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Chapter 12, Sufism and Wisdom

Al-Hallaj, the Martyr of Love.

Al-Hallaj is probably the best known of the early Sufis, famous as the “intoxicated” Sufi who was a martyr for his love of God. His full name was Abu Abdullah Al-Husayn ibn Mansur Al-Hallaj (857-922). “Al-Hallaj” means “carder of cotton” and this was probably his father’s occupation, but it came to be interpreted in his case as “carder of hearts”.

He was born in southern Iran and traveled to Basra, where he spent time with Sahl al-Tustari, another of the famous early Sufis. From there he went to Baghdad, where he frequented al-Junayd and other Sufi masters and married the daughter of a Sufi. He fell out with some of the Sufis, however, and went on Hajj to Mecca, where he is said to have performed extraordinary feats of asceticism. On his return he fell out with al-Junayd. It is said that he had knocked at al-Junayd's door and when asked who was there, said "Ana al-Haqq (I am the Truth/Real)”.  Then he wandered throughout Iran for some years, finally making a second Hajj, accompanied by 400 disciples. He then traveled to India, to call people to God, as he claimed, or to learn magic, as his opponents claimed. On his return to Baghdad he encountered even greater hostility from many Sufis and, in 913, set out for a third Hajj but was arrested and imprisoned. He had strong supporters and strong enemies and it was 922 before a death sentence was approved and he was executed, an outcome it is said he sought as the culmination of his quest in love for union with God. His last words may be translated, “It is enough for the one who has found the One to be made one with the One.”

His statement, “I am the Truth/Reality”, which may be taken to mean “I am God” since Al-Haqq is a name of God and a particularly important one for the Sufis, may have been a reason for his execution. From the Sufi viewpoint, however, the problem lies not in the statement itself, since it is a shath, a statement in ecstasy that is not to be taken literally, but the fact that he said it openly, i.e. revealed a secret which is meant only for the adepts. There were other probably more important reasons for his execution.  He had made statements that could be taken as claiming equality with the Prophet and had said that under some circumstance major obligations could be replaced with other actions.  His charismatic character led his enemies to fear him as a crafty magician who was trying to seduce people. There were also fears that he was in touch enemies of the Abbasids, such as the Qarmatis, through whose lands he had traveled.

“Ana al-haqq” is undoubtedly the most famous of his sayings and has become both a literary trope and a focus of continuing debate. It appears at several points in al-Hallaj’s writings or in the stories about him. The version translated below comes from a late work of his called Tawasin, chapter 6, verses 20-25, and may in fact be an interpolation in the text, though it is traditionally seen as representing al-Hallaj’s thinking. In the chapter in which this passage is set Iblis (the devil or Satan) defends his refusal to bow down to Adam at God’s command (Qur’an 7:11ff., 15:29ff., etc.) as the ultimate of love and submission to God since he refused to worship any thing other than God. (The Arabic word for “bowed down” refers to one of the actions in the performance of salah and therefore implies worship.) This passage compares Al-Hallaj’s position with Iblis’s refusal and also with Pharoah’s refusal to recognize God as Lord, also found in the Qur’an (28:36ff., cf. 26:29, 79:24), treating them as examples of futuwwa, a tradition among Muslims something like the medieval Western tradition of chivalry with an emphasis on bravery and honor. I have translated it as “steadfast valor” the first time and “valor” thereafter. Gabriel filling Pharaoh’s mouth with sand refers to a hadith according to which Gabriel attempted to prevent Pharaoh from confessing faith in God at the moment of death, as he did according to the Qur’an (10:91, interpreters differ as to whether this confession was accepted).

20. Abu ‘Umara al-Hallaj, the strange master, said:

I debated with Iblis and Pharoah on the subject of steadfast valor (futuwwa).
Iblis said, “If I had bowed down [before Adam], the name of valor would have fallen from me.”
Pharoah said, “If I had affirmed faith in the Prophet, I would have been ejected from the rank of valor.”

[21] I said, “If I had gone back on what I had claimed, I would have been thrown from the carpet of valor.”

[22] Iblis said, “I am better than he” (Qur’an 7:12), when he saw none other than himself.
Pharoah said, “I know of no other god (ilah) for you than me.” (Qur’an 28:38)  He knew of no one among his people who could distinguish the Real from what is created.

