Biographies of Influential Muslims – A Reader

This reader gathers various SeekersHub resources on inspiring saints, scholars, and other influential Muslims of the past and present.


Companions and Pious Predecessor

Sayyiduna Ja’far: A Tale of Love and Sacrifice

Was Uwais al-Qarni Martyred? And a Unique Source for His Biography

Biography of Malik ibn Dinar

Muadh ibn Jabal and the Night of Mid-Sha’ban

Contemporary Scholars

A biography of Shaykh Muhammad Adib al-Kallas

Glimpses of the Life of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri 

“He Brought Us Back To Life” – A Tribute To The Late Dr Ahmad Sakr

Key Lessons from the Life of Shaykh Murabit al-Hajj 

Shaykh Abd al Rahman Ba ‘Abbad

Habib Abbas al Saqqaf

Habib Abd Allah bin Shihab

The Demise of Habib Hamid bin Muhammad Hamid Ba’Alawi

Biography of Habib al-‘Ajami 

A Great Female Servant of God 

The Muslim 500 – SeekersGuidance’s Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Interview with a Productive Muslim: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Interview with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus

Living the Ihya in South Africa – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Applying the Prophetic Sunna to the Modern World – Sayyid Naquib al-Attas

Influential Figures

Caribbean Calling, An Interview with Ustadh Nazim Baksh

On Facing My Mortality, by Ustadh Usama Canon

Muhammad Ali-The Acts That Help When We Die 

 Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore

A Female Gnostic: The Story of Umm Iyad

The great Muslim philanthropist, Abdul-Sattar Edhi, returns to his Lord

Three Acts That Formed The Core Of Abdul Sattar Edhi’s Life

Amjad Sabri’s death: Yearning for God till his Last Breath

Mustafa Davis on Spiritual Artists, Social Media and Third Spaces

The Death of a Star – On the Passing of Aminah Assilmi

Other Resources

Recommended Works on the Life of the Prophet

What Are Some Resources on the Life of the Mother of the Believers, Sayyida Aisha? 

What Are Some of the Best Works Dedicated to Biographical Data of Saints and Scholars?

Is the Sealed Nectar a Recommended Book?

Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally

Question: My question is regarding the book written by Safi ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, Al-Rahiq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). It is a biography of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). I think this writer is not from Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah. Can you give me your opinion on this book?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh,

I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.

The Sealed Nectar, or al-Rahiq al-Makhtum, is an excellent book on the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him), based on authentic sources. It covers the period before the Prophet’s life (peace be upon him) to set the stage for his blessed life, and then considers the stages of his life in Makkah and Madinah.

It has been translated from Arabic into many languages, and remains one of the more widely read biographies available in English. You should read and benefit from it.

The author is most certainly a Muslim.

Shuaib Ally

Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er – The Last Ottoman Scholar by Imam Khalil Abdur Rashid


Note: Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er will be present at the Islamic Center Prayer Room on Tuesday, May 8th 6:30pm – 8:30pm – 238 Thompson Street, 4th floor -NY, NY 10012

It is with deep humility and honor that I sit to transmit a snapshot of the

life of my teacher whom I spent 8 years of my life studying under; who
would refine me, educate me, advise me, and transmit ijaaza to me thus
becoming the father of my spiritual life, Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er.

Shaykh Muhammad Emin Er was born in 1909 in the village of Kuluyan
(recently renamed Kalash) in the province of Diyarbakir, in the southeast
of what is now Turkey but was at that time the Ottoman Empire. Shaykh
Emin’s family belonged to a Kurdish tribe called Miran. His father, Haji
Zulfikar, was a wealthy farmer who took a great interest in science and
education, and happened to be a person of some wealth. There being no
school in the village of Kuluyan, Haji Zulfikar employed a private tutor to
educate his two young sons, Muhammad and his elder brother Ali. Then just
as his sons were learning to read and write in the Arabic script (at the
time still the official script of the Ottoman language and state), Haji
Zulfikar passed away. The future Shaykh had already lost his mother Hawa
while he was still a young child of the age of three or four and thus (like
the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace) he was left
an orphan. To this day, Shaykh Emin travels to the graves of his mother and
father in the village of Kuluyan at least once per year. **

At this time, Muhammad Emin was 10 years old, and the Ottoman state still
stood as one of the largest in the world extending from North Africa to
Yemen, and from the Balkans to the frontiers of Persia. It faced
coordinated attacks on many fronts, east and west. Because of the war, the
economic situation became ruinous, as the Ottoman state was increasingly
forced to deplete its already overextended financial resources in the
defense of its territorial integrity. The resulting economic hardship was
severe throughout the country and the young Muhammad Emin passed through
the remainder of his early life in much straightened circumstances, first
under the care of his stepmother and later under the care of his elder
brother. He contributed to the support of his family by shepherding goats
in the high mountains surrounding the village. All the while, his desire to
learn to read and write, ignited both by his late father and his former
tutor, persisted and grew. Having neither paper nor pen, he used stones to
scratch words and sentences on flat rocks, while tending his goats on the
mountainsides. This striving to improve his reading and writing skills
despite great deprivation gave rise to the legend in his village that
Khidr, the companion of Moses and saintly figure who comes to the aid of
the destitute, provided the young Muhammad Emin lessons in his sleep. **

So great was his passion for knowledge that he would cry bitter tears wile
imploring Allah to help him learn to read the Quran. He missed no
opportunity to seek out people whom he thought might help him. He would
journey on foot for several days at a time simply to visit knowledgeable
people in the vicinity of his village. He would eventually learn how to
write letters and read books in the Ottoman script. As for the Arabic
language and knowledge of the traditional Islamic disciplines, there was at
the time no one in the region able to introduce him to this type of
scholarship. Thus he sought what he could from books. However, as the new
Turkish Republic was established, the traditional Ottoman script was
abolished and its use outlawed altogether with all Quranic and Islamic
education. Families began to fear the consequences of teaching the Quran to
their children even in the privacy of their own homes. As Shaykh Emin
recalls: “…at that time, everything was forbidden in Turkey. Even to read
and to learn the Quran was forbidden in those days. It was not easy, like
it is today. We had very hard times, so I resolved at my first opportunity
to seek religious learning in Syria.” This was not to be. Reaching the
border city of Gaziantep, Muhammad Emin was not permitted to cross into
Syria. He resolved instead to travel first to Adana, and soon thereafter to
Istanbul. Knowing no one in Istanbul, he soon ran out of money, and thus
went on foot to Bursa where he worked as a servant for a wealthy family in
order to make a living.

At the age of 25, Muhammad Emin made his first of many trips of pilgrimage
(hajj) to the Sacred House, in Mecca. Upon his return, his desire to seek
scared knowledge undiminished, he undertook extensive travels in eastern
Anatolia to seek out scholars and ask them to teach him. He later resolved
once again to cross into Syria in search of scholars who could instruct
him. By now, World War II had begun, and although he succeeded in crossing
the border, he was detained by security forces who suspected him of being a
spy. He spent some time in prison in Syria before being cleared. Set free
by authorities, he returned to Turkey, particularly to Diyarbakir. There he
was able to study the remaining subjects in the foundational curriculum of
the traditional Islamic sciences, many of them concerned with Arabic
linguistics. These included propositional logic (mantiq), historical
semantics (ilm al-wada’), figurative usage (isti’ara), etiquette of debate
and argumentation (munazara), literary meaning (ma’ani), rhetoric (bayan),
refined usage (badi), fundamentals of Islamic creed (usul al-din),
methodology of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), Islamic jurisprudence
of both the Hanafi and Shafi Legal Schools (fiqh), and Islamic spiritual
psychology (tasawwuf). The teacher with whom he spent the greatest part of
this time was Molla Rasul, a classmate of the famous Bediuzzaman Said
Nursi. Shaykh Emin would later meet Said Nursi and study briefly with him
as well.

In 1951, Shaykh Emin completed the last of his studies, completing the
study of discursive theology (kalam) and received his full license (ijaaza)
in all of the rational and traditional Islamic disciplines which have
constituted the curriculum of the greatest of scholars of the Islamic
tradition since the time of Imam Ghazali in the 11th and 12th centuries. In
addition, Shaykh Emin mastered and received ijaaza in the sciences of
exegesis of Quran (tafsir), religious laws of inheritance (fara’id) and the
sciences of the prophetic traditions (usul al-hadith).

