Sayyiduna Shaykh Abul Hasan Ahmad ibn Mohammad al-Noori Alaihir raHma, a native of Baghdad of a family from Khorasan, was a pupil of Sirri al-Saqati and a faithful companion of Sayyiduna Junaid al-Baghdadi. A leading figure of the Baghdad circle, he composed some fine mystical poetry. He passed away in 295 (908).
The self-discipline of Abul Hussain Noori
Sayyiduna Abul Hussain, who followed the same rules of conduct as Sayyiduna Junaid, was called Noori (“the Man of Light”) because whenever he spoke and the night was dark, a light would issue from his mouth so that the whole house became bright. Another explanation of his nick-name is that he declared inmost secrets by the light of intuition. Yet a third version is that he had a retreat in the desert where he used to worship all the night through. People would go out to watch, and would see a light mounting from his cell and gleaming through the night.
When he first embarked on his mystical career, every morning early he would set out from his house for the shop, and pick up a few loaves. These he would distribute as alms, afterwards proceeding to mosque where he worshiped till the noon prayers, only then going on to his shop. His household imagined that he had eaten something in the shop, whilst the people in the shop supposed that he had eaten at home. He continued this practice for twenty years without anyone being aware of the true facts of his case.
Sayyiduna Abul Hussain al-Noori gave the following account of himself:
For years I struggled, restraining myself in prison and turning my back on other men. Despite all my austerities, the way did not become open to me.
“I must do something to mend my affairs,” I said to myself. “Otherwise let me die and escape from this carnal soul.”
“Body,” I then said, “for many years you have followed your own lust and desire, eating and seeing and hearing, going and taking, sleeping and enjoying yourself and gratifying your passion. All this has been most harmful to you. Now enter the chamber, that I may fetter you and put as a collar round your neck all your dues to Almighty Allah. If you remain steadfast so, you will attain felicity; if not, at least you will die on the path of Allah Almighty!” So I acted on the path of Allah. Now I had heard that the hearts of the mystics were delicate organs, knowing the secret of whatever they saw and heard. Not finding this in myself, I said, “The pronouncements of the prophets and the saints are true. Perhaps I have played the hypocrite in my striving, and the defect is due to myself. Here there is no room for difference of opinion. Now,” I went on, “I will go around myself and see what it is.”
I gazed into myself, and the fault was this, that my carnal soul and my heart were united. When the carnal soul is one with the heart, that is disastrous; for whatever shines upon the heart, the carnal soul seizes its portion of it. So I realized that this was the cause of my dilemma; all that entered my heart from the Court of Allah Almighty, my carnal soul seized its part of it.
Thenceforward, whatever gratified my carnal soul, that I went not about, but clutched something other. For instance, if prayer or fasting or alms-giving was agreeable to my carnal soul, or solitude or associating with my fellows, I proceeded to do the contrary, till I had cast out all those things and all gratification had been cut away. Then mystic secrets began to manifest in me.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am the pearl of the mine of undesire,” came the answer. “Now tell the disciples, My mine is the mine of undesire, and my pearl is the pearl of the mine of unpurpose.”
Then I walked down to the Tigris and stood between two skiffs.
“I will not go,” I said, “until a fish falls into my net.” At last a fish fell into my net. When I drew it up I cried, “Praise be to Allah that my affairs have turned out well!”
I went to Junaid and told him, “A grace has been vouchsafed to me!”
“Abul Hussain,” Junaid replied, “if it had been a snake and not a fish that fell into your net, that would truly have been a sign of grace. But since you yourself intervened, it is a deception, not a grace. For the mark of a grace is that you cease to be there at all.”
Noori before the Caliph
When Ghulam Khalil declared hostilities against the Sufis, he went to the caliph and denounced them.
“A group have appeared on the scene,” he announced, “who sing songs and dance and utter blasphemies. They parade about all day, and hide themselves in catacombs, and preach. These men are heretics. If the Prince of the Believers will issue the command for them to be slain, the doctrine of heresy will be exterminated, for they are the chief of the heretics. If this thing is done by the hand of the Prince of the Believers, I guarantee him an ample reward.”
The caliph immediately ordered that they — Abu Hamza, Raqqam, Shibli, Noori, and Junaid — should be brought before him. This done, he commanded them to be slain. The executioner first made to slay Raqqam; Noori sprang up and thrust himself forward fearlessly and took Raqqam’s place.
