The fifth century of the Hijrah was the most critical period in the history of the Muslim World. Outwardly, it was the period of the great glory for the Arabs and Muslims in general. They held political sway over a major portion of the world known to man in those days; their rule extended from China in the Far-East to Morocco in the West and from their seat of power in Spain they were wielding the fortunes of Europe. The interior of India had also begun to unfold itself hospitably to Muslims whence the banner of Islam had to be carried further east, in the East Indies.
But, in spite of all this outward grandeur, the Muslim Ummah was drifting further and further away from the teachings of Islam and exactly in the same proportion it was undergoing a slow but sure process of decay. When a mighty empire and an old civilization begin to collapse, it is almost invariably accompanied by a grand show of prosperity and culture of the most sensate nature. The same was the case with the Muslim world during the period in question. The big towns which were the cultural centres were, as though, paved with gold and silver and every pleasure which could be bought with wealth was available most abundantly. Slave girls coming from different parts of the world were sold in the open market and none ever questioned the validity of the transaction. These very slave girls were taught music, songs and dances and were made to exhibit their art in public and private gatherings. The noble-men vied each other in the show of wealth and the masses followed their example. The crave for wealth was ever on the increase, so much so that even the caliphs did not hesitate in extracting wealth through unlawful means. In short the whole society had become corrupt and was evincing the signs of an immediate collapse.
Birth and Education
Amidst such circumstances was born a child who was to heal the ailing body of the Ummah with his spiritual power of an unsurpassed magnitude. It was none other than the Holy person of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (R.A.).
He was born to noble and pious parents who had just enough means to lead a hand-to-mouth life. The father,Abu Saleh, died before the Sheikh had attained adult-hood. Son of a poor widow living in a remote village in the district of Jilan, the Sheikh began to have visions, even the bullocks at the plough seemed to talk to him about his mission which was not to cultivate the land but to cultivate the souls.
Impressed by what was suggested to him by the whispering winds, by the murmuring brooks and what swelled from within himself as an inner urge, he got permission from his noble mother to travel to Baghdad for the acquisition of education.
Devotion and Self-Exertion
In Baghdad at the age of eighteen, the very heaven of the pleasure seekers, nothing was wanting except the will to enjoy the worldly pleasures and satisfy the lust. But it was not what he had been created for. The mission of his life was quite different. He had to purify and heal the ailing souls and that was possible for him only by acquainting himself thoroughly with the teachings of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah.
The Sheikh devoted himself to the studies of Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh and Arabic Language and Literature. He was so busy with his studies that he could spare no time for his livelihood. The forty gold coins he had brought with him were soon over on account of his generous disposition and he had to go starving. Forced by hunger, he would often go out in the wilderness and satisfy his hunger by eating the herbs which grew wild. It is painful to imagine a promising youth suffering the pangs of hunger in a city like Baghdad wherein all delicacies of the world abound. But the Sheikh would not beg anything of a mortal. He had flung himself entirely on the will of God and was undergoing a period of hard training.
Asceticism – A Test of Religious Truths
In 503 of the Hijrah, the Sheikh completed his academic education and became a full=fledged scholar of religion. He even surpassed other scholars of religion of his time in the depth of his knowledge, but a mere theoretical knowledge would not satisfy him. He wanted to put his knowledge to test and learn the truths of religion through his personal experience.
Few of us realise the need of putting the religious concepts to test and knowing the truth through personal experience. It is essential at least for the scholars of religion, if not for the layman. Even a Prophet like Abraham (A.S.) prayed to God:
“O Lord: Pray show me how doth Thou bringeth back the dead to life.”
The Lord replied:
“Did thou not believe in it.”
Then he replied:
“Yea (I believe) but that my heart might rest satisfied.”
Then the Lord showed him how He brings back the dead to life. It was a miracle given to a great Prophet, and miracles of lesser importance are given to those who seek the truth sincerely and devotedly, as the Holy Qur’aan says:
“Those who strive in Our Cause, we shall surely show them the path leading to us.”
From 503 to 521 of the Hijrah, the Sheikh lived the rigid life of an ascetic. He would pray during the night and fast during the day and lived in solitude in constant meditation. Without proper food and clothes and even without shoes, he would pass silently through the gay streets of Baghdad and was soon became known as a lunatic. Tired of the loathsome surroundings of Baghdad the Sheikh later on began to live in the ancient ruins of the Persian Emperors. There was an old and crumbling tower in which he lived for quite a long time which came to be known by the people as ‘the Tower of the Ajami’ because of the Sheikh.
