‘Abd al-Wahhāb Rescues a Fly in Peril

An insect of some sort, from an 18th century Ottoman Turkish version of ʿAjāʾib al-makhlūqāt (Wonders of creation) by Zakarīyā al-Qazwīnī (d. 1293). Walters Art Museum, W.659

Among the many writings produced by the prominent early modern Egyptian saint and sufi ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Sha’rānī (d. 1565) was a work that is best described as a cross between an ‘auto-hagiography’ and an encyclopedia of ethics and sufi practice. Al-Sha’rānī wrote the Laṭāʼif al-minan ostensibly as a compilation of practices and virtues for his followers and others to study and to emulate, though it also clearly functioned as a sprawling (the printed edition I used for this entry clocks in at over eight hundred pages!) argument for his own sanctity. Stories of al-Sha’rānī’s life (including, as here, aspects of his family life) are scattered generously throughout, including this curious little account which comes in the midst of a discussion of proper treatment of cats and other animals. Al-Sha’rānī was especially kind to cats, offering them food right out of his own hands, but, as this little miracle tale reveals, far ‘lowlier’ creatures were on his radar as well.


Among the things that happened to me: my wife Fāṭima Umm ‘Abd al-Raḥman had a thickness (ḥādir) upon her heart. Her mother cried out and was certain that [her daughter] would die, and I was greatly agitated on her account, but a voice came to me while I was in the toilet-room: “Release the fly from the fly-hyena (ḍabu’ al-dhabāb) in the crack that is in front of your face, and We will release your wife from sickness for you.” So I went to the crack and found it to be quite tight such that fingers could not open it, so I took a stick and pulled it open and extracted the fly-hyena with the fly, and found it whole but with the fly-hyena gripping its neck, so I released it from him, and in that moment my wife was released from sickness and restored to health and her mother rejoiced—from that day on I have not looked down upon bestowing good upon any creature or best which the Lawgiver, upon whom be peace and blessing, does not command be slain.

‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Sha’rānī, Laṭāʼif al-minan wa-al-akhlāq fī wujūb al-taḥadduth bi-niʻmat Allāh ʻalá al-iṭlāq, (Damascus: Dār al-Taqwā, 2003) 349-350.

The Striker of Animals Runs Up a Bill

It is related that while going on a journey, if [Muslihuddin] Merkez [Efendi] were to see a peasant, he would go to him, ask ‘do you know the faith,’ and would explain the conditions and duties of prayer. He would then scatter the seeds of knowledge among the fields of his heart, saying things like: ‘The way to do it is so-and-so and such and such. It is prayer that separates Islam from unbelief, and one who neglects prayer is more useless than an unbeliever,’ and ‘Verily the prayers are incumbent on the believers in a fixed book,’ followed by the poem, ‘Upon the unbelievers the fixed book assigned prayers/ Those who don’t do it are detested in the two worlds,’ and ‘Beware, don’t let these farm animals lack for food, water or provisions; don’t load them with more than they can bear; don’t strike them with endless blows. To that the scholars say, “The striker of animals runs up a bill, it garners naught but its equal in the afterlife,’ and, ‘In this place full of seeds are walking around, your intent should be to revive empty land and to make it a benefit for the male and female believers…’

Sinaneddin ibn Yusuf ibn Ya’kub (d. 1581), Tezkiretu’l-Halvetiye, trans. by John J. Curry, in The Transformation of Muslim Mystical Thought in the Ottoman Empire: The Rise of the Halveti Order, 1350-1650