Abu Bakr al-Shibli
Shaykh Abu Bakr Shibli
|Born||247 AH/861 AD, Samarra|
|Died||334 AH/946 AD, Baghdad|
|Main interest(s)||Sufism, Divine love|
|Notable idea(s)||Divine love|
|Part of a series on Islam|
Abu Bakr Shibli was born in Samarra, although his family was of Turkic origin from the village of Shibliyah in Osrushana, Transoxania. His father was Jafar bin Yunus al-Shibli. Abu Bakr al-Shibli was a high official of Baghdad before he embarked on the spiritual path and became a disciple of Junayd Baghdadi. His name was mentioned by the Persian poets such as Attar, Rumi and Sanai. He was also associated with Hallaj. According to one source, he was in a constant state of jazb and was finally committed to an asylum. Others assert that he feigned madness.
Attributed to him is the saying:
O people! I go to a place beyond which there is no beyond. I go to the south and the north, to a place beyond which there is no beyond. Everything that I saw after that I could see in one hair of my little finger.
Shibli was imprisoned many times by the Caliph despite his influence and enormous wealth. Shibli went into self-imposed exile and began searching for divinity. Meanwhile, in the Sultanate, the Caliph realised that Shibli had not committed any wrongdoing and a search party was sent out to find him. The officials carried a set of royal robes that the Caliph had sent for Shibli to wear. The officials offered the robes to Shibli saying that a decree had been passed reinstating him and that he could return without fear of being prosecuted. Shibli took the robes and wiped his sweating face with them.
Shocked at such demeaning behaviour, the officials reported the incident to the Caliph. Shibli was charged with contempt. Shibli responded:
O great Caliph! You are annoyed because I did not accept your gift and return to you. How angry great God should be that even after He gave me the robe of His Divine Love, I shunted all His duties and went about aimlessly in this world forgetting Him every moment? This body is given by Him, yet I ignored Him. Shouldn't He be angry?
The Caliph thought that Shibli was mad, revoked his order of restitution and threw him out of the palace. Shibli fled to the desert.
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Stories about Shibli's spiritual life
Later he met Abul-Qasim Mohammad Al-Junayd of Baghdad and recognised his spiritual greatness: "O revered One! You have the jewel of heaven with you. I also want to have it." In reply, Junayd smiled and said, "You have to struggle and undergo several hardships to attain that jewel." Junayd told him: "You were a high officer under the Caliph. Now go and trade salt in the market in the main town for a year." Shibli did as he was bid and plunged headlong into the business. He was mocked but remained calm. At the end of a year, Shibli returned to Junayd who said: "Not much though! The improvement is only marginal. Still, a really long way to go till you begin to have a glimpse of your goal. So, now go and beg for food in Baghdad for a year."
Shibli set off to beg for food in Baghdad, where he had enjoyed an enormous influence. "Do you realise your true worth now at least?" asked Junayd one day. A year thus passed. Junayd bade Shibli to go around the kingdom and beg pardons from all those he had wronged during his tenure in the Caliph's court. This took him four years. Upon his return, Junayd told him to beg for another year. In the last year of begging, people gave him food and other things generously. They had come to know of Shibli's honesty and integrity. Shibli deposited what he received at the feet of Junayd, who distributed it to the needy. This lasted seven to eight years. One day Junayd asked Shibli, "How do you feel now?" Shibli replied, "I deem myself the meanest of God's creatures." Junayd embraced his worthy disciple. Hence, Junayd Baghdadi conferred khilafat upon Abu Bakr Shibli who led the order after him.
Shibli preached to others to repeat Allah's name incessantly for emancipation which is known as dhikr in Sufi terminology. However, the moment he realised that their repetitions were only outward and not bursts of devotion, he stopped advocating the invocation of the Name as a spiritual practice. One day he heard a divine voice speak: "How long will you hold on to the Name. Go for the Named." He began experiencing the longing for God to the core. Such was his intensity of desire for Allah that he roamed all over the land crying for Allah. He tried to commit suicide but was not successful. He jumped into the waters but was washed ashore. He jumped into fire but came out unscathed. A divine voice told him: "He who has surrendered to God, who is dead to all worldly phenomena, cannot be harmed by the elements." Shibli's doubts were cleared but people considered him mad. Ten times he was chained to a post, whipped and confined to in a cell.
