Week 4: Stories of Sufi Saints

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Al-Fozail ibn Iyaz, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

These stories give you some information about Fozail's conversion to the religious life. If you know the story of St. Augustine's conversion, the first story may seem very familiar to you! You then find out how Fozail sought to do penance for the things he had done wrong. Finally, you will see how Fozail reacted when his family came to visit him, a famous holy man now, in the city of Mecca (you might be familiar with a similar incident in the life of Jesus, who also rejected the attentions of his family; see Matthew 12, Mark 3 or Luke 8).

At the beginning of his exploits Fozail was passionately in love with a certain woman, and he always brought her the proceeds of his brigandage. In season and out of season he climbed walls in the infatuation of his passion for the woman, weeping all the while.

One night a caravan was passing, and in the midst of the caravan a man was chanting the Koran. The following verse reached Fozail’s ears: Is it not time that the hearts of those who believe should be humbled to the remembrance of God?

It was as though an arrow pierced his soul, as though that verse had come out to challenge Fozail and say, “O Fozail, how long will you waylay travellers? The time has come when We shall waylay you!”

Fozail fell from the wall, crying, “It is high time indeed, and past high time!”

Bewildered and shamefaced, he fled headlong to a ruin. There a party of travellers was encamped. They said, “Let us go!”

One of them interjected, “We cannot go. Fozail is on the road.”

“Good tidings!” Fozail cried. “He has repented."

“For God’s sake,” Fozail begged a man, “bind me hand and foot and bring me before the Sultan, that he may exercise judgment against me for the many crimes I have committed.”

The man did as he requested. When the Sultan beheld Fozail, he observed in him the marks of righteous folk.

“I cannot do this,” he said. And he ordered him to be returned to his apartment with honour. When he reached the door of the apartment he uttered a loud cry.

“Hark at him shouting!” people remarked. “Perchance he is being beaten.”

“Indeed, I have been sorely beaten,” Fozail replied.

“In what part?” they asked.

“In my soul,” he answered.

Then he went in to his wife. “Wife,” he announced, ‘I would visit God’s House. If you wish, I will set you free.”

“I will never go apart from you,” his wife replied. “Wherever you may be, I will be with you.”

So they set out and in due time came to Mecca, Almighty God making the road easy for them. There he took up residence near the Kaaba, and met some of the Saints. He companioned Imam Abu Hanifa for a while, and many stories are told of his extreme discipline.

In Mecca the gates of oratory were opened to him, and the Meccans thronged to hear him preach.

Soon all the world was talking about him, so that his family and kinsmen set forth from Bavard and came to look upon him. They knocked at his door, but he would not open it. They for their part would not depart, so Fozail mounted the roof of his house.

“What idlers you are!” he cried to them. “God give you employment!”

He spoke many such words, till they all wept and were beside themselves. Finally, despairing of enjoying his society, they went away. He still remained on the roof and did not open the door.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what "chance" event brought about Fozail's conversion?
  • why did the Sultan refuse to beat Fozail? why did Fozail scream out loud anyway?
  • what did Fozail do when his family came to see him in Mecca?


Source: Attar, Muslim Saints and Mystics (Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliya, or Memorial of the Saints). Translated by A. J. Arberry. 1966. Website: Omphaloskepsis.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM