The Circle Group > The Silsila > Imam Junayd

tile_borderImam Junayd ibn Muhammad Abu al-Qasim al-Khazzaz al-Baghdadi (d. 297 AH/  909-910 CE)

By GF Haddad and Dr. Alan Godlas
Al-Junayd ibn Muhammad ibn al-Junayd, Abu al-Qasim al-Qawariri al-Khazzaz al-Nahawandi al-Baghdadi al-Shafi`i (d. 298). The Imam of the World in his time, shaykh of the Sufis and “Diadem of the Knowers,” he accompanied his maternal uncle Sari al-Saqati, al-Harith al-Muhasibi, and others.

He is referred to by the sufis as sayyid-ut taifa i.e. the leader of the group. He lived and died in the city of Baghdad. He laid the groundwork for “sober” mysticism in contrast to that of “God-intoxicated” Sufis like al-Hallaj, Bayazid Bistami and Abu Sa`eed Abul-Khayr.

Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami stated:

His father used to sell glasses.  Hence he was called the flask seller (al-Qawariri).  His family origin was from Nahawand, and he was born and raised in ‘Iraq–that is what I heard Abu al-Qasim al-Nasrabadhi saying.  He was a scholar of jurisprudence (faqih), having studied it according to the method of Abu Thawr [Ibrahim ibn Khalid ibn al-Yaman al-Kalbi].  He would issue legal judgments in his circle of students.  [As a student] he [had] been in the company (sahiba) of Sari al-Saqati, Harith al-Muhasibi, and Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Qassab al-Baghdadi, and others.  He was among the leaders of the folk and among their masters, being well spoken of by all.”

Sulami included Junayd as being among the transmitters of the following hadith:  The Prophet said, “Beware of the perspicacity of the believer, since he sees by the light of God, may He be exalted.  Then he recited [the ayah]: Indeed in that are signs for those who have insight (Qur’an 15:75).”

Sulami stated that Junayd said, “Nearness through ecstasy (wajd) is ‘in-gathering’ (jam’); and absence through humanness is separation (tafriqah).”

Sulami stated that Junayd used to say
We did not learn (lit. take) Sufism by discourse, rather by hunger, abandoning the world, and severing [one’s attachments to] familiar and pleasant things; since Sufism consists of purity of [one’s] relationship with God.  Its foundation is in turning away from the world, as Harith [al-Muhasibi] said, “My self (nafs) has turned away from the world; so I have spent my nights in wakefulness and my days in thirst.”
Cambria;”>Sulami stated that Junayd said, “Whoever knows God is only made happy by Him.”

Abu Sahl al-Su`luki narrates that as a boy al-Junayd heard his uncle being asked about thankfulness, whereupon he said: “It is to not use His favors for the purpose of disobeying Him.”

He took fiqh from Abu Thawr – in whose circle he would give fatwas at twenty years of age – and, it was also said, from Sufyan al-Thawri. He once said: “Allah did not bring out a single science on earth accessible to people except he gave me a share in its knowledge.” He used to go to the market every day, open his shop, and commence praying four hundred rak`as until closing time.

Among his sayings about the Sufi Path: “Whoever does not memorize the Qur’an and write hadith is not fit to be followed in this matter. For our science is controlled by the Book and the Sunnah.”

To Ibn Kullab who was asking him about tasawwuf he replied: “Our madhhab is the singling out of the pre-eternal from the contingent, the desertion of human brotherhood and homes, and obliviousness to past and future.” Ibn Kullab said: “This kind of speech cannot be debated.”

His student Abu al-`Abbas ibn Surayj would say, whenever he defeated his adversaries in debate: “This is from the blessing of my sittings with al-Junayd.”

Al-Qushayri relates from al-Junayd the following definitions of tasawwuf:

* “Not the profusion of prayer and fasting, but wholeness of the breast and selflessness.”1

* “Tasawwuf means that Allah causes you to die to your self and gives you life in Him.”

* “It means that you be solely with Allah with no attachments.”

* “It is a war in which there is no peace.”

* “It is supplication together with inward concentration, ecstasy together with attentive hearing, and action combined with compliance [with the Sunnah].”

* “It is the upholding of every high manner and the repudiation of every low one.”

When his uncle asked him to speak from the pulpit he deprecated himself, but then saw the Prophet in his dream ordering him to speak.

Ibn Kullab once asked al-Junayd to dictate for him a comprehensive definition of tawhid he had just heard him say. He replied: “If I were reading from a record I would dictate it to you.

The Mu`tazili al-Ka`bi said: “My eyes did not see his like. Writers came to hear him for his linguistic mastery, philosophers for the sharpness of his speech, poets for his eloquence, and kalam scholars for the contents of his speech.”