[23] As for me, I said, “If you do not recognize Him, at least recognize His trace.  I am that trace, I am the Real (Ana al-Haqq), because I have never ceased to be a reality (haqq) in the Real (Haqq).”

[24] My companion and teacher are Iblis and Pharoah.

Iblis was threatened with hellfire but did not go back on what he had claimed.

Pharoah was drowned in the sea, but did not go back on what he had claimed and did not accept any mediator at all. But he said, “I believe that there is no god but He in whom the people of Israel believe.” (Qur’an 10:90). Don’t you see that God (may He be praised) opposed Gabriel at his gate and said “Why have you filled his mouth with sand?”

[25] I was killed and my hands and feet were cut off but I did not go back on what I had claimed.

(This translation follows fairly closely that of Michael Sells in his Early Islamic Mysticism, New York : Paulist Press, 1996, p. 277. Two other translations are those of Louis Massignon in The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam, trans. H. Mason, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, vol. 3, pp. 356-7, and Aisha Abd ar-Rahman, trans., The Tawasin of Mansur al-Hallaj, Berkeley: Diwan Press, 1974, pp. 46-7.

Mevlana (Our Master) Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

(Most of the following synopsis is derived from Schimmel (1975) Mystical Dimensions of Islam, pp. 309-324)

Rumi is probably the most widely known and revered of the great Sufi masters, both in the Muslim world, especially the Persianate part of it, and in the West. He was born near Balkh in Central Asia but his family fled the area in the face of the advancing Mongols and in 1228 settled in Konya, then under Saljuk rule and now part of modern Turkey. Konya had a considerable Greek Christian as well as Turkish Muslim population and a lively intellectual life. A few years later he took over the teaching position of his father, a noted ‘alim, and received Sufi guidance from a friend of his father. He was also a friend of the main commentator on Ibn ‘Arabi’s writings. In 1244 he met Shams-i Din-i Tabrizi, and strange and powerful personality, possibly one of the wandering Sufis called Qalandaris, who claimed to have reached a very high mystical station. Shams kindled in Rumi a passionate mystical love (‘ishq), that led him to neglect his family and disciples for months on end.  In time they forced Shams to leave town but he returned to a passionate reunion with Rumi; it is said that when they embraced “one did not know who was lover and who was beloved”. (Schimmel 313). The next time they made him “disappear” permanently (his tomb was found in the 20th century). Rumi desperately sought for Shams until he found him living within himself, united with him. Out of this experience his great poetry was born; it was as much Shams’s as his, and one of his major collections of poetry is call Divan-i Shams-i Tabriz (The Collected Poems of Sham-i Tabriz). This passionate relationship between two men mirrors the relationship of the soul and God, but to say “mirrors” is certainly too weak a statement. Later Rumi had more sober relationships with the successor of his first teacher and with one of his own disciples.

Rumi died in 1273 but his disciples continued and under his son and second spiritual successor the hierarchy and “whirling” dhikr were organized. His literary output was vast but does not lend itself to simple interpretation or systemizing. They reflect many influences, including that of the philosophers such as Ibn Sina, as may be seen from the following popular lines:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish,
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
O let me not exist! For Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones “To him shall we return!”
(from Schimmel 322)

These lines illustrate the problems of interpreting Rumi. While they most obviously reflect a mystical appropriation of philosophical ideas with allusions to the Qur’an at the end, 20th century modernists have often interpreted  them in terms of Darwinian evolution and it would be easy also to interpret them in terms of reincarnation.

The headquarters of the Mevlevi tariqa has been in Konya to the present time and Rumi’s mausoleum there is a goal of ziyara (Sufi pilgrimage). The tariqa eventually spread throughout the Ottoman Empire but his poetry spread far beyond that, particularly to the Iranian and Indian worlds.  It was officially closed in Turkey in 1925 but in practice continued and eventually was allowed to present dhikrs publicly once a year. Since the 1970s dhikrs have been performed on tour in Western countries. Rumi’s mausoleum was officially converted into a museum in 1927 but the state can hardly control what goes on in the minds of visitors.


Rumi’s mausoleum in Konya, 1991

 


Rumi’s tomb and visitors in his mausoleum in Konya, 2000.

 

Additional reading:

Schimmel, Annemarie (1993), The Triumphal Sun. Albany: SUNY Press.

