Monday, February 16, 2009

Al-Shafi‘i and Tasawwuf

by GF Haddad – – Shawwal 1423

Imam al-Shafi‘i recommended tasawwuf on condition that knowledge accompany it. He declared in his Diwan:

Faqihan wa-sufiyyan fakun laysa wahidan

fa’inni wa-haqqillahi iyyaka ansahu

Fadhalika qasin lam yadhuq qalbuhu tuqan

wahadha jahulun kayfa dhul-jahli yasluhu

Be both a jurisprudent and a sufi – never just one of the two.

Truly, by the Divine Right, I am advising you sincerely!

For the former is hardened, his heart tastes no Godwariness,

While the latter is ignorant – of what use is the ignorant?1

This is similar to Imam Sufyan al-Thawri’s statement that “Among the best of people is the Sufi

learned in jurisprudence.”2

Among al-Shafi‘i’s sayings on Sufism and Sufis:• “I accompanied the Sufis for ten years and benefited from them but from two words: their statement that time is a sword: if you do not cut it, it cuts you, and their statement that deprivation is immunity.”3

Some versions have “three words” and add “their statement that if you do not keep your ego busy with truth it will keep you busy with falsehood.”

• “If a rational man does not become a Sufi he does not reach noon except he is a dolt!” 4

Abu Nu‘aym narrates this from Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Fadl, from Abu al-Hasan

[Ahmad ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-Harith] ibn al-Qattat [al-Misri], from the thiqa Muhammad ibn

Abi Yahya, from the thiqa Imam Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-A‘la, from the Imam.

• A contrary version of the latter saying reads: “A rational man does not become a Sufi except he reaches noon a dolt!”5

Al-Bayhaqi narrates this from al-H.akim, from Abu Muhammad Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn al-Harith, from al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Dahhak (Ibn Bahr), both of unknown reliability. For obvious reasons, this is the preferred version of the detractors of Sufis.

Imam al-Nawawi in his Bustan al-‘Arifin fil-Zuhd wal-Tas.awwuf (“The Garden of the Knowers in

Asceticism and Tas.awwuf”) narrated with his chain from al-Shafi‘i the saying: “Only the sincere one

(al-mukhlis.) can recognize self-display (al-riya’).”

Al-Nawawi comments: “This means that it is impossible to know the reality of self-display and see its hidden shades except for one who resolutely seeks (arada) sincerity. Such a one strives for a long time, searching, meditating, examining at length within himself until he knows, or knows something of what self-display is. This does not happen for everyone. Indeed, this happens only with special ones (al-khawass.). But for a given individual to claim that he knows what self-diplay is, this is real ignorance on his part.” 6

In Makka al-Shafi‘i was the student of al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad.. It is said that he also took tasawwuf from

the ascetic shepherd Shayban al-Ra‘i. Little is known of the latter and there is no report of the two

having ever met but there is a narration that Shayban went on pilgrimage on foot with Sufyan al-Thawri who witnessed him tame a lion and tweak its ear 7 –

Allah have mercy on them and be well-pleased with them!


1Al-Shafi‘i, Diwan (p. 177 # 45).

2Narrated by al-Harawi al-Ans.ari in his Tabaqat al-Sufiyya.

3Narrated from Muh.ammad ibn Muh.ammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i by al-Bayhaqi in Manaqib al-Shafi‘i (2:208) cf.

Ibn al-Qayyim in Madarij al-Salikin (3:128) and al-Jawab al-Kafi (p. 208-209) and al-Suyuti in Ta’yid al-Haqiqatal-‘Aliyya (p. 15).

4Narrated from Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-A‘la by Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya (1985 ed. 9:142).

5Narrated by al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib (2:207) cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifat al-S.afwa (1:25) and Talbis Iblis (1985 ed. p. 447) and Ibn Taymiyya in his Istiqama (p. 414).

6Al-Nawawi, Bustan al-‘Arifin (p. 53-54).

7In Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya (1985 ed. 7:68-69) and al-Dhahabi, Siyar (7:203-203=al-Arna’ut. ed. 7:268). Another rare narration reports other of his miraculous gifts (karamat) in Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya (1985 ed. 8:317 # 434=1997 ed. 8:354 # 425).