Sufi Biography: Somnun

Sufi Biography: Somnun

Abu ‘1-Hasan Somnun ibn ‘Abd Allah (Hamza) al-Khauwas, a companion of Sari al-Saqati, was called “the Lover” because of his discourses and poems on the theme of mystical love. Denounced by Gholam al-Khalil, he died c. 300 (913).

Somnun commonly called the Lover (he called himself Somnun the Liar) was a companion of Sari-e Saqati and a contemporary of Jonaid. He had a special doctrine about love, which he promoted above gnosis, contrary to the view of the majority of the Sufi masters.


When Somnun went to Hejaz the people of Faid invited him to preach. He entered the pulpit and began to hold forth, but found no one to listen to him. He therefore turned to the mosque-lamps and said, “I am going to speak to you about love.” Immediately the lamps dashed upon one another and broke into pieces.

One day when he was preaching on love a bird swooped down out of the air and perched first on his head, then on his hand, then on his breast. Then it dropped from his breast on to the ground and struck its beak so violently against the ground that the blood gushed forth from it. Then the bird collapsed and died.

It is related that towards the end of his life, to accord with the Prophet’s example, Somnun married and in due course had a daughter. When the child was three years old Somnun became very attached to her. That night he dreamed that the resurrection had come to pass. He saw that a standard had been set up for every community; one standard was so bright that its radiance filled the plains of Heaven.

“To whom does this standard belong?” Somnun enquired.

“To the people of whom God says, He loves them and they love Him,” came the answer (meaning that it was the standard of lovers).

Somnun ranged himself among those under that banner. One came along and drove him out of their midst.

“Why do you drive me out?” Somnun shouted.

“Because this is the standard of lovers,” came the reply. “You are not one of them.”

“Why not?” cried Somnun. “After all, they call me Somnun the Lover, and God knows what is in my heart.”

“Somnun, you were a lover,” came the answer. “But when your heart inclined towards that child, your name was expunged from the roll of lovers.”

Even as he dreamed Somnun made supplication.

“O God, if this child is to waylay me, remove her from my path.”

When he awoke the cry went up, “The little girl fell from the roof and died.”

It is further related that once Somnun was reciting this couplet.

I have no joy in aught but Thee;

So, as Thou wilt, make trial of me.

Immediately his urine was blocked. He went about from school to school saying to the children, “Pray for your liar of an uncle that God may heal him!”

Somnun and Gholam Khalil

Gholam Khalil had made himself known to the caliph as a Sufi, bartering away his eternal salvation for worldly advantage. He always maligned the Sufis before the caliph, his intention being to secure their banishment, so that none should enjoy the blessing of their presence, and to maintain himself in power and that he might not be disgraced.

When Somnun grew to full stature and his fame spread abroad, Gholam Khalil occasioned him much suffering, always watching for an opportunity of bringing about his disgrace. Then one day a wealthy woman offered herself to Somnun.

“Ask my hand in marriage,” she said.

Somnun refused. The woman then went to Jonaid and begged him to intercede for her and persuade Somnun to marry her, but Jonaid rebuked her and drove her away. The woman therefore repaired to Gholam Khalil and laid allegations against Somnun. Gholam Khalil was delighted, and turned the caliph against Somnun. Then the caliph ordered Somnun to be slain. The executioner having been summoned, the caliph was about to say, “Behead him”; but he was struck dumb and he could not speak, his tongue sticking in his throat. That night he dreamed that a voice said to him, “Your kingdom is bound up with Somnun’s life.” Next morning the caliph sent for Somnun and sent him away with all honour, treating him with the highest consideration.

Thereafter Gholam’s hostility towards Somnun increased still more. Towards the end of his life he was smitten with leprosy.

“Gholam Khalil has become a leper,” someone related to Somnun.

“It would seem,” Somnun replied, “that some immature Sufi has formed designs against him and not done good. For he was an opponent of the masters, and from time to time impeded them by his actions. God grant him healing!”

These words were reported to Gholam Khalil. He repented of all his sins, and sent all that he possessed to the Sufis. They however refused to accept anything.