A heart that is pleased, busied and impatient with notions of ‘more’ or ‘less,’ is not a heart but a stomach.
Hazrat Mir Ghotbeddin Mohammad
While the intellect still seeks a saddle for the Hajj, love has already encircled the Ka’bah.
Power of words |
Words are incredibly powerful; what you say, Tweet, blog, or even Facebook can and often does have a consequence, unfortunately sometimes, even unknowingly these can be something undesirable.
Now, the Arabic word for “letter” is ḥarf, from its root letters we can get ḥiraf, which is translated as ‘cutting edge’ like the edge of a blade or knife.
The Arabic word for “word” is kalimah, from its root letters we find the word kalm which means to cause ‘physical harm or wound’
Finally, the Arabic for “tongue” is lisān, from its root letters we get lasan meaning to ‘sharpen’
We’ve all heard the saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well turns out they do, the words we say have the potential to wound. How many people have we wounded with our words?
This is why the Prophet (ﷺ) always said if you don’t have anything good to say it’s better to remain silent.
Know - may God Most High lead you to know all that is good, and lift from you every worry and distress, evil and harm, and may He turn your bitterness into sweetness, the veil before you into revelation, your negligence into remembrance of God, your turning away from God into a turning towards Him; and may He turn your delight in that which is other than Him into delight in Him, and may He submerge you in Himself by Himself, until you see nothing save God…
It is related that Abū ‘Uthmān al-Ḥīrī was once riding in the street when a pot of ashes was thrown down upon him. He dismounted, and prostrated himself to God in gratitude, and then brushed the ashes from his clothes without saying a word. ‘Shall you not rebuke them?’ he was asked, but he replied, ‘A man who deserves hellfire but receives only ashes cannot fairly be angry.’
Luminaries -— Index
As we draw the Luminaries series to an end, we would like to thank everyone that has contributed. Uniting bloggers from around the globe and delivering this series has been an enriching experience. Furthermore, we really appreciate all the support we received from our teachers and friends who helped promote the series. Allāh reward you all abundantly!
The great Shāfi’ī scholar, historian and biographer Imām al-Sakhawi said,
“Whoever records a biography of a believer, it is as though he has brought him or her back to life.”
That was our intention from the outset; to bring a little of their light into your lives. The entire series has been an honor, a privilege, a true blessing!
If anyone has any queries with regards to the references, or indeed incidents that have been mentioned, please contact us.
Luminaries I -— Imām Abū Qāsim al-Junayd
Luminaries II -— Shaykh ʾAḥmad ibn ʿAjība
Luminaries III -— Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim
Luminaries IV -— Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké
Luminaries V -— Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs
Luminaries VI -— Imām al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī
Luminaries VII -— Sayyīda Nafīsa: The Lady of Purity
“Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender!” -— Qurʾān [33:56]
May we receive all the divine treasures we seek.
May our hearts be healed by divine presence within them.
May we become God-Conscious Muslims.
May our emigrations and pilgrimages to Him be sincere.
May we be scientists in the art of being Muslims.
May we become a speck of what the Ṣaḥāba and Ahl al-Bayṭ were.
May we all be illuminated by Sayyidīna Muḥammad (ﷺ) to reunite under the shade of the Ghilans (acacia trees) of paradise.
May this Light that we have attempted to bring into your lives, find a dwelling in our hearts and homes. May it resonate in our daily actions and interactions with all.
“O Allāh, shower blessings, peace and mercy on our master and chief - Muḥammad, the best of creation, and his family, with every glance and every breath, as many times as the number of all things encompassed within the knowledge of Allāh.”
Peace and prayers,
Sidra Mushtaq and Kamran Shaheen
Luminaries VII -— Sayyīda Nafīsa: The Lady of Purity
It would be impossible for me to recount each and every woman that has inspired and touched my life in some way. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that some are luminary figures that have shed their light far and wide. It’s been in such blessed company, in the warmth of a friend’s home that I first heard of a lofty figure who has been inspirational through the ages: Sayyīda Nafīsa. As a community, we tend to be aware of the elevated rank of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) or hear of the oft-quoted Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya. Yet other towering women are barely whispered about, except perhaps in the closest of circles. It’s with this in mind that I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about the saintly Sayyīda Nafīsa.
Sayyīda Nafīsa was a remarkable scholar and saint. She was famously known as Nafīsat al-‘ilmī wal-ma’rifat, (the Rare Lady of Knowledge and Gnosis), and held many other titles including: Nafīsat al-Ṭāhira, (the Rare Lady of Purity), Nafīsat al-‘Ā’bida (the Rare Worshipful Lady), and ṣaḥibat al-Karamat, (the Lady of Miracles). She was a woman renowned for her devotion, piety, asceticism, and to whom miracles were attributed. She constantly recited the Qurʾān, prayed through the night and fasted perpetually. As narrated by her niece Zaynab b Yaḥyā: “I served my aunt, Sayyīda Nafīsa for forty years. I never saw her sleeping at night and I never saw her eating during the day, except the days forbidden to fast – the two ‘Eids and the Days of Tashriq (11th – 13th of Dhū l-Hijjah).”
