Abo ‘l-Qasem al-Junaid ibn Muhammad al-Khazzaz al-Nehawandi, son of a glass-merchant and nephew of Sari al-Saqati, close associate of al-Mohasebi, was the greatest exponent of the ‘sober’ school of Sufism and elaborated a theosophical doctrine which determined the whole course of orthodox mysticism in Islam.He expounded his theories in his teachings, and in a series of letters written to various contemporaries which have survived. The head of a large and influential school, he died in Baghdad in 298 (910).
The early years of Junaid-e Baghdadi
From childhood Junaid was given to spiritual sorrow, and was an earnest seeker after God, well disciplined, thoughtful and quick of understanding and of a penetrating intuition.
One day he returned home from school to find his father in tears.
“What happened?” he enquired.
“I took something by way of alms to your uncle Sari,” his father told him. “He would not accept it. I am weeping because I have given my whole life to save these five dirhams, and then this offering is not meet for one of the friends of God to receive.”
“Give me the money, and I will give it to him. That way he may take it,” said Junaid.
His father gave him the dirhams, and Junaid went off. Coming to his uncle’s house, he knocked at the door.
“Who is that?” came a voice.
“Junaid,” answered the boy. “Open the door and take this due offering of alms.”
“I will not take it,” cried Sari.
“I beg you to take it, by the God who has dealt so graciously with you and so justly with my father,” cried Junaid.
“Junaid, how did God deal graciously with me and justly with him?” demanded Sari.
“God was gracious to you,” Junaid replied, “in vouchsafing you poverty. To my father God was just in occupying him with worldly affairs. You are at liberty to accept or reject as you please. He, whether he likes it or not, must convey the due alms on his possessions to the one deserving of it.”
This answer pleased Sari.
“Child, before I accept these alms, I have accepted you.”
So saying, Sari opened the door and took the alms. He assigned to Junaid a special place in his heart.
Junaid was only seven years old when Sari took him on the pilgrimage. In the Mosque of the Sanctuary the question of thankfulness was being discussed by four hundred Shaykhs. Each Shaykh expounded his own view.
“You also say something,” Sari prompted Junaid.
“Thankfulness,” said Junaid, “means that you should not disobey God by means of the favour which He has bestowed on you, nor make of His favour a source of disobedience.”
“Well said, O consolation of true believers,” cried the four hundred. They were unanimous that a better definition could not be devised.
“Boy,” said Sari, “it will soon come to pass that your special gift from God will be your tongue.”
Junaid wept when he heard his uncle say this.
“Where did you acquire this?” Sari demanded.
“From sitting with you,” Junaid replied.
Junaid then returned to Baghdad, and took up selling glasses. Every day he would go to the shop and draw down the blind and perform four hundred rak’as. After a time he abandoned the shop and withdrew to a room in the porch of Sari’s house, where he busied himself with the guardianship of his heart. He unrolled the prayer rug of meticulous watchfulness, that no thought of anything but God should pass through his mind.
Junaid put to the proof
For forty years Junaid persevered in his mystic course. For thirty years he would perform the prayer before sleeping, then stand on his feet repeating “Allah” until dawn, saying the dawn prayer with the ablution he had made the previous night.
“After forty years had gone by,” he said, “the conceit arose in me that I had attained my goal. Immediately a voice out of Heaven spoke to me. ‘Junaid,’ the voice cried, ‘the time has come for Me to show you the loop of your Magian girdle.’ When I heard these words I exclaimed, ‘O God, what sin has Junaid committed?’ ‘Do you look for a more grievous sin than this,’ the voice replied, ‘that you exist?’ “
Junaid sighed and lowered his head.
“He who is not worthy of union,” he murmured, “all his good works are but sins.”
He continued to sit in his room, crying “Allah, Allah” all night. The long tongues of slander were shot out against him, and his conduct was reported to the caliph.
“He cannot be inhibited without any proof,” said the caliph.
“Many people are being seduced by his words,” they stated.
Now the caliph possessed a handmaiden of unrivalled beauty. He had purchased her for three thousand dinars, and loved her dearly. The caliph commanded that she should be arrayed in fine raiment and precious jewels.
