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What is the Hikam  of  Sidi Ibn ‘Ata’Ilah –The Book Fuqara should study

The Hikam considered a classical masterpiece in spiritual / sufi literature - written and compiled by sufi master of 13th/14th century Ibn Ata Illah. The Hikam is essentially a book of Sufi aphorisms (an aphorism is a brief wise saying of truth or simply wise sayings) containing timeless and pure spiritual wisdom for the seekers of illumination.

The Hikam-Wisdoms or book of wisdoms are a collection of concise, comprehensive and sublime sayings in the field of self purification (nafs); they are guidelines which help strengthen the relationship between humans and their Lord. The Hikam is a classical manual of spiritual development to up lifting the heart from the narrowness of the self to the limitlessness of the knowledge and love of the Divine.

The Hikam or wisdom sayings, have been extracted from the Quran and the Hadith, are so rich in meaning, that the people of knowledge throughout the years have studied them in depth and have greatly benefitted from them.

It has even been said that “if it were permissible to pray with anything other than the Quran, then it would have been the aphorisms of Ibn Ata'illah.” Although this may be an exaggeration, yet it signifies the value of these sayings and their benefit.

The hikam is divided into three parts:
The First part is about the topic of Tawheed and its intricate details;
The second part revolves around conduct and self purification;
The Third part delves into the manner of people with their Lord.
There are about in total 260 wise saying in the hikam.

Which Commentaries to study of the Hikam

Because the Hikam is rich deep in meaning one needs commentary to understand each wisdom, there are books of commentary on top of commentary about the Hikam each at different levels. To make it easier which books should one start with, Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi commentary of the Hikam  would be the first,  then al-Qutb Sidi Ahmed Ibn ‘Ajiba’sIqadh al-himam fi sharh al-Hikam’ and then Sidi Ahmed Zarruq’s commentaries and there about 20 or so just by Sidi Ahmed Zarruq.  

The Fath-'Spiritual Opening' of  Sidi  Ahmed Ibn 'Ajiba from the Hikam

An interesting point is that al-Qutb Sidi Ahmed Ibn 'Ajiba  writes in his 'autobiography-Farasah'-(there is a English translation of the Farasah of al-Qutb Sidi Ahmed Ibn 'Ajiba ) that the opening he experienced at the beginning of his life as a mystic came from studying the Hikam along with Ibn 'Abbād’s by then venerable commentary.

1st Read  Sidi Ibn Abbad ar-Rundi commentary of the Hikam as a intro.

2nd  Then Sidi Ibn ‘Ajiba’s (the Darqawi Qubt) commentary of the Hikam called Iqadh  al-himam fi sharh al-Hikam’ [The awakening of spiritual ambitions: a commentary on the Wisdoms].

(I have copies of these as PDF files as well as mp3 files talks too - see next email

Sayings of Sidi Hamza Al-Qadiri Al-Budshishi
Sidi Abu Madyan ( the of shaykh Sidi Hamza Al-Qadiri Al-Budshishi) forbade any readings about sufism to his disciples, except "the Hikam" of Ibn ‘Ata’Ilah: It is better to experience things first hand than to have preconceived ideas about them which shield them with a veil. Our path is the middle of the road.

From the Hikam of Sidi Ibn Ata'illah as-Sakandari

"Your desire to withdraw from everything when GOD has involved you in the world of means is a hidden appetite.
Your desire for involvement with the world of means when GOD has withdrawn you from it is a fall from high aspiration".

Commentary of above lines by Sidi Ibn Ajiba, see below
His desire to withdraw when GOD has established means for him is a hidden appetite because the self desires rest by that and does not have enough certainty to endure the hardships of poverty. When poverty descends on him, he is shaken and upset and resorts to means, and so that is uglier than remaining with them. This is an aspect which is appetite, and it is hidden because inwardly he displays cutting off and asceticism, which is a noble state and sublime state, while inwardly he conceals his portion of rest, honour, wilayat or whatever. He did not intend to achieve servitude and certainty. He also lacks adab (etiquette) with GOD when he wants to leave without remaining patient until he is given permission. The sign of him remaining constantly in causes is that he has results, lack of attachments which cut him off from the religion and obtains sufficiency, but if he were to abandon that, he would look to people and be worried about provision.

Some more From the Hikam of Sidi Ibn Ata'illah as-Sakandari

If the Divine opens a door for you,
thereby making the Divine Self known,
pay no heed if your deeds do not measure up to this.

For, in truth, the Divine Self has not opened it for you
but out of a graceful will to make the Self known to you.

