Sahl al-Tustari
(d. 283 H. in  Basra)

Brief intro
Biography by Sheikh G. F. Haddad
From Qushayri Risala
From Attar's Tadhkirat
Tafsir: English: About | PDF | Link to || عربي | PDF

Brief intro

Abu Muhammad Sahl ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Tustari  (Persian: سهل شوشتری‎‎)
▻ He was born in Shushtar (Ahwaz, a fortress town in Khūzestān Province in what is now southwestern Iran.Iran) in 200 H. (815 CE).
▻ In 261 H. he went to Basra, where he died in 283 H. (896 CE).

His teachers:
▻ He learned zuhd as a child from his uncle Muhammad b. Sawwar
▻ He studied with Sufyan al-Thauri
▻ He met Dhu‘l-Nun al-Misri in Mecca during Hajj.

His students:
▻ He was one of the early teachers of Mansur Al-Hallaj.
▻ Abu ´l-Hasan ´Ali b. Muhammad al-Muzayyin of Baghdad (d. 328 in Makka) studied with Sahl, al-Junayd and that generation.
▻ Abu Muhammad Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Husayn al-Jurayri (d. 311), the successor of Al-Junayd, studied with Sahl
▻ Al-Jalla mentioned that he met him

His uncle taught him muraqaba, enjoining on him the following dhikr when laying down before sleep:
اَللهُ مَعِيْ اَللهُ نَاظِرِيْ اَللهُ شَاهِدِيْ اَللهُ حَاضِرِيْ اَللهُ قَرِيْبٌ مِنِّيْ
Allahu ma'ee, Allahu nazhiree, Allahu shahidee, Allahu hadiree, Allahu qareebun minnee
Allah is with me, Allah's gaze is on me, Allah is witnessing me, I am in Allah's presence, Allah is near to me


by GF Haddad ©
[with some of his sayings]

Sahl ibn `Abd Allah ibn Yunus, Abu Muhammad al-Tustari (d. 283),  may Allah be well-pleased with him.

Named by al-Dhahabi "the master of knowers (shaykh al-`ârifîn), the ascetic sufi (al-suufî al-zâhid)... He has a firm foothold in the path." He related that when he was three years old he would wake up at night to watch his uncle Muhammad ibn al-Sawwar pray. He spent his early years with his uncle and Dhu al-Nun al-Misri whom he met during pilgrimage.

Al-Qushayri said: "He had no peer in his time for correctness of transaction and superlative Godwariness, and he was a person of karâmât."

He narrates from `Umar ibn Wasil al-Basri that Sahl said: "My uncle once told me: `Remember Allah Who created you.' I said: `How should I remember him?' He replied: `Say in your heart, whenever you are alone at night, three times, without moving your tongue: Allah is with me; Allah is looking at me; Allah is watching me.'"

This became his lifelong devotion. He memorized the Qur'an by the age of seven. He used to practice perpetual fasting and prayed all night. He reached a point where he broke his fast only once every twenty-five nights on one dirham's worth of barley bread for twenty years.

Hence his saying: "Hunger is Allah's secret on His earth. He does not confide it to one who divulges it." To a shaykh who told him that whenever he performed ablution the water that dripped from him changed into sticks of gold he said: "Children are given rattles." He also said:

1. "The ignorant one is dead, the forgetful one is asleep, the sinner is drunk, and the obstinate one is destroyed."

2. "We have six principles: Holding fast to the Qur'an; taking the Sunna as a guide; eating what is licit; quitting from harm and avoiding sins; repentence; fulfillment of obligations."

3. "Whoever speaks about what does not concern him will be prohibited from obtaining truthfulness; whoever busies himself with superfluity will be prohibited from obtaining true fear of Allah; and whoever entertains bad opinions will be prohibited from obtaining certitude. Whoever is prohibited from obtaining these three, he is destroyed."

4. "Among the manners of the most truthful and trustful saints (al-siddîqîn) is that they never swear by Allah, nor commit backbiting, nor does backbiting take place around them, nor do they eat to satiation. If they promise, they are true to their word, and they never speak in jest."

5. "None truly knows ignorance except a `âlim faqîh zâhid `âbid hakîm."