“Go to such a place,” she was instructed. “Stand before Junaid and unveil your face, and display your jewels and raiment to him. Say to him, ‘I am possessed of much wealth, and my heart has grown weary of worldly affairs. I have come so that you may propose to me, that in your society I may devote myself to the service of God. My heart finds repose in no one but you.’ Display yourself to him. Unveil, and strive your utmost to persuade him.”
She was despatched to Junaid with a servant. The handmaiden came before Junaid and carried out her instructions to the letter and more. Involuntarily Junaid’s glance fell upon her. He remained silent and made no answer. She repeated her story. Junaid hung his head; then he raised his head.
“Ah,” he exclaimed, and breathed on the girl. The girl immediately fell to the ground and expired.
The servant who had accompanied returned to the caliph and reported what had transpired. Fire fell upon the caliph’s soul, and he repented of what he had done.
“He who acts towards others as he should not, sees what he ought not to see,” he observed.
Rising up, he proceeded to call on Junaid.
“Such a man one cannot summon to attend on oneself,” he commented. “O master, how did your heart allow it,” asked the caliph, “to consume so fair a form?”
“Prince of the Believers,” Junaid replied, “your compassion for the faithful was so great, that you desired to cast to the winds my forty years of discipline, of keeping vigil and self mortification. Yet who am I in all this? Do not, that you may not be done to!”
After that Junaid’s affairs prospered. His fame reached to all parts of the world. However much he was persecuted, his repute increased a thousandfold. He began to preach. As he explained once, “I did not preach to the public until thirty of the great saints indicated to me that it was proper for me to call men to God.”
“For thirty years I sat watching over my heart,” he said. “Then for ten years my heart watched over me. Now it is twenty years that I know nothing of my heart and my heart knows nothing of me.”
“For thirty years,” he said again, “God has spoken with Junaid by the tongue of Junaid, Junaid not being there at all, and men were not aware.”
When Junaid’s tongue was loosened to utter great words, Sari-e Saqati urged him that it was his duty to preach in public. Junaid was hesitant, not desiring to do so.
“While the master is there, it is not seemly for the disciple to preach,” he demurred.
Then one night Junaid saw the Prophet in a dream.
“Preach,” the Prophet said.
Next morning he arose to go and report to Sari, but he found Sari standing at the door.
“Hitherto,” Sari told him, “you were inhibited, waiting for others to tell you to preach. Now you must speak, because your words have been made the means of a whole world’s salvation. You would not speak when the disciples asked you to. You did not speak when the Shaykhs of Baghdad interceded with you. You did not speak at my urging. Now that the Prophet has commanded you, you must speak.”
“God forgive me,” Junaid replied. “How did you know that I saw the Prophet in a dream?”
“I saw God in a dream,” Sari explained. “God said, ‘I have sent the Messenger to tell Junaid to preach from the pulpit.’ “
“I will preach then,” consented Junaid. “Only on one condition, that it be to no more than forty persons.”
One day Junaid was preaching, and forty persons were present. Of these eighteen expired, and twenty-two fell to the ground unconscious. They were lifted up and carried to their homes.
Another day Junaid was preaching in the cathedral. In the congregation there was a Christian lad, but no one knew that he was a Christian. He approached Junaid and said, “According to the Prophet’s saying, ‘Beware of the insight of the believer, for he sees by the light of God.’ “
“The pronouncement is,” replied Junaid, “that you should become a Muslim and cut your Christian girdle, for this is the time of Muslimdom.”
The boy immediately became a Muslim.
After Junaid had preached a number of times, the people cried out against him. He gave up preaching, and retired to his room. For all that he was urged to resume, he would not do so.
“I am content,” he replied. ‘I cannot contrive my own destruction.”
Some time later he mounted the pulpit and began to preach without any prompting.
“What was the inner wisdom in this?” he was asked.
“I came upon a Tradition,” he replied, “according to which the Prophet said, ‘In the last days the spokesman of the people will be he that is the worst of them. He will preach to them.’ I know that I am the worst of the people. I am preaching because of what the Prophet said, so that I may not oppose his words.”
Anecdotes of Junaid
Once Junaid’s eye pained him, and he sent for the doctor.
“If your eye is throbbing, do not let any water get to it,” the doctor advised.
