This biography is taken from “Fifteen Letters (Khamsata ‘Ashara Maktuban)“
Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilānī was born in 470 H. (1077 CE). Old sources claim that he was born in “Gaylān” in the north of today’s Iran.1 But recently it has been suggested that he was in fact born in a village called “al-Jīl” near the city of Madā’in 40 kilometers south of Baghdad.2 That the current work was originally written in Persian seems to support the mainstream view that he came from Iran. Either way, this is why he is known as “al-Gaylānī,” “al-Jīlānī,” or “al-Jīlī.”
Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir was born to very pious parents both of whom descended from Prophet Muhammad (prayer and peace be upon him). His father and mother are from the lineage of al-Imām al-Ḥasan and al-Imām al-Ḥusain, respectively. He received his first religious education at home before migrating to Baghdad at the age of eighteen to continue his learning and start what turned out to be a unique and amazing spiritual journey. References to only his mother advising him before he left his home town suggests that he had lost his father by the time he headed to Baghdad.
Baghdad was then the capital of the Abbasid caliphate and, more importantly, it was a center of knowledge and education that was vibrant with spiritual and intellectual activities. But this was also a period of political upheaval, with the crusaders in action in Palestine, Syria, and Antakya in Turkey, and Baghdad at the mercy of the neighboring Turkish and Seljuq Sultans.
In Baghdad, Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir first accompanied the Sufi Shaikh Ḥammād al-Dabbās (d. 525/1131), and later Shaikh Abū Saʿīd al-Mukharramī (al-Makhzūmī). It has also been reported that Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir was a student of al-Imām Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), and that the Shaikh’s book al-Ghunia reflects influences by al-Ghazālī’s Iḥyā’ ʿUlūm al-Dīn.3 He also had other teachers.4
When Shaikh Abū Saʿīd saw how his student was developing, he asked him in 521/1127 to teach in his school. Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir used to lecture three days a week. His audience grew quickly until a lecture would attract tens of thousands. Many students used to write down his lectures, preserving the words of the Shaikh. He continued to preach in his school until his death in 561/1165.5 The fame that this school developed as a result of the respect and following that Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir had and its being his burial place guaranteed its status as one of the most revered and visited Islamic sites.
The Shaikh disapproved of the scholars and Shaikhs who built close ties with the rulers, visited them, or benefited from them, often at the cost of performing their religious duties properly. This is what he says in one of his sermons:
O backslider, you build relations with the sultans, the princes, and the rich seeking power and further worldly things, yet you do not do business with the King of kings, the Wealthiest of the wealthy, the One who never dies, the One who never becomes poor, the One who repays your loan to Him multiplied manifold!6
Nobilities and rulers still attended his lectures, while he did not spare them any criticism he had of how they governed.
The Shaikh went for pilgrimage to Mecca twice, the first time in 505/1112, when he was still little known. In this trip he met Shaikh ʿUdayy bin Musāfir (d. 557/1162). In his second in 555/1160 he met the famous Moroccan Shaikh Abū Midian (d. 594/1197). By then, Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir had become one of the most, if not the most, famous Sufi Shaikhs, with countless followers everywhere. His mother, who had come to live in Baghdad, is said to have been with her son on his second pilgrimage. If this account is historical, then reports that his mother conceived him when she was sixty years old are probably incorrect.7
There is no figure in the history of Sufism who has been linked to as many miracles as Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir. He is reported to have performed some miracles as one way to convey and support his teachings.
The influence of Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir on Muslims and his role in the spread of Islam are impossible to exaggerate. There are far more Sufi Tarīqās (Ways) whose chains of masters trace themselves back to him than any other Shaikh. Accordingly, the followers of Qādirī Ṭarīqas far outnumber the followers of any other Ṭarīqa. Sufis in general and Qādirīs in particular played a major role in spreading Islam in Asia and Africa.
Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir left a large number of sermons and writings. These include al-Ghunia li-Ṭālibī Ṭarī al-Ḥaq, al-Fatḥ al-Rabbānī wal-Faiḍ al-Raḥmānī, Futūḥ al-Ghaib, Jilā’ al-Khāṭir, Sir al-Asrār, and many more. As noted earlier, while he authored a lot of works, some were compiled by his students who attended his lectures.
Let’s read some of Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir’s words on a number of topics, starting with the following about love:
Woe to you! You claim to love Allah, yet you open up your hearts to others! Because Majnūn Laylā (the mad lover of Laylā) became truthful in his love for Laylā, his heart would not accept other than her. One day he came across some people who asked him: “Where have you come from?” He replied: “From being with Laylā.” They asked him: “Where are you going?” He answered: “To Laylā.”
