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Abū JaʻFar Ibn Yazdānyār's Rawḍat al-Murīdīn: an Unknown Sufi Manual of the Fifth/Eleventh Century



Rawḍat al-murīdīn of Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad Ibn al-Ḥusayn Ibn Yazdānyār al-Hamadhānī is a distinguished Sufi manual of the early fifth/eleventh century. Though an early Sufi textbook, this work is relatively unknown when compared with other Sufi textbooks written prior to and after it. This article draws on Williams’ edition from 1957 in addition to two manuscripts held in Princeton and Istanbul, in order to examine this early Sufi work and to appraise its contribution to the development of early Sufism. Rawḍat al-murīdīn presents us a unique formula of taṣawwuf that differs essentially from the famous manuals of the fourth/tenth and fifth/eleventh centuries which concerned themselves with Sufi rules of conduct. There is strong evidence to suggest that its author, if not formally a member of Karrāmiyya, was a pro-Karrāmī writer who operated in a historical context where the renunciatory-Karrāmī mode of piety was widely condemned. Unlike the early character of Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār, who lived in the fourth/tenth century and was generally known as an opponent of ecstatic Sufism, the author of Rawḍa seeks to present a comprehensive umbrella of Sufism under which the teachings of al-Junayd co-exist side by side with those of al-Ḥallāj.

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1 Ḥājjī Khalīfa, Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-kutub wa-l-funūn (Beirut, n.d.), vol. 1, p. 932.

2 Rawḍat al-murīdīn of Shaykh Abū Jaʿfar Ibn Yazdānyār, edited and translated by John Alden Williams, unpublished PhD thesis, Princeton University, November 1957, Introduction, p. iii.

3 Massignon, Louis, The Passion of al-Ḥallāj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, translated from the French with a biographical foreword by Herbert Mason (Princeton, 1982), vol. 1, p. 107; vol. 2, pp. 17, 189.

4 Rawḍat al-murīdīn, Ms. Istanbul, Koprülü (729), 2a (hereafter, R.I.)

5 Ibid., iii-iv.

6 Naṣr al-Sarrāj al-Ṭūsī, Abū, Kitāb al-lumaʿ, (ed.) Nicholson, R. A. (Leiden, 1914), p. 294.

7 See Rawḍa, MS. Princeton, the Garrett Collection (Yehuda 96S), 50b (hereafter, R.P.).

8 In Princeton Ms., for instance, al-Qushayrī is quoted referring to samāʿ (R.P., 31a). This quotation, most probably, is a fabrication of a later copyist of the manuscript.

9 See, for instance, his translation of the verses of al-Ḥallāj in R.P., 18b.

10 See Salamah-Qudsi, Arin, ‘Abū al-Qāsim al-Qushayrī's Waṣiyya to Sufi Novices: A Testimony to Eleventh Century Sufism’, forthcoming in Le Muséon 132 (3–4) 2019, pp. 509534.

11 Karamustafa, Ahmet T., Sufism: The Formative Period (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2007), pp. 126.

12 Al-Junayd's commentary was preserved by al-Sarrāj in his Kitāb al-lumaʿ, pp. 380–89.

13 Ibid., pp. 395–406.

14 On these dynamics in the development of early Sufism see Salamah-Qudsi, Arin, Sufism and Early Islamic Piety: Personal and Communal Dynamics (Cambridge, 2019), pp. 126151.

15 Naṣr al-Sarrāj al-Ṭūsī, Abū, Ṣuḥuf min kitāb al-lumaʿ, (ed.) Arberry, A. J. (London, 1947), p. 10. All English translations of quotations in the article are mine unless otherwise stated.

16 Ibid., p. 11.

17 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī, Abū, Ṭabaqāt al-ṣūfiyya, (ed.) Pedersen, Johannes (Leiden, 1960), p. 423.

18 Ibn Muḥammad al-Naysābūrī al-Khargūshī, ʿAbd al-Malik, Tahdhīb al-asrār, (ed.) Bārūd, Bassām (Abū Ẓabī, 1999), pp. 440445.

19 Ibn Aḥmad al-Dhahabī, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad, Tārīkh al-islām wa-wafayāt al-mashāhīr wa-l-aʿlām, (ed.) Maʿrūf, Bashshār (Beirut, 2003), vol. 10, p. 344.

20 R.P., 4b.

21 Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt al-ṣūfiyya, pp. 424–425.

22 Williams, Rawḍat al-murīdīn, Introduction, p. iv.

23 Ibid., Introduction, pp. iv-v.

24 Unlike the Princeton manuscript, the Istanbul manuscript does not provide numbering of the sections. The five manuscripts of the work consulted by Williams differ slightly in the order in which the sections appear. For a comparison between the order of the sections in these manuscripts, see Ibid., Introduction, pp. xliii–xliv.

