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The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili,by Elmer H. Douglas

  • The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili
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The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili - Including His Life, Prayers, Letters, & Followers

Paperback - [xiv + 274 pgs] Total 288 pages 


The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili 
A Translation from the Arabic of ibn al-Sabbagh's Durrat al-Asrar wa Tuhfat al-Abrar by Elmer H. Douglas

Edited with an Introduction and a Bibliography by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi

From the Introduction : Ibn al-Sabbagh gives the following biographical data about al-Shadhili He was born in the region of Ghumara, in today's Morocco, around A.H. 583 or A.D. 1187 .He embarked on a spiritual journey in search of a genuine Sufi shaykh or the qutb [pole]. As a result, he travelled to Baghdad which was still famous as a theological and intellectual center. There, he was told by an lraqi Sufi shaykh to go back to the West, to his homeland, because the qutb was there. .Abd al- Salam Ibn Mashish (d. 622/1225) was this qutb. Ibn al-Sabbagh says that Ibn Mashish was a strict follower of the Qur'an and the Sunna. He applied them in his Iife and encouraged his disciples to do so. Douglas postulates on the meeting between al-Shadhili and Ibn Mashish by saying that, "Early in Iife al-Shadhili went to [Ibn] Mashish to take him as his spiritual guide. The venerable teacher recognized the 'saintly' qualities of the young man and gave him his final injunction to refrain from men and to depart to Tunisia:' Ibn Mashish "was by far the most important of al-Shadhili's teachers, one to whom he owed his instruction in the Sufi way:' Ibn Mashish also laid the foundations of "the future life of Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili:'

Al-Shadhili's stay in Tunisia marks the beginning of his career as a saint and theologian. It is on the basis of lbn al-Sabbagh's biography that we can determine with some accuracy al-Shadhili's life in Tunisia and his struggle to form an independent Sufi movement. The account given by lbn .Ata' Allah in his biography does not shed as much light on the Tunisian phase of al-Shadhili as does Ibn al-Sabbagh's writings. Later authors of Shadhiliyya's Tabaqat base their narratives on Ibn al-Sabbagh's biography. Al-Shadhili's departure to Egypt, as already mentioned, marks the second phase in his career, which had a Iasting effect on the future development of the Shadhiliyya order.

Ibn al-Sabbagh devotes a major section of his biography to a discussion of al-Shadhili's various travels in search of the qutb. He also assumes that the qutb plays a crucial role in sufism because he transmits the baraka (blessing) of the Prophet. One may argue that "Sufi realization" depends upon this baraka which, in turn, is transmitted through a shaykh, who is part of a silsila Leading back to the Prophet of Islam. In that sense, tasawwuf, as spiritual training and method, cannot be learned from books and sophisticated theories about God and the universe. Spiritual initiation is attained only with the help of a Sufi shaykh.

'Abd aI-Halim Mahmud [d. 1977], a leading modem Shadhili disciple and former rector of the Azhar University, enumerates three essential conditions for attaining spiritual inititiation. The first is a natural readiness on the part of the would-be disciple. The second condition is the necessity of belonging to a genuine silsila (chain) that traces its origin back to the Prophet, and the third, after being blessed by a shaykh, is the need to engage in the greater jihad which is self- discipline, spiritual contemplation, and asceticism. AI-Shadhili was part of this genuine silsila into which he was initiated by Ibn Mashish.

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