Sufi Biography: aI-Termedhi
One of the outstanding creative thinkers of Islamic mysticism, Abu Abd Allah Mohammad ibn Ali ibn al-Hosain al-Hakim al-Termedhi was driven out of his native town of Termedh and took refuge in Nishapur, where he was preaching in 285 (898). His psychological writings influenced al-Ghazali, whilst his startling theory of sainthood was taken over and developed by Ibn Arabi. A copious author, many of his books, including an autobiographical sketch, have been
preserved and a number have been published.
The training of Hakim-e Termedhi
At the beginning of his career, Mohammad ibn Ali-e Termedhi arranged with two students to set out with
them in quest of knowledge. When they were just ready to leave, his mother became very sorrowful.
Soul of your mother, she addressed her son, I am a feeble woman, and have no one in the world. You
look after my affairs. To whom will you leave me, alone and feeble as I am?
Her words pained Termedhi, and he abandoned his journey while his two friends went off in quest of
knowledge. Some time elapsed. Then one day he was sitting in the cemetery, weeping bitterly.
Here am I left here, neglected and ignorant. My friends will come back, perfectly trained scholars.
Suddenly there appeared a luminous elder who addressed him.
My son, why do you weep?
Termedhi told him his tale.
Would you like me to teach you a lesson daily, so that you will soon outstrip them? he asked.
I would, Termedhi replied.
So, Termedhi recalled, every day he taught me a lesson, till three years had gone by. Then I realized that
he was Khezr, and that I had attained this felicity because I pleased my mother.
Every Sunday (so Abu Bakr-e Warraq reports) Khezr would visit Termedhi and they would converse on
every matter. One day he said to me, Today I will take you somewhere.
The master knows best, I replied.
I set out with him, and within a little while I espied an arduous and harsh desert, in the midst of which a
golden throne was set under a verdant tree by a spring of water. Someone apparelled in beautiful raiment was
seated on the throne. The shaikh approached him, whereupon this person rose up and set Termedhi on the
throne. In a little while a company gathered from all directions, until forty persons were assembled. They
made a signal to heaven and food appeared, and they ate. The shaikh asked that person questions which he
answered, but in such language that I did not understand a single word. After a time Termedhi begged
leave to go, and took his departure.
Go, he said to me. You have been blessed. In a while we were back in Termedh. I then questioned
the shaikh. What was all that? What place was it, and who was
It was the wilderness of the Children of Israel,
Termedhi replied. That man was the Pole.
How was it that we went and returned in such a short time? I asked.
O Abu Bakr, he answered, when He conveys, one is able to arrive! What business is it of yours to know
the why and wherefore? To arrive is your task, not to ask!
However hard I strove to keep my carnal soul in subjection, Termedhi related, I could not prevail
over it. In my despair I said, Haply Almighty God has created this soul for Hell. Why nurture a creature
doomed to Hell? Proceeding to the banks of the Oxus, I begged a man to bind me hand and foot. He left me
thus, and I rolled over and flung myself into the water, hoping to drown myself. The impact of the water freed
my hands; then a wave came and cast me up on the bank. Despairing of myself, I cried, Glory be to Thee,
O God, who hast created a soul that is not proper either for Heaven or Hell! In the very moment of my
self-despair, by the blessing of that cry my secret heart was opened and I saw what was necessary for me. In
that selfsame hour I vanished from myself. So long as I have lived, I have lived by the blessing of that hour.
Abu Bakr-e Warraq also relates the following.
One day Termedhi handed over to me many volumes of his writings to cast into the Oxus. I examined them
and found they were replete with mystic subtleties and truths. I could not bring myself to carry out his instructions,
and instead stored them in my room. I then told him that I had thrown them in.
What did you see? he asked.
Nothing, I replied.
You did not throw them in, he concluded. Go and do so.
I see two problems, I said to myself. First, why does he want them flung into the water? And second,
what visible proof will there be?
However, I went back and threw the books into the Oxus. I saw the river open up, and an open chest
appeared; the volumes fell into it, then the lid closed and the river subsided. I was astonished.
Did you throw them in this time? Termedhi questioned me when I returned to him.
Master, by Gods glory, I cried, tell me the secret behind this.
I had composed something on the science of the Sufis, the disclosing of the verification of which was
difficult for human minds to grasp, he replied. My brother Khezr entreated me. The chest was brought by
a fish at his bidding, and Almighty God commanded the waters to convey it to him.
