Sufi Biography: Abu Hafs al-Haddad

Sufi Biography: Abu Hafs al-Haddad

Abu Hafs ‘Amr ibn Salama al-Haddad, a blacksmith of Nishapur, visited Baghdad and met al al Jonaid who admired his devotion; he also encountered al-Shebli and other mystics of the Baghdad school. Returning to Nishapur, he resumed his trade and died there in 265 (879).

How Abu Hafs-e Haddad was converted

As a young man Abu Hafs-e Haddad fell in love with a serving wench so desperately that he could not compose
himself. “There is a Jewish magician living in the suburbs of Nishapur,” his friends told him. “He will prescribe for
you.” Abu Hafs went and described his situation to the Jew.“You must not pray for forty days, or obey God in
any way, or do any good deed,” the Jew advised him.


“You should not mention God’s name on your tongue,
or form any good intentions whatsoever. Then I may devise something by magic to procure you your goal.”
Abu Hafs conducted himself accordingly for forty days. Then the Jew composed the talisman, but without
success. “Without doubt some good has come into being through you,” the Jew said. “Otherwise I am certain
that this object would have been achieved.”

“I have done nothing,” Abu Hafs assured him. “The
only thing I can think of is that as I came here I kicked a stone out of the way so that no one might trip over
it.” “Do not vex the God,” said the Jew, “whose command you gainsay for forty days, and who of His generosity
suffered not to go to waste even this little trouble you took.” These words kindled a fire within Abu Hafs’s heart.
So strong was it, that he was converted at the hands of the Jew.
He continued to practise his trade as a blacksmith, concealing the miracle that had happened to him.
Every day he earned one dinar. At night he gave his earnings to the poor, and dropped money into widows’
letter-boxes surreptitiously. Then at the time of the prayer of sleep he would go begging, and break
his fast on that. Sometimes he would gather the remains of leeks or the like which people had washed
in the public basin and make his meal of them. So he continued for a time. Then one day a blind
man passed through the market reciting this verse: “I take refuge with God from the accursed Satan. In the
Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Yet there would appear to them from God that they
never reckoned with.” This verse occupied his heart, and something came upon him so that he lost consciousness.
In place of the tongs he put his hand in the furnace and pulled out the red-hot iron. He laid
it on the anvil, and the apprentices set to hammering it. They then noticed he was turning the iron with his

“Master, what ever is this?” they cried.
“Strike!” he shouted at the apprentices.
“Master, where shall we strike?” they asked. “The iron is clean.”
Thereupon Abu Hafs came to his senses. He saw the red-hot iron in his hand and heard the cry, “It is clean.
Where shall we strike?” Flinging the iron from his hand, he abandoned his shop for any to pillage.
“I desired so long deliberately to give up this work and failed, until this event came upon me and forcibly
wrested me from myself. Though I kept trying to abandon this work, all was to no purpose until the work
abandoned me.” And he applied himself to severe self-discipline, and
took up the life of solitude and meditation. Abu Hafs-e Haddad and Jonaid
Abu Hafs resolved to make the pilgrimage. Now he was an illiterate and did not understand Arabic. When
he came to Baghdad, the Sufi disciples whispered together.
“It is a great disgrace that the Shaikh of Shaikhs of Khorasan should require an interpreter to understand
their language.”
Jonaid sent his disciples out to welcome him. Abu Hafs knew what “our companions” were thinking, and
at once he began to speak in Arabic so that the people of Baghdad were amazed at the purity of his speech. A
number of the great scholars gathered before him and questioned him on self-sacrificing love.
“You are able to express yourselves. You say,” Abu Hafs replied.
“As I see it,” said Jonaid, “true self-sacrifice means that you should not regard yourself as self-sacrificing,
and that you should not attribute to yourself whatever you may have done.”
“Excellent,” commented Abu Hafs. “But as I see it, self sacrifice means acting with justice towards others,
and not seeking justice for oneself.” “Act on that, our companions,” said Jonaid.
“To act rightly requires more than words,” retorted Abu Hafs.
“Rise up, our companions,” Jonaid commanded when he heard this reply. “Abu Hafs exceeds in selfsacrifice
Adam and all his seed.”

