Sufi Biography: Abd Allah ibn al-Mobarak

Sufi Biography: Abd Allah ibn al-Mobarak

Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mobarak al-Hanzali al-Marwazi, born in 118 (736) of a Turkish father and a Persian mother, was a noted authority on Traditions and a famous ascetic. He studied under many teachers in Merv and elsewhere, and became erudite in many branches of learning, including grammar and literature.

A wealthy merchant who distributed much in alms to the poor, he died at Hit on the Euphrates in 181 (797). He composed many works on Traditions, and one of these, on the theme of asceticism, has survived.


The conversion of Abd Allah-e Mobarak

The circumstances of Abd Allah-e Mobarak’s conversion were as follows. He became infatuated with a girl,
so much so that he could not rest. One night during the winter he stood beneath the wall of his beloved’s apartment until morning, waiting to catch a glimpse of her. All night it snowed. When the call to prayer sounded, he supposed that it was for the prayer before sleeping. Seeing the daybreak,
he realized that he had been absorbed all night in his longing for his beloved.

“Shame on you, son of Mobarak!” he cried. “On such a blessed night you stood on your feet till morning
because of your private passion, yet if the imam is over long in reciting a Sura during prayer you are quite

Anguish gripped his heart forthwith, and he repented and devoted himself busily to worship. So complete
was his devotion, that one day his mother, entering the garden, saw him sleeping under a rosebush whilst a
snake with a narcissus in its mouth was driving flies away from him.

After that he set forth from Merv and stayed for a time in Baghdad, associating with the Sufi masters
there. Then he proceeded to Mecca where he resided for a space, after which he returned to Merv. The people
of Merv welcomed him back warmly, and set up classes and study-groups. At that time half of the people
were followers of Traditions and half devoted themselves to jurisprudence. So today Abd Allah is
known as “the Approved of the Two Sects” because he was in accord with each, and both claimed him as their
own. Abd Allah founded two colleges in Merv, one for traditionists and the other for jurisprudents. He then
left for Hejaz, and took up residence in Mecca again. In alternate years he would perform the pilgrimage,
and go out to the wars, and a third year he would engage in commerce. The profits of his trading he
divided among his followers. He used to give dates to the poor, and count the date-stones; whoever ate more
dates, he would offer a dirham for every stone. So scrupulous was he in his piety, that on one occasion
he had alighted at an inn. Now he had a valuable horse; he proceeded to prayer. Meanwhile his horse
wandered into a field of wheat. He abandoned his horse there and proceeded on foot, saying, “He has
devoured the crop of the authorities.” On another occasion he made the journey all the way from Merv to
Damascus to return a pen which he had borrowed and forgotten to give back.

One day as he was passing through a certain place they informed a blind man living there that Abd Allah
was coming. “Ask of him all that you require.”

“Stop, Abd Allah,” the blind man called. Abd Allah halted.
“Pray to God to restore my sight,” the man begged.
Abd Allah lowered his head and prayed. At once the man saw again.

Abd Allah-e Mobarak and Ali ibn al-Mowaffaq
Abd Allah was living at Mecca. One year, having completed the rites of the pilgrimage, he fell asleep. In a
dream he saw two angels descend from heaven. “How many have come this year?” one asked the
other. “Six hundred thousand,” the other replied.
“How many have had their pilgrimage accepted?”
“Not one.”
“When I heard this,” Abd Allah reports, “I was filled with trembling. ‘What?’ I cried. ‘All these people have
come from afar out of the distant ends of the earth and with great pain and weariness from every deep ravine,
traversing wide deserts, and all their labour is in vain?’
‘There is a cobbler in Damascus called Ali ibn
Mowaffaq,’ said the angel. ‘He has not come on the pilgrimage , but his pilgrimage is accepted and all his
sins have been forgiven.’
“When I heard this,” Abd Allah continued, “I awoke
saying, ‘I must go to Damascus and visit that person.’

So I went to Damascus and looked for where he lived. I shouted, and someone came out. ‘What is your
name?’ I asked. ‘Ali ibn Mowaffaq,’ he replied. ‘I wish to speak with you,’ I said. ‘Say on,’ he replied. ‘What
work do you do?’ ‘I cobble.’ I then told him of my dream. ‘What is your name?’ he enquired when I had
done. ‘Abd Allah-e Mobarak,’ I replied. He uttered a cry and fell in a faint. When he recovered I said to him,
‘Tell me your story.’

“The man told me, ‘For thirty years now I have longed to make the pilgrimage. I had saved up three
hundred and fifty dirhams from my cobbling. This year I had resolved to go to Mecca. One day the good lady
within becoming pregnant, she smelt the smell of food coming from next door. “Go and fetch me a bit of that
food,” she begged me. I went and knocked on the neighbour’s door and explained the situation. My
neighbour burst into tears. “My children have eaten nothing for three days together,” she said. “Today I
saw a donkey lying dead, so I hacked off a piece and cooked it. It would not be lawful food for you.” My
heart burned within me when I heard her tale. I took out the three hundred and fifty dirhams and gave them
to her. “Spend these on the children,” I said. “This is my pilgrimage.” ‘

“The angel spoke truly in my dream,” Abd Allah declared, “and the Heavenly King was true in His judgment.”

Abd Allah-e Mobarak and his slave

Abd Allah had a slave. A man told him, “That slave of yours plunders the dead and gives you the proceeds.”
This information distressed Abd Allah. One night he followed on his slave’s heels. He went to a cemetery
and opened a grave. In the grave was a prayer-niche, where the slave stood at prayer. Abd Allah, who had
watched all this from a distance, crept nearer. He saw that the slave was clothed in sackcloth and had put a
collar round his neck. Rubbing his face in the earth, he was wailing. Observing this, Abd Allah crept away
weeping and sat apart in a corner.

The slave remained in that place until dawn. Then he came up and covered over the grav
e, and proceeded to the mosque and said his morning prayers.
“My God,” he cried, “day has returned. My temporal lord will ask me for money. Thou art the riches of
the bankrupt. Give Thou to me from whence Thou knowest.”

Immediately a light shone out of the sky, and a silver dirham dropped into the slave’s hand. Abd Allah could
not bear to watch any more. He rose up and took the head of the slave into his bosom and kissed him.
“A thousand lives be the ransom of such a slave!” he exclaimed. “You were the master, not I.”
“O God,” cried the slave, perceiving what had happened, “now that my veil has been stripped away and
my secret is revealed, no more repose remains for me in this world. I implore Thee by Thy might and glory, suffer
me not to be a cause of stumbling. Take away my soul.”

His head was still lying in Abd Allah’s bosom when he expired. Abd Allah laid him out and wrapped him
in a winding-sheet, then he buried him in that same sackcloth in the selfsame grave.

That night Abd Allah saw the Master of the World in a dream, and the Friend of God Abraham with him,
each come down riding a heavenly horse. “Abd Allah,” they said, “why did you bury our
friend in sackcloth?”