Anecdotes of Termedhi
In Termedhis time lived a great ascetic who was always criticizing him. Now in all the world Termedhi possessed
nothing but a cabin. When he returned from his journey to Hejaz, a dog had whelped in that cabin,
which had no door. Termedhi did not wish to drive the dog out, and he went and came eighty times in the hope
that the dog would have of its own free will carried its puppies out.
That same night the ascetic saw the Prophet in a dream.
Sirrah, you put yourself up against a man who eighty times brought succour to a dog, the Prophet
said. If you desire eternal happiness, go, bind up your loins and serve him.
The ascetic, too ashamed to answer Termedhis greetings, thereafter spent the rest of his life in his service.
When the master is angry with you, do you know? someone asked Termedhis family.
We know, they replied. Whenever he is vexed with us, that day he is even kinder to us than usual. He
takes neither bread nor water, and weeps and supplicates, saying, O God, in what did I vex Thee, that
Thou hast provoked them against me? O God, I repent; restore them to rectitude. So we know, and repent, to
deliver the master out of his affliction.
For a while Termedhi did not see Khezr. Then one day a maidservant had washed the babys clothes, filling
a basin with the babys excreta. Meanwhile the shaikh, dressed in clean robes and with a spotless turban,
was proceeding to the mosque. The girl, flying into a rage over some trifle, emptied the basin over the
shaikhs head. Termedhi said nothing, and swallowed his anger. Immediately he rediscovered Khezr.
In his youth a certain lovely woman invited Termedhi to take her, but he refused. Then one day the
woman, learning that he was in a garden, arrayed herself and proceeded thither. As soon as the shaikh
became aware of her approach, he fled. The woman ran after him, screaming that he was after her blood.
Termedhi took no notice, but climbed a high wall and flung himself over.
One day in his old age Termedhi was reviewing his acts and sayings, and remembered that incident. The
thought entered his mind, What would it have mattered if I had gratified that womans need? After all, I
was young, and I could afterwards have repented.
When he perceived this thought in his mind, he was filled with anguish.
Foul and rebellious soul! he exclaimed. Forty years ago, in the first flush of youth, this thought did
not occur to you. Now in old age, after so many struggles, whence has come this repining over a sin not committed?
Very sorrowful, for three days he sat in mourning for this thought. After three days he saw the Prophet in a
Mohammad, do not grieve, said the Prophet to him. What happened was not due to a lapse on your
part. This thought occurred to you because forty years more had passed since my death. The period of my
leaving the world had become that much longer, and I was withdrawn further away. It is no sin of yours, no
shortcoming in your spiritual progress. What you experienced was due to the long extension of the period of my departure from the world, not to any deficiency in your character.
The following narrative is ascribed to Termedhi.
When Adam and Eve came together and their repentance was accepted, one day Adam went out on business.
Then Iblis brought his child called Khannas to Eve.
Something important has come up, he told her. Please look after my child till I return.
Eve consented to do so, and Iblis went on his way.
Who is this? demanded Adam on his return.
The child of Iblis, Eve answered. He left him in my charge.
Why did you consent? Adam reproved her. In a fury he slew the child and cut him into pieces, and hung
each piece from the branch of a tree. Then he went off.
Presently Iblis returned. Where is my son? he asked.
Eve reported to him what had happened. He cut him in pieces and hung each piece on the
branch of a tree. Iblis called to his son. He reassembled and became
alive and ran to his father. Take him, Iblis begged Eve again. I have another
task to do.
At first Eve would not agree, but Iblis pleaded and entreated her so earnestly that at last she consented. So
Iblis took his departure, and Adam returned to find the child there again.
What is this? he demanded. Eve explained what had happened. Adam beat her
severely. I do not know what the mystery of this is, he
cried, that you disobey me and obey that enemy of God, and are duped by his words.
He slew the child and burned his body, then scattered his ashes, half in the water and half to the winds.
So he departed. Iblis came back again and asked for his son. Eve told
him what had come to pass. Iblis shouted to his son, and the pieces reassembled and came to life, and sat
before Iblis. Once more Iblis spoke to Eve, and she refused him.
Adam will kill me. Iblis adjured her with many oaths, until she consented.
Iblis then departed, and Adam returned to discover the child with her once more.
God knows what will happen now, he cried out in anger. You heed his words and not mine.
Furious, he slew Khannas and cooked him. He ate one half himself, and the other half he gave to Eve.
(They also say that on the final occasion Iblis had brought Khannas back in the form of a sheep.)
Iblis returned and demanded his son. Eve recounted what had transpired.
He cooked him. One half I ate, and one half Adam.
This was what I was after, Iblis shouted. I aimed to insinuate myself into Adam. Now that his breast has
become my abode, my purpose is realized.