The person of God is the Centre of religion and the essence of the religious teachings is the love of God, trust in Him and submission to His will. The Sheikh was so absorbed in the love of God that often he would go into a state of trance, a state in which he would lose even the consciousness of his own person. Often he would experience it while walking and after regaining consciousness he would find himself at a distance of hundreds of miles from where he had started.
Once, in a state of great love and trust, the Sheikh vowed that he would not take any food or drink unless it was placed in his mouth. He was then living in the ruined tower which was avoided by people on account of its ghastly look and also on account of the Sheikh who was considered a lunatic. For many days he lay in the tower without food or drink; it was a test on both sides. The vow was not known to anybody except God, but one day a saintly person came to the Sheikh and fed him with his own hand. The vow was fulfilled. The Holy Prophet (P.b.u.h.) has said:
“There is many a person with disheveled hair and shabby clothes who takes a vow in the name of God and God fulfils it.”
Public Life – A Saviour
Thus did the Sheikh continue to live from 503 to 521 of the Hijrah until he achieved his aim and was thoroughly enlightened by the Grace of God. It was time that he appeared in the public and guided mankind along the right path.
In 521 of the Hijrah when the Sheikh felt that he should now begin with his mission of healing the sick souls he found that necessary provision was existing. One of the men who knew the secret of the Sheikh offered a building to be used by him as a seminary and the Sheikh accepted the offer. He taught his students the Holy Qur’aan, the traditions of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him), the Islamic Law and Arabic language and literature. Naturally, the students of such a teacher proved in latter stages of life as leaders of great spiritual calibre and busied themselves in reforming and uplifting the society to the best of their capacity.
Apart from teaching and writing Fatwa, the Sheikh also undertook the mission of reforming the public by delivering sermons. He made it a habit of delivering three sermons a week in different localities of Baghdad. The first lecture was attended by two or three listeners; the number of the listeners continued to grow with surprising rapidity until it reached the figure of seventy thousand or more. He spoke the same Arabic language as others spoke. He also had the short-coming of being an ‘Ajami’ whose mother tongue was not Arabic. If it were a short-coming, yet his lectures proved more effective and more moving and enlightening than those of any other leader and speaker of his time. The reason is that the Sheikh did not only quote from the books, as did others, he spoke out of faith, out of conviction and out of his personal experience. Iqbal, the Poet of the East says:
“The speech which comes right from the heart has its effect on the hearts of the listeners though it has no feathers, it soars high (in people’s esteem)”.
The sermons of the Sheikh had a great effect on his audience. They wailed and wept and repented on their sinful ways and returned with a determination of reforming themselves. Hundreds of Jews and Christians embraced Islam. Thousands of sinners repented and reformed themselves. Baghdad, which formerly seemed to be a doomed city, now began to assume a different look. It was in fact a spiritual renaissance.
The spiritual power which the Sheikh wielded and the respect and regard which he commanded among the public made the government officers and even the caliph fear him. They had to forsake their sinful, unlawful and unconstitutional ways lest the Sheikh should criticise them in public. It went a long way towards the restoration of law, order and justice, while the property and honour of the common masses were secured.
Once the Caliph appointed a person as the Chief Justice of Baghdad. This person was a notorious tyrant and was unfit for the post. When the announcement was made people were greatly disturbed as they felt themselves insecure in the hands of the tyrant, but they were afraid to protest for fear of the wrath of the Caliph. The Sheikh then came forward and directed a volley of strong protest in his sermons against the appointment of such a tyrant to such a noble post. The protest had its effect and it was not long before the Caliph issued orders for the dismissal of the tyrant.
The Caliph knew that force could not be resorted to against the Sheikh, so he resorted to temptation. Once he presented to the Sheikh several bags full of gold coins and requested him to accept them as a present. The Sheikh was angry to see such impudence. He cast an angry look at the Caliph and reproached him for extracting the very life-blood of his subjects in the form of gold coins. As the Caliph looked at the bags he felt as if blood were dripping from them. The vision had such a strong effect on him that he fainted away.
The Sheikh continued to deliver his sermons and teach in his seminary for a period of forty years. His hard work ended only when he breathed his last in 561 of the Hijrah. But before he passed away to his final abode he had filled the world of Islam with a fresh religious zeal and rid it of its various ailments of the religious, moral, spiritual and political nature. His numerous books and the sermons he had delivered are still available for readers and serve as a source of spiritual enlightenment.