival. Today I saw in a dream the
world-adorning beauty of the Messenger of God. ‘If you would see me
on the morrow of uprising,’ said the Prophet, ‘take this to Dho
‘l-Nun and tell him that Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, the son of
Abd al-Mottaleb, intercedes with him to make truce with his soul for
one moment and swallow a few mouthfuls.’ “
“I obey,” said Dho
As Dho ‘l-Nun lay on
his deathbed his friends asked him, “What do you desire?”
“My desire,” he
answered, “is that ere I die, even if it be for only one moment, I
may know Him.”
He then spoke the
Fear wasted me,
Yearning consumed me,
Love beguiled me,
God revived me.
One day later he
lost consciousness. On the night of his departure from this world,
seventy persons saw the Prophet in a dream. All reported that the
Prophet said, “The friend of God is coming. I have come out to
When he died, there
was seen written in green on his brow, “This is the friend of God.
He died in the love of God. This is the slain of God by the sword of
When they lifted his
coffin to carry him to the grave the sun was extremely hot. The
birds of the air came and with wings flapping kept his bier shaded
from his house to the graveside.
As he was being
borne along the road, a muezzin chanted the call to prayer. When he
reached the words of attestation, Dho ‘l-Nun lifted a finger out of
“He is alive!” the
shout went up.
They laid down the
bier. His finger was pointing, but he was dead. For all that they
tried, they could not straighten his finger. When the people of
Egypt beheld this, they were all put to shame and repented of the
wrongs they had done him. They did things over his dust that cannot
be described in words.
Esma’il al-‘Adawiya, born in humble circumstances and sold into
slavery as a child, later settled in Basra where she attained
great fame as a saint and a preacher and was highly esteemed by
many of her pious contemporaries. The date of her death is given
variously as 135 (752) and 185 (801). To her, a lifelong
celibate, is attributed a large share in the introduction into
Islamic mysticism of the theme of Divine love. Her tomb used to
be pointed out near Jerusalem.
birth and early life
If anyone says, “Why have you included Rabe’a
in the rank of men?” my answer is, that the Prophet himself
said, “God does not regard your outward forms.” The root of the
matter is not form, but intention, as the Prophet said, “Mankind
will be raised up according to their intentions.” Moreover, if
it is proper to derive two-thirds of our religion from A’esha,
surely it is permissible to take religious instruction from a
handmaid of A’esha. When a woman becomes a “man” in the path of
God, she is a man and one cannot any more call her a woman.
The night when Rabe’a came to earth, there
was nothing whatsoever in her father’s house; for her father
lived in very poor circumstances. He did not possess even one
drop of oil to anoint her navel; there was no lamp, and not a
rag to swaddle her in. He already had three daughters, and
Rabe’a was his fourth; that is why she was called by that name.
“Go to neighbour So-and-so and beg for a drop
of oil, so that I can light the lamp,” his wife said to him.
Now the man had entered into a covenant that
he would never ask any mortal for anything. So he went out and
just laid his hand on the neighbour’s door, and returned.
“They will not open the door,” he reported.
The poor woman wept bitterly. In that anxious
state the man placed his head on his knees and went to sleep. He
dreamed that he saw the Prophet.
“Be not sorrowful,” the Prophet bade him.
“The girl child who has just come to earth is a queen among
women, who shall be the intercessor for seventy thousand of my
community Tomorrow,” the Prophet continued, “go to Isa-e Zadan
the governor of Basra. Write on a piece of paper to the
following effect. ‘Every night you send upon me a hundred
blessings, an on Friday night four hundred. Last night was
Friday night, and you forgot me. In expiation for that, give
this man four hundred dinars lawfully acquired.’”
Rabe’a’s father on awaking burst into tears.
He rose up and wrote as the Prophet had bidden him, and sent the
message to the governor by the hand of a chamberlain.
“Give two thousand dinars to the poor,” the
governor commanded when he saw the missive, “as a thanksgiving
for the Master remembering me. Give four hundred dinars also to
the Shaykh, and tell him, ‘I wish you to come to me so that I
may see you. But I do not hold it proper for a man like you to
come to me. I would rather come and rub my beard in you
threshold. However, I adjure you by God, whatever you may need,
pray let me know.’”
The man took the gold and purchased all that
When Rabe’a had become a little older, and
her mother and father were dead, a famine came upon Basra, and
her sisters were scattered. Rabe’a ventured out and was seen by
a wicked man who seized her and then sold her for six dirhams.
He purchaser put her to hard labour.
One day she was passing along the road when a
stranger approached. Rabe’a fled. As she ran, she fell headlong
and her hand was dislocated.
“Lord God,” she cried, bowing her face to the
ground, “I am a stranger, orphaned of mother and father, a
helpless prisoner fallen into captivity, my hand broken. Yet for
all this I do not grieve; all I need is Thy good pleasure, to
know whether Thou art well-pleased or no.”
“Do not grieve,” she heard a voice say.
“Tomorrow a station shall be thine such that the cherubim in
heaven will envy thee.”
So Rabe’a returned to her master’s house. By
day she continually fasted and served God, and by night she
worshipped standing until day. One night her master awoke from
sleep and, looking through the window of his apartment, saw
Rabe’a bowing prostrate and praying.
“O God, Thou knowest that the desire of my
heart is in conformity with Thy command, and that the light of
my eye is in serving Thy court. If the affair lay with me, I
would not rest one hour from serving Thee, but Thou Thyself hast
set me under the hand of a creature.”
Such was her litany. Her master perceived a
lantern suspended without any chain above her head, the light
whereof filled the whole house. Seeing this, he was afraid.
Rising up he returned to his bedroom and sat pondering till
dawn. When day broke he summoned Rabe’a, was gentle with her and
set her free.
“Give me permission to depart,” Rabe’a said.
He gave her leave, and she left the house and
went into the desert. From the desert she proceeded to a
hermitage where she served God for a while. Then she determined
to perform the pilgrimage, and set her face towards the desert.
She bound her bundle on an ass. In the heart of the desert the
“Let us carry your load,” the men in the
“You go on,” she replied. “I have not come
putting my trust in you.”
So the men departed, and Rabe’a remained
“O God,” she cried, lifting her head, “do
kings so treat a woman who is a stranger and powerless? Thou
hast invited me unto Thy house, then in the midst of the way
Thou hast suffered my ass to die, leaving me alone in the
Hardly had she completed this orison when her
ass stirred and rose up. Rabe’a placed her load on its back, and
continued on her way. (The narrator of this story reports that
some while afterwards he saw that little donkey being sold in
the market.) She travelled on through the desert for some days,
then she halted.
“O God,” she cried, “my heart is weary.
Whither am I going? I a lump of clay, and Thy house a stone! I
need Thee here.”
God spoke unmediated in her heart.
“Rabe’a, thou art faring in the life-blood of
eighteen thousand worlds. Hast thou not seen how Moses prayed
for the vision of Me? And I cast a few motes of revelation upon
the mountain, and the mountain shivered into forty pieces. Be
content here with My name!”
One night Rabe’a was praying in the hermitage
when she was overcome by weariness and fell asleep. So deeply
was she absorbed that, when a reed from the reed-mat she was
lying on broke in her eye so that the blood flowed, she was
quite unaware of the fact.
A thief entered and seized her chaddur. He
then made to leave, but the way was barred to him. He dropped
the chaddur and departed, finding the way now open. He seized
the chaddur again and returned to discover the way blocked. Once
more he dropped the chaddur. This he repeated seven times over;
then he heard a voice proceeding from a corner of the hermitage.
“Man, do not put yourself to such pains. It
is so many years now that she has committed herself to Us. The
Devil himself has not the boldness to slink round her. How
should a thief have the boldness to slink round her chaddur? Be
gone, scoundrel! Do not put yourself to such pains. If one
friend has fallen asleep, one Friend is awake and keeping
Two notables of the Faith came to visit
Rabe’a, and both were hungry.
“It may be that she will give us food,” they
said to each other. “Her food is bound to come from a lawful
When they sat down there was a napkin with
two loaves laid before them. They were well content. A beggar
arrived just then, and Rabe’a gave him the two loaves. The two
men of religion were much upset, but said nothing. After a while
a maidservant entered with a handful of warm bread.
“My mistress sent these,” she explained.
Rabe’a counted the loaves. There were
“Perhaps it was not this that she sent me,”
For all that the maidservant assured her, it
profited nothing. So she took back the loaves and carried them
away. Now it so happened that she had taken two of the loaves
for herself. She asked her mistress, and she added the two to
the pile and returned with them. Rabe’a counted again, and found
there were twenty loaves. She now accepted them.
“This is what your mistress sent me,” she
She set the loaves before the two men and
they ate, marveling.
“What is the secret behind this?” they asked
her. “We had an appetite for your own bread, but you took it
away from us and gave it to the beggar. Then you said that the
eighteen loaves did not belong to you. When they were twenty,
you accepted them.”
“I knew when you arrived that you were
hungry,” Rabe’a replied. “I said to myself, How can I offer two
loaves to two such notables? So when the beggar came to the door
I gave them to him and said to Almighty God, ‘O God, Thou hast
said that Thou repayest tenfold, and this I firmly believed. Now
I have given two loaves to please Thee, so that Thou mayest give
twenty in return for them.’ When eighteen were brought me, I
knew that either there had been some misappropriation, or that
they were not meant for me.”
One day Rabe’a’s servant girl was making an
onion stew; for it was some days since they had cooked any food.
Finding that she needed some onions, she said,
“I will ask of next door.”
“Forty years now,” Rabe’a replied, “I have
had a covenant with Almighty God not to ask for aught of any but
He. Nevermind the onions.”
Immediately a bird swooped down from the air
with peeled onions in its beak and dropped them into the pan.
“I am not sure this is not a trick,” Rabe’a
And she left the onion pulp alone, and ate
nothing but bread.
Rabe’a had gone one day into the mountains.
She was soon surrounded by a flock of deer and mountain goats,
ibexes and wild asses which stared at her and made to approach
her. Suddenly Hasan of Basra came on the scene and, seeing
Rabe’a, moved in her direction. As soon as the animals sighted
Hasan, they made off all together, so that Rabe’a remained
alone. This dismayed Hasan.
“Why did they run away from me, and
associated so tamely with you?” he asked Rabe’a.
“What have you eaten today?” Rabe’a
“A little onion pulp.”
“You eat their fat,” Rabe’a remarked. “Why
then should they not flee from you?”
Once Rabe’a passed by Hasan’s house. Hasan
had his head out of the window and was weeping, and his tears
fell on Rabe’a’s dress. Looking up, she thought at first that it
was rain; then, realizing that it was Hasan’s tears, she turned
to him and addressed him.
“Master, this weeping is a sign of spiritual
languor. Guard your tears, so that there may surge within you
such a sea that, seeking the heart therein, you shall not find
it save in the keeping of a King Omnipotent’.”
These words distressed Hasan, but he kept his
peace. Then one day he saw Rabe’a when she was near a lake.
Throwing his prayer rug on the surface of the water, he called,
“Rabe’a, come! Let us pray two rak’as here!”
“Hasan,” Rabe’a replied, “when you are
showing off your spiritual goods in this worldly market, it
should be things that your fellow-men are incapable of
And she flung her prayer rug into the air,
and flew up on it.
“Come up here, Hasan, where people can see
us!” she cried.
Hasan, who had not attained that station,
said nothing. Rabe’a sought to console him.
“Hasan,” she said, “what you did fishes also
do, and what I did flies also do. The real business is outside
both these tricks. One must apply one’s self to the real
One night Hasan with two or three friends
went to visit Rabe’a. Rabe’a had no lantern. Their hearts
yearned for light.
Rabe’a blew on her hunger, and that night
till dawn her finger shone like a lantern, and they sat in its
If anyone says, “How could this be?” I
answer, “The same as Moses’ hand.” If it is objected, “But Moses
was a prophet,” I reply, “Whoever follows in the footsteps of
the Prophet can possess a grain of prophethood, as the Prophet
says, ‘Whoever rejects a farthing’s worth of unlawful things has
attained a degree of prophethood.’ He also said, ‘A true dream
is one-forti-eth part of prophethood.’ “
Once Rabe’a sent Hasan three things—a piece
of wax, a needle, and a hair.
“Be like wax,” she said. “Illumine the world,
and yourself burn. Be like a needle, always be working naked.
When you have done these two things, a thousand years will be
for you as a hair.”
“Do you desire for us to get married?” Hasan
“The tie of marriage applies to those who
have being,” Rabe’a replied. “Here being has disappeared, for I
have become naughted to self and exist only through Him. I
belong wholly to Him. I live in the shadow of His control. You
must ask my hand of Him, not of me.”
“How did you find this secret, Rabe’a?” Hasan
“I lost all ‘found’ things in Him,” Rabe’a
“How do you know Him?” Hasan enquired.
“You know the ‘how’; I know the ‘howless’,”
Once Rabe’a saw a man with a bandage tied
round his head.
“Why have you tied the bandage?” she asked.
“Because my head aches,” the man replied.
“How old are you?” she demanded.
“Thirty,” he replied.
“Have you been in pain and anguish the
greater part of your life?” she enquired.
“No,” the man answered.
“For thirty years you have enjoyed good
health,” she remarked, “and you never tied about you the bandage
of thankfulness. Now because of this one night that you have a
headache you tie the bandage of complaint!”
Once Rabe’a gave four silver dirhams to a
“Buy me a blanket,” she said, “for I am
The man departed. Presently he returned.
“Mistress,” he said, “what colour shall I
“How did ‘colour’ come into the business?”
Rabe’a demanded. “Give me back the money.”
And she took the dirhams and flung them into
One spring day Rabe’a entered her apartment
and put out her head.
“Mistress,” her servant said, “come out and
see what the Maker has wrought.”
“Do you rather come in,” Rabe’a replied, “and
see the Maker. The contemplation of the Maker pre-occu-pies me,
so that I do not care to look upon what He has made.”
A party visited her, and saw her tearing a
morsel of meat with her teeth.
“Do you not have a knife to cut up the meat?”
“I have never kept a knife in my house for
fear of being cut off,” she replied.
Once Rabe’a fasted for a whole week, neither
eating nor sleeping. All night she was occupied with praying.
Her hunger passed all bounds. A visitor entered her house
bringing a bowl of food. Rabe’a accepted it and went to fetch a
lamp. She returned to find that the cat had spilled the bowl.
“I will go and fetch a jug, and break my
fast,” she said.
By the time she had brought the jug, the lamp
had gone out. She aimed to drink the water in the dark, but the
jug slipped from her hand and was broken. She uttered
lamentation and sighed so ardently that there was fear that half
of the house would be consumed with fire.
“O God,” she cried, “what is this that Thou
art doing with Thy helpless servant?”
“Have a care,” a voice came to her ears,
“lest thou desire Me to bestow on thee all worldly blessings,
but eradicate from thy heart the care for Me. Care for Me and
worldly blessings can never be associated together in a single
heart. Rabe’a, thou desirest one thing, and I desire another; My
desire and thy desire can never be joined in one heart.”
“When I heard this admonition,” Rabe’a
related, “I so cut off my heart from the world and curtailed my
desires that whenever I have prayed during the last thirty
years, I have assumed it to be my last prayer.”
A party of men once visited her to put her to
the test, desiring to catch her out in an unguarded utterance.
“All the virtues have been scattered upon the
heads of men,” they said. “The crown of prophethood has been
placed on men’s heads. The belt of nobility has been fastened
around men’s waists. No woman has ever been a prophet.”
“All that is true,” Rabe’a replied. “But
egoism and self-worship and ‘I am your Lord, the Most High’ have
never sprung from a woman’s breast. No woman has ever been a
hermaphrodite. All these things have been the specialty of men.”
Once Rabe’a fell grievously sick. She was
asked what the cause might be.
“I gazed upon Paradise,” she replied, “and my
Lord disciplined me.”
Then Hasan of Basra went to visit her.
“I saw one of the notables of Basra standing
at the door of Rabe’a’s hermitage offering her a purse of gold
and weeping,” he reported. “I said, ‘Sir, why are you weeping?’
‘On account of this saintly woman of the age,’ he replied. ‘For
if the blessing of her presence departs from among mankind,
mankind will surely perish. I brought something for her
tending,’ he added, ‘and I am afraid that she will not accept
it. Do you intercede with her to take it.’ “
So Hasan entered and spoke. Rabe’a glanced up
at him and said,
“He provides for those who insult Him, and
shall He not provide for those who love Him? Ever since I knew
Him, I have turned my back upon His creatures. I know not
whether any man’s property is lawful or not; how then can I take
it? I stitched together by the light of a worldly lamp a shirt
which I had torn. For a while my heart was obstructed, until I
remembered. Then I tore the shirt in the place where I had
stitched it, and my heart became dilated. Ask the gentleman pray
not to keep my heart obstructed.”
Abd al-Wahed-e Amer relates as follows.
I went with Sofyan-e Thauri to visit Rabe’a
when she was sick, but out of awe for her I could not begin to
“You say something,” I said to Sofyan.
“If you will say a prayer,” Sofyan said to
Rabe’a, “your pain will be eased.”
“Do you not know who has willed that I should
suffer? Was it not God?” Rabe’a demanded.
“Yes,” Sofyan agreed.
“How is it that you know that,” Rabe’a went
on, “and yet you bid me to request from Him the contrary of His
will? It is not right to oppose one’s Friend.”
“What thing do you desire, Rabe’a?” Sofyan
“Sofyan, you are a learned man. Why do you
speak like that? ‘What thing do you desire?’ By the glory of
God,” Rabe’a asseverated, “for twelve years now I have been
desiring fresh dates. You know that in Basra dates are of no
consequence. Yet till now I have not eaten any; for I am His
servant, and what business has a servant to desire? If I wish,
and my Lord does not wish, this would be infidelity. You must
want only what He wishes, to be a true servant of God. If God
himself gives, that is a different matter.”
Sofyan was reduced to silence. Then he said,
“Since one cannot speak about your situation,
do you say something about mine.”
“You are a good man, but for the fact you
love the world,” Rabe’a replied. “You love reciting Traditions.”
This she said, implying that that was a high
“Lord God,” cried Sofyan, deeply moved, “be
content with me!”
“Are you not ashamed,” broke in Rabe’a, “to
seek the contentment of One with whom you yourself are not
Malek-e Dinar relates as follows.
I went to visit Rabe’a, and saw her with a
broken pitcher out of which she drank and made her ritual
ablutions, an old reed-mat, and a brick which she occasionally
used as a pillow. I was grieved.
“I have rich friends,” I told her. “If you
wish, I will get something from them for you.”
“Malek, you have committed a grievous error,”
she answered. “Is not my Provider and theirs one and the same?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“And has the Provider of the poor forgotten
the poor on account of their poverty? And does He remember the
rich because of their riches?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Then,” she went on, “since He knows my
estate, how should I remind Him? Such is His will, and I too
wish as He wills.”
One day Hasan of Basra, Malek-e Dinar and
Shaqiqe Balkhi went to visit Rabe’a on her sickbed.