Sayyīda Nafīsa was a direct descendant of the Prophet (ﷺ). She was the daughter of al-Ḥasan al-Anwar, son of Zayd al-Ablaj, son of Imām al- Ḥasan, son of Sayyīda Fāṭimah al-Zahra (r). She was born in Makkah on the 11th of Rabī’a al-Awwal but grew up in Madīnah since her father was the governor of the blessed city at the time.
Signs of her lofty station were apparent from a very early age; she memorised the Qurʾān and studied Islamic jurisprudence comprehensively. Her great intellectual ability enabled her to become adept in explaining the Qurʾān despite her young age. Furthermore, she used to pray the five prayers regularly behind her father in the mosque of the Prophet (ﷺ). It has been reported that her father used to take Sayyīda Nafīsa to the grave of the Prophet (ﷺ) and would address the Prophet (ﷺ) directly by saying: “Ya Rasūllullāh!, O Beloved Prophet of Allāh! I am pleased with my daughter Nafīsa!.” He repeatedly continued this until one day the Prophet (ﷺ) appeared to him in a dream saying to him, “Ya Ḥasan, I am pleased with your daughter Nafīsa, because you are pleased with her, and Allāh is pleased with her because I am pleased with her.” Again, this particular event signified Sayyīda Nafīsa’s great status at a very young age.
At the age of sixteen, Sayyīda Nafīsa married her cousin Ish’aq al-Mu’taman, a direct descendant of Imām al-Ḥusayn, and they were blessed with a son named al-Qa’ssim and a daughter named ʾUmm Kulṯūm.
Sayyīda Nafīsa and Prophet Ibrahim (AS)
It is reported that when Sayyīda Nafīsa used to recite the Holy Qurʾān, she would pray: “O Allāh make it easy for me to visit the grave of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm, al-Khalīl”. Many years later, Allāh answered her prayer and enabled her to journey to the Holy Land, Jerusalem (Palestine) to visit the grave of the Prophet ʾIbrāhīm (as). It’s narrated that when she arrived at the grave, she wept and recited the following verse from the Holy Qurʾān: “And whenʾIbrāhīm said: My Lord! make this city secure, and save me and my sons from worshipping idols:” [14: 35]
As Sayyīda Nafīsa sat in front of the grave of the Prophet ʾIbrāhīm (as), reciting the Qurʾān, she felt an intense presence, and saw the image of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm (as) in front of her. Of that moment she said, “My heart began to beat harder and my eyes to blink.” She called upon him saying “O my grandfather! – Ya Jiddī! I came to you in body and spirit…. as my soul has come to you before many times, I now come to you in body as well. I seek your good pleasure with me and I seek your guidance and instruction in order that I may worship Allāh until my dying breath.”.At that moment she heard a voice emerging from the image of Sayyidīna ʾIbrāhīm which was before her saying, “Good tidings my granddaughter! You are chosen to be one of the sanctified, worshipful maidservants of your Lord. My advice to you is to recite Sūrah al-Muzammil, wherein Allāh says, “O thou folded in garments! Stand (to prayer) by night, but not all night…” [73:1] until its end and seek to meditate on what you recite. By reciting this chapter you will be guided to the forms of worship and devotion that contain no hardship, as Allāh said, ‘Allāh does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.’ O my granddaughter! The intensity of your worship has made your body weak – try to keep everything in balance.”
Relocation to Egypt
At the age of forty-four, Sayyīda Nafīsa moved to Cairo.
From every distant corner of Egypt, people came flooding to her house in order to take blessings from her, especially women who came simply to touch her and request her du’a. And it’s in Egypt where Sayyīda Nafīsa spent the remaining part of her life.
Luminaries VI -— Imām al-Ḥārithal-Muḥāsibī
It was during Iʿtikāf last Ramaḍānwhere I was sitting in our masjids library and I gazed upon a book my friend was reading, “al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn” (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance), by Imām al-Muḥāsibī. As he left, I picked up the book and started reading it.
Imām Abū ‘Abdullāh al-Ḥārithb Asad al-Muḥāsibī (may Allāh be pleased with him) was born in the great city of Baṣra, Iraq in the year 165 A.H./781 C.E - 243 A.H./857 C.E. The city which would plant the deep roots of the beginning of all Islamic Sciences to be. It is in the center of debates regarding new translated knowledge of the Greeks, Romans, and Syrian Christians etc that Imām al-Muḥāsibī would intellectually take part of, exploring the proper viewpoint of alienated knowledge and philosophies in the Islamic worldview.