Once the heart has become truthful in its love for Allah (mighty and glorified is He) it becomes like Moses (prayer and peace be on our Prophet and on him) about whom Allah (mighty and glorified is He) has said: “And We had caused him to refuse the wet-nurses” (28.12). Do not lie; you do not have two hearts but one, so once it is filled with something there is no room for another. Allah (high is He) has said: “Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his breast” (33.4) — a heart that loves the Creator and a heart that loves the creatures. There can be no heart in which this world and the hereafter coexist.8
He said about trust:
O young man, religion in the sight of Allah is Islam, and the reality of Islam is surrender! You have to reach the state of Islam first and then fulfil surrender. Purify your outward by Islam and purify your inward by surrender.
Surrender yourselves to your Lord (mighty and glorified is He) and be satisfied with His management of your affairs. Give up your will and accept the destiny that your Lord (mighty and glorified is He) has decreed. Accept all of what destiny brings. Your Lord knows you better than you know yourselves. Accept His words with certitude. Receive His commandments and prohibitions with total acceptance. Receive His religion with all of your hearts, and make it your inner and outer covers.9
Here he criticizes the hypocrites:
Woe to you! How can you tell others to endure with patience when you are impatient? How can you tell him to give thanks in return for the favors when you have given up thankfulness? How can you tell him to be satisfied with the divine decree when you are dissatisfied? How can you tell him to renounce this world when you are full of desires about it? How can you tell him to yearn for the hereafter when you have renounced it? How can you tell him to trust Allah (mighty and glorified is He) when you have relied on other than Him? You are hated by the True One (mighty and glorified is He), the angels, and the hearts of the truthful and the righteous of His servants.10
This is how he encouraged spending on the poor:
O miserable one, when a poor person comes asking for a loan, go ahead and lend him and never say: “Who is going to give me?” You must disagree with your lower self and give him a loan, and after a while make it a donation to him. Among the poor is one who disapproves of begging for alms, preferring to ask for a loan, with every intention of paying it back. He has confidence in Allah (mighty and glorified is He), and on the basis of this confidence he borrows. So, if he approaches you for a loan, O wealthy one, lend him and never face him with a request to pay back, for this would further humiliate him. If a long time passed without you receiving any repayment, go to see him, ask him to accept that loan as a gift, and absolve him of his obligation. Thus, you will be rewarded for his first joy [when you gave him the loan] and for his second one [when you turned the loan into a gift.] The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) said: “A beggar at the door is a gift from Allah (mighty and glorified is He) to His servant.”
Woe to you! How can the beggar not be a gift from Allah (mighty and glorified is He) when he takes from your share in this world to add to your share in the hereafter? He saves something for you that you will find when you need it. The amount that you give him will vanish and disappear anyway, yet on account of giving it to him you will be promoted by several degrees in the eyes of Allah (mighty and glorified is He).11
He said on good manners:
The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) said: “Keep to good manners in your relationships with people so that when you are dead they pray for Allah to show mercy to you and when you are alive they yearn for you.” Heed to this good advice. Tie it to your hearts and do not forget it. It points out to you an easy work that carries much reward. How good fine manners are! They are a source of comfort to the person who has them and to others. How detestable are bad manners! They are a source of fatigue to the person who has them and a source of harm to others.12
Finally, this is what he had to say about humility:
Be humble and do not be arrogant. Humility raises people up, whereas arrogance brings them down. The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) said: “When someone behaves with humility with Allah, Allah (mighty and glorified is He) raises him up.” Allah has some servants who do righteous works that are as great as the mountains, like the deeds of the predecessors, yet they humble themselves to Allah and say: “We have done nothing that can cause us to enter Paradise. If we would enter it, it would be by the mercy of Allah (mighty and glorified is He), and if He would deny us admission, it would be on account of His justice.” They continue to stand in His company on the foot of bankruptcy.13
1 Al-Dhahabī, Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalā’, vol. 20, p. 439
2 Al-Gaylānī, Al-Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Gaylānī: Ru’ya Tārīkhiyya Muʿāṣira, p. 9. Also, al-Gaylānī, Jughrāfiyyat al-Bāz al-Ashhab.
3 Al-Gaylānī, Al-Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Gaylānī, p. 12.
4 Al-Dhahabī, Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalā’, vol. 20, p. 443.
5 Al-Dhahabī, Tarīkh al-Islām wa-Wafiyyāt al-Mashāhīr wal-Aʿlām, pp. 86-100.
6 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 8.
7 Al-Tāfidhī. Qalā’id al-Jāwāhir, p. 3.
8 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 16.
9 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 24.
10 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 36.
11 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 106.
12 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 149.
13 Al-Jīlānī, Purification of the Mind (Jilā’ al-Khāṭir), p. 157.
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