Shaykh Emin has devoted his entire life to emulating the example of his
teachers and teaching the inner and outer discipline to student, issuing
ijaaza to those who successfully complete their study under him – efforts
he continues to this day. Central to this is his position within a chain
(isnad) that is within an unbroken lineage of transmission of knowledge
extending back to Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him
peace. And, according to the custom of Muslim scholars of this mold, he in
turn passes on the knowledge transmitted to him by his mentors, bequeathing
a place in this unbroken chain to students in the 21st century. Even if
seldom encountered, it is nevertheless true that such an isnad persists to
the present day. Shaykh Emin has six children and 40 grandchildren. A
seventh child of his passed away as a toddler. Having retired from many
years of service as imam in several cities, he continues to live a life of
rigorous worship. He has little free time, but uses it when it comes to
read and contemplate the Quran and consult the commentaries of the great
scholars on questions that occur to him in his reading. Shaykh Ein sleeps
very little –by his own estimate, perhaps three hours during the night, and
an hour or two before noon if possible. He always sleeps in a state of
ablution, in emulation of the sunna of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and
grant him peace, and mindful that, should he die in his sleep, he would
want to face his Lord in a state of purity. He rises every day at around
3a.m. for the night prayer called tahajjud, remaining awake in a state of
contemplation until the time of the prescribed dawn prayer (fajr). He then
remains in the place of prayer and reads Quran until the sun has risen, and
then remains for a bit longer, finally offering a voluntary cycle of prayer.

He passes the rest of the morning in scholarly writing, sometimes receiving
visitors. Shaykh Emin writes only in Arabic, always facing the direction of
prayer (qibla) in a state of ritual purity (wudu). When his work is
interrupted for some reason, he performs ablution and two cycles of prayer
before resuming his writing, a demonstration of profound reverence, typical
of the foremost representatives of the Islamic scholarly tradition but
seldom encountered in the present day, before the grave responsibility of
transmitting knowledge.* *

His modest home in Ankara, Turkey witnesses a steady stream of guests, and
he never refuses any request of learning, regardless of the level of the
student. Shaykh Emin and his guests sit on carpeted floor of a room lined
with shelves of books from floor to ceiling. The students and visitors are
always served tea and sweets, and even a complete meal at the appropriate
times. He teaches his students on an individual basis, through the pace and
method of instruction best suited to each person’s aptitudes and
constraints. Although it is his habit to fast whenever possible, he goes
out of his way to accommodate those guests who are not fasting in order to
set them more fully at ease in his company. This observance, far from being
merely the exemplary of the manners of his generation, is the living sunna
of all the Prophets. The importance of this for people in his company is
tremendous, and not to be overlooked. It is possible to learn a great deal
about exemplary conduct from books, and even to some extent to imitate what
one reads. But not everything we need to know on this matter is written,
nor could it be. It is by keeping the company of those who know it that we
acquire the essentials of exemplary conduct in both its written and
unwritten aspects. Shaykh Emin’s conduct exemplifies what was transmitted
to him from his teachers, and they from theirs, and so forth along lineages
extending to the teaching and example of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless
him and grant him peace. All of this gives us a greater sense of what could
be lost to us forever if the last chains of transmission of this tradition
were ever to be broken.

Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi 1921-2012 – Nur Sacred Sciences

Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi 1921-2012 – Nur Sacred Sciences

Shaykh Bakri al-Ṭarabīshī was born in Damascus in 1338 AH/1921 AD to a home of learning and piety.  His father was Shaykh ʽAbd al-Majīd al-Ṭarābīshī from among the legal scholars (fuqahāʼ) of Damascus specializing in the Ḥanafī school of law.  King Fayṣal b. al-Ḥusayn selected him as a confidant after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in greater Syria in 1918.  Shaykh Bakrī memorized the Qurʼan when he was a boy of twelve years and perfected his memorization at the age of fifteen. He also worked with his father in trade.

His Memorization of the Qur’an

Shaykh Bakrī al-Ṭarabīshī memorized the Qur’an when he was twelve and learned it with tajwīd and beautiful recitation when he was fifteen.  When he was twelve years old, his father took him to the Shaykh ʽAbd al-Wahhāb Ḥāfiẓ (known as Shaykh ʽabd al-Wahhāb Debs wa Zayt due to an old family title).  He later became a student of Shaykh ʽIzz al-Dīn ʽAraqsūsī.  When he reached the age of twenty, he recited the Qur’an under Shaykh ʽAbd al-Qādir al-Ṣabbāgh who took his chain of recitation from the elder Shaykh Aḥmad Ḥulwānī.  In 1942, Shaykh Muḥammad Salīm al-Ḥulwānī certified him, or gave him ijāza, in Qur’anic recitation of the seven canonical readings from the Shāṭibī chain of transmission.  Shaykh Muḥammad Salīm al-Ḥulwānī passed away shortly after, and Shaykh Bakrī was the last person he certified.  After this, Shaykh Bakrī al-Ṭarābishī followed up his studies by taking the ten canonical readings with Shaykh Salīm’s peer, Shaykh Muḥammad Fāʼiz al-Dayr ʽAṭānī.  Thus, Shaykh Bakrī became a Qur’anic reciter with the shortest chain of oral transmission (the least number of oral transmitters) of the Qur’an in the world.  He had only twenty-seven transmitters between himself and the Prophet (PBUH).  The last person besides him to have had an equally short chain of transmission died over thirty years ago.

His Legacy

The Shaykh did not leave behind any works in the form of writing, but he left behind “works” in the form of his many students who continued to teach the Qur’an and pass its transmission throughout the world.  Among these students are Shaykh Muḥammad Shaqrūn in the UAE, Shaykh Ḥusām Sabsabī in Kuwait, the Reciter and Shaykh Muḥammad Burkāb in Algeria, Shaykh ʽUmar Dāʽūq in Labanon, and the Reciter ʽIṣām ʽAbd al-Mawlā in Jordan.  All of them took the path of their teacher to establish programs to teach the Qur’an and pass its chain of oral transmission.  Shaykh Bakrī and his students exerted all of their energies to facilitate teaching the Book of God wherever they were.  Shaykh Muḥammad Shaqrūn established a large school and foundation for memorization and certification in Dubai.  Shaykh Ḥusām Sabsabī became a member of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Kuwait and established a branch responsible for teaching Qur’anic recitation.  Shaykh ʽUmar Dāʽūq participates in similar projects in Lebanon.  In Algeria, Kuwait, and the UAE a certification in Qur’anic recitation became considered equivalent to a university degree.

Shaykh Bakrī as a Man of God

Shaykh Bakrī used to see the Prophet in his dreams and speak to him regularly.  He would spend 3-4 hours standing in prayer every night for as long as many who knew him closely could remember.

He had a balcony that overlooked Damascus where he spent many hours reciting the Qur’an.  He never liked people to kiss his hand or treat him differently.  He was a hidden gem who became known later in his life when people would seek him out for his short chain of transmission (sanad).  During his early years as a father, he struggled to make ends meet and provide for his family.  He owned valuable land in an area outside of Damascus that was usurped by the government.  Despite his having lost a significant source of his lawful income from the fruits of his land, he still managed to do good works.  He was one of the main people to help build one of the newer mosques in Muhājirīn, Damascus.  He also helped scholars and students of knowledge marry and settle down by providing them with financial stability.

Shaykh Bakrī has been described by other scholars as a shaykh who combined three virtues (khayrāt).  The first virtue he embodied was that in the saying of the Prophet (PBUH), “the best among you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it.”  The second virtue he embodied was in the hadith, “the best among you are the ones who are best to their families.”  Finally the third virtue is referred to in the hadith, “the best among you is he whose life is the longest and his works are the most excellent.”  The evidence of his sincerity in his devotion to God is manifested in the piety of his own ten children (one of whom died) and their children.  Many of them also memorized the Qur’an and excelled as pillars of guidance, piety, and learning in their various communities.  The immense love and compassion he continuously showed his wife, children, grandchildren, their wives, and their children is described as truly unique by those who knew him in this way.

The Shaykh not only emphasized religious learning, but also knowledge of the world.  When one of his grandsons wanted to study Islamic Law (Shariʽa), he firmly advised him to study something he could earn a livelihood with and to learn religious knowledge without making his religious learning a means of his livelihood.  The best provision is the one that is earned through the work of one’s own hands was a belief he adhered to until his last days.

During the final days of his life, Shaykh Bakrī remained in a state of constant dhikr, or remembrance of God.  He was happy and content, knowing that his meeting with his Lord was imminent.  His memory remained sharp well into his late years and up until his death at the age of 91.  Indeed, one of the miracles of the Qur’an is that it protects those who have kept it in their minds and hearts during their youth from losing their mental awareness in old age.

Shaykh Bakrī al-Ṭarābīshī died on February 23, 2012 in Dubai.  May Allah have mercy on his soul and grant him the highest of Paradise.

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The Legacy of Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani – Nur Sacred Sciences

The Legacy of Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani – Nur Sacred Sciences

The Legacy of al-Muhaddith al-Akbar Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani: 1850-1935

One of his students related,“He would often ask us upon completion of his prayers, ‘Do you hear the reply of the Messenger of God (PBUH) during the tashahhud (recited during the sitting of the ritual prayer) when you say, ‘al-salāmu ʿalayka ayyuha al-nabiyyu wa raḥmatullahi wa barakātuhu?’ I used to ask, ‘And is there anybody who hears such a thing?’ He would respond, ‘There are people for whom if they lost their presence of heart with the Messenger of God (PBUH) for one moment, they would perish.’”

Few people have had an impact on 20th Century Muslim society as Shaykh Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī. In the Levant in particular, he was unparalleled in his stature among the people of sacred knowledge and came to be considered a reviver of Islam (mujaddid) during his era.  He was a man sought by poor peasants and powerful leaders alike, and to each he gave their rightful due with humility and justice.  His gatherings used to be flooded with students seeking to carry on the tradition of sacred learning as well as those simple souls who desired nothing more than acquiring the blessing of being in his noble presence.  It is reported that when he would pass by, people would peer out of their windows to catch a glimpse of him.  Despite his esteemed rank in the eyes of people, Shaykh Badr al-Dīn remained humble and dedicated to the service of the Muslim community until the final days of his life.

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Glimpses of the Life of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi

Glimpses of the Life of Faqih ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi

Taken from Sea without Shore by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

His Personality

“As-Salam ‘alaykum,” I said.

“Wa ‘alaykum as-Salam,” he answered. He stood behind the door for a moment to let me in, and let it lock behind me.

I followed him to the office and took off my shoes below the raised platform that he and his guests sat upon inside. It was spread with a carpet, pallets, and cushions for guests to lean on against the bookcases. Patches of paint hung down or were already fallen from the centuries-old vaulted celing, and the whole narrow chamber was filled with books, some on shelves nearby, others at the far end in disorderly stacks or in cardboard boxes. From his seat facing the door he could keep an eye on the court-yard and gates of the mosque. He lived most of his later life there, sitting with his right knee drawn up, reading books of Shafi’i jurisprudence, his back to a cushion on a wooden panel against the wall. The small table before him was heaped with books and pamphlets, and he had his tea things below.

This morning, as he read out the pages I had brought, he raised the point that in one’s financial dealings with other Muslims, if part of their money is illicit, the Hanafi school stipulates that more than 50 percent of their wealth must be lawful (halal) in order for it to be lawful to deal with them, while the Shafi’i school merely requires that one know that any part of their income, no matter how little, is lawful.

I thought for a moment, and said, “Then how can you take a wage from this government?” –meaning with its illicit taxes, its plundering of people’s money, its bribes and confiscations. He received a monthly salary as imam of the mosque.

He said, “It is permissible in the Shafi’i school to have dealings with someone whose income is admixed between the lawful and unlawful, since one may presume that the part one is taking is from the lawful portion of his income.”

“What portion of their income is lawful?” I wondered.

“Don’t they provide a service,” he asked, “by selling people stamps at the post office?”
I had to admit that they did.
What he did not tell me, and it was only after his death I found out, was that he gave away his entire salary each month in charity, and only ate and supported his family from his own trade in books. Though he could have easily vindicated himself by mentioning this in the lesson, he preferred to hide it, because it was his way to keep such things between himself and Allah.