25 R.P., 7b; Williams’ edition (hereafter R.W.), p. 11.

26 This statement is attributed to the early mystic of Egypt, Dhū al-Nūn al-Miṣrī, who is said to have refused to accept a present that Fāṭima of Nishapur sent to him. See ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī, Abū, Early Sufi Women: Dhikr an-niswa al-mutaʿabbidāt aṣ-ṣūfiyyāt, edited and translated by Elaroui-Cornell, Rkia (Louisville, 1999), p. 143.

27 Abū al-Qāsim al-Junayd, Rasāʾil, in Abdel-Kader, Ali Hassan, The Life, Personality and Writings of al-Junayd: A Study of a Third/Ninth Century Mystic with an Edition and Translation of his Writings (London, 1962), Arabic text, p. 19.

28 I did not find this tradition in any ḥadīth collection prior to the fifth/eleventh century. The only ḥadīth collection that includes it is the Amālī of Abū Muṭīʿ Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Wāḥid al-Miṣrī (d. 497/1104) dated after the period of Ibn Yazdānyār. See: (accessed 24 April 2018).

29 R.P., 10a; R.I., 6a.

30 al-Qāsim ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī, Abū, al-Risāla fī ʿilm al-taṣawwuf (Cairo, 1940), the last chapter, ‘Bāb al-Waṣiyya li-l-Murīdīn’, pp. 197–202.

31 Qushayrī, Risāla, pp. 2–3.

32 R.P., 18b. The English translation is mine. The translation of al-Ḥallāj's definition of Sufism is based on Massignon (The Passion of al-Ḥallāj, Vol. 3, p. 132). The word dawāmīs is replaced in some versions of the story by rawāmīs. Williams's translation is fraught with mistakes and inaccuracy. Al-Ḥallāj's verse, for instance, is translated by Williams as follows: ‘These fingertips in joyous henna dipped do not uncover! They are dyed in the blood of a faithful lover’!!. Massignon indicates that ṭawāmīs and rawāmīs are two technical terms marking the degree of the ‘mystical death’ which is referred to many times in early Sufi works (see, for instance, Sarrāj, Kitāb al-lumaʿ, pp. 357–358).

33 Instead of Aḥmad in both R.P. and R.I.

34 See R.P., fol.18b.

35 This statement is attributed to al-Shiblī, Abū Bakr in ʿAṭṭār's, Farīd al-DīnTadhkirat al-awliyāʾ, (ed.) Nicholson, R.A. (Leiden, 1905–7), vol. 2, p. 175.

36 R.P., 19a; R.I., 12a (‘athāra lahum nūran mushaʿshiʿan’).

37 Ibn ʿAlī al-Sahlajī, Abū al-Faḍl Muḥammad, al-Nūr min kalimāt Abī Ṭayfūr, in Badawī, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, Shaṭaḥāt al-ṣūfiyya (Kuwait, 1976), p. 184.

38 R.P., 21a.

39 On this topic, see Salamah-Qudsi, A., ‘Institutionalized Mashyakha in the Twelfth Century Sufism of ʿUmar al-Suhrawardī’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 36 (2009), pp. 385403.

40 R.P., 25b.

41 Ibid.

42 Allāh al-Tustarī, Sahl Ibn ʿAbd, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm, (ed.) Allāh, Maḥmūd Jīrat (Cairo, 2000), p. 248; al-Iṣfahānī, Abū Nuʿaym, Ḥilyat al-awliyāʾ wa-ṭabaqāt al-aṣfiyāʾ (Cairo, 1974), vol. 9, p. 376. From the later period, see, for instance, al-Hamadhānī, ʿAyn al-Quḍāt, Tamhīdāt, (ed.) ʿUsayrān, ʿAfīf (Tehran, 1958), pp. 185, 300.

43 ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī, Abū al-Qāsim, al-Taḥbīr fī al-tadhkīr, (ed.) Ibrāhīm Basyūnī (Cairo, 1968), pp. 20, 9597.

44 R.P., 41a.

45 R.P., 26b.

46 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmī (d. 898/1492), Nafaḥāt al-uns min ḥaḍarāt al-quds, (ed.) Mahdī Pūr (Tehran, 1958), pp. 524–525. Cf. Abī l-Manṣūr, Ṣafī al-Dīn b., La Risāla de Safī al-Dīn ibn Abī l-Manṣūr ibn Ẓāfir: Biographies des Maitres Spirituels Connus par un Cheikh Egyptien du VIIe/XIIIe siècle, introduction, editing and translation by Gril, Denis (Cairo, 1986), the Arabic text, p. 61 (the story of al-Sheikh Mufarrij); Ibn Asʿad al-Yāfiʿī, ʿAbd Allāh, Rawḍ al-rayāḥīn fī ḥikāyāt al-ṣāliḥīn (Cairo, 1890), p. 105. Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī quotes from ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Qūnawī's (d. 729/1329), al-Iʿlām in his reference to this issue in some of his works. See al-Sutūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn, Kitāb al-ḥāwī li-l-fatāwī (Beirut, 2004), Vol. 1, p. 255; idem, al-Ḥabāʾik fī akhbār al-malāʾik, (ed.) Muḥammad Zughlūl (Beirut, 1985), p. 262.