“He is not truthful in his claim,” Hasan
began, “who does not bear with fortitude the lash of his
“These words stink of egoism,” Rabe’a
“He is not truthful in his claim,” Shaqiq
tried, “who is not grateful for the lash of his Lord.”
“We need something better than that,” Rabe’a
“He is not truthful in his claim,” Malek-e
Dinar offered, “who does not take delight in the lash of his
“We need something better than that,” Rabe’a
“Then you say,” they urged.
“He is not truthful in his claim,” Rabe’a
pronounced, “who does not forget the lash in contemplation of
A leading scholar of Basra visited Rabe’a on
her sickbed. Sitting beside her pillow, he reviled the world.
“You love the world very dearly,” Rabe’a
commented. “If you did not love the world, you would not make
mention of it so much. It is always the purchaser who disparages
the wares If you were done with the world, you would not mention
it either for good or evil. As it is, you keep mentioning it
because as the proverb says, whoever loves a thing mentions it
When the time came that Rabe’a should die,
those attending her deathbed left the room and closed the door.
Then a voice was heard saying, O soul at peace, return unto thy
Lord, well-pleased! A time passed and no sound came from the
room, so they opened the door and found that she had given up
the ghost After her death she was seen in a dream. She was asked
“How did you fare with Monkar and Nakir?” She replied “Those
youths came to me and said, ‘Who is thy Lord?’ I answered,
‘Return and say to God, with so many thousand thousand creatures
Thou didst not forget one feeble old woman. I, who have only
Thee in the whole world, I shall never, forget Thee, that Thou
shouldst sent one to ask me, Who is thy, God?’”
O God, whatsoever Thou hast apportioned to me
of worldly, things, do Thou give that to Thy enemies; and
whatsoever, Thou hast apportioned to me in the world to come,
give that to Thy friends; for Thou sufficest me.
O God, if I worship Thee for fear of Hell,
burn me in Hell and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise,
exclude me from Paradise; but if I worship Thee for Thy own
sake, grudge me not Thy everlasting beauty.
O God, my whole
occupation and all my desire in this world of all worldly
things, is to remember Thee, and in the world to come, of all
things of the world to come, is to meet Thee. This is on my
side, as I have stated; now do Thou whatsoever Thou wilt.
ibn Abdullah al Tostari
Abu Muhammad Sahl
ibn ‘Abdullah al-Tostari was born at Tostar (Ahwaz) c. 200 (815),
studied with Sofyan al-Thauri, and met Dho ‘l-Nun al-Misri. A quiet
life was interrupted in 261 (874) when he was compelled to seek
refuge in Basra, where he died in 282 (896). A short commentary on
the Quran is attributed to him, and he made important contributions
to the development of Sufi theory, being influential through his
pupil Ibn Salem who founded the Salemiya school.
The early years of Sahl ibn Abdullah al-Tostari
Sahl ibn Abdullah
al-Tostari gives the following account of himself.
I remember when God
said, Am I not your Lord? and I said, Yes indeed. I also remember
myself in my mother’s womb.
I was three years
old when I began to pray all night. My uncle Muhammad ibn Sawwar
wept to see me pray.
“Sahl, go to sleep.
You make me anxious,” he said.
I kept watch on my
uncle secretly and openly. Then matters reached the point that one
day I said to him, “Uncle, I have a hard state to contend with. I
seem to see my head prostrate before the Throne.”
“Keep this state
secret, my boy, and tell no one,” he advised. Then he added,
“Recollect when you are in your bedclothes rolling from side to
side. As your tongue moves, say, ‘God is with me, God is watching
over me, God is witnessing me.’ “
I used this formula,
and informed my uncle so.
“Say the words seven
times each night,” he counselled me.
I informed him that
I had done so.
“Say them fifteen
I did as my uncle
directed, and a sweetness invaded my heart therefrom. A year passed.
Then my uncle said, “Keep my instructions and continue that practice
until you go to the grave. The fruits thereof will be yours in this
world and the next.”
Years passed, and I
used the same formula until the sweetness of it penetrated my most
“Sahl,” said my
uncle, “when God is with any man and God sees him, how can he
disobey God? God watch over you, that you may not disobey.”
After that I went
into seclusion. Then they sent me to school.
“I am afraid that my
concentration may be scattered,” I said. “Make it a condition with
the teacher that I remain with him for an hour and learn some
lessons, then I am to return to my true occupation.”
On these terms I
went to school and learned the Quran, being then seven years old.
From that time I fasted continuously, my only food being barley
bread. At twelve a problem occurred to me which no one was able to
solve. I asked them to send me to Basra to propound that problem. I
came to Basra and questioned the learned men of that city, but no
one could answer me. From there I proceeded to Abbadan, to a man
called Habib ibn Hamza. He answered my question. I remained with him
for some time, and derived much benefit from his instruction.
Then I came to
Tostar. By that time my diet had been reduced to the point that they
would buy barley for me for a dirham, grind it and bake it into
bread. Every night about dawn I would break my fast with an ounce of
that bread, without relish or salt. In that way the dirham lasted me
After that I
resolved to break my fast once every three days, then once every
five days, then once every seven days, and so on until I reached
once every twenty days. (According to one report, Sahl claimed to
have reached once every seventy days.) Sometimes I would eat just
one almond every forty days.
I made trial for
many years of satiety and hunger. In the beginning my weakness
resulted from hunger and my strength came from satiety. After a time
my strength derived from hunger and my weakness from satiety. Then I
prayed, “O God, close Sahl’s eyes to both, that he may see satiety
in hunger, and hunger in satiety, both proceed from Thee.”
One day Sahl said,
“Repentance is a duty incumbent upon a man every moment, whether he
be of the elect or the common folk, whether he be obedient to God or
There was a certain
man in Tostar who laid claim to be learned and an ascetic. He
protested against this statement of Sahl’s.
“He says that the
disobedient must repent of his disobedience, and the obedient of his
And he turned the
people against Sahl, making him out to be a heretic and an infidel.
All, commons and nobles alike, took up his charge. Sahl refrained
from disputing with them to correct their misunderstanding. Fired by
the pure flame of religion, he wrote down on paper a list of all his
possessions, farms, houses, furniture, carpets, vessels, gold and
silver. Then he gathered the people and scattered the pages over
their heads. He gave to every man all that was inscribed on the page
that he picked up, as a token of gratitude for their relieving him
of his worldly goods. Having given everything away, he set out for
“My soul,” he
addressed himself, “now I am bankrupt. Make no further demand on me,
for you will not get anything.”
His soul agreed not
to ask him for anything, until he reached Kufa.
“So far,” his soul
then said, “I have not asked you for anything. Now I desire a piece
of bread and a fish. Give me that much to eat, and I will not
trouble you again all the way to Makkah.”
Entering Kufa, Sahl
observed an ass-mill with a camel tied to it.
“How much do you
give to hire this camel for a day?” he asked.
“Two dirhams,” they
“Release the camel
and tie me in its place, and give me one dirham for up to the
evening prayer,” Sahl demanded.
They released the
camel and tied Sahl to the ass-mill. At nightfall they gave him a
dirham. He bought bread and a fish and laid it before him.
“Soul,” he addressed
himself, “every time you want this, resolve with yourself that
tomorrow till sunset you will do mule’s work to get what you want.”
Then Sahl proceeded
to the Kaaba, where he met many Sufi masters. From there he returned
to Tostar, to find Dho ‘l-Nun awaiting him.
Anecdotes of Sahl
Amr-e Laith fell
sick, so that all the physicians were powerless to treat him.
“Is there anyone who
can pray for a cure?” it was asked.
“Sahl is such a man
whose prayers are answered,” came the reply.
His help was
therefore invoked. Having in mind God’s command to “obey those in
authority” he responded to the appeal.
“Prayer,” he stated
when he was seated before Amr, “is effective only in the case of one
who is penitent. In your prison there are men wrongfully detained.”
Amr released them
all, and repented.
“Lord God,” prayed
Sahl, “like as Thou hast shown to him the abasement due to his
disobedience, so now display to him the glory gained by my
obedience. Like as Thou hast clothed his inward parts with the
garment of repentance, so now clothe his outward parts with the
garment of health.”
As soon as Sahl had
uttered this prayer, Amr-e Laith recovered his health completely. He
offered Sahl much money, but this he declined, and left his
“If you had accepted
something,” objected one of his disciples, “so that we might have
applied it to discharging the debt we have incurred, would that not
have been better?”
“Do you need gold?
Then look!” replied Sahl.
The disciple looked
and behold, the whole plain and desert were filled with gold and
“Why,” said Sahl,
“should one who enjoys such favour with God accept anything from one
of God’s creatures?”
partook in a mystic audition he went into ecstasy and would continue
rapt for five days, eating no food. If it was winter, the sweat
would pour from him and drench his shirt.
When he was in that
state, and the ulema questioned him, he would say, “Do not question
me, for in this mystic moment you will get no benefit from me and my
Sahl used to walk on
the water without his feet being so much as moistened.
someone observed, “that you walk on water.”
“Ask the muezzin of
this mosque,” Sahl replied. “He is a truthful man.”
“I asked him,” the
man said. “The muezzin told me, ‘I never saw that. But in these days
he entered a pool to wash. He fell into the pool, and if I had not
been on the spot he would have died there.’”
When Abu Ali-e
Daqqaq heard this story, he commented, “He had many miraculous
powers, but he wished to keep them hidden.”
One day Sahl was
seated in the mosque when a pigeon dropped to the ground, exhausted
by the heat.
“Shah-e Kermani has
died,” remarked Sahl.
When they looked
into the matter, it proved to be exactly as Sahl said.
