Stories from Kashf-ul-Mahjub

Written by :
Faizullah Dar, a PhD scholar (Arabic), and Muhammad Hanif (M.A ELT)

The fame of the Truth was exalted by his words.
He was a guardian of the honour of the Koran,
The house of Falsehood fell in ruins at his gaze.
The dust of the Punjab was brought to life by his breath,
Our dawn was made splendid by his sun.
He was a lover, and withal a courier of Love:
The secrets of Love shone forth from his brow.

(Translated by Reynold A. Nicholson)

In his book The Secrets of the Self, Allama Iqbal pays homage to the great saint and spiritualist for all times. It is Abul Hasan Ali bin Usman al-Hujwiri, generally known in the sub-continent as Dhata Sahib, whom he addresses in his poetry. Originally from Ghazni, now in Afghanistan, Data Sahib spent a considerable part of his later life in Lahore. He significantly contributed to the spread of Islam in the sub-continent, and hundreds of thousands of people embraced Islam through his teachings. Even today he speaks to us through his celebrated work Kashf-ul-Mahjub.

Stories have always attracted the attention of human beings. Moral lessons do not always appeal to the worldly minded people. So Allah Almighty – knowing the nature of mankind – narrated some stories in the Holy Qur'an, in order that humans might give heed to His word, mend their ways and tread the path to salvation. Besides, some comparisons and contrasts also help one to comprehend the spirit of the divine message. Here are some examples:

* Allāh has explained an example (that) there is a slave, possessed by (some master), having no control over anything (himself); and (the other) is the one We have given the best provision, so he gives out to others out of it secretly and openly: can the two be held equal? All praise belongs to Allāh alone. But most of them do not know (even the basic reality). (al-Qur'an, 16:75)

* And Allāh has illustrated an example of two (such) men of whom one is dumb, has no power over anything and is a burden on his master; wherever he (the master) sends him, he brings no good. Can he (the dumb) be the equal to the (other) one who (holds such an office that he) enjoins the people to do justice, and he himself also follows the straight path? (al-Qur'an, 16:76)

* And these are the examples We explain for the people (to understand), and none understands them except those who have knowledge. (al-Qur'an, 29:43)

* Had We sent down this Qur’ān on some mountain then, (O listener,) you would certainly have seen it bowed, split and crushed to pieces for fear of Allāh. And We give these examples for the people so that they may ponder. (al-Qur'an, 59:21)

* He (‘Īsā [Jesus]) was only an (exalted) servant whom We blessed with favour. And We made him an example (of Our Might) for the Children of Israel. (al-Qur'an, 43:59)

Following the divine practice, Hazrat Ali Hujwiri also narrated many fables in his celebrated book, Kashf-ul-Mahjub.

To make the book reader friendly, he has narrated some interesting stories of the eminent earnest seekers after the truth. Some are given below.

Habib Ajmi

At first Habib Ajmi was a usurer. He led a life of ease and self-indulgence but Allah granted him a sincere repentance. He learned the theory and practice of religion from Hasan. As his native tongue was Persian, he could not speak Arabic correctly.

One evening Hasan of Basra passed by the chamber of his worship. Habib had uttered the call to prayer and was standing, engaged in devotion. Hasan came in, but did not pray under his leadership, because Habib was unable to speak Arabic or recite the Qur'an fluently.

The same night, Hasan had a dream. He saw Allah and asked Him: "O Lord, wherein does Your good pleasure lie?"

"O Hasan, you found My good pleasure, but did not know its value," the answer came.

"How is that?" submitted Hasan.

"If last night you had said your prayers behind Habib, and if the rightness of his intention had restrained you from taking offence at his pronunciation, I should have been well pleased with you."

Malik ibn Dinar

He was a companion of Hasan of Basra. His father was a slave. Though he was a slave's son, Almighty Allah freed him from bondage to both worlds. The circumstances of his conversion were 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 do you not repent?"

Malik abandoned his evil ways, went to Hasan of Basra, made sincere repentance and showed himself steadfast in repentance.

He attained a very degree of perfection. Once he was in a ship and was suspected of stealing a jewel. As soon as he lifted his eyes heavenwards, all the fish in the sea put up their heads. Everyone held a jewel in its mouth. Malik, reaching down his hand, took one of the jewels, and handed it to the man whose jewel was missing. Then he set foot on the surface of the waters and walked until he reached the shore.

Habib ibn Aslam Raee

He was a companion of Salman Farisi, a Companion of the Holy Prophet. He had flocks of sheep, and his home was on the bank of the Euphrates.

A certain Shaykh relates as follows. Once I passed by him and found at prayer, while a wolf looked after his sheep. I resolved to pay him a visit, since he appeared to me to have the marks of greatness. When he had concluded the prayer, we exchanged greetings.

He enquired: "What has brought you here?"

I said: "Just to sight your blessed countenance."

He blessed me.