On festival days, Shibli wore a black mourning gown. People objected to his behaviour and asked: "Why this? What are you mourning for on the day of joy?" Shibli replied, "I am mourning because people don't have love for God but are only outwardly happy. In my opinion, it is an occasion of immense sorrow." "Are we not lovers of God," the people asked him. Shibli pointed out to a block of firewood burning there. "It should be like that firewood," said he. "How," the people asked. They could not understand. "See the fire is burning at one end and water is coming out from the other end. If the fire of love for God is burning in the heart, the sure sign is tears of love inundating the eyes not outer joy."
The spiritual lineage of Abu Bakr Shibli which reached him from Prophet Mohammad was as follows:
- 'Alī bin Abī Ṭālib
- al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī
- Habib al Ajami
- Dawud Tai
- Maruf Karkhi
- Sirri Saqti
- Junaid Baghdadi, founder of the Junaidia order
- Abu Bakr Shibli
Of his khalifahs, Abdul Aziz bin Hars bin Asad Yemeni Tamimi, continued his teachings and order.
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Illness and death
Shibli would squeeze himself into a small hole not even big enough for a small animal and sit there crying and praying. If he grew sleepy, he rubbed salt into his eyes. If that failed, he would beat himself severely with a stick. His voice changed and his words were charged with the fire of truth. Junayd blessed his disciple and declared that he had achieved the Ultimate Vision of Supreme Reality. But his harsh way of life took its toll. Shibli's health gave way. His admirers gathered to have their last glimpse of him and pay him their respects. He was buried in al-Khayzaran Cemetery of Baghdad and a tomb was erected at the site. Some of his disciples were buried around him.
Source: "Abu Bakr al-Shibli", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, March 16th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Bakr_al-Shibli.
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Junayd of Baghdad
Abu Bakr (name)
List of Sufi saints
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Abu al-Fadl al-Tamimi
Mohammad Yousuf Abu al-Farah Tartusi
Abu al-Hasan al-Tamimi
Abdul Razzaq Gilani
- ^ Leonard Lewisohn, "The Heritage of Sufism: Classical Persian Sufism from its origins to Rumi", the University of Michigan, 1999. pg 53: "Two Persian Sufis – Mansur Hallaj and Abu Bakr Shibli (d. 945), the latter from Samarqand by origin but born origin in Baghdad"
- ^ Naveed, Sheikh. "Shaykh Abu Bakr Shibli_02 27 Zil Haj." Flickr. Yahoo!, 28 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5214708633/in/photostream/>.
- ^ "Abu Bakr ash-Shibli — As-Sunnah Foundation of America". sunnah.org. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
- ^ S.H. Nasr, "Philosophy and Cosmology" in William Bayne Fisher and Richard Nelson Frye, The Cambridge History of Iran (Vol 4.), Cambridge University Press, 1975. pp 455
- ^ Leonard Lewisohn, The Heritage of Sufism: Classical Persian Sufism from its origins to Rumi, University of Michigan, 1999
- ^ Sult̤ān Bāhū (1998). Death Before Dying: The Sufi Poems of Sultan Bahu. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-92046-0.
- ^ Munawar Arbab (24 April 2014). Sufi Saints of Indus Valley. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1-312-12337-3.
- ^ Sult̤ān Mohammad Najib-ur-Rehman (11 March 2015). Sultan Bahoo: The Life and Teachings. Sultan-ul-Faqr Publications. ISBN 978-9-699-79518-3.
- ^ أعيان الزمان وجيران النعمان في مقبرة الخيزران - وليد الأعظمي - الطبعة الأولى - مكتبة الرقيم - بغداد 2001م. ("The Notables of Time and the Neighbors of Al-Nu`man in the Cemetery of Al-Khayzaran" - Walid Al-Adhami - First Edition - Al-Raqeem Library - Baghdad, 2001)
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