“First kill me, laughing for joy,” he cried.
“Sir, this is not your time yet,” the executioner said to him. “The sword is not a thing wielded in haste.”
“My way is based upon preference,” Noori explained. “I prefer my comrades above myself. The most precious thing in this world is life. I wish to devote these few remaining moments to serving my brethren, that I may have sacrificed life itself. This I do, albeit to my view one moment in this world is dearer than a thousand years in the next. For this world is an abode of service, and the other world is an abode of propinquity; and propinquity for me is in service.”
They reported these words of Noori’s to the caliph, who marveled at his sincerity and equitableness. He ordered the execution to be stayed and referred their case to the Qadhi to examine.
“They cannot be proscribed without proof,” said the Qadhi. Now he knew that Sayyiduna Junaid was supreme in many sciences and had heard Noori speak. So he said, referring to Sayyiduna Shibli, “I will question this madman on a point of law which he will never be able to answer.”
“How much is to be paid in poor-tax on twenty dinars?” he asked.
“Twenty and a half dinars,” Shibli replied. “Whoever instituted that kind of poor-tax?” demanded the Qadhi.
“Abu Bakr the Great,” Shibli answered. “He gave forty thousand dinars and kept nothing back.”
“Yes, but what is this half-dinar you spoke about?” “That is a fine,” replied Shibli. “The man kept the twenty dinars to himself, so he must pay half a dinar in addition.”
The Qadhi then questioned Noori on a point of law. Noori replied instantly, and the Qadhi was reduced to confusion. Noori then spoke.
“Qadhi, you have asked all these questions, and you have asked nothing at all relevant. For Allah has servants who stand through Him, and move and rest through Him, who live all through Him and abide in contemplation of Him. If for a single instant they held back from contemplating Him, their souls would go out of them. Through Him they sleep, through Him they eat, through Him they take, through Him they go, through Him they see, through Him they hear and through Him they are. This is the true science, not that on which you put questions.”
Bewildered, the Qadhi sent a message to the caliph. “If these men are atheists and heretics, than I give judgment that on the whole face of the earth not one Unitarian exists.”
The caliph summoned the prisoners.
“Is there anything you want?” he asked them. “Yes,” they replied. “We want you to forget us. We want you neither to honour us with your approval nor to banish us with your rejection. For us your rejection is the same as your approval, your approval as your rejection.”
The caliph wept bitterly and dismissed them with all honour.
Anecdotes of al-Noori
One day Sayyiduna Junaid went to visit Shaykh Abul Hussain Noori. Noori fell to the ground before Junaid complaining of injustice.
“My battle has waxed fierce, and I have no more strength to fight,” he said. “For thirty years, whenever He has appeared I have vanished, and whenever I appear He is absent. His presence is in my absence. For all that I supplicate Him, His answer is ‘Either I am to be, or you.’ “
“Look upon a man,” said Junaid to his companions, “who has been sorely tried and bewildered by Almighty Allah. Such must be the state of affairs,” he added, turning to Noori, “that whether He is veiled by you or revealed through you, you shall no more be you, and all shall be He.”
— — —
A party of men went to Junaid and said, “For a number of days and nights now Noori has been going around with a brick in his hand, saying ‘Allah, Allah’ He eats nothing and drinks nothing and does not sleep. Yet he performs the prayers at the proper times and observes all the ritual of the prayers.”
“He is sober. He is not in a state of having passed away,” Junaid’s companions said. “That is proved by the fact that he observes the times of prayer and knows to perform the ritual. That is a mark of conscious effort, not of passing away. One who has passed away is aware of nothing.”
“That is not the case,” replied Junaid. “What you say is not true. Men in ecstasy are ‘preserved’; Allah Almighty watches over them, lest they be excluded from service at the time of service.”
Junaid then went to call on Noori. “Abul Hussain,” he addressed him, “if you know that shouting is of profit with Him, tell me and I will also shout. If you know that satisfaction with Him is better, then practice resignation, that your heart may be at rest.’ Noori ceased his shouting forthwith. “What an excellent teacher you are for us!” he exclaimed.
— — —
Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Shibli was preaching, and Noori entered the hall and stood on one side. “Peace be upon you, Abu Bakr,” he called out. “And upon you be peace, Prince of the Hearts,” Shibli replied.
