Brief Biography of Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdullah ash-Shadzili (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is a brief biography of Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdullah ash-Shadzili (q.s.).  On his father’s side, he is descended from the Fatimid-Hasanid line, and on his mother’s side from the Fatimid-Husaynid line.  He was born in the year 593 AH / 1196 CE, in the mountain village of Ghumara, in the Rif area of the northern Atlas mountains of the Maghrib.  The Berber tribe which he belonged to had virtually separated itself from the rest of the Maghrib by refusing to accept Islam, which was otherwise universally followed in this region.  Shaykh Abu Madyan Shu’ayb ibn al-Husayn al-Maghribi (q.s.) had tried to guide this tribe to the Truth, but they had preferred to live in their state of spiritual ignorance, relying mostly upon witchcraft, magic and idols for their form of worship. 

There is little recorded about the very early life of Imam Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadzili (q.s.), but it is assumed that whilst he was still very young he would have been taught the basic rites of the religion because his family were of the shurafah, people are related body to the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Therefore, it could be expected that he would have studied, first of all, at the famous madrasa of Qarrawiyyin, in Fas, which had been founded by the great grandson of Sayyidina al-Hasan ibn Abu Thalib (r.a.), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  His first shaykh was Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Harazim (q.s.), a murid of Shaykh Abu Madyan (q.s.), through whose guidance he entered the way of taswawwuf.  It was also through him that he was later moved to find the quthb of his time. 

It is known that in the year 615 AH, at the age of twenty-five, he travelled to the East and notably to ‘Iraq, searching for the master who possessed the complete knowledge of the Path.  There, he was led to the Shaykh Abu al-Fath Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wasithi (q.s.) who was the inheritor of Imam Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ar-Rifa’i (q.s.), who had founded one of the first and largest thuruq, in the southern marshes of ‘Iraq.  Here Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) remained for a short time, until it became clear to the heart of the Shaykh Abu al-Fath (q.s.) that this murid could only be satisfied by the deepest ma’rifah.  Therefore, he said to him, “You have come here seeking for the quthb of Islam, but you have left him in the Maghrib.” 

In this way, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) returned to his own country, until he was led to his true master, Mawlay Abu Muhammad ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Sulayman ibn Mashishi (q.s.) on the mountain of Jabal ‘Alam, in the Habth region of the Maghrib.  One of the gnostics, referring to such a meeting said, “Know that in his beginning, the first of what the seeker of this Path needs is that he casts himself on the shaykh who is a gnostic, skilled in the journey of descent and ascent.  Before him, he is like the corpse in the hands of the one who is washing it.  He does not resist the shaykh when he understands something to be lacking, even if it is not in the shari’ah, as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani said, ‘If I am a rebel in the judgement of the shari’ah, I am obedient in the knowledge of haqiqah.’ 

Therefore, he must wash himself of all other knowledge and actions, and turn in tawbah from his bad deeds.  As one of the gnostics said, ‘The tawbah of the act of rebellion is one tawbah, but the tawbah of the act of obedience is a thousand.’ 

Another of the gnostics said, ‘Make ablution with the water of the ghayb, if you carry the sirr.  For, with this, he clings to him and keeps him company until the shaykh is dearer to him than himself, his property and his children.  Until if he commanded him to do the impossible, which cannot be thought of in the mind, he would do it without weariness or turning away.’” 

In this way, everything that Allah (s.w.t.) Revealed to them of the external and internal knowledge passed between Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.) and his murid, until Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) became the true inheritor of his master.  After a period of time, as Allah (s.w.t.) willed, Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.) told his beloved murid to proceed to Ifriqiyyah, now known as Tunisia, where he should settle in the village of Shadzilah until Allah (s.w.t.) Sends His Order for him to move to the city of Tunis, where he would meet with certain difficulty and opposition.  He was told, nevertheless, that he should remain in Tunis, until the coming of an event which would permit him to leave this city and to travel to the East where, as his master said, “You will become the quthb of your time.” 

Before leaving Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi’s (q.s.) presence, his young inheritor asked him for parting words of guidance, so that he might receive from him his message of the Order which Allah (s.w.t.) intended for him at that moment.  His Master said, “O ‘Ali, Allah is Allah, and the people are the people.  Therefore, let Allah’s remembrance live every moment in your heart.  Leave behind all dependence on people, and keep your heart from inclining towards them.  Perform your duties and Allah’s Guidance will always be with you.  Do not refer to people unless Allah, the All-Mighty, Orders you to do so.  He has Perfected for you your authority and walayah with Him.  Say, ‘O Allah!  I ask Your Mercy that I do not incline or yearn for people.  Protect me from their evils, and Provide for me by not seeking help from them.  Set me apart from them, for You have Power over everything.’” 

Then Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) set out for the village of Shadzilah, between Qayrawan and Tunis where, rather than looking for a place to lodge, he retreated to a cave on the mountain of Jabal Zaghwan, accompanied by his spiritual brother and companion, one of the ahl al-kashf, Shaykh Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Salamah al-Habibi (q.s.).  Here, they both lived for a period of time, as Allah (s.w.t.) Willed of them.  Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) chose this seclusion because he had not yet received Permission from Allah (s.w.t.) to guide others, and he recognised that a period of retreat from the world was necessary for him, so as to strengthen his heart.  He was shown that he still needed to concentrate on the inner jihad with his nafs, which he had embarked upon with his beloved master, Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.). 