Do you not know that Divine is the One
Who presented the knowledge of the Self (ta'aruf) to you,
whereas you are the one who presented the Divine with deeds?

What a difference between what the Divine brings to you
and what you present to the Divine Self!

"If someone's state does not lift you up, and his words do not lead you to Allah - then do not keep his company!

IIt may well be that you are in a bad state -but to keep company with someone worse than you would allow you to see good in yourself."

“Whosoever does not endure a difficult beginning, does not have a bright ending”.

“Do not fall into despair if blessings come late, even though you keep asking for them, because Allah has promised to heed prayers. Yet the wish to be granted will be granted because He wishes it for you, not because you wish it for yourself.”.

Do not leave the remembrance because of your lack of presence of heart with Allah therein, because your heedlessness of the remembrance of Allah is more harmful than your heedlessness during the remembrance of Allah. It may well be that He take you from remembrance in which there is heedlessness (ghaflah) to remembrance in which there is consciousness (yaqadhah); and from remembrance in which there is consciousness to remembrance in which there is presence of heart (hudoor); and from remembrance in which there is presence of heart to remembrance in which there is obliviousness to all but the One Remembered, “And that is not difficult for Allah.”

The Author of al-Hikam

Shaykh Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ibn Ata'illah as-Sakadari (d. 1309) is the third successor (khalifah) of the Shadhdhuli, one of the major sufi order. He was born and grew up in Alexandria (Iskandar), Egypt where he met his sufi master Shaykh Abul Abbas al-Murshi, the successor of Imam Abul-Hasan as-Shadhdhuli the eponymous 'founder' of the Shadhdhuli sufi lineage, May God be pleased with them all. Ibn Ata'illah is given the credit for the systematizing the teachings of his two predecessors who did not leave any written works. So the branch of Shadhdhuli school of sufism is truly indebted to him as well as the science of tasawwuf in general.

His collection of aphorisms known as al-Hikam which are the pure nectar of the teachings of Shaykh ash-Shadhdhuli. The outer simplicity of al-Hikam veils the depth and profundity of their meanings and are best understood if read and considered over a long period of time, preferably under the tutelage of a shaykh with inner knowledge.

Biographical sketch taken from the book 'The Key To Salvation'.

Taj ad-Din Abu’l-Fadl Ahmad b.Muhammad b.Abd al-Karim b. Ata’illah as Sakandari, al-Judhami ash-Shadhili, known simply as Ibn Ata’illah as-Sakandari, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, as his family tree (nisbah) indicates, about the middle of the seventh [AH] /thirteenth [CE] century. His family were renowned Maliki scholars from the Banu Judham tribe, originally from Arabia. His grandfather, Abd al-Karim (d. 612 AH/1216 AD) had distinguished himself as an expert in Fiqh, usul (principles of jurisprudence), and Arabic, having studied under the famous Abu’l-Hasan al-Abyari. He had written several books, among which were al-Bayin wa’t-Taqrib fi Sharh at-Tahdhib, Mukhtasar at-Tahdhib, and Mukhtasar al-Mufassal, and had been very hostile to Sufism.

On the other hand, Ibn Ata'illah' s father Muhammad (death date unknown) seems to have been of a different mind and although a Faqih (scholar), he was also the disciple of the great Sufi Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan ash-Shadhili (593-656AH/1197-1258AD), the founder of the Shadhili Sufi order.

As a youth, Ibn Ata'illah received a traditional Islamic education in such disciplines as Qur’anic recitation, Hadith (Prophetic tradition) , Tafsir (Qur’anic commentary), grammar, usul, philosophy, belles-lettres, and Fiqh (jurisprudence) under some of the best and most illustrious teachers of Alexandria, in addition no doubt, to the instruction given him by his own family.

Ironically, in spite of his father’s attachment to the Shadhili master Abu’l-Hasan, Ibn Ata'illah was initially rather hostile to Sufism much like his grandfather, as he himself admits in his book Lata’if al-Minan, but not for any definite reason. In fact, what precipitated his meeting with Shaykh Abu’l-Abbas al-Mursi, the successor of Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan was an argument with one of al-Mursi’s disciples. Consequently, Ibn Ata'illah decided to see for himself who this man was after all, ‘a man of Truth has certain signs that cannot be hidden’. He found him holding forth on such lofty spiritual matters that he was dazzled. Ibn Ata'illah states that at that moment GOD removed whatever objections he previously had. Something had obviously touched his heart and mind, so he went home to be alone and reflect.

