Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili
from Ibn al-Sabbagh's Durrat al-Asrar wa Tufat al-Abarar
translation by Elmer H. DouglaS
sections from the book about this Life
Ibn al-Sabbagh gives the following biographical data about al-Shadhili He was born in the region of Ghumara, in today's Morocco, around A.H. 583 or A.D. 1187 .He embarked on a spiritual journey in search of a genuine Sufi shaykh or the qutb [pole]. As a result, he travelled to Baghdad which was still famous as a theological and intellectual center. There, he was told by an lraqi Sufi shaykh to go back to the West, to his homeland, because the qutb was there. .Abd al- Salam Ibn Mashish (d. 622/1225) was this qutb. Ibn al-Sabbagh says that Ibn Mashish was a strict follower of the Qur'an and the Sunna. He applied them in his Iife and encouraged his disciples to do so. Douglas postulates on the meeting between al-Shadhili and Ibn Mashish by saying that, "Early in Iife al-Shadhili went to [Ibn] Mashish to take him as his spiritual guide. The venerable teacher recognized the 'saintly' qualities of the young man and gave him his final injunction to refrain from men and to depart to Tunisia:' Ibn Mashish "was by far the most important of al-Shadhili's teachers, one to whom he owed his instruction in the Sufi way:' Ibn Mashish also laid the foundations of "the future life of Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili:'
Al-Shadhili's stay in Tunisia marks the beginning of his career as a saint and theologian. It is on the basis of lbn al-Sabbagh's biography that we can determine with some accuracy al-Shadhili's life in Tunisia and his struggle to form an independent Sufi movement. The account given by lbn .Ata' Allah in his biography does not shed as much light on the Tunisian phase of al-Shadhili as does Ibn al-Sabbagh's writings. Later authors of Shadhiliyya's Tabaqat base their narratives on Ibn al-Sabbagh's biography. Al-Shadhili's departure to Egypt, as already mentioned, marks the second phase in his career, which had a Iasting effect on the future development of the Shadhiliyya order.
Ibn al-Sabbagh devotes a major section of his biography to a discussion of al-Shadhili's various travels in search of the qutb. He also assumes that the qutb plays a crucial role in sufism because he transmits the baraka (blessing) of the Prophet. One may argue that "Sufi realization" depends upon this baraka which, in turn, is transmitted through a shaykh, who is part of a silsila Leading back to the Prophet of Islam. In that sense, tasawwuf, as spiritual training and method, cannot be learned from books and sophisticated theories about God and the universe. Spiritual initiation is attained only with the help of a Sufi shaykh.
'Abd aI-Halim Mahmud [d. 1977], a leading modem Shadhili disciple and former rector of the Azhar University, enumerates three essential conditions for attaining spiritual inititiation. The first is a natural readiness on the part of the would-be disciple. The second condition is the necessity of belonging to a genuine silsila (chain) that traces its origin back to the Prophet, and the third, after being blessed by a shaykh, is the need to engage in the greater jihad which is self- discipline, spiritual contemplation, and asceticism. AI-Shadhili was part of this genuine silsila into which he was initiated by Ibn Mashish.
The meeting with Ibn Mashish played a pivotal role in the al-Shadhili's intellectual and spiritual formation. Feeling comfortable with his spiritual achievements after this encounter, al-Shadhili decided to move to the nearest urban center-the city of Tunisia-where he settled for several years before his permanent departure to Egypt. During his stay in Tunisia, he attracted many followers, who perceived in him great human and spiritual qualities, and who considered him to be on the side of the poor and downtrodden in society. This popularity, however, won him the envy and the hatred of Ibn aI-Bara' the chief qadi of Tunisia, who, according to Mackeen, charged al-Shadhili "with Fatimid Ieanings:' However, a modern biographer of al-Shadhili, Abd aI-Halim Mahmud does not portray the Shadhiliyya order as a dissident movement, but as a movement that was favoured by the sultan, Abu Zakariyya aI-Hafsi (625/1228-64 7 /1249). In spite of the political support of the sultan, however, al-Shadhili decided to move to Egypt where his tariqa grew quickly. He died in 656/1258 in Egypt on the way back from one of his pilgrimages to Mecca.
his lifetime, al-Shadhili had disciples who were dispersed in North Africa,
especially in Tunisia and Egypt. The real strength of his movement was derived
from the disciples whom he attracted in Egypt. Ibn 'Ata' Allah, for example,
highlights the emphasis which al-Shadhili laid on the disciples' training
and intellectual growth. AI-Shadhili is reported to have said, '.My disciples
are my books [that leave behind]:'
Ibn al-Sabbagh recounts the life of a number of important Shadhiliyya disciples who became leaders in their own rights. One of them is the Spanish disciple of al-Shadhili, Abu al-' Abbas aI-Mursi, who became the first shaykh of the Tariqa after death of al-Shadhili in 656/1258. Ibn"' Ata' Allah (d. 709/1309-1310), the famous author of The Book of Wísdom and Lata'if al-mínan, became the second shaykh of the order after the death of aI-Mursi in 686/1287. Therefore, in its gestation phase, the Shadhiliyya order was formed against the background of 'an urban surrounding not necessarily in revolt against it but as an outcome of the existing patterns of politic-religious and economic Iife:' The Shadhiliyya, as well as other renowned orders in Islam such as Badawiyya and Dasuqiyya, continued to expand and flourish after the thirteenth century. The Shadhiliyya, in particular, assumed new organizational structures and won new adepts in both Egypt and North Africa.
