Shaikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (RAA)

Biography

T he venerable Muhyiddin Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani, may his soul be sanctified, is al-ghawth al-a’zam — the manifestation of Allah’s attribute ‘the All-Powerful’, who hears the cry for help and saves the ones in need, and al-qutb al-a’zam — the pole, the centre, the summit of spiritual evolution, the spiritual ruler of the world, the source of wisdom, container of all knowledge, the example of faith and Islam; a true inheritor of the perfection of the Prophet Muhammad; a perfect man; and the founder of the Qadiriyya, the mystical order that has spread far and wide and preserved the true meaning of Islamic Sufism throughout these centuries until our time.

He was born in 470 A.H. (1077-78 C.E.), in the region called al-Jil in what is today Iran. This date is based on his statement to his son that he was eighteen when he went to Baghdad, in the year that the famous scholar al-Tamim died. This was 488 A.H. His mother, Ummul-Khayr Fatima bint al-Shaykh ‘Abdullah Sumi, was from the line of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, through his grandson, the venerable Husayn.

 

I went to my mother, who was then a widow, and asked her, ‘Send me to the path of Truth, give me permission to go to Baghdad to acquire knowledge, to be with the wise and those who are close to Allah.’ My mother asked me what was the reason for this sudden request. I told her what had happened to me. She cried, but she brought out eighty pieces of gold, which was all that my father had left as inheritance. She put aside forty pieces for my brother. The other forty she sewed into the armpit of my coat. Then she permitted me to leave, but before she let me go she made me promise her that I would tell the truth and be truthful, whatever happened. She sent me off with these words: ‘May Allah protect and guide you, my son. I separate myself from that which is dearest to me for Allah’s sake. I know that I will not be able to see you until the day of Last Judgment.’

 

I joined a small caravan going to Baghdad. As we left behind the city of Hamadan, a band of highwaymen, sixty horsemen strong, attacked us. They took everything that everyone had. One of these came to me and asked, ‘Young man, what possessions do you have?’ I told him that I had forty pieces of gold. He said, ‘Where?’ I told him, ‘Under my armpit’. He laughed and left me alone. Another bandit came and asked the same, and I told him the truth. He also left me alone. They must have repeated the incident to their leader, because he called me to the place where they were dividing the booty. He asked if I had any valuables. I told him that I had forty pieces of gold sewn in my coat under my arm. He took my coat, tore the armpit, and found the gold. Then he asked me in amazement, ‘When your money was safe, what compelled you to insist on telling us that you had it and where it was hidden?’ I answered, ‘I must tell the truth under any circumstances, as I promised to my mother.’ When the chief of the bandits heard this he wept and said, ‘I reneged on my promise to the One Who created me. I stole and killed. What will happen to me?’ And the others, seeing him, said, ‘You have been our leader all these years in sinning. Now be also our leader in repenting!’ All sixty of them held my hand and repented and changed their ways. Those sixty are the first who took my hand and found forgiveness for their sins.

When the venerable ‘Abdul-Qadir came to Baghdad, he was eighteen years old.

The saint tells about these years:

During my stay in the deserts outside Baghdad, all that appears beautiful but is temporal and of this world came to seduce me. Allah protected me from their harm. The Devil, appearing in different forms and shapes, kept coming to me, tempting me, bothering me, and fighting me. Allah rendered me victorious over him. My ego visited me daily in my own form and shape, begging me to be its friend. When I would refuse, it would attack me. Allah rendered me victorious in my continuous fight against it. In time I was able to make it my prisoner and I kept it with me all those years, forcing it to stay in the ruins of the desert. A whole year I ate the grasses and roots I could find and did not drink any water. Another year I drank water but didn’t eat a morsel of food. Another year I neither ate, nor drank, nor slept. All this time I lived in the ruins of the ancient kings of Persia in Karkh. I walked barefoot over the desert thorns and didn’t feel a thing. Whenever I saw a cliff, I climbed it; I didn’t give a minute’s rest or comfort to my ego, to the low desires of my flesh.

At the end of seven years I heard a voice at night: ‘O Abdul-Qadir, you are now permitted to enter Baghdad’.