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, Maulana (1968) Mystical poems of Rumi, trans. A.J. Arberry. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, Maulana (1968) Discourses of Rumi, trans. A. J. Arberry. London : J. Murray.

Friedlander, Ira (1975) The Whirling Dervishes: being an account of the Sufi order known as the Mevlevis and its founder, the poet and mystic Mevlana Jalalu'ddin Rumi. London : Wildwood House.

Material on Ahmad al-Badawi (1199-1276) and the Tanta mulid (mawlid)

(Mulid is the colloquial form of the word mawlid, “saint’s birthday”, and the form of the word usually used in discussing them. The following material is based largely on Edward Reeves (1990) The Hidden Government, pp. 45-52 and 113-133, which include his observations of the mulids of 1977 and 1978 and my own observations of the mulid of 1977, with some reference to Michael Gilsenan (1973) Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt. (Oxford: Clarendon Press), Chapter II. The pictures are from the mulid of 1977.)

Ahmad al-Badawi (1199-1278) was the founder of Ahmadiyya tariqa, perhaps the most popular tariqas in Egypt. His family is said to have originated in  Arabia and to be descendants of the Prophet’s grandson, al-Husayn. They migrated to Morocco early in the Islamic era and Ahmad was born in Fez. Soon afterwards the family went on hajj to Mecca and Ahmad remained there until his father’s death in 1237. One version of his boyhood makes him a student prodigy while another makes him a skilled dueller and horseman. He and his brother then spent time visiting the shrines of walis in Iraq, having been encouraged by the walis Ahmad al-Rifa‘i and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, and Ahmad began to demonstrate supernatural powers, among other things defeating the temptations of a female jinni, who then became his follower. He then returned to Mecca and meditated in a cave, as the Prophet had, and a “secret voice” commanded him to go to Tanta, in the Delta region of Egypt. He was 40 years old, the same age as the Prophet was when he received his first revelations. In Tanta Ahmad is said to have performed many karamat and also to attract a following of other Sufis. He miraculously saved the life of an infant who later became his favourite disciple. He would stay on the roof of a house in a state of ecstasy for 40 days, fasting and meditating, and staring into the sun. He is said to have received commands. He outshone the many other walis and scholars said to have been in Tanta, some of whom became his followers and some of whom were his rivals and suffered for it. He is said to have received homage from the Mamluke sultan and to have participated in fighting the Christian Crusaders and miraculously freed Muslim captives. Many today like to emphasize his role in fighting the Crusaders and an official of Ahmad Mosque in Tanta has compared him to George Washington.
(Synopsis based largely on Reeves, The Hidden Government, 1990, pp. 45-52)

The word mulid means birthday but a mulid does not necessarily fall on the actual birthday of the wali. The mulid of Ahmad al-Badawi began when a vast number of his followers came to Tanta to pledge allegiance to his successor. For a long time the mulid was held in August, when the Nile flood was at its height. Later two smaller festivals came to be celebrated for Ahmad al-Badawi in Tanta, one at the wheat and barley harvest and one possibly in June. The dates of these are fixed by the solar Coptic calendar, which follows the agricultural seasons rather than by the hijri calendar. The middle festival was suppressed early in the 19th century. More recently the date of the main one, the maulid kabir, was moved to October to coincide with end of the cotton harvest. It is sometimes shifted to avoid conflict with ‘ids or major festivals that follow the hijri calendar. During the Mamluke period the mulid was a major trade fair as well as a lively festival marked, according to one ‘alim by fire walking, snake swallowing and the like, while another one wanted to ban it because men and women mixed together there. It declined somewhat during the Ottoman period.

The mulid kabir lasts for a week and is a carnival, commercial fair and religious event more or less rolled into one. As many as a million people may attend. The greatest activity is at night, with Qur’an recitations and dhikrs by various Sufi groups. Throughout people circumambulate Sayyid al-Badawi’s tomb and touching the wooden lattice (maqsura) that encloses it, seeking baraka. They also visit the tombs of other walis in Tanta, of which 37 are recognized. By the last two days of the festival the prayer hall of the mosque fills with people, mainly in family groups, praying, sleeping, eating, chatting. Many people sleep in the open during the mulid or in makeshift shelters. On a road leading out of town there are various amusements and merchants’ stalls. The road leads to large field where a number of tents are set up on Sufi groups and other associations or agencies, where dhikrs are performed. On the last night (the “big night”) there is a government sponsored program as well as continuing dhikrs. According to Gilsenan the government put on a fireworks display in 1964. On the Thursday afternoon there is a large procession called the “Procession of the Shinawiyya”, said to commemorate the fact that the leader of the Shinawi tariqa pledged allegiance to the successor of Ahmad al-Badawa. On the afternoon of Friday, the last event of maulid takes place, the Procession of the Khalifa, in which the various Sufi tariqas participate, followed by the Khalifa of Sayyid al-Badawi, the leader of the Badawiyya.


The Mosque of Sayyid Ahmad al-Badawi in Tanta.

Ahmad al-Badawi’s tomb is located in a small room in the corner of the mosque that is visible to the viewer. One can see that the mosque is being extended toward the viewer. This picture was taken in October of 1977. When I visited the mosque again in 1999 it was much enlarged and the tomb was in a large hall.


Mulid Field.

A major centre of activity was this field outside of town. It was bordered by tents on three sides which were erected by various Sufi groups or family association and offered hospitality. In the Sufi tents there are dhikrs and religious songs. The tent that is lit up belongs to the provincial arm of the Ministry of Awqaf (viz. Religious Affairs). When Michael Gilsenan visited the mulid in the 1964, at the height of the power and prestige of Abdel Nasser’s regime, the most prominent tent was that of the Arab Socialist Union.

 


Stalls selling hummus. 

The Tanta mulid has always been an agricultural fair. These stalls, located on the road between the Mulid field (above) and the town contain hummus (chickpeas or garbanzos). The hummus sold at the maulid is said to have baraka and people are expected to take some home with them.


Women trying on hats

One finds along the road things that we would associate with amusements parks, rides, sideshows, etc. These women are trying on what appear to be party hats.

Stick fighting

Another evidently popular activity was this ritualised combat with staves called nabboots. The older man was obviously more skilled and always won while I was watching.


Troops in procession

Soldiers marching at the beginning of the procession on Thursday. They are present to keep order, to make the government’s presence visible and to show the government’s support for the maulid.


Tambourines and nay (flute) in parade.

Part of the procession on Thursday. As one can see, it was neither a silent nor a solemn affair.


Procession the last day with the Khalifa of Sayyid Ahmad.  

Procession on the last day, with the Khalifa of Sayyid Ahmad, the leader of the Ahmadiyya tariqa. According to Gilsenan in 1964 the government soldiers upstaged the Khalifa, but this was not so in 1977.

A Female Sufi Saint in 19th Century Egypt.

Nur al-Sabah was born  c.1824 in a town noted for its association with the Shadhili tariqa and its piety.  As a young girl she was allowed to attend the weekly dhikr sessions and soon she began to seek privacy for her devotions. Her reputation for piety became such that she was asked to recite the fatiha at the close of the dhikr sessions. She also liked to wander about alone. She became rebellious when, as an adolescent, her activities were restricted and objected when her father began to negotiate for her marriage, claiming that as a servant of God and of the walis she did not want to marry. When her father went ahead with the ceremonies she disappeared miraculously from the bridal chamber and reappeared in the guest room of her father’s house, where she reasserted her refusal to marry. Her father and rest of the village acceded to this and recognized that she was a wali. It is said her status as wali confirmed when she appeared out of nowhere to give water to another wali (possibly Ahmad al-Badawi) who was travelling in the desert. She regularly attended several mulids including that of Ahmad al-Badawi and eventually she moved to Tanta and established a tekke there, where she offered food and hospitality and cured many people. She also sponsored a weekly session (hadra) in which dhikr was performed.  Both the common people and the elite came to visit her and seek her baraka, but she saw herself especially as the servant of the poor. Crossing Nur al-Sabah could be dangerous, however.  A Sufi who criticized her custom of feeding dogs was struck with paralysis and then died. Nur died in 1909, just after her tomb was completed. An adjoining mosque was under construction at the time. She did not follow a particular tariqa nor did she found a tariqa although a khalifa continues to manage the mosque and tekke. Her activities as a wali did not end with her death. She intervened, through dreams and in other ways, to prevent her tekke from being sold for non-payment of a mortgage some decades later.
(Synopsis from Reeves, Hidden Government, 52-57, 71-72)

