Who is Yusuf Hamdani?

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Who is Yusuf Hamdani? What kind of person Yusuf Hamdani? When did Yusuf Hamdani live?

Yusuf Hamdani [1049 – 1140]

Yusuf Hamdani (may Allah have mercy on him) was born in the village of Hamdan in the hijri year 441. He went to Baghdad, the centre of the caliphate, when he was eighteen years old to study. He learned various Islamic sciences such as fiqh, hadith, tafsir and kalam from the great scholars. He surpassed his peers with his intelligence and abilities and became a favourite with his teachers.

He had memorised an endless numbers of books about the Islamic sciences. He met with many of the shuyukh of his time and attended their talks[1].

He is mentioned in Rashahat as follows:

“He specialised in the field of hadith and in the matter of sanad (chain of narrators) in particular. On the one hand he was occupied with studying and on the other he was preaching to and advising the Muslims, thus carrying out his duty of guiding others. The people would find contentment in his beautiful advice”[2].

Many scholars from Baghdad, Isfahan and Samarkand studied in his hadith classes[3].

A short time later he became tired of the arguments that arose from fiqh and kalam and he turned towards tasawwuf. He attached himself to Abu Ali Farmadi. In addition, he had in his possession the staff and turban of Salman Farisi[4].

His Practice of Guiding Others

After completing his studies in tasawwuf Yusuf Hamdani established a Sufi lodge in Merv in order to guide the people. This lodge performed a great service and in addition to Sufis, other masters of knowledge also attended. However Hamdani did not reside here all the time and travelled to many cities in order to guide others. When he was 65 years old he returned to Baghdad, having attained a reputation for being a great preacher and Sufi. He established an assembly of preaching at the Madrasah of Nizamiyyah where he once studied himself and was greatly respected by the people[5].

He bore great resemblance in terms of disposition to his colleague there, Imam Ghazzali. However, where Imam Ghazzali placed great importance on writing books, Hamdani was more occupied with worship and guiding people. Thus, he did not spend much time writing.

Yusuf Hamdani taught many great gnostics such as Ahmad Yesevi and Abdul Khaliq Ghujdawani.

Abdul Qadir Jilani also attended the assembly of Yusuf Hamdani and benefitted from him[6]. It is recorded that it was Yusuf Hamdani who encouraged Jilani to preach and guide others[7].

Hamdani directed his students to the two basic elements of the Khwajagan, which is serving others and suhbah. He would travel frequently and teach Islam to the people. He was the means for many people receiving guidance.

One time the great zahid Abu al-Hussain Maqdisi was asked:

“Have you ever seen any of the Friends of Allah?” He responded:

“During my travels I saw a man in Merv preaching to the people and inviting them to believe in Allah. They called him Yusuf and he was one of the true Friends of Allah”[8].

One time Hamdani was asked:

“What should we do for our salvation if the period passes and the true Sufi Masters travel on to the hereafter?”

Hamdani replied:

“Read 16 pages from the works of the friends of Allah every day”. Taking inspiration from these words Fariduddin  Attar penned his work Tadhkirat al-Awliya[9].

His Good Character

Yusuf Hamdani (may Allah have mercy on him) was a compassionate man with a smiling face and a soft manner. He was always humble and generous towards the poor, the lonely and the abandoned. Even though he was very kind and friendly to everyone, he was also stately and dignified towards very worldly and arrogant people[10].

Abdul Khaliq Ghujdawani describes the beautiful character of his guide Yusuf Hamdani as follows:

“This reverend Shaykh has not deviated from the Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the slightest. He has lived his life in the footsteps of the Companions (Sahaba), the Followers (Tabi’een), the generation after the Tabi’een (Tabi al-Tabi’een) and Pious Predecessors (Salaf-i Saliheen). He would always recite the following blessed words:

“The true Way is the way of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). He said: “O Abu Hurairah! Teach the people my way (my Sunnah) and you too act by it so that you can attain to a light that will illuminate you on the Day of Judgement”.

Since this was the indication of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), this great Shaykh, whose path was pure, would invite his friends and those who followed him to live according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. He would warn the people of following the desires of their nafs, of innovation (bid’a), of opposing the shariah, of the way of falsehood and of people of dissension (fitnah) and of copying the imitators. One time he said:

“O Abdul Khaliq! Know that the journey (suluq) towards Allah consists of two parts:

The first is the apparent journey (suluq’i zahir) which is to always comply with the divine commands and prohibitions, preserve the standards of one’s religion and flee from the desires of the nafs.