When he had gone, Junaid performed his ablutions and prayed, and then went to sleep. When he awoke, his eye was well again. He heard a voice saying, “Junaid forsook his eye to gain Our good pleasure. If with the same intention he had begged of Us all the inhabitants of Hell, his petition would have been granted.”
The physician called and saw that his eye was healed.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“I performed the ablutions for prayer,” Junaid answered.
Thereupon the physician, who was a Christian, declared his conversion.
“This is the Creator’s cure, not the creature’s,” he commented. ‘It was my eye that was sick, not yours. You were the physician, not I.”
“Once,” said Junaid, “I desired to see Iblis. I was standing at the mosque door, when I espied an old man approaching from afar. As I looked at him, a horror rose within me.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Your desire,” he replied.
“Accursed one,” I cried, “what thing held you back from prostrating to Adam?”
“How do you imagine, Junaid,” Iblis replied, “that I would prostrate to any but Him?”
Junaid described his sense of bewilderment, hearing the Devil say these words.
“A voice addressed me in my secret heart,” he recalled. “The voice said, ‘Say, You are a liar. If you had been a true servant, you would have obeyed His command. You would never have disregarded it and flirted with denial.’ “
When Iblis heard this speech, he uttered a loud cry. “By Allah, Junaid, you have destroyed me!” And he vanished.
“In these days brothers in the faith have become few and far to find,” a man said in Junaid’s presence.
“If you are looking for someone to bear your burden, such men are indeed few and far to find,” Junaid countered. “But if you are seeking to carry somebody’s load, such brothers are to be found in plenty with me.”
Whenever Junaid spoke on the Divine Unity, every time he began with a different expression which no one could understand. One day Shebli was in Junaid’s audience and uttered the word Allah.
If God is absent, to mention the absent One is a sign of absence, and absence is a thing proscribed,” Junaid said. “If God is present, to mention His name while contemplating Him present is a mark of irreverence.”
A man brought five hundred dinars and offered them to Junaid.
“Do you possess anything besides this?” Junaid asked him.
“Yes, a lot,” the man replied.
“Do you need more?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then take it away,” Junaid said. “You have a better right to it. I possess nothing, and I need nothing.”
A man rose up where Junaid was preaching and began to beg.
“This man is perfectly healthy,” thought Junaid. “He can earn his living. Why does he beg, and impose on himself this humiliation?”
That night Junaid dreamed that a covered dish was set before him.
“Eat,” he was bidden.
When he lifted the lid, he saw the man who had begged lying dead on the dish.
“I do not eat the flesh of men,” he protested.
“Then why did you do so in mosque yesterday?” he was asked.
Junaid realized that he had been guilty of slander in his heart, and that he was being taken to task for an evil thought.
“I woke in terror,” Junaid recollected. “I purified myself and said two rak’as, then I went out to search for the beggar. I saw him on the bank of the Tigris, picking out of the water scraps of vegetables people had washed there and eating them. Raising his head, he saw me approaching and addressed me. ‘Junaid,’ he said, ‘have you repented of the thoughts you had concerning me?’ ‘I have,’ I replied. ‘Then go. It is He Who accepts repentance from His servants. This time keep a watch over your thoughts.’”
“I learned sincere belief from a barber,” Junaid recalled, and he told the following story.
Once when I was in Makkah, a barber was trimming a gentleman’s hair. I said to him, “For the sake of God, can you shave my hair?”
“I can,” he said. His eyes filling with tears, he left the gentleman still unfinished.
“Get up,” he said. “When God’s name is spoken, everything else must wait.”
He seated me and kissed my head, and shaved off my hair. Then he gave me a screw of paper with a few small coins in it.
“Spend this on your needs,” he said.
I thereupon resolved that the first present that came my way I would give him in charity. Not long afterwards a bag of gold arrived from Basra. I took it to the barber.
“What is this?” he asked.
“I made up my mind,” I explained, “that the first present that came my way I must give to you. This has just arrived.”
“Man,” he exclaimed, “have you no shame before God? You said to me, ‘For the sake of God, shave my hair.’ Then you give me a present. Have you ever known of anyone doing a deed for the sake of God and taking payment for it?”
A thief had been hanged in Baghdad. Junaid went and kissed his feet.
