Shaykh Muhyiddeen Abdul Qadir Jilani (1077 CE/472H — 1166 CE/561 H) was the luminary in the spiritual sciences and in the disciplines of the Divine Law. His reknown in the sciences of Sufism and Shariah was so great, that he came to be known as the spiritual pole of his time, al-Ghawth al-Azam.
He was born in the city of Jilan, in the northwestern province of Persia, in the year 1077 AC. At the age of eighteen he set forth for the city of Baghdad to seek the Divine Knowledge and Guidance.
His first shaykhs of Divine Law were Shaykh Abul Wafa Ibn Aqil, Shaykh Muhammad bin al-Hassan al-Baqlani and Abu Zakariya Tabrizi. Under these great divines he learned the Science of exegesis of Quran, the Science of the Traditions, the Science of the Life of the Prophet (sirah), theology, jurisprudence (fiqh), grammar, Quranic recitation and philology. He studied the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, yet he was able to give decisions in the Shafii school as well. He memorized the Quran, not in only one form, but in all seven methods of recitation.
After mastering thirteen discplines of the religious law and its related sciences, he then turned to the spiritual path under the guidance of Shaykh Hammad bin Muslim ad-Dabbas. He received initiation into the path of seekers under Shaykh al-Mubarak Said bin al-Hassan. Shaykh al-Mubarak Said was shaykh to most of the greatest seekers and masters in his time in Baghdad.
Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani received the ijaza and leadership of the tariqa at the age of fifty years old from his shaykh, Shaykh al-Mubarak Said. Not long after receiving the official title of Shaykh at-Tariqat, he was reknowned throughout the city and into the surrounding lands as a grand master and the source to which all yearning hearts must turn for guidance and illumination, guiding their hearts to the path of divine love and divine inspiration.
Sayyidina Abdul Qadir relates, “Initially, only a few people would come to attend my association. As more people heard about me the school became crowded. I then used to sit in the mosque at Bab al-Hilba which became too small to hold the large numbers of people who would come to hear me. they would even come at nighttime, carrying lamps and candles to see. When finally it would no longer accomodate the crowds, and my chair of teaching was moved to the main thoroughfare and later to the outskirts of the city, becoming the new place of gathering. People would come to attend by foot, by horse, by mule, by ass and by camel. You could see seventy-thousand listeners standing in the circle in these meetings.”
In his gatherings, he would enjoin the people to do the good and to abjure for committing wrong. His advice addressed rulers, ministers, governors, judges, his disciples and the common people. According to Ibn Kathir, the great historian, “Standing in the mosques, he reprimanded publicly the rulers who committed wrong, in the presence of all as witnesses and in his public speeches. He avoided any sort of political appointments, never feared anyone in his speech except God Almighty and was unaffected by the reproach of anyone.” Once when the caliph of the Islamic world at that time appointed an unjust person to be chief judge, Sayyidina Abdul Qadir Jilani stood up in the largest mosque in Baghdad to give the Friday sermon. He spoke in his sermon to the caliph directly. He said, “You have appointed the worst of the unjust ones to judge the affairs of Muslims! What will be your answer tomorrow in front of the Lord of the worlds, the Most Merciful of the merciful?” Upon hearing this, the caliph shook with fear. Shedding many tears, he quickly went after the prayers to dismiss that judge.
Sayyidina Abdul Qadir called on the people to correct themselves, to purify their hearts and to dispel excessive love of the worldly life from their hearts. He urged them to fill their hearts with the love of God and of his Messenger and his saints. He exhorted them to follow the Prophet in every deed and thought, behavior and manner, to avoid hypocrisy and pretence, to dispel pride, self-praise, hatred and enmity, jealousy, tyranny, deceitfulness and rancor from their hearts. He called on the people to break their attachments to this world and dependence on those who are enslaved by it, and to turn themselves with their whole hearts to the Sustainer of the worlds, God Almighty, seeking His good-pleasure, His guidance and His mercy and forgiveness.
He opened the door to the people to renew their covenant with their Lord. Muslims and non-Muslims alike, they came forth in masses to hear him, to repent from their wrongdoing and to accept him as their leader and guide to the path of God, accepting to not associate partners with God, whether obvious or subtle, to praise God and thank Him for His bountiful favors, to follow the path of the righteous predecessors in religion and right guidance, to avoid all deviation and schisms in religion, to unify their hearts and join as one hand under the love of God and His prophets and saints. They turned their hearts from love of the worldly life to love of the Hereafter and from the pleasures of lust and fortune seeking to the pleasures of God’s love and acceptance of His ordinances and prohibitions.