It was a holy period of asceticism, seclusion and spiritual practices during which the depth of his self-denial was accompanied by the manifestation of many karamah from Allah (s.w.t.), some of which were recorded by his companion, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Habibi (q.s.), who said, “One day, on Jabal Zaghwan, the shaykh was reciting from Surah al-An’am until he reached the Words of Allah, ‘Remind hereby, lest a soul should be given up to destruction for what it has earned.  Apart from Allah, it has no protector and no intercessor; though it offer any equivalent it shall not be accepted from it.’  At this point, the shaykh became absent as he repeated this ayah again and again until his whole body was shaken by the Word of his Lord, and as often as he leaned to one side, so the mountain leaned in like manner, and this continued until his spirit returned to his body, when the mountain also became still.” 

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴنعَام

وَذَرِ ٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّخَذُواْ دِينَہُمۡ لَعِبً۬ا وَلَهۡوً۬ا وَغَرَّتۡهُمُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَا‌ۚ وَذَڪِّرۡ بِهِۦۤ أَن تُبۡسَلَ نَفۡسُۢ بِمَا كَسَبَتۡ لَيۡسَ لَهَا مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ وَلِىٌّ۬ وَلَا شَفِيعٌ۬ وَإِن تَعۡدِلۡ ڪُلَّ عَدۡلٍ۬ لَّا يُؤۡخَذۡ مِنۡہَآ‌ۗ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُبۡسِلُواْ بِمَا كَسَبُواْ‌ۖ لَهُمۡ شَرَابٌ۬ مِّنۡ حَمِيمٍ۬ وَعَذَابٌ أَلِيمُۢ بِمَا كَانُواْ يَكۡفُرُونَ (٧٠) 

Leave alone those who take their religion to be mere play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world.  But proclaim (to them) this (truth): that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts: it will find for itself no protector or intercessor except Allah: if it offered every ransom, (or reparation), none will be Accepted: such is (the end of) those who deliver themselves to ruin by their own acts: they will have for drink (only) boiling water, and for Punishment one most grievous: for they persisted in rejecting Allah. (Surah al-An’am:70) 

This same companion also recorded, that after forty days of his keeping company with Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), feeding on nothing but herbs of the fields and laurel leaves until the sides of his two cheeks began to pain him, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said to him, “O ‘Abdullah, is it that you wish for food?’” 

He replied, “O my master, my looking at you enables me to do without it.” 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) then said, “Tomorrow, if Allah Wills, we shall go down to Shadzilah and some Gift from Allah will come to us on our way.” 

Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Habibi (q.s.) said, “So the next morning we descended, and while we were walking through a valley, the shaykh said to me, ‘O ‘Abdullah, if I should leave this road do not follow me.’  Then he became absent from the world, and he left the way until he was some distance from me.  Then I saw four birds, about the size of a stork, come down from the sky and fly over his head.  Each one of them came and spoke with him and then flew away.  Amongst them were birds about the size of swallows which surrounded him between the earth and the horizon, hovering in circles about him.  When they had disappeared from sight, he returned to me saying, ‘O ‘Abdullah, did you see anything.’ 

I told him of what I had seen and he said, ‘The four birds were some of the angels of the fourth Heaven who came to question me about knowledge, and about this I spoke with them.  The birds resembling swallows were the spirits of the awliya’ which came to receive a blessing from our arrival. 

It is recorded that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, “In the beginning of my travelling with the Path of Allah, I was wont to pursue the science of alchemy, and I would make petition to Allah about it.  I was told, ‘Alchemy is in your urine.  Put into it whatever you wish and it will become what you desire.’  So I heated a pickaxe, quenched it therewith, and it turned to gold.  Then my presence of mind came back to me and I said, ‘O lord, I asked You for a certain thing but I did not attain it except by the use of unclean devices, and this is not lawful.’ 

Then I was Told, ‘O ‘Ali, the world is full of impurity, and if you desire it, you will not attain it except by impurity.’ 

I replied, ‘O my Lord, Deliver me from it.’ 

I was Told, ‘Heat the pickaxe and it will return to iron.’  I heated it, and it returned to iron.” 

After that he learnt that the basis of the search for, and the realisation of the Truth of the knowledge of all sciences coming from Allah (s.w.t.) lies in the truthfulness of the seeker’s intention.  About this, he told the following story, “While I was in the Maghrib, a certain man came to me and said, ‘I have been told that you possess a knowledge of alchemy, so teach me.’ 

I replied, ‘I will teach it to you without omitting a single particle, if you are able to receive it.’ 

‘By Allah, I am able to receive it,’ the man replied. 

So I said to him, ‘Eliminate creatures from your heart, and stop desiring that your Lord give you other than what He had previously Ordained for you.’” 

He replied, ‘I am not able to do that.’ 

I said, ‘Did I not tell you that you would not be able to receive it?’  Then he left me.” 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) told of another story, “While I was wandering one night in the beginning of my travelling on the Path, I slept in a place where there were many wild animals.  These began to growl at me, so I went and sat down on a high hill and said, “By Allah, I will pray to His Prophet (s.a.w.), for has he not said, ‘Whoever sends blessings upon me, by that act, the Blessing of Allah will be upon him tenfold, and if the Blessing of Allah is upon me, I shall pass the night under His Protection.’  So I did this and feared nothing.  When the dawn appeared, I went to a pool of water to make the ablution for fajr, and there was a mass of reeds from which partridges broke forth with a great fluttering of wings.  Fright overtook me and I turned back.  Then I heard a voice say, ‘O ‘Ali, when you passed the night under the Care of Allah amongst the growling animals, you did not fear, but when you arose today under your own care, the fluttering of partridge feathers has made you afraid.’” 