The other is the inner journey (suluq’i batin) which is the struggle to cleanse the heart and eliminate the traits of the nafs. This is what they call inner (batin) cleansing. An eternal struggle and determination for the dhikr of the heart is required so that the heart can come to a state in which it always remembers Allah.

He then gave the following advice:

“Make sure that you are on the path of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and do not deviate from the limits of the shariah in the slightest. When you see someone doing something in opposition to the religion then prevent him”.

On the 11th day of the month of Ramadan in the year 504, the king of the Seljuq state, Sultan Sanjar sent a letter to the students of Hamdani.

In that letter he made the following request:

“As I have learned from the elders of Samarkand the honoured shaykh Yusuf Hamdani has reached an old age. Unfortunately we have no opportunity to enter in the presence of that honourable man. 50,000 dinar, meticulously earned through lawful means, has been sent to cover the expenses of the dervishes. You recite a Fatiha for our affairs too. Our sole desire is for you to write about the character and state of the great shaykh and send it to us. For we have heard that the way and attitude of the Shaykh is exactly like the way of the Sahaba. Please give this matter great importance and honour the one who prays for you with this”.

Hamdani recited the Fatiha for the solving of his difficulty and then in great humility he said:

“O dervishes. What I have to say other than my own faults that I can write and send to Sanjar?” Some of his leading students said:

“Master! It is your dervishes’ request that you allow us to write about your character and state”.

Hamdani then said:

“In that case write whatever you have seen that is in accordance with the shariah of the Messenger of Allah”.

Some of the beautiful states observed in the life of Shaykh Yusuf Hamdani are as follows:

The Shaykh travelled to Hajj many times on foot. On most days he would be fasting. He would fast the last ten days of the month of Jumada al-akhir and in the month of Rajab and would never abandon these acts. He would ask Allah for success in his worship and obedience.

He frequently sent invocations upon the prophet (salawat) and sought forgiveness from Allah (istighfar) and he would pray the witr, tahajjud and tasbih prayers close to one another. He would continue to regularly pray the morning, ishraq, awwabin, tahajjud and istikhara prayers. He would supplicate often and advise his students to do the same.

When performing acts of worship such as giving charity and zakat, he would feel an indescribable feeling of peace. He would enter into itiqaf (solitary retreat), he would slaughter the sacrificial animals, and he loved to free slaves.

The signs of dhikr that he made with his heart would become apparent in his limbs. In addition to the awrad that he continuously recited he would recite the chapter Yasin and read a 30th of the Qur’an after every obligatory prayer. He would sometimes recite one 30th in two rakats of prayer. However he would not lengthen the prayer he led in congregation. Whilst walking and at every opportunity he would recite from the Qur’an.

He went out for many expeditions for the sake of Allah. He would go to the houses of the unbelievers, the Christians, fire-worshippers and Zoroastrians and talk to them about the virtues of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), proclaim to them the divine reward and punishment of the hereafter and was the means for many of them being guided.

He would also warn the sinners and keep away from them unless they reformed themselves. The number of people he made repent and come back to the straight path is unknown.

He would frequent the masjids, the sahra, the neighbourhoods, villages and mountains and teach the rulings of Islam to whoever resided there, the Turks, the Tajiks, Arabs, masters, slaves, dervishes, merchants, leaders, shepherds, those who he knew and those he did not know. He would stay there and teach them the essentials of the Islamic commandments to the best of his ability.

His spiritual talks were very prosperous and beneficial. He would often relate the virtues of the four caliphs and narrate anecdotes from them. He had a religious school in which he taught.

Every month he would call the leading men of Samarkand and he would converse with them about the matters of tasawwuf. The great men of Samarkand would also attend.

On Thursday and Friday nights and on the eid nights, he would visit great men. He would ask his visitors about the city they had come from, who the dervishes were and the names of the great Sufis who were buried there.

He was often teary-eyed. Due to his extreme reverence and awe of Allah, never once did he extend his legs out. He would weep out of fear of Allah. He would fear the divine warnings found in the Qur’anic verses and be filled with hope in the face of the verses that mention the divine good news and promises. His heart was always in a state of ‘bayn al khawf wa raja’, that is, it was in a balance of fearing the wrath of Allah and hoping to meet with His mercy.

He would carry on his person a copy of the Qur’an, a prayer mat, a comb, the siwak stick and a towel. He would always be in a state of ablution and would never abandon praying in congregation without a valid excuse. He would treat with extra kindness and goodness those who hurt and pained him the most.

