Week 4: Stories of Sufi Saints

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Ebrahim ibn Adham, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

In this pair of stories you will see Ebrahim's behavior contrasted with the behavior of another group of Sufis. Ebrahim is on his way to Mecca, and he has various mystical encounters, including a meeting with Khezr. Along the way he finds 70 men, wearing the patchwork robes of Sufis, lying dead in the desert: he finds out that they were killed by God as a result of their having forgotten God in their joy at meeting Khezr. The next story then shows that Ebrahim is much more humble as he goes to Mecca. He is not going to be deflected from his religious purpose by any kind of honor or flattery.

Ebrahim ibn Adham goes to Mecca

When the fame of Ebrahim ibn Adham’s doings spread abroad amongst men, he fled from the cave and set out towards Mecca. In the desert he encountered one of the great men of the Faith, who taught him the Greatest Name of God and then took his departure. Ebrahim called upon God by that Name, and immediately he beheld Khezr, upon whom be peace.

“Ebrahim,” said Khezr, “that was my brother David who taught you the Greatest Name.”

Then many words passed between Khezr and Ebrahim. Khezr was the first who drew Ebrahim out, by the leave of God.

Ebrahim relates as follows concerning the next stage of his pilgrimage.

“\On reaching Dhat al-‘Erq I saw seventy men wearing the patchwork frock lying dead there, the blood gushing out of their noses and ears. Circling them, I found one who still had a spark of life in him. “‘Young man,’ I cried, ‘what has happened here?’

“‘Son of Adham,’ he answered me, ‘keep to the water and the prayer-niche. Go not far away, lest you be banished; and come not too near, lest you be anguished. Let no man be overbold in the presence of Sultan. Have a lively fear of the Friend who slays pilgrims as if they were Greek infidels, and wages war upon pilgrims. We were a Sufi community who had set out into the desert trusting in God, resolved not to utter one word, to think of naught but God, to move and be still only with God in view and to heed none but Him. When we had crossed the desert and were come to the place where pilgrims robe themselves in white, Khezr, upon whom be peace, came to us. We greeted him, and he returned our salute, and we were very happy, saying, “Praise be to God, the journey was blessed, the quester has reached his quest, for such a holy person came out to meet us.” Forthwith a voice cried within us, “You liars and pretenders, such were your words and covenant! You forgot Me, and busied yourselves with another. Depart! I will not make peace with you until I snatch away your souls in recompense and shed your blood with the sword of jealous wrath.” These brave men whom you see lying here are all victims of this retaliation. Beware, Ebrahim! You too have the same ambition. Halt, or depart far away!'

“‘Why did they spare you, then?’ I asked, deeply perplexed by his words.

“‘They told me, “They are ripe, you are still raw. Live on a few moments yet, and you too will be ripe. When you are ripe, you too will come in their wake.”’ So saying, he gave up the ghost.

Ebrahim was fourteen years crossing the desert, praying and humbling himself all the way. When he drew near to Mecca, the elders of the Haram hearing of his approach came out to meet him. He thrust himself ahead of the caravan so that no one might recognize him. The servants preceded the elders, and they saw Ebrahim going ahead of the caravan; but not having seen him before, they did not recognize him. Coming up to him, they cried, “Ebrahim ibn Adham is near at hand. The elders of the Haram have come out to meet him.”

“What do you want of that heretic?” Ebrahim demanded.

Straightway they set upon him and beat him up. “The elders of Mecca go out to meet him, and you call him a heretic?” they shouted.

‘I say he is a heretic,” Ebrahim repeated.

When they left him, Ebrahim turned to himself. “Ha!” he cried. “You wanted the elders to come out to meet you. Well, you have collected a few punches. Praise be to God that I have seen you get your wish!”

Ebrahim then took up residence in Mecca. A circle of companions formed around him, and he earned his bread by the labour of his hands, working as a carpenter.

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

  • why did God destroy the Sufis when they rejoiced that Khezr had come to greet them?
  • what did Ebrahim do when the elders of Mecca came out to greet him?
  • what kind of life did Ebraham live when he reached 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