I came to Baghdad and spent a few days there. Soon I could not stand the sedition, mischief, and intrigue that dominated the city. To save myself from the harm of this degenerate city and to save my faith, I left. All I took with me was my Qur’an. As I came to the gate of the city, on my way to seclusion in the desert, I heard a voice. ‘Where are you going?’ it said, ‘Return. You must serve the people.’

‘What do I care about the people?’ I protested. ‘I have my faith to save!’

‘Return, and never fear for your faith,’ the voice continued, ‘Nothing will ever harm you.’ I could not see the one who spoke.

Then something happened to me. Cut off from the outside, I fell into an inner state of meditation. Until the next day I concentrated on a wish and prayed to Allah that He might part the veils for me so that I knew what should be done. The next day, as I was wandering through a neighbourhood called Muzaffariyya, a man whom I had never seen opened the door of his house and called to me, ‘Come in, Abdul-Qadir!’ As I came to his door, he said, ‘Tell me, what did you wish from Allah? What did you pray for yesterday?’ I was frozen, with amazement. I could not find words to answer him. The man looked at my face and slammed the door with such violence that the dust was raised all around me and covered me from head to foot. I walked away, wondering what I had asked from Allah the day before. Then I remembered. I turned back to tell the man, but I could find neither the house nor him. I was very worried, as I realized he was a man close to Allah. In fact, later I was to learn that he was Hammad al-Dabbas, who became my shaykh.

On a cold and rainy night an invisible hand led Hadrat Abdul-Qadir to the tekke, the mystical lodge, of Shaykh Hammad ibn Muslim al-Dabbas. The shaykh, knowing by divine inspiration of his coming, had the doors of the lodge shut and the lights put out. As Abdul-Qadir sat at the sill of the locked door, sleep came upon him. He had a nocturnal emission and went and bathed himself at the river and took his ablution. He fell asleep again and the same thing happened – seven times during that night. Each time he bathed and took ablution in the ice-cold water. In the morning, the gates were opened and he entered the Sufi lodge. Shaykh Hammad stood up to greet him. Weeping with joy, he embraced him and said, ‘O my son ‘Abdul-Qadir, good fortune is ours today, but tomorrow it will yours. Do not ever leave this path.’ Shaykh Hammad became his first teacher in the sciences of mysticism. It was by holding his hand that he took his vows and entered the path of the Sufis.

He relates:

I studied with many teachers in Baghdad, but whenever I couldn’t understand something or came upon a secret that I wished to know, it was Shaykh al-Dabbas who would enlighten me. Sometimes I would leave him to seek knowledge from others —to learn theology, traditions, religious law, and other sciences. Each time I returned he would tell me, ‘Where have you been? We have had so much wonderful food for our bodies, minds, and souls while you were gone and we haven’t kept a thing for you!’ At other times he would say, ‘For Allah’s sake, where do you go? Is there anyone around here who knows more than you do?’ His dervishes would tease me continuously and say, ‘You are a man of law and a man of letters, a man of knowledge, a scientist. What business do you have among us? Why don’t you get out of here?’ And the shaykh would chide them and say, ‘Shame on you! I swear that there is none like him among you. None of you will rise above his toe! If you think I am harsh with him and you imitate me, I do it to bring him to perfection and to test him. I see him in the spiritual realm sturdy as a rock, as big as a mountain.’

Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir was the greatest example of the fact that in Islam, to seek knowledge is a sacred obligation—for all men and women, from the cradle to the grave. He sought out the greatest wise men of his time. He memorized the Holy Qur’an and studied its interpretation from Qadi Abul-Wafa al-Qayl, Abul-Khattab Mahfuz, and Abul-Hasan Muhammad al-Qadi. According to some sources, he studied with Qadi Abu Sa’id al-Mubarak ibn ‘Ali al-Muharrami, the greatest man of knowledge of his time in Baghdad. Although Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir learned the sciences of the mystic path from Shaykh Hammad al-Dabbas and entered the Sufi path by his hand, he was given the dervish cloak, the symbol of the mantle of the Prophet ﷺ, by Qadi Abu Sa’id. The spiritual lineage of Qadi Abu Sa’id passes through Shaykh Abul-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Qurashi, Abul-Faraj al-Tarsusi, al-Tamimi, Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Shibli, Abul-Qasim al-Junayd, Sari al-Saqatl, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, Dawud al-Ta’i, Habib al-‘Ajami, and Hasan al-Basri, to Hadrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. Hadrat ‘Ali took the cloak of service from the hands of Muhammad ﷺ, the Beloved of the Lord of the Universe, and he from the archangel Gabriel, and he from the Divine Truth.

