Mystics of Recent Times
Nowadays there are some persons who cannot endure the burden of continence and the religious exercise but still are desirous of rank and authority. They consider the followers of the Sufism like themselves. When they hear the sayings of the ancestors, see their eminence and read their devotional practices and then examine themselves, and found that they are far inferior to the Sheikhs of old times. Even then they are reluctant to accept their weaknesses, rather stress that their era do not have those types of devotees whose anecdotes they have read in the books. Their contention is ridiculous, for Allah never leaves the earth without a disputation and neither this Ummah (Muslim community) would ever be without the presence of Wali (saint), as the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said:
لا يزال طاءفة من امتي علي الخيروالحق حتي تقوم الساعة
“My Ummah would never be free of a group who would be on honesty and truth until the hour of the Resurrection.”
لا يزال من امتي اربعون علي خلق ابراهيم
“In my Ummah there shall always be forty pious who would be on the nature of Abraham.”
Some of those whom I shall mention here have already deceased and have met with eternal happiness in the highest Heaven, and some are still living. May Allah be well pleased with them.
1. Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Qassab (may Allah have mercy on him)
The adornment of the seekers of the Path, the beauty of the righteous Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Qassab was associated and benefited from the leading Sheikhs of Transoxania. He was celebrated for his spiritual sublimity, true sagacity, ascetic practices, and abundant proofs and miracles. Imam of Tibrastan Abu Abdullah Khayyati said of him:
“It is one of Allah’s bounties that He raises an uneducated person to that eminence which was occupied by Abu Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him). Whenever we faced any difficulty on religious knowledge, its principles or on matters pertaining to subtleties of Tawhid (Unification) we seek his help.”
Although he was illiterate but he discoursed with inspiring style concerning the science of Sufism and theology. In short, he was whole noble and pious venerable. I have heard many stories of him, but for the sake of brevity would include only one here.
One day a boy along with his camel which was heavily burdened, was passing through the bazaar of Amul. This place was always filled with mud slime. The camel slipped there and broke its leg. People nearby thought to unburdened the beast, while the boy started imploring Allah to seek His help. In the mean time Abu Abbas passed from that place. People told him about the incident. He picked up the bridle of the camel and facing skyward which is the Qibla for prayer, said, “O Lord! Make the camel healthy. If Thou wilt not do so, why hast Thou let the heart of Qassab be melted by the tears of a lad?” As soon as he finished his prayer, the camel immediately got up and moved to its way in perfect condition.
“All mankind, whether they will or not, must reconcile themselves to the will of Allah, else they will suffer pain,”
because, who reconciles to His will, at the time of affliction, he will see the Causer of the affliction and won’t feel it. And if one is not reconciled to His will, on coming of affliction his heart will fill with anguish. Allah does not alter His predestination on someone’s satisfaction and dissatisfaction; therefore our pleasure lies in satisfaction of His decrees. Whoever reconciles to the will of Allah, his heart will remain rejoiced and whoever turns away from Him, he will be distressed by the coming of destiny.
2. Abu Ali Hasan b. Muhammad Daqqaq (may Allah have mercy on him)
The exposition of murid (desirers), the proofs of researcher Abu Ali al-Hasan b. Muhammad al-Daqqaq was the leading authority in his department (of religious knowledge) and had no rival among his contemporaries. He was lucid in exposition and eloquent in speech as regards to revelation of the way of Allah. He had met many Sheikhs and benefited from their association. He was disciple of Nasrabadi and was regular in preaching. He said:
من انس بغيره ضعف في حاله و من نطق من غيره كذب في مقاله
“Who is intimate with other (than Allah) is weak in his spiritual state, and who speaks of other (than Allah) is liar in his speech,”
The intimacy with others (than Allah) is an evidence of knowing Allah inadequately. The intimacy with Him demands renunciation of others and who renounces others, would not speak of them.
