By Sadia Dehlvi
Mar 22, 2017
Once on seeing a thief executed in Baghdad, Imam Junaid went and kissed his feet. When onlookers asked for an explanation, the Sufi scholar replied: “A thousand compassions be upon him for he proved to be a man true to his trade. He did his work so perfectly that he died for it”.
Abul Qasin al-Junaid of the late ninth century is considered the greatest exponent of the sober school of Sufism. He was born in Persia, but his family settled in Baghdad where he studied Islamic law and became the chief judge. A glass merchant like his father, the mystic gave up the family business to pursue Islamic studies. Sari Saqti, his mother’s brother was a leading Sufi of the time. Saqti predicted a great future for his disciple and nephew, adding that God had gifted Junaid with special powers of speech.
Upon the insistence of the ruling caliph, Junaid was amongst those signed the death warrant of the Sufi martyr Mansur Hallaj for saying, “Ana’l Haq”, or “I am the Truth”. Junaid wrote, “We judge according to the external law, as for the inward truth, God alone knows!” Hallaj, the most controversial of all Sufis had been his student. Junaid had counselled Hallaj to act with restraint or else his goblet would be stained with blood. Hallaj responded that when that happened, Junaid would be wearing the gown and turban of a scholar.
Imam Junaid based the Sufi path on eight different attributes including submission, sincerity, liberality, patience, separation, wearing patched garment, wandering and poverty as in the lives of the prophets. He said: “A Sufi must have the heart of Abraham which found salvation by fulfilling God’s commands, the sorrow of David, the poverty of Jesus, the longing for communication with God like Moses and the sincerity of Prophet Mohammad.”
Imam Junaid developed the Sufi doctrine of Fana and Baqa that came to define the Sufi philosophy. He wrote Fana, is assimilation of the individual in the will of God and is experienced by the grace of God. He should cause them to die from thyself and exist in Him. Baqa is the persistence of the real self in God and the departure from the lower self implies the appearance of the True self. The qualities of the beloved should eventually replace that of the lover. Expressing the dual sense of union and separation Junaid wrote:
Now that I have known, O Lord
What lies within my heart
In secret, from the world apart
My tongue hath talked with my Adored
So in a manner we
United are, and One
Yet otherwise disunion
In our state eternally
Though my grace profound
Deep awe hath hid my face
In wonderous and ecstatic Grace
I feel Thee touch my inmost ground.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.