Bayyumis

The lineage of the tariqa derives from Ali ibn Muhammad al-Bayyumi (c1696/7), who was born in a village in the Nile Delta region of Egypt. Having memorized the Qur’an and an early age and studied the standard scholarly disciplines, he was initiated into the Dimirdashi branch of the Khalwati tariqa while still young and then was initiated into the Halabiyya branch of the Ahmadiyya tariqa, a relatively upper class and highly disciplined tariqa.  Soon he became famous as an ecstatic and attracted a large following. He lived in the Husayniyya, a largely lower class district just north of the old city walls of Cairo (see below, “A Forgotten(?) Saint”). He spent much time in seclusion but once a week he would conduct a noisy dhikr in which he would act in quite striking ways. He also encouraged his followers to help each other in times of need. Various karamat (wonders, miracles) were also ascribed to him. While his following was mainly among the common people he also had supporters among the elite, one of whom later because grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. He had run-ins with some of the ‘ulama’, who wanted to ban his dhikrs, but he was protected by the Shaykh (rector) of al-Azhar. He is said to have lectured compellingly on scholarly topics and authored works on hadith and fiqh.

By the time of his death his following was recognized as a distinct tariqa branching off from the Ahmadiyya and generally referred to as Bayyumiyya Ahmadiyya. It continued to have a strong lower class following, including likely connections with the guilds of butchers and water carriers, but it also continued to have elite connection, counting at least one Shaykh of the Azhar as a member. One of its leaders came into conflict with the Mamluke rulers in 1766 and later 1790 (see below). Through the 19th century the shaykhs of the Bayyumi were recognized by the naqib al-ashraf, whom the government recognized as having authority over the Sufis, although in on case there was a dispute over success and the Shaykh of the Azhar supported one candidate. In the 20th century they have been part of the official Sufi Council. Several descriptions of the dhikr of the tariqa as quite dramatic, almost violent, but my own observation did not corroborate this.

In 1977 I had the opportunity to attend a number of dhikr sessions held in the Cairo apartment of a doctor who was also in the army reserve. The sessions were attended by about 20 to 30 men and 15 women, who sat in a separate room. There was a range of ages with the average age perhaps 35 to 40. They were all middle or upper-middle class and apparently well educated; some were professionals. A book by their shaykh, who stands in the Bayyumi line, stresses that Sufi practice is consistent with the Shari‘a and the practice of the Prophet and places a strong emphasis on karamat. I was told that one member joined the
group because she believed that the prayers of the shaykh had helped doctors in operating on her. The element of mutual cooperation was also present. During the time I was in contact with them one of the members had problems with his job and another member devoted considerable time to advising and helping him.

The sessions themselves included recitations of the Qur’an and various Sufi writings and prayers, lessons given by the host, who was a khalifa of the shaykh, and the dhikr proper. This involved (for the men at least) sitting and then standing in a circle and reciting “La ilaha illa Allah”, then remaining standing and reciting “Allah”, then “Hu”, then “Hayy”, in each case repeatedly bowing and returning to the upright position in unison, reciting the formula or name with each movement. In each case the tempo increased until the recitation was ended with a formula of praise to Muhammad.  The atmosphere was quite intense but no one appeared to experience ecstasy. Later, however, one of my informants told me that he regularly experienced ecstasy but did not show it. This is the proper stance of the “sober” Sufi. The intensity diminished with further prayers and then refreshments and socializing, the women joining the men at this point.

The names chosen for recitation are based on a theory of seven levels of the self to which particular formulae or names of God are connected and which purify these levels when properly recited. They are as follows:

Level of the self                                     Name

Self that commands [to evil]                 La ilaha illa Allah
The reproaching self                              Allah
The inspired self                                    Hu[wa] (He)
The tranquil self                                    Haqq (True, Real)
The contented self                                 Hayy (Living)
The approved self                                  Qayyum  (Eternal, Self-subsisting)
The perfected self                                  Qahhar (Subduer)

Both the names of God and the names of the stages, except for the last, are drawn from the Qur’an. I was told that the group I visited used only four names because of the limitation of time, but it may also be because most of the group were relative novices.

This group showed no signs of political interest or involvement but it is fair to say that they were part of what is often called the “resurgence” of Islam since about 1970. Though not political, it appears that politics forced them to terminate. On my next visit to Egypt, in 1984, after the assassination of president Anwar al-Sadat, I was told that, because the khalifa and host was  in the military and because the government was suspicious of groups meeting in homes for religious reasons, he was told to stop holding the meetings.

