The following is a brief sermon by ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, delivered, according to the opening line, in his madrasa in Baghdad; it is taken from a collection titled Futḥ al-Rabāniya. Sermons seem to have been the form of discourse he was best known for. This one is a good example of some of ‘Abd al-Qādir’s defining themes, as well as an example of his method of sermonizing. As with preachers in many periods and milieus, ‘Abd al-Qādir employs vivid imagery, parallelism, repetition, and personal address; he is also relatively brief and straightforward, at least in this sermon (which, after all, was for a weekday evening). Who might have made up his audience? Practitioners of Sufism, at least in part: ‘Abd al-Qādir targets with condemnation a certain sort of Sufi in the opening lines; in addition to ‘Sufic’ resonances throughout the rest of the sermon, there is a further section towards the end in which he seems to be addressing the practice of prayerful seclusion (khalwa) and the way one makes oneself suitable for the practice.

As for the remainder of the sermon, the material would be applicable to anyone, whether practicing Sufism or not (and one should keep in mind that during this period the ‘institutional’ Sufism of the so-called orders was not really existent, at least not in the form it would take in the coming centuries). As has been evident in the other texts translated here, ‘Abd al-Qādir maintains a constant focus on the duality between interior and exterior and the necessity of uniting the two through the rectification of one’s interior state. Directly related to the making right of one’s interior state is the necessity of coming to a right relation with God. This right relationship, for our author, means a stripping away of everything that is ‘other than God.’ This stripping away is primarily on what we might call the emotional or volitional level: the true believer should rely only on God, should devote herself only to God. While good deeds and the keeping of the shari’a is certainly key for ‘Abd al-Qādir, even more important is making sure one’s inner state, one’s conceptions, volition, and sight are aligned with God, and not with anything else. Only when one has achieved this state of inner-outer congruence should one try to lead other people to God- another common theme for ‘Abd al-Qādir. Significantly for his later reputation, he does claim having achieved such a state, at least implicitly (else he would not be preaching).

In coming days I will conclude my mini-series, as it has developed, on ‘Abd al-Qādir with a few more translations from Futḥ al-Rabāniya and some concluding thoughts on the Hanbali Sufi’s development into a ‘saint of saints’ with global appeal, up to the present day.

8th Session

He said, may God be pleased with him, on Monday evening in the madrasa, on the nineteenth of Shawwāl, in the year 545 [February 8th, 1151 AD]:

The man whose clothes are clean but his heart is dirty, he is absentious in permitted things, lazy in lawful earning, and lives off of his religion[1] and never hesitates—he eats that which is clearly forbidden. His affair is hidden from the common people, but it is not hidden from the spiritual elite: all of his abstentions and obediences are done exteriorly. His exterior is built-up while his interior is in ruins. Listen! Obedience towards God is through the heart, not outward conformity! All of these things adhere to hearts, to secrets, to [inner] meaning. Strip yourself from what you are in so that God bestow upon you in exchange apparel which does not wear out. Strip, so that He may clothe you! Strip off the clothing of your laziness in [fulfilling] the rights of God (ḥuqūq Allah); strip off the clothing of your conformity with people and your associating of them [with God]. Strip off the clothing of the passions, of thoughtlessness, of vanity, of hypocrisy, of your love of acceptance by people and of their taking interest in you, and their giving to you. Strip off the clothing of this world and don that of the next world; let your strength, your power, your own good be rent asunder, and cast yourself between the hands of God, without power, without strength, without dependence on a means, without associating anything of creation [with God].

And if you do this, you will see His kindnesses come to you, strengthen you, His mercy knit you together, His munificence and grace clothe you and draw you into them. Flee to Him; be cut off [from other things] towards Him, naked, without ‘you’ and without other than you. Confine in Him, cut off and separated from other than Him, confide in Him, scattered and cast about until He unites you and confers upon you potencies within and without; until, if things are closed to you and you bear all manner of troubles, that [sort of thing] will not harm you, rather, He will preserve you through it. He who causes [al-ḥāq? perhaps read al-khalq?] to pass away by means of his confession of divine oneness; he who causes this world to pass away by means of his renunciation; he who causes other than his Lord to pass away by means of desire [for God]: he has perfected the good, the beneficial. And so acquire good of this world and the next by the death of your lower selves, your passions, and your demons before you die [physically]; particular death is incumbent upon you before general death.[2]

O people! Answer! Verily, I am God’s summoner—I summon you to His gate, to obedience to Him; I do not summon you to myself. The hypocrite does not summon people to God, rather, he summons them to himself; he seeks worldly affairs and approval, seeking this world. O ignorant one! Leave off listening to this discourse and sitting in your solitary cell with your self and your passion: you need, first of all, the companionship of shaykhs, the killing of the lower self and nature and what is other than the Master. Adhere to the door of their houses, I mean, of the shaykhs. Then, after that, withdraw from them and sit in your cell, alone with God. Then, if this is perfected in you, you will become medicine for the people, a rightly-guided guide by God’s permission.

[But for now] you, your tongue is pious, but your heart dissolute: your tongue praises God while your heart opposes Him; your exterior is Muslim while your interior is an infidel; your exterior is a monotheist while your interior is an associator. Your religion and your asceticism are exterior, while your interior is in ruins, like whitewash on an outhouse, or a lock on a refuse-bin.[3] When you are so, Satan encamps in your heart, and makes it his dwelling place. The believer should begin with the building of his interior, then with the building of his exterior, just as one who works on a house spends a great deal on its interior while its doorway is dilapidated. Then, when he finishes the interior fabrication, after that he works on the door. Likewise, the beginning [of the spiritual life] is in God and His good pleasure, then the turning to other people by His permission; the beginning is through the attainment of the other world—then we receive the portions of this world.

[1] ‘Abd al-Qādir is targeting here someone who rejects work and instead begs— living off of one’s religion. He probably has in mind ascetics and Sufis who took tawakkul—total reliance on God—very literally, rejecting any attempt at lawful earning in favor of waiting on God to send along livelihood either through gifts or through miraculous means. ‘Abd al-Qādir, like the writers of many early Sufi texts, rejects this interpretation of tawakkul.

[2] A paraphrase might make this line a little clearer: the particular death of dying to one’s self, passions, and the devil—a death that not everyone undergoes—before the common death, the death that all undergo—this particular death is incumbent upon you.

[3] I’m not quite sure how to translate this line so as to be in keeping with eleventh/early twelfth century conventions of waste disposal; the Arabic is qufl ‘alā mazbala. Mazbala can also mean dungheap; perhaps what is meant is a lock on an enclosure around a dungheap? The sense at least is clear:  keeping on a lock on a dungheap or pile of trash is absurd.