Someone asked Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir what he received from Allah Most High. He answered, ‘Good conduct and knowledge.’ Qadi Abu Sa’id al-Muharrami said, ‘Indeed, ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani took the dervishes’ cloak from my hand, but I as well received my cloak of service from his hand.’

Abu Sa’id al-Muharrami taught at a school of his own at Bab al-‘Azj in Baghdad. Later he gave that school to Shaykh Abdul-Qadir, who began to teach there.

Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir was over fifty years old by that time. His words were so effective and miraculous that they transformed the ones who heard them. His students and congregation increased in number very rapidly. Soon there was no place either in or around the school to accommodate his followers.

Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir tells about the beginning of his teaching:

One morning I saw the Messenger of Allah. He asked me, ‘Why do you not speak?’ I said, ‘I am but a Persian, how can I speak with the beautiful Arabic of Baghdad?’ Open your mouth,’ He said. I did. He blew his breath seven times in my mouth and said, ‘Go, address mankind and invite them to the path of your Lord with wise and beautiful words.’

I performed my noon prayer, and turned to see many people waiting for me to speak. When I saw them I became excited and tongue-tied. Then I saw the blessed Imam ‘Ali. He came to me and asked me to open my mouth, then blew his own breath into it six times. I asked, ‘Why did you not blow seven times like the Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘Because of my respect for him,’ and disappeared.

From my open mouth came the words, ‘The mind is a diver, diving deep into the sea of the heart to find the pearls of wisdom. When he brings them to the shore of his being, they spill out as words from his lips, and with these he buys priceless devotions in Allah’s markets of worship . . .’ Then I said, ‘In a night such as one of mine, if one of you should kill his low desires, that death would taste so sweet that he would not be able to taste anything else in this world!’

From then on, whether I was awake or asleep I kept my duty in teaching. There was such an immense amount of knowledge about faith and religion in me. If I did not talk and pour it out, I felt that it would drown me. When I started teaching I had only two or three students. When they heard me, their numbers increased to seventy thousand.

Neither his school nor its vicinity could contain his followers. More space had to be found. Rich and poor helped in adding buildings, the rich aiding financially and the poor helping with their labour. The women of Baghdad also worked. A young woman who was working as a labourer without pay brought her husband, who was unwilling to work for nothing, and presented him to the shaykh. ‘This is my husband,’ she said. ‘I took twenty pieces of gold from him as dowry. I will give half of it back to him free, and for the other half I wish him to work here.’ She gave Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir the gold, and the man started working. He did not stop when the money ran out. Nonetheless the shaykh kept paying him, because he knew that he was needy.

Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani was the authority, the imam, in religious matters, theology and law, and the leader of the Shafi’i and Hanbali branches of Islam. He was a man of great wisdom and knowledge. All men profited from him. His prayers were immediately accepted, both when he prayed for good and when he prayed for punishment. He performed many miracles. He was a perfect man, of continuous consciousness and remembrance of Allah, meditating, thinking, taking and giving lessons.

He had a soft heart, a gentle nature and a smiling face. He was sensitive and possessed the best of manners. He was aristocratic in character, generous and giving both of material things and of advice and knowledge. He loved people, but especially those who were believers and who served and worshipped the One in Whom they believed.

He was handsome and well-dressed. He did not speak excessively, but when he did speak, though he spoke fast, every single word and syllable was clear. He spoke beautifully and he spoke the truth. He spoke the truth without fear, for he did not care whether he was praised or criticized and condemned.

When the Caliph al-Muqtafi appointed Yahya ibn Sa’id al Qadi, or Chief Justice, Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir accused him in public, saying, ‘You have appointed the worst tyrant as judge over the believers. Let us see how you will answer for yourself tomorrow when you will be presented to the Great Judge, the Lord of the Universe!’ Hearing this, the caliph started to shake and shed tears. The judge was immediately dismissed.