Both a scholar and narrator of Ḥadīth, he held a high level of legal thought. He was a major speculative theologian (Mutakallim), who authored over 200 books and treatises. He was the teacher of great Luminaries such as: Imām al-Junayd, Sarī al-Saqaṭī, Aḥmad and Muḥammad b. Abi al-Ward, Aḥmad bin Muḥammad ibn Masrūq, and Muhammad b Ya’qūb al-Farajī. He influenced many theologians who came after him, including Imām al-Ghazālī and his Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-Dīn. He had a somewhat fractious relationship with Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal for his propensity to respond to the Rationalists using their own methods of reasoning, over the years this has led to some people overlooking his works.
He was called Muḥāsibī due to his constant reckoning of his own self, taken from the word muḥāsib, which means he who takes account of something. Therefore Imām al- Muḥāsibī ‘s major intellectual contribution was in the area of character reformation and human development, used essentially as a means in coming close to God. His work entirely focused on God-consciousness, that act which is necessary if we are to truly know and serve God. On the other hand, he emphasized on Divine Grace; it is Allāh who allows one to be on the path of truth; it is Allah who elevates the maqām of His servants; it is Allāh who allows one to be able to conquer and discipline his soul. Though he did not believe it to be completely passive, that it is through reflection, devotion, humility, and having a good opinion of Allāh that the hearts can become illuminated by the Light of Divine Grace.
His greatest work is considered to be ar-Riʿāyah li-ḥūqūq Allāh(Book of observance of the rights of Allāh); most of the themes in that book are dealt in al- Muḥāsibī’s Risāla al-Mustarshidīn (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance) the book I laid my eyes upon.
The greatest of miracles, I believe, of Imām al-Muḥāsibī is his discourse on speculative theology and rectifying the self and that in and of itself has brought in much miracles and inspiration to later luminaries and nations to come by. You and I are both transformed by his works, one way or another. I definitely was since Ramaḍān benefited me well.
Selected sayings of Imām al-Muḥāsibī:
"One who rectifies his inner self with an awareness of God’s surveillance and sincerity; God adorns his outer self with devotional acts and adherence to the prophetic way (Sunnah)."
"Knowledge bequeaths fear, divestment from the world bequeaths comfort, and gnosis bequeaths self criticism."
"Good character is bearing abuse, rarely becoming angry, a pleasant face, and sweet speech."
"One who does not thank God for a blessing has called for its eradication."
"The best person is one who does not allow his Hereafter to preoccupy him from his worldly affair nor does he allow his worldly affair to preoccupy him from his Hereafter."
"The tribulation of the seeker of the world is the idling of his heart from remembrance of the Hereafter."
“For indeed, the pleasure of the wise scholars is in their intellects, and the pleasure of the ignoramuses and beasts is in their desires.”
Luminaries V -— Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs
Bismiʾllahi ʾr-Raḥmāni ʾr-Raḥīm wa ʾṣ-ṣalātu wa salām ʿalā Rasūlihi ʾl-Karīm
When we decided to create this series titled Luminaries, I was undecided as to whom I would write about. So I thought, what does Luminary actually mean? For me, a luminary is someone that has reached the status of sainthood and then gone that one step further. The word luminary is derived from one of two Latin words; lumen meaning “light”, or lucere meaning “to shine”. Interestingly, lumen is also a unit of measurement of; yes you guessed correctly, light (more specifically visible light). My teacher Dr ‘Umar Fārūq ‘Abd-Allāh says that a person’s heart is a receptacle of light, every time you do good, your heart fills with light. Hence, a luminary’s heart is full of light, to be specific: epiphanic light. This light is so strong that it radiates and illuminates all those that come into contact with it.
No one typifies this more for me than Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs al- al-Arā’ishī al-Alāmī al-Idrīsī al-Ḥasanī.
One of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs’s students Imām Muḥammad ʻUthmān al-Mīrghanī wrote, "One time, toward the end of his stay in Mecca, I looked at him while he was sitting next to one of the doors of the Masjid al-Ḥaram. I look at the greatness of his spiritual state and the lights that surrounded him. I saw that such light was coming out of his noble beard, that if the light from a single hair of his beard traveled across the world it would turn all of its inhabitants into ʾawliyāʾ."
Ibn Idrīs was born into a pious family in the suburb of Maysūr in the district of al-Arā’ish near Fez in Morocco in 1750. He was a direct descendant of Sayyidīna Ḥasan b. ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet (ﷺ). He is often referred to as the “enigmatic saint” as very little is known about him, and he did not leave behind a compendium of written work. It said he was also bestowed with another name, this time by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself, the name was al-Shifā’ meaning the healing. Most of the information available on ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs is through works compiled by his students.
