The Story of Sidi ‘Ali Abu-l-Hasan ash-Shadhuli
Abu-l-Hasan was born in the village of Ghumara in Morocco in 593/1196. His early education was by his mother, father and a local imam. Around puberty he went to study with Abu ‘Abdallah M. b. Harazim (d. 633/1236), who himself was a pupil of Abu Madyan, one of the great medieval Sufis.
He went east in 615, where he was drawn to the Rifa‘i school, accepting Abu-l-Fath al-Wasiti as his shaykh in 618. While here he became obsessed with the search for the Qutb (Pole) of the time. Abu-l-Fath told him to return to the west where he would find him. He returned and eventually found the Qutb in ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish of Fez who, after some trial, gave him bay‘ah, marking, as Abu-l-Hasan states, “the end of my beginning”.
Later, on the advice of ‘Abd as-Salam, he left Morocco to go into retreat in a cave near a village of Ifriqiya called Shadhila. Although Shadhuli sounds like Shadhila, our shaykh Abu-l-Hasan received his name from Allah the blessed who told him in a vision, "O ‘Ali, you are ash-Shâdhdhu-lî, meaning one who is set apart (shâdhdhu) for Me (lî)".
The final words of Ibn Mashish to Abu-l-Hasan, may Allah hallow their secrets, were, “O ‘Ali, Know that Allah is Allah and people are people. The remembrance of Allah will live in your heart. The guidance of Allah will always be with you. Do not refer to people other than as Allah commands you. Refrain from dependence on them and keep your heart from inclining to them. Your spiritual sovereignty (wilaya) has been perfected by Allah”.
In Ifriqiya, he periodically went out on preaching and teaching tours, thereby incurring the hostility of the Tunisian ‘ulama. So bitter did the persecution become that, in spite of the support of the sultan, Abu Zakariyya al-Hafsi, he was driven to take refuge in Egypt where he spent most of his years and won great renown.
Abu-l-Hasan made a practice of going on hajj every year. He was told in 656/1258 that he would die while on hajj. Abu-l-Hasan had idea that he may die on during pilgrimage, going as far as order a shovel and shroud be packed as he and his followers were preparing to leave.
When they reached the midway point, which is a well in a place called Humaythirah, he spoke to all his students and gave them the reading of Hizb ul-Bahr (The Litany of the Sea) saying, “Teach it to your children for in it is the greatest name of Allah”. He talked in private with Abu-l-‘Abbas al-Mursi and told all of his students, “When I am dead look to Abu-l-‘Abbas for he is the khalifa to succeed me”.
That evening, Abu-l-Hasan asked one of his murids to bring him a jug of water from the well. The student said, “Sidi, it is salty”. Abu-l-Hasan said, “My intention is other than what you think". So the murid brought him a jug of water from the well. Abu-l-Hasan drank some, rinsed his mouth and then spat into the jug, saying, “Put it back in the well”. He put the water back and it turned sweet, fresh and abundant. To this day the water in that will is sweet.
Abu-l-Hasan spent that whole night in dhikr. Many of students heard him, and at fajr, he was still. Thinking he was asleep one of the students shook him, finding him dead. From there he was washed, wrapped in the shroud, prayed over and buried in Humaythirah. His murids continued on hajj.
The existence of a Shadhuli tariqa is mainly due to Abu-l-‘Abbas al-Mursi, the successor of Abu-l-Hasan ash-Shadhuli and his successor, Taj ad-din ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari, may Allah hallow their secrets & perfume their tombs. Ibn ‘Ata Allah was the first in the Shadhuli line to write books. Included in his works is an account of the life and sayings of both ash-Shadhuli and al-Mursi. He also wrote the Miftah al-Falah, "The Key to Salvation", a manual on invocation and the Kitab al-Hikam, "The Book of Aphorisms".