Abu Hafs kept his companions in great awe and discipline. No disciple dared to be seated before him or to
cast his glance on him. They always stood before him, and would not sit without his command. He himself
sat in their midst like a sultan. “You have taught your companions the manners due
to a sultan,” Jonaid observed. “You can only see the superscription,” Abu Hafs
replied. “But from the address it is possible to indicate what is in the letter.’’
Then Abu Hafs said, “Order them to make broth and halwa.”
Jonaid directed one of his disciples to make them. When he brought the dishes, Abu Hafs proceeded.
“Call a porter and put them on his head. Let him carry them until he is tired out. Then, whatever house
he has reached, let him call out, and whoever comes to the door, let him give them to him.”
The porter obeyed these instructions. He went on until he felt tired and could go no farther. Setting the
dishes down by the door of a house, he called out. The owner of the house, an elder, replied.
“If you have brought broth and halwa, I will open the door.”
“I have,” replied the porter. “Bring them in,” said the elder, opening the door.
“I was amazed,” the porter related. “I asked the old man, ‘What is going on? How did you know that I had
brought broth and halwa?’ The old man answered, ‘Last night when I was at my prayers, the thought came
into my mind that my children had been begging me for them for a long time. I know that my prayer has not
been in vain.’ “ There was a disciple who waited on Abu Hafs with
great politeness.

Jonaid gazed at him many times, for his conduct delighted him.
“How many years has he been in your service?” he asked Abu Hafs.
“Ten years,” Abu Hafs replied. “
He is perfect in his manners and wonderfully dignified.
An admirable young man,” Jonaid observed.
“Yes,” Abu Hafs said. “Seventeen thousand dinars he has expended on our cause, and borrowed another
seventeen thousand and spent them as well. And yet he dares not address one question to us.”
Abu Hafs then set out into the desert. He gave the following account of what happened to him there.
In the desert (he said) I saw Abu Torab. I had not eaten for sixteen days. I approached a pool to drink,
and fell to meditating.

“What has halted you here?” asked Abu Torab. “I was waiting to see as between knowledge and certainty,
which would prevail, that I might adopt the victor,” I replied. “If the victory went to knowledge, I
would drink; if certainty prevailed, I would continue on my way.”
“You are certainly advancing,” said Abu Torab.

When Abu Hafs arrived in Mecca he saw a throng of poor and destitute pilgrims there. He desired to bestow
something on them, and became extremely agitated. He was so overcome by his feelings that he picked up a
stone and cried,

“By Thy majesty, if Thou dost not give me something I will break all the lamps in the mosque.”
He then proceeded to circle the Kaaba. Immediately a man came up to him and gave him a purse of gold,
which he spent on the poor. Having completed the pilgrimage, he returned to
Baghdad. There Jonaid’s companions went out to welcome him.
“What present have you brought us from your journey?” asked Jonaid.
“Perhaps one of ‘our companions’ is unable to live as he should,” replied Abu Hafs. “This that I have to say
can be my offering. If you observe in a brother a lack of good manners, discover in yourself an excuse for
him and excuse him to yourself accordingly. If the dust of misunderstanding does not rise as a result of that
excuse, and you are in the right, discover some better excuse and excuse him to yourself again. If still the dust
does not rise, go on inventing another excuse, even to forty times. If still the dust does not rise, and you are in
the right, and those forty excuses do not measure up to the fault he has committed, then sit down and say to
yourself, ‘What a stubborn and unenlightened soul you are! What an opinionated and unmannerly and boorish
fellow you are! Your brother offers forty excuses for his offence, and you do not accept them and continue
in the same course! I have washed my hands of you.

You know what you want; do as you please.’ “
Jonaid marvelled at these words. “Who can have such strength?” he asked himself.
Abu Hafs and Shebli Shebli gave hospitality to Abu Hafs for four months.
Every day he produced a different kind of dish and several sorts of sweetmeat.
When Abu Hafs came to bid him farewell, he said, “Shebli, when you come to Nishapur I will teach you
true entertainment and generosity.” “Why, what have I done, Abu Hafs?” asked Shebli.

“You took too great pains. Extravagance is not the same as generosity,” said Abu Hafs. “One should treat
a guest exactly as oneself. That way, his coming will not be a burden to you, and his departure will not be
an occasion of gladness. When you go to extravagant lengths, his coming is burdensome to you and his
departure a relief. No man who feels like that towards a guest is truly generous.”
When Shebli came to Nishapur he stayed with Abu Hafs. Forty persons were in the party, and at night Abu
Hafs lit forty-one lamps. “Did you not say one should not act extravagantly?”
remarked Shebli.

“Then get up and put them out,” answered Abu Hafs.
Shebli got up, but for all his efforts he could not extinguish more than one lamp.
“Shaikh, how is this?” he asked. “You were forty persons, emissaries of God. For the
guest is an emissary of God. Naturally I lit a lamp in the name of each one, for the sake of God, and one for
myself. Those forty which I lit for God you were unable to put out, but the one lit for myself you extinguished.
All that you did in Baghdad you did for my sake; I did what I did for God’s sake. So the former was
extravagance, the latter not.”