Sufi Biography: Abol-Qasem-al-Jonaid (Junaid Baghdadi)

Sufi Biography: Abol-Qasem-al-Jonaid (Junaid Baghdadi)

Abo ‘l-Qasem al-Jonaid ibn Mohammad al- Khazzaz al-Nehawandi, son of a glass-merchant and nephew of Sari al-Saqati, close associate of al-Mohasebi, was the greatest exponent of the ‘sober’ school of Sufism and elaborated a theosophical doctrine which determined the whole course of orthodox mysticism in Islam. He expounded his theories in his teachings, and in a series of letters written to various contemporaries which have survived. The head of a large and
influential school, he died in Baghdad in 298 (910).

The early years of Jonaid-e Baghdadi

From childhood Jonaid was given to spiritual sorrow, and was an earnest seeker after God, well disciplined,
thoughtful and quick of understanding and of a penetrating intuition.


One day he returned home from school to find his father in tears.
“What happened?” he enquired.
“I took something by way of alms to your uncle Sari,” his father told him. “He would not accept it. I am weeping because I have given my whole life to save
these five dirhams, and then this offering is not meet for one of the friends of God to receive.”
“Give me the money, and I will give it to him. That way he may take it,” said Jonaid.
His father gave him the dirhams, and Jonaid went off. Coming to his uncle’s house, he knocked at the
“Who is that?” came a voice.

“Jonaid,” answered the boy. “Open the door and take this due offering of alms.”
“I will not take it,” cried Sari.
“I beg you to take it, by the God who has dealt so
graciously with you and so justly with my father,” cried Jonaid.
“Jonaid, how did God deal graciously with me and justly with him?” demanded Sari.
“God was gracious to you,” Jonaid replied, “in vouchsafing you poverty. To my father God was just in
occupying him with worldly affairs. You are at liberty to accept or reject as you please. He, whether he likes
it or not, must convey the due alms on his possessions to the one deserving of it.”
This answer pleased Sari.
“Child, before I accept these alms, I have accepted you.” So saying, Sari opened the door and took the alms.
He assigned to Jonaid a special place in his heart.

Jonaid was only seven years old when Sari took him on the pilgrimage. In the Mosque of the Sanctuary the
question of thankfulness was being discussed by four hundred shaikhs. Each shaikh expounded his own

“You also say something,” Sari prompted Jonaid. “Thankfulness,” said Jonaid, “means that you
should not disobey God by means of the favour which He has bestowed on you, nor make of His favour a
source of disobedience.” “Well said, O consolation of true believers,” cried
the four hundred. They were unanimous that a better definition could not be devised.
“Boy,” said Sari, “it will soon come to pass that your special gift from God will be your tongue.”
Jonaid wept when he heard his uncle say this. “Where did you acquire this?” Sari demanded.
“From sitting with you,” Jonaid replied. Jonaid then returned to Baghdad, and took up selling glasses. Every day he would go to the shop and draw down the blind and perform four hundred rak’as.

After a time he abandoned the shop and withdrew to a room in the porch of Sari’s house, where he busied himself
with the guardianship of his heart. He unrolled the prayer rug of meticulous watchfulness, that no thought
of anything but God should pass through his mind.

Jonaid put to the proof

For forty years Jonaid persevered in his mystic course. For thirty years he would perform the prayer before
sleeping, then stand on his feet repeating “Allah” until dawn, saying the dawn prayer with the ablution he had
made the previous night. “After forty years had gone by,” he said, “the conceit
arose in me that I had att ained my goal. Immediately a voice out of Heaven spoke to me.
‘Jonaid,’ the voice cried, ‘the time has come for Me to show you the loop of your Magian girdle.’ When I
heard these words I exclaimed, ‘O God, what sin has Jonaid committed?’ ‘Do you look for a more grievous
sin than this,’ the voice replied, ‘that you exist?’ “ Jonaid sighed and lowered his head.
“He who is not worthy of union,” he murmured, “all his good works are but sins.”
He continued to sit in his room, crying “Allah, Allah” all night. The long tongues of slander were shot
out against him, and his conduct was reported to thecaliph.

