by Dr. G.F. Haddad

Al-Sulamī, Muh.ammad ibn al-H.usayn ibn Muh.ammad ibn Mūsā, Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān al-Azdī al-Sulamī al-Naysabūrī al-Shāfi‘ī (325-412), the h.adīth Master, Shaykh of the S.ūfīs, and bibliophile who authored hundreds of books, “he was of very high status” (al-Dhahabī), “the Shaykh of the Path in his time who was granted mastery in all the sciences of the realities and knowledge of the path of tas.awwuf, he authored many wondrous treatises in the science of the Folk, having inherited tas.awwuf from his father then his grandfather, and he authored, in that field, an unprece­dented amount of works, exceeding one hundred” (‘Abd al-Ghāfir al-Fārisī). He came from a mod­est home and was orphaned of his Azdī father – reputed for his refined manners and scrupu­lous transactions – in his teens, after which his maternal, Sulamī grandfather took charge of his education.

He narrated from al-Dāraqut.nī, Abū al-‘Abbās al-As.amm, Ah.mad ibn ‘Alī ibn H.asnūyah al-Muqri’, Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn ‘Abdūs, Muh.ammad ibn Ah.mad ibn Sa‘īd al-Rāzī, Ibn Wārah, Abū Z.uhayr ‘Abd Allāh ibn Fāris al-‘Umarī al-Balkhī, Muh.ammad ibn al-Mu’ammal al-Māsarjisī, the h.adīth Master Abū ‘Alī al-H.usayn ibn Muh.ammad al-Naysabūrī, Sa‘īd ibn al-Qāsim al-Barda‘ī, Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn Rumayh. al-Nasawī, and his grandfa­ther Abū ‘Amr Ismā‘īl ibn Nujayd ibn Muh.addith Naysabūr Ah.mad ibn Yūsuf al-Sulamī. It is related that he began to narrate as early at age eight, in 333, in writing, from his Shaykh, Abū Bakr al-S.ibghī. He did narrate occasionally from Abū Nu‘aym al-As.bahānī although the latter was his junior of five years.

Among those who narrated from him: al-H.ākim, al-Qushayrī, al-Bayhaqī, Abū Sa‘īd ibn Rāmish, Abū Bakr Muh.ammad ibn Yah. ibn Ibrāhīm al-Muzakkī, Abū S.ālih. al-Mu’adhdhin, the leader (ra’īs) of As.bahān Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Qāsim ibn al-Fad.l ibn Ah.mad al-Thaqafī al-Jūbārī (d. 489), Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wā al-Wakīl, known as al-Munkadirī, al-Qād.ī Ah.mad ibn ‘Alī ibn al-H.usayn al-Tawwazī from both of whom al-Khat.īb narrates the notice on al-Sulamī in his Tārīkh Baghdād –, Abū Bakr Ah.mad ibn ‘Alī ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Shīrāzī al-Naysabūrī the Musnid of Khurāsān, Abū H.āmid Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad al-Ghazzālī al-T.ūsī the Elder, of Transoxiana (d. 435) – the uncle or great-uncle of H.ujjat al-Islām –, Abū Muh.ammad al-Juwaynī the father of Imām al-H.aramayn, ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Ah.mad ibn ‘Uthmān al-Azharī, one of al-Khat.īb’s most famous Shaykhs, ‘Alī ibn Sulaymān ibn Dāwūd al-Khat.ībī of Awzakand in Transoxiana, his close friend and scribe the h.adīth Master Abū Mans.ūr ‘Umar ibn Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad al-Jūrī al-Naysabūrī (d. 469), the jurist Abū H.afs. ‘Umar ibn Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar al-Marwazī al-Jis.s.īnī, the Persian S.ūfī poet Fad.l Allāh Abū Sa‘īd ibn Abī al-Khayr al-Mayhanī, Abū Bakr Mu­h.ammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Muh.ammad al-Naysabūrī al-Tiflīsī, Abū al-H.asan Mahdī ibn Muh.ammad ibn al-‘Abbās al-T.abarī al-Māmat.īrī, known as Ibn Sarhank, Abū Bakr Muh.ammad ibn al-Qāsim ibn H.abīb ibn ‘Abdūs al-S.affār, Abū al-Qāsim Ismā‘īl ibn Zāhir ibn Muh.ammad al-Nūqānī al-Naysabūrī, and others.