Al-Khuldi said: “We never saw, among our shaykhs, anyone in whom `ilm and hal came together except al-Junayd. If you saw his hal you would think that it took precedence over his `ilm, and if he spoke you would think that his `ilm took precedence over his hal.”

Like the Sunni imams of his generation, al-Junayd hated theological disputations about Allah and His Attributes: “The least [peril] that lies within kalam is the elimination of Allah’s awe from the heart. And when the heart is left devoid of Allah’s awe, it becomes devoid of belief.”

Once a young Christian asked him: “What is the meaning of the Prophet’s hadith: ‘Beware the vision of the believer for he sees with the light of Allah’?”2 Al-Junayd remained immersed in thought then lifted his head and said: “Submit, for the time has come for you to accept Islam.” The young man embraced Islam on the spot.

Al-Junayd defined the Knower (al-`arif) as “He who addresses your secret although you are silent.” Ibn al-Jawzi cites another example of Junayd’s kashf in his Sifa al-Safwa:

Abu `Amr ibn `Alwan relates: I went out one day to the market of al-Ruhba for something I needed. I saw a funeral procession and I followed it in order to pray with the others. I stood among the people until they buried the dead man. My eyes unwittingly fell on a woman who was unveiled. I lingered looking at her. Then I held back and began to beg forgiveness of Allah the Exalted. On my way home an old woman told me: “My master, why is your face all darkened?” I took a mirror and behold! my face had turned dark. I examined my conscience and searched: Where did calamity befall me? I remembered the look I cast. Then I sat alone somewhere, asking Allah’s forgiveness assiduously. I decided to live austerely for forty days. [During that time] the thought came to my heart: “Visit your shaykh al-Junayd.” I travelled to Baghdad. When I reached the room where he lived I knocked at his door and heard him say: “Come in, O Abu `Amr! You sin in al-Ruhba and we ask forgiveness for you here in Baghdad.”3

About the Sufis al-Junayd said:

* “They are the members of a single household that none other than they can enter.”

* “The Sufi is like the earth: every kind of abomination is thrown upon it, but naught but every kind of goodness grows from it.”

* “The Sufi is like the earth: both the righteous and the sinners walk upon it. He is like the clouds: they give shade to all things. He is like the raindrop: it waters all things.”

* “If you see a Sufi caring for his outer appearance, then know that his inward being is corrupt.”

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya related from al-Sulami that al-Junayd said: “The truthful seeker (al-murid al-sadiq) has no need for the scholars of knowledge” and: “When Allah desires great goodness for the seeker, He makes him flock to the Sufis and prevents him from accompanying those who read books (al-qurra’).”4

This is similar to al-Junayd’s saying reported by al-Dhahabi: “We did not take tasawwuf from what So-and-So said and what So-and-So-said, but from hunger, abandonment of the world, and severance of comforts.”

Al-Junayd also said: “Among the marks of Allah’s wrath against a servant is that He makes him busy with that which is of no concern to him.”5

Ibn al-Qayyim in al-Fawa’id asserts the superiority of the struggle against the ego (jihad al-nafs) over all other struggles and quotes al-Junayd:
Allah said: Those who have striven for Our sake, We guide them to Our ways (29:96). He has thereby made guidance dependent on jihad. Therefore, the most perfect of people are those of them who struggle the most for His sake, and the most obligatory of jihads (afrad al-jihad) are the jihad against the ego, the jihad against desires, the jihad against the devil, and the jihad against the lower world. Whoever struggles against these four, Allah will guide them to the ways of His good pleasure which lead to His Paradise, and whoever leaves jihad, then he leaves guidance in proportion to his leaving jihad.

Al-Junayd said: “[The verse means] Those who have striven against their desires and repented for our sake, we shall guide them to the ways of sincerity. And one cannot struggle against his enemy outwardly except he who struggles against these enemies inwardly. Then whoever is given victory over them will be victorious over his enemy. And whoever is defeated by them, his enemy defeats him.”6
Ibn `Abidin related in his fatwa on the permissibility of dhikr gatherings:
The Imam of the Two Groups,7 our master al-Junayd was told: “Certain people indulge in wajd or ecstatic behavior, and sway with their bodies.” He replied: “Leave them to their happiness with Allah. They are the ones whose affections have been smashed by the path and whose breasts have been torn apart by effort, and they are unable to bear it. There is no blame on them if they breathe awhile as a remedy for their intense state. If you tasted what they taste, you would excuse their exuberance.”8

In his Kitab al-Fana’ (“Book of the Annihilation of the Self”) al-Junayd states:
As for the select and the select of the select, who become alien through the strangeness of their conditions – presence for them is loss, and enjoyment of the witnessing is struggle. They have been effaced from every trace and every signification that they find in themselves or that they witness on their own. The Real has subjugated them, effaced them, annihilated them from their own attributes, so that it is the Real that works through them, on them, and for them in everything they experience. It is the Real which confirms such exigencies in and upon them through the form of its completion and perfection.9
Al-Junayd went on pilgrimage on foot thirty times.

