Sufi Biography: Somnun
‘1-Hasan Somnun ibn ‘Abd Allah (Hamza) al-Khauwas, a companion of Sari
al-Saqati, was called “the Lover” because of his discourses and poems
on the theme of mystical love. Denounced by Gholam al-Khalil, he died
c. 300 (913).
called the Lover (he called himself Somnun the Liar) was a companion of
Sari-e Saqati and a contemporary of Jonaid. He had a special doctrine
about love, which he promoted above gnosis, contrary to the view of the
majority of the Sufi masters.
When Somnun went to Hejaz the
people of Faid invited him to preach. He entered the pulpit and began
to hold forth, but found no one to listen to him. He therefore turned
to the mosque-lamps and said, “I am going to speak to you about love.”
Immediately the lamps dashed upon one another and broke into pieces.
day when he was preaching on love a bird swooped down out of the air
and perched first on his head, then on his hand, then on his breast.
Then it dropped from his breast on to the ground and struck its beak so
violently against the ground that the blood gushed forth from it. Then
the bird collapsed and died.
It is related that towards the
end of his life, to accord with the Prophet’s example, Somnun married
and in due course had a daughter. When the child was three years old
Somnun became very attached to her. That night he dreamed that the
resurrection had come to pass. He saw that a standard had been set up
for every community; one standard was so bright that its radiance
filled the plains of Heaven.
“To whom does this standard belong?” Somnun enquired.
the people of whom God says, He loves them and they love Him,” came the
answer (meaning that it was the standard of lovers).
Somnun ranged himself among those under that banner. One came along and drove him out of their midst.
“Why do you drive me out?” Somnun shouted.
“Because this is the standard of lovers,” came the reply. “You are not one of them.”
“Why not?” cried Somnun. “After all, they call me Somnun the Lover, and God knows what is in my heart.”
you were a lover,” came the answer. “But when your heart inclined
towards that child, your name was expunged from the roll of lovers.”
Even as he dreamed Somnun made supplication.
“O God, if this child is to waylay me, remove her from my path.”
When he awoke the cry went up, “The little girl fell from the roof and died.”
It is further related that once Somnun was reciting this couplet.
I have no joy in aught but Thee;
So, as Thou wilt, make trial of me.
his urine was blocked. He went about from school to school saying to
the children, “Pray for your liar of an uncle that God may heal him!”
Somnun and Gholam Khalil
Khalil had made himself known to the caliph as a Sufi, bartering away
his eternal salvation for worldly advantage. He always maligned the
Sufis before the caliph, his intention being to secure their
banishment, so that none should enjoy the blessing of their presence,
and to maintain himself in power and that he might not be disgraced.
Somnun grew to full stature and his fame spread abroad, Gholam Khalil
occasioned him much suffering, always watching for an opportunity of
bringing about his disgrace. Then one day a wealthy woman offered
herself to Somnun.
“Ask my hand in marriage,” she said.
refused. The woman then went to Jonaid and begged him to intercede for
her and persuade Somnun to marry her, but Jonaid rebuked her and drove
her away. The woman therefore repaired to Gholam Khalil and laid
allegations against Somnun. Gholam Khalil was delighted, and turned the
caliph against Somnun. Then the caliph ordered Somnun to be slain. The
executioner having been summoned, the caliph was about to say, “Behead
him”; but he was struck dumb and he could not speak, his tongue
sticking in his throat. That night he dreamed that a voice said to him,
“Your kingdom is bound up with Somnun’s life.” Next morning the caliph
sent for Somnun and sent him away with all honour, treating him with
the highest consideration.
Thereafter Gholam’s hostility towards Somnun increased still more. Towards the end of his life he was smitten with leprosy.
“Gholam Khalil has become a leper,” someone related to Somnun.
would seem,” Somnun replied, “that some immature Sufi has formed
designs against him and not done good. For he was an opponent of the
masters, and from time to time impeded them by his actions. God grant
These words were reported to Gholam Khalil. He
repented of all his sins, and sent all that he possessed to the Sufis.
They however refused to accept anything.