Sufi Biography: Yahya ibn Mo‘adh

Sufi Biography: Yahya ibn Mo‘adh

Abu Zakariya’ Yahya ibn Mo‘adh al-Razi, a disciple of Ibn Karram, left his native town of Rayy and lived for a time in Balkh, afterwards proceeding to Nishapur where he died in 258 (871). A certain number of poems are attributed to him.

Yahya-e Mo‘adh-e : Razi and his debt

Yahya-e Mo‘adh had incurred a debt of a hundred thousand dirhams. He had borrowed all this money and expended it on gifts to holy warriors, pilgrims, poor men, scholars and Sufis. His creditors were pressing him for repayment, and his heart was much preoccupied thereby.


 One night he dreamed that the Prophet spoke to him.

“Yahya, be not over-anxious, for I am pained on account of your anxiety. Arise, go to Khorasan. There a woman has set aside three hundred thousand dirhams to meet the hundred thousand you have borrowed.”

“Messenger of God,” cried Yahya, “which is that city, and who is that person?” ‘

“Go from city to city and preach,” said the Prophet. “Your words bring healing to men’s hearts. Just as I have come to you in a dream, so now I will visit that person in a dream.”

So Yahya came to Nishapur. They set up a pulpit for him before the cupola.

“Men of Nishapur,” he cried, “I have come here at the direction of the Prophet, on him be peace. The Prophet declared, ‘One will discharge the debt you owe.’ I have a debt of a hundred thousand silver dirhams. Know that always my words possessed a beauty, but now this debt has come as a veil over that beauty.”

“I will give fifty thousand dirhams,” one man volunteered.

“I will give forty thousand,” offered another.

Yahya declined to accept their gifts.

“The Master, peace be upon him, indicated one person,” he said.

He then began to preach. On the first day seven corpses were removed from the gathering. Then, seeing that his debt was not discharged in Nishapur, Yahya set out for Balkh. There he was detained for a while to preach. He extolled riches over poverty. They gave him a hundred thousand dirhams. But his words did not please a certain shaikh living in those parts, seeing that he had preferred riches.

“May God not bless him!” he exclaimed.

When Yahya left Balkh he was set on by highwaymen and robbed of all the money.

“That is the result of that shaikh’s prayer,” they said.

So he proceeded to Herat, some say by way of Merv. There he related his dream. The daughter of the Prince of Herat was in the audience. She sent him a message.

“Imam, cease worrying about the debt. The night the Prophet spoke to you in a dream, he also spoke to me. I said, ‘Messenger of God, I will go to him.’ ‘No,’ the Prophet replied, ‘he will come to you.’ I have therefore been waiting for you. When my father gave me in marriage, the things others receive in copper and brass he made for me of silver and gold. The silver things are worth three hundred thousand dirhams. I bestow them on you. But I have one requirement, that you preach here for four days more.”

Yahya held forth for four days longer. On the first day ten corpses were taken up, on the second twenty-five, on the third forty, and on the fourth seventy. Then on the fifth day Yahya left Herat with seven camels’ loads of silver. When he reached Balham, being accompanied by his son, transporting all that wealth, his son demurred.

“When he enters the town, he must not give it all immediately to the creditors and the poor and leave me with nothing of it.”

At dawn Yahya was communing with God, his head bowed to the ground. Suddenly a rock fell on his head.

“Give the money to the creditors,” he cried. Then he expired.

The men of the Way lifted him on their shoulders and bore him to Nishapur, where they laid him in the grave.

Yahya-e Mo‘adh-e Razi and his brother

Yahya-e Mo‘adh had a brother who went to Mecca and took up residence near the Kaaba. From there he wrote a letter to Yahya.

“Three things I desired. Two have been realized. Now one remains. Pray to God that He may graciously grant that one desire as well. I desired that I might pass my last years in the noblest place on earth. Now I have come to the Sacred Territory, which is the noblest of all places. My second desire was to have a servant to wait on me and make ready my ablution water. God has given me a seemly servant-girl. My third desire is to see you before I die. Pray to God that he may vouchsafe this desire.”

Yahya replied to his brother as follows.

“As for your saying that you desired the best place on earth, be yourself the best of men, then live in whatever place you wish. A place is noble by reason of its inhabitants, not vice versa.

“Then as for your saying that you desired a servant and have now got one, if you were really a true and chivalrous man, you would never have made God’s servant your own servant, detaining her from serving God and diverting her to serve yourself. You should yourself be a servant. You desire to be a master, but mastership is an attribute of God. Servanthood is an attribute of man. God’s servant must be a servant. When God’s servant desires a station proper to God, he makes himself a Pharaoh.

“Finally, as to your saying that you desire to see me, if you were truly aware of God, you would never remember me. So associate with God, that no memory of your brother ever comes into your mind. There one must be ready to sacrifice one’s son; how much more a brother! If you have found Him, what am I to you? And if you have not found Him, what profit will you gain from me?”