“He cannot be inhibited without any proof,” said the caliph.
“Many people are being seduced by his words,” they stated.
Now the caliph possessed a handmaiden of unrivalled beauty. He had purchased her for three thousand
dinars, and loved her dearly. The caliph commanded that she should be arrayed in fine raiment and precious

“Go to such a place,” she was instructed. “Stand before Jonaid and unveil your face, and display your
jewels and raiment to him. Say to him, ‘I am possessed of much wealth, and my heart has grown weary of
worldly affairs. I have come so that you may propose to me, that in your society I may devote myself to the
service of God. My heart finds repose in no one but you.’ Display yourself to him. Unveil, and strive your
utmost to persuade him.”

She was despatched to Jonaid with a servant. The handmaiden came before Jonaid and carried out her
instructions to the letter and more. Involuntarily Jonaid’s glance fell upon her. He remained silent and
made no answer. She repeated her story. Jona id hung his head; then he raised his head.
“Ah,” he exclaimed, and breathed on the girl. The girl immediately fell to the ground and expired.
The servant who had accompanied returned to the caliph and reported what had transpired. Fire fell
upon the caliph’s soul, and he repented of what he had done.
“He who acts towards others as he should not, sees what he ought not to see,” he observed.
Rising up, he proceeded to call on Jonaid.

“Such a man one cannot summon to attend on oneself,”
he commented. “O master, how did your heart
allow it,” asked the caliph, “to consume so fair a form?”
“Prince of the Believers,” Jonaid replied, “your compassion for the faithful was so great, that you desired
to cast to the winds my forty years of discipline, of keeping vigil and self mortification. Yet who am I in all
this? Do not, that you may not be done to!” After that Jonaid’s affairs prospered. His fame
reached to all parts of the world. However much he
was persecuted, his repute increased a thousandfold. He began to preach. As he explained once, “I did not
preach to the public until thirty of the great saints indicated to me that it was proper for me to call men to God.”

“For thirty years I sat watching over my heart,” he said. “Then for ten years my heart watched over me.
Now it is twenty years that I know nothing of my heart and my heart knows nothing of me.”
“For thirty years,” he said again, “God has spoken with Jonaid by the tongue of Jonaid, Jonaid not being
there at all, and men were not aware.”

Jonaid preaches When Jonaid’s tongue was loosened to utter great words, Sari-e Saqati urged him that it was his duty to preach in public. Jonaid was hesitant, not desiring to do so.

“While the master is there, it is not seemly for the disciple to preach,” he demurred.
Then one night Jonaid saw the Prophet in a dream. “Preach,” the Prophet said.
Next morning he arose to go and report to Sari, but he found Sari standing at the door.
“Hitherto,” Sari told him, “you were inhibited, waiting for others to tell you to preach. Now you must
speak, because your words have been made the means of a whole world’s salvation. You would not speak
when the disciples asked you to. You did not speak when the shaikhs of Baghdad interceded with you. You
did not speak at my urging. Now that the Prophet has commanded you, you must speak.”
“God forgive me,” Jonaid replied. “How did you know that I saw the Prophet in a dream?”
“I saw God in a dream,” Sari explained. “God said, ‘I have sent the Messenger to tell Jonaid to preach from
the pulpit.’ “

“I will preach then,” consented Jonaid. “Only on one condition, that it be to no more than forty persons.”
One day Jonaid was preaching, and forty persons were present. Of these eighteen expired, and twentytwo
fell to the ground unconscious. They were lifted up and carried to their homes.

Another day Jonaid was preaching in the cathedral. In the congregation there was a Christian lad, but no
one knew that he was a Christian. He approached Jonaid and said, “According to the Prophet’s saying,
‘Beware of the insight of the believer, for he sees by the light of God.’ “
“The pronouncement is,” replied Jonaid, “that you should become a Muslim and cut your Christian girdle,
for this is the time of Muslimdom.”
The boy immediately became a Muslim.

After Jonaid had preached a number of times, the people cried out against him. He gave up preaching,
and retired to his room. For all that he was urged to resume, he would not do so.
“I am content,” he replied. ‘I cannot contrive my own destruction.”
Some time later he mounted the pulpit and began to preach without any prompting.
“What was the inner wisdom in this?” he was asked.
“I came upon a Tradition,” he replied, “according to which the Prophet said, ‘In the last days the
spokesman of the people will be he that is the worst of them. He will preach to them.’ I know that I am the
worst of the people. I am preaching because of what the Prophet said, so that I may not oppose his

