Sayyidina ‘Ali al-Khawas

He is the imam who applied his knowledge, the perfect liege of exalted ambition, the pupil of the eye [insan ‘ayn] of the pious, and the source of men [ `ayn insan] who arrive at their spiritual destination. He is the devout worshipper, the ascetic, the jurist, the muhaddith, the mystic, and the educator steering travellers along the spiritual path. He is the axis of the circle of the firmament peopled by the god-fearing, and the exemplar of saints and gnostics. He is the matchless pearl of the religiously conscientious and from those who reached the Divine. He is the heir of the sciences of the Prophets and Messengers, the one arranged in the chain of the ‘scholars of my Umma are like the Prophets of the Children of Israel’. 198 He is the guide for mankind upon the straight path, and the one singled out for noble affections from the Ever-Relenting King. It is upon him that perfect mysteries and gnoses have been poured into directly from the All-Knowing and Ever-Giving. He is the pivot of the nobles, substitutes and axial mystics. He is the teacher of the folk of guidance and noble orientation along the path, in sense and meaning, and in virtue and lineage — without need of verification. He is the one endowed with two pure lineages, and gratified by direct witnessing of the Beauty of the two Presences. He is the crown of the din, the succour of Muslims, the teacher of those who dispose of matters in creation, and the shelter of the folk of stability. He is the one regaled with supreme sustentation and divine favour which cannot be encompassed. He is Abu’l-Mawahib199 Sharaf al-Din, our liege and master ‘Abd al-Wahhab, son of our master Ahmad, son of our master Shihab al-Din ‘Ali al-Sha’rani al-Ansari al-Shafi’i, al-Muhammadi (in essence and meaning), al-Shadhili (in terms of spiritual path and ultimate reality).200 He is the raiding warrior, the qutb of the Sha’rani [branch] of the Shadhili Order, and the springhead of the notables of exalted circles.

He was from the people of the supreme circles firmly realized in sanctity since the day of {Am I not your Lord?} [Sara al-A`raf: 172]. His inward and outward was Muhammadi; or you could say that he was Khidri and Nurani.

He grew up as an orphan under the care of Allah’s Prophet, our master al-Khidr and under the watchful eye of his grandfather, Sayyidi Shihab al-Din. He was thus born and grew up as a Friend of Allah Most High. When he reached the full bloom of his youth, the signs of surpassing noble-mindedness and sanctity manifested in him. He accordingly pursued knowledge, memorizing the Qur’an and some scholarly texts, and mastering sciences and branches of knowledge. He was veiled by jurisprudence until, when his mature guidance was completed and his fame spread widely, he busied himself with the spiritual path, whereupon the glad tidings of the accurate actualizers of truth shone upon him, and he turned into one of the relied upon pillars of the path. Allah established him as a mercy unto the world when he gathered with the master of Allah’s slaves [ﷺ]. He strove the way distinguished ones do until he became counted among the paragons of manly virtue.

He spent many years without ever lying down on the earth, whether in the daytime or at night. Nay, he would tie a rope from the ceiling of his solitary retreat to his neck at night so that he would not fall. He would go hungry for days, fast incessantly, and break the fast on a tiny piece of bread. He would gather tatters from garbage piles, and take them as threadbare clothes to cover himself. His turban was made with shreds taken from garbage piles and from torn strips.

This remained his habit until his spirituality was heightened, whereupon he could fly from the courtyard of the Ghamri Mosque to its roof. During his gathering, he would behold the Garden and the Fire, the Bridge [al-Sirat] , the Gathering [al-Hashr] and the Pool [al-Hawd]. As the veil was lifted from him, he witnessed astonishing matters, seeing what lay beyond Mount Oaf. He spoke in all the other languages. Wild beasts befriended him and he would utter words that dazzled intellects. Prominent imams attested to his surpassing virtue, while the necks of mankind lowered themselves to him and he was served by humans, jinn and wild animals from every hill. He became acquainted with the wonders of Allah’s creatures, and scrupulousness in the din and doing without superfluities reached their pinnacle in him. As a result, if he — may Allah have mercy on him — walked through the marketplaces, people enthusiastically darted forth in his direction, and all creatures had firm confidence in him, including Jews and Christians. Many of them, indeed, embraced Islam at his hand, while countless sinners turned back to Allah through him, and became part of his circle of dervishes, once he had nourished them through his spiritual aid. In his zawiya, one could hear, whether at night or during the day, a buzz like the buzz of bees from beyond the gates of Cairo.

