By Sadia Dehlvi
July 25, 2017
Nuri became the spiritual leader of the Hululs, an extreme faction of the Baghdad circle of Sufis.
Abul Hasan Nuri was a famous Sufi who lived in Baghdad during the ninth century. He came to be called Nuri because a light radiated from his mouth as he spoke. “Nur”, is the Arabic word for light. He taught that one must love God with a passion and referred to himself as an aashiq, lover of God.
Nuri became the spiritual leader of the Hululs, an extreme faction of the Baghdad circle of Sufis. Nuri defined a Sufi as as, “One who belongs to no one and nothing belongs to him”. He believed that Sufis gains knowledge through God and every action of the enlightened mystic is through Him.
During the orthodox Baghdad Caliphate under Ghulam Khalil, some Sufi friends of Nuri were to be executed on charges of heresy and promoting Sufism.
Nuri volunteered to go to the gallows in place of the accused. Hearing of Nuri’s gesture, the Caliph was moved, deferring the execution.
The case was sent to the Ombudsman, who thought he would trap the Sufi by quizzing him on the legalities of Sharia law. However, his heart softened on hearing Nuri responses that reflected deep mystic wisdom.
To legal questions Nuri replied, “you have asked all these questions, but nothing relevant. God has servants who stand through Him, and move and rest through Him, who live all through Him and abide in contemplation of Him. If for a single instant they held back from contemplating Him, their souls would go out of them. Through Him they sleep, through Him they eat, through Him they take, through Him they go, through Him they see, through Him they hear and through Him they are. This is the true science, not that on which you put questions.”
Bewildered, the ombudsman sent a message to the caliph. “If these men are atheists and heretics, than I give judgment that on the whole face of the earth not one true believer exists.” The Sufis were released honourably.
Nuri’s death occurred in a peculiar way.
One day a blind man was crying “God. God!”
Nuri went up to him saying, “What do you know of Him? If you know, you still live?”
Having said that Nuri lost his senses and overpowered with yearning for God, he walked into the freshly harvested reed beds. The reeds pierced Nuri’s feet and with every drop of blood that fell, the word Allah appeared. Unconscious of the pain, Nuri bled profusely. Some fellow Sufis bought Nuri to his home and realising he had little time, asked him to recite the declaration of Islamic faith, “Say, there is no god but God…”
“Why, I am on my way there,” he replied. And thereupon he died.
Nuri wrote wonderful mystic verses describing his passionate love for God:
So passionate my love is, I do yearn
To keep his memory constantly in mind:
But O, the ecstasy with which I burn
Sears out my thoughts,
and strikes my memory blind.
And, marvel upon marvel,
Itself is swept away; now far now near
My Lover stands, and all the faculty
Of memory is swept up in hope and fear.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.