Many lions and other
wild beasts used to visit Sahl, and he would feed and tend them.
Even today Sahl’s house in Tostar is called “the house of the wild
After his long
vigils and painful austerities Sahl lost his physical control,
suffering from blennorrhoea, so much so that he had to go to the
privy several times an hour. To ease matters, he always kept a jar
handy because he could not govern himself. When the time for prayer
came round, however, the flow ceased. He would then perform his
ablutions and pray, and resume as before. Whenever he mounted the
pulpit, his blennorrhoea ceased completely, and all his pain would
vanish. As soon as he came down from the pulpit, his ailment would
show itself again. In all this, he never failed to observe even a
tittle of the sacred Law.
On the day when
Sahl’s demise approached, his four hundred disciples were in
attendance at his sickbed.
“Who will sit in
your place, and who will preach from your pulpit?” they asked.
Now there was a
certain Zoroastrian named Shadh-Del.
“Shadh-Del will sit
in my place,” answered Sahl, opening his eyes.
“The Shaykh has lost
his reason,” muttered the disciples.
Having four hundred
disciples, all men of learning and religion, he appoints a
Zoroastrian to his place!”
clamour!” cried Sahl. “Go and bring Shadh-Del to me.”
fetched the Zoroastrian.
“When three days
have elapsed after my death,” Sahl said when his eyes fell on him,
“after the afternoon prayers go into my pulpit and sit in my place,
and preach to the people.”
With these words
Sahl died. Three days later, after the afternoon prayers, as many
again assembled. Shadh-Del entered and mounted the pulpit, while the
“Whatever is this? A
Zoroastrian, with the Magian hat on his head and a girdle tied about
“Your leader,” said
Shadh-Del, “has made me his messenger to you. He said to me,
‘Shadh-Del, has the time not come for you to cut the Magian girdle?’
Behold, now I cut it.”
And he took a knife
and cut the girdle.
“He also said,” he
went on, “ ‘Has the time not come for you to put off the Magian hat
from your head?’ Behold I have put it off.”
Then Shadh-Del said,
“I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness
that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” He went on, “The Shaykh
said, say, ‘He who was your Shaykh and your master counselled you
well, and it is a rule of discipleship to accept the master’s
counsel. Behold, Shadh-Del has cut the outward girdle. If you wish
to see me at the resurrection, I solemnly adjure you, every one of
you, cut your inward girdles.’”
arose in the congregation when Shadh-Del finished, and there
followed amazing spiritual manifestations.
On the day when Sahl
was borne to the grave, many people thronged the streets. Now there
was a Jew of seventy years in Tostar; when he heard the noise and
clamour, he ran out to see what was happening. As the procession
reached him, he cried out, “Men, do you see what I see? Angels are
descending from heaven and stroking his bier with their wings!” And
immediately he uttered the attestation and became a Muslim.
One day Sahl was
seated with his companions when a certain man passed by. “This man
holds a secret,” Sahl said. By the time they looked, the man had
gone. After Sahl’s death, one of his disciples was sitting by his
grave when the same man passed by.
“Sir,” the disciple
addressed him, “the Shaykh who lies in this tomb once said that you
hold a secret. By that God who has vouchsafed this secret to you,
make me a demonstration.”
The man pointed to
Sahl’s grave. “Sahl, speak!” he said. A voice spoke loudly within
the tomb. “There is no god but God alone, Who has no partner.”
“They say,” said the
man, “that whosoever believes that there is no god but God, there is
no darkness for him in the grave. Is that true or no?”
Sahl cried from the
grave, “It is true!”
Abo ‘1-Hasan Sari
ibn al-Moghalles al-Saqati, said to be a pupil of Ma’ruf al-Karkhi,
uncle of al-Junaid, was a prominent figure in the Baghdad circle of
Sufis and attracted the opposition of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. A dealer in
secondhand goods, he died in 253 (867) at the age of 98.
The career of Sari-e Saqati
Sari-e Saqati was
the first man to preach in Baghdad on the mystic truths and the Suh
“unity”. Most of the Sufi shaikhs of Iraq were his disciples. He was
the uncle of Junaid and the pupil of Ma’ruf-e Karkhi; he had also
seen Habib-e Ra’i.
To begin with he
lived in Baghdad, where he had a shop. Hanging a curtain over the
door of his shop, he would go in and pray, performing several rak’as
daily in this fashion.
One day a man came
from Mount Lokam to visit him. Lifting aside the curtain, he greeted
from Mount Lokam greets you,” he said.
“He dwells in the
mountains,” commented Sari. “So his efforts amount to nothing. A man
ought to be able to live in the midst of the market and be so
preoccupied with God, that not for a single instant is he absent
It is said that in
his transactions he never looked for a greater profit than five per
cent. Once he bought almonds for sixty dinars. Almonds then became
scarce. A broker called on him.
“Sell then,” said
Sari. “For how much?” the broker asked. “Sixty-six dinars.” “But the
price of almonds today is ninety dinars,”
the broker objected.
“It is my rule not to take more than five per cent,” Sari replied.
“I will not break my rule.” “I also do not think it right to sell
your goods for less,” said the broker. So the broker did not sell,
and Sari made no concession.
To start with Sari
used to sell odds and ends. One day the bazaars of Baghdad caught
fire. “The bazaars are on fire,” they told him. “Then I have also
become free,” he remarked. Afterwards an inspection was made and it
that Sari’s shop had
not been burned. When he saw that, he gave all that he possessed to
the poor and took up the Sufi way.
“What was the
beginning of your spiritual career?” he was asked.
“One day,” he said,
“Habib-e Ra’i passed by my shop. I gave him something to give to the
poor. ‘God be good to you,’ he replied. The day he intoned that
prayer the world lost its attraction for me.
“The following day
Ma’ruf-e Karkhi came along bringing an orphan child. ‘Clothe this
child,’ he begged me. I clothed the child. ‘May God make the world
hateful to your heart, and give you rest from this work,’ he cried.
I gave up worldly things completely, thanks to the blessing of
Sari and the courtier
One day Sari was
preaching. Now one of the caliph’s booncompanions called Ahmad-e
Yazid the Scribe came along in all his finery, surrounded by a crowd
of servants and slaves.
“Wait while I listen
to this fellow’s sermon,” he said. “We have been to a good few
places where we should not have gone. I have had my fill of them.”
He entered and sat
down in Sari’s audience.
“In all eighteen
thousand worlds,” Sari was saying, “there is nothing weaker than
man. Yet of all the species that God has created, none is so
disobedient to God’s command as man. If he is good, he is so good
that the very angels envy his estate; if he is bad, he is so bad
that the Devil himself is ashamed to associate with him. What a
marvellous thing is man, so weak, yet he disobeys God who is so
These words were as
an arrow sped from Sari’s bow into Ahmad’s soul. He wept so bitterly
that he fainted. Then weeping he arose and returned to his home.
That night he ate nothing and uttered not a word.
The next day he came
on foot to Sari’s assembly, anxious and pale of cheek. When the
meeting ended, he went home. On the third day he came again, alone
and on foot. At the close of the assembly he came up to Sari.
“Master,” he said,
“your words have taken hold of me and made the world loathsome to my
heart. I want to give up the world and retire from the society of
men. Expound to me the way of the Travellers.”
“Which path do you
want?” Sari asked him. “That of the Way, or that of the Law? That of
the multitude, or that of the elect?”
“Expound both,” the
“The way of the
multitude is this,” said Sari, “that you observe prayer five times
daily behind the imam, and that you give alms—if it be in money,
half a dinar out of every twenty. The way of the elect is this, that
you thrust the world behind you altogether and do not concern
yourself with any of its trappings; if you are offered it, you will
not accept it. These are the two ways.”
The courtier went
out and set his face towards the wilderness. Some days later an old
woman with matted hair and scratches on her cheeks came to Sari.
“Imam of the
Muslims, I had a son, young and fresh of countenance,” she said.
“One day he came to your assembly laughing and strutting, and
returned weeping and wailing. Now it is some days since he has
vanished, and I do not know where he is. My heart is burning because
he is parted from me. Please do something for me.”
pleading moved Sari to compassion.
“Do not grieve,” he
told her. “Only good will ensue. When he comes back, I will inform
you. He has abandoned the world and turned his back on the
worldlings. He has become a true penitent.”
After a space, one
night Ahmad reappeared.
“Go, tell the old
lady,” Sari bade his servant. Then he looked upon Ahmad. His cheeks
were pale, he was wasted, the tall cypress of his stature was bent
“Kindly master,” he
cried, “forasmuch as you have guided me to peace and delivered me
out of darkness, now may God give you peace and bestow upon you joy
in both worlds.”
They were thus
conversing when Ahmad’s mother and his wife entered, bringing his
little son. When his mother’s eyes fell upon Ahmad and she saw him
in a state she had never seen before, she cast herself upon his
breast. His wife too stood on one side of him wailing, whilst his
son wept on the other. A hubbub went up from them all, and Sari too
burst into tears. The child flung himself at his father’s feet. But
despite all their efforts to persuade him to return home, it was all
to no effect.
“Imam of the
Muslims,” Ahmad protested, “why did you tell them? They will be my
entreated me over and over, so at last I consented to tell her,”
Ahmad prepared to
return to the desert.
“While still alive,
you have made me a widow and your child an orphan,” cried his wife.
“When he asks for you, what am I to do? There is no other way. You
must take the boy with you.”
“I will do that,”
He stripped him of
his fine clothes and flung a strip of goat’s wool over him. He put a
wallet in his hand.
“Now be on your
way,” he said.
“I cannot stand
this,” cried his wife when she saw the child in that state. She
snatched the boy to her.
“I give you charge
of myself too,” said Ahmad. “If you so desire, set me free.”
Then Ahmad returned
to the wilderness. Some years went by. Then one night, at the time
of the prayer of sleeping, a man came to Sari’s hospice.
“Ahmad sent me,” he
said, entering. “He says, ‘My affairs have come to a critical pass.
Help me.’ “
Sari went out. He
found Ahmad lying on the ground in a sepulchre, on the point of
expiring. His tongue was still moving. Sari listened. Ahmad was
saying, “For the like of this let the workers work.” Sari raised his
head from the dust, wiped it, and laid it on his breast. Ahmad
opened his eyes and saw the shaikh.
“Master, you have
come in time,” he cried. “My affairs have come to a critical pass.”
Then he ceased to
breathe. Weeping, Sari set out for the city to arrange his affairs.
He saw a multitude coming forth from the city.
“Where are you
going?” he asked.
“Do you not know?”
they replied. “Last night a voice was heard from Heaven proclaiming,
‘Whoever desires to pray over an elect friend of God, say, Go to the
cemetery of Shuniziya.’”
Anecdotes of Sari
Junaid reported the
One day when I
visited Sari I found him in tears.
“What happened?” I
occurred to me,” he replied, “that tonight I would hang out a jar
for the water to cool. In a dream I saw a houri who told me, when I
asked her who she belonged to, ‘I belong to the man who does not
hang out a jar for the water to get cool.’ The houri then dashed my
jar to the ground. See there!”
I saw the broken
shards. For a long time the pieces still lay there.
The following was
also reported by Junaid.
One night I had been
sleeping peacefully, and when I awoke my secret soul insisted that I
should go to the mosque of Shuniziya. I went there, and saw by the
mosque a person of terrible mien. I was afraid.
“Junaid, are you
afraid of me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“If you knew God as
He should be known,” he said, “you would fear none but Him.”
“Who are you?” I
“I wanted to see
you,” I told him.
“The moment you
thought of me, you forgot God without being aware of it,” he said.
“What was your object in wanting to see me?”
“I wanted to ask
whether you had any power over the poor,” I told him.
“No,” he answered.
“Why is that?” I
“When I want to trap
them with worldly things, they flee to the next world,” he said.
“And when I want to trap them with the next world, they flee to the
Lord, and there I cannot follow them.”
“If you cannot
master them, then do you see them?” I enquired.
“I see them,” he
answered. “When they are at concert and in ecstasy, I see the source
of their lamentation.”
With that he
vanished. I entered the mosque, to find Sari there with his head on
“He lies, that enemy
of God,” he said, raising his head. “They are too precious for Him
to show them to Iblis.”
Sari had a sister.
She asked for permission to sweep his apartment, but he refused her.
“My life is not
worthy of this,” he told her.
One day she entered
and saw an old woman sweeping out his room.
“Brother, you did
not give me permission to wait upon you. Now you have brought one
not of your kindred.”
“Sister, let not
your heart be troubled,” Sari replied. “This is this lower world.
She fell in love with me, and was denied me. So now she asked
permission of Almighty God to be a part of my life. She has been
given the task of sweeping my chamber.”
Abu ‘Ali Shaqiq ibn
Ibrahim al-Azdi of Balkh, a man of wide learning, began his career
as a merchant but later turned to the ascetic way. He made the
pilgrimage to Makkah, and was martyred in 194 (810).
The career of Shafiq-e Balkhi
Shaqiq-e Balkhi was
a master of many sciences, and wrote many books. He taught Hatem the
Deaf, whilst he learned the Way from Ibrahim-e Adham. He claimed to
have studied under I,700 teachers, and to have acquired several
camels’ loads of books. The circumstances of his conversion were as
Shaqiq went to
Torkestan on a trading expedition. On the way he paused to look at a
temple, where he saw an idolater worshipping an idol and making
“You have a Creator
who is living and omnipotent and omniscient,” he told the man.
“Worship Him. Have some shame; do not worship an idol from which
neither good nor evil comes.”
‘If it is as you
say,” the idolater replied, “is He not able to provide you with your
daily bread in your own city? Must you then come all this way here?”
These words awakened
Shaqiq to the truth, and he turned back towards Balkh. A Zoroastrian
happened to travel along with him.
“What are you
engaged upon?” asked the Zoroastrian.
“If you are going in
search of sustenance that has not been preordained for you, you can
travel till the resurrection and you will not attain it,” said the
other. “And if you are going after sustenance that has been
foreordained for you, do not trouble to go; it will come to you of
These words awakened
Shaqiq still further, and his love for worldly things grew chill.
returned to Balkh, where his friends gave him a warm welcome; for he
was famous for his generosity. Now the Prince of Balkh at that time
was Ali ibn Isa ibn Haman, and he kept hunting-dogs. It so happened
that one of his dogs was missing.
“It is with Shaqiq’s
neighbour,” they told him.
The man was arrested
and accused of stealing the dog. They beat him about, and he turned
to Shaqiq for protection. Shaqiq went to the Prince.
“Give me three days,
and I will bring your dog back to you. Set my friend free,” he
The Prince set
Shaqiq’s neighbour free. Three days later by chance a man found and
captured the dog.
“I must take this
dog to Shaqiq,” he thought. “He is a generous man, and will give me
So he brought the
dog to Shaqiq. Shaqiq brought it to the Prince, and thus he was quit
of his pledge. Thereupon he resolved to turn his back on the world
Later there was a
great famine in Balkh, so that men were devouring one another. In
the market Shaqiq saw a young slave laughing happily.
occasion for merriment is this?” Shaqiq demanded. “Do you not see
how the people are suffering from hunger?”
“Why should I be
worried?” the slave answered. “My master owns a whole village and
has plenty of grain. He will never let me go hungry.”
Shaqiq lost all
self-control on hearing this reply.
“O God,” he cried,
“this slave is so happy in having a master who owns a stack of corn.
Thou art the King of Kings, and hast undertaken to give us our daily
bread. Why then should we be anxious?”
abandoned all worldly occupation and made sincere repentance. He set
forth on the path to God, in whom he put perfect trust. He used to
say, “I am the pupil of a slave.”
Hatem the Deaf
relates the following anecdote. I went with Shaqiq to the holy war.
One day the
fighting was very
fierce; the ranks were drawn up so closely that nothing could be
seen but the tips of lances, and arrows were raining from the sky.
called to me, “how are you enjoying yourself? May be you are
thinking it is last night, when you were sleeping in your bedclothes
with your wife!”
“Not at all,” I
“In God’s name why
not?” Shaqiq cried. “That is how I feel. I feel as you did last
night in your bedclothes.”
Then night came on,
and Shaqiq laid down and, wrapping himself in his gown, fell fast
asleep. So completely did he rely upon God that in the midst of so
many enemies he slept soundly.
One day Shaqiq was
lecturing when news ran through the city that the infidels were at
the gates. Shaqiq ran out and routed the unbelievers, then he
returned. A disciple placed a handful of flowers near the Master’s
prayer rug. He picked them up and smelt them.
An ignorant fellow
saw this and shouted,
“An army at the
gates, and the imam of the Muslims holds flowers to his nose!”
“The hypocrite sees
the smelling of flowers all right, but he does not see the routing
of the infidels,” Shaqiq commented.
Shaqiq-e Balkhi before Harun al-Rashid
When Shaqiq set out
on the Makkah pilgrimage and reached Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid
“Are you Shaqiq the
Ascetic?” Harun demanded when he came into his presence.
“I am Shaqiq,” he
replied, “but not the Ascetic.”
“Counsel me,” Harun
Shaqiq proceeded. “Almighty God has set you in the place of Abu Bakr
the Trusty, and requires trustiness from you as from him. He has set
you in the place of Umar the Discriminator, and requires from you as
from him discrimination between truth and falsehood. He has set you
in the place of Uthman of the Two Lights, and requires from you as
from him modesty and nobility. He has set you in the place of Ali
the Well-approved, and requires from you as from him knowledge and
“Say more,” Harun
“God has a
lodging-place called Hell,” Shaqiq said. “He has appointed you its
doorkeeper, and has equipped you with three things—wealth, sword and
whip. ‘With these three things,’ He commands, ‘keep the people away
from Hell. If any man comes to you in need, do not grudge him money.
If any man opposes God’s commandment, school him with this whip. If
any man slays another, lawfully exact retaliation on him with this
sword.’ If you do not these things, you will be the leader of those
that enter Hell.”
“Say more,” Harun
“You are the
fountain, and your agents are the rivulets,” said Shaqiq. “If the
fountain is bright, it is not impaired by the darkness of the
rivulets. But if the fountain is dark, what hope is there that the
rivulets will be bright?”
“Say more,” Harun
“Suppose you are
thirsting in the desert, so that you are about to perish,” Shaqiq
went on. “If in that moment you come upon a draught of water, how
much will you be willing to give for it?”
“As much as the man
demands,” said Harun. “And if he will not sell save for half your
“I would give that,”
“And suppose you
drink the water and then it will not come out of you, so that you
are in danger of perishing,” Shaqiq pursued. “Then someone tells
you, ‘I will cure you, but I demand half your kingdom.’ What would
“I would give it,”
“Then why do you
vaunt yourself of a kingdom,” said Shaqiq, “the value of which is
one draught of water which you drink, and then it comes out of you?”
Harun wept, and sent
Shaqiq away with all honour.