He wrote h.adīth in Naysabūr, Marw, Iraq, and the H.ijāz, and narrated h.adīth for over forty years, by dictation and reading, forming several major Masters. His works became well-known and spread far and wide in his own lifetime. He also took tas.awwuf from the Ma­lāmatī Shaykhs Ibn Munāzil and Abū ‘Alī al-Thaqafī in Khurāsān as well as from the students of Abū ‘Uthmān al-H.īrī, Abū Nas.r al-Sarrāj the author of al-Luma‘, his grandfa­ther Abū ‘Amr ibn Nujayd, and Abū al-Qāsim al-Nas.rābādhī, with whom he would attend h.adīth gatherings.

                Al-Khat.īb narrates that Abū al-Qāsim al-Qushayrī said that when his teacher, Abū ‘Alī al-Daqqāq, heard that al-Sulamī practiced samā‘ in the fashion of the Fuqarā’ – the S.ūfīs – he said: “For such as him, in his state, stillness would have been more appropriate.” Then al-Daqqāq said to Abū al-Qāsim: “Go to him, you will find him sitting in his library. On top of his books you will find a small square red volume containing the poetry of al-H.usayn ibn Mans.ūr [al-H.allāj]. Bring it to me without letting him know.” Al-Qushayrī went and found al-Sulamī in his library and the book in full view as his teacher had said. He sat down then al-Sulamī said: “A certain man used to criticize one of the Ulema for moving during samā‘. That man was glimpsed one day, in the privacy his house, whirling like one overwhelmed with emotion. He was asked why and replied, ‘A difficult question had been on my mind which makes sense to me now, so I could not control myself out of joy, and got up and whirled around.’ We say to him: Such is their state.” When al-Qushayrī, on the one hand, saw exactly what Abū ‘Alī had described as he had described it and, on the other hand, Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān speaking as if to address what Abū ‘Alī had said in private before, he found himself in a dilemma. He decided to reveal everything to al-Sulamī and told him: “I fear to offend you and yet cannot disobey my teacher.” Al-Sulamī said: “Take the book and tell him I sometimes cite excerpts from this poetry in my works.”[1]

                Al-Qushayrī narrates that al-Sulamī asked Abū ‘Alī al-Daqqāq: “What is more perfect, invocation (dhikr) or reflection (fikr)?” Al-Daqqāq replied: “What is it that constitutes a spiritual opening for the Shaykh?” Al-Sulamī said: “For me, dhikr is more perfect because the Real (al-H.aqq) is described by dhikr and not by reflection.” Abū ‘Alī approved.

                Al-Sulamī said: “The root of tas.awwuf is adherence to the Book and the Sunna; aban­donment of lusts and innovations; high respect of the Shaykhs; sight of the excuses of creatures; and perseverance in the recitation of daily devotions.”[2]

                One day al-Sulamī went to Marw only to find that his teacher Abū Sahl al-Su‘lūkī had replaced his gathering of early-morning Qur’an recitation with a gathering of poetry recita­tion. Later, Abū Sahl asked: “Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān, what do the people say about me?” Al-Sulamī replied: “They say, he has replaced the gathering of Qur’an recitation with a gath­ering of poetry recita­tion.” Abū Sahl said: “Whoever says to his Shaykh: ‘Why?’ shall never succeed.” Al-Dhahabī comments: “Only if he is infallible; but if the Shaykh is not in­fal­lible and yet hates questioning then he shall never succeed. Allāh I said [help one an­other unto righteousness and pious duty] (5:2), [and exhort one another to truth] (103:3), [and exhort one another to pity] (90:17). True, now the murīds are peevish boors, always objecting and never following, talking and not acting – such shall never succeed.”

                Al-Sulamī narrated with his chain from Ibn al-Mubārak that the latter said: “It is in­cumbent upon a wise person that he not make light of three things: Ulema, Sultans, and brothers. Whoever makes light of the Ulema, his hereafter is lost; whoever makes light of the Sultan, his worldly life is lost; and whoever makes light of his brothers, his dignity is lost.” Al-Dhahabī cites it.

