Sufism -- Sufis -- Sufi Orders

Early Sufi Shaykhs and Shrines

  • Hasan al-Basri, (d. 110 AH/ 728 CE) from Basra in today's 'Iraq, is one of the earliest links in most Sufi lineages. He is generally noted in Sufi chains of transmission and is listed as having received the transmission from 'Ali, who in turn received it from the Prophet Muhammad. Linked here is an abridged translation of his well-known letter extolling asceticism written to the Umayyad Caliph 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz (r. 717-720) (See Arberry, Sufism, pp. 33-35, whose source was the Arabic of Abu Nu'aym al-Isfahani, Hilyat al-awliya', vol. 2, pp. 134-140). (The Eliade archive that was the source of this is now --October 16, 2001-- back on line again after a few years of being.) For a useful article see Dr. G. Haddad's al-Hasan al-Basri.

  • Rabi'a al-Adawiya, certainly the most famous woman Sufi saint, lived during the 2nd c. AH/ 8th c. CE and died in Basra (in Iraq). See this Biography of Rabi'a. It is said [that Rabi'a (al-Adawiya ?)] used to kneel a thousand times daily saying, 'I ask for no recompense, but [only] to satisfy the Almighty God.' See some brief Excerpts from Rabi'a's Poetry and Anecdotes told about her. (See above for Rabi'a bint Isma'il) (corrected 3/22/98). See Deb Platt's Rabi'a site for more extensive and topically organized quotes of Rabi'a as well as a short biography.

  • Bayazid-i Bistami, (d. 874 CE) whose shrine can be visited through this gateway, was a Sufi shaykh who died before the advent of the Sufi orders. He is generally known as an exponent of "intoxicated" Sufism.

  • Sahl ibn 'Abdallah al-Tustari (d. 896) wrote some treatises as well as a commentary on the Qur'an, which has been published in the original Arabic and was the subject of a scholarly study in English by Gerhard Bowering, a professor at Yale University. The commentary has not yet been reliably edited, nor has it been translated into English, even though it is short.

  • Mansur al-Hallaj (858-922) is one of Sufism's most controversial figures. Executed in Baghdad for political reasons, Hallaj became famous for his problematic saying, "I am the Real" (Ana 'l-Haqq), which can also be translated as "I am the Truth" and "I am God." The only work of his translated into English is the Tawasin (Ta wa-sin). It was translated by 'A'isha al-Tarjumana and is now on-line, although there are errors in the scanned document. A collection of his Arabic poetry survives. One of his poems, translated into English, can be found at the following link: Hallaj on God (link fixed 20 August, 2005).

  • Abu al-Hasan Kharaqani (b. 351- 352/962-964 and d. 425/1033)--whose tomb is in the town of Kharaqan, which is in the general region of Bastam and which today is in the vicinity of Shahrud, within the administrative district of Semnan in Iran--received a spiritual transmission from Abu Yazid Bastami and like Abu Sa'id Abu al-Khayr (link fixed 20 August, 2005) (967-1049 CE) received spiritual guidance from Shaykh Abu al-'Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad 'Abd al-Karim Qassab-e Amuli. When he was asked about being a dervish (darvishi)--which is roughly the equivalent of faqr (spiritual poverty), namely the Sufi path--he said, "It is an ocean that derives from three springs: the first, abstenance; the second, generosity; and the third, being independent of people." When he was asked about the "gnostic" ('arif). He replied, "A gnostic is like a bird that has flown from its nest seeking food but has not found any. It then tries to make its way back to the nest, loses its way, and becomes bewildered--wishing but unable to go home." (From Nur al-'ulum, ed. by 'Abd al-Rafi' Haqiqat, pp. 37, 39.)

  • Abu Sa'id ibn Abi'l-Khayr (d. 440/1049), was an early Sufi shaykh who at different stages of his life was an ascetic, an antinomian ecstatic, and a spiritual guide. He received a Sufi transmission from Abu al-Fadl al-Hasan (or ibn al-Hasan) al-Sarakhsi, whom Abu Sa'id called his "pir" (a Persian word refering to a spiritual guide and often equivalent to "shaykh"). After the death of Abu al-Fadl, Abu Sa'id looked to Abu 'Abbas al-Qassab (the butcher), whom Abu Sa'id called "shaykh," for spiritual guidance. The hagiography Asrar al-tawhid is one of the two major sources for what we know of his life and teachings. It has been translated as The Secrets of God's Mystical Oneness (link to Mazda Press) by John O'Kane. A collection of quatrains (ruba'iyat) is attributed to Abu Sa'id. See a selection of some of these among the on-line excerpts from the book Abu Sa'id Abu'l-Khayr and His Rubaiyat by the Sufi shaykh Dr. Zahurul Hasan Sharib.

  • Khwajah 'Abdallah al-Ansari, an important Hanbali Sufi author and saint, died in the 481 AH / 1089 AD. His tomb in Herat, Afghanistan, (link fixed, Nov. 30, 2000) continues to be an important pilgrimage site. He wrote a number of treatises in both Arabic and Persian. In a short treatise in Persian titled "Discourses" (Maqulat) (ed. by Dastgirdi, pp. 147-48; translated here by Dr. Godlas), he states the following:
    Do you know when the "one who affirms the reality of God" (muhaqqiq-e Haqq) will become [at] one (yakta)? When three things become apparent in him:
    when what is God's becomes separated from what is man's;
    when worldly existence (lit. water and earth) goes to Adam and Eve; and
    when the light of the unmanifest realm becomes one with God.
    Come out of your self like a snake out of its skin! [Your identity of] "one who affirms reality" is a pretense. The truth of self is that all is He. Let go of your self, since relationship to God is good. How can the critics' criticism matter to one, when clear water is in the stream?!