In one of his lectures, which it is said were attended by up to four hundred scribes, he said, “The walls of religion are falling and their foundations have cracked. Let us come together, O people of the earth and rebuild what was ruined, reestablish what fell! this is not acceptable. O Sun! O Moon! O Day! All of you come! O People, the religion is crying for aid and assistance, holding its hands above its head in its distress due to all the profligates, insolent ones, innovators, preventers of the Divine Law, the heedless folk, the unjust and tyrannical, those who falsify the Divine Knowledge and lay claim to it when in fact it is not in their hands.
“O Man! How hardened your heart has become! Even a dog serves its master. He guards him, accompanies him in his alks, hunts for him, guards his herd and looks up to him with loyalty and hope that his master may grant him a couple of morsels from his repast or put something aside for him later. Reflect on that and compare it with your own fattening yourself on God’s bounties, and fully satisfying your lowly desires with them, without ever obeying His commands or avoiding what He has forbidden! You do not pay Him what you owe him , you neglect His orders and you do not guard the limits of what he has ordained on you.”
Abdul-Qadir Gilani, once gave his disciples the following order, “Slaughter a chicken in a place where no one can see you and return with it to me.” Some people took the order literally and thought that they merely had to keep this a secret. .
After a few hours, the disciples came back, each with his slaughtered chicken. At the time of the evening prayer one of them was still missing. He had not as yet shown up. The shaykh said, “Where is so-and-so?” No one knew. The time for the night prayer came and went. The next day came and still no one knew what had happened to the missing disciple. In the afternoon of the next day the disciple came with the chicken in his hand, but the chicken was still unslaughtered. The shaykh asked him, “Where were you all this time? Everyone brought their slaughtered chicken to me except you. Why is that?” He answered, “O my shaykh, your order to me was to slaughter this chicken in a place where no one can see you. I tried all day yesterday and all night and all morning today to find a place where God is not present, where the Prophet (s) is not present, and where you are not present, and I could not find such a place. How could I slaughter the chicken?” Shaykh Abdul Qadir said, “ Some of you took the order literally, but you did not keep in your heart that I am with my disciples, wherever they may be. Others thought, “Our shaykh is greedy and wants to stock up on chicken. It is bad manners on your behalf to think in such a way. But your brother here knows that I am in his heart twenty-four hours and that I never leave him. His only desire was to obey my order and to keep my respect, not seeking to understand the reason for the order or to try to discover its purpose. My son here is my successor who will teach you the proper code of conduct and be a good example for you to follow: ”
Though he was eminent one among the great saints, and for that reason nicknamed al-Ghawth al-a‘zam or the Arch– helper, Sayyidina Abdul Qadir Jilani is also an eminent jurist of the Hanbali school. His ties to the Shafi‘i school and to Imam Abu Hanifa have been mentioned. He was the disciple of eminent saints, such as Abu al-Khayr Hammad ibn Muslim al-Dabbas (d. 525) and Khwaja Abu Yusuf al-Hamadani (d. 535), second in line after Abu al-Hasan al-Kharqani (al-Harawi al– Ansari’s shaykh) in the early Naqshbandi chain of authority.
The most famous of Shaykh ‘Abd al– Qadir’s works are:
* al-Ghunya li talibi tariq al-haqq (Sufficient provision for seekers of the path of truth); it is one of the most concise presentations of the madhhab of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal ever written, including the sound teaching of Ahl al– Sunna on ‘aqida and tasawwuf;
* al-Fath al-rabbani (The Lord’s opening), a collection of sermons for the student and the teacher in the Sufi path and all those attracted to perfection; true to its title, this book brings its reader immense profit and spiritual increase;
* Futuh al-ghayb (Openings to the unseen), another collection of sermons more advanced than the previous one, and just as priceless. Both have been translated into English;
Due to his standing in the Hanbali school, ‘Abd al-Qadir was held in great respect by Ibn Taymiyya, who gives him alone the title “my Shaykh” (shaykhuna) in his entire Fatawa, while he reserves the title “my Imam” (imamuna) to Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He frequently cites Gilani and his shaykh al– Dabbas as among the best examples of latter– time Sufis.
Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir’s miracles are too many to number. One of them consisted in the gift of guidance which was manifest in his speech and through which untold thousands entered Islam or repented. Al-Shattanawfi in Bahjat al-asrar mentions many of his miracles, each time giving a chain of transmission. Ibn Taymiyya took these reports to satisfy the criteria of authenticity, but his student al-Dhahabi, while claiming general belief in ‘Abd al– Qadir’s miracles, nevertheless affirms disbelief in many of them. We have already seen this trait of al-Dhahabi in his doubting of the sound report of Imam Ahmad’s admiration of al-Muhasibi. These are his words about Gilani in Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’:
[#893] al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir (Al– Jilani): The shaykh, the imam, the scholar, the zahid, the knower, the exemplar, Shaykh Al-Islam, the distinguished one among the Awliya… the Hanbali, the Shaykh of Baghdad… I say: There is no one among the great shaykhs who has more spiritual states and miracles (karamat) than Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir, but a lot of it is untrue and some of those things are impossible.