Sufi Biography: Ebrahim al-Khauwas

Sufi Biography: Ebrahim al-Khauwas

Abu Eshaq Ebrahim ibn Ahmad al-Khauwas of Samarra, a companion of al-Jonaid, is famous for his long journeys in the desert. He died at Rayy in 291 (904).

Ebrahim-e Khauwas in the desert

Ebrahim-e Khauwas, a contemporary of Jonaid and Nuri, was known as the Chief of the Trustful. So complete was his trust in God, that he would cross the desert on the scent of an apple. For all that he was unique in his trustfulness, he was never without a needle, a thread, a flask and a pair of scissors. Asked why he carried these, he answered, “That much does not impair trust.” He told the following stories of the marvels he had seen on his journeys.

I was once travelling through the desert when I espied a maiden in the throes of ecstasy, wandering distraught with her head uncovered.


 “Maiden, cover your head,” I cried.

“Khauwas, close your eyes!” she retorted.

“I am in love,” I said, “and the lover does not cover his eyes. But my eyes involuntarily fell upon you.”

“I am intoxicated,” she answered, “and the drunkard does not cover his head.”

“At which tavern did you become intoxicated?” I asked.

“Have a care, Khauwas,” she cried. “You are impeding me. Is there any in the two abodes but God?”

“Maiden, would you have my company?” I asked.

“You are callow, Khauwas,” she answered. “I am not the sort that is looking for a man!”

Once I beheld Khezr in the desert in the form of a flying bird. When I espied him so, I lowered my head that my trust might not become void. Immediately he approached me and said, ‘If you had looked at me, I would not have descended on you.” I did not greet him, lest my trust should be impaired.

One day in the desert I came upon a tree where there was water. I beheld a huge lion making for me, and committed myself to God. When he came near I noticed that he was limping. He laid down before me and groaned. I looked and saw that his paw was swollen and gangrenous. So I look a stick and cut open the paw, till all the pus was drained; then I bandaged the paw with a rag. The lion arose and went away. Presently the lion returned bringing his cub. They circled around me wagging their tails, and brought a round bread and laid it before me.

Once I had lost my way in the desert. I pushed on

some distance, but could not find the way. For several days I went on like that, till at last I heard a cock crowing. I rejoiced, and hastened in that direction. I sighted a person who promptly ran up and struck me on the neck. The blow hurt, and I cried out.

“O God, that is how they treat one who puts his trust in Thee!”

“So long as you put your trust in Me,” I heard a voice say, “you were precious in My sight. Now that you have put your trust in a cockcrow, you have been beaten in consequence.”

Still in pain, I continued on my way. Then I heard a voice which said, “Khauwas, that pained you. Now look yonder!”

I looked, and saw lying before me the head of the man who had struck me.

I had made a vow that I would cross the desert without provisions and mount. As I entered the desert a young man came after me and hailed me.

“Peace be upon you, O shaikh!”

I halted and answered his greeting. Then I saw that the youth was a Christian.

“Do you allow me to accompany you?” he asked.

“Where I am going you may not come, so what advantage will you gain in my company?” I replied.

“All the same I will come,” he answered. “It may bring a blessing.”

For a week we journeyed together. On the eighth day my companion said, “Good Hanifite ascetic, be bold with your God, for I am hungry. Ask for something.”

“My God,” I prayed, “by the merits of Mohammad, peace be upon him, do not put me to shame before this stranger, but manifest something out of the Unseen.”

Immediately I beheld a dish appear filled with bread and roast fish and dates, and a jug of water. We both sat down and applied ourselves to the fare.

We pushed on for another week. Then on the eighth day I said to my companion, “Monk, now display your power too. I am hungry.”

Leaning on his staff, the young man moved his lips. Two tables appeared covered with halwa, fish and dates, and two jugs of water. I was amazed.

“Ascetic, eat!” the Christian cried.

I was too shamefaced to eat anything.

“Eat,” he repeated, “then I will give you some good news.”

“I will not eat until you tell me your good news,” I replied.

“The first piece of good news is this, that I am cutting my girdle.”

With that he cut his girdle.

“I testify that there is no god but God, and I testify that Mohammad is the Messenger of God,” he said. “The other piece of good news is this, that I said, ‘O God, by the merits of this elder who is of value in Thy sight and whose religion is true, send Thou food that I may not be put to shame before him.’ This too was by your blessing.”

So we ate, and proceeded on our way till we came to Mecca. There he resided in the Holy Territory till his term drew nigh.

I was passing one day through the parts of Syria when I espied some pomegranate-trees. My appetite was whetted, but I controlled myself and did not eat any because the pomegranates were sour, and I wanted sweet ones. Presently I entered a valley where I saw a man lying exhausted and helpless. The worms had fallen on him, and hornets buzzed around him stinging him. My compassion was moved by his pitiful condition.

“Would you like me to pray,” I said when I reached him, “that haply you may be delivered out of this affliction?”

“No,” he replied.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because healing is what I would choose, and affliction is what He chooses,” he answered. “I do not prefer my choice above His choice.”

“At least let me drive these hornets away from you,” I said.

“Khauwas,” he answered, “drive away from yourself that hankering for sweet pomegranates. Why do you trouble me? Pray for your own heart’s healing. Why do you pray that my body may be made whole?”

“How did you know that I am Khauwas?” I asked.

“Whoever knows Him,” he replied, “from him nothing remains hidden.”

“How do you feel with these hornets?” I enquired.

“So long as these hornets sting me and the worms devour me,” he answered, “I am happy.”

Once I heard that in Byzantium there was a monk who had been living for seventy years in a monastery in the state of celibacy.

“Amazing!” I exclaimed. “Forty years is the qualification for being a monk.”

So I set forth to call on him. When I came near he opened a little wicket.

“Ebrahim, why have you come?” he enquired. “I am not seated here as a celibate. I have a dog which falls upon people. Now I am seated here keeping watch over the dog and preventing it from doing mischief to people. But for that, I am not what you supposed.”

“O God,” I exclaimed on hearing this answer, “Thou art able to guide Thy servant aright even when he is in very error!”

“Ebrahim,” the monk said to me, “how long will you search for men? Search for yourself, and when you have found yourself, sit in watch over yourself. For every day this wayward desire puts on three hundred and sixty various guises of divinity and invites a man to error.”