Al-Khat.īb wrote in his Tārīkh Baghdād: “Muh.ammad ibn Yūsuf al-Naysabūrī [al-Qat.t.ān] said to me, ‘Al-Sulamī was untrustworthy and used to forge narrations for the S.ūfīs.’” Al-Khat.īb then says: “Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān is held in the highest esteem by the people of his country, his rank in his community is great, and he is, in addition to this, an authority in h.adīth.”[3] Al-Qat.t.ān was a contemporary Naysabūrī countryman of al-Sulamī who did not achieve the latter’s fame. Sibt. Ibn al-Jawzī rejects his condemnation as motivated by envy.[4] Al-Dhahabī in his Mīzān and Mughnī endorses the disparagement while his student Ibn al-Subkī rejects it: “Al-Khat.īb’s statement concerning al-Sulamī is the cor­rect position, Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān is trustworthy (thiqa), and [al-Qat.t.ān’] criticism of him carries no weight at all.”[5] Al-Khat.īb further said of al-Sulamī, “He was a profi­cient (mujawwid) authority in h.adīth” while al-H.ākim said, “He was pro­lific in his auditions and narration of h.adīth and me­ticulous in narration.” Al-Dhahabī himself states in the Siyar: “Al-Sulamī has a compilation of questions he put to al-Dāraqut.nī on the status of the Shaykhs of h.adīth that reveal high expertise…. but he is not strong in h.adīth.”

Al-Sulamī had gathered a large library of books and manuscripts on tas.awwuf and h.adīth from which  the Shaykhs of Naysabūr borrowed at will. He used to spend time in his library, reading and writing. He achieved, in the words of Abū Nu‘aym, “complete mas­tery of the ways of the S.ūfīs so as to summarize it according to the elaborations of the ancients.”[6] He began to author books in his twenties and did not stop until his death fifrty-odd years later. Among his works:

·         Ādāb al-S.ūfiyya.

·         Ādāb wa H.usn al-‘Ushra which begins, “Glory to Allāh Who has im­mensely honored the elite of His servants with intimate friendship in the Religion, and raised them so as to show generosity towards His sincere servants….”

·         Amthāl al-Qur’ān.

·         Al-Arba‘īn fī al-H.adīth on simple living and asceticism. This work was published by Dā’irat al-Ma‘ārif al-‘Uthmāniyya al-Niz.āmiyya in H.aydarabād.

·         Bayān Ah.wāl al-S.ūfiyya.

·         Darajāt al-Mu‘āmalāt, an explanatory glossary of S.ūfī terminology.

·         Darajāt al-S.ādiqīn.

·         Al-Farq bayn al-Sharī‘a wal-H.aqīqa.

·         Al-Futuwwa (“Spiritual Chivalry ”), in print. Its translation is also in print.

·         Ghalat.āt al-S.ūfiyya, a critique of certain S.ūfī interjections (shat.āh.āt) and refutation of those who forward indwelling, incarnationism, and the uncreatedness of the soul.

·         H.aqā’iq al-Tafsīr, a S.ūfī commentary on the Qur’ān that achieved fame already in al-Sulamī’s lifetime but later became controversial. Al-Sulamī said: “When we came to Baghdād, Shaykh Abū H.āmid al-Isfarāyīnī said to me, ‘I would like to see H.aqā’iq al-Tafsīr.’ I sent him a copy and he looked at it. Then he said, ‘I would like to hear it,’ and they set up a pulpit for me.” Al-Khashshāb narrated in his biog­raphy of al-Sulamī that after Abū al-‘Abbās al-Nasawī heard the H.aqā’iq from him and went to Egypt to transmit it, he re­ceived a gift of one thousand dinars solely for transmitting that work. Ibn al-Jawzī said that the work was entirely origi­nal, “without reference to the principles of the Religion,”[7] while al-Dhahabī ex­claims: “He au­thored H.aqā’iq al-Tafsīr in which he included cruxes and the figurative in­ter­preta­tions of the eso­te­ricists (al-bāt.iniyya) we ask Allāh for mercy! …. Would that he had not com­piled it…. It is Qarmat.ism.… He com­mit­ted much distortion (tah.rīf) [or folly (takhrīf)] in it.”[8] Ibn al-S.alāh. in his Fatāwā reports from al-Wāh.idī the opinion that who­ever considers the H.aqā’iq an actual Tafsīr has com­mitted kufr then says: “In my view, the conjecture regarding those who are trusted is that, in such a case, they mean other than actual tafsīr or explanation of the word mentioned in the Noble Qur’ān. Otherwise, they would have trodden the path of the esoteri­cists. In fact, they only mention the parallel (naz.īr) of what the Qur’ān mentioned. Thus, the [spiritual] parallel is mentioned together with the [Qur’anic] parallel. So, when they mention killing one’s ego with reference to the verse [Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you] (9:123), it is as if he said, ‘Allāh has commanded us to fight the ego as well as those of the believers who are near us.’ And yet, I wish they had not been so lax in such interpretations due to the misunderstandings and misconceptions they contain, and Allāh knows best.”[9] Al-Suyūt.ī mentioned this fatwā in his Itqān after stating, “The dis­courses of the S.ūfīs concerning the Qur’ān are not tafsīr,” elsewhere de­scribing the H.aqā’iq as “a dis­praised Tafsīr.”[10] Ibn al-Subkī said: “Al-Dhahabī should not at­tribute ‘very high status’ to one to whom he then attributes distortion and Qar­mat.ism. The book he refers to has caused much talk due to the fact that it con­fines itself to the mention of figurative interpretations in a manner appropriate to the S.ūfīs and keeps at bay the outward sense of the words.” The work is in print in two volumes.