It was at this time that he was given his nisbah “ash-Shadzili”.  He was shown that this name was not due to the fact that he was an inhabitant of the village of Shadzilah, but that Allah (s.w.t.) Said to him, “O ‘Ali, you are ash-Shadzili with a tashdid on the dhal, meaning one who is set apart for Me.”  “Shadzuli” means “set apart”. 

Shortly after this, the Order came to his heart, “Go down to the people.  They will benefit by you.” 

When he heard these Words he said, “O my Lord and Sustainer, Relieve me of their company.” 

Then he was Told, “Go down, ‘Ali.  Peace will be with you.” 

He said, “Will You Leave me to the people to eat from their money?” 

He was Told, “Spend as you like, O ‘Ali, for I am your Financier.  Spend as you like from your pocket, or from the ghayb.” 

So it was that about the year 640 AH / 1242 CE, that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) went down to Tunisa and found lodgings near the al-Balat, the Tiled Mosque, where he began calling people to Allah (s.w.t.), and teaching them His Religion, receiving help and support from the Sulthan Abu Zakariyya’.  The Shadziliyyah thariqa’ was first founded there, from among around forty of his students, who were known as al-awliya’ al-arba’un, and soon a great number of people from all walks of life began to come to him for inspiration and guidance, as the word spread of the great learning, purity of heart and wisdom of the shaykh.  Tunis, in those days, was a big city and a centre of commerce and trade as well as a gathering place for those seeking both religious and secular learning.  Many people who were already following the religion of Islam were seeking something purer, more complete, and at the same time, simpler than what was being taught in the institutions of religious learning.  They were also looking for a message which would speak to the hearts of city-dwellers whose everyday life and occupations were an important matter for them.  Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) teachings gave these people exactly what everybody was looking for. 

It was Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) message to his followers to encourage them, unlike many of the shaykhs before him and after his time, not to abandon their professions and trades which they had been following before coming to the Path, and to dress themselves in the same way as all the people with whom he taught them to mix.  It is said, in fact, that he did not like to take any student into his Way who did not have a trade or profession.  This was from the outer face of his Way, and it was as though it was the outer key to the door of his Path which attracted many of those who would have turned away from a more obviously ascetic master. 

From the inner face of his Way, and for those who were searching with the inner eye, Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) presence and teachings carried a certain power of the spirit which was the Gift which Allah (s.w.t.) had bestowed upon him, and which came to him as the inheritor of the spirit of Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.).  It was known that the love from his eyes was enough to bring the wandering perplexed seeker into the Net of Allah (s.w.t.).  This was a special Gift from Allah (s.w.t.) for His beloved slave.  It is the same Gift of bestowing of the Essence of the deep secret love of Allah (s.w.t.), coming from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), and which has been passed down through this Shadziliyyah to this moment. 

It was this relationship, springing from the deep Secret Love of the Essence, which revealed to the orthodox Muslims the elite bond between the master and his followers - the shaykh with his muhibbin.  Although it had always existed, it was through Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), that it took on a new spiritual depth.  This added depth came from the dzawq of the true meaning of fana’ fi ash-shaykh, who is the living spirit of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in his time.  It is he who guides Allah’s (s.w.t.) lover from his perfect annihilation of himself in himself, to the perfect annihilation of himself in Allah (s.w.t.), followed by the perfect baqa’ in his spirit. 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, “Swidq and taqwa’ are experiencing with the master what you desire.  Allah Says, ‘He who comes with the truth and believes it to be the truth, they are the ones who recognise Allah.  They have with their Lord what they desire.’  This can be found only with the true master, he who gives the right intention to the murid’s heart.  The real intention means the absence of everything except the act intended upon undertaking, and its perfection is a holding fast to it until its completion.” 

سُوۡرَةُ الزُّمَر

وَٱلَّذِى جَآءَ بِٱلصِّدۡقِ وَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦۤ‌ۙ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡمُتَّقُونَ (٣٣) لَهُم مَّا يَشَآءُونَ عِندَ رَبِّہِمۡ‌ۚ ذَٲلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ (٣٤) 

And he who brings the truth and he who confirms (and supports) it ― such are the men who do right.  They shall have all that they wish for, in the Presence of their Lord: such is the Reward of those who do good: (Surah az-Zumar:33-34) 

This teaching and its practices seemed to the orthodox believers to threaten the whole structure of Islam as they knew it.  But Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), like his master, Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.), and his master before him, Shaykh Muhyi ad-Din Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.), considered that only the knowledge acquired through dzawq could be true knowledge.  In this way, he was indicating that the knowledge of the inner Sufi Path was of a degree above that of the jurists and the people of the outside shari’ah. 

In fact a certain person of the government of the Maghrib went to Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), and said to him, “I do not see that you perform any great religious works.  So tell me how it is that you have reached such an elevated place amongst the people that they regard you so highly?” 

He replied, “I have a single work that Allah has prescribed to His People, and to which I cleave.” 

“What is that?” he asked. 

I replied, “Withdrawal from you, and your world.  Allah Says: 

سُوۡرَةُ النّجْم

فَأَعۡرِضۡ عَن مَّن تَوَلَّىٰ عَن ذِكۡرِنَا وَلَمۡ يُرِدۡ إِلَّا ٱلۡحَيَوٰةَ ٱلدُّنۡيَا (٢٩) 

Therefore shun those who turn away from Our Message and desire nothing but the life of this world.” (Surah an-Najm:29) 

One day, when one of his followers asked him to speak about union and separation, he replied, ‘My son, when you want that in which there is no censure, union is witnessed in your sirr, and separation exists in your tongue.’”  In other words, the beloved of Allah (s.w.t.) is he who travels through things, recognising them and their Orders, and seeing the Face of Allah (s.w.t.) in everything.  The ‘arif, as Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) indicated, is he who travels joyfully and happily obtaining the good of all things, and because he trusts in Allah (s.w.t.), the evil of things passes him by.  But he who does not know and does not trust, travels through things fearfully, anxious, restrained and imprisoned, and so he attracts their evils, and their good misses him. 

سُوۡرَةُ الزُّمَر

قُلۡ هَلۡ يَسۡتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡلَمُونَ‌ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ (٩) 

… Say: “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?  It is those who are endued with understanding that receive Admonition.” (Surah az-Zumar:9) 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, “Know that the sirr of all the ranks is gathered together in a rank, and it is the noblest, the highest, the greatest and the most immense.  It is that your inward is truly with Allah and your outward with the Creation by Allah.  When your outward is with the Creation and your inward is with Allah, then all your states are pure, from the side of the outward.  So Creation does not reject you.  From the inward side there is no intermediary between you and Allah.” 

Again and again, he returned to this truth of the relationship between the knowledge of Allah (s.w.t.) and the state of being His slave.  He said, “Allah is He Who Says, ‘Only those of His servants who have knowledge fear Allah.’” 

سُوۡرَةُ فَاطِر

ۥ كَذَٲلِكَۗ إِنَّمَا يَخۡشَى ٱللَّهَ مِنۡ عِبَادِهِ ٱلۡعُلَمَـٰٓؤُاْۗ (٢٨) 

... Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants who have knowledge ... (Surah Fathir:28)

Then, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) also said, “The slave of this world is a prisoner, the slave of the Hereafter is a hireling, but the slave of Allah is an ‘amir.” 

He counselled his muridun, “If you desire to look towards Allah with the eyes of faith and firm belief at all times, then be thankful for His Favours, and be content with His Decree.  Whatever favour you have is from Allah.  Then, whenever evil touches you, call upon Him.  If you desire it to turn away from you, or yourself to turn away from it, worship Allah lovingly, not bargaining with Him, but knowingly, with due respect and modesty.” 

An ‘arif who understood Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) sirr said, “Allah made selves incline to freedom and to love it, and He made them flee from ‘ubudiyyah and hate it.  Whoever is a knower and who entrusts himself to an ‘arif, only finds ease in ‘ubudiyyah.  He who is ignorant, or who entrusts himself to one who is ignorant, only finds ease in freedom.” 

For which he said, “Only the giving of the Perfect is perfect.” 

It was in this way that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) taught his followers and students and always reminded them, “Whatever Allah has Willed will be, and whatever He has not willed is not.  There is no strength and power except with Allah.” 

However his presence, and his continually growing influence amongst all manner of people in Tunis, began to stir up envy and apprehension in the heart of a certain faqih known as Abu al-Qasim ibn Bara.  This person tried to bring legal charges against him, and when this proved unsuccessful, he then sought to get the Sulthan Abu Zakariyya’s ear by declaring that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was a fraud and an imposter who claimed to be of the Fatimid line. He  also charged Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) of being a potential agitator who was stirring up trouble amongst the people against Abu Zakariyya’s rule and authority. 

Although the sulthan was, generally speaking, a just man, the charge of possible insurrection to his rule brought apprehension to his heart, so he called a gathering of the ‘ulama and fuqahah to question Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) about his belief and intentions, while he himself sat listening, but hidden from sight behind a screen.  The outcome of this meeting was that none of the charges brought by ibn al-Bara’ were in any way proved to exist, and the sulthan said to him, “This man is one of the greatest Saints, and you have no power over him.”  He therefore dismissed all those who had been gathered together to question Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), except the shaykh himself whom he still retained in his presence.  Then, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) asked of him only to be allowed to have a jug of water to make ablution, a carpet for praying, and to be able to speak to one of his muridun who was anxiously waiting outside.  He said to the Sultan, "By Allah, were it not that my way teaches us to act in accordance with the shari’ah, I would surely walk out from here, or there.”  As he said this, he pointed to one wall of the room, and then another which immediately opened for him.  He told his student to inform all his followers that he would be absent from them for that day, but that, if Allah (s.w.t.) willed, he would pray the night prayer together with them. 

After he had finished his prayer, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was about to make a du’a to Allah (s.w.t.) asking him to bring some judgement upon ibn al-Bara’ and the sulthan for their opposition to him, but then he heard the words, “Truly Allah will not be pleased with you if you ask Him in anger towards a fellow creature.” 

