Article by Dr. Abdel Hadi Honerkamp
Ibn ‘Abbad (732/1332 – 792/1390) was a Sufi mentor who lived in what has been called the “Classical Period” of Sufism, generally considered to be between 1200 and 1500 CE. He has always been held in high esteem within the circles of Muslim scholars, and early hagiographic sources describe him as a Maliki jurist and an early exemplar of the Shadhili Sufi order (tariqah). He epitomized the highest ideals and aspirations of his community and became, in the words of Miguel Asin Palacios, “the director of conscience of his times.” He is best known for his commentary on the Hikam of Ibn‘Ata’ Allah (d. 709/1309), entitled: Ghayth al-mawahib al-‘aliyyah (also known as al-Tanbih) and his two collections of letters: al-Rasa’il al-sughra and al-Rasa’il al-kubra. It is relatively recently, however, that Ibn ‘Abbad and his works have come to the attention of western scholars.
His legacy includes his collected personal correspondence in which he responded to those who, like himself, sought to live a religious life founded on self-effacement, correct comportment, and an intimate knowledge of God (ma‘rifah). Ibn ‘Abbad’s letters are imbued with an intimate portrayal of conscience, best exemplified in his Major Collection of Letters (al-Rasa’il al-kubra).
These letters to Yahya al-Sarraj, a faqih and muhaddith who was well respected among the fuqaha’ of Fes, testify to the fundamental principles, attitudes, and conduct of Islamic spirituality. They also illuminate the framework behind the principle themes of the teacher–disciple relationship and shed light on the complementary nature of the two poles of the Shadhiliyyah Sufi order: conformity to the law on the one hand and correct inner attitudes (adab) on the other. In short, the letters provide us with clear and coherent criteria for both the theoretical and practical aspects of the “process of transformation” that lies at the heart of Islamic spiritual education…
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