I said: "O Shaykh! I see the wolf in agreement with the sheep."

He replied: "That is because the shepherd is in accord with God."

With those words he held a wooden bowl under a rock, and two fountains gushed from the rock, one of milk and one of honey.

"O Shaykh!" I cried, as he bade me drink, "how have thou attained this degree?"

He answered: "By obedience to Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. O my son! The rock gave water to the people of Moses, although they disobeyed him, and although Moses is not equal in rank to Muhammad. Why should the rock not give milk and honey to me, because I am obedient to Muhammad, who is superior to Moses?"

I submitted: "Give me a word of counsel."

He said: "Do not make your heart a coffer of covetousness and your belly a vessel of prohibited things."

Abdullah ibn Mubarak

He studied under many teachers and became erudite in many branches of learning. The Imam of his time, he composed many celebrated works and worked famous miracles. The beginning of his conversion happened as follows.

He was madly in love with a girl, and one night in winter he stood beneath the wall of her house. She came on to the roof, and they both stayed gazing at each other until daybreak. When Abdullah heard the call to morning prayers, he supposed it was time for night prayers. Only when the sun began to shine did he realize that he had spent the whole night in rapturous contemplation of his beloved.

He took warning by this and rebuked himself: "Shame on you, O son of Mubarak! Do you stand on foot all night for your private passion, and yet become quite frantic when the prayer leader recites a long chapter of the Qur'an?"

Fuzail ibn Iyaz

He is one of the most eminent and celebrated Muslim saints. In the beginning of his career, he was a highwayman, but he was always inclined to piety, and invariably showed a generous and magnanimous disposition.

One day a merchant set out from Merv. His friends advised him to take an escort but he said to them: "I have heard that Fuzail is a Godfearing man."

So, instead of doing as they wished, he hired a Qur'an-reader and mounted him on a camel in order that he might recite the Holy Qur'an aloud day and night during the journey. When they reached the place where Fuzail was on the alert for it, the reader happened to be reciting: "Is it not time that the hearts of those who believe should humbly submit to the remembrance of Allah?"

(When the verse reached Fuzail's ears) his heart was softened. He repented of the business in which he was engaged. And, having a written list of those whom he had robbed, he satisfied all their claims upon him. And then he made true and sincere repentance

Zun-Nun Misri

Zun-Nun Misri was born in Egypt in 180/796. He studied under various teachers and travelled extensively in Arabia and Syria.

He is one of the best of spiritual masters, and one of the most eminent of their hidden spiritualists. The people of Egypt were lost in doubt as to his true state, and did not believe in him until he was dead. On the night of his demise, seventy persons dreamed that they saw the Messenger, who said: "I have come to meet Zun-Nun Misri, the friend of God."

And after his death the following words were found inscribed on his forehead: This is the beloved of God, who died in love of God, slain by God.

One day he was sailing with his disciples in a boat on the River Nile, as is the custom of the people of Egypt when they desire recreation. Another boat was coming up, filled with merry-makers, whose unsuitable behaviour so disgusted the disciples that they begged Zun-Nun Misri to implore God to sink the boat. Zun-Nun Misri raised his hands and cried: "O Lord, as You have given these people a pleasant life in this world, give them a pleasant life in the Afterlife too!"

The disciples were astonished by his prayer. When the boat came nearer and those in it saw Zun-Nun Misri, they began to weep and ask pardon, and broke their lutes and turned to Allah in repentence. Zun-Nun Misri said to his disciples: "A pleasant life in the Hereafter is repentance in this world. You and they are all satisfied without harm to anyone."

He acted thus from his extreme affection towards the Muslims, following the example of the Messenger, who, notwithstanding the ill-treatment which he received from the infidels, never ceased to say: "O Allah! Direct my people, for they know not."

Shaqiq ibn Ibrahim

He was versed in all the sciences – legal, practical, and theoretical – and composed many works on various branches of Sufism - the mystical dimension of Islam based on the esoteric. He consorted with Ibrahim ibn Adham and many other Shaykhs.

It is said that the circumstances of his conversion were as follows. One year there was a famine at Balkh, and the people were on the point of eating one another's flesh. While all the Muslims were bitterly distressed, Shaqiq saw a youth laughing and making merry in the bazaar.

The people said: "Why do you laugh? Are not you ashamed to rejoice when everyone else is mourning?"

The youth said: "I have no sorrow. I am the servant of a man who owns a village as his private property, and he has set me free of all care for my livelihood."

On hearing this, Shaqiq exclaimed: "O Lord God, this youth rejoices so much in having a master who owns a single village, but You are the King of kings, and You have promised to give us our daily bread; and nevertheless we have filled our hearts with all this sorrow because we are totally engrossed with worldly things."

He turned to Allah in sincere repentance and began to walk in the way of the Truth, and never troubled himself again about his daily bread.

Afterwards he, out of deep humility, used to say: "I am the student of a youth. All that I have learned I learned from him."