Anecdotes of Jonaid

Once Jonaid’s eye pained him, and he sent for the doctor. “If your eye is throbbing, do not let any water get to
it,” the doctor advised. When he had gone, Jonaid performed his ablutions
and prayed, and then went to sleep. When he awoke,
his eye was well again. He heard a voice saying, “Jonaid forsook his eye to gain Our good pleasure. If
with the same intention he had begged of Us all the inhabitants of Hell, his petition would have been granted.”
The physician called and saw that his eye was healed.
“What did you do?” he asked. “I performed the ablutions for prayer,” Jonaid
answered. There upon the physician, who was a Christian, declared his conversion.
“This is the Creator’s cure, not the creature’s,” he commented. ‘It was my eye that was sick, not yours.
You were the physician, not I.”

“Once,” said Jonaid, “I desired to see Iblis. I was standing at the mosque door, when I espied an old man
approaching from afar. As I looked at him, a horror rose within me.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Your desire,” he replied.
“Accursed one,” I cried, “what thing held you back from prostrating to Adam?”
“How do you imagine, Jonaid,” Iblis replied, “that I would prostrate to any but Him?”
Jonaid described his sense of bewilderment, hearing the Devil say these words.
“A voice addressed me in my secret heart,” he recalled. “The voice said, ‘Say, You are a liar. If you had
been a true servant, you would have obeyed His command.
You would never have disregarded it and flirted with denial.’ “
When Iblis heard this speech, he uttered a loud cry. “By Allah, Jonaid, you have destroyed me!” And he vanished.
“In these days brothers in the faith have become few and far to find,” a man said in Jonaid’s presence.
“If you are looking for someone to bear your burden, such men are indeed few and far to find,” Jonaid
countered. “But if you are seeking to carry somebody’s load, such brothers are to be found in plenty with me.”
Whenever Jonaid spoke on the Divine Unity, every time he began with a different expression which no one
could understand. One day Shebli was in Jonaid’s audience and uttered the word Allah.

If God is absent, to mention the absent One is a sign of absence, and absence is a thing proscribed,” Jonaid
said. “If God is present, to mention His name while contemplating Him present is a mark of irreverence.”
A man brought five hundred dinars and offered them to Jonaid.
“Do you possess anything besides this?” Jonaid asked him.
“Yes, a lot,” the man replied.
“Do you need more?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then take it away,” Jonaid said. “You have a better right to it. I possess nothing, and I need nothing.”
A man rose up where Jonaid was preaching and began to beg.
“This man is perfectly healthy,” thought Jonaid. “He can earn his living. Why does he beg, and impose on
himself this humiliation?” That night Jonaid dreamed that a covered dish was
set before him.
“Eat,” he was bidden.
When he lifted the lid, he saw the man who had begged lying dead on the dish.
“I do not eat the flesh of men,” he protested. “Then why did you do so in mosque yesterday?” he
was asked.

Jonaid realized that he had been guilty of slander in his heart, and that he was being taken to task for an
evil thought. “I woke in terror,” Jonaid recollected. “I purified myself and said two rak’as, then I went out to search
for the beggar. I saw him on the bank of the Tigris, picking out of the water scraps of vegetables people
had washed there and eating them. Raising his head, he saw me approaching and addressed me. ‘Jonaid,’ he
said, ‘have you repented of the thoughts you had concerning me?’ ‘I have,’ I replied. ‘Then go. It is He Who
accepts repentance from His servants. This time keep a watch over your thoughts.’”
“I learned sincere belief from a barber,” Jonaid recalled, and he told the following story.
Once when I was in Mecca, a barber was trimming a gentleman’s hair. I said to him, “For the sake of God,
can you shave my hair?” “I can,” he said. His eyes filling with tears, he left the
gentleman still unfinished. “Get up,” he said. “When God’s name is spoken,
everything else must wait.”

He seated me and kissed my head, and shaved off my hair. Then he gave me a screw of paper with a few
small coins in it. “Spend this on your needs,” he said.

I thereupon resolved that the first present that came my way I would give him in charity. Not long afterwards
a bag of gold arrived from Basra. I took it to the barber.
“What is this?” he asked. “I made up my mind,” I explained, “that the first
present that came my way I must give to you. This has just arrived.”
“Man,” he exclaimed, “have you no shame before God? You said to me, ‘For the sake of God, shave my
hair.’ Then you give me a present. Have you ever known of anyone doing a deed for the sake of God
and taking payment for it?” A thief had been hanged in Baghdad. Jonaid went
and kissed his feet. “Why did you do that?” he was asked.
“A thousand compassions be upon him!” he replied. “He proved himself a true man at his trade.
He did his work so perfectly, that he gave his life for it.”