When he came to Damascus in 1950, he sold coffee, and printed and sold limited editions of books in traditional Islam for those who wanted them, especially works of Sufism, which he made available to Sheikh al-Hashimi’s disciples when the sheikh was teaching from them in his mudhakara or lessons. He attended the lessons of a great many ulema in this period, sometimes to the neglect of his small shop, and was finally appointed imam of the Darwishiyya, and married and settled in Damascus for the rest of his life. He lived simply, dressed well but not sumptuously, trimmed his own hair, ate sparingly of plain fare, and never changed from this, even after his sons grew up and found good jobs abroad. He disdained the government, and fell silent when ulema were mentioned who had connections with it.

Darwishiyya Mosque in Damascus (Flickr)

His Generosity

On an early visit to Damascus all my money had been stolen in a street restaurant, and finding myself at wit’s end, I came to his office where he was sitting with his friends, and I told him what had happened.

He sympathized with me verbally, but offered little other help. The time passed, and I was wondering what would become of me, and I finally got up to leave. The sheikh followed me out the door of the office, beyond sight of his friends, and gave me a sum of money to get back to Jordan. He had merely wanted them not to know.

His Humility

A man came in one morning and told him of a dream he had purportedly had, saying, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) gives you greetings of peace, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil.”

“You’re a liar,” said the sheikh. I later thought that perhaps the man had been leading up to ask him something. After he had gone, I asked, “How did you know he was lying?”

“I know how I am,” he said, meaning not someone who deserved such a greeting. He reminded me of words of the Sufi Ibn Munazil “Whoever lifts away the shade from himself in his own eyes, men thrive in the shade of.”

He was a very private man. More than fifteen years passed after he left this world before I learned that he had been of Al al-Bayt, of noble descent from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). He had never seen the need to mention it. Nor for that matter can I remember either of us asking the other about family or kin.

His Teaching

I asked him for example about the hadith that “the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to sleep half the night, rise and pray for a third of it, then sleep a sixth of it” (Bukhari [17], 2.63: 1131), and he said, “The period termed ‘night’ here begins whenever one goes to sleep, and ends at dawn.” It was rare to find such details with others. When I asked him about a verse of poetry I had heard from him “Whoever finds no teacher, let him travel,” he said, “Travelling for knowledge is obligatory when one can’t find instruction in something that is obligatory, and recommended when one can’t find instruction in something that is recommended.”

When I asked one day about the benefits of visiting graves, a practice deplored by Wahhabi “reformers,” he said: “There are seven benefits to it. First, it is sunna to do so [as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “I had forbidden you to visit graves, but now go visit them” (Muslim [74], 2.672: 977. S]. Second, sober reflection on death (i’tibar) softens the visitor’s heart: how many a stony-hearted person was altered by visiting the dead and realizing that he too would someday die. Third, realizing that the deceased is alone in his grave without family or friends, with only his works, waiting for Judgement Day, makes the heart less attached to worldly things. Fourth, the dead hear their visitors and like to be visited. Fifth, if one recites something of the Koran and donates the reward of it to the deceased, [all four Sunni schools of fiqh concur that] it benefits him. Sixth, the visitor too has the reward for reciting the Koran. Seventh, the light of the deceased is reflected in the hearts of those whom Allah benefits with it.”

Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil came to mind when in after years I visited Aden, and a scholar got up after a meal and spoke about the conduct of the shari’a scholar (adab al-faqih). He mentioned four things: ‘izzat al-nafs or self-respect, meaning a certain personal level of manliness and chivalry; da’wat al-majlis or waiting until one has been invited to teach rather than imposing oneself on others; niyya or having the proper ‘intention’ of teaching for Allah; and talaqqi or having first been ‘directly imparted’ the knowledge one teaches from a living teacher, not only so the knowledge may be correctly understood but so the hal or state of the teacher may affect one. I have since seen a number of enterprising students who first took their knowledge from books perhaps admixed with some lessons with scholars, but no long apprenticeship in the crafts of the faqih, and who then began to teach others. They were looked up to for their wide readings, but because of little learning by talaqqi, they lacked the hal of the faqih, and were often haunted by prior character traits such as anger, pride, and envy, which are unaffected by reading. Those who took knowledge from such students were misled into believing these normal; and many acquired obsessive doubts (waswasa) about their own religious practice, not realizing this had to do with the state of their teachers.