An old venerable one day went to the place where Daqqaq held his meetings, with the intention to ask him about the state of those who trust in Allah. Daqqaq was wearing a fine Tibrastani turban. The heart of the old man longed for it. He questioned Daqqaq about tawakul (trust in Allah). The Sheikh replied, “tawakul is that you refrain from coveting people’s turbans.” With these words he flung his turban in front of the questioner.
3. Abu al-Hasan Ali b. Ahmad al-Khurqani (may Allah have mercy on him)
An unmatched Imam, nobility of era Abu al-Hasan Ali b. Ahmad al-Khurqani was a great splendid Sheikh. He was praised by all the Saints in his time. Sheikh Abu Said visited him, and they conversed with each other on every topic. When he was about to take leave he said to al-Khurqani that he had chosen him to be his successor.
Hasan Muadib who was the servant of Abu Said said that when Abu Said visited al-Khurqani, he did not speak a single word at his own but committed himself to hear Khurqani and spoke only when he was needed to reply of some question. Hasan asked him why he had been so silent. He replied:
“From One, one is enough to talk.”
Abu al-Qasim Qushayri said that when he came to Khurqan, because of the dignity and veneration of the Sheikh of the time he lost his eloquence and no longer had any power to express himself. He thought that he might have deposed from his saintship.
“There are two ways, one of erring and one of righteousness. The one is Man’s way to Allah and the other is Allah’s way to Man. The erring path is Man’s way to Allah and righteous way is from Allah’s part His way to Man. Whoever says he has attained to Allah has not attained but who says that he has been made to attain to Allah, knows that he has really attained.” It is because made to attain is linked with not attaining and not attained is linked with attaining.
4. Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Ali al-Maruf Dastani (may Allah have mercy on him)
He was the king of the world of Sufism of his time and was unique in his eloquent speech and discourse. He was learned in various branches of religious knowledge, accomplished and a chosen one of the Court of the Lord. He is the author of refined discourses and fine symbolical indications. He found an excellent successor in Sheikh Sehlaki, who was the Imam of that area. I have heard from Sehlaki some of his spiritual utterances which are very sublime and admirable. He said:
التوحيد عنك موجود وانت في التوحيد مفرد مفقود
“Tawhid (Unification) is in accord and right with you but you are not in accord and right with Tawhid.” i.e. you are not firm with the just demands of the Tawhid. The lowest degree in unification is the negation of your personal control over anything that you possess, and the affirmation of thy absolute submission to Allah in all your affairs.
Sheikh Sehlaki relates that once the locusts came to Bastam in such numbers that every tree and field got black with them. The people cried aloud for help. The Sheikh asked me about the uproar. I told him that people were distressed over the locusts attack in the city. He got up and went up to the roof and looked towards heaven. The locusts immediately began to fly away. By the hour of the afternoon prayer not one was left, and nobody lost even a leaf.
5. Abu Said Fadalallah b. Muhammad al-Mehni (may Allah have mercy on him)
The Shah of lovers, Imam of the Sufis Abu Said Fadalallah b. Muhammad al-Mehni was the king and the ornament of the Mystic Path. All his contemporaries were subject to him, some through their sound perception and belief, and some through the strong influence of their spiritual feelings. He was versed in the different branches of religious science. He had a wonderful religious experience and an extraordinary power of reading men’s secret thoughts. Besides, he had many remarkable powers and evidences, of which the effects are manifest at the present day.
In his early days he went to Sarkhas and associated with Abu Ali Zahir. He used to learn from him his three days syllabus in one day, and spend his spared time in devotion. Abu Ali Zahir seeing the signs of obedience and devotion in his disciple developed regards and affection for him. Abu Fadl Hasan was the saint of Sarkhas at that time. One day, when Abu Said was walking by the river of Sarkhas, he met with Abu Fadl who said to him that the way he had adopted did not suit to him and advised him to follow his own course. Sheikh’s message stuck to his heart. He returned to his lodging and engaged in asceticism and austerities until Allah opened to him the door of guidance and raised him to the highest rank.