“Almighty Allah,” Noori went on, “would not be well pleased with a man of learning imparting his learning when he does not put it into practice. If you practice what you preach, keep your high station. If not, then come down!”
Shibli considered, and finding himself not true to his preaching he came down. For four months he kept to his house and did not venture out. Then a crowd of men came and brought him out and put him in the pulpit. Noori heard of this and came to the hall.
“Abu Bakr,” he cried, “you concealed the truth from them, so of course they set you in the pulpit. I counseled them sincerely, and they drove me away with stones and flung me on the dunghill.”
“Prince of the Hearts, what was your good counselling, and what was my concealing?” asked Shibli.
“My good counseling,” Noori replied, “was that I let men go to their Almighty Lord. Your concealing was that you became a veil between Allah Almighty and men. Who are you, to be an intermediary between Allah Almighty and men? In my view, you are irrelevant.”
— — —
Ja’far Kholdi relates that Noori was praying in seclusion, and I was listening to what he would say.
“Lord Almight,” he said, “Thou punish-est the denizens of Hell. They are all Thy creation, by virtue of Thy omniscience and omnipotence and pre-eternal will. If Thou wilt assuredly fill Hell with men, Thou hast the power to fill Hell with men and to transport them to Paradise.”
I was amazed at his words. Then I saw in a dream one who came to me and said, “Allah Almighty has said, Tell Abul Hussain, I have honored and had compassion on thee for that prayer.”
— — —
“One night,” Noori recalled, “I found the area about the Kaaba empty and proceeded to circumambulate. Each time I reached the Black Stone I prayed and said, ‘O Allah, accord to me a state and an attribute from which I shall not change.’ One day I heard a voice proceeding from the midst of the Kaaba and saying, ‘Abul Hussain, you would make yourself equal to Me. I change not from My attribute, but I keep My servants turning about and changing. This I do, in order that Lordship may become clear from servant-hood. It is I who continue in one attribute; man’s attribute changes.’”
— — —
Shibli reports: I visited Noori and saw him seated in meditation, not a hair of his body moving. “From whom did you learn such excellent meditation?” I asked. “From a cat crouching over a mouse-hole,” he replied. “He was much stiller than I am.”
— — —
One night report was brought to the people of Qadesiya. “A friend of Lord Almighty has confined himself in the Valley of Lions. Go and recover him.”
All the people went out to the Valley of Lions. There they found that Noori had dug a grave and was sitting there, surrounded by crouching lions. They interceded with him, and conducted him back to Qadesiya, where they asked him his story.
“For a while I had eaten nothing,” he told them. “I was traversing this desert when I espied a date-tree. I had a longing for fresh dates. Then I said, ‘There is still room left for desire. I will go down into this valley, that the lions may rend you, my appetite, then you will no longer desire dates.’”
— — —
“One day,” Noori recalled, “I was washing myself in a pool when a thief came and stole my clothes. I had not yet emerged from the water when he brought them back, and his hand had become withered. I cried, ‘O Allah, since he has brought back my clothes, give him back his hand!’ At once his hand was healed.”
— — —
Fire broke out in the Bazaar of Slavers in Baghdad, and many people were burnt to death. In one shop were two young Greek slaves, very handsome youths; the flames were lapping round them.
“Anyone who will fetch them out,” cried their owner, “I will give a thousand gold dinars.”
No one dared to attempt the rescue. All at once Noori arrived on the scene. He saw the two young slaves, shouting for help.
“Allah! In the Name of the Merciful, the Compassionate.” So saying, he plunged in and brought them both to safety. The owner of the slaves offered Noori the thousand gold dinars.
“Keep your gold,” Noori told him. “And give thanks to Allah. For this dignity that has been conferred on me has been conferred because of not accepting gold, exchanging this world for the next.”
— — —
One day a blind man was crying, “Allah, Allah!” Noori went up to him and said, “What do you know of Him? And if you know, yet you still live?”
So saying, he lost his senses, and was so filled with mystic yearning that he went out into the desert, to freshly-harvested reed-beds. The reeds pierced his feet and sides, and the blood gushed forth. Every drop that fell, the words “Allah, Allah” appeared.
Abu Nasr Sarraj states that when they brought him from that place to his home, they said to him, “Say, There is no Lord but Allah Almighty.” “Why, I am on my way There,” he replied. And thereupon he died.
Tadhkirat al-Auliya (Memorial of the Saints)