So he offered up the following du’a, which later became a part of his well-known Hizb al-Barr: “O You Whose Throne is Spread over the Heavens and the Earth, the Preservation of which is no burden, the Sublime, the All-Mighty, I ask You for faith in Your Care, a faith by which my heart will remain undisturbed from anxiety for my sustenance, and from fear of creatures.  Draw me near to You in a way that tears away the veils as You did with Ibrahim, Your Friend and Messenger, who spoke to You and thereby did not need to ask You, for You kept him safe from the fire of his enemy.  How can anyone be in need of a veil to shroud him from the harm of his enemies when You have made him not to be in need of the help of Friends?  I pray that You will Conceal me in Your Nearness until I cannot see or feel the nearness nor the distance of any other thing.  You have the power over everything.” 

One of Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) students told about a certain incident relating to this faqih, ibn al-Bara, as he told them: “I came upon a group of fuqahah among the companions of the Chief Qadhi of Tunis.  ibn al-Bara was not well-pleased.  I greeted them and they turned away from me.  That was a painful experience.  Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘O ‘Ali, indeed you have exaggerated your own importance and overestimated your worth, since you were sensitive to their turning away from you.  But who are they when they turn towards you, and who are they when they turn their back?  If you were one helped by Allah, you would be distracted through your turning to Allah from their turning away from you.  If you were under right guidance, you would be distracted through Allah's turning to you from your turning towards Him.’” 

In His Wisdom, Allah (s.w.t.) Sent ibn al-Bara’ as a deep blessing for Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) at a time when He was Testing him.  Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, “I heard someone say, ‘He who is sensitive to the first shock of misfortune is not patient.  He who burdens himself with trouble has not resigned his affair to Allah.  He who asks is not content with Allah.  He who manages his own affairs has not committed them to Allah.  He who calls for help has not trusted.  These are five things, and how great is your need to be attentive to these five!’  Say: ‘My Lord, I stand in need of the good that You have sent down to me.  So Increase for me Your Bounty and Beneficence, and Make me one of those who are thankful for Your Favours.” 

Shortly after this, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) decided to leave Tunis to perform the haj, and for this purpose he set out with his followers to the East.  When Sulthan Zakariyya heard of them leaving, he was very troubled and sent a message begging the shaykh to remain in Tunis.  But Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) replied. “I am not leaving except with the intention of making the haj if Allah wills, but when He will have fulfilled for me my intention I shall return again.” 

Accordingly, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), together with some of his followers, journeyed to Egypt, arriving in Iskandariyyah, where they were greeted with being detained in the military camp by an order of the Sulthan of Egypt.  This was because ibn al-Bara had sent a message warning the sulthan that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was a dangerous man who would stir up trouble in his country.  However, Allah (s.w.t.) intervened, bringing proof to him and all those around him, that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), far from being a troublemaker, was a person of great spiritual power, intent only to make peace for all the people wherever Allah (s.w.t.) Sent him. 

One of his students who accompanying Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said that he did not hear him pray against ibn al-Bara, and he did not even mention him in any way until they were by ‘Arafat, and this was on the haj after leaving Egypt, when he said to them, “Say ‘amin’ to my du’a, for I have been Commanded to pray against ibn al-Bara.”  Then he said, “O Allah, lengthen his life, make his knowledge to be of no avail to him, bring him tribulation through his offspring, assign him, at the end of his life, to be a slave of oppression.”  And to Allah (s.w.t.) Belongs the Order before and after. 

Then, after a few days, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was able to leave Egypt with his followers, and to fulfill the haj, after which he returned to Tunis.  There, he remained for a number of years until one day Allah (s.w.t.) brought him the young man who was to become his successor and the inheritor of his station and his holy line.  This was Shaykh Shahab ad-Din Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Umar al-Mursi (q.s.).  As soon as Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) looked at the face of this young man from Spain, he said, “Truly no one has brought me back to Tunis except this person.” 

Soon after this, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was given the Order to move to Egypt, which would be his final home, about which he said, “I saw the Prophet (s.a.w.) in a dream and he said to me, ‘Ya ‘Ali, go to Egypt and raise up forty swiddiqun there.’ 

It was summer time, and intensely hot, and I said, ‘Ya Rasulullah, the heat is very great.’ 

He said, ‘Lo, the clouds will give you shade.’ 

I said, ‘I fear thirst.’ 

He replied, ‘Lo, the sky will rain for you every day.’  He promised me many karamah on my journey.  So I instructed my followers to prepare to depart to Egypt.” 

One of the gifts which he had been promised and was shown was that he had become the quthb of his time.  It was that in the year 646 AH / 1246 CE, when he was fifty years old, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) entered Egypt and took up his residence in Iskandariyyah, where he lived for the rest of his life.  He set himself up with his family and followers in one of the great towers rising from the walls surrounding the city.  The tower was well equipped for this purpose since it comprised several stories which provided accommodation for his family, a mosque, a zawiyah for his students where Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) gave teachings, and rooms for other guests. 