6. "Allah does not open the heart of a servant if it still contains three things: loving to remain [in the world], love of wealth, and concern about tomorrow."

7. Asked when the faqîr attains relief from his ego he replied: "When he no longer sees any time other than the time he is in."

8. "Allah is the qibla of intention; intention is the qibla of the heart; the heart is the qibla of the body; the body is the qibla of the limbs; and the limbs are the qibla of dunyâ."

9. "When the servant abides in a specific sin, all his good deeds are admixed with his egotism (hawâ). His good deeds are not purified as long as he abides in a single sin. He will not deliver himself from his egotism until he ousts from himself all that he knows to be abhorred by Allah."

10. "Lukewarmth is heedlessness; dread is vigilance; hardness is death."

11. Asked in what consisted the solace of hearts, he replied: "The coming of revelation: {Woe unto those whose hearts are hardened against remembrance of Allah} (39:22)."

12. "Whoever disputes reliance upon Allah (al-tawakkul), disputes belief (îmân); and whoever disputes earning (al-takassub), disputes the Sunna." He defined true tawakkul as "Forgetting tawakkul."

13. "Sit with one whose limbs address you, not his mouth." (1)

14. "Life is four kinds. The life of angels consists in obedience. The life of Prophets consists in `ilm and the anticipation of revelation. The life of truthful and trustful saints (al-siddîqîn) consists in following guidance (al-iqtidâ'). And the life of the remainder of the people - whether knowledgeable, ignorant, ascetic, or devoted to worship - consists in eating and drinking."

15. "Good deeds both the righteous (al-barr) and the disobedient (al-fâjir) perform; none but the siddîq avoids disobedience."

16. He addressed the special insight of saints with the poetic verse:

Quluub al-`ârifîn lahâ `uyuun
Tarâ mâ lâ yarâhu al-nâziruun

The hearts of Knowers have eyes
That see what onlookers cannot see.

Al-Tustari considered the audition and study of the hadith of the Prophet (s) the highest pursuit as is evident from the following sayings:

1. From Ibn Durustuyah: Sahl said to the scholars of hadith:
"Endeavor not to meet Allah except with your inkwell in hand."

2. To Abu Dawud: "Bring out for me your tongue with which you narrate the Prophet's (s) hadiths so that I may kiss it," whereupon Abu Dawud drew out his tongue and al-Tustari kissed it.

3. Asked until when should a man write down the hadith of the Prophet (s), he replied: "Until death, and the rest of his ink is poured into his grave."

4. From `Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Daqiqi: "Whoever desires this world and the next, let him write down the hadith, for it contains the good of this world and the next."

Al-Tustari addressed the issue of Allah's establishment (istiwâ') over the Throne in the manner of Imam al-Ash`ari, by declaring it a divine act that is neither qualified nor enquired about: "Reason alone cannot point to One Who is without beginning and without end above a Throne that is brought into being. Allah erected the Throne as a sign and as tidings for us so that by it the hearts should be guided to Him without trespassing. He did not require the hearts to obtain knowledge of its exact nature. Therefore, His establishment over it is unqualified (lâ kayfa lahu) and it is impermissible to ask: 'How does istiwâ' apply to the Creator of istiwâ'?' The believer must only accept and submit, due to the Prophet's saying: 'He is over His Throne' (2) (innahu `alâ `arshihi)."

Al-Dhahabi quotes the above but expresses caution elsewhere in his Siyar and in Mukhtasar al-`Uluw, in commentary of a similar statement by `Uthman ibn Sa`id al-Darimi (d. 280):

In his book al-Naqd he said: "The Muslims all agree that Allah is above His Throne, above His heavens." I say: The clearest thing on this topic is Allah's saying: {The Merciful established Himself over the Throne} (20:5). Therefore, let it pass as it came, just as we learned to do from the school of Salaf.(3) Al-Darimi's book also contains bizarre findings in which he exaggerates the affirmation [of the divine Attributes], concerning which, silence would have been more in keeping with the way of the Salaf both then and now." (4) End of al-Dhahabi's words.