Even before he had reached adulthood, Ibn Idrīs would seclude himself and devote most of his time to worship and contemplation. He memorized the Qurʾān and several other important Islamic texts before moving to Fez and attending al-Qarawiyyīn at the age of twenty. He excelled at Fez, and went on to become a teacher at al-Qarawiyyīn within 10 years. He became very close to a Mauritanian scholar called Muḥammad Limjaydrī B. Ḥabībullāh, he would go on to play an important role in the spiritual development of Ibn Idrīs. Shaykh Limjaydrī was impressed with Ibn Idrīs that he introduced him to his own teacher, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Tazī. Shaykh al-Tazī was struck by the eloquence of Ibn Idrīs and the tremendous power he had in his voice. Ibn Idrīs took three paths from al-Tazī the ancient Ṣūfī paths, the Shādhiliyya and Nasqshabandiyya as well as a new spiritual path called the Khaḍiriyya, which was initiated by the great Shaykh ‘Abd al-Azīz Dabbāgh. Both al-Dabbāgh and al-Tazī were saints in there own right, and had seen the Prophet (ﷺ) in many dreams, they themselves had taken knowledge, and paths directly from the Prophet (ﷺ); al-Tazī now wished to bring Ibn Idrīs to this level.
Ibn Idrīs recounts seeing the Prophet (ﷺ) in a vision and received his own litanies, three to be exact: a formula for remembrance, one for ṣalawāt, and the other to seek forgiveness from God. The Prophet (ﷺ) then said to him, “O ʾAḥmad, I have given you the keys of the heavens and the Earth; saying them once is equal to the greatness of everything that is in this world and the next, many times over.”
At the age of forty nine, Ibn Idrīs moved to Mecca, stopping on his way in Algeria, Tunisia and also Libya, he lectured whenever he could, the talks often centred on ‘ilm (knowledge) and Ṣūfīsm. His intention was to spend the rest of his life in the two holy mosques; he taught extensively in Mecca, but also in Madīnah and Ṭā’if. A common criticism of some Ṣūfī orders is that people believe they leave behind the Qur’ān and the Sunnah or deviate away from it altogether, however Ibn Idrīs was a staunch advocate of the Qurʾān and Sunnah. One time his student Muḥammad b.ʿAlī al-Sanūsī said to him, “Dictate to me your lineage so that I may record it.” He replied, “My lineage is the Book and the Sunnah. Look, and if you find me upon the Book and the Sunnah, then say: ‘ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs is upon the Book and the Sunnah.’ That is my lineage.”
He lamented the deterioration of Islam and Muslims in general; he wanted to revive forgotten practises and teachings of the Prophet (ﷺ) no matter how small. He would often send his best students as missionaries to Muslim lands to revive them and their societies; they were in essence healers, this would be his lasting legacy. Later in his life he moved to Yemen. He was ageing and felt obliged to pass on as much knowledge as possible. Some scholars have said that the revival of Ṣūfī thinking in Yemen was brought about by the arrival of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs.
Ibn Idrīs was an independent Mujtahid, this is a term that we rarely come across now, but basically his understanding of the Qurʾān and ḥadīth was so succinct that he could extract his own opinions. His aptitude in ḥadīth was tested several times by Meccan scholars, much like Imām al-Bukhārī, they attempted to throw him by mixing the chains of narrators and Prophetic statements, but he answered each and every one of them with the correct chains all the way back to the Prophet (ﷺ). He had proved himself to be a master in the Islamic sciences.
Ibn Idrīs wanted people to receive everything directly from the Prophet (ﷺ), this is why he called his path al-Ṭarīqa al- Muḥammadiyya – in this path the Prophet (ﷺ) himself is the Shaykh. It is important to note that for all the orders, the leader is always inevitably the Prophet (ﷺ), but this path was ground breaking in the sense that Ibn Idrīs did away with intermediaries.
Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs’s originality lay in his humility, in his conscious effort in wanting to follow the Prophet (ﷺ) in every action with the utmost sincerity. He was a luminary that was intent on giving and reviving the Prophet (ﷺ) in people’s lives and homes. He wanted God and the Messenger (ﷺ) to be the centre of everyone’s life. I can’t help but feel this is precisely what we are lacking now: the presence of God and His Messenger (ﷺ) in our daily lives.
"…Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget…" [2:286]
Ibn Idrīs left behind four core principles that although seem simple at a glance are notoriously difficult. They encapsulate his teachings and most importantly, his way, clearly.
“The greatest portion of our aim is in following the Prophet (ﷺ) footstep after footstep.”
“Ṣūfīsm is to empty the heart of anything but God.”
“Leave aside rest and sleep, and stand up for God, may He be praised and glorified, on the foot of sincerity.”
“May your tongue habituate itself to the remembrance of God Most High, so that it overwhelms your heart…”
“Indeed there is nothing more harmful to a true faqīr than his hope in people, for hope in people is a sword which cuts man off from God.”
“We are slaves of God, journeying towards God, fearing nothing save God, hoping in nothing save God, clinging to nothing save God, and placing trust in nothing save God.”
Ibn Idrīs is a true luminary and the light he had can still be seen penetrating the hearts and minds of many to this day. This transcendent light today is carried through his students who went on to form their own paths, such as Muḥammad b.ʿAlī al-Sanūsī (d. 1859), ʾIbrāhīm al-Rashīd (d. 1874), Muḥammad ʻUthmān al-Mīrghanī (d. 1852), ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Maḥmūd (d. 1874), and among later figures, Ṣāliḥ al-Jaʾfarī (d. 1979).
One Harvard study said,
“The Idrīsī tradition gave birth to leaders of holy wars, men who established religious states, and a number of important centralised ṭarīqahs…. Its success was such that observers at the end of the nineteenth century felt that it was the source of much of the Islamic dynamism of the time.”
In my opinion, the greatest gift that Ibn Idrīs left was given to him in a vision by the Prophet (ﷺ)
“There is no other God but God and Muḥammad (ﷺ) is his Messenger, with every glance and every breath, as many times as all that is contained in the knowledge of God.”
In one of his letters to his student Muḥammad al-Madjūb, Ibn Idrīs said,
“…May God let you reach His Light, where there is no more darkness.”
May this light penetrate our hearts and allow us to follow the way of Shaykh ʾAḥmad Ibn Idrīs, the Muḥammadan way. (ﷺ)
Luminaries IV -— Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké
When it comes to West Africa, or even Africa for that matter, few know where (or what) Senegal is. Below Morocco, a country that needs no introduction to the countless mystics and luminaries it has produced, and below the now famous Mauritania of Murābiṭal-Ḥajj and Imām Muḥammad Mawlūd, lies Senegal: a country known by historians more for the Atlantic Slave Trade than the beacon of traditional Islamic scholarship that it became. The whole of Africa was a colonial chessboard less than a century ago, and the French moved pawns and rooks in Senegal. There would be a man, by the name of Aḥmadou Bamba Mbacke who would come to revive the love of Allāh and His Messenger (ﷺ) , and his (ﷺ) example in the hearts of the Senegalese.
A Saint from Birth:
Cheikh Aḥmadou Bamba Mbacke, or ‘Amadou Bamba’ was born in 1270 AH (1853) into a family of Qa’dirī scholars from the line of Shaykh‘Abdu’l-Qādir al-Jīlānī. He was the child of a Sayyid father and a Sayyid mother. Senegal, at the time, was under French colonial rule governing smaller kingdoms throughout the country. His father was the most well respected Qā’dī in his kingdom, erecting several Islamic schools and his mother was known for her effortless service to the community as well. As a child, he preferred imitating his father in his devotional acts while having no desire to play with other children. He spent the entirety of his youth in worship, studying the various Islamic sciences and teaching others. With his father’s passing in 1882 and the end of the armed resistance against the French, Amadou Bamba founded the Mourīdiyya brotherhood/order focusing on the Qurʾān, Sunnah, and tenets of Ṣūfīsm; a calling of society back to traditional Islam. This movement would slowly become the most effective weapon in battling the devastating social effects of imperialism.
The Might of The Mourīdiyya:
Shaykh Amadou Bamba’s newly-founded group calling to traditional and prophetic Islamic ideals, The Mourīdiyya, united the Senegalese under a common banner of faith with emphasis on spiritual rectification and love of Allāh and The Messenger (ﷺ). He also stressed the importance of earning permissible incomes in the lives of Muslims, to counter the beliefs of some of the Muslims of the time who deemed working for an income unnecessary. The Senegalese began to flee in larger and larger numbers every year to take from Amadou Bamba. Being a luminary and spiritual visionary, Shaykh Amadou Bamba noticed the failure of the majority of military resistance against the encroaching European powers seeking control of Africa. Like all the major Ṣūfī luminaries of the past, he found the oppression of the Senegalese as a symptom of the spiritual diseases that were present among the Muslims. As the Shaykh’s Mourīdiyya brotherhood continued to attract large numbers, it emerged as a formidable resistance to French imperialism. The Mourīdiyya were no longer just a religious revivalist movement, but a social revolution.
The Senagalese Madīnah Munawwara: Touba
In 1887 Shaykh Amadou Bamba founded Touba (Arabic for Felicity and the name of a tree in Paradise) in a state of transcendence while sitting under a lone tree in the desert. He envisioned a pilgrimage of his followers to this city that would mimic the hijrah of the prophet’s ﷺfollowers to Madīnah so that Islam could flourish. Here, the return to traditional Islamic life from colonial alienation and centralization of the Mourīdiyya movement would occur. With the principles he established, Touba soon became a flourishing spiritual and financially-bustling city, exporting crops and the now-famous Cafe Touba coffee. It would be from this West African Madīnah that the Shaykh’s teachings would spread to the rest of Senegal.