The population of the city of Baghdad was degenerate in its morals and behaviour. Through his influence, most of the city’s people repented, and followed the good morals and prescriptions of Islam. He came to be loved and respected by everyone, and his influence spread everywhere. As the righteous loved him, so tyrants and wrongdoers feared him. Many people, including kings, viziers, and wise men, came to him to ask questions and seek solutions. Many Jews and Christians accepted Islam through him.

In his teaching and his service to mankind he applied qualities which he inherited from the highest. He said,

A spiritual teacher is not a true teacher unless he possesses twelve qualities. Two of these qualities are from the attri­butes of Allah Most High. They are to hide the faults of man and the rest of creation, not only from others, but even from themselves and to have compassion and forgiveness for even the worst of sins. Two qualities are inherited from the Prophet Muhammad — love and gentleness. From Hadrat Abu Bakr, the first of the four Caliphs, a true teacher inherits truthfulness, honesty and sincerity, as well as devo­tion and generosity. From Hadrat ‘Umar, justice, and imposing the right and preventing the wrong. From Hadrat Uthman, humility, and staying awake and praying while the rest of mankind are asleep. From Hadrat ‘Ali, know­ledge and courage.

 

He was as devoted as a father to all his tens of thousands of followers. He knew them by name, and cared for their worldly affairs as well as their spiritual state. He helped them and saved them from disasters, even if they were at the other end of the world. He was a child with the children, and treated them with the utmost tenderness and compassion. With those much older than he, he became as if older than they, and treated them with respect.

He kept the company of the poor and the weak; he did not seek the company of the famous and powerful. With such people he behaved as if he were the king’s own King.

 

One of the sons of his servant related that his father, Muhammad Ibn al-Khidr, served Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir for thirteen years. He never saw a fly sit on him, nor did he ever see him blow his nose. Although the shaykh treated the weak and the poor with great respect, his servant never saw him get up when sultans came to visit him, neither did he visit them, nor did he eat their food except once. When a king came to visit him he would leave the reception room and would come back after the king and his party were settled, so that they would greet him by standing up. When he wrote a letter to the caliph he would say that Abdul-Qadir orders him to do this or that, and that it was an obligation for the caliph to obey him, since he was their leader. When the caliph received such a letter he would kiss it before he read it and say, ‘The shaykh is right, indeed he is telling the truth!’ One of the great jurists of the time, Abu-Hasan, relates:

I heard the caliph al-Muqtafl tell his minister Ibn Hubayra, ‘Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir is ridiculing me, making it clear to those around him that he means me. It was reported to me that he pointed at a date-palm in his orchard and said, “You’d better behave. Don’t go too far or I will behead you!” Go to him and talk to him alone and say, “You should not ridicule and threaten the caliph. You must know that the station of the caliph is sacred and has to be respected.”

The vizier Ibn Hubayra went to the shaykh and found him in the company of a vast crowd. In his talk, at one point he suddenly declared, “Indeed, I would behead him, too!” The vizier felt that the shaykh meant him, and terrified, he fled and told what had happened to the caliph. The caliph was brought to tears and said, “Truly, the shaykh is great.” He went to see him himself. The shaykh gave him much advice and the caliph cried and cried.’

Although he was most compassionate and had the best character and manners — gentle and loving, keeping his promises —he was just, and stern in his justice. He never showed anger because of anything done to him, but if any wrongful act were committed against the faith and the religion, in his anger he would become awesome and his punishment would be swift and hard.

A shaykh of the time, Abu-Najib al-Suhrawardi, relates:

In the year 523 Hijri I was with Shaykh Hammad, the teacher of Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir, who was also present. Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir made a grand statement. At that Shaykh Hammad told him, ”Abdul-Qadir, you talk too loftily! I fear for you the disapproval of Allah.’

‘Abdul-Qadir put his hand on the chest of Shaykh Hammad. ‘Look at my palm with the eye of your heart,’ he said, ‘and tell me what is written on it.’ When Shaykh Hammad could not say, ‘Abdul-Qadir lifted his hand from the shaykh’s chest and showed the palm to him. On it was a luminous writing saying, ‘He has received seventy promises from Allah that he will never be disappointed’.

When Shaykh Hammad saw this, he said, ‘There could never be an objection to a man blessed with such a divine promise. No one could ever object to him. Allah blesses whom ever he wills among His servants.’

Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir used to say:

None of my followers will die before they repent. They will all die as faithful servants of Allah. Each of my good followers will save seven of his sinful brothers from hellfire. If, in the far west, the private parts of one of my followers were to be inadvertently exposed, we, although we were in the far east, would cover them before anyone could notice.

I have been given a book, a book as long as any eye could see, which contains all the names of the ones who will follow me until the end of time. With Allah’s blessing we will save all of them. Blessed are those who see me. I yearn for the ones who will not see me.

All those who attached themselves to him were always at peace and joyful. Someone asked him, ‘We know the state of your good followers and what awaits them in the Hereafter. But what about the bad ones?’ He answered, ‘The good ones are devoted to me and I am devoted to saving the bad ones.’

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ says, ‘The perfect shaykh is like a prophet to his people’. Indeed Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir was one of those perfect shaykhs who opened to people the gates of felicity in this world and the gates of Paradise in the next.

It was only after Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir had mastered his ego and become a perfect man, and only by the inspired command of the Holy Prophet ﷺ, that he became a teacher and estab­lished contact with the people. It was also at this time that, following the example of his ancestor the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, he married four wives, each a model of virtue and devoted to him. He was fifty-one years old. He had forty-nine children: twenty-seven sons and twenty-two daughters.

One day his wives came to him and said, ‘O possessor of the best of characters, your little son has died, and we haven’t seen a single tear in your eyes, nor have you shown any sign of sadness or concern. Don’t you have any compassion for someone who is a part of you? We are bent over double in sorrow, yet you go about your business as if nothing has happened. You are our master, our guide, our hope for this world and the Hereafter, but if your heart is hard and there is no compassion there, how can we, who hope to hold onto you on the day of Last Judgment, have faith that you will save us?’

The shaykh said, ‘O my dear friends, do not think that my heart is hard. I pity the unfaithful for his unfaithfulness, I pity the dog who bites me and pray to Allah that it stop biting people, not that I mind being bitten, but because others will throw stones at it. Don’t you know that I have inherited compassion from the one whom Allah sent as mercy upon the universe?’

The women said, ‘Indeed, if you have feeling even for the dog which bites you, how is it that you do not show any feeling for your own son who has been smitten with the sword of death?’

The shaykh said, O my sad companions, you cry because you feel separated from your son whom you love. I am always with the one I love. You saw your son in the dream which this world is, and you have lost him in another dream. Allah says, “This world is but a dream.” It is a dream for the ones who are asleep. I am awake. I saw my son when he was within the circle of time. Now he has walked out of that circle. I still see him and he is with me. He is playing around me just as he did before. For when you see that which is real with the eye of the heart, whether dead or alive, the truth does not disappear.’

One day the shaykh and some of his followers were travelling on foot in the desert. It was the month of Ramadan and the desert was hot. He related:

I was exceedingly tired and thirsty. My followers were walking ahead of me. All of a sudden a cloud appeared overhead, like an umbrella protecting us from the hot sun. In front of us appeared a gushing spring and a date-palm laden with ripe fruit. Finally there came a round light, brighter than the sun and standing apart from it. A voice came from its direction. It said, ‘O people of ‘Abdul-Qadir, I am your Lord! Eat and drink, for I have made lawful for you what I have made unlawful for others!’ My people, who were ahead of me, rushed to the spring to drink, and to the date-palm to eat from it. I shouted at them to stop, and lifting my head towards the direction of the voice I shouted, ‘I take refuge in Allah from the accursed Devil!’

The cloud, the light, the spring and the date-palm all disappeared. The Devil stood in front of us in all his ugliness. He asked, ‘How did you know that it was me?’ I told the Accursed One who has been thrown out of Allah’s mercy that the address of Allah is not a sound heard with the ears, nor does it come from outside. Furthermore, I knew that Allah’s laws are constant and are meant for all. He neither changes them, nor renders that which is unlawful lawful to the ones He favours.

Upon hearing this, the Devil tried his last temptation of arousing pride. ‘O ‘Abdul-Qadir,’ he said, ‘I have fooled seventy prophets with this trick. Your knowledge is vast, your wisdom is greater than that of the prophets!’ Then pointing to my followers he went on, ‘Is this handful of fools your only following? The whole world should follow you, for you are as good as a prophet.’

