Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli
This now is something of the story of the life and sayings of the Shaykh and Master Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli, whose full name was `Ali ibn `Abdullah ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar, who, on his father's side, descended from the Fatimid-Hasanid line, and on his mother's side from the Fatimid-Husaynid line.
He was born in the year 593 A.H./1196 C.E., in the mountain village of Ghumara in the Rif area of the northern Atlas mountains of the Maghrib. The Berber tribe to which he belonged had virtually separated itself from the rest of the Maghrib by refusing to accept the Religion of Islam, which was otherwise universally followed in this region. Sidi Abu Madyan had tried to teach and 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 `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar, but it is assumed that whilst he was still very young he would have been taught the basic rites of the Religion because he and his family were of the shurafa, that is, people who are related in the body to the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him. These are people who are untouched by the desire for worldly power and office or for material gains. Therefore, it could be expected that he would have studied, first of all, at the famous madrasa of Qurrawiyyin in Fez (Fas) which had been founded by the great grandson of Sayyidina al-Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him.
His first Shaykh and Master was Sidi `Abdullah ibn Harazim, a follower of Sidi Abu Madyan, may Allah have mercy on them both, through whose guidance he entered the Path of Allah, the Way of Tasawwuf. It was also through him that he was later moved to find the Qutb of his time.
It is known that in the year 615 A.H., at the age of twenty-five, he travelled to the East and notably to al-`Iraq, searching for the Master who possessed the complete knowledge of the Path of the Truth of Allah, Praised and Exalted is He. There he was led to the Shaykh Abu al-Fath al-Wasiti who was the inheritor of the holy and renown Shaykh and waliy of Allah, Sidi Ahmad ar-Rifa'i, may Allah be pleased with him, who had founded and guided one of the first and largest tariq in the Way of Allah in the southern marshes of `Iraq. Here `Ali `Abdu 'l-Jabbar remained for a short time, until it became clear to the heart of the Shaykh Abu al-Fath that this follower could only be satisfied by the deepest Spring of the Knowledge (al-ma`rifa). Therefore he said to him, "You have come here seeking for the Pole (Qutb) of Islam, but you have left him in the Maghrib."
In this way the murid `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar returned to his own country, until he was led to his true Master, Sidi `Abdu 's-Salam ibn Mashish on the mountain of Jabal `Alam in the Habt region of the Maghrib. The account of the first meeting between them has been given in the previous chapter in the story of the life of `Abdu 's-Salam ibn Mashish, but one of the Knowers of Allah, 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 Knower of Allah, 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 Law (ash-shari`a), as the Shaykh Sidi `Abdu 'l-Qadir al-Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "If I am a rebel in the judgement of the shari`a, I am obedient in the knowledge of the Reality." Therefore he must wash himself of all other knowledge and actions, and turn in repentance (tawba) from his bad deeds. As one of the Knowers of this Path said, "The tawba of the act of rebellion is one tawba, but the tawba of the act of obedience is a thousand."
Another of the Knowers said, "Make ablution with the Water of the Unseen, if you carry the Secret. 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 revealed to them of the outside and the inside knowledge passed between the Shaykh `Abdu 's-Salam ibn Mashish and his follower, until `Ali ibn Abdu'l-Jabbar became the true inheritor of his Master.
After a period of time, as Allah willed, Sidi `Abdu as-Salam told his beloved son and follower to proceed to Ifriqiya, now known as Tunisia, where he should settle in the village of Shadhila until Allah would send 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 Qutb of your time."
Before leaving Sidi `Abdu 's-Salam'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, Exalted is He, intended for him at that moment. His Master, may Allah be pleased with him, 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 friendship (walaya) 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 Thou art powerful over everything."