On the same subject Ibn Hajar said:

When we say: "Allah is above the Throne," it does not mean that He is touching it or that He is located on it or bounded by any side of the Throne. Rather, it is a report which is transmitted as is, and so we repeat it while at the same time negating any modality, for {There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him} (42:11), and from Him comes all success.

Al-Tustari authored a renowned Sufi commentary of the Qur'an which has been translated into English. In it he gives the following explanations:

- {And give me from Your presence a sustaining Power} (17:80): "A tongue that speaks on Your behalf, and on behalf of no-one else."

- {Forsake the outwardness of sin and the inwardness thereof} (6:120): "The outwardness of sin is its enactment; the inwardness, its love."


1 I.e. one who benefits others not through discourse but through states of being, in action or in repose, in public or in private, in solace and in hardship.
2 See the "hadith of the groaning of the Throne" narrated from Jubayr ibn Mut`am from his father from his grandfather, and also the "hadith of the mountain-goats"
narrated from al-`Abbas.
3 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar (10:643).
4 Al-Dhahabi, Mukhtasar al-`Uluw (p. 214).

End of the biographical notice on the master of knowers al-Tustari by the scribe in need of his Lord's mercy Hajji Gibril.

Main sources: Al-Qushayri, Risala p. 16-17; Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya 10:198-222 #544; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' 10:647-649 #2369.

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions.

GF Haddad

Sahl al-Tustari
From Qusahayri Risala
(transl. Knych)

Abu Muhammad Sahl b. Abdallah al-Tustari
He was one of the greatest Sufi masters. He had no peers in his age in regard to devotional acts and pious scrupulosity. He performed many miracles. He met Dhul-Nun [al-Misri] during the year when he came [to Mecca] on a pilgrimage. It is said that he died in the year 283, although some say that it was in 273 (896 and 886 C.E.).

Sahl said:
“When I was three years old, I used to stay awake during the night watching my uncle Muhammad b. Sawwar perform his prayers. He kept vigil during the night. He used to tell me: ‘Go away, Sahl, and have a sleep. You are
distracting me!’ ”
I heard Muhammad b. al-Husayn – may God have mercy on him – say: I heard that Abu πl-Fath Yusuf b. ∏Umar the Ascetic said: I heard that Abdallah b. Abd al-Hamid said: I heard that ∏Ubaydallah b. Lu'lu' said: I heard that Umar b. Wasil al-Basri recounted about Sahl b. Abdallah that he told him:

“One day my uncle asked me: ‘Don’t you remember God, Who created you?’ I asked him: ‘How can I remember Him?’ He said: ‘Say by your heart as you move around in your clothes, without however moving your tongue: “God is my watcher.” ’ I said this for three nights, then I told him about this and he said to me: ‘Say this seven times during the night.’ I said this, then told him about this. He said to me: ‘Say this eleven times during the night.’ I said this and I felt the sweetness of this in my heart. After one year my uncle told me: ‘Keep on [doing] what I taught you and continue to do this until you enter your grave, for this will benefit you in this world and in the Hereafter.’ I kept doing this for many years and I felt the sweetness of this in my innermost heart. One day my uncle told me: ‘Sahl, how can a man with whom God is always present and whom He always watches and observes commit a sin? So, stay away from sin!’

“I used to seclude myself [from people]. Then [my parents] sent me to a Qurπanic school. I told [them]: ‘I fear that my internal concentration [on God] might dissipate. Make arrangements with the teacher so that I would come to him for a short while, study with him, and then come back.’ So I began to go to the school. I learned the Quran by heart when I was six or seven years old. I was fasting constantly and ate nothing but barley bread until I turned twelve years of age. When I turned thirteen, I came across a problem and asked my family to send me to Basra, so that I could inquire about it. I arrived in Basra and began to ask local scholars about it. However, none of them was able to satisfy me.