One His Noble Lineage, Travels and Rank
With reference to his noble lineage, it is: ' Ali ibn ' Abd Allah ibn ' Abd al- Jabbar ibn Tamim ibn Hurmuz ibn Hatim ibn Qusay ibn Yusuf ibn Yusha ' ibn Ward ibn Battal ibn Idris ibn Muhammad ibn 'lsa ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn ' Ali ibn Abi Talib.
His birthplace was in Ghumara} He entered the city of Tunis when a young lad, turned toward the East, performed many pilgrimages, !' and went into lraq.
When I came to lraq, I met the Shaykh Abu al-Fath al-Wasiti, the like of whom I have not seen in Iraq. My quest was for the qutb. One of the saints said to me, "Are you searching for the qutb in lraq while he is in your country? Return to your land and you will find him.
So, he returned to the Maghrib where he met his teacher, who is my master the shaykh, the saint, the gnostic, the trustworthy, the qutb, the ghawth, Abu Muhammad ' Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish al-Sharif al-Hasani.
When I drew near him, while he was living in Ghumara in a lodge on the top of a mountain, I bathed at a spring by the base of that mountain, forsook all dependence on my own knowledge and works, and went up toward him as one in need. Just then he was coming down toward me, wearing a patched cloak, and on his head a cap of palm leaves. "Welcome to ' Ali ibn ' Abd Allah ibn ' Abd al-Jabbar:' he said to me, and repeated my lineage down to the Apostle of God. Then he said to me, "O , Ali, you have come up to us destitute of your knowledge and works, so you will receive from us the riches of this world and the next:'
Awe of him seized me. so I remained with him for some days until God awakened my perception, and I saw that he possessed many supernatural powers (kharq al-'adat). For example, one day as I sat before him while a young son of his played with him on his lap, it came into my mind to question him concerning the greatest name of God. The child came to me, threw his arms about my neck, and shook me, saying, "O Abu al-Hasan, you desired to question the master concerning the greatest name of God. It is not a matter of importance that you should ask about the greatest name of God. The important thing is that you should be the greatest name of God, that is to say, that the secret (sirr) of God should be lodged in your heart:' When he had finished speaking, the shaykh (Ibn Mashish) smiled and said to me, 'Such a one has answered you for me:
was, then, the Qutb of that time.
Then he said to me, "O 'Ali, depart to the Province Ifriqiya and dwell there in a place called Shadhila, for God will name you al-Shadhili. After that you will move to the city of Tunis where charges will be brought against you before the authorities. Then you will move to the East where you will inherit the rank of qutb:'
I said to him, "O my master, give me your spiritual bequest:' So he replied, "0 ' Ali, God is God and men are men. Keep your tongue from the mention of them, and your heart from inclining before them, and be careful to guard the members (jawarih) and to fulfill the divine ordinances; thus the friendship (wilaya) of God is perfected in you. Have no remembrance of them except under obligation that duty to God imposes on you; thus your scrupulousness is perfected. Then say: 0 God, relieve me from remembrance of them and spare me disturbances from them. Save me from their evils, enable me to dispense with their good through Thy good, and as a special favour assume Thou care of me among them. Verily, Thou art mighty over all things:'
When I entered the city of Tunis as a young man, I found there a great famine, and I came upon men dying in the market places. I said to myself, "Had I wherewith to buy bread for these hungry people, I would surely do it:' Then I was instructed inwardly: "Take what is in your pocket:' So I shook my pocket and, lo, there was silver money in it. So I went to a baker at Bab al-Manara and said to him, "Count up your loaves of bread:' He counted them for me. Then I offered them to the people who took them greedily. I drew out the pieces of money and handed them to the baker. He found them to be spurious and said, "These are Moroccan, and you Moroccans practice alchemy:' So I gave him my burus and small bag as a pawn on the price of the bread, and turned toward the gate. Right there by the gate stood a man who said to me, "O ' Ali, where are the pieces of money?" So I gave them to him, and he shook them in his hand, then returned them to me, saying, "Pay them to the baker, for they are genuine:' So I paid them to the baker who accepted them from me, saying, "These are good:' I took my burus and bag and then looked for the man, but did not find him.
Consequently, I remained for some days inwardly perplexed until, on Friday, I went into the Zaytuna mosque, near the reserved section on the east side of the mosque, and performed two cycles of the greeting of the mosque and pronounced the salutation. Suddenly, I saw a man on my right. I greeted him and he smiled at me, saying, "O ' Ali, you say, 'Had I wherewith to feed these hungry people, I should surely do it: You would presume to be more generous than God toward His creatures. Had He willed it, He would surely have fed them, for He is more cognizant of their welfare than you:'
I said to him, "O my master, by God, who are you?" He replied,
"I am Ahmad al-Khidr. I was in China and I was told, 'Go and look for
my saint ' Ali in Tunis: So I came hurriedly to you:' When 1 had performed
the Friday worship, I looked about for him, but did not find him.
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The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili from Ibn al-Sabbagh's Durrat al-Asrar wa Tufat al-Abarar
translation by Elmer H. Douglas
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