He served shaykhs and saints, and in turn the inhabitants of both the earth and heaven served him, crawling towards him. Leaders yielded to him in spite of their pride. Requests for intercession would be directed by him to them, and they would accept them in self-abasement, putting right the affairs of such intercessors and granting them safety. He was granted acceptance of his supplications, and enjoyed vast renown. He was soft-mannered, smiled frequently, was humble and lived frugally. In his earlier days, he would wear expensive clothes, and sit with scholars whom he would treat kindly. He persistently adhered to the Muhammadan sunna, paying heed to the four schools of jurisprudence without discriminating between them. Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, acquainted him with their stations, so he would say: ‘May Allah reward them on our behalf.’

He would divide his time between the different efforts of worship: writing and compiling, remembering Allah and reminding others of Him, sending prayers on the Bringer of glad tidings and the Warner [ﷺ], and educating people through precept and the inculcation of perfection.

He was made the spokeperson of the saints. Mystics sprouted forth from his courtyard as naturally and copiously as the earth brought out produce through rain from the sky.

He, was imbued with the character of Allah’s folk: preferring others to himself, being generous, lavishly gifts like kings, and spending on the poor and needy. Around one hundred paupers would gather with him in his zawiya, and he would see to their basic maintenance and clothing.

He was extremely awe-inspiring and highly venerable. Eminent leaders would come to his door, sometimes able to meet him and sometimes unable to do so.

He posssessed lofty spiritual ambition. A large book would reach him, and he would read it and then write annotating glosses on it, all in a single night. Nasir al-Din al-Laqqani201 once sent him the Mudawwana [on the legal school of] Imam Malik, through his representative [naqib], in order to ponder therein a single juristic issue [mas ‘ala] which had outwardly proved difficult for him. When the naqib brought him it, he handed it to him in the evening at his zawiya. As he was about to depart, Imam al-Sha’rani said to him, ‘You can stay the night with us, and take it back in the morning.’ The naqib thus slept over at his house, while Sayyidi ‘Abd al-Wahhab [al-Sha’rani] took the Mudawwana into his place of retreat. After a short while, he came out of his retreat and handed it back to the naqib. In the morning, [the latter] rose and headed for Sayyidi Nasir al-Din [al-Laqqani] with the copy of the Mudawwana he had come with. Sayyidi Nasir al-Din al-Laqqani opened it and found annotations and corrections penned it. He was astonished. He asked the naqib about this, and the latter replied, ‘All I know is that, when Sayyidi `Abd al-Wahhab took the book from me, he entered his place of retreat and then returned it to me after about twenty minutes. I did not open it myself, and brought it to you in the same state as he had handed it to me. I noticed, my master, that he neglected none of his regular litanies or optional night prayers.’

Rulers and the influential people would love him intensely and have deep trust in him on account of his excellence and scrupulousness in the din. Sultan al-Ghawri —may Allah have mercy on him — was deeply fond of him, and had resolute belief in him. Once he gifted him a prayer mat and a muslin, which was seven cubits wide and thirty cubits long. It had been a present for him from the Sultan of India who had given it to him inside the shell of a nut. Sayyidi ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani gifted the muslin to his own brother, our master Sayyidi `Abd al-Qadir, and kept the prayer mat, though he never used it in his lifetime, without however returning it to the Sultan out of courtesy. This was his inveterate practice, and the wellspring of propriety from which he engaged with leaders and those under them. He paid heed to the sacrosanct honour of the rich and the poor, and the elders and the young. This is but a drop in the ocean of his virtues.