In the Holy Qur’an it is said:

And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil]by that [deed]which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become]as though he was a devoted friend.’(Fussilat, 41:34).

He would hide his karamat and his state of being a wali of Allah. He would accept the invitation of the believers, without distinguishing between them, be they wealthy or poor, strong or weak. He would never belittle anything or anyone, nor take them lightly. He would never boast to anyone. He would not prefer the wealthy over the poor on account of their wealth. He would always talk about the poor and wealthy states of the Sahaba and command his students to follow them.

He would visit the graves often, and greet the people of the graves with the greeting of peace. He would read prayers from the Qur’an and from the hadith. In particular he would visit the grave of Qusam ibn Abbas very often. He would make much remembrance of death and weep about the Day of Judgement, or about giving up one’s life, about the questioning to be done in the grave, about being resurrected, about having one’s book of deeds read out, about the Balance (Mizan) and about the Bridge (Sirat).

He would always be prepared for death and lived his life in the awareness that the hereafter was the real life.

His livelihood came from making boots and farming. He would befriend those who ate from lawful provision and who worked in lawful trades. He would warn those who were lazy and tried to live off of the back of others and tell them that to work and earn one’s livelihood was a divine command. He would encourage the people to eat and dress from lawful earnings and to work in a halal manner. He would never prevent what was due to another.

He would give out whatever Allah gave him, to the poor, the orphans, the lonely and abandoned and the needy. He would look out for them. He never once asked anybody for anything, thus remaining independent and he advised his students to do the same.

He was in a constant state of reliance upon Allah and submission to Him. He never condescended to worldly benefit, and advised those who inclined towards the world. He would not take his ablution from silver or golden utensils. There was nothing in his room apart from a straw mat, a felt cloak, an urn, two pillows and a pot.

He would not frequent the markets and bazaars and he would not eat from the food that was cooked there. He would eat his food without any fat. He would mostly eat dry bread with vinegar. His back was bent over from hunger and abstention. He was always in a constant struggle against his nafs.

He would eat from the same plate as the believers and would wash his hands before and after eating. He would say ‘Bismillah’ before eating and ‘Alhamdulillah’ after finishing. He would begin and end his meal with a pinch of salt.

He would never eat without remembering Allah and he would say:

“Eating food is like planting a seed. The seed must be planted with a beneficial awareness and perception so that the food can turn into an act of obedience”.

He would expound on those words that took a person to disbelief and pray as follows: “O Allah. I seek refuge in You from associating any partners with You. I ask you to forgive me for those deeds that I am not aware of.  You are undoubtedly the knower of all that is hidden”.

He would not speak before his own shaykh out of courtesy towards him. When speaking he would never say ‘I’. If he had to, he would use words of humility instead. He never spoke a hurtful word to anyone. His words were sweet and soft. He would never curse nor condemn anybody. He would prevent his students from eating human flesh (backbiting) and from speaking too much. He himself would speak little and concisely. He would greet every believer he came across and would stand out of courtesy to whosoever entered his presence. He would address whoever he saw as ‘khawaja (master).

He was in a constant state of contemplation and was often sorrowful. When he laughed he did not do so loudly, but would smile instead. He preferred solitude and retreat.

In his assemblies he would address everybody generally. He would enter the mosque and Sufi lodge with his right foot and exit with his left. He would eat his food with his right hand. He would not perform the prayer nor eat with his head uncovered.

He would not recite the Qu’ran with a loud voice. Even if he broke his ablution many times during the day, he would renew it and would never be without ablution even for an instant. He would seek refuge with Allah from all dangers and threats, both physical and spiritual. He would warn his students about enemies from the jinn, human beings and Satan as follows:

“These enemies can be defeated by always being in a state of ablution and constant remembrance of Allah with the heart”.

If somebody did a small act of kindness towards him, he doubled it in return.

He would look in front of him when he walked. He would not walk through the field of another. He would remove anything harmful from the path. He would see to his own chores and would go to the mill himself.

He greatly desired to meet his Lord as a martyr. Whenever he heard that one of his friends had been martyred whilst on jihad, he would perform the funeral prayer over him in his absence.

He was a true friend of Allah, who loved from the heart and who was loved from the heart. He was a man of sincerity, piety, truthfulness and ease.

He would be ever grateful to Allah and never complain about changing conditions. He lived his life in a state of contentment. He showed complete satisfaction and submission to the decree of Allah. Even though he suffered from a constant headache he never complained about his state. One day he said:

“It has been 43 years since this condition has been given to me”. Then he continued:

“There were Companions who had constant problems but they hid their state from the people”.