Al Jabarti on al-Bayyumi and the Bayyumiyya.

The following is an account of the life and career of Ali al-Bayyumi taken from the historical chronicle of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, entitled ‘Aja’ib al-Athar fi Tarajim wa-al-Akhbar (Historical and Biographical Marvels) and written in the early 19 century. In addition to being an important historical source it also illustrates the kind of person a Sufi wali was expected to be at that time. This and the following translation are made directly from the Arabic edition of Hasan M. Jawhar, et al. (Cairo, l958-65), Vol. 2, pp.338-341, also consulting the French translation, Merveilles Biographiques et Historiques, by Shaykh Mansour Bey et al. (Cairo, 1888-1894), Vol. 3, pp. 60-64. I have not had the opportunity to check the background of all of persons and places mentioned, titles of books, and names of military and administrative ranks, but some are indicated in the text and some in the introduction to the next section. These are not necessary to the understanding of the most important points. For a summary of Ali al-Bayyumi’s career based on this text see Michael Winter, Egyptian Society Under Ottoman Rule, 1517-1798 (London & New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 137.

Among those who died during this year, ll83 H. (1768-9 C.E.) was the imam, the wali, the pious believer, the ecstatic (majdhub), the productive scholar (‘alim), Shaykh ‘Ali ibn Hijazi ibn Muhammad al-Bayyumi, a follower of the Shafi'i madhhab and of the Khalwatiyyah and later the Ahmadiyyah tariqas.  He was born about the year 1108 (1695-6 C.E.).  He memorized the Qur'an at an early age and became a scholar, attending the lessons of the shaykhs of his time and studying Hadith under Umar ibn Abd al-Salam al-Tatawani.  He was initiated into the Khalwatiyya by the Sayyid Husayn al-Dimirdashi al-‘Adili and followed its practices for some time.  Then he was initiated into the Ahmadiyya by several people. In time he experienced ecstasy and people’s hearts inclined to him, their spirits were drawn to him, and they came to believe in him greatly.  Many followed his tariqa and recited his dhikrs.  He attracted a large number of followers and disciples.  He lived in the Hussayniyya quarter and held dhikrs in the Mosque of Al-Zahir just outside the Hussayniyyah, where he was to be found regularly with his group as it was near his house.  He was subject to supernatural experiences and strange states of ecstasy (ahwal), and wrote a number of books, among them a commentary on Al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, a commentary on Al-Hikam by Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari, a commentary on Al-Insan al-Kamil  by al-Jili (The Perfect Man, a Sufi work), a work on the local Sufi tariqas, especially on the Khalwatiyya Dimirdashiyya, written in 1144 (1730-31 CE), a commentary on the Arba‘in (Forty Hadith) of al-Nawawi, a treatise on the Shari'a punishments (hudud), and a commentary on the prayer-formula of the Ahmadiyya and on talismanic formulae.  He spoke sublimely on Sufi practice and when he spoke he was eloquent, clear, and dazzled his hearers. 

