Abu Bakr Shibli
He was born in Baghdad or Samarra, although his family was originally from Khorasan in Persia. He was a high official of Baghdad before he embarked on the spiritual path and became a disciple of Junayd Baghdadi. His name is mentioned by the Persian poets Attar, Rumi and Sanai. He was also associated with Hallaj. According to one source, he was in a constant state of jadhb and was finally committed to an asylum. Others assert that he feigned madness.
Attributed to him is the saying: "O people! I go to place beyond which these is no beyond. I go to the south and the north, to a place beyond which is there is no beyond. Everything that I saw after that I could see in one hair of my little finger."
Shibli was imprisoned many times by the Caliph despite his influence and enormous wealth. Shibli went into self-imposed exile and began searching for divinity. Meanwhile, in the Sultanate, the Caliph realised that Shibli had not committed any wrongdoing and a search party was sent out to find him. The ministers were carrying a set of royal robes that the Caliph had sent for Shibli. They offered it to Shibli saying that a decree had been passed reinstating him and that he could return without fear of being prosecuted. Shibli took the robes and wiped his sweating face with them.
Shocked at such demeaning behaviour, the officials reported the incident to the Caliph. Shibli was charged with contempt. Shibli responded: “O great Caliph! You are annoyed because I did not accept your gift and return to you. How angry that great God should be that even after he gave me the robe of His divine love I shunted all His duties and went about aimlessly in this world forgetting Him every moment? This body is given by Him, yet I ignored Him. Shouldn’t He be angry?” The Caliph thought that Shibli was mad, revoked his order of restitution and threw him out of the palace. Shibli fled to the desert.
Then he met Abul-Qasim Mohammad Al-Junayd and recognised his spiritual greatness: “O revered One! You have the jewel of heaven with you. I also want to have it.” In reply Junayd smiled and said, “You have to struggle and undergo several hardships to attain that jewel.” Junayd told him: “You were a high officer under the Caliph. Now go and trade salt in the market in the main town for a year.” Shibli did as he was bade and plunged headlong into the business. He was mocked but remained calm. At the end of a year, Shibli returned to Junayd who said: “Not much though! The improvement is only marginal. Still a really long way to go till you begin to have a glimpse of your goal. So, now go and beg food in Baghdad for a year.”
Shibli set off to beg food in Baghdad, where he had enjoyed an enormous amount of clout. “Do you realise your true worth now at least?” asked Junayd one day. A year thus passed. Junayd bade Shibli to go around the kingdom and beg pardon from all those he had wronged during his tenure in the Caliph’s court. This took him four years. Upon his return, Junayd told him to beg for another year. In the last year of begging, people gave him food and other things generously. They had come to know of Shibli’s honesty and integrity. Shibli deposited what he received at the feet of Junayd, who distributed it to the needy. This lasted seven to eight years. One day Junayd asked Shibli, “How do you feel now?” Shibli replied, “I deem myself the meanest of God’s creatures.” Junayd embraced his worthy disciple. Abu Bakr-Ibn-Jahdar-Ash-Shibli had become a Saint.
Shibli preached to others to repeat Allah’s name incessantly for emancipation. However, the moment he realised that their repetitions were only outward and not bursts of devotion, he stopped advocating the chanting of the name as a spiritual practice. One day he heard a divine voice speak: “How long will you hold on to the Name. Go for the Named.” He began experiencing the longing for God to the core. He roamed all over the land crying for God. He tried to commit suicide, but was not successful. He jumped into the waters but was washed ashore. He jumped into fire but came out unscathed. A divine voice told him: “He who has surrendered to God, who is dead to all worldly phenomena, cannot be harmed by the elements.” Shibli’s doubts were cleared but people considered him mad. Ten times he was chained to a post, whipped and confined to in a cell. On festival days, Shibli wore a black, mourning gown. People objected to his behaviour and asked: “Why this? What are you mourning for on the day of joy?” Shibli replied, “I am mourning because people don’t have love for God but are only outwardly happy. In my opinion it is an occasion of immense sorrow.” “Are we not lovers of God,” the people asked then. Shibli pointed out to a block of firewood burning there. “It should be like that firewood,” said he. “How,” the people asked. They could not understand. “See the fire is burning at one end and water is coming out from the other end. If the fire of love for God is burning in the heart, the sure sign is tears of love inundating the eyes not outer joy."
Illness and death
Shibli would squeeze himself into a small hole not even big enough for a small animal and sit there crying and praying. If he grew sleepy, he rubbed salt into his eyes. If that failed, he would beat himself severely with a stick. His voice changed and his words were charged with the fire of truth. Junayd blessed his disciple and declared that he had achieved the Ultimate Vision of Supreme Reality. But his harsh way of life took its toll. Shibli’s health gave way. His admirers gathered to have their last glimpse of him and pay him their respects. One of Shibli’s followers, Abu-Mohammad-Sheikh-Ruzbihan-Baqli, continued his teachings.
- Leonard Lewisohn, "The Heritage of Sufism: Classical Persian Sufism from its origins to Rumi", the University of Michigan, 1999. pg 53: "Two Persian Sufis - Mansur Hallaj and Abu Bakr Shibli (d. 945), the latter from Samarqand by origin but born origin in Baghdad"
- Naveed, Sheikh. "Shaykh Abu Bakr Shibli_02 27 Zil Haj." Flickr. Yahoo!, 28 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/27557541@N03/5214708633/in/photostream/>.
- S.H. Nasr, "Philosophy and Cosmology" in William Bayne Fisher and Richard Nelson Frye, The Cambridge History of Iran (Vol 4.), Cambridge University Press, 1975. pp 455
- Leonard Lewisohn, The Heritage of Sufism: Classical Persian Sufism from its origins to Rumi, University of Michigan, 1999
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