Then `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar set out for the village of Shadhila, 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 Knowers of Allah (ahli al-kashf), `Abdullah ibn Salama al- Habibi. Here they both lived for a period of time, as Allah, the All-mighty, willed of them. `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar chose this seclusion because he had not yet received permission from Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, to guide others, and he recognized 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 battle (jihad) with his self, which he had embarked upon with his beloved holy Master Sidi `Abdu 's-Salam ibn Mashish. This he must do until he was certain that he had emptied himself entirely of everything that was not for Allah, and he had effaced himself in Him.
It was a very holy period of asceticism, seclusion and spiritual practices during which the depth of his self-denial was accompanied by the manifestation of many spiritual gifts (karamat) from Allah, some of which were recorded by his companion, Abu Muhammad al-Habibi, who said, "One day on Mount Zaghwan, the Shaykh was reciting from the surat 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.' (6:69). (It, referring to the self of the human being.) At this point the Shaykh became absent as he repeated this aya 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."
This same companion also recorded: After forty days of his keeping company with Sidi `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar, feeding on nothing but herbs of the fields and laurel leaves until the sides of his two cheeks began to pain him, he, may Allah be pleased with him, 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." The Shaykh then said, "Tomorrow, if Allah wills, we shall go down to Shadhila and some Gift from Allah will come to us on our way."
`Abdullah al-Habibi continued: 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 Saints which came to receive a blessing from our arrival."
It is recorded that Sidi `Ali ibn `Abdu 'l-Jabbar 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 Thee 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 realization of the Truth of the knowledge of all sciences coming from Allah, Most High, lies in the truthfulness of the seeker's intention.
About this he, may Allah be pleased with him, 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." He 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.
He, may Allah be pleased with him, 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, prayers and peace be upon him, for has he not said, "Whoever sends blessings upon me, by that act the blessing of Allah, the All-Mighty, 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 the morning prayer (al-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 title (nisba) of ash-Shadhdhuli. He was shown that this name was not due to the fact that he was an inhabitant of the village of Shadhila, but that Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, said to him, "O `Ali, you are ash-Shadhdhuli with a tashdid on the dhal, meaning one who is set apart (shadhdhu-li) for Me."
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 Unseen."
So it was that about the year 640 A.H./1242 C.E., the Shaykh ash-Shadhdhuli went down to Tunisa and found lodgings near the al-Balat (the Tiled Mosque) where he began calling people to Allah, and teaching them His religion, receiving help and support from the Sultan Abu Zakariyya. The Shadhdhuliyya Order was first founded there around forty of his students who were known as the forty friends (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 holy 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. Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli's Teachings gave these people exactly what everybody was looking for.
Someone has said, looking at the outside of Sidi Abu al-Hasan's message, and referring to some of his letters to his followers, "This correspondence shows not only that Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhiuli had a deep knowledge of the Sufi Teaching of the eastern doctors, but also a personal experience of spiritual realities. If he knew how to inspire his followers it was not so much that he taught them a simple Sufism, but because he had the qualities of a spiritual Master as is revealed in his letters. He certainly formed no intellectual system, but he had qualities of spiritual discernment, and he knew how to extract from his own experiences what was valuable for others."
In the same manner, another person has said, "It is a fact of basic importance that the Shadhdhuliyya was born out of an urban surrounding, not necessarily in revolt against it, but as an outcome of the existing patterns of political, religious and economic life."
It was also Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli'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, may Allah be pleased with him, 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, Abu al-Hasan's presence and Teachings carried a certain power of the Spirit which was the Gift which Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, had bestowed upon him, and which came to him as the inheritor of the Spirit of his Father, the Guide Sidi `Abdu 's-Salam ibn Mashish, Allah's mercy upon him. It was known that the Love from his eyes was enough to bring the wandering perplexed seeker into the Net of Allah. This was a special Gift from Allah, Most High, for His beloved slave. It is the same Gift of the bestowing of the Essence of the deep Secret Love of Allah coming from the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him, and which has been passed down through this Shadhdhuliyya Line to this moment. May Allah be praised and thanked in everything.