One night a thief entered Jonaid’s room. Finding nothing there but a shirt, he took that and fled. Next
day Jonaid was passing through the bazaars when he saw his shirt in the hands of a broker who was selling
it to a customer.

“I require an acquaintance who will testify that it is your property, before I buy it,” the prospective purchaser
said. “I am ready to testify that it belongs to him,” said Jonaid, stepping forward.
The man then bought the shirt. An old woman came to Jonaid and said, “My son is
missing. Say a prayer that he may return.” “Be patient,” Jonaid told her.
The woman waited patiently for several days. Then she returned.
“Be patient,” Jonaid repeated. This happened several times. At last the old woman
came and announced, “My patience is exhausted. Pray to God.”

“If you speak the truth,” said Jonaid, “your son has returned. God says, He who answers the constrained,
when he calls unto Him.” Jonaid then offered up a prayer. When the woman
returned to her house, her son had come. A disciple formed the notion that he had attained the
degree of perfection. “It is better for me to be alone,” he thought.
So he withdrew into a corner and sat there for a space. It so fell out that every night he was brought a
camel and told, “We will convey you to Paradise.” He would sit on the camel and ride until he arrived at a
pleasant and cheerful spot thronged with handsome folk and abounding in choice dishes and running water.
There he would remain till dawn; then he would fall asleep, and awake to find himself in his cell. He now
became proud and very conceited. “Every night I am taken to Paradise,” he would

His words came to Jonaid’s ears. He at once arose and proceeded to his cell, where he found him putting
on the greatest airs. He asked him what had happened, and he told the whole story to the shaikh.
“Tonight when you are taken there,” Jonaid told him, “say thrice, ‘There is no strength nor power save
with God, the Sublime, the Almighty.’ “ That night the disciple was transported as usual. He
disbelieved in his heart what the shaikh had told him, nevertheless, when he reached that place he uttered as
an experiment, “There is no strength nor power.” The company all screamed and fled, and he found himself
on a dunghill with bones lying before him. Realizing his error, he repented and repaired to Jonaid’s circle.
He had learned that for a disciple to dwell alone is mortal poison.
A disciple of Jonaid’s was dwelling in seclusion in Basra. One night a sinful thought entered his mind. He
looked in a mirror and saw that his face had turned black. Stupefied, he tried every device he could think
of, but in vain. He was so ashamed that he showed his face to no one. Three days went by, then the blackness
gradually grew less. Unexpectedly a knock came on his door. “Who is it?” the disciple asked.
‘] have come with a letter from Jonaid,” said the caller.
The disciple read the letter.
“Why do you not conduct yourself becomingly in the presence of Glory? For three days and nights I have
had to work as a fuller, to change your face from black to white.”

There was a certain disciple of Jonaid’s who was taken to task one day over a small matter. Shamefaced,
he fled and came no more to the convent. Several days later Jonaid was passing through the market with his
companions when he suddenly espied that disciple. The disciple in shame took to his heels.
“A bird of ours has flown from the snare,” said Jonaid, turning back his companions, and following on
the disciple’s heels. Looking back, the disciple saw the shaikh coming, so
he quickened his pace. Presently he reached a place where there was no exit, and in shame he turned his
face to the wall. Presently the shaikh appeared on the scene.
“Where are you making for, master?” the disciple asked.
“When a disciple is up against the wall, there the shaikh can be of use,” replied Jonaid.
He then led the disciple back to the convent. The disciple fell at his feet and begged God’s forgiveness.
Those who witnessed the spectacle were deeply moved, and many repented.
The shaikh Jonaid had a disciple whom he loved above all the others. The other disciples were moved to
jealousy, a fact which the shaikh realized by his mystic intuition.

“He is superior to you in manners and understanding,” he told them. “That is what I had in view; let us
make an experiment, so that you may also realize it.” Jonaid commanded twenty birds to be brought to
him. “Each of you take one,” he told his disciples. “In a
place where no one can see you kill it, then bring it back.”
All the disciples went off and killed and brought back the birds—all, that is, except that favourite disciple.
He brought his bird back alive.