Then I left for ´Abbadan [an island in the mouth of Shatt al-Arab that was frequented by early Sufis and ascetics] in order to meet a man known as Abu Habib Hamza b. Abdallah al-´Abbadani. I asked him about this problem and he answered me. I stayed with him for a while benefiting from his teaching and imitating his good manners. Then I returned to Tustar. There my only meal consisted of a sack of barley that one could buy for one dirham, which I ground and from which I made bread for myself. Every night, before dawn, I ate of this just one ounce without salt or seasoning. Thus one dirham was enough for me for a whole year. I decided to fast for three nights and to break my fast on the fourth, then on the fifth, then on the seventh, then on the fifteenth. In this way I spent twenty years, whereupon I began to roam the land until I again returned to Tustar. There I used to stay awake all night.”

I heard Muhammad b. al-Husayn say: I heard Abul-Abbas al-Baghdadi say: I heard Ibrahim b. Firas say: I heard Nasr b. Ahmad say: Sahl b. Abdallah [al-Tustari] said:
“Every deed that the servant [of God] performs without imitation, be it obedience [to God] or disobedience, is done to please his own
self, whereas every deed//54 that he performs in imitation [of the Prophet or his companions] is painful to the soul.”

Sahl ibn Abd Allah al-Tostari
From Attar's Tadhkirat
(transl. )
Abu Mohammad Sahl ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Tostari was born at Tostar (Ahwaz) c. 200 (815), studied with Sofyan al-Thauri, and met Dho ‘l-Nun alMesri. A quiet life was interrupted in 261 (874) when he was compelled to seek refuge in Basra, where he died in 282 (896).

A short commentary on the Koran is attributed to him, and he made important contributions to the development of Sufi theory, being influential through his pupil Ibn Salem who founded the Salemiya school. The early years of Sahl ibn Abd Allah al-Tostari Sahl ibn Abd Allah al-Tostari gives the following account of himself.

I remember when God said, Am I not your Lord? and I said, Yes indeed. I also remember myself in my mother’s womb. I was three years old when I began to pray all night. My uncle Mohammad ibn Sawwar wept to see me pray.
“Sahl, go to sleep. You make me anxious,” he said.
I kept watch on my uncle secretly and openly. Then matters reached the point that one day I said to him,
“Uncle, I have a hard state to contend with. I seem to see my head prostrate before the Throne.”
“Keep this state secret, my boy, and tell no one,” he advised. Then he added, “Recollect when you are in your bedclothes rolling from side to side. As your tongue moves, say, ‘God is with me, God is watching over me, God is witnessing me.’ “
I used this formula, and informed my uncle so.
“Say the words seven times each night,” he counselled me.
I informed him that I had done so.
“Say them fifteen times.”
I did as my uncle directed, and a sweetness invaded my heart therefrom. A year passed. Then my uncle said, “Keep my instructions and continue that practice until you go to the grave. The fruits thereof will be yours in this world and the next.”
Years passed, and I used the same formula until the sweetness of it penetrated my most secret heart.
“Sahl,” said my uncle, “when God is with any man and God sees him, how can he disobey God? God watch over you, that you may not disobey.”
After that I went into seclusion.

Then they sent me to school.
“I am afraid that my concentration may be scattered,” I said. “Make it a condition with the teacher that I remain with him for an hour and learn some lessons, then I am to return to my true occupation.”
On these terms I went to school and learned the Koran, being then seven years old. From that time I fasted continuously, my only food being barley bread.

At twelve a problem occurred to me which no one was able to solve. I asked them to send me to Basra to propound that problem. I came to Basra and questioned the learned men of that city, but no one could answer me. From there I proceeded to Abbadan, to a man called Habib ibn Hamza. He answered my question. I remained with him for some time, and derived much benefit from his instruction.

Then I came to Tostar. By that time my diet had been reduced to the point that they would buy barley for me for a dirham, grind it and bake it into bread. Every night about dawn I would break my fast with an ounce of that bread, without relish or salt. In that way the
dirham lasted me a year. After that I resolved to break my fast once every three days, then once every five days, then once every
seven days, and so on until I reached once every twenty days. (According to one report, Sahl claimed to have reached once every seventy days.) Sometimes I would eat just one almond every forty days. I made trial for many years of satiety and hunger. In the beginning my weakness resulted from hunger and my strength came from satiety. After a time my  strength derived from hunger and my weakness from satiety. Then I prayed, “O God, close Sahl’s eyes to both, that he may see satiety in hunger, and hunger in satiety, both proceed from Thee.”
One day Sahl said,
“Repentance is a duty incumbent upon a man every moment, whether he be of the elect or the common folk, whether he be obedient to God or disobedient.”
There was a certain man in Tostar who laid claim to be learned and an ascetic. He protested against this statement of Sahl’s.“He says that the disobedient must repent of his disobedience,and the obedient of his obedience.” And he turned the people against Sahl, making him out to be a heretic and an infidel. All, commons and nobles alike, took up his charge.