Sheikh Abu Muslim Farisi related that his heart was never clean towards the Sheikh. Once he went to him clad in a patched frock which was so dirty and old that it had become like leather. When he entered to his presence, he found him sitting on a couch, dressed in a robe of Egyptian linen. He thought in his heart that how could this man claim to be a dervish with all these worldly encumbrances, and comparing his own state with his, he thought that there was no possibility of conformity with him. The Sheikh read his thoughts, and raising his head cried,
يا ابا مسلم في اي ديوان وجدت من كان قلبه قاءما في مشاهدة الحق يقع عليه اسم الفقير
“O Abu Muslim, in which divan have you found that the name of dervish is applied to one whose heart subsists in the contemplation of Allah?”
The contemplators are rich with Allah, whereas the name of dervish is applied to those who are occupied with self-mortification. Abu Muslim repented of his conceit and asked Allah to pardon him for such an unseemly thought.
Abu Said said:
التصوف قيام القلب مع الله بلا واسطة
“Sufism is the subsistence of the heart with Truth without any intermediary.”
This alludes to contemplation, which is attained through deep love, absorption in realizing the vision of Allah, and their annihilation by the everlastingness of the Truth. I will discuss the nature of contemplation in the chapter which treats of the pilgrimage.
On one occasion Abu Said set out from Nishapur for Tus. While he was passing through a cold valley his feet felt chill. A dervish who was accompanying him thought of tearing his waist-cloth into two haves and wrapping them round his feet. Since his garment was costly therefore he refrained from acting on his thought. After reaching at Tus, in one of the meetings the dervish asked the Sheikh to tell him the difference between evil suggestion and inspiration. The Sheikh answered, “It was a divine inspiration that urged you to tear your waist garment into two pieces for the sake of warming my feet and it was devil’s suggestion that hindered you from doing so.”
He performed a whole series of miracles of this kind.
6. Abu al-Fadl Muhammad b. Hasan Khutli (may Allah have mercy on him)
The adornments of noble saints Abu al-Fadl Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Khutli is my Sheikh in Sufism. He was well versed in the science of Quranic exegesis and in traditions. In Sufism he was the follower of Junaid. He was a disciple and close confident of Husri and a contemporary of Abu Umru Qazwini and Abu al Hasan Saliba. He remained in solitude for sixty years, for people had even forgotten his name also. He spent his most part of the solitude on Mount Lukam. He displayed many signs and proofs. He did not wear the garb or adopted the external fashions of the Sufis and he was very severe on formalists. I never saw any person of better dignity and awe than him.
I heard him saying:
الدنيا يوم و لنا فيها صوم
“The world is but a single day, in which we are fasting,”
We get nothing from it, and are not tempted by it, because we have perceived its corruption and its veils, therefore, have turned our backs upon it.
Once while I was helping Sheikh in his ablution a thought occurred to me that when everything was predestined, why then free men make themselves the slaves of spiritual guides? The Sheikh picked up my thought and said:
“O my son, I know what you are thinking. Be assured that there is a cause for every decree of Providence. When Allah wishes to bestow a crown and a kingdom on an ordinary man, He guides him to repentance and employs him in the service of one of His friends, and ultimately this service leads him to nobility and honor.”
Many such happening I used to witness every day.
At the time of his death he was at Bayt al-Jinn, a village situated at the head of a mountain pass between Baniyar and Damascus. While he was counting last breaths, his head was resting on my bosom. At that time I was feeling hurt, as it is the nature of man to feel sad on departure of his close associate. The Sheikh said to me:
“O my son, I tell you one article of belief which if you follow firmly will deliver you from all troubles. Know that all good or evil is created by Allah, it is not desirable from you to put across your finger on any of His act or feel grieved in your heart.”
He did not give any further command, but yielded up his soul.