I said, ‘I take refuge from you in my Lord All-hearing and All-knowing. For it is not my knowledge, nor my wisdom, which saved me from you, but the mercy of my Lord.’

He saw everything as from Allah, did everything for Allah’s sake, and attributed nothing to any created being, including himself. What he said, he did. Compliment or criticism, benefit or loss, were the same to him. His knowledge was all-encompassing and his wisdom supreme. He considered the ones who know and do not apply their knowledge as no better than donkeys carrying heavy books.

At his hands more than five thousand Jews and Christians became Muslims. More than a hundred thousand ruffians, outlaws, murderers, thieves, and bandits repented and became devout Muslims and gentle dervishes. He explains how he reached that blessed state.

For twenty-five years I wandered in the deserts of Iraq. I slept in ruins. In a place at Shustar, a ruined castle in the middle of the desert twelve days’ journey from Baghdad, I stayed in seclusion for eleven years. I promised my Lord that I would neither eat nor drink until I reached spiritual perfection. On the fortieth day a man came with a loaf of bread and some food and placed them in front of me and disappeared. My flesh screamed, ‘I am hungry, I am hun­gry!’ My ego whispered, ‘Your promise is fulfilled. Why don’t you eat?’ But I did not break my vow to Allah.

By chance the scholar Abu Said al-Muharrami happened to be passing by. He heard the screams of hunger of my flesh, though I was deaf to them. He came and saw my emaciated state and said to me, ‘What is this I see and hear, O ‘Abdul-Qadir?’

‘Don’t mind it, my friend,’ I said. ‘It is only the voice of the disobedient, unruly ego, while, I tell you, the soul is bowed in front of its Lord and is hopeful and peaceful and joyful.’

‘Please come to my school at Bab al-‘Azj,’ he asked. I did not answer, but inwardly I said, ‘I will not leave this place without divine order.’ Not long after Khidr came to me and told me, ‘Go and join Abu Said’.

When I received the order, I went to Baghdad, to the school of Abu Said, and found him waiting for me at the gate. ‘I begged you to come!’ he said. Then he invested me with the cloak of the dervish. From that time on I never left him.

Forty years I never slept at night. I made my morning prayer with the ablution I had taken to make my night prayer. I read the Qur’an every night so that sleep should not overtake me. I stood on one foot and leaned against the wall with one hand. I did not change this position until I had read the whole Qur’an.

When I could not fight sleep myself, I would hear a voice that shook every cell in my body. It would say, ‘O ‘Abdul-Qadir, I did not create you to sleep! You were nothing. I gave you life. So while you are alive you will not be unaware of Us.’

One day someone asked him, ‘O ‘Abdul-Qadir, we pray, fast and deny the low desires of our flesh just like you. How is it that we do not receive high mystical states and the ability to perform miracles, as you do?’

He answered, ‘I see that not only do you try to compete with me in actions — thinking that you do what I do while you merely do what you see me do — but you reproach Allah for not giving you the same rewards! Allah is my witness that I have never eaten or drunk unless I heard my Creator say, “Eat and drink – you owe it to Me for the body I have given you.” Neither have I done a single thing without the order of my Lord.’

Yahya ibn Jina al-Adib recalled:

Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir used to interject poetry into his talks. One day he was talking about the soul and he recited the poem,

My soul, before it came to be in the realm of nothingness, loved You. If I withdrew from the realm of love, now, Would my feet carry me away?

Inwardly I said to myself, ‘Let’s see how many poems he will recite today.’ I had a piece of thread with me and I put a knot in it under my cloak each time he recited a verse. I was sitting far away from him. He could not possibly have seen me. He looked at me and said, ‘I try to unravel, and you seem to tie knots!’

One night, later in his life, fifty of the elite of Baghdad were gathered in his house. The company included all the great shaykhs of the time, among them Hafiz Abul-‘Izz ‘Abdul-Mughith ibn Harb. He recalls:

That night the shaykh was in a state of inspiration. Pearls of wisdom poured from his mouth. All of us were in a perfect state of peace and bliss, of a kind we had never experienced before. A moment came when the shaykh pointed to his foot and declared, ‘This foot is over the necks of all the saints’. No sooner had he said this than one of his students, Shaykh ‘Ali ibn al-Hili, threw himself at his master’s feet. He took the shaykh’s foot and placed it upon his neck. Then all the rest of us did the same.