    Know that people are a headache, the cure for which is being alone. Neither do we associate with people, nor do people have [a sense of] separateness from us. The self is the idol and [people's] approval is the sign of duality (lit. zunnar). I have all at once uttered the whole of the depths of the truth, whether you accept or deny it.

    As long as there is duality, [one's] relationship is with Adam and Eve. But when duality departs, the one [reality] is God. When the path of Lordship (rububiyat) appears, the dust of humanness departs.

    He is not veiled; but He is not apparent to every eye. To this extent, conceal with dignity, since time clarifies. In the scroll of the Sufi, speech does not arise from the heart, but from the soul. [In fact,] it is also not from the soul; speech is the pretense. If you can stand drinking, drink. Otherwise, get to work and shut up!

    This is the world of the mysterion (sirr); and this people have mysteria (asrar). What business does a watchman have with the secrets of kings?!

    For some time I would seek Him yet would find my self. Now I seek my self and find Him.

    Love arrived and became like my blood within veins and skin.
    Until it emptied me and filled me with the Beloved.
    The Beloved has completely taken possession of the parts of my body.
    A name is given by me to me, and the rest is all Him.

  • Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE) was arguably one of the most significant Sufis of what has been called the period of consolidation. The article linked with his name is a well-documented survey of his life and thought written in October 2001 by Mustafa Abu Sway of al-Quds University. His lengthy masterpiece, the The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya 'ulum al-din) clearly expressed the Sufi dimension of Islam. Linked here is his spiritual autobiography The Deliverance from Error (al-Munqidh min al-dallal), in which he beautifully portrays his transformation from an intellectual who merely conjectures about religious truths into a Sufi who experiences ultimate reality and truth.

  • 'Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (d. 1131 CE.) was a prominent disciple of the great Sufi shaykh and writer on "love," Ahmad al-Ghazali, who was the younger brother of the well-known mainstream Muslim scholar, Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE.). For political reasons, 'Ayn al-Qudat was unfortunately sent to prison, where he wrote the book Shakwa al-gharib (Complaint of the Stranger), an excerpt of which can be found at the previous link. Ultimately, he was executed.

  • Ruzbihan Baqli (d. 606/1209) was an ecstatic Sunni Sufi shaykh and author from Shiraz (Iran). He was the subject of a recent study, Ruzbihan Baqli, by Professor Carl Ernst. Although Ruzbihan wrote a number of books, only his diary of visions The Unveiling of Secrets (Kashf al-asrar) (in Ernst's translation) is available in English. His most voluminous work is his encyclopedic Qur'an commentary, 'Ara'is al-bayan, which includes not only his own view of the Sufi implications of the Qur'an but also substantial Qur'an commentary from the earliest Sufi shaykhs (taken from Sulami) and from Qushayri. See his commentary on "Guide us on the straight path" (Qur'an 1:6). See as well my article Surrender: Its Significance for Today and in the Qur'anic Commentary of Ruzbihan al-Baqli . After having identified 65 manuscripts of 'Ara'is al-bayan and having edited and translated a fragment of it for my Ph.D. dissertation, I am currently in the process of editing and translating its entirety. Although Henry Corbin translated part of a work of Ruzbihan's on Spritual Love (Le Jasmin des fideles d'amour), the first full length French translations of Ruzbihan's works have been published only recently by Paul Ballanfat as Le devoilement des secrets (Kashf al-asrar) and L'ennuagement du coeur (which also includes another work, Les Eclosions de la lumiere de l'affirmation de l'unicite.

  • Ibn 'Arabi by Prof. William C. Chittick This article, published in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, is by the chief authority in the US on Ibn 'Arabi, whose writings were the dominant influence on Sufi literature after the 13th c. CE. A less detailed discussion is found in the article A Biographical Sketch of Ibn 'Arabi Although Ibn 'Arabi is often attacked (an example of which is The Declaration that Ibn 'Arabi is a Disbeliever [Takfir Ibn 'Arabi] (link fixed 20 August, 2005)), many consider him to be the greatest Sufi. Hence his title is the "Greatest Shaykh" (al-Shaykh al-akbar). Here you can see the excellent pictures of Ibn 'Arabi's mosque and its mihrab.(Fixed 12 Nov. 1998)

    Ibn 'Arabi's ideas became the most significant influence on Sufi literature. A selection of them, as expressed by the great scholar of Sufism Henry Corbin, can be found in Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi. The Fusus al-Hikam (Bezels of Wisdom) is Ibn 'Arabi's most popular work, one that has been the subject of numerous commentaries. Ibn 'Arabi's greatest work is the al-Futuhat al-Makkiya (Meccan Revelations). Prof. James Morris discusses a part of it in his four-part article titled Listening for God: Prayer and Heart in the Futuhat. A number of chapters of the Futuhat have been translated by the scholar Ayesha Bewley. One of these in particular addresses the following issues: The beginning of the spiritual creation and the macrocosm and microcosm.. A brief guide to following the path towards God written by Ibn 'Arabi (translated by the scholar A. Jeffrey) is What the Seeker Needs (link fixed 20 August, 2005).

  • The Poetry of Yunus Emre (in Turkish and English translation)(link fixed 20 August, 2005). Yunus Emre is no doubt the most beloved Sufi poet in the Turkish language. Even if you do not know Turkish, you may catch a glimmer of the beauty of Yunus if you listen to the some of his poems being sung at the Yunus Emre (with audio) page (link fixed 20 August, 2005). Another interesting site for Yunus is Yunus Emre and Humanism Surfers should realize, however, that the emphasis on "humanism" often found in contemporary literature on Turkish Sufism may lead to a misreading of Yunus.

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