Meanwhile, in Ifriqiyyah his Spirit was kept alive by a small group of his students with whom he kept up correspondence.  Two of them wrote a book about the life of their shaykh.  One of these two students, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abu al-Qassim ibn as-Sabbagh (q.s.) was the author of Durrat al-Asrar wa Tuhafat al-Abrar, “The Pearl of the Secrets and the Treasure of the Righteous”, the source book for the greater part of the life and sayings of Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.). 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was the founder of what became a great Sufi order, and which is still one of the biggest of the Sufi orders to this day.  Yet, he left no manual of instruction for his students, no handbook of practices, and no treatise to follow.  He used to say, “My companions are my books.”  What do exist however are several Litanies which he composed including his Hizb al-Bahr, “Litany of the Ocean”; Hizb an-Nur, “Litany of the Light”; and Hizb al-Fath, “Litany of Victory”; which he used to like to recite, and which he urged his students to learn by heart, and to make their recitation a regular part of their spiritual practices.  In the same way as the wazhifah of Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.) is known to carry many unseen blessings, so are the litanies of Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.). 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) when he first met his shaykh, said, “O Allah!  I have washed myself of my knowledge and my actions so that I do not possess any knowledge or action except what comes to me from this shaykh.”  This example became a condition for the follower of the Path, that he should leave his own knowledge of existence, and judge by that of the existence of the shaykh, without turning away or dissatisfaction. 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said that the dzikr is one of the essential means of walking with success and fulfillment on His Path.  Therefore, he counselled his students, “Know that it is important for the student of the Sufi Path for reaching the goal of attaining union with Allah, to ask Allah’s help, and to sit upon the carpet of truthfulness, contemplating him by truthful dzikr.  Also one’s heart must be bound to the practice of pure ‘ubudiyyah so as to reach the ma’rifat.  Then, continue in dzikr, shukr, muraqab, tawbah and istighfar.” 

When Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) spoke about his Path, the Shadziliyyah way, he said, “Its confirmation is wilayat.”  By this he meant the witnessing of the knowledge of the Love of the Essence, through dzawq and ikhlasw. 

And he said, “The People of this Path seek the benefit of evil just as they seek the benefit of good.”  In the same way, he said, “O Allah!  People are Sentenced to abasement until they become mighty, and they are Sentenced to loss until they find.  The one who has no abasement becomes the one who has no might, and the one who has no loss becomes the one who does not find.  The one who lays claim to finding without loss is a liar.” 

In one of the prayers which he liked to use, he said, “My God, if I ask You for Help, I have asked for something beside You.  If I ask for what You have Guaranteed me, I show suspicion of You.  If my heart rests in anything but You, I have been guilty of the sin of associating something with You.  Your Attributes in their Majesty are above contingency.  How, then, can I be with You?  They are beyond the reach of causes, how then can I be near You?  They are exalted beyond the dust of earth, how then can my stay be other than You?” 

He also said that so long as the seeker stops with his own attributes, he is still with his nafs, and one of the attributes of the self is the desire to have vision and eyewitnessing of Allah (s.w.t.).  He said, “The desire for union with Allah is one of the things that most effectually separates from Him.” 

And he said, “Scrupulousness has to do with what goes out and enters here (he pointed to his mouth) and with the heart, that there should enter it nothing except what Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.) love.”  Then he followed that, and said, “Whenever the spirit is abundantly watered with the showers of sciences, and the nafs is firmly rooted in good works, then all good results.  But whenever the self has power over the spirit, then drought and sterility result, order is overturned and every evil befalls.  So take heed of the guidance of the Book of Allah and the healing words of His Messenger (s.a.w.), for you will never cease to enjoy the good as long as you love these two the most.  But evil has already come to him who turns away from them.” 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) also said, “The ‘ibadah of those who are trustworthy consists of twenty things: eat, drink, clothe yourselves, travel, marry, settle down, do everything that Allah has Commanded, not to be neglectful but serve Allah, not associate anyone or anything with Him, Be thankful to Him, avoid injuring others, and spend generously.  This is one-half.  The other is performing prescribed duties, avoiding what is unlawful and being content with whatever Allah Decrees.  Truly serving Him consists in reflecting upon His Orders and thoroughly understanding the diyn.  The best kind of service is asceticism towards the world which comes from an absolute trust in Allah.  This is the ‘ibadah of the best of the believers.  If you are ill, seek for a remedy.  Listen carefully to the ‘arifin and choose the best from amongst them, the true guides, who put their trust in Allah.” 

When Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) had once asked his own shaykh, Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.), concerning the wird of the ahl al-haq, he said that Mawlay ‘Abd as-Salam ibn Mashishi (q.s.) had replied, “It is essential for you to have destroyed hawa and love the awliya’.  Without any doubt, only in the total surrender of the murid’s complete being could he receive the perfect blessings which Allah (s.w.t.) had Set Aside for him.  Therefore, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) himself said, “If anyone is satisfied by his possessions he is poor; if anyone is satisfied by his high reputation, he is to be despised; if anyone is satisfied with his kinsmen, he is worthy of contempt; and if anyone is satisfied with Allah, he is truly wealthy.”  Then, he added, “The sign of commitment is a lack of distress when distasteful things befall.” 

In addition to his verbal teachings, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) also kept up extensive correspondence with his muridun, especially those who had remained behind in Tunis.  These letters are considered to be of great importance for an understanding of his Way, since his love and compassion for all his followers was well-known.  He considered it to be a duty for the shaykh to know his muridun intimately, and to help them wherever they might be. 

Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) follower, Shaykh ibn as-Sabbagh (q.s.), recorded many stories about the karamah of Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), a number of them having been related to him by the follower, Imam Abu al-‘Azha’im Muhammad Madi ibn ‘Abdullah (q.s.), who kept company with him in the latter part of his life in Egypt.  One such story, as Imam Abu al-‘Azha’im Madi (q.s.) recounted, “The shaykh sent me from Iskandariyyah to Dumyat for something that he needed.  There was a man with us of the people of Dumyat who asked the shaykh’s permission to accompany me and to travel with me, and permission was granted him for this.  On approaching the Gate of the Lotus Tree (one of the Gates of Iskandariyyah), the man took out some money to buy bread and condiments.  I said to him, ‘You do not need anything.’ 