In the process of trial of al-Hallaj, his former disciple, Caliph of the time demanded his fatwa and he issued this fatwa: “From the outward appearance he is to die and we judge according to the outward appearance and Allah knows better”.

Death of Hadhrat Junayd al-Baghdadi

On his deathbed he recited the Qur’an incessantly. Al-Jariri related that he told him: “O Abu al-Qasim! Put yourself at ease.”

He replied: “O Abu Muhammad! Do you know anyone that is more in need of Qur’an at this time, when my record is being folded up?” He finished one khatma then started over until he recited seventy verses of Sura al-Baqara, then he died. Ibn `Imad al-Hanbali said: “If we were to speak of his merits we could fill volumes.”

Before his death Junayd ordered that all the saying of knowledge attributed to him which people have written down should be buried. When people asked him the reason he said, “When the people have the knowledge of the Prophet of Allah with them, I desire that I may meet Allah Ta’ala in the state that there remains nothing attributed to me”.

After his death Shaykh Ja’far al-Khaldi saw him in a dream. Ja’far al-Khaldi asked Junayd “How did Allah Ta’ala treat you?”

Junayd replied:
طاحت تلكالاشاراتوغابتتلكالعباراتوفنيتتلكالعلومونفدتالرسوم, ومانفعناركعاتنركعهافيالاسحار
“Those subtle signs were finished, those phrases disappeared, those sciences were annihilated, those illustrations were erased and nothing helped us except some rak`ats which we used to pray before dawn”.

Main sources:

al-Qushayri, Risala 148-150;

Ibn `Imad, Shadharat al-Dhahab 2:228-230;

al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ 11:153-155 #2555;

Ibn al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra 2:260-275 #60.

Tarikh Baghdad – al-Khatib Baghdadi page 248 vol 7 – via Tarashay page 28/29- Mufti Maulana Muhammad Taqi Uthmaani

al-Sulami, Tabaqatal-Sufiyah, selected from pp. 155-163 (thanks to Dr. Alan Godlas)

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions

GF Haddad ©


1. In al-Qushayri, Kitab al-Sama` in al-Rasa’il al-Qushayriyya (Sidon and Beirut: al-Maktaba al-`Asriyya, 1970) p. 60.

2. Narrated from Abu Sa`id al-Khudri by al-Tirmidhi (gharib) with a weak chain, Abu Imama by al-Tabarani with a fair (hasan) chain according to al-Haythami in the chapter on firasa in Majma` al-Zawa’id, Ibn `Adi, al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, and al-Quda`i in Musnad al-Shihab (1:387). Also narrated by al-Bukhari in his Tarikh, Ibn al-Sani, and from Ibn `Umar by Ibn Abi Hatim, al-Tabari, and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries of the verse (Therein lie portents for those who read the signs (15:75). Ibn al-Jawzi includes it in the forgeries. Al-Sakhawi in al-Maqasid al-Hasana (#23) rejects Ibn al-Jawzi’s grading of mawdu`, but considers its chains all weak, as do al-Albani in his Silsila Da`ifa (4:299-302) and al-Ahdab in Zawa’id Tarikh Baghdad (4:340-343 #687). However, al-Suyuti declares it hasan in al-La’ali’ al-Masnu`a (2:329-330) as do al-Shawkani in al-Fawa’id (p. 243-244) and al-Zuhayri – Albani’s student – in his edition of Ibn `Abd al-Barr’s Jami` Bayan al-`Ilm (1:677 #1197). The purported weakness of al-Tabarani’s chain revolves around the narrator `Abd Allah ibn Salih al-Juhani. Cf. al-Dhahabi, Mizan (2:440-445 #4383).<

Al-Sakhawi cites another narration whereby the Prophet said: “Allah has servants who know (the truth about people) through reading the signs” (tawassum). Narrated from Anas with a fair chain by al-Bazzar in his Musnad, al-Tabarani, and Abu Nu`aym in al-Tibb al-Nabawi as stated by al-`Ajluni in Kashf al-Khafa’.
3. In Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifa al-Safwa 1(2):271, chapter on al-Junayd (#296).
4. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Madarij al-Salikin (2:366).
5. In Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifa al-Safwa, chapter on al-Junayd.
6. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, al-Fawa’id, ed. Muhammad `Ali Qutb (al-Iskandariyya: Dar al-Da`wa, 1992) p. 50.
7. I.e. Sufis and fuqaha’.
8. Seventh Letter in Shifa` al-`Alil wa Ball al-Ghalil fi Hukm al-Wasiyya bi al-Khatamat wa al-Tahalil (p. 172-173).
9. Translation communicated to the author by Michael Sells, Haverford College.

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