“Why did you do that?” he was asked.
“A thousand compassions be upon him!” he replied. “He proved himself a true man at his trade. He did his work so perfectly, that he gave his life for it.”
One night a thief entered Junaid’s room. Finding nothing there but a shirt, he took that and fled. Next day Junaid was passing through the bazaars when he saw his shirt in the hands of a broker who was selling it to a customer.
“I require an acquaintance who will testify that it is your property, before I buy it,” the prospective purchaser said.
“I am ready to testify that it belongs to him,” said Junaid, stepping forward.
The man then bought the shirt.
An old woman came to Junaid and said, “My son is missing. Say a prayer that he may return.”
“Be patient,” Junaid told her.
The woman waited patiently for several days. Then she returned.
“Be patient,” Junaid repeated.
This happened several times. At last the old woman came and announced, “My patience is exhausted. Pray to God.”
“If you speak the truth,” said Junaid, “your son has returned. God says, He who answers the constrained, when he calls unto Him.”
Junaid then offered up a prayer. When the woman returned to her house, her son had come.
A disciple formed the notion that he had attained the degree of perfection.
“It is better for me to be alone,” he thought.
So he withdrew into a corner and sat there for a space. It so fell out that every night he was brought a camel and told, “We will convey you to Paradise.” He would sit on the camel and ride until he arrived at a pleasant and cheerful spot thronged with handsome folk and abounding in choice dishes and running water. There he would remain till dawn; then he would fall asleep, and awake to find himself in his cell. He now became proud and very conceited.
“Every night I am taken to Paradise,” he would boast.
His words came to Junaid’s ears. He at once arose and proceeded to his cell, where he found him putting on the greatest airs. He asked him what had happened, and he told the whole story to the Shaykh.
“Tonight when you are taken there,” Junaid told him, “say thrice, ‘There is no strength nor power save with God, the Sublime, the Almighty.’ “
That night the disciple was transported as usual. He disbelieved in his heart what the Shaykh had told him, nevertheless, when he reached that place he uttered as an experiment, “There is no strength nor power.” The company all screamed and fled, and he found himself on a dunghill with bones lying before him. Realizing his error, he repented and repaired to Junaid’s circle. He had learned that for a disciple to dwell alone is mortal poison.
A disciple of Junaid’s was dwelling in seclusion in Basra. One night a sinful thought entered his mind. He looked in a mirror and saw that his face had turned black. Stupefied, he tried every device he could think of, but in vain. He was so ashamed that he showed his face to no one. Three days went by, then the blackness gradually grew less.
Unexpectedly a knock came on his door.
“Who is it?” the disciple asked.
‘] have come with a letter from Junaid,” said the caller.
The disciple read the letter.
“Why do you not conduct yourself becomingly in the presence of Glory? For three days and nights I have had to work as a fuller, to change your face from black to white.”
There was a certain disciple of Junaid’s who was taken to task one day over a small matter. Shamefaced, he fled and came no more to the convent. Several days later Junaid was passing through the market with his companions when he suddenly espied that disciple. The disciple in shame took to his heels.
“A bird of ours has flown from the snare,” said Junaid, turning back his companions, and following on the disciple’s heels.
Looking back, the disciple saw the Shaykh coming, so he quickened his pace. Presently he reached a place where there was no exit, and in shame he turned his face to the wall. Presently the Shaykh appeared on the scene.
“Where are you making for, master?” the disciple asked.
“When a disciple is up against the wall, there the Shaykh can be of use,” replied Junaid.
He then led the disciple back to the convent. The disciple fell at his feet and begged God’s forgiveness. Those who witnessed the spectacle were deeply moved, and many repented.
The Shaykh Junaid had a disciple whom he loved above all the others. The other disciples were moved to jealousy, a fact which the Shaykh realized by his mystic intuition.
“He is superior to you in manners and understanding,” he told them. “That is what I had in view; let us make an experiment, so that you may also realize it.”
Junaid commanded twenty birds to be brought to him.
“Each of you take one,” he told his disciples. “In a place where no one can see you kill it, then bring it back.”
All the disciples went off and killed and brought back the birds—all, that is, except that favourite disciple. He brought his bird back alive.
“Why did you not kill it?” Junaid asked him.