He said to me, ‘We shall find the shop of a certain person in the desert.’  He mentioned the shop of a man from Halwan, in Iskandariyyah.  I said to him, It is better, if Allah wills, to do as I say.’ 

Now I had been accustomed, whenever I travelled, to take no provision of food with me, but when I became hungry I would hear the voice of the shaykh saying to me, ‘O Madi, go over to your right and you will find something to eat.’  In like manner, when I was thirsty I would find fresh water and cooked food.  We left Iskandariyyah and walked, hastening on our journey until the day was well advanced. 

Then my travelling companion said, ‘O Madi, give me something to eat for I am hungry.’ 

Immediately I heard the shaykh’s voice saying to me, ‘O Madi, your guest is hungry.  Go over to your right and you will find wherewith to feed him.’  I went over to the right-hand side of the road and we found a pot full of sweet cakes perfumed with musk and rose-water, and we ate them until we were filled.  The man was amazed and wept at what he saw.  I asked him, ‘Which of the two is more tasty: this food or that in the shop of the man from Halwan of whom you spoke?’ 

The man said, ‘By Allah, I have certainly not seen the like of this before, and such as this has never been made in the palace of a king.’  The man wanted to gather up the remnants of the holy food, but I prevented him from doing this, and I left them as they were. 

When we had walked on a short distance we became thirsty.  Instantly my beloved shaykh’s voice came to me, saying, ‘O Madi, go over to your right-hand and you will find water.’  Thereupon, we found in the sand a pool of fresh water, from which we drank, and beside which we rested for a while.  On arising we found not a drop of water to be seen. 

Thereupon the man said, ‘Where is the water which was here in this place?’ 

I replied, ‘I know nothing about it.’ 

Then the man said, ‘By Allah, this shaykh is truly endowed with great powers.  By Allah, I will not return to my people until I shall have obtained what this master has obtained, or I will die in Allah.’  So he left his fur-lined cloak with me and walked off into the desert exclaiming, ‘Allah!  Allah!’’ 

When I had finished my journey and returned to my Master, he said to me, ‘O Madi, you have lost your guest.’ 

I said to him, ‘You are the one who has lost him whom you fed with the sweet cakes in the desert, and whose thirst you quenched with the water in the sand.’ 

Then he said to me, ‘He has passed along with those who are betaking themselves to Allah.’” 

Imam Abu al-‘Azha’im Madi (q.s.) also related that one day, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was speaking on the subject of zuhd regarding worldly goods.  In the group assembled to listen to him was a poor man wearing worn out clothes while his teacher wore fine-looking garments.  The poor man said to himself, “How is it that the shaykh talks about asceticism while wearing these clothes?  I am the ascetic with regard to worldly goods.” 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) said, “O you disputer, your clothes are the garments of worldly desire which are crying out with the tongue of effort and poverty, but our garments cry out with the tongue of abstinence and sufficiency.” 

As soon as he heard these words, the poor man stood up before all those assembled, and said, “I, by Allah, the Mighty, am the one who says likewise in my heart, and I ask for forgiveness of Allah, and turn to Him in repentance.”  Then, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) told Imam Abu al-‘Azha’im Madi (q.s.) to clothe the poor man in fine garments. 

It was related that when Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi’s (q.s.) son, who was called Shaykh Shahab ad-Din Ahmad (q.s.), reached puberty, his mother said to Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), “O my shaykh, my son, Ahmad. has come to manhood.” 

He said to her, “Bring him to me so that I may give him my final injunction, and teach him those rights of Allah which are required of him.” 

So his mother brought her son to the shaykh’s presence.  He looked intently at the young boy, for a moment, then he turned his eyes away from him.  Then he said to him, “Arise, O my son, may Allah always Guide you”, and he made du’a to Allah (s.w.t.) for him. 

When the youth had left the shaykh’s presence, his mother said to the shaykh, “My shaykh, indeed I did not hear you give him your final message, or even address a word to him.” 

He said to her, “When he was sitting before me, Allah Allowed me to see the outcome of his life, and I found nothing in his actions against which to warn or counsel him, so I felt ashamed before Allah to speak to him.” 

There is also a story about Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), which was related by a man named Abu ‘Ali ‘Umar whose father told him that two of his friends had told him of how Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) had drawn near to them one night while they were in a small fort.  Abu ‘Ali ‘Umar said, “We had ten sheep which we had received on credit for the purpose of making a profit from them.  We had killed one of the choicest of our small flock for the shaykh, who asked us, ‘Why have you done this?’ 

We told him, ‘This is for the blessing, if Allah wills.’ 

One of the two men said to the Shaykh, ‘By it will a thousand measures of grain be stored up for us?’ 

He said, ‘And by it a thousand measures of grain, if Allah wills.’”  They then told of how, after only a short time, they had acquired a thousand sheep and had stored up a thousand measures of grain.  Abu ‘Ali ‘Umar added, “I was present at the time of their counting, and I ate of their offspring.” 