Luminaries III -— Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim
By Zara Nargis
Several of the `Alawī Imams were given good tidings of the coming of Shaykh Abū Bakr; Fakhr al-Wujūd. Shaykh `Abdullāh, the youngest son of Shaykh `Abd al-Rahmān al-Saqqāf, was one day wondering how he could ever reach the station and prominence of his two brothers, `Umar al-Mihdār and Abū Bakr al-Sakrān. His father read his thoughts and said to him: “That prominence will be in your progeny.” Amongst this blessed progeny was Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim and all his blessed progeny. Shaykh Abū Bakr was born in Tarīm in 919 (1513). His father took him to the Imam of Tarīm at the time, Shaykh Shihāb al-Din, Ahmad bin `Abd al-Rahmān, complaining that his son was having difficulty in memorising the Qur’ān. The Shaykh said to his father: “Leave him and do not burden him. He will devote himself to it of his own accord and he will have a great affair.” It was as the Shaykh said: Shaykh Abū Bakr devoted himself to the Qur’ān and memorised it in around four months. Then he applied himself to learning the inner and outer sciences.
In his youth, he lived in the village of al-Lisk, East of Tarīm, and he would walk several miles by night to Tarīm to pray in its mosques and visit its graves. He would fill up the tanks used for ablutions in the mosques and fill up troughs for animals to drink before returning to pray the Fajr prayer in al-Lisk. He later moved to Tarīm but decided while still in his mid-twenties to move to the village of `Aynāt in the search of territory where he could spread the call to Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ). He built a mosque and house there and began teaching and giving spiritual instruction. His fame spread and students started coming from different parts of Yemen and as far afield as India and North Africa. As a result, a new town grew up distinct from the old village of `Aynāt.
He had a great concern, like his predecessors, for the visit of the Prophet Hūd. It was Shaykh Abū Bakr who first established the great annual visit in Sha`bān, it being previously arranged according to the date harvest. In his old age he would be carried to the visit and when he was asked to compile a work on the merits of the visit, he said that the fact that he was still making the effort to visit in his old age was sufficient proof of its merit.
Shaykh Abū Bakr was immensely generous. He would supervise the affairs of his famous kitchen and distribute food with his own hands. He would bake a thousand loaves of bread for the poor every day – five hundred for lunch and five hundred for dinner. This was not including food prepared for his numerous guests. A poor dishevelled woman once came to give a small amount of food to the Shaykh. His servant turned her away saying: “Caravans are bringing goods to the Shaykh from far off places and he is not in need of what you have brought.” The Shaykh, however, was listening and he welcomed the woman, graciously accepted her offering and gave her a big reward in exchange. He then chastised his servant, saying: “The one who does not show gratitude for small things will not show gratitude for great things. The one who does not show gratitude to people does not show gratitude to Allah.”
He would fast the three hottest months of the year and for the last fifteen years consumed nothing but milk and coffee. The Shaykh loved coffee and there are numerous stories regarding his preference of it. He never left praying the eight rak`āt of the Duhā prayer and the eleven rak`āt of the Witr prayer, even while travelling. He was also never seen leaning on anything, nor was he comfortably seated, but he was solely in the position of one who is reciting tashahhud during his prayer.
He also composed a number of litanies and prayers upon the Prophet ﷺ, the most famous of which is Salāt al-Tāj (the Prayer of the Crown) which is widely read in the Indian Subcontinent.
A year before his death, Shaykh Abū Bakr led the visit to the Prophet Hūd and thousands crowded around him, almost fighting to kiss and touch him. When he saw this, he wept profusely and repeated Allah’s words: He is but a slave upon whom We have bestowed Our blessings. (Al-Zukhruf, 42:59)
Shaykh Abū Bakr finally breathed his last in Dhū’l-Ḥijjah 992 (1583). He said during his life that he would place secrets in the sand dune in which he is buried, and its blessed sand has been used time and again for healing purposes.
It suffices to say that Shaykh Abū Bakr bin Sālim was chosen due to what he said and thus what came about from the visits to his abode of rest:
"Do you not know that we are people of honour, and that the one who loves us will always be under our banner?
We are generous people so whoever comes to us seeking will attain felicity when he meets us.”