47 al-Suhrawardī, Abū Ḥafṣ, ʿAwārif al-maʿārif, in al-Ghazālī, Abū Ḥāmid, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (Cairo, 1967), p. 365.

48 R.P., fols. 41a–41b.

49 Suhrawardī, ʿAwārif, pp. 96–97.

50 R.P., 45b.

51 In R.P., the text reads: ‘Aḥmad Ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Sharwīnī narrated that Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār al-Urmawī saw him in the dream and asked him…’ (R.P., 43b). R.I. reads differentially: ‘Aḥmad Ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Sharwīnī narrated that Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār al-Urmawī was seen in a dream, he was asked…’ (R.I., 16b). Williams translated the passage as follows, ‘It is told that Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār saw Aḥmad Ibn ʿAbdullāh al-Sharwīnī in a dream, and said to him: “What works have you found most beneficial in life?” (Williams's edition, p. 67), while in the edited text of Rawḍa itself, he comments that this later version is not convincing and that it seems more probable that Ibn Yazdānyār was the one who was seen in the dream and was asked about the most beneficial act and the most harmful act (Williams, the edited text, p. 40). This version corresponds also with the manuscript of Rawḍa in the Preussiche Staatsbibliothek of Berlin (microfilm of Orient. Hdschr, Oct. 75–42) which was moved to the West-Deutsche Bibliothek at Marburg, and is, in fact, preferable over the first for two additional reasons. The first concerns the figure of al-Sharwīnī who was the narrator of the anecdote. Unfortunately, I did not succeed in finding his biography from amongst early biographies and this strengthens the assumption that he was an unknown associate of Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār. The second reason refers to the structural framework of such an anecdote that is very common in early Sufi writings. When someone is quoted recounting a dream that combines two figures who have a short conversation about a particular topic, the narrator himself usually acts as the one who sees the other figure in his dream. Very often, this occurs after the latter's death, and the narrator asks the deceased a question or two such as: ‘What did God do with you?’, ‘what is the most beneficial act in your eyes?’, or ‘what is the best piece of counsel that you would address to the Sufis?’.Sufi and non-Sufi sources dating from early medieval Islam are fraught with anecdotes of this type. See, for instance, Ibn Muḥammad al-Iṣfahānī, ʿAbd Allāh, Ṭabaqāt al-muḥaddithīn bi-Iṣbahān wa-l-wāridīn ʿalayhā, (ed.) al-Balūshī, ʿAbd al-Ghafūr (Beirut, 1992), Vol. 2, p. 54; Ibn al-Jawzī, Abū al-Faraj, Dhamm al-hawā, (ed.) al-Wāḥid, Muṣṭafā ʿAbd (Cairo, 1962), p. 129; Qushayrī, Risāla, p. 154. It seems likely that the original anecdote was phrased in accordance with the above-mentioned translation and that the later copyist of the manuscript, who probably knew about the problematic relationship between Ibn Yazdānyār and the Sufis of Baghdad, thought to introduce some changes to the anecdote to show Ibn Yazdānyār as the one who asks, instead of being the one who answers. For the copyist, condemning the act of slandering the Sufis may not have seemed relevant to Ibn Yazdānyār and that is why the copyist might have ascribed it to the narrator al-Sharwīnī.

52 R.P., fols. 43b–44a; R.I., fols. 16b–17a.

53 R.P., fols. 46b–47a; R.I., 18b.

54 Qushayrī, Risāla, pp. 166–173 (verses 17–18 of Sūra 39).

55 Sarrāj, Kitāb al-lumaʿ, p. 267 (verse 1 of Sūra 35).

56 R.P., 48a; R.I., fols. 19a–19b. Cf. Qushayrī, Risāla, p. 167.

57 R.P., 47b–48a.

58 R.P., 48a; 48b.

59 R.P., 48a–48b; R.I., 19b.

60 R.P., 48b; R.I., 19b. The translation is mine.

61 Cf. verses 16–19 of Sūra 19; and verse 1 of Sūra 35. The English translation of the above mentioned verse is by A. J. Arberry.

62 Burge, S. R., Angels in Islam: Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī's al-Ḥabāʾik fī akhbār al-malāʾik (London and New York, 2012), pp. 5657.

63 On the importance of the colour green in Islamic culture, see Ibid., pp. 64–65 and the footnotes.

64 References to angels taking human forms that are very often associated with great beauty in ḥadīth literature is best manifested in the story of Gabriel who took the form of Diḥya al-Kalbī. However, the association between angels and beautiful beardless youths in the second tradition above calls to mind the Qurʾānic story of the angels whom God sent to Lut in forms of beautiful beardless youths (verse 37 of Sūra 54). For an example of treating this story in the works of Muslim commentators of the Qurʾān, see Ibn ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr, Abū al-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm, (ed.) Sāmī Salāma (al-Riyāḍ, 1999), Vol. 7, p. 480.

65 On one occasion of ʿAyn al-Quḍāt's Tamhīdāt, for instance, the Prophet Muḥammad is quoted as having said: ‘On the Night of the Ascension I saw my Lord in a form of a young man […]. Beware of the beardless youth as those have a complexion like that of God (iyyākum wa-l-murd fa-inna lahum lawnan ka-lawni Allāh)’ (ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadhānī, Tamhīdāt, p. 321).

66 Sarrāj, Kitāb al-lumaʿ, p. 274.

67 R.P., 48n-49a; R.I., 19b.

68 The controversial practice of shāhid-bāzī apparently involved both gazing at beardless youths and dancing with them during samāʿ gatherings. See Ridgeon, Lloyd, ‘The Controversy of Shaykh Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī and Handsome, Moon Faced Youths: A Case Study of Shāhid-Bāzī in Medieval Sufism’, Journal of Sufi Studies 1 (2012), p. 2. Cf. footnote 74 hereafter.

69 R.P., 51a–51b; R.I., 21a.

70 R.P., 51b–52a; R.I., 21b; Cf. R.P., 52b; R.I., 22a.

71 R.P., 53b; R.I., 22b.

72 R.I., 23a.

73 al-Suhrawardī, Abū al-Najīb, Ādāb al-murīdīn, (ed.) Milson, Menahem (Jerusalem, 1977), p. 81. Cf. Ibid., Milson's introduction, [8]-[9].

74 Jāmī tells us that Kirmānī believed that ‘true witnessing of God’ should be sought through ‘visionary manifestations’, which is why he used to tear youths’ shirts during samāʿ parties and press his breast to theirs. This practice is called shāhid-bāzī (lit. playing the witness) in Persian literature, as systematically advocated in ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī's Tamhīdāt. LIoyd Ridgeon provides us with a detailed discussion of Kirmānī's controversial practice of shāhid-bāzī, which apparently involved both gazing at beardless youths and dancing with them during samāʿ gatherings. See Ridgeon, Controversy of Shaykh Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī, p. 2.

75 R.P., 56a. In the Istanbul manuscript, for instance, the reference is made to ‘Abū Bakr al-Abharī’ instead of Abū Bakr Ibn Yazdānyār. All the other manuscripts mention Ibn Yazdānyār (See R.I., 23b).

76 For a short reference to maqām and ḥāl as major technical terms and the different definitions given to them by early Sufi authors, see Renard, John, Historical Dictionary of Sufism (Lanham, 2016), p. 292.

77 R.P., 57b.

78 R.P., 59a.

79 R.P., 60a–60b; R.I., 26a–26b. The latter category might read ‘ʿiyāniyya’, that is the love that engages witnessing (ʿiyān) (see R.P., 60b).

80 R.P., 67a; R.I., 31b.

81 Sviri, Sara, ‘Ḥakīm Tirmidhī and the Malāmatī Movement in Early Sufism’, in The Heritage of Sufism, (ed.) Lewisohn, L. (Oxford, 1999), vol. I; accessed online on the author's website:, 10 (accessed 8 August 2018).

82 Alī Ibn. ʿUthmān al-Jullābī al-Hujwīrī, The Kashf al-Maḥjūb: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism, edited and translated by R. A. Nicholson (London, 1976), pp. 365–366.

83 The English translation from Subkī's Ṭabaqāt al-shāfiʿiyya is by Sara Sviri (See Sviri, Ḥakīm Tirmidhī and the Malāmatī Movement, internet version, p. 9). This occasion is found in al-Subkī, Tāj al-Dīn, Ṭabaqāt al-shāfiʿiyya al-kubrā, al-Ṭanāḥī, Maḥmūd and al-Ḥilū, ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ (Cairo, 1993), vol. 2, p. 304.

84 Madelung, Wilfred, Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran (Albany, N.Y., 1988), p. 39.

85 Ibid., p. 45.

86 R.I., 26a; 27a–27b.


Abū JaʻFar Ibn Yazdānyār's Rawḍat al-Murīdīn: an Unknown Sufi Manual of the Fifth/Eleventh Century



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