Sahl refrained from disputing with them to correct their misunderstanding. Fired by the pure flame of religion, he wrote down on paper a list of all his possessions, farms, houses, furniture, carpets, vessels, gold and silver. Then he gathered the people and scattered the pages over their heads. He gave to every man all that was inscribed on the page that he picked up, as a token of gratitude for their relieving him of his worldly goods. Having given everything away, he set out for Hejaz.

“My soul,” he addressed himself, “now I am bankrupt. Make no further demand on me, for you will not get anything.”
His soul agreed not to ask him for anything, until he reached Kufa.
“So far,” his soul then said, “I have not asked you for anything. Now I desire a piece of bread and a fish. Give me that much to eat, and I will not trouble you again all the way to Mecca.”

Entering Kufa, Sahl observed an ass-mill with a camel tied to it.
“How much do you give to hire this camel for a day?” he asked.
“Two dirhams,” they told him.
“Release the camel and tie me in its place, and give me one dirham for up to the evening prayer,” Sahl
They released the camel and tied Sahl to the ass-mill. At nightfall they gave him a dirham. He bought bread
and a fish and laid it before him.
“Soul,” he addressed himself, “every time you want this, resolve with yourself that tomorrow till sunset you will do mule’s work to get what you want.”

Then Sahl proceeded to the Kaaba, where he met many Sufi masters. From there he returned to Tostar, to find Dho ‘l-Nun awaiting him.

Anecdotes of Sahl
Amr-e Laith fell sick, so that all the physicians were powerless to treat him.
“Is there anyone who can pray for a cure?” it was asked.
“Sahl is such a man whose prayers are answered,” came the reply.
His help was therefore invoked. Having in mind God’s command to “obey those in authority” he responded to the appeal.
“Prayer,” he stated when he was seated before Amr, “is effective only in the case of one who is penitent. In your prison there are men wrongfully detained.”
Amr released them all, and repented.
“Lord God,” prayed Sahl, “like as Thou hast shown to him the abasement due to his disobedience, so now display to him the glory gained by my obedience. Like as Thou hast clothed his inward parts with the garment of repentance, so now clothe his outward parts with
the garment of health.”
As soon as Sahl had uttered this prayer, Amr-e Laith recovered his health completely. He offered Sahl much money, but this he declined, and left his presence.
“If you had accepted something,” objected one of his disciples, “so that we might have applied it to discharging the debt we have incurred, would that not have been better?”
“Do you need gold? Then look!” replied Sahl.
The disciple looked and behold, the whole plain and desert were filled with gold and rubies.
“Why,” said Sahl, “should one who enjoys such favour with God accept anything from one of God’screatures?”
Whenever Sahl partook in a mystic audition he went into ecstasy and would continue rapt for five days, eating no food. If it was winter, the sweat would pour from him and drench his shirt. When he was in that state, and the ulema questioned him, he would say, “Do not question me, for in this
mystic moment you will get no benefit from me and my words.”

Sahl used to walk on the water without his feet beingso much as moistened.
“People say,” someone observed, “that you walk on water.”
“Ask the muezzin of this mosque,” Sahl replied. “He is a truthful man.”
“I asked him,” the man said. “The muezzin told me, ‘I never saw that. But in these days he entered a pool to wash. He fell into the pool, and if I had not been on the spot he would have died there.’”
When Abu Ali-e Daqqaq heard this story, he commented, “He had many miraculous powers, but he wished to keep them hidden.”

One day Sahl was seated in the mosque when a pigeon dropped to the ground, exhausted by the heat.
“Shah-e Kermani has died,” remarked Sahl.
When they looked into the matter, it proved to be exactly as Sahl said.