Luminaries II -— Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība
By Dawud Israel
Imām al-Junayd said that the stories of the righteous are the marshaled soldiers of God. I found the autobiography of the 18th century Moroccan Ṣūfī Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība to be full of stories and lessons that motivate one to strive as if they were a soldier of God. Beyond usual hagiography, Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība gives us an account of the details of his life, his upbringing, how he struggled, his spiritual development, and his miracles. I found many aspects of his life similar to those of the early Imāms of Islam – his learning, his imprisonment, his traveling, and his routines. He brings much of the early days of Islam back to life, when the himmah (exertion) for Islam was far greater. This is relevant to our time when due to the chasm of time it has become difficult to bring that level of zeal to our diīn.
His grandmother was a majdhūba and had numerous miracles attributed to her serving the people of Tetuan. When his mother was carrying him she often repeated: “Oh God grant me virtuous progeny!” and repeated this after each prescribed prayer and during the whole month of Ramadan. Her prayers were answered and from the time he started going to school he would go to the mosque in the middle of the night and remain there until dawn.
His beginnings on the path
He had zeal for Islamic knowledge and received ījāza from his teachers to teach in various Zāwīyas. The Ḥikam of Ibn ‘Aṭā’illāh had piqued his desire for taṣawwuf early on and after spending many years as a student of Islamic learning (aalim), he desired to delve deeper into taṣawwuf.
In the mornings he would read ¼ of the Qurʾān in the day and ¼ of the Qurʾān at night in addition to making dhikr of God’s Name. Then he became connected to prayers of peace and blessings upon the Prophet (endless peace and blessings be upon him) until he could repeat the whole Dalā’il al-Khayrāt by heart. He desired to possess the Qurʾān, learned to read it in the 7 modes of recitation and would complete 14 khatms of the Qurʾān every month. This lasted for 3-4 years. Then he married and started teaching while continuing this routine for 15-16 years before meeting Shaykh al-Buzidi.
What we can take away from this is that many years may pass in a high level of ibādah until one’s soul becomes ready to undergo a greater transformation. From this we can see how much perseverance and exertion is required in coming near to God. Rather than relying on a murshid in the beginning, he sought God with whatever means God had given him, for God is enough for His servants. This can be seen as preparation for his spiritual opening later on at the hands of Shaykh al-Buzidi.
Around this time he saw Shaykh Abū’l Ḥasan as-Shadhili in a dream saying “Persevere! By God, there will be 44 learned men who will receive knowledge from you!” Many times we may feel escapist, as if its best if we just abandon the dunyā and simply worship God in khalwa. Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība felt this way too and even though he sought to abandon everything for spiritual pursuits, God intended for people to benefit from him. The lesson from this is that God may plan something different for us, for us to benefit people in a way perhaps no one else can benefit them. It may also suggest that guiding and teaching people the dīn is a crucial part of one’s spiritual development.
What his Shaykh said about him
Shaykh al-Buzidi said about him: “Sidi Aḥmad has the qualities of detachment, scrupulousness, trusting God, constancy, forbearance, contentment, serene submission, piety, compassion, generosity and magnanimity.”
To which Shaykh Aḥmad ibn ʿAjība replied: “Master you are already talking about Sufism!”
Shaykh al-Buzidi: “That is just exterior Ṣūfīsm, there is still interior Ṣūfīsm which you will know later God willing!”
Here the Shaykh is talking about a view of taṣawwuf and tazkīyya that is different from the usual Muslim discourse of the outer and inner, the Ẓāhir and the bāṭin. Here he is speaking of layers to spiritual purification beyond what is outer and inner, but what is even more inner and even deeper than what we understood the spiritual to be.
Luminaries I -— Imām Abū Qāsim al-Junayd
When I received the invitation to write in the Luminaries Series, I was surprised that I thought of Imām al-Junayd first before someone like Imām al-Ghazālī. Imām al-Ghazālī is well known and widely quoted. His books serve as immense sources of wisdom and prescriptions for how one can purify their heart and elevate their station with their Lord. After the words of God and the words of the Beloved (ﷺ), we often hear the words of Imām al-Ghazālī when it comes to setting on the path of purifying our hearts. But now as I think of it, in our times we desperately need to get to know Imām al-Junayd.
You know you are dealing with a special person when much of his personal biography is lost, and no major text of his was left behind, yet scholars from all streams within the Islamic Tradition quote his counsels throughout their various works. Across the intellectual divides within the Muslim Ummah, one can find the influence of Imām al-Junayd scattered throughout. In fact, for one to gather a collection of the counsels of Imām al-Junayd, they have to pick up the works of scholars like Imām al-Ghazālī, as well as the works of scholars like Imām Ibn Taymiyyah and step outside their familiar comfort zone of only reading for one type of scholar. It is a true testament to the sincerity of a scholar that more than a millennium after his passing, and no available books attributed to him; he still manages to bring divided Muslims together on a common ground.