How can we possibly list all of his virtues? He is in fact the imam of all actualizers of the ultimate reality, the educator of committed disciples who brought them up through principles of stability. He is the unlocker of recondite meanings in the spiritual allusions of those truly realized, and the interpreter of symbols found in the ambiguous expressions of the gnostics. He is the intermediary of the spiritual wayfarers’ necklace, and the sweet basil of spiritual accomplishers’ existence: established by Divine Power, arrayed by Godly Solicitude and the breezes of the Most Merciful. He accordingly treaded the path of the Divine, following the Majestic Book and Muhammadan Sunna, and learning jurisprudence until he reached the ultimate goal in the school of Shafi’i masters — after this, Allah granted him lorldly and mystical openings.

He enjoyed veneration in the hearts of leaders [sudur al-sudur] and reverence in the eyes of notables [ ‘uyun al-a’yan], until Allah Most High moved him unto the abode of His Noble Generosity in the year AH 973. He was buried in his zawiya between the two banks (of the Nile ). A huge number of scholars, jurists, leaders and dervishes attended his funeral. It was a well-attended day in Cairo. The funeral prayer for him was performed in the Noble Azhar Mosque, and his whole lineage was read out on the terraced bench. He was carried on shoulders to his burial place. The Friends of Allah, both living and dead, attended his funeral, together with members of the circles from both mankind and jinn, who inhabited the deserts, valleys and lands beyond the seas. Ultimately, no funeral like his was ever witnessed in Cairo. Birds uninterruptedly hovered above his bier, while inanimate objects wept over his departure and hearts were torn out of grief for him.

He — may Allah have mercy on him — left behind an enduring renown, and a pure and perfumed acclaim. After his death, beneficence cascaded onto his zawiya from everywhere. People established real estates and foundations as trusts, and built for him a mosque befitting his shrine, together with a mausoleum exclusively for him, surmounted by an arched dome and a closet, and arranged salaries for those looking after it. His mosque is regarded as one of Cairo’s most tremendous mosques, and his mausoleum as one of the most majestic mausoleums wherein supplications are answered. His spiritual succour flows upon Allah’s slaves there. It is a destination sought after by those in need or afflicted by hardships, who then stand before him and turn to Allah through his intercession so that their worries might be dispelled. No one has visited him save that he went back with his brooding mind set at ease.

He is the supporter of the weak in life and after death. People crowd around him, and make vows in his presence, carrying candles. No one has alighted at his courtyard except that an abundance of his spiritual succour is poured upon him, may Allah show mercy to him. Cairo’s inhabitants, of every religious orientation, set out for him, hoping to find abundant good therein. O Allah, nourish us through his overflowing aid, gather us in the Hereafter under his banner, and perpetuate his blessings for us, amin.

198 It has been reported by al-Fattani in Tadhkirat al-Mawdu’at (20), ‘Ali al-Qari in al-Asrar al-Marra fi al-Akhbar al-Mawdu’a (247), al-‘Ajluni in Kashf al-Khafa-(2/83), al-Sakhawi in al-Fawaid al-Majmu’a Li al-Ahadith al-Mawdu’a (786) and al-Suyuti in al-Durar al-Muntahira fi al-Ahaditbal-Mushtahira (113).
199 In al-A’lam (4/180), his patronymic (kunya) is said to be Abu Muhammad.
200 For his biography, see al-A’lam (4/180-1), Kutat Mubarak (14/109), Jurji Zaydan’s Adab al-Lughat al-Arabiyya (3/335), al-Fihris al-Tamhidi (393, 421), Majallat al-Kitab (2/344), al-Khazanat al-Taymuriyya (3/164), al-Kutubkhana (2/61, 65, 88, 103 and 104) and Tabaqat al-Shadhillyyat al-Kubra by Muhyi al-Din al-Tu`mi (p. 166).
201 Al-Nasir al-Laqqani is the polymath Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad b. al-Hasan. He died on Wednesday, 14 Sha`ban AH 958, at the age of 84. His biography can be found in Ahmad Baba al-Tinbukti’s Kifayat al-Muhtaj and in Badr al-Din al-Qarafi’s Tawshib al-Dibaj wa Hilyat al-Ibtihaj.

From: Kuhin: Tabaqat Al-Shadhiliyyah Al-Kubra, translated by Ahmad Ali al-Adani as “Biographies of Prominent Shadhilis”


Sayyidina 'Ali al-Khawas