“Because the master said it must be done in a place where no one can see,” the disciple answered. “Wherever I went, God saw.”
“You see the measure of his understanding!” Junaid exclaimed. “Compare that with that of the others.”
All the other disciples begged God’s forgiveness.
Junaid had eight special disciples who carried out his every thought. One day the notion occurred to them that they must go to the holy war. Next morning Junaid ordered his servant to make all preparations for the wars. He then set out to fight together with those eight disciples.
When the lines of battle were drawn up, a champion stepped forth from the ranks of the infidels and martyred all eight.
“I looked up to heaven,” said Junaid, “and I saw nine litters standing by. As each of the eight was martyred his spirit was lifted up on a litter, until one remained over empty. ‘That one must be meant for me,’ I thought, and I joined the battle-ranks once more. Then the champion who had slain my eight companions came up and addressed me. ‘Abo’l-Qasem, that ninth litter is for me. You return to Baghdad, and be the Shaykh of the community. Offer me Islam.’
“So he became a Muslim. With the same sword with which he had slain the eight disciples, he slew a like number of infidels. Then he achieved martyrdom himself. His soul,” Junaid concluded, “was also placed in that litter, and all vanished.”
There was a sayyid called Naseri who was on the pilgrimage intent. When he reached Baghdad he went to visit Junaid.
“Whence comes the sayyid?” Junaid enquired when greetings had been said.
“From Gilan,” he replied.
“Of whose sons are you?” asked Junaid.
“I am descended from Ali the Prince of the Believers, God be well pleased with him,” the man answered.
“Your forefather wielded two swords,” said Junaid. “One against the unbelievers, the other against himself. Now, sayyid, you who are his son, which of these two do you employ?”
The sayyid wept bitterly when he heard these words and grovelled before Junaid.
“Master, my pilgrimage is here,” he exclaimed. “Show me the way to God.”
“Your breast is the private sanctuary of God,” said Junaid. “So far as you are able, admit naught unsanctified into the private sanctuary.”
“That is all I want to know,” said the sayyid.
The death of Junaid
When death was near at hand Junaid bade them to lay the table and to set out a meal.
“I wish to give up the ghost whilst my companions are eating a bowl of soup.”
The first agony assailed him.
“Give me the water of ablution,” he said.
By chance they forgot to let the water run between his fingers. At his behest this slip was made good, and he then proceeded to the prostration, weeping.
“Chief of the Order,” his disciples protested, “with all the service and obedience to God which you have sent ahead of you what time is this for prostration?”
“Never was Junaid more in need than now,” he replied.
Straightway he began to recite the Quran, and went on reciting.
“What, you recite the Quran?” asked a disciple.
“Who has the better right to than I, seeing that this hour the scroll of my life will be rolled up, and I shall see my seventy years’ obedience and service suspended in the air by a single thread? Then a wind will come and swing it to and fro, so that I shall not know whether it is a wind bringing separation or union. On one side of me will stretch the causeway between Heaven and Hell and on the other side the Angel of Death. The Judge whose attribute is justice will be there awaiting me, unwavering in perfect equity.” Junaid continued, “A road has been laid before me, and I know not by which road I shall be taken.”
He completed the whole Quran, then he recited seventy verses of the Sura of the Cow. The second agony seized him.
“Say Allah,” they prompted him.
“I have not forgotten,” he replied. He grasped the rosary until four of his fingers were crooked about it, and one let it go.
“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” he cried.
And he closed his eyes and yielded up the ghost.
When the time for washing his body came, the one performing the rite wished to bathe his eyes in water. A voice cried from Heaven, “Withhold your hand from the eyes of My friend. His eyes were closed upon My Name, and shall not be opened save at the meeting with Me.” He then tried to open Junaid’s fingers. The voice cried, “The finger that has been crooked upon My Name shall not be opened save by My command.”
When they lifted up his body on the bier, a white dove perched upon a corner of the bier. For all that they sought to drive it away, it would not go. At last the dove cried, “Trouble not yourselves and me. My claws have been fastened to the corner of the bier by the nail of Love. That is why I am perched here. Do not trouble yourselves; today his body passes to the care of the cherubim. Were it not for your clamour, his body would have flown with us in the sky like a white falcon.