“Why did you not kill it?” Jonaid asked him. “Because the master said it must be done in a place
where no one can see,” the disciple answered. “Wherever I went, God saw.”
“You see the measure of his understanding!” Jonaid exclaimed. “Compare that with that of the others.”
All the other disciples begged God’s forgiveness. Jonaid had eight special disciples who carried out his
every thought. One day the notion occurred to them that they must go to the holy war. Next morning
Jonaid ordered his servant to make all preparations for the wars. He then set out to fight together with those
eight disciples. When the lines of battle were drawn up, a champion
stepped forth from the ranks of the infidels and martyred all eight.
“I looked up to heaven,” said Jonaid, “and I saw nine litters standing by. As each of the eight was martyred
his spirit was lifted up on a litter, until one remained over empty. ‘That one must be meant for
me,’ I thought, and I joined the battle-ranks once more. Then the champion who had slain my eight
companions came up and addressed me. ‘Abo’l- Qasem, that ninth litter is for me. You return to
Baghdad, and be the shaikh of the community. Offer me Islam.

“So he became a Muslim. With the same sword with which he had slain the eight disciples, he slew a like
number of infidels. Then he achieved martyrdom himself. His soul,” Jonaid concluded, “was also placed in
that litter, and all vanished.” There was a sayyid called Naseri who was on the pilgrimage
intent. When he reached Baghdad he went to visit Jonaid.
“Whence comes the sayyid?” Jonaid enquired when greetings had been said.
“From Gilan,” he replied. “Of whose sons are you?” asked Jonaid. “I am descended from Ali the Prince of the Believers,
God be well pleased with him,” the man answered. “Your forefather wielded two swords,” said Jonaid.
“One against the unbelievers, the other against himself. Now, sayyid, you who are his son, which of these two
do you employ?” The sayyid wept bitterly when he heard these words
and grovelled before Jonaid. “Master, my pilgrimage is here,” he exclaimed.
“Show me the way to God.” “Your breast is the private sanctuary of God,” said
Jonaid. “So far as you are able, admit naught unsanctified into the private sanctuary.”
“That is all I want to know,” said the sayyid.

The death of Jonaid

When death was near at hand Jonaid bade them to lay the table and to set out a meal.
“I wish to give up the ghost whilst my companions are eating a bowl of soup.”
The first agony assailed him. “Give me the water of ablution,” he said.
By chance they forgot to let t he water run betweenhis fingers. At his behest this slip was made good, and
he then proceeded to the prostration, weeping.
“Chief of the Order,” his disciples protested, “with
all the service and obedience to God which you have sent ahead of you what time is this for prostration?”
“Never was Jonaid more in need than now,” he replied.
Straightway he began to recite the Koran, and went on reciting.
“What, you recite the Koran?” asked a disciple.
“Who has the better right to than I, seeing that this
hour the scroll of my life will be rolled up, and I shall see my seventy years’ obedience and service suspended
in the air by a single thread? Then a wind will come and swing it to and fro, so that I shall not know
whether it is a wind bringing separation or union. On one side of me will stretch the causeway between
Heaven and Hell and on the other side the Angel of Death. The Judge whose attribute is justice will be
there awaiting me, unwavering in perfect equity.” Jonaid continued, “A road has been laid before me,
and I know not by which road I shall be taken.” He completed the whole Koran, then he recited seventy
verses of the Sura of the Cow. The second agony seized him.
“Say Allah,” they prompted him. “I have not forgotten,” he replied. He grasped the
rosary until four of his fingers were crooked about it, and one let it go.
“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” he cried.
And he closed his eyes and yielded up the ghost. When the time for washing his body came, the one
performing the rite wished to bathe his eyes in water. A voice cried from Heaven, “Withhold your hand from
the eyes of My friend. His eyes were closed upon My Name, and shall not be opened save at the meeting
with Me.” He then tried to open Jonaid’s fingers. The voice cried, “The finger that has been crooked upon
My Name shall not be opened save by My command.” When they lifted up his body on the bier, a white
dove perched upon a corner of the bier. For all that they sought to drive it away, it would not go. At last the
dove cried, “Trouble not yourselves and me. My clawshave been fastened to the corner of the bier by the nail
of Love. That is why I am perched here. Do not trouble yourselves; today his body passes to the care of the
cherubim. Were it not for your clamour, his body would have flown with us in the sky like a white falcon.