By Sadia Dehlvi
Jul 10, 2018
Bishr al Haafi is one of the famous early Sufis of the ninth century. His real name was Bishr ibn Harris. He came from what is today called Turkmenistan, and lived most of his life in Baghdad. The story of his journey to becoming a true servant of God is a well-known one.
It is said that one night a drunken staggering Bishr al Haafi was walking on the street. His eyes fell upon a piece of paper on which the words “Bismilla hir Rahman nir Rahim” ( In the name of God, the most merciful most compassionate) were inscribed. He picked it up, cleaned and perfumed it with the essence of roses and brought it home, placing the paper on a high pedestal.
That night, he dreamt that God had spoken to him, “O Bishr, You have made my name sweet, I swear by my glory that I will make your name sweet both in this world and the next world.”
In the morning, Bishr asked God for forgiveness and swore to lead a life of piety and devoted to God. He resolved to become an ascetic. At the moment of making sincere repentance and turn towards God alone, Bishr was barefoot and never put on shoes again. Some say, this was to remind him of that great moment in his life that his heart opened to the knowledge of God.
Haafi means barefoot, so he became known Bishr al Haafi, which means Bishr the barefooted. When asked of his barefootedness, Bishr al Haafi would sometimes say, “The earth is God’s carpet and I think it wrong to tread on His carpet while there is anything between me and His carpet.”
Bishr al Haafi became one of the leading Sufis of his time. The well known jurist Imam Hanbal who founded the Hanbali school of Jurisprudence was among those who studied under his guidance.
On renunciation of the world, Bishar al Haafi said, “Renunciation is a king who dwells only in a free and empty heart.” He also said, “Whosoever desires to be honoured in this world and exalted in the next world, let him not seek a boon from anyone nor speak ill of anyone. No man who knows the way to God will ask a boon of human beings, since to do so is a proof of his ignorance as God is the giver of all boons. The man who speaks ill of anyone is criticising the decree of God, for both the individual himself and his actions are created by God, and on whom can the blame for an action be thrown at except on the agent? The great Sufi master died in 840 and is buried in Baghdad.