Abū al-Qāsim al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad al-Zajjaj was born in 220 A.H./830 C.E. in Baghdad, Iraq and was raised there. His family was originally from Nahavand, the capital of Nahavand County in the Ḥamdān Province in Iran. His father used to sell glass bottles, which is where the family name “al-Zajjaj” comes from.
An incident at the age of seven marked the path Imām al-Junayd would eventually be named the “Sulṭān” of. As he was playing in the presence of a gathering of scholars, his maternal uncle, al-Sarī al-Saqaṭī, asked him, “Young man, what is thankfulness?” The young al-Junayd replied, “That you do not disobey God with His blessings.” al-Sarī remarked, “I fear that your only share from God would be your tongue.” The weight of this remark was so great that Imām al-Junayd said later in his life, “I have continued to cry over the remark that al-Sarī directed at me.”
As this story implies, Imām al-Junayd began his studies at a very young age. His intelligence and insight qualified him to achieve the status of muftī by the time he was merely 20 years old. One contemporary scholar said about Imām al-Junayd, “I saw a scholar among you in Baghdad called ‘al-Junayd’ who my eye has never seen anyone like him. The linguists would attend his gathering for his rhetoric, the philosophers for his precision, the poets for his eloquence, and the theologians for his meanings.” Another scholar remarked, “We did not see among our scholars one who combined between much knowledge and spiritual presence other than Abū al-Qāsim. Most of them have either a lot of knowledge but little spiritual presence, or some have much spiritual presence but very little knowledge. Al-Junayd had a dangerously immense spiritual presence and copious amounts of knowledge, such that if you experienced his spiritual presence you would assume it outweighed his knowledge, and if you saw his knowledge you would assume it outweighed his spirituality.”
Imām al-Junayd is unique in this way among the luminaries in his combination of knowledge and spirituality. If there is such a thing as “Sufi’izing Salafism and Salafizing Sufism,” it is embodied in the person of Imām al-Junayd. He was one to act upon authentic evidence from the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth, while at the same time preserve the spirit of the text in a way that many of us seek to accomplish today. One important counsel of Imām al-Junayd states, “Whoever does not memorize the Qurʾān, does not write the Ḥadīth, and does not gain an understanding of both is not to be followed, because our path is restricted by the Book and the Sunnah.” To fulfill this counsel the Imām offered another one to set the seeker on the right path, “The beginning of knowledge is from scholars, the middle of it is action, and the end of it is from the Exalted.”
Imām al-Junayd was highly concerned with translating knowledge into action. As he said in one of his counsels, “We did not take Sufism from hearsay. Rather, we took it from hunger, abandonment of dunya, and severing familiar luxuries. Because Ṣūfīsm is the purity of relationship with God.” This statement of Imām al-Junayd should not be confused with not enjoying the pleasures of life. It is known that he was a successful merchant in Baghdad and earned his own provisions. However, he did not allow the luxuries of this life to take over his heart, which he preserved for God in keeping with the statement in the Qurʾān, “The day on which neither wealth nor property will avail, except him who comes to God with a sound heart” [26:88-89].
One of the most important issues Imām al-Junayd dealt with were the rampant claims of love of and nearness to God that many were making during his time. To the Imām, claims negate sincerity and lead to arrogance. Moreover, claims of elevated stations and nearness to God are not permitted as the Qurʾān states that only “God knows who is purified” [53:32]. For these reasons we read another counsel of Imām al-Junayd reminding us that, “Whoever sticks to the path with sincerity, God will suffice them from making empty claims.”
The extent to which Imām al-Junayd went with regards to claims was to remind Muslims not to be overtaken by miraculous demonstrations known as karāmat. The true measure of anyone in Islam is not based in fantastic events that occur to them. Rather, we measure on the scale of righteousness, which is defined by how one upholds the injunctions and abstains from the limitations that God has set.
It is not that Imām al-Junayd rejected miracles of saints. He rejected having miracles as a measure of anything relevant to our estimation of whether someone is righteous or not. Here we realize the importance of having knowledge in Islam. Imām al-Junayd warned us in one of his most famous counsels, “If you see a man sitting cross-legged suspended in the air, do not follow him until you see his actions with regards to commands and prohibitions. If you see that he upholds all the commandments, and avoids all the prohibitions, then believe in him and follow him. But if you see him not upholding the commandments, and not avoiding the prohibitions, then avoid him.”
One can spend a great deal of time commenting on the scattered pearls of wisdom we have from Imām al-Junayd. But even he would not approve of us spending our time in this way. As one of his companions relates a dream he had of the Imām after he passed away in 297 A.H./ 910 C.E., in which he asked him, “What did God do with you?” The Imām replied, “Those indications have fallen, the counsels have become hidden, the knowledge has disappeared, the appearances have been withered, and nothing has benefitted us except for a few cycles of prayer we used to perform before the break of dawn.”