He wore the same clothing in winter and summer, a white gown and a white skullcap about which he wound a piece of red cloth as a turban.  He would leave his house only once a week to visit the Shrine of Husayn, riding a mule with his followers going before him and following him, proclaiming the unity of God and invoking His name.  Often he would shut himself off for months meeting no one.  He performed marvels (karamat).  When he began to hold a dhikr every Tuesday in the courtyard of the Shrine of Husayn that lasted until after dawn, bringing his people as already mentioned, the ‘ulama’ arose against him and objected to the way they dirtied the mosque with their feet, since most of them went barefoot and raised their voices very loudly.  Working through some of the military chiefs, they almost managed to stop him, but Shaykh al-Shubrawi (rector of the Azhar), who greatly loved the ecstatics, opposed them and helped him.  He said to the Pasha and the chiefs, "This man is a great scholar and wali, and you must not interfere with him."  At that time the Shaykh had him give classes at the Azhar Mosque, and he lectured on the Arba‘in  of al-Nawawi in the Tibarsiyya section of the mosque.  Most of the ‘ulama’ attended and were so impressed by his learning that they calmed down and the fire of discord was extinguished.
Here is a passage from the end of his treatise on the Khalwatiyyah:  “Among God's gifts and favours to me is that I saw Shaykh Dimirdash in heaven and he said to me, ‘Have no fear either in this world or the next.’  I also used to see the Prophet (may God grant him blessings and peace) while in seclusion during the mulid and he said to me one year, ‘Have no fear in this world or the next.’  I saw him say to Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him), ‘Let us go and observe the zawiya  of Shaykh Dimirdash,’  and they both came and entered my cell and stood by me while I was reciting ‘Allah, Allah.’  An uncanny foreboding came over me at seeing the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), but I saw the great shaykh (Shaykh Dimirdash) standing by his tomb and saying to me, "Extend your hand to the prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, for he is here with me."  I also had a vision, half-waking half-sleeping, in the cell (khalwa) of al-Kurdi, i.e. Shaykh Sharaf al-Din, who is buried in the Husayniyya, and I woke up and saw that light had filled the place.  I rushed frantically out of the cell but some of those who were there stopped me, so I spent the rest of the night at the tomb of the Shaykh, but I was too terrified to go back into the cell.  One time he smiled at me and gave me a signet ring and said to me, ‘By the One who has my soul in his hands, tomorrow what has passed between us will become known.’  Then Shaykh Kurdi took me and transported me to Mecca and made me see it with my own eyes.  I entered where Sayyid Ahmad al-Badawi was and the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) was with him.  Sayyid Ahmad passed a harsh judgment on me because I had delayed attending his mulid, while I appealed to the Prophet for aid.  So then God helped me by the grace (baraka) of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), who said, ‘Go to al-Kurdi.’  He had twice previously dressed me in the red garment, once in Birket al-Hajj and once in his place in the mausoleum." He continues, "Once I saw myself outside of Medina and I said, ‘I will not enter until I know that the Prophet is pleased with me and has accepted me.’  Then he sent to me a man having a fan with which he fanned me and said, ‘You are accepted’.  I saw the Prophet say to me, ‘I would like to talk to you,’ and he made me stand before him and said to me, ‘Do you question the divine judgment?’  Then I woke up and felt the effects of that and did not know the reason.” 
On the margin of this treatise I also saw what I took to read, "I saw the prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) on Monday evening at the end of Ramadan in the year 1157 (1743-4) hastening along just outside the student quarters of al-Azhar, and I ran after him and said, ‘Do not pass me by, Oh Apostle of God,’ and we stopped in a wide open place and I came up to him and stood beside him and said to one who was present, ‘Look at his noble beard and count the white hairs in it.’”
Here are some of his miracles (karamat ):
I have heard from trustworthy sources that he used to convert brigands from their criminal ways so that they became his disciples and some even fully initiated Sufis. Sometimes he would chain them with a heavy iron chain to the pillars of the Al-Zahir Mosque, and sometimes he would put a collar around their necks and discipline them as he saw fit.  When he went riding they would follow him with weapons and staves.  He had an awesome regal presence.  When he took part in the dhikr at the Shrine of al-Husayn he would reach a state of excitement in which he would become as strong as a fierce wild beast, but when he sat down after the dhikr he would be extremely weak.  Sometimes his face would appear to those present like that of a wild animal, sometimes like that of a calf, and sometimes like that of a gazelle.
Mustafa Pasha (the Ottoman governor), when he was in Egypt, believed in him and favoured him, and once when he visited him Shaykh al-Bayyumi said to him:  “You will be called to the position of Grand Vizier at such-and-such a time,” and it happened as he said.  When he became Grand Vizier he sent orders to Egypt and had Amir Uthman Agha, the representative of the Sublime Porte, build for the Shaykh the mosque that bears his name in the Husayniyya quarter, as well as a fountain, a primary-school (kuttab), and a domed mausoleum.  When he died the prayers were said for him at the Azhar and there was a great funeral procession.  He was buried in the tomb built for him in the domed shrine in the above-mentioned mosque.

A slightly modified version has been published in Windows on the House of Islam: Muslim Sources on Spirituality and Religious Life, ed. John Renard (Berkeley, etc.: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 141-144, 350-352

Al-Jabarti on Ahmad Salim al-Jazzar.

