Tasawwuf al-Gilani

ON TASAWWUF Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (d. 561)

The eminent one among the great saints, nicknamed al-Ghawth al-a`zam or the Arch-helper, he is also an eminent jurist of the Hanbali school. His ties to the Shafi`i school and to Imam Abu Hanifa have been mentioned. He was the disciple of eminent saints, such as Abu al-Khayr Hammad ibn Muslim al-Dabbas (d. 525) and Khwaja Abu Yusuf al-Hamadani (d. 535), second in line after Abu al-Hasan al-Kharqani (al-Harawi al-Ansari’s shaykh) in the early Naqshbandi chain of authority.

The most famous of Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir’s works are:

  • al-Ghunya li talibi tariq al-haqq (Sufficient provision for seekers of the path of truth); it is one of the most concise presentations of the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal ever written, including the sound teaching of Ahl al-Sunna on `aqida and tasawwuf
  • al-Fath al-rabbani (The Lord’s opening), a collection of sermons for the student and the teacher in the Sufi path and all those attracted to perfection; true to its title, this book brings its reader immense profit and spiritual increase
  • Futuh al-ghayb (Openings to the unseen), another collection of sermons more advanced than the previous one, and just as priceless. Both have been translated into English;

Due to his standing in the Hanbali school, `Abd al-Qadir was held in great respect by Ibn Taymiyya, who gives him alone the title “my Shaykh” (shaykhuna) in his entire Fatawa, while he reserves the title “my Imam” (imamuna) to Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He frequently cites Gilani and his shaykh al-Dabbas as among the best examples of latter-time Sufis.

Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir’s karamat or miracles are too many to number. One of them consisted in the gift of guidance which was manifest in his speech and through which untold thousands entered Islam or repented. Al-Shattanawfi in Bahjat al-asrar mentions many of his miracles, each time giving a chain of transmission. Ibn Taymiyya took these reports to satisfy the criteria of authenticity, but his student al-Dhahabi, while claiming general belief in `Abd al-Qadir’s miracles, nevertheless affirms disbelief in many of them. We have already seen this trait of al-Dhahabi in his doubting of the sound report of Imam Ahmad’s admiration of al-Muhasibi. These are his words about Gilani in Siyar a`lam al-nubala’:

[#893] al-Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir (Al-Jilani): The shaykh, the imam, the scholar, the zahid, the knower, the exemplar, Shaykh Al-Islam, the distinguished one among the Awliya… the Hanbali, the Shaykh of Baghdad… I say: There is no one among the great shaykhs who has more spiritual states and miracles (karamat) than Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir, but a lot of it is untrue and some of those things are impossible.

The following account of Gilani’s first encounter with al-Hamadani is related by Haytami in his Fatawa hadithiyya:

Abu Sa`id `Abd Allah ibn Abi `Asrun (d. 585), the Imam of the School of Shafi`i, said: “When I began a search for religious knowledge I kept company with my friend, Ibn al-Saqa, who was a student in the Nizamiyya School, and it was our custom to visit the pious. We heard that there was in Baghdad a man named Yusuf al-Hamadani who was known as al-Ghawth, and that he was able to appear whenever he liked and was able to disappear whenever he liked. So I decided to visit him along with Ibn al-Saqa and Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani, who was a young man at that time. Ibn al-Saqa said, “When we visit Shaikh Yusuf al-Hamadani I am going to ask him a question the answer to which he will not know.” I said: “I am also going to ask him a question and I want to see what he is going to say.” Shaikh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani said: “O Allah, protect me from asking a saint like Yusuf Hamadani a question, but I will go into his presence asking for his baraka — blessing — and divine knowledge.”

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