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 beloveds. Although it had always existed, it was through Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli, may Allah protect his secret, that it took on a new spiritual depth. This added depth came from the tasting of the true meaning of the annihilation (fana') in the Shaykh, who is the living Spirit of the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him, in his time. It is he who guides Allah's lover from his perfect annihilation of himself in himself, to the perfect annihilation of himself in Allah, Most High, followed by the perfect subsistence (baqa') in his Spirit.
Abu al-Hasan, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "Real truthfulness (sidq) and piety (taqwa) are experiencing with the Master what you desire. Allah Praised and Exalted is He has said, "He who comes with the Truth and believes it to be the Truth, they are the godfearing. They have with their Lord what they desire."(39:34). This can be found only with the true Master, he who gives the right intention to the student'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."
This teaching and its practices seemed to the orthodox believers to threaten the whole structure of Islam as they knew it. But Sidi Abu al-Hasan, like his Master Sidi ibn Mashish and his Master Muhyi-id-din ibn al-`Arabi before him, considered that only the knowledge acquired through tasting 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 Law (ash-shari`a).
In fact a certain person of the government of the Maghrib went to Sidi Abu al-Hasan 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, may Allah be pleased with him, replied, "I have a single work that Allah, the All-Mighty, has prescribed to His People, and to which I cleave."
"What is that?" he asked.
I replied, "Withdrawal from you, and your world. Allah, Most High, has said: So turn thou from him who turns away from Our remembrance and desires only the present life." (53:29).
Sidi Abu al-Hasan then said, "Vision of the Truth came upon me and would not leave me, and it was stronger than I could bear, so I asked Allah, the All-Mighty, to set a veil between me and It. Then a voice called out to me saying, 'If you besought Him as only His Prophets and Saints and Muhammad His Beloved know how to beseech Him, yet would He not veil you from It. But ask Him to strengthen you for It.' So I asked for strength, and He strengthened me, Praise be to Allah."
One day when one of his followers asked him, may Allah be pleased with him, to speak about Union and Separation, he said, "My son, when you want that in which there is no censure, Union is witnessed in your Secret, and Separation exists in your tongue." In other words, the beloved of Allah is he who travels through things, recognizing them and their Orders, and seeing the Face of Allah in everything. The knower, as Sidi Abu al-Hasan indicated, is he who travels joyfully and happily obtaining the good of all things, and because he trusts in Allah, 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." Has not Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, said, "Are they equal, those who know and those who do not know?"(39:9).
Sidi Abu al-Hasan said, "Know that the Secret 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 the Creation does not reject you. From the inward side there is no intermediary between you and Allah."
For that he, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "Make us Your slaves in all states, and teach us knowledge from You by which we may become perfect both in our life and in our death."
Again and again he, may Allah hallow his secret, returned to this Truth of the relationship between the Knowledge of Allah and the state of being His slave. He said, "Allah, Praised and Mighty is He, has said, "Only those of His servants who have knowledge fear Allah."(35:28).
Then Sidi Abu al-Hasan 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, may Allah be pleased with him, counselled his beloveds as he said to them, "If you desire to look towards Allah with the eyes of faith and firm belief at all times, then be thankful for His favors, and be content with His Decrees. Whatever favor 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."
A Knower who understood Sidi Abu al-Hasan's Secret said: "Allah made selves incline to freedom and to love it, and He made them flee from bondsmanship and hate it. Whoever is a knower and who entrusts himself to a Knower, only finds ease in bondsmanship. 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 Sidi Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli 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 the Master's 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 lawyer (faqih) known as Abu 'l-Qasim ibn Bara. This person tried to bring legal charges against him, and when this proved unsuccessful, he then sought to get the Sultan Abu Zakariyya's ear by declaring that Abu al-Hasan was a fraud and an imposter who claimed to be of the Fatimid line. He also charged Sidi Abu al-Hasan of being a potential agitator who was stirring up trouble amongst the people against Abu Zakariyya's rule and authority.