In this selection al-Jabarti describes a series of disturbances and events in Cairo that illustrate the interaction of the common people, Sufis, ‘ulama’ and rulers during the late Ottoman period when Egypt was effectively ruled by Mamlukes. The titles and names can be somewhat confusing but are not necessary to discern the basic course of events. Following information should help, however. Ahmad Salim al-Jazzar may have been the leader of the whole Bayyumi tariqa or just of one part of it. Al-Jazzar means “the butcher” and probably refers to his trade rather than being a family name or an epithet. Except in two places, shaykh refers to ‘ulama’ from al-Azhar. Shaykh al-‘Arusi was the rector of the Azhar (shaykh al Azhar). Shaykh al-Bakri was the leader of the Bakriyya tariqa and of the leading Sufi family at the time. The wâli here is the police chief. Agha is the title of a commander of a military unit. Isma’il Bey was the most powerful of the various Mamluke commanders in Egypt at the time. For brief descriptions of these events see Michael Winter, op. cit., p. 125.

On the 11th of Muharram, 1205 (20 Sept. 1790) Ahmad Agha, the wâli, committed a number of offences against the people of the Husayniyya quarter.  He seized many of the men, imprisoning, beating and taking money from them, and even looted some of the houses.  On Friday, the 22nd of the month, he sent his men to get Ahmad Salim al-Jazzar, a shaykh of the Bayyumiyya and a man with considerable influence in that area.  They wanted to arrest him but his followers rose up in passionate rage against the followers of the wâli and kept them from him.  Then a large number of people from that district and others joined them and they closed the markets and the shops.  They went to the Azhar Mosque beating drums and closed the gates of the mosque and climbed the minarets shouting, screaming and beating the drums, and forced the classes to stop.  Then Shaykh al-‘Arusi said to them, "I will go right now to Isma'il Bey (leader of the Mamlukes) and tell him to dismiss the wâli.”  Thus he got them to leave.  He then went but Isma'il Bey made the excuse that the wâli  was not one of his retainers but one of the retainers of Hasan Bey al-Jadawi.  He ordered some of his followers to go to Hasan Bey and inform him of the demonstration and the demands of the people and the shaykhs for the dismissal of the wâli, but Hasan refused saying, "If I were to dismiss my retainer, the wâli, Isma'il would have to dismiss the agha who his retainer, and also dismiss Radwan Katkhoda al-Majnun (the “crazy one”) and Mustafa Kashif from their positions and expel the army of al-Qalyunji and al-Arna’ud.”  They exchanged several messages about this matter.  Then Hasan Bey rode out to the ‘Adiliyyah district, apparently angry.  And Ahmad Agha the wâli rode with a large group straight through the city, infuriating the people, so that a number of them gathered together as he passed and several skimishes took place; a group of them were wounded and two people were killed.  Then the shaykhs rode to the house of Muhammad Effendi al-Bakri;  Isma'il Bey appeared there and placated them and promised to dismiss the wâli.  The wâli passed by the house of Shaykh al-Bakri at that moment when a lot of the people were gathered there but he threatened them with the sword and broke up their gathering. Thus he got away from them and went his way.  Then the situation got worse and there was considerable tumult.  Gangs went about ordering shops to close and many of them gathered at the Azhar.  This matter continued until Tuesday, the 3rd of Safar (the following month).  Then Isma'il Bey and the Amirs went up the Citadel (seat of the Ottoman governor) and agreed to dismiss both the agha and the wâli. They gave them other positions and appointed others in their place, the agha from Isma'il Bey's side and the wâli from Hasan Bey’s side.  The new wâli went down from the council session to the Azhar and met the shaykhs present there and placated them.  Then he rode to his house and the gathering dispersed, feeling that their power and their status had been raised (lit: feeling as if their hands had been raised and he who had been riding a mule now rode a horse).
(‘Aja'ib, Vol. 4, pp.128-129; Merveilles, Vol. 5, pp. 85-86.)

Shaykh Nazim Haqqani (of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani tariq, mentioned of p. 190, died in May of 2014.

Web Resources

Sufi.Soul, Documentary. 49 minutes. Generally a historical format. Considerable music, underlines contrast with Islamism. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4785233260826397134
Website of the Mevlevi order. http://www.sufism.org/society/index.html
Website of the Naqshbandi Haqqani order. http://naqshbandi.org/
Website of the Nimatullahi Sufi order. http://www.nimatullahi.org/

© William Shepard

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