7. Abdul Karim Abu Qasim (may Allah have mercy on him)
The teacher and Imam, and adornment of Islam Abdul Karim Abu al-Qasim b. Hawazin al-Qushayri is a wonder of his time. His rank is high and his position is great, and his spiritual life and manifold virtues are well known to the people of the present age. He is the author of many fine sayings and exquisite works, all of them profoundly theosophical in every branch of science. Allah has rendered his feelings and his tongue secure from all sorts of extravagances. He said:
مثل الصوفي كعلة البرسام اوله هذيان واخره سكوت فاذا تمكنت خرست
“The Sufi is like the disease of birsam, which begins with disordered talks and ends in silence; for when the disease sets in, it make the one dumb.”
Sufism (mysticism) has two sides, ecstasy and namud نمود (vision). Vision belongs to novices, and the expression of such vision is delirium. Ecstasy belongs to adepts, and the expression of ecstasy, while it continues, is impossible. So long as they are only seekers they utter lofty aspirations, which seems delirium even to aspirants, but when they attain their object they cease to utter, and no more express anything either by word or sign. Its example is that since Moses was a beginner therefore all his desire was for vision of Allah. He expressed his desire and said,
رَبِّ أَرِنِي أَنظُرْ إِلَيْكَ
O Lord, show (Thyself) to me that I may look upon Thee,” (Q 7:143).
This state of an unattained desire is like delirium. But Prophet (peace be upon him), however, had acquired the excellence and was firmly established of that state, therefore, when his person arrived at the highest station his desire was annihilated, and he said, “لا احصي ثنا عليك I cannot praise Thee aptly.” This is the highest station and most exalted position.
8. Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Ashqani (may Allah have mercy on him)
He was an Imam in every branch of fundamental and derivative sciences of religion, and an accomplished venerable in all respects. He had met a great number of eminent Sufi Sheikhs. He is counted among the eminent Imams and Sheikhs. His doctrine was based on “annihilation”, and his expressions used to be highly complex. Some ignorant imitated him and have adopted his difficult writing style. When in its spiritual meaning it is not laudable to imitate then how it is right to imitate a mere expression! I was very intimate with him, and he had also a sincere affection for me. He was my teacher in some sciences. In my whole life I have never seen anyone, who held the Shariat in greater veneration than him. He kept himself detached from all created things.
Because of his complicated writings on account of the subtlety of his theological expositions only an Imam of profound insight could derive instruction from him. He always had a natural disgust of this world and the next, and would constantly exclaim, “اشتهي عدمًا لا عود فيهI yearn for a non-existence that has no existence.”
And he used to say:
“Every man desires for impossible, and I too have desire for impossible, which I surely know will never be realized, namely that Allah should take me to a non-existence that will never return to existence, for stations and miracles are all veils and troubles and the man is becoming a suitor of his own veil. It is better to get annihilated in vision than being remain in constant state of veil. Almighty Allah is a Being that is not subject to none being, what loss would His kingdom suffer if I become a nonentity that shall never be endowed with existence?”
This is a sound principle in a real annihilation.
9. Abu al-Qasim b. Ali b. Abdullah al-Gurgani (may Allah have mercy on him)
He was unique and incomparable Qutb of his time. His initial state was excellent and strong. He performed long journeys with conscientious observance (of Shariat). All the aspirants of his time were whole heartedly inclined to him and seekers of the path of Truth had full faith on him. He possessed marvelous power of revealing the inwardly states of novices. He was well learned in various branches of knowledge. All his disciples because of their knowledge and conduct are ornaments of the society in which they move. Allah wills, he will have an excellent successor, whose authority the whole body of Sufis will recognize, namely, Abu Ali al-Fadl b. Muhammad who has fully committed himself to the service of his Sheikh and has turned his back on all (worldly) things. Allah in reward has made him the spiritual mouthpiece of that venerable Sheikh.