About the Author: NUH HA MIM KELLER was born in the northwestern United States in 1954. He read philosophy and classical Arabic at the University of Chicago and UCLA, and became a Muslim in Cairo in 1977. He was a disciple in the Shadhili order of the Sufi master and poet Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri of Damascus from 1982 until the latter’s death in 2004, and was authorized as a sheikh in the order by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman in 1996. He has studied Shafi‘i and Hanafi jurisprudence, hadith, and other subjects with traditional scholars in the Middle East, and in the 1980s, under the tutelage of Islamic scholars in Syria and Jordan, produced Reliance of the Traveller, the first translation of a standard Islamic legal reference in a European language to be certified by al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest institution of higher learning. Among his other works and translations are Becoming Muslim, Sufism in Islam, al-Maqasid: Imam Nawawi’s Manual of Islam, Invocations of the Shadhili Order, Port in a Storm: A Fiqh Solution to the Qibla of North America, and an illuminated calligraphic edition of Dala‘il al-Khayrat. He has travelled and lectured on Islam extensively, and he writes and teaches in Amman, where he has lived since 1980.

Glimpses of the Life of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri

Glimpses of the Life of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri

Taken from Sea without Shore by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller.

His Personality

Twenty-two years before we had come out of this mosque together after visiting the shrine of Sheikh Muhyiddin. I had watched for a moment as he stopped to buy some apples from a cart in front of the mosque. He took the plastic bag from the seller and filled it with the worst apples he could find–nicked, bruised, and worm-holed–which he chose as carefully as most people choose good ones, then paid for and with a smile shook hands with the man before we went up the hill to the sheikh’s home. Small and lithe, he had a light  complexion, penetrating eyes, aquiline features with expressive lips, and trimmed mustachio and full beard. He dressed elegantly, wearing a few turns of white and gold cloth around a red fez on his head, a knee-length suitcoat and with its vest over a shirt without a tie, and trousers tapering to the ankles. As we climbed higher and higher, I wanted to carry the bag, but he wouldn’t let me, saying that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had said, “He who needs a thing should carry it.” When I reflected on his strange “shopping,” I realized that it had been to save the apple man from having to throw any out. The incident summed up the sheikh’s personality and life, which was based on futuwwa or putting others ahead of oneself.

His Teaching

He never stopped teaching. He once entered the head office of a small religious academy in Damascus with a group of his students and sat down to talk to the director, who bade him wait until he finished some things that were apparently urgent. One thing seemed to lead to another, and the phone kept ringing. Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman waited patiently, while his disciples, as the minutes drew on, became less and less so. Finally, the principal of the school set aside his work, looked up at the sheikh and apologized with a smile, and put himself at the sheikh’s service. The sheikh thanked him, asked him how he was, and then said, “I just wanted to make a phone call.” After a short call, he got up, thanked the principal, and left with his disciples. They had needed a lesson in patience and manners, and the sheikh had given them one.

Practice was the aim of the sheikh’s knowledge. Imam Abul Hasan al-Shadhili (d. 654/1258), whose order the sheikh belonged to, would not let his disciples beg, but had them earn their own livelihood, and Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman emphasized the importance of having a trade to earn one’s living by the work of one’s hand. He used to say, “I hope to pass on from this world without having taken a single piaster from anyone: I don’t even take from my own children.”

We had sat on the edge of a pallet on a narrow wooden bed in a room with a single window, whence light shone down on us, and the sheikh was answering a few questions I had on the last day of my first khalwa. “Will we be together in the next world?” I had asked. “All those who attained marifa, gnosis of the Divine, in this life,” he said, “shall have a special place in paradise by a white dune of musk. Our Lord shall manifest Himself to them once a week, and they will remain drunken with the vision of it for the entire week, when He shall appear to them again, and hence ever shall it be.”

“We never speak of three things: this world, women, or politics.”

His Activism

Born in Homs in 1910 of a noble family descended from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), he came to Damascus and worked first as a stableboy, then running errands, then as a weaver, then as a foreman, then as a supervisor of textile mills. He had been instrumental in unionizing workers in the twentieth century in Damascus, and served on the committee that led the Syrian Textile Workers’ Union in a successful forty-day strike for workmen’s compensation. He had represented Syria in the United Arab Workers’ Union, and led an active public life. When the textile industry was nationalized under socialism, he was but two years away from retiring and receiving his pension, and he was now asked to head the industry. He replied that “nationalization is theft,” and preferred to be fired and forfeit his pension than have anything to do with it. He later found a position as a teacher of tenets of faith at a religious academy, where he taught until he was over eighty years of age and could no longer walk to work.