He never envied anyone. He never complained about the cold nor the heat. He was content with all of creation. He considered plants precious and would never pass wind nor spit where they were.

He would never argue with the Muslims. He would have a good opinion about everyone and would pray behind them. He never slandered the people of the qibla by accusing them of being unbelievers. He would lead the funeral prayer of everyone, be they old or young. He would treat even his enemies well.

He was selfless towards his fellow brothers from his suhbah and would prefer them over himself. He would visit the sick, help those in need, give loans and not ask for the money back.

He would never rush his chores, and was patient in the face of tribulation. He did not disclose his secrets to those who were incapable of helping him.

He would be saddened and seek forgiveness if he was unable to perform a righteous deed or perform some service. Every night he would take account of his day. He would meticulously protect his clothes from filth. He was a man of his word.

If he happened to smell a nice scent he would invoke blessings upon the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and read the following prayer:

“There is no god but Allah, the True Possessor, the Real, The Clear and Apparent and the One who declares the truth to his servants.

I absolve Allah the Possessor of Greatness, from all faults and I praise Him. I seek forgiveness from Allah for all sins and I turn back to Him”[11].

His Devotion to the Rulings of the Shari’a

Yusuf Hamdani (may Allah have mercy on him) was extremely dedicated to the outer and inner commands and prohibitions of Islam. In great wakefulness of the heart, his understanding of tasawwuf was such that he was in meticulous control of all of his states and behaviours and he advanced forward in the direction shown by the Qur’an and the Sunnah in a very cautious and careful manner.

For this reason he did not vie for wonder working nor display them and he did not approve of expressions and behaviour that came about as a result of a state of spiritual drunkenness or the effects from a state of ecstasy.

About the famous Sufi Hallaj Mansur, he said:

“If Hussain ibn Mansur knew the truth of marifah, instead of saying “Ana al-haqq” (“I am the Truth, the Real”), he would have said: “Ana al-turab” (I am dust)”[12].

Another time he said:

“A person who does not follow in the footsteps of the religion and of the shariah, has followed Satan, even if he displays thousands of miracles in one day. A person who believes in something that is in opposition to the Sunnah, is like a bandit even if he has memorised all of the sciences of the world”[13].

His Death

Yusuf Hamdani (may Allah have mercy on him) spent the last years of his life in the two great centres of Khorasan, Merv and Harat. He passed away while he was returning to Merv from Harat, on his last journey to the town of Bamain on the 22nd day of the month of Rabi’ al Awwal in the year 535 (4th November, 1140). They first buried his body there, but a short time after, one of his students by the name of Ibn an-Najjar transferred his grave to Merv. Today his tomb can be found in a place called Bayram Ali near Merv, on the border of Turkmenistan, and is called ‘Khwaja Yusuf’.

Some of his wise words:

  • “Close the door to your ego and open the door to service of others and suhbah[14].
  • “Take every breath in a state of awareness and perception (hos dar dam), look at the tips of your feet while you are walking, (Nazar bar qadam), turn towards your inner journey which will take you from human attributes to the Divine attributes (Safar dar watan) and be with Allah while you are amongst the people (Khalwat dar anjuman)”[15].
  • “While you are in the presence of the Sufi masters, sit with manners, respect and awe, both inward and outward”[16].

[1]. Ghujduwani, Makamat, p. 40.[2]. Rashahat, p. 40.[3]. Jami, Nafahat, p. 521.[4]. Ghujduwani, Makamat, p. 41-42.                               [5]. See Safadi, al Wafi, bil Wafayat, XXIX, 47-48; Dhahabi, Tarihu al Islam, XI, 643.[6]. Jami, Nafahat, p. 510-511.[7]. Dhahabi, Siyer, XX, 446-447.[8]. Dhahabi, Siyer, XX, 68.[9]. Hamadani, What is life? (trans. Necdet Tosun), s. 14, 91.[10]. See Husain Wassaf, Safinayi Awliya, c. II, s. 6.[11]. See Ghujduwani, Makamat, p. 38-47.[12]. Hamadani, What is life? p. 16.[13]. Hamadani, What is life? p. 92.[14]. Ahmed Qasani, Adabu al Saliqin, Istanbul University Library, FY, pub. 649, issue. 57b, 62a.[15]. Ghujduwani, Makamat, p. 45.[16]. Ghujdawani, Makamat, p. 45.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş,The Golden Chain of Transmission Masters of the Naqshinandi Way, Erkam Publications

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