Many lions and other wild beasts used to visit Sahl, and he would feed and tend them. Even today Sahl’s house in Tostar is called “the house of the wild beasts.”

After his long vigils and painful austerities Sahl lost his physical control, suffering from blennorrhoea, so much so that he had to go to the privy several times an hour. To ease matters, he always kept a jar handy because he could not govern himself. When the time for prayer came round, however, the flow ceased. He would then perform his ablutions and pray, and resume as before. Whenever he mounted the pulpit, his blennorrhoea ceased completely, and all his pain would vanish. As soon as he came down from the pulpit, his ailment would show itself again. In all this, he never failed to observe even a tittle of the sacred Law.

On the day when Sahl’s demise approached, his four hundred disciples were in attendance at his sickbed.
“Who will sit in your place, and who will preach from your pulpit?” they asked.
Now there was a certain Zoroastrian named ShadhDel.
“Shadh-Del will sit in my place,” answered Sahl, opening his eyes.
“The shaikh has lost his reason,” muttered the disciples.
Having four hundred disciples, all men of learning and religion, he appoints a Zoroastrian to his place!”
“Cease your clamour!” cried Sahl. “Go and bring Shadh-Del to me.”
The disciples fetched the Zoroastrian.
“When three days have elapsed after my death,” Sahl said when his eyes fell on him, “after the afternoon prayers go into my pulpit and sit in my place, and preach to the people.”
With these words Sahl died. Three days later, after the afternoon prayers, as many again assembled.
Shadh-Del entered and mounted the pulpit, while the people stared.
“Whatever is this? A Zoroastrian, with the Magian hat on his head and a girdle tied about his waist!”
“Your leader,” said Shadh-Del, “has made me his messenger to you. He said to me, ‘Shadh-Del, has the time not come for you to cut the Magian girdle?’ Behold, now I cut it.” And he took a knife and cut the girdle. “He also said,” he went on, “ ‘Has the time not come for you to put off the Magian hat from your head?’ Behold I have put it off.” Then Shadh-Del said, “I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Mohammad is the Messenger of God.” He went on, “The shaikh said, say, ‘He who was your shaikh and your master counselled you well, and it is a rule of discipleship to accept the master’s counsel. Behold, Shadh-Del has cut the outward girdle. If you wish to see me at the resurrection, I solemnly adjure you, every one of you, cut your inward girdles.’”
Great commotion arose in the congregation when Shadh-Del finished, and there followed amazing spiritual manifestations.

On the day when Sahl was borne to the grave, many people thronged the streets. Now there was a Jew of seventy years in Tostar; when he heard the noise and  clamour, he ran out to see what was happening. As the procession reached him, he cried out, “Men, do you see what I see? Angels are descending from heaven and stroking his bier with their wings!”
And immediately he uttered the attestation and became a Muslim.

One day Sahl was seated with his companions when a certain man passed by.
“This man holds a secret,” Sahl said.
By the time they looked, the man had gone. After Sahl’s death, one of his disciples was sitting by his grave when the same man passed by.
“Sir,” the disciple addressed him, “the shaikh who lies in this tomb once said that you hold a secret. By that God who has vouchsafed this secret to you, make me a demonstration.”
The man pointed to Sahl’s grave.
“Sahl, speak!” he said.
A voice spoke loudly within the tomb.
“There is no god but God alone, Who has no partner.”
“They say,” said the man, “that whosoever believes that there is no god but God, there is no darkness for him in the grave. Is that true or no?”
Sahl cried from the grave, “It is true!”


Poetry by Sahl al-Tustari

The gnostics' hearts with eyes are blest
English version by Martin Lings
Original Language Persian/Farsi

The gnostics' hearts with eyes are blest
That see what other see'ers see not;
And tongues whose discourse is of secrets
Beyond the recording angels' ken,
And wings that all unfeathered fly
To His dominion, Lord of the Worlds.
We have inherited the draught,
Sciences of hidden secret,
Rarer than all lore of old.
Their samples speak for them as signs
And nullify impostors' claims.

~~~ ◈ ~~~


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Latest aupdate: 2017-08-15