His Firasa

When I first took the tariqa from him, thoughts would come to me about the lucre of evangelists and gurus back in the West, and I would wonder, “What if he asks for money?” For a space, every time I visited him he would ask me how much my fare had been from Jordan, how much the hotel was, whether I had spent anything else, and then give me the whole sum. The day came when I saw what he was getting at, the thoughts went away, and he never mentioned money again.

Too, I once came to Damascus to complain about one of the brethren in Jordan, and after checking into a hotel, went to the tiny office and bookshop of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi off the courtyard of the Darwishiyya Mosque. Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman would drop in there after the noon prayer each day to visit with his friends, where I found him and gave my Salams. Before I could say anything, he said, “How is your ego getting along with So-and-so?” mentioning the person I was thinking of by name. I was stymied for a moment, then said, “Allah be praised.” The sheikh replied, “Allah be praised,” then talked about the importance of being with true and honest people, and avoiding those who spoke badly of others.

About the Author: NUH HA MIM KELLER was born in the northwestern United States in 1954. He read philosophy and classical Arabic at the University of Chicago and UCLA, and became a Muslim in Cairo in 1977. He was a disciple in the Shadhili order of the Sufi master and poet Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri of Damascus from 1982 until the latter’s death in 2004, and was authorized as a sheikh in the order by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman in 1996. He has studied Shafi‘i and Hanafi jurisprudence, hadith, and other subjects with traditional scholars in the Middle East, and in the 1980s, under the tutelage of Islamic scholars in Syria and Jordan, produced Reliance of the Traveller, the first translation of a standard Islamic legal reference in a European language to be certified by al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest institution of higher learning. Among his other works and translations are Becoming Muslim, Sufism in Islam, al-Maqasid: Imam Nawawi’s Manual of Islam, Invocations of the Shadhili Order, Port in a Storm: A Fiqh Solution to the Qibla of North America, and an illuminated calligraphic edition of Dala‘il al-Khayrat. He has travelled and lectured on Islam extensively, and he writes and teaches in Amman, where he has lived since 1980.

Biography of Malik ibn Dinar

Malik ibn Dinar

He was a companion of Hasan of Basra. Dinar was a slave, and Malik was born before his father’s emancipation. His conversion began as follows. One evening he had been enjoying himself with a party of friends. When they were all asleep a voice came from a lute which they had been playing: “O Malik! why dost thou not repent?” Malik abandoned his evil ways and went to Hasan of Basra, and showed himself steadfast in repentance.

He attained to such a high degree that once when he was in a ship, and was suspected of stealing a jewel, he no sooner lifted his eyes to heaven than all the fishes in the sea came to the surface, every one carrying a jewel in its mouth. Malik took one of the jewels, and gave it to the man whose jewel was missing; then he set foot on the sea and walked until he reached the shore.

It is related that he said: “The deed that I love best is sincerity in doing,” because an action only becomes an action in virtue of its sincerity. Sincerity bears the same relation to an action as the spirit to the body: as the body without the spirit is a lifeless thing, so an action without sincerity is utterly unsubstantial. Sincerity belongs to the class of internal actions, whereas acts of devotion belong to the class of external actions: the latter are completed by the former, while the former derive their value from the latter. Although a man should keep his heart sincere for a thousand years, it is not sincerity until his sincerity is combined with action; and although he should perform external actions for a thousand years, his actions do not become acts of devotion until they are combined with sincerity.

(Excerpt from Chapter XI of “Kashf al-Mahjub” by the Gnostic Ali Hujwiri)

A Biography of Shaykh Muhammad Adib Al-Kallas

Shaykh Ahmed al-Kallas writes about Shaykh Muhammad Adib al-Kallas (pdf)

He is the erudite scholar, the learned teacher, the zahid, the renowned jurist, Muhammad Adib al-Kallas b. Ahmad b. al-Haj Dib.

Read on here. (pdf)