One day in the presence of Sheikh I was recounting to him my spiritual experiences and visions, in order that he might test them, for he had unrivalled skill in that. He was listening kindly to what I was saying. The vanity and enthusiasm of youth made me to relate those matters, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps the Sheikh, in his novitiate, did not enjoy such experiences, and that’s why he was fully concentrated towards me. The Sheikh perceived what I was thinking and said:
“O my son, you must know that my humility is not on account of you or your experiences, because who alters the conditions does not come to altering place. I am doing this all for the respect and majesty of Creator of the states. They are not peculiar to you, but common to all seekers of Allah and you are not any exception.”
I was taken aback by his statement. He noticed my confused state and said:
“O my son, man has no more relation to this Path than that when he is admitted to the path, he commits himself to obtain it and when is deposed from it, he gets delight by remembering it. Hence his negation and affirmation, his existence and non-existence, are imagination. Man can never escapes from the prison of imagination. The man should follow the path of devotion and put away from himself every relation except that of manhood and obedience.”
I had much spiritual conversation with him, but if I were to enter upon the task of setting forth his extraordinary powers my purpose would be defeated.
10. Abu Ahmad Muzaffar b. Ahmad b. Hamdan (may Allah have mercy on him)
Leader of the Saints, an admonisher of the pious Abu Ahmad al-Muzaffar b. Ahmad b. Hamdan was ruler of a state while Allah opened to him the door of this path and bestowed on him the crown of honor and greatness. He spoke eloquently and discoursed with sublimity on annihilation and subsistence. Sheikh, Abu Said, said:
“We were led to the Holy Court (of Allah) by the way of servitude, but Khawaja Muzaffar was conducted thither by the way of magnitude and dominion, i.e. we attained contemplation by means of self-mortification, whereas Muzaffar came from contemplation to self- mortification.”
I heard Khawaja Muzaffar saying that:
“What blessings other mystics obtained by traversing deserts and wilderness I gained that while in the seat of power and pre-eminence.”
Some foolish and conceited persons have attributed this saying of his to arrogance; it is merely their short sightedness. It is never arrogant to declare one's true state, especially when the speaker is a capable spiritualist. Muzaffar has an excellent and honored successor namely Rashid Khawaja Ahmad.
One day, while I was in his company, a pretender of Sufism from Nishapur visited him and during discussion he used the expression, “He becomes annihilated and then becomes subsistent.” Khawaja Muzaffar said:
“How subsistence can emerge of annihilation? Annihilation means not-being, while subsistence refers to being, and each negates the other. Therefore, annihilation is known until non-being is under consideration and if non-being is missing i.e. non-being becomes being then its identity is lost. Essences are not capable of annihilation, however attributes can annihilates, and similarly the cause is also get annihilated. Therefore, when attributes and causes are annihilated, the object invested with attributes and the Author of causes continues to subsist. His essence does not admit of annihilation.”
I do not recollect the precise words in which Sheikh Muzaffar expressed, but this was how I comprehended his words. Now I will explain more clearly what he intended, in order that it may be more generally benefited.
One’s free will is an attribute of him, and he is veiled by his will from the will of Allah, therefore man’s attributes veil him from Allah. Necessarily, the Divine will is eternal and the human will is non eternal, and what is eternal cannot be annihilated. When the Divine will in regard to a man becomes subsistent, his will is annihilated and his personal initiative disappears.
One day in a hot weather wearing traveler’s dress covered with dust and my hair in disorder I came into Sheikh’s presence. He asked me to tell him in what state I was then. I replied that I had desire of sama سماع (singing). He immediately sent for a qawal (tale teller) and a number of musicians. In the mean time a group who would fall into ecstasy on sama also came. I being young and enthusiastic and filled with the ardor of a novice became deeply agitated as the initial verses fell to my ear. After a while when break took place, I also regained my normal posture. Sheikh asked me how was the sama. I told him that I had enjoyed it very much. He said:
“A time will come when sama will be no more to you than the croaking of a raven. The desire of sama only lasts so long as there is no contemplation, and as soon as contemplation is attained the desire for sama subsides. Take care not to accustom yourself to this, lest it becomes part of your nature and keep you back from contemplation.”