He is the sheikh of Islam and one of the pillars of jurisprudence and sufism (Islamic mysticism). He held the office of judge and was engaged in teaching and writing; he authored many books and meta-commentaries. One of his students, al-Sha’arani, said about him, “Towards the end of his life which extended to more than one hundred years (823-926 AH), there was not a single person in the whole of Egypt who had not been or still was a student of Zakariyya al-Ansari.”
Zakariyya al-Ansari was a sufi who practised dhikr (making remembrance of Allah through certain devotional acts). He explained the terminology of his order proficiently and gave satisfactory answers to the questions of those who had difficulty understanding the order’s language and expressions. He said, “A jurist who is not knowledgeable of the terminology of the people is similar to dry bread without condiment.” When Burham al-Deen al-Baqa’i criticized Ibn al-Fared’s expressions and terms, Zakariyya al-Ansari maintained that it is impermissible for one who does not understand the terminology and language of a group (sufis) to speak about them i.e. sufi knowledge comes from a dimension beyond the intellect—a personal divine revelation. Zakariyya al-Ansari himself experienced many moments of personal divine revelation. His perspicacity never failed him.
On one occasion he related that he was traveling to al-Mahalla al-Kubra to meet Sheikh al-Ghamri. He stayed with him for forty days and during this time he recited to him his book Qawa’id al-Sufiyya (The Principles of Sufism) and adopted from him the practice of wearing woolen patched garments and the reiteration of dhikr. Zakariyya al-Ansari, may Allah be pleased with him, persevered in whatever benefited him and the people and appreciated the importance of time. Despite his advanced age, he used to pray all the supererogatory prayers associated with the prescribed prayers and maintained that he would not allow himself to fall in indolence.