That was apparently the turning point for him, for shortly thereafter Ibn Ata'illah returned to visit Shaykh Abu’l-Abbas al-Mursi who received him so warmly that he was embarrassed and humbled. Ibn Ata'illah states, ‘The first thing that I said to him was “O Master, by GOD, I love you”. Then he answered, “May GOD love you as you love me”. Then Ibn Ata’illah told him of various worries and sadness he had, so the Shaykh told him: There are four states of the servant, not five: blessings, trials, obedience, and disobedience. If you are blessed, then what GOD requires of you is thankfulness. If you are tried, then what GOD requires of you is patience. If you are obedient, then what GOD requires of you is the witnessing of His blessings upon you. If you are disobedient, then what GOD requires of you is asking forgiveness.

After leaving Shaykh al-Mursi, he mentions that he felt that his worries and his sadness were like a garment that had been removed. From that time in 674 AH/ 1276 AD when Ibn Ata'illah was initiated into the Shadhili order until the death of Shaykh al-Mursi twelve years later, he became his devoted disciple and says that in all those years he never heard his Shaykh say anything that contradicted the Shari'a.

What spiritual fruits he must have received cannot be known, but his development into a Sufi master capable of guiding and teaching others took place within the lifetime of his Shaykh, i.e., well within e twelve-year period before 686 AH/1288 AD. His discipline and progress in the path coupled with his great learning made him renowned as a religious authority.

Ibn Ata'illah’s virtue, majestic presence, eloquence, and spiritual insights were such that he had many followers. He even performed miracles, some of which have been recorded, such as speaking from his grave to one Kamal ad-Din b. al-Hamam who had gone to the Shaykh's tomb to recite Surat Hud. As a result, Ibn al-Hamam was counselled to be buried there. Another miracle attributed to Shaykh Ibn Ata'illah is his having been seen in Mecca at three different places by one of his disciples who had gone on Pilgrimage. When the latter returned, he asked if the Shaykh had left the country in his absence and was told no. Then he went to see him and Ibn Ata'illah asked him, ‘Whom did you see on this trip of yours?’ The disciple answered, ‘O Master, I saw you’. So he smiled and said, ‘The realized sage fills the universe. If he summoned the Qutb (Spiritual Pole), verily he would answer.’

Still another miracle recorded is the story of three men on their way to attend Shaykh Ibn Ata'illah’s public lecture (majlis). One said, ‘If I were free from the family, I would become an ascetic’; the second one said, ‘I pray and fast but I do not see a speck of benefit’; and the third said, ‘Indeed, my prayers do not please me so how can they please my Lord?’ After arriving, they heard Ibn Ata'illah discourse and in their presence he said, ‘There are among people those who say…’ and he repeated their words exactly.

Ibn Ata'illah taught at both the al-Azhar Mosque and the Mansuriyyah Madrasah in Cairo as well as privately to his disciples. However, it is not known where his Zawiyah was located.

Shaykh Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah died at around sixty years of age in the middle of Jumada II 709 AH/November 1309 AD. As befitting an eminent and learned teacher, he died in the Mansuriyyah Madrasah. His funeral procession was witnessed by hundreds of people and he was buried in the Qarafah Cemetery in Cairo in what is today called the City of the Dead, at the foot of Jabal al-Muqattam. His tomb became famous as the site of homage, visitation, prayer, and miraculous occurrences. To this day this is still the case.

This pious and extraordinary contemplative figure left behind a spiritual legacy no less impressive than those of his own beloved Shaykh, and the eminent founder Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan ash-Shadhili. All the biographers refer to Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah with illustrious titles and reverence and mention how marvellously he spoke and how uplifting his words were. In spite of the fact that he followed the Maliki madhbab, the Shafi’is laid claim to him, most probably because some of his earlier teachers had been Shafi’i scholars, not to mention some of his students.

Hence, his disciples could only be all the more devoted in their attachment to and love for him. Of the untold numbers of followers that Shaykh Ibn Ata’ Allah had, both in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere, only very few names are known. That is, doubtless, due to the fact that the Shadhilis did not advocate withdrawing from the world or wearing special clothing to distinguish themselves. They were ‘in the world but not of the world’, so to speak.

The great Shadhili Sufi master of his time, Sidi Ibn Abbad al-Rundi & this commentary of Hikam
What is the Hikam  of  Sidi Ibn ‘Ata’Ilah –The Book Fuqara should study -
Mp3 Audio talks about the al-Hikam by -Sidi Nooruddeen Durkee,Sidi Muhammad Ninowy & others