Hadrat ‘Abdul-Qadir al Jilani (b. 470 AH, 1077-78 CE) is usually considered the greatest example of the fact that in Islam to seek knowledge is a sacred obligation for all men and women, from the cradle to the grave. The impact of his life and teachings on the Muslim world are incalculable. If the records of his life are to be believed, metaphorical though many may be, he must be considered a saint or sage of the highest rank by those who care about such things. Indeed, the prophet Mohammed says, ‘The perfect shaykh is like a prophet to his people’.
He married four wives and had forty-nine children. For anyone with a Christian background this is a little confusing. Our ideas of sainthood are rather different. There are many stories telling of his character and revealing the nature and extent of his knowledge. Here is one. It is told in the translators introduction to The Secret of Secrets, interpreted by Shaykh Tosum Bayrak al-Jerrari al-Halveti. (Islamic Text Society 1992).
The message is the same as ever. It never changes. Imam Ali, the last link in the chain of famous teachers and scholars that connects Abdul Qadir directly back to the Prophet Mohammed, asks “Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form, when within thee the universe is enfolded?” We see in this story yet again the perennial claim of those who have pursued the truth to its end, that they are awake, that they can see the world as it really is.
One day his wives came to him and said, ‘O possessor of the best of characters, your little son has died, and we haven’t seen a single tear in your eyes, nor have you shown any sign of sadness or concern. Don’t you have any compassion for someone who is a part of you? We are bent over double in sorrow, yet you go about your business as if nothing has happened. You are our master, our guide, our hope for this world and the Hereafter, but if your heart is hard and there is no compassion there, how can we, who hope to hold onto you on the day of Last Judgement, have faith that you will save us?
The Shaykh said, ‘O my dear friends, do not think that my heart is hard. I pity the unfaithful for his unfaithfulness, I pity the dog who bites me and pray to Allah that it will stop biting people, not that I mind being bitten, but because others will throw stones at it. Don’t you know that I have inherited compassion from the one whom Allah sent as mercy upon the universe?’
The women said, ‘Indeed, if you have feeling even for the dog which bites you, how is it that you do not show any feelings for your own son who has been smitten with the sword of death?’
The Shaykh said, ‘O my sad companions, you cry because you feel separated from your son whom you love. I am always with the one I love. You saw your son in the dream which this world is, and you have lost him in another dream. Allah says, “This world is but a dream.” It is a dream for the ones who are asleep. I am awake. I saw my son when he was in the circle of time. Now he has walked out of that circle. I still see him and he is with me. He is playing around me just as he did before. For when you see that which is real with the eye of the heart, whether dead or alive, the truth does not disappear.