·         Al-Ikhwatu wal-Akhawāt min al-S.ūfiyya.

·         Al-Istishhādāt.

·         Jawāmi‘ Ādāb al-S.ūfiyya which begins, “Glory to Allāh Who has adorned His friends with the high manners of externals and internals…. I thought of gathering together something about the ethics of the Masters of spiritual states and the early friends of Allāh…”

·         Al-Malāmatiyya, an expository epistle that was published in Cairo in 1945.

·         Manāhij al-‘Ārifīn.

·         Maqāmāt al-Awliyā’ (“The Spiritual Stations of the Friends of Allāh”). Shaykh Muh.yī al-Dīn Ibn ‘Arabī used it for his epistle Muh.ād.arāt al-Abrār.

·         Masā’il Waradat min Makka.

· al-S.ūfiyya (“The Trials of the S.ūfīs”).

·         Al-Muqaddima fī al-Tas.awwuf wa H.aqīqatih, in print.

·         Al-Radd ‘alā Ahl al-Kalām.

·         Al-Samā‘.

·         Al-Su’ālāt, technical questions al-Sulamī put to the major h.adīth Master al-Dāraqut.nī on narrators and h.adīth minutiae.

·         Sulūk al-‘Ārifīn.

·         Sunan al-S.ūfiyya.

·         T.abaqāt al-S.ūfiyya, al-Sulamī’s biographical masterpiece, in which he built upon and expanded previous works such as Shaykh al-Islām Abū Saīd Ibn al-A‘rābī’s (d. 341) T.abaqāt al-Nussāk; his teacher Abū Bakr Muh.ammad ibn Dāwūd ibn Sulaymān al-Naysabūrī’s (d. 342) Akhbār al-S.ūfiyya wa al-Zuhhād; and Abū al-‘Abbās Ah.mad ibn Muh.ammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Nasawī’s (d. 396) Tārīkh al-S.ūfiyya. Among its continuations are al-Harawī al-Ans.ārī’s (d. 481) T.abaqāt al-S.ūfiyya in Persian, Abū Nu‘aym’s H.ilyat al-Awliyā’, al-Jāmī’s Nafah.āt al-Uns in Persian, and al-Sha‘rānī’s Lawāqih. al-Anwār fī T.abaqāt al-Akhyār. Abū Muslim Ghālib ibn ‘Alī al-Rāzī said that when they read al-Sulamī’s T.abaqāt in Ray for the first time in 384 there was such a crowd that a boy got trampled to death and a man died from the emotion of hearing the work: “Then, when I departed for Hama­dhān, crowds were following us for a full leg of travel, ask­ing for certificates of transmission.” Its excellent edition by the Azharī Shaykh Nūr al-Dīn Shurayba is pre­ceded by a overview of al-Sulamī’s works in manuscript and print.

·         Tahdhīb al-Nāsikh wal-Mansūkh fil-Qur’ān li Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī.