Another of those present, Shaykh Abu Said al-Kaylawi, said:

When he said, ‘This foot is over the necks of all the saints,’ I felt Allah’s truth manifest in my heart. I saw all the saints of the world standing in his presence, filling my whole vision. The ones who were of this world were present bodily; those who had passed away were present spiritually. The sky was filled with angels and other beings invisible to the eye. A group of angels descended and bestowed upon the saint the cloak of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. As we all prostrated ourselves and stretched our necks we heard a soundless voice say ‘O sultan of the time, guide of the religion, of the place, O executor of the word of Allah the Compassionate, inheritor of the Holy Book, deputy of Allah’s Messenger, O he to whose orders the earth and the heavens are given, whose prayer is accepted, when he asks for rain the rain comes and milk comes from dry breasts, O beloved and respected of the whole creation…’

After Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir pronounced those words, not only those in his presence, but all the men of religion felt an increase in their knowledge and their wisdom, in the divine light in their hearts, and in their spiritual levels.

As this event became known all over the Muslim world, all the shaykhs and teachers put their heads on the floor in great humbleness and accepted his leadership. Sinners among the people came into his presence, repented, and became pure. Bandits, thieves, outlaws came to him and became his followers. He became the centre, the pole.

Three hundred and thirteen saints of the time, among them seventeen in the holy city of Mecca, sixty in Iraq, forty in Iran, twenty in Egypt, thirty in Damascus, eleven in Abyssinia, seven from Ceylon, twenty-seven in the West, forty-seven in the inaccessible lands beyond Mount Qaf, seven in the lands of Gog and Magog, and twenty-four in the islands of the oceans, all heard it and put their heads to the ground in obedience.

He himself had given all of himself to Allah. His nights passed with little or no sleep in secluded prayer and meditation. He spent his days like a true follower of the Prophet  in the service of humanity. Three times a week he would deliver public sermons to thousands of people. Every day in the morning and the afternoon he gave lessons in Qur’anic commentary, Prophetic traditions, theology, religious law and Sufism. He spent the time after the midday prayer giving advice and consultation to people, whether beggars or kings, who would come from all parts of the world. Before sunset prayers, rain or shine, he took to the streets to distribute bread among the poor. As he spent all his days in fasting he would eat only once a day, after the sunset prayer, and never alone. His servants would stand at his door asking passers-by if they were hungry, so that they could share his table.

He died on Saturday the eighth day of II Rabi’ in 561 A.H., 1166 C.E. at the age of 91. His blessed tomb, at the madrasa of Bab al-Daraja in Baghdad, has become an important place of visitation for Sufis and all Muslims.

When he contracted the illness from which he died his son ‘Abdul-‘Aziz saw that he was suffering great pain, tossing and turning in bed. ‘Do not worry about me,’ he said to his son. ‘I am being turned over and over again in the knowledge of Allah.’

When his son ‘Abdul-Jabbar asked him where it hurt him he said, ‘All of me aches except for my heart. There is no pain in it, for it is with Allah.’

His son ‘Abdul-Wahhab said to him, ‘Give me some last advice upon which to act after you have left this world.’

He said, ‘Fear Allah and none other. Hope from Allah and entrust all your needs to Him; hope and want nothing from anyone except Him. Rely on Allah and on none other. Unite with Him, unite with Him, unite with Him.’

 

Before he left this world he looked around and said to the people present, ‘Others whom you do not see have come to me. Make room and show courtesy to them! I am the core without the shell. You see me with you, while I am with someone else. It is best that you leave me now.’ Then he said, ‘O angel of death, I do not fear you nor do I fear anything except Him Who has befriended me and has been generous to me!’

At the last moment he raised his hands and said, ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. Glory be to Allah, the Exalted, the Ever-living, glory be to Him, the All-Powerful, Who overpowers His servants by death.’

Then he gave a loud cry and said, ‘Allah, Allah, Allah!’ and his blessed soul left his body.

May Allah’s pleasure be upon his soul and may his spirit intercede for this faqir, the writer of these words, and for those who read them.

–Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, abridged introduction to The Secret of Secrets, by Hadrat ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1992), xiii–xlv. 

 

Location of Shaykh ‘Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani’s madrasa, mosque and tomb in Baghdad:

 


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