Finally, many stories are told about the Battle of al-Manswurah in the year 1250 CE, when the Crusader King Louis IX of France invaded Egypt, and in which the shaykh took part, fighting in the front line with his followers.  When Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) and many of his muridun, as well as his friends amongst the ‘ulama and the awliya’, heard that the Muslim community was under attack, they immediately made their way to al-Manswurah to join in the battle for an-naswr aw al-jannah, victory or Paradise, knowing full well that Paradise is under the shadow of the sword.  On the day of the battle, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) mounted his best horse, one of his followers then handing him his sword.  When he clasped it in his right hand, he asked for another, and with one in each hand he rode out into battle.  When he was asked afterwards how he could fight so marvelously, because at that time his eyesight was very weak, he pointed to his heart saying, “If the eye of the heart sees clearly, what is the need for the eyes of the body?” 

Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) had made it his custom that every other year, he would travel to Makkah for the haj.  Likewise, in the year 656 AH /1258 CE, the very year in which a few weeks earlier, the Mongol ruler Hulugu Khan had sacked Baghdad, he made preparations to go on the haj as usual.  However, this time he asked that a pickaxe, shovel, and a shroud should be included in their baggage.  As was his custom, he set out on the southern route, known as the spice route, overland to Damanhur, then via Qahirah, up the Nile to ‘Idfu in Upper Egypt.  From there, he would cross the Red Sea to Jiddah, and finally make the two-day camel ride to Makkah.  At Damanhur, a young boy, who was a student of the Qur’an, begged his mother to let him go with Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) and his party to make the haj.  His mother, who was a widow, earnestly requested Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) for her son that he be allowed to travel with his party, to which he replied, “We will look after him as far as Humaythirah.” 

And so it happened.  It was related that Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) had said, “When I entered the land of Egypt and established my dwelling there, I prayed to Allah, saying, ‘Ya Rabb, have You Caused me to dwell in the land of the Copts, to be buried amongst them, until my flesh becomes mingled with their flesh and my bones with theirs?’” 

A Reply then came to me: ‘No, ‘Ali, you will be buried in a land which Allah has never oppressed.’” 

It is also recorded that in the year of his death, Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) was heard to say, “Once, when I fell ill, I said, ‘Allah, O Allah, when will the encounter with You take place?  I was Told, ‘Ya ‘Ali, when you reach Humaythirah, then the encounter will come.’” 

He said, “I saw as if I were buried at the base of a mountain before a well containing a little salty water, which became more abundant and sweet.”  And he said to his muridun, “This year, I shall perform the hajjat an-niyabah.”  Hajjat an-niyabah is the pilgrimage of substitution, when it is cut short by circumstances. 

One of Imam ash-Shadzili’s (q.s.) muridun recorded what happened: “Soon after entering the desert of ‘Aydzab, both the young boy and the shaykh fell ill, the boy dying the day before we reached the watering-place of Humaythirah.  The followers wanted to bury the youth where he had died, but the shaykh said, ‘Carry him to Humaythirah.’ 

When we arrived at this resting-place we washed the boy, and the shaykh prayed over him before we buried him.  That evening the shaykh, who was also very sick, called his companions around him and spoke to us, counselling us to recite his Hizb al-Bahr often, and he said, ‘Teach it to your children for the Greatest Name of Allah is in it.’  Then he spoke privately to Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi, giving him his orders as his successor with his special blessing.  He said to his followers, ‘When I am gone, look to Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi for he is the khalifah to come after me.  He will have an exalted station amongst you for he is one of the abwab) of Allah.’ 

Later that evening, he called for a jar of water to be filled from the well of Humaythirah.  He was told, ‘Ya Shaykh, its water is salty and bitter, but the water we have is fresh and sweet.’ 

He replied, ‘Give me some of it for my intention is not what you think.’  When we brought him the well-water he drank a little of it, rinsed his mouth with it and spat into the jar.  Then he said, ‘Pour the water into the well.’ 

Immediately the well-water turned sweet and fresh to taste, and it was abundant enough to refresh all the travellers who stopped to replenish themselves at this place.  His followers said, ‘The Shaykh passed the night in holy preparation and discourse with his Beloved, continually mentioning His Name until the dawn came when he was still.’”  Thus, the words of Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) became true, because he had said, “This year I shall perform the hajjat an-niyabah.” 

By this, he informed his followers of the hadits of the Prophet (s.a.w.): “If anyone leaves his home for the purpose of performing the haj and dies before accomplishing it, Allah deputises an angel to take his place in performing the haj each year until Yawm al-Qiyamah.”  Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.), the Beloved and Friend of Allah (s.w.t.), had asked Him to allow him to die in a place without sin, and in this Allah (s.w.t.) granted him his wish.  He had told his son-in-law and successor, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi (q.s.), that he should give his body to a veiled man on horseback who would appear, wash him and bury him, leaving then by a path up a steep hill where Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi (q.s.) should not follow him.  Everything happened as Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) had said. 

However, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi (q.s.) did follow the veiled horseman up the hill, and he saw his face, which was that of Imam ash-Shadzili (q.s.) himself, who told him to return to the valley again.  Then the veiled man disappeared.  From this sign, Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Mursi (q.s.) understood that, in fact, it was the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) himself who had appeared in the face of his master.  There is now said to be a handsome mosque at the tomb which is visited by pilgrims every year going and returning from Makkah. From the hill above the mosque, the beloved of the Way of Allah (s.w.t.) can see the light shining from the tomb of the Prophet (s.a.w.) lying to the East across the Red Sea.


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