Abu ‘l-Fawares Shah
ibn Shoja‘ al-Kermani, said to be of a princely family and author of
works on Sufism which have not survived, died sometime after 270
Shah-e Shoja‘-e Kermani and his children
Kermani had one son. On his breast he had written in green the word
Allah. In due course the boy, overcome by the wayward impulses of
youth, amused himself by strolling with lute in hand. He had a fine
voice, and as he sauntered he would play the lute and sing tearful
One night, being
drunk, he went out on to the streets playing his lute and singing
songs. When he came to a certain quarter, a bride newly come there
rose up from her husband’s side and came to look at him. The husband
thereupon awoke and, missing his wife, also stared at the spectacle.
“Boy,” he called to
him, “has not the time come to repent?”
These words struck
the youth to the heart.
“It has come. It has
come,” he cried.
Rending his robe and
breaking his lute, he betook himself to his room and for forty days
ate nothing. Then he emerged and took his way.
“What I was
vouchsafed only after forty years, he has been granted after forty
days,” remarked Shah-e Shoja‘.
Shah-e Shoja‘ also
had a daughter. The kings of Kerman asked for her hand in marriage.
He requested three days’ grace, and during those three days he went
from mosque to mosque, till at last he caught sight of a dervish
praying earnestly. Shah-e Shoja‘ waited patiently until he had
finished his prayers, then he addressed him.
“Dervish, do you
have any family?”
“No,” the dervish
“Do you want a wife
who can recite the Quran?”
“Who is there who
will give such a wife to me?” said the dervish. “All I possess is
“I will give you my
daughter,” said Shah-e Shoja‘. “Of these three dirhams you possess,
spend one on bread and one on attar of roses, then tie the
accordingly. That same night Shah-e Shoja‘ despatched his daughter
to his house. Entering the dervish’s house, the girl saw some dry
bread beside a jug of water.
“What is this
bread?” she demanded.
“It remained over
from yesterday. I kept it for tonight,” the dervish told her.
Thereupon the girl
made to leave the house.
“I knew,” the
dervish observed, “that the daughter of Shah-e Shoja‘ would never be
able to live with me and put up with my poverty.”
“Sir, it is not on
account of your lack of means that I am leaving you,” the girl
replied. “I am leaving because of your lack of faith and trust, in
that you set aside bread from yesterday, not relying on God’s
provision for the morrow. At the same time I am surprised at my
father. For twenty years he has kept me at home, always saying ‘I
will give you to a godfearing man.’ Now he has given me to a fellow
who does not rely on God for his daily bread.”
“Is there any
atonement for this sin?” the dervish asked.
“Yes,” said the
girl. “The atonement is, that only one of the two remains in this
house—myself, or the dry bread.”
Abu ‘Abd Allah
Sufyan ibn Sa’id al-Thauri was born in 97 (715) at Kufa and studied
first under his father, and later with many learned men, attaining
high proficiency in Traditions and theology. In 158 (775) he
collided with the authorities and was compelled to go into hiding in
Makkah; he died in 161 (778) at Basra. He founded a school of
jurisprudence which survived for about two centuries; living a
strictly ascetic life, he was claimed by the Sufis as a saint.
Sufyan-e Thauri and the caliphs
of Sufyan-e Thauri manifested itself even before he was born. One
day his mother was on the roof of her house and put in her mouth a
few pickles from her neighbour’s roof. Sufyan gave such a violent
kick against his mother’s womb that she thought she had lost him.
It is reported that
the caliph of those days was praying before Sufyan, and whilst at
prayer he twirled his moustache.
“This is not a
proper kind of prayer,” Sufyan called out. “Tomorrow on the
resurrection plain this prayer will be flung into your face like a
“Speak a little more
gently,” said the caliph.
“If I should hold my
hand back from such a responsibility,” Sufyan answered, “my urine
would turn to blood.”
The caliph was
angered by these remarks, and ordered him to be put on the gallows.
“Then no one else
will be so bold before me,” he said.
On the day when the
gallows were erected, Sufyan was lying with his head in the bosom of
a great saint and his feet in the lap of Sufyan ibn Oyaina, fast
asleep. The two saints, learning that the gallows were being
prepared, said to one another, “Let us not tell him.” At this point
“What is happening?”
They told him,
exhibiting much distress.
“I am not so greatly
attached to life,” Sufyan commented. “But one must discharge one’s
duty so long as one is in this world.”
His eyes filling
with tears, he prayed, “Lord God, seize them with a mighty seizing!”
The caliph at that
moment was seated on his throne surrounded by the pillars of state.
A thunderbolt struck the palace, and the caliph with his ministers
was swallowed by the earth.
well-received and quickly answered prayer!” exclaimed those two
Another caliph sat
on the throne who believed in Sufyan. It so happened that Sufyan
fell ill. Now the caliph had a Christian physician, a great master
and extremely clever. He sent him to Sufyan to treat him. When he
examined his urine, he remarked,
“This is a man whose
liver has turned to blood out of the fear of God. It is flowing
little by little out of his bladder. The religion which such a man
holds,” he added, “cannot be false.”
And he immediately
“I thought I was
sending the physician to the bed of a sick man,” the caliph
commented. “In reality I sent the sick man to treat the physician.”
Anecdotes of Sufyan-e Thauri
One day Sufyan with
a friend was passing the door of a notable. The friend gazed at the
portico. Sufyan rebuked him.
“If you and your
like did not gaze so at their palaces, they would not commit such
extravagance,” he said. “By gazing you become partners in the sin of
A neighbour of
Sufyan’s died, and Sufyan went out to pray at his funeral. After
that he heard people saying, “He was a good man.”
“If I had known that
other men approved of him,” said Sufyan, “I would never have taken
part in his funeral. Unless a man is a hypocrite, the others do not
approve of him!”
One day Sufyan put
on his clothes all awry. When this was pointed out to him, he was on
the point of adjusting them, but then abstained.
“I put on this shirt
for God’s sake,” he said. “I do not wish to change it for the sake
A youth missed the
pilgrimage, and he sighed.
“I have performed
forty pilgrimages,” Sufyan told him. “I bestow them all on you. Will
you bestow this sigh on me?”
“I do,” said the
That night Sufyan
dreamed that a voice said to him, “You have made such a profit on
the transaction that, if it were divided up amongst all the pilgrims
at Arafat, they would be rich indeed.”
One day Sufyan was
eating a piece of bread when a dog happened along. He gave the bread
to the dog, bit by bit.
“Why did you not eat
it with your wife and child?” he was asked.
“If I give bread to
the dog,?’ he replied, “he keeps watch over me all through the night
so that I can pray.
If I give it to my
wife and child, they hold me back from my devotions.”
Once Sufyan was
travelling to Makkah in a litter. A companion was with him, and
Sufyan wept all the way.
“Do you weep out of
fear for your sins?” asked his friend. Sufyan stretched out his hand
and plucked some stubble.
“My sins are many,”
he replied. “Yet though my sins are many, they mean no more to me
than this handful of stubble. What makes me afraid is whether the
faith I am offering is really faith or no.”
An illustration of
the compassion Sufyan showed to all God’s creatures is provided by
the following story. One day he saw in the market a bird in a cage,
fluttering and making a pitiful sound. He bought it and set it free.
Every night the bird would come to Sufyan’s home and watch all night
while Sufyan prayed, perching on him from time to time.
When Sufyan died and
was being borne to the grave, that bird insisted on joining the
procession and wailed pitifully along with the rest of the mourners.
When Sufyan was committed to the dust, the bird dashed itself to the
ground. A voice issued from the tomb, “Almighty God has forgiven
Sufyan for the compassion he showed to His creatures.” The bird died
too, and joined Sufyan.
Abu ‘Uthman Sa’id
ibn Esma’il al-Hiri al-Nisaburi came originally from Rayy, where he
knew Yahya ibn Mo’adh al-Razi and Shah ibn Shoja’ al-Kermani. He
moved to Nishapur where he came under the influence of Abu Hafs
al-Haddad. He visited al-Junaid in Baghdad, and died at Nishapur in
The education of Abu Uthman-e Hiri
“My heart even in
the days of my childhood was always seeking after something of
reality,” said Abu Uthman-e Hiri. “I had an aversion for the
followers of formal religion, and I was always convinced that
something else existed apart from what the general mass of the
people believed in, that the Islamic way of life held mysteries
other than its external manifestations.”
One day Abu Uthman
was going to school accompanied by four slaves, an Ethiop, a Greek,
a Kashmiri, and a Turk. In his hand he carried a golden pen-case; he
wore on his head a muslin turban, on his back a silk robe. Passing
on his way an ancient caravanserai, he peeped in and saw there an
ass with sores on its back, a raven was pecking at its wounds, and
the beast had not the strength to drive it away. Abu Uthman was
filled with compassion.
“Why are you with
me?” he addressed one of the slaves.
“To assist you in
every thought that passes through your mind,” the slave replied.
Uthman took off his silken dress and covered the donkey with it,
bandaging the beast with his muslin turban. With mute eloquence the
ass at once communed with God Almighty. Before ever he reached home,
Abu Uthman was visited by a spiritual experience such as true men of
Like one distraught,
he found his way to the assembly of Yahya-e Mo’adh; his preaching
opened a door in his heart. Breaking away from his mother and
father, Abu Uthman served Yahya for a while, learning the Sufi
discipline. This continued until a party arrived from Shah-e
Shoja’-e Kermani and told stories of that holy man. A great
eagerness to see Shah-e Shoja’ invaded Abu Uthman. Having obtained
permission from his spiritual preceptor he proceeded to Kerman, to
wait on the saint. Shah-e Shoja’ declined to receive him.
“You have become
habituated to hope,” he told him. “Yahya’s station is hope.
Spiritual advancement cannot be looked for in one brought up on
hope. Blind attachment to hope generates idleness. With Yahya, hope
is a real experience; with you it is blind imitation.”
Abu Uthman entreated
the saint with great humility, haunting his threshold for twenty
days, till at last he was admitted. He remained in his society and
derived much benefit from his instruction until the time came when
Shah-e Shoja’ set out for Nishapur to visit Abu Hafs. Abu Uthman
accompanied him, the saint wearing a short tunic. Abu Hafs came out
to receive Shah-e Shoja’ and showered praises upon him.
Abu Uthman’s whole
desire was to join the company of Abu Hafs, but his reverence for
Shah-e Shoja’ prevented him from broaching the matter, for Shah-e
Shoja’ was a jealous teacher. Abu Uthman begged God to provide some
means whereby he might remain with Abu Hafs without annoying Shah-e
Shoja’; for he perceived that Abu Hafs was a man of great spiritual
When Shah-e Shoja’
determined that it was time to return to Kerman, Abu Uthman busied
himself with making ready provisions for the road. Then one day Abu
Hafs said to Shah-e Shoja’ very affably, “Leave this young man here.
I am delighted with him.”
“Obey the Shaykh,”
said Shah-e Shoja’, turning to Abu Uthman. With that Shah-e Shoja’
departed, and Abu Uthman remained, and saw what he saw.
“I was still a young
man,” Abu Uthman recalled, “when Abu Hafs dismissed me from his
service. ‘I do not wish you to come near me any more,’ he told me. I
said nothing, and my heart would not suffer me to turn my back on
him. So I withdrew facing him as I was, weeping all the while, till
I vanished from his sight. I made a place opposite him and cut out a
hole through which I watched him. I firmly resolved never to leave
that spot unless the Shaykh ordered me. When the Shaykh noticed me
there and observed my sorry state, he called me out and promoted me
to his favour, marrying his daughter to me.”
Anecdotes of Abu Uthman
“For forty years,”
said Abu Uthman, “whatever state God has kept me in I have not
resented, and to whatever state He has transferred me I have not
The following story
bears out this assertion. A man who disbelieved in Abu Uthman sent
him an invitation. Abu Uthman accepted, and got as far as the door
of his house. The man then shouted at him.
“Glutton, there is
nothing here for you. Go home!”
Abu Uthman went
home. He had gone only a little way when the man called out to him.
“Shaykh, come here!”
Abu Uthman returned.
“You are very eager
to eat,” the man taunted him. “There is still less. Be off with
The Shaykh departed.
The man summoned him again, and he went back.
“Eat stones, or go
Abu Uthman went off
once more. Thirty times the man summoned him and drove him away.
Thirty times the Shaykh came and went, without showing the least
discomposure. Then the man fell at his feet and with tears repented,
becoming his disciple.
“What a man you
are!” he exclaimed. “Thirty times I drove you off with contumely,
and you showed not the slightest discomposure.”
“This is an easy
matter,” Abu Uthman replied. “Dogs do the same. When you drive them
away they go, and when you call them they come, without showing any
discomposure. A thing in which dogs equal us cannot really be
accounted anything. Men’s work is something quite other.”
One day Abu Uthman
was walking along the street when someone emptied a tray of ashes on
his head from the roof. His companions, infuriated, were about to
abuse the offender, but Abu Uthman stopped them.
“One should give
thanks a thousandfold,” he said, “that one who merited fire was let
off with ashes!”
A dissolute young
fellow was strolling along with a lute in his hand, completely
drunk. Suddenly catching sight of Abu Uthman, he tucked his curls
under his cap and drew the lute into his sleeve, thinking that he
would denounce him to the authorities. Abu Uthman approached him in
the kindliest manner.
“Do not be afraid.
Brothers are all one,” he said.
When the young man
saw that, he repented and became a disciple of the Shaykh. Abu
Uthman instructed him to be washed, invested him, and then raised
his head to heaven.
“O God,” he cried,
“I have done my part. The rest Thou must do.”
youth was visited by such a mystical experience that Abu Uthman
himself was amazed.
At the time of the
afternoon prayers, Abu Uthman-e Maghrebi arrived. Abu Uthman-e Hiri
said to him, “Shaykh, I am consumed with envy. All that I have
yearned for in a long life has been poured freely on the head of
this youth, from whose belly the odour of wine still proceeds. So
you know that men propose, but God disposes.”
Abu Zakariya’ Yahya
ibn Mu'adh al-Razi, a disciple of Ibn Karram, left his native town
of Rayy and lived for a time in Balkh, afterwards proceeding to
Nishapur where he died in 258 (871). A certain number of poems are
attributed to him.
Yahya-e Mu'adh-e Razi and his debt
Yahya-e Mu'adh had
incurred a debt of a hundred thousand dirhams. He had borrowed all
this money and expended it on gifts to holy warriors, pilgrims, poor
men, scholars and Sufis. His creditors were pressing him for
repayment, and his heart was much preoccupied thereby.
One night he dreamed
that the Prophet spoke to him.
“Yahya, be not
over-anxious, for I am pained on account of your anxiety. Arise, go
to Khorasan. There a woman has set aside three hundred thousand
dirhams to meet the hundred thousand you have borrowed.”
“Messenger of God,”
cried Yahya, “which is that city, and who is that person?”
“Go from city to
city and preach,” said the Prophet. “Your words bring healing to
men’s hearts. Just as I have come to you in a dream, so now I will
visit that person in a dream.”
So Yahya came to
Nishapur. They set up a pulpit for him before the cupola.
“Men of Nishapur,”
he cried, “I have come here at the direction of the Prophet, on him
be peace. The Prophet declared, ‘One will discharge the debt you
owe.’ I have a debt of a hundred thousand silver dirhams. Know that
always my words possessed a beauty, but now this debt has come as a
veil over that beauty.”
“I will give fifty
thousand dirhams,” one man volunteered.
“I will give forty
thousand,” offered another.
Yahya declined to
accept their gifts.
“The Master, peace
be upon him, indicated one person,” he said.
He then began to
preach. On the first day seven corpses were removed from the
gathering. Then, seeing that his debt was not discharged in
Nishapur, Yahya set out for Balkh. There he was detained for a while
to preach. He extolled riches over poverty. They gave him a hundred
thousand dirhams. But his words did not please a certain shaikh
living in those parts, seeing that he had preferred riches.
“May God not bless
him!” he exclaimed.
When Yahya left
Balkh he was set on by highwaymen and robbed of all the money.
“That is the result
of that shaikh’s prayer,” they said.
So he proceeded to
Herat, some say by way of Merv. There he related his dream. The
daughter of the Prince of Herat was in the audience. She sent him a
worrying about the debt. The night the Prophet spoke to you in a
dream, he also spoke to me. I said, ‘Messenger of God, I will go to
him.’ ‘No,’ the Prophet replied, ‘he will come to you.’ I have
therefore been waiting for you. When my father gave me in marriage,
the things others receive in copper and brass he made for me of
silver and gold. The silver things are worth three hundred thousand
dirhams. I bestow them on you. But I have one requirement, that you
preach here for four days more.”
Yahya held forth for
four days longer. On the first day ten corpses were taken up, on the
second twenty-five, on the third forty, and on the fourth seventy.
Then on the fifth day Yahya left Herat with seven camels’ loads of
silver. When he reached Balham, being accompanied by his son,
transporting all that wealth, his son demurred.
“When he enters the
town, he must not give it all immediately to the creditors and the
poor and leave me with nothing of it.”
At dawn Yahya was
communing with God, his head bowed to the ground. Suddenly a rock
fell on his head.
“Give the money to
the creditors,” he cried. Then he expired.
The men of the Way
lifted him on their shoulders and bore him to Nishapur, where they
laid him in the grave.
Yahya-e Mu'adh-e Razi and his brother
Yahya-e Mu'adh had a
brother who went to Makkah and took up residence near the Kaaba.
From there he wrote a letter to Yahya.
“Three things I
desired. Two have been realized. Now one remains. Pray to God that
He may graciously grant that one desire as well. I desired that I
might pass my last years in the noblest place on earth. Now I have
come to the Sacred Territory, which is the noblest of all places. My
second desire was to have a servant to wait on me and make ready my
ablution water. God has given me a seemly servant-girl. My third
desire is to see you before I die. Pray to God that he may vouchsafe
Yahya replied to his
brother as follows.
“As for your saying
that you desired the best place on earth, be yourself the best of
men, then live in whatever place you wish. A place is noble by
reason of its inhabitants, not vice versa.
“Then as for your
saying that you desired a servant and have now got one, if you were
really a true and chivalrous man, you would never have made God’s
servant your own servant, detaining her from serving God and
diverting her to serve yourself. You should yourself be a servant.
You desire to be a master, but mastership is an attribute of God.
Servanthood is an attribute of man. God’s servant must be a servant.
When God’s servant desires a station proper to God, he makes himself
“Finally, as to your
saying that you desire to see me, if you were truly aware of God,
you would never remember me. So associate with God, that no memory
of your brother ever comes into your mind. There one must be ready
to sacrifice one’s son; how much more a brother! If you have found
Him, what am I to you? And if you have not found Him, what profit
will you gain from me?”
Abu Ya’qub Yusuf ibn
al-Hussain al-Razi travelled extensively from his native Rayy,
visiting Arabia and Egypt where he met and studied under Dho ‘l-Nun
al-Misri. He returned to preach in Rayy, dying there in 304 (9I6).
The conversion of Yusuf ibn al-Hussain-e Razi
The spiritual career
of Yusuf ibn al-Hussain-e Razi began in the following circumstances.
He was travelling in Arabia with a company of his fellows when he
arrived in the territory of a certain tribe. When the daughter of
the Prince of the Arabs caught sight of him, she fell madly in love
with him, for he was possessed of great beauty. Waiting her
opportunity, the girl suddenly flung herself before him. Trembling,
he left her and departed to a more distant tribe.
