Sufi Biography: Amr ibn Othman

Sufi Biography: Amr ibn Othman

Abu Eshaq Ebrahim ibn Adham, born in Balkh of pure Arab descent, is described in Sufi legend as a prince who renounced his kingdom (somewhat after the fashion of the Buddha) and wandered westwards to live a life of complete asceticism, earning his bread in Syria by honest manual toil until his death in c. 165 (782). Some accounts state that he was killed on a naval expedition against Byzantium. The story of his conversion is a classic of Muslim hagiography.

Abu ‘Abd Allah ‘Amr ibn ‘Othman al-Makki, a disciple of al-Jonaid, visited Esfahan and died in Baghdad in 291 (904) or 297 (9I0). Amr ibn Othman-e Makki and the Book of the Treasure It is said that one day Amr ibn Othman-e Makki had written down on a sheet of paper a translation of the Book of the Treasure. He had put it under his prayer rug and gone to purify himself.


While he was at his ablutions report reached him, and he sent his servant to recover the script. When the servant turned up the
prayer rug he could not find the paper. He told his master. “They have taken it and gone,” said Amr ibn
Othman. “The person who has taken that Book of the Treasure,” he added, “will soon have his hands and
feet cut off.

He will be put on the gibbet, and burned, and his ashes will be scattered to the winds. He ought
to have arrived at the Treasure, whereas he has stolen the Book of the Treasure.”
Now these were the contents of the Book of the Treasure.
In the time when the spirit entered the bodily frame of Adam, God commanded all the angels to prostrate
themselves. All lowered their heads to the ground. Iblis said, “I will not make prostration. I will gamble my life
away, and I will see the secret, even though it may be that I shall be accursed and called rebel and sinner and
hypocrite.” Iblis did not make prostration. So he saw and knew the secret of Man. Consequently none but Iblis is
apprised of Man’s secret, and none but Man knows the secret of Iblis. So Iblis became apprised of the secret of
Man because he did not prostrate himself, so that he saw that he was preoccupied with beholding the secret.
Iblis was rejected by all, for they had exposed the Treasure to his eyes.
“We committed a Treasure to the earth,” they said.
“The condition attached to the Treasure is this, that one person will see it, but they will cut off his head so
that he may not betray it.”
“In this grant me a respite,” cried Iblis. “Do not slay me. But I am the Man of the Treasure. They exposed
the Treasure to my eyes, and these eyes will not escape.”
The Sword of I Care Not declared, “Thou art among the ones that are respited.We grant you respite, but We
cause you to be held in suspicion. So if We do not destroy you, you will be suspect and a liar, and none
will hold you to be a speaker of the truth. So they will say, He was one of the jinn, and committed ungodliness
against his Lord’s command.”
He is Satan. How should he speak the truth? Therefore he is accursed and rejected and abandoned
and ignored. This was the translation of the Book of the Treasure by Amr ibn Othman.

Amr ibn ‘Othman on Love

Amr ibn ‘Othman stated the following in his Book of Love. Almighty God created the hearts seven thousand
years before the souls, and He kept them in the Garden of Intimacy. He created the Secrets seven thousand years
before the hearts, and kept them in the Degree of Union. Every day God caused the souls to receive three hundred
and sixty glances of Grace and to hear three hundred and sixty words of Love. Every day He manifested
to the hearts three hundred and sixty delights of Intimacy. Every day He revealed Beauty three hundred
and sixty times to the Secrets.
So they beheld every thing in the world of being, and saw none more precious than themselves. A vainglory
and conceit manifested amongst them. God therefore put them to the trial. He imprisoned
the Secret in the soul. He confined the soul in the heart. He detained the heart in the body. Then He compounded
in them reason.

God sent the Prophets with commandments. Then every one of them set about searching for his proper
station. God commanded them to pray. So the body went into prayer; the heart attained Love; the soul
achieved Propinquity; the Secret was at rest in Union.

Amr ibn Othman writes to Jonaid

When Amr ibn Othman was in Mecca, he wrote to Jonaid, Jorairi, and Shebli in Iraq. This was his letter.
“Know, you who are the great ones and elders of Iraq, say to every man who yearns after the land of
Hejaz and the beauty of the Kaaba, You would never reach it, excepting with great distress of spirit. And say
to every man who yearns after the Carpet of Propinquity and the Court of Glory, You would never
reach it, excepting with great distress of soul.” At the bottom of the letter Amr wrote: “This is a
missive from Amr ibn Othman-e Makki and these elders of Hejaz who are all with Him and in Him and
by Him. If there be any of you who entertains high aspiration, say to him, Come upon this road wherein
are two thousand fiery mountains and two thousand stormy and perilous seas. If you are not of this rank,
make no false pretension, for to false pretension nothing is given.”

When the letter reached Jonaid, he gathered the elders of Iraq together and read it to them. Then he
said, “Come, say what he meant by these mountains.” “By these mountains,” they replied, “he meant
naughting. Until a man is naughted a thousand times and a thousand times revived, he does not attain the
Court of Glory.” “Of these two thousand fiery mountains,” Jonaid
remarked, “I have crossed only one.” “You are lucky to have crossed one,” said Jorairi.
“Up to now I have gone only three steps.”
Shebli burst into tears. “You are fortunate, Jonaid, to have crossed one
mountain,” he cried. “And you are fortunate, Jorairi, to have gone three steps. Up to now I have not even
seen the dust from afar.”