Smashing Your Idols and Forgetting Your Prayers

These short texts are excerpts from two medieval Sufi texts, one by the important formative-period Sufi author and biographer al-Sulami; the other by an early-thirteenth century, and rather less known, Sufi writer named al-Ardabili. The poetry by al-Shibli is from al-Sulami’s biography (in his Tabaqat al-Sufiyya) of that early Sufi master; the second is from a brief work of al-Ardabili’s titled Kitab al-Futuwwa, the Book of Futuwwa (virtuous youngmanliness is one possible translation of this rather amorphous complex of values and practices). The second text especially struck me as an illuminating and succinct example of early Sufi ‘allegorical’ (or perhaps more aptly, ‘typological’) use of scripture.


Today I forget my prayers because of my impassioned love-
I do not know my morning from my evening-
Remembrance of You, my Lord, is my food, my drink,
And Your face, if I see, is the cure of my disease.

– al-Shibli


Ja’afar bin Nasīr al-Khladi said: The virtuous young man (al-fatā) is he who slays the enemy of the Beloved, for the sake of the Beloved, and on account of this He spoke of Ibrahim- upon him be peace- when he turned the idols into tiny pieces (ja’ala al-asnām jadhādhan) and broke them. They said: ‘We heard a young man (fatā) called Ibrahim mention them.’ (Q. 21.60) And the idol of every one is his nafs [the lower, passionate ‘self’] and his passions, and when he smashes his nafs and is at enmity with his passions, he is worthy of the name of futuwwa.

Al-Hārith al-Muhāsbī said: Futuwwa is that one acts justly yet does not demand justice [for himself], and expends freely yet does not take.

– al-Ardabili

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