That night he was
sleeping with his head on his knees, when he dreamed he was in a
place the like of which he had never seen. One was seated on a
throne there in kingly wise, surrounded by a company clad in green
robes. Wishful to know who they might be, Yusuf edged his way
towards them. They made way for him, treating him with much respect.
“Who are you?” he
“We are angels,”
they replied, “and he who is seated on the throne there is Joseph,
upon whom be peace. He has come to pay a visit to Yusuf ibn
Let Yusuf tell the
rest of the story in his own words.
weeping, I cried, “Who am I, that God’s prophet should come to visit
upon him be peace, descended from his throne, took me in his
embrace, and seated me on the throne.
“Prophet of God,” I
cried, “who am I that you should be so gracious to me?”
“In the hour,”
Joseph answered, “when that lovely girl flung herself before you,
and you committed yourself to God and sought His protection, God
displayed you to me and the angels. God said, ‘See, Joseph! You are
that Joseph who inclined after Zoleikha only to repel her. He is
that Joseph who did not incline after the daughter of the King of
the Arabs, and fled.’ God Himself sent me with these angels to visit
you. He sends you the good tidings that you are of God’s elect.”
Then Joseph added,
“In every age there is a portent. The portent in this age is Dho
‘l-Nun-e Misri. He has been vouchsafed the Greatest Name of God. Go
When Yusuf awoke
(the narrative continues) he was filled with a great ache. A
powerful yearning overmastered him, and he turned his face towards
Egypt, desirous to know the Great Name of God. Arriving at the
mosque of Dho ‘l-Nun, he spoke the greeting and sat down. Dho ‘l-Nun
returned his greeting. For a whole year Yusuf sat in a remote corner
of the mosque, not daring to question Dho ‘l-Nun.
After a year Dho
‘l-Nun asked, “Whence is this young man come?”
“From Rayy,” he
For another year Dho
‘l-Nun said nothing, and Yusuf continued to occupy the same corner.
At the end of the
second year Dho ‘l-Nun asked, “On what errand has this young man
“To visit you,” he
For another year Dho
‘l-Nun was silent. Then he asked, “Does he require anything?”
“I have come that
you may teach me the Greatest Name,” Yusuf replied.
For a further year
Dho ‘l-Nun held his peace. Then he handed Yusuf a wooden vessel
“Cross the River
Nile,” he told him. “In a certain place there is an elder. Give this
bowl to him, and remember whatever he tells you.”
Yusuf took the bowl
and set forth. When he had gone a part of the way, a temptation
“What is this moving
about in this bowl?”
He uncovered the
bowl. A mouse jumped out and ran away. Yusuf was filled with
“Where am I to go?
Shall I go to this elder, or return to Dho ‘l-Nun?”
Finally he proceeded
to the elder, carrying the empty bowl. When the elder beheld him, he
“You asked him for
God’s Great Name?” he asked.
“Dho ‘l-Nun saw your
impatience, and gave you a mouse,” the elder said. “Glory be to God!
You cannot look after a mouse. How then will you keep the Greatest
Put to shame, Yusuf
returned to the mosque of Dho ‘l-Nun.
“Yesterday I asked
leave of God seven times to teach you the Greatest Name,” Dho ‘l-Nun
told him. “God did not give permission, meaning that the time is not
yet. Then God commanded me, ‘Make trial of him with a mouse.’ When I
made trial of you, this is what happened. Now return to your own
city, till the proper time comes.”
“Before I leave,
give me a testament,” Yusuf begged.
“I will give you
three testaments,” said Dho ‘l-Nun, “one great, one middling, and
one small. The great testament is this, that you forget all that you
have read, and wash away all that you have written, so that the veil
may be lifted.”
“This I cannot do,”
testament is this, that you forget me and tell my name to no man,”
said Dho ‘l-Nun. “To say that my monitor declared this or my shaikh
ordered that is all self-praise.”
“This too I cannot
do,” said Yusuf.
“The small testament
is this,” said Dho ‘l-Nun, “that you counsel men and call them to
“This I can do, God
willing,” said Yusuf.
however,” Dho ‘l-Nun added, “that in counselling men you do not have
men in sight.”
“So I will do,”
Then he proceeded to
Rayy. Now he came from the nobility of Rayy, and the citizens came
out to welcome him. When he began his preaching, he expounded the
mystic realities. The people, accustomed to exoteric doctrine, rose
up in anger against him, for in that time only formal learning was
current. Yusuf fell into disrepute, to such an extent that no one
came to his lectures.
One day he turned up
to preach as usual, but seeing no one in the hall he was about to
return home. At that moment an old woman called to him.
“Did you not promise
Dho ‘l-Nun that in counselling men you would not have them in sight,
and would speak only for God’s sake?”
Astonished at her
words, Yusuf began to preach. Thereafter he continued so for fifty
years, whether anyone was present or no.
Yusuf ibn al-Hussain and Ibrahim-e Khauwas
became a disciple of Yusuf ibn al-Hussain. Through the blessing of
his companionship he attained to such remarkable spiritual
advancement that he would travel through the desert without
provision and mount. It is to him that we owe the following story.
One night (Ibrahim
said) I heard a voice which said to me, “Go and say to Yusuf-e
Hussain, ‘You are of the rejected’.” So grievous were these words
for me to hear, that if a mountain had been flung on my head that
would have been easier to bear than that I should repeat what I had
heard to him.
Next night I heard
in even more menacing tones, “Say to him, ‘You are of the
rejected’.” Rising up, I washed and begged God’s forgiveness, and
sat in meditation till the third night, when the same voice came to
me. “Say to him, ‘You are of the rejected’. If you do not deliver
this message, you will receive such a blow that you will not rise
So full of sorrow I
rose up and went to the mosque, where I saw Yusuf seated in the
“Do you remember any
verse?” he asked me when he saw me.
“I do,” I replied. I
recollected a verse in Arabic which I recited to him. Delighted, he
rose up and remained on his feet for a long while, tears as if
flecked with blood streaming from his eyes. Then he turned to me.
“Since first light
till now,” he said, “they have been reciting the Quran before me,
and not one drop came to my eyes. Now through that single verse you
spoke such a state has manifested —a veritable torrent has flowed
from my eyes. Men are right when they say I am a heretic. The voice
of the Divine Presence speaks truly, that I am of the rejected. A
man who is so affected by a verse of poetry, while the Quran makes
no impression whatever upon him—he is surely rejected.”
I was bewildered by
what I saw and heard. My belief in him was shaken. Afraid, I rose up
and set my face towards the desert. By chance I fell in with Khizr,
who addressed me.
“Yusuf-e Hussain has
received a blow from God. But his place is in the topmost heights of
Heaven. A man must stride so far and manfully upon the path of God,
that even if the hand of rejection is struck against his forehead,
yet his place is in the topmost heights of Heaven. If he falls on
this path from kingship, yet he will not fall from the rank of
Yusuf ibn al-Hussain and the handmaiden
A certain merchant
in Nishapur bought a Turkish handmaiden for a thousand dinars. He
had a creditor living in another town, and wanted to go in haste and
recover his money from him. In Nishapur there was no one in whom he
trusted sufficiently to commit the girl to his keeping. So he called
on Abu ‘Uthman-e Hiri and explained his predicament to him. At first
Abu ‘Uthman refused, but the merchant implored him earnestly.
“Admit her into your
harem. I will return as soon as possible.”
So finally he
consented, and the merchant departed. Involuntarily Abu ‘Uthman’s
glance fell upon the girl and he fell uncontrollably in love with
her. Not knowing what to do, he rose up and went to consult his
teacher Abu Hafs-e Haddad.
“You must go to
Rayy, to consult Yusuf ibn al-Hussain,” Abu Hafs told him.
Abu ‘Uthman set out
at once towards Iraq. When he reached Rayy he enquired where Yusuf-e
Hussain was living.
“What have you to do
with that damned heretic?” they asked him. “You look a religious man
yourself. His society will be bad for you.”
They said many such
things to him, so that Abu ‘Uthman regretted having come there and
returned to Nishapur.
“Did you see Yusuf-e
Hussain?” Abu Hafs asked him.
“No,” he replied.
“I heard that he was
such and such a man,” Abu ‘Uthman related what the people of Rayy
had told him. “So I did not go to him, but returned.”
“Go back and see
him,” Abu Hafs urged.
Abu ‘Uthman returned
to Rayy and again asked for Yusuf’s house. The people of Rayy told
him a hundred times as much as before.
“But I have
important business with him,” he explained.
So at last they
indicated the way to him. When he reached Yusuf’s house, he saw an
old man seated there. A beardless and handsome boy was before him,
laying before him a bowl and a goblet. Light streamed from his face.
Abu ‘Uthman entered and spoke the greeting and sat down. Shaikh
Yusuf began to speak, and uttered such lofty words that Abu ‘Uthman
“For God’s sake,
master,” he cried, “with such words and such contemplating, what is
this state that is on you? Wine, and a beardless boy?”
“This beardless boy
is my son, and very few people know that he is my son,” Yusuf
replied. “I am teaching him the Quran. A bowl happened to be thrown
into this dustbin. I picked it out and washed it and filled it with
water, so that anyone who wished for water might drink, for I had no
“For God’s sake,”
Abu ‘Uthman repeated, “why do you act so that men say of you what
“I do it for this
reason,” Yusuf answered, “so that no one may send a Turkish
handmaiden to my house as a confidant.”
When Abu ‘Uthman
heard these words he fell down at the shaikh’s feet. He realized
that the man had attained a high degree.