By Sadia Dehlvi
April 20, 2011
In states of ecstasy, the eccentric Shibli often uttered sentences considered blasphemous: “The fire of Hell will not touch me and I can easily extinguish it”. Shibli is a legendary figure in the history of Mansur Hallaj’s execution, a fellow disciple of Imam Junayd of Baghdad. He remained the martyr’s friend, delivering secret lectures attesting to his affection for Hallaj.
Born in Samara to a family of high public officials, Shibli became the governor of Demavend, Iran. A dispatch arrived and he set out with the governor of Rayy, also in Iran, with a retinue of soldiers and slaves to present himself before the Caliph who honoured them with robes. On the way back to Demavend, the governor sneezed and wiped his face with the robe. Some soldiers saw this as an insult and reported it to the Caliph who handcuffed the governor and dismissed him from the post. This incident had a profound effect on Shibli.
He addressed the Caliph, “Prince, you are a human being and do not approve that your robe should be treated disrespectfully. The King of the world has given me honour and knowledge of Himself. How would He react if He knew I was using His robe as a handkerchief in the service of a mere mortal?” Shibli left the court and went straight to the assembly of the Sufi Khayr al-Nassaj, who sent him to seek spiritual guidance from Junayd of Baghdad.
Junayd, an acclaimed Sufi master, made the former governor beg in the streets of Baghdad. Each day Shibli gave the collected money to his Master, to be distributed among the poor. After a whole year of begging, Junayd told Shibli, “You still have some pride and pomp left in you. Go and beg for another four years”. Shibli continued to go from house to house till the day he told Junayd, “I consider myself to be the least of all God’s creatures”. Satisfied with Shibli’s progress, Junayd informed the disciple that his faith had been perfected.
It is said that when Shibli first began his self-mortification, for many long years he used to rub salt in his eyes so that he should not sleep. “Almighty God is watching me”, he would say. “The man who sleeps is heedless”, he added, “and the heedless man is veiled from God”.
One day Shebli was repeatedly uttering the word “God”. An earnest young disciple addressed him. “Why do you not say, La ilaha ill Allah, (There is no god but God)?” Shibli sighed. “I am afraid”, he explained, “that if I say ‘no god’ my breath may be stopped before I reach ‘but God’ and I shall be utterly desolated”. Impacted deeply, the youth trembled and died. Shibli accused of his murder said, “It was a soul wholly consumed by the flame of the fire of love, in eager expectancy of confronting the majesty of God”.
Once Shibli accosted someone crying for his dead beloved and said, “O fool, why love someone who can die?” Legends grew around the mystic’s obsessive passion for God. Overwhelmed with ecstasy, Shibli once threw himself into the Tigris river which surged and threw him back on the banks. Another time, he threw himself into fire and the flames did not affect him. He then found some hungry lions but the beasts did not devour him and fled. Shibli cried, “I am cursed for neither water nor fire will accept me”. Then an unseen voice said, “He who is accepted by God will not be accepted by any other”. Declared insane, Shibli was chained and carried to an asylum. Hours before his death, he recited the verse:
Whatever house Thou takest for Thine,
No lamp is needed there to shine,
Upon the day that men shall bring
Their proofs before the Judge and King
Our proof shall be, in that dreaded place
The longed for beauty of Thy face.
When the 86-year-old Shibli lay dying, a group of people sat around to offer his funeral prayers. They asked him to recite the shahadah, declaration of Islam affirming that there is no god but God. Shibli said, “If there is no God other than He, how can I utter a negative?” One of them tried to prompt the mystic to repeat the entire kalimah, declaration, La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah (There is no god but god, Muhammad is His Messenger). Amused, Shibli remarked, “Look how a dead man is trying to awaken the living”. Shibli welcomed death whispering; “I have joined the Beloved”.
Source: Deccan Chronicle