This is the “Introduction” to Purification of the Mind (Jila’ Al-Khatir)
The first edition of this translation came out in 1998. Ten years later, we are proud to present this much improved translation. One aspect of the improvement is that the first translation was too literal. The problem with that approach is that the original Arabic text is so metaphorical, poetic, and full of imagery. The revised translation also corrects a number of mistakes in the first attempt. Furthermore, we have removed any Arabic text, and only a small number of transliterations were left. As a result, the revised translation reads much better and is more faithful and accurate than the translation of the first edition. One other change we have made is to make the translated title, Purification of the Mind, the main title and the original Arabic title, Jila’ Al-Khatir, the subtitle, which is the opposite to what we did in the first edition. We think this is more appropriate given that the book is for English readers.
The book consists of 45 discourses that were given by Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jilani in his school in Baghdad. These discourses, like the ones found in some of his other books, would have been transcribed by some of his listener. There are a number of surviving manuscripts of the book.
Our translation is based on an edition of the Arabic book by Shaikh Muhammad Al-Kasnazani Al-Husseini and published in 1989 in Baghdad, Iraq. At the time, one of us took a small part in proofreading the edited text and finalizing it for printing. That edition relied on three copies of the manuscript in Iraq: one at the department of manuscripts of the Iraqi Museum, one at the Library of the Ministry of waqf and religious affairs, and the third at the Library of the Mosque of Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir al-Jilani. Before embarking on this revised translation, we checked the Iraqi Arabic source with a separate edition done by Khalid Az-Zar‘ī and ‘Abd An-Nāṣir Sirrī and published in 1994 by Dār Ibn Qayyim, Syria. This allowed us to improve the source text of our translation significantly by correcting mistakes and adding missing passages that were probably lost during the editorial work on the Iraqi edition. This improvement to the Arabic source has contributed to improving the translation.
Shaikh Al-Kasnazani Al-Husseini did not publish the manuscript in its original form but chose to classify the contents of the discourses into forty sections each of which deals with a specific subject, such as “patience,” “mercy,” “love”….etc. However, as each discourse covers a number of different topics, often in short statements, it was inevitable that such classification would be only very approximate. In fact, there are many instances where a paragraph that has been placed under a particular section could have been as appropriately, or may be even more accurately, put under a different one. These issues made us consider the possibility of canceling the classification and publishing the discourses in their original form in the second edition, but at the end we decided to leave the text as is for two reasons. First, although the classification is far from being accurate, it is still useful in clustering related sayings of the Shaikh. Second, the discourses have been published in their original form in both English and Arabic, so interested readers can consult those publications.
We also considered for the second edition removing some topics and adding their contents to other sections, as the contents had very little relation to the topics under which they were originally classified. However, it looks like the goal of introducing these topics, such as “pardoning,” is to emphasize their importance, so we decided not to change them.
In order to differentiate between consecutive paragraphs that belong to different discourses, we have left space between them. Additionally, we have started any paragraph that belongs to a different discourse from the one before it with the special symbol *.
As mentioned earlier, the language of Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir’s discourses are often permeated by symbolic references, metaphorical images, and poetic expressions. This is an example passage of this immensely beautiful use of the language which the Shaikh ends with a reference to the fact that Allah used in the Qur’an parables and symbolic language:
When the lover arrives to his Beloved (mighty and glorified is He), could there still be any tiredness? Tiredness turns into comfort, remoteness into nearness, absence into presence, and the hearing of news into direct seeing. He will come to view His secrets. He will take His servant on a tour in His house and He will open for him His treasures and show him His garden. Can you not comprehend this? “And Allah strikes parables for people” (from 14.25). It is the people of signs who understand the signs.
This style, which is characteristic of Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir’s discourses, reflects a number of facts. First, the Shaikh often speaks about spiritual matters that are completely unfamiliar to the layperson and which the language is incapable of describing with accuracy. These, in the Shaikh’s words, are states, stations, visions, and experiences that “no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and has never occurred to any human being.” Second, the Shaikh’s words spring as much from his heart as from his mind, describing feelings as well as thoughts. He is forced to use common words to describe feelings that are known only to those who have had those spiritual experiences. No language is equipped enough to describe these feelings, in the same way that no words can assist in describing color to one born blind because it requires visual experience. Third, the Shaikh often speaks about secret and intimate spiritual issues that he does not want to or cannot fully disclose, thus wrapping his words in metaphors. This is how the master ends one of those descriptions:
This is something beyond the comprehension of the creatures. All that appears of it is merely an atom from its mountain, a drop from its sea, and a lamp from its sun. O Allah, I apologize to you for speaking about these secrets, but You know that I am overwhelmed. A certain righteous person once said: “Beware of what merits an apology.” But when I get up to sit on this chair [to preach], I become unaware of you [O people!] to the extent that no one is left in front of my heart to apologize to and restrict myself because of.
The words of Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir do not describe one spiritual state and are not targeted at one person. They paint a fascinating picture of a myriad of spiritual states and stations and apply to people of very different beginnings, paths, and ends. The destination is the same, but the routes are different. Also different wayfarers end their journeys at different points. What is good for someone might not good for another, and what is required of two different people might be completely different, even though both have the same goal. This is why understanding the Shaikh’s words and their applications is a science in its own right. As Sufis say: “The ways to Allah are as many as the creatures.”
The words of Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir remain as relevant to the seeker of the truth and nearness to God as they were when he uttered them almost one thousand years ago. For sure, the world has changed a lot, but man’s nature has not, and the diseases of his heart remain the same. The Shaikh’s words address these diseases and show man the way to salvation. His words lived a thousand years and will live to the day when this transient world is no more and is replaced by the permanent one.
Like all beacons of truth, Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir has been the target of attacks of the ignorant, the narrow-minded, and the misguided. As happened to others who understood Islam to be about works of the heart not acts of the body, this pious servant, whose life was fully dedicated to serving his Lord, has often been accused of distorting the message of Prophet Muhammad by those who wanted to hijack Islam and turn it into a spiritless, legalistic system to serve their worldly ambitions. But, as history has been confirming everyday, the voice of truth can never be silenced and the words of wisdom will remain inerasable.
It is ignorance of this fact, as well as mistaking falsehood for truth, that must have made some misguided individuals to use terrorism against the Shaikh as they bombed his shrine in Baghdad on 28th May 2007, damaging parts of it. These and similar criminals do not realize that what made great masters such as Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Qadir Al-Jilani live forever is not buildings that commemorate them or books written about them, but the teachings and examples they set that live in people’s minds and love for God that they helped them develop in their hearts. This is why almost one thousand years after his departure from this world people still feel immensely honored to serve the Shaikh and his sacred cause, including making his words more accessible to people.
Birmingham, UK, 2008