·         Tārīkh Ahl al-S.uffa, listing their names and merits, which Abū Nu‘aym used.

·         Tārīkh al-S.ūfiyya, compiled before the T.abaqāt al-S.ūfiyya. Al-Dhahabī and Abū Nu‘aym quote from it extensively in Tārīkh al-Islām and the H.ilya respectively. ‘Abd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī wrote in his Us.ūl al-Dīn:

The book Tārīkh al-S.ūfiyya by Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān al-Sulamī comprises the biogra­phies of nearly a thou­sand sheikhs of the Sūfīs, none of whom be­longed to he­reti­cal sects and all of whom were of the Sunnī community, with the excep­tion of only three of them: Abū H.ilmān of Damascus, who pre­tended to be of the Sūfīs but actually be­lieved in incar­na­tionism (h.ulūl); H.usayn ibn Mans.ūr al-H.allāj, whose case remains problematic, though Ibn Khafīf and Abū al-Qāsim al-Nas.rābādhī approved of him [as did al-Qushayrī, Ibn ‘At.ā’ Allāh, and the­balīs Ibn ‘Aqīl, Ibn Qudāma, and al-T.ūfī]; and al-Qannād, whom the S.ūfīs accused of being a Mu‘tazilī and rejected, for the good does not accept the wicked.

·         ‘Uyūb al-Nafs wa Mudārātuhā.

·         Was.iyya.

·         Zilal al-Faqr.

·         Al-Zuhd. This work consists in narrations from the first three generations: the Companions, the Successors, and their Successors.

Muh.ammad ibn Ma’mūn narrated: “I was with the Shaykh Abū ‘Abd al-Rah.mān al-Sulamī in Baghdād when he said to me, ‘Come and let me show you a young man the like of whom there is none in the ranks of the S.ūfīs nor in the ranks of the students of fiqh, nor is there anyone with better manners.’ He took me by the hand and we went to al-Bāfī’s circle, where he showed me the Shaykh Abū Bakr [Muh.ammad ibn Bakr ibn Muh.ammad] al-T.ūsī [al-Nawqānī al-Naysabūrī]” – the teacher of Imām al-Qushayrī in fiqh.[11]

Towards the end of his life al-Sulamī built a small retreat-house (khāniqāh) for the S.ūfīs in Naysabūr, which al-Khat.īb saw when he visited the town. When al-Sulamī died, he was buried there.[12]


[1]Narrated by al-Khat.īb in Tārīkh Baghdād (2:248-249).

[2]Al-Dhahabī, Siyar (13:154).

[3]Al-Khat.īb, Tārīkh (2:284).

[4]Sibt. Ibn al-Jawzī, Mir’āt al-Zamān (Year 412).

[5]Dr. Nūr al-Dīn ‘Itr echoed Ibn al-Subkī’s words when I asked him about the reported discreditation. In his edition of al-Mughnī al-D.u‘afā’ (2:184 #5434), in the margin of al-Dhahabī’s words, “He does not have strong credentials… He forged narrations for the S.ūfīs… He committed much distortion (tah.rīf) [or folly (takhrīf)] in H.aqā’iq al-Tafsīr,” ‘Itr wrote: “The truthful and ascetic h.adīth Master who singled himself out with cer­tain narra­tions. Al-Khat.īb said, ‘He was a proficient authority in h.adīth.’ Al-H.ākim said, ‘He was pro­lific in his auditions and narration of h.adīth and meticulous in it.’ See Tadhkirat al-H.uffāz. and the Lisān.”

[6]Abū Nu‘aym, H.ilya (2:25).

[7]Ibn al-Jawzī, Talbīs Iblīs (p. 164).

[8]Al-Dhahabī, Tadhkirat al-H.uffāz. (3:1046) and Siyar (13:158).

[9]Ibn al-S.alāh., Fatāwā (1:196-197 #44).

[10]Al-Suyūt.ī, al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān (2:1218), and T.abaqāt al-Mufassirīn (p. 31).

[11]Ibn al-Subkī, T.abaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyya al-Kubrā (4:121).

[12]Ibn al-Subkī, T.abaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyya al-Kubrā (4:143-147 #321); al-Dhahabī, Siyar (13:152-158 #3766); Nūr al-Dīn Shurayba, introduction to T.abaqāt al-S.ūfiyya.