Abu Othman al-Hiri
Sa’id ibn Esma’il al-Hiri al-Nisaburi came originally from Rayy, where
he knew Yahya ibn Mo’adh al-Razi and Shah ibn Shoja’ al-Kermani. He
moved to Nishapur where he came under the influence of Abu Hafs al-
Haddad. He visited al-Jonaid in Baghdad, and died at Nishapur in 298
The education of Abu
“My heart even in the days of my childhood was always seeking after
something of reality,” said Abu
Othman-e Hiri. “I had an aversion for the followers of formal religion,
and I was always convinced that something
else existed apart from what the general mass of the people believed in,
that the Islamic way of life held
mysteries other than its external manifestations.”
Abu Othman was going to school accompanied by four slaves, an
Ethiop, a Greek, a Kashmiri,
and a Turk. In his hand he carried a golden pen-case; he wore on
his head a muslin turban, on his back a silk
robe. Passing on his way an ancient caravanserai, he peeped in
and saw there an ass with sores on its back,
a raven was pecking at its wounds, and the beast had not the
strength to drive it away. Abu Othman was
filled with compassion.
“Why are you with
me?” he addressed one of the slaves.
“To assist you in every thought that passes through your mind,” the
Immediately Abu Othman took off his silken dress and covered the donkey
with it, bandaging the beast
with his muslin turban. With mute eloquence the ass at once communed
with God Almighty. Before ever he
reached home, Abu Othman was visited by a spiritual experience such as
true men of God know.
Like one distraught, he found his way to the assembly of Yahya-e Mo’adh;
his preaching opened a door in
his heart. Breaking away from his mother and father, Abu Othman served
Yahya for a while, learning the
Sufi discipline. This continued until a party arrived from Shah-e Shoja’-e
Kermani and told stories of that
holy man. A great eagerness to see Shah-e Shoja’ invaded Abu Othman.
Having obtained permission from his
spiritual preceptor he proceeded to Kerman, to wait on the saint. Shah-e
Shoja’ declined to receive him.
“You have become habituated to hope,” he told him.
“Yahya’s station is hope. Spiritual advancement cannot be looked for in
one brought up on hope. Blind attachment
to hope generates idleness. With Yahya, hope is a real experience; with
you it is blind imitation.”
Abu Othman entreated the saint with great humility, haunting his
threshold for twenty days, till at last he
was admitted. He remained in his society and derived much benefit from
his instruction until the time came
when Shah-e Shoja’ set out for Nishapur to visit Abu Hafs. Abu Othman
accompanied him, the saint wearing
a short tunic. Abu Hafs came out to receive Shah-e Shoja’ and showered
praises upon him.
Abu Othman’s whole desire was to join the company of Abu Hafs, but his
reverence for Shah-e Shoja’
prevented him from broaching the matter, for Shah-e Shoja’ was a jealous
teacher. Abu Othman begged God
to provide some means whereby he might remain with Abu Hafs without
annoying Shah-e Shoja’; for he perceived
that Abu Hafs was a man of great spiritual advancement. When Shah-e
Shoja’ determined that it was time to
return to Kerman, Abu Othman busied himself with making ready provisions
for the road. Then one day
Abu Hafs said to Shah-e Shoja’ very affably, “Leave this young man here.
I am delighted with him.”
“Obey the shaikh,” said Shah-e Shoja’, turning to Abu Othman. With that
Shah-e Shoja’ departed, and
Abu Othman remained, and saw what he saw. “I was still a young man,” Abu
“when Abu Hafs dismissed me from his service. ‘I do not wish you to come
near me any more,’ he told me. I
said nothing, and my heart would not suffer me to turn my back on him.
So I withdrew facing him as I was,
weeping all the while, till I vanished from his sight. I made a place
opposite him and cut out a hole through
which I watched him. I firmly resolved never to leave that spot unless
the shaikh ordered me. When the
shaikh noticed me there and observed my sorry state, he called me out
and promoted me to his favour, marrying
his daughter to me.”
Anecdotes of Abu Othman
“For forty years,” said Abu Othman, “whatever state God has kept me in I
have not resented, and to whatever
state He has transferred me I have not been angry.”
The following story bears out this assertion. A man who disbelieved in
Abu Othman sent him an invitation.
Abu Othman accepted, and got as far as the door of his house. The man
then shouted at him.
“Glutton, there is nothing here for you. Go home!” Abu Othman went home.
He had gone only a little
way when the man called out to him.
“Shaikh, come here!”
Abu Othman returned.
“You are very eager to eat,” the man taunted him.
“There is still less. Be off with you!”
The shaikh departed. The man summoned him again, and he went back.
“Eat stones, or go home!”
Abu Othman went off once more. Thirty times the man summoned him and
drove him away. Thirty times
the shaikh came and went, without showing the least discomposure. Then
the man fell at his feet and with
tears repented, becoming his disciple. “What a man you are!” he
exclaimed. “Thirty times
I drove you off with contumely, and you showed not the slightest
“This is an easy matter,” Abu Othman replied.
“Dogs do the same. When you drive them away they go, and when you call
them they come, without showing
any discomposure. A thing in which dogs equal us cannot really be
accounted anything. Men’s work is
something quite other.”
One day Abu Othman was walking along the street when someone emptied a
tray of ashes on his head
from the roof. His companions, infuriated, were about to abuse the
offender, but Abu Othman stopped them.
“One should give thanks a thousandfold,” he said, “that one who merited
fire was let off with ashes!”
A dissolute young fellow was strolling along with a lute in his hand,
completely drunk. Suddenly catching
sight of Abu Othman, he tucked his curls under his cap and drew the lute
into his sleeve, thinking that he
would denounce him to the authorities. Abu Othman approached him in the
“Do not be afraid. Brothers are all one,” he said. When the young man
saw that, he repented and
became a disciple of the shaikh. Abu Othman instructed him to be washed,
invested him, and then raised his
head to heaven. “O God,” he cried, “I have done my part. The rest Thou
must do.” Immediately the youth was visited by such a mystical
experience that Abu Othman himself was amazed. At the time of the
afternoon prayers, Abu Othman-e Maghrebi arrived. Abu Othman-e Hiri said
“Shaikh, I am consumed with envy. All that I have yearned for in a long
life has been poured freely on the